Ex Libris the Eyes of Madness presents 2017’s Baker’s Dozen, Zakk’s favorite reads of the year!

“Ex libris The Eyes of Madness, simple reviews from a simple reader…”

Zakk’s favorite reads of 2017, a comprehensive list of Novels, novellas, and collections that made me excited to be a reader.

“I trailed off toward the end of the year, didn’t get to a lot of the books that I wanted to crack open. Those are the breaks sometimes. I did manage to get to quite a few reads this year, 70+ (I got a little lax in the tracking department) tales of terror. Enough to put together a list of sorts.”

That quote is from my 2016 favorites list and a lot of it applies to 2017, the good and the bad. Again I was lax in the tracking department, finishing with a score of 78ish on Goodreads and although I’m pretty sure this is low, by a few anyway, it’s fairly right on. I also trailed off towards the end of the year, not on the reading though. Reading wise I was firing on all cylinders… it’s the reviewing portion of the business that fell apart, I’m ashamed to say. But instead of digging deep to see what I missed or overlooked** (Tunnelvision, how the hell did I overlook Tunnelvision!)  I will instead focus my efforts on making 2018 a transparent, fully tracked year.

**meaning Goodreads tracking, all overdue reviews will be completed.

Lastly, there were more than a few books I wanted to get to but for whatever reason did not, which seems to be a common annual theme. And I get it. Things pop up. New books pop up, new opportunities, life sidetracks. Have no fear, I found plenty to occupy the nightmare receptors in my grey matter. All in all 2017 was a great year for horror fiction and I found more books that I jived with on an emotional level than last year, It was on par with 2015’s great horror year, making the selection process difficult. I know, I know. There’s so many good books, cry me a river. A readers life is tough. Ha!

Alright, let us get down to the brass tacks. Again, I don’t feel that I am the proper person to tell you what is “the best” or “the worst” in anything, especially writing. I have no formal training, and zero higher education. I am just a simple reader. This list will reflect entertainment value alone. These are the books that I enjoyed the most in 2017, or those that left a lasting impression.

After mulling things over I have decided to continue tradition and to give consideration to all books read in 2017 vs. strictly books released in 2017. Main reason being that if I took non 2017 books out of the running I’d be removing some of my absolute favorite reads of the year, and that would be a shame. Had they been read during release year, they absolutely would have made the respective list. And should you miss a recommendation on a book because I am late to the game in reading it? That would be a disservice to you, my followers and friends, and a greater disservice to the books themselves and the authors who crafted them. I am also limiting each author to one ranked entry, whichever book happened hit me the hardest, with any other titles belonging to the same author being honorable mentions. Otherwise I’d have a few authors running the board.

**Full disclosure, while I received complimentary copies of many on this list, from the authors and/ or publishers (I’ll designate how a came across them) these are my honest, unbiased feelings. I did not receive any sort of compensation, in exchange for reviews ratings or rankings, other than a book to read for review consideration.

My Favorite Reads of 2017

1. Stranded by Bracken MacLeod (Purchased)

Damnit, I wish I had read this on release week as I feel like I was the last to show up to the party. Stranded is a fully immersive story with a great cast of characters and a very solid flip to the narrative. Highly enjoyable and quite satisfying. Mr. MacLeod pretty much owned my #TBR list this year, starting early with Stranded I ended up reading four of his books and a couple of anthology short sorties, with Stranded being the one to hook me the hardest. I am a new fan.

Synopsis for Stranded:

Badly battered by an apocalyptic storm, the crew of the Arctic Promise find themselves in increasingly dire circumstances as they sail blindly into unfamiliar waters and an ominously thickening fog. Without functioning navigation or communication equipment, they are lost and completely alone. One by one, the men fall prey to a mysterious illness. Deckhand Noah Cabot is the only person unaffected by the strange force plaguing the ship and her crew, which does little to ease their growing distrust of him.

Dismissing Noah’s warnings of worsening conditions, the captain of the ship presses on until the sea freezes into ice and they can go no farther. When the men are ordered overboard in an attempt to break the ship free by hand, the fog clears, revealing a faint shape in the distance that may or may not be their destination. Noah leads the last of the able-bodied crew on a journey across the ice and into an uncertain future where they must fight for their lives against the elements, the ghosts of the past and, ultimately, themselves.

