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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Becky's Top 10 Horror of 2020

Each year I make a specific list of my Top 10 Horror reads of the year. This is not technically a "best" list. I complete that as part of a committee for Library Journal. I wrote about that process and proved the list at this link.

Rather this is a list of MY personal favorite horror titles that came out in 2020, in order from 10 to 1, but to be fair 10-5 could change in order based on how I am feeling that day. 4-1 though, those are in order.

While I will write about this next week on the general blog, 2020 was interesting because the VERY BEST book I read all year, hands down, the book that stayed with me the most, was also my top horror read. I don't think that has ever happened, although I will say it is apt for 2020. 

Interestingly, I don't have a story collection on the list this year, which is odd for me. I did read some excellent collections and anthologies and this list has 3 short novels/novellas, but unlike many who had trouble reading this year, I found that when I did sit down with a book, I wanted it to grab me and pull me in for longer. I actually found story collections and anthologies more distracting this year, in terms of my personal enjoyment.

The list below has links to my reviews for each book [the title is linked to the review], my "three words," and a little extra commentary about why it made the list. They are here to stand in perpetuity as my official "Best Horror of 2020." You can see all my year in review lists going back to 2005 with this link.

Becky's Top 10 Horror of 2020

10. The Taxidermist's Lover by Polly Hall [claustrophobic, harrowing, absorbing]

I always like to have a debut in this list each year. Why though at the expense of another book I really enjoyed? Good question. The reason is, I love finding new voices and new authors. It brings me joy. I always have a "best debut" category in my overall best list too. Some year's my best debut makes it quite high on this list. This year's entry is #10, but not because it is only making the list on a technicality, rather it is because I have read a lot of very good debuts this year, but this novel, by Egyptian-British author Hall rose to the top because this book was so utterly captivating. To honor that is squeaked in as the best of the debuts, I put it at #10. This novel starts slow, uneasy, and disorienting but then crawled inside me. I couldn't stop and look away. Also it had a killer ending. She nailed it, which is often a problem with debuts. I will have a much longer piece on my top 10-15 horror debuts of 2020 in January.

9. Cirque Berserk by Jessica Guess [carnival, slasher trope, bunches of gory fun]

I love the entire Rewind-or-Die series of novellas that came out from Unnerving this year. Click here to access a full list. However, Guess' title rose above the rest for me. I should be honest that dark carnival or circus books is one of my personal favorite frames, so I was predisposed to like this. However, others on my Library Journal Best Horror team completely agreed. Novellas in general are my favorite format to deliver horror because they are long enough to develop characters  but still short enough to be read in 1 or two sittings. For me horror is best when it envelopes me and I can blot out everything but the book. That is harder with longer works though. A close runner up to best novella of 2020 would be Crossroads by Laurel Hightower. It was a nail biter as to which I enjoyed more personally, but the carnival frame tipped the scales.

8. Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth [immersive, character centered, intricately plotted]

This is a book that traps you into its well developed and layered world. It is a story within a story within a story within a story [maybe one more within]. A small part is based on a historical figure which is key because it adds to the overall feeling that this is all real, it all happened., and that intensifies the anxiety With its unapologetically intense female focus, an unease constantly seeping in from the perimeter, spilling fear all over the page at key moments, and characters that leap off the page, this novel was a treat. It is also an excellent example of a horror novel that has no gore.

7. Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay [compressed time frame, lyrical, ode to friendship]

This book was flawless, but I think a combination of it being a little too on the nose for 2020 and because Tremblay is always amazing that people just expect it meant it got left off of many best lists. I have a detailed review linked above, but I especially loved 2 things about this book. 1. The entire book is framed as a song. 2. It is focused on 2 women and their friendship. There is nothing about their love interests; in fact the only love interest, the husband of one, is killed off in the opening scenes. How refreshing to have a novel centered around strong women and their strong friendship.

6. The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix [thought provoking, terrifying, dark humor]

The fact that I picked a vampire framed story for my best list underscores how excellent this book is [vampires are my least favorite trope]. This is a well constructed novel that is both scary and sweet, about many important issues across society. It is a book about books. And it is the best original vampire novel I have read in a few years. You will laugh and cry, and possibly want to hide the book in the freezer for a bit too. 

5. Ring Shout by P. DjèlÍ Clark [thought provoking, fun, satire]

All I want to say about this book is that it is a seriously contemplation of systemic racism in America told as a fun and exciting creature feature. To say much more would ruin other's enjoyment. Seriously, go spend a day or 2 with Maryse and her crew. You will thank me after.

4. Boneset & Feathers by Gwendolyn Kiste [lyrical, fluid style, social justice]

An original and suspenseful witch framed horror story that holds more than meets the eye. It is also an honest look at what it means to be a woman who doesn't conform to societal stereotypes, one who bravely stands up to systemic oppression. "Witches" is a trending subgenre right now and this novel sets the standard at the moment.

3. The Boatman's Daughter by Andy Davidson [lyrical, haunting, complex characters]

This is a crime novel with a creepy fairy tale, timeless feel feel. There are monsters both human and supernatural. It is a story that is dripping with atmosphere, in which complicated characters and a foreboding setting took the lead and drew me into this brutal yet beautiful tale. I am not a re-reader, but I would read this again.

2. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia [Gothic, family secrets, escalating dread]

Read the full review, but let me say this was one of the best Gothic horror books i have ever read. The entire psychological situation was well done, the human monster awesomely bad and evil, but the supernatural evil behind it was great! I loved how the entire story built perfectly to the awesome climax. You think you like classic British Gothics, try this title and you will never want something that boring and tame again.

1. The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones [lyrical, revenge, heartbreakingly beautiful]

I read a super early ARC of this book, reading it at the end of 2019 and nothing I read all year came close to dethroning it as the best book I read, for any genre. It ponders cultural identity, family, and traditions without ever losing sight of the Horror [with a capital H]. In my review I couldn't fit how it had an excellent twist on the final girl trope or comment on the amazing basketball scenes. I bought a copy of this book in hardcover because I need to own it and read it again. It is awful, terrifying, and intense, but it also ends with hope. And one final word of warning to share-- you will never be able to look down on a ceiling fan from above ever again. Nope, not going to be able to do it. I can't even look at a ceiling fan from the ground the same way again.  

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic list! And my feelings exactly about THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS -- what a book!