It is time once again to take a trip down memory lane and list the books I read in 2017.
by Andy Weir
DESCRIPTION: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
STEPHEN: I really enjoyed the movie, but Zach Woolf kept telling me how much better the book was, so I had to check it out. Nothing like reading a book about being stranded on a freezing planet while a raging snowstorm blows around outside the house.
The Moving Target
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: The first book in Ross Macdonald’s acclaimed Lew Archer series introduces the detective who redefined the role of the American private eye and gave the crime novel a psychological depth and moral complexity only hinted at before.
Like many Southern California millionaires, Ralph Sampson keeps odd company. There’s the sun-worshipping holy man whom Sampson once gave his very own mountain; the fading actress with sidelines in astrology and S&M. Now one of Sampson’s friends may have arranged his kidnapping.
As Lew Archer follows the clues from the canyon sanctuaries of the megarich to jazz joints where you get beaten up between sets, The Moving Target blends sex, greed, and family hatred into an explosively readable crime novel.
STEPHEN: I read a couple of Lew Archer books last year, and was blown away by how good they were, so I decided to sample other books in the series. The Moving Target is rough in a lot of ways, but you can really see what direction Macdonald was going, and how this would really define him for decades to come.
The Drowning Pool
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: When a millionaire matriarch is found floating face down in the family pool, the prime suspects are her good-for-nothing son and his seductive teenage daughter. In The Drowning Pool, Lew Archer takes this case in the L.A. suburbs and encounters a moral wasteland of corporate greed and family hatred—and sufficient motive for a dozen murders.
STEPHEN: This is a really great one that keeps the action relatively local to the murder. It feels a lot like Murder on the Orient Express in many ways, and the payoff is perfect.
The Galton Case
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: Lew Archer returns in this gripping mystery, widely recognized as one of acclaimed mystery writer Ross Macdonald’s very best, about the search for the long lost heir of the wealthy Galton family.
Almost twenty years have passed since Anthony Galton disappeared, along with a suspiciously streetwise bride and several thousand dollars of his family’s fortune. Now Anthony’s mother wants him back and has hired Lew Archer to find him. What turns up is a headless skeleton, a boy who claims to be Galton’s son, and a con game whose stakes are so high that someone is still willing to kill for them. Devious and poetic, The Galton Case displays MacDonald at the pinnacle of his form.
STEPHEN: When they say this is the best Lew Archer tale, I can see why. This is a tale that spans two countries and numerous cities in between. After taking in everything the Galton Case had to offer, you can see how elements of this story were used again in Macdonald’s other books.
The Thin Man
by Dashiell Hammett
DESCRIPTION: In Dashiell Hammett’s famous crime novel, we meet one of the detective-story master’s most enchanting creations, Nick and Nora Charles, a rich, glamorous couple who solve homicides in between wisecracks and martinis. At once knowing and unabashedly romantic, The Thin Man is a classic murder mystery that doubles as a sophisticated comedy of manners.
STEPHEN: I spent a lot of time watching the Thin Man series on TMC during the New Year holiday, and after seeing how good Lew Archer was, and having blasted through so many of Hammett’s other books in 2016, I thought I would see what Nick and Nora Charles would do for me. Well, I see why they made a movie from the series, and why the movie series was so popular, but I was really confused when an entire chapter is dedicated to something that appears to have nothing to do with the overall story.
Grave Peril: The Dresden Files (Book 3)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: Harry Dresden’s faced some pretty terrifying foes during his career. Giant scorpions. Oversexed vampires. Psychotic werewolves. It comes with the territory when you’re the only professional wizard in the Chicago area phone book.
But in all Harry’s years of supernatural sleuthing, he’s never faced anything like this: the spirit world’s gone postal. All over Chicago, ghosts are causing trouble—and not just of the door-slamming, boo-shouting variety. These ghosts are tormented, violent, and deadly. Someone—or something—is purposely stirring them up to wreak unearthly havoc. But why? And why do so many of the victims have ties to Harry? If Harry doesn’t figure it out soon, he could wind up a ghost.
STEPHEN: 2017 was the year I fell in love with The Dresden Files. While the male gaze narrative in the book made me uncomfortable, I love seeing Harry and friends grow as the series progresses.
Summer Knight: The Dresden Files (Book 4)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: Ever since his girlfriend left town to deal with her newly acquired taste for blood, Harry Dresden has been down and out in Chicago. He can’t pay his rent. He’s alienating his friends. He can’t even recall the last time he took a shower. The only professional wizard in the phone book has become a desperate man.
