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.

The Summer that Melted Everything is Hot!

(sorry, that was just horrible, but I couldn’t stop myself)

So, last month I posted about Tiffany McDaniel‘s debut, The Summer That Melted Everything and even did a Q&A with her. She was recently featured on the longlist of contenders for The Guardian’s Not-the-Booker prize — and was among some really august company.

Well, Monday they released the list of 6 finalists, and McDaniel was among them (and many of the august company, like DeLillo, were not). This is really great to see and I’d like to congratulate her, and hope she does well here (go vote!).

Pub Day Repost: The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
eARC, 320 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2016
Read: July 18 – 19, 2016

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

Yeah, Keyser Söze’s paraphrase of C. S. Lewis’ appropriation of Charles Baudelaire isn’t part of this book, but it might just encapsulate it. Maybe.

It’s the summer of 1984 in Breathed, OH, and it’s hot. Really hot — and about to get a lot hotter. 1984 is a big year — HIV is identified as the virus that leads to AIDS, Apple releases the Macintosh, Michael Jackson’s Pepsi commercial shoot, and the following advertisement runs in the local newspaper, The Breathian:

Dear Mr. Devil, Sir Satan, Lord Lucifer, and all other crosses you bear,

I cordially invite you to Breathed, Ohio. Land of hills and hay bales, of sinners and forgivers.

May you come in peace.

With great faith,
Autopsy Bliss

Autopsy Bliss is the local prosecutor, who wants to see for himself what evil looks like. Hence the advertisement.

So who shows up in response? A bruised, short black boy dressed in tattered and torn overalls who simply seems to want some ice cream and to say hi to the man who invited him. Autopsy’s son, Fielding, is the first one in town to meet the boy and takes him home to his father (sadly, no ice cream is available in town — unbelievably — for the remainder of the Summer). The Bliss family ends up taking the lad in, and starts calling him Sal. He and Fielding become fast friends and are almost inseparable for the rest of the summer. One by one, almost everyone in this sleepy community is touched by the appearance of Sal — either first-hand or by proxy — demons (figurative), troubled family and personal histories are exposed, latent corruptions come to light, and accidents strike many. No one in Breathed will be the same after the day Sal first appears to Fielding.

The book is narrated by Fielding about 70 years after that summer looking back on the time, thinking of all the regrets he’s had since then and all the ways his time with Sal has overshadowed the ensuing decades. It honestly reminded me of A Prayer for Owen Meany because of this — little kid who talks oddly, is smarter than any of his (apparent) peers, and divides a community, while leaving an indelible mark on his closest friend (who’s not always a friend).

Almost every name (maybe every name, and I’m not clever enough to get it all) is rich in meaning and symbolism — there’s symbolism all over the place, but McDaniel gets her money’s worth with the names in particular. This book will reward close readings, and probably repeated readings as well.

There are so many depictions and descriptions of child abuse and spousal abuse that it’s almost impossible to believe that there households in that world where someone isn’t getting hit on a pretty regular basis. Thankfully, we’re spared watching characters going through it (the vast majority of the time), but there are many mentions of it.

This is not fun read, really, but I loved the whole experience, it is a rewarding read. McDaniel writes with such richness, such depth, there are phrases throughout this that will knock you out. There’s one sentence that I went back to at least a half-a-dozen times one evening — not because I needed to try to suss it out, but because I just liked it so much. The variety of ways she can describe the horrible and debilitating heat wave that struck that part of Ohio those months is pretty astounding — I’m just glad I had some sort of air conditioning most of the time I spent reading the book. Sal’s descriptions of Hell and his fellow prisoners there are full of haunting images that will stick with me for a while (some good haunting, some less-so). I’m troubled by some of what this book said about God, but since the Devil is the one who told about God, I’m not sure we’re supposed to trust his characterizations. On the other hand, just about everything that the book says about the devil seems to be spot-on.

There are no easy answers to be found here — is Sal the devil? Is someone else in town? Is there a devil at all? Are the naturalistic explanations offered here and there throughout enough? I just don’t think you can think about this book without dealing with the Baudelaire/Lewis/Söze thought.

Can’t help but wonder how things would’ve gone if he’d just gotten a little ice cream.

Disclaimer:I received this eARC via NetGalley at the author’s invitation in return for this post. My thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and Tiffany McDaniel for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

A Few Quick Questions With…Tiffany McDaniel

I’ve really enjoyed my email correspondence with Tiffany McDaniel — she’s charming, friendly, and can laugh at herself. Even if I didn’t spend a couple of days under the spell of her words, I’d want her to find success with this first publication. Here’s a lil’ Q&A we did this week. As usual, I kept it short and sweet, because I’d rather she work on her next book than take too much time with me.

1. Tell me a little about your road to publication.
It was a long road, twisty and dark with the type of rocks perfectly-sized to leave a billion wounds to scar over on my soul. Perhaps too dramatic, but I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen-years-old. I wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine for The Summer that Melted Everything, which isn’t my first written novel. So it was an eleven-year struggle, hence the dramatics. With all the rejection, I came to believe I would never be published. I thought I’d leave this world with my ghost moaning in defeat. I know I’m very fortunate to be in the position I am now, about to see my book on the shelf. It’s been moving through the publishing house for two years, so with all the years added up, I’ve been waiting thirteen long years to see one of my books on the shelf. July 26th is going to be a very special day indeed. I feel as if I might sprout wings, or something equally magical will happen. Truly I’ll probably just spend the day in the bookstore, staring at my book and smiling.
2. 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 I love. Not necessarily in the last five years. Coming to mind, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. But what makes these books, and every book special is the fact that they were written by these very people. Every book has its true author. The stories and characters belong to them. There’s no book I wish I would have written, because their true author has already written it so much better than I ever could.
3. I know that most authors would say that names of characters are important — but yours seem more important than usual, and steeped in meaning. Can you talk a little about your naming process? Alvernine, Grand, Dresden, Fielding — all are great. Be as general as you want, except for Autopsy, I’ve got to know, beyond the meaning — why name someone that?
For me, my characters are real people. These are their true names. They are their names long before I’ve put them down on paper. My job as the author is to listen to the characters. In the case of Autopsy’s name, I had seen the word “autopsy” that day I was trying to know him. I really do feel like these are the hints to me from the characters. Autopsy was telling me his name. As they all do. I just have to listen. I always say I’m surprised myself how the story comes out. That’s true. So when Autopsy was typed there on the page, I didn’t yet know how massive a theme that was going to be in the novel. I had yet to see for myself . . .
4. I don’t want to ask where you get your ideas, but how did you get to the point where you said, “You know what I want to write about? Satan’s summer vacation.”
First off, I love that last line of yours: “Satan’s summer vacation.” Perfect.

