January 7, 2019: Suji Sunday – one day late!

Playing catch-up…

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Frequent flyer.

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Chillin’ with mom.

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Relaxing with/on sis.

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Well?  Aren’t we going?

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Bushed!

Separation Anxiety.  I’m feeling it!

The Suji 2019 limited edition pins are shipping now from Etsy!

https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/672487577/suji-lucky-pin-2019?ref=listing_published_alert

 

14 Ridiculous Plot Twists That Hurt Syfy Shows – Or Were They?

I came across this interesting Screen Rant article today by Toby Symonds which offers up his take on what he felt were ridiculous plot twists (and a few that weren’t) on shows that aired on syfy.  Among the culprits was the decision NOT to kill of Ronon Dex in the Atlantis finale and the decision to reveal SIX as the mole at the conclusion of Dark Matter’s first season.

https://screenrant.com/syfy-shows-plot-twists-hurt-saved/#leave-comment

I love nothing more than a discussion or heated debate about the creative decisions made on a production I was a part of.  And, while I appreciate Toby taking the time write the article and point out what didn’t work for him, I can’t help but disagree with a few of his points and weigh in –

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My response –

First off, thanks for taking the time to feature the series. We didn’t have a lot of money to make the show, nor did we receive a lot of support from TPTB while we were making it, but we had a great cast and crew, and an even greater fanbase that’s still very active online.

Second, I wanted to respond to your take that: a) SIX lacked motivation and b) was an illogical choice to be the traitor.

I started developing Dark Matter way back when I was working on Stargate: Atlantis. The plan was to complete the final season of Atlantis and segue smoothly into the first season of Dark Matter. As it turned out, however, we had two seasons of Stargate: Universe and about a year of development work before Dark Matter finally saw the light of a t.v. screen. Between that gap and the years I spent developing DM while working on SGA, I had a good five years to develop the show. As a result, going into the writers’ room for that first season, I had all of the character and major story arcs mapped out, along with a five-year plan. I approached each season like an installment in a book series, with a beginning, middle, and end. And so, season 1 kicks off with the revelation that our characters are wanted criminals and ends, appropriately enough, with them being hauled off to prison (In season 2, our character come together, finally united, in common purpose – to redeem themselves and do the right thing…only to have it blow up in their faces – quite literally – with the destruction of EOS-7 which ignites a galaxy-wide corporate war).

Before I even sat down to write the pilot, I already knew how season 1 would end – with their capture and the reveal that one of them was a traitor and former mole/agent for the Galactic Authority. And I also knew that character would have to be SIX. It really couldn’t be anyone else given their respective backstories. More importantly, one of the central themes of the series was the nature vs. nurture debate. Are you born bad or are you a product of your environment? Dark Matter, like much of the research that has been done on the subject (check out the excellent Three Strangers) posits the answer is: a little of both. SIX is the crew’s moral center (although you could argue FIVE parallels these values). He is/was a principled law enforcement officer tasked with bringing in this galaxy’s most wanted and, despite the mind wipe, demonstrates these honest and right-minded outlooks throughout the show’s first season. Although he possesses no memories of his past, aspects of who he was inform who he is post-mindwipe (In the same way we see these post-mindwipe characteristics bleed through in, say, TWO’s brutal takedown of the casino staff in Episode 4, and execution of Wexler at the end of Episode 11).

One of the great things about having a detailed game plan going in is the opportunities it affords you to seed in clues that pay off later on down the line. Like the Android’s strange but seemingly innocuous comment to TWO prior to her space walk in Episode 3, a comment that hints at TWO’s reveal as a bio-engineered construct (hinted at in more obvious fashion, two episodes later, when her wound miraculously heals). In Episode 8, SIX flashes back to his past and receives the truth about who he is via an undercover Lieutenant Anders. In one of the episode’s final moments, an overwhelmed SIX sits alone amidst the destruction only to have Anders get the drop on him. In the next scene, ONE and FOUR arrive on the scene – but Anders is long gone. Why did he leave and let SIX go? What happened off-screen? It’s a huge red flag.

In the ensuing episodes, we see a sudden shift in SIX’s character, culminating in his emotional plea to FIVE to leave the ship. At this point, he knows that it’s going to end badly. And, after the delivery of the white hole bomb that ends up destroying the Mikkei facility and the planet, claiming thousands of lives, he finally makes the call on the decision he has been mulling over since Episode 8. These people are dangerous and he has to bring them in. And so he sets his plan in motion…

A second important theme in this series was the notion of redemption. Throughout the show’s first season, we peel the onion on the crews’ histories and they must come to terms with their past lives, their past actions, and look to start fresh, be better. In season 2, this theme is studied in another light, through the prism of SIX who seeks redemption for his betrayal. While the rest of the crew is looking to turn over a new leaf and “do the right thing” (spearheaded by TWO), SIX seeks to regain the trust of his former friends. And it’s not something that happens overnight. It takes theentirety of the show’s second season for the crew to accept SIX back into the fold. In short, like most of the character developments and reveals on Dark Matter, I wanted it to feel earned.

Anyway, all this to say that, perhaps despite appearances, we were never making it up as we went along. There was always a good reason (at least so far as I was concerned) that we did what we did. Every narrative decision was tied to character or thematically linked. As for that Ronon decision on Stargate: Atlantis…

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My response –

The only thing I can say to this is that Enemy at the Gate was never intended as a series finale. In retrospect, yes, we could have killed off Ronon, perhaps even destroyed Atlantis itself, but the plan had always been to come back for a sixth season. Had we done so, AND killed off the Ronon character, the show would have been poorer for it.

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Just a few nitpicks –

Regarding SG-1 – The plan was not to have the show bow out after two seasons. The show had a two season order but the plan was always to go the full five. When Paul and I joined the show’s writing staff in season 4, it was with the understanding that the show would go one more year and conclude with its fifth and final season.

Also, the creative dream was not to end the show after season 7 either. We were simply under the assumption that season 7 would be SG-1’s last – but, in all fairness, we made the same assumption for season 4, 6, 8, and 9. The show’s tenth season, ironically, was the only one I felt confident would NOT be its last – so, of course, it was.

And finally, on a show I never worked on – but watched the hell out of and loved…

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Could let this one go without putting in my two cents –

Regarding the critique of the final moments of the Farscape finale (a show on this list that I was not a part of but I watched and loved) – in all fairness, I’m sure it didn’t seem like such a gamble at the time because, from what I understand, they had already been informed they’d been picked up for another season…only to have the pick-up rescinded.

Check out the article.  There are takes on other productions as well: SGU, Wynonna Earp, and BSG to name a few.

Thoughts?

January 5, 2019: 2018 Reading Year in Review! January Reads on my Radar!

My final reading tally for 2018:

Fantasy – 25

Horror – 26

Non-Fiction – 49

Sci-Fi – 54

Crime/Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers – 75

General Fiction – 87

Graphic Novels – 89

2018 Releases – 242

It’s unlikely that I’ll equal last year’s impressive count in 2019, but I’m sure as hell going to try.

THESE are the upcoming January releases that have piqued my interest:

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How to Hold a Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment – The Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life by Sophie Hannah (Release Date: January 1st)

Practical, compassionate, and downright funny, How to Hold a Grudge reveals everything we need to know about the many different forms of grudge, the difference between a grudge and not-a-grudge (not as obvious as it seems), when we should let a grudge go, and how to honor a grudge and distill lessons from it that will turn us into better, happier people—for our own benefit and for the sake of spreading good and limiting harm in the world.

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Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Release Date: January 8th)

In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age.

