14 for 14: My Best Books of the Year


2014 digital numbers

I do three different “best of the year” lists in different contexts. This is my personal list, but…I also do a Best Ebook Romances of the year for Library Journal, and I’m one of the judges for the SFR Galaxy Awards, which is effectively a best SFR of the year list.

So there are repeats. After all, if it was one of the best in one context, there’s an awfully good chance it will be one of the best in another if applicable. Even so, when I looked at my A+, A and A- reviews for the year, I had too many choices.

That being said, I have wondered whether I could (or should) keep going with the theme of “besting” the same number of books as the year. So far, it is working all too well.

bollywood affair by sonali devIn the romance category, I have three that stood out from the other terrific books I read this year. A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev was an absolute standout. (It’s also on my LJ list). Dev’s book is a slow burning romance and an introduction or exploration into Indian-American and Indian culture. Her heroine is a good girl with a little bit of defiance, and her hero is a bad boy who discovers how much fun it can be to be good.

Jeffe Kennedy’s Mark of the Tala is a great fantasy romance and the first book in her Twelve Kingdoms series. In this one, what I loved was the number of different ways that the road to hell gets paved. Her hero and heroine want to do the right thing for both their peoples, and are lucky enough to fall in love in the process. But this is a story about the fight for the soul of two kingdoms, and a lot of men do evil in the name of either good or power. This one goes surprisingly well, if sadly, with Maleficent.

Robin York, better known as Ruthie Knox, told one of the best New Adult stories I have read so far in the genre in Deeper and Harder, the story of Caroline and West. These are real people facing real problems, including a “wrong side of the tracks” type of love story. They overcome a lot of obstacles, with a lot of love, but also quite a bit of heart-rending pain.

No Place to Hide by Glenn GreenwaldI read a bit more nonfiction than usual this year, and two titles have stuck in my head long after I finished. Partially for the topics they cover, and also significantly for the marvelous writing style. No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald reads like a spy thriller, but it is a cautionary tale about the case of Edward Snowden, the NSA papers he released, and the subsequent persecution of the reporter who covered the story. It will make you look at everything you read that purports to be true with a much more critical eye.

Forcing the Spring by Jo Becker reads like a legal thriller, but it tells the story of the fight for marriage equality using the lens of the case against Prop 8 in California. Becker was embedded with the legal team during the five years that this case wound its way to the Supreme Court, and her “you are there” style of reporting will keep you on the edge of your seat.

ryder by nick pengelleyTwo books don’t fit into categories at all well. Ryder by Nick Pengelley is action/adventure, with a heroine who is a combination of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft and Robert Langdon from The DaVinci Code. Ayesha Ryder kicks ass, takes names and discovers secrets that weren’t meant to be revealed in a delightful thriller.

The Bees by Laline Paull feels like a bit of an allegory – it is social commentary about human behavior disguised as bee behavior. But it is also a story about listening to your own inner voice and absolutely NOT blooming where you are planted. You will find yourself rooting for the bee, and laughing at some of her observations that hit close to home about both bees and us.

The urban fantasy series Mindspace Investigations by Alex Hughes continues to wrap me in its web. This year’s entries in the series are Marked and Vacant, and the one word titles represent something in the life of the series protagonist, Adam Ward. Adam is a recovering drug addict, a police consultant, and a telepath. He’s also in love with his equally damaged but otherwise normal police partner. The layers created in this post-apocalyptic but still mostly functioning version of suburban Atlanta are fascinating. It is just close enough to now to recognize what is still going right, and what went wrong.

queen of the tearling by erika johansenIn epic fantasy, my favorite this year was The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. This is in the classic mold of the hero who is raised in obscurity to become the ruler, but the hero is a heroine. This one has the feeling of the King Arthur story, but with a Queen instead. So Queen Kelsea is a fish very much out of water who has to learn fast to save her kingdom. Unlike so many retellings of the Arthur story, Kelsea operates in shades of grey; good choices can have every bit as costly an outcome as bad choices, sometimes more costly. She is learning by the seat of her pants while attempting to preserve her kingdom and fighting with everyone on all sides. A marvelous coming-of-age epic fantasy on a grand scale.

