Books

Another Monday, Post-Evisceration

Stomach is starting to heal from the hernia surgery. Turns out it’s painful for your guts to come out, and JUST AS PAINFUL to put them back in again. So, you know. Don’t do that.

Keep that shit on the inside, if you have the option.

Because I’ve been anchored to the couch for medicinal reasons, been watching a shitload of The Walking Dead, old episodes, and they just remind me how great season 1 and season 2 were. I know, everyone hates season 2, but on Netflix, in binge-form, it really works. It has some of the best character work in the series, and the Shane/Rick stuff is intense as hell. It’s funny because no matter how many tanks or evil baseball bats they give their new villains, none of them are as intimidating as Shane’s unhinged, slack-lipped murder stare. Jon Bernthal (Shane) was and is the absolute man. Probably the only actor on the show so far who could match Andrew Lincoln’s Rick in acting ability and gravitas.

Been trying to play Mass Effect: Andromeda too (with all my new couch time), and it just absolutely refuses to become good. Damn shame, considering how excellent the last trilogy was. Well, caveat – how good Mass Effect 2 and 3 were. Mass Effect 1 had a lot of the problems Mass Effect: Andromeda is having. The games work when they’re little episodes of Star Trek. The games fail when they try to present some wide-open boring landscape to putter around in in an under-powered space car.

Okay, those are all my thoughts for today.

Got some good writing in just now – Deadgirl 4 is finally starting to shape up into something I like. Easy realization that made it happen: Deadgirl 4 is not Star Wars. I kept trying to make it this big crazy epic story with all these characters and forgot that the series is about Lucy.

Now that I’m listening to her voice again it’s all rolling out.

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This Year in Books (2016)

This Year In Books (2016)

So, it’s December 30th, and this fetid colostomy bag of a year has almost gone down. I’ll try not to die before I finish this article, at the very least.

I’ve been doing this “Year in Books” for a while, just running a quick rundown of the books I’ve been running this year. I didn’t read as many books as I normally do, but I also got a lot more writing done and also my son started walking. So I spend most of my time on Toddler Suicide Watch, which cuts into reading and video game time somewhat.

January: The Walking Dead Compendium 2 (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard)

Why I Read It – Last year this (former) Walking Dead TV show fan finally took the dive and tried out the comics, specifically the first compendium, which covered issues 1-48, or, from the beginning to the prison arc. I chowed that thing down in like two days, so I decided to check out the second run, which covered issues #49 to #96, or the “Hunters” arc all the way past “No Way Out” at Alexandria to “A Larger World” where they meet other towns.

Did I Like It? – Absolutely! The pace of these comics is insane. People are always getting murderlated left and right, and the storylines open and close quickly . . . unlike the TV show. There’s a bit of a detriment – you don’t feel like you know the characters as well as you do in the show – but damn if they aren’t page turners.

I thought the show did the cannibal arc and the “throat-bite” better, but the comic did the whole Alexandria thing and “No Way Out” better. In the comics there are WAY fewer zombies, so what they do to deal with them makes a lot more sense than in the show, where they upped the herd of zombies to like 10,000 but kept the same solution.

This compendium was also notable because it’s near where I stopped watching the show, and what I know of what happens next, it’ll probably be where I stop reading the comic. I just don’t care about Negan. Sorry, superfans.

February: The Crimson Campaign (Brian McClellan)

Why I Read It – Because the first book in this series, “Promise of Blood,” was one of my absolute favorite books of 2014. A fantasy war story mixed with a Victorian noir mystery set after a French Revolution-esque conflict on another world? Where specialized soldiers called “powder mages” snort gunpowder like cocaine to fuel their magical powers? Uh, fuck yes.

Did I Like It? – Loved it. Loved everything about it. I’m obsessed with running a tabletop RPG set in that universe, that’s how bad I’ve got the hots for this series. This one ups the stakes of the first story, and sees Tamas trapped behind enemy lines, Taniel Two-Shot facing court martial while trying to hold a ragtag front together, and Adamat dealing with a collapsing capital. Plus you’re treated to a lot more backstory about all the characters, and it’s all solid storytelling.

This series is a must-read if you care even a little bit about books or fantasy.

March: The Magician’s Land (Lev Grossman)

Why I Read It – Because the previous books in the series, “The Magicians” and “The Magician King” were subversive, thoughtful, funny, sorrowful takes on the “normal guy sucked into a magical world” stories. They’re Harry Potter meets Narnia written by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s great stuff. So I had to finish the series.

Did I Like It? – Endings are difficult, but Lev knocked the ending of this series into an alleyway and then beat it with a broken mop handle. I’m not going to ruin anything, but I am going to say that the story somehow managed to wrap everything up and yet also leave plenty to the imagination. It’s a difficult trick, and maybe not everyone would appreciate how it’s done, but the ending is as clever as the rest of the story, and does justice to all the main characters that have drifted through the series.

April: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)

Why I Read It – My wife yelled at me to read it so I read it.

Did I Like It? – Yes! As a huge fan of sci-fi dystopias in general, this book delivered. It’s a slog in the beginning – I kept ribbing my wife about the three pages it took to describe eating an egg (that’s real, by the way, THREE PAGES) – but, that’s kind of the point of the story. Offred’s journey is about the mundane, the day-to-day horror of submission to fascist rule, and all I can say is that it’s a classic for a reason.

May: Woken Furies (Richard Morgan)

Why I Read It – As you can see, I continued/finished a lot of series this year. Woken Furies is the third book in the Takeshi Kovacs series, after Altered Carbon and Broken Angels. Woken Furies returns to the cyberpunk nature of the first novel, finally showing us Kovacs’ home and diving deep into his backstory.

Did I Like It? – Of course. Richard Morgan has convinced me with Altered Carbon and Broken Angels that he’s the heir to the William Gibson throne, the father of cyberpunk. The dude is a master. Woken Furies digs into the character of Takeshi Kovacs himself and it’s a fascinating ride. The ending is beautiful and sad and horrible and great, everything you want out of cyberpunk. There are ninja surfers and clone doubles and murderous robots; just check it out. Start with Altered Carbon.

June: What is the What (Dave Eggers)

Why I Read It – Because I’d been reading so many series that I needed to cleanse the palate. Try something new. My wife suggested this non-fiction story of sadness and something.

Did I Like It? – I honestly didn’t finish it, which means, as usual, I’m not qualified to review it. I can say that the writing is good, but I couldn’t deal with the pace. I tried my damnedest to finish this book, but after like two months of flailing I gave up. There’s an exhausting framing device to the story as it switches between past and present, but the “present” situation is dragged out and completely without tension. The main character is in a bad situation, but instead of trying to do anything about it he just lies on the ground and feels bad for himself. While he thinks about the past. For 12 chapters.