I always say my ideas come from the elements that make me. That somewhere in the chaotic clouds swirling in my atmosphere to the calm rivers coursing down my soul, there exists the source of my ideas. As it exists for every author. That’s a rather intense answer. But creativity is intense. It’s chaos and order, a big bang and a small tap. All these things turning, turning, until the wheel is rolling, the story rolling with it, getting to the point when the story is ready to come out.

5. I know you’re neck deep (at least) in promotion for this book, but what’s next for Tiffany McDaniel?
I have eight completed novels. I’m currently working on my ninth. The novel I’m hoping to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with is When Lions Stood as Men. It’s the story of a Jewish brother and sister who escape Nazi Germany, flee across the Atlantic Ocean and end up in my land of Ohio. While here they create their own camp of judgment where they serve as both the guards and the prisoners. It’s a story about surviving guilt, love, and the time when lions did indeed once stand as men.
Thanks so much for your time, and I hope your launch week meets with a lot of success.

The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel

eARC, 320 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2016

Read: July 18 – 19, 2016

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

Yeah, Keyser Söze’s paraphrase of C. S. Lewis’ appropriation of Charles Baudelaire isn’t part of this book, but it might just encapsulate it. Maybe.

It’s the summer of 1984 in Breathed, OH, and it’s hot. Really hot — and about to get a lot hotter. 1984 is a big year — HIV is identified as the virus that leads to AIDS, Apple releases the Macintosh, Michael Jackson’s Pepsi commercial shoot, and the following advertisement runs in the local newspaper, The Breathian:

Dear Mr. Devil, Sir Satan, Lord Lucifer, and all other crosses you bear,

I cordially invite you to Breathed, Ohio. Land of hills and hay bales, of sinners and forgivers.

May you come in peace.

With great faith,
Autopsy Bliss

Autopsy Bliss is the local prosecutor, who wants to see for himself what evil looks like. Hence the advertisement.

So who shows up in response? A bruised, short black boy dressed in tattered and torn overalls who simply seems to want some ice cream and to say hi to the man who invited him. Autopsy’s son, Fielding, is the first one in town to meet the boy and takes him home to his father (sadly, no ice cream is available in town — unbelievably — for the remainder of the Summer). The Bliss family ends up taking the lad in, and starts calling him Sal. He and Fielding become fast friends and are almost inseparable for the rest of the summer. One by one, almost everyone in this sleepy community is touched by the appearance of Sal — either first-hand or by proxy — demons (figurative), troubled family and personal histories are exposed, latent corruptions come to light, and accidents strike many. No one in Breathed will be the same after the day Sal first appears to Fielding.

The book is narrated by Fielding about 70 years after that summer looking back on the time, thinking of all the regrets he’s had since then and all the ways his time with Sal has overshadowed the ensuing decades. It honestly reminded me of A Prayer for Owen Meany because of this — little kid who talks oddly, is smarter than any of his (apparent) peers, and divides a community, while leaving an indelible mark on his closest friend (who’s not always a friend).

Almost every name (maybe every name, and I’m not clever enough to get it all) is rich in meaning and symbolism — there’s symbolism all over the place, but McDaniel gets her money’s worth with the names in particular. This book will reward close readings, and probably repeated readings as well.

There are so many depictions and descriptions of child abuse and spousal abuse that it’s almost impossible to believe that there households in that world where someone isn’t getting hit on a pretty regular basis. Thankfully, we’re spared watching characters going through it (the vast majority of the time), but there are many mentions of it.

This is not fun read, really, but I loved the whole experience, it is a rewarding read. McDaniel writes with such richness, such depth, there are phrases throughout this that will knock you out. There’s one sentence that I went back to at least a half-a-dozen times one evening — not because I needed to try to suss it out, but because I just liked it so much. The variety of ways she can describe the horrible and debilitating heat wave that struck that part of Ohio those months is pretty astounding — I’m just glad I had some sort of air conditioning most of the time I spent reading the book. Sal’s descriptions of Hell and his fellow prisoners there are full of haunting images that will stick with me for a while (some good haunting, some less-so). I’m troubled by some of what this book said about God, but since the Devil is the one who told about God, I’m not sure we’re supposed to trust his characterizations. On the other hand, just about everything that the book says about the devil seems to be spot-on.

There are no easy answers to be found here — is Sal the devil? Is someone else in town? Is there a devil at all? Are the naturalistic explanations offered here and there throughout enough? I just don’t think you can think about this book without dealing with the Baudelaire/Lewis/Söze thought.

Can’t help but wonder how things would’ve gone if he’d just gotten a little ice cream.

Disclaimer:I received this eARC via NetGalley at the author’s invitation in return for this post. My thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and Tiffany McDaniel for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.