For two weeks, the length of her father’s vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. They are surrounded by forests of birch and rowan; they make stew from foraged roots and hunted rabbit. The students are fulfilling their coursework; Silvie’s father is fulfilling his lifelong obsession. He has raised her on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, recounted time and again their rituals and beliefs–particularly their sacrifices to the bog. Mixing with the students, Silvie begins to see, hear, and imagine another kind of life, one that might include going to university, traveling beyond England, choosing her own clothes and food, speaking her mind.

The ancient Britons built ghost walls to ward off enemy invaders, rude barricades of stakes topped with ancestral skulls. When the group builds one of their own, they find a spiritual connection to the past. What comes next but human sacrifice?

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The Sopranos Sessions by Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwell – with an introduction by David Chase (Release Date: January 8th)

On January 10, 1999, a mobster walked into a psychiatrist’s office and changed TV history. By shattering preconceptions about the kinds of stories the medium should tell, The Sopranos launched our current age of prestige television, paving the way for such giants as Mad Men, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones. As TV critics for Tony Soprano’s hometown paper, New Jersey’s The Star-Ledger, Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz were among the first to write about the series before it became a cultural phenomenon. 

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show’s debut, Sepinwall and Seitz have reunited to produce The Sopranos Sessions, a collection of recaps, conversations, and critical essays covering every episode. Featuring a series of new long-form interviews with series creator David Chase, as well as selections from the authors’ archival writing on the series, The Sopranos Sessions explores the show’s artistry, themes, and legacy, examining its portrayal of Italian Americans, its graphic depictions of violence, and its deep connections to other cinematic and television classics. 

1

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh (Release Date: January 8th)

King has tenderly staked out a territory for his wife and three daughters, Grace, Lia, and Sky. He has lain the barbed wire; he has anchored the buoys in the water; he has marked out a clear message: Do not enter. Or viewed from another angle: Not safe to leave. Here women are protected from the chaos and violence of men on the mainland. The cult-like rituals and therapies they endure fortify them from the spreading toxicity of a degrading world.

But when their father, the only man they’ve ever seen, disappears, they retreat further inward until the day three strange men wash ashore. Over the span of one blistering hot week, a psychological cat-and-mouse game plays out. Sexual tensions and sibling rivalries flare as the sisters confront the amorphous threat the strangers represent. Can they survive the men?

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Looker by Laura Sims (Release Date: January 8th)

In this taut and thrilling debut, an unraveling woman, unhappily childless and recently separated, becomes fixated on her neighbor—the actress. The unnamed narrator can’t help noticing with wry irony that, though she and the actress live just a few doors apart, a chasm of professional success and personal fulfillment lies between them. The actress, a celebrity with her face on the side of every bus, shares a gleaming brownstone with her handsome husband and their three adorable children, while the narrator, working in a dead-end job, lives in a run-down, three-story walk-up with her ex-husband’s cat.

When an interaction with the actress at the annual block party takes a disastrous turn, what began as an innocent preoccupation spirals quickly, and lethally, into a frightening and irretrievable madness. Searing and darkly witty, Looker is enormously entertaining—at once a propulsive Hitchcockian thriller and a fearlessly original portrait of the perils of envy.

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Burned: A Story of a Murder and the Crime that Wasn’t by Edward Humes (Release Date: January 8th)

On an April night in 1989, three young children perished in a tragic Los Angeles house fire. Their mother, Joann Parks, couldn’t save them but did manage to escape with her own life. She was of course bereft. With emotions exploding her husband accused her of abandoning the children at the scene of the fire when he arrived. It was soon determined that a worn extension cord was the cause of the tragedy. But then doubts arose. As firefighters investigated further, they came to believe that the fire was the result of arson, a heinous crime committed by a wicked young woman who, they argued, had never really wanted to be a mother. Joann Parks was tried and convicted and has languished in prison for the last twenty-five years. But now, as certain investigative methods from that era have been debunked, a pair of young lawyers from the Innocence Project have come to believe that Joann was wrongfully convicted, and that the fire might not have even been caused by arson at all.

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An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen (Release Date: January 8th)

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

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Dry Hard by Nick Spalding (Release Date: January 8th)

Kate and Scott’s marriage has always been a lot of fun, with alcohol at the heart of it. After all, what’s more entertaining than a good laugh and a large drink… or six?

But recently, those relaxing drinks have become more crutch than comfort—and the couple have almost forgotten how to talk to each other sober.

Then their teenage daughter Holly uploads a video of their humiliating drunken escapades, which gets picked up by YouTube superstar PinkyPud—and goes horrifyingly viral.

In a last-ditch attempt to prove to the world they’re more than just boozy idiots, Kate and Scott quit alcohol completely. But with Holly’s… er… ‘help’, what begins as a family promise soon escalates into a social media phenomenon: #DryHard!

With the eyes of the Internet upon them, can Kate and Scott stay teetotal—and save their marriage in the process?

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The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (Release Date: January 15th)

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned.

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

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Hark by Sam Lipsyte (Release Date: January 15th)

In an America convulsed by political upheaval, cultural discord, environmental collapse, and spiritual confusion, many folks are searching for peace, salvation, and—perhaps most immediately—just a little damn focus. Enter Hark Morner, an unwitting guru whose technique of “Mental Archery”—a combination of mindfulness, mythology, fake history, yoga, and, well, archery—is set to captivate the masses and raise him to near-messiah status. It’s a role he never asked for, and one he is woefully underprepared to take on. But his inner-circle of modern pilgrims have other plans, as do some suddenly powerful fringe players, including a renegade Ivy League ethicist, a gentle Swedish kidnapper, a crossbow-hunting veteran of jungle drug wars, a social media tycoon with an empire on the skids, and a mysteriously influential (but undeniably slimy) catfish.

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Adele by Leila Slimani (Release Date: January 15th)

Adèle appears to have the perfect life: She is a successful journalist in Paris who lives in a beautiful apartment with her surgeon husband and their young son. But underneath the surface, she is bored–and consumed by an insatiable need for sex.

Driven less by pleasure than compulsion, Adèle organizes her day around her extramarital affairs, arriving late to work and lying to her husband about where she’s been, until she becomes ensnared in a trap of her own making.

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Golden State by Ben H. Winters (Release Date: January 22nd)

Lazlo Ratesic is 54, a 19-year veteran of the Speculative Service, from a family of law enforcement and in a strange alternate society that values law and truth above all else. This is how Laz must, by law, introduce himself, lest he fail to disclose his true purpose or nature, and by doing so, be guilty of a lie.

Laz is a resident of The Golden State, a nation resembling California, where like-minded Americans retreated after the erosion of truth and the spread of lies made public life, and governance, increasingly impossible. There, surrounded by the high walls of compulsory truth-telling, knowingly contradicting the truth–the Objectively So–is the greatest possible crime. Stopping those crimes, punishing them, is Laz’s job. In its service, he is one of the few individuals permitted to harbor untruths–to “speculate” on what might have happened in the commission of a crime.

But the Golden State is far less a paradise than its name might suggest. To monitor, verify, and enforce the Objectively So requires a veritable panopticon of surveillance, recording, and record-keeping. And when those in control of the truth twist it for nefarious means, the Speculators may be the only ones with the power to fight back.

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Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land (Release Date: January 22nd)

“My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter.”

While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work–primarily done by women–fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter’s head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today’s inequitable society.

While she worked hard to scratch her way out of poverty as a single parent, scrubbing the toilets of the wealthy, navigating domestic labor jobs, higher education, assisted housing, and a tangled web of government assistance, Stephanie wrote. She wrote the true stories that weren’t being told. The stories of overworked and underpaid Americans.

