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

WeinerAnneManxOnAmazonia

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

PriestChapelwood

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

JosephMarkerStone

My first Kurt Vonnegut novel – Cat’s Cradle

VonnegutCatsCradleTofu

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.

A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole

ColeAHungerLikeNoOtherWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Robert Petkoff

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2011)

Length: 11 hours 33 minutes

Series: Book 2 Immortals After Dark

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone novel. I heard from other readers who have enjoyed the series that this was the first book published and later a prequel, which became Book 1, was published.

Emmaline Troy, a half-vampire, half-Valkyrie, is out on her own for the first time in Paris seeking answers about her dead parents. Werewolf Lachlain MacRieve, recently broken free from his captivity, hunts his mate. While their initial meeting will be tumultuous, they will have to join forces to face down a mighty foe – the leaders of the vampire horde.

This isn’t my typical read but I have been trying to expand my book horizons a bit. However, this wasn’t the book for me. I never became particularly attached to the characters and I found several aspects boring to distasteful.

Lachlain is an immortal, which means he can heal from nearly anything. The vampires have been torturing him for 150 years by having him chained over a fire, letting him cook to death, regenerate, and cook again. Lachlain senses his mate above him on the streets of Paris and that gives him the strength to finally break free. When he finally tracks down Emmaline, he’s still a bit crazed with disgust for all vampires and remembered pain from the fires. And that’s when things get a bit a rapey. Consent is sexy. Forced hand jobs are not. Obviously, I found it hard to see Lachlain as the hero after that. And it’s not just one instance of non-consensual sexual acts; there’s at least 4. Even if you can understand where Lachlain is coming from (his recent years of torture and deep hatred for vampires), it doesn’t make his actions excusable.

To be clear, there are several consensual acts in the book. In fact there is even one that is rather rough but both parties are enjoying it and clearly wanting to continue it. That made it steamy hot. Plus there was lighting in a moonlit forest, so that was an awesome image. However, these events occur between a kidnapped sexual assault victim (Emmaline) and the man who committed those acts (Lachlain), so I still found it hard to wish a Happily Ever After ending for them.

Emmaline’s character was nearly as disappointing. She never really sets boundaries for Lachlain. Most of her time is spent being beautiful and gentle. That’s her role in this story and I found that rather boring. She does eventually have a few moments of small glory, but because her character has been devoid of such characteristics, they felt out of place and rather forced. Emmaline, like all women with Valkyrie blood, has an acquisitive nature, which boils down to the fact that her interest can be bought with material wealth. Sigh…. Let’s not forget that Emmaline is only 70 years old, which is just out of childhood in the immortal world. Meanwhile, Lachlain is at least 900 years old. Emmaline is a virgin, never even having kissed a man. Meanwhile, Lachlain has plenty of experience under his belt. Sigh….

The plot is OK, though rather predictable. Lachlain, king of the Lykae clan, wants two things: Emmaline as his mate and revenge upon the vampires. Lachlain’s immediate friends and family accept his return really easily, which struck me as odd but the story marched on without giving it more than a squint and a blink. Emmaline plans to find out more about her parents. Her Valkyrie aunts want Emmaline back, as well as their long lost Valkyrie queen. In step the  evil vampires who want domination over all immortals. Through it all, Lachlain and Emmaline will have to find love for one another and a way to hold on to it. It was pretty easy to guess who Emmaline’s father was once we had all the characters introduced. Also, the Beauty and the Beast theme wasn’t subtle about wending it’s way through the plot.

Some of the side characters were fun, but most were exaggerated in some way or other. They were mostly there to provide drama and comedy. Regan made me chuckle a few times with her blunt remarks about other people’s sex lives. Nix was fun because she’s obviously working on a different plane where the future is open to her but the immediate present may escape her notice. Kat, who came into the story late, was interesting because she was so straight forward about everything, lacking emotions. Gareth, Lachlain’s brother, doesn’t make a showing until late in the book and then he ends up standing side by side with a vampire named Wroth.

All in all, it was a rather disappointing story. I was turned off early on and the story never really recovered because Lachlain doesn’t learn quickly or thoroughly. The story piled on themes that bored me because it made the outcome predictable.

Narration: Robert Petkoff did a fine job with this book. I’m not a good judge for accuracy when it comes to Scottish accents, but I can say Petkoff was consistent and had a variety of sexy voices for the Scottish werewolves. His female voices were very good, being pretty darn believable. There were a handful of other accents he performed as well, like Louisiana southern accent for Emmaline and a general European accent for Wroth.

What I Liked: Regan’s blunt wit; some of Nix’s silly remarks; one hot sexy scene in the woods; the narration.

What I Disliked: Lachlain’s forced sex acts; Emmaline’s character; Valkyrie interest can be bought with expensive shiny objects; very predictable story.

What Others Think:

Dear Author

Vampire Book Club

 

Dreams of a Dark Warrior by Kresley Cole

ColeDreamsOfDarkWarriorWhy I Read It: Valkyries, Berserkers, & vampires – how could I turn that down?