It honestly made the main character so unlikable I had to check out. I know it’s a true story, and I feel bad for the guy, but holy crap I need some agency in my characters.

July: Red Harvest (Dashiell Hammett)

Why I Read It – Dashiell Hammett is one of my favorite writers – he’s the godfather of noir mystery. I like the dude so much I named my son after him. Really.

Did I Like It? – It was the “flow doggity,” as the kids are saying. If you’ve seen “Yojimbo,” “Fistful of Dollars,” or “Last Man Standing,” you know the basic plot structure, because all of those movies were loosely based on this novel. Dude comes into town, plays two factions against each other, bad things happen, etc. This book is smart, fast, and written with the soiled-soul poetry that noir is so famous for. Highly recommended.

August: Red Seas Under Red Skies (Scott Lynch)

Why I Read It – Because the previous book in the series (sensing a pattern), “The Lies of Locke Lamora,” was dope. It was Ocean’s Eleven meets Kill Bill in a fantasy Venice and if that doesn’t entice you then you’re dead to me.

Did I Like It? – Yarp. It mixed up the story, introduced a high-seas pirate element, and told an emotional tale about true friendship. You gotta check it out.

October: Ghost Story (Jim Butcher)

Why I Read It – Blah blah, series, blah blah.

Did I Like It? – Except for the epilogue, it was perfect. The last book, #12, took Dresden through the meat grinder and took everything away from him. This story changes the formula up and tells a unique story about stuff I can’t talk about without it being a total spoiler. To keep it short: the whole book is rendered kind of pointless by the epilogue. It’s the only complaint I have.

November: The Diviners (Libba Bray)

Why I Read It – Another suggestion from my wife, and another unfinished book. The idea sounded great – a ’20s, flapper period piece urban fantasy story during Prohibition.

Did I Like It? – Yes, and no. Again, I didn’t finish it, though I threw like a month and a half at it. Libba Bray is a FANTASTIC writer, and I absolutely mean that. The prose is mouthwatering. It’s hilarious when it’s trying to be funny, it’s horrifying when it’s trying to be scary, it works. The characters are great, the setting is fully realized and well-textured. The pace, however, was just too slow for me.

I made it half way through the book and the protagonists hadn’t done anything yet. Like, at all. The main conflict and the villain were all over in this box, and the protagonists hadn’t left their starting position yet. The characters were great, and I liked reading about them, but at some point they needed to get off their asses and do things, and by 50% they hadn’t. I just couldn’t hang any more. I will absolutely check out more by Libba Bray because she’s such a good writer it gives me jealous, heart-stabbing spike of pain in my chest.

December: Star Wars – The Final Prophecy (Greg Keyes)

Why I Read It – I guess I felt a strong urge to finish as many of my lingering series this year as I could, probably because everyone in 2016 was dropping off like George R. R. Martin characters and I was worried about being next.

Did I Like It? – Sure. Okay, listen. I’ve been reading this 19-book Star Wars series (“The New Jedi Order”) since I was a sophomore in high school, which means I’ve been off-and-on following this particular series for 16 years. Half my life. Are Star Wars Expanded Universe novels good? Meh. The best ones are fun and the worst ones are excrement, and this one qualifies as “fun.” It’s the second-to-last story in the series, and since I haven’t read any of the series in like four or five years, I decided I should just knock this bad boy out.

It follows a few of my favorite EU-only characters that I really like, Tahiri Veila and Corran Horn, and it has a decent little “enemy mine” situation between the two Jedi and a trio of snakey Yuuzhan Vong that COULD BETRAY THEM AT ANY TIME.

I dug it, it was fine, but I’m most excited to just read the last book of the series and put a bow on 16 years of reading.

December: End of Watch (Stephen King)

Why I Read It – Well, it’s the end of a series (!!!!!!!!!!!), so there.

Did I Like It? – I haven’t finished yet – I just got it for Christmas – but it’s already doing some interesting twists and turns. The first two novels of the series, “Mr. Mercedes” and “Finders Keepers” were straight detective novels, a rare genre for Stephen King. Without spoiling anything, I’m just going to say that “End of Watch,” the last novel, is COMPLETELY different. And since I’m the kind of guy who likes when a story changes genres, I’m all about it.

Favorite Book of 2016

As is often the case, we’ve got a two-way tie: “Red Seas Under Red Skies” and “Woken Furies.” So, pirate-con artists and surfer-ninjas.

I like weird books, okay, DEAL WITH IT.

 

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Deadgirl Sequel Out Now, Author Pees in Excitement

Hey, good and gentle peoples who read this blog! I try not to spam you guys because you’re all so attractive and swell individuals, but it’s not every day the sequel to your first book comes out. Which it did. It does. For me. I mean.

My book is out today. Kindle / Ebook / Phone right now, but the paperback is coming soon. Anyway, I’d really appreciate it if you checked it out or at the very least sent the word along to someone you think might dig it. Anyway, here are the links to Amazon and then I’ll leave you alone I promise.

Here are the Amazon pages for Deadgirl: Ghostlight and the original Deadgirl if you missed it. They’re basically Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style adventure/thrillers narrated by a smartass.

ghostlight review sheet

 

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A Selfless Reminder

Just a completely altruistic, non self-serving reminder that the sequel to a book I wrote is coming out in one month. Which I also wrote. I wrote both, is what I’m saying.

DG Date Banner2

Check out the first “Deadgirl”

And the new one, “Deadgirl: Ghostlight”

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This Year in Books (2015)

This Year in Books (2015)

Yeah, I know it’s a little late for an “end of year 2015” list, but I just had a newborn. Cut me some slack, DAMMIT. Sorry, I apologize, I don’t really sleep anymore and it makes me say funny things. Much like Jarvis I do alright for a spell and then I say the wrong cranberry.

Anyway, here’s everything I read last year and recommendations on what you should check out too!

AoG1January – Batman: Death of the Family (Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo)

A straight up horror tale told by the rising stars of the Batman universe: writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. It features the return of the gross, faceless Joker as he tries to make Batman see that the Clown Prince of Crime is the only friend the Bat ever needs.

As you can imagine, he does this by singing songs about it and being a cool person.

It’s a cool book, but damn is it brutal. There are some giant scares (both real and fake out) in this book, and it pulls the uncommon trick of making you think long-standing comic book heroes are actually in danger. Which is really all the recommendation you should need.

AoG2February – The Dresden Files #11: Turncoat (Jim Butcher)

If you like magic and you’ve never read the Dresden files, you gotta remedy that situation stat. Anywho, Turncoat is the 11th novel in the series, and boy is it a doozy. I accused the last couple books of being a bit formulaic, but this novel (and the previous one) really started kicking the door down.

