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 Squirrel on the Train (Audiobook) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels

The Squirrel on the Train (Audiobook) The Purloined Poodle (Audiobook)

by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles/Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs, 54 min.
Kevin Hearne, 2017
Read: December 2, 2016


I posted about the text version about a month ago (and reposted last week), but wanted to say a little more about the audiobook — so for the sake of those who just clicked on the Audiobook post, I’ll just repeat everything I said before, but tag on something at the end about Luke Daniels’ work. Can the magic of The Purloined Poodle be recaptured? Yes — maybe even topped. For many, that should be all I need to write. If that’s the case, you’re fine — go ahead and close this, no need to finish this.

If you’re still here, I’ll write a little more — While on a trip to Portland to go sight-seeing, er, sight-smelling, Oberon, Orlaith and Starbuck get away from Atticus (er, I mean, Connor Molloy) while chasing after a suspicious-looking squirrel. That’s a tautology, I realize, if you ask the hounds, but this was a really sketchy-looking squirrel. Anyway, this brought the group into the path of Detective Ibarra. She happens to be at the train station investigating the odd murder of a man who looks just like Atticus.

Naturally, that gets him interested and investigating things as best as he can. Thanks in no small part to the noses of the hounds, Atticus and an old friend are able to uncover what’s going on to help Atticus’ new friend make an arrest.

It’s a whole story in Oberon’s voice, I don’t know what else I can say about the writing/voice/feel of the book. That says pretty much everything. From Oberon’s opening comparison of the diabolical natures of Squirrels vs. Clowns to Orlaith’s judgment that “death by physics” “sounds like justice” to the harrowing adventure at the end of the novella, this is a fine adventure for “the Hounds of the Willamette and their pet Druid!”

No surprise to anyone who’s heard the audiobook for any of Oberon’s other appearances in short stories/novellas/novels, but Luke Daniels killed it here. From the overall characterization and narration he does as Oberon on down to the little details, like Oberon’s particular pronunciation of “Port-LAND,” I just love it. Frankly, how anyone can listen to his rendition of Starbuck’s first steps with words like, “Yes food!” and not giggle like Ron Swanson is beyond me. He gets the serious moments, the anger, the awe, the silliness just right. I just can’t say enough good things about this audio presentation.

There’s a nice tie-in to some of the darker developments in the Iron Druid Chronicles — that won’t matter at all if you haven’t read that far, or if you can’t remember the connection. This was a good sequel that called back to the previous book, and told the same kind of story in a similar way — but didn’t just repeat things. Just like a sequel’s supposed to be, for another tautology. I smiled pretty much the whole time I read it (as far as I could tell, it’s not like I filmed myself). I don’t know if we get a third in this series given the end of the IDC next year. If we do, I’ll be happy — if not, this is a great duology.

—–

4.5 Stars

Meddling Kids (Audiobook) by Edgar Cantero, Kyla Garcia

Meddling KidsMeddling Kids

by Edgar Cantero, Kyla Garcia (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs and 53 mins
Random House Audio, 2017

Read: October 27 – November 11. 2017


Going to be brief here, this is one of those books that’s all about the concept, if it’s up your alley, you’ll like the book.

The Blyton Summer Detective Club was a group of kids who met up on school breaks in a small Oregon town from their various homes/schools who solved mysteries à la the Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, Nancy Drew and most importantly, Scooby and the gang. Time after time, they’d uncover the solution to a mystery plaguing the community — usually resulting in finding a man in a rubber suit, explaining everything. Meddling Kids asks the question: what if the solution to the mystery wasn’t (just) a man in a rubber suit? What if the kids stumbled on to something actually mystical, real monsters, etc.?

Following their last case, the gang’s lives went in separate ways — mostly downhill. Incarceration, mental health treatment, academic struggles, addiction, and so on. Finally, more than a decade later, the Detective Club reunites to return to the scene of their last triumph to see just what they missed (or suppressed).

Cantero’s execution of this premise was spot-on, early on he left the satirical component/pop culture commentary behind (pretty much), and just told the story, using that as a foundation. Really not much more to say then that.

