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.

Thursday, 1:17 PM by Michael Landweber

Thursday, 1:17 PMThursday, 1:17 PM

by Michael Landweber

Kindle Edition, 208 pg.
Coffeetown Press, 2016

Read: May 18 – 19, 2016

Towel Day is tomorrow, so it seems apropos to start with a couple of Douglas Adams lines that I’d imagine Duck quoted to himself, assuming he read the book: “This must be Thursday . . .I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” and “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” Now, if anyone could empathize with Arthur and Ford, it’s Duck.

(like I need an excuse to quote Adams, really, but I’ll take one)

And you never know, maybe he had read Adams, after all:

We’d read Fight Club in Mr. Lorenzo’s Anarchy in Modern American Fiction class . . . And Lord of the Rings in Ms. Tutwell’s Geography of Fictional Lands seminar, which somehow got me Social Studies credit. Damn, I went to a really questionable high school.

So, earlier today, I posted something from the publisher with the idea behind this one. Basically, Duck’s head is nowhere near where it should be as he walks the busy streets of D. C. and he steps out in front of a car that doesn’t hit him. Not because of lightning-fast reflexes of the driver, nor because of fantastic brakes, or because some hero pulled/pushed/tackled him out of the way. Nope, none of those — but because faster than you can say “Rod Serling,” time stopped.

Now our 17-year-old protagonist has to figure out: what happened (if he can); how to survive in this Frozen World (if he can); and most importantly — how can he get things moving again (if he can).

Simple enough premise, right? Yup. One that seems like you’ve probably read/seen it a few times (seems that way, but I can’t remember once) — but Landweber executes it like he’s the first. It feels fresh, new and innovative — while being an old stand-by, figure out how he pulled that off and I’ll probably end up talking about your book, too.

As we talked about a little while ago, there are very strict rules governing this reality and Duck figures them out pretty fast (at least fast enough to survive awhile).

Now seems like a good place to explain what people feel like in the frozen world. Skin feels like skin, hair like hair, lips like lips. It’s one of those things that is almost normal. When no one moves, you expect them to feel like molded plastic, like mannequins, limbs swiveling on set pivots without much range. A secondary possibility was that everyone would feel rubbery, like the well-preserved fetal pig [Duck’s friend] Grace dissected for me. Wrong on both counts.

The inert water hung down from the showerhead like strands of silk caressing his body. I touched one and it came away from its cohorts, wet and liquid on my fingertips.

And, yes, that sounds kind of creepy going around touching skin, hair, lips, some dude’s shower water — but don’t worry, that’s only because it is creepy. And Duck would be the first to admit that (probably while blushing). One reason I liked the paragraphs I quoted was because, yeah, molded plastic is exactly how I’d have figured it to feel.

Duck composing a “Guidebook” to how to live in this kind of reality ticks off a few boxes: lets us see his personality, lets him talk about his experimentation to discover the rules in a slightly more objective way than the rest of his narration, and lets him give the readers an info dump — several, actually — without it feeling like one. A very nice move there.

Landweber gives us a few details a little at a time about this reality, what Duck’s been going through in the days/weeks/months leading up to stepping in front of the car (like where that nickname comes from — a tale that’s both tragic and funny). As little as he’s been paying attention to the outside world, it might as well have stopped. So one of the things he does during this time is figure out what’s been going on with his friends — between family crisis and adolescent male hormones, he’s missed a lot. He just hopes that he can make up for this time.

For the most part, this book comes across as light entertainment — but there are (at least) two big dramatic stories at play here in addition to the fun and games. There’s death, the nature of love (and reality of lust, teenage style), growing up, friendship, hurting others . . . and Duck coming to grips with all of these, and coping with them isn’t done in a heavy-handed, or overly serious manner. On the whole, while you’re chuckling about something he’ll slide right into a consideration of one of the heavier themes. Over and over again, Landweber does this seamlessly so you barely notice it. No mean trick to pull off.

In addition to that, Duck deals with some pretty deep ethical questions (and doesn’t always come up with the right answer). His father, a philosopher, had posited that:

there is no good or evil without time. Empirically, he argued, man’s actions in themselves are not right or wrong. It is only the interaction of those deeds with the passage of time and the judgments of others that leads to morality. If you were to freeze time at the instant of the act, and never allow for there to be recriminations or regret or accusations or revenge, then the act itself becomes a meaningless one. No matter what that act is. Merely a moment detached from all other moments. A moment without consequence.

