Shotgun Honey Presents Favorite Reads of 2019 (Part Four)

Our final week of Favorite Reads of 2019 sends out the year with 13 additional books to add to your wish lists and New Year’s reading lists. I know my 2020 is going to be full of books.

This week we invite Scott Adlerberg, Sarah M. Chen and Paul J. Garth, and I tackle a list of my favorites as well.

Remember, most of the contributors for this series have wonderful books of their own that are always looking for good homes.

On with the books and thank you for making 2019 memorable.


Scott Adlerberg

Author of Jack Waters and Graveyard Love

AMERICAN SPY by Lauren Wilkinson

Marie Mitchell, a black woman from New York City works for the FBI during the 1980s.  Obviously, she stands out, and it’s her uniqueness along with her competence, that alerts the CIA to her so that they wind up recruiting her for a job in West Africa.  American Spy is a character study, a political novel, a love story, and a story about memory and history. It deals with race and gender both in the United States and Africa, and it does all this while telling an espionage tale.  What does it mean to be an American, a black American, a woman who is a black American, a woman who is a black American who takes a job to bring down an African leader devoted to building a black nation that can be free of western imperialist control?  American Spy is a rich, layered book and a lovely, propulsive read. 

HIPSTER DEATH RATTLE by Richie Narvaez

Won’t somebody stand up to the scourge of gentrification striking our cities?  One man does, in hipster central, otherwise known as Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but he does happen to be a deranged killer.  Well, everyone has their reasons, and perhaps those resistant to the way a neighborhood evolves and forces out people living there for decades aren’t entirely wrong.  As a lifelong New Yorker, Richie Narvaez knows his terrain well, and he uses his knowledge to present a very varied and interesting cast of characters.  To go with it all, he’s quite amusing.  Hipster Death Rattle is a classic case of an author using the mystery form to tell a fast-paced entertaining story while delivering pungent social commentary.

BLOOD SUGAR by Daniel Kraus

The plotting of a terrible crime lies at the core of this novel, but it also has a whiff of horror.  Besides that, it’s what you might call a Halloween YA novel, about a group of damaged kids who form their own family around a grown-up man who’s the most damaged of them all.  From page to page, I found myself laughing, squirming with discomfort, or feeling the sadness in the characters.  Through it all, we have the young teen narrator’s voice, a voice not quite like any other I’ve encountered in fiction.  Will he win the fight with himself and retain his humanity, or will he give in to the influences who’d be happy to have him help wreak destruction on others?  This is a book filled with mounting tension and comedy of the bleakest sort – a combination hard to resist.


Sarah M. Chen

Author of Cleaning Up Finn and Night of the Flood

NEVER LOOK BACK by Alison Gaylin

Alison Gaylin is one of my favorite writers of psychological suspense. This latest book, about a podcaster researching a teenage serial killer couple from the 1970s, skillfully weaves together several storylines from multiple POVs. Gripping from beginning to end. 

THE UNREPENTANT by E.A. Aymar

Relentless, gritty, and gut-wrenching with Aymar’s signature humor and heart. Set in the grim world of sex-trafficking, this thriller never feels gratuitous or heavy-handed. A powerful, brave read. 

YOU ALL GROW UP AND LEAVE ME: A MEMOIR OF TEENAGE OBSESSION by Piper Weiss

I read a lot of nonfiction in 2019 but this coming-of-age memoir is at the top of my list. I found myself recommending it countless times to those interested in true crime or memoir. It’s less about the actual crime than it is about an Upper East Side teenage girl’s obsession with her tennis coach who was later revealed to be a child predator. Disturbing, painfully honest, and beautifully written. 


Paul Garth

Contributing Editor for Shotgun Honey

SAFE by Ryan Gattis

A punk rock heist novel set right before the 2008 economic collapse about a professional safecracker who rips off a cartel, but also a novel about grief, life, the things we do for family, and how trapped you are by where you come from. The best crime novel I read all year, who cares that it technically came out two years ago? Like the playlist that fronts the novel, this book is timeless, angry, and lean. An absolute stunner. 

BLACK MOUNTAIN by Laird Barron 

The book I imagined when I heard Laird Barron was writing a crime series. Intense, nihilistically bleak, and slyly humorous, Black Mountain has a hardboiled heart, but a head full of cosmic terror. 