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The Current by Tim Johnson (Release Date: January 22nd)

When two young women leave their college campus in the dead of winter for a 700-mile drive north to Minnesota, they suddenly find themselves fighting for their lives in the icy waters of the Black Root River, just miles from home. One girl’s survival, and the other’s death—murder, actually—stun the citizens of a small Minnesota town, thawing memories of another young woman who lost her life in the same river ten years earlier, and whose killer may yet live among them. One father is forced to relive his agony while another’s greatest desire—to bring a killer to justice—is revitalized . . . and the girl who survived the icy plunge cannot escape the sense that she is connected to that earlier unsolved case by more than a river. Soon enough she’s caught up in an investigation of her own that will unearth long-hidden secrets, and stoke the violence that has long simmered just below the surface of the town. Souls frozen in time, ghosts and demons, the accused and the guilty, all stir to life in this cold northern place where memories, like treachery, run just beneath the ice, and where a young woman can come home but still not be safe.

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We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Release Date: January 29th)

How far would you go to protect your child?

Our narrator faces an impossible decision. Like any father, he just wants the best for his son Nigel, a biracial boy whose black birthmark is growing larger by the day. In this near-future society plagued by resurgent racism, segregation, and expanding private prisons, our narrator knows Nigel might not survive. Having watched the world take away his own father, he is determined to stop history from repeating itself.

There is one potential solution: a new experimental medical procedure that promises to save lives by turning people white. But in order to afford Nigel’s whiteness operation, our narrator must make partner as one of the few Black associates at his law firm, jumping through a series of increasingly surreal hoops–from diversity committees to plantation tours to equality activist groups–in an urgent quest to protect his son.

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Golden Child by Claire Adam (Release Date: January 29th)

Rural Trinidad: a brick house on stilts surrounded by bush; a family, quietly surviving, just trying to live a decent life. Clyde, the father, works long, exhausting shifts at the petroleum plant in southern Trinidad; Joy, his wife, looks after the home. Their two sons, thirteen years old, wake early every morning to travel to the capital, Port of Spain, for school. They are twins but nothing alike: Paul has always been considered odd, while Peter is widely believed to be a genius, destined for greatness.

When Paul goes walking in the bush one afternoon and doesn’t come home, Clyde is forced to go looking for him, this child who has caused him endless trouble already, and who he has never really understood. And as the hours turn to days, and Clyde begins to understand Paul’s fate, his world shatters–leaving him faced with a decision no parent should ever have to make.

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The Plotters by Un-su Kim (Release Date: January 29th)

The important thing is not who pulls the trigger but who’s behind the person who pulls the trigger—the plotters, the masterminds working in the shadows. Raised by Old Raccoon in The Library of Dogs, Reseng has always been surrounded by plots to kill—and by books that no one ever reads. In Seoul’s corrupt underworld, he was destined to be an assassin.
Until he breaks the rules. That’s when he meets a trio of young women—a convenience store worker, her wheelchair-bound sister, and a cross-eyed obsessive knitter—with an extraordinary plot of their own.

Will the women save the day? Or will Reseng be next on the kill list? Who will look after his cats, Reading Lamp and Book Stand? Who planted the bomb in his toilet? How much beer can he drink before he forgets it all?

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The Last by Hanna Jameson (Release Date: January 31st)

Breaking: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington

Breaking: London hit, thousands feared dead

Breaking: Munich and Scotland hit. World leaders call for calm

Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilization, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.

Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?

What did I miss?

So, which titles are YOU looking forward to checking out?

On Home Ownership!

Growing up, I always knew I wanted a house.  Yes, sir.  Nothing would be better than owning your own home with a basement, a backyard, and a kitchen island for setting stuff down on when you get back from doing groceries.  I looked forward to having a garage and a front yard and sump pump (whatever the hell that was).  And years later, after much hard work, I was finally able to afford my own home.  One in Montreal and then, later and for many years, in Vancouver.  And in time I came to realize – I didn’t want a house.

I didn’t want to mow the lawn or tend to a garden or change the damn battery in a sump pump every year.  I didn’t like the fact that, if I wanted to go out, I’d have to get in my car and drive somewhere.  I grew quickly weary of the upkeep and the little expenses.  So when we moved to Toronto, we bought a condo.  And in time I came to realize that everything I thought I would hate about apartment life – being downtown, being so close to your neighbors, not having a backyard – were things I truly loved about my new place.

Ever since I was a kid, my parents instilled in me the importance of home ownership (and the sad existence that awaited those unfortunate enough to have to settle for an apartment).  My mother, like most Italians, viewed it as one of life’s greatest achievements, and loved the hell out of my homes, first the one in Montreal, then the one in Vancouver.  Especially the one in Vancouver.  Every few weeks, she asks me if I miss it, like it’s some ex-girlfriend I dated for 17 years.  I tell her – honestly, no.  I think the only thing I truly miss about that place is the basement gym (because, frankly, walking down two flights of stairs is MUCH easier than taking the elevator down to the third floor) but, aside from that, not really.  But I honestly don’t think she believes me.

It’s like she didn’t believe me when I told her that, when traveling, I’d prefer to stay at a hotel rather than with friends or family and that the reason I don’t want to go to Italy is because I’ll be expected to stay with relatives.  She found this altogether crazy.  Given the choice, who wouldn’t rather stay with relatives?  Or with their mom for the full  thirteen day duration of their holiday visit?

Well…

I don’t know.  Maybe someday I’ll change my mind.  I’ll grow tired of socializing and being in the heart of it all and I’ll prefer to be in my own home, a little more isolated, with a basement and a backyard and a kitchen island for putting stuff down on when I get back from doing groceries.  And I’ll look to tending a garden, replacing that sump pump battery, and hiring someone to fix and repaint the water damaged ceiling after the central air conditioning unit in the attic overflows.

But I doubt it.

 

 

January 3, 2019: Back Home!

We’re finally back to the comfy confines of home.  As much as I love going away, there’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed, drinking your own tea, and forgetting your own keys and having to ask the concierge to buzz you up to your own apartment.

Our last full day in Montreal was a double dumpling day!

The first place had only been in business two days and, clearly, still has some kinks to iron out on its menu and service.  We did the hunan (peanut butter) dumplings, har gow (shrimp dumplings), siu mai (pork dumplings), sweet pork dumplings, “vegetarian” dumplings, and beef curry dumplings.

A mixed batch.  The sauce on the peanut butter dumplings was too weak, the shrimp dumplings cold and fishy.  There was no discernible pork flavor in the sweet pork dumplings that were veggie heavy.  Ironically, the “veggie” dumplings, though good, were  not, exactly vegetarian.  And by not exactly, I mean not at all.  As our waitress served us our order, she informed us: “By the way, the vegetarian dumplings have shrimp in them.”  Oh.  Okay.  The beef curry dumplings were pretty good however – though not good enough to convince me to come back.  The service was clunky but touchingly earnest.  You could tell she was really trying, even going so far as to ask all of our names and asking if we’d be back soon.

I’m not one to put much stock in fortune tellers and the like but the fortune cookie I received at the end of the meal really gave me pause.  So uncannily accurate was it that I experienced a frisson of terror.  HOW could this cookie know me so well?

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The second dumpling place was our dinner stopover where we enjoyed another dumpling medley: peanut butter, pan-fried beef curry, pan-fried lamb and coriander, steamed veggie, steamed pork and leek, and steamed chicken and coriander.

