2020 is finally dying in the trash fire it deserves, and it’s the time of year many book reviewers both love and dread: picking their year’s favorites. I’ve been extremely fortunate this year. I’ve encountered extremely wonderful books throughout 2020. If only the year happened to be as good as those books…
For this countdown, I’m listing my favorite books of the year, the stories and tomes that I consider the best quality out of everything I’ve read. This will include backlist titles. If you prefer countdowns featuring books published this year, I suggest finding another blogger. Without further ado, here are my favorites!
#10 Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich
Teeth in the Mist definitely became my favorite YA novel of the year. It was a tough choice between this baby and Clown in a Cornfield, but I had to pick this one simply because its tropes, plot, and characters just endeared me more. Dawn Kurtagich created a fascinating magic system, a terrifying premise, and really relatable teenage characters for her readers. I really recommend you pick this one up soon, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of Kurtagich’s backlist.
#9 Wounds by Nathan Ballingrud
Years ago, North American Lake Monsters cemented Nathan Ballingrud as a favorite horror author with just a debut. I still remember the stories from that piece, and, when I heard he had another collection, I raced to get it. Wounds wasn’t as good as North American Lake Monsters, but it was still one of the best short story collections of the year for me. Much like Ballingrud’s debut, the stories in this collection still return in my head, gracing me with their beautiful language and imagery. Perhaps most special of all, Ballingrud handles Hell with a unique premise: Hell intermingled with Love. How does Love, that celebrated and wonderful emotion, end up with our characters coming across Hell’s borders? Read this amazing collection to find out.
#8 Depart! Depart! by Sim Kern
Depart! Depart! by Sim Kern is a new release that hasn’t seen a lot of buzz from reviewers, and, for the life of me, I can’t imagine why. Their debut release features a very realistic ghost story in the near future, depicting the consequences of a super storm on a young trans Jewish boy haunted by his ancestor. The language is great, the characters are people I have definitely met, and the terror here is very, very real. Too real, some might say. Nevertheless, if you want gripping cli-fi mixed with a great ghost story, Depart! Depart! is your best bet.
#7 The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
The Only Good Indians was my introduction to Stephen Graham Jones this year, and it remains my favorite of his novels so far. Jones gives us a great genre mash here, mixing slasher with revenge with supernatural in a delightful combination for genre fans. His characters are fundamentally human and relatable, and his villain, Deer Woman, is still one of the most terrifying characters I’ve encountered this year. The real star of the book, however, is Jones’ prose. This is a real masterpiece in craft, and I highly recommend you check it out now rather than later.
#6 Wasteland: The Great War and The Origins of Modern Horror by W. Scott Poole
Wasteland remains high and away the best nonfiction book of the year for me, and there are quite a few contenders for that title. The research and loving detail W. Scott Poole pours into this book make it stand out from quite a few horror nonfiction titles out there. In many ways, this is a depressing read. Its main theme centers on society’s unwillingness to deal with the consequences of WWI and how horror became a needed outlet for those that suffered from its effects. Nevertheless, this book is almost required reading for horror fans. I promise you will learn a shit-ton from its pages.
#5 Furnace by Livia Llewellyn
Furnace was my introduction to Livia Llewellyn, and boy, it was love at first sight for me. Many reviewers have talked about Llewellyn’s combination of horror and erotica, and I will admit that that definitely caught my taste. However, the two things I loved about this collection the most were Llewellyn’s prose and her undying commitment to some of the worst things in women’s experiences. Llewellyn’s prose deserves to be showcased in an art gallery. It’s sumptuous and elegant. I could spend years agonizing over how she does it. More importantly, however, Llewellyn handles sensitive topics respectfully and always with a tender hand for her female characters. It’s something I really appreciate after reading so many books where those topics are mishandled or exploited for shock. If you want some real literary horror, I really recommend getting acquainted with this author.
#4 Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout is by far the best historical fantasy novella this year, and it’s certainly one of the best horror concepts. The novella asks, What if Birth of a Nation was a spell cast by a magical D.W. Griffiths? What if that spell needed to be stopped by a variety of Black heroines ready to keep their community safe from white supremacy on the rise? And what if traditions in the Black community, like storytelling and the ring shout, helped keep them safe? I really love the blending of folklore, history, and fantastical elements in this one. It also carries a major body horror streak that oozes delight from horror fans. I really hope this one gets a television adaptation, personally.
#3 Into The Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Two words, readers: killer mermaids. Combine that wicked premise with convincing scientific backing, a near future, diverse and well-developed characters, gripping prose, and a tension that has you in its grip from the very first pages, and you have a pretty amazing oceanic horror. I really love this one. This is supposed to be book number one in a series, and I’m dying for the sequel to be announced already. I want more of these terrifying merpeople. I want to see what happens with the revelations at the end of the novel. Please, Seanan McGuire! Give us more!
#2 The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher
Readers of this blog know I’m a huge Ursula Vernon fan. Both of her horror novels amazed me this year, but there had to be only one for this list. Of the two, I can definitely say that The Hollow Places is my favorite. This is Vernon’s exploration into some really terrifying cosmic horror. The eldritch beings that haunt our protagonist, Carrot, are a doozy. Carrot herself happens to be a great female protagonist, carrying some of the best Vernon writing out there. I did have a problem with the use of the gay character in this book, but I highly recommend this one for fans of creeping eldritch monstrosities.
#1 Painted Monsters and Other Strange Beasts by Orrin Grey
In my review of this book, I called it the best short story collection of the year. Now I can say with confidence that Orrin Grey’s Painted Monsters and Other Strange Beasts is the best horror book I read this year. This collection has everything for a horror fan to enjoy, especially if you love your creature features. The stories are reminiscent from different movies from varying historical periods, but Grey puts in his own unique twist to each one. I still am not sure how Grey manages to get the feel of a Vincent Price film onto a written short story or how he so effortlessly evokes the specter of kaiju films and Bela Lugosi. Every story in the collection is so different that it feels like an anthology. That just shows how skilled in the craft Orrin Grey really is. I highly recommend you buy this one and read it now.
Yes, now. Don’t close this page. If you love horror, you need this one in your shelves.