Features

Rich Duncan’s Favorites of 2019

It seems like I say this every year, but 2019 was truly a great year in Horror. While this list isn’t exclusively Horror, a bulk of the books are and I’m consistently blown away by all of the amazing stories that come out from independent publishers and writers each year. This list is by no means exhaustive, and that’s why I went with “Favorite Reads” instead of the traditional “Best of” list, especially because with the exception of the Top 3, the order could easily be different if you asked me tomorrow. 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’s second year our best yet. We had some big changes including launching the Ink Heist podcast and publishing original fiction and all of you have been incredibly supportive. Words can’t begin to describe how thankful Shane and I are for your support. We’ve had a blast and hope to bring you even more great content in 2020!


Novels

1. John F.D. Taff – The Fearing

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I reviewed the middle entries of The Fearing for Ink Heist (you can find them here and here), so I won’t dive too deeply into the contents of the book itself. A broad overview of Taff’s serial novel is an apocalyptic story that examines what our world would look like if our collective fears were unleashed on humanity. This was an easy selection for my favorite read of 2019 as it has all the hallmarks of Taff’s work that makes him one of my favorite writers. More importantly than that, Taff’s decision to make The Fearing a serial release led to one of the year’s most fun reading experiences. I haven’t had an experience like this since I was a kid reading Goosebumps, eagerly anticipating each installment. In my opinion, Taff’s take on apocalyptic fiction is unique and sure to be remembered as a landmark of the genre.

2. Laird Barron – Black Mountain

Laird Barron’s Isaiah Coleridge series is one of my favorite series in crime right now. While the first entry Blood Standard is more of a straight-ahead noir, Black Mountain finds the series moving closer to Barron’s cosmic horror universe. I’ve always been a huge fan of books that blur the genre boundaries between crime and horror, and Black Mountain does that expertly. Coleridge is hired to look into the brutal murders of criminals and as his investigation deepens, he begins to uncover stories of a figure known as The Croatoan. I devoured this book and The Croatoan is one of the scariest antagonists of any book I’ve read this year. He looms over the narrative and is largely described through anecdotes from those who’ve encountered him. What can be more terrifying than a man who scares some of the most violent and dangerous criminals on the streets? Barron is working on a third installment for release this year and I can’t wait to see what fresh set of adventures await Coleridge.

3. Angel Luis Colón – Hell Chose Me

I wanted to read more crime this year and one of the first books I picked up was this debut novel from Angel Louis Colón. The novel follows career hitman Bryan Walsh as he attempts to get revenge for the death of his brother after a lifetime of dealing in the criminal underworld finally catches up with him. As he struggles with the demons of his past that haunt him every day, Walsh embarks on a violent and bloody journey in a quest to make some small penance for the damage he has caused. This novel consumed me as Colon’s writing is lean, mean and utterly engaging. I couldn’t tear myself away from this book for long and it’s one of the best crime debuts I’ve ever read. The characterization is excellent and complex, with each character leaping off the page with distinctive personalities and motives. Walsh is an interesting protagonist because hes extremely good at what he does and has used it to build a life for himself. It may not be a moral life, but that’s what makes his struggles of conscience so engaging as the novel progresses. There is a tinge of horror sprinkled throughout in scenes that are used to exemplify Walsh’s regret that should appeal to fans of both crime and horror. Hell Chose Me is a pitch-perfect crime noir from a fresh, powerful voice in the genre. If you don’t already have any of Colon’s works on your shelf, you’ll want to rectify that immediately.

4. Damien Angelica Walters – The Dead Girls Club

Full Review

The Dead Girls Club opens with child psychologist Heather receiving a mysterious package that arrives at her office with no return address. She opens and it and sees there is no letter inside it, but she does notice something tucked into the corner of the envelope. It’s a small, weathered half-heart pendant that Heather hasn’t seen in nearly 30 years and seeing it, impossibly, in her office makes her panic. She begins reflecting on what the pendant represents and makes a shocking confession to the reader: She killed Becca. Before you curse me out for spoiling the story, it happens in the opening chapter and is even part of the synopsis. I promise, I would never knowingly spoil a book for you, but I digress. The arrival of Becca’s half of the best friend pendant is the inciting incident that kicks off The Dead Girls Club, a novel full of dark secrets, paranoia and a compelling mystery.

I’ve mentioned numerous times that I love horror novels that bring elements of other genres in and Walters does that expertly. Make no mistake about it, The Dead Girls Club is a horror novel through and through and parts of it reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe. The depiction of the Red Lady and her backstory is pure nightmare fuel and her presence is felt throughout the entire narrative, even when the characters aren’t talking about her. That being said, it’s also a well-crafted thriller that toys with the reader’s expectations of what’s real and what isn’t. How much of what happens is because of the Red Lady? Is the Red Lady even real? Part of the fun is trying to figure out those mysteries as the novel unfolds. There’s just enough ambiguity there to keep the reader off-kilter but without frustrating them. I have my own opinions on the Red Lady, but you’ll get no spoilers from me. You’ll have to read for yourself and see what you believe.