**Honorable Mentions: Come to Dust (Nocturnal Reader’s Box)/ 13 Views of the Suicide Woods (Purchased)/ Mountain Home (Kindle Unlimited)

2. Bone White by Ronald Malfi (Publisher provided review copy)

Ronald Malfi knocking my socks off is becoming an annual affair, with this year’s entry being a very enjoyable, very strong offering. Bone White captured me early with it’s highly unsettling narrative, a real world horror of sorts with heavy implications. Are these characters crazy or is there a battle between good and evil going on? This is the epitome of a “keep you up all night, safely bundled under the covers” kind of read.

Synopsis for Bone White:

A landscape of frozen darkness punctuated by grim, gray days.
The feeling like a buzz in your teeth.
The scrape of bone on bone. . .

Paul Gallo saw the report on the news: a mass murderer leading police to his victims’ graves, in remote Dread’s Hand, Alaska.

It’s not even a town; more like the bad memory of a town. The same bit of wilderness where his twin brother went missing a year ago. As the bodies are exhumed, Paul travels to Alaska to get closure and put his grief to rest.

But the mystery is only beginning. What Paul finds are superstitious locals who talk of the devil stealing souls, and a line of wooden crosses to keep what’s in the woods from coming out. He finds no closure because no one can explain exactly what happened to Danny.

And the more he searches for answers, the more he finds himself becoming part of the mystery. . .

3. The Sound of Broken Ribs by Edward Lorn (Author provided review copy)

This was my second Edward Lorn read and it will now be the high water mark for any other Lorn reads to be judged. A great, brutal narrative and a refreshing read. Multiple times during the book I though to myself “here is where the narrative will take a breather, letting things stew for a moment…” only to have said narrative blast forward unexpectedly. There’s no time to breathe. The sound of broken ribs is pain.

Synopsis for The Sound of Broken Ribs:

Lei Duncan has it all: the ideal life, the perfect career, a loving husband. What more could someone ask for? It is with this in mind that Lei takes her morning run. Belinda Walsh has lost it all: her home, her husband, her mind. She thought she knew Dan, but one phone call changed all that. Now everything she’s known to be true is a lie. It is with this in mind that she goes looking for something—or someone—to destroy. When the lives of two strangers intersect, something will be born of the connection. For one of these two souls, the truth of the world will shift and morph into something powerful and dangerous. A darkness of the mind, a tear in sanity. And something will peek through that darkness, beckoned by the sound of broken ribs.

**One final note: The Top Three are pretty interchangeable, had I whipped this up yesterday, or tomorrow, or any other day past or future and the top three would be mixed up, but it would still be these top 3**

4. Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones (NetGalley review copy)

A superb tale of growing up and dealing with events beyond one’s age, Mapping the Interior is a one-sitting read. Compelling characters and timeless themes of family & loss drive this tale accentuated by Native American lore. This was my first Stephen Graham Jones read which I quickly followed up with another. He is a wonderful storyteller and I need more of his fiction in my life.

Synopsis for Mapping the Interior:

Walking through his own house at night, a fifteen-year-old thinks he sees another person stepping through a doorway. Instead of the people who could be there, his mother or his brother, the figure reminds him of his long-gone father, who died mysteriously before his family left the reservation. When he follows it he discovers his house is bigger and deeper than he knew.

The house is the kind of wrong place where you can lose yourself and find things you’d rather not have. Over the course of a few nights, the boy tries to map out his house in an effort that puts his little brother in the worst danger, and puts him in the position to save them . . . at terrible cost.

**Honorable Mention, Mongrels (Purchased) I had a difficult time deciding which to feature as they both had my full attention, feeling as though they belong in the same moment, same universe, possibly in the same book. Mongrels could have easily taken the ranking. And the moment in Mongrels when you see the idea of Mapping the Interior taking shape… awesome.

