My Best Books of 2017

Hi gang. You know the drill. Here we go:

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SCYTHE by Neal Shusterman. Reviewed here on my YouTube channel.

 

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Dublin Murder Squad 1-3, by Tana French. Comprising IN THE WOODS, THE LIKENESS, and FAITHFUL PLACE. There are 6 books so far, but 4 and 5 were letdowns. The first 3 were amazing. Reviewed here.

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DRAGONWATCH, by Brandon Mull. His premiere series, Fablehavenis a longtime personal favorite. DRAGONWATCH is the first in a sequel series that proves he’s still got it. Loved everything about this book.

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Bobiverse 1-3, by Dennis E. Taylor. Comprises the volumes WE ARE LEGION, WE ARE BOB; FOR WE ARE MANY, and ALL THESE WORLDS. Rip-roaringly good sci-fi adventure. Reviewed here.

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DRAGON TEETH, by Michael Crichton. One of his earlier works, despite being posthumously published. It’s about an intriguing period in history called “The Bone Wars,” wherein two rival paleontologists tried to outdo each other in their field, sometimes by nefarious means. Review here.

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SLEEPING GIANTS, by Sylvain Neuvel. Hell of a book! Lamentably I found the sequel, WAKING GODS, to have a touch of a sophomore slump. Nevertheless, I’m eagerly looking forward to ONLY HUMAN, the third installment. Review here.

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THE END OF NIGHT, by Paul Bogard. I would never have read this book without my brother’s recommendation, but it’s very thought-provoking. It deals with how artificial lighting impacts human biology and our ecosystems around the world. Review here.

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UNDAUNTED COURAGE, by S.R. Ambrose. Speaking of the Indianapolis Colts, this was the July selection for the Andrew Luck Book Club. It’s a detailed history of the Lewis and Clark expedition, including their lives before and after their legendary trek.

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Weird West tales, by Mike Resnick. I read 2&3 this year. YouTube video here.

 

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Lady Mechanika: La Dama de la Muerte, by Benitez. My YouTube review covers the whole series, though it was this volume in particular that I loved.

 

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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JOHNNY U AND ME, by John C. Unitas Jr. This is a career and family bio about legendary NFL quarterback Johnny Unitas, written by his son, John Jr. Unitas played for the then-Baltimore Colts (now in Indianapolis) and is in the conversation for being among the greatest to ever play the game, and certainly the greatest of his era. However, I included this book for its value as a teaching tool: it talks about his life behind the scenes, and his imperfections. Some of those old-time qualities we admire come with an ugly price tag. We would do better to respect our sports heroes for their accomplishments, and learn from their flaws. Even the Man with the Golden Arm wasn’t perfect. I applaud his son for his hard work in putting this book together

 

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ARTEMIS, by Andy Weir. Also did a YouTube review.

 

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UNDAUNTED, by Gerald Lund. This one sat on my shelf for eight years before I got around to it. It’s equal parts fiction and non-, as Lund did heavy research not just into the time period, but the people who actually trekked through the now-destroyed Hole In The Rock. I found the non-fiction elements more engaging than the overall storyline, so epic was it in scale and import.

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ON COMBAT, by Dave Grossman. A non-fiction about the physical and psychological toll on the human body in modern combat. Very enlightening.

 

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SNAPSHOT by Brandon Sanderson. Blogged it here.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: BURN BY BURN by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian 


TMRGB is a series of blog posts wherein I, a disgruntled CDL driver who wakes up way too early for this crap, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses.

I enjoyed Jenny Han’s first Lara Jean novel, and the library had this one (different series, with a co-author) so I grabbed it. I had to run a lot of trailers back and forth between a drop yard and an oil refinery, so I plugged it in and enjoyed it a decent amount.

The advantage of the audio version was that each of the three main girls got a different narrator. (Even without that, they were all written distinctly, so reading it in print wouldn’t have been a problem.) Kat is the Tough Chick, Lilia is the Popular Chick, Mary is the Homely Quiet Chick.

They’re not friends, not at first, but their paths cross like poorly planned state highways that your dispatcher lies to you about, and they soon find themselves in a convoy…nope, sorry, they find themselves working together to deliver a high-value load of revenge against bullies.

