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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We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman

We're All DamagedWe’re All Damaged

by Matthew Norman

Paperback, 268 pg.
Little A, 2016

Read: June 8 – 9, 2016

It’s a cruel fact that if your wife cheats on you, the guy will have a name like Tyler. Something cool–something your parents never would have had the guts to name you.

This particular Tyler is involved in Andy Carter’s wife leaving him (he’s not the cause, as Harry Burns’ buddy, Jess, would remind us, “Marriages don’t break up on account of infidelity. It’s just a symptom that something else is wrong.”). Karen uses the symptom as an excuse to dump Andy at an Applebee’s in the funniest and most tragic first chapter since Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You.

Actually, there are several similarities between this book and This Is Where I Leave You — which is not to say that Norman’s ripping Tropper off or anything (although, it’d be a good book to steal from). It deals with some similar themes in a similar tone with similar heart. A few times Norman made me think of Tropper (I bet next time that the next time I re-read Tropper’s book, I’ll think of Norman’s).

Following the Applebee’s disaster, Andy sort of fell apart, I’ll spare you the details because Norman does a much more entertaining job of relating them than I could. But long story short, he quits his nice job and moves to from Omaha to New York and becomes a bartender, and is sort of adopted by a stray cat named Jeter (as has been well established, I’m not a cat person, but I liked Andy’s relationship — for lack of a better term — with Jeter). While licking his wounds — or whatever — he pretty much cuts off communication with his family and friends. Not out of spite or anything, but it just seems to take too much energy.

For a while now, I’ve had to keep reminding myself that I’m a nice person. Like, nice nice. Midwestern nice. Half the people who signed my high school yearbook told me so–it’s documented. A few of them even mentioned that I should never change, never ever. I once helped a blind lady walk across a grocery store parking lot in the rain. I used to run 5Ks on Saturday mornings to fight cancer and juvenile diabetes and all of that horrible shit.

Time moves on, as it tends to outside of SF novels, anyway. Before he knows it, Andy’s being stood up for a blind date and he gets a call that his grandfather is about to die. A grandfather that Andy’s pretty much ignored for over a year. So Andy goes home, after promising his boss/friend that he won’t have anything to do with Karen.

Want to bet he keeps that promise? Yeah, me neither.

He doesn’t recognize his parents, the kind of house they live in, or the notoriety his mother (a conservative radio talk show host) is enjoying. His grandfather, suffering from dementia (amongst many other things), doesn’t recognize him, either. Andy is recognized by his former best-friend/ex-brother-in-law, his brother, his parents, his ex-father-in-law, a few people he’s never met. Including someone claiming to be his sister. Oh, and Tyler.

She calls herself Daisy, “smeller of books and a marker-upper of books,” and actually has a pretty good reason to calling herself his sister. But she has other plans for him — inspired by the stories his grandfather’s been telling her, Daisy has decided to fix Andy. She sports multiple tattoos, has no discernible source of income, and marks up books. Really, not the kind of person a respectable young man should be associated with — even a formerly respectable young man. But man, I really, really liked Daisy (marking up books notwithstanding), I can almost guarantee you will, too.

You’ll probably like Andy, his grandfather, father, niece and ex-friend, too. Forget about liking Tyler, just not going to happen. I’m not sure where you’ll come down on Mom. I’m not sure where I come down on mom, either.

I’m not sure you’re supposed to have a firm opinion about her, either. My one complaint with the book has to do with Mom. The novel takes place in the weeks leading up to the
Obergefell v. Hodge
decision, and since Mom’s a conservative talk show host on the verge of nationwide fame, the case is mentioned a lot. No one, on either side of the issue, deals with it in a substantive manner — it’s all sound-bites and bumperstickers. Frankly, something so important should’ve been dealt with gravitas, not in sloganeering and cartoonish representatives. Sadly, by and large that’s all that the Internet, TV and radio gave us — so that really Mom (and her vocal opponents) were realistic representations of a lot of our country. Not the best part of it, sadly, just a large part. I can’t fault Norman for focusing on them just because they were realistic just because I wish they weren’t.

So, while maybe coming out of the ruins he’s made of his life and personality, Andy mends some fences, further ruins some more, connects with his father in a way he hadn’t in a long time, and maybe even gets a little closure. He also makes a fool out of himself, gets punched, and has to attend his grandfather’s funeral. Thanks to Daisy’s pushing, he may not be living a good life — but it’s one a lot more interesting than just wallowing in the past.

At a certain point, you pretty much figure out exactly how things are going to go in the book — and you’ll be right (except for the once or twice where you’ll be really wrong). But it doesn’t matter, because things work out the way they should, and Norman works them out in a pleasant, engaging style.

I liked Andy’s ambivalent relationship to technology — the imaginary conversations he has with Siri made me grin. And then there’s his first brush in months with Facebook.

I’ve given it some thought, and, seriously, there’s just no way Facebook can be good for you. I’m sure there have been studies, so this probably isn’t some brilliant revelation, but I’ll say it anyway. On the surface, it’s harmless enough, I guess. How bad can it really be with its endless baby posts, food pictures, and beachy foot selfies? But it’s not that simple. Mixed in with all of its silly bullshit, Facebook is the literal manifestation of all our regrets, looping and looping, for free, on our computers and phones. People who should be gone and safely out of forever are there again, one cryptic little glimpse at a time, reminding us of all the things we should or shouldn’t have done.

Seriously, Norman deserves some sort of literary prize for the “literal manifestation of all our regrets” line, right?

There’s also a cameo in here that was such a nice touch.

This was a very amusing book — frequently funny. This was also a touching book — I might have gotten misty once or twice. More than anything else, this was engaging — I was right there with Andy the whole time, cringing when he was being stupid, grinning when he was being charming or mature. I enjoyed this one so much that I can’t quite figure out how to say it. Norman belongs up there with Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, Rainbow Rowell and Jennifer Weiner — he can make you laugh, make you cry, make you feel, all while telling a pretty good story. I should go back and re-read his other novel, just to be able to prove this. But until I do, just take my word for it and give this a shot.

—–

5 Stars