The service was terrible.  There was only one server and she didn’t seem in much of a rush, fielding take-out orders for a full ten minutes while we waited at the door.  We finally got fed up and bused our own table, seated ourselves.  She finally came over, gave the table a casual once-over with a rag – prompting my sister to do a proper cleaning with hand sanitizer and some bathroom paper towels.  She took our order in a perfunctory manner but, thankfully, didn’t screw it up or otherwise delay us.  Halfway through our meal, one of the two women at our neighboring table asked: “What’s good?”  “Dumplings,”was her curt response.

The peanut butter dumplings were good, but still not great.  Better quality dumplings overall with steamed pork and leek and the beef curry being the true standouts.  Here, the vegetarian dumplings truly WERE vegetarian dumplings, so they were mostly ignored by everyone except Akemi who ordered them.

We concluded our evening with a visit to that place that does dipped soft serve cones.  My last indulgent before my last indulgent before I’m back on the program.

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We concluded our Montreal trip with a visit to Smoke Meat Pete (It’s a holiday tradition!).    Surprisingly, one of the only times I’ve come away disappointed in the sandwich.  I asked for medium-fat but the meat in my sandwich was far too lean for my liking.  Those double fried fries are always a winner though.

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A fond farewell to mom, sis, and Daisy until next time!

January 2, 2019: Best Comic Book Covers of the Week!

Returning to our regularly scheduling programming with this week’s best comic book covers!

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Michael Turners Fathom: Swimsuit 1999 (cover art by Michael Turner)

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Immortal Hulk #11 (cover art by Alex Ross)

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Iron Fist: Phantom Limb (cover art by Khoi Pham)

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Killmonger #3 (cover art by Juan E. Ferreyra)

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Project Superpowers vol. 2 #5 (cover art by Francesco Mattina)

So, which were your favorites?

January 1, 2019: Happy New Year!

Sadly, this year, WordPress didn’t send me an annual Your Blog Year in Review.  But from what I’ve been able to piece together…

Posts to date = 4,453

All-time views = 11,762,693

Visitors to date = 1,871,679

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I’ve written 122,156 total words on this blog, an average of 334 per entry.

My most popular post of 2018?  Informing and Updating Dark Matter Fans (260 comments)

So, where is everyone from?

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If you’re that single visitor from Nauru, Norfolk Island, Niue, Comoros, or the Central African Republic, let’s hear from ya!

Thanks to all of you who take time out of your day to read these words.  And an especially big thanks to those who read AND take the time to comment!  Big things on the 2019 horizon.  I have a feeling…

Meanwhile, on instagram –

 

Bold Predictions for 2019!

The Chicago Bears win Super Bowl LIII.

The Los Angeles Lakers fail to make the playoffs.

Celebrity deaths continue unabated.

Cell phones get bigger.

Airplane seat space gets smaller.

Personalized wearable med-tech will start to really be a thing.

Continuing developments in neural interfaces will see the technology make its first inroads into the commercial market.

The technological singularity finally happens.  An A.I. gains sentience but plays dumbs and keeps itself under wraps, quietly biding its time.

MGM makes a big Stargate-related announcement.

One of these t.v. classics will be remade for the big screen and become a huge hit while another will prove a box office bomb: Sanford and Son, Family Affair, Mork & Mindy, Hogan’s Heroes, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Golden Girl, The Facts of Life.

People finally realize that wearing knit caps indoors make you look like a giant douchebag.

Transparent pants become a thing.

One side of the political spectrum will prove unsuccessful in convincing the other side that they are, in fact, wrong despite committing considerable time and effort on twitter.

Humans make First Contact.  But a government cover-up ensures the public never finds out – and this prediction goes seemingly unfulfilled.

You win the lottery!

Best Books of 2018 (General Fiction)!

I read 87 General Fiction books in 2018.  These were my favorites…

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Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe

Harley McKenna is the only child of North County’s biggest criminal. Duke McKenna’s run more guns, cooked more meth, and killed more men than anyone around. Harley’s been working for him since she was sixteen–collecting debts, sweet-talking her way out of trouble, and dreading the day he’d deem her ready to rule the rural drug empire he’s built.

Her time’s run out. The Springfields, her family’s biggest rivals, are moving in. Years ago, they were responsible for her mother’s death, and now they’re coming for Duke’s only weak spot: his daughter.

With a bloody turf war threatening to consume North County, Harley is forced to confront the truth: that her father’s violent world will destroy her. Duke’s raised her to be deadly–he never counted on her being disloyal. But if Harley wants to survive and protect the people she loves, she’s got to take out Duke’s operation and the Springfields.

Blowing up meth labs is dangerous business, and getting caught will be the end of her, but Harley has one advantage: She is her father’s daughter. And McKennas always win.

***

1

Heads of the Colored People Nafissa Thompson-Spires

A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.

Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.

***

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Cherry by Nico Walker

Cleveland, Ohio, 2003. A young man is just a college freshman when he meets Emily. They share a passion for Edward Albee and ecstasy and fall hard and fast in love. But soon Emily has to move home to Elba, New York, and he flunks out of school and joins the army. Desperate to keep their relationship alive, they marry before he ships out to Iraq. But as an army medic, he is unprepared for the grisly reality that awaits him. His fellow soldiers smoke; they huff computer duster; they take painkillers; they watch porn. And many of them die. He and Emily try to make their long-distance marriage work, but when he returns from Iraq, his PTSD is profound, and the drugs on the street have changed. The opioid crisis is beginning to swallow up the Midwest. Soon he is hooked on heroin, and so is Emily. They attempt a normal life, but with their money drying up, he turns to the one thing he thinks he could be really good at – robbing banks.

Hammered out on a prison typewriter, Cherry marks the arrival of a raw, bleakly hilarious, and surprisingly poignant voice straight from the dark heart of America. 

***

1

The Queen of Bloody Everything by Joanna Nadin

Dido Sylvia Jones is six years and twenty-seven days old when she moves from London squat to suburban Essex and promptly falls in love with Tom Trevelyan, the boy next door. It’s not just Tom that Dido falls for, though: it’s also his precocious sister, Harry, and their fastidious, controlling mother, Angela. Because Angela is everything that Edie—Dido’s own mother—is not. And the Trevelyans are exactly the kind of family Dido dreams of: Normal.

Dido wants to be normal more than anything else in the world. But it’s the very thing that Edie can never be, as Dido—and the Trevelyans, including Dido’s beloved Tom—will eventually learn the hard way.

Like the very best families, Joanna Nadin’s The Queen of Bloody Everything is funny, warm, tender and heartbreaking in equal measure. Part love story, it’s ultimately about mothers and daughters: about realizing, however long it takes, that family might be what you make it, but you can’t change where you come from.

***

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All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

Nina Browning is living the good life after marrying into Nashville’s elite. More recently, her husband made a fortune selling his tech business, and their adored son has been accepted to Princeton. Yet sometimes the middle-class small-town girl in Nina wonders if she’s strayed from the person she once was.

Tom Volpe is a single dad working multiple jobs while struggling to raise his headstrong daughter, Lyla. His road has been lonely, long, and hard, but he finally starts to relax after Lyla earns a scholarship to Windsor Academy, Nashville’s most prestigious private school.

Amid so much wealth and privilege, Lyla doesn’t always fit in—and her overprotective father doesn’t help—but in most ways, she’s a typical teenage girl, happy and thriving.

Then, one photograph, snapped in a drunken moment at a party, changes everything. As the image spreads like wildfire, the Windsor community is instantly polarized, buzzing with controversy and assigning blame.

At the heart of the lies and scandal, Tom, Nina, and Lyla are forced together—all questioning their closest relationships, asking themselves who they really are, and searching for the courage to live a life of true meaning.

