Well, another year has come and (mostly) gone. It was another amazing reading year, making coming up with a list of favorites a delightfully difficult task. I kept thinking that I would only write a top ten, but after agonizing over which books to leave off, I told myself, “Self, it’s your blog, dash it all! You can have a top twelve favorites list! No one can stop you!” It was around this point that it occurred to me that I should probably stop talking to myself (although I am a very witty conversationalist) and just write the darn list. Without further ado, and in no particular order, I present my top TWELVE books of 2022.
The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning
“This book was a love story to the wonderful, imaginative things I grew up with, and I enjoyed every moment of it.”
I don’t think that you can be a reader and not love words. There is something special in the infinite combinations of letters and the amazing things that come from them. Sometimes a book quote comes along that just floors me, whether it hits in a way that feels incredibly personal or just makes me laugh until I get sick. I love looking back at the quotes that stuck with me throughout the year. Below are a few favorites from 2022. You can find my Quoatables posts from previous years here: 2020, 2021.
“She looked up at him, red eyes wet with tears “Our secrets and lies are the monsters we feed. You should know that.”– The Monsters We Feed by Thomas Howard Riley Review to come
“That’s the mark of real friendship, I think: to be the person you are when you’re alone, but in front of someone else. Just as free. Just as messy. The kind of friend where you don’t have to stress over every little thing you say, because one little fuck-up in front of them won’t make them think any worse of you. A single impressive act won’t alter things either, because they’ve seen enough of your failings not to put you on a pedestal. They know you. The “you” beneath the bullshit.” – One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold Review
“This wasn’t about using nostalgia as a shield, it was about celebrating the things that defined them, the characters that spoke to their heart’s truth, the things that made them different and unique and powerful in their own special way. It united them.”– The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning Review
“It wasn’t the same song, it never is, each time you play it the song changes, but the feeling remains the same.”– We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix Review
“I was just thinking that you don’t have to forget who you were … because that’s what brought you here.”- Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree Review
“Perhaps a story is simply a reminder to the reader that time is a funny thing: it stretches and snaps. It bends and wobbles. And it slows down when you move too fast.”– The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill Review
“But then, how were others to know that beneath her cloak of adept composure there existed a panicked thing, alternately crying and screaming and longing for a nap all while craving something glazed in sugar?”– Miss Percy’s Guide to the Care & Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson Review to come
“There is nothing so broken it can’t be repaired.”– Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans Review
“Do you know what you’d do to stay alive? Most of us never have to make that call. Not so clearly that we have to weigh up our life against another’s. Instead, we make that choice in a hundred little decisions every day, when we put our own life, and our own comforts, over everyone else. We all live our lives off the blood of other people; they’re usually just far enough away from us that we can convince ourselves that it isn’t the case.” – One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold Review
“I read once that books bend both space and time, and the more books you have in one place, the more space and time will bend and twist and fold over itself. I’m not sure if that’s true but it feels true. Of course, I read that in a book, and maybe the book was just bragging.”– The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill Review
Here’s to many more amazing quotes! Happy reading!
Metal will steal your soul. Or save it. It’s kind of a toss-up for Kris, ex-lead guitarist of Dürt Würk (the name made me laugh). Years after the band broke up dramatically, Kris is working at a hotel and wondering what to do with her life. A billboard announcing the final tour of The Blind King, the man who ruined everything, galvanizes her and starts a mission to confront the evil at the heart of every broken dream. Or something.
This is my second Hendrix book, the first being My Best Friend’s Exorcism. As with My BestFriend’s Exorcism, there was a lot I enjoyed and a few things that just didn’t work for me. The good far outweighed the bad, making this a fun spooky read.
Kris was an awesome main character. She vacillated between feeling sorry for herself and just taking the crap hand life dealt her and doing what she could with it. She was extremely relatable and also made a good window into the bizarre goings-on of the book. And We Sold Our Souls was chock-full of bizarre.
The other characters dipped in and out of the book. As is the nature of horror, not many of them lasted long. There were a few that I wish had bigger roles, just because they were so much fun. My favorite was JD, drummer and conspiracy theorist. He cracked me up. He also helped get the book back on track after it seemed to veer off course a little bit.
The unexpected doses of humor made We Sold Our Souls as much fun as spooky. In fact, despite being a horror, it never really veered into scary territory. It reminded me more of movies like Scream and Halloween. It was over-the-top, nutty, gory fun, with a smattering of humor and social commentary mixed in for good measure.