But this year, so many of my memorable reads were in my first love, science fiction.

Two books that I am not going to say a lot about because it’s all been said. These were bestsellers and were covered everywhere.

ancillary sword by ann leckieJohn Scalzi’s Lock In is a murder mystery wrapped in a near-future science fiction setting that, as is usual for Scalzi, has as much to say about our current society as it does about the future in which the book is set. This one works on multiple levels, and has a surprising twist that will tell you a bit about yourself as well. Great fun and an awesome read.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie is a worthy sequel to the “sweeping all the awards winner” Ancillary Justice. This series is fantastic space opera with a unique point-of-view character from a galaxy-spanning empire with a fascinating culture and a very different way of managing its far-flung holdings. Whatever you might have heard about how good this series is – it’s even better than that.

damnation by jean johnsonJean Johnson’s Theirs Not to Reason Why series concluded this year with two books, Hardship and Damnation. Johnson’s series, like Leckie’s, is epic space opera, but Johnson is firmly in the military SF camp with this series. Her heroine rises through the ranks of the Space Force as the story is told, while she fights an interstellar war, first as a grunt, but eventually as Commander of the Armies. The thing that makes this series unique is that her heroine, Ia, is a precognitive who knows what has to happen, but still has to move heaven, earth, the central command, and everyone she ever meets into the right place at the right time to save the universe in a future that she will never live to see. Awesome from beginning to end.

Soulminder by Timothy Zahn was a complete surprise. Zahn is probably best known for his Star Wars fiction, but this is something completely different. As with Scalzi’s Lock In, Soulminder is SF of the laboratory type, where it is a scientific discovery that fuels the story arc. Also as with Lock In, there is a definitely plot thread about the way that humans will take something potentially good and pave the road to hell with it. (Soulminder was published before Lock In, so any resemblance is unintentional). For hard science SF, Soulminder has a surprising amount of story concerned with keeping one’s soul. It is a tale that embodies the principle “for evil to flourish, it is only necessary that good men do nothing.” It’s also about what happens when those good men stop doing nothing.

forever watch by david ramirezLast but not least, The Forever Watch by David Ramirez. If you threw Gorky Park, Blade Runner, one of Robin Cook’s medical thrillers and Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang into a blender, along with spice from The Matrix and Madeline Ashby’s Suited, you might come up with a story that has some resemblance to The Forever Watch, but it wouldn’t be nearly as good. The Forever Watch is epic SF of the generation ship type, and it was one of those books that I shoved at people because I was so captivated. And it has one of those ending plot-twists that makes you re-think the entire story.

And that’s my top 14 for the year. 2014 was a wild ride, and I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store! What were your favorites of 2014? Do share! We all need more awesome books to read!

Review: Vacant by Alex Hughes (+ a giveaway and a scavenger hunt)

vacant by alex hughesFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Mindspace Investigations #4
Length: 347 pages
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: December 2, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Nothing ruins a romantic evening like a brawl with lowlifes—especially when one of them later turns up dead and my date, Detective Isabella Cherabino, is the #1 suspect. My history with the Atlanta PD on both sides of the law makes me an unreliable witness, so while Cherabino is suspended, I’m paying my bills by taking an FBI gig.

I’ve been hired to play telepathic bodyguard for Tommy, the ten-year-old son of a superior court judge in Savannah presiding over the murder trial of a mob-connected mogul. After an attempt on the kid’s life, the Feds believe he’s been targeted by the businessman’s “associates.”

Turns out, Tommy’s a nascent telepath, so I’m trying to help him get a handle on his Ability. But it doesn’t take a mind reader to see that there’s something going on with this kid’s parents that’s stressing him out more than a death threat…

My Review:

Alex Hughes’ Mindspace Investigations is a series that absolutely requires starting at the very beginning. (This seems to be my week for that.) If the idea of an urban fantasy series that reads like a marvelously twisted cross between Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and J.D. Robb’s In Death series, you’ve come to the right place.

Just start clean with the first book in the series, Clean (reviewed here). The following titles in the series are Sharp (reviewed here) and Marked (reviewed at The Book Pushers) It is SO worth it, and also necessary to help figure out the roots of the case in Vacant.