Duck’s got more than enough of these detached moments, moments without consequences, to deal with. And watching him deal with these ideas and try to be moral (frequently) is a really nice touch that I don’t think I expected from the premise.

It’s told in a light tone — and never gets spooky or too tense, but that doesn’t stop what Duck is dealing with from being serious — and dealt with seriously (much of the time). Landweber balances that pretty well most of the time — while keeping Duck as believable as possible in this situation. It is a compelling read, a fun read, and a moving read. Breezy enough to keep the YA crowd engaged, and thoughtful enough to make it worthwhile.

You really want to go get your hands on this one, readers, you’ll enjoy it.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

—–

4 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…Michael Landweber


For our third post on this Blog Tour stop, the author of Thursday, 1:17 PM, Michael Landweber was gracious enough to A some of my Q’s. As is typical, I kept it short and sweet, because this dude is busy and he doesn’t need to take up too much time with lil’ ol’ me. There are two questions here about the book we’re focusing on, and then we move on to more general questions. Hope you enjoy.

Michael LandweberMichael Landweber lives and writes in Washington, DC. His short stories have appeared in literary magazines such as Gargoyle, Fourteen Hills, Fugue, Barrelhouse and American Literary Review. He is an Associate Editor at Potomac Review and a contributor to Washington Independent Review of Books. Michael has a soft spot for movies about talking animals and does not believe he would survive the zombie apocalypse. His first novel We was published in 2013.

There are so many questions that I’d like to ask about some of the details of this book, but I’m going to have to settle for something about the process: did you have the rules for the Frozen World set up before beginning the book, or was that something you felt out along the way?
The rules were pretty simple and set from the beginning. Nothing moved unless it was affected by Duck. He would be the only force in the universe capable of changing anything. Otherwise, everything remained in exactly the state it was in when the world froze. Simple, right? Making up the rules was easy; following them was hard. There were many times while I writing when I would decide to do something and realize it didn’t fit in with this world. For example, in an early draft, I thought about shooting someone with a gun. But in order to fire, a gun required more than just Duck power. Similarly, I found myself realizing that he couldn’t cook anything; he could only eat food that was edible at the time the world froze. He couldn’t start a car, but he could ride a bike. So it was never a question of changing the rules. It was a constant struggle forcing myself to not cheat. Hopefully, I policed myself reasonably well. One of the reasons that I had Duck write a guidebook was because it was a great way to share everything about the frozen world I had spent so much time figuring out. That’s why you’ve got multiple pages about how to flush a toilet (and of course because I find details like that amusing).
How hard was it to get into the headspace of an almost 18 year-old (even one of above-average intelligence/thoughtfulness)? Once there — was it as much fun as it seemed?
It is always a challenge to get into a new character’s head. Or maybe the challenge is getting out of your own head. With a teenager, I did have the advantage that I was once 17 years old. However, it is true that when you become an adult, you forgot how desperate everything feels at that age. As adults, we learn to repress some emotions. It’s a survival skill. So, to write Duck, I tried to remember what it felt like when every emotion was on the surface and raw. I think that immediacy is what we lose as adults. Once I got in that mindset, it was fun to write Duck. Anytime I started to think that Duck shouldn’t be doing something, I usually put it in the book, figuring if I thought it was a bad idea then a teenager probably wouldn’t.
What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
There are so many books and TV shows that I enjoy. I’d love to have written any of them. Of course, the flip side of that is that if I had written them, then I wouldn’t get to experience them the same way. I do surprise myself sometimes when I’m writing, but that’s not the same as the visceral thrill that you can get from watching or reading someone else’s work when the unexpected hits you with a perfectly timed twist. That said, there are two very different works that I wish I could have written. First, The Martian by Andy Weir. I would love to have written something that was so meticulously researched and incredibly readable at the same time. You get to the end of the book thoroughly entertained while somehow convincing yourself that you could now survive on Mars if you had to. Second would be Breaking Bad. The entire series. I admire how strictly it stuck to its vision from the beginning. The writers didn’t seem to care how popular it got. They weren’t trying to make anyone happy. It was unflinching to the very end.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading or watching, but could never write?
I could never write a good mystery. I don’t watch or read a lot of them, but I do enjoy them when they are well done. As a reader, I never know who committed the crime. Ever. I’ll always think that it is someone who was innocent. I admire the writers who are able to put that puzzle together and keep me guessing to the last piece. But as a writer, my mysteries would probably be more like a pre-schooler’s giant floor puzzle with only four pieces and no irregular edges.
I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
There was one reader review posted on a website about my first novel that stuck with me. He said that after reading it he had to bleach his brain and encouraged everyone to keep the book away from children. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe that was one of my good reviews. Seriously though, there are always going to be readers who don’t like certain things I write. So far, it hasn’t changed what I decide to write next.