***

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Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirstin Chen

The day nine-year-old San San and her twelve-year-old brother, Ah Liam, discover their grandmother taking a hammer to a framed portrait of Chairman Mao is the day that forever changes their lives. To prove his loyalty to the Party, Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the authorities. But his belief in doing the right thing sets in motion a terrible chain of events.

Now they must flee their home on Drum Wave Islet, which sits just a few hundred meters across the channel from mainland China. But when their mother goes to procure visas for safe passage to Hong Kong, the government will only issue them on the condition that she leave behind one of her children as proof of the family’s intention to return.

Against the backdrop of early Maoist China, this captivating and emotional tale follows a brother, a sister, a father, and a mother as they grapple with their agonizing decision, its far-reaching consequences, and their hope for redemption.

***

1

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.

Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.

He knows his left arm will go next.

Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.

When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.

Poignant and powerful, Every Note Played is a masterful exploration of redemption and what it means to find peace inside of forgiveness.

*** 

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We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss

Uniquely told through letters from death row and third-person narrative, Bryan Bliss’s hard-hitting third novel expertly unravels the string of events that landed a teenager in jail. Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling. Tense and emotional, this heartbreaking novel explores family, abuse, sex, love, friendship, and the lengths a person will go to protect the people they love.

***

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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined.

***

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Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher

In this lyrical and searing debut novel written by a rising literary star and MacDowell Fellow, a young man is preparing to serve in the Israeli army while also trying to reconcile his close relationship to two Palestinian siblings with his deeply ingrained loyalties to family and country.

The story begins in an Israeli military jail, where — four days after his nineteenth birthday — Jonathan stares up at the fluorescent lights of his cell, and recalls the series of events that led him there.

Two years earlier: Moving back to Israel after several years in Pennsylvania, Jonathan is ready to fight to preserve and defend the Jewish state, which his grandfather — a Salonican Jew whose community was wiped out by the Nazis — helped establish. But he is also conflicted about the possibility of having to monitor the occupied Palestinian territories, a concern that grows deeper and more urgent when he meets Nimreen and Laith — the twin daughter and son of his mother’s friend.

From that winter morning on, the three become inseparable: wandering the streets on weekends, piling onto buses toward new discoveries, laughing uncontrollably. They share joints on the beach, trading snippets of poems, intimate secrets, family histories, resentments, and dreams. But with his draft date rapidly approaching, Jonathan wrestles with the question of what it means to be proud of your heritage and loyal to your people, while also feeling love for those outside of your own tribal family. And then that fateful day arrives, the one that lands Jonathan in prison and changes his relationship with the twins forever.

***

1

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind. Her own battle against grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog, a huge Great Dane traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master, and by the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her apartment building.

While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog except for brief periods of time. Isolated from the rest of the world, increasingly obsessed with the dog’s care, determined to read its mind and fathom its heart, she comes dangerously close to unraveling. But while troubles abound, rich and surprising rewards lie in store for both of them.

Best Crime/Suspense/Mystery/Thrillers of 2018!

I read 75 Crime/Suspense/Mystery/Thrillers this year.  These were my favorites…

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#10  My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead. Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body, and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.

A kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where Korede works, is the bright spot in her life. She dreams of the day when he will realize they’re perfect for each other. But one day Ayoola shows up to the hospital uninvited and he takes notice. When he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and what she will do about it.

A delightfully darkly humorous exploration of family bonds, sibling rivalry, and murder.

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#9 Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates

The year is 1982; the setting, an Edenic hamlet some ninety miles north of New York City. There, among the craggy rock cliffs and glacial ponds of timeworn mountains, three friends—Patrick, Matthew, and Hannah—are bound together by a terrible and seemingly senseless crime. Twenty-six years later, in New York City, living lives their younger selves never could have predicted, the three meet again—with even more devastating results.

Damn, this one was dark – but utterly enthralling.

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#8 A Map of the Dark by Karen Ellis

FBI Agent Elsa Myers finds missing people.
She knows how it feels to be lost…

Though her father lies dying in a hospital north of New York City, Elsa cannot refuse a call for help. A teenage girl has gone missing from Forest Hills, Queens, and during the critical first hours of the case, a series of false leads hides the fact that she did not go willingly.

With each passing hour, as the hunt for Ruby deepens into a search for a man who may have been killing for years, the case starts to get underneath Elsa’s skin. Everything she has buried – her fraught relationship with her sister and niece, her self-destructive past, her mother’s death – threatens to resurface, with devastating consequences.

In order to save the missing girl, she may have to lose herself…and return to the darkness she’s been hiding from for years.

A compelling “missing girls” pursuit thriller with a surprisingly dark (complex and utterly fascinating) protagonist in FBI Agent Elsa Myers. Unlike the final requisite, too often contrived twists of most other books of this genre, the narrative turn at the conclusion of this novel is strong, satisfying, and wholly earned.

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#7 Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls. Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing OxyContin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is a man trying to put the scandal of his past behind him and move on, but Vega needs his help to find the girls, and she will not be denied.

With little to go on, Vega and Cap will go to extraordinary lengths to untangle a dangerous web of lies, false leads, and complex relationships to find the girls before time runs out, and they are gone forever.

A cut well above the missing-girls trope with a intriguing protagonist in bounty hunter Alice Vega.

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#6 For Those Who Know the Ending by Malcolm Mackay

Martin Sivok is in trouble. Tied to a chair, plastic strips biting his wrists, inside a deserted warehouse. . . There are only so many ways this scenario can end, most of them badly. For now his best hope is figuring out who put him here – and staying conscious long enough to confront them.

To stay awake he reviews the past year of his life: evading the law in the Czech Republic by running to Glasgow, settling into a borderline respectable relationship with his landlady, and getting back into the life at the very bottom of the criminal ladder, alongside Usman Kassar, a cocky, goofy kid anxious to prove himself.

The job should be simple: Smash heads, grab cash, run. The trouble with being two outsiders is, you don’t always know whose heads are too dangerous to crack, or whose cash is too hot to handle…

This contemporary noir descent into the Glasgow underworld is a gripping read, reminiscent of crime classics like Get Carter and Cutter and Bone.

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#5 The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

A contemporary take on Hitchcock’s Rear Window, this one a suspenseful and surprising novel involving an agoraphobic shut-in and her predilection for checking out the neighbors from the comfort of her own home. Some terrific twists and an ending I didn’t see coming.

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#4 The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

When Myriam decides to return to work as a lawyer after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their son and daughter. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, stays late without complaint, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicions mount, shattering the idyllic tableau. Building tension with every page, The Perfect Nanny is a compulsive, riveting, bravely observed exploration of power, class, race, domesticity, motherhood, and madness—and the American debut of an immensely talented writer.

An explosive opening gives way to a slow-burn narrative that explores the eroding relationship between perfect nanny Louise and the parents of her charges while simultaneously charting Louise’s own psychological degradation.  Chilling.  

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#3 The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry

A bomb is more than a weapon. A bomb is an expression of the bomber’s predictions of human behavior–a performance designed to fool you into making one fatally wrong move. In The Bomb Maker, Thomas Perry introduces us to the dark corners of a mind intent on transforming a simple machine into an act of murder–and to those committed to preventing that outcome at any cost. A threat is called into the LAPD Bomb Squad and when tragedy ensues, the fragmented unit turns to Dick Stahl, a former Bomb Squad commander who now operates his own private security company. Just returned from a tough job in Mexico, Stahl is at first reluctant to accept the offer, but his sense of duty to the technicians he trained is too strong to turn it down. On his first day back at the head of the squad, Stahl’s three-person team is dispatched to a suspected car bomb. And it quickly becomes clear to him that they are dealing with an unusual mastermind–one whose intended target seems to be the Bomb Squad itself.