Favorite characters, some going as far back as the very first book, are joining the choir invisible left and right. People getting maimed, long-standing institutions blowing up, friendships irrevocably boondoggled. Pacts with sentient islands; it’s nuts. This book also features one of the most terrifying and powerful villains Harry Dresden has ever faced (the Native American shapeshifting demon), and (like Death of the Family up above), the writer does a great job of making you believe long-standing, semi-invulnerable heroes aren’t going to make it.

AoG3March – The Magician King (Lev Grossman)

The sequel to the unique “The Magicians,” (which is being made into a SyFy TV show), The Magician King continues its homage to Narnia and Harry Potter by way of Hunter S. Thompson. I’m not sure if it’s better than the first book, but it does avoid the mistake of rehashing the first story.

There’s a dual story being told this time, one that is a direct nod to “Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” (but with more sex and death), while the other is kind of an “Alice in Wonderland” tale told by Clive Barker.

It’s weird and great, and you should check it out if you like your fantasy with a side of darkness and wry humor.

AoG4April – A Darker Shade of Magic (V.E. Schwab)

A book I had no prior knowledge of – I saw it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble (yes, they still exist). I dug the cover, and as with every year, I try to mix in some authors and books I’ve never heard of before. Shake myself out of any ruts.

The premise is cool – there are three (or four) Londons sitting right on top of each other, separated only by a thin barrier between alternate dimensions. The main character, Kell, is one of the few people who can travel between them, and serves as a kind of interdimensional messenger boy between the three different kings (and queens) of Londons.

It’s a swashbuckling tale with a cool magic system, and I’d highly recommend it.

AoG5May – The Martian (Andy Weir)

Holy bones! I’d heard a crapload of buzz about this book (this was before the movie came out), and I figure I had to check out what people were calling the sci-fi book of the year.

Yeah, they weren’t wrong. This book is incredible. I finished it in literally one day, and it was a work day. The pacing is phenomenal, as is the characterization. Mark Watney is the new MacGuyver, if MacGuyver was a hilarious nerd with the refuse-to-give-uppyness of Spider-Man.

One of the big standouts was how scientific it was. The author never cheated – if it wasn’t something you’d logically have access to on Mars, than neither did Watney. The plot is a master course in fair-play and Man vs. Environment – if you liked “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” “Sign of the Beaver,” or “Call Me Courage” as a kid, “The Martian” is those books on steroids. One person, trapped all alone, refusing to die.

Even if you’ve seen the (great) movie, please check the book out. Some people say it has flaws (dialogue), which it does, but they’re minor quibbles in an amazing piece of storytelling.

AoG6June – The Lies of Locke Lamora (Scott Lynch)

Every list of “best fantasy books” you could pull up on the interwoibs has this book sitting pretty on it somewhere. Imagine Ocean’s Eleven meets Kill Bill (set in a fantasy version of a Venice-like Renaissance city), and you’re halfway there.

Locke Lamora and his Gentleman Bastards have been trained since childhood as the city’s greatest con-men. I don’t want to say too much about it, because even discussing the plot beyond that is sort of spoileriffic, but what starts as a fantasy heist book becomes something else entirely.

It was great. Sumptuous world-building is pulled off effortlessly – you never feel like the book is taking an info-dump on you. The characters are all fantastically drawn and memorable, and the action is both swashbuckling at times and grim as shit.

AoG7July – The Dresden Files #12: Changes (Jim Butcher)

AHhhhhh. If I said the phrase “Holy Bones” in exclamation earlier, I was wrong. This book, the 12th was “holy bones!” times “oh shit!” mixed with “SWEET MARVIN GAYE.”

It all goes magnificently to heck (excuse my language) in this one. One of the plots that is set up in the very first book (12 books ago) is paid off in a spectacular fashion here. To borrow a quote from Eugene of the Walking Dead, “nobody gets to clock out today.” Every single character you’ve been following since the start gets a moment to shine or fail or fight or die, and it has one of the most epic climax battles since Helms Deep.

If this was the last Harry Dresden book, I’d completely understand. It’s a magnificent showing, and I can’t possibly imagine what Butcher is going to do to top it in the actual finale.

AoG8August – L.A. Confidential (James Ellroy)

The third book in the L.A. Quartet (after “Black Dahlia” and “The Big Nowhere,”) it’s nonetheless the most famous of the bunch because it was made into a Kevin Spacey movie. I almost said “Russel Crowe movie,” but I think he was pretty much a nobody at the time.

L.A. Confidential, like the two books before it, is only loosely connected to the other books in the quartet via side characters and shared background events. Ellroy is a master of turning terse, switchblade language into opera, and for that alone I’d recommend the book.

If you’ve already seen the movie about 1950s police corruption and unlikely friendship, you’re still in for quite a treat. The movie is a damn solid adaptation, but like any flick it has to cut plotlines, characters, and subtle detail. The book shows a messier, wider scope on the tale of Bud White and Ed Exley, making it all the more tragic.

AoG9September – The Little Sister (Raymond Chandler)

Apparently I was in a noir mood, because it was right into Chandler. I’ve read ALMOST all of Raymond Chandler’s books, and “The Little Sister” represents the second-to-last one for me.

The Little Sister follows ur-archetype Philip Marlowe through a relatively convoluted tale of familial wonkiness, and I’m sad to say it’s none one of his better books. Its great compared to, like, everything else, but in the Marlowe canon it’s strictly middle-of-the-pack. Marlowe always seems tired, but in this book Chandler seems tired. It’s not as bad as “The High Window,” what I consider to be the low mark of the series, but it’s nowhere near the heights of “The Long Goodbye.”

If you like Chandler or noir, it’s a must-read, obviously. If not, no big tragedy.

AoG91October – Finders Keepers (Stephen King)

The sequel to “Mr. Mercedes,” Stephen King follows up his rare unsupernatural, straight murder-mystery with another just like it. Why yes, I did read three detective murder mysteries in a row. DEAL WITH IT.

This one follows up on retired detective Bill Hodges, but only in secondary-character kind of way – the real main characters are psycho literature fan Morris Bellamy (who is basically the flesh-and-blood version of a YouTube comment section) and Pete Saubers, an unlikely kid who stumbles upon the most harrowing experience of his young life. Both become obsessed with the long-lost missing manuscripts of a world-renowned but reclusive writer, and both go a wee bit too far in their zeal to see how he concluded his famous unfinished book series.

While there is murder, I guess it’s unfair to call this one a murder mystery. It’s really more of a “Treasure Island” mixed with “Stand By Me” plus a tiny dash of “Misery.” This whole book is Stephen King’s comment on obsessive fandom and the deleterious effect it can have on creators and their works, and it’s a pretty unflattering statement. Definitely worth a bend, check it out.