Like so many of the titles in this series, that word, Vacant, is a multiple entendre. It refers to Isabella Cherabino’s career, Adam Ward’s ethics, and the office they come to at the end of the story. Possibly also to any threads of a future that Adam might have, but we’ll see.

The cases that Adam and Isabella have to solve in the present are very much tied in with a larger conspiracy that they uncovered in the earlier stories. But even though that possibility is fairly clear to the reader, it is only a vague hint on the horizon for Adam, and not at all on Isabella’s radar.

This is the first time that they solve a case completely separately. It is also the first time that Adam is away from DeKalb County and operating entirely on his own and without training wheels or a support network. He’s on his own for the first time after his descent into addiction and in his long hard climb back to sobriety.

That separation nearly wrecks his extremely slowly developing relationship with Isabella Cherabino. More importantly, it nearly wrecks him. But he comes out stronger for it, albeit with a few more broken places. The difference is that he is not filling those broken places in with drugs. At least not today.

Isabella is charged with police brutality, and becomes the county’s poster child for non-tolerance of such a crime. The only problem is that she didn’t do it, and both the evidence and the hearing are rigged. The question that is asked throughout the story, and only answered by the end, is that of the rigger.

Adam is off in Savannah, chasing down a precognitive vision with the help of the FBI, although they consider that he is helping them. A child will die if Adam can’t figure out how to subvert the vision before it is too late. In order to derail the vision, he also needs to figure out what a judge in a high-profile case is hiding, and who benefits from killing her child.

And what does any of this have to do with actions in Adam’s past? In the end, it is all about him. And not in a good way. Saving that kid may not fix any of the other things that Adam has broken, but it will be enough to make today worthwhile. It gives him yet one more reason to remain clean.

But some of his screwups still catch up with him. Payment will be demanded, but not all of it today.

Escape Rating A: The world of Mindspace Investigations is a very dark and gritty one. While it seems that things are getting better after the chaos of the Tech Wars, it’s going to be a long, hard time until society gets back to where it is in our now. The levels of pollution in the air and water are a factor that Adam is constantly aware of on his trip to Savannah, and so are we.

What is different about this case is that Adam is operating completely solo. While the series has been told from his first-person perspective from the very beginning, we are always aware of Adam’s nearby support group; especially his police partner Isabella Cherabino and his NA sponsor Swartz.

In Savannah Adam is forced to work with an FBI team that he has never met, and one that resents the need to bring in an unknown teep on an emergency basis when theirs is injured. Adam is there to save a 10-year-old boy’s life, and the FBI team is there to prevent a second kidnapping attempt on that same boy.

Adam is also there because the Telepath Guild is yanking his chain, but that’s nothing new. One of the ongoing themes of the series is that Adam wants to distance himself as much as possible from the Telepath Guild, but he keeps getting sucked back in. It is very convenient for everyone, the police, the FBI, the Guild themselves, to have a telepath whose loyalties seem somewhat fluid.

They aren’t, and that’s what keeps getting him into trouble. Although in this story that same sense of loyalty also keeps him out of trouble. Just a bit.

Adam is forced to make a choice. Actually, he’s forced to make a lot of choices, and they are all choices between bad and less bad. He never really gets to choose between bad and good. He’s come a long way from the drug user he remembers being. He makes the best choices he can, and then lives with the consequences, knowingly.

In addition to the harrowing case that Adam is investigating, what we see is him learning to stand on his own again. The question, as always, is for how long.

While the events in this particular story had a lot to do with previous cases, there was also a sense that the events in this book have pushed the story into a different direction. After the bombshell at the end, I’m on pins and needles waiting to see what happens next.

Reviewer’s note: When I began this series, part of the fun for me was that I used to live in the Atlanta metro area where this series is set. As I write this, I am moving back to the Atlanta area. It made reading about the places involved that much more fascinating for me. I could see it, I have seen it, and I’m going to see it again.


