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A few years ago, I made New Year’s Resolution to read more. I was an avid book collector but just couldn’t get around to reading them. I wanted that to change.
Like many people of my generation, I was raised on video games and conditioned to feel accomplishment for finishing a level or meeting a goal. This didn’t transfer over naturally in finishing a book. Fortunately, I found Goodreads and the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Not only does this reading challenge help keep track of books you read, but the yearly goal you set really seems to get my motivation going. I need goals and I need achievements. I need a pat on the head and a treat!
Since then I have committed to reading at least 30 books a year. That’s not a lot, but it’s what I can manage with my home and work life, and it’s been great. My love for reading (and writing) has grown exponentially, and I feel accomplished in seeing a pile of books slain, lying at my feet by the end of the year. I thought I would share my ten favourite books of 2017 (in no particular order). It is quite a mixed bunch, both in genre and in age, but a good bunch nonetheless. If you have read the books already, I hope you agree. If not, I hope you are able to find the time to pick them up.
'Disappearance at Devil's Rock' by Paul Trembley
My initial interest in this book came from the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. Like many others, I binged the first season and was left wanting more. During my search, I came across an article that recommended several books that would fill the hole left by the end of Stranger Things. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock was on that list. There are certainly some comparisons to be had: A child lost in the woods, a group of young friends with a secret, and supernatural undertones, but Trembley’s tale is certainly new and original and can stand on its own.
'New Yorked' by Rob Hart
As with Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, my interest in Rob Hart and New Yorked started from reading through articles. In this case, it was through LitReactor which I follow on Facebook and has some collaboration with author Chuck Palahniuck. Rob Hart and New Yorked, amongst all the other authors featured, just stuck out to me. The book smacks of hard-boiled detective novel but is set in modern day New York and featuring not-so-nice people as the main characters. It centres on a murder mystery and takes us through the protagonist, Ash McKenna’s, and Rob Hart’s version of New York. It was a fun and short read that has bloomed into a series of novels based around Ash McKenna, none of which I have read yet but can’t wait to sink my teeth into.
'The Long Walk' by Richard Bachman/ Stephen King
I was relatively late getting to know Stephen King. I didn’t actually start reading his work until I was 19 or 20, but, once I did, I was hooked. His nomme de plumme, Richard Bachman, came even later. Again, I was reading through an article when I discovered this book. The article was about Stephen King’s best books and the author claimed that The Long Walk was his #1.
The Long Walk is a dystopian novel about a Hunger Games type reality show where young people sacrifice themselves for the entertainment of their country. Basically, young men volunteer to walk a certain course of blacktop through the country, never going under a set pace. It’s last man standing for the chance at having everything they ever wanted. Even though there are some of the now popular dystopian themes in The Long Walk, this novel was first published in 1979 long before the 1999 release of Battle Royale and the 2008 publication of The Hunger Games.
It’s a great read, and while it isn’t my favourite King novel, it ranks pretty highly up there.
'The Back of a Turtle: A Novel' by Thomas King
Thomas King is one of my favourite authors. I think his way with words is impeccable and can be humorous or cutting when it needs to be. His Green Grass, Running Water was a fantastic novel and his collection of short stories One Good Story, That One was equally as entertaining. I am always on the prowl for more of his work and was able to dig into this one with pleasure.
Like most of his books, Thomas King touches on some issues particular to indigenous peoples with satire and use of Native Mythology to colour the story that touches on suicide, pollution, and faceless corporations. I strongly recommend picking up this book, and all his other works.
'The Strings of Murder' by Oscar de Muriel
This was a book I bought solely based on the cover design. Seriously, the cover art is very cool and could have won my prestigious “Best Book Jacket” mention below. Luckily, the story backs up the art design. A Sherlock Holmes crossed with the X-Files story set in the Jack the Ripper days of England and Scotland, two unlikely companions solve a murder mystery with some supernatural overtones. It is a good, quick read that keeps the reader engaged, and a great start to a series of books centred around the two main characters.
