The Best Books I Read in 2020

Well, 2020 was… a year.

We all know the dumpster fire the last 366 days have been, and we know the road ahead heading into 2021 will be rocky. But there are signs for optimism, and there are even a few things from 2020 on which I can look back fondly — for instance, I published Betrayal (Jill Andersen #5) and got the ball rolling on The Art of Reading, which will be out on Jan. 12.

I also read a lot of really good books in 2020 — and that’s not including two books I’m currently in the process of reading, but won’t finish before the giant ball drops at Times Square.

NOTE: These are not necessarily the best books that came out in 2020, just the best ones I read this year.

5. Earthstuck by S.E. Anderson

Six books in, S.E. Anderson’s Starstruck series is as funny and action-packed as ever. And yet Anderson still manages to bring something new to each installment, something that adds a new dimension to the series without negating what came before. The result is a world that is as vibrant as Sally, Zander, and Blayde — a world that is, in many ways, a character itself.

Which is impressive, given how many worlds they visit.

Earthstuck is no different, even though there’s a sizeable chunk that takes place decidedly not on Earth. A murder mystery element is the shiny new toy on the sixth installment in the series, which has a decided weight to it after the events of Starbound. But that new weight doesn’t rob Anderson’s writing of its wit or its light, airy quality, and this entry holds up just as well as the five that came before it.

There are weighty questions this time around, far weightier than before. But Sally is still Sally, a key distinction even as she and those around her are irrevocably changed. Running gags lead to plot twists, action sequences are familiar yet new, and as is usually the case in stories like this, moments of calm are short-lived and portend even worse things to come.

But this book will still make you laugh. You still find yourself looking forward to the next journey, even as the companions are who they’ve always been. Earthstuck is very much the result of the five books that came before it, and it hints of much, much more to come, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it can’t stand on its own, because it absolutely can.

Earthstuck is available in paperback and ebook.

4. Lightning Wears a Red Cape by Errick Nunnally

With books like Lightning Wears a Red Cape, it’s easy to see why the superhero genre is one of the book market’s fastest-growing subsets. Errick Nunnally simultaneously manages to write a love letter to the genre, while also spinning a fast-paced, intense, intriguing tale. I’m not usually one to re-read books (who has the time?), but I’ll probably be giving Lightning another read, both because of how good it is and to pick up on details I probably missed along the way.

Because this book is dense. The good kind, that gives the material on the page depth without suffocating the reader. This book has an ensemble cast in the truest sense of the term; I’m hard-pressed to even pick out a protagonist, which works here where it might not in other books (even as I notice I’m no longer alone in writing cops who are also superheroes).

Superheroes in prose fiction can be tricky to pull off, since prose doesn’t have the visual cues available to TV, movies, and graphic novels. But Nunnally is up to the task, writing action-packed fight scenes and ensuring each characters’ powers practically leap off the page. That’s not easy to do, but he has accomplished that and more with Lightning.

This book is a worthy addition to the superhero genre, and the sort of book anyone who likes fast-paced, action-packed stories would do well to have on their shelf.

Lightning Wears a Red Cape is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.

3. Destroyed by Madeline Dyer

I suppose with a title like Destroyed, an unhappy ending was inevitable.

And that’s all I’ll say about the ending, because to spoil the ending would be to deprive you of the satisfying yet heart-wrenching conclusion to one of the best, most intense, most well-written dystopian series I’ve read. Madeline Dyer is at her best in Destroyed, the fourth and final installment in the Seven Sarr series. The result is a fast-paced, action-packed, intellectually-fraught read where neither the characters nor the reader can relax and take a breath.

The pacing issues from previous installments are a thing of the past. Seven is at her strongest now, but she’s also stretched beyond her limits, she constantly questions herself… as Chosen One tales go, I feel like this series does a great job of balancing the certainty of action with the uncertainty of being human.

Being “the Chosen One” is a heady responsibility, one I feel most in this genre forget. Dyer makes sure her protagonist never feels relief from the weight that responsibility places on her. And with such a worthy antagonist in Raleigh, who is at his most devious (if not his most violent), and this is the satisfying build-up and payoff a series finale should be.

I did have to read the ending twice, because I’m so conditioned to expect a zig that any zag, of any degree, hits at first with a sense of “…Huh?” But it fits perfectly with Destroyed, and it fits perfectly with the series as a whole. The TV show Angel‘s finale was controversial in some circles because of how different it was, but it fit the overall philosophy of the show.

Such is also the case with Destroyed.

Dyer has become an author whose work I will support no matter what genre she tackles, and given how deft she showed her skills in Destroyed, I eagerly await her next narrative venture.