And just when it seems things can’t get any worse, in saunters the Winter Queen of Faerie. She has an offer Harry can’t refuse if he wants to free himself of the supernatural hold his faerie godmother has over him—and hopefully end his run of bad luck. All he has to do is find out who murdered the Summer Queen’s right-hand man, the Summer Knight, and clear the Winter Queen’s name.
It seems simple enough, but Harry knows better than to get caught in the middle of faerie politics. Until he finds out that the fate of the entire world rests on his solving this case. No pressure or anything…
STEPHEN: Good vs. Evil is the theme, but what if it is hard to tell which one is good and which one is evil? The fall of the Winter Knight and the offer made by Queen Mab to Dresden (and his reaction) is a great one.
by Dave Eggers
DESCRIPTION: When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.
STEPHEN: With the movie about to come out, I knew March was a good time to check this book out. Wow… the book takes a very dark and disturbing turn, and then it goes pedal to the metal to the very end when we all find ourselves in a dystopian future. While I doubt the events in The Circle will come to pass, there have been more than a few things popping up on the tech radar in 2017 that made me wonder if every tech entrepreneur should make this required reading.
Death Masks: The Dresden Files (Book 5)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only practicing professional wizard, should be happy that business is pretty good for a change. But he also knows that whenever things are going good, the only way left for them to go is bad. Way bad. Such as:
– A duel with the lethal champion of the Red Court, who must kill Harry to end the war between vampires and wizards…
– Professional hit men using Harry for target practice…
– The missing Shroud of Turin–and the possible involvement of Chicago’s most feared mob boss…
– A handless and headless corpse the Chicago police need identified…
Not to mention the return of Harry’s ex-girlfriend Susan, who’s still struggling with her semi-vampiric nature. And who seems to have a new man in her life. Some days, it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. No matter how much you’re charging.
STEPHEN: The Circle took so long to get through I was really happy to get back to Harry Dresden. With Easter happening in April, the Shourd of Turin and Nicodemus made this an interesting read. Though the ending was a bit of a downer – especially when readers discover why Marcone wants it so bad – one has to marvel at the power of a wizard who can bring a flaming chunk of rock down on the heads of Red Court vampires. This installment also introduced Waldo Butters to the Dresden universe!
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: When Lew Archer is hired to get the goods on the suspiciously suave Frenchman who’s run off with his client’s girlfriend, it looks like a simple case of alienated affections. Things look different when the mysterious foreigner turns out to be connected to a seven-year-old suicide and a mountain of gambling debts. Black Money is Ross Macdonald at his finest, baring the skull beneath the untanned skin of Southern California’s high society.
STEPHEN: This is an interesting one as Macdonald spins a tale of interracial couples, greed, and money. Not my favorite book as of April, but I’m glad I made it through.
by Tom Merritt
DESCRIPTION: What if a time traveler lived in a world where disrupting the timeline could destroy everything in the universe ― everything but himself?
Pilot X is Ambassador of the Alendans, a race with the ability to move through space and time as guardians of the timeline. Locked in ongoing conflict with the Sensaurians, an organic hive mind that can send messages in thought throughout its own history, and the Progons, a machine race who can communicate backward in time, Pilot X finally manages to create peace among the three races.
But when Pilot X discovers that a secret dimensional war fought in hidden parts of spacetime threatens the fabric of the universe itself, he faces unseen enemies and a deeper conspiracy, bringing him to the ultimate choice: erase the existence of all three races, including his own people, or to let the universe be destroyed.
STEPHEN: If you are a fan of Doctor Who, time travel, and Terry Pratchett, then you really need to do yourself a favor and read Tom’s Pilot X. One of my most favorite reads of 2017.
Blood Rights: The Dresden Files (Book 6)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: Harry Dresden has had worse assignments than going undercover on the set of an adult film. Like fleeing a burning building full of enraged demon-monkeys, for instance. Or going toe-to-leaf with a walking plant monster. Still, there’s something more troubling than usual about his newest case. The film’s producer believes he’s the target of a sinister curse—but it’s the women around him who are dying, in increasingly spectacular ways.
Harry’s doubly frustrated because he only got involved with this bizarre mystery as a favor to Thomas—his flirtatious, self-absorbed vampire acquaintance of dubious integrity. Thomas has a personal stake in the case Harry can’t quite figure out, until his investigation leads him straight to the vampire’s oversexed, bite-happy family. Now, Harry’s about to discover that Thomas’ family tree has been hiding a shocking secret: a revelation that will change Harry’s life forever.
