The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.

The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Why this took me so long to post, I’ll never know…it’s bad enough that it took me a month and a half to read it.

The PursuitThe Pursuit

by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Series: Fox and O’Hare, #5

Hardcover, 304 pg.
Bantam, 2016

Read: September 2, 2016

“I’ll send your money, but don’t think about running out on me,” Dragan said. “Or I’ll torture and kill both of you.”

Nick shook his head. “You can’t go ten minutes without making a threat, can you?”

“It’s called leadership,” Dragan said. “Stay in touch.”

Following the cliff-hanger ending to The Scam, I wondered if this book would shake off the fairly well-established outline for these books and instead, we’d get Kate globe-trotting from exotic locale to exotic locale hunting them down. Thankfully, Evanovich and Goldberg had something better in mind (not that something like my idea wouldn’t have been fun), while pretty much sticking to the typical outline.

Nick’s kidnapping ends up setting the stage for taking down an international thief and would-be terrorist. This thief, Dragan, is the anti-Nick. He’s about profit, violence, and more profit. There’s no style, no fun, no zest . . . But Dragan knows what he needs to accomplish a couple of his biggest heists: Nick.

Naturally, he gets more than he bargains for (and I don’t just mean Kate). Of the various criminals, masterminds, thieves and all around nasty folks that these two have taken down or encountered, Dragan is the worst. Thankfully, Evanovich and Goldberg are able to balance the threat and the humor, the romance and the robbery.

It all comes down to relationships: which is really why we come back to this series. Kate and Nick (I’m gladdened/relieved/a little surprised by where they have the relationship now). Nick and Jake. Kate and Jake. The rest of the team with Nick and/or Kate. Jake and anyone he comes into contact with (if we could get some young, active duty Jake stories, that’d be awesome). I like the way that their team is doing non-con work together — despite their best intentions, Nick and Kate have formed an actual team. There are a couple of additions this go-around (one is a blast from the past, but still, new to this side of the road).

I think there’s a misfire here — there’s a new foil introduced into Kate’s life, an FBI agent who is to work with her without knowing about this little side-project. He’s a little humorous, but mostly annoying. And his existence seems to run counter to the people at the top of the FBI sanctioning (however unofficially) what’s going on here. I’m prepared for them to convince me otherwise, but until they do, I’m going to groan whenever he shows up.

The writing is crisp as ever, it seems so smooth and effortless that it has to take a lot of work. There’s a great info-dump (because that’s actually a thing, rare as it may be) about an infectious disease. Not only does it inform the reader, but it’s written in a way to flesh out a character and add a sense of threat to the narrative.

There’s an editing blunder in the final few chapters that took me out of the moment (using Kate’s name instead of one of Dragan’s crew), that was oddly reassuring to me — even the big publishers stumble, not just the small press/self-pubbed guys like I’ve been reading so much lately.

I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned Harry Harrison’s Slippery Jim diGriz when talking about this series, but this is Nick Fox at his Slippery Jimmiest (Kate is a little like Angelina diGriz, too, come to think of it — but not as much). Fans of either should look into the other. The Pursuit is another solidly entertaining adventure in this series. Really looking forward to what’s next.

Oh, I should add that if you’re a fan of eggs, you might want to eat a few extra before reading this book, because it’ll be tough to eat one for a while. Trust me on this one.

—–

4 Stars

Hunted (Audiobook) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels

Hunted Audiobook Hunted

by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles, #6

Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., 52 min.
Random House Audio, 2013

Read: November 21 – 23, 2016


I loved listening to this one this week — hated for it to end. I’m not sure why this volume works so much better for me than others in this series (not that there’s a bad one in the bunch), but it does. I’m still pretty satisfied with what I wrote the first time I read the book, so I’ll pretty much copy and paste it below with a few minor tweaks and a word or two about the audio performance.

Try as I might, I can’t figure out a way to get Goodreads to let me give this as many stars as it deserves — 6. I don’t think it’s possible for Hearne to write a bad book, but Hunted is beyond good. Not that Hearne has ever seemed anything but self-assured and capable (sorta like Atticus), but he’s really firing on all cylinders here — from the jaw-dropping and series-changing events of Chapter 1 through all the plot, twists, character moments, quips, action, and development that follows — Hearne delivers with verve and panache.