DOWN THE RIVER UNTO THE SEA by Walter Mosley

Mosley writes PIs better than anyone and Down the River Unto the Sea is his bang-on-the-table-goddamn-triumph. Corrupt cops (like, seriously, seriously bad), scheming politicos, racial tensions, all the tangles of family, and the single most chilling Tough Guy sidekick I’ve ever read (seriously, don’t ever mess with a dude named Melquarth Frost) – they all get spun up into a tight mystery that puts our hero in way over his head. If you’re burnt out on the PI genre, this one will singlehandedly restore your interest. 

SATANIC PANIC: POP-CULTURAL PARANOIA IN THE 1980S edited by Kier La-Janisse & Paul Corupe 

One of the most beautiful books I own, this collection of essays, each presented with several black and white photographs, explores the intersection between a changing pop culture and an insurgent spiritual reawakening, and the horrific consequences of their collision. Somehow fun and horrifying all at once (not to mention timely) this book is a beautiful and insightful reminder of how fear can be used for control.


Ron Earl Phillips

Publisher and Managing Editor of Shotgun Honey

MY DARKEST PRAYER by S.A Cosby

Cosby debut is immediately engaging as Nathan Waymaker rides the line between good and bad as he attempt to uncover the truths behind the death of a local minister who had seedier past. Full of memorable characters, sex and violence overlapping a compelling mystery, My Darkest Prayer is nuanced and deft writing.

ONE SMALL SACRIFICE by Hilary Davidson

Since Davidson’s debut in 2011, I’ve enjoyed her ability to ability to write stories about characters and places, and the mysteries between. One Small Sacrifice is no different, as Det. Sheryn Sterling discovers she must solve a murder before understanding the disappearance of a local doctor, and how the man in the middle of both cases, Alex Traynor, connects the pieces.

TINY LOVE by Larry Brown

This posthumous collection of short stories by the late working class writer Larry Brown not only collects his stories, but gives you an understanding of Brown’s personal growth as a writer. Not formally trained, Brown wrote story after story until he was finally published in the 1980s, his first story published in Easyrider. That story though not the best, shows the foundation for telling lean stories with a depth that outnumbers their word counts.


I hope you’ve enjoyed these recommendations over the last four weeks and find some new voices you may have overlooked. Have a great new year and read lots of books and stories.


Shotgun Honey Presents Favorite Reads of 2019 (Part Three)

With just two weeks left in the year, we bring together a third group of writers and friends to recommend their favorite reads of 2019. It’s been a great bunch of titles that have added to my already towering TBR collection. So many potential gift selections for the book lover who celebrate the holiday seasons. And if they don’t, we might as well just make a book holiday and gift them anyway.

I want to thank those who have contributor so far, and welcome new contributors Nikki Dolson, Dharma Kelleher, S. W. Lauden, and Alex Segura.

Lets get to the books.


Nikki Dolson

Author of All Violent Things

THE STORIES YOU TELL by Kristen Lepionka

I fell out of love with the private detective in fiction until I met Roxane Weary. Three books in to this excellent series and I am hooked again. Lepionka can write a goddamn story and I am here for every tale of Roxane Weary. The Stories You Tell is a great damn ride.

A BROKEN WOMAN by Dharma Kelleher

Give me all the Jinx Ballou stories. Kelleher draws you in and punches you in the feels. This was my first Jinx book. I’m glad there two more waiting for me to read.

SISTERS OF THE VAST BLACK by Linda Rather

Space nuns! Humankind out on the edges of known space. I could tell you so much more but if nuns in space doesn’t get you interested then this isn’t the book for you. (THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU. TRUST ME.)


Dharma Kelleher

Author of Chaser, Extreme Prejudice, and A Broken Woman

REMEMBER by Patricia Shanae Smith

This was my favorite book this year. Not only is it a fantastic suspense novel, but its exploration of PTSD was brilliant. 

MY DARKEST PRAYER by S.A. Cosby

This was everything an entertaining crime drama should be—exciting, fun, and gritty. 

CARVED IN BONE by Michael Nava

While framed in the context of an investigation into a man’s death, this novel at its heart is a deep dive into the Castro District’s gay male culture on the verge of the AIDS epidemic.


S. W. Lauden

Author of Go All the Way, Bad Citizen Corporation, and Crossed Bones

RECURSION by Blake Crouch

This choice won’t surprise anybody who’s heard me raving about Blake Crouch on the Writer Types podcast. Crouch’s last two thrillers (“Recursion” and “Dark Matter”) are right in line with my current tastes in crime fiction—the characters are complex, the mind-bending plots are dense, and the writing is excellent.