STEPHEN: Temple dogs, death curses, and pornography- who would have thought Dresden would finally team with his brother? This was a good one – especially when Dresden discovers he has a brother.
Dead Beat: The Dresden Files (Book 7)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: Paranormal investigations are Harry Dresden’s business and Chicago is his beat, as he tries to bring law and order to a world of wizards and monsters that exists alongside everyday life. And though most inhabitants of the Windy City don’t believe in magic, the Special Investigations Department of the Chicago PD knows better.
Karrin Murphy is the head of S. I. and Harry’s good friend. So when a killer vampire threatens to destroy Murphy’s reputation unless Harry does her bidding, he has no choice. The vampire wants the Word of Kemmler (whatever that is) and all the power that comes with it. Now, Harry is in a race against time—and six merciless necromancers—to find the Word before Chicago experiences a Halloween night to wake the dead…
STEPHEN: The Halloween/October time period is the perfect setting for the Dresden Files. I particularly like Sue the T-Rex’s appearance in the book as Waldo, Harry, Thomas, and a handful of Wardens take on the Erlking and evil Bob. Again, the Dresden family grows as the cast of characters at this point starts to get a bit out of hand. After having read all of the books, it is hard to remember what key point happened in what book.
Proven Guilty: The Dresden Files (Book 8)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: There’s no love lost between Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago phone book, and the White Council of Wizards, who find him brash and undisciplined. But war with the vampires has thinned their ranks, so the Council has drafted Harry as a Warden and assigned him to look into rumors of black magic in the Windy City.
As Harry adjusts to his new role, another problem arrives in the form of the tattooed and pierced daughter of an old friend—all grown up and already in trouble. Her boyfriend is the only suspect in what looks like a supernatural assault straight out of a horror film. Malevolent entities that feed on fear are loose in Chicago, but it’s all in a day’s work for a wizard, his faithful dog, and a talking skull named Bob…
STEPHEN: I was always a little disturbed by the relationship between Molly and Harry, but I suppose if you are going to lean into it the way Butcher does in Proven Guilty, it better be a fantastic story. Proven Guilty definitely delivered, as Molly grows up, learns magic, and must be protected from the Doom of Damocles. Again, as the series progresses, Butcher is able to make each book one that has you on the edge of your seat, and at the same time totally changing the dynamic between all of the characters in Dresden’s close-knit circle.
White Night: The Dresden Files (Book 9)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: Someone is targeting the members of the city’s supernatural underclass—those who don’t possess enough power to become full-fledged wizards. Some have vanished. Others appear to be victims of suicide. But now the culprit has left a calling card at one of the crime scenes—a message for Harry Dresden.
Harry sets out to find the apparent serial killer, but his investigation turns up evidence pointing to the one suspect he cannot possibly believe guilty: his half-brother, Thomas. To clear his brother’s name, Harry rushes into a supernatural power struggle that renders him outnumbered, outclassed, and dangerously susceptible to temptation.
And Harry knows that if he screws this one up, people will die—and one of them will be his brother…
STEPHEN: Sometimes the Dresden Files is all about fantastic adventure and political intrigue. Other times, it’s a life and death struggle for the lead character. For me, Dresden Files is best when there is a mystery that takes center stage. White Night felt like a return to the type of story told in the first novel.
Small Favor: The Dresden Files (Book 10)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: Harry’s life finally seems to be calming down. The White Council’s war with the vampiric Red Court is easing up, no one’s tried to kill him lately, and his eager apprentice is starting to learn real magic. For once, the future looks fairly bright. But the past casts one hell of a long shadow.
Mab, monarch of the Sidhe Winter Court, calls in an old favor from Harry. Just one small favor he can’t refuse…one that will trap Harry Dresden between a nightmarish foe and an equally deadly ally, and one that will strain his skills—and loyalties—to their very limits.
And everything was going so well for once…
STEPHEN: Another action-adventure tale that has a shocking and sad ending for one of Harry’s closest friends. I was sad by the end of the action but loved the introduction of the spooky Island that will play a bigger role later in the series. There is also the matter of the gruffs…
The Barbarous Coast
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: The beautiful, high-diving blonde had Hollywood dreams and stars in her eyes but now she seems to have disappeared without a trace. Hired by her hotheaded husband and her rummy “uncle,” Lew Archer sniffs around Malibu and finds the stink of blackmail, blood-money, and murder on every pricey silk shirt. Beset by dirty cops, a bumptious boxer turned silver screen pretty boy and a Hollywood mogul with a dark past, Archer discovers the secret of a grisly murder that just won’t stay hidden.Lew Archer navigates through the watery, violent world of wealth and privilege, in this electrifying story of obsession gone mad.
