Monday 9 December 2013

Book highlights of the year

During the course of the year, I've blogged several times about books that I've read and loved, which I think add to the horror genre (apart, of course, from the one Chick Lit book on the list!) and will be enjoyed by my fellow fans.  As we come to the end of the year, here's a round-up of them (listed in order of my reading, latest last - my Top 10 post is still to come) with snippets of my reviews.

The Language of Dying, by Sarah Pinborough
Quite simply, this is a beautiful novella, a deeply felt and very moving exploration of family bonds and the ways they can be twisted, strained and - maybe - broken by death (even if that event hasn’t happened yet).

Not a novel for everyone, certainly, this is poignant and raw, loving and tender, brutal and beautiful and it will reward the reader who engages with it and, I think, it’ll stay with them for a long time after they’ve put it down and cleared their throat and wiped their eyes.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Bite, by Gardner Goldsmith
Featuring a Las Vegas that hopefully none of us will ever see - where the dregs go to die - this is stark and dirty and unforgettable, with the desert haze and grit almost present on the page and a pace that never slackens.

Brutal, beautiful, elegant and kinetic (sometimes in the same sentence), with a real heart and soul, this is a refreshing take on a sub-genre that has been flooded with sparkly, friendly vampires of late.  But if you like your vampires and their hunters old school (as I do) I can’t recommend this highly enough - I loved it.
The Shelter, by James Everington
With an afterword that explains where the story came from, which is interesting in itself, this is an excellent novella.  It has good pace, believable characters, a nice use of location and a sureness in the telling that pulls the reader through.  A wonderful exploration of powerful, quiet horror, this is well worth a read and highly recommended.

House of Small Shadows, by Adam Nevill
Nevill creates a wonderful sense of otherworldliness about the house and some of his set pieces - looking around the village, the small faces at the window, the beekeeper where there are no bees - are genuinely unnerving whilst a sequence with Catherine, who may or may not have been drugged, trying to find light in the house is brilliantly written, playing well on our claustrophobic fear of the dark.  As with “Last Days”, he has created an intense and intricate mythology - cruelty plays - that constantly nips at the narrative and adds weight to the fantastical elements of the plot.

Necromancer: Necropolis Rising II, by Dave Jeffery
Moving at a cracking pace and never once letting up, this is filled with characters you quickly care about and it’s safe to say that nobody comes out of the chaos unscathed in one way or another.  The zombie action is minimal but it works better for that, the sequences where they’re on the rampage being brutal and brisk, whilst The Risen’s ability to retain information is well explored.  Beyond all this, Jeffery knows how to write action and his major set pieces are all superbly staged, dragging the reader along in a tumble of incidents.

Shiftling, by Steven Savile
Nostalgia is used wonderfully - and since Savile & I are the same age, our cultural reference points are the same - and builds a real sense of safety and comfort around the characters.  In the 80s, who didn’t try to raise money by cleaning cars, who didn’t know the dance to Prince Charming or understand Blakes Seven and - around Rothwell, at least - who didn’t get called “you pilchard!” when they’d done something stupid.  But all of this is just masking the fact that things are going to get very bad indeed and it’s nice to see the personification of that evil, the Shiftling of the title, being so well realised (is it really there?) with as much of its presence and physicality not told as is explained.  
A cracking story, told with great skill and affection.

The Year Of The Ladybird, by Graham Joyce
It speaks to me on a couple of levels, in that I love coming-of-age stories and the east coast seaside (and follows my reading of the similarly themed (in terms of nostalgia and love) “Joyland”), but also because I was seven in 1976 and my family holidayed in Ingoldmells, a few miles north of Skegness and it’s a town that I still visit on occasion today.  

A truly beautiful work of art (that had me in tears towards the end), populated with characters that I grew to love (and I so desperately want to know that the central love story carried on beyond the seventies), this is an incredible read.

Phoenix, by Steve Byrne
Steve has clearly done his research in all areas - the locations, the equipment, the theatres of war, the culture and the language - and it shines through perfectly, with nothing coming across as heavy handed or expositional.  Everything the reader learns  - about Vietnam or the horrors - comes through the character, with no obvious info-dumps.
This is a wonderfully constructed novel, tightly edited and with a cracking pace and it deserves a big readership. 
I won’t spoil anything but there’s a shocking incident at one point which turns a lot of what has already happened on its head and suddenly you’re wrong-footed, not at all sure of where McMahon is going to lead you next and that’s both exhilarating and terrifying. 

Dark and driving but with moments of real hope, this is not as bleak as some of McMahon’s previous material but works all the better for it. 

Joyland, by Stephen King
“Joyland” is a beautiful book, a well paced and gripping read, full of humanity and light and darkness and topped with an ending that made me cry.  If you only know Stephen King as a horror writer then you would be doing yourself a favour to discover this loving nod to life, to growing up and falling in love and, yes, to getting older.
Is This Love? by Sue Moorcroft
A welcome return to Middledip and Sue Moorcroft does it again, skilfully blending romance and passion (this is probably her raunchiest book yet), with a keen eye for family life and coping with disabilities and topping it all off with pacey thriller elements.   Great characterisation, a keen sense of location and time and a gripping pace all add up to another winner.  Highly recommended.