I’m taking a break from the writing to do a little a lot of reading.  Although I fell behind earlier this year, what with the demands of production, I’m pleased to report I’m back on track to well exceed my goal of 100 books in 2016.  I read anything and everything – genre, graphic novels, non-fiction, bestsellers – and typically put together a “Best Of” list at year’s end.  2014, for instance, was a fantastic reading year –


with a slew of recommended reads.

2015, sadly, was not.

When selecting books, I try to cast wide net, relying on everything from book shop recommendations to impulse buys to award nominees.  This year, I’ve really tried to focus on 2016 releases, short fiction and novels, so that, when I offer up my list of the year’s best reads, I can honestly do so from a well-informed position.  Ultimately, I end up recommending works in various categories that, perhaps not surprisingly, fail to make the short lists for many of the big name awards.

Check out my 2015 favorites here:


There’s nothing better than a really great book.  And, quite frankly, I don’t even mind the occasional bad book.  It’s true and let me explain why.  Given the choice, I’d prefer a truly terrible book to a mediocre book because, in the case of the former, I can quickly identify it as a crap read and immediately set it aside.  Books in the latter category, however, are big unmemorable time-wasters.  And, unfortunately, the majority of the titles out there fall into this category – which is why good recommendations are so important.

Nothing makes me angrier than shitty reading recommendations.  I’m the guy who will walk into chain bookstores so that I can peruse the staff picks and subsequently track down the individual staff members to call them on their crap picks.  Once subjected to a little scrutiny, they invariably crack, often declaring they never actually read their picks but insisting the reviews were “great!”, or shamefully admitting they were simply following marching orders from head office.  It really depends on the bookstore I suppose.

Earlier this season, I walked onto set one morning to discover actress Melanie Liburd reading a book that had been nominated for a prestigious Canadian literary award.  I immediately recognized the book because, a month earlier, I’d been foolish enough to check it out based on the fact that it had been nominated for a prestigious Canadian literary award.

“How’re you enjoying the book?”I asked.

Not all that much as it turned out.  And I wasn’t surprised.  Apparently, she’d gone into one of Toronto’s local hipster douchebag bookshops and had someone there recommend it to her because, well, it had been nominated for a prestigious Canadian literary award.  I was so annoyed that I left set to go back to my office, retrieved my emergency copy of Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle (one of several titles I keep stocked for just such emergency situations.  Other “In Case of Shit Reading Break Glass” titles include: Camp Concentration, The First Law Series, The Empire of Ice Cream, Old Man’s War, Saga vol. 1, The Man Who Ate Everything, City of Thieves, Fool, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, The Rosie Project, The Princess Bride, Me Talk Pretty One Day, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Speed of Dark, Afterlife with Archie, the first three books in the Ice and Fire series, The Player of Games, The Lies of Locke Lamorra, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Misery, Flowers for Algernon, This is Where I Leave You, Stories of Your Life and Others, Childhood’s End, and The Psychopath Test) and gave it to her.  She loved it.  I don’t recall what happened to that other book.  I think I might have tossed it.

Just as bad as big box bookstore head office staff recommendations are “Best Of” picks that suspiciously include novels written by editors or fellow writers from the site hosting said “Best Of” article.  Sure.  Maybe they are deserving, but it looks sketchy as shit and, unfortunately, undermines the credibility of  your selections.

Instead, I’ve been increasingly relying on the following as proven sources of solid recommendations:

Rocket Stack Rank: This site offers up monthly aggregate ratings of stories (short, novelettes, and novellas) with short synopses and estimated reading times for each along with links to online reading copies.

Reddit is a great source for recommendations as well.  Subreddits I regularly check out include: science fiction, scifi, books, and comic books.

My favorite local bookshops: White Dwarf Books and The Book Warehouse.

So, how has YOUR summer reading been coming along?  Any books YOU’D recommend?

24 thoughts on “August 21, 2016: I’m the guy who tracks down bookstore personnel so that I can grill them over their suspect staff picks!