There were lyrics “from” Dürt Würk scattered throughout the book, which helped illustrate whatever was happening at the time. This was a clever way to help set the tone. I also couldn’t help picturing the lyrics being screamed at a crowd of metal fans, so kudos to Hendrix for adding that extra layer to the picture he painted.
The story meandered a bit about 3/4 of the way through but right when I started to lose interest, it came roaring back to end things with a crescendo. The ending made sense in relation to the rest of the book, and the folktale status one of the characters achieved at the end was a fantastic end to their story arc.
The book wasn’t perfect. Some parts were stretched out for much longer than they needed to be, while other things felt rushed. The social commentary, while right on the money (in my opinion), got a little heavy-handed at times. There were a few things that were never really explained-but so what? We Sold Our Souls was devilishly entertaining, and at the end of the day, that’s what I was hoping for.
Happy almost-Halloween, for those who celebrate! I’m actually not that big on Halloween (I know, I’m weird), but I love the Universal Monsters. I created a book tag revolving around them a few years ago and I’m dusting if off again this year.
Feel free to do your own! Please tag me so I can see your answers. Enjoy!
Dracula- a book with a charismatic villain:
Yes, Lord Soth is a death knight. Yes, he could have prevented a world-ending disaster (a Cataclysm, if you will) and instead mucked it up. Yes, he’s really not a good dude. But he is so much fun to read about! He’s to Dragonlance as Boba Fett was to the original Star Wars movies: a mysterious, hardcore character whose legend builds with time.
The Invisible Man- a book that has more going on than meets the eye:
There are bands that sell out and then there are bands that sell…something. Trust Grady Hendrix to take the idea of an almost-made-it band and combine it with forces dark and sinister. I had to set aside all my preconceptions about We Sold Our Souls. There are twists upon turns and nothing is as it seems.
Wolfman- a complicated character:
Not only is this love letter to 80s fantasy movies absolutely genius, but Jack is also an incredibly complex character. He had a broken relationship with his dad, and both loves and resents the movie world that took up so much of his dad’s attention. He’s angry and grieving, uncertain and sad. His character growth throughout the book is through the roof. Basically, The Shadow Glass is amazing.
Frankenstein- a book with a misunderstood character:
As with all mysteries, everyone has secrets in Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone. There were a couple of characters in the book that were completely misunderstood by everyone else. Of course, I misunderstood certain motives and actions too, which is the point of a mystery. This was a fun one!
The Bride of Frankenstein- a sequel you enjoyedmorethan the first book:
I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy the sequel more thanShadow of a Dead God, but Nectar forthe God took all the (many) things that I loved about the first Mennik Thorn book and added new levels. The stakes were higher, the world became more fleshed out, and Mennik was…even more of a walking Murphy’s Law. Seriously, you need to read this series.
Creature from the Black Lagoon- an incredibly unique book:
The Hero Interviews, aside from being uproariously funny, has an incredibly unique feature: footnotes. Elburn Barr, Loremaster and narrator extraordinaire, interviews heroes throughout the book. These interviews come complete with his tongue-in-cheek observations, given as footnotes that add an extra layer of hilarity to an already hysterical book. The Hero Interviews will be released December first, but you can preorder it now on Amazon.
The Mummy- a book that wraps up nicely (see what I did there?):
Legends and Lattes was a sweet delight. The book was the print version of a nice, cozy blanket. It left me smiling and feeling a little bit better about life. The ending was perfect (in fact, I really can’t think of a single aspect of the book that wasn’t).
Small Angels is engrossing, a haunting tale that gave me shivers. The shivers were half because of the eeriness that drips from every page, and half because of the beautiful writing. The past and the present melded into a single story, one that kept me glued to my seat.
There once were four girls growing up at the edge of Mockbeggar Woods in a small town. No one went into the woods- except for them. These four knew the rules of the Woods and they knew what would happen if they didn’t follow them. There was something angry residing in Mockbeggar, something that only played nicely if they followed the rules.
The four girls helped their mother keep the history of Mockbeggar at bay, protecting the town (even though the people living there looked down on the family and avoided them). But when four becomes five, Mockbeggar takes notice. The history of Mockebeggar is a circle, and what goes around comes around.
That is one narrative. The story of the girls and their life, how everything revolves around the mysteries of the Wood and how it affects their characters and relationships. The second narrative takes place in present-day when a bride decides to have her picture-perfect wedding in a church that belongs to the Woods (at least, to the thing residing in the Woods). There is no way I can be vague enough to avoid spoilers for that part of the storyline, and it’s best to go in unknowing. Suffice it to say, it’s creepy as all get-out. Which is, of course, the point.