December – The Walking Dead: Compendium 1 (Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard)

AoG92I’m a huge fan of the Walking Dead AMC Series, but I’d never peeped the comics before. No real reason, honestly – I like Kirkman, love zombies, and really dig on comics, but I’d started the show first and kind of just wanted to see how it played out.
However, I figured that with the show now at six seasons, I could safely check out the first volume of the comics (which caps at the end of the prison arc) and not get spoiled for the future.

I got Vol 1 for Christmas (which goes from issue #1 to around issue #44 or #45), and that thing is a brick. A little rough math tells me the book was over 1000 pages of pure black-and-white zombie goodness, and I finished it within about four days. Yeah. The pacing is that good.

As a show-watcher first, I gotta say I do like the show better. I’m not sure that’s really a fair statement, though – I imagine a “first love” kind of thing is clouding my judgement. But I’d argue that those who started as comic readers probably have a similar bias. Another factor is that generally I prefer TV to comic books, so it could be a medium thing.

The thing is, really, the show and the comic are two completely different beasts. While the characters share the same names and (sometimes) the same looks, almost none of them transfer 1-to-1. Show-Michonne, despite having a katana and identical looks, could not be more different from Comic-Michonne in both personality and storyline.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences, non-spoiler style:

Pacing – The comic’s pacing is faster, but it’s also kind of exhausting. The show takes a little more time to flesh out the characters and their motives, while the comic is much more “GO GO GO” from plot-point to plot-point. So that’s a personal preference thing. I prefer a more measured pace, and foreshadowing, which the show does much better. Almost every comic book villain, new character, or general threat literally walks up to the group and goes “hey I’m here now.”

Plot – The comic has a tighter plot, and its arcs are much shorter and generally tighter. The comic gets the win here.

Characters – Show, all the way. All the way show. It’s a trade-off thing – having a tighter plot and faster pace almost always leaves the characters a bit high and dry. Don’t get me wrong, I love both sets of characters, but I feel like I knew the TV characters better after the same amount of time.

There are exceptions. TV Andrea is terrible, while comic Andrea is pretty cool. I mean, she’s not really a deep character (tough sniper chick is pretty much as deep as it gets with her), but she’s at least rad, which goes a long way in my book. Comic Lori is much more likable and clearly motivated, where TV Lori just seemed like a drama bomb the writers used to fluff up storylines.

However, Rick, Daryl, Glenn, Carol, and Maggie are FAR superior to the comics, and since they’re pretty much the core of the story it gets the win for me.

Favorite Book of 2015 . . .

This year’s rough for picking a favorite, so I’ll cheat.

Best Characters: L.A. Confidential
Best Story and Pacing: The Martian
Best New World: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Summary

So, all told, this was a pretty damn fantastic year. Unlike last year’s rockier list, I enjoyed everything I read. If the low point was a decent Raymond Chandler novel, I call that a banner year. I didn’t read as many books as I’d like (I’m actually down like three or four from last year), but I chalk that up to becoming a new dad. Time just ain’t what it used to be, unfortunately.

I’ll see you next year with even more books! Go and read, it makes you smarter.

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Distress Call: Help Needed

AIWATS Signal Coverttention! I am trying to win a contest to get a new book published and supported by Nerdist. The top five people who get the most pre-orders will get published, and the winner gets Nerdist support. If the book doesn’t make it, you won’t be charged the pre-order amount. So it’ll only cost you if the book actually wins, and then hey, you get a book out of it.

Pretty please click here to check the book out, check out the premise, cover, and first chapter, and if it sounds like something you wanna read (or you just like my furry face), please give it a pre-order.

In advance, you rock, and your whole face is aesthetically pleasing.

Also I’ll try to spam less and deliver actual blogposts. Thanks again!

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“Find Me If You Dare” Cover Reveal

An author friend of mine, Vicki Leigh, just dropped the cover of her new book, “Find Me If You Dare!” So, being the mensch that I am, I shall leave it here for your eyeballs to peruse. Also, if you stop by her Tumblr (right here), there’s a pretty sweet giveaway going on. Anywho, here’s the cover:

Find Me If YOu Dare Cover

And, the blurb:

“They may have won the first battle, but the Apocalypse has just begun.

Five weeks have passed since the battle that left Rome and Columbus in ruins. Sheltered in the hidden city of Caelum, Daniel and Kayla train alongside over one hundred Magus and Protectors, hoping that their unified ranks will be enough to take down their greatest threat yet: Richard, his followers, and his horde of Nightmares. Then a fallen comrade is returned to Caelum with a message carved into his chest and a note referencing the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Daniel knows their time for training is over.

Finally understanding Richard’s plans for Kayla and the three other Magus born on Halloween, Daniel and the rest of Caelum’s volunteers scout the U.S. in a desperate attempt to stop their enemy before he can unleash his first Horseman. But when massive attacks claim thousands of lives, people all over the world begin to fall ill—including those Daniel and Kayla care about the most.

With the Horseman of Pestilence released, Daniel knows it’s time to step aside and let Kayla take the lead. Only she has the power to rival her father’s. But when Richard’s plot turns out to be darker than they imagined, their fight is met with more death and destruction—and an enemy who might be unbeatable, after all.”

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Deadgirl Sale and Anthology Out, or, Sorry About the Spam

Howdy! Happy New Year! I hope your hangover has abated, somewhat, as mine has. I’m not saying I’m tip-top, but there’s no longer a stage show of giant red-ant fire jugglers cartwheeling through my skull. Anyway, I’ve got a lot going on today, publishing wise, so I thought I’d consolidate all my spam in one location. I appreciate your tolerance, greatly.

Deadgirl, by first novel, is on sale for $0.99 at Amazon right here from January 1st to January 3rd. If you check it out, I can write more, work less, and craft more hangover jokes in wacky blog posts. It’s about Lucy Day, a girl who dies on her first date, gets better, and has to deal with one very pissed off Grim Reaper. Plus her own new powers and her confused maybe-boyfriend and worried parents she disappeared on. One-part ghost story, one-part superhero story, and a wee dash of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d be much obliged if you’d check it out. And right now it’s the same price as a chicken soft taco, but way less calories.

The Curiosity Quills short fiction anthology, entitled “Chronology,” came out today. One of my stories is in there, along with a new piece by fantasy bestseller Piers Anthony, and a few dozen other amazing writers. You can grab that right here to learn about Hog McMasters, ex-astronaut, former samurai, and world-record holder for pec firmness as he takes on mummies, empanadas, and the power of friendship.

Okay, that’s enough spam from me. Thanks for hearing it out. You may continue eating breakfast burritos and lamenting last night.

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12 Months of Book: A Summation (2014)

BC Johnson – Staring down the barrel of 2015 is making me nervous, down to my bones. With the exception of a rough December, 2014 has been a banner year for ‘ole B.C. Johnson. Got my first book back on its feet and at a bigger publisher. Managed to sneak a Hog McMasters story into the CQ Anthology alongside Piers Anthony. Snagged the best dayjob I’ve ever had, in the form of IT guy for a school district.