Kyla Garcia’s narration was pretty good. A time or two I had a little trouble following it, but I think that’s reflective of the text — which doesn’t seem like the easiest to translate to this medium (not a slight on Cantero or Garcia’s talents there). On the whole, though, she did a fine job bringing this book to life and I’d enjoy hearing another book she narrated.

An entertaining celebration of the genre, a rousing adventure, and a pretty creepy story. Pretty much all you could ask for.

—–

3 Stars

The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond

The Dark ProphecyThe Dark Prophecy

by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond
Series: Trials of Apollo, #2

Undabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs, and 31 min.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: October 5 – 11, 2017


I’m not sure how to give a plot synopsis here — basically, it’s the continuation of the Trials of Apollo. He has another task to accomplish — another of the new emperors to take down before the third one, in the next book. It’s the same ol’ set up that has served Riordan so well — and will continue to do so for years to come.

Basically, Apollo/Lester has to go and find another Oracle. To do so, really, he has to face a lot of people that he’s hurt/disappointed over the millennia. He learns a lot about himself, matures a bit. That part was good — and the whole thing was entertaining. But it felt stale. I liked The Hidden Oracle a lot and was excited to see where this series went. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ll finish the series, but with greatly diminished expectations.

Not that it got into details, but there was a lot more intimated/flat-out said Apollo’s sexual history than I’m comfortable with for a MG book. The previous books in the Percy-verse suggested sexual orientation and activity, there was some romance, but this went much further than any of those. Honestly, it went a step too far. If this wasn’t a part of the Percy-verse, or was clearly marketed toward older readers, it wouldn’t have been that bad and I wouldn’t have said anything about it. But that’s not the case here.

As far as the audiobook goes, it was rough. Robbie Daymond was very aware that he was reading amusing material and he read it like each line was a punchline. It was the vocal equivalent of mugging for the camera, if you will. Now, there were a couple of serious and poignant moments, and Daymond pulled those off well, but otherwise it was tough to listen to.

I didn’t like the narration, and didn’t think the story/writing was as crisp as the first book in the series. But it was still entertaining enough. This isn’t the one to start reading Riordan. But it’ll do for his older readers.

—–

3 Stars

Tilt-a-Whirl (Audiobook) by Chris Grabenstein, Jeff Woodman

Tilt-a-Whirl (Audiobook)Tilt-a-Whirl

by Chris Grabenstein, Jeff Woodman (Narrator)
Series: John Ceepak Mystery, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 18 min.
Audible Studios, 2007

Read: July 18 – 20, 2007


Danny Boyle grew up in Sea Haven, NJ — a tourist trap of a town on the Jersey Shore. He likes the life — hanging out with the friends he’s had since high school, goofing around, eating and drinking more than he should. He’s got a nice Summer gig — working as a Part-Time police officer. The downside is his partner — John Ceepak, an Iraq War vet and former MP. He’s so by the book, he might as well have written it. The Sea Haven chief served with Ceepak and offered him a job when he was done with the Army. After an incident (IED-related), Ceepak can’t drive anymore — which is where Danny comes in.

It’s not an ideal working relationship, but Danny can put up with Ceepak’s eccentricities well enough. Until one day their pre-shift breakfast is interrupted by a girl covered in blood, standing in the middle of the street screaming. Ceepak jumps into action, and Danny tries to keep up. The girl takes them to the local amusement park, to the Tilt-a-Whirl ride, where her father lies shot dead. They’d snuck in before the place opened and had been held up by some junkie hiding near the ride. Or so she reports later. Her father owns half the real-estate in NY and NJ (or so it seems), sort of a would-be Trump, so his murder is big, big news.

Ceepak and Danny have to deal with media attention, annoying lawyers, gang members possibly trying to go straight, local politics, a Crime Scene Investigator that’s more of a hindrance than a help, and Danny’s inexperience if they’re going to solve this murder and let Sea Haven get back to what it does best in the summer — taking in every tourist dollar that it can.

