Rich Duncan’s Favorite Reads of 2018

There is always a staggering amount of great horror books released every year, but this year felt like it was a really high mark for horror fiction. I feel like I say that every year and that’s because there are so many great authors and indie presses releasing books. This year I also started reading more crime, so there are a few books from that genre on my list as well. I see that continuing in 2019 as I would love to cover more crime for Ink Heist.

This list is by no means exhaustive of all the books out there. That’s why I went with “Favorite Reads” instead of the traditional “Best of” list.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get to a lot of books I was looking forward to reading in time to include on this list. However, of the works I did get to read, these were among my favorites.  I also want to take a minute to thank all of the readers and authors who helped make Ink Heist a success in our first year. We have had a blast and promise to continue bringing you more cool features in 2019.


NOVELS

1. Gabino Iglesias – Coyote Songs

I have been a huge fan of Gabino Iglesias’ work ever since Shane recommended that I check out Zero Saints. This novel came out toward the end of the year and I knew it was a novel I had to read based on how much I loved Zero Saints. Plus plenty of people I trust raved about the book, and when I read it I could see why. Coyote Songs is a mosiac novel that follows a handful of characters as their journeys overlap. When it comes to the reviewing world, it is easy to get carried away with hyperbole, especially when you’re writing about books that you love. However, this isn’t a case of hyperbole, this is straight up fact – Coyote Songs is the most powerful book of 2018. Iglesias is an extremely talented writer, but Coyote Songs finds his talents on another level, like he tapped into something magical that flowed right onto the page. Coyote Songs is home to incredibly vivid characters that you won’t forget and an extremely powerful message. There are tons of moments in this book that were like a punch to the stomach, but there is one particular scene in here that details a family’s journey as they try to cross the border that got me choked up. This passage is among one of the most powerful things I have ever read across any genre. I could honestly rave about this book forever, but I will simply say this – this is an essential read that needs to be placed at the top of your TBR stack immediately.

2. Laird Barron – Blood Standard

This may be considered sacrilegious, but this was my first book by Laird Barron. This is a finely tuned noir novel that hits all the right notes for fans of the genre and features prose that somehow sings amidst all the dark shit that goes on. Isaiah Coleridge is a complex and charismatic character. Even though he has a laundry list of flaws and admits he isn’t necessarily a good guy, readers can’t help but be drawn to him I’m a fan for life and the second novel Black Mountain is definitely on my “must read” list for 2019.

3. Hunter Shea – Creature

Readers of my old blog The Horror Bookshelf will know that I am a borderline obsessive fan of Hunter Shea’s books. I’ve read just about everything he has put out and the one thing I can always count on is being entertained. Shea is often viewed as one of the best authors when it comes to “Creature Features” or cryptid books, but the fact is, he has an incredible range that extends beyond those topics. Creature is Shea’s best output of his career in my opinion and this is another novel that really hit me hard and I couldn’t stop thinking about it long after reading. This is Shea’s most personal book yet and I think that is part of the reason why this book shines. It’s an emotional book that features some of Shea’s strongest characterization to date and puts a fresh and interesting twist on the Creature Feature genre.

4. Jonathan Janz – The Siren and The Specter

Jonathan Janz’s latest The Siren and The Specter is Janz’s take. Janz puts his own stamp on the ghost story genre and is able to blend the atmosphere of a traditional ghost story with a modern and extreme angle. This book was one that I couldn’t put down and is another reason why Janz is the best in the game.

5. John C. Foster – The Isle

Foster creates a memorable atmosphere and a perfect balance of folk horror and noir in The Isle  and it’s a book that will appeal to any dark fiction fan. The novel features a damaged protagonist with demons buried in his past who visits an island whose residents harbor a dark secret. There are plenty of great twists and the setting of an isolated island that seems like a throwback to a simpler time in the early winter months make this is a book that should be an annual winter read. I love that Foster manipulates the timelines within the main narrative by featuring flashbacks to Bone’s past that led him to this island and the chilling recollection of The Isle’s frightening past. If you haven’t read any of Foster’s work, this is a great place to start.