Alex is giving away an ebook copy of the winner’s choice of one Mindspace Investigations novel (INT). To enter, use the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Alex is also conducting a scavenger hunt based on the game CLUE. Here is the clue for this stop on the blog tour:


So you can cross this clue off your checklist. For more details on how you can use this clue to get the grand prize of a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble, a signed copy of Marked, and a character from a future book named after him/her., visit this page that explains the contest and tells you where to find the other clues.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Sharp by Alex Hughes

Sharp by Alex HughesFormat read: paperback provided by the author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Urban fantasy; science fiction
Series: Mindspace Investigation #2
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Ace/Roc
Date Released: April 2, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository


As a Level Eight telepath, I am the best police interrogator in the department. But I’m not a cop—I never will be—and my only friend on the force, Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino, is avoiding me because of a telepathic link I created by accident.

And I might not even be an interrogator for much longer. Our boss says unless I pull out a miracle, I’ll be gone before Christmas. I need this job, damn it. It’s the only thing keeping me sane.

Parts for illegal Tech—the same parts used to bring the world to its knees in the Tech Wars sixty years ago—are being hijacked all over the city. Plus Cherbino’s longtime nemesis, a cop killer, has resurfaced with a vengeance. If I can stay alive long enough, I just might be able to prove my worth, once and for all…

My Review:

In this second full-length novel in Alex Hughes’ absolutely awesome Mindspace Investigation series, the mind of the killer is sharp; unfortunately, the mind of the telepath investigating the crime is anything but.

clean by alex hughesLevel 8 telepath Adam Ward injured his mental pathways at the end of Clean (incredible, stunning debut, see review) and is left trying to hide his hopefully temporary disability from the school of sharks he works among, otherwise known as the DeKalb County Police Department.

He’s estranged from his only friend and protector, Isabella Cherubino, because saving her life required revealing that he had been resting against her calming mindspace just a bit too often, and that they had accidentally developed a mental “Link”. Now he really can’t stay out of her head, and she feels, rightly so, that he has betrayed her trust.

In the ever-simmering background of the cop shop, there’s the seething resentment of a consultant making the “real” cops look bad with his showmanship, and as the perfect cherry on the sundae, a new round of budget cuts. People’s jobs are on the line, and every cop in the place thinks the first one to go should be Adam, because he’s not one of “them”.

But Adam needs the work. Not just the paycheck, the work. Coming in to solve puzzles, to get bad guys off the streets–to work with Cherubino–is a big chunk of what’s keeping him clean and off drugs.

That and an awful lot of NA meetings and service projects with his sponsor Swartz.

But this case that lands in Adam and Cherubino’s laps turns out to be all about the sins of the past–and it nearly ends both of their futures.

The first murder victim is also the last victim of Adam’s drug addiction while he was still part of the Telepath Guild. His botched mental surgery killed her telepathic gift. Now she’s dead, and one of the other victims is missing.

The cop killer who murdered Cherubino’s fiance has started another serial spree. These things should not be related, but are they?

And while Adam needs desperately to get back into Cherubino’s good graces in order to save his sanity, one of the pillars of his life is struck down–Swartz has a heart attack and the only way to save him is for Adam to strike a deal with the Guild.

He’s not sure who is betraying whom or if it will all be worth it in the end, especially when it looks like the Guild is involved in the entire murder spree, up to its secretive corporate neck.

Escape Rating A+: The Mindspace Investigations series takes place in a gritty and realistic dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting. Even cooler, the setting is a very recognizable Atlanta and its suburbs. I used to live there and it feels right in a just-off-kilter way.

Even cooler, this dystopia is not that far in the future. People then remember our now, or close. The apocalypse inbetween them and us are the Tech Wars, when wired technology went sentient and then viral. We could get there from here.

The Telepath Guild developed to fight tech with human-based mental skills. It makes a sick and twisted sense. But power still corrupts and absolute power definitely corrupts absolutely.

Adam is so very human. Even his name; Adam, the first man. (It’s slightly geeky cool that his name is Adam Ward. I wonder if he was named after Adam West and Burt Ward; the Batman and Robin of the 1960s?)

In some ways, Adam is Icarus, he flew too close to the sun, his wings melted, and now he’s fallen. But the fallen Adam is a better person than the original. He tries harder.