5. Shaun Hamill – A Cosmology of Monsters

One of the best feelings you can have as a reader is discovering a brand new author and just being floored by how good the story is. That’s the exact experience I had reading Hamill’s stunning debut A Cosmology of Monsters. It’s a novel that spans decades of the lives of the Turner family that is haunted by a mysterious presence and influences the lives of all of them in unchangeable ways. The novel is largely chronicled by the youngest child Noah and is brilliant story that exemplifies truly remarkable character work and a brilliant mythology. Hamill blends multiple genres in this must read debut and A Cosmology of Monsters is an imaginative novel that makes Hamill a writer to watch for years to come.

 

6. Karen Runge – Doll Crimes

I’ve been a fan of Runge’s ever since I read her mesmerizing story collection Seven Sins. Runge’s work in horror generally focuses a lens on people and characters and the darkness that oozes from her work is grounded in the darkness that lurks within the human soul with occasional supernatural or weird flourishes. Runge’s writing is evocative and unflinching, especially in Doll Crimes, which tackles heavy thematic elements without needing explicit descriptions of the trauma suffered by the narrator. Runge’s voice is wholly unique, but I can’t help but notice similarities to Jack Ketchum when I read her work. Remarkable.

 

 

 

 

7. Bob Ford and Matt Hayward – A Penny for Your Thoughts

A Penny For Your Thoughts is the brand new collaboration between Robert Ford and Matt Hayward that follows Joe Openshaw as soon as he’s released from prison following a drug addiction that led to a dangerous criminal charge. He’s living with his Dad and trying to get his life back on track when he discovers a jar of pennies while hiking the nearby Lowback Trail. As Joe examines them, he realize each one is taped to a handwritten note that he discovers are a child’s wishes. As he begins opening them, he realizes that against all odds, the wishes are coming true. They start off relatively harmless – even hilarious at times – but soon the wishes take a dark turn and lead Joe and his friends down a terrifying path with deadly consequences. I didn’t know much about this book going into it, but I thought it would be a straight-up horror novel. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that A Penny For Your Thoughts is a genre mash-up that is sure to excite readers of various different genres. It’s a perfect blend of supernatural horror, noir and humor, so essentially everything we love here at Ink Heist. Ford and Hayward make for one hell of a writing team and the story is so seamless, it’s hard to pinpoint what parts of the story were written by each author. That is one element that I think is both important and the hallmark of a great collaboration novel, when the writers are able to blend their own unique styles into a singular voice. Armed with an inventive plot and rich characterization, this book has quickly shot to the top of my list of favorite books in 2019. And while there are plenty of scary scenes and ones that are legitimately laugh out loud funny, there are also some heartbreaking moments that hit like a sledgehammer. You’ll know when you read them and damn if they didn’t give me goosebumps.

8. Caitlin Starling – The Luminous Dead

Full Review

One of the most exciting experiences for me as a reader is discovering a new voice and being utterly blown away by their talent. That’s what happened when I first picked up Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead, which focuses on a caver named Gyre, who is desperate to leave her home planet of Cassandra V by any means necessary. She has her reasons for wanting to flee and even though she has no professional caving experience, she lies her way into a dangerous yet lucrative solo mission. The payout from such a job is so great that it will only take this one job to get the money she needs to leave her world and make a better life. It’s a short cut golden ticket that would have taken her a handful of regular jobs to complete. Armed with the latest high-tech mining suit, Gyre’s bravado makes her believe she will accomplish this job with ease. However, the longer she spends beneath the surface of Cassandra V, the more she realizes this job is anything but normal. She’s down there alone, with no team to assist her and her only surface support is a mysterious woman named Em. As Gyre continues her journey deep into the heart of Cassandra V, she must confront a host of terrifying situations, creatures and the growing fear that she can’t trust the one person who can help keep her alive.

The fact that The Luminous Dead is Starling’s debut novel is mind-blowing, especially when you consider the structure of the novel. The story is minimalist in that it mostly focuses on two characters and takes place in a singular location, yet Starling is able to make it feel grander through her descriptions without bogging the story down with too much exposition. She also creates a tense, creepy atmosphere by using Gyre’s isolation in the caves to drive the plot and create scenes of psychological and physical horrors. The Luminous Dead is a genre hybrid that succeeds on all levels and establishes Starling as a writer destined to be a force in the horror genre.

9. Cody T Luff – Ration

Full Review

Ration is a bleak story with an oppressive atmosphere that looms over the entirety of the novel. There are numerous scenes throughout that are tense, brutal and unflinching in their cruelty. There is one scene in particular that is extremely difficult to get through and introduces another level of horror that was only hinted at earlier in the novel. That being said, Ration is not all doom and gloom. In the face of a punishing reality, there are glimmers of brightness and hope that maybe, just maybe, the next generation of women in Ration will rise above the harshness that has plagued them for so long. Ration is an incredibly powerful debut that has been generating some well deserved buzz in the horror community. While Ration is a speculative fiction novel, I feel like this is a book that can cross genre boundaries and will resonate with a large group of readers.