2013, on the other hand, was as awful as 2014 was sweet. So as long my luck don’t play leapfrog, I guess I might be alright in 2015. It certainly has a Star Wars movie and Avengers 2 coming out, so I guess it can’t be too bad.

Anyway, here’s all the books I read this year: why I read ’em, and if I liked ’em.

January: The Dark Half (Stephen King)

AA DARKHALFWhy I Read It – Why did I check out The Dark Half? There’s no shit here, Sherlock, and thus Watson must turn back to his shovel – Stephen King is my dude. I’ve said it a hundred times, but he’s my favorite author, bar none. He’s my role model for writing, and I one day hope to create stories as accessible and yet somehow as bugfuck bonkers as King’s. He doesn’t treat the reader like a moron, but he also doesn’t chide them for not putting on their best dinner jacket either.

Did I Like It – It’s hard for me to hate a King book because the brother could write about armadillo migration and he’d make me really care about those fucking roly-poly dirt rats. However, The Dark Half might be my least favorite of all of his novels. Something just doesn’t work. The book is about a writer (surprise), who learns that his pseudonym has actually somehow sublimated (or deposited, it’s been awhile since high school Chemistry) into an actual physical twin. And of course, this pseudonym brother is a real weapons-grade shitbird.

King is (perhaps unfairly) known for his Deus Ex Machina endings, and if that were true all of his books would look like The Dark Half. The ending is so abrupt and lacking any kind of fair resolution that it just kind of had me throwing my hands up and making a fart noise with my mouth. A good portion of the early book dragged pretty hard too. The main character literally spends about half the book sitting in his living room, having increasingly long conversations with his wife and the local sheriff. I’m not even joking. Half of the book is three people chatting amicably on a sofa.

February: The Big Nowhere (James Ellroy)

AA Big NowhereWhy I Read It – The Big Nowhere is the second part of the L.A. Quarter, which is a grip of Acid-Noir novels taking place in Los Angeles circa 1940s to the 1950s. I’d read the previous book, The Black Dahlia, and been blown away by the writer. James Ellroy is a master poet asked to catalog a sewer, and the language is as brutal and sensual as the best kind of noir. He turns an unflinching eye to the hypocrisy of what it is to be human – which is to say, the problem with being a primordial jungle monkey in a world full of primordial jungle monkeys trying to act fancy.

The first book had that special quality that, as a writer, made me as ecstatically happy as it did utterly depressed: I’ll never write anything this good, but holy shit is it fun to visit.

Did I Like It – If it isn’t obvious by my horrible gushing up there, yes, I fucking loved it. 5 stars. 6 stars. 200 ninja stars, whatever. The Big Nowhere is only loosely connected to The Black Dahlia. While the Black Dahlia focused on post-WWII masculinity and purposelessness, The Big Nowhere touches on the Red Scare in 1950’s Holllywood, as well as some other fun stuff like homosexuality and racism.

James Ellroy is a fucking genius, as far as I can tell. He tells the interconnecting stories of a mob enforcer, a newly-minted deputy, an old detective, and an ambitious DA all trying to climb on top of an ever churning mountain of bullshit. Watching four people’s lives completely dissolve is a fascinating exercise in schadenfreude mixed with “oh God I’m glad this isn’t me,” and it offers a bleak picture of rotting floorboards and bright lights.

March: Divergent (Veronica Roth)

Why I Read It – A) I like Young Adult literature, mainly because Coming-of-Age stories are full of choices, which is kind of the essence of story boiled down to a reduction sauce. B) It’s hugely popular, and I like to make an attempt to keep a finger on the pulse. Hence why I read all the Twilight books. Yes, that’s my story and I’m sticking to that fucker like Gorilla Glue. C) I write Young Adult, and it’s good to keep on eye on the competition.

Also my wife said it was good, and she’s got great taste.

Did I Like It – Except this time. If you’ve seen the movie, then you know the book is about a regular girl and a dude with too much face fighting the system. It’s a neat idea, the “emotions as factions,” and for the most part the book delivers a solid YA yarn. A YArn. You can have that, you’re welcome. However, somewhere around the climax of the book the writing gets really odd – a book that previously covered every detail of every exercise regimen now skips through hugely dramatic moments like the death of main characters. It almost feel rushed, like the editors were leaning over her shoulder whispering deadlines into her ear.

Thought bubble: It's like he's been bitten by a radioactive face or something.

Even she’s freaked out at how much face he has. It’s like he was bitten by a radioactive face, and now has the proportional face of ten men.

April: Batman: Dark Victory (Jeph Loeb)

Why I Read It – Because Batman.

Did I Like It – Dark Victory is the sequel to the graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween. The Long Halloween is a seminal Batman book, and is probably considered to be in the top ten of the best Batman stories. Much of the movie The Dark Knight that everyone loves so much is from The Long Halloween, and the book deserves all of the praise it’s received. Dark Victory, on the other hand, probably doesn’t. It pulls the cardinal sin of sequels – it’s basically the first book with the names switched around. The story follows the exact same pattern: sort-of famous characters are killed on holidays, Harvey Dent is suspected, the Falcones are involved, and it takes Batman a whole year to solve it. They added Robin’s origin story to try to spice it up, but he really just fills the hole that Catwoman left in the story. With less sexy stuff between them. Hopefully.

I get what they were trying to do, but the repetition doesn’t read like the spooky echo they were going for. It just reads like repetition. Skip it.

April: Altered Carbon (Richard K. Morgan)

AA Altered CarbonWhy I Read It – I heard that it was a really excellent cyberpunk/noir mashup, which is like telling me that the sandwich you’re offering me is a really excellent pastrami/lasagna mashup. Of course I’m ripping it out of your hands and shoving it into my mouth. My reading mouth, in the metaphor.

Did I Like It – LOVE!!! If I was properly skilled with emoticons I would do a little joyously squinched Japanese girl face with hearts for eyes and both hands throwing peace signs. The background would be some swooping colors, and the sequence would end with me dressed in some kind of scanty but colorful armor.

Altered Carbon stars main character Takeshi Kovacs, a badass “Envoy” who’s part detective, part soldier, part criminal. The setting describes a galaxy where your consciousness sits in a micro-hard drive implanted in your spine called a “cortical stack,” which means that if you get killed you can be resleeved into a new body. Sometimes the body is a clone of you, if you’ve got money, and sometimes it’s just the body of some poor schlub who lost his own body for committing crimes. It’s a brilliant premise, and the writer has the nerve to explore just how much that concept would change society. Plus he couches it in a noir murder case, giving us an easily recognizable entry point into the bizarre. It’s a flat-out smart, fun, violent, sexy, thoughtful romp through a unique and dirty world that somehow manages to feel wholly real.