6. Alma Katsu – The Hunger

I love historical horror and it seems to be an often overlooked subgenre. Katsu takes the real life plight of the Donner Party and imbues it with a sense of desperation and evil that will have you guessing for most of the novel. Is there something supernatural going on or is the weirdness a result of the stress and hunger they face cut off from civilization? The less said about the plot the better, but Katsu’s original take is a breath of fresh air and an essential addition to your horror library.

7. J.D. Barker – The Fifth to Die

The first time I read Barker’s work was with his debut Forsaken, a genuinely frightening horror novel that deserves far more recognition. The Fifth to Die is his follow up to last years crime thriller The Fourth Monkey. Anson Bishop is still present in this novel, but a new killer begins making his own mark in Chicago. Barker crafts incredible tension and is almost impossible to put down. Barker leaves readers with an explosive twist that makes the third installment one of my most anticipated reads of 2019.

8. Josh Malerman – Unbury Carol

While there are moments of dread and horror throughout Unbury Carol, readers looking for a straight-up horror novel may come away a bit disappointed. In my opinion, the core of Malerman’s story revolves around love and the lengths people will go to in order to protect the ones they love. Malerman is one of those authors whose work I’m always interested in because I know that no matter what the basis of the story is, I know it will be something special. Malerman is like some kind of mad horror alchemist, unafraid of blending genres and using his unique creativity to push horror into some interesting places. There is something magical about Unbury Carol that kept me glued to the pages and that magic is one of the reasons this book was an obvious choice for this list.

9. Adam Howe and James Newman – Scapegoat

This novel has pretty much everything a horror fan could want, plenty of action, a sinister cult and a cast of unlikely heroes. I’m a huge fan of Howe’s work and a relative newcomer to Newman’s, but these guys are a match made in horror heaven. A lean story with almost no lulls, Howe and Newman create a seamless story that delivers on of horror’s best endings of 2018. If you haven’t read anything by other author before, start here and then pick up all of their releases. Incredible stuff.

10. Alan Baxter – Devouring Dark

I recently discovered Baxter’s work this year through his releases with Grey Matter Press. Manifest Recall was my first and it made Devouring Dark one of my most anticipated novels of 2018. Matt McLeod is a man who has been burdened with a dark power since childhood and he has spent years honing his abilities to be able to use it against people he views as being evil. However, when one of his vigilante hits goes sideways, he finds himself at the mercy of a powerful crime boss who plans to exploit his power. Matt McLeod must race against time to find a way to stop his new employer and maybe find some redemption along the way.

Baxter’s blend of horror and noir is damn near perfect and hits on all of my favorite parts from both genres. I can’t wait to read more from Baxter, he is definitely one of my favorite writers.

11. Grady Hendrix – We Sold Our Souls

Grady Hendrix’s We Sold Our Souls is a highly entertaining read that blends metal and horror, two things that make a perfect pairing. Hendrix’s book follows the career of metal band Dürt Würk. They were destined for stardom in the 1990s before their lead singer Terry Hunt abandoned them to launch a solo career under the band name Koffin. The bulk of the novel follows guitarist Kris Pulaski, a talented musician who saw all of her hopes and dreams go up in flames due to Terry’s dark deal to achieve fame at all costs. A brutal act of violence pushes Kris to the brink and she realizes she must confront her former bandmate and get the closure that has eluded her all of these years. This novel was a blast to read with some truly innovative and creepy scenes throughout. If you love horror and music (who doesn’t?) this is an essential read. Hendrix puts Kris through the wringer throughout We Sold Our Souls but she never gives up in the face of overwhelming odds. She was one of my favorite characters of 2018. Also, shout out to Quirk Books for the incredible design work that went into the physical edition of this book.

12. Riley Sager – The Last Time I Lied

Riley Sager burst onto the literary scene with 2017’s Final Girls, which went on to be a massive bestseller and picked up accolades from readers and publications alike. His follow-up The Last Time I Lied follows Emma Davis, an artist who is returning to the summer camp of her youth fifteen years after a terrible tragedy altered her life forever. Emma takes a job as a counselor because she sees this as her last chance to uncover the truth of what happened to her friends. Camp Nightingale remains unchanged all of these years later and allows Sager to blend the past and present into a great mystery and a compulsively readable story. Sager keeps readers guessing about the truth about what really happened to Emma’s friends until the last page. Along with Barker’s The Fifth to DieThe Last Time I Lied featured some of the best twists of the year.

