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Favorite Books of the Decade (2010s)

It’s the end of a decade! Wow! The Matrix is ten years old! I have more white in beard than ever! Will this planet even make it another ten years? Who knows!

I tend not to read a lot of books as they’re new. They tend to be too expensive for my tastes, I buy them all used. Or use my library. I’ve become cheap this decade!

The point is, my list isn’t extensive of the years. It is, however, a pretty decent portrayal of my limited tastes. So, without further ado, my favorite books of the 2010s, by year published!

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I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells
This book actually freaked me out quite a bit and it’s for teenagers! I picked it up because I enjoyed Dan Wells on the Writing Excuses podcast and it was fairly recent to when I was listening. I don’t normally read horror and, actually, this might have been the first real “scary” book I read. I also made the mistake of reading this when I was home alone for a week. I’m a wimp.

The story of a boy who feels predestined on becoming a serial killer and is actively trying to fight it. That is, until someone worse moves into town. It’s a spooky character study aimed at the young adult crown that should creep out the older crowd as well. I liked the sequel even more, which came out the same year, so maybe it should have gotten the award…off to a great start!

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I suppose the backlash on this book has tainted it a bit, with it’s detractors calling it a book of lists. But, when I couldn’t put this book down and ate up the world building and concepts of the OASIS, I didn’t notice that. And, being someone who was slowly trying to read the best scifi and see the important films, I even enjoyed the references. Obviously, your mileage will vary on that sort of thing. It got me to watch The Last Starfighter.

It’s pure fulfillment, but what a wish. Would I have plugged my brain into the OASIS and moved in permanently? You bet. I enjoyed the challenges Cline provided for our hero, Wade. Joust, Dungeons and Dragons, Wargames and all that. While I think the opening race of the movie adaptation is pure gold, I did miss some of the geekier quests the book provided. I loathed Armada but I think Ready Player One is Grade A junk food and I’ll defend it for at least one more decade.

Runner ups that year were some real cool books…
Robopocalyspe by Dan H. Wilson
Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
The Heroes by Abercrombie

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The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
This book spoke to me on a level that I didn’t realize I had. It’s not that I find the characters incredibly relatable (though I connect to anyone with a self-destructive genome) but it’s more that I find them endearing. Pat was a character I wanted nothing but the best for. And, sure, his desire to win back his ex-wife Nikki might have actually been relatable in small ways. I’m a liar. Happy?

But Pat’s relationship with his family, with Tiffany, with his therapist really fill this book out. The movie changes some of the characters a bit, putting some into the background while bringing others forward. For a while, I liked having them both to form a full picture. These days, I just need the book. It inspired some of my own writing and made me think through some choices I was making at the time. It’s a humble read, with slow pacing that never meanders, unlike some of Matthew Quick’s other books.

Runner up
Cinder by Marissa Meyer is one of my favorite young adult books I’ve read. Highly recommended.

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Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt
A bit of a geek’s travelog, but way less self-deprecating and ashamed then the obnoxious Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf. Of Dice and Men still holds Gary Gygax on a pedastle, but it doesn’t cast him in the role of a Frodo Baggins like Empire of Imagination by Michael Witwer did. It’s a fun history through Dungeons and Dragons, with trips and stories and a bit of unnecessary flavor text.

It has a deep respect for the game and those who play it. It’s a fun read, one that makes you want to breakout your own dice while reading. In some ways, it gave me a deeper appreciation for the game. It’s an everyman’s history of the game, one that I could suggest to those with a curiosity of the game, but also had enough for a lover of pen and paper to sink his teeth into.

Runner ups that year have a bit of an unintentional Ewan McGregor vibe…
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Kenobi by John Jackson Miller

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
With prose that felt like poetry and a eerily calm look at the end of the world, Station Eleven was unlike anything I had read. The ruin landscape of a world ravaged by a humanity destroying virus was oddly beautiful. Emily St. John Mandel avoids the overdone pessimism of the genre that made the Cormac McCarthy’s The Road almost unbearable. Instead, St. John Mandel goes for an optimistic view of humanity picking up the pieces.

The book is also affecting in how it shows big events having origins in small moments. Independent comic books causing religious cults because they ended up in the wrong hands? It should seem silly but it comes across like a gut punch. The makeshift museum of human history is another element that’s laced in sadness but filled with hope. It really hit me in my heart.

