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.

Every Heart a Doorway (Audiobook) by Seanan McGuire, Cynthia Hopkins

Every Heart a Doorway (Audiobook) Every Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire, Cynthia Hopkins (Narrator)
Series: Wayward Children, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs., 44 min.
2016, Macmillan Audio

Read: November 17 – 18, 2016


When I get to considering my favorites of 2016, there’s no way that Every Heart a Doorway doesn’t make the Top 10 (see my initial post), so when I saw it available on the library’s audiobook site when I needed something to end the week with, I grabbed it, certain I was going to have a lot of fun.

Wow, was that a mistake. The story was just as good, the characters as rich, the world(s) just as fascinating — the writing, the wordplay, the language . . . it was just as good as I remembered. But man, the narration just didn’t work for me at all. The book is creepy, funny, spooky, beautiful — and remains so despite the narration. The jokes don’t land, most of the characters seem to lack affect. Actually, I have a list of problems, but I don’t want to get nasty, so I’ll just leave it at that.

I did pick up a bit of a William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus”-vibe towards the end this time that I hadn’t picked up the first time — but I still like it, regardless. I noticed more details, and appreciated the examination of the ideas of what’s home and what’s real maybe a little more this time, so it wasn’t a wasted effort. But it was a disappointing one.

I do want to make it clear that I don’t think Hopkins couldn’t turn in a good performance — I don’t have enough information to say that. I do think that she was wrong for this project, didn’t understand it, or had an off day. I’m not sure. But a novella as exceptionally good as Every Heart a Doorway deserves the best, and this wasn’t it. So for this audiobook (not the text version), I’ve gotta go with 4 stars (and even that feels a little generous).

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4 Stars

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #1

Hardcover, 169 pg.
Tor.com, 2016

Read: April 16, 2016

“. . . we went through. We came out on this moor that seemed to go on forever, between the mountains and the angry sea. And that sky! I’d never seen so many stars before, or such a red, red moon. The door slammed shut behind us. We couldn’t have gone back if we’d wanted to — and we didn’t want to. We were twelve. We are going to have an adventure if it killed us.”

“Did you? asked Nancy. “Have an adventure, I mean?”

“Sure,” said Jack bleakly. “It didn’t even kill us. Not permanently anyway. But it changed everything.”

One of my favorite book bloggers to read (and not just because our tastes are similar) began his take on Every Heart a Doorway by saying:

Sometimes we either meet a book (or a novella, in this case,) that is precisely the right fit for your soul, (at the moment,) or just happens to be original enough right when you need it, that it fills your life and your mind with brightness and joy.

For me, this is one of those pieces. To muddy the waters even more, I’m an unabashed fan of the author and I’m likely to pick up all of her writings without even checking the subject matter because I simply trust the woman to steer me to any shore.

If I didn’t start off by quoting that, I’d end paraphrasing/plagiarizing it.

So here’s the deal in a world where portal fantasies are possible, and children all over the world are going through them — à la Lucy Pevensie et al., Dorothy Gale, September, Quentin Coldwater, Alice, Jason Walker, etc. — and, sadly (?) most of these children end up back home. Some of them are glad to be back in this world and want to put their adventures behind them — a lot of them don’t want to be here anymore and want to return to wherever it was they went. Both kinds of children have a hard time coping in this world and need help. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is for the latter kind.

Nancy is a girl recently returned, and is very different than the girl her parents have been missing. They want her fixed, they want their daughter back — not whoever this person is with different attitudes, actions, clothes, etc. — West doesn’t promise that (but she may have allowed them to think she’ll do that, just so she can help Nancy), but she can help Nancy adjust to this world. So she joins the small student body at the private school/treatment center. The last thing Nancy wants is to be fixed, to be that girl again — which just means she fits in here, with returned kids from all over the country, who’ve been in all sorts of worlds. As Nancy begins to understand the nature of these other worlds, the effects they have on children, and why many of them want to leave again, so do we.

It turns out, all of the residents of West’s Home are going to learn that you can have plenty of adventures here, too. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I really liked all of these children — the adults we met, too, actually — Jack in particular. But every one of them — even the less-than-nice ones — are great characters and I’d have gladly spent another 200 pages with them, easy.

The writing is incredible — not that I’ve ever had any real problems with McGuire before, but she kicked it up a notch here — and is writing a different kind of story than I’m used to, so she writes differently. This book took me longer to read than it should’ve, because I had to go back and reread several sentences/lines/paragraphs — not because I needed to read them again for clarification, but because they were so perfect, so quotable, so . . . something. I’m not going to start quoting beyond what I opened with, because I don’t know if I could stop — Laura got two of them I made notes about. You could literally be amused, melancholy, horrified, feeling whimsy, and nervous within a couple of paragraphs — only to turn the page and start all over again. Not because she was jerking you around or anything, it’s just that kind of story, that kind of playing with language, just that kind of broken reality.

McGuire gave us such a satisfying ending — complete, tidy, fitting, bittersweet, heartwarming — and then I read another paragraph or so, and it’s so much better (and all of the above to the next degree) once you got to the actual ending. Then I closed the book and I teared up a little — for no reason at all, really, but it felt really appropriate.

Can I say this is positively Gaiman-esque without making it sound like McGuire’s derivative in any way? I don’t want to even hint at suggesting that — but man, if you like Neil Gaiman’s stuff — get this. If you’ve ever read a portal fantasy and wondered what happened to the kids afterwards– get this. If you like things that are good, and don’t mind magic in your reading — get this.

—–

5 Stars