Best & Worst of 2017

It’s time for the end of the year best and worst lists! I set a new personal high for number of books read this year with 120 (at an average of 304 pages/book) so I had plenty to choose from. So without further ado, here they are (re-reads are excluded – click titles to go to full reviews):

Top 10 Fiction:

  1. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman – A pitch perfect retelling that adds coherence while maintaining an Old Norse style.
  2. The Chosen by Chaim Potok – A moving portrait of family, friendship, and faith in Jewish American culture
  3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Not my usual at all, but the lush, surreal setting was fascinating
  4. Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar – A weird riff on Pandora’s Box
  5. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James – Malevolent ghosts, a mad/manipulative governess, or both?
  6. Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft – Kafkaesque Chaldean Steampunk (who knew that was a thing?)
  7. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler – An amusing retelling of The Taming of the Shrew that gets rid of the Stockholm Syndrome vibe
  8. Just Another Jihadi Jane by Tabish Khair – So-so style/plotting, but an informative look at “radicalization”
  9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Dozens of retro nerd culture references make up for any deficiencies in plotting (especially if you’re a child of the 80’s)
  10. Day of Atonement by David deSilva – Decent historical fiction about the depredations of Antiochus Epiphanes and rise of the Maccabees

Top 5 Non-fiction

  1. The Myth of the Lost Cause by Edward H. Bonekemper III – An examination of the Confederate cause using primary documents from before and during the Civil War rather than the usual post-war justifications/rationalization propaganda
  2. The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories by Herodotus – The writings of “the father of history” accompanied by a slew of helpful maps, notes, and essays (technically a re-read but the additional material and modern translation made it practically a different book)
  3. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Rolan H. Bainton – A good overview of the man whose faith and courage changed the course of history 500 years ago (older, but slightly better than the Eric Metaxas biography released this year)
  4. When Is It Right to Die? by Joni Earickson Tada – A compassionate examination of issues related to euthanasia and assisted suicide
  5. The Golden Age of Piracy by Benerson Little – A gleeful demolition of the “noble pirate” myth

Bottom 5 (most disappointing) reads

  1. The Shack by William Paul Young – A tear-jerking, feel good story that tries to make us feel better about suffering/tragedy in the world by radically redefining God (eliminating classic understanding of sovereignty, holiness, transcendence, etc.)
  2. Humans Bow Down by James Patterson & Emily Raymond – A weak robot apocalypse where things seem to happen for no reason other than needing to move the plot forward or checking off a diversity box
  3. The Other Side of Magik by Michael Lingaard – A self-pub book that shows some creativity but is extremely amateurish
  4. Wayne of Gotham by Tracy Hickman – How do you manage to make Batman boring?!
  5. The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore – This year’s reminder of why I seldom read Forgotten Realms books- possibly the most generic fantasy book ever

And there you have it! Reading goal for next year is 100 books at an average of 300+ pages/book. Happy New Year!

Authors, Try Harder

Title: Humans, Bow Down
Authors: James Patterson & Emily Raymond
Genre: Dystopian Sci-fi
Pages: 373
Rating: 1.5 of 5

It took just three days for the robots (hu-bots) to seize power and slaughter most of humanity. The remaining humans either serve as “reformed” slaves in The City or live as “savages” (mostly drug and alcohol addled delinquents) on The Reservation. Our story follows one such delinquent (first person narration) and one hu-bot detective (third person limited omniscient narration) tasked with finding her after she and her thuggish meathead friend steal a car (or is there another ill-explained reason?! Dun-dun-DUN!).

Whether this whole robots slaughtering/enslaving/ghetto-ing humans is a somewhat localized situation or global is unclear. The author seems to want to convey the impression that it is global, but all the action centers on a very small geographic area and there is little or no reference to what might be going on anywhere else in the world (Other cities and reservations? Mad Max style anarchy? Uninhabitable wasteland? Isolationism to contain the robot threat within North America? Who knows!). A similar lack of precision prevails throughout the book – characters suddenly know a crucial piece of information, survive an unsurvivable situation, have a radical changes of heart, or suddenly become central to the story with very little explanation or reason for doing so (other than it is needed to advance the story). Shoehorn in a transgender hu-bot and a hint of lesbian romance (to get the proper token diversity, I suppose), sprinkle on some glaring errors (e.g. referring to a speedometer as an Odometer, having a character call her best friend by the wrong name, etc.), narrate the entire thing in the present tense (which I personally find grating), and you have this very disappointing book.