The Best Books I Read in 2019

There’s no sugarcoating it: 2019 was rough.

I went another year without publishing a full-length novel, my writing was sporadic at best, and I had a hard time finding the time, energy, or focus to read. I wanted to read 40 books in 2019, but couldn’t even get to half that number. But, as always, I read my share of books I fell in love with.

NOTE: These are not necessarily the best books that came out in 2019, just the best ones I read this year.

5. Slayer by Kiersten White

Slayer

Set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this entry is heavy on the nostalgia — which admittedly colors much of my love for this book. Taking place after the proverbial “season 8” that unfolded in the form of Dark Horse Comics, Slayer tells of a new Chosen One, when there shouldn’t have been a Chosen One, and all that entails.

Don’t expect any cameos from our beloved Sunnydale folks (or even the Los Angeles crew), but the lore is there, the nostalgia is real, and the characters are fleshed out well enough that returning to the Buffyverse feels like slipping on one’s favorite pair of shoes.

You know the kind: they’re a bit frayed, but as comfortable as ever.

Slayer is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audiobook.

4. Take Off Your Pants! by Libbie Hawker

Take Off Your PantsI know, it’s weird to have a book on writing on this list — especially since by and large, I’m not a fan of books on writing. There are a few exceptions, but I often find these books incredibly boring or intimidating to the point where I don’t want to write anymore.

But this book is different. Don’t let the head-grabbing title or cover fool you; there is nothing naughty about this book. Instead, you’ll find a method of outlining palatable for the pantsers among us, an outlining method that breaks down the narrative in such a way that the story (almost) writes itself.

This book helped me finish Betrayal — and I’ve used its teachings to map out some future projects as well. If you’re a writer — especially one struggling with their work — you want this book on your shelf.

Take Off Your Pants! is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

3. Star Shepherd by R.R. Virdi

Star ShepherdA love letter to Firefly and Cowboy Bebop, R.R. Virdi’s first foray into the world of sci-fi and the space western is a treat. At its heart, Star Shepherd is very much like those two. Ragtag ship, lonesome good guy captain who’s maybe not as good as good guys go. Big-time, overbearing government and factions of resistance.

That familiarity, which could be a liability for others, is a warm blanket in R.R. Virdi’s capable hands, aided by memorable side characters and a willingness to (occasionally) buck expectations.

Well-written, tension-filled, and just fast-paced enough to be exciting without leaving the reader wondering what’s going on, Star Shepherd shows Virdi to be a more versatile writer than some might think, and his love for the genre is clear throughout.

Star Shepherd is available in paperback and Kindle.

2. Starbound by S.E. Anderson

StarboundS.E. Anderson’s sci-fi opus is as funny as it is epic, and the latest installment — while being a bit of a head-scratcher at times — is every bit as action-packed and fast-paced and hilarious as the ones that came before. Anderson’s latest has all of the same elements that made the previous four installments so great: heart and humor.

The two go hand-in-hand, and again, I mention how refreshing it is to see a sci-fi series that doesn’t take itself so damn seriously. Anderson’s writing prowess is again on full display, even as she weaves through the first half of the book in such a way that you might feel like you’ve missed something. But that’s by design and the beauty is, her characters feel the same way.

Starbound is excellent, every bit the equal of its predecessors, and you need it in your library.

Starbound is available in paperback and Kindle.

1. Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

WanderersChuck Wendig is quickly becoming one of those authors whose work I will devour, no matter what, and Wanderers may well be the crowning achievement of his career. This book is a little bit of everything, with very much a throw-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink quality to the story — but it works. Wendig has found a way to herd the unruly plot bunnies, and the result in a dramatic, heart-pounding, stomach-churning opus.

This is part sci-fi thriller, part dystopian epic, part contagion film, part commentary on modern political fuckery, part romance, part tripping-on-acid coming of age thing… Wanderers is all of these things and more. Wanderers may very well be Wendig’s defining work, but aside from that, it is an all-encompassing, everywhere-at-once, engrossing read. It’s the sort of book that needs to be on everyone’s shelf, regardless of taste or genre preference.

This is easily the best book I’ve read in quite so time.

