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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Pub Day Repost: Cold Reign by Faith Hunter

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter
Series: Jane Yellowrock, #11

eARC, 384 pg.
Ace, 2017

Read: March 6 – 9, 2017


Lee Child (and others, I’m sure) has said something along the lines of the key to writing a long-running series is that in each book you give the readers exactly the same thing, only different. Here in book 11 of the Jane Yellowrock series, that’s exactly what Faith Hunter has delivered — Jane Yellowrock up to her neck in revenant vampires, schemes within schemes within schemes, and dealing with the Big Cat that shares her body — but in a new way, with different (yet the same) schemers, a different kind of revenant, and new challenges and revelations about her Beast.

The tricky part of this is coming up with something to say . . . I mean really, the fact that I’m still reading the series 11 books in pretty much demonstrates that I’m a fan and that I’m predisposed to like this — both in its sameness and differentness. I like spending time with Jane and the rest (particularly Eli, Alex and Bruiser), seeing her navigate through this wold, and beating people up/taking out vampires. The “same” stuff is as good as always (maybe even a little better), so what about the “different” stuff?

There’s a lot to cover on that front, actually — I can’t cover it all, that’s Hunter’s job (and she’s so much better at it). But I can do a little. This book takes place sometime after Curse on the Land (yay, multi-series continuity!), and long enough after Shadow Rites that Jane’s started to come to terms with her expanded household and all that it entails (please note the use of the word, “started” — I’m not sure she’s quite finished even at the end of this one). But that’s just the beginning. There are a handful of revenants popping up — but they’re not the kind that Jane is used to dealing with. And their presence might be signalling something significant.

The Youngers have evolved somewhat — Alex is maturing, and even getting out of the house a little — but he’s still the same dude. Eli — wow, we see so many sides of him here that we hadn’t before (maybe saw hints of, but not like this), I loved every bit of the Eli material here — and man, did he make me laugh. He also made me get a little bleary eyed at one point — something I couldn’t ever imagine that I’d say.

Beast does something that I don’t think we’ve seen before — she has something going on that she’s keeping from Jane. There’s something she knows, maybe something she did, that she’s blocked Jane’s knowledge of . That’s scary — kinda cool — but mostly scary. The repercussions of Beast doing things without the human part of her knowing, there’s a couple of books right thee.

Naturally, the biggest differences come from growth and changes to Jane herself — at one point, she says

My life was so weird I scarcely recognized it.

The only reason readers can recognize it is that we’ve followed the series — if someone made the strange decision to read Skinwalker and then jump to Cold Reign, I bet they’d barely recognize the protagonist. The changes in her abilities, her shifting (but not totally shifted) feelings towards vampires and their practices, her love life, her friends, her understanding of her past, etc., etc. — she’s come a long way, mostly for the good, I think. There’s even a sentence I identified in my notes as “possibly the sweetest, sappiest thing to come out of Jane’s narration.” I decided not to include it here, but fans will gush over it. I just know it.

None of that means that when it comes time for bringing the pain that Jane’s not up to it — in fact, thanks to recent events, she’s better at it than ever. Her use of the Gray Between (which is bordering on being over-used), is improved here — she’s able to handle it better and uses it to her great advantage. Yeah, she might be not be that recognizable, but she’s a better character for it.

The core of this book — plotwise, anyway — comes back to the looming summit with the European Vampires, while Leo continues preparing for it, some things start happening that make he and his Enforcers begin to think that maybe the EVs are already in New Orleans and doing what they can to undermine him before anything official happens. Hunter, like many authors, has really taken advantage of the long-lived nature of vampires and how they’ll use that for long-range planning. In Cold Reign we see that used very well — as I mentioned before, there’s a new kind of revenant running around New Orleans — and there’s no good explanation for how that’s happening (there’s a pretty diabolical explanation, however). This brings us back to the first time Jane stuck her toe in the water of Leo Pellisier’s plans, and the early defenses against insurgents that Jane mounted on his behalf. Plots and schemes that we thought we were done with (if only because the plotters and schemers were no more), are brought back up and put into a new light in a very convincing manner. If Hunter said that she’d been planning these moves since book 2 or so, I’d believe her — I’d also believe her if she said that she needed something for this book and took advantage of some of material from her early books. Either way, she does a very clever job of it.

There’s a little bit of Soulwood in Cold Reign. We get a mention or two of Nell Ingram. Rick LaFleur is around doing PsyLED stuff — without the rest of his team, sadly. Soul is seen a few times, but doesn’t do much (but what she does is pretty cool).

I’ve long enjoyed Jane’s calorie-rich dietary needs and the abandon with which she dives into her food — and I think I’ve noted with both books, how fun it is to watch Nell Ingram sample junk food. But I think in Cold Reign, Best trumps them both — she eats her first taco. And I found it delightful, really, literally laughing out loud. I’ve decided that what Hunter’s fans need is a Food Network-style show featuring Jane, Nell and Beast trying various foods — I’d just love it.

The ending came a little quicker than I expected (possibly was confused thanks to the Soulwood preview at the end tweaking the percentage — but even without that, it seemed sudden). Which isn’t a bad thing, and probably says more about me than anything about the book — maybe I just wasn’t ready to say “see ya later” to Clan Yellowrock yet. Without spoiling much, there wasn’t a lot of resolution here — there was enough — but not as much as you might expect. The threat to Leo is still out there, and Jane et al. have their work cut out for them to prevent a European Vampire takeover.

