My Favorite Fiction of 2017

Is he ever going to stop with these 2017 Wrap Up posts? I know, I know…I’m sick of them. But I’ve already done most of the work on this one, I might as well finish…Also, it was supposed to go up Friday, but formatting problems . . .

Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½-Star books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

In The StillIn The Still

by Jacqueline Chadwick
My original post

Chadwick’s first novel is probably the most entertaining serial killer novel I’ve ever read. Without sacrificing creepiness, suspense, horror, blood, guts, general nastiness, and so on — she gives us a story with heart, humor and humanity. The second novel, Briefly Maiden is arguably better, but I liked this one a teensy bit more — and I’m genuinely nervous about what’s going to happen in book 3 (not that I won’t read it as soon as I possibly can).

4 1/2 Stars

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

My original post

How do you possibly follow-up 2016’s Debt to Pay, especially with that ending, without dramatically altering the Jesse Stone flavor? I’m still not sure how Coleman did it, but he did — Jesse’s dealing with Debt to Pay in a typically self-destructive way, but is keeping his head mostly above water so he can get his job done, mostly by inertia rather than by force of will. Reflexes kick in however, and while haunted, Jesse can carry out his duties in a reasonable fashion until some friends and a case can push him into something more.

Coleman’s balancing of long-term story arcs and character development with the classic Jesse Stone-type story is what makes this novel a winner and puts this one on my list.

4 1/2 Stars

A Plague of GiantsA Plague of Giants

by Kevin Hearne

This sweeping — yet intimately told — epic fantasy about a continent/several civilizations being invaded by a race nobody knew existed is almost impossible to put into a few words. It’s about people stepping up to do more than they thought possible,more than they thought necessary, just so they and those they love can survive. It’s about heroes being heroic, leaders leading, non-heroes being more heroic, leaders conniving and failing, and regular people finding enough reason to keep going. It’s everything you want in an epic fantasy, and a bunch you didn’t realize you wanted, too (but probably should have).

5 Stars

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter

My original post
Hunter continues to raise the stakes (yeah, sorry, couldn’t resist) for Jane and her crew as the European Vamps’ visit/invasion gets closer. Am not sure what’s more intriguing, the evolution in Jane’s powers or the evolution of the character — eh, why bother choosing? Both are great. The growth in the Younger brothers might be more entertaining — I appreciate the way they’ve become nearly as central to the overall story as Jane. I’m not sure this is the book for new readers to the series, but there are plenty before it to hook someone.

5 Stars

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
My original post

Poor planning on my part (in 2016) resulted in me reading two Toby Daye books this year, both just excellent, but this one worked a little bit better for me. Oodles and oodles of Fae royalty and nobility in one spot to decide what they’re going to do with this elf-shot cure leading to a sort-of closed room mystery (it’s just a really big, magical room) with peril on all side for Toby and her found family.

5 Stars

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness
My original post

There were so many ways this could’ve been hacky, overly-sentimentalized, brow-beating, or after-school special-y and Ness avoids them all to deliver a heart-wrenching story about grief, death, love, and the power of stories — at once horrifying, creepy and hopeful.

4 1/2 Stars

Black and BlueBlack and Blue

by Ian Rankin
My original post

Rankin kicked everything into a higher gear here — there are so many intricately intertwining stories here it’s hard to describe the book in brief. But you have Rebus running from himself into mystery after mystery, drink after drink, career-endangering move after career-endangering move. Unrelenting is the best word I can come up with for this book/character/plot — which makes for a terrific read.

5 Stars

SourdoughSourdough

by Robin Sloan
My original post

This delightful story of a programmer turned baker turned . . . who knows what, in a Bay Area Underground of creative, artisanal types who will reshape the world one day. Or not. It’s magical realism, but more like magical science. However you want to describe it, there’s something about Sloan’s prose that makes you want to live in his books.

Do not read if you’re on a low carb/carb-free diet. Stick with Sloan’s other novel in that case.

4 1/2 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)

My original post

This was a great audiobook –and I can’t imagine that the text version was as great, I just didn’t have time for it. It’s the story about the aftermath — socially, personally, locally, nationally — of a police shooting of an unarmed black male as seen through the eyes of a close friend who was inches away from him at the time.