Usually, I can pick out one aspect of a book that I enjoyed most: the setting, the characters, etc. With Small Angels, though, it was a perfect marriage of characters, setting, tone, and plot development. The story behind Mockbeggar Woods, and the way it developed slowly throughout the book, lent an aura of uncertainty and a sense of paranoia that the best horror writers would envy.
The setting was perfect: eerie but believable. It’s easy to picture a quiet, wooded area hiding something less than benign. The descriptions were beautifully done and given in a way that felt like the sort of story told in the dark on a gloomy night. I loved how one character saw a quaint beauty to the church (known as Small Angels), but their viewpoint changed throughout the book until Small Angels resembled something threatening to them.
And the characters! They each added something to the book, although the four daughters reminded me in some ways of the sisters in The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, so cut off from anything resembling a normal life that they almost seemed unreal (for those wondering, there is no suicide in Small Angels). My favorite character was Lucia the Bad. She was headstrong yet fearful and was inadvertently the catalyst for the events in the book.
The book, while never slow in pace, ramped up at the end, giving a sense of urgency that was breathtaking in a way. I loved how it ended. Small Angels never quite crossed into horror territory, instead remaining an eerie ghost story, the sort I love to read toward the latter half of the year (I have no idea why Fall becomes the creepy read season for me; it doesn’t get cooler where I live, just goes from “hot” to “hot with a chance of hurricane”).
Small Angels is lyrical and uncanny, a perfect spooky read. Grab a hot drink and give it a go.
Witches in literature have changed quite a bit over the years. From the sinister and mysterious, to the flat-out evil; from the magic-for-good to the naturalist who is one with nature, you can find a book for every type. I am far from an expert in the inclusion of witches in books, but I’m a reader so I have my own experience with witches. Here are a few books with witches of different sorts.
These are the ones that often look like hags, live in huts in the middle of nowhere, have a penchant for eating naughty kids, or just like to cause trouble.
Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm- I just had to include at least one Grimm story and this one fits the bill.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (I would argue that they are bit more like the Three Fates, but…)
The Witches by Roald Dahl- Well, this book is terrifying.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum – Here for obvious reasons.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis- This book contains one of, if not the most evil witch I’ve read in a book to date.
Good witches: The term “good” is subjective, especially when it comes to magic users in books. Still, I think the witches in these books can at least fall vaguely in this category.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
TheHarry Potter series by J.K. Rowling- Without getting into the author at all, Hermione definitely qualifies as a good witch.
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow- No spoilers given.
Small Place by Matthew Samuels – She’s technically good. Okay, she has some questionable anecdotes but for the adventure in Small Places, she is considered good.
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede- I loved these books when I was younger! Morwen the witch is the least witchy witch ever and it’s fabulous.
Witches as naturalists: I’m seeing books that are going this route more and more often lately. While I don’t have quite as many titles for this section, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include at least one example.
Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reece- This book was wonderfully written. The prose was gorgeous and flowed beautifully.
It’s complicated: These books have witches that aren’t witches, witches as representative of other things (such as women’s rights), and other complex females characters with more than a hint of magic about them.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow- This book is brilliant! It follows three witches who are, more importantly, three women in search of respect and freedom. This book is chock full of fierce, justifiable anger and I loved it.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller- I’m pretty sure that, by now, the hysteria that gipped communities during the Witch Trials is well known. I remember seeing this play and being fascinated.
The ManningtreeWitches by A.K. Blakemore- This one was a bit harder for me to get into, but I enjoyed it once it got going.
The Witching Hour by Anne Rice- What can I say? It’s Anne Rice. That means the trilogy is incredibly complex, incredibly messed up in parts, and incredibly engrossing.
Time to add to my already-teetering tbr list! What else should be on this list?
I had high expectations for this one. I’m a sucker for a good haunting, and The Death of Jane Lawrence promised to be something new. The novel follows Jane, a practical woman who decides to marry as a business arrangement: respectability in exchange for a fair amount of autonomy. She decides the reclusive Dr. Lawrence is the perfect candidate. He has zero expectations and his only request is that she stay away from his dilapidated family estate. Of course, that is the one thing she doesn’t do. When Jane finds herself stranded at the manor late one night, it sets in motion events both strange and haunting.
