Welcome to the third annual Solstice List. I have the fortunate hobby of reading, reviewing, and rating horror stories: Short ones, big ones, great ones, and outstanding ones. These horror folks have got their game on. They twist words, phrases and clauses so well, it is poetic by nature and pure, unadulterated brilliance. The sad part is, some are never recognized by regular publishers, the Horror Writers Association or others because they were published in the wrong year, not enough marketing presence, or not enough readers.
For these reasons, and many others, I created The Solstice List. I wanted to honour great writing and authors who know what they are doing. I wanted to spread the joy, horror joy, on the BEST day of the year and offer this as my gift to horror authors and readers alike, to see what is out there, what you have been missing and to pick up a few great books.
This year's list will change, as they all do, because of the books I have read. Some years there are more categories, others less. Some names you will recognize, others you won't. And therein lies the beauty! Discover someone new. Leave them a review and spread Solstice cheer all around.
For my authors, I love you guys and gals. You are the family I never had. And you are all as creepy as I am. For my readers, I love you too. Reading is a dying art form. Reading brings knowledge, enlightens your world, and makes life a better place to hang out. Even reading horror. Don't let those literary types bring you down. Reading Michaelbrent Collings or Martin REAVES is every bit as enhancing as reading "Wuthering Heights"...and probably a whole lot more fun.
Horror is the dirty, white trash cousin no one speaks about. Horror was removed from a lot of bookstores over the years, as a reading section, so as to no disturb a "gentle reader" and horror books were placed in the Fiction Section. I despise that move, to relegate horror among fiction, to make it disappear. No other genre gets treated as horror. Romance, Western, Erotica, Science Fiction, Fantasy all have their place, but horror, we have to bury to not offend the delicacies of our patrons.
As a Horror Author, I am damn proud to say I write Horror. I write things about life. The worst possible things that can happen to a human being. Then I give my protagonist a way out...sometimes. I deal with the darkness so you won't have to. I deal with the demons that control us and help us understand why we might be fighting the same ones. If that isn't a superpower, I don't know what is. Read on, my lovelies and darklings, for this is for all of us. Happy Solstice!
BEST HORROR NOVELS
1. TWISTED by Michaelbrent COLLINGS: Blake Douglas has a beautiful wife, a brand new daughter with a horrible, life threatening illness, and a young son. His life, however, is disintegrating around him. He is weeks away from losing his business, he has medical bills and now, his house has been invaded by thousands and thousands of centipedes. Luckily, his wife, Alyssa has found a place to live for a few days until their house gets fumigated. But that is when every falls apart. Blake's past rushes in to destroy his present, the disgusting book in the rental house shows horrid pictures, and the ghosts come to rip the Douglas family apart. This story has remnants of The Shining, elements of The Sixth Sense and the tragedy of Misery.
Michael knows how to write. He knows how to write well. He keeps the reader engaged and entertained, all the while sucking you into his madness de jour. Before you know it, you are hip deep in darkness and are struggling not to sink. Michael is not afraid to tackle the fears we do not want to tread near. He talks about them, writes them, plays with them and then viscerally tears into them making them real. So real, you wish you weren't there, but you are, and it is quite the ride.
The past few years have taught me there are authors, there are storytellers, there are writers and then there are the best who take all these components and with a little magic, a lot of talent and a lot of blood, tell a story that needs to be told to quell the darkness. Michael is such a man.
2. THE SLAB by Michael R. COLLINGS: Something went wrong with the construction of 66 Oleander place. Horribly wrong. And now the house consumes each family who dares to live there. A gripping tale fraught with emotion and fear, this one will keep you reading far into the night.
Another house, another infestation...crickets. I hate crickets with a passion. I loathe them, despise them and am eternally in fear of their little conniving ways. I know they are out to get me. They plot behind the water cooler, under the dark, in the kitchen cupboard and are plotting a coup to take me down. Damn bugs....
3. SADIE THE SADIST by Zané SACHS: This was a riot. Over the top, zany, hysterical and so, so very entertaining. Sadie feels unloved, is unmotivated and plots to kill her co-workers. Sadie is snarky and the hatred she has for her boss is tangible. The writing in this moves so quickly, so perfectly, you think you have spent minutes reading and then you realize dawn is breaking. I loved this book. Black humour at its finest!