I don’t know how to describe the storyline without plunging neck-deep into spoiler territory, so let’s just say that this picks up minutes (if not seconds) from Trapped and keeps going from there. Virtually every character from the previous five novels makes an appearance (if only with a name-drop), and we get a few new characters from the pages of myth (Irish, Greek and Roman predominantly, but most of Europe is well-represented here) as well from Hearne’s own imagination. Our favorite Druids face off with a couple of new opponents, try to broker a peace with Greek and Roman pantheons, prepare for Ragnarok, and try to suss out who amongst the Tuatha Dé Danann might be working to bring about their untimely demise. (clearly, our heroes don’t get a lot of rest in these fast-moving 300 pages to get all that addressed)

Not that Atticus has had an easy go of it since the beginning of Hounded, but Hearne really puts the hurt on him this time around. He has two of the closest calls I can remember a first-person narrator dealing with in recent history — and he gets both of them in one book! Though honestly, the emotional and intellectual challenges he faces are probably harder for him to deal with — his Bear charm and tattoos can’t help him with those. Naturally, he rises to the challenges and even pulls off a couple of schemes that would make his buddy Coyote proud. While remaining Atticus at his core, there are flashes of a ruthlessness and hardness that we haven’t seen much of before. A good reminder that a Celtic warrior was formidable opponent (thankfully, there are things that still make him balk!)

While most of the book is told from Atticus’ POV as usual, we do get a few chapters from Granuaile’s POV — Daniels is able to pull these off well, I should add. I appreciated seeing things from her perspective (not just the parts that Atticus couldn’t relate, either) and I learned a lot more about a character I thought I knew pretty well already. I think she’s just about at the point where we could get Granuaile novels with minimal use of Atticus (see the Joe Pike novels) and not feel we were missing much — if anything, the fight scenes might be a bit more savage. There’s a danger here (I think Atticus himself sees this) in her becoming too much of an eco-warrior (think Captain Planet as told by Tarantino), and I think that could make for problematic reading if it went on too long or too extreme. But until then, I’m enjoying the heck out of this warrior woman.

If you’re already reading this series, you’re in love with Oberon (or have no soul). If you’re not reading it, you’ve probably not read this far — but if you have, just know that it’s worth buying the 6 books just to spend time with this most wonderful of Irish Wolfhounds. This is the best use of Oberon yet — of course, he’s hilarious and inappropriate as always — but he also gets to be heroic, inspiring and even moving. I’m not kidding, my eyes got misty a couple of times just because of him. I remembered — very clearly — Oberon’s response to Atticus’ shooting as very moving. Luke Daniels’ work made it heartbreaking (thankfully, I knew what happened afterwards, or I’d have been openly weeping at my desk). A couple of hours later, I did audibly crack up when Oberon used Mercury’s leg for a fire hydrant. Similarly to the way that the audio performance made Oberon’s grief more tangible, his joy in the Epilogue was incredibly contagious.

Any book that does all that while pulling off things like citing Wheaton’s Law within a few pages of quoting Dante (in the original!) needs to be celebrated. Add in Daniels’ outstanding performance? An absolute winner.

—–

5 Stars

Trapped (Audiobook) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels

Trapped Audiobook Trapped

by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles, #5

Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., 2 min.
Random House Audio, 2012

Read: November 7 – 10, 2016


Huh. I apparently didn’t write up anything when I first read this. Not only that, but I couldn’t remember a thing about it. At least while I was downloading — chapter after chapter I kept saying, “Oh, that happens in this book?” Some fan I am.

Granuaile is finally bound to the Earth, Atticus starts making things up to Odin, Bacchus tries to get his revenge, Vampires and Dark Elves have similar ideas — as does a certain recently-freed Norse god. Well, many individuals seem to want Atticus dead — preferably before he can bind Granuaile. And well, many, many other things transpire — both positive and dangerous.

Oberon gets to be a hero, as well as comic relief. Which is all anyone can ask for, really.

The way Hearne ends this book is criminal, really — thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long to get to the next book in the series this time through — I put up with the months of waiting once, I’m not sure I’d have been able to do it again.

I liked the way that Hearne describes the differences between Hermes and Mercury (which carries over to all Olympians both here and the next book) — it reminded me of some of Riordan’s takes in The Heroes of Olympus series, while not duplicating things.

I’ve run out of ways to describe Luke Daniel’s work — it’s just spot-on, not sure what else to say. Hearne’s writing is crisp, well-paced (although I think a couple of the stories from Norse figures drag a bit), and the fight scenes here are among his best. All in all, an important and entertaining installment in this series.

—–

3.5 Stars

Tricked (Audiobook) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels

Tricked Audiobook Tricked

by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles, #4

Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs., 30 min.
Random House Audio, 2012

Read: October 19 – 24, 2016


This novel is essential to pivot from the first books to the remainder of the series — after drawing attention to himself by killing Aenghus Óg and the other shenanigans in next books, Atticus needs to disappear for a while — but first he has a promise to Coyote to keep.