Destroyed is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.

2. What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner

In a lot of ways, this book is a much-needed balm for the soul of anyone who’s had to endure the past four years of nonsense in America. Rather and Kirschner paint the picture of how America should be, how the country could best live the ideals in which it professes to represent and believe — but we have seen otherwise far too many times over the past decade or so.

Rather, once one of America’s most reverent and trusted voices in journalism as a reporter and anchor for CBS News, has seen America at its best and at its worst over his nearly nine decades, and he brings that perspective and those experiences to every page of this collection of essays. It’s not quite prose and idealism on par with Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing or The Newsroom, but it’s impossible to read this book and not feel just a little bit better about America.

This book is non-partisan, but if it reads as a screed from the left — well, that says far more about the state of the American political right than anything. If America is going to find its way back to being what it can be, then What Unites Us provides a pretty solid blueprint.

And as someone who grew up on Rather’s reporting, I’m grateful we still have his voice.

What Unites Us is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

1. Aix Marks the Spot by S.E. Anderson

Already a massive fan of S.E. Anderson’s work (both as an author and a cover artist), I eagerly awaited Aix Marks the Spot, so much so that I didn’t even really bother reading the blurb. Anderson’s one of my read-no-matter-what authors, so I dove into this one without much in the way of preconceived notions.

Well… not only was this book Anderson’s finest work yet, it was emotional and charming and funny and heartfelt in ways I didn’t know I needed. While I don’t share much in common with most of the characters in Aix, the drama and the heart behind all of it is evident on every page, and the result is one of the most visceral and emotionally satisfying books I’ve read in a long, long time.

While Aix is mostly charming and light — this is, more than anything, a love letter to Provence, France — there is a dark undercurrent to it, one Jamie hints at throughout before the proverbial chips are finally laid bare near the conclusion. They inform Jamie’s every thought and feeling throughout, even if only in hindsight, and they ground Aix in far more depth than I anticipated.

Anderson is at her best here as she takes readers on a tour of southern France. Her prose is luminary and evocative, and it’s easy to get so lost in these pages… it’s hard for me to get so sucked into a book I finish half the thing in one sitting (that’s a me issue, not the books I read), but Aix sucked me in unlike anything I’ve read in years. I mostly find myself drawn to monsters and magic and the end of the world, but this quirky, charming coming-of-age story is going to have a permanent place on my shelf.

This book has heart in spades, and it is equal parts charming and adorable and funny (this is S.E. Anderson, after all) and, perhaps most importantly, emotionally heavy. I don’t mean that in the utterly depressing sense, but in the sense that you feel Jamie’s plight. You feel what she’s been through, what those around her have been through, and how that informs every single page.

You will laugh. You will cry (I know I did). You will scream at certain characters in exasperation and you will wish you could hug them when they shatter. Aix is S.E. Anderson at her absolute best, even though it is night and day from anything else she’s written before. There’s even a nice plot twist.

I’m hard-pressed to think any other book I read this year will be so engrossing, so emotional, and so fulfilling. I don’t care if this is your cup of tea or not; you need Aix Marks the Spot on your shelf or your e-reader.

Aix Marks the Spot is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

Honorable Mention: A Superhero’s Duty by Patricia Gilliam, Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis, Burden of Solace by Richard L. Wright, Someday I’ll be Redeemed by Kelly Blanchard, Order of the Lily by Cait Ashwood, Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American by Andrew L. Seidel, Storykiller by Kelly Thompson

Find Me on Smashwords’ End-of-Year Sale

Starting today, all of my work is on sale at Smashwords, 50 percent off now through Jan. 1, 2021!

Bounty, book one in the Jill Andersen series, will be free on the site for the duration of the sale, and the rest of my catalogue will be half-price during that same timeframe. That means Blood Ties, Jill Andersen #2, will be just 99 cents — as will the short story collection Legends of the Gem.

The rest of my works — Behind the Badge, Behind the Mask, Betrayal and Notna — will be $1.49.

Don’t miss out on this sale! Whether you’re looking to stock up on new reads for yourself or you’re trying to find something for the book lover in your life, Smashwords is the place to be going into the New Year.

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 and art, 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.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Upcoming Projects Galore!

Creatively, 2020 wasn’t a total loss for me. I published Betrayal, the fifth book in the Jill Andersen series, and I’ve got two short stories in consideration for inclusion in various anthologies. But more than that, I’ve got a road map for some other projects, a snapshot–so to speak–of what my creative world is going to look like over the next two years.

So for better or worse, consider the below passages to be official announcements of future works.