A lot of reviewers compare this series to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, because of the urban fantasy plotline. The comparison doesn’t work for me, much as I love Harry. Dresden borrowed the cops but didn’t try to be part of them, and you don’t get much of the cop shop vibe in Dresden. Also Dresden is firmly fantasy, while Mindspace is absolutely science fiction.

A closer parallel might be J.D. Robb’s In Death series, minus the romance. There’s the same police procedural mystery driving the case, albeit with some different procedures. But also there’s the same looming near-future post-apocalypse in the background. Robb’s Urban Wars and Hughes’ Tech Wars have a lot in common.

Adam and Cherubino are extremely flawed, scarred people. They need each other, but navigating their way toward each other, even as partners, is a big part of the fascination in this ongoing series.

As well as the continuing corkscrew convolutions of the mundane politics, the Telepath Guild and whether the humans in this world are going to draw back from the brink of destruction again. And whether Adam will manage to thwart his precognitive visions of his own self-destruction.

marked by alex hughesThis series is awesome stuff. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for Marked.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

A Baker’s Dozen of the Best Books of 2013

2013 blockAs 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back and attempt to decide which books were the best of the year.

OK, so this list is the best of my year. Why not? Everyone else is doing it!

But seriously, it’s both a surprise and a delight to look back and see which books got one of the rare A+ ratings. Or even just an A. (Along with the discovery that I need to do a better job of tagging to make them easier to find.)

There aren’t a lot of romances on this list. Not because I didn’t read some good ones this year, but because, well “reasons” as Cass says. Mostly because I do a separate list of the Best Ebook Romances for Library Journal every year, and also recap that list here at Reading Reality. So romance gets pretty much covered.

And speaking of Cass, she contributed her trademark snark to this list. Along with a dose of draconic awesomesauce.

These are the books that stuck with me this year. Sometimes to the point where I was still telling people about them months later, or where I am haunting NetGalley, Edelweiss or the author’s website looking for news of the next book in the series or their next book, period.

Cass’s thoughts on her faves are very definitely hers. And her picks probably won’t surprise anyone who has seen her dragon shoes. (Note from Cass: Do you want to see my dragon shoes?! They are amazing!)

Whatever your choices were for this or any other year, I hope you enjoyed every single page of them!

Spider Women's Daughter by Anne HillermanSpider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman (A+ Review).  This is a case where life parallels art in a manner that is fitting and poignant. In the story, Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernie Manuelito picks up the case after retired “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn is gunned down in front of her outside a local diner. In real life, Anne Hillerman picks up the case of continuing her father Tony Hillerman’s mystery series by changing protagonists, using a female officer sandwiched between conflicting roles to solve the mystery of who shot the man she loves as an honorary father.


How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyHow the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (A+ Review) This was simply stunning, and there’s no other word to describe it. The light gets in through our broken places, and that’s what this 9th book in Penny’s Inspector Gamache series explores, the broken places in every single character involved. These are mysteries, but Gamache is not a detective who solves crimes by examing forensics; he solves crimes by studying people.

Imager’s Battalion (A Review) and Antiagon Fire (A Review) by L.E. Modesitt Jr. One of the things that I have loved about Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio has been his main characters. Both in the original trilogy (Imager, Imager’s Challenge and Imager’s Intrigue) and in this second series, we have a fantasy hero who is a grown up but still has to face the coming-into-his-power scenario. The women in the series are strong and resourceful in their own right, and the political challenges and machinations are never-ending but still make sense. I just plain like these people and can never wait to read more of their adventures. His protagonists make things happen without needing to be king or princeling. Fantastic.

Bronze Gods by A.A. AguirreBronze Gods by A.A. Aguirre (A Review) I just swallowed this one whole and came out the other side begging for more (which is coming, see tomorrow’s post). Bronze Gods is a masterful blend of steampunk, urban fantasy, mystery and police procedural, tied together with some truly awesome worldbuilding and the fantastic partnership of two characters who need each other to remain whole.  This one blew me away.

Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest (A Review) If Bronze Gods is steampunk as urban fantasy, then Fiddlehead is steampunk as epic. Fiddlehead is the culmination of Priest’s long-running Clockwork Century alternate history steampunk epic, and it’s a doozy. She started with poisonous gas knocking Seattle back to the stone age in Boneshaker, and rippling that event into an endless U.S. Civil  War. With a reason for zombies to be part of the mix. Fiddlehead brings it all to roaring conclusion, and almost aligns history back to the world as we know it. Epic alternate history.

Garden of Stones by Mark T BarnesThe Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes (A Review) This one blew me away. Library Journal sends me books to review, and it’s hit or miss. This was one that absolutely surprised and delighted me. It is epic fantasy, and the world is not just complex, but the reader starts in the middle. There’s no gentle introduction. You feel that this place is ancient and has eons of history, as do all of the characters. It’s immersive and amazing. If you like your fantasy on the complicated side, with lots of betrayals, The Garden of Stones is a treat.

Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football by Rich Cohen (A Review) These are not the kind of monsters I usually read about, and this was not the kind of review I usually write. But the 1985 Bears were my team, and I’ve never been able to explain why that year was so damn much fun to anyone else. This book does it. And at the same time, I can’t watch a game now without thinking about this book, and what it has to say about CTE and the high cost of playing the game we all loved to watch.

The Story Guy by Mary Ann RiversThe Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers (A Review) This is the one carryover from the Best Ebook Romances list, because it was so good that I couldn’t leave it out. The Story Guy was Mary Ann Rivers debut story, and it was an absolute winner. What makes it so good is that the issues that have to be overcome in this story are real; there are no billionaires or fantastically gorgeous Hollywood types in this tale, just an accountant and a librarian (go us!) who have real-world roadblocks to get past to reach a happy ending, if they can.

The Grove by Jean Johnson (A Review) This one is in Jean’s fantasy romance series, the Guardians of Destiny. And that series is a loose followup to her Sons of Destiny series. I’ve read both, and they are just tremendously fun. The fantasy worldbuilding is terrific, the romance is hot, and her heroines and heroes are always equal. No alpha-holes and no doormats need apply. (Her military science fiction series, Theirs Not to Reason Why, is also marvelous!)

The Human Division by John ScalziThe Human Division by John Scalzi (A- Review) Last but absolutely not least, John Scalzi’s return to his Old Man’s War series. Old Man’s War is one of my favorite books ever, and I pretty much shove it at anyone who even hints that they like SF and haven’t read it. So anything new in the OMW universe is automatically worth a read for me. The Human Division took the story in the new directions that followed from the end of The Last Colony, but left LOTS of unanswered questions. There was quite a bit of Scalzi’s trademark humor, but this is not intended as a funny book like Redshirts. I think this story is going to go to some dark places before it ends. But it’s awesome.

Honorable Mention: Clean by Alex Hughes (A+ Review) I adored this urban fantasy set in a post-tech wars dystopian future. Her flawed hero reminded me so much of the version of Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, but her messed-up Atlanta looked like a bad version of a place we could all too easily get to from here. The ONLY reason it didn’t make the “Best of 2013” list is that I’m late to the party. Clean was published in 2012.

Contributions from Cass:

natural history of dragons by marie brennanA Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (5 Star Review) because it was THE LITERARY EMBODIMENT OF DRACONIC PERFECTION. There is no more amazing depiction of dragons out there. It easily soared above my previous Dragon Favorites, and utterly crushed the Dragon Posers people are always trying to torment me with.

UPDATE FROM CASS: I invented a new rating scale for this one. I did not give it a mere 5/5 stars – but rather 15 stars. Nothing Marlene read this year hit that level of awesome. Come back sometime in February (March?) and see my feelings on the sequel. 

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams (4 Star Review). Though I was a wee bit nervous when, at the WorldCon Mad Science Panel, certain contributors had some suspiciously specific ideas about how to rain mayhem and destruction down onto the audience. (Someone give Seanan a Hugo just to distract her from setting off an international incident. Please?)

parasite by mira grantParasite by Mira Grant (4.5 Star Review) Parasites freak me right the fuck out. There is nothing more horrifying to me than a society where MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS tell everyone to ingest a goddamn tapeworm as a cure-all. Could I see the sheep doing it? Yes. Which only amps the terror up.