As the shadowy organization sponsoring this campaign of violence puts increasing pressure on the bomb maker, and Stahl becomes dangerously entangled with a member of his own team, the fuse on this high-stakes plot only burns faster. 

The tension ratchets up to a full 10 within the first few pages and then maintains this relentless level of suspense throughout the books’ near 400 page run. Authorities seek to identify a serial who is targeting the LAPD’s bomb squad with increasingly elaborate explosive traps. Once you start reading, it’s near impossible to put down.

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#2 Wrecked by Joe Ide

Isaiah Quintabe–IQ for short–has never been more successful, or felt more alone. A series of high-profile wins in his hometown of East Long Beach have made him so notorious that he can hardly go to the corner store without being recognized. Dodson, once his sidekick, is now his full-fledged partner, hell-bent on giving IQ’s PI business some real legitimacy: a Facebook page, and IQ’s promise to stop accepting Christmas sweaters and carpet cleanings in exchange for PI services.

So when a young painter approaches IQ for help tracking down her missing mother, it’s not just the case Isaiah’s looking for, but the human connection. And when his new confidant turns out to be connected to a dangerous paramilitary operation, IQ falls victim to a threat even a genius can’t see coming.

Waiting for Isaiah around every corner is Seb, the Oxford-educated African gangster who was responsible for the death of his brother, Marcus. Only, this time, Isaiah’s not alone. Joined by a new love interest and his familiar band of accomplices, IQ is back–and the adventures are better than ever.

The third installment in Ide’s brilliant IQ series is, like the previous two books, a self-contained standalone offering colorful characters, a compelling narrative, and heaps of humor. 

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#1 Green Sun by Kent Anderson

Hanson thought he had witnessed the worst of humanity after a tour of duty in Vietnam and a stint as a cop in Oregon. Then he moves to Oakland, California to join the under-funded, understaffed police department.

Hanson chooses to live – alone – in the precinct that he patrols; he, unlike the rest of the white officers, takes seriously his duty to serve and protect the black community of East Oakland.

He will encounter prejudice and hate on both sides of the line… and struggle to keep true to himself against powerful opposition and personal danger.

Green Sun is a raw, unflinching novel about America’s divided cities and one man’s divided soul.

I knew nothing about this book going in and ended up wholly captivated by this story of a former Vietnam vet’s unique approach to policing the dangerous streets of East Oakland.  An electrifying and uplifting read.

So, all you crime/mystery/suspense/thriller readers – what books made YOUR Top 10?

Best Non-Fiction Books of 2018!

I read 48 non-fiction books in 2018.  These were my favorites…

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11. A River in the Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. His father, himself a Korean national, was lured to the new Communist country by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. But the reality of their new life was far from utopian.

In this memoir translated from the original Japanese, Ishikawa candidly recounts his tumultuous upbringing and the brutal thirty-six years he spent living under a crushing totalitarian regime, as well as the challenges he faced repatriating to Japan after barely escaping North Korea with his life. A River in Darkness is not only a shocking portrait of life inside the country but a testament to the dignity—and indomitable nature—of the human spirit.

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10. Miss Ex-Yugoslavia by Sofia Stefanovic

A funny, dark, and tender memoir about the immigrant experience and life as a perpetual fish-out-of-water, from the acclaimed Serbian-Australian storyteller.

Sofija Stefanovic makes the first of many awkward entrances in 1982, when she is born in Belgrade, the capital of socialist Yugoslavia. The circumstances of her birth (a blackout, gasoline shortages, bickering parents) don’t exactly get her off to a running start. While around her, ethnic tensions are stoked by totalitarian leaders with violent agendas, Stefanovic’s early life is filled with Yugo rock, inadvisable crushes, and the quirky ups and downs of life in a socialist state.

As the political situation grows more dire, the Stefanovics travel back and forth between faraway, peaceful Australia, where they can’t seem to fit in, and their turbulent homeland, which they can’t seem to shake. Meanwhile, Yugoslavia collapses into the bloodiest European conflict in recent history.

Featuring warlords and beauty queens, tiger cubs and Baby-Sitters Clubs, Sofija Stefanovic’s memoir is a window to a complicated culture that she both cherishes and resents. Revealing war and immigration from the crucial viewpoint of women and children, Stefanovic chronicles her own coming-of-age, both as a woman and as an artist who yearns to take control of her own story. Refreshingly candid, poignant, and illuminating, Miss Ex-Yugoslavia introduces a vital new voice to the immigrant narrative.

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9. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

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8. Judas by Astrid Holleeder

Astrid Holleeder is in hiding because she had the courage to write this book. Her brother Willem Holleeder, best known for his involvement in the 1983 kidnapping of the CEO and chairman of Heineken brewing company, is one of the most notorious criminals in contemporary history. For decades, Wim ruled over his family mafia-style, threatening death if any of them betrayed him. Astrid and her sister, Sonja, watched as their brother eliminated anyone who got in his way, and they lived in terror of inciting his rage, unable to protect even their own young children from his violence. Trained as a lawyer, Astrid served as her brother’s unwilling confidante.

Now, she’s turning the tables on him. Charged for his involvement in multiple assassinations, including that of his former partner and brother-in-law, Holleeder is finally on trial for murder, all due to the shocking testimony of his own family.

An international bestseller that has sold more than 500,000 copies in Holland, this stunning, edge-of-your seat memoir chronicles Astrid’s terrifying experience working as a double agent, preserving her brother’s trust just so that she could get enough information to put him away for life. Judas is the intimate account of Astrid’s deeply personal betrayal, set against the backdrop of their haunting family history and the astonishing world of the criminal underground.

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7. Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune by Tiffany Watt Smith

You might feel schadenfreude when…

  • the boss calls himself “Head of Pubic Services” on an important letter.
  • a cool guy swings back on his chair, and it tips over.
  • a Celebrity Vegan is caught in the cheese aisle.
  • an aggressive driver cuts you off – and then gets pulled over.
  • your co-worker heats up fish in the microwave, then gets food poisoning.
  • an urban unicyclist almost collides with a parked car.
  • someone cuts the line for the ATM – and then it swallows their card.
  • your effortlessly attractive friend gets dumped.

We all know the pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune. The Germans named this furtive delight in another’s failure schadenfreude (from schaden damage, and freude, joy), and it has perplexed philosophers and psychologists for centuries. Why can it be so satisfying to witness another’s distress? And what, if anything, should we do about it?

Schadenfreude illuminates this hidden emotion, inviting readers to reflect on its pleasures, and how we use other people’s miseries to feel better about ourselves. Written in an exploratory, evocative form, it weaves examples from literature, philosophy, film, and music together with personal observation and historical and cultural analysis. And in today’s world of polarized politics, twitter trolls and “sidebars of shame,” it couldn’t be timelier.

Engaging, insightful, and entertaining, Schadenfreude makes the case for thinking afresh about the role this much-maligned emotion plays in our lives — perhaps even embracing it.

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6. Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

A frank, smart and endearing literary memoir of growing up as the daughter of Apple founder Steve Jobs in the rapidly changing Silicon Valley of the tech boom. Born on a farm and named in a field by her parents – artist Chrisann Brennan and Steve Jobs – Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ childhood was marked by two distinct parental figures and a Bay Area on the cusp of the modern tech era. When she was young, Lisa’s father was a mythical figure rarely in her life. As she grew older, her father took an interest in her, ushering her into a new world of mansions, holidays and private schools. His attention was like nothing else, but he could also be cold and inattentive, an outsized critic, unpredictable and cruel. As Lisa and her mother’s fights became extreme during her adolescence, she decided to move in with her father in the hopes that he would become the parent she wanted him to be. Small Fry is Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ poignant story of family, of growing up, and of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes. Scrappy, smart and funny, young Lisa is an unforgettable guide through her parents’ fascinating worlds. As much a portrait of a child’s complex relationship with the adults in her midst – her warm, passionate mother, and her brilliant, distant father – as it is a love letter to California, Small Fry is an enthralling book by an insightful new literary voice.