The book is told with a light touch — Danny’s a smart-aleck and is (truthfully) too immature for his job; which is bad for the populace of Sea Haven, good for the reader/listener. But the lightness never gets in the way of the seriousness of the initial murder, and the crimes that follow.

Woodman is exactly the narrator that this book needed — he’s able to sound the right age for Danny, the right attitude, everything (apparently, he does a lot of YA Audiobook work, that makes sense to me). Until I heard Woodman, I hadn’t thought what a challenge it might be to get just the right narrator for this. Thankfully, I noted that with a strong sense of relief, because man…he was so good.

The Ceepak books were one of those series I fully enjoyed, and had forgotten how much I had liked them since I (apparently) finished the series. This audiobook helped me remember how much I missed reading them. If you haven’t gotten around to them, you should — either as an audiobook or text — Ceepak and Boyle are some of the most entertaining police officers around.

—–

3.5 Stars

Open and Shut (Audiobook) by David Rosenfelt, Grover Gardner

Open and ShutOpen and Shut

by David Rosenfelt, Grover Gardner (Narrator)
Series: Andy Carpenter, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs, 50 min.
Listen & Live Audio, Inc., 2008

Read: August 21 – 22, 2017


I honestly can’t believe I’ve talked to little about Andy Carpenter and David Rosenfelt here — it works out, when you look at timelines and whatnot, I’ve been reading him a long time before I started blogging. Still, it’s hard to believe since it’s one of my favorite series, and has been going for so long. Yeah, maybe the series is getting too long in the tooth, but for something to get to book 16+, it’s got to have a pretty solid foundation, right? That foundation is Open and Shut, where Rosenfelt introduces the world to Andy Carpenter, dog lover extraordinaire and pretty decent defense attorney.

Carpenter is a hard-working lawyer, taking on many cases that don’t pay much, but do some good. He’s obsessed with New York sports and his golden retriever. He’s going through a divorce — and has started dating his investigator. He’s got a great sense of humor, is known for a hijink or two in court, and seems like the kind of guy you want in your corner. His father is a big-time D. A., the kind of Prosecutor that people hope/assume theirs is — honest, hard-working, tough on crime. So it shocks Andy when his dad asks him to take on a client for a retrial on a murder case — a murderer his dad put away and his currently on Death Row.

Andy goes ahead with the case, not sure that he should. But it doesn’t take long before he starts to believe in his client’s innocence. About that time, things get interesting and maybe even a little dangerous.

Almost all the elements that go into a typical Andy Carpenter novel are here — even if they’re just being introduced at this point. The jokes are fresh, the clichés have yet to be developed. It’s a good mystery with some good non-mystery story elements. And, best of all, some really fun courtroom moments — not just antics on Andy’s part, but some good depictions of legal/trial strategy and the like. I’ve been thinking lately that the latter Carpenter books have been giving the courtroom short shrift, and seeing what Rosenfelt does here just solidifies that thinking.

Gardner’s narration didn’t blow me away or anything, but it was good work. I can easily believe him as Andy’s voice and can see him really growing on me (not unlike George Guidall and Walt Longmire). He’ll keep you engaged in the story, and deliver a line or two in a way that will bring a smile to your face.

Give this one a whirl, folks — text or audio — you’ll enjoy yourself.

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3.5 Stars

All Tucked Inn (Audiobook) by Mindy M. Shelton, Tia Sorenson

All Tucked InnAll Tucked Inn

by Mindy M. Shelton, Tia Sorenson (Narrator)
Series: Elizabeth Burke, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs 46 min.
2016

Read: September 18 – 20, 2017


Lizzie Burke lives with her widowed mother and younger brother in her mother’s B&B, which is near the college she starts when we meet her. She makes a few friends on the first day of classes, and things seem to be going pretty well. Until one of her new friends goes missing — and many (not Lizzie) assume she’s been killed. Especially when another girl goes missing not too long after this. Now, as Lizzie and her friends are Criminal Justice majors, I assumed they’d start investigating things on their own, meddling with the official investigations, and get the killer themselves. But nope. They’re just on the sidelines, worrying about their friend and the others — until things happen, forcing them to action.

