The Best Books I Read in 2017

Well… 2017 was a year.

Not that it was all bad. I got a new full-time job that gave me more financial freedom and the work-life balance I had been looking for. I published two novels — the lifelong labor in Notna and Behind the Mask, the latest in Jill Andersen’s saga. And I read some really good books.

As with last year, this list is not of the best books released in 2017, but the best books I read in 2017.

5. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

stalking-jack-the-ripperMurder mysteries are a dime a dozen (says the guy who writes his own), to the point where it’s the twist on the genre that can make or break a book. In the case of Kerri Maniscalco’s debut, Stalking Jack the Ripper, the genre is tossed all the way back to 19th-century London, and we’re introduced to a teenage girl who is studying forensics.

That twist brings with it some societal commentary (impossible not to, given what was expected of women and girls back then). Fortunately, Maniscalco doesn’t preach to us; instead, she takes us on a journey where Audrey Rose uses her wit and impressive intellect to track one of history’s most notorious killers. A sci-fi twist at the end punctuates the thriller nicely, and the historic backdrop is almost a character in an of itself.

Stalking Jack the Ripper is an exciting, intense, and surprisingly emotional tale — one that will likely be pigeonholed as YA because of its teenage protagonist. But this is a fantastic book for readers of (almost) any age, and it sets the stage nicely for future adventures (including Hunting Prince Dracula, which came out this past September).

Stalking Jack the Ripper is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.

4. Beasts of Babylon by E.A. Copen

Beasts of BabylonI’m already a huge fan of E.A. Copen — her Judah Black series is some of the best mystery/urban fantasy I’ve read in recent years, and she proved she can go dark with the short Kiss of Vengeance. But with Beasts of Babylon, Copen merges the traditional western with the horror genre, and the result is her finest work to date.

Anastasia Throne is dead. Only she’s not. She’s also one hell of a gunslinger, and she’s got a tragic past that still clings to her even as she trudges through what now passes for her life. Beasts of Babylon is dripping with tension, the rare horror novel I’ve read that manages to scare without relying on visuals.

Heroes are not as virtuous as they seem, and the villains aren’t quite the monsters we might wish they were. Copen has introduced us to a vibrant, disturbing world, one I can’t wait to revisit. The monsters and the fights are matched only by deep character moments that give Beasts of Babylon more depth than one might expect at first glance.

A true must-read.

Beasts of Babylon is available in paperback and ebook.

3. Starstruck by S.E. Anderson

StarstruckScience Fiction has a problem. It takes itself too damn seriously.

Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with gritty, end-of-the-world, dystopian sci-fi. There’s a place for it. But S.E. Anderson has given us a sci-fi romp where the stakes are high, but laughs are still to be had. Sally Webber has her admittedly dreary life turned upside down, and she finds herself knee-deep in aliens and a life change that proves too good to be true.

Along the way, Sally, Zander, and Blayde set the stage for future adventures. Make no mistake: this is not just a frolicking journey through the cosmos. The stakes are high, the risks are real, and when appropriate, the violence is quite bloody. The humor is not here to detract from the overall narrative; instead, Anderson uses that humor to defuse the tension, to remind us that above all, science fiction should be fun.

And fun Starstruck is. The pages fly by, not just because of Sally, because of Anderson’s deft prose, and because of the action, but because all of those elements combine to create one of the most engrossing, most complete books I’ve ever read in the genre. If you’re a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan, or you’re into Guardians of the Galaxy, this book might just be for you.

Starstruck is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.

2. Grave Dealings by R.R. Virdi

Grave DealingsThe 2016 list should’ve made it clear how much I enjoy R.R. Virdi’s writing. Witty, intense, consuming… and the Vincent Graves books are perhaps the best example of his grip on the craft. Grave Dealings, the third installment in the series, takes what made the first two entries great and builds on it.

No, literally — Grave Dealings is twice the size of the first two installments. Graves has yet another murder to solve, only this time, he’s faced with distractions that threaten his safety and sanity… he faces uncomfortable truths he hadn’t confronted in the first two books… and for the first time, the carrot of potential long-term answers are dangled in front of him.

You don’t have to read Dangerous Ways in order to follow along with Vincent Graves, but having done so makes reading Dealings more satisfying. Virdi has not only crafted memorable, easy-to-root-for characters, but we’re watching him construct and round out a vibrant world that’s almost a character on its own. If you’re an urban fantasy reader, and R.R. Virdi’s not on your shelf, you’re missing out.

Grave Dealings is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.

1. Floor 21: Judgement by Jason Luthor

Floor 21 JudgementHorror doesn’t get better than this.

Jason Luthor’s brand of horror — on full display again in his third novel, Floor 21: Judgement — doesn’t rely on jump-scares or moments that make you practically soil yourself in fear. Rather, he prefers to toss you into a room where the tension pushes down on your shoulders, the shadows are always just out of the corner of your eye, and the walls always seem like they’re closing in.