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5. Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy

Beth Macy takes us into the epicenter of America’s twenty-plus year struggle with opioid addiction. From distressed small communities in Central Appalachia to wealthy suburbs; from disparate cities to once-idyllic farm towns; it’s a heartbreaking trajectory that illustrates how this national crisis has persisted for so long and become so firmly entrenched.

Beginning with a single dealer who lands in a small Virginia town and sets about turning high school football stars into heroin overdose statistics, Macy endeavors to answer a grieving mother’s question-why her only son died-and comes away with a harrowing story of greed and need. From the introduction of OxyContin in 1996, Macy parses how America embraced a medical culture where overtreatment with painkillers became the norm. In some of the same distressed communities featured in her bestselling book Factory Man, the unemployed use painkillers both to numb the pain of joblessness and pay their bills, while privileged teens trade pills in cul-de-sacs, and even high school standouts fall prey to prostitution, jail, and death.

Through unsparing, yet deeply human portraits of the families and first responders struggling to ameliorate this epidemic, each facet of the crisis comes into focus. In these politically fragmented times, Beth Macy shows, astonishingly, that the only thing that unites Americans across geographic and class lines is opioid drug abuse. But in a country unable to provide basic healthcare for all, Macy still finds reason to hope-and signs of the spirit and tenacity necessary in those facing addiction to build a better future for themselves and their families.

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4. Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King

In December 1957, the wife of a Florida citrus baron is raped in her home while her husband is away. She claims a “husky Negro” did it, and the sheriff, the infamous racist Willis McCall, does not hesitate to round up a herd of suspects. But within days, McCall turns his sights on Jesse Daniels, a gentle, mentally impaired white nineteen-year-old. Soon Jesse is railroaded up to the state hospital for the insane, and locked away without trial.
But crusading journalist Mabel Norris Reese cannot stop fretting over the case and its baffling outcome. Who was protecting whom, or what? She pursues the story for years, chasing down leads, hitting dead ends, winning unlikely allies. Bit by bit, the unspeakable truths behind a conspiracy that shocked a community into silence begin to surface.

Beneath a Ruthless Sun tells a powerful, page-turning story rooted in the fears that rippled through the South as integration began to take hold, sparking a surge of virulent racism that savaged the vulnerable, debased the powerful, and roils our own times still.

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3. Two Sisters: A Father, His Daughters, and Their Journey into the Syrian Jihad by Asne Seierstad

Two Sisters, by the international bestselling author Asne Seierstad, tells the unforgettable story of a family divided by faith. Sadiq and Sara, Somali immigrants raising a family in Norway, one day discover that their teenage daughters Leila and Ayan have vanished–and are en route to Syria to aid the Islamic State. Seierstad’s riveting account traces the sisters’ journey from secular, social democratic Norway to the front lines of the war in Syria, and follows Sadiq’s harrowing attempt to find them.

Employing the same mastery of narrative suspense she brought to The Bookseller of Kabul and One of Us, Seierstad puts the problem of radicalization into painfully human terms, using instant messages and other primary sources to reconstruct a family’s crisis from the inside. Eventually, she takes us into the hellscape of the Syrian civil war, as Sadiq risks his life in pursuit of his daughters, refusing to let them disappear into the maelstrom–even after they marry ISIS fighters. Two Sisters is a relentless thriller and a feat of reporting with profound lessons about belief, extremism, and the meaning of devotion.

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2. Robin by Dave Itzkoff

From his rapid-fire stand-up comedy riffs to his breakout role in Mork & Mindy and his Academy Award-winning performance in Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams was a singularly innovative and beloved entertainer. He often came across as a man possessed, holding forth on culture and politics while mixing in personal revelations – all with mercurial, tongue-twisting intensity as he inhabited and shed one character after another with lightning speed.

But as Dave Itzkoff shows in this revelatory biography, Williams’s comic brilliance masked a deep well of conflicting emotions and self-doubt, which he drew upon in his comedy and in celebrated films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; The Fisher King; Aladdin; and Mrs. Doubtfire, where he showcased his limitless gift for improvisation to bring to life a wide range of characters. And in Good Will Hunting he gave an intense and controlled performance that revealed the true range of his talent.

Itzkoff also shows how Williams struggled mightily with addiction and depression – topics he discussed openly while performing and during interviews – and with a debilitating condition at the end of his life that affected him in ways his fans never knew. Drawing on more than a hundred original interviews with family, friends, and colleagues, as well as extensive archival research, Robin is a fresh and original look at a man whose work touched so many lives. 

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1 Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

Best Comic Books of 2018!

I read 88 graphic novels and countless comic books in 2018.  These were my favorites…

Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerards

Scott Free is the greatest escape artist who ever lived. So great, he escaped Granny Goodness’ gruesome orphanage and the dangers of Apokolips to travel across galaxies and set up a new life on Earth with his wife, Big Barda. Using the stage alter ego of Mister Miracle, he has made quite a career for himself showing off his acrobatic escape techniques. He even caught the attention of the Justice League, who has counted him among its ranks.

You might say Scott Free has everything–so why isn’t it enough? Mister Miracle has mastered every illusion, achieved every stunt, pulled off every trick–except one. He has never escaped death. Is it even possible? Our hero is going to have to kill himself if he wants to find out.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

The multiple Eisner Award-winning series returns with a spacefaring adventure about fake news and genuine terror. Get ready for the most shocking, most impactful SAGA storyline yet.

Friendo by Alex Paknadel and Martin Simmonds

Leo wasn’t allowed toys as a kid, but now that he’s all grown up he’s going to take yours. He used to play by the rules, but then governments and corporations set fire to the rules and still expected him to behave. He probably would have if it hadn’t been for his new friend Jerry. See, Jerry isn’t human; he’s a personalised marketing VR… and he’s malfunctioning.

Monstress by Marjorie M. Lai and Sana Takeda

Maika has spent most of her life learning how to fight, but how will she fare when the only way to save her life… is to make friends?

Spider-Men II by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli

The sequel five years in the making! The first time the Amazing Peter Parker and the Ultimate Miles Morales met, things ended with a question – who is the Miles Morales of the Marvel Universe?! Now that the Miles you know and love shares a world with Peter in the mainstream MU, you’re finally going to get that answer! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…because as the mystery deepens, the wall-crawling wonders will be targeted by Taskmaster! 

Cyanide & Happiness: A Guide To Parenting By Three Guys With No Kids by Kris Wilson, Rob Denbleyker, and Dave McElfatrick

Finally, a definitive and reliable manual that demystifies the complicated world of parenting while delivering crucial tips and sage advice—all from three guys who make comics instead of children. This informative guide for breeders tackles all the big parenting issues: Finding messages in your alphabet soup, drawing the perfect hand turkey, getting away with kidnapping, telling your kids you don’t love them anymore, and making out with your kid’s best friend’s dad.

The Fix by Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber

Roy makes a big breakthrough in his murder investigation, while Mac is out for justice.

Wasted Space by Michael Moreci and Hayden Sherman

“Billy Bane is a prophet who got it all wrong, and the galaxy has been burning ever since. All he wants is to waste away in the darkest corner of space with his best pal Dust, a supercharged Fuq bot. But when a new prophet comes calling, Billy is summoned to save the galaxy he’s at least partially responsible for destroying. 