The Art of Reading: How Reading Can Help You Become a Better, More Productive Writer
I’ve argued before how important I think it is for writers to also be voracious readers–I’ve written blog posts and recorded YouTube videos about it–but now the topic will be the subject for my first (and probably only) non-fiction book. The Art of Reading will examine the ways in which reading can help writers in their craft, from inspiration and motivation to genre conventions to the unique and specific ways reading fiction and non-fiction can help a writer’s productivity and quality of work.

The Art of Reading will release in January 2021.

Operation: Hellion series
Several months ago, there was an attack on our nation’s capital.

The mad Underworld king, Seraphus, summoned a demon from under the Earth and watched as the creature rained death and destruction on Washington, DC–even tearing through the Capitol and killing three members of Congress. A small group of unknown heroes defeated the creature and eventually saved the world, but the damage had already been done. A message had already been delivered: Monsters were real and America wasn’t ready.

Newly-elected President Amanda Crawford, in conjunction with her predecessor and disgraced former Army scientist Dr. Sebastian Lo, has an idea for how to deal with the growing supernatural threat: a clandestine task force called Operation: Hellion. Dr. Lo supplies the technology, while President Crawford’s various contacts have allowed her to recruit some of the world’s sharpest supernatural minds and strongest demon fighters.

Borrowing from both Notna and the Jill Andersen series, the Operation: Hellion series will act as a cross between The West Wing and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Operation: Hellion series will debut in late 2021, with the first book, Land of the Free.

Not the final cover.

Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries
Summer Rhoades kills people for a living.

Except when she doesn’t. Which usually isn’t a problem, unless she promises she will and then doesn’t follow through. Assassins command top dollar, so to take a job and not follow through with it is almost unheard of. But Summer’s target is not who her employer told her, and Summer makes a judgment call.

Which is fine and dandy, until her employer comes after her.

So now Summer is on the run, during the time of year she refuses to work. Several of her former colleagues (if you can call them that) are after her, but one assassin in particular is especially eager to have Summer in the crosshairs.

Summer has 30 days to survive the price on her head. Where she goes from there…even she doesn’t know.

Some of you may recognize this as my 2020 NaNoWriMo project–the one I’ve already knocked out 73,000 words on…only to discover I’m not even halfway through the story yet. Chances are, Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries will be broken up into a trilogy–the sort where I write the entire thing before publishing any of it.

The Summertime trilogy is currently set to release in the summer of 2021.

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 and art, 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.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Introducing the J.D. Cunegan YouTube Channel!

You asked for it (okay, you didn’t, but still!)…

As of today, I now have a YouTube channel! The official J.D. Cunegan YouTube channel will feature several different types of videos, including — but not limited to — readings from my various works, video essays on writing and pop culture, book reviews, and more.

The first video on my channel will be a chapter reading from my urban fantasy novel Notna.

Expect at least one post a week.

So check out the first video, and if you like what you see, click the Like button and subscribe so you can be notified whenever I post a new video.

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 and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Join Me on the Fantasy/Sci-Fi Focus End-of-Summer Event

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On Friday, Aug. 28, I will be a participant in the Facebook group Fantasy/Sci-Fi Focus end-of-summer event, where several authors will be in the group reading from their published works, hosting Q-and-A’s, and interacting with readers.

I’m scheduled to go live at 8 p.m. EST.

Join the group here.

 

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 and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

NEWS: My Books Now Available on Smashwords!

HAMPTON, Va., Aug. 14, 2020 — My six novels — Bounty, Blood Ties, Behind the Badge, Behind the Mask, Betrayal, and Notna — as well as the short story collection Legends of the Gem are now available for digital purchase through Smashwords.Bounty Final

Smashwords users can now buy my books directly on that platform, for the same price as on other outlets. That means Bounty remains just 99 cents, with Blood Ties and Legends of the Gem each coming in at $1.99.

All other books are currently $2.99.

With the new channel, all of my books are currently available for purchase on Amazon (Kindle and paperback), BN.com (Nook and paperback), Kobo, Apple iBooks, Scribd, Smashwords, 24 Symbols, Baker & Taylor, and Vivlio. All future books will also be available on all these platforms.

Click here to view my work and my profile on Smashwords.

Readers can also purchase signed paperbacks directly from me.

 

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 and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

Book Reviews: Part XIII

Four books to review in this installment, including a pair of books from personal favorites, a fantasy/sci-fi hybrid, and a new superhero entry that’s so damn readable.

Destroyed by Madeline Dyer

DestroyedI suppose with a title like Destroyed, an unhappy ending was inevitable.