STEPHEN: This one felt a lot like the Galton Case as involved family lineages come crashing together. Definitely a pass if you want to skip a Macdonald book, but if you are going to be a completist, then you’ll have to slog your way through this novel.
The Blue Hammer
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: Hired to find a purloined painting, reputedly the work of a man who vanished in 1950, Lew Archer unveils an assemblage of murder and family rivalry and deceit
STEPHEN: When I get on a roll, I really get on a roll, and when a new batch of Lew Archer tales popped up, I dove into them headfirst. The Blue Hammer is crazy from top to bottom. Just when you think you know what is going on, and who is behind everything, the rug is pulled out from under the reader. This is the last of the Lew Archer novels, and I wish I had read it last, as the happy ending moment gives Archer everything he wanted out of life.
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: In Sleeping Beauty, Lew Archer finds himself the confidant of a
wealthy, violent family with a load of trouble on their hands–including an oil spill, a missing girl, a lethal dose of Nembutal, a six-figure ransom, and a stranger afloat, face down, off a private beach. Here is Ross Macdonald’s masterful tale of buried memories, the consequences of arrogance, and the anguished relations between parents and their children. Riveting, gritty, tautly written, Sleeping Beauty is crime fiction at its best.
STEPHEN With oil spills fresh on my mind, Sleeping Beauty hit home, and Macdonald keeps the disaster front and center in this tale. Dead bodies and wild goose chases make Sleeping Beauty a noir thriller worthy of your time.
The Underground Man
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: As a mysterious fire rages through the hills above a privileged town in Southern California, Archer tracks a missing child who may be the pawn in a marital struggle or the victim of a bizarre kidnapping. What he uncovers amid the ashes is murder—and a trail of motives as combustible as gasoline. The Underground Man is a detective novel of merciless suspense and tragic depth, with an unfaltering insight into the moral ambiguities at the heart of California’s version of the American dream.
STEPHEN: Summer was about to begin, and this would be the last Lew Archer tale I would read for many months. This one hits hard for anyone who has children, as a kidnapping reveals a murder in the middle of a massive forest fire in Southern California. Macdonald really grabbed me with this tale of double-crossing characters who won’t reveal the entire story until the very end.
One of the things that make Lew Archer tales stand out is not the plot, but the incredible psychological insight Macdonald brings to the characters, and Archer’s ability to understand those foibles and use them to his advantage.
I Am Providence
by Nick Mamatas
DESCRIPTION: For fans of legendary pulp author H. P. Lovecraft, there is nothing bigger than the annual Providence-based convention the Summer Tentacular. Horror writer Colleen Danzig doesn’t know what to expect when she arrives, but is unsettled to find that among the hobnobbing between scholars and literary critics are a group of real freaks: book collectors looking for volumes bound in human skin, and true believers claiming the power to summon the Elder God Cthulhu, one of their idol’s most horrific fictional creations, before the weekend is out.
Colleen’s trip spirals into a nightmare when her roommate for the weekend, an obnoxious novelist known as Panossian, turns up dead, his face neatly removed. What’s more unsettling is that, in the aftermath of the murder, there is little concern among the convention goers. The Summer Tentacular continues uninterrupted, except by a few bumbling police.
Everyone at the convention is a possible suspect, but only Colleen seems to show any interest in solving the murder. So she delves deep into the darkness, where occult truths have been lurking since the beginning of time. A darkness where Panossian is waiting, spending a lot of time thinking about Colleen, narrating a new Lovecraftian tale that could very well spell her doom.
STEPHEN: If you want a book that twists storytelling narative and really makes you focus on the point of view, then I Am Providence is a must read. This is also a scathing look at Lovecraft fans and the lengths they will go to prove they aren’t fake fans, even if it means looking past everything that was wrong with H.P. Lovecraft as a person. It is a hard book to get through because of the subject matter, but it is totally worth it.
Lovecraft Country: A Novel
by Matt Ruff
DESCRIPTION: The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy.
Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.
At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.
A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.