The runner ups this year are crazy.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin
Console Wars by Blake J. Harris
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

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Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates
What a trip. I don’t know if you could call this horror, but it’s disturbing. Worse, the main character was relatable at times! His journey through madness is subtle at times, intense at others, but always gripping. There’s a Stephen King element, yes, but King would never have the courage to limit his word count to under three hundred pages.

And that’s part of the charm. You can read this book quickly and it never overstays it welcomed, but I wanted more as soon as it was over. Or more like this. I haven’t found anything quite like it, but I’m not great at reading horror, so maybe I’m looking in the wrong places. Anyway, Jack of Spades is deliciously dark and bonkers and had me laugh out loud once or twice. I need to reread this.

All young adult books for the runner ups…
Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
Adrift by Paul Griffin
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
The only Ruta Sepetys I’ve read, failing at my job as a youth librarian. But, it was an incredible showcase. Salt to the Sea is about the tragic sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. More than nine thousand people died, with about five thousand of them children.

The story leading up to this horrible even follows four youths during World War II. The road to the ship is fraught and each of the characters have a secret that is exposed. This was a page turner and, though I was reading this for work, I couldn’t put it down even at home. It left me depressed, as expected, and it’s stuck with me. I tend to recommend this to the young adult crowd because, like the movie Titanic, is balances gripping action and romance with a terrible tragedy in an incredibly enthralling story.

Runner up for the year it’s gonna blow some minds when it hits movie theaters.
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

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Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
This was not the type of book I normally read but there was so much talk around in 2017 that I had to read it for myself. And I couldn’t put it down. It felt like a thriller at times and I’m not surprised that Martin Scorsese is in talks for a movie. Seriously, even as a history book, it had me audibly gasp at certain revaluations. How fresh of a reader am I at thirty-three?

A history of the crimes committed against the Osage Indian Nation by, you guess it, white Americans, as well as a history of the FBI and it’s formation. It’s money and power telling an unfortunately familiar tale. Grann is keeps things educational, but it moves at a pace of a classic page turner. Hurry up, Scorsese.

Runner up this year is someone I actually interviewed about the book!
All Systems Red by Martha Wells

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Love Poems for Married People by John Kenney
I don’t get poetry more often than I do. My brain doesn’t work that way. Why doesn’t it always rhyme? Why did you put that word one extra space away? Why can’t you clean up the coffee spill with the rag right next to you, why do you have to use the shirt your mother died in?

Love Poems for Married People, on the other hand, is hilarious and is one of the funniest books I’ve read. And, listen, I saw myself in the book multiple times. I’m now trying to change some behaviors. I’m trying, okay?

Runner ups were some interesting young adult scifi and the best Witcher book since the first
Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James
Contagion by Erin Bowman
Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski

2019
Guess what! I only read one book from this year and I’m sure not giving The Andromeda Evolution an award. Let’s just assume Nic is right and Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is good.

You can listen to me talk more about these books and here Nic’s favorites in episode 223 of the All the Books Show!

Book Review – I Kill Giants

51hXui6krmL._SX370_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been having issues lately when trying to read Young Adult books. I don’t love teenage protagonist, in books or movies. I find the range teenage characters have for drama, when written for a young adult audience, to be limiting or, more often than not, dull. It’s very relationship based, which I don’t mind a sampling of, but, when it’s the main course, I’d rather skip it all together. And the teenage introspection! The narration! I can’t do it! Not anymore! Adults writing teenagers think they’re so darn clever and relevant because they mention last years movies or say “legit” or something like that, I can’t do it anymore and I won’t!

This has been a quick review for John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down.

Here’s the twist, though. Graphic novels fix this for me. There’s less inner monologues and more visual cues. Blankets or This One Summer nail the melancholy existentialism because they create mood in the art, not just through dated dialog. When we see how young a character is, they feel more real as a teenager because we’re not being told by a thirty-five year old how “legit” young they are. Also, I’m not sure if “legit” is something I’ve read people writing or just a new thing I’m doing now?

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Also, I should stop judging, because the book I wrote has teenage protagonist and they’re mopey and monologuey and now I’m legit worried I can’t stop saying legit…

I Kill Giants is written by Joe Kelly, whose always been one of the better writers in the world of Marvel comics. It tells the story of a girl who doesn’t fit in at school, who’s going through some heavy stuff in her family life and who might also fight giants. The giants thing is up in the air, but there’s a good chance it’s real. Or maybe it’s all in her head. Or real.

