The Best & Worst of 2016

2016 is finally over! It was a tough year for me, even right up to the end where I caught a nasty holiday bug. I did read a lot of great books last year. According to my Goodreads profile, I read 208 books, nearly 100 less than the year before. I blame my new found love of Netflix bingewatching for that. Here are my favorite 11 books of the year, in no particular order (no counting rereads).

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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Skin Game by Jim Butcher

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Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave

Tofu will help me hide the bodies.
Tofu will help me hide the bodies.

Anne Manx on Amazonia by Larry Weiner

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Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

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The Green Children by Domino Finn

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Dragon Gate by Gary Jonas (Jonathan Shade #3)

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Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword by Kiera Gillett

GillettZariaFierceAndTheEnchantedDrakelandSword

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Chupa being weird.
Chupa being weird.

Cthulhu Armageddon by C. T. Phipps

PhippsCthulhuArmageddon

I did some rereads this past year – The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (yep, from the beginning), Terre D’Ange Cycle by Jacqueline Carey (I’ve been reading with a great group of on-line friends and we’re up to Book 7 now), Dune by Frank Herbert (just because it’s awesome), Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney (I read this in paperback some years ago but now it’s available as an audiobook and it is incredibly well done).

Here are the top 3 books that didn’t do it for me:

Lover Eternal by J. R. Ward

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A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole

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Hair Power by Piers Anthony

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I also joined a romance book club. I’ve never really enjoyed romance novels. I don’t mind if a book has romance in it but the main plot has to be something more than finding true love or getting laid for me to really enjoy it. So, I thought perhaps I was wrong in binning romance books all together and pretty much ignoring them. With that in mind, I joined this lovely group of people and gave the romance genre a real shot at winning my heart. We read several paranormal and urban fantasy romances, a few contemporary romances (some with suspense and one with BDSM), and 1 historical fiction romance. In general, I was underwhelmed. Some of the books did exceed my expectations and for romance novels they were good, but none of them made it into my top 50. Let me slightly amend that. I had the opportunity to host twice, which means I picked the book we read. Both times I picked books I had not previously read and one of them was Darkness Haunts by Susan Ilene. There is no romance in this novel. There’s a spattering of flirting, but that is all. While several people enjoyed it (including me), it does not count as a romance novel. Obviously, I’m not a good host for a romance book club but the group was great about it.

Also here are some of my notable firsts for 2016:

My first Stephen King novel – 11-22-63

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My first Star Wars novel – Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

Guess which side of the Force Chupacabr is on?
Guess which side of the Force Chupacabra is on?

My first Podiobooks audiobook – Marker Stone by Paul J. Joseph

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My first Kurt Vonnegut novel – Cat’s Cradle

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As 2016 ends, I am looking forward to a better year in 2017. I spent all of 2016 sick and most of it on bed rest. It took quite some time and many doctors to get diagnosed. I now know that I have CTEPH and in February I will be in San Diego having PTE surgery to hopefully correct the issue. It’s a major surgery and I could be in the hospital recovering for up to 20 days. So if Dab of Darkness goes dark between Ground Hog’s Day and Valentine’s Day, it’s just me laid up in a hospital recovering. Life should get better after that surgery and I’m just really looking forward to being on the other side of it. 24/7 supplemental oxygen makes life rather boring, as I can now attest to.

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

DelanyBabel-17Where I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Stefan Rudnicki

Publisher: Skyboat Media Inc. (2015)

Length: 6 hours 44 minutes

Author’s Page

Rydra Wong, an ex-military cryptographer, a poet, and a linguist, has been approached by the military once again to help decipher the Babel-17 code used by the alien invaders in their many attacks. Rydra realizes that Babel-17 is not a code, but a language. After obtaining some of the original recordings, she has an intuitive guess as to where the next attack will occur. With the military’s blessing, she dusts off her captain’s wings and assembles a very colorful crew to head out to meet the threat and hopefully get to the root of the Babel-17 attacks.

I read the paperback version of this book some years ago as part of Little Red Reviewer’s yearly Vintage Science Fiction event. It was great then and I enjoyed it even more the second time through. There is a lot going on in this little book that was first published in the 1960s. First, our main hero is Rydra, a woman. Second, the cast of characters are quite varied – several have body modifications such as tattoos, spurs, enhanced bones, etc. Third, one of the core themes of the book is that language can influence thought patterns and behaviors of the speaker. I once studied a variety of languages, so I really enjoyed this aspect to the story.

Rydra is first introduced as a beautiful poet and, back in my first reading years ago, I thought this would be like so many beautiful damsel in distress SF stories that came out of the 1960s. Pretty quickly, we come to realize that Rydra is so much more that a poetic pretty face. For much of the book, she’s the one calling the shots and keeping her crew safe. I also liked her backstory that we learn mostly through her psychiatrist turned mentor and confidant. Rydra wasn’t always good at expressing herself.

Brass was my second favorite character. I picture him as a big lion that can leap about on all fours or walk on two legs, depending on what he wants to do. He’s a friendly brawler. He recently lost a loved one. It’s takes three to fly a ship and those three have to be in sync with each other and quite often the three are a loving triple. Rydra finds Brass and his partner a third at the morgue. Yep. There are dead flying zombies in this book, though the word ‘zombie’ is never used. In fact, Rydra’s search for a crew was quite amusing. She needs a port authority to approve the psych indices of her crew, so she hauls his reluctant butt around the port bars so he can approve on the spot and they can get in the air. He learns quite a bit that night and goes from looking down on such people to admiring several and continuing to visit the bars and watch the fights.

There’s this whole espionage feel to the quest. Babel-17 is an insidious language and slippery to describe, let alone translate. Rydra intuitively knows some of this but as she pieces more and more of it together, and as ‘accidents’ stat happening with her ship, she becomes more aware of just how important Babel-17 is to the attackers. Later in the story, we meet an escaped convict, the Butcher, and he becomes an important part of the story. Without spoiling anything, I just want to include that little snippet here to point out that the book has this continuing way of making the reader look at the second layer to each character. Rydra is more than a poet. Brass is more than a wrestler. The Butcher is more than a convict. These fascinating characters make for an excellent story.

Towards the end, the story leaves the comfort space of science fiction and gets a little fantasy genre on us. The first time I read this story, I didn’t understand all of what happened here but I understood enough to feel the story had a solid ending. The second time through, I get it a bit more but there’s still a few cloudy areas. I say this is probably the only weak spot to the story, but if you were to ask me after a third reading, I might disagree with myself. At any rate, the story does have a clear and solid ending that makes sense, even if the minute specifics of how we got there are a little muddled. It’s definitely a worthy read.

I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost from the publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Stefan Rudnicki did a great job with this book. Some parts of it are a bit tricky to vocalize; for instance, the character Brass can’t shape the letter P, so Rudnicki had to leave any Ps out of Brass’s ‘accent’. He did this smoothly and I can only imagine that he had to practice a bit. He brought each character to life and managed all the accents described in the book, including the foreign (made up?) languages. 

What I Liked: So much going on in such a compact story; Rydra is a complex hero; the underscoring theme that languages can influence human behavior; a diverse cast of characters; several of the side characters have a second layer; great narration.

What I Disliked: The ending still has a few muddy bits for me, even on a second reading. Though this might not be so upon further readings.

What Others Think:

Little Red Reviewer

The Eyrie

Superlinguo

Speculiction

From Couch to Moon

Science Book A Day

Chasing Bawa