  1. I just started reading Underground Airlines by Ben H Winters. So far I’m impressed by it. The setting is an alternate modern day US where the Civil War never happened and slavery still persists in some states. The protagonist is a former slave who has struck a deal to track down runaways. I only came across the book because a friend bought it for me as a birthday present.

    If you haven’t read them already I would recommend the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch. Starting with Rivers of London it has a fun contemporary setting with plenty of British humour.

    If looking for something quick then anything by Terry Pratchett is worth picking up. His Ankh-Morpok City Watch stories in particular are always high on any list of my must read books

  2. “Nothing makes me angrier than shitty reading recommendations. I’m the guy who will walk into chain bookstores so that I can peruse the staff picks and subsequently track down the individual staff members to call them on their crap picks.” LOL my husband and I had good chuckle over that one! Too funny and speaking of reading good books, my husband wants to start reading Star Wars books and doesn’t know where to start, any suggestions?

  3. I rarely look at someone else’s picks; I figure it’s too subjective to choose that way.

    I read mostly books I can put down and pick up and put down and pick up, which is usually a general fiction, romance, comedy…my life doesn’t give me the opportunity to sit and read for an extended period of time. If I need to pay attention and remember a couple days later…then I’m not going to read it. Once both kids go to college, well, I’ll get to enjoy more of a variety.

  4. I should have read more, but I am presently reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I know it’s not current, but it was on my TBR pile, so that’s where I’m at. It came highly recommended by the woman who rang up my purchases at a local book sale. I am only 1/2 way through but it is an interesting read. Historical Fiction set in Germany in the 1940’s. I usually don’t rely on staff picks, NY Times reviews, etc. Actually, Joe, you have been a go-to recommended source for most of the sci-fi. Interestingly enough, Zoie has also recommended a few good reads as well. We should get her and the rest of the cast to join Goodreads.
    BTW..I was wondering what you thought of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch?

  5. How can a book that is nominated for a “prestigious Canadian literary award” be crap? Is it a case of reader’s taste? If it truly is crap, is this literary award system flawed? A conspiracy? How could that happen?

  6. Book store clerk 1: “Did you see who just walked in?”
    Book store clerk 2: “Well, I’m going on break!”
    Book store clerk 1: “Crap.”

  7. Since the spring, I’ve read all eight of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (Highland Saga) books, some for second /third time. Also now on fifth Honor Harrington novel by David Weber. Enjoying my Kindle app and my Amazon Smile account. (Amazon Smile generates donations to non-profits; I’ve designated my college alma mater.)

  8. i really liked;
    in non-fiction
    The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

    The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville by Clare Mulley

    Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul by Karen Abbott

    in fiction
    The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan by Stephanie Thornton

    The Venus Throw & A Murder on the Appian Way by Steven Saylor
    (i recommend the roma sub rosa series overall)

    and for some reason, i’m not getting my usual monster avatar. i’m sure i’m spelling everything right.

  9. I must confess, I don’t read that many books, and by not that many I mean none really since my schooldays when I HAD to read one for a review or something.

    But this summer I read Millennium by David Lagercrantz and I liked it, so, I might give another book a chance to.

  10. I don’t recall if you’ve ever mentioned it? But you have likely read at least some of psychologist Carl Jung’s work back in H.S or College as most have. yes?

    Albeit, In the event you haven’t read ‘these specific’ works,
    It would likely aid in future moral/philosophical/spiritual deeper development of any and all story characters.

    i.e: that fine line the characters walk between mental stability n psychosis.
    The act of doing evil with good intention & vice versa. Traversing the desert of moral & spiritual ambiguity. etc etc.

    The Undiscovered Self -Carl Jung (this is a free pdf)
    I would suggest starting at chapter 4.