I kept thinking of “Mean Girls” as I listened to it, though this book has slightly sharper teeth. There are a few F-bombs, teen drinking is casually accepted, and there are some sexual situations as well, so be aware. While I’m not fond of that content in YA, Han and Vivian weren’t gratuitous about it, and the instances all played into the plot.
The setting kind of made me wish I owned a house on a coastal American island, probably after I retire from trucking.

Final note, this book was very much the “first act” in a trilogy. There was some resolution to the initial conflict but you can tell this flaming crapstorm is only heating up.

I will real the sequel after I take some time off–I’ve read like three Girly Books in a row without meaning to, I need a change of pace.

Get back to work.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: KISSES IN THE RAIN, by Krista Lynne Jensen

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Amazon link

TMRGB is a series of blog posts wherein I, a disgruntled truck driver who unfortunately is not allowed to have a beard because of current job requirements, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses.

Seattle.

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…provided that you are a west coast trucker.

I hate Seattle. It does nothing but rain, and the paper mills all smell like broccoli that’s been overboiled in a construction yard outhouse. Also the music is overrated. The worst part, though…the worst part of it is the trucking.

Is the sun up? Are you on Interstate 5? My psychic powers tell me that you are going no faster than 30 miles per hour. Yes! Real psychic powers! Now send me money.

Are you in Seattle proper? I am so, so sorry. No, don’t worry about what the GPS says, you can go down that road. There’s a low bridge but only in the right lane. Yes, everything is tight and packed and hard to get through. Those caveman-looking people? Why, those are hippies. Yeah, still have hippies in Seattle. They haven’t gotten the message yet.

And to answer your unasked query, I do indeed want to saw the entire western edge of Washington off and push it into the ocean Lex Luthor-style. There is nothing redeemable about the place…

…unless Jace and Georgie are real. If that’s the case, well, okay, I guess they can have it. But you can’t make me truck there. Oh, you’re my dispatcher? I guess you can make me truck there. But you can’t make me like it.

Yes, this is where I stop blabbing about trucking and start blabbing about KISSES IN THE RAIN by my friend, Krista Jensen.

Jace is a super chill Bachelor Hunk who lives in a rundown rental with a rescue dog and his own deep thoughts. He works at a restaurant, making food. He just got used by a girl so that she could make her ex-boyfriend jealous, and he vents his frustration by rage-riding his motorcycle through the Rain City. Oh, and he’s unconsciously handsome.

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Georgie also just got out of a bad relationship, but hers was a little bit easier, ’cause the guy died. The downside is that Georgie was in the car with him when he snuffed it, and she’s still trying to put herself back together, mentally and emotionally speaking. She comes to Seattle and gets a job at the same restaurant as Jace.

Ooooooh, are they gonna hook uuuuuuup?

Um, duh? Did I mention a rocket ship somewhere? This is guy-fi, not sci-fi.

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Among the strengths of this story–other than persuading me not to go Full Metal Supervillain on the Pacific Northwest–was the depth behind the main characters, and how they both had to do some self-examination before realizing they were ready to be with someone else.

Georgie probably had the more interesting arc on this front. It was nice to read about a character who’d been damaged by an abusive relationship but was later able to work her way out of the trauma by understanding that the abuse wasn’t her fault. Presenting that kind of relationship in fiction is a safe way to show how that abuse takes shape, because in real life people don’t always cotton on to it when it’s happening.

Also it was cool that Jace had a motorcycle. I don’t, because I have kids.

Final note, this book made me hungry for peppery shrimp with blackberry sauce. Time to go hit the fridge.

Carry on.

Halloween Reads: A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS

A Night of Blacker Darkness: : Being the Memoir of Frederick Whithers As Edited by Cecil G. Bagsworth III by [Wells, Dan]

I should definitely have plugged another Halloween-ish book by now, so here’s an oldie-goodie.

A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS is about a guy who is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, but desperately wants to get out of prison so that he can actually commit the crime in question (financial fraud.)

