My Top Reads of 2011

Managed to read quite a lot of books in 2011, more than any other year in recent memory. Unfortunately (as far as compiling year-end best-of lists are concerned), most of these were books published prior to 2011; for additional irony, many of the titles topping my TBR mountain are from this year, and should make up much of my Best Of 2012 list. For those keeping score at home, no, I’ve never been one with any cultural zeitgeist.

Even so, the few books this year that merit recommendation still come with all sorts of qualifiers. But in the end they’re all damned fine books worth your time.

In alphabetical order they are . . .

DEMONS: ENCOUNTERS WITH THE DEVIL AND HIS MINIONS, FALLEN ANGELS, AND THE POSSESSED edited by John Skipp

A minor caveat: I’m about three-quarters of the way through this massive, 600+ page tome of demonic goings-on, but the stories I’ve thus far read are enough to put this anthology on the list. Splatterpunk lord John Skipp has compiled a nicely-balanced collection of vintage tales, contemporary classics, and a slew of brand-new stories involving demons and the demonized. Can’t really pick a favorite, but rising stars Amelia Behmer, Athena Villaverde, and Livia Llewelyn deliver the goods, and emerging new talent Laura Lee Bahr is definitely an author to watch.

Order yours here.

THE DEVIL AND PRESTON BLACK by Jason Jack Miller

Jason Jack Miller’s debut novel adds a few new wrinkles to the hoary “deal with the devil” cliche, exploring the Appalachian region and the folk music therein. Blending dark fantasy and magic realism, it’s a compelling read, but perhaps the most frightening aspect of this tale of a wayward musician is the all-too-real nightmare of struggling to survive while pursuing one’s dream. (Also, having lived in Morgantown, WV, where much of the novel is set, it was quite exhilirating to see the many real-life landmarks employed here.)

Order your copy here.

FANTASTIC ORGY by Carlton Mellick III

My review from earlier this year:

Carlton Mellick III has been hailed as one of the brightest, bizarrest talents in the field of weird lit. His latest collection, FANTASTIC ORGY, is a fine example of his strengths, five stories that blend visceral thrills, erotica, social satire, and vicious wit into a thoroughly unique vision.

In the title story, the collection’s centerpiece, mutants meet at an exclusive swingers’ club to trade fashionable, functional STDs (I’ll not spoil the fun in discovering just what that entails) until a strain of violent, unpredictable disease turns the revelry into a fight for survival. Like a fever-dream remake of Cronenberg’s THEY CAME FROM WITHIN, this longer tale is worth the price of admission alone.

The other stories are no less impressive. Featuring a body-building douchebag with a lollipop head (and a taste for fine cheese), a bio-engineered cat made of ears, a porn-film cast adrift in a very strange ocean, and shark sex–lots of shark sex–Mellick serves up oddity after oddity without sacrificing story or character.

Order your copy here.

STARVE BETTER by Nick Mamatas

A straight-shooting, no-bullshit guide to the practical side of writing professionally that’s plenty entertaining on its own. You won’t find any muse-enriching exercises here, but you will find ways to keep the electricity on. (Or, if novels are more your style, check out Mamatas’ experimental sf novel SENSATION or the Lovecraft/Hunter S. Thompson/Richard Nixon mash-up THE DAMNED HIGHWAY, co-written with Brian Keene.)

Order your copy here.

TO EACH THEIR DARKNESS by Gary A. Braunbeck

Originally published in December 2010, I’m including Gary A. Braunbeck’s memoir/genre study simply because it’s one of the best goddamned things I’ve ever dragged my eyes across. At turns heartbreaking, breathtaking, and illuminating (sometimes all at once), Braunbeck lays his soul bare in teaching how the horror genre works, or should work. Worth the cover price alone for the inclusion of his Bram Stoker Award-winning short story “Duty,” and the devastatingly brilliant “Need.” Required reading for the serious genre fan.

Order your copy here.

THE WOMAN by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

Written in conjunction with their controversial, audience-assaulting cinematic sequel to Ketchum’s brutal classics OFF SEASON and OFFSPRING, Ketchum and McKee’s novel THE WOMAN takes the feral female from those earlier books and places her at the hands of a well-to-do and seemingly well-meaning father figure. Melding elements of OFF SEASON with the equally-disturbing THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, the collaborative duo build their study of civility and savagery to a slow boil before erupting to a gruesome, gut-punching climax as nasty as anything Ketchum’s ever done. Recommended, if you’ve got the stomach for it.

Order your copy here.

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