So that’s our list for 2013. What’s on your list?

Guest Post by Author Alex Hughes: A Discussion of the Tech Wars + Giveaway

Today I’d like to welcome Alex Hughes, author of the absolutely awesome Clean (reviewed here).This fascinating combination of urban fantasy, science fiction and near-future dystopia was one of the best books that I have read this year. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series!

A Discussion of the Tech Wars
by Alex Hughes

The Mindspace Investigations series (Clean, Payoff, Sharp, Marked) is set about sixty years after a devastating event called the Tech Wars. A madman and his followers circulate computer viruses that shut down the entirety of the world, from smart houses to smart cars, leaving huge casualties in their wake. Then, because of peoples’ brain implants and biotechnology, the viruses end up going bloodborne in one of the worst plagues the world has ever seen. Then, it gets worse. And yet worse.

clean by alex hughesIn the end the Telepaths’ Guild steps in to save the world—but what they do to end the war changes forever how the normals see them. The Guild earned their freedom and their right to choose their own destiny—at the price of fear that hasn’t died out even sixty years later.
People often ask me why I leave so much of the Tech Wars backstory unsaid. Partially, I do this because my readers on the mystery side care far more about cases and pacing than they do about backstory. Partially, I enjoy holding secrets and parceling them out in small doses—it keeps both me and the reader interested over a long series. But mostly, I have this idea in my head that one day, when I’m good enough, I’ll write the Tech Wars as a separate series. To do that well, I’ll need plenty of empty space to fill with individual characters’ choices; the major players will need the room to tell me how they, personally, will change the world.

While I like structure, my best work often happens in these empty spaces, in the things left undecided. So I’m guarding that space, quietly, in consideration for a future series—guarding the magic that will let me write it well.

Today, though, I’ll open the box just a little more to talk about the personal side of the Tech Wars, where the idea comes from and what I have to say on the topic. (Warning: opinions ahead!)

The Tech Wars reflect a concern I and a lot of others have with technology becoming so much a part of our lives so quickly. I grew up with a green-and-black-screen computer, and later with the early Internet. I follow science, and I love the information and history available online, things I would never have been able to get twenty years ago without trips around the world and a lot of patience. I delight when new gadgets come out to make our lives easier. I am by no means a Luddite. But when the whole world is in your pocket, along with constant interruptions by social media and the latest trends, there is no silence.

With the advent of social media, the Internet—and all the people and ideas it involves—becomes a daily part of our lives, one click away. We are drowning in a sea of information all the time, and because the information is set in sound bites, even ‘scientific’ and ‘serious’ information is often sensationalistic and overly simplified to fit in the form. My attention span, at least, has shrunk significantly, as my brain becomes less and less comfortable with down time. I fight for that down time and that silence with a true passion, but it’s hard to get and hard to keep—there are constant distractions and deep thought doesn’t seem to be the currency of our generation. I have to be counter-cultural, and I have to turn off the world, to get my true work done.

Sharp by Alex HughesI imagine a world one step ahead of ours, in which you are jacked into the sea of information directly through an implant in your head. The world is ‘enhanced’ so there is no more silence, no more direct experience without analysis and subtext. Every part of your life is run by a computer in direct communication with your preferences and likes. The polarization of politics is just the beginning; when you’re only shown information that agrees with your ‘preferences,’ confirmation bias takes over your life. Your way is the only way. You are always right. And, whatever fast food commercials say, that’s actually a dangerous thing. You begin to miss important clues that the world is about to change.

And then the wars begin, and the world falls apart. You’re forced to rely on neighbors—people you may never have met—and poorer folks unable to afford the implants. You’re forced to deal with reality without the filter, for the first time in your life. What kind of world change would that create?

I’m still figuring that out. But I can say, that kind of world-change would stick with you. People would remember, even two generations later, even after sixty years. And that’s the legacy of the Tech Wars in Adam’s world. A legacy of quiet fear and remembrance.