I think I’d have read a book about Starr Carter at any point in her life, honestly, she’s a great character. Her family feels real — it’s not perfect, but it’s not the kind of dysfunctional that we normally see instead of perfect, it’s healthy and loving and as supportive as it can be. The book will make you smile, weep, chuckle and get angry. It’s political, and it’s not. It’s fun and horrifying. It’s . . . just read the thing. Whatever you might think of it based on what you’ve read (including what I’ve posted) isn’t the whole package, just read the thing (or, listen to it, Turpin’s a good narrator).

5 Stars

The ForceThe Force

by Don Winslow
My original post

There may be better Crime Fiction writers at the moment than Don Winslow, but that number is small, and I can’t think of anyone in it. In this fantastic book, Winslow tells the story of the last days of a corrupt, but effective (in their own corrupt and horrible way), NYPD Task Force. Denny Malone is a cop’s cop, on The Wire he’s be “real police” — but at some point he started cutting corners, lining his pockets (and justifying it to himself), eventually crossing the line so that he’s more “robber” than “cop.” Mostly. And though you know from page 1 that he’s dirty and going down, you can’t help get wrapped up in his story, hoping he finds redemption, and maybe even gets away with it.

But the book is more than that. In my original post I said: “This book feels like the love child of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. You really feel like you understand how the city of New York is run — at least parts of it: the police, elements of the criminal world, and parts of the criminal justice system. Not how they’re supposed to run, but the way it really is. [Winslow] achieves this through a series of set pieces and didactic pericopes.”

A police story, a crime thriller, a book about New York — oh, yeah, possibly the best thing I read last year.

5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. But I stuck with the arbitrary 10 — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway, those tied for 11th place are: <

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my original post), Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my original post), Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick (yes, again) (my original post), The Twisted Path by Harry Connolly (my original post), Bound by Benedict Jacka (my original post), The Western Star by Craig Johnson (my original post), The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire (see? Another Toby Daye) (my original post), The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh (my original post), Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells(my original post).

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The Twisted Path by Harry Connolly

I had a hard time writing this one up — I’m not sure why. I tossed out 98% of what I prepared to post yesterday and came up with this instead. I think the book deserves something better, but this is what I have.

The Twisted PathThe Twisted Path

by Harry Connolly
Series: Twenty Palaces, #4

Kindle Edition, 109 pg.
Radar Ave Press, 2017

Read: December 20, 2017


Annalise Powliss is a powerful sorcerer who travels through the US on behalf of the Twenty Palace Society keeping magic out of the wrong hands — generally by killing the owners of those hands (and anyone standing too close to them). Ray Lilly is her Wooden Man — an assistant whose primary responsibility is to distract her foes, draw their fire, and die in her stead. It’s not the world’s best gig, but he’s an ex-con and doesn’t have a lot of prospects (there are other reasons, but you should read them for yourself). The thing is, Ray’s worked a lot with Annalise without dying, which makes him a remarkable example of a Wooden Man.

So the two of them have been called to the Society’s HQ in Europe so The Powers That Be can meet Ray, examine him and . . . well, he’s not really sure what to expect. Naturally, while they’re there, the pair have an opportunity to take out a supernatural bad guy in their spare time.

This is a very different kind of story for this series, the focus isn’t on the magical threat, but on the Society itself. Yes, there are Predators to be dealt with — but that’s almost a side-note. The Twisted Path gives Ray, as well as the reader, a much greater understanding of the Society. Not that I ever had a complaint about the focus in the earlier stories, but reading this pointed out what I wasn’t seeing before. Initially, you care about the Society’s mission in that, 1. they’re saving the world, blah, blah, blah; but primarily, 2. because you want Ray to succeed (or at least survive) and therefore you want to see the Society’s goals met. Now, I think I have a greater investment in the whole organization.

There’s just so many things I loved about this — Ray, the small-time crook from the Western U.S. being in Europe, trying to cope with all the differences that he never realistically expected to see. Just his reaction to walking on stairs that have existed for longer than the U.S. was a great paragraph. Ray’s initial response to the peers he’s called was so perfect, that I know it brought a smile to my face. Connolly did all the little things right, and that makes it so much easier for the reader to care about the bigger things. He’s probably done that throughout the series, but in a full novel, it’s easier to not pay attention to those details so you can get on with the story — so you can find out what’s going on. In a novella, you can feel like you can take your time.

Not only that, Connolly structured this novella in an atypical fashion — it allowed him to do some things with the story that were natural, organic, and not-cheating, but were able to take the reader by (some degree of) surprise that he wouldn’t have been able to in a straight-forward beginning-to-end structure. It’s possible, really, that this is the best writing of Connolly’s career — he’s had books that I liked a bit more, but I don’t know if he’s written anything better.