This self-contained graphic novel is sneaky. You go in expecting a certain type of story, maybe similar to Anya’s Ghost or In Real Life and, while there’s fantastical elements, you get something more akin to This One Summer. I Kill Giants is lighter on it’s feet than Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki’s novel, all while dealing with loneliness and loss without bringing down the party. J. M. Ken Niimura’s art could be described as big, similar to Ed Mcguinness’ style of comic art, but the black and white illustrations stand without the need of bold colors. The lack of color even makes the beach seem more lonesome and magical. There’s a pacing in this book, with the writing and art, that matches superhero comics, but this is completely accessible to people who dislike capes and masks.

18888318It’s hard to talk about I Kill Giants without giving away important moments. The ending is reliant on the book’s whole concept of truth vs. fiction, of dealing with problems or ignoring them. I could tell you about the book’s bullying or the friendship that forms, or the only guidance concealer that I’ve ever wished was real, but there’s too much that should be read without knowing the truth out the gate. I will say this book made me cry, and it might have been a while since a young adult title had that effect on me.

This seems to me like it’s been a badly written review. Take it as more of a recommendation wrapped in some rants. This book is great and should be considered essential reading for the young adult graphic medium. With a movie coming out this year, hopefully more will discover this book, because it shouldn’t be missed.

All the Books Show: Episode 128 – YA Book Anticipation 2018!

2018 is a new year with new possibilities! Like books!

Normally, Nic and I will do one episode covering the most anticipated books of the year. This year, however, there seemed to be too many to cover in just one episode. So, we split it up and here’s our look at the young adult books coming to shelves this year.

My most anticipated is the YA Jurassic World prequel novel about Claire and her rebuilding the park. That’s the only book I want to read this year.

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

All the Books Show: Episode 104 – Hugo Awards 2017

It’s that time of year again! Where Nic and I talk about the Hugo Award winners! I guess it’s a seasonal thing. Maybe, even, a fifth season of sorts.

It’s nothing like a fifth season.

26228034We talk about the Hugo Awards, looking at the winners of most categories. Nic was correct in the movie, so he has that to boast about now. I was surprised by the winner of Best Novel, but that’s because I didn’t like the first book in the series and I didn’t expect a sequel to take home the top award. It’s happened before, yes, but it’s not super common. N.K. Jemisin joins a very short list of authors who won two years in a row. Congratulations N.K. Jemisin! I wish I liked your book!

I tried to stay out of the politics of this year’s award and after the winners were announced, I went back to see if there were any. It seems like most of the shouting has died down. I hope it’s for the better. The Sad and Angry Puppies made something I thought was fun not fun. But, now, I think there’s a bit too much “We shut them the hell up!” from the other side. I just want science fiction and fantasy to be fun for everyone involved. I hope we can just move on and enjoy good writing and interesting ideas.

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Book Review – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

me_and_earl_and_the_dying_girlI think I’m learning I don’t care for Young Adult books. Which is too bad, since I’m in Youth Services at the library I work at, but books are like, twenty percent of my job. Math is even less.

The amount of YA books I’ve liked is not large. I Am Not a Serial KillerCinder and Adrift are the only ones that pop into my head. The rest have been fine, but not for me. I don’t think that’s a rag on the world of YA. I mean, I’m in my thirties. Some people love Young Adult books as they get older, some don’t. I’m in the “don’t” category.

I say all that to preference my dislike of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. But, on the other hand, I don’t think I would have liked this as a teen. I would have found it pretentious. I was a wise soul, as a teen. That’s why I didn’t date a lot. That’s the only reason I didn’t date. The. Only. Reason.

Again, I didn’t like it. Andrews writes in a knowingly subversive style that is never as clever as he thinks it is. The main character, Greg, is constantly giving asides about the story, the structure, the roles of cliques in high school and it never worked for me. When Greg is recruited to hang out with Rachel, a former friend who is diagnosed with leukemia, the story wants to prove it’s not a meaningful one. Greg tells us he didn’t learn anything from Rachel’s leukemia. “This is not your typical teen drama!” the pages scream. Unfortunately, Andrews goes out of his way to remind us of this throughout the book that it becomes true.

As the story takes more series turns, I found it hard to care because I was told so many times to not care. Greg is an unlikable character, one that characters find funny but never translated to a laugh from me. Greg will make a joke or say a line and the characters in the book will lose their minds with laughter. Without having any of it be actually funny, it just comes across as fake and that I can’t trust the judgement of any characters.

meearl-finalGreg and his friend (but not really), Earl, make movies. That’s a thing in the book too. At least, the book says it is. Really, their bad movies are regulated to a chapter of terrible movie title puns that make me feel like Andrews doesn’t have much of an imagination. The description of the movies aren’t funny, they’re boring and don’t create a sense of style, good or ill. Maybe Andrews is trying to show how bad these movies are by how not funny they are, but it comes across as page filler without purpose.

