The 2017 Book of the Year Honors!

Here is my Book of the Year for 2017, as well as the books I felt deserved special mention.

To see my complete book list for 2017 please click here.

Book of the Year: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Special Mention: Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
Special Mention: The Silent Corner and The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz

2017 was an off year for me. I am not sure why. Though I read some great books in 2017, there were not a lot that grabbed me like the books of 2016 did. In 2017 I read 21 novels and listened to 3 for a total of 24. So a significant drop from 2016. I also did not read any non-fiction books. Of the 21 novels read, 8 were digital editions. There were 13 nominees for Book of the Year, 3 of which were audio books.

Book of the Year honors for 2017 go to Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

It starts with the old fantasy trope of children who end up in fantastic worlds, like a Narnia. Or places much darker. What happens to these children when they come back to this world, and coming back was not by their choice?

They end up at a home with other children trying to adjust to being back in the “real world”. Most are struggling, not so much with the adjustment, but with trying to understand why they were thrown out of the fantasy world they loved. Most try to figure out how to get back, even if it is to a fantasy world that is a dark, terrible place.

Though short, Seanan has packed a ton of story into Every Heart. I just loved this book. I also highly recommend the other books in the Wayward Children series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones and Beneath the Sugar Sky.

Brilliant.

Special Mention: Borne by Jeff Vandermeer. From the author the Southern Reach Trilogy (also high recommended), Borne is about a woman in a post apocalyptic world. The world is the way it is due to scientific experiments going very wrong. She finds a lifeform and names it Borne. It is sentient. The story is about the evolving relationship between the women and Borne, while trying to survive a wasteland filled with deadly bio-modified animals. And other things.

One thing I do want to call out is something I think some reviewers did a disservice to. And that is the giant, bio-modified bear Mord. Mord is definitely the big bad in this. Some reviewers took the fact that Mord could fly as funny or satire. It really wasn’t. Mord being able to fly, which is a recent development in the book, is terrifying. It meant there was no easy way to get away from him. It also pointed out that the science that had mutated him was so messed up, such a violation, that he somehow developed the ability to fly. So don’t let the fact that there’s a flying bear wave you off this book. Mord will be in your nightmares.

Special Mention: The Silent Corner and The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz. These are books in a new series by Koontz and he is on the top of his game. These are more straight up thrillers than horror or supernatural, but both really good. Jane Hawk is a woman on the run. She is trying to take down the conspiracy that killed her husband and threatens her son. Jane is an awesome, kick ass character, and I don’t want to say too much due to spoilers. Definitely “airplane books”, meaning they will keep your attention and you’ll want to finish before you land. Even if you don’t read them on a flight, I highly recommend them.

The 2016 Book of the Year Honors!

Here is my Book of the Year for 2016, as well as the books I felt deserved special mention.

To see my complete book list for 2016 please click here.

Book of the Year: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
Special Mention: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach
Special Mention: Indexing – Reflections by Seanan McGuire
Special Mention: The Fireman by Joe Hill
Special Mention: The Last Star by Rick Yancey
Special Mention: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling and Jack Thorne
Special Mention: On the Beach by Nevil Shute

2016 was a stellar year for books. I was back to some of my best numbers since 2011, and significantly over the count for 2015 (18 books read, 6 books listened to). In 2016 I read 31 novels and listened to 5 for a total of 36. I read 2 non-fiction books as well. Out of the 31 novels read, 12 were digital editions. There were 18 nominees for Book of the Year.

Book of the Year honors for 2016 go to The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. This is the second time Paolo has received Book of the Year honors. His The Windup Girl won in 2010.

The Water Knife is near-future science fiction where water is a commodity to kill over. The Water Knife is an agent of the state of Nevada, making sure the state retains its access to water no matter what. This means states down river, like Arizona, are becoming wastelands. Since I live in a state (California) going through a drought, it gave me a lot to think about. Though The Water Knife tackles a serious subject, it is also thrilling, at times funny, and a great read. You care about the characters, too. Highly recommended.