'The Long Goodbye' by Raymond Chandler
Charles Bukowski dedicated his novel Pulp to bad writing, certainly in an attempt to throw shade at the tropes and novels of authors like Raymond Chandler. If I had only read The Big Sleep (which I did just a few years back) I probably would have agreed with Bukowski, but then The Long Goodbye came along.
Though a typical Phillip Marlowe detective story, complete with dames and murder, Chandler’s The Long Goodbye really adds another layer (or two) to the stereotypical private detective murder mystery. Death upon death upon death compound this masterfully written novel with the original private eye, Phillip Marlowe, looking out for himself, his friends, and his business. If you’re looking for a good pulpy read, this is your book.
'Something Wicked This Way Comes' by Ray Bradbury
Two boys are confronted by an insidious travelling carnival, its ring leader, and freak show. Once they figure out the nefarious secret the carnival brings with it, it is their life that is at stake.
I read Ray Bradbury as a child, had read The Illustrated Man and Fahrenheit 451 fairly recently, but I think Something Wicked This Way Comes is perhaps his finest work. From this novel alone, you can see some of Bradbury’s influence in the works of King and Stine.
'Christine' by Stephen King
This book was a bit of a surprise for me. As I said, I’m a Stephen King fan, but my brain couldn’t quite work out how a story about an evil, cognizant car could actually work without being cheesy. The horrible ‘80s movie adaption may have helped sway my thoughts this way. And yet, lo and behold, King was able to craft another great story over a seemingly ludicrous idea! This story about a love square between two best friends, a girl, and a car is pure old school King and is a great read.
'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is always a fun read, but I had never heard of Neverwhere before I spotted it on a two for one rack in Halifax. Gaiman spins another modern day fairy tale that really dragged me into the story. Neverwhere is an interesting and original idea that really stood out amongst the other books I read in 2017.
'Neuromancer' by William Gibson
The godfather of the Cyberpunk sub-genre, William Gibson and his Neuromancer was more foreign to my preferred reading than anything else I read in 2017. I’m not the biggest sci-fi fan when it comes to books, but once I got past the pseudo-scientific language and acclimated myself to the setting I started to enjoy the story. It read like a ‘90s anime to me (e.g. Akira or Ghost in the Shell), which is a good thing. It certainly sets up the Cyberpunk world for those interested in exploring it.
Most Disappointing of 2017
I really wanted to like Blood Meridian. I really, really, really wanted to like it, but I didn’t. Everything was there to make it a fantastic book: the setting (the Wild West), the characters (the Judge), and the author of some of my favourite reads (The Road and No Country for Old Men). And it all fell flat. Everything seemed to fall together, and there were no real outstanding or exciting scenes. The character of the Kid wasn’t overly likeable, nor did he stand out despite the fact we saw most of the story through his eyes.
I still recommend that people read this book, even if just for the character of the Judge, who really steals the spotlight of the book.
Most Surprising of 2017
Here’s the thing: I’m a huge fan of Robert E. Howard, especially his Conan stories. I love them so much I bribed my wife into naming our son Conan. I’ve read everything Howard I’ve been able to get my hands on, from Conan to any of his other works that spawned from the pages of Weird Tales Magazine.
Going into Wagner’s attempt at Conan in The Road of Kings, I didn’t have very high hopes, despite knowing Wagner’s renown around his Kane character (which I have not read). Fear of the unknown, I suppose. Surprisingly, Wagner’s take on Conan, and the story in general, was really well done. I can’t say that it is Howard calibre Conan, but it is a worthy ancillary amongst the Howard Conan stories.
Best Book Jacket of 2017
Just look at the cover art! Look at it! How can you not want to buy this book?
That’s what happened to me. I blind bought. I took one look at the cover art and purchased. I didn’t read the back, didn’t read the author blurb, I just looked at the pictures. My buddy did the same just from a picture of the book I shared him. Magnificent.
The book itself was fairly well done, with a lot of healthy and fun throwbacks to the 1980's and some cringe-worthy ones. It plays close to the YA set, but it has its fun moments that are worth a read.
And that's my 2017 in a nutshell. It was a great year all around. Here's hoping that 2018 continues the trend.