I have to admit that I didn’t end up loving the book the way I thought I would. I struggled to really become invested in the characters or to really care about what happened to them at all. I felt Dr. Lawrence had potential, but instead he became simply a cutout-version of a stereotypical martyr. He seemed determined to give in to his “fate” without a fight, despite there being no reason for him to do so. Long-suffering characters such as that tend to grate on me pretty quickly, so I wasn’t a huge fan. Meanwhile, Jane sort of confused me. She seemed to be constantly angry but forgiving, even if no apology was offered. She is lied to, but decided it’s okay because so-and-so is compassionate toward others. Someone tries to kill her, but it’s okay because they weren’t themselves. Information withheld leads to extreme danger, but it’s okay because the person felt ashamed about it. I wanted to shake her for a good chunk of the book. I suppose the author did get me invested enough that I was almost constantly irritated at Jane’s character, so that is something.
The house itself was the perfect blend of intimidating and lonely. It felt like entering the house caused one to surrender their grip on reality. It was mysterious and dark, and wonderfully atmospheric. The descriptions of the apparitions gave me delighted shivers and the dark, rainy weather was used to great effect. Ultimately, the house sort of became a character in its own right.
The way the book unfolded didn’t quite work for me. I felt that some parts were needlessly drawn out, while other important moments were rushed. It was very odd. I could never quite get a hold on the pacing. However, that disjointed pacing could have been intended as a way to keep the reader off balance and to add to the feeling of “wrongness” that pervaded the story.
I could balance out what I liked and didn’t like about the book, but at the end of the day, The Death of Jane Lawrence just wasn’t for me. Have you read this one? What did you think?
I suppose October is when all the ghosts and ghoulies come out to play. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been big on Halloween. More power to people who are, but it’s just not my jam. I am a fan of a good spooky book, though, and my youngest went through a phase when he loved all things Halloween related (it was an odd choice for a three year old, but…okay?)
Here’s a roundup of some spooky and not-so-spooky books for fiends of all ages. Enjoy!
For little monsters:
Most parents are familiar with the Sandra Boynton books. There are about a million of them, all with cute little critters and fun storylines. The number of times I sang the Pajama Time song with the kids is truly astonishing! Spooky Pookie is another sweet little story, this time about a pig who can’t figure out what costume to wear. It’s great for three years old and under.
The Ghost-Eye Tree
This book scared the snot out of me when I was young! This is a perfect cuddle-up-and-read-aloud kind of book, and the illustrations are amazing.
The Monster at the End of this Book
This has all the trappings of a good horror book: monsters, tension, a twist at the end! All it’s missing is the spookiness. Instead, it has something better: a great sense of humor. This one is so much fun! It’s one I think all parents should read with their littles.
For older elementary ghoulies/ middle grade ghosts:
I love this book so, so much! The Bunnicula books are a blast! They are clever and creative, full of some of the most memorable pets in print. I have fond memories of this book and I loved reading it with my oldest for the first time a few years ago.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Ah, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I think every adult of a certain age read these when they were young. This is the sort of book that begs to be read while eating s’mores.
The Beast and the Bethany
This book is such fun! It reminds me of nothing so much as a lighthearted, kid-friendly take on The Picture of DorianGray. The characters are delightfully nasty, the Beast is brutally entertaining, and the illustrations are a perfect addition. Plus, there’s a sequel coming before too long! Review
For Young-adult vampires:
House of Hollow
If you’re looking for eerie, this dark fairy tale/ horror is for you. It actually creeped me out a little, which is not an easy feat. I didn’t love the wrap-up at the end, but the rest of the book was great. Review
Tales from the Hinterland
Tales from the Hinterland is a creepy and clever book of shorts stories that take place in the world of author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood. While I didn’t like the final book in the Hazel Wood duology (at all), this collection of fairy tales that take place in that world are fantastic. You don’t need to read the original series to understand or enjoy this book at all, which makes it even better. Review
The Devouring Gray
Uncanny happenings, monsters, and townsfolk who are not who they seem make The Devouring Gray a fun-filled, creepy book. It’s a quick read too, which makes it a great palette-cleanser after a heavy book. Review
For adult zombies:
Meddling Kids is a love letter to the Scooby Gang, the Goonies, or the Hardy Boys. It’s a mystery-meets-supernatural book that answers the question: what happens when those meddling kids grow up and return home to solve one last case?