Where I Got It: Review copy via the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy the possessive streak in your lover, you might be OK with this.

Narrator: Robert Petkoff

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014)

Length: 14 hours 53 minutes

Series: Book 11 Immortals After Dark

Author’s Page

Note: This book works fine as a stand alone even though it is Book 11 in the series.

The book started with a young Valkyrie, Regin the Radiant, beating up some viking Berserkers.  That was pretty amusing and I was enjoying the give and take (both verbal and with blades). The lead Berserker, Aidan, recognizes she is an Immortal, but a rather young one who is still frail and can be injured. He take her under his wing and then proclaims that she will be his wife once she is full grown. In the meantime, she is to wait out her days at his mom’s house while he fights 200 battles in Odin’s name to earn the right to immortality himself. Regin, while young, isn’t really down with that.

So, 9 years later, they meet up again. She’s full immortal, totally able to take care of herself, and busy kicking vampire ass in the Dark Ages of northern Europe. Aidan hasn’t been victorious in 200 battles yet, but he is racking up the points. Regin has to admit that she is plenty curious about coupling in general and in specific, coupling with Aidan. Aidan is all good with this since he claimed Regin for his bride 9 years ago and hasn’t changed his mind on that one bit. In fact, his possessiveness towards Regin came on really strong.

Too strong.

And I had to start this book twice because the main masculine love interest was creeping me out in a rapey sort of way. His possessiveness leaves no room for Regin’s say in the matter and she’s a big part of the equation. This possessive streak is a main theme throughout the book, even with Aidan reincarnated into the modern covert ops soldier we come to know as Declan Chase. I want to believe that the author was setting us up early with a character flaw that Aidan/Declan has to overcome in order to be triumphant, but it didn’t work for me.

First, let me tell you about the characters, the plot, the action, the sex. Then I will come back to this creepy possessive trait. Regin is a lot of fun, always ready with the quip, and a blade if necessary. She starts off strong with plenty of punches, claw marks, and tossing of men twice her size. While she keeps a lot of her spunk throughout the book, she diminishes in her ability to fight and I think this was done to show how strong Aidan/Declan the Berserker is. Declan himself is a troubled man. Unknown to him, his violent dreams are memories of his past lives and past fights and past deaths. He gets lost in it all as a teen and takes up drugs. But then one night a horrible fate falls upon his family and himself, from which he barely survives. And that is where he takes up with this super secret underground military-like organization that hunts down, captures, interrogates, experiments on, and kills any and all immortals. I really enjoyed Declan’s backstory and got into his character, mostly.

The book is fast-paced with plenty of interesting side characters. My favorite was Nix, a Valkyrie gifted with foresight. But that gift also makes her a little crazy. She has a pet bat named Bertie. Then there are several characters we meet in the immortal prison such as the good farm boy Thad, a wicked ancient vampire, a London faerie, and more. They were all enjoyable. Several of the sex scenes were very hot and involved full consent. The partners were into each other and giving and taking equally.

But then we have the love story between Declan and Regin. Declan has a violent streak. At first, he just sees Regin as another immortal, like all the other immortals he has hunted, captured, tortured, and killed. So his initial violence towards Regin didn’t bother me. It was part of the story. And Regin is faced with this horrible decision to either awaken his memories of his past and trigger the curse that has killed each of his reincarnations upon full memory retrieval, or ride it out, try to escape, and hopefully never run into Declan again.

This is my biggest issue with the book. Aidan/Declan has a big possessive streak that goes way beyond being tolerable. It’s not sexy. There are multiple times in this book where Regin flat out refuses sexual contact and Aidan/Declan presses on anyway, once with full penetration. Now Regin does get around to enjoying herself and whatever sexual act is forced upon her, but there is this whole initial lack of consent. Folks, full consent is sexy. Aidan/Declan can declare all he wants how wonderful Regin is, how he will always protect her and cherish her, but the forced sex really negates all that sexy male protectiveness.

So, for me, while this book had a lot going for it, but the overly possessive nature of the main male love interest killed this book for me.

The Narration: Robert Petkoff did an excellent job. He had a variety of accents to pull off as well as male and female voices. He didn’t hesitate with the sex scenes either. In fact, he may very well have orgasmed once or twice while narrating the steamiest scenes. His male and female voices were distinct. Oh, and there was this one character, La Dorada, for which he had to pull off this awful creepy witch sound – he raised the hairs on the back of my neck!

What I Liked: Plenty of action; lots of fight scenes; Regin is full of flippant remarks; Nix and Bertie the bat; some of the sex scenes were quite good; lots of supernatural beings shoved into close contact and forced to play nice.

What I Disliked: Some of the sex scenes initially start out with forced sexual contact; Aidan/Declan’s super possessive nature really wore on me; I never fully grasped the title for the book and how it relates to the story.

What Others Think:

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