STEPHEN: After blowing through this novel in less than a week, I can see why there is such interest in Jordan Peele adapting the book into a series for HBO. Here is the thing – H.P. Lovecraft is a terrible racist, and his views on people of color are deplorable. That’s what makes Lovecraft Country so good – it allows those that Lovecraft would have hated become the heroes and totally win against those horrific creations that Lovecraft loved most.
The Ballad of Black Tom
by Victor LaValle
DESCRIPTION: People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.
Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.
A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?
STEPHEN: What Ruff did with Lovecraft Country, Victor LaValle turns the volume up to 11 in The Ballad of Black Tom. Trust me on this, read The Ballad of Black Tom, Lovecraft Country, and I Am Providence back to back and your mind will be blown away.
The Call of Cthulhu
by H.P. Lovecraft
STEPHEN: It is Lovecraft’s most well-known story and his most well-known character. If you’ve read the previous three books, you will suddenly take a different look at The Call of Cthulhu. I find it interesting to read this story every couple of months just to see if I have a different perspective or gain any insight into the creator and his views and attitudes toward others.
Turn Coat: The Dresden Files (Book 11)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: When it comes to the magical ruling body known as the White Council, Harry is thought of as either a black sheep or a sacrificial lamb. And none hold him in more disdain than Morgan, a veteran Warden with a grudge against anyone who bends the rules. But now, Morgan is in trouble. He’s been accused of cold-blooded murder—a crime with only one, final punishment.
He’s on the run, wanting his name cleared, and he needs someone with a knack for backing the underdog. So it’s up to Harry to uncover a traitor within the Council, keep Morgan under wraps, and avoid coming under scrutiny himself. And a single mistake may cost someone his head.
STEPHEN: Turn Coat felt like the moment in the story where you have a chance to catch your breath. But the reveal that the White Council has been compromised felt like vindication for our hero. Maybe things will finally start getting better for Harry.
What’s the Matter With Kansas?
by Tomas Frank
DESCRIPTION: What’s the Matter with Kansas? unravels the great political mystery of our day: Why do so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests? With his acclaimed wit and acuity, Thomas Frank answers the riddle by examining his home state, Kansas-a place once famous for its radicalism that now ranks among the nation’s most eager participants in the culture wars. Charting what he calls the “thirty-year backlash”-the popular revolt against a supposedly liberal establishment-Frank reveals how conservatism, once a marker of class privilege, became the creed of millions of ordinary Americans.
STEPHEN: If you ever wonder how things got so bad, then perhaps you haven’t heard me screaming, “The Kansas Agenda is the Federal Agenda!” for the last three or four years. What’s the Matter with Kansas is a great look at how ideas and ideals can become corrupted when viewed through a political lens. Regardless of your political affiliation, What’s the Matter with Kansas is a must read.
The Last Lecture
by Randy Pausch
DESCRIPTION: A lot of professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?
When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn’t have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave–“Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”–wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.
STEPHEN: If you have never read this book, stop what you are doing right now and read it.
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
by Sean Howe
DESCRIPTION: In the early 1960s, Marvel Comics introduced a series of bright-costumed superhero characters—including Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and the Amazing Spider-Man—that would evolve into a modern American mythology for millions of readers. Over the last half-century, these characters have been passed along among generations of brilliant editors, artists, and writers who struggled with commercial mandates, a fickle audience, and, over matters of credit and control, one another. Written by Sean Howe, former comic book reviewer and editor at Entertainment Weekly, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a gripping narrative of one of the most extraordinary, beloved, and beleaguered pop cultural entities in America’s history.
STEPHEN: There are some that want to poo-poo this book, but really, this is a very well researched (check out the index) that details the history of Marvel Comics that is perfectly fine with celebrating the great achievements of Marvel, but also pointing out where the publisher has stumbled.
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: In The Chill, a distraught young man hires private investigator Lew Archer to track down his runaway bride. But no sooner has he found Dolly Kincaid than Archer finds himself entangled in two murders, one twenty years old, the other so recent that the blood is still wet. What ensues is a detective novel of nerve-racking suspense, desperately believable characters, and one of the most intricate plots ever spun by an American crime writer.
STEPHEN: At this point, it is hard to remember all of the details of each Lew Archer tale, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind – Lew Archer ages as the series goes on, a lot of time is spent reflecting on the time period and the people that inhabit the world, and all Lew Archer stories are worth reading.