5. The Tall Priest by Jonathan Winn (Purchased)

Book four in the Martuk series of novellas that expands upon and fleshes out some of the background shadow happenings of Martuk… the Holy, which I am actually reading now and this background knowledge is really adding some weight to an already heavy tale. The Tall Priest is a beautifully rendered bloodletting, and series as a whole is something I can’t recommend enough.

Synopsis for The Tall Priest:

From the blood drenched depravity of The Wounded King, the ancient curses of The Elder and the heartbreaking betrayal of Red and Gold, we now follow The Tall Priest as he meets the boy who will soon become the immortal Martuk.

It begins with blood.

Ordered to bring the famous Seer from the Mountains to the Elder, the Tall Priest quickly discovers a world outside Uruk’s massive gates. A world alive with the impossible. A world screaming, warning him of the unseen darkness shadowing his every step. Of the horrors of a past that still live. Capturing. Trapping. Feasting. Horrors the Seer is desperate to fight, her only hope the Tall Priest taking her beloved son far from danger and saving him from certain death.

Once home, betrayed by the one he loves, his end ignominious for one so powerful, the Tall Priest waits for death. Blinded and mute, fearing an end that never ends with Those Bones in the Stones, this is the story of a heart broken by unimaginable truth. Of honesty and kindness met with torture and death. Of how unconditional love results in the prison of timeless immortality.

This is…The Tall Priest.

6. The Final Reconciliation by Todd Keisling (Author provided review copy)

GET YOUR LIGHTERS IN THE AIR! I had a blast with The Final Reconciliation. The cast, the story, the delivery… fluid and wonderful. Rock legend and lore has always been a fascinating subject and TFR takes that angle and cranks it to 11. This is another one-sitting read. TFR is included in Keisling’s Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors, which, while deserving, I decided to leave off of this list due to it being on my 2015 year end list in it’s original form, and with my favorites of the collection (besides TFR) being the original releases.

Synopsis for The Final Reconciliation:

Thirty years ago, a progressive rock band called The Yellow Kings began recording what would become their first and final album. Titled “The Final Reconciliation,” the album was expected to usher in a new renaissance of heavy metal, but it was shelved following a tragic concert that left all but one dead.

The sole survivor of that horrific incident was the band’s lead guitarist, Aidan Cross, who’s kept silent about the circumstances leading up to that ill-fated performance—until now.

For the first time since the tragedy, Aidan has granted an exclusive interview to finally put rumors to rest and address a question that has haunted the music industry for decades: What happened to The Yellow Kings?

The answer will terrify you.

7. What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt (Publisher provided review copy)

Pruitt’s brand of southern noir is a pleasant way to take a step outside of my normal reading choices. He crafts characters that you have no choice but to love… and hate in equal amounts. Those populating What We Reckon are no different. Lovable, off-balance dirtbags making bad choices, compounding worse situations. It’s a ride that you must sit back and enjoy. Pruitt has a standing reservation on my #TBR pile.

Synopsis for What We Reckon:

Meet Jack Jordan. He’s a smooth-talking con artist with a penchant for the fast life. He’s snuck into Lufkin, Texas, in the dead of night with little more than a beat-up Honda, a hollowed-out King James Bible full of cocaine, and enough emotional baggage to sink a steam ship. He’s charming, dedicated, and extremely paranoid.

Summer Ashton, his partner-in-crime. She’s stuck by him through thick and thin, but lately her mind has begun to slip. They’ve told their fair share of lies and she’s having a devil of a time remembering what’s the truth. And recently, she’s been hearing voices. Unfortunately for both of them, she’s the brains of the operation.

Furthermore, they have begun to tire of one another.

For these two career grifters, the sleepy East Texas countryside is but another pit stop on their rampage across the American South.

Will it be their last?

8. Tunnelvision 25th anniversary release by R. Patrick Gates (Publisher provided review copy)

Out of print for decades and rescued/ rereleased as a part of Bloodshot Books’ Second Sight line showcasing long out of print books. I was 16 when this book was originally released and I really wish 16 year old me had a chance to read this fantastic book. He would have adored it. 41 year old me? Well, Tunnelvision knocked his socks off. The unique view of the antagonist is an acid dread while the horrific goings on will chill you. A definite recommendation for superb classic horror.