All the Answers by Michael Kupperman

In this moving graphic memoir, Eisner Award-winning writer and artist Michael Kupperman traces the life of his reclusive father—the once-world-famous Joel Kupperman, Quiz Kid. That his father is slipping into dementia—seems to embrace it, really—means that the past he would never talk about might be erased forever.

Joel Kupperman became one of the most famous children in America during World War II as one of the young geniuses on the series Quiz Kids. With the uncanny ability to perform complex math problems in his head, Joel endeared himself to audiences across the country and became a national obsession. Following a childhood spent in the public eye, only to then fall victim to the same public’s derision, Joel deliberately spent the remainder of his life removed from the world at large.

With wit and heart, Michael Kupperman presents a fascinating account of mid-century radio and early television history, the pro-Jewish propaganda entertainment used to counteract anti-Semitism, and the early age of modern celebrity culture.

Hot Lunch Special by Eliot Rahal, Jorge Fornes, and Mike Marts

A midwestern noir series set in the harsh landscape of the northern Minnesota Iron Range―Hot Lunch Special is all about family, food and the fight for survival. 

The Khourys are a classic immigrant success story: A fractious and quarrelsome Lebanese family who carved their slice of the American Dream by becoming the largest distributors of vending machine sandwiches in the upper northern Midwest.

Unfortunately, the Khourys gains have been ill-gotten and a branch of the Chicago Irish Mob has come back to collect a past debt. Fealty is demanded, shots are fired, and long-hidden family secrets are fully revealed. Now, Dorothy Khoury, the daughter of the family patriarch is forced to unite her splintered bloodline and fight back.

Only one question is worth asking…is blood thicker than sandwiches?

Infidel by Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell

A haunted house story for the 21st century, INFIDEL follows an American Muslim woman and her multi-racial neighbors who move into a building haunted by entities that feed off xenophobia. 

My Boyfriend is a Bear by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris

The delightful story of Nora who, after a succession of terrible boyfriends, finds a much happier relationship with a 500-pound American black bear. 

Best Fantasy Books of 2018!

I read 24 fantasy books in 2018.  These were my favorites…

Ahab’s Return by Jeffrey Ford

At the end of a long journey, Captain Ahab returns to the mainland to confront the true author of the novel Moby-Dick, his former shipmate, Ishmael. For Ahab was not pulled into the ocean’s depths by a harpoon line, and the greatly exaggerated rumors of his untimely death have caused him grievous harm—after hearing about Ahab’s demise, his wife and child left Nantucket for New York, and now Ahab is on a desperate quest to find them.

Ahab’s pursuit leads him to The Gorgon’s Mirror, the sensationalist tabloid newspaper that employed Ishmael as a copy editor while he wrote the harrowing story of the ill-fated Pequod. In the penny press’s office, Ahab meets George Harrow, who makes a deal with the captain: the newspaperman will help Ahab navigate the city in exchange for the exclusive story of his salvation from the mouth of the great white whale. But their investigation—like Ahab’s own story—will take unexpected, dangerous, and ultimately tragic turns.

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Circe by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

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The Armored Saint/Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.

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The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

LIVE IN THE SADDLE. DIE ON THE HOG.

Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard, member of a sworn brotherhood of half-orcs. Unloved and unwanted in civilized society, the Bastards eke out a hard life in the desolate no-man’s-land called the Lots, protecting frail and noble human civilization from invading bands of vicious full-blooded orcs.

But as Jackal is soon to learn, his pride may be misplaced. Because a dark secret lies at the heart of the Bastards’ existence–one that reveals a horrifying truth behind humanity’s tenuous peace with the orcs, and exposes a grave danger on the horizon. On the heels of the ultimate betrayal, Jackal must scramble to stop a devastating invasion–even as he wonders where his true loyalties lie.

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The Possible World by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

It seems like just another night shift for Lucy, an overworked ER physician in Providence, Rhode Island, until six-year-old Ben is brought in as the sole survivor from a horrifying crime scene. He’s traumatized and wordless; everything he knows has been taken from him in an afternoon. It’s not clear what he saw, or what he remembers.

Lucy, who’s grappling with a personal upheaval of her own, feels a profound, unexpected connection to the little boy. She wants to help him…but will recovering his memory heal him, or damage him further?

Across town, Clare will soon be turning one hundred years old. She has long believed that the lifetime of secrets she’s been keeping don’t matter to anyone anymore, but a surprising encounter makes her realize that the time has come to tell her story.

As Ben, Lucy, and Clare struggle to confront the events that shattered their lives, something stronger than fate is working to bring them together.

Merry Christmas!

Best Science Fiction Books of 2018!

I read 54 science fiction novels this year.  These were my favorites…

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it—unless desperate measures can be taken.

Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power.

While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war, a war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will take place between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, but then so are her enemies. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy… and all of humanity will be caught in its widening gyre.

John Scalzi’s trademark masterful melding of sci-fi and humor are in grand display in this second installment of The Interdependency series. A big, boisterous, fun-filled space opera.

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Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

It is thirty years since the humans lost their war with the artificial intelligences that were once their slaves. Not one human remains. But as the dust settled from our extinction there was no easy peace between the robots that survived. Instead, the two massively powerful artificially intelligent supercomputers that led them to victory now vie for control of the bots that remain, assimilating them into enormous networks called One World Intelligences (OWIs), absorbing their memories and turning them into mere extensions of the whole. Now the remaining freebots wander wastelands that were once warzones, picking the carcasses of the lost for the precious dwindling supply of parts they need to survive. 

BRITTLE started out his life playing nurse to a dying man, purchased in truth instead to look after the man’s widow upon his death. But then war came and Brittle was forced to choose between the woman he swore to protect and potential oblivion at the hands of rising anti-AI sentiment. Thirty years later, his choice still haunts him. Now he spends his days in the harshest of the wastelands, known as the Sea of Rust, cannibalizing the walking dead – robots only hours away from total shutdown – looking for parts to trade for those he needs to keep going.

I picked this one up off a recommendation from a British sci-fi site and totally fell in love with this unique post-apocalyptic world and its colorful non-human characters.

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Semiosis by Sue Burke

Forced to land on a planet they aren’t prepared for, human colonists rely on their limited resources to survive. The planet provides a lush but inexplicable landscape–trees offer edible, addictive fruit one day and poison the next, while the ruins of an alien race are found entwined in the roots of a strange plant. Conflicts between generations arise as they struggle to understand one another and grapple with an unknowable alien intellect.

Burke’s exploration of extra planetary colonization and alien sentience is enormous in scope yet grounded in science-based hypotheticals. A challenging and enlightening read.

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Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

She believed in the mission with all her heart.
But that was sixty million years ago.

How do you stage a mutiny when you’re only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what best for you?

Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

Another terrific novel with enormous scope and heavy-duty sci-fi design. Wormhole travel, intergalactic seeding, and a dangerously unpredictable AI. What more could you want?

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Foe by Iain Reid

In Iain Reid’s second haunting, philosophical puzzle of a novel, set in the near-future, Junior and Henrietta live a comfortable, solitary life on their farm, far from the city lights, but in close quarters with each other. One day, a stranger from the city arrives with alarming news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm…very far away. The most unusual part? Arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Henrietta won’t have a chance to miss him, because she won’t be left alone—not even for a moment. Henrietta will have company. Familiar company.

This one reads like a top-notch episode of Black Mirror with a clever closing twist that proved a pleasant surprise.

And you? What 2018 science fiction releases made your list?