It takes place in England sometime in the 1800s, and it’s a hilariously ghoulish tale. At one point our hero even crosses paths with some of the weakest vampires imaginable, who automatically worship him by mistake. John Keats, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen also make appearances, whether in person, name, or reputation.

It might be among Dan Wells’ lesser-known works, but that’s certainly not for its quality. It’s a really fun read and captures the bewitched autumnal atmosphere with great skill. It’s available in ebook and audiobook.

Get back to work.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: SPELL CHECK by Julie Wright

Spell Check by [Wright, Julie]

TMRGB is a series of blog posts wherein I, a rugged truck driver with security clearances from multiple federal entities, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses.

 

Art is a transmission for my mind. It helps me shift gears when conditions change around me, and that’s especially true when a new season rolls into town. It’s raining, it’s cool outside, and Friday was the first day of autumn. It’s time to fully embrace the Halloween spirit, and that means Halloween books.

Enter SPELL CHECK, by Julie Wright. And speaking of check, it does that. Teen girl protagonist? Check. Evil cheerleader villain? Check. Totally hot guy figure? Check. Parents at home that Just Don’t Understand? Check. Last of all, beloved grandparent figure who fills the role of a Gandalf archetype? Super check.

Our heroine, Allyson, accidentally discovers she has witching powers when a practical joke goes awry and she curses her worst enemy at school. Her dear sweet grandmother, Farmor (that’s a title, not a name–there’s a Swedish flavor to this family) is there to guide her in the development of her abilities, and explain the ramifications of abusing them.

But of course it’s oh-so-tempting to use those powers to continually humiliate Queen Bee Cheerleader Wench, especially because it gives Allyson a shot at Totally Hot Dreamboat Dude. It’s been a while since I read this so I forget their names. I should probably read it again because hey, October!

When I first bought the eBook, it had the old cover on it, which you can see here:

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I kind of liked that one more, but I realize why the change works: the new version captures the whimsical spirit of the book (seriously–at one point Allyson accidentally sends some loved ones to the Amazon, and she has to teleport there to intervene.) The old version, while more complex, also promises something darker, perhaps more Gothic, and much more fantastical.

SPELL CHECK hearkens back to the Halloween movies of the 90s that we loved so much. It’s a little bit Hocus Pocus, a little bit Halloweentown, and a whole lot of fun. The link at the top of this post takes you to Amazon. (Heh.) Do the meta thing and buy a copy!

 

Should-Reads: Dublin Murder Squad, by Tana French

Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad came across my radar earlier this year, via a recommendation from my brother. I’m 3 books in (there are 6 as of this writing) and every one of them has been a gale-force tornado of thrills. 
Tana French knows just what buttons to push. She drops these characters into your life and makes you either want to be them, hang out with them, or just ask them questions about life. She writes them with such a degree of reality that even when they aren’t admirable, they are highly readable. No pulled punches, just solid humanity. 
The premise is thus: An Garda Siochana, the Irish Police, do not actually have a Murder Squad, nor do they carry firearms, but French has written a world wherein both of these things are non factors.


From there, we start with Detective Rob Ryan, a somewhat experienced guy on the force, who was traumatized by something in his childhood village. He now has to solve a case in that same village while keeping his past hidden from his seniors. Throughout the case, Rob’s weaknesses and faults are revealed, sometimes with humor, sometimes with painful honesty, but always in a relatable way. I can’t say I have frequently read such a well developed character that wasn’t also insanely boring. 


After Rob’s case ends, the next book follows his former Murder partner, Cassie Maddox, who used to work Undercover. When a girl shows up dead–a girl who looks just like Cassie, and living under a fake name that was one of Cassie’s aliases–Cassie has to go back undercover and find out which of her four “friends” likely killed her. Once again, rich, full characters filled out the roster, and French showed herself to be adept at handling a crazy complex and layered plot at the same time. So far, this was my favorite of the series.