 

 

10. Brian Kirk – Will Haunt You

Full Review

Will Haunt You is a blend of psychological and cosmic horror, filtered through Kirk’s unique imagination. There are touchstones of these subgenres throughout the story to help tether the reader to something familiar, but make no mistake, Will Haunt You is anything but ordinary. Kirk immerses readers in a mind-melting nightmare world and unleashes a unique set of horrors. Without going into spoilers, one of my favorite aspects of the novel was that for the most part, the horrors were heavily psychological. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of action, violence, and the occasional moment of gore, but that doesn’t seem to be the focal point. Rather than traditional scares, Kirk builds a sense of existential dread that permeates every page of Will Haunt You once Jesse realizes this isn’t just his friends messing with him. There’s something terrifying about not being able to trust your own mind and what you perceive as reality. What’s real? Who can he trust? Why is this group messing with him? Those are just a few of the mysteries that make Will Haunt You such an addictive read.

Will Haunt You is expertly plotted and full of surprises. I won’t tell you what they are because that would spoil the fun, but Kirk hides Easter Eggs throughout the novel that adds multiple layers of enjoyment to the overall narrative. The two books are wildly different, but when I think about all of the tie-ins to Will Haunt You – from those hidden surprises to the viral internet-based Obsideo – I think of a more accessible House of Leaves. One thing is for certain, with Brian Kirk’s reality shattering Will Haunt You, he has cemented himself as one of the genre’s most exciting voices and I can’t wait to see what he has planned next.

11. Josh Malerman – On This, The Day of the Pig

Full Review

When I heard news of Josh Malerman’s limited Cemetery Dance release On This, the Day of the Pig, I knew I had to have it. Despite loving everything he has written to date – each novel for their own reason – I did have a few questions. How would a full-length novel that focuses on a pig named Pearl work? Just how scary could it be? The answer turned out to be: pretty goddamn scary. There are more than a few scenes in this novel that are pure nightmare fuel, feverish visions that pop up when you least expect them for maximum impact. While there are some frightening elements in all of his books, this may be his most straight-up, in your face horror novel yet. There are elements of Psychological Horror, Body Horror, and some fresh takes on other horror genre staples. It carries the spirit of vintage horror paperbacks in its pages, so if you ever wanted to see Malerman tackle that style, you need to get a copy of this book. Not to mention the vibrant artwork done by Slasher Dave that manages to capture the allure of 80’s paperbacks. Josh Malerman is an imaginative, born storyteller, and I look forward to seeing what sort of stories he still has in store for us horror fans.

12. Max Booth III – Carnivorous Lunar Acivities

Max Booth III is one of the genres most unique voices and when I heard he was taking on the werewolf mythos, it instantly shot to the top of my most anticipated 2029 releases. While there is plenty of terrifying “what the fuck” moments throughout, Max’s story stands out with a perfect balance of side-splitting humor. Also unique is that Carnivorous Lunar Activity crafts a gripping narrative despite largely taking place in a singular location and being driven almost exclusively by dialogue between the two main characters. Carnivorous Lunar Activities is right up there with A Penny for Your Thoughts for the title as of the most fun I’ve had reading a novel in 2019.

 

 

 

 

13. Jonathan Janz – The Dark Game

The Dark Game is a novel where ten writers are given the chance of a lifetime – to attend a writing retreat held by the reclusive, world famous author Roderick Wells and a shot at the literary prestige and wealth. Wells promises them that he will teach them to mine the untapped potential they all possess and help take their writing to new levels. However, once the competition starts, the writers find that Wells isn’t the benevolent benefactor they conjured in their minds.

I’ve been a fan of Janz’s work for years now and have always been in awe of his talent and voice. He’s a masterful storyteller and his prose has always been top-notch, but somehow he continues to raise the bar for himself with each new release. After reading The Dark Game, I think it surpasses Children of the Dark as my favorite Janz novel. There are some bone-chilling scenes in this novel and Janz utilizes them to amplify the psychological darkness that pervades the overall narrative. I also loved the nods to Janz’s own work that are scattered throughout.

 

14. Adrian McKinty – The Chain

I remember when I first heard about this book and Don Winslow’s tagline that said “This book is Jaws for parents”, I knew I had to get my hands on this book. The Chain’s plot is terrifying: Imagine a complete stranger calls you and tells you they’ve taken your child. The only way to get them back is to pay a ransom and kidnap another strangers child. If you fail or contact the police, your child is dead. The Chain takes innocent people and forces them to commit the unthinkable, perpetuating the evil of The Chain. McKinty’s novel has a breathtaking pace and I absolutely devoured this book.

 

 

 

 

 

15. Hunter Shea – Slash

Full Review

Hunter Shea is one of my favorite horror writers and while he is best known for his cryptid novels, the fact is he has an incredible range. The one constant though is his ability to craft high-octane horror stories that appeal to the horror lover in us all. Like many in the horror community, Hunter is a horror fan first and foremost. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of horror films and books – which you can see from his podcasts Monster Men and Final Guys – and he has an infectious energy when talking about all things horror. That same passion bleeds through in his works and the result is a fun read made for horror fans by a horror fan.