There is no rest from the tension in Judgement, the end of the trilogy that also leaves plenty of bread crumbs for future installments. One of Luthor’s strengths is developing a vibrant, all-encompassing world — all housed within one building. The characters continue to grow and develop; not just Jackie, but supporting characters who were but bit players in previous installments.

The simple truth is this: Floor 21: Judgement is the best book I read in 2017, and if you’re new to Luthor’s work, then I suggest you devour all three installments. Few indie authors can weave a tale as expertly as Luthor, with a delicate balance of action, character, and heart. Judgement has all of it in spades.

Floor 21: Judgement is available on Kindle.

Honorable Mention: The Seekers by Cait Ashwood, Black Fall by Andrew Mayne, Alienation by S.E. Anderson, Playing With Fire by E.A. Copen, Steele-Faced by Alex P. Berg, The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig, Finding Home Again by Mary Head

Why I Don’t Shy Away From Politics

I know a lot of authors keep their political opinions to themselves. I understand why they do this, and I do not begrudge them that choice. However, as those of you who follow me on Twitter (or hell, even those of you who actually read Behind the Badge) can tell, I’m not one of those writers.

But why?

Well… first of all, I’m not just a writer. I’m a fully-formed person with a wide variety of interests, passions, and opinions (this is the same reason every Sunday from February through November, my Twitter feed is one big ball of #NASCAR). And while I’m sure I have some followers who are only following J.D. Cunegan, the author, I’d imagine far more are following Jeff Cunningham, the person.

And part of that involves me having political opinions. Ones that need voicing, especially given the tumultuous and uncertain times in which we find ourselves (I mean, honestly, who saw that guy as president coming? I mean, other than The Simpsons). This isn’t just a case of “Oh, the president is from the other party.” I’ve already lived through three Republican presidents; that’s not really anything new.

But this guy is such a unique blend of ideologue, incompetence, and hatred that I can’t help but speak out. To sit back in silence… I can’t fathom that. Not with all of the existential threats the Crusty Cheeto represents. This isn’t just a case of disagreeing with the other side; this is the fact that the other side represents a clear and present danger to everything we claim to hold dear about this country.

I mean, seriously… Russia? The 1980s called to remind everyone the Cold War’s over.

Not only that, but there are policy battles going on that affect me — not just me as a whole, but me as a self-published author specifically. The tax plan currently being bandied about has a lot of really bad shit in it, especially for the self-employed (which self-published authors are, at least in the IRS’ eyes).

Oh, and net neutrality? I use the Internet to publish and sell my work. I use social media to promote said work. If the Internet gets sold in tiers or any of the other possibilities, it could affect my bottom line, as well as the bottom line of every other self- and independently-published author.

Not to mention… I feel like, if you read my books, you already have an idea of where I stand politically. And I don’t just mean Behind the Badge (which was far more overt than my fiction normally gets); the fact that I take great pains in making sure my fiction is racially and sexually diverse should tip readers off where I stand on the political spectrum.

So if you read my work, but get mad if I’m mean to Trump on Twitter… are you really paying attention? Besides, every time someone argues that I’m losing readers when I make a political post… the people who would get that upset over my political opinions aren’t people I want reading my work in the first place.

As for Behind the Badge… I wrote that book because a) racially-motivated police brutality is as relevant a political topic as we have today, and b) it was important for me to examine how Jill would react to such a case (and for the record, she responded exactly as I thought she would… except for the end of the book).

Part of the reason I write these books is the fact that I look at the world around me and it’s not what I was told it is growing up. Peace and justice and equality and all that are not realities, so in some ways, I find myself turning to fiction — genre fiction, specifically — to fill the gap. The real world isn’t what it’s supposed to be, but maybe by crafting Jill’s world, I can fulfill that promise in my own little way.

Real-world heroes disappoint. Hopefully, my heroes don’t.

Like I said, I get why some writers keep their yaps shut when it comes to politics. It’s not that different than the old Michael Jordan quote about how “Republicans buy sneakers too.” But I feel like I’d be doing my readers, my fans, a disservice if I didn’t let them see the complete me. And if my political views turn them away… well, no real loss, to be perfectly honest.

Notna is now available! Get your copy: Paperback | Amazon | Universal ebook Link (Nook, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Scribd, 24 Symbols, Indigo, Angus & Robinson)

Behind the Mask is now available! Get your copy: Kindle | Paperback | Universal ebook Link(Nook, Kobo, Apple iBooks, 24 Symbols, Indigo, Angus & Robinson)

About J.D. Cunegan

J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

What’s Coming Up Next

The end of 2017 has been quite the whirlwind, given the release of both Notna and Behind the Mask. But with the Jill Andersen series at a bit of a crossroads four books in, and my first standalone book now out, what does the future hold?

Funny you should ask…

Okay, you didn’t ask. I asked for you. Same thing.

