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.

Burned by Benedict Jacka

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #7

Mass Market Paperback, 326 pg.
Ace, 2016

Read: April 25 – 26, 2016

Right now I was not wandering around and seeing the sights, for three reasons. First, it was dark. Second, the city was in the middle of a civil war. And third, I was supposed to be conducting surveillance on the inhabitants of the building across the street. Which was why, instead of enjoying the experiences of travel and new cultures, I was crouched on a dusty rooftop, hiding behind a parapet, shivering in the cold, and trying to make sure that no one on the other side could see me, since from looking into the futures I already knew that they had assault rifles and were following a policy of shooting first and asking questions later.

In case you’re wondering, this isn’t an especially unusual night for me. Sometimes I really question my life choices.

Reading Burned, you almost get the idea that Benedict Jacka’s been holding back on us — at least, he’s just been getting warmed up over the last 6 novels. Either one is saying something, considering how good the series has been since it’s debut.

Jacka waits all of 6 paragraphs before getting things moving, and things don’t stop moving. The first 100 pages are great and contain more action than most Verus novels — and the rest? Just better. Marking this one as a 5-Star was a no-brainer.

So here’s the hook — someone, for reasons beyond his ken (though he has many, many theories initially), has made some political moves and Alex is going to be declared a criminal and given the death sentence in a week. Not just him, either — but those who are his dependents (Luna, Anne, Varium). The four of them are going to have to tackle this situation in very creative ways to get the sentence changed.

In the meantime, there’s a very eager group of people trying to take care of things before the deadline. To say that they’re determined would be an understatement.

To survive, to have a hope of surviving, Alex has to call upon every friend, every ally, every one-time-friend-now-something-else, every trick up his sleeve. He does it, he actually grows as a character, too.

But will it be enough to save any of them?

I want to say more, I really do — but I don’t know how to. It’s just one of those books that to talk about you really have to talk about everything. So we’ll leave it at that.

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.

There are now two things I have to look forward to: the next Alex Verus novel — and whatever novel we’ll soon be calling the Burned of ____ series.

—–

5 Stars

Veiled by Benedict Jacka

VeiledVeiled

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #6

Mass Market Paperback, 295 pg.

Ace, 2015

Read: August 11 – 13, 2015


This was not at all what I expected going in to this (granted, I only read the first couple of lines of the Publisher’s Description) — sure, I knew Alex’s mouth would get him in trouble, he’d have to outwit someone more powerful than him, Luna would be underused — despite Alex depending on his friends to pull him out of trouble.

What I didn’t expect was Alex Verus vs. Bureaucracy, not the catchiest of titles, but pretty accurate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the Star Wars prequels with all the bureaucracy, trade negotiations, etc. Jacka keeps things tense, keeps things interesting, even as what Alex is battling is really just Office Politics (along with other kinds of politics).

Alex tries to take one more step towards credibility, of shedding his Dark mage past (not that almost anyone will let him), to a position where he can do some good, and hopefully have allies when Richard steps out into the limelight. Long-term, strategic thinking — I like it when UF heroes act like that. It’s brains, not brawn, that carry the day here.

This isn’t to suggest, that this is a dry — or combat-free — book. Alex gets down and dirty, as usual — against some pretty tough characters. But, I’m not convinced that the worst people that Alex and his friends went up against were the ones wearing the Black Hats. Not that they were angels, but, man, there were some nasty people in these pages.

There are some really interesting developments with Luna’s training and development. Alex makes a couple of useful allies — including a combat mage who is quite possibly the most entertaining character in the series thus far. And because that’s never enough for him — Alex picks up one new enemy and deepens tensions with another.

And Richard? Well, something tells me that specter’s going to be looming for a bit longer. But then again, I thought we were going to get a few more Kitty Norville books and that we’d see Richard in action here — so what do I know?

I seem to be mostly rambling here, so I’m just going to say: Alex Verus is a character you should get to know, in a series that should be on your TBR list. I wouldn’t start with this one, I really think Fated is where you want to climb aboard.

—–

4 Stars

Review Catch-Up: Hidden by Benedict Jacka; The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire

These have been nagging at me for eleven months now. No, I have no explanation for why it took me so long, but I’m glad I took a lot of notes on both. I’m going to get this posted before I start the next Jacka novel (which should be happening today). While I’m at it, the next Toby Day is a couple of weeks away.

Anyway, overdue mini-looks at a couple of the best Urban Fantasies I read in 2014:

HiddenHidden

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #5


Mass Market Paperback, 293 pg.
Ace, 2014
Read: September 26 – 30, 2014
. . . man, I have really missed Alex. Everyone’s favorite diviner has really come a long way, lately — shedding the near lone-wolf thing, and is now looking after a passel of magic rookies. Whether they want him to or not.

Anne Walker is definitely in the “or not” category. She’s done all she can to stay away from Alex — but she probably didn’t mean to include being kidnapped as one of those ways. Alex goes to some pretty dark places to help someone who doesn’t want it.

At the same time, Alex (via the Council) is feeling some pressure for the events of the last book. They’re also pressuring him to do some official work for them. Plus the rumors are getting more and more intense that his mentor, Richard, is back. If that’s true, no one is going to be happy. Naturally, everyone thinks that Alex knows what Richard is up to. And every time he says he doesn’t, he convinces them that he does.