ALL THE WAY DOWN by Eric Beetner

Speaking of the Writer Types podcast…I may have retired from the show in October, but I left an even bigger fan of Eric Beetner’s writing than I was going in. Beetner is a prolific purveyor of top notch pulp who consistently gets more bang per sentence than most crime writers publishing today. This tightly-plotted thriller is no exception with it’s engaging characters and breakneck pace. 

FACE IT: A MEMOIR by Debbie Harry

I’m a sucker for rock & roll reads (this is one of about 20 I devoured this year), but Debbie Harry’s story is truly fascinating. There was so much I didn’t know about her early days in Manhattan, including run-ins with Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd and the New York Dolls—way before she got famous with Blondie. The casual tone makes it feel like she’s confiding a few great stories over drinks. Definitely a book to check out if you love punk rock, power pop or new wave.


Alex Segura

Author of Blackout and Miami Midnight

THE SWALLOWS by Lisa Lutz

A new Lisa Lutz book is always an event – and her latest standalone, The Swallows, is a provocative and timely look at the gender dynamics at a New England Prep school – dark, alluring, haunting and frightening in the way only teenage drama can, Lutz shows that she’s one of the sharpest and most versatile crime writers working today.

THE BETTER SISTER by Alafair Burke

Burke is the modern master of domestic suspense, and she’s at the top of her game with The Sister – a twist-laden and tightly-plotted tale that demands to be read in one sitting. A compelling beach read that’s loaded with timely, sharp social commentary, The Better Sister was impossible to ignore and even harder to put down.

MIRACLE CREEK by Angie Kim

Rarely do we see a debut this polished, confident, and layered. Kim’s Miracle Creek is a jaw-dropping first novel that touches on family, hope, and desperation that’s also part murder mystery. Suspenseful, relevant, and complex, I was blown away by this book and had to read it twice.


Hope you found a book or two to add to your reading list or for holiday gifts. Be sure to check back next week to see more recommendations from our favorite authors.


Shotgun Honey Presents Favorite Reads of 2019 (Part Two)

Welcome to week two of Favorite Reads of 2019. Last week we had guests Angel Luis Colón, E.A. Aymar, and Eric Beetner, all who made my TBR pile even larger. Thanks folks.

This week we have authors J. Todd Scott, Steph Post, Nick Kolakowski, John Vercher and Canadian book reviewer Brandon Sears with a bounty of books.

This is a weekly series throughout the month of December, so be sure to come back next Wednesday.


J Todd Scott

Author of The Far Empty, High White Sun, and This Side of Night

Oftentimes the rich get richer this time of year, when the same (deserving) books are recommended and lauded again and again. I tried to pick a few “off the beaten path” that I read and enjoyed 2019, that might have flown beneath the radar.

I was supposed to pick two…I went with three.

BLOOD RELATIONS by Johnathan Moore.

This book treads into Michael Crichton territory, but it’s a taut mystery wrapped around compulsive, atmospheric writing. Actually, all of Moore’s books are great; high-concept noir thrillers of the “why didn’t I write that” variety that are imminently readable.

ALL THE WAY DOWN by Eric Beetner.

Eric’s written a ton of books and short stories, and honestly, I could have picked just about any of them. This one happens to feature a crooked cop, and I like books about crooked cops (or cops who at least bend). ALL THE WAY DOWN has great pacing, a cool set-up, and a dash of black humor. It’s all the way good.

THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN by Niklas Natt Och Dag.

A period mystery set in 18th century Stockholm, this has been compared to TRUE DETECTIVE (Season 1) and THE ALIENEST. I found it fascinating, dark, and also (paradoxically) illuminating about a place and time I knew next to nothing about. There is a lot going on in this book, but it’s worth the work.

WOUNDS: SIX STORIES FROM THE BOUNDARIES OF HELL by Nathan Ballingrud.

These are fantastic horror stories (one of which was recently made into a film) that are nearly impossible to pigeonhole. I struggle writing short stories, but there is so much imagination and craft exhibited in these, that I’ve spent time examining them just so I can learn how it’s done from a master of the style.


Steph Post

Author Lightwood, A Tree Born Crooked, and Miraculum.