Synopsis for Tunnelvision:

One fine day in the middle of the night, Two dead boys got up to fight. Back to back they faced each other, Drew their swords and shot each other. A deaf policeman heard the noise, And came and killed the two dead boys…

The empty airwaves of the mind…

Welcome to TunnelVision – the premium channel streaming from the imagination of R. Patrick Gates to you!

What happens when you lose sight of the forest for the trees?

TunnelVision!

Wilbur Clayton has a personal connection with Jesus – Murder! Abused for most of his life, Wilbur and Jesus are out to make amends and take revenge. With Grandma in his head and Jesus on the TunnelVision, Wilbur knows what must be done and who must be made to pay for the sins of the father…

The only thing standing in his way are a cop with a gift for details and deduction, and a young genius whose reenactments of his favorite books are about to become all too real.

TunnelVision – streaming seven days a week, 24 hours a day!

On the air and in your nightmares!

9. Behold the Void by Philip Fracassi (Purchased)

Browsing around my peer’s sights I kept seeing a couple of novellas pop up, Altar & Mother, always with high praise attached. As of Christmas of 2016 everyone in the house had a Kindle (I love living in a house of readers!) so I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited, wanting everybody to have an opportunity to choose books to read. It was around March that I realized that to Fracassi’s novellas were KU offerings. I read them back to back, learning what everyone else already knew, the were great. Flash forward to December of 2017 and his recently released Behold the Void ( not available on KU but including Altar & Mother in the table of contents) was on promo for a dollar, which struck me as an obvious purchase. Becoming my last finished read of 2017. Running the gamut of horror, the strange, crime, drama, Behold the Void fired on all cylinders with the last story in the collection, Mandala, taking my breath away.

Synopsis for Behold the Void:

BEHOLD THE VOID is nine stories of terror that huddle in the dark space between cosmic horror and the modern weird, between old-school hard-edged horror of the 1980’s and the stylistic prose of today’s literary giants.

Revenge takes a monstrous form when a scorned lover acquires bizarre, telekinetic powers; a community swimming pool on a bright summer day becomes the setting for a ghastly nightmare of sacrifice and loss; a thief does bloody battle with a Yakuza for the soul of a horse god; a priest must solve the mystery of a century-old serial killer or risk the apocalypse; a newly-married couple discover that relationships-gone-bad can be poisonous, and deadly; a child is forced to make an ultimate choice between letting his parents die or living with the monsters they may become; and when a boy is trapped on a beach at low tide, he must face death in many forms – that of the rising water coming to consume him and the ghost of his dead mother who wants him back, reaching for him with dark, longing arms…

10. Kin by Kealan Patrick Burke (Purchased)

Reading like a love letter to 80’s slasher cinema, Kin kicks of as sequel to an unseen event. You get some flashback to fill you in but all that matters is what happens next. Kin has some great scenes and unpredictable execution, with a lot more character depth than I was expecting. Refreshing.

Synopsis for Kin:

On a scorching hot summer day in Elkwood, Alabama, Claire Lambert staggers naked, wounded, and half-blind away from the scene of an atrocity. She is the sole survivor of a nightmare that claimed her friends, and even as she prays for rescue, the killers — a family of cannibalistic lunatics — are closing in.

A soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder returns from Iraq to the news that his brother is among the murdered in Elkwood.

In snowbound Detroit, a waitress trapped in an abusive relationship gets an unexpected visit that will lead to bloodshed and send her back on the road to a past she has spent years trying to outrun.

And Claire, the only survivor of the Elkwood Massacre, haunted by her dead friends, dreams of vengeance… a dream which will be realized as grief and rage turn good people into cold-blooded murderers and force alliances among strangers.

It’s time to return to Elkwood.

**Honorable Mention, Blankie (Author provided review copy). I think many will say they dug Blankie more, and arguably it deserves the award as Blanky is a fantastic read. But it’s my love for classic 80’s slasher cinema that puts Kin on top.

