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

 

 

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.

Update Time

-I’m in the final stages of Betrayed‘s first draft. At this rate, it should be finished in two weeks. As of now, the fifth book in the Jill Andersen series should be out by the end of the calendar year.

-The script for Bounty: Origins, my debut graphic novel, is coming along slowly. But progress is there.

-Related: to follow along with my artwork. follow me on Instagram and DeviantArt.

-Next weekend (Aug. 24-25), I will be at Fairfax Comicon! Come say hi, pick up some Fairfaxbooks, and you’ll likely get an autograph or two.

-If you can’t make the con, but you’re still interested in signed copies, I got you.

-Once Betrayed is released, I’ll be officially announcing a new series that I’ve been toying with. I’d announce it now, but it would sort of spoil stuff that happens in Betrayed.

-Remember, Notna is now just $2.99. No better time to pick up the books readers are saying is a cross between Indiana JonesBuffy the Vampire Slayer, and Supernatural.

-Don’t forget, the Jill Andersen book tour is still ongoing.

-Currently reading: Starbound by S.E. Anderson (comes out Tuesday!) and Wanderers by Chuck Wendig.

 

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.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Jill Andersen Book Tour!

The month of August is an exciting one, as I’ve booked a book tour through Silver Dagger Book Tours! For the next 30 days (give or take — math’s not exactly my strength), blogs throughout this (sometimes) wonderful thing we call the Internet will extol the virtues of the Jill Andersen series. Along the way, you’ll also see guest posts from yours truly, and there will even be a giveaway!

Click here for the tour schedule, and be sure to share everything on your social media.

Boundless
Jill Andersen Mysteries Prequel
by J.D. Cunegan
Genre: SciFi Superhero Mystery
A little more than two years before the events of Bounty, Jill Andersen
makes a life-altering decision. But this decision comes with
consequences she didn’t foresee, and her first night as the
vigilante Bounty winds up being something for which she was wholly
unprepared.
A crisis of faith eventually gives way to certainty: both in terms of
discovering who killed a young man named Johnny Ruiz and in terms of
coping with the latest change in her own life.
Along the way, Jill defies death and discovers just how deep the city’s
corruption runs. But will she survive the experience long enough to
decide if a life of vigilantism is for her?
**only 99 cents!!**
Bounty
Jill Andersen Mysteries Book 1
Jill Andersen is one of Baltimore’s best and brightest detectives, but she
harbors a dark secret — a secret that threatens to come out when the
body of Dr. Trent Roberts is pulled out of the Chesapeake Bay. Dr.
Roberts’ connection to Jill reveals a past that involves a tour in
Iraq, a secretive cybernetic experiment, and a conspiracy that
involves a native son.
Can Jill solve the case while still keeping her secret? Will her partners
at the Seventh Precinct find out what she’s so desperate to hide?
What was Dr. Roberts looking into that led to his murder? And perhaps
the biggest question of all…
Who is Bounty?
Blood Ties
Jill Andersen Mysteries Book 2
For as long as Jill Andersen could remember, her father was a hero.
But heroes don’t commit murder, do they? The state of Maryland said
Paul Andersen did just that, three times over, and was set to execute
him for it. But Jill and the rest of her colleagues at the Baltimore
Police Department come across the murder of a law student that leaves
her hopeful that she can clear her father’s name.
While Jill and her colleagues work against the clock to clear her father’s
name, new players emerge, hinting to a deeper, darker conspiracy than
what was previously known. An enigmatic faction known as The Order
reveals itself, and the mystery surrounding Paul’s alleged
duplicity leaves more questions than answers.
Along the way, Jill must not only face the possibility that her father was
not who she thought he was, but she must also face the prospect of
her secret being revealed. The stakes are higher than ever in Blood
Ties, the intense follow-up to J.D. Cunegan’s debut mystery Bounty.
Can Jill save her father before it’s too late? Will she even want to?
Behind the Badge
Jill Andersen Mysteries Book 3
For Jill Andersen, being part of the Baltimore Police Department has
always been both a tremendous honor and a serious responsibility. Her
father, before his fall from grace, had instilled in her a great
respect for police and the work they do day-to-day. But when a
teenage boy winds up dead on the outskirts of downtown Baltimore,
Jill finds herself once again faced with those who would abuse their
badges to fulfill personal agendas and uphold biases.
Jill still has a job to do, but she soon finds that not everyone is in her
corner. For the first time in almost four years working Homicide,
Jill finds herself at odds with people who claim to be on her side.
From other cops to suits downtown all the way to the Mayor’s
office, it becomes increasingly clear that Jill will need to rely on
more than just her badge if she’s to solve this case.
But even if she finds justice, what’s the price?
Behind the Badge, the gripping, hard-hitting third novel in the Jill
Andersen series (Bounty, Blood Ties), gives readers 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 constantly guessing and waiting for more.
Behind the Mask
Jill Andersen Mysteries Book 4
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.
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.
Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive content and a giveaway!