4. RELATIVE KARMA by Martin REAVES: Awesome story with great characters and perfect flow. This tale struck a cord with me as I was walking along the same path as Jeff, trying to rebuild his life after a stupid mistake. He has changed, but how does he get his wife to believe him. Then in walks Jan to destroy what little peace head had found. But life is all about Karma, what you do, how you do it and what you become, if you play nice.
Martin REAVES writes with passion. You can feel it in every word, every sentence. He takes phrases and pulls them together so successfully, it keeps you wanting more and more. He writes clean. He writes clear. And he writes with a purpose. Read this book, then read everything else by him.
5. OF A FEATHER by Ken GOLDMAN: This was an entertaining story of Socrates, a misunderstood teenager with a rare gift. He knows birds. As a matter of fact, he knows birds so well, he is a wealth of information for anyone who crosses his path. He meets Jamie who works in a pet store and they quickly befriend each other. Doris, Socrates' sister is by far my favourite character and deserves a book all on her own. Unfortunately, Socrates has his share of problems. He is an outcast, bullied at school and in town and people quickly turn on him. With all the teenage characters, you would think this is a YA novel, and it might fit in that category, but this is written so well, so tightly, the pacing is so accurate, you get the sense of another world lying beneath the surface. A couple of pages into it, I was hooked.
6. THE WOMAN by Jack KETCHUM: Jack, what the heck is going on in your mind? Wow, what ride. Some of the finest and most horrific writing I have read in a very long while. 'The Woman' is about one of the last surviving members of a cannibal tribe who is bathing in a stream when Christopher Cleek spies her and decides he needs to have her. He kidnaps her and holds her hostage in a barn in his country home. And from there, things go...bad. I do believe I finished this all in one sitting. Could not put this down, as with every turn of the page there was another horrific thing or action or weirdness. Pick your word. Do you like your writing intense? This is the book for you.
7. HIGH MOOR by Graeme REYNOLDS: When John hears of an animal attack in his home town, he knows there is something more to the story than what is being said. John knows the truth: Werewolves stalk High Moor and he goes home to write the story. I love the way this story comes together; the writing, the pace, the plot, the characters. I could defintely read this over and over again. Highly entertaining, highly imaginative and so well written. You will be reading this one a few times.
8 HOUSEMATES by Iain Rob WRIGHT: Housemates was a fun read. Yeah the novel was extreme and reminded me of the toss up between the Stanley MILGRIM experiment, Survivor and Big Brother, but I loved it. People wanting a lot of cash and are invited to take part in a gameshow, except the payment might be a wee high. In order to win, you must be the last one standing.
What I love about Iain's books is the way he writes his characters. Whether they are slime balls or good people, there is something to like about them. The dialogue is well written, the pacing is spot on and the story is great. Iain know his way around a computer. I am definitely a fan.
9. JIMMY by William MALMBORG: Jimmy is just another loser kid, a social outcast who's high school journey is about to end. Jimmy, however, has a secret. Two of them, and they are hanging in the basement of an abandoned house.
Another teen book, but definitely not made for the YA market, unless the YA's are sociopaths. 'Jimmy' is the first novel William wrote and it is a winner. Dark, gritty but so well put together, you would think someone of 17 could not have written this. But he did and he did an amazing job.
10. ANGEL MANOR by Chantal NOORDELOOS: Angel Manor is a wonderful, centuries old monastery that has been left to Freya upon the death of her aunt. Freya hates this place. It is desolute place which her friends are in love with...well they are in love with an idea: Turning the manor into a hotel and restaurant. Oliver wants to be a chef and Bam with help Freya with the hotel. But, there is something slightly 'off' about the manor. Sections have been boarded up, rooms have been closed, but with furniture in place and tables set as if expecting guests for dinner. Nothing in the manor is as it seems. Soon, stories that have been buried for centuries are bubbling to the surface and want to take all who enter Angel Manor to the other side. Will any of them survive?
Chantal is a talented young writer, a spirited woman and a master at creating illusion. Angel Manor is a five star novel. The characters grip you from the very first page and hold onto you until the last. This artist will go far, and I hope she continues to write horror.
