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.

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A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl

This was supposed to post on July 21, believe it or not, but that morning before work, I gave it one final skim and decided it wasn’t right. I made a couple of notes and cancelled the post. And then promptly forgot about it. I’ve tried a couple of times since then to address the notes, but sadly, they were too note-ish and not enough worked out to really help me remember what I wanted to address. So…I’ve had to settle for this. The book is better than my post (they usually are, in case you haven’t noticed)

A Hundred Thousand WorldsA Hundred Thousand Worlds

by Bob Proehl

Hardcover, 354 pg.

Viking, 2016
Read: July 13 – 16, 2016

Only you can decide where your home is. And every good story is about finding your way there.

I want to invoke The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, or one of the Grossmans, or Ernest Cline — but who isn’t invoking them when it comes to this book? So consider them invoked, I’ve done my duty, and now I’m going to avoid them. Proehl’s book about people attending a series of Comic Conventions will attract those are into “Geek Culture,” but it’s not really targeted toward them (us). The book is set in the world of Comics and SF, but that’s it — it’s just where this novel about mothers and sons, artists of sundry stripes finding their place in the world, and a boy learning about story happens to take place.

Val, an actress on a now-cancelled show that’s sort of X-Files mixed with Fringe (and how many of you want to watch that show, right now?) is spending a few weeks of the summer going from Comic COn to Comic Con on a cross-country trip with her son, Alex. She’s not an unemployed actor, she’s busy off-Broadway, but isn’t flush, so the Cons are paying their way to L.A., where a major shakeup in their family structure is going to take place. As they move West, we travel through time to trace Val’s relationship with Alex’s father, up to the devastating events that led to her moving to New York with her son and iwthout her husband. Val is having a hard time wrapping her head around the fans attending the Cons and what they expect from her — but she’s getting it.

Alex is almost too perfect — which is a pretty big danger when it comes to writing kids, they’re either too precious, too precocious, too stupid, too . . . well, you get the idea. Alex is clever, intuitive, and sensitive. He’s got a great imagination, and just needs a little direction as a creative-type. (N.B.: This is one of those paragraphs I needed to develop better and failed to, for those of you keeping score at home.) He’s the hinge that all this stuff hangs on — as much as this is a story about Val (more than anything else), without Alex it just doesn’t happen. Entire posts/articles/essays could and should be written about Alex — but they’ll have to be done by people better than me. He’s not entirely realistic, but he’s a great character.

Gail is an up-and-coming comic writer, who may have found her level in the industry (lower than anyone wants). She has a couple of good friends who are rooting for her. While she travels form con to con, she wrestles with her own personal demons and history and dos what she can to help others with theirs. Her new friendship with Val is one of those things that will reward them both.

Brett is an artist/co-writer of an indie comic with his long-time-friend. The two aren’t having the best time working together anymore, each getting distracted with their own projects. From future professional gigs to helping Alex out with his story.

Alex’s “Idea Man” and the traveling troupe of female cosplayers are deserving of far more attention and analysis than I can provide — so let me just say that they’re all fun to read, thought-provoking and ignored at the reader’s loss.

Val didn’t know the name, but she knew there was a lot of excitement around it. It’s something she likes quite a bit about this little world: the capability of those within it to get deeply and sincerely excited about things. She wonders how they fare in the real world, where excitement is poorly valued, and she tries to think of things she has been excited about. There are so few.

If “the capability . . . to get deeply and sincerely excited about things” isn’t one of the best descriptions of contemporary Geeks, I don’t know what is.

There are a handful of goodies for those who are into Comics, SF and whatnot — the Doctor Who analog is great, ditto for the Alan Moore and Green Lantern analgos. There are some that are more subtle, too. I think I got most of them, but I’m sure I missed a few.

The writing is strong — although Proehl has a couple of ticks I could do without. For example, I’m not sure how many times he said something like, “Before she got her start in comics, Gail ran . . . ” and then talked about her blog. Once would’ve been enough with that (although it does fit in nicely with the origin-story thing he has going on, and maybe that’s the point). I don’t know that you could call this “light” at any time, but there is an optimism (mostly) throughout — but an optimism tinged with realism.

At the end of the day, this was a very compelling tale, full of characters that you wanted to spend time with (more time with, actually). Proehl might give one or two storylines a very “happily ever after” feel, but some of them are left to the reader to conclude on their own. I liked that. Nicely written, compelling characters in a setting that is very relatable — how can I not love this?

—–

5 Stars