Alex HughesAbout Alex Hughes

Alex Hughes is the author of the Mindspace Investigations series from Roc. She is a Semi-Finalist of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, a Finalist in the 2013 Silver Falchion Awards, and a graduate of the pro-level Odyssey Writing Workshop. Over the years, she has lived in many neighborhoods of the sprawling metro Atlanta area, including Decatur during her time at Agnes Scott College.
On any given week you can find Alex in the kitchen cooking gourmet Italian food, watching hours of police procedural dramas, and typing madly. Find out more about Alex at her website or follow her on Twitter.


Alex is giving away one paperback copy of Clean to one lucky winner (US/Canada). To enter, use the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Clean by Alex Hughes

clean by alex hughesFormat read: mass market paperback provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: Urban fantasy; science fiction
Series: Mindspace Investigations, #1
Length: 351 pages
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: September 4, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars.

My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it—real scary.

Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city—and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.

My Review:

The first book in Alex Hughes’ Mindspace Investigations series is one of those stories for which the concept of “book hangover” was invented. I was so completely absorbed by her vision of near-future slightly-dystopian Atlanta, and not just because I used to live there.

This is a dark and gritty landscape in a paranoid post-Tech Wars future. Admiral Adama (Battlestar Galactica) would feel right at home, because what little Tech they have left is not allowed to network with much other Tech, for fear it might get itself together and fight back. Again.

But in order to fight off the viruses created in the Tech Wars, they unleashed something even more potentially dangerous. Some people have developed telepathic powers. And in return for bringing the Tech Wars to an end, the Guild of Telepaths won the right of self-governance.

They seem to be a “state within a state”. Some people with Ability don’t have enough to be more than sensitive. Others are forced to register with the Guild and live under Guild jurisdiction for the rest of their lives. It can be a pretty cushy life, unless you screw up.

And then there’s our hero. The story is told from his first-person perspective, so we don’t know his name until the very last line of the book. (You don’t call yourself by your name very often, do you?)

Our hero is a consultant with the DeKalb County Police Department. And he is way beyond screwed up. He used to be the darling of the Guild, until he got addicted to a very dangerous narcotic called Satin. Now he clings to sobriety by his fingernails and by resting a little too often in the Mindspace of his police detective partner, Isabella Cherabino.

Until his past comes hunting for him, racking up a body count all over the county. Someone in the Guild has a score to settle with him, and he doesn’t even remember why. All he knows is that he has a vision of death that he has to prevent, any way he can. Even if no one trusts him enough to believe him.

payoff by alex hughesEscape Rating A+: I loved Clean so much I bought the novella, Payoff, the instant I finished. The world that Alex Hughes has created is absolutely awesome, and I want to wallow in it. I wouldn’t live there if you paid me, but I want to keep reading until my eyeballs fall out.

Her flawed hero is somebody special. The darling who forgets who he stepped on when he was climbing up, and then gets kicked on the way down. All the way down. He’s vulnerable and wounded and still trying so damn hard to just get through each day clean. Sometimes he fails, and we feel his control slipping. He reminds me a lot of the variation of Sherlock in Elementary; the addict who is using his cases and being needed to solve them as an alternative drug. Hughes’ hero has fallen further and broken harder, he’s also cracked open more and has learned the value of some of the social niceties. But there’s a kinship.
Cherabino seems like the classic combination of tough chick and by-the-book cop, until we find out what made her that way, and then this hidden core of pain is revealed. She’s still tough and she’s still by-the-book, but there’s so much more to her character.

Someday there might even be a romance, but in the fine tradition of urban fantasy, I expect to wait an excellent long while for it.

About the case itself…this was a time where the first-person perspective worked very well (it doesn’t always). Our hero doesn’t remember why the villain is targeting him, so he can’t reveal what he doesn’t know. And the villain is more than a bit off his rocker. Adding to the tension is the need for the hero to decide how many of the Guild’s secrets he can afford to reveal to his police employers in these particular circumstances, where a telepathic serial killer is dumping bodies all over the landscape, bringing the attention of the newspapers to secrets the Guild would rather be kept, well, secret.

Cops, killers, telepaths and stellar worldbuilding. What’s not to love?

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.