 

ANNOUNCEMENT! Bounty: Origins

One of the world’s most renowned scientists washed up dead in the Chesapeake Bay.Bounty cover concept

Jill Andersen, one of the Baltimore Police Department’s brightest investigative minds, has been tasked with solving that murder. But what starts as a typical murder mystery quickly becomes so much more, as a mysterious vigilante emerges from the shadows and appears to have a connection to the murder victim.

Jill finds herself trying to do two jobs at once: find out who killed Dr. Trent Roberts and discover the true identity of the costumed hero known in some circles as Bounty. But she also must face her father’s pending fate and the emergence of an influential figure in the city of Baltimore who isn’t quite as he seems.

All of these disparate threads tie together to potentially reveal the answer to the biggest question of all:

Who is Bounty?

Bounty: Origins is the imaginative, non-canon retelling of Bounty’s origin – first told in the pages of J.D. Cunegan’s debut novel Bounty in 2015. This graphic novel returns both Cunegan and his titular character to their roots, as Cunegan finally showcases his lifelong love affair with superhero comics.

Bounty: Origins is currently on hold and there is no release date at this time.

(NOTE: Above art by J.D. Cunegan. Digital lines and colors. The above image does not constitute a cover reveal; the eventual cover may be something else entirely. But copyright J.D. Cunegan 2019 anyway.)

 

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.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

About That Graphic Novel…

Some of you may remember that I said one of my 2019 goals was to produce a Bounty graphic novel. I thought I’d provide some insight into setting that goal and what I’m learning as I dabble into the world of creating comics.

Those of you who’ve been around a while know how much I love comics, and how that love is lifelong and originally sparked my creative streak. Even though I’m a published author, my love for superheroes and comic books is evident in my work. So doing a graphic novel just makes sense. Bounty started as a comic book character; writing and drawing a Bounty graphic novel returns her to her roots. It brings her home, so to speak. And it returns me to my roots. I started out wanting to create comics. So I’m creating a comic.

Now I realize how ambitious doing that this year is. Especially since I’m both writing and drawing it. Both steps are time-consuming on their own, but together? Especially since I’m learning a) how to draw again and b) how to tell a story in this medium. It’s not just drawing a bunch of pictures.

Were I at my peak as an artist, maybe this would be easier. But I like the challenge. I *need* the challenge. I haven’t grown bored with writing novels — far from it — but adding this challenge has actually given me a boost of creative energy. I’ve needed that.

I’m not abandoning novels. Far from it. This graphic novel is just me challenging myself, as a writer and artist. Pushing myself to set a goal and finish it, to encounter obstacles and overcome them. To prove to myself that I can take on a task and accomplish it.

Maybe this graphic novel doesn’t see the light of day until 2020. That would be okay — so long as I see this project through and finish it. As Chuck Wendig (and others) says, FINISH YOUR SHIT. I intend to do just that — but I’ll admit, this is hard.

I’m practically learning, as I go, an entirely new method of storytelling. How to tell a story with images as well as words. How the two work in concert with one another. There’s a method there, and there’s gonna be a ton of trial and error here. I’m okay with that.

(Come to think of it, this very process would make a great future Pixel Wretches podcast.)

I fully anticipate being occasionally frustrated to the point of wanting to stop. The point is getting myself to NOT stop, but to push forward and create in spite of that. Abandoning projects midway through is not how I’m gonna get better. Finishing my shit is.

So I’m pushing myself, challenging myself to return to my creative roots. To remind myself where my love for telling stories started, and to show up at a con one day with both my novels *and* a Bounty graphic novel on my table.

Maybe that’s 2019. Maybe it’s not.

I used to dream about being the next Jim Lee. Now I just wanna be the best J.D. Cunegan I can be. That means novels. And comics. And who knows what else is down the road for me. But if I don’t push myself, if I don’t test myself, how will I know what I’m capable of?

Four years ago, I pushed myself, and the result was my first novel. Bounty proved to me that I can complete a creative project and see it through and put it out there for the world to see.