Special Mention: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach. We All Looked Up is a YA book that could have easily been Book of the Year. It is the story of a group of high school friends dealing with the end of the world. An asteroid is headed towards earth, there is no way to stop it, no one will survive it. Though it sounds like it would be a downer of a book, it is anything but. Great characters, all trying to decide who they are and how they want to live in the last days. Though very, very different, it reminded me of Ben H. Winters The Last Policeman books, which are also amazing. Highly recommended, and I will definitely read whatever Tommy Wallach does next.

Special Mention: Indexing – Reflections by Seanan McGuire. If you have ever looked at this page before, you know I am a HUGE fan of Seanan McGuire. Seanan writes fantasy under her own name, and horror/sci-fi under her Mira Grant pseudonym. Indexing – Reflections is the sequel to her serialized novel, Indexing. It is a story of a special squad of individuals working to stop the dark parts of fairy tales from becoming dangerous and killing everyone (for example, a Sleeping Beauty can put an entire city to sleep. If no one wakes them up, they will sleep until they starve to death). Think Once Upon a Time meets Fringe. If you have not read Seanan McGuire or Mira Grant, please do. Just fantastic stuff.

Special Mention: The Fireman by Joe Hill. I have liked Joe’s previous novels, but The Fireman is next level. A disease is infecting people, and this disease can cause people to burst into flames suddenly. The collateral damage from that can cause entire cities to burn. The story focuses on a pregnant woman trying to survive as civilization crashes around her. A long book, but a page turner, you get to know and care about the characters. Definitely Joe’s best book, one that could have easily been Book of the Year, and probably would have been if not for The Water Knife.

Special Mention: The Last Star by Rick Yancy. The third and final book of The Fifth Wave Trilogy, it was one of the best written books of the year. Rick definitely commands the language, while still telling a great story. If you saw the movie The Fifth Wave and did not care for it, please give the books a try. All three are great, and a bit darker than the movie or other YA series. I look forward to whatever Rick does next.

Special Mention: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling and Jack Thorne. This is the script to the play, not a novel, though it certainly reads like one. It takes place some time after the epilogue of The Deathly Hallows, where everyone’s kids are at Hogwarts. Absolutely loved it, and wish it were a true novel. If you love Harry Potter, which I do, definitely read Cursed Child.

Special Mention: On the Beach by Nevil Shute. Written by Nevil in 1957, I have watched the 1959 movie many times, as well as the TV miniseries from 2000. However, I had never read the book. This year, I listened to it via Audible and it was fantastic. The movie and miniseries both held true to the book, but there were definitely some changes. In the book, things are much darker, and more people than just young Mary Holmes are experiencing some kind of psychological break. This includes sub commander Towers, who rationally knows everyone in the US is dead, but still imagines his family alive. If he accepts what he knows is true – that they are of course dead – he would lose it. And he still has work to do. As relevant today as it was sixty years ago, the book is a true classic. The narration by Simon Prebble is spot on. A highly recommended book, a highly recommended Audible book.

My 2017 Reading Plan
One thing that I learned – or more accurately what I was reminded of – is how important reading books, especially novels, is to me. It just makes me happier.

In 2017 I want to again aim for around 30 novels read. I also expect to listen to a certain number of books via Audible.

The biggest change for 2017 will be reading of non-fiction books. These are books like Springsteen’s Born to Run, Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality, David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers and Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet. I do not include technical/training books in my non-fiction counts. I find I usually just read the relevant parts of those.

2017 should be another great year for books.

New YouTube Video: Premiere Pro CC – Razor Tool Not Cutting Video and its Audio Track at Same Time

Recently I had an issue with the Razor Tool in Premiere Pro CC. It was not cutting the video and its associated audio at the same time, which is normal functionality. I think I must have inadvertently done something to make the Razor Tool cut only the track it was over. It would only cut the track that I was clicking on with the Razor Tool. This is similar to its functionality when holding down the ALT key.

After some research I found how to set the Razor Tool back to default behavior. I also found how to deal with a video that had a segmented audio track, where the audio track needed to be re-linked to the video.

This video shows the issue I was having and how I resolved it, as well as how to link and unlink audio segments to a video track.

Video on How I Organize all the Screws When Taking Apart My Dell Inspiron 15 7537

I recently posted this video on YouTube on how I keep all the screws organized when working on my computer.