(Speaking of Notna… check out this fantastic review and interview with me over at Readcommendations. And if you haven’t read S.E. Anderson’s Starstruck and Alienation yet… well, what better time than the holidays?)

As we speak, I’m in the middle of writing Betrayed, which will be book five in the Jill Andersen series. It was my NaNoWrioMo project this year, and again I hit the 50,000-word mark, but I’m roughly midway through the first draft. With any luck, Betrayed will be out come spring 2018.

Notna was always meant to be a standalone: no sequel, no series. I am, however, beginning to plan out an anthology of sorts, tentatively titled Legends of the Gem. Similar to how the 1990s comic book Tales of the Witchblade detailed that mystical gauntlet’s history, this series of short stories will do the same for the Gem of Notna. There’s no release date on this one just yet, but if I can have it out by the end of 2018…

Having established, in passing, that Notna and Bounty inhabit the same fictional universe, I’ve been debating with myself as to whether or not Jill’s world should eventually be one with monsters and demons — you know, on top of the conspiracies and the science fiction, etc. But that’s not what the series has been, and I’m not sure how that big a shift would go over.

Once I’m finished writing Betrayed, I’m gonna finally tackle The Keeper. A paranormal thriller that tackles issues of life, death, and rebirth, this is another project I’ve had bouncing around in my head for the better part of a decade. I finally want to knock out a first draft and see what I’ve got from there.

I also have a spy thriller in the planning stages called The Agency. It’s got very much an Alias feel to it (Jennifer Garner’s Alias, not the Marvel Comics series of the same name), and I’m anxious to see what I can do in the genre.

Neither The Keeper nor The Agency have a timetable for release yet.

As a result, I’m thinking of doing a spinoff series. One that builds on the more fantastical elements of the Jill Andersen books, but with more of an urban fantasy twist. I haven’t decided the overall plot or the characters or any of that yet, but it’s something I’m excited to tackle — mostly because it’s gonna be a challenge.

2018 promises to be a lot of fun, and I hope you’ll join me for the ride!

Notna is now available! Get your copy: Paperback | Amazon | Universal ebook Link (Nook, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Scribd, 24 Symbols, Indigo, Angus & Robinson)

Behind the Mask is now available! Get your copy: Kindle | Paperback | Universal ebook Link (Nook, Kobo, Apple iBooks, 24 Symbols, Indigo, Angus & Robinson)

About J.D. Cunegan

J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Notna + Interview with J.D. Cunegan

Readcommendations

One of my favorite crime series is Bounty, the adventures crime-solving detective Jill Andersen who moonlights as a vigilante with cybernetic enhancements. So when the author announced he was writing a fantasy novel, I was incredibly excited. Notna is everything I wanted, and more. Action packed and exciting – it’s like Indiana Jones and Supernatural had a baby, only that baby decided the world should end.

Summary36384932

History’s most peaceful race created one of its deadliest weapons. 

Forged in the Living Flame by a long-extinct alien race, The Gem of Notna is the stuff of legends, on par with Pandora’s Box or the Holy Grail. But once archaeologist Dr. Jack Corbett stumbled upon the crystal deep in the Amazon, he triggered a whirlwind of events and found himself neck-deep in a centuries-old holy war. The Divine and the Underworld have been locked in a virtual stalemate for the past three hundred…

View original post 1,764 more words

RELEASE DAY: Behind the Mask

TODAY IS THE DAY!

Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask, the fourth installment in the Jill Andersen series, is now out! This entry promises to change everything going forward, and after the events of Behind the Badge, things are about to get even more intense.

About Behind the Mask

It’s hard to be a hero when everyone’s out to get you.

Once upon a time, Jill Andersen considered herself a hero. Not just because of the badge handed to her by the city of Baltimore and the pledge she once made to protect and serve. Her secret life, as the vigilante Bounty, had allowed Jill to protect her native Baltimore in ways her day job never could.

But all that has gone to hell now. One case pushed Jill past her limits, to the point where she made choices she can’t take back. As a result, the entire city is on the lookout for her. Allies can no longer be counted on. People who were once in her corner might very well be trying to bring her down… to say nothing of those she has crossed along the way.

But that is the least of Jill’s problems. A shadowy figure emerges among the chaos, and his link to Jill’s past has the potential to be her ultimate undoing. Jill thought every link to Project Fusion has been settled once she solved Dr. Trent Roberts’ murder almost one year ago, but if she’s not careful, her past might just kill her.

Behind the Mask, the gripping, hard-hitting fourth novel in the Jill Andersen mystery series (Bounty, Blood Ties, Behind the Badge), gives readers yet another taste of author J.D. Cunegan’s comic book-inspired brand of fast-paced prose, with chapters that fly by and plot twists that will leave readers guessing and waiting for more.

About J.D. Cunegan

J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Pick up Behind the Mask today in the following formats: Paperback | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Indigo | Angus & Robertson

Check out the rest of the Jill Andersen Series.