May: Small Favor – The Dresden Files (Jim Butcher)

Why I Read it: The tenth book in the Dresden Files series, the bestselling Urban Fantasy story about the only wizard listed in the phonebook – Harry Dresden. I read it because I’d read 9 previous, and they were all pretty damned good.

Did I Like It (Again): Yes! Very much so. I was worried, too. Here’s what I said last year about the ninth book in the series: “I feel like the series needs to change its formula up. Again, I enjoyed the book, but I’ve gotten to the point where I know exactly when a shocking swerve is going to happen, when a character is going to betray someone, when the big fight is, when the ally comes in to save him, etc. The formula has worked wonders for Jim Butcher, and for the readers (including myself) but after 9 books it’s just too easy to see it.”

Well, Butcher must have felt the same way, because this book starts breaking out of the pack. The stakes feel higher in Small Favor, and the consequences more far-reaching. Main characters get put out of commission, previously established sacred cows get turned into burgers, and overall there’s a feeling of weariness in Harry. He’s trying, but the world is getting harder, and he’s not always coming out on top any more.

June: Paper Towns (John Green)

AA Paper Towns

Artist: TheAmateurAesthete, Deviant Art

Why I Read It: My wife recommended it, and for the reasons I read Divergent up above – popular, finger on the pulse, competition, etc.

Did I Like It: This time, as most times before, my wife hit a fucking home run with this recommendation. Maybe she felt she had a lot to make up for with Divergent, or maybe she didn’t even remember that and probably still doesn’t care that I didn’t like Divergent. Who can say? I can say. It’s the second one. She’s just liked it and then told me about it. The problem with writers is that we craft stories out of nothing – even in real life. Anyway, I don’t want to wax too poetic about Paper Towns, because I already wrote a gushing and long-winded dissection of the entire story right here. Anyway, I loved it. It tells two conflicting stories in the same prose-space, and both stories are damn fine. Read it for your inner teenager, and for your outer, angry adult.

July: Doctor Sleep (Stephen King)

Why I Read It: Like I said earlier, because Stephen King. I’m trying to burn through his catalog as fast as I can, but the fucker writes like three books a year.

Did I Like It: Of course. King’s the master of situation and character, and he returns to the world of “The Shining” with a real verve. The book follows a grown-up Danny Torrance (the “redrum” kid from The Shining), and it’s the opposite of the Dark Victory example earlier: the book is a sequel that doesn’t feel anything like the first book. It gives us more of the world, but it’s really just a continuation of Danny’s story. Which is great. In fact, other than his power and his own struggle with alcoholism, the book keeps as far away from the original as it can. Even the few hat-tips are subtle and well-earned. It’s a weird story, Stephen King weird, but it’s couched in characters that feel real and a world that makes sense. Definitely recommended.

July: Gates of Gotham (Scott Snyder)

AA GatesWhy I Read It: Because Batman, part 2. Also because Scott Snyder wrote it, and that dude is on fire after Court of Owls.

Did I Like It: I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. It’s less of a story and more of what an RPG enthusiast might call a “splat book:” it enriches the history of the setting (namely Gotham), but it doesn’t really tell a story on it’s own. It’s almost like a prologue to the entire Batman series: it fully flushes out the time period where Gotham went from “just another town” to the sprawling gothic megalopolis we know today. The modern day villain that Batman is chasing, the one that ties into the backstory,  is fairly one-note, and the climax relies on the physical geometry of a particular bat gadget that just feels forced. Read it for the backstory on the city, but don’t expect a major knuckle-biter.

August: Mr. Mercedes (Stephen King)

Why I Read It: Because I got it as a Christmas present the previous year, and because of the Stephen King stuff I said earlier.

Did I Like It: Mr. Mercedes is kind of a departure for King. Now, King has actually written books in tons of genres, and isn’t the “just Horror” guy that many people think he is. However, Mr. Mercedes, one of his newer books, is pretty much a “Who Dunnit” detective story without any supernatural events or wacky occurrences. It’s a straight murder mystery, really what they call a “How Catchem,” because you know exactly who committed the murders right from the beginning. The story is just how the detective figures it out. I love seeing my heroes branch out, and Stephen King still proves he can flex his muscles and try something new.

September: Promise of Blood (Brian McClellan)

AA Promise

Why I Read It: I sometimes fall into patterns of reading (as you may have realized with all the Stephen King / Batman / Noir stuff up above), and so I like to read a book or two a year that charts new territory. I’d never read anything by the author, Brian McClellan, and I’d never heard of the book. It’s got a kind of French Revolution-with-magic vibe, and I thought I’d give it a go sight unseen.

Did I Like It: Holy crap was I glad I decided to break out of my comfort zone. What a fantastic read. It’s fantasy, but it doesn’t get too high-and-mighty about it. This is a grungy story about Revolution, and it follows a bunch of characters all on the same side of a coup that deposed the King. That’s not a spoiler – it’s like in the first chapter. Not only is the world fully-realized, but the characters are exciting and varied. You’ve got the old grizzled general who lead the coup, his weary sniper son, a common scullery maid, and a middle-aged Victorian-esque detective all showing you four sides of the same awful war. Throw in a plot to resurrect a fallen god and a truly unique magic system based off gunpowder, and you’ve got a book you’ve never read before. Go grab a copy. For me. For yourself.

October: Broken Angels (Richard K. Morgan)

AA BrokenWhy I Read It: Because I’d read Altered Carbon and been completely transfixed at the beginning of the year, and Broken Angels is the sequel.

Did I Enjoy It: Boy was I not disappointed. The same great writing, characterization, and fascinating world of Altered Carbon with a brand new story. The book’s even a different genre – where Altered Carbon read as cyberpunk/noir, Broken Angels is pretty much a sci-fi heist movie masquerading as a war movie. As you may have noticed, I love sequels that go in a completely different direction (which is also why I loved both Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead). I think I like the idea because real stories don’t follow a genre. Some days my life is a comedy, sometimes its a Coming-of-Age story, and sometimes it breaks right into depressing Oscar-bait.

Broken Angels rocks, to summarize. I don’t know if it’s better than Altered Carbon, but they’re at least at the same level of awesome, which is saying something.

November: The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree (S.A. Hunt)

Why I Read It: I was trying to break away from my usual vein, like with “Promise of Blood.” New author, new story, let’s do this.