    Synchronicity Theory (There are a few interesting,
    engaging, and might i dare go so far as to say, ‘entertaining’ full books
    written by various authors about Jung’s collaboration
    with Physicist Wolfgang Pauli
    whenever you might be in the mood for a slightly longer read).
    In the meantime this link will fill ya in on the basics:


    This one is also a longer pick but you can likely
    get away with perusing just a couple chapters
    of potential interest and still find it useful.

    The Psychology of Unconsciousness -Carl Jung


    If you have per chance already read these
    Maybe? you can pass the links along
    to @mel13oneil?
    I do recall her briefly mentioning in one of the recent comic con vids being greatly fascinated by this kind of exploration of the human psyche. 🙂

  11. I love to read and appreciate your suggestions. Surprised that “The Rosy Project” made your list. Didn’t think that would be your cup of tea.

    Here’s a list with links. I’ve been trying to branch out and read different authors this year. Amazon has been sending me selections and I’ve enjoyed a few from their list. Here are my favorites:

    The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M. Ross

    Black-eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

    The Highwayman: A Longmire Story by Craig Johnson. This one’s like a short story expanded. You can read this one and not miss out because you didn’t read the whole Longmire series. Love Craig Johnson!

    The Traitor’s Story by Kevin Wignall

    The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

    I hope the links come through.

  12. I am still struggling with reading. This is not something I ever envisioned. However, as my physical health improves, so does my concentration. I’m getting through entire Smithsonian and Archaeology articles. I will definitely check out the short story link.

  13. @baterista9; i LOVE Outlander. Have you seen any of the tv episodes? I think they’ve done a great job staying true to the books. Few changes here and there, some that DG has said publicly that made the story better, but the overall series is so true to the books. I’ve been re-reading each one before the season airs, and enjoy making comparisons.

  14. It’s been a while since I read something amazing, I love A Discovery of Witches and the Bartimaeus books. Masked is terrific, it was so ahead of it’s time. I can’t read another book with “the Girl” in the title. I’ve been re-reading The Little Prince after seeing the movie.

    Loved Friday’s DM, that darn Jace! Evil or sweet, it’s wonderful to have more (and more!) Marc!

  15. Dark Matter is so insanely stable in the ratings. Ignoring the fact that more people are watching the show via DVR than they are for a moment.

    657k viewers, 0.19 18-49 for Episode 8. That’s only one hundredth of a ratings point off the Season 2 18-49 premiere rating.

    Killjoys is at 598k 0.17 18-49.

  16. Arlene Mengel: Loved The Book Thief!! I recommend that book all the time but not to depressed people.

    Drea: Oh my, you make my book selections seem frivolous. You are deep Drea….

  17. @ Kathy C: Enjoying both books and series. I had read some of the books 10+ years ago but lost track of my copies, so Kindle is now my friend!

    I also tried THE ELFSTONES OF SHANNARA this year. It dragged, so I finally gave up and read the final chapters last night. That physical book will be donated to the thrift store.

  18. Any idea why US iTunes isn’t showing the latest episode yet? Dark Mater is consistently late going up (several hours/days behind killjoys)….. Not a great way for itunes to discourage illegal downloads! Anyone got any ideas who I should complain to at iTunes?

  19. Ah, I just saw that mistake. I meant to say that more people are watching the show via DVR than they are live. Consistently now the DVR numbers have been higher than the live ones. I wish these people watched live, but for whatever reason they don’t. It’s nice the see the show consistently double its live numbers this season though! It shows there’s a healthy overall audience there.

  20. @baterista9 I gave up on Brooks’ Elfstones too. I remember liking the first chronicles I’d read so I gave it a shot. Unfortunately I found it boring and never got past the first few pages. I’ve since re gifted it to my ex boyfriend “Boxy” who I heard is working as a trash collector these days – since being fired from the cast at DM. 😀

    @Tam I just wanted to throw in a little bit of non fiction science in the mix of recommendations. I think if Joe has not already read Synchronicity Theory he’ll especially find much inspiration there for the development of his characters in DM and beyond.