One of the challenges when working on a computer is how to manage the various screws you need to remove. It is very easy to lose track of what screw goes where.

I needed to replace one of the USB cards in my Inspiron 15. This included removing the bottom cover, the keyboard, the battery, the hard drive and a middle plate inside the laptop. All of them had screws of different sizes.

I used a plastic parts organizer that had removable dividers. I marked the dividers with the name of the area its screws were from. So the back cover had its own section in the organizer, the battery had a section for its screws and so on.

I also made sure that each section in the organizer was in the order that I removed the screws in. Bottom cover was first, then battery, and so on.

Once I was done replacing the USB card, I then went in reverse order to replace the screws. As I replaced each area’s screws I removed the divider separating them from the next area’s screws. That way I knew what to use next, and doing it this way actually kept me from skipping a step. I almost used the wrong screws for the wrong component. But since I was going in reverse order, I caught the problem.

A simple system, but I found it to be very effective. I definitely recommend using an organizer with movable dividers.

Securing Cabinet Drawers With Window Latches (Special Appearance by My Cat Luna)

I posted a video on my YouTube channel today.

The video shows how I used latches intended for windows to secure the drawers on a desktop cabinet I have. Due to gaps above the drawers, I needed to use the latches since regular cabinet/drawer locks wouldn’t reach to hook into the frame. I think it came out very well.

How I Setup my Wacom Intuos Pro Small

Wacom

I recently bought a Wacom Intuos Pro small tablet. Because my laptop has a touch screen, there were a few configuration steps I needed to do to enable the pen. This blog is mostly for me in case I ever need to do a fresh install on my system and those steps will be readily available.

I also want to share why I finally decided to get a Wacom after thinking about it for a few years. I will also share some customization that can be done on the tablet and pen buttons.

I held off getting a Wacom because I felt that they were more for digital artists. Though I would like to get a bit more into drawing, I am no where near the point where I would need anything more than pencil and paper. Think stick figures.

Recently, I started watching Sara Dietschy’s vlogs (please check out her YouTube channel, especially the Casey Neistat-related videos) and she did a comparison of the Wacom Intuos medium-sized Intuos 5 tablet with the Intuos Pro small tablet:

I liked that the Intuos Pro small tablet could fit in a laptop backpack. Sara uses it for Photoshop, Premiere Pro for editing, and for AfterEffects, which are the programs I will use it for. Please note that Sara does not do digital art either, and that is something to keep in mind. If you are doing art on your computer, using something like Illustrator, Manga or Anime Studio, or any other digital art application, you may want to go with the bigger Wacom.

At this point I looked at a few YouTube videos about using the Wacom with Premiere and AfterEffects, which finalized my decision to get it. As of this writing, I have only had it for about four days and still need to learn how to actually use it. I don’t think the learning curve is going to be too bad, and once I get the hang of it I know I am going to love it.

As I mentioned above, when I first setup my Wacom I had a few minor issues that were very easy to correct.

The first was the software that came with the Intuos. A CD was included with the software on it, but I wanted to download and install it from the Wacom website to insure I had the latest version. There was a point where it asks for the Software Bundle download key, and that is on a sticker on the back of the CD envelope. Make sure you install the software bundle because it includes the Wacom Tablet Properties program that allows you to customize the tablet and pen buttons.

After installing the software, I noticed that the pen option was not showing up in the Wacom Tablet Properties program:

No Pen

I believe this was happening because I have a laptop with a touch screen running Windows 10. I found a video by Adam Duff at LUCIDPIXUL with the steps to correct this. Please note that much of Adam’s video has to do with an issue he was having specifically in Photoshop. It is the last corrective action that he takes around the 7:23 mark that fixed my issue of the pen option not showing in properties. I will list those steps below as well.

The steps that I took based on Adam’s video were:

Right-click the start button and select search.

Search

Using either standard search or Cortana, search for “pen and touch”. If you use standard search be sure to select that you want to search in Settings. Click on the Pen and Touch result.

Search Results

From the Pen and Touch window, select Press and Hold and click settings:

Press and Hold Settings

Uncheck the checkbox for Enable Press and hold for right-clicking, then click OK.