Short, fast, action-driven, but with a lot of things to chew on — this is a great UF novella for readers of this series. I don’t know how it’d work as an introduction to the series, maybe fine, but I think you’d be better off with Circle of Enemies. I bought it within minutes of hearing that The Twisted Path had been released and re-shuffled my week’s plans to read it as soon as I could — which were probably the best moves I made this week.

It’s been years since I last read one of the novels (or the novelette), so I spent a little more time than I’d have liked trying to remember why we encountered some of these characters before or how this compared to the style of the others. I’ve got to add the series to my re-read pile, I want to revisit this world soon. If you haven’t spent time with it — go grab Circle of Enemies (don’t read the prequel until after you’ve read #3, if you ask me), there are few, if any UF worlds like this.

4 1/2 Stars

A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark by Harry Connolly

A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark

by Harry Connolly

Kindle Edition, 320 pg.
Radar Avenue Press, 2015

Read: January 16 – 17, 2015


I’m not sure where to start with this one, I guess you start with the most distinctive mark and go on from there. Any criminal plying his trade in Gotham City knows that’s Batman’s city, and criminals have to factor in his claim to it before doing their crime. Ditto for Metropolis and Superman. Any alien race knows that the Earth is under the protection of The Doctor. You get the idea. Well, the same goes for the living, the undead, the supernatural, the preternatural, basically the denizens of Urban Fantasy in Seattle — they’re in Marley Jacobs’ city, and they’d better act like it.

What makes Jacobs stand out from Harry Dresden, Atticus O’Sullivan, Daisy Johanssen, Kitty Norville, etc. isn’t her collection of eccentricities, though she has plenty, it’s that she’s on the older side — 65, I think. She’s pretty wealthy — and has many wealthy friends. But most of all, she’s a pacifist — other than her persuasion and charm, her powers (or the powers of any working with her) will not be used for violent/destructive/harmful purposes. Period. It’s not that she gives some half-hearted try for a page or two before giving up and throwing spells around, she just won’t. Think about that for a second. She has to be smarter, faster (on foot and mentally), and more determined than those she finds herself opposing.

…and if you ever look at a love potion/spell the same way again after hearing Marley describe the true nature of them? Check yourself.

Her nephew is living with her for a while. Albert is just back from serving in oversees, looking for work, getting treatments from the VA and trying to keep himself together, when his brother (not the world’s greatest anything) is killed. Apparently by a vampire. Marley has to find out what happened to him and why, and brings Albert along. This is his introduction to a world he thought was mere fiction, and to Marley’s approach to problems. Both are difficult for him, as much as he wants to leave his past behind. Soon, they discover that Albert’s brother was into the supernatural goings-on of Seattle without his Aunt knowing, and what he was up to just might have got him killed (or it was due to him being a horrible person).

I’m not even going to try to describe how werewolves, vampires, hunters, etc. work in Connolly’s world here — you’ll have too much fun finding out for yourself.

This was a lighter UF adventure — especially when compared to Connolly’s Twenty Palaces books, but almost any would make it seem lighter. And he deals with the fun the same way he deals with the grim — with skill and confidence. The story moves along at a nice clip, educating the reader about the world as Albert’s being taught.

Character, philosophy, story, magic system, the ways that UF staples are dealt with — all distinct, all serving the different kind of story that this is, and used/written in an almost perfect way. I don’t want to oversell this, and I know I’m in danger of it — but really, folks — this one is special. The only real complaint I have is that this is a stand-alone. You will like these characters, this world, and this story and you will want more. One day soon, I hope, Fantasy/Urban Fantasy readers are going to wake up and realize what kind of writer they’ve been ignoring. Until then, count me in for whatever comes next from Connolly.

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Disclaimer: I should probably add that I got this as a backer reward for supporting The Great Way‘s Kickstarter. But that really didn’t impact my take on the book, it just meant I read it earlier and for less money than I would’ve otherwise.

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4 1/2 Stars

Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths by Harry Connolly

Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths and Other Tales of Dark FantasyBad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy

by Harry Connolly

ebook, 153 pg.
Radar Ave Press, 2014
Read: July 29 – August 23, 2014

By and large, I am not a fan of short stories. The length is typically frustrating for me — even when they don’t remind me of the various anthologies I had to use in Lit classes throughout my High School and College years. Still, I try every now and then to read some. Finding a good short story is as rewarding — if not moreso — than finding a good novel. This is a collection of ten short stories and one novelette — six of the stories are reprints, the others have been published for the first time in these pages. The novelette belongs to Connolly’s criminally under-appreciated Twenty Palaces series, and would be worth the purchase price for fans of that series. If you’ve never read that, but are interested in in trying out a variety of new fantasy worlds (including one that has some books to go with it), this is a great investment.