13. Jonathan Maberry – Glimpse

Jonathan Maberry’s Glimpse is about a young woman named Rain who is rebuilding her life after years of drugs and abuse. She’s plagued by nightmares and visions of a terrifying entity known as Doctor Nine and she slowly begins realizing Doctor Nine has her son that she gave up for adoption ten years ago. Rain must rely on all of her inner strength and the help of her friends to venture into The Fire Zone in order to save her son and stop Doctor Nine once and for all. I loved following Rain’s journey and Doctor Nine is pretty frightening, but one of my favorite characters was the tattooed private eye Gerald “Monk” Addison. I don’t want to spoil too much about his character, but as someone who loves when horror and noir collide, I hope Maberry gives Monk a standalone novel in the very near future.

14. Glenn Rolfe – The Window

I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Glenn Rolfe’s latest novel The Window and I was captivated from start to finish. Rolfe brings an interesting twist to the demonic/possession genre and the result is a brutal and gripping novel that is one of his strongest works to date. Rolfe blends a coming of age story and family drama into this dark novel of supernatural horror that has some great scares and I had an absolute blast reading it!

15. Dathan Auerbach – Bad Man

This novel is pretty divisive among the horror community, much like Auerbach’s debut PenPal. Personally, I loved it. Auerbach creates a heartbreaking and mind-bending tale of one brother’s quest for the truth about his brother’s disappearance from a local grocery store years ago. There were times where I thought I knew exactly where this story was going, but I was happily proven wrong numerous times throughout the book. Bad Man offers plenty of twists and for readers that hate being able to figure out the ending in advance, I’m highly confident you won’t see the conclusion of this story coming.


NOVELLAS

1. C.V. Hunt – Cockblock

I had heard a lot about Hunt’s novella Cockblock throughout 2018 and the buzz had me intrigued to read more. This is a timely and wildly unique spin on tired genre tropes and is a novella I ripped through in one sitting. Excellent characters and rapid fire pacing, Cockblock nabbed my top spot because I could not stop thinking about it long after I finished. This novella cemented me as a fan for life and I can’t wait to see what Hunt comes up with next.

2. Alan Baxter – Manifest Recall

Review of Manifest Recall

3. Chad Lutzke – Stirring the Sheets

Review of Stirring the Sheets

4. Mark Matthews – Body of Christ

Review of Body of Christ

5. Scott Cole – Triple Axe

This was the first Grindhouse Press book I read this year and I’m glad I did as they put out top-notch horror and bizarro fiction that pushes the boundaries of traditional horror genre conventions. That same originality is found throughout the entirety of Scott Cole’s brilliant Triple Axe. This novella is about a serial killer that’s on the loose, murdering porn stars without leaving a shred of evidence behind. Triple Axe may seem like an average slasher at first glance, but as the novella progresses, Cole unleashes some wildly creative surprises that puts Triple Axe in a genre of it’s own. Highly recommended.

6. Michael Patrick Hicks – Broken Shells

Broken Shells is a blood-soaked, tense novella that is sure to appeal to a wide variety of horror fans, especially those that dig an old-school feel in their novels. Hicks does a great job of building tension throughout the course of Broken Shells and that helps keep the story moving at a blistering pace that kept me riveted until the final page. I read this one in one reading session and I came away very impressed with this story. This was my first work from Hicks, but it definitely won’t be my last.


COLLECTIONS/ANTHOLOGIES

1. John F.D. Taff – Little Black Spots

Review for Little Black Spots

2. Damien Angelica Walters – Cry Your Way Home

I have been a huge fan of Damien Angelica Walters ever since I read her inventive take on the ghost story, Paper Tigers. That novel features some of the best character work in recent memory and if you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. This was my first experience with Walters’ short fiction and the same hallmarks of Paper Tigers – fully realized characters and captivating prose – are found throughout this collection. I loved the variety of the stories in this collection and “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” may just be one of my all-time favorite short stories.

3. Doorbells at Dusk

This anthology from Corpus Press and edited by Evans Light centers around many horror fans favorite holiday, Halloween. There is a lot of variety in horror styles found throughout Doorbells at Dusk and I had a blast reading new stories from some of my favorite authors and discovering new writers. This is definitely a staple of my Halloween reading list.

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