Wanderers is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

Honorable Mention: Dyson’s Angel by Otto Linke, In the Lurch by Beth Martin, Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Unclean Spirits by Chuck Wendig, Zer0es by Chuck Wendig.

Book Reviews: Part XII

Well, it’s been entirely too long since I last did these, so how about another round of book reviews, hm? Just in time for you to get that last-minute gift for the book lover in your life. I got three really great reads in this edition, so let’s get to it.

Star Shepherd: Shepherd of Light by R.R. Virdi

Star ShepherdFans of Firefly and Cowboy Bebop would do well to read Star Shepherd.

At its heart, Star Shepherd is very much like those two. Ragtag ship, lonesome good guy captain who’s maybe not as good as good guys go. Big-time, overbearing government and factions of resistance. That familiarity, which could be a liability for others, is a warm blanket in R.R. Virdi’s capable hands, aided by memorable side characters and a willingness to (occasionally) buck expectations.

Well-written, tension-filled, and just fast-paced enough to be exciting without leaving the reader wondering what’s going on, Star Shepherd shows Virdi to be a more versatile writer than some might think, and his love for the genre is clear throughout.

That love is also infectious. The ending was a bit open-ended for my tastes (perhaps a sequel is eventually in the offing?), but everything good about this subgenre of sci-fi is on display in Star Shepherd, and the result is a fantastic, engrossing read.

Rating: *****

Buy Star Shepherd on Amazon

 

Starbound by S.E. Anderson

StarboundStarbound pissed me off.

In a good way.

If you read Celestial — and if you didn’t, how are you reading Starbound, the fifth in this series? — you’ll know why. Still, S.E. Anderson’s latest has all of the same elements that made the previous four installments so great: heart and humor.

The two go hand-in-hand, and again, I mention how refreshing it is to see a sci-fi series that doesn’t take itself so damn seriously. Anderson’s writing prowess is again on full display, even as she weaves through the first half of the book in such a way that you might feel like you’ve missed something. But that’s by design and the beauty is, her characters feel the same way.

The latter portion of the book does rely on a trope that I’m not a fan of (not giving anything away here), but the twist Anderson puts on it is inventive enough, and I’m still emotionally invested enough in Sally and others that it didn’t bother me as much as it normally would. But be warned: this book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger — though with this being a series and at least one more installment on the horizon, that’s not surprising.

So much of what came before in the first four books of this series come to a head in Starbound, giving it a satisfying dimension of closure — despite this not being the finale (and I say this knowing full well the next book might negate some of what’s in this book; to this point, nothing surprises me).

But the long and short of it is this: Starbound is excellent, every bit the equal of its predecessors, and you need it in your library. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself contacting the author to jokingly chide her for how rude this all is.

Rating: *****

Buy Starbound on Amazon

 

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

WanderersThere’s no categorizing this book — except to say, it’s a bit of everything.

No, seriously. This is part sci-fi thriller, part dystopian epic, part contagion film, part commentary on modern political fuckery, part romance, part tripping-on-acid coming of age thing… Wanderers is all of these things and more. Chuck Wendig clearly takes a throw-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach to the story, and it works.

It shouldn’t work, but it does.

This is easily the best book I’ve read in quite so time. Don’t let the size fool you; the pages fly by, largely because Wendig has a way with the written word I’ve not encountered in other writers, and partly because even when he’s slowing down to explain things to us, we’re still being hurdled along this amusement park ride with the “Out of Order” sign hanging on by one nail.

There are plenty of moments where this book is uncomfortable to read (I found chapter 50 in particular to be possibly triggering for some, and thus feel the need to say as such). Sometimes, that discomfort comes from just how plausible some of this is, and how closely in some ways the world of Wanderers mirrors our own. But that discomfort is part of the experience, and without it, this would not be the grand opus it is.

Wanderers may very well be Wendig’s defining work, but aside from that, it is an all-encompassing, everywhere-at-once, engrossing read. It’s the sort of book that needs to be on everyone’s shelf, regardless of taste or genre preference.

I hesitate to use the phrase “modern-day classic,” but that’s exactly what Wanderers is.

Rating: *****

Buy Wanderers on Amazon