Changes: The Dresden Files (Book 12)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: Long ago, Susan Rodriguez was Harry’s Dresden’s lover—until she was attacked by his enemies, leaving her caught between humanity and the relentless bloodlust of the vampiric Red Court. She disappeared to South America, where she could fight both her savage gift and those who cursed her with it. Now, she needs Harry’s help more than ever.
For the vengeful Duchess of the Red Court has discovered a secret Susan has long kept from everyone—including Harry—and she plans to use it. To prevail, Harry may have to unleash the full fury of his untapped power—and he may have no choice but to embrace the darkness within himself.
Because this time, he’s fighting to save his child.
STEPHEN: Dresden has a brother, a girlfriend, a best friend, a dog, and a job to do. What else could he want? How about a daughter he never knew he had, and a revenge plot to take down the Red Court once and for all. Changes is definitely a changing point for this series, and for months leading up to this everyone kept saying, “Oh… that books ends real bad, Prepare yourself.” Those people are right. Just when you think everything is sunshine and lollipops the final paragraph hits you hard.
Ghost Story: The Dresden Files (Book 13)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: In his life, Harry’s been shot, stabbed, sliced, beaten, burned, crushed, and tortured. And after someone puts a bullet through his chest and leaves him to die in the waters of Lake Michigan, things really start going downhill.
Trapped between life and death, he learns that his friends are in serious trouble. Only by finding his murderer can he save his friends and move on—a feat which would be a lot easier if he had a body and access to his powers. Worse still are the malevolent shadows that roam Chicago, controlled by a dark entity that wants Harry to suffer even in death.
Now, the late Harry Dresden will have to pull off the ultimate trick without using any magic—or face an eternity as just another lost soul…
STEPHEN: There is no way I’m reading anything else after Changes. Ghost Story is definitely a ghost story and had me looking at the greater world of Harry Dresden.
Cold Days: The Dresden Files (Book 14)
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: Harry Dresden is no longer Chicago’s only professional wizard. Now, he’s Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. Her word is his command. And her first command is the seemingly impossible: kill an immortal. Worse still, there is a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could mean the deaths of millions.
Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent an apocalypse, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound infinite powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…
STEPHEN: Cross and double-cross and so much back and forth… as much as I loved Changes and Ghost Story, this left me… cold.
Skin Game: The Dresden Files
by Jim Butcher
DESCRIPTION: As Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry Dresden never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.
Mab has traded Harry’s skills to pay off a debt. And now he must help a group of villains led by Harry’s most despised enemy, Nicodemus Archleone, to break into a high-security vault so that they can then access a vault in the Nevernever.
Problem is, the vault belongs to Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld. And Dresden is dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess…
STEPHEN: Oh yeah… It’s like Ocean’s 11 with magic and the underworld. What is not to like?
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
by Robin Sloan
DESCRIPTION: The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything―instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.
STEPHEN: I don’t know who recommended this book to me, but I’m glad I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. What starts as a giant conspiracy theory ends up being a look at what happens when lost souls find the answers they’ve been dying to discover, only to have those answers fly in the face of everything they believe in… kind of like The Last Jedi.
The End of Ross Macdonald
STEPHEN: At the end of September I became obsessed with finishing all of the Ross Macdonald books I could get my hands on. Turns out, I really enjoyed all of the following books.
Meet Me At the Morgue
by Ross Macdonald
NOTE: THIS IS NOT A LEW ARCHER TALE
DESCRIPTION: Somebody in Pacific Point is guilty of a kidnapping, but what probation officer Howard Cross wants to find most is innocence: in an ex-war hero who has taken a tough manslaughter rap, in a wealthy woman with a heart full of secrets, and in a blue-eyed beauty who has lost her way. The trouble is that the abduction has already turned to murder, and the more Cross pries into the case the further he slips into a pool of violence and evil. Somewhere in the California desert the whole scheme may come down on the wrong man. Somewhere Cross is going to find the last piece of a bloody puzzle—a mystery of blackmail, passion, and hidden identities that might be better left unsolved.
The Ivory Grin
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: Traveling from sleazy motels to stately seaside manors, The Ivory Grin is one of Lew Archer’s most violent and macabre cases ever.
A hard-faced woman clad in a blue mink stole and dripping with diamonds hires Lew Archer to track down her former maid, who she claims has stolen her jewelry. Archer can tell he’s being fed a line, but curiosity gets the better of him and he accepts the case. He tracks the wayward maid to a ramshackle motel in a seedy, run-down small town, but finds her dead in her tiny room, with her throat slit from ear to ear. Archer digs deeper into the case and discovers a web of deceit and intrigue, with crazed number-runners from Detroit, gorgeous triple-crossing molls, and a golden-boy shipping heir who’s gone mysteriously missing.