Guest Post: 5 Books about Time by Michael Landweber


I’m a little obsessed about the concept of time in my writing. My first book, We, was about a man who travels back in time only to get stuck as a parasite inside the head of his seven-year-old self. In my latest novel, time stops completely, except for one 17-year-old kid. I suppose the recurring theme is that we have no control over time, even when it gets a little bit wonky. In honor of my obsession, I have created a list of five time-related books (or more precisely that have the word “time” in the title) that I’ve enjoyed over the years.

1) The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
The one that started it all. The original time travel story. Without it, there never would have been Timecop. Seriously though, it is a little hard to imagine that we’d have more than a century of time travel related books, movies, TV shows, etc. if Wells hadn’t had the idea that a time machine was the way to travel to different eras. Of course, unlike most modern time travel fiction, which focuses on the ways that traveling through time can change the present, purposefully or not, Wells had his protagonist travel into the far future where he encountered a parable about class and society. Still, the guy coined the phrase “time machine.” That’s pretty cool.

2) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
We don’t need no stinking time machine. In L’Engle’s classic children’s book series, the characters travel through space by “wrinkling time” by means of the tesseract. Most writers now call it a wormhole. No vehicle required. That freed a lot of writers to just zap characters from place to place without tricking out a Delorean. The book also is about how children can save the world without the help of the adults around them, particularly parents. Hello, Harry Potter!

3) A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
OK, this one has the least to do with manipulating time though it is a story about how past family narratives can help soothe present pain. A young woman in Tokyo considers suicide, but researching the stories of her feminist Buddhist nun great-grandmother and her disgraced WWII pilot great-uncle lead her to some surprising revelations about herself.

4) Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
Amis uses a unique device to write about the horrors of the Holocaust. The narrator is a consciousness inside the head of a former Nazi who is now living a new life in America. But the story is told in reverse chronological order. Time in the book literally runs backward, so we start with the war criminal as an old man and travel unavoidably to his horrific past. It is an unusual and difficult book that allows the reader a new window into understanding the inconceivable cruelty that people are capable of.

5) Time Bandits
OK, I’m totally cheating here. Time Bandits is a movie. But it also happens to be my favorite movie. And it is about traveling through time. So there. One of Terry Gilliam’s earliest films, this one follows a young boy who falls in with a group of dwarfs who previously worked for the Supreme Being until they stole the Big Guy’s map of time holes and decided to use it to steal from the rich throughout history. That only begins to describe how gloriously messed up this movie is.

Thursday, 1:17 PM Book Tour

Thursday, 1:17 PMTime stopped. You didn’t. Now what?

Duck is 17. He will never be 18.

Tomorrow is his birthday. It will never be tomorrow.

Time stopped at 1:17 p.m. on a beautiful Thursday afternoon in Washington, DC. Duck is the only person moving in a world where all other living beings have been frozen into statues in an endless diorama. Duck was already in limbo, having lost his mother to cancer and his father to mental illness.

Now, faced with the unimaginable, he approaches his dilemma with the eye of an anthropologist and the heart of a teenager trying to do the right thing under the strangest of circumstances. Ultimately, he realizes that while he doesn’t understand the boundaries between friendship and love, that uncertain territory may be the key to restarting the world.

Trade Paperback – Available now
Publisher: Coffeetown Press
ISBN13: 9781603813570
208 pages

Coming up: We’ve got a Guest Post from Michael Landweber, a Q & A with him, too — and finally, my $.02 about the book. Come back and check these posts out (the links will work when the posts go up) — or just go get the book. Whatever.