11. We Are Always Watching by Hunter Shea (Publisher provided review copy)

Inspired by a highly unsettling true, continuing events, Hunter weaves an equally unsettling yarn of a family being terrorized by an unseen threat. It’s a fun read and on more than one night I had to check windows and locks while reading. Follow this link down the rabbit hole and read about the Watcher of Westfield. Crazy stuff, man.

Synopsis for We Are Always Watching:

They’ve watched over the house for generations… The move from New York to the decrepit Pennsylvania farmhouse is as bad as West Ridley thought it would be. His father’s crippling vertigo only seems to get worse, and even with his mother working herself to the bone, they’re out of money and options. Grandpa Abraham is a drunk bastard and the living embodiment of the long neglected farmhouse. He claims the place is haunted. Ghosts roam the hall at night and their muffled cries fill the silence of warm, summer nights. On the ceiling above West’s bed are the words WE SEE YOU. In a house plagued by death and mysterious visitations, West realizes something beyond the fiction of his favorite horror books has to be faced. Dark secrets are buried deep, and there are Guardians who want to keep it that way. No matter where they go or what they do, West and his family know one thing… they are always watching.

12. A Kiss of Thorns by Tim Waggoner (Paid Subscription to an online magazine)

Another one sitting piece paying homage to the 80’s slasher genre while upping the game on the strong female lead. Charming and disturbing are descriptions that come to mind when I think back on A Kiss of Thorns, a story I may not have come across if not for a subscription to the now defunct Dark Fuse Magazine, a label that ended up screwing a lot of writers that I am fond of. I’m excited to see it rise from DF’s ashes.

Synopsis for A Kiss of Thorns:

Lonny lost his beloved sister Delia thirty years ago. Since then, he’s sacrificed many lives in order to return her to the world of the living, but without success.

His next target is Julia, a young women with a unfulfilled marriage and a passion for ’80s horror films. She will soon discover that not only is real life more complicated than the movies, it’s far more terrifying.

13. Unger House Radicals by Chris Klein (Blog supported giveaway)

I really dug this fever dream of a novel. I think I may have loved it, I’ll let you know as soon as I completely wrap my head around it, which could take some time. I honestly think a second viewing will be needed and I don’t say that lightly. Imagine LSD took a dose of salvia then watched American Psycho & Blade Runner simultaneously while partaking in a bit of erotic asphyxia… yeah, imagine that kind of mindfuck.

Synopsis for Unger House Radicals:

When aspiring and nihilistic film-maker Vincent Bittacker falls in love with mercurial serial-killer Brandon Swarthy they decide to embark upon a bloody journey to re-define cinema and create their own sub-culture – Ultra-Realism

Other Honorables:

Blue Demon by David Bernstein (Author provided review copy)

Synopsis:

When the meek need defending, they call on Blue Demon, a guardian of bloodshed and retribution. Its loyalty is forever, as long as you remain righteous. For those that oppress the demon’s flock, life grows short. It kills in the most brutal fashion, and maims those it most despises. It has no feelings, only loyalty and devotion for the ones it protects. Of course, this is all from the Blue Demon television show and Cal Langston, Blue Demon’s biggest fan, knows such things can’t be real, at least not until the people who messed with him start dying in the most horrific of ways. Frightened and not sure what to believe, he sets out to discover what is truly going on, and if Blue Demon is for real, does he want it watching over him?

**also, just LOOK at that cover art!

The Ruin Season by Kristopher Triana (Publisher provided review copy)

Synopsis:

Jake Leonard has more than his share of trouble. He’s close to forty now and still suffers from bipolar disorder and the painful memories of the psychotic episodes that derailed his life and sent him behind bars as a youth. He lives in the rural south where he spends his days breaking horses and his nights training dogs in solitude. His nineteen-year-old girlfriend, Nikki, is the daughter of the sheriff, and she’s just getting worse with drugs, alcohol and satanic metal, eventually leading into heroin and low-budget porn. When Jake reconnects with his ex-wife, things get even more complicated, and the limits of love and sanity get pushed to the breaking point. The Ruin Season is a haunting tale of a mentally ill man struggling in a violent and heartless world. It is a story of unrequited love, rage, and bloody revenge. It moves forward in the style of gritty southern gothic novels, in the tradition of Larry Brown, Harry Crews, Daniel Woodrell, Cormac McCarthy, and Flannery O’Conner. It shows both the tender and horrible sides of insanity as well as the seedy underbelly of the American, backwoods suburbs.