When I first read this, I summed up the book by saying, “Again, Hearne doesn’t just deal with one people’s pantheon–Tricked is a mashup of Irish, Norse and Navajo stories (with a side order of several representatives from other continents). Not to mention a returning cast of urban fantasy monsters, and plain ole humans. Of course, Oberon gets time to shine after being absent for so much of Hammered, and he steals every scene he’s in.” I think I’ll let that stand for this time through the book, too.

Once again, I love listening to Daniels’ Coyote — and his other Coyote is pretty good, too (it makes sense in context, really). I’ve really got nothing else to say — it’s typical Daniels, fun and easy to listen to — his narration and characters keep you listening and do a great job of bringing the story to life.

It’s not the best book in the series, but it moves the overall story along, provides some good excitement and proves that Atticus doesn’t need his home environs, and his readers can be entertained while he takes his show on the road (which will prove to be a very good thing for the series).

—–

4 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Operator by Kim Harrison

The OperatorThe Operator

by Kim Harrison
Series: The Peri Reed Chronicles, #2
ARC, 468 pg.
Pocket Book, 2016
Read: October 17 – 20, 2016

I loved Peri Reed’s debut in The Drafter last year — it was one of my 10 favorites of 2015, so to say I was eager to read this is somewhat of an understatement. Sure, I was a little apprehensive, too — could Harrison pull it off again? Thankfully, yes she could. You may be able to jump in to the series with this point, but I really wouldn’t recommend it at all. Go read The Drafter.

The Operator picks up with Peri in a much better place (mentally, at least) than we left her in — she’s living out of the business, she runs a coffee shop that’s marketed towards the elite of Detroit — the moneyed, those wanting the most secure networks while sipping their morning caffeine fix, and those willing to spend an exorbitant amount on coffee.

She’s working really hard to convince herself that this is the life she wants when her past catches up with her. And before she knows it, she’s got the remnants of Opti trying to bring her back in — and the government’s version of a “clean” Opti doing their best to recruit her (and honestly, they’re taking more of a “stick” approach than a “carrot” approach).

Faces from her past — those she trusts, but not enough; those she trusts, but doesn’t want to; and those she’ll never trust — compete (on both sides) with people she doesn’t know and doesn’t trust. And, as always, Peri doesn’t even know if she can trust herself — but she’s very clear on what she wants: out. Out of the life, out of the spy business, out of everything that defines her. To get there, she’s going to have to rely on everything that she’s trying to get away from, but that’s a price she’s willing to pay. It may be Quixotic, but it’s all she’s got (other than her cat).

It is difficult to talk about the plot without giving too much away, so that’s as specific as I can get.

If there was a problem with The Drafter was that it was sometimes as confusing for the reader as it was for Peri to know what was going on (I’m not saying, it was poorly written — but as things were filtered through Peri’s perception, which were pretty in flux . . .). In The Operator, we don’t have that problem — Peri’s sometimes not sure what she’s doing, or that she’s doing it for the reasons she thinks that she is — but she’s very clear about what’s going on. Actually, sometimes, I think she’s the only one who sees the whole board and understands what’s going on. Which makes everything much easier for the reader to follow.

She had a clear objective, clear obstacles to overcome, and the gumption and skills to get the jobs done. The only question is: can she accomplish all she’s set out to accomplish before she’s killed or has her mind wiped?

Characters — again, this is tough. I’d like to say X at first seemed like a good antagonist — if not enemy — but then Y happens and X does Z and reveals that they can be a trusted ally and possible friend. But if I’m going to do that, I might as well reveal half the plot. There are some great new character, I’ll say instead, and every one that Peri ends the book trusting/befriending, I’d like to spend a lot more time with. A couple of decent new enemies/antagonists — I think we get enough of them. The people who survived The Drafter and made it to these pages, we learn more about them and pretty much cement our appraisals of from last time out. As always, Harrison gets almost every character note right, I think I’d have an easier time noting where she fumbles on that front.

If for whatever (very wrong) reason you ignore the story, this book is worth reading just for on a tiny little details that Harrison has filled this with to make a slightly futuristic future in this world. You can recognize it as our world, but it’s future-enough to be a totally new world so you don’t recognize everything. I’m not sure those sentences make sense, but you probably get my gist. I could do a post just on the future tech, culture, economics, etc. I’m not going to do that — just not enough time on my hands — but I could, because the world Harrison has surrounded Peri with is just that developed and detailed. And almost none of the details like that have any bearing on the plot beyond grounding the characters. I love that.