In the Garden of Spite
I think books about serial killers fall into the “spooktastic” category. I was enthralled by this book from page one. I knew nothing about the Widow of La Porte before reading this and I was shocked to learn that it was based on a real person. Yikes! Review
Nothing but Blackened Teeth
While this never managed to flat-out scare me, Nothing but Blackened Teeth was nonetheless an interesting read. It had a bit of a Shirley Jackson vibe (though with gore). Review
I read this for the first time not all that long ago and holy crap! I still find myself uneasily examining it. It is engrossing and thought-provoking. It’s also believable, which makes it even more unsettling.
Of course I had to have Frankenstein on this list! There’s nothing quite so scary as watching a human play God.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
I generally prefer thought-provoking gothic horrors to gore-fests, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the best examples of a smart gothic horror that I’ve read. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I highly suggest you do.
There are many other great spooky reads that didn’t make this list, mainly because it would be way too long if I added everything. What are some of your favorite spooktastic reads?
Remnants is a collection of stories about a world ravaged and left for dead, with only a few leftovers- remnants, if you will. Instead of focusing on the horrific monsters that have violently changed life as humans know it, these tales focus mainly on how the few survive and who they become. The stories showcase tenacity, an unwillingness to lay down and die, and the best- and very worst- of humanity. Although, in some cases, humanity has long since left the building.
The concept behind Remnants is not a new one; post-apocalyptical stories like this have been created before. However, where this anthology is different is in its execution. Instead of full stories, there are short vignettes, brief glimpses in time. Some stories are touching, others incredibly brutal. Like humanity itself, the stories have a sliding scale of morality, with some unwilling to cross boundaries that other characters don’t even see as existing.
I found the examination of humanity to be fascinating. Like most anthologies, some stories worked better for me than others, but this was a collection that I consistently enjoyed. While some readers might wish for a little bit more focus on the monsters themselves, I really liked that following the survivors were the main event. Although in some cases, I could argue that not all the characters alive had actually really survived.
Each story added something to the overall atmosphere of the book. The first story, “Resistance” by Stephen Coghlan, set the tone for Remnants. It’s also a good lead-in, preparing the reader for stories that range from bizarre to emotional to disturbing or almost grotesque. The main storyline might be centered around one event, but the way each author tackled it was completely unique. I was never in danger of losing interest at all.
There were a couple of stories that were really unique in their telling. “Heatwave” by Aaron Lee takes a rather coldblooded look at the fallout, in which there is a blog that keeps tracks of death “statistics”, that the blogger utilizes to try to understand the nightmare that they’re living in. I thought this one was both fascinating and chilling.
“First Swarm” by J.D. Sanderson followed two photographers and their experiences, which left me mulling over whether viewing something through a camera lens helps expose truths otherwise denied, or if it allows the photographers to separate themselves from the reality of what they’re seeing. Short yet powerful, this was one of my favorite stories in the collection. The creativity behind both “First Swarm” and “Heatwave” are what elevated them above some of the other stories in this collection, although they were all well written.
Remnants is one of the stronger additions to post-apocalyptic fiction that I’ve read recently, with the grimdark and horror aspects working incredibly well. Thought provoking and just flat-out cool, this is not a collection to miss. I highly recommend it.
Review originally published in Grimdark Magazine, found here.
House of Hollow is one of those rare books that actually managed to creep me out a little. Oddly enough, it’s technically not a horror novel. Or is it? There are definitely elements of horror and it has a fairy tale feel- and really, what are the original fairy tales if not a little bit horrific?
The book follows three sisters: Grey, Vivi, and Iris (I’m not going to lie: I found their names to be a little bit much). When they were young, they disappeared without a trace, only to be found weeks later with no memories of where they were or what happened to them. That’s scary enough on its own. Add to that the fact that they were changed and the hints of creepiness start to sneak in. Ten years later the unthinkable happens, and one of the sisters disappears again, leaving the other two- Vivi and Iris- to try to figure out where she is and how she got there. To do that, they will need to figure out what really happened to them all those years ago.
Interestingly, House of Hollow starts out seeming like an unsolved mystery that will turn into a thriller. However, what came next completely surprised me. Suddenly, I was thrown into an incredibly eerie story, one that was unsettling and disorienting. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. They threw me off balance and left me wondering whether to cheer them on or hope they failed in their search. This is the sort of book that made me wonder if the main characters were actually the villains. It was delightful.
The descriptions added to the creepy atmosphere of the book and some of the details were seriously messed up. The fact that I didn’t expect the book to go in that direction when I picked it up definitely added to the dark atmosphere.
I didn’t particularly care for the add-on to the ending, mainly because it didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story the author was telling. The rest of House of Hollow was a spooktastic blast, though. This would be a great late-night October read, if you go for unearthly books around Halloween.