In the third book we move on to Cassie’s former handler, Frank

Mackey, your garden variety tough guy who breaks rules to solve cases–partly because it works, and partly because he likes to. He once planned to elope to England at age 19, but on the night he and his girl meant to meet up, she ditched him and he went off alone. 22 years later, he finds out why…and he has a score to settle. 
I could praise so many elements of these books all day, from the anecdotal asides that reveal the depth of these characters, to the complex twists that have so far thrown me, to the unique voices of these gritty Irish law enforcers…but the best thing I can tell you, honestly, is to just read them. 
Now, as always, I warn about language, and between these books being about Ireland and them being about cops, they are very much not sanitized. Just be aware of that. 
But Tana French is a heck of a writer, and I plan to keep up–I have a lot to learn from her.

Should-Reads: THE END OF NIGHT by Paul Bogard


“The End of Night” is a great piece of nonfiction detailing the technological changes in artificial light, and how we’ve introduced some pretty severe changes to our surroundings in just the last century.
I found it as informative as I did moving, even poetic at times, as Bogard makes his case for a reduction in the amount of artificial light we project into the dark. There are environmental concerns as well as an impact on our own physiology.
It’s a book that merits discussion and I would encourage you all to take a look at it.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE, by Jenny Han

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TMRGB is a series of posts wherein I, a bearded truck driver in the mining industry, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses. 

Today I posted one of my worst drive times ever between Clark County, Nevada and Salt Lake County, Utah. Partly this was due to me being in a convoy including another truck and two cars, and partly this was because our trucks were governed, heavy, and somewhat underpowered.

We moved my Mom up to Utah with us (oh yeah, by the way, I moved to Utah, hence the lack of posting…been busy) so today’s Girly Book was literally read/listened to whilst driving a truck. Even with the long drive time, I had to amp up the playback speed so I could finish it as we rolled into my neighborhood.

This book has come across my radar a handful of times, given its NYT bestseller status. One of Han’s other audiobooks is in my TBR pile but I grabbed this one after hearing the recent announcement of a movie adaptation. It’s about Lara Jean, a high school junior, who has had crushes on five different boys in the past, and overcame her crushes by writing letters to them and then hiding them in her room.

Then one fateful day, all of the letters somehow get…delivered.

This obviously sets off a chain reaction of events that throw Lara Jean’s life into a state of emotional chaos. One of these boys is the School Hottie! Another one is her Sister’s Ex-Boyfriend! The rest are…

…well admittedly the rest are pretty inconsequential, at least at first. There are two other books in the series and this first one seems to focus mostly on Peter and Josh. And that’s fine, because there’s enough going on between just a few characters to keep the whole thing moving without bogging it down in a car crash of conflicting wills.

As this book wrapped up, I had definitely enjoyed it, but there was a snag I couldn’t put my finger on at first. I think what it came down to was that it seemed to be less plot-oriented and more an exploration of the numerous characters involved, and the things they did to each other as the story progressed.

Obviously the story had some important things to say and show–about love, loyalty, honesty, and bravery–and it showed them very well. It was just a lot of cause-and-effect and maybe my brain was dialed in to expecting something else. I’m glad there are more to come, because I’d like to spend more time with these characters and see how they grow.

Han has taken an authentic approach to writing modern teenage relationships, walking a line between authenticity and propriety with respectable skill. Issues like teen sex came up (especially in the third act of the book, as it were) but not in a cavalier or flippant way. Likewise there was a bit of PG-13 language throughout, including a brace of F-bombs, both times used to express anger and disgust. As I said–authentic, yet she managed not to overdo it.

At the end of the book, Han’s talent was clearly on display, and I will definitely read another one of her books. I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

Over and out.

Should-Reads: SLEEPING GIANTS by Sylvain Neuvel

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Sylvain Neuvel’s SLEEPING GIANTS is like the book version of a found-footage film, written almost entirely in dialogue, as though from transcripts of recorded interviews. My wife read the ebook and I listened to the audiobook; I frequently found myself wondering if I would have properly read the inflection and tone in print, given how well the narrators performed their different characters.

Premise: A young girl falls into a hole in the ground near the mining town where her family lives. The hole is actually an underground cavern, and she lands in the middle of a giant metallic open palm, like that of a huge statue. It’s alien in origin and defies everything scientists know about metallurgy, and the government wants to know where “the rest” of the statue is.  17 years later, that girl is a scientist heading a project to find those pieces all over the world.