And that’s all I’ll say about the ending, because to spoil the ending would be to deprive you of the satisfying yet heart-wrenching conclusion to one of the best, most intense, most well-written dystopian series I’ve read. Madeline Dyer is at her best in Destroyed, the fourth and final installment in the Seven Sarr series. The result is a fast-paced, action-packed, intellectually-fraught read where neither the characters nor the reader can relax and take a breath.

The pacing issues from previous installments are a thing of the past. Seven is at her strongest now, but she’s also stretched beyond her limits, she constantly questions herself… as Chosen One tales go, I feel like this series does a great job of balancing the certainty of action with the uncertainty of being human.

Being the Chosen One is a heady responsibility, one I feel most in this genre forget. Dyer makes sure her protagonist never feels relief from the weight that responsibility places on her. And with such a worthy antagonist in Raleigh, who is at his most devious (if not his most violent), and this is the satisfying build-up and payoff a series finale should be.

I did have to read the ending twice, because I’m so conditioned to expect a zig that any zag, of any degree, hits at first with a sense of “…Huh?” But it fits perfectly with Destroyed, and it fits perfectly with the series as a whole. The TV show Angel‘s finale was controversial in some circles because of how different it was, but it fit the overall philosophy of the show.

Such is also the case with Destroyed.

Dyer has become an author whose work I will support no matter what genre she tackles, and given how deft she showed her skills in Destroyed, I eagerly await her next narrative venture. If YA dystopias are your thing, and the Untamed series isn’t on your shelf, then you are seriously missing out.

Rating: *****

Buy Destroyed on Amazon

 

Order of the Lily by Cait Ashwood

Order of the LilyIf The Seekers was a coming-of-age tale, then its follow-up, Order of the Lily, is all about what it means to be of age — and the ugliness and beauty within. Whereas Audrey faced metaphorical adolescence in the first book, the second book is where she, in a sense, reaches adulthood, stepping up to make difficult decisions.

For much of the book, those decisions are the typical sort for dystopian fiction. There’s a coordinated rescue, uneasy alliances, and Audrey finally being honest with herself about who she loves. All this while she’s dealing with being a mother of twins and still handling the pressure of being what amounts to this timeline’s Chosen One.

But then there’s the end… and an impossible choice that goes far beyond genre convention of “will they/won’t they?” and “who will the heroine be with?”

Again, Cait Ashwood carries a deft pen. Her prose is simultaneously easy to read and powerful; so many in this genre go so overboard with the prose that reading becomes a chore, because they spend so much on the prose that they forget what really matters. But Ashwood continues to keep the characters, their feelings and thoughts and motivations, at the forefront. Epic does not have to mean hard to read, and Order of the Lily is a perfect example of that.

Order of the Lily is every bit a worthy follow-up to The Seekers, and one would be hard-pressed to finish this one and not immediately clamor for the next installment. Dystopia and fantasy readers alike need this series.

Rating: ****

Buy Order of the Lily on Amazon

 

Someday I’ll Be Redeemed by Kelly Blanchard

Someday I'll Be RedeemedI’ll readily admit that I’m not as familiar with high fantasy as some others, so I don’t know how frequently the genre is married with others, but I’m engrossed by the way Kelly Blanchard has married high fantasy with science fiction in her novel Someday I’ll Be Redeemed, the first installment in the Chronicles of Lorrek.

The sci-fi angle isn’t immediately apparent — much of the open is establishing the typical fantasy trappings: kingdoms occasionally at odds with each other, royalty and its relatives in various stages of trouble, magic, etc. But as Blanchard slowly introduces the sci-fi elements, she changes not only the world these characters inhabit, but the characters themselves.

The changes are subtle, easy to miss at first, but just past the midway point, the tenor of the book changes — and without spoiling anything, the shift — while jarring — sucks in the reader. The pages really fly by at that point, and watching all the chess pieces move in both predictable and unexpected ways is a joy.

There are unanswered questions, but considering there are eight books to follow in the series, that’s to be expected. A small amount of patience is in order for just that reason, but the way Blanchard marries two genres together — to say nothing of the multi-layered protagonist at the heart of it all in Lorrek — makes me confident the wait will be worth it.

Someday I’ll Be Redeemed lays the foundation for what promises to be a great series, and while it’s neither truly high fantasy nor sci-fi, it’s a fascinating blending of the two, and fans of both will find plenty to enjoy here.

Rating: *****

Buy Someday I’ll Be Redeemed on Amazon (available in three-book box set)

 

Burden of Solace by Richard L. Wright

Burden of SolaceWith Burden of Solace, Richard L. Wright takes comic book-style superheroes from the panels to prose, and in the process, he gives the genre something it often lacks: a protagonist that doesn’t default to punching things.