Another winning tale of Vampire Politics, New Orleans weather, Magic, Big Cats and blood — lots and lots of blood. At this point, I’m not sure Hunter can do anything wrong with this series — and I hope she doesn’t prove me wrong anytime soon. Get your orders in now folks so you can dive on it on May 2.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Cold Reign by Faith Hunter

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter
Series: Jane Yellowrock, #11

eARC, 384 pg.
Ace, 2017

Read: March 6 – 9, 2017


Lee Child (and others, I’m sure) has said something along the lines of the key to writing a long-running series is that in each book you give the readers exactly the same thing, only different. Here in book 11 of the Jane Yellowrock series, that’s exactly what Faith Hunter has delivered — Jane Yellowrock up to her neck in revenant vampires, schemes within schemes within schemes, and dealing with the Big Cat that shares her body — but in a new way, with different (yet the same) schemers, a different kind of revenant, and new challenges and revelations about her Beast.

The tricky part of this is coming up with something to say . . . I mean really, the fact that I’m still reading the series 11 books in pretty much demonstrates that I’m a fan and that I’m predisposed to like this — both in its sameness and differentness. I like spending time with Jane and the rest (particularly Eli, Alex and Bruiser), seeing her navigate through this wold, and beating people up/taking out vampires. The “same” stuff is as good as always (maybe even a little better), so what about the “different” stuff?

There’s a lot to cover on that front, actually — I can’t cover it all, that’s Hunter’s job (and she’s so much better at it). But I can do a little. This book takes place sometime after Curse on the Land (yay, multi-series continuity!), and long enough after Shadow Rites that Jane’s started to come to terms with her expanded household and all that it entails (please note the use of the word, “started” — I’m not sure she’s quite finished even at the end of this one). But that’s just the beginning. There are a handful of revenants popping up — but they’re not the kind that Jane is used to dealing with. And their presence might be signalling something significant.

The Youngers have evolved somewhat — Alex is maturing, and even getting out of the house a little — but he’s still the same dude. Eli — wow, we see so many sides of him here that we hadn’t before (maybe saw hints of, but not like this), I loved every bit of the Eli material here — and man, did he make me laugh. He also made me get a little bleary eyed at one point — something I couldn’t ever imagine that I’d say.

Beast does something that I don’t think we’ve seen before — she has something going on that she’s keeping from Jane. There’s something she knows, maybe something she did, that she’s blocked Jane’s knowledge of. That’s scary — kinda cool — but mostly scary. The repercussions of Beast doing things without the human part of her knowing, there’s a couple of books right thee.

Naturally, the biggest differences come from growth and changes to Jane herself — at one point, she says

My life was so weird I scarcely recognized it.

The only reason readers can recognize it is that we’ve followed the series — if someone made the strange decision to read Skinwalker and then jump to Cold Reign, I bet they’d barely recognize the protagonist. The changes in her abilities, her shifting (but not totally shifted) feelings towards vampires and their practices, her love life, her friends, her understanding of her past, etc., etc. — she’s come a long way, mostly for the good, I think. There’s even a sentence I identified in my notes as “possibly the sweetest, sappiest thing to come out of Jane’s narration.” I decided not to include it here, but fans will gush over it. I just know it.

None of that means that when it comes time for bringing the pain that Jane’s not up to it — in fact, thanks to recent events, she’s better at it than ever. Her use of the Gray Between (which is bordering on being over-used), is improved here — she’s able to handle it better and uses it to her great advantage. Yeah, she might be not be that recognizable, but she’s a better character for it.

The core of this book — plotwise, anyway — comes back to the looming summit with the European Vampires, while Leo continues preparing for it, some things start happening that make he and his Enforcers begin to think that maybe the EVs are already in New Orleans and doing what they can to undermine him before anything official happens. Hunter, like many authors, has really taken advantage of the long-lived nature of vampires and how they’ll use that for long-range planning. In Cold Reign we see that used very well — as I mentioned before, there’s a new kind of revenant running around New Orleans — and there’s no good explanation for how that’s happening (there’s a pretty diabolical explanation, however). This brings us back to the first time Jane stuck her toe in the water of Leo Pellisier’s plans, and the early defenses against insurgents that Jane mounted on his behalf. Plots and schemes that we thought we were done with (if only because the plotters and schemers were no more), are brought back up and put into a new light in a very convincing manner. If Hunter said that she’d been planning these moves since book 2 or so, I’d believe her — I’d also believe her if she said that she needed something for this book and took advantage of some of material from her early books. Either way, she does a very clever job of it.

There’s a little bit of Soulwood in Cold Reign. We get a mention or two of Nell Ingram. Rick LaFleur is around doing PsyLED stuff — without the rest of his team, sadly. Soul is seen a few times, but doesn’t do much (but what she does is pretty cool).

I’ve long enjoyed Jane’s calorie-rich dietary needs and the abandon with which she dives into her food — and I think I’ve noted with both books, how fun it is to watch Nell Ingram sample junk food. But I think in Cold Reign, Best trumps them both — she eats her first taco. And I found it delightful, really, literally laughing out loud. I’ve decided that what Hunter’s fans need is a Food Network-style show featuring Jane, Nell and Beast trying various foods — I’d just love it.

The ending came a little quicker than I expected (possibly was confused thanks to the Soulwood preview at the end tweaking the percentage — but even without that, it seemed sudden). Which isn’t a bad thing, and probably says more about me than anything about the book — maybe I just wasn’t ready to say “see ya later” to Clan Yellowrock yet. Without spoiling much, there wasn’t a lot of resolution here — there was enough — but not as much as you might expect. The threat to Leo is still out there, and Jane et al. have their work cut out for them to prevent a European Vampire takeover.

Another winning tale of Vampire Politics, New Orleans weather, Magic, Big Cats and blood — lots and lots of blood. At this point, I’m not sure Hunter can do anything wrong with this series — and I hope she doesn’t prove me wrong anytime soon. Get your orders in now folks so you can dive on it on May 2.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

4 1/2 Stars