His most recent Flame Tree Press novel Slash, finds him taking his knowledge and fandom and applying it to the Slasher subgenre, which is something that doesn’t get nearly the love it deserves when it comes to books. One thing that I loved about Slash was that it’s set five years after the Hayden Resort Massacre, when the world was first made aware of the lunatic killer known as the Wraith. Ashley King was the only survivor of the massacre and the opening chapters explore the guilt and grief that she feels being the only one to survive after witnessing the deaths of her closest friends. Not only that, she lives her life in constant fear since the Wraith was never found. She hates dark spaces and is constantly looking over her shoulder, worried that the Wraith will hunt her down.

I’ve always enjoyed reading Hunter’s books because they capture that same feeling I used to get browsing the shelves at the video store, grabbing armfuls of classic horror movies. There’s a comfort there, and every time I pick up one of his books, I know I’m in for one hell of a reading experience. At any given time you may laugh, cringe, yell out “holy shit,” or any other reaction you can think of. But, most of all, you’ll have fun. We all know the tradition of slashers and sequels and Shea doesn’t disappoint in that regard, leaving the door open for future stories involving the Wraith. I thought Slash was an absolute thrill ride from start to finish and was full of buckets of blood, mayhem, and great characters. So, if you’re reading this Hunter or any of the folks at Flame Tree Press, please give us more of the Wraith!

16. Laurel Hightower – Whispers in the Dark

Whispers in the Dark was technically released in 2018, but it was towards the end of the year and this is my list, so I’m including it. Hightower’s debut follows Rose McFarland, a S.W.A.T. sniper whose body is covered in burn scars, a permanent reminder of The Whispers, mysterious voices that were responsible for a horrific fire that claimed the lives of her family. After a deadly standoff, Rose is once again faced with the increasing presence of the Whispers and visions of ghosts haunting both her and her family. I absolutely loved this book and Laurel crafts some truly chilling scenes that amplify the tension of the story and had me saying, “Damn, this is so good” multiple times as I was reading it. A brilliant blend of horror and crime, Laurel creates a gripping, terrifying story that lingers with you long after you finish it and has established herself as a writer to watch in the Horror genre.

17. Scott Thomas – Violet

Full Review

Violet mixes psychological horror with large doses of dread, ambiguity and a unique antagonist to create a story that slowly worms its way into your subconscious and sticks with you long after you finish reading. The more I think about Violet, the more things I uncover about the construction of the narrative that makes me love the story even more. It’s full of small “aha” moments that serve as the foundation for the novel’s chilling ending. Violet was my first experience with Thomas’ work, but I’m now eagerly anticipating going back and discovering Kill Creek. While not a traditional ghost story, Thomas does use elements of them in Violet and it carries the same spirit as the early classics of the form.

 

 

 

18. Patrick Senecal – Seven Days

Full Review

Seven Days follows the story of Dr. Bruno Hamel, whose life is changed forever one Fall day when he realizes his seven-year-old daughter Jasmine is late getting home from school. At first he isn’t worried as he figures she’s probably just at a friend’s house. After exhausting all rational possibilities, Bruno finally calls the police. They head over to the school to investigate and that’s when one of the officers makes a horrifying discovery. Jasmine was raped and murdered and the news shatters the lives of both Bruno and his partner Sylvie. Overcome with grief, he plans to get his revenge against the man accused of killing his daughter. What follows is a brutal, visceral story of one man’s descent into coping with his loss and trying to make sense of a horrifying situation.

This book is definitely horrific as some of the violence is enough to cause readers to flinch. I won’t venture into specifics, but of instances were pretty cringe inducing and fully exemplify that sometimes people are the scariest monsters of all with the level of terror and pain they are willing to inflict on other people. While Seven Days is firmly rooted in the horrors of the real world, Senécal does mix in a bit of psychological horror that adds a vaguely supernatural element. Throughout the story, Bruno is plagued by a frightening noise. Is this part of something supernatural happening or simply the result of one man losing the grip on his sanity due to the crushing grief he has to come to terms with? The answer may surprise a lot of readers, but I felt like it was an effective plot device that really hammered home some of the central themes of the book.

Seven Days is a bleak book that deals with some very heavy themes, but it’s one that I enjoyed immensely. It feels kind of weird saying that – you’ll know why when you read it – but the truth is, I could hardly put this book down once I got started. Senécal taps right into the darkest parts of the human psyche and is able to get readers to question their own beliefs as they follow Bruno’s quest for vengeance. This is his first work to be translated to English and I hope there is more to follow soon because his blend of dark fiction is incredibly addictive. 

19. Jeremy Hepler The Cricket Hunters

The Cricket Hunters is another brilliant “Coming of Age” story that appears on my list. Celia Lundy and her friends call themselves “The Cricket Hunters” and the five friends are virtually inseparable until one of The Cricket Hunters disappears without a trace. The entire town scrambles to find out what happened to Abby, but the trail runs cold and decades pass hiding the truth and forever altering the bond of The Cricket Hunters. When Cel’s husband Parker goes missing years later, it forces Cel to confront her past and the secrets of that summer in 1998 finally bubble to the surface.