A FRIEND IS A GIFT YOU GIVE YOURSELF by William Boyle

It’s refreshing to find a crime novel that is as much about the comic absurdity of life as it is the grit of the underworld. Most memorably, though, Boyle writes female characters who are strong, full of agency and wise cracks, and fallible. In short- they’re both real and entertaining. This read was a pure joy ride.

AFTER THE STORM by Marietta Miles

Speaking of well-written female characters, Miles nails it yet again with May Cosby and the continuation of her story after the events of  2018’s novel, May. After the Storm is dark, visceral and uncompromising- a deep dive into the underbelly of contemporary noir. 

GOOD TALK by Mira Jacobs

I’ve been a fan of Jacobs for years and I was thrilled to see the visual vignettes she shared online develop into a full-fledged graphic memoir full of heart, humor and startling moments of poignancy as Jacobs explores her identity within the context of America and tries to convey such an exploration to her son and other family members.


Nick Kolakowski

Author of Maxine Unleashes Doomsday, Boise Longpig Hunting Club,
and the Love & Bullets Hookup series.

YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by Steph Cha

A nuanced, searing, brutal—but ultimately uplifting novel about how we wrestle with old sins.

HELL CHOSE ME by Angel Luis Colón

I read a lot of crime fiction every year, but this one still sticks with me. It’s funny, like all of Angel’s work, but there’s a thread of real heartrending grief in here.

THE SECRET WORLD: A HISTORY OF INTELLIGENCE by Christopher Andrew

The history of spying, from the Old Testament through the modern day. It reminds you of how weird and vicious the human race can get when it wants something.


Brandon Sears

Book Reviewer at Every Read Thing

LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake is like stepping into a time machine back to the 1960s and into the social structures that shackle women from making drastic changes in their lives.  Lippman’s Maddie proves to be a more than serviceable sleuth in the face of an apathetic police department.  Can she solve the murder of Cleo Sherwood – and worse, will anyone care if she does?

DRY COUNTY by Jake Hinkson

Jake Hinkson is a criminally underread author.  His books capture the seedy nature of small town life and how secrets can fester and ultimately destroy those who choose to keep them.  Dry County is another stellar story from a master of noir.

RECURSION by Blake Crouch

Recursion is easily my favorite book of 2019.  I finished this one in two sittings because I just could not get enough.  We’ve all seen the movies and read books where the danger of messing with timelines has been thoroughly established.  But I’ve never truly felt the frustration on the part of those trying more than the characters in Crouch’s new novel.  There’s something about hopeless determination that kept me reading for hours.


John Vercher

Author of Three-Fifths

HEAVEN, MY HOME by Attica Locke

When it comes to heroes, perfect is boring and complicated is real. Darren Matthews wears his flaws on his sleeve while keeping an unflinching eye trained on justice, even if he has to break the rules to achieve it, while navigating the complexities of being a Black Texas Marshall. Attica Locke’s follow up to Bluebird, Bluebird had me turning the pages so quickly, I almost tore them.

WE CAST SHADOWS by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

It’s been called everything from horror to spec to literary—I just call it excellent. Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut was everywhere this year and rightfully so. Shadow offers a terrifying and all-too real glimpse into the struggles mixed-race people feel on a daily basis through the lens of a father obsessed with the color of his son’s skin. I continue to think about this book on the daily.

FAMOUS IN CEDARVILLE by Erica Wright

Damn, that Erica Wright can write. Another flawed character for me to root for, though she does a terrific job of keeping those flaws from us—at first. Her poetry roots are obvious in her first standalone. The sentences flow into one another with ease as she takes us into the grimier side of Tinseltown.

THE LINE THAT HELD US by David Joy

Technically a 2018 book, but my TBR pile is ridiculous. Reminiscent of McCarthy’s Lester Ballard in Child of God, Darl Moody is one scary son of a bitch, even more so because he’s calculated and motivated. The final scenes sent my heart rate soaring. Joy writes brutality with poetic prose. I can’t wait to read more of it in When These Mountains Burn in August.


Hope you found a book or two to add to your reading list or for holiday gifts. Be sure to check back next week to see more recommendations from our favorite authors.


Shotgun Honey Presents Favorite Reads of 2019 (Part One)

2019 is almost gone, and it’s that time of the year we reflect back on the books we’ve read. I know the books I’ve read and those that still tower in my TBR pile all cattywampus next on and around my nightstand is sizable. I’m always willing to make that pile larger, so I’ve asked friends and writers to give me a short list books that were their favorites over the course of the year. Specifically, I asked for at least two books in our favorite genre, crime, and one book outside of the crime genre. It’s always a good thing to explore and expand your reading.

