Interesting fact: my Favorite Reads of 2018 is one of the most viewed articles on this site. It’s ranked 4th by traffic, behind only articles about Ingram Spark and Kindle Direct Publishing. This surprised me. It also tells me that people really enjoy these end-of-year summaries, and that’s more than enough reason to do another one.

Before we get into the meat of this list, a disclaimer: this isn’t a ranking of books that hit the best seller lists or received a lot of publicity. These are my personal favorites among the books I had the chance to read this year. There are fewer than last year because, unfortunately, the Other Job took a huge bite out of my free time. I haven’t had a chance to do nearly as much reading as I would have liked.

This list covers a range of genres, and many if not all of the authors are indies. (Read indie books! There are a ton of incredible stories out there from indie authors, their books are often more affordable than traditionally published ones, and you’re helping someone fulfill their dreams. What could be better than that?)

A word on how I evaluate books: I’m intrigued by new and unique concepts, subversion of expectations, and genre blending. Bonus points if it makes me laugh. Comparing most of these books to each other would be impossible, so they’re organized alphabetically by title. If you’d like to read more, each heading links to my review of that book.

Now, without further ado, here are my favorite reads of 2019!

Continue reading “Favorite Reads of 2019”

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Cover of Shadow Born by Martin Frowd

Eight year old Zarynn is an orphan. His parents were killed for committing the unspeakable heresy of worshiping a deity of light, and Zarynn is slated to be ritually stoned to death for manifesting magical abilities of his own when a dark stranger intervenes to save his life.

Rescued by the necromancer Glaraz, Zarynn embarks on an epic journey to escape certain death at the hands of the druids that rule the lands his people call home.

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The Interspecies Poker Tournament by Claire Buss

Chief Thief-Catcher Ned Spinks, along with his rag-tag band of mostly-supernatural fellow Thief-Catchers, have been tasked by the fey community with catching the most dangerous thief of all: a stealer of life.

The murderer has been targeting communities of supernatural creatures one by one, from the brownies to the dryads to the mer folk, and each victim has been killed in the most insulting way possible for their race. The murdered gingerbread man was dunked in milk. The naiad (water nymph) was left on dry land. And the deceased brownie, a race that’s fond of cake and notoriously intolerant of vegetables, was left in a salad bowl. Curiously, the only thing the survivors can seem to agree on is the existence of a suspicious mustache.

Continue reading “Review: The Interspecies Poker Tournament”

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Cover of Dead Inside by Barry J Hutchison

In Dead Inside, deceased detective Dan Deadman’s life takes a darker turn. And that’s saying a lot for a series that started out with Dan hunting a child-snatching serial killer.

The action opens with a car chase and doesn’t slow down much thereafter as Dan, Olly, and Artur investigate stolen children, straying spouses, a series of grizzly ritual murders, and a visitor from the Malwhere more nightmarishly powerful than any they’ve faced before.

It’s also dark– very dark. Although it’s hard to name a favorite chapter of a book this good, mine would probably be when Dan and Ollie find themselves in the Malwhere. Ollie runs into her ‘father,’ the hideously evil entity that kidnapped her as a small child. And Dan… Dan relives his own death.

Continue reading “Review: Dead Inside”

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Cover of Lost Dogs: Last Fight of the Old Hound by Nils Odlund

Lost Dogs is a different kind of fantasy series. Last Fight of the Old Hound follows Roy von Waldenberger, a prize fighter and therianthrope, and much of the story’s conflict is internal. His inner wolf makes him stronger, faster, tougher– but it also fights for control of his mind in times of duress.

The author’s world building and character development are top notch, and I found Roy’s internal conflict incredibly easy to relate to. I love seeing fantasy used as a way to approach real life conflicts, and the author does a superb job of this. The inner wolf is a terrific metaphor, with its instinct-driven approach to life, boundless strength, and absolute unwillingness to compromise.

This is the story of one man’s struggle to reconcile what’s right by his conscience with what’s right for his loved ones and his future. A prize fighter on the cusp of retirement, he has been given a choice between retaining his reputation as an honest man, and ‘falling’ to a new fighter in exchange for the ability to leave with a healthy retirement bonus and his good standing in the business world intact.

This story is more of an afternoon read than a week-long one, but there’s enough world building, conflict, and action packed into Last Fight of the Old Hound for the reader to feel like they got their money’s worth. A gripping and evocative short read, I highly recommend it!

Lost Dogs: Last Fight of the Old Hound is available in ebook and paperback from Amazon.

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Blade Runner movie poster

Blade Runner bears about as much resemblance to the book that inspired it as a box of chicken nuggets does to a live chicken, but in this case that’s probably a good thing. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  was a singularly strange story, puzzling on many levels. (If you’re interested, you can check out my review of Electric Sheep here.)

Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a former Blade Runner (aka, police bounty hunter) who’s been forced back into service to hunt down a group of escaped Nexus 6 androids, now referred to as replicants.

The plot and world-building of Electric Sheep has been pared down significantly in some aspects and completely rewritten in others. No mention is made of the massive nuclear war that made most of Earth uninhabitable, although the off-world colonies remain. Replicants, produced to provide slave labor on the colonies, periodically escape and make their way back to Earth.