Hepler uses alternating timelines to craft a story that blurs the line between reality and the supernatural and builds mystery and tension right up until the final page. Hepler expertly captures the sort of carefree freedom of youth and the way he chronicles the growth of every character in the story is nothing short of impressive. I read this one before circling back to his excellent and imaginative debut The Boulevard Monster and Hepler is easily one of my favorite newer writers.

 

20. Chad Lutzke – The Pale White

Lutzke’s The Pale White is a “Coming of Age” story that focuses on three girls – Alex, Stacia, and Kammie – who have spent a large portion of their life held captive by a man who runs a sex trafficking ring out of his house and their attempt to escape. Lutzke’s story is an emotional gut-punch that explores the characters’ trauma without focusing on graphic depictions of the horrors they face. The characterization is excellent and even though Lutzke runs his readers through the emotional ringer, their is a glimmer of hope that shines in The Pale White.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Novellas

1. James Newman and Mark Steensland – In The Scrape

In the Scrape is the tale of two brothers – thirteen-year-old Jake and his little brother Matthew – who dream of running away to California to escape their abusive father. As they plot to put their plan into motion, Jake has a violent run in with the school bully that sets all of the characters on a collision course where long buried secrets finally come to light. This story has elements of real-life horror that are filtered through a noir lense and that combination leads to a devastating and and emotional story that lingered with me well after reading and I still can’t shake from my memory. The pacing is pitch perfect and many times Newman and Steensland evoked visceral reactions from me that made this an obvious choice for my favorite novella of the year. The voices blend perfectly and I hope there are more collaborations to come from these two authors.

 

 

 

2. Michael Patrick Hicks – The Resurrectionists

The first book I read from Michael Patrick Hicks’ was last years no holds barred creature-feature Broken Shells, which has a distinctly vintage horror aesthetic and is bursting with terrifying creatures, buckets of blood and total mayhem. I immediately loved that story and it ended up snagging a spot on my end of the year list. So when Hicks announced The Resurrectionists, I knew I had to read it. I mentioned last week that I have a love for historical horror, and was excited to learn that this novella takes place shortly after the American Revolution. The Resurrectionists introduces readers to Salem Hawley, who earned his freedom fighting for the colonies during the war. After his friend’s family are stolen from their graves by the increasingly numerous resurrectionists, Salem decides to help his friend get justice. However, the group responsible for the grave robbings have motives that stretch far beyond normal medical experiments. Their goals are much darker and as Salem begins to unravel their ultimate goal, he witnesses horrors beyond his wildest imagination. To say that The Resurrectionists is a blast to read is an understatement. I devoured it in one sitting and the frenetic pace starts pretty much from the beginning and never relents. Hicks crafts an interesting mythology that permeates the story and this novel features some of his scariest scenes to date. If you dig cosmic horror and a historical backdrop, this is an essential addition to your library.This is the first book in a proposed series and I for one can’t wait for the next installment!

3. Daniel Braum – The Serpent’s Shadow

This is a gripping story from Daniel Braum and it’s right on the cusp of novel/novella length, so I included it on the novella list. The Serpent’s Shadow has plenty of twists and you’re left guessing as to how the book will end right up until the final pages. A unique take on Cosmic Horror that eschews the usual influences and instead borrows from Aztec culture for an engaging, cerebral novel that doesn’t shy away from scenes of brutality. If you haven’t read Braum yet, this is a great place to start!

 

 

 

 

 

4. Ed Kurtz – A Wind of Knives

I don’t generally consider myself a fan of Westerns, but A Wind of Knives seemed to be a little bit different from what I think of when I think of Westerns. A Wind of Knives finds struggling rancher Daniel Hayes on a quest for revenge after his only ranch hand and lover is found lynched right outside of their home. A Wind of Knives is a lean, mean novella that sweeps you up in its narrative right from the jump and refuses to let go. I loved Hayes’ determination for justice in the face of unimaginable odds when seemingly no one has his back. Complex characters, a propulsive plot and a stunning use of setting drive this novella which is finally back in print and deserves the widest possible audience. This novella opened my eyes to an entire new genre and if anyone has recommendations for similar Westerns, please send them my way because I completely fell in love with A Wind of Knives.

 

 

5. Renee Miller – Howl

Full Review

At first glance, Howl seems to read like any number of monster-filled stories, but Miller has some tricks up her sleeve that ramp up the horror. As the situation in the cabin grows more dire and the group finds their numbers dwindling, Miller raises the stakes and crafts some stomach-churning scenes of extreme horror. It’s a tonal shift in an already blood-soaked story that fits it perfectly, but still shocks the reader and draws them further into the mayhem. I expected this book to lean more towards the extreme side of the spectrum, but Miller definitely surprised me with how far she was willing to go later in the novel. I had an absolute blast reading Howl, which was my first experience reading Miller’s work. It definitely won’t be my last and I can’t wait to explore her other works. If you dig Creature Feature fiction or extreme horror, Howl is a must-read novella you’ll want to add to your collection.