This isn’t a “Best of” list, reading is subjective after all. From the lists I’ve gotten so far, I can say I do highly recommend the books as well as the folks who have made the recommendations.

This is a weekly series throughout the month of December, so be sure to come back next Wednesday.


Angel Luis Colón

Author of Hell Chose Me, editor of ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!
and podcast host of The Bastard Title.

YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by Steph Cha

This is a frustratingly good book, like, as a writer I felt ashamed as I read this because it was so damn good. As a reader? What a goddamn treat. Beautiful and heart-wrenching, Steph Cha writes the kind of crime fiction we need to see more of.

MY DARKEST PRAYER by S.A. Cosby

With a strong voice and prose reminiscent of some of the best noir has offered before, Cosby’s debut, MY DARKEST PRAYER, will satisfy those with that itch only hard-boiled fiction can provide. This is the proper kind of graduation for such a gifted short story writer and I cannot wait to see what else he has up his sleeve.

ONE SMALL SACRIFICE by Hilary Davidson

I’m an unabashed Davidson fanboy. Her mix of tight storytelling and wicked black humor scratches all the itches I have as a reader. The first of her Shadows of New York books is a twisty and suspenseful thriller that I think fans of the genre and those tired of its conventions can equally enjoy.

That about does it in the crime world, what about outside of the genre?

THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: HOLLYWOOD MONSTERS AND THE LOST LEGACY OF MILICENT PATRICK by Mallory O’Meara

A wonderful account of the career and astounding legacy of Milicent Patrick, best known as the artist responsible for the monster design of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (as well as her contributions at Disney). LADY is a fantastic piece about erasure in the past that remains relevant here and now.


E.A. Aymar

Author of The Unrepentant and editor of The Night of the Flood

THE HIDDEN THINGS by Jamie Mason

Jamie Mason has this neat trick where she writes concise, careful, pretty prose without sacrificing the tension or suspense of the plot. Read the outstanding opening chapter of The Hidden Things to see what I mean, and then read the rest of the book for a tightly-written story about a stolen painting and the desperate people looking for it…and the people desperately trying to keep their truths from emerging.

¡PA’QUE TU LO SEPAS! edited by Angel Luis Colón

The ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas! anthology is so many things – a powerful study of contemporary latinx voices; a wonderfully-curated collection of beautiful short fiction; a cry that should be resonating across our country. The market for anthologies is crowded nowadays, but this entry stands out in that field and deserves a wide audience (and all of the proceeds go to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico).

MIRACLE CREEK by Angie Kim

At this point, you’ve likely heard about Miracle Creek, even if it doesn’t fall neatly into a specific genre. Kim’s debut novel is absorbing and poignant on so many levels – as a story about immigrants adjusting to life in America, the complications of raising a child with special needs, the brutal effect of secrecy. By all measures, one of the best books of 2019, and one readers will long remember.


Eric Beetner

Author of All the Way Down and podcast co-host of Writer Types

THE GUILT WE CARRY by Samuel W. Gailey

The best crime stories take a salacious plot and wrap it in real characters. Gailey does this as well as anyone. A variation on my favorite little sub genre of noir – finding a bag of money – this book is elevated by truly compelling characters. To be this invested in the people is the mark of great fiction, period.

THE WOLF WANTS IN by Laura McHugh

Again, character is key -this time with families. When an author can make me relate to a family situation that is miles from my own, I know I’m in the hands of a great writer, and McHugh has done this in each of her three novels. Unpredictable as it spools out a mysterious past, I never feel manipulated by the author’s hand in a Laura McHugh book. I’m just swept away for the ride in the best possibly way.

GO ALL THE WAY by SW Lauden and Paul Myers

I was around since the inception of this book because of my friendship with Steve Lauden and I know it was a passion project for him. As a punk rock kid I’ve seen a lot of the music of my younger days fall by the wayside of my own evolving tastes, but power pop remains. It’s the catchy, driving beat of the best rock roll has to offer and these essays explore why it endures and gives real life examples of how music effects our lives. It’s not a history, it’s an appreciation and a series of unique insights into the power of music in our lives.


Hope you found a book or two to add to your reading list or for holiday gifts. Be sure to check back next week to see more recommendations from our favorite authors.