There was one story in the batch that I didn’t like. But even as I read it, and wasn’t enjoying it, I realized there was nothing poorly written/constructed about the story. It just wasn’t my thing. I don’t care who told the story, or how they did it, Don’t Chew Your Food wasn’t going to work for me. It’s a pretty straight-forward horror kind of thing, and that just doesn’t do it for me.

That out of the way, let’s focus on the pluses. This was a nice little variety pack of stories — the styles were all over the place, one (Hounds and the Moonlight) read like something the Brothers Grimm would’ve appreciated, another (Cargo Johnny) felt like it should’ve been introduced by Rod Serling, and another (Beyond The Game) demonstrated that Connolly can do funny — which is nice to see (also nice to have a little palate cleanser after all the mayhem and destruction).

The One Thing You Can Never Trust is a great introductory story — in just a few pages we have a political system (or two) unfolded for us, society’s way of (not) dealing with a racial divide and a new magic system. All while telling a tidy little crime story. Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths is similarly a great short burst of world building with a fresh magic system — and some wonderful monsters, both human and not. Great opening paragraphs, grab you and make sure you’re along for the ride.

The main reason people are going to be picking up this collection is for the Twenty Palaces story: The Home Made Mask. And they are right to do so. I cannot get enough of this series (sadly, I’m a member of a very exclusive club). The fact that Ray and Annalise aren’t in the story much doesn’t affect that — this is the strange, creepy, capricious kind of magic at work that makes this series so compelling. Tempted to buy some Power-ball tickets just so I can commission some more of these.

I think my favorite story was Lord of Reavers, which is the closest thing to “traditional” fantasy. This tale of an almost super-human swordsman joining up with a band of raiders was great. I felt that I should’ve seen the conclusion coming sooner than I did, but it was so much fun I’m glad I didn’t. I’d read a novel or more starring this character — easy.

Most short story collections are uneven at best, full of ups and downs. Bad Little Girls . . . is an exception — 1 down, and 10 ups. Can’t ask for more than that. You’d do well to give it a try.

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4 Stars

Twenty Palaces by Harry Connolly

Twenty Palaces
Twenty Palaces

by Harry Connolly
Series: Twenty Palaces, #.5


E-book, 250 pages
Radar Avenue Press, 2011

I’m not usually one for prequels — if the author/filmmakers have done their job, we know what we need to know already. Sure, it allows the creator to fill in some blanks, make the in-joke — but on the whole, they just seem to serve as red meat for fans*, while offering little new.

But a well-done prequel can be a lot of fun — and in the end, if you’re not reading genre fiction for fun — what’s the point?

Between the rest of the books in this criminally-underselling series, we’re given a decent idea what happened between Ray and Annalise before Child of Fire, how Ray got his Knife (one of the coolest tools I can remember reading about), and about Wally getting Ray into this mess. So, I put off reading this one longer than I’d intended to. Glad I finally got around to it — this was a blast.

Ray Lilly is a messed up, broken, not-so-good guy trying to live straight — to become a “seat belt person,” as he puts it. He’s fresh from prison, but he knows he hasn’t finished paying his debt to society (his policeman uncle helps drive this home) and really wants to get on with his new life.

Naturally, his old life — particularly his old friends, are there to drag him off his new path. But this isn’t your garden-variety recidivism at work. There’s some otherworldly magic using his friends — and almost everyone around him — for ends that even a guy of Ray’s questionable morality can’t abide.

The new reality that Ray steps into here is unlike anything you’ve seen before — dark, scary, amoral, and uncaring — a lot like our world seems too often. The magic system that Connolly has created in this series is something special — I so, so wish we’d gotten to see more of it following Circle of Enemies.

This was fun, very satisfying — and most of all, it made me want to re-read the rest of the books, I’d forgotten just how addicting these books were.

If you’ve read the Twenty Palaces series, this is a nice little cherry on top — if you haven’t? Skip this for now, and run to your indie bookstore (or internet retailer, I guess) and grab them.

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* Not that I’m against red meat for fans — as a fan of many things, including red meat, I like when creators entertain me.

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4 Stars