So many books, so little time. Literally thousands of books are published every year and yet there are only so many hours in a day to fill with quality reading time. That’s before we even consider how media and publicity for books tends to skew to a select few, particularly books published by major publishers. It’s a huge bummer to see a great book get lost in the sea of noise that is given to a handful of "breakout" books. Some books find their audience years later; others end up the talk of the town due to organic word-of-mouth.
We really just don’t want to see any great books left behind. We’ve gathered a handful of books that came out last year that truly deserved a lot more attention.
Don't Push the Button
John Skipp is one of the best writers writing today and his story collection, Don’t Push the Button is a testament to his versatility. He can walk any path and bare every horror trope in new and revitalizing ways. Nothing about this collection is “typical,” with its blend of screenplay and essay. He tosses in gore alongside incredibly thought-provoking journeys into splatterpunk. The collection is a bonafide exercise in the depths of the horror genre. One of the collection’s standouts has to be the alphabetic microfictions that effectively act as a master class. One of them happens to walk the sensitive topic of the COVID-19 pandemic, which in a less capable writer’s hands they would have likely failed. In Don’t Push the Button, Skipp succeeds in showcasing his range.
A couple years ago, Lim published a heartfelt and mysterious novel called Dear Cyborgs and last year, his latest novel, Search History, was released to critical acclaim. Even so, I do feel like it got a little lost in the media panic of the COVID-19 pandemic. To say the least, this novel is wild. Often described as a “novel of ideas,” Search History tells the story of, among other things, reincarnation, a sequence of missives involving virtual reality, AI, and more. It’s an incredible feat, the layering of individual fragments to create a page-turning experimental exercise in suggestion and mystery. This is the sort of book that proves that the novel will never truly die, as long as there are writers like Lim venturing into new narrative territory.
When it comes to novels about pandemics, readers often take sides. They are either uninterested in something that has become our every day reality—or they can’t get enough. I tend to be of the latter, and books like Grievers act as a mirror of our own reality while also transporting readers into a vastly different world. At its core, Grievers tells a tale of loss and identity. A virus known as H-8 is destroying society. People fall into a depressed, completely broken state. They simply… stop doing anything. Readers are introduced to the strong-willed Dune, who faces the pandemic head-on—complete with having to watch her mother endure and eventually fail in her struggle against the deadly virus. It’s a dark and yet incredibly uplifting novel that deserves to sit right next to other standout pandemic novels like The Plague, Station Eleven, and Severance.
Related: 13 Pandemic Horror Books
The Weak Spot
A mystery surrounding perhaps an impossible place, The Weak Spot tells the tale of a woman who takes on the role of a pharmacist’s apprentice at a pharmacy in the middle of nowhere. It rests in yet another out-of-the-way sleepy European town, yet the pharmacy and its owner, August Malone, seem to attract the opposite of small and sleepy. Our protagonist is quickly consumed by the pharmacy and its customers, her identity blurring as she takes on the knowledge and history of the townsfolk. Elven offers a narrative slight-of-hand that results in the sort of pontifications and curiosities that get you reading between the lines.
Related: 5 Devastating Small Town Crimes
The Ghost Sequences
A.C. Wise has been writing some of the most haunting fiction for a while now and her third collection The Ghost Sequences proves she isn’t going anywhere. Wise shifts from the paranormal edges of magic to a delectable tale of creepypasta with absolute ease. One of the collection’s biggest standouts, “Exhalation #10,” delves into the grotesque yet mythic world of snuff, all the while offering something different—essentially inverting the role and making the reader complicit. The Ghost Sequences was among the freshest collections published last year—and should be more widely read by anyone looking for a mix of mystery, suspense, and horror.
Now for something a little different. Chenault’s novel bares all as it tackles themes like racism, poverty, and more—set in the fictional town of Bramble Patch. A strange blend of magical realism and mystery, These Bones feels like an uncovered historical record of a corrupt place, full of brutality and people simply “looking away” as history repeats itself. Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects of the novel also happens to be its most challenging: These Bones is written in a nonlinear fashion, again to don the feel of a dark historical record. It’s an experimental feat that sticks the landing and causes the reader to inspect every page like it’s a fragment in a collage—and you’re looking for the truth behind all the lies.
The Boy with the Spider Face
AJ Franks’ novella has a lot of heart. Like the title suggests, we are introduced to Jeff Pritchet, a boy who was born with a spider-like face. It leads to all kinds of identity-laden struggles including loneliness, bullying, and racism. The story delves even further into these themes when Jeff finally makes a friend, one who blows open his already fractured and small life. The Boy with the Spider Face proves that body horror is alive and well.