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

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.

Dragon Gate by Gary Jonas

JonasDragonGateWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing LLC (2016)

Length: 7 hours 30 minutes

Series: Book 3 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 3 in the series, it works mostly well on it’s own. Of course, the first two books were really good, so I highly recommend giving them a read.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series and that set the bar pretty high for this book. Jonathan and his crew (Kelly Chan, her boyfriend Brand, and the ghost Esther) are hired by Dragon Gate Industries to protect the Nobles from the revenge-seeking Marshall clan. It’s not the normal case Jonathan takes on, but he owes the guys at DGI a favor. However both the Nobles and the Marshalls come from a culture that demands the Nobles willingly give up their lives to maintain family honor.

There were several things I liked about this book but then there were also some things that didn’t work for me. The set up is interesting and not something I have come across too often in urban fantasy. The Nobles are unwilling to defend themselves and some will willingly kneel for the sword. This makes it very difficult (and a bit infuriating) for Jonathan & his team to protect the Nobles. However, the reasons driving the Marshall clan to wipe out the Nobles, including the next generation that wasn’t part of the crime that lies between the two families, never fully gelled for me. For instance, the Marshalls take heavy damage and several deaths (which can only be expected when you go up against Kelly Chan). I don’t think it was worth the cost to the Marshalls but we never get inside their heads, so we never know why they keep coming.

On the plus side, we get plenty of Kelly time, which is awesome. My love affair with this character continues. Through the form of journal entries (yep, Kelly’s got a diary!), we get her opinion on everything from the use of high heels as weapons to worrying over Jonathan’s recent personality change. And that leads me to Jonathan and how he is suppose to be rather removed from his friends, harder, and not his normal joking self. Jonathan’s friends comment often on his new harsher self,  but when we ride around in his head he doesn’t sound any different from the first two books. He’s worried about his friends, takes pride in his work, etc. After what he suffered at the end of Book 2, I was really expecting more of a change in him and that change wasn’t fully crystallized in this book.

But then we have more awesomesauce. Esther’s character continues to grow. Through the typewriter keys that she haunts, she has a wider circle of friends and all the places they visit as well. Brand, a second generation sekutar (a magically manufactured warrior of sorts), also continues to evolve. His relationship with Kelly has forced him to develop his sense of empathy. I was convinced he wouldn’t live past Book 1, but I am glad the author kept him around to play the humorous, usually oblivious jock.

Jonathan & crew are left protecting Rayna and her brother Graham, who aren’t too enthusiastic about the body guards. The Nobles have special abilities that get revealed little by little. I really liked how reticent they were to show off their paranormal or magical abilities. For the bulk of the book, Rayna and Graham need to be protected, having no evident fighting skills. However, at the very end of the book, the author suddenly tosses in some warrior skills for the Nobles and I felt this was too convenient and didn’t match up with the character and what little we learned about the culture of the land the Nobles and Marshalls are from.

So while this book was a bit of a mixed bag for me, I plan to continue the series. Books 1 & 2 were so entertaining that I trust the author to get this series back up to that same level.

I received a copy at no cost from the narrator in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Joe Hempel continues to be an excellent narrator for this series. I love his voice for Esther, especially when she says, ‘It’s all berries.’ Once again, he nails the voice for Kelly Chan with her light Asian accent.    

What I Liked: Jonathan & crew are outside of their comfort zone; lots of Kelly time; Brand and Esther continue to grow as support characters; there’s some magical beasties; the conundrum of the feud between the Marshalls and the Nobles.

What I Disliked: Some of the basics never fully crystallized for me, leaving me with lots of questions at the end of the story concerning the Marshalls and the Nobles; We’re told often that Jonathan has become harder, more aloof, removed from his friends but when riding around in his head, that isn’t apparent; A new character gets one too many previously unknown abilities at the end of the book at a most convenient time.