Did I Like It: Well, sometimes lightning don’t strike twice. I actually didn’t finish this book, which means I’m not qualified to give it a proper review. So I won’t. I will say this: S.A. Hunt is a good writer. He’s got a Neil Gaiman/Stephen King vibe that is probably going to serve him very well. It’s a rare talent, and serious kudos to him. I didn’t finish the book, however, because there were some character consistency problems that I couldn’t get past. If your main character is a war vet just returned from Afghanistan, you can’t say he’s “pale and flabby” in one scene. If he’s not a cooking expert, you can’t have him rattling off French cooking terms for every dish that gets dropped in his lap. The first-person narrator turned into the real writer a few times, is my guess, and I just couldn’t dig it anymore. However, I think a different person could enjoy this book very much. There were parts I seriously loved, and the premise is fantastic. I’ll definitely give his other books a shot.

December: Revival (Stephen King)

AA RevivalWhy I’m Reading It: Blah blah, Stephen King, blah blah love.

Am I Enjoying It: Oh helllllllll yeah. I started reading it last night and blew through half the book in one sitting – which is quite a feat for a Stephen King novel. Not a knock on the dude, but he loves to fill them pages. I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m positive I’ll finish it today (maybe tomorrow, I do have to clean the kitchen). It’s one of those “here is my life” kind of stories, and it follows a kid name Jamie Morton from early childhood to well past middle age. King is at his best when he’s playing this song – his characters feel lived in, they’re grounded in their eras, and they’re surrounded by the kind of unbelievable people that pepper real life.

The story is the character – Jamie Morton’s, specifically, but he also plays Ishmael to the Ahab of a reverend named Charlie Jacobs. At first I though Jacobs was going to be a classic “evil Reverend” type, but the story took a real swerve early on that proved me very wrong. I’m not saying he ain’t a bad guy, but I am saying he starts as a very good guy whom life takes a big steaming dump on. Really fascinating, so far, and shaping up to be some of King’s best.

Favorite Book of 2015

This one’s a toughy, believe it. I hate to be a total cop-out, but here we go: it’s a three-way tie. The Big Nowhere, Altered Carbon, and Paper Towns all sit proudly at the top spot. Not only are those three my favorite books of the year, they probably all jumped into the top twenty of my favorite books of all time. A close second comes Promise of Blood. This year in reading was more of a rollercoaster than last time. Last year was all pretty good books, and this year had some fucking great ones and some real stinkers.

Last year I pledged to read twice as many books (so, 24), but I only landed on 14. Still, that’s two better than last year, and progress ain’t bad.

What did you read this year? Did you get some . . . tale?

Gif crafted by 36DD on Reddit.

Gif crafted by 36DD on Reddit.

Categories: Books | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

12 Months of Books: A Summation

BC Johnson – With the year ticking down to its final explosive finale (you know, with champagne) I thought I’d take a look back at the books I’ve read this year. And, with the aid of Amazon, Goodreads, and my Kindle, it actually makes it a little easier to figure out just how many books I read this year, and the order in which I read them. Looking back, this 2013 was kind of a slow year for me, book wise – I averaged about 1 book permonth. Consider my New Years resolution to read at least twice that amount next year. Books!

January: Dance with Dragons (George R.R. Martin)

Why I Read It – Well, I’ve already burned through an entire forest of e-paper reading the other 9000ish pages of George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series (or “Game of Thrones,” for TV-only fans). I had to know which of my favorite characters were going to be brutally murdered, their goals made pointless, storylines rendered inert, etc.

Did I Like It – I enjoyed it, because George R.R. Martin is a master storyteller. As a writer who struggled in his last book to follow just two viewpoint characters, I am in total awe of Martin’s ability to juggle, like, twenty. Doorstops though they may be, those books are seldom boring. However, I felt Dance with Dragons dragged pretty hard – it feels like some storylines are retreading old ground, or just marking time for the finale, Dany in particular. There aren’t any big “WHOA” moments that the series is known for, save for perhaps one of the very last chapters. I’m excited to read more, but it wasn’t my favorite book of the series by far.

February: White Night (Dresden Files – Jim Butcher)

Why I Read It – The Dresden Files series is the perfect distillation of Urban Fantasy, for me. You’ve got a fast, witty tone, a badass-but-overworked main character who lives by his smarts and his magic, solid worldbuilding, and overlapping storylines. White Night is like the 9th book, and give or take a few bumps, the series is still going strong.

Did I Like It – I did, but I feel like the series needs to change its formula up. Again, I enjoyed the book, but I’ve gotten to the point where I know exactly when a shocking swerve is going to happen, when a character is going to betray someone, when the big fight is, when the ally comes in to save him, etc. The formula has worked wonders for Jim Butcher, and for the readers (including myself) but after 9 books it’s just too easy to see it. I’ve heard the books changesignificantly in the next few entries, which I’m down for checking out. I also thought the conclusion of the “Lash” storyline was a tad weaksauce.

March: Lady in the Lake (Raymond Chandler)

Why I Read It – I’ve actually read this book before, but I was in a noir mood, and so there it goes.

Did I (Still) Like It – Yarp. The nice thing about Chandler is that his plots are incomprehensible and over-complicated, so its nearly impossible to remember how they went – it makes for perfect re-reading. I could not recall for the life of me whodunnit, so I got to just sit back and enjoy Chandler’s language mastery all over again. My favorite Chandler book is still “The Long Goodbye,” but “Lady in the Lake” is still great.

April: Living Dead Girl (Elizabeth Scott)

Why I Read It – I watched a YouTube review by a teenage British girl, and I was compelled to read it.

Did I Like It – I don’t think it’s possible to like “Living Dead Girl,” but I do think it’s a good book. The story is gutwrenching and horrible, and the main character is a sexually and mentally-abused little girl who’s had most of her personality stripped away by her captor. It’s a nasty little piece of fiction, and it ends ambiguously, but damn if it isn’t effective at giving the feels. I only recommend it if that’s something you can handle, and you’re not depressed. It knocked me into a funk about humanity for a good while, and I started out pretty cheerful. I honestly think it might push a depressed person even deeper. Written spectacularly, though.

May: Soon I Will Be Invincible (Austin Grossman)

Why I Read it: This is another re-read. At the time, I was thinking about writing a super-hero novel, and I wanted to refuel my tank. As this is the only super-hero novel I’ve ever read, I looked to it once more for inspiration.

Did I Like It (Again): Absolutely. This novel is a wonderful take on the idea of superheroes, and manages to deconstruct many of the cliches, examine them smartly, and then put them back together in the end. It’s spectacular, clever, and well-written examination of the super-hero genre from someone who clearly loves it.

June: Neuromancer (William Gibson)

Why I Read It: Because I wanted to continue William Gibson’s epic “Sprawl Trilogy.” However, Neuromancer is the 1st book in the trilogy. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to accidentally read book series in the wrong order – I started the Dragonlance books with the seventh book in the series, for example. I actually read Gibson’s Cyberpunk trilogy completely backwards, starting with the 3rd book, “Mona Lisa Overdrive.” I just threw up my hands, said fuck it, and decide to read 2, then 1.