Meanwhile, Lizzie deals with several guys expressing various degrees of romantic interest in her. All of whom are creeps of the first order. Seriously, she’s like a magnet for them. Hopefully before the next book in the series, Lizzie takes a long, hard look at herself and comes up with some basic standards — or decides not to date until she gets her Master’s. I wasn’t sure what to think of Lizzie for most of the book really, she was pretty passive as protagonists go. But once she started actively doing things, I liked her a lot.

The tone is light and optimistic — there’s some good relationships established between Lizzie and her family, as well as her new friends. It’s basically a cozy with a few very dark and non-cozy chapters thrown in. I think the serial killer’s POV chapters could be stronger and more nuanced — but man, it’s hard to get that right if you’re not Thomas Harris or Val McDermid. Mostly, it’s a bunch of nice people watching something horrific happen in their midst and trying to keep going, and most of that is something I can really get behind.

But I did have a few problems, and I’m only going to talk about them because I think that the book as a whole demonstrates that Shelton has the good to lose them in future books — and, they all took me out of the moment, ruining whatever illusion she’d built with her storytelling.

The police (and/or FBI) procedural aspects were horrible — FBI doesn’t have detectives, they wouldn’t do a press conference that way, there’s no need to get college kids pouring through public records when there are literally people at police stations and/or FBI offices that have access to the same information (and more) who can get it faster. There’s some other spoiler-y problems, too. On the one hand, the problems don’t destroy the story, but man, they took me out of the moment, out of the story long enough to make me wonder about why the author couldn’t take a moment in revision to fix things like that.

My biggest problem was that I successfully identified the killer when they first showed up — chapters ahead of the first abduction, and I never had any reason to question that identification. Which would be one thing if I thought I was supposed to make that identification, but I don’t think I was. The various herrings weren’t just red, they were crimson, maroon, and fire truck red.

The writing itself was okay — there was one moment that Shelton did a really nice job showing that X was attracted to Y, and then followed it up with telling us X was attracted to Y, absolutely ruining the moment. There were a few more things like that — it’s almost as if Shelton doesn’t trust herself or her readers (or both). Another moment that really stuck out to me was where she described someone’s nickname as “a funny nickname” before describing where it came from — no one gets other kinds of nicknames that aren’t just abbreviations of their names. There aren’t depressing nicknames, memento mori nicknames, etc. Just tell us its a nickname, describe the incident and move on — better yet, say R is called S because . . . and let the reader supply “nickname” and “funny” to it. Most of all, trust your readers — they’re pretty clever.

A few other niggling problems — the chronology at a point or two is hard to follow; Lizzie says a lot with looks, which is fine if that’s how she is, but maybe the sentence structure could change a little when she does it? The other part that was hard for me was trying to figure out when this took place — and yes, it’s possible that the year was given in the opening seconds of the book and I missed it. But almost no one used call phones (and one who did, flipped it closed), students used pencils and paper in class — yet it seemed to be fairly contemporary otherwise. There were enough references to CSI to make it post-2000, but I’m not sure how much so.

Sorenson did an all right job with the narration — although I’m pretty sure she missed a pronoun or two, and at one point she read a word that doesn’t exist — I had to rewind and listen to the sentence 5 times to figure out what she actually said and then translate it into English. Maybe it was a typo in her copy and she just rolled with it, or maybe she just bobbled the word. Either way, that’s just not good.

Yeah, I had a lot of negative(ish) things to say, but I still recommend the book. This book did its job — it entertained me just enough to keep going and it introduced me to some characters I’d like to spend some more time with (and most of them survived), even if I wasn’t crazy about a lot of their choices/actions throughout the book. I am really very curious about what Shelton is going to do with this series, how is she going to put Burke in the middle of another criminal investigation — will she have learned something from this experience that will help her?

Disclaimer: — I received a copy of the audiobook from the author in exchange for my honest opinion. Which may not have gone as well as she hoped. I appreciate the book, and the interaction with her (she’s pretty funny), but the opinions expressed where fully mine.

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3 Stars