So yeah, Alex has his hands full.

I think it was Chekhov who said that if a magic user grabs a focus in the opening chapters, that by the end of the book . . . Anyway, that was a nice use of it.

Not that Alex has had an easy life over the last couple books (or we wouldn’t be reading them) but the one big take away from Hidden is that it’s going to get a lot worse for our friend (I swear I hadn’t read that note when I wrote about Veiled over the weekend). There are other take aways, mostly happier, but I’ll leave that to you to find.

A wholly satisfying read. Get to know Alex Verus.

4 Stars

The Winter LongThe Winter Long

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #8


Mass Market Paperback, 358 pg.
DAW, 2014
Read: September 13 – 16, 2014

I don’t like parties. Someone always tries to assassinate someone I actually like, and there are never enough of those little stuffed mushroom caps.

A book starts off with a line like that? You’re going to have fun.

Thankfully, one’s appreciation of a book doesn’t depend on how the protagonist acts. When I was on page 46, I wrote , “Granted, this is early, but Toby’s being stupid, foolishly so. She’s not paying attention to anything said during the fight she just had — actually, technically didn’t really have. Instead, she’s reacting to something that happened to a friend, and acting out of fear, prejudice and alarm. That disappoints me. Her saying, ‘that smile, brief as it had been, was all I could have asked for. A smiling Tybalt was a Tybalt who was still capable of stepping back and looking at the situation rationally. I loved him, but even I could find him frightening when he was fixated on vengeance.’ Man, choke me on the irony, McGuire.”

There’s just go much about this novel that I can’t describe without spoiling it. Let me limit myself to a couple of more notes: Toby lost a lot of blood on this one — I mean like The Bride in the Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves kind of a lot. It’s a good thing she has a healing factor to make Logan jealous. While she’s bleeding she’s having her world rocked.

McGuire takes a lot of what Toby’s “known” since we met her (all of which is what we’ve “known,” too) and turns it upside down and shakes the truth out. Every other book in the series has been affected by these revelations — in one fell swoop, she re-wrote previous 7 books — which is just so cool. It’s not that we’ve (we= readers and Toby) been wrong, our understanding is just . . . askew. There’s also some nice warm fuzzies in this book, which isn’t that typical for the series. McGuire’s outdone herself.
5 Stars

Chosen by Benedict Jacka

Chosen
Chosen by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #4


Before I say anything about this really good book, let me point you to The Big Idea that Jacka wrote about it over on John Scalzi’s blog, if that doesn’t convince you to try this, nothing I say will. If you read this and are intrigued, go grab the first three books before you read this one. They’re more than worth it.
First off, I want to talk about the non-plot related stuff in the first chapter, but it’s better if you read it yourself — it warmed the geeky cockles of my heart in a way few other books have this year.

The fun is short-lived, of course. Verus is still training Luna, trying to find a place for the former Dark Apprentices, Anne and Variam, that he took in following the events of Taken. While he’s busy, he’s realizing that for the first time in long time, he isn’t alone, he has friends, companions — there’s the three just mentioned, plus the mage Sonder and, of course, Arachne. You start to get the idea that Verus is on the verge on contentment, starting to think about a future in this community he’s building (and not the way he’s known for).

Which is a tried and true signal that things are about to go pear shaped. Which it does, pretty decisively. It’s been clear from the start that Verus’ past is dark, but we’ve never been given many details. Well, that’s over — we get a real clear look at what life was like for Verus while he was apprenticed to Richard Drakh, and what it was like for him as he started to break away. While we’re learning this, Verus himself gets a much clearer view of what was going on back then.

What sets this off is the relative of someone that Verus and his fellow apprentices had wronged (details avoided), years ago has come to town. He’s an untrained adept, and so are his friends — they start off as a vigilante gang attacking Dark Mages. It doesn’t take long before they find their way to their target, Alex Verus.

It takes all Verus’ cunning, guts, and determination to survive this. Everything’s on the line here — his friends learn almost as much as the reader does about his past (and their reactions are complex and ring true emotionally), he barely escapes his first encounter with the gang with his life, and he has to open himself to part of his life he’d rather be done with. And the tactics he has to employ to save his life — and others’ — are morally murky at best.

There was really nothing about this book I didn’t like — Jacka keeps getting better and better (and he started very strong). To say that I’m eager for book #5 is an understatement, it’s going to be great.

—–

5 Stars

Dusted Off: Taken by Benedict Jacka

Taken (Alex Verus, #3)Taken by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #3


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

really don’t know what to say about this one…good read. Another good read in a string of ’em. Jacka’s got this down–Verus and co. are back and better than before.

I really like the way that these characters are growing and the world is being built.

I feel like I should have more to say, but I don’t. Ready and waiting for the next one!

Dusted Off: Cursed by Benedict Jacka

Cursed (Alex Verus, #2)Cursed by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #2

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacka did a great job following up his first Alex Verus novel. Fated. introduced us to Verus’ world, and Cursed lives in it. With the universe so well established, Jacka can focus on this particular adventure, building on Fated.

This makes for a more exciting read–more action, more character development, more of everything we liked in the first book.

Jacka’s got us all hooked now, we just have to wait for the next hit.