The Wycherly Woman
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: Phoebe Wycherly was missing two months before her wealthy father hired Archer to find her. That was plenty of time for a young girl who wanted to disappear to do so thoroughly–or for someone to make her disappear. Before he can find the Wycherly girl, Archer has to deal with the Wycherly woman, Phoebe’s mother, an eerily unmaternal blonde who keeps too many residences, has too many secrets, and leaves too many corpses in her wake.
The Zebra-Striped Hearse
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: Strictly speaking, Lew Archer is only supposed to dig up the dirt on a rich man’s suspicious soon-to-be son-in-law. But in no time at all Archer is following a trail of corpses from the citrus belt to Mazatlan. And then there is the zebra-striped hearse and its crew of beautiful, sunburned surfers, whose path seems to keep crossing the son-in-law’s—and Archer’s—in a powerful, fast-paced novel of murder on the California coast.
The Far Side of the Dollar
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: In The Far Side of the Dollar, private investigator Lew Archer is looking for an unstable rich kid who has run away from an exclusive reform school—and into the arms of kidnappers. Why are his desperate parents so loath to give Archer the information he needs to find him? And why do all trails lead to a derelict Hollywood hotel where starlets and sailors once rubbed elbows with two-bit grifters—and where the present clientele includes a brand-new corpse? The result is Ross Macdonald at his most exciting, delivering 1,000-volt shocks to the nervous system while uncovering the venality and depravity at the heart of the case.
STEPHEN: This is a really sad tale.
Find a Victim
by Ross Macdonald
DESCRIPTION: Las Cruces wasn’t a place most travelers would think to stop. But after private investigator Lew Archer plays the good samaritan and picks up a bloodied hitchhiker, he finds himself in town for a few days awaiting a murder inquest. A hijacked truck full of liquor and an evidence box full of marijuana, $20,000 from a big-time bank heist by a small-time crook, corruption, adultery, incest, prodigal daughters, and abused wives all make the little town seem a lot more interesting than any guide book ever could. And as the murder rate rises, Archer finds himself caught up in a mystery where everyone is a suspect and everyone’s a victim.
by Upton Sinclair
DESCRIPTION: After writing The Jungle, his scathing indictment of the meatpacking industry, Sinclair turned his sights on the early days of the California oil industry in a highly entertaining story featuring a cavalcade of characters including senators, oil magnets, Hollywood film starlets, and a crusading evangelist.
STEPHEN: I got turned on to this book after watching There Will Be Blood, and decided I wanted to check out the source material. The movie is a very loose adaptation of the first three chapters of the book, and I don’t think I was prepared for how long and complex the adventures of the characters was going to be. It took an entire month to get through this, and when it was over, I was left asking, “Is that it?”
Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty
by Daniel Schulman
DESCRIPTION: Like the Rockefellers and the Kennedys, the Kochs are one of the most influential dynasties of the modern age, but they have never been the subject of a major biography… until now.
Not long after the death of his father, Charles Koch, then in his early 30s, discovered a letter the family patriarch had written to his sons. “You will receive what now seems to be a large sum of money,” Fred Koch cautioned. “It may either be a blessing or a curse.”
Fred’s legacy would become a blessing and a curse to his four sons-Frederick, Charles, and fraternal twins David and Bill-who in the ensuing decades fought bitterly over their birthright, the oil and cattle-ranching empire their father left behind in 1967. Against a backdrop of scorched-earth legal skirmishes, Charles and David built Koch Industries into one of the largest private corporations in the world-bigger than Boeing and Disney-and they rose to become two of the wealthiest men on the planet.
Influenced by the sentiments of their father, who was present at the birth of the John Birch Society, Charles and David have spent decades trying to remake the American political landscape and mainline their libertarian views into the national bloodstream. They now control a machine that is a center of gravity within the Republican Party. To their supporters, they are liberating America from the scourge of Big Government. To their detractors, they are political “contract killers,” as David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s chief strategist, put it during the 2012 campaign.
Bill, meanwhile, built a multi-billion dollar energy empire all his own, and earned notoriety as an America’s Cup-winning yachtsman, a flamboyant playboy, and as a litigious collector of fine wine and Western memorabilia. Frederick lived an intensely private life as an arts patron, refurbishing a series of historic homes and estates.