    It’s actually a highly fascinating read if you’re into the exploration of the human psyche. Carl Jung’s originally authored Synchronicity book was composed in easy to understand layman’s terms. And Explores intuition, extrasensory perception, coincidence, time/causality and other fringe topics.

  21. I’m a member of a book club composed of some of my besties and meetings are always considered as a girls night out. That being said, we have been going on 15+ years strong and one of the original founders (who has since moved away) was invited to sit in the audience of one of Oprah’s first book reviews when she discussed “The Weight of Water” by Anita Shreve. That was our first book.

    Some of the books that have made a lasting impression over the years:
    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
    Ice Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle For Survival At The South Pole by Dr. Jerri Nielson
    The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute To His Mother by James McBride

    Fiction: involving time travel
    Six Bits by Micheal Ringering – a local author that we had to our meeting
    11/23/63 by Stephen King

    Fiction: not involving time travel
    24 Hours by Greg Isles
    This Body: A Novel of Reincarnation by Laurel Doud
    Saving Cicadas by Nicole Seitz (1/2 the club loved it the other half felt cheated)
    The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
    Sycamore Row by John Grisham
    Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (it’s a trilogy)

    And yes, we’ve read The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses.

    Some that I’ve read that are off the beaten path:
    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

    I’m currently reading John Sandford’s Extreme Prey and have been trying to finish since vacation in July. I’m 70% through the book but sadly the reading bug has taken a hiatus. Prior to this book I was reading David Baldacci – pretty much all his series – John Puller, Amos Decker, Will Robie…

    Earlier in the year I finished all 11 of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache/Three Pines series. They get better as you go. I like them. Her next book comes out at the end of this month.

    My favorite books of all time: The Stand by Stephen King, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by the author who must not be named.

    Can’t remember who asked about the Star Wars novels. Might I suggest reading the novelizations of the original trilogy then Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster – takes place between A New Hope and Empire Strike’s Back. I still have all those in paperbacks plus all the “making of” books and the oversized comics and two full sets of trading cards. I keep them with my Millennium Falcon, Snow Speeder & Slave I. No, my friend’s children could not guilt me out of these toys from my childhood!

    To end, I have an acquaintance who is a local teacher and desperately wants to be picked up by a publishing firm. No success as of yet so he self published and has show up now on Amazon/Kindle and is at our local Barnes and Noble. His name is Greg Wilkey and his first book is titled Growing Up Dead: The Life and Undeath of Mortimer Drake. His books initially suffered from a lack of editing with corrections but I think that’s been rectified. It’s a tweenish series. I’ve read the first 3 in his series. Need to finish the rest. Just thought I’d give him some props and support his dream.

  22. Yeah, on this matter, I’ve got nothing. One day I will have the luxury of trying to read a book again, but other brain matters may hinder that. Maybe once the overwhelm of my life settles down, my brain issues will settle down, too.

    I did HOWEVER read “The Speed of Dark” but as you know it took me a very, very (did I say VERY) long time. I loved it. Thought provoking. I talk about it all the time with my friends with family members with autism.

    I was reading Claudia Christian’s “Babylon Confidential” which is about her life and her addiction(s) but I haven’t gotten very far.

    I have several friends who have written books, one was featured on the Today show and when I went over to her house recently she wanted to give me a copy. I told her, “You already gave me an autographed hard copy of your book about two years ago which I’m going to be honest I still haven’t read.” She said, “That’s okay, but this version is the revised copy after the publisher got their hands on it and challenged me to improve the first edition.” I said, “Sure, I’ll take it, but I can’t promise I will read it anytime soon.” She knows my life. She understands. They made it into a 3-D video presentation (Kathy Lee Gifford and Lou Gossett Jr were involved) that was shown around select theaters in the US, including our town, which I didn’t get to go see because of work, but I told her when they put it on a regular DVD, I would personally purchase it and watch it. Promised her on that.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.