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

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

Chupa being weird.
Chupa being weird.

Cthulhu Armageddon by C. T. Phipps

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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.

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

PriestChapelwoodWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrators: James Patrick Cronin, Julie McKay

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2015)

Length: 13 hours 32 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Borden Dispatches

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it reads just fine as a stand alone.

Set roughly 30 years after the events that take place in Book 1 (Maplecroft), Lisbeth Borden is finding retirement lonely and boring. She orders books and papers, adopts feral cats, and keeps up an on going letter to her now dead sister Emma. Then the odd and gruesome events of Birmingham, Alabama catch her eye. Then an Inspector Wolf contacts her and asks her to join him on his investigation into the hatchet murders as he suspects that there is more to it, and also that Lisbeth has had some previous dealings with this particular evil.

While I enjoyed Book 1 more than this book, it was still worthy. Book 1 had all the mystique of the Lizzie Borden historical case tied to it even before I cracked open the cover. This book didn’t come with that mystique, so the story in and of itself had to build the anticipation and it did a great job of it! It’s early 1920s and Prohibition is still firmly in place. In Alabama, we have the True Americans group, which is trying to look a bit more respectable than the Ku Klux Clan and yet still trying to push politics and civil rights in the same direction. Unwed daughters, despite their age, don’t have the legal right to go against their father’s wishes on where to live or work. Essentially, it’s a hotbed of angry, dissatisfied people. Perfect for the summoning of Cthulu monsters.

Inspector Simon Wolf played a very small part in Book 1 but he is front and center here in Book 2. A dear friend of his, a Catholic priest, asks for his aid and he arrives too late to do much for his friend. But he does his best to assist the young lady (Ruth Stevenson) who befriended the priest. He often portrays himself as attached to a police office, but he’s not. No, his office investigates the unusual. Here in Alabama he’s still referred to as the Yank and he has to learn the niceties of Southern hospitality to get along with folks. Wolf is an interesting character being a gentleman, a man who enjoys a good meal, and the owner of a peculiar sense of humor.

Ruth is in her early 20s and is determined to get away from her parents. On the surface, her father is the typical abusive domineering patriarch of the family while Ruth’s mom is this submissive servant of her husband’s orders. She’s tried running away multiple times, but she’s always dragged home. Legally, she can’t go against this because she isn’t married. Her Catholic priest friend helps solve that by finding her a kind (if older) husband. However, Catholics are not accepted by the mainstream Protestant Alabama society. Her father doesn’t approve of Ruth’s elopement to a Catholic Puerto Rican. But what’s more, he joined the Chapelwood church and Ruth was suppose to join too. She’s key to the church’s sinister endeavors. She’s no fainting lily. Betimes she’s scared but she acknowledges that and then pushes on. She also has a strong sense of her personal rights and that makes it ever so much harder for those who want to continue on with their human sacrifices.

As you can see, we have an awesome setting. It’s a slow burn as all the people and aspects get into place. There’s plenty here to intrigue you so I was never bored with the book. Once we have everything in place, the pace picks up. Some of the characters already knew of the human-like monsters, while others have to be brought around to the idea. We even get to spend some time in the head of a former Chapelwood church member who feels the only way to hold off the tide of evil is to take out the designated Chapelwood sacrifices before Chapelwood can sacrifice them appropriately. Yeah. Totally chilling logic. It’s done very well and, as odd as it sounds, I saw why this character did what they did.

This story is a great mix of historical fiction and slow-burn horror. The historical basis made the story that much richer. You can tell the author put quite a bit of research into what was going on in early 1920s Alabama and into understanding how those events and politics and social norms came to be. The horror aspect is not all gore and violence. It’s about things so beyond our understanding that it can push the limits of one’s sanity. It’s not done in some big dramatic way. This isn’t a slasher flick. There’s sound logic and deep thoughts that go into why our characters do what they do, for ultimate good or evil. These characters are complicated and that makes me love or hate them all the more.

Plus the imagery of a 60 year old spinster taking up an axe to save the world is just too awesome!

 

The Narration: Both our narrators did a great job with regional accents. It required quite a bit of subtlety at times and it made the listening experience worthy. James Patrick Cronin even varied the speeds of his dialogue based on the regional dialect he was employing. Julie McKay’s performance of Ruth was excellent with that Southern sass going on.  

What I Liked: 60 year old Lisbeth is awesome; great historical base for the story; the big scope of these Cthulu-like monsters and their human worshipers; it’s a delicious slow burn filled with anticipation; all the characters are interesting because they are complicated; the ending was satisfying and worthy. 

What I Disliked: Nothing. This was truly an excellent book.

What Others Think:

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Kim Heniadis

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