SONS OF WICHITA traces the complicated lives and legacies of these four tycoons, as well as their business, social, and political ambitions. No matter where you fall on the ideological spectrum, the Kochs are one of the most influential dynasties of our era, but so little is publicly known about this family, their origins, how they make their money, and how they live their lives. Based on hundreds of interviews with friends, relatives, business associates, and many others, SONS OF WICHITA is the first major biography about this wealthy and powerful family-warts and all.
STEPHEN: Know thy enemy.
by Bill Schweigart
DESCRIPTION: Ex–Delta Force Davis Holland, now an agent for the Customs and Border Protection, has seen it all. But nothing in his experience has prepared him for what he and the local sheriff find one freezing night in the Minnesota woods.
Investigating reports of an illegal border crossing, the two men stumble across a blood-drenched scene of mass murder, barely escaping with their lives . . . and a single clue to the mayhem: a small wooden chest placed at the heart of the massacre. Something deadly has entered Holland’s territory, crossing the border from nightmare into reality.
When news of the atrocity reaches wealthy cryptozoologist Richard Severance, he sends a three-person team north to investigate. Not long ago, the members of that team—Ben McKelvie, Lindsay Clark, and Alex Standingcloud—were nearly killed by a vengeful shapeshifter. Now they are walking wounded, haunted by gruesome memories that make normal life impossible. But there is nothing normal about the horror that awaits in the Northwoods.
STEPHEN: After Sons of Wichita and Oil! I was a bit burned out on reading books. I know that is hard to believe, especially after the monster run of reading in September. I needed a palette cleanser, and longtime fan and supporter of Major Spoilers, Bill Schweigart suggested I read his Fatal Folklore Trilogy of books. I made the mistake of reading the second book first(long story don’t ask) and instantly fell in love with Bill’s take on cryptozoology, the monsters the lurk in the dark, and those that hunt them. I read Northwoods over the Thanksgiving break and this really rejuvenated my love for reading. Definitely a must read!
The Devil’s Colony: The Fatale Folklore Trilogy
by Bill Schweigart
DESCRIPTION: Ben McKelvie had a good job, a nice house, a beautiful fiancée . . . until a bloodthirsty shapeshifter took everything away. Ever since, he’s been chasing supernatural phenomena all across the country, aided by dedicated zoologist Lindsay Clark and wealthy cryptozoologist Richard Severance.
Now they face their deadliest challenge yet. In the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a man named Henry Drexler operates a private compound called Välkommen, which is Swedish for “welcome.” Indeed, Drexler welcomes all visitors—so long as they’re racists, neo-Nazis, or otherwise in cahoots with the alt-right. But Drexler is no mere Hitler wannabe. Once he was Severance’s mentor, and his research may well have summoned a monster to the Pine Barrens.
To find out the truth, Ben and Lindsay must enter the camp incognito. There, under the watchful eyes of Drexler’s bodyguards and sociopathic son, they will learn that the most dangerous beasts lurk in the human heart.
STEPHEN: Maybe a bit too on the nose for 2017, but at least the Nazis die in the end. Also, a Cthulhuesque monster! Whatever you have to do to get Bill’s books, do it. DO IT! (You’re welcome.)
Kobold’s Guide to Worldbuilding
by Wolfgang Baur, Jeff Grubb, Michael A. Stackpole, Chris Pramas, Keith Baker, Steven Winter, Jonathan Roberts, Monte Cook, David Cook and Janna Silverstein
DESCRIPTION: Roleplaying games and fantasy fiction are filled with rich and fascinating worlds: the Forgotten Realms, Glorantha, Narnia, R’lyeh, Middle-Earth, Barsoom, and so many more. It took startling leaps of imagination as well as careful thought and planning to create places like these: places that readers and players want to come back to again and again.
Now, eleven of adventure gaming’s top designers come together to share their insights into building worlds that gamers will never forget. Learn the secrets of designing a pantheon, creating a setting that provokes conflict, determining which historical details are necessary, and so much more.
Take that creative leap, and create dazzling worlds of your own!
STEPHEN: DMs, GMs, MCs, and anyone looking to build a world for your players to adventure in should read this book. A fantastic series of essays, suggestions, and tips to build your imaginary world from the micro to the macro.
So there you go. A massive list of books I read in 2017. And yes I did read them all – and probably more, as I think I lost track somewhere around September. It’s been a great year of series and characters, and authors galore, and I can’t wait to see what I’ll be reading in 2018.