Uncheck enable press and hold

Then from the Pen and Touch window, select the Flicks tab and uncheck the checkbox for Use flicks to perform common actions quickly and easily, then click OK.

flicks

After I did these steps, the pen option appeared in the Wacom Tablet Properties program:

Pen appears

Now I was ready to customize my tablet and pen buttons. The first video I looked at was posted on the Wacom YouTube channel, but was done by Photoshop experts Phlearn (please check out their YouTube Channel as well):

The Wacom/Phearn video covers customizing the buttons on the pen, as well as the buttons and scroll wheel on the tablet. My favorite has to be setting up the back button on the pen to be Undo:

From the Wacom Tablet Properties program, make sure that you are in the pen option, then click the dropdown associated to the pen’s back button:

pen dropdown

Select keystroke from the dropdown menu:

Select keystroke

The Define Keystroke will be displayed. With your cursor in the Keys box, do Ctrl+Z (hold control button down and tap Z). Then in the name field enter Undo. Click OK. Now when using your Wacom you can click the back button on the pen and it will perform the Undo function. I know this is one I will be using a lot.

The next video I want to share is by Pxlpainter and how they setup their Wacom for use with AfterEffects. One of the things I want to call out is around the 1:30 where he shows how to configure the settings for all applications, or do settings for a specific application. So you can have the buttons and scroll wheel customized a certain way for one program, like Premiere Pro, but have them configured a different way when you are in another program, like Photoshop or AfterEffects.

I will share my progress with the Wacom in future posts, including any tricks or custom configurations I come across.

Clade by James Bradley

Clade

Clade by James Bradley is a nominee for my Book of the Year 2016.

Clade is a short book, 189 pages, and might technically be a novella. However, since it was published as a stand-alone piece, I am considering it a novel. Also, I have read 1,000 page books that did not have as much story as Clade does. In that way, Clade reminds me of two favorite books from last year, Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett (208 pages) and Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (192 pages). All three books presented deep, full stories in very few pages.

Clade follows a family and their friends through many years of ecological disasters due to global warming. Jumping years at a time, we get glimpses into their lives. In those glimpses we see the impact of the climate change on the world and on the family. It could almost be the same world as the one in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, or at least one parallel to it. Though the world in Clade seems a bit more gone than the one in The Water Knife.

I highly recommend Clade and will definitely keep an eye out for the next book by Mr. Bradley.

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson is a nominee for my Book of the Year 2016. And I almost did not read it.

Many years ago, Mr. Robinson wrote the Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars). They were fantastic. I read a few of his other books, which I enjoyed, but in 2013 I read his book 2312. It won the Nebula Award, so many many people really enjoyed that book. I will just say that I did not enjoy that book. I was really put off by it, and did not decide to read Aurora until almost seven months after its release.

The main factor for reading Aurora was Locus Magazine’s 2015 Year in Review issue. Multiple reviewers all said almost the same exact thing when writing about Aurora:

“It may be the science fiction book of the year!”

I have always trusted Locus Magazine and took a chance on Aurora. I am very glad I did. Aurora is about a generation space ship, near the end of its 170-plus year journey to another solar system. The story is told mostly through the eyes of one family and the ship’s AI (which works way better than I thought it would). Mr. Robinson captures the challenges of generational space travel, the ship needed to make the journey, and the conflicts that can arise.

In some ways Aurora reminds me of Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. However, other than some very high-level similarities (generation ships), they are very different books. If you read one you will not be disappointed if you read the other.

I highly recommend Aurora. I will also continue to read Mr. Robinson moving forward.

Wolfhound Century

Last night I finished reading Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins.

Wolfhound Century appears to take place in an alternate universe version of the Soviet Union, filtered through the New Weird of China Mieville (read Perdiso Street Station. Seriously.). It is dark fantasy mixed with Cold Was era police procedural.

The main character is Lom, a cop with issues, but a cop who gets results. We travel with Lom to another city for his investigation into a terrorist. In his investigation he comes across corrupt cops, giants, stone-like dog monsters, news of a fallen angel and things ever more bizarre. Though I do not read much fantasy, I really enjoyed Wolfhound Century. A good, solid and imaginative read.

Note that this is book one of a trilogy. Book 2, Truth and Fear, is already out. I plan on reading it and the 3rd book as well.