First, a disclaimer: there is no possible way anybody could read every great book released in a single year. We all try our hardest and still we fail. In 2019 I read 53 books. Maybe half of those were actually new titles.
Despite my shortcoming, I did read enough to form favorites for the year. Some of them you might even recognize from reviews that appeared in this very publication.
1. Tears of the Trufflepig by Fernando A. Flores (MCD x FSG Originals)
Flores lays out a fantastical, psychedelic vision of reality where the government has legalized narcotics, consequently forcing cartels into trafficking ancient artifacts, shrunken indigenous heads and filtered animals — the latter, of course, meaning cloned creatures brought back from extinction to amuse the rich. A truly unique novel, you simply have to read Tears of the Trufflepig to understand its greatness.
2. A Hawk in the Woods by Carrie Laben (Word Horde)
Laben’s novel is a gloomy celebration of black magic and everything that comes with it. In a previous review I described it as the “Geek Love of witchcraft,” and I stand by that claim. This book is a hell of a lot of fun. It should be interesting to see what Laben puts out next.
3. A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself by William Boyle (Pegasus Books)
This novel paints a darkly hilarious portrait of New York and the bizarre consequences of accidental violence. Boyle is beloved among modern crime writers, and this novel is a perfect example of why. If forced to summarize A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself in three words, those would be: “men are trash.”
4. Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud (Gallery/Saga Press)
This collection from a master of short fiction is worth it alone for the novella, The Visible Filth, but everything here is worth any horror fan’s time. Also, don’t miss his previous collection, North American Lake Monsters, which should be taught in schools worldwide. Ballingrud’s one of the best we have in this world. Cherish him.
5. The Bone Weaver’s Orchard by Sarah Read (Trepidatio Pub)
A gothic exploration of deeply buried secrets, Sarah Read’s debut novel — set at The Old Cross School for Boys — will leave you ravenous for answers. Most of which you’ll regret ever finding out. If you like stories about old spooky buildings with hidden passageways, look no further.
6. In Dreams We Rot by Betty Rocksteady (Trepidatio Pub)
In Dreams We Rot is a pulsing nightmare that seeps into your brain and contaminates every ounce of safety. Consider this collection anxiety personified. It doesn’t matter whether you read during the night or the day. The fact that you’re holding it in your hands means it’s already too late. Betty Rocksteady is one of the coolest horror writers around right now. If you aren’t exploring her work, you’re messing up.
7. Opioid, Indiana by Brian Allen Carr (Soho Press)
Brian Allen Carr’s latest novel is an honest, heartbreaking exercise in characterization and setting that portrays a teenager coming of age in the modern world. Poverty has never felt so authentic than in Opioid, Indiana. It’s hilarious, it’s depressing, it’s genuine. This book ruined me for a good week.
8. The Worst is Yet to Come by S.P. Miskowski (Trepidatio Pub)
The Worst is Yet to Come is fast-paced instrument of anxious horror that’s difficult to put down. Ghosts and witches and small towns, oh my! The worldbuilding and mythos layered through Miskowski’s fiction is fascinating and makes every second of The Worst is Yet to Come worth savoring.
9. End of the Ocean by Matthew McBride (Polis Books)
This meditative novel built on patience rewards with a darkly entertaining cast of unique characters. McBride’s strength here is transporting readers to Bali and making them feel and breathe and smell what his characters experience. It’s an absolute pleasure digesting his prose.
10. Saint Sadist by Lucas Mangum (Grindhouse Press)
Mangum’s novel is a nihilistic descent into hell that dumps readers into a grave on page one, and instead of having the option of climbing out, only allows them to dig deeper. The dread-induced sentence structure provides an often-poetic minimalism, and the short, gut-punching chapters come at you with machine-gun speed. Even so, this isn’t a novel for everyone. If you decide you’re brave enough, be prepared: it’s going to ruin you. Saint Sadist is dangerous literature at its finest.
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