The book ends in cliches, reminding us how effortless The Perks of Being a Wallflower made it look. It also goes for a realistic ending that throws away any growth the characters should have gained. That’s Andrews’ point as well, showing us how it would really happen. But truth doesn’t always make for satisfying fiction. If the book had been more clever throughout, if it’s insights had been thoughtful, if the rest of it had worked in any capacity, it might have earned it’s subversive ending. Instead, it just makes for a dull read. The honesty and pain of The Fault in Our Stars seemed to rub Andrews the wrong way, making him jump and down yelling, “No, this way is better!” The movie might be better, if it takes out the inner monologue and brings any sense of humor to Greg’s bad films. I doubt I’ll be testing that theory any time soon.

Maybe I don’t like Young Adult books. Maybe that is the problem. But when I can read The Outsiders and Salt to the Sea and find them entertaining, I have to believe I can still tell a bad book from a good one, no matter the age range. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl did nothing for me and I don’t think there was a time when it would have ever worked for me. Non-dating teen or adult.

Book Review – Star Wars: Lost Stars

Or Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray. But that title is too long, too stupid and come December 19th, 2015, too dated.

I’m not using that Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens tag ever.

Lost Stars is, as far as I know, the first Young Adult Star Wars book in this new line. The new line being since Disney bought it, threw away the Expanded Universe and started fresh. So while there have been YA Star Wars books before, Lost Stars does feel like an event because of its timing and it’s quality.

I’m not incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to the Expanded Universe. A lot of my time in that part has come from video games and comics, not so much the books. What I’ve read has been decent but not mind blowing. I know people will stand by how great The Thrawn or the Jedi Acedemy, trilogies are but neither of those series have clicked for me. Kenobi by John Jackson Miller has been my favorite novel so far, being a one-shot and simple story, but also absorbing. Nothing I’ve read has topped Star Wars: Legacy by John Ostrander, but that’s a different blog (but go read it).

What I’m trying to get at is, though there are aspects of the EU that I like and have affection for, if a book like Lost Stars makes any changes, I’m not aware of them. So there won’t be many complaints about that here.

Still my favorite EU tale… That and Knights of the Old Republic.

Lost Stars is about two kids from different worlds who become friends and stay friends their whole lives. Thane and Ciena help each other train and prepare for the imperial academy and become ace star pilots. Now, this books starts close after Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, so as far as our characters are concerned, the empire is alright, the jedi were no good and the rebellion is non-existent. As the characters grow up, the make it through school, get jobs aboard ships and start finding themselves in the middle of important events.

The book was doing a great job standing on it’s own for the first part, focusing on what the empire’s training would look like with little opposition. When we start getting to the movies, it loses some uniqueness but doesn’t drop off in quality. From here it becomes a greatest hits of Star Wars moments, with Thane and Ciena being involved with the Death Star, the Battle of Hoth, Cloud City, the Battle for Endor and the second Death Star.

But the twist is in the love story. Of course we know these characters are going to start feeling for each other, but when one of them leaves the empire and joins the rebellion, that’s when the friction hits. I don’t want to go into extreme details, but I will say that the reason for the one leaving and the other staying is pretty solid, at least for a Star Wars book.

I have this and A New Dawn on my Kindle to read…

The ending is where the book drops the ball. Set up for a sequel (or soon-to-be-released movie), it’s not nearly the satisfying conclusion the story deserves. There’s no real resolution between the two characters, there’s lots of hints about other stories waiting to be told, and for a book that focused so intently on two characters despite franchise-building, it feels like a cheat. A don’t want a happy ending, just an ending. Now, if the movies eventually deal with this, it might not be so bad, but the book won’t get to be complete stand-alone tale like Kenobi.

Would I recommend Lost Stars? Yes. To those who like YA fiction but not Star Wars and to those who like Star War but not YA fiction. Sure, it has the same fan-fictiony feel that a lot of the EU has, but it works. Plus, with Disney making the books official cannon, it’s a little easier to get invested with new characters and that’s something the previous EU didn’t have.

Claudia Gray, who also wrote A Thousand Pieces of You, has done a great job of transferring Star Wars into a YA book and while I haven’t read the rest of the new Star Wars books (I plan on it), from what I’ve heard this might be one of the best books to come out the new change. It got me pumped for the new movies and the characters of the book.

Check it out.