Continue reading “Review: Blade Runner”

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep cover

I finally got around to reading Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And although I had no idea what to expect going in, it was still nothing like what I expected.

Rick Deckard is a police bounty hunter, “retiring” escaped androids that pose a vague threat to Earth’s remaining human population. His world is dull and grey, full of despair and the detritus of human lives long gone. Nuclear war has made much of Earth uninhabitable, causing freak mutations and decimating animal populations. Most humans eligible to immigrate to off-world colonies have done so.

While this premise might sound dark, gritty, thrilling, and potentially action packed, –spoiler– this novel is not.

Continue reading “Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

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Dredd 2012 - Judgement is Coming

For the purpose of disambiguation, this review is of Dredd (2012), starring Karl Urban as Judge Dredd and Olivia Thirlby as trainee Judge Anderson.

When Dredd and Anderson respond to a grisly triple homicide in the high rise mega slum of Peach Trees, they have no idea that they’re walking into the heart of a ruthless criminal’s base of operations. Ex-prostitute Ma-Ma (played excellently by Lena Headey) is the kingpin of a cartel that has risen to supremacy through a brutal combination of extreme violence and drug trafficking. The drug in question is Slo-Mo, a substance which slows the user’s perception of reality to 1% normal speed.

I’ll admit I didn’t have high expectations for this film. I’m not a huge fan of Karl Urban, and I had suspicions that Judge Anderson would be, as happens all too often to female action leads, little more than eye candy. The prominent place of Slo-Mo in the trailers gave me flashbacks to the heavy-handed drug propaganda of the 80s and 90s.

I’m happy to report that I was wrong. Dredd surprised the hell out of me. It was really good.

Continue reading “Review: Dredd”

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Cover of Redemption of Sisyphus by Eric Michael Craig

In the thrilling conclusion to Eric Michael Craig’s solar system-spanning Shan Takhu Legacy series, the fearless crew of the ice-harvesting research vessel Jakob Waltz, the remnants of the Human Union, and the rebels of Fleet Cartel battle an AI bent on saving the human race from itself by any means necessary.

The AI Odysseus proves to be a Pandora’s box of nasty tricks, and it possesses nothing that could even remotely be called a conscience. Powered by a “you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet” style of damage control –where the eggs are human lives– Odysseus works to extend its control to the edges of the solar system and eliminate anyone that could possibly be considered a threat to its power.

After all, it’s hard to protect humanity with all these pesky humans standing in its way.

Fortunately, in addition to the motley group of heroes and leaders we’ve come to know and love over the course of this series, there’s also a couple of pro-human AIs, a crew of upgraded humans, and a treasure-trove of mysterious alien technology on the heroes’ side.

Put all of these elements together, and the result is a grimly prophetic thrill ride peppered with seat-of-your-pants skirmishes and dark discoveries. Redemption of Sisyphus is a multi-fronted three-dimensional chess match against a malignant artificial intelligence able to infect almost any automated system, and capable of some deeply chilling meatspace tricks as well. The final installment of this series kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

I don’t review more than the first book of a series very often, and that’s due to the fact that beyond book one it gets successively harder to write a decent review without revealing potential spoilers. Hopefully I’ve managed to walk that fine line between being too generic and revealing too much about the plot for new readers. Whether you love this review or hate it, let me know in the comments.

If it sounds like something you want to read, Redemption of Sisyphus is available in paperback, ebook, and Kindle Unlimited on Amazon. New to the series? Start with Legacy of Pandora, and check out my review here.

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Cover of Fulcrum of Odysseus by Eric Michael Craig

The discoveries made by the crew of the Jakob Waltz in the cold darkness of the outer solar system have set off a catastrophic chain of events, fatally destabilizing the fragile balance of power among the factions of the Human Union. Worse, they’ve inadvertently activated a doomsday failsafe created to protect humanity in the event of contact with an extrasolar entity.

Former FleetCartel Chancellor Katryna Roja and her allies are on the run, the crew of the Waltz is struggling to make the best of an increasingly ugly situation, and it’s beginning to look like humanity will be far worse off under the control of the omnipotent and all-encompassing AI known as Odysseus than they were under the Human Union. More calculating than the greatest chess master, able to infiltrate and manipulate virtually any system, Odysseus swiftly proves itself to be a cold, calculating, and ultimately ominous entity.

The artefact encountered by the intrepid crew of the Jakob Waltz isn’t without its own mysteries and perils either. Just as Odysseus at first seemed benignly helpful, the Tacra Un proves to be at times disturbingly unconcerned with the well-being and ongoing survival of its unwilling inhabitants.

If you enjoyed the hard science, intrigue, and interstellar action of Star Trek and felt that Skynet wasn’t far-reaching or threatening enough, then Fulcrum of Odysseus is definitely for you! It’s a riveting read and I greatly enjoyed it. Honorable mentions are also in order for the slang spoken by the residents of Tsiolkovskiy Freeport East (very nicely done!) and the introduction of genetically modified and upgraded humans. This is one of those rare series where the second book is even better than the first.

Sound interesting? Fulcrum of Odysseus is available in paperback, ebook, and Kindle Unlimited on Amazon. New to the series? Start with Legacy of Pandora, and check out my review here.

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