 

6. Matt Serafini – Rites of Extinction

I first read Matt Serafini’s latest release Rites of Extinction earlier in the year, and wow, talk about a crazy, exhilarating read. This was my first experience with Serafini’s work and it definitely won’t be my last. Rites of Extinction follows private investigator Rebecca Daniels as she heads to the small town of Bright Fork, New Hampshire in her quest for revenge to punish the man responsible for her daughter’s murder. Nothing about Rites of Extinction is as it appears at first glance, and Serafini puts a fresh twist on familiar genre tropes in a brutal story that offers plenty of surprises and cringe-inducing scenes. By the way, if you aren’t reading the books Grindhouse Press releases, you’re missing out. I’ve read a few of them so far and they have been nothing less than stellar. Combining original stories with killer design, Grindhouse Press is easily one of my favorite independent publishers.

 

 

7. Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason – Isolation

The Sisters of Slaughter have been favorites of mine ever since I first read their debut Mayan Blue, which takes readers into the Mayan underworld and is full of blood-soaked scenes of brutality and nightmarish creatures. So naturally I was excited to read Isolation. Amelia is a young widow who faces losing everything after her husband’s suicide. He did leave her Port Rock, an aging mansion isolated on its own island in the middle of the sea. All she has to do is agree to live on the island and her problems are solved. But Port Rock has a dark history and the longer Amelia stays there, she discovers the terrifying truth about Port Rock’s secrets.

Isolation finds The Sisters of Slaughter exploring a different style of Horror, but it still has all the hallmarks of their work that readers have come to love over the years. It’s a haunting Gothic novella with an atmosphere best experienced on a cold, dreary day.

 

 

8. Duane Bradley – Dirty Water

Full Review

Duane Bradley’s Dirty Water is the second entry into Unnerving’s Midnight Snacks chapbook series. These are shorter stories meant to be enjoyed in one sitting and explore the darkness of of both crime and horror fiction. Dirty Water takes place in 1986 and follows two small-time criminals Dolemite and Joey Warbeck as they plot a score they think will finally net them the big payday they’ve been chasing after their last attempt at bank robbery goes sideways. It’s a simple plan really. What business draws constant traffic? An adult bookstore. But they’re not looking at grabbing the tills, they’re gunning for the real money. The money that flows through the peep show booths and is harder to trace due to the anonymity its clients crave. The best part is, since all the cash is piles of coins in heavy bags, no dye packs will be present. What could possibly go wrong? An easy job quickly spirals out of control as Dolemite and Joey are thrust into a violent and bloody journey that proves crime doesn’t pay.

Overall, Dirty Water is an entertaining read and will appeal to those looking for a gritty, no frills crime story with lightening fast pacing. I had a blast following the misadventures of these two characters and I hope Bradley plans to revisit them soon. I could easily see this story expanding into a series of stories or novels and I think after reading Dirty Water, you’ll be clamoring for more stories featuring Dolemite and Joey too.

9. Chad Lutzke  – The Same Deep Water As You

Full Review

While many readers may not see The Same Deep Water As You as traditional horror, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit within the genre. There is a dark undercurrent that is present throughout the story. Instead of supernatural threats or even more horrific true life horror, Lutzke invests you in the lives of these characters and utilizes everyday horror. He captures the loss and pain that’s common in most of our lives and uses it with a devastating effectiveness. I won’t get into anything remotely resembling spoilers here, but what I can say is that The Same Deep Water As You is a deeply moving story that is equal parts nostalgia and heartbreak that will appeal to those who enjoy horror with a more emotional slant.  I find something new to enjoy with each new book I read from Lutzke and I can’t wait to see what sort of story he tackles next.

 

 

Anthologies/Collections

1. ¡PA’QUE TU LO SEPAS! Edited by Angel Luis Colón

One of my favorite things about anthologies is that they allow readers to explore a wide variety of authors and styles. A lot of time with anthologies, I will read a few stories, take a short break, read a fw stories, and rinse and repeat. That was not the case with the latest anthology from Down&Out Books, ¡PA’QUE TU LO SEPAS!, which was edited by Angel Luis Colón in order to raise money for the people of Puerto Rico, who are still suffering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria. I spoke to Angel about ¡PA’QUE TU LO SEPAS! quite a bit when he appeared on the podcast a few months ago, but I’ve been struggling with writing this review. Why? Because the stories that make up this anthology are so goddamn good, it feels like anything I write about them won’t do them the justice they deserve. But, I will give it my best shot. Comprised of eleven stories from both newcomer and veteran Latinx writers, ¡PA’QUE TU LO SEPAS! is a blend of a variety of styles and genres that add up to the year’s best anthology. That’s part of why I love this anthology so much and even though there is such a wide variety of genres going on, the unifying thread is the jaw-dropping excellence of the stories contained within. I know it seems like hyperbole, but the fact that numerous stories from this collection still stick with me prove that I’m not just bullshitting you.