Now I have five novels, a novella, a collection of short stories, and an an anthology credit to my name. And there are plenty more such stories coming in the next few years. That’s not nothing, and I keep having to remind myself of that, even when sales are… yeah.

But, and I think other creatives can relate, I want more. More stories to tell. More ways to tell them. More ways to push myself and flex my creative muscles. Make them grow. Make them better. Make *me* better. This graphic novel will do just that.

In a perfect world, Hampton Comicon in October would be the debut for the Bounty graphic novel. But if I have to push that back, so be it. This is a lengthy, involved process, and I’m going to make sure it’s worth every moment of it.

And I want you on the journey with 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, 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, and you can also become a Patron.

The Best Books I Read in 2018

In many ways, 2018 was a struggle.

That includes my reading. I went into 2018 hoping to read 40 books. I’ve managed 28 — and frankly, I’m lucky to have even gotten that far. But I did come across some gems this year, and in this, the third year of me compiling this list, we have a first: a non-fiction entry.

NOTE: These are not the best books that came out in 2018, just the best ones I read this year.

5. Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

Reaper at the GatesI can’t compare Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series to the rest of the YA dystopia set of genres, but I know her novels are intense, emotional, and a blast to read. Reaper at the Gates, the third entry in the series, is no different, and I daresay it’s the best of the series to this point.

This book juggles three points of view — Elias and Laia and Helena — and what could become a jumbled mess instead takes readers on a journey between three disparate and occasionally overlapping perspectives, which only adds to the readability. A great book leaves you wanting more once the last page is turned, and Reaper at the Gates delivers in that regard.

Reaper at the Gates is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

4. Death Rites by E.A. Copen

Death RitesWhat do you get when you take Harry Dresden and drop him in a mythology-rich city like New Orleans? Something a lot like Death Rites, the first book in E.A. Copen’s Lazarus Codex series. While I will go to my grave defending Judah Black (Copen’s other mystical whodunnit series), she’s found a winner in Laz.

Copen shows a deft touch not only when it comes to worldbuilding and creating memorable side characters, she’s a master at making Laz a sarcastic little son of a bitch who’s also the sort of lovable loser you can’t help but root for. In a genre that’s almost overflowing, Copen has found a way to stand out, and I put the Lazarus Codex on the same level as R.R. Virdi’s Grave Report books.

Death Rites is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

3. Divided by Madeline Dyer

DividedWhile I enjoyed Fragmented, the second book in Madeline Dyer’s dystopia Untamed series, it lacked something that made me fall in love with the first book. But with book three, Divided, Dyer has fully returned to form, and what unfolds is a gripping, intense, at-times uncomfortable read.

Yet you’ll keep turning the pages. You’ll have to know what happens next. Even knowing there’s another book to go before everything wraps up, the journey is such a thrilling ride that you can’t help but want more. The first book, Untamed, laid out the stakes for Seven, but Divided is the first time I could actually feel them. Divided was so good that I want to read Destroyed *now.*

Divided is available in paperback and ebook.

2. Racing to the Finish by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan McGee

Racing to the FinishFor the first time, a non-fiction book makes this list, and for good reason. Retired NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. paired with ESPN’s Ryan McGee to offer a first-hand account of Earnhardt’s final few years behind the wheel, his battle with concussions, and why that battle ultimately led to his decision to step out of the car.

The intimate first-hand account is hard to read at times, and the revelations contained should put any racing fan’s mind at ease as to why Earnhardt retired. Also, this book was written to help others dealing with head injuries and their aftereffects — and if just one person reads this book and seeks the help they need, then this book is an unmitigated success.

Racing to the Finish is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.

1. Celestial by S.E. Anderson

CelestialJust when I think I can’t love S.E. Anderson’s Starstruck series any more, she puts out a new release. Celestial, book four in the series, is every bit as lighthearted and funny as its predecessors — but for the first time, the stakes feel as heavy as they should. The stark reality of just how out of her element Sally really is slaps you in the face, and you can’t help but keep going.

Anderson strikes a delicate balance in this book, showing how dire everything is without Celestial falling into the same taking-itself-too-seriously trap that so many others in the sci-fi genre do. There are still laughs, but there are also thrills, chills, and a few tears. And with how Celestial ends, the next installment can’t come soon enough.

Celestial is available in paperback and ebook.

Honorable Mention: Console Wars by Blake J. Harris, Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis, Elevation by Stephen King, Traveler by S.E. Anderson, Miracles Not Included by C.A. King, Fortunate Son by E.A. Copen, Leading the Way by Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan