Best New Fiction: The Waking that Kills by Stephen Gregory
Stephen Gregory's debut novel is one of the more disturbing Gothic novels I've encountered. Christopher Beale, a former expat and current teacher for hire, returns to England because his father had a stroke. He takes on a private tutoring job, moving in with Lawrence Lundy and his mother, Juliet. Lawrence has...behavioral problems. So does his mother. Christopher does, too. Somehow, this ostracized family with a father presumed dead becomes the perfect home for the eternally lost Christopher.
Gregory does not pull any punches. The Waking that Kills is a brutal Gothic horror fill with disturbing imagery and very deft prose. The narrative floats back and forth between Christopher's years teaching English in Thailand and his days teaching a violent and impulsive teenager all about the lives of the swifts nesting in the overgrown garden. It's a fast read, but not an easy one, and not one you will shake off anytime soon.
Best New Non-Fiction: The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo
Roseanne Montillo crafts a fine examination of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein from various historical perspectives. She explores the familial, the scientific, the historical, and the literary influences that led to the genesis of one of the best science fiction novels ever written. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the book is finding out just how much of Dr. Frankenstein's method was based on actual science at the time.
Written in a clean conversational tone, The Lady and Her Monsters is a serious and engaging book about creation. The Monster, the novel, and the inimitable Shelley herself come to life in ways you'd never imagine.
Best New Memoir: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened by Allie Brosh
Allie Brosh outdid herself with her first print book. Hyperbole and a Half is her immensely popular webcomic telling stories about her life through crude but express MS Paint illustrations. She collects a few of the best stories in this collection, as well as many more original tales that really shift the focus on herself.
Hyperbole and a Half is a deeply personal collection. Brosh goes to some dark and uncomfortable places in this collection, opening up her deepest fears and insecurities about herself without losing her sense of wit. Everything comes into focus in the second half of the book, where all of the stories--new and old--are about how she perceives the world and the strange impulses she suppresses to function in daily life. The book is funny and thoughtful in equal measure and one of the more creative memoirs I've encountered.
Best Collection: Bad Seeds: Evil Progeny
I kind of have an obsession with evil children stories. I will read, watch, listen, or play through a lot of bad media to find a new angle that hits me just right. In Bad Seeds: Evil Progeny, editor Stephen Berman collected 27 stories exploring children gone bad from every imaginable angle. Some of these children are the creation of their parents; others are just born that way. Some are turned bad by circumstances beyond their control; others actively seek out the evil they commit. There are some heavy hitters in this collection--Stephen King ("Children of the Corn"), Joe R. Lansdale ("Duck Hunt"), Ramsey Campbell ("Respects")--but also a lot of stories you may have never heard of before.
Bad Seeds: Evil Progeny is one of the rare themed collections that actually puts the flow of the stories into serious consideration. This is not a knock against any other editors. My own experience with some of the one theme, many collected stories anthologies is a lot of burn out from too many similar stories stacked back to back. Berman creates an interesting arc of tone and action while also spacing out the similar entries so the subject never becomes overwhelming or predictable.
Those were my best books of 2013. What about yours? Share your favorites in the comments below.