I read 40 books of various sizes, shapes, and genres, but, for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to pick my favorites for this end of year recap. To keep it simple, I’ve come up with some rules:
- One book per genre.
- The book need not be published in 2018, but did need to be read by me during the year.
- I will write a brief review summarizing my reasoning for why this is my choice.
- If necessary, I will also give an honorable mention.
Let’s get started!
The Auctioneer by Joan Samson (1975/2018). I hemmed and hawed over what ‘classic’ American folk horror book to put on my comps list per Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell; it was between this and Tryon’s Harvest Home. I’ll admit that what initially won out was that fact Samson, like me, is a woman working in a traditionally male genre all around and I wanted to see what she wrought. I’m glad I did. The story of a small rural community negotiated out of their belongings by a mysterious and charismatic auctioneer seems, on the surface, simplistic, but is such a well done character study that, even in the end, I wasn’t sure who was in the right or wrong. The horror is purely American and well crafted. One scene in particular almost made me throw the book across the room in pure, understandable frustration with what was happening – and nary a drop of gore on the page! This is a taut, singular vision and I’m so glad I chose to read it.
Honorable Mention: The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin (1972).
Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste (2017). I was lucky enough to meet this author and get my copy signed at StokerCon 2019 because I enjoyed it so much, and she is delightful and so, so nice. Not only does this novella take what seems like a simple concept (seriously how did no one think of this before?) and manage to make a slick plot in just 94 pages, but it also creates memorable, separate characters from those we may be familiar with from urban legends. Kiste takes five Mary’s from the popular collective and spins a found family narrative around them while not forgetting to unleash some requisite spookiness. This took everything I loved about Kiste’s writing from her short fiction collection and elevated it to the next level.
SHORT STORY COLLECTION
Girl Trouble: Stories by Holly Goddard Jones (2009). This collection came at the recommendation of my advisor for my comps list because a few of the stories are linked and the overall collection is set in the same area of Western Kentucky. Other than that, it is not, overall, a novel. What it is is a gritty examination of the lives and secrets that people take and keep between them in order to survive in these areas and the violence that is often perpetuated in order to maintain the status quo, often against women. My favorite stories out of the collection are “Parts”, where a mother reflects on the loss of her murdered daughter and who, really, is at fault, some of the graphic descriptions are on par with the best of body horror; and “Life Expectancy” which tells your usual student/teacher affair story in a new slant of light. Overall, this a dark collection with few moments of hope, a few pet deaths, and no caricatures.
Honorable Mentions for Short Stories: “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca, “The Good Guy” by Kristen Roupenian, and “The Feminist” by Tony Tulathimutte.
Brute by Emily Skaja (2019). I had a banner year for poetry. Like I bought so many books at AWP that I haven’t even touched yet and I follow so many wonderful poets on Twitter, but I asked for this book for Christmas, opened it, and read it in one sitting that same day. And it automatically displaced my previous favorite. These poems are heartbreaking, rending, tearing and gorgeous all in one. They are individual and not at the same time. They’re just what I needed to read to help me move forward with my life. My favorite poems from the collection are “The Brute / Brute Heart”, “Dear Katie”, and “[Eurydice]”. I can definitely see why it won so many awards and it definitely deserves the accolades.
Honorable Mention: Hot Teen Slut by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz (2011).
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (2019). Last year, Machado’s collection of short stories was one of my favorites and, with this book, she cements herself as one of my favorite writers. This book came out when I needed it most and I took my time reading it: partly because I needed to take breaks because of the subject matter and partly because I wanted to savor the writing. This fractured memoir details the emotional and mental abuse Machado suffered in a previous queer relationship. The book uses various genres of writing to pull apart this relationship with a house framework, analyzing it academically, historically, mysteriously, erotically, horrifically, superstitiously, and more. In this way, Machado shows how not all abuse leaves physical bruises and that even queer relationships can have their troubles. This is a one-of-a-kind memoir that could be read quickly due to its short chapters but should be read slow.
Honorable Mention: Danse Macabre by Stephen King (1981).
Infidel by Pornsak Pichetshote (writer), Aaron Campbell (artist), Jose Villarubia (colorist), Jeff Powell (letterer/designer), (2018). Another last minute steal, I was lucky to find a copy of this trade at my favorite bookstore, Grassroots, because I’d been dying to read it since it popped up on NPR’s 100 Favorite Horror Stories of All Time and a ton of horror comics recommendations lists. I was immediately captivated by the juxtaposition of the everyday life rendering art and the nightmare/ghosts and their almost photorealism against the other characters. Their designs were particularly haunting and unlike most things I see outside of the occasional anime. The story itself feels poignant in our current political climate where an American Muslim woman, living with and engaged to an atheist white man, his daughter, and his mother, has to navigate a building recently bombed and haunted (quite literally) by xenophobia. I would love to see this comic adapted into film or television because, even if some of the edges are a little rough, this is a story worth telling.
Honorable Mention: Revival by Tim Seeley (writer), Mike Norton (illustrator), Jenny Frison (illustrator), Art Baltazar (illustrator), John Layman (writer), Rob Guillory (illustrator), Mark Englert (colorist), John Raunch (colorist), Crank! (letterer), etc. (2012-2017).
Breakfast: The Cookbook edited by Emily Elyse Miller. Phaidon has been publishing gigantic compendium collections of recipes centered around themes for a couple of years now and I finally got my hands on one. Of course, since breakfast is my favorite meal and eggs are one of my favorites foods this seemed like a good idea. What makes this cookbook so cool isn’t polished, pretty pictures (although there are some), it’s that it’s made up of recipes from all over the world – literally, you could find and fix a recipe from Japan, Australia, France, and Mexico in a single week from this single book. I love that it’s organized by meal ingredients rather than countries because it shows how similar some of the recipes are and that, for example, we all love our eggs. Some of the recipes are incredibly basic so this would make a decent beginner cookbook for those unfamiliar with anything beyond Pop-Tarts. I’m most excited to try “Orange Pound Cake”, “Pecan Sticky Buns”, and figure out how to poach an egg so I can assemble some “Eggs Benedict.” If you love breakfast or brunch as much as I do then this is worth adding to your collection.
Honorable Mention: Dorothy Dean’s Homemakers Service from The Spokesman-Review.
I hope 2020 will bring just as many wonderful stories to life as 2019 did!
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