I’m not going to breakdown every story in this collection – though I easily could – because that would ruin some of the surprises that are in store for you. Instead, I will highlight a few of my favorites: “The Sundowner” by Jessica Laine, “Boricua Obituary” by CIna Pelayo, “It Takes Un Pueblo” by Hector Duarte Jr., and “Turistas” by Hector Acosta. The truth is this anthology is incredibly fucking awesome and loaded with supremely talented writers and stories. If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, what are you waiting for? Easily the best anthology I’ve read in recent memory.

2. The Seven Deadliest – Edited by Patrick Beltran and D. Alexander Ward

The novellas that make up this collection are truly outstanding and they are the type of stories that will stick with you long after you finish them. One of the most impressive things about The Seven Deadliest was seeing how each of the authors approached their sin and took a more nuanced approach to them as opposed to what may have immediately come to mind for readers (myself included). I don’t want to delve too deep into the content of the stories, but there is a great deal of variety throughout The Seven Deadliest and regardless of what type of horror you’re into, I think you’ll love this anthology. I also dug the “behind the scenes” aspect of the authors describing their approach to their stories. It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite, but I will say if you just can’t wait for the new season of Black Mirror, Richard Thomas’ “Ring of Fire” is just the story you need. I doubt Ink Heist is even on his radar, but if by some miracle Charlie Booker ever reads this, hire Richard to write an episode!

 

3. Betty Rocksteady – In Dreams We Rot

Betty Rocksteady’s latest short story collection In Dreams We Rot was my first introduction to her work and I was floored from the first story. Betty’s stories are vibrant, technicolor nightmares that filter universal themes through often surreal situations to create a mesmerizing experience you can’t -and don’t want to- tear your eyes from. I loved all of these stories, but here are a few standouts that still haunt me: “Tiny Bones Beneath Their Feet”, “These Beautiful Bones”, “Postpartum”, and “Elephants That Aren’t”. Betty Rocksteady cemented herself as one of the best short story writer’s around with this collection, in my opinion.

 

 

 

 

4. Matt Hayward – Various States of Decay

Matt Hayward’s Various States of Decay is his first collection and features stories that run the gamut of the Horror spectrum. Hayward’s versatility shines through in every story and creates an atmosphere of excitement and unease as you never know what sort of horrors he is waiting to unleash on you with each story. This collection has it all from emotionally devastating stories to “Creature Features” to stories that put fresh twists on familiar tropes. Hayward plays with narrative structure (“I’d Rather Go Blind”) and threads connective membranes throughout a few of the stories (the mysterious corporation OneWave) to create an exhilarating reading experience that left me clamoring for more.

A few standouts: “I’d Rather Go Blind”, “More Will Follow”, “Where The Wild Winds Blow” and “Rodent in the Red Room”

5. Tales from the Crust: An Anthology of Pizza Horror – Edited by Max Booth III and David James Keaton

In terms of pure fun, no anthology succeeds greater than Perpetual Motion Machine’s pizza-themed anthology Tales from the Crust. I had a blast with all of the stories in this anthology and kudos to all of the writers and editors Max Booth III and David James Keaton for taking an absurd idea and turning it into something special. On the surface, the idea seems ridiculous. But with such an outlandish theme, it allowed some of the best writers in the genre to let their creativity fly and the result is a collection of stories that incorporate many subgenres of horror and a reading experience that is unlike anything else out there. It has interdimensional beings, blood-thirsty beasts, time travel, you name it. Oh, and of course pizza.  I mean hell, this anthology dominated the genre to the point where every Open Call I stumbled across said “Please, NO pizza horror stories”. Tales from the Crust is a fucking blast to read and I think every horror fan needs a copy on their shelves.

Some of my favorites: “The Vegan Wendigo” by Cody Goodfellow, “When The Moon Hits Your Eye” by Jessica McHugh, “Last Request” by Rob Hart, “Body of Crust” by Amanda Hard and “Leftovers” by Betty Rocksteady

Other Cool Stuff I Enjoyed in 2019

Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson – Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction

I can’t recommend this book enough. Highly informative, fun to read and introduced me to a TON of writers whose work sounds stunning. I’m familiar with the current authors in the book, but the early sections were a revelation. If you enjoyed Paperbacks from Hell, this is another essential addition to your horror library. There are so many classic works in this book that I haven’t heard of and I’m excited to go book hunting for some of these titles. I’ve already picked up Mary Elizabeth Counselman’s collection Half in Shadow on their recommendation. Excellent book with some killer design work from Quirk Books.