Wallflower by Chad Lutzke (Author provided review copy)

Synopsis:

After an encounter with a homeless man, a high school graduate becomes obsessed with the idea of doing heroin, challenging himself to try it just once. A bleak tale of addiction, delusion, and flowers.

Witching Hour Theatre by Jonathan Janz

Synopsis:

On a cool October night at the Starlight Cinema, an all-night horror movie triple feature is about to begin: Witching Hour Theatre. It’s the one exciting thing in Larry Wilson’s life, not counting the lovely brunette who works the concession stand. Settling in, he loses himself in the atmosphere of the old place: the crowd, the screams, the popcorn and the blood.

**again, LOOK at that cover art!

What’s in store for 2018?

I had a pretty great year of reading in 2017 and I hope that the trend continues throughout 2018. I’m pretty sure that it will. One of the changes I plan on making is to limit the number of review requests I take throughout the year. I’m thinking two a month, not counting books I already have a piqued interest over or are already on my radar. What will I do with the remaining days, weeks? Well, that time will be devoted to digging around the back catalog of my personal favorite writers (Kicking off with Jonathan Winn’s Matuk… the Holy, after my first review request selection was delayed in shipping). I’d also like to work in a few selections from writers whom, for like of a better term, I “discovered” last year. I guess “Author’s whos work I’ve missed the boat on” would be more fitting.

Here is a rundown of my want’s for 2018. I want to get back in touch with Pinhead and the Cinebite crew in Hellraiser: The Toll (Mark Alan Miller) & the long overdue Scarlet Gospels, plus anything new Clive Barker may drop this year. I miss reading brand new Barker. I also miss reading brand new Stephen King, passing on Sleeping Beauties and reading Mr. Mercedes months after release and failing to continue the following two books in the trilogy. I haven’t read brand new King since Doctor Sleep and I miss the excitement over a new release. The Synopsis for The Outsider gives me chills and come hell or high water I’ll read it opening week. And as a tangent to Stephen King, I promised Sadie Reads Them All that I would give Joe Hill a second chance as Heart-Shaped Box left me underwhelmed.

Anything new from Mercedes M. Yardley & Kevin Lucia is greatly wanted. Favorite Todd Keisling has a new one cooking up, Devil’s Creek that has me excited and hopefully see’s 2018 release. Terry M. West has a standing reservation. Anything new from new favorites Bracken MacLeod and Ronald Malfi will get top billing. The former, a writer who thrilled me throughout 2017. The later, a writer that has brought a summer nightmare three years running. I’d also like to read a back catalog title from Malfi. I have Floating Staircase and December Park on the shelf. I want to expand upon my knowledge of a couple of authors I read for the first time in 2017. My lovely wife bought me a year of Kindle Unlimited and Edward Lorn & Kealan Patrick Burke have plenty of KU titles.

Concerning authors I haven’t read yet, I want to tackle Paul Tremblay’s Head Full of Ghosts along with this year’s offering, The Cabin at the End of the World. Josh Malerman’s Bird Box & his latest Unbury Carol have schedule spots. I will read my first Robert R. McCammon title, Boy’s Life and hopefully his latest, The Listener, along with my first John F.D. Taff read, I haven’t decided yet but I have previously purchased The End in all Beginnings and The Bell Witch. Also concerning back catalog books, I really want to read some older stuff from Hunter Shea (Forest of Shadows, Hell Hole), Adam Cesare (Summer Job).

Jebus, I really could go on and on. Anyway, I’ll keep you updated on how things go, and please keep my updated on what you are reading, especially what is knocking your socks off. Till next time…

Zakk is a big dumb animal…

And while you’re here, check out The Ex Libris The Eyes of Madness, stop by and say hello.

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