This may not be as well executed as its predecessor, but Harrison spent so much of The Drafter setting up the world while telling the story — where this time, she just gets to play in the world and tell the story. I think I enjoyed this one more, while I didn’t admire it as much. I have a few ideas what Peri and the rest will be up to in The Agent, but I’m more than prepared for Harrison to do something better than those. All I know for sure is that it’s too long before it’s released. The Operator is a slick, sleek, SF adventure novel that’s sure to satisfy on several levels.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Pocket Books, and I thank them very much.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Operator by Kim Harrison

The OperatorThe Operator

by Kim Harrison
Series: The Peri Reed Chronicles, #2

ARC, 468 pg.
Pocket Book, 2016

Read: October 17 – 20, 2016


I loved Peri Reed’s debut in The Drafter last year — it was one of my 10 favorites of 2015, so to say I was eager to read this is somewhat of an understatement. Sure, I was a little apprehensive, too — could Harrison pull it off again? Thankfully, yes she could. You may be able to jump in to the series with this point, but I really wouldn’t recommend it at all. Go read The Drafter.

The Operator picks up with Peri in a much better place (mentally, at least) than we left her in — she’s living out of the business, she runs a coffee shop that’s marketed towards the elite of Detroit — the moneyed, those wanting the most secure networks while sipping their morning caffeine fix, and those willing to spend an exorbitant amount on coffee.

She’s working really hard to convince herself that this is the life she wants when her past catches up with her. And before she knows it, she’s got the remnants of Opti trying to bring her back in — and the government’s version of a “clean” Opti doing their best to recruit her (and honestly, they’re taking more of a “stick” approach than a “carrot” approach).

Faces from her past — those she trusts, but not enough; those she trusts, but doesn’t want to; and those she’ll never trust — compete (on both sides) with people she doesn’t know and doesn’t trust. And, as always, Peri doesn’t even know if she can trust herself — but she’s very clear on what she wants: out. Out of the life, out of the spy business, out of everything that defines her. To get there, she’s going to have to rely on everything that she’s trying to get away from, but that’s a price she’s willing to pay. It may be Quixotic, but it’s all she’s got (other than her cat).

It is difficult to talk about the plot without giving too much away, so that’s as specific as I can get.

If there was a problem with The Drafter was that it was sometimes as confusing for the reader as it was for Peri to know what was going on (I’m not saying, it was poorly written — but as things were filtered through Peri’s perception, which were pretty in flux . . .). In The Operator, we don’t have that problem — Peri’s sometimes not sure what she’s doing, or that she’s doing it for the reasons she thinks that she is — but she’s very clear about what’s going on. Actually, sometimes, I think she’s the only one who sees the whole board and understands what’s going on. Which makes everything much easier for the reader to follow.

She had a clear objective, clear obstacles to overcome, and the gumption and skills to get the jobs done. The only question is: can she accomplish all she’s set out to accomplish before she’s killed or has her mind wiped?

Characters — again, this is tough. I’d like to say X at first seemed like a good antagonist — if not enemy — but then Y happens and X does Z and reveals that they can be a trusted ally and possible friend. But if I’m going to do that, I might as well reveal half the plot. There are some great new character, I’ll say instead, and every one that Peri ends the book trusting/befriending, I’d like to spend a lot more time with. A couple of decent new enemies/antagonists — I think we get enough of them. The people who survived The Drafter and made it to these pages, we learn more about them and pretty much cement our appraisals of from last time out. As always, Harrison gets almost every character note right, I think I’d have an easier time noting where she fumbles on that front.

If for whatever (very wrong) reason you ignore the story, this book is worth reading just for on a tiny little details that Harrison has filled this with to make a slightly futuristic future in this world. You can recognize it as our world, but it’s future-enough to be a totally new world so you don’t recognize everything. I’m not sure those sentences make sense, but you probably get my gist. I could do a post just on the future tech, culture, economics, etc. I’m not going to do that — just not enough time on my hands — but I could, because the world Harrison has surrounded Peri with is just that developed and detailed. And almost none of the details like that have any bearing on the plot beyond grounding the characters. I love that.

This may not be as well executed as its predecessor, but Harrison spent so much of The Drafter setting up the world while telling the story — where this time, she just gets to play in the world and tell the story. I think I enjoyed this one more, while I didn’t admire it as much. I have a few ideas what Peri and the rest will be up to in The Agent, but I’m more than prepared for Harrison to do something better than those. All I know for sure is that it’s too long before it’s released. The Operator is a slick, sleek, SF adventure novel that’s sure to satisfy on several levels.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Pocket Books, and I thank them very much.

—–

4 1/2 Stars