BEST SHORT STORIES, NOVELLAS, and COLLECTIONS
1. KETCHUP ON EVERYTHING by Nathan ROBINSON: Robinson is quickly becoming one of my top five favourite authors, and here is why. The man knows how to spin a tale so well, so tightly woven, so clean and so full of depth it leaves the reader breathless. From the opening paragraph to the gripping end, Robinson grips the reader in his hand and holds them, squeezes them, sometimes allowing them to breath, but often times leaves them completely gasping for air.
Ketchup on Everything is a tough story to read for anyone who has children. Be warned. Horror and children are a great combination when done right. And Robinson did this tale justice. Gripping pace, a master in the descriptive sense and a lover of prose, this is a must read for anyone who loves horror with a dash of reality.
2. DARK THOUGHTS by Martin REAVES: Martin tells some very odd and twisted stories in this collection. BLUE KARI is deeply touching and moving, albeit a horror story. Cerulean Blue permeates the story about a deep friendship between two young girls. LITTLE GIRL LOST is a father's worst nightmare come true. Your daughter is out, driving in a part of town meant for drug dealers and gang bangers, and all you have is a phone and her voice. HARVEST MOON explains the love between a mother and son...in a creepy way. LAST WISH is the dying wish of an ex-wife. DEVIL WEED was my favourite. What is out in those woods? DARK THOUGHTS tells the tale of a boy that can read the future and finally, manipulate it. LINDA VISTA HOSPITAL...IN MEMORIAM...a ghost story. IT"S THE END OF THE WORLD AND I FEEL FINE...the end of the world. What would you want to see as your last vision? CHAINING THE BEAST IN THE BASEMENT OF THE MUSE...the author. KIMBERLINA...my favourite of a much longer and darker piece I will hopefully be telling you about next year.
3. WEEPING MARY by John Paul ALLEN: Creepy story about a young girl in an orphanage waiting to get adopted or fostered. She finally gets selected, but there is something strange in her new family. At first, some of her new siblings ignore her, then they fawn over her. The teachings about the Mother seem innocuous enough, but something is not right.
John Paul Allen is a terrific writer and a gifted story teller. If you have the stomach for him...
4. THE COMPLETE KAYLA BURKHEART TALES by Christine SUTTON: I love the way Christine spins a tale, weaving and wandering through a story and telling it in a completely new way. Kayla takes on monsters, witches, werewolves and herself in this complete saga. Christine is adept at spinning a tale to keep readers enchanted and enthralled. Loved the simplicity of the writing, which is very difficult to do, as any writer will tell you. Women in horror offer surprising tales. You will defintely hear more from Christine.
5. THE SHIFTERS by Jaime JOHNESEE and Edited by LEIGH M. LANE: A new take on a police procedural with a twist: Shifters. In a world were anyone might be a shifter, a police officer is tracking down a serial killer. Sam is looking for Grisly Adams so named because of what he leaves of his victims. Jaime and Leigh have a clarity that I liked in this story, along with wit and a sense of partnership. It is difficult to pinpoint who wrote what, and that is exactly the way it should be done.
1. DEAD HARVEST edited by Mark PARKER: This HUGE 700 page book is exactly what is needed on a cold winter's night. Story after story proved to be successful and thrilling reads, it was difficult to pinpoint a favourite. Three of them were weak, but the other 47? Spot on. They brought the tension, the wit, the horror and the philosophy that I love about creative horror. This is one book I will read and read again. And if this is any indication of Mark Parker as an editor, he is on the right path. If you love big books, if you love intelligent horror, this is for you.
STANDOUTS: AUTUMN LAMB by E.G. SMITH, LEARNED CHILDREN by Ronald MALFI, REAPING A QUIENT LUNACY Martin REAVES, NAILS by Jeff STRAND, REUNION by Bear WEITER, PETER PETER by Christine SUTTON, KATY AND THE GREEN BOY by Lori SAFRANEK, EATEN UN-ALIVE by David BERNSTEIN, WEEPER by Tim WAGGONER, CORNSTALKER by Lori R LOPEZ, and ABLATION by M.L. ROOS....read this book. I am sure you will be thrilled.