JS Best Books of 2016

Let me get this out of the way up front: These are not the best books of the year by any metric other than “what I enjoyed most.” If you’re looking for a great read and you trust my tastes, this post is for you.

I’ve done book recommendations for three years running now, usually before Christmas, but with my Big Move I didn’t have time to post about the previous year’s literary gems until now. Enjoy!

The perfect image to talk about some great books and to put in a quick plug for the online Oscar contest I’m running. Join in, win free books!

1) First up is a book I’ve loved for a long time, but re-read in 2016. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is hard to categorize, but perhaps could be called a “Fictional Memoir.” Transcending the genre of war literature, this novel (or, arguably, collection of stories) is more a treatise on what it means for a story to be true. Highly recommended for lovers of storytelling and its impact on us as people.

2) Next is Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith. Nick is one of my writer buddies, and this is the start to his latest series. For my money, Nick is really hitting his stride as a writer here. This book has a unique hook and it hits hard. Book 2 releases this summer and I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes with this world and these characters.

3) Bun by Brian Silveira and Lisa Nguyen is the bizarre and beautiful brainchild of my cover artist for SUPERPOWERED and PATHOGENS in partnership with his wife. After reading book one, I have to say: Brian, you have been holding back on my covers! The art on these pages are creative, detailed, stunning, and masterful. You can read the book for free online, but I’d highly recommend reaching out for a printed copy.

4) Finally, a book I listened to as I’m gearing up to write my fifth Click Your Poison novel, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Alfred Molina was the narrator and did an incredible job, but that’s not the reason this book made my list. I’ve read/listened to a lot of classics, but this is one of the few that doesn’t dip into “widow dressing” (describing a scene ad nauseam). It’s also the progenitor for all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the restaurant Long John Silver’s, and basically our entire “Talk Like a Pirate” day culture.

Honorable Mentions

I read Best Food Writing 2015 edited by Holly Hughes as part of a book club last year, and there are some fantastic, thought-provoking stories in there. Some of the authors do an amazing job of relating new perspectives on food culture. However, I can’t 100% recommend it, because there were a few stories inside that weren’t quite to my…tastes.

I almost loved Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I think I wanted it to either be funnier or more insightful. Though it’s a short read with a little of both, so feel free to pick it up and judge for yourself. Or grab the audiobook and let Aziz make fun of you for being too lazy to read…

So, what do YOU think? Have you read any of the titles listed? Any suggestions for me?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!


2015 JS Book Recommendations

As I first did last year, it’s time to recommend the best books I’ve read this year. Maybe you’ll like them too. Or, maybe someone on your gift list will.

Turns out, I read a lot of good books in 2015! It wasn’t easy to whittle down the list, but here they are, the five books I absolutely could not put down in 2015. I’ve given a brief explanation why you should read each, but hopefully not enough to spoil anything.

1) I’ll start with a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. If you don’t mind dark and gritty (and if you read my books, I assume you don’t), this book is simply stunning. It’s on the top of my “read again if you ever decide to write a western” list.

2) The next two are books I’ve loved for a long time, but re-read this year, so I’ll lump them together. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Many people read these books in high school, but I’d recommend saving them for (or re-reading later with) an adult’s perspective on the world.

3) While writing SUPERPOWERED, I got into a lot of graphic novels. One that has stuck with me and that I continue to read as issues are released is Saga by by Brian K. Vaughan (Author), Fiona Staples (Illustrator). It would be overly simplistic to call the story Romeo and Juliet set in space, but I think it’s great proof that adding a different spice (and this one is spicy!) can completely change a familiar dish.

4) The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey. Minor spoiler: This book contains sentient zombies. Which, normally, I don’t like. I’d rather see new human perspectives in the zombie apocalypse than I would like to see the ZA itself re-invented. That said, this book has a lot of heart and a lot of creativity, without too much gore. Stuff it in the stocking of the most sensitive zombie fan you know.

5) Rounding out this year’s list in the only Indie book on here (I know, I should be better than that!): Reapers by the Thornton Brothers. What starts off as a clever Lord of the Rings parallel to the Iraq war (our cast is comprised of “black ops” rangers, but the setting is high fantasy) eventually evolves into something much more. I won’t say too much, because there is some massively creative storytelling in here.

Honorable Mentions

First, we have The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I went into this story blind, simply because GdT is one of my favorite filmmakers, and the audiobook is narrated by the delightful Ron Perlman. If you want your own Monet Experience, I’d highly recommend picking up the book and diving in. The opening air of mystery is fantastic. It didn’t make my top reads cut, however, because it’s a cliff-hangar book. None of the story is resolved by the end and I’m assuming you have to read all three to get any closure. To boot, Perlman only narrates the first book. So I’ve started watched the TV show instead of continuing the series.

Next up is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which falls just short of amazing. The book jumps around its timeline, presenting some chapters in a WWII “present” and then going back to the backstory for others. I know this is a popular technique to keep readers hooked by teasing the climax, but I feel like it cheapened the experience here. In fact, if you decide to check out this book, I’d recommend you go through and write down the dates at the front of each chapter, then read the book chronologically. I’m willing to bet you’ll have a brilliant experience with it.

Over the summer, I listened to the audiobook of A Long Time Until Now by Michael Z Williamson. On the cover, it shows a caveman, a centurion, and a modern US soldier standing atop a jeep and fighting off ice age beasts. Nuff said, right? I’m a sucker for a good time travel story. And I wanted to love this one, but there just wasn’t any interpersonal conflict in the novel. Several groups of people were shuffled through time, and they were all just like, “cool, let’s do this.” I needed a bit more.

I was looking forward to The Fold by Peter Clines for a long time. It’s the sister-book to 14, which was one of my favorites of the previous year. The story is still a lot of fun, but the main character’s (minor spoiler) perfect “mimetic memory” is too much of a superpower. I loved the average Joe falls into a crazy world that 14 gave me, but the protagonist of The Fold feels like an AI computer and so the stakes were lowered. I always felt he’d come out on top. Still, this book was worth the read and I’d check out another written in that same universe.

Finally, we have Armada by Ernest Cline. This author is on fire, and he’s delivered another fun book, but not quite to the level of his first, Ready Player One. This book feels just a little bit too inspired by Ender’s Game and the conclusion felt somewhat truncated. That said, it’s a fun, quick read (or a cool listen by narrator Wil Wheaton). Worth it, but not amazing.

So, what do YOU think? Have you read any of the titles listed? Any suggestions for me?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!