Did I Like It: I loved it. I’m a huge sucker for Cyberpunk, and Neuromancer is often credited as creating the genre whole-cloth. It tells the tail of a cowboy hacker with drug problems, a sexy cyborg “razor girl” badass, multiple AIs, mega-corporations, urban sprawl, the works. It’s not as epic as “Mona Lisa Overdrive,” and it’s not as convoluted as “Count Zero,” and I think it might be my favorite entry in the series.

July: Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)

Why I Read It: Neil Gaiman.

Did I Like It: I enjoyed the story – really a novella – but I didn’t love, love, love it. The language was fantastic, capturing that perfect folksy-but-classy tone so unique to British authors. It’s a fantasy story about a grown man in England recalling his odd childhood experience with witches, otherworldy Lovecraftian terrors, and just being a dumb kid. It’s a lovely little story, one of those one’s you might call “cozy.” Reading it by a fireplace on a rainy day would yield the optimal results. The main character, the little boy, is a touch too passive for me – he’s more an observer than an actor – but Neil Gaiman has said he was trying to capture how powerless children feel, so he achieves what he set out to do just fine.

August: Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Laini Taylor)

Why I Read It: My wife recommended it to me, and I also have an undiagnosed obsession with angel lore and angel-based fiction. Not like, cherubs, but the sort of horrifying angels the Bible actually describes, wheels of fire and fifty eyes and badasses with swords, etc.

Did I Like It: Honestly, the was the most conflicted I felt about any book I read this year. There were parts I really liked – the world-building is extremely unique, the magic system is something I’ve never seen before, and angel/demon “war” is explored in an entirely new way. However, the story takes FOREVER to explain any of it – all this lore I’m talking about is in, like, the last four chapters. The rest of this (long) book is spent teasing, presenting mystery after mystery without answer, or even without HINT of answer. A real mystery is one you can figure out if you’re paying attention, and that’s not the case here – the author knows, you don’t, and you’re just gonna have to wait until she’s good and ready to deliver the answers. The characters and the narration even have to do backflips and bend over backwards to maintain the mystery – there are scenes full of characters who know all the answers, talking to each other very vaguely to keep the audience out of the loop. It gets a little silly at times.

At the end of the day, however, the worldbuilding is unique enough that I’ll at least try the next book in the series. I recommend it with a warning – the story doesn’t really get going until near the end of the book.

September: Carter Beats the Devil (Glen Gold)

Why I Read It: Wil Wheaton tweeted it was his favorite book, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Plus I also like stories about stage magicians getting in trouble – in clever hands, they’re always full of mind-bendyness.

Did I Like It: This book was another “like,” not love. The writing is good, and the research required must have been monumental – the 1920’s time period is recreated with exacting detail, as Carter (the magician) weaves through multiple real-life events in a kind of pseudo-alternate history storyline. The “magic” is well done – some of it is explained in full detail, while some of it is left to the imagination, which to me is the perfect way to write a stage magician story. There are plenty of mind-bendy twists – my only complaint is that the story is overstuffed. Carter’s involved in one too many monumental moments, for me – it’s almost Forest Gumpian in nature. My Dad might describe the book as “long in the tooth” – there are about twelve subplots going on, and there are multiple times in the book where I wasn’t sure which one was the main story. I experienced that “What’s the point of this?” feeling more than once during the read.

Overall good, but a tad more focus would have made it great.

October: The Shootist (Glendon Swarthout)

Why I Read It: I was planning on (and did in fact write) a western-influenced fantasy novel for National Novel Writing Month, and like the super-hero book above, I wanted to immerse myself in delicious western seasoning. I googled “best western book,” got about 2,000 hotel results, then googled “list of western books” and found “The Shootist” at the top of almost every list.

Did I Enjoy It: Profanity alarm – Um, fuck yes. Easily jumped into my list of favorite novels. It’s a sleek story with no clutter about J.B. Books, the last remant of a gunslinging wild west in a world that is moving into the future. With cancer nipping at his heels, and his final weeks on Earth staring him in the face, Books has to come to grips with mortality, his own legacy, and deciding just what he wants to leave behind. The story is thoughtful without being maudlin, honest without being mean, and makes you really appreciate what actually matters in life when all the bullshit gets stripped away. The climax and the ending are AMAZEBALLS. Not to get too literary on you.

November: The Shining (Stephen King)

Why I Read It: Stephen King. He’s my favorite author, role model, and spirit animal – when I cast “Expecto Patronum,” an aging New Englander with huge glasses and a limp pops out. I also want to read Doctor Sleep, the sequel to the Shining, so it only made sense.

Did I Like It: Of course – I’ve yet to read a Stephen King book I didn’t like – even the “meh” ones are better than, well, everything else. “The Shining” didn’t blow me away though, and I’m not sure if that’s from the book itself or my over-familiarity with the subject matter. I’ve seen Kubrick’s (not very faithful, but still rad) movie adaption half-a-hundred times, and I’ve also spent plenty of time with the more faithful TV mini-series. I’ve seen multiple Jack Torrances go Costa Rica in the brainpan and hunt his family with a terrifying hammer/axe way too many times for it to be scary anymore. The book delves a little more into the history of the Overlook than either movie, which I definitely enjoyed. The book also manages to make Wendy a more interesting character, a definite improvement over both live-action versions of the story. Danny is still weird and unlikable, a hallmark across the entire “series.”

Also, funny story, the end is different from both the Kubrick film and the mini-series, though it hews a bit closer to the mini-series. The ending isn’t as dark as Kubrick or as saccharine sweet as the mini-series, and strikes a nice balance that I prefer over either ending.

Now, it’s not the book’s fault I’m too familiar with the story, so I do recommend it.

December: Naked Sun (Isaac Asimov)

Why I’m Reading It: I just started this one, but I’ll definitely zip through it before the year’s out. “Naked Sun” is the sequel to “Caves of Steel,” one of the watershed sci fi novels that had a huge hand in creating “robots” as we know them today – hell, Isaac Asimov even coined the term “robotics.” As you can see from above, I like rotating through genres to avoid fatigue, and I hadn’t done sci-fi in awhile.

Am I Enjoying It: So far I’m really digging it. Isaac Asimov has a dry-but-smirking voice that is definitely unique to him. It’s intelligent without being stodgy, witty without being glib in a very under-the-radar way, like a friend leaning over and whispering a joke to you during a serious meeting. He’s the master of presenting ethical quandaries, but without being too academic – these books follow the adventures of a human detective in the future named Baley and his human-looking andorid partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, investigating murder, robots, and robot murder. If that sounds like the new Fox show “Almost Human,” it’s because they stole the concept. Womp womp.

Well thanks for joining me for “This Year in Books” or something, whatever this was. If I had to pick a favorite for this year, I’d go with William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” with “The Shootist” close behind.

What did you read this year?

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