The result? An engrossing, refreshing take on the genre.

My only qualm with this book was the villain; specifically, for a man with such grandiose plans (and they were grandiose; I wish they had been fleshed out more), he was too fixated on being a sexual predator toward Cassie, the protagonist. It’s an overdone trope that extends beyond the superhero genre — the threat of sexual violence against a female character — and I feel it merits discussion, should any potential readers be triggered by that sort of thing.

The rest of Burden of Solace is a tremendous read. Cassie is an easy protagonist to root for, in large part because Wright gets us to care about her before she becomes what she becomes. Along the way, Wright also introduces us to Guardian 175 — not only giving us a peak at the legacy-style superhero we often see from the likes of Superman, but also doing a good bit of worldbuilding.

Granted, politicians meddling in the affairs of superheroes is nothing new; even the bigwigs at Marvel and DC do it. But Wright handles it in such a way that feels grounded in reality, and the result is a superhero story that still feels grounded. No matter how big the action gets, we’re still rooted at the ground level, with Cassie and the Guardian.

In all, Burden of Solace is a great superhero story, a fun read, and the beginning of what I hope to be a great series. The superhero genre needs more love from the book world (and yeah, I’m a bit greedy in saying that), and books like this are a big reason why.

Rating: ****

Buy Burden of Solace on Amazon

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.

The Godsend that is NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year again. No, I don’t ,mean the Christmas trees going up in WalMarts and Targets around the country (seriously, can we not get through Thanksgiving first?). I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, as the kids call it).

That… is what the kids call it. Right?

Anyway, for the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a challenge in which you have 30 days to write 50,000 words. It sounds maddening, and it can be (but less so if you consider that averages out to 1,667 words a day). Truthfully, the maddening part comes at the end of the month, when Thanksgiving approaches and family obligations take precedence.

But there is one benefit to NaNoWriMo, particularly for someone like me.

I’ve made no secret, both on this page and on my social media platforms, about my writing struggles of late. My lack of productivity has taken a toll in recent months, not only on my (lack of) word count, but also in terms of my emotional well-being. Writer is a large part of my identity, and if I’m not writing…

But one thing about NaNoWriMo, and why it’s such an important program, is that it establishes the habit of daily writing. It’s difficult to meet the 50,000-word goal in perfect circumstances, but if you’re not writing every day, then the task is even more daunting. Not that there’s shame in not reaching 50,000 words; there isn’t, and any progress made during NaNoWriMo is to be celebrated.

And in the interest of transparency, I’ve reached the 50,000-word mark every year since 2014, but none of my projects have been finished by the time November ended. That’s where the habit of daily writing comes in. Ideally, that habit carries beyond November into the rest of the year.

Which, again, is the whole point.

Three of my novels — Bounty, Behind the Badge, and Notna — started as NaNoWriMo projects. The fifth Jill Andersen novel, Betrayed, was my NaNoWriMo project last year, and this year, I’m using NaNoWriMo to take on a story and a genre I’ve never tried before.

That challenge, and NaNoWriMo as a whole, has been invigorating. Just yesterday alone, I knocked out almost 4,000 words on my NaNoWriMo project — a fantasy romance titled Unforgotten (working title). I also wrote 4,000 words in completing a short story for an upcoming anthology (from the same folks who brought you Cracks in the Tapestry).

Without NaNoWriMo, I’m not sure I’m a writer — and if I am, I seriously doubt I’d be published. Establishing that habit, treating writing as a journey rather than a destination, is what November is all about. It’s the perfect tonic for a lack of productivity, and I can’t wait to see what other words the month will bring.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this month, best of luck to you! What are you writing? I’m J.D. Cunegan on NaNo’s website, so become a writing buddy if you’re so inclined.

And remember, even if you don’t reach 50,000 this month, anything you do create is worthwhile.

 

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 and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

Art Prints Available for Sale!

In light of my recent announcement that I’m accepting commissions, I now want to Notna Agonyannounce that I’m offering art prints for sale through RedBubble!

Right now, there are two pieces available for purchase as prints, but be sure to keep on the lookout, as other pieces will be posted periodically.

Oh, and as a note: these will be original pieces. I’m not about to catch the ire of Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny by trying to sell prints of characters I don’t own or have the rights to. Just cause I see people do it at conventions all the time, that doesn’t mean I’m brave enough to try it on my own.

So visit my RedBubble page today and see if there’s something you’d like to put up on your wall.

And if not? Ask me to draw it for you.

 

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 and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads, and DeviantArt.