Also it’s not a statue…it’s a machine.

Honestly that’s all I can bring myself to say about it, for fear of spoiling any of the really cool developments of the story. As far as the audiobook goes, the cast really brought it to life. Neuvel proves that he’s a daft hand at withholding and revealing, giving you questions and then handing you answers before you get frustrated…then walking right into a new development or new angle to keep you burning through the story. I for one am glad that I didn’t read it until the sequel was already out, because now I don’t have to wait for the next leg of the story.

Content Warning: Some of the characters share romantic entanglements in their interviews (which are actually relevant to the story) and while none of these scenes “go pink,” sex is a topic in multiple chapters. As for language, there is a small handful of S-bombs and B-bombs throughout the book. Not done to excess, but they’re there.

Should-Reads: MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL by Larry Correia

Monster Hunter International (Monster Hunters International Book 1) by [Correia, Larry]Monster Hunter Vendetta (Monster Hunters International Book 2) by [Correia, Larry]Monster Hunter Alpha (Monster Hunters International Book 3) by [Correia, Larry]Monster Hunter Legion (Monster Hunters International Book 4) by [Correia, Larry]Monster Hunter Nemesis (Monster Hunters International Book 5) by [Correia, Larry]

This is one of the more adult series that I keep up with, so the tone and content of these is pretty different from what I normally plug. Just be advised if any of you take my recommendations seriously, there’s a fair amount of language and violence in Larry Correia’s flagship urban fantasy series.

The premise is this: Owen Pitt is an accountant and gun enthusiast (much like Correia) with a flexible mind and a penchant for pounding the crap out of anyone who shoots first. When he’s working after hours one night, he gets attacked by his boss, who is actually a werewolf. Using a combination of firepower and brute strength, Owen kills his boss, but wakes up in a hospital under the watchful care of the MCB (Monster Control Bureau).

What ensues is a Men-in-Black-esque briefing about the world of monsters, that they’re real, they’re a big problem, and the government pays private companies good money to hunt them down. Owen is invited to come to work for Monster Hunter International, and things go both up and down from there.

Why do I keep reading these books? Well, they’re good rip-roaring fun. They’re what SyFy Channel B-movies could be if the characters weren’t idiots, the weapons were accurate, and the writer(s) really tried to do a good job. Character is king, and Correia makes these characters lovable and admirable.

On top of that, he avoids big-city traps that other authors write. These stories don’t happen in Chicago, LA, or New York. He tries new settings and makes it all that much more interesting for it.

If you’re looking at a 6-book series and asking yourself how each one could possibly stay interesting, here’s a breakdown:

International: Pitt is recruited to MHI, learns he has a supernatural connection to a dead Jewish monster hunter, and needs to fight a killer demon who’s coming to destroy the world. (Takes place generally in the South in USA.)

Vendetta: An ancient evil comes to Earth to hunt Owen after the events of International. There’s an armored zombie bear in this one.  (Set in Mexico, the US South, and New Zealand.)

Alpha. This isn’t from Owen’s POV, it’s about MHI’s leader, Earl Harbinger, who is a government-sanctioned werewolf. He goes to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to face an old foe, only to learn that their pasts are more deeply intertwined than they thought. (One of the best of the series. Takes place in Michigan.)

Legion. Owen’s POV again. The team is at a monster-hunting convention when a nightmare demon breaks out and attacks the fictional dragon-themed hotel. (Takes place in LAS VEGAS!!!)

Nemesis. Not Owen’s POV. One of the MHI agents, Agent Franks, is actually a monster who’s been alive for hundreds of years. This is his backstory, interspliced with scenes in the present. I can’t remember where this one is set.

Siege. It’s not out yet but I’m dying to read it. Correia has written a bunch of other stuff since Nemesis came out in 2014, so this story has been sort of in limbo for a while.

Keep in mind, these are super watered-down summaries of these stories. There is a huge long roster of characters who are rich and well-developed, and their actions keep criss-crossing throughout the saga to keep things interesting. Correia knows how to write action and intrigue at a pace that does not invite you to take breaks.

So if gritty, high-octane urban fantasy is your jam, dig in. These are just a dang fun ride.