 

 

 

 

Always Be My Maybe

I have a confession to make. For all the horror and crime movies I watch chock full of monsters, evil and bloodthirsty villains, I have a soft spot for Rom-Coms. Sue me. Always Be My Maybe is comedian Ali Wong’s first leading role in a film and she delivers an excellent performance that should make her a rising star in Hollywood. The film follows two childhood friends from San Francisco who haven’t spoken in over a decade after their brief moment of romance ended badly. In the years after they seperated, Sasha has gone on to become a highly successful celebrity chef while Marcus still lives and works with his father while performing with his high school band Hello Peril. When Sasha returns to San Francisco, she runs into Marcus, and its obvious that there is still a connection there. While the spark remains, their two different lifestyles create complications in their relationship. Always Be My Maybe is filled with hilarious moments, a killer soundtrack, great story and a surprise actor that will delight viewers and is responsible for some gut-busting laughs. I mean seriously name the last movie – let alone a rom-com- that featured Alice in Chains and Collective Soul in the soundtrack? While all of these things help make Always Be My Maybe a great movie, the real driving force is the natural chemistry between Ali Wong and Randall Park. Trust me, you definitely need to check this movie out. Normally I would post the trailer, but I feel like it kind of spoils part of the movie. So instead, I’m going to go with a song from Marcus’ band Hello Peril. Also, can someone please convince Randall Park to keep making music?

Black Spot

Some of the best horror shows being released today are coming from other countries and it’s a true joy as a genre fan to stumble on these gems thanks to various streaming services. Les Revenants, Dark, Jordskott, Kingdom, and The Rain immediately come to mind as international horror shows that are both unique and incredibly addictive. If you add in crime shows, I could go on for days. Black Spot is the latest series from Netflix to add to that list and blends elements of crime and horror for a truly unsettling experience. Black Spot focuses on Laurène Weiss, who is in charge of the police force in her hometown of Villefranche. The town is isolated and surrounded by mountains and forests for as far as the eye can see and there is no shortage of odd quirks that make the town stand out. After Weiss and her team find the body of a woman hanging from a strange tree, a mysterious DA arrives in town to figure out why the murder rate in Villefranche is skyrocketing compared to the rest of France. Along the way, he also uncovers a secret about Weiss’ past. I’m only one episode in, but I’m already hooked and I have a feeling this is a binge-worthy series. The cinematography is stunning and amplifies the dark atmosphere that drives the show. Black Spot has drawn comparisons to a few of the series mentioned above (Jordskott and Dark) as well as Twin Peaks. If you enjoy the sort of stuff we cover on Ink Heist (which I would hope you do since you’re reading this), chances are Black Spot is going to be one of your favorite new shows.

 

The OA (Season 2) 

I finally got to watch the second season of Netflix’s mind-bending series The OA this past weekend. When the show first debuted on Netflix, it was fairly divisive among viewers. Personally, I loved it. While there were a lot of moments where I had no idea what the hell was going on, I was captivated by the show’s ambitious vision. That being said, this season blows the first one out of the water. It follows the characters from last season and the fallout from the events of the finale, but we also meet a new character private eye Karim Washington. Karim is hired to track down a missing girl that leads him into a strange house and a mysterious online game. I loved the addition of Karim’s character, I feel his storyline helps ground the story while also maintaining the same striking visuals and the unique weirdness of the first season. I’m kind of surprised this show doesn’t get as much buzz among genre fans, but this is a stellar season that doesn’t shy away from its ambitions and complex storytelling. Even if you weren’t a fan of Season 1, I highly recommend giving this season a shot. It continues the series’ mythology, but it’s a totally different beast. Sadly, Netflix cancelled the series which pisses me off because I couldn’t wait to see how they followed up the finale of Season 2.

Marianne

There aren’t many French horror TV shows out there, but every time I discover one, it blows my mind. Les Revenants, Black Spot and now Marianne are perfect examples and blend some truly frightening ideas with breathtaking cinematography. Marianne revolves around a young novelist named Emma who realizes that the frightening witch that led to her literary success exists in the real world and is hellbent on forcing Emma out of retirement. There are some pretty brutal scenes and some excellent scares that make Marianne a must watch horror series that I hope gets another season. All of the actors are great, but kudos to Mireille Herbstmeyer for providing me with nights of nightmare fuel.

 

 

 

 

6 replies »

  1. That’s a fab list, and we have some books/shows in common (Like Ration and Marianne). There are also some books I have on my TBR but haven’t read yet but really want to (like Will Haunt You). 2019 was a great reading year. I hope 2020 has books that are just as good!

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    • Thank you! Yeah, Marianne was excellent. That woman was terrifying! I think 2020 will be excellent for books, it seems like every year we are treated to a wealth of outstanding books.

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  2. The only book here I’ve read (yet) is The Dead Girls Club, which I loved.

    I have a few others already on my TBR, and will probably just add all the rest.

    Great list!

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  3. You have posted your Best of 2019 list but Shane Keene still has not posted his list. Will you please urge him to do it no matter how late it already is? Last year, he did it. So, why not this year? In fact, I have been anxiously checking your site everyday to see if he has posted the list.
    Secondly, I strongly urge you to do a ‘Best of the decade list’.

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    • It is coming, I promise. I’m just really slow because I suck at decision making. I’m going to embrace a different format this year and do a recommended reading list instead of a best-of list. There were SO many books in 2019 that were worthy of a top-ten list and I don’t want to exclude anyone. Thanks for your interest and your continued support!

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