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

BrownRedRising

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ClineReadyPlayerOne

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

ButcherSkinGame

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

FinnTheGreenChildren

Dragon Gate by Gary Jonas (Jonathan Shade #3)

JonasDragonGate

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

WardLoverEternal

A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole

ColeAHungerLikeNoOther

Hair Power by Piers Anthony

AnthonyHairPower

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

King112263

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.

Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave

The reclusive Smudge makes an appearance.
The reclusive Smudge makes an appearance.

Narrator: Paul Ansdell

Publisher: Dreamscape Media, LLC (2016)

Length: 14 hours 37 mins

Series: Book 4 Theodore Tate

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 4 in the series, it works pretty well as a stand alone. There are some reveals about what happened to certain characters in previous books. Also, this series is part of the bigger overall Christchurch murder mysteries, which has intersecting timelines.

Have you ever read a headline about some horrible crime and thought, ‘Well, the victim or their loved ones should get five minutes alone with the culprit!’. That’s the central plot to this book. A convicted rapist turns up dead and the Christchurch (New Zealand) cops aren’t too enthusiastic in investigating who might be responsible. Still, they have a job to do. Get ready for an intense cat and mouse game between avenging killer and reluctant yet dedicated detectives.

Wow! This book was super intense! I really enjoyed it and it was difficult to put down in order to sleep for a few hours before picking it up again. Theo Tate is back on the force, having been sober for a year. He’s the king of second chances, as some call him. He’s messed up plenty of times and yet he always means well. His new partner is Rebecca Kent, who recently recovered from her own injuries which she received while on duty. They catch the the case involving the recently released convicted rapist and aren’t too excited about it.

Meanwhile, Carl Schroeder, who also recently recovered from a serious injury, just isn’t the same. He’s no longer on the force but he’s got his own work keeping him busy. His story arc for this series is the most interesting so far! I’m really impressed with Cleave’s writing on this one! Schroeder was the guy that helped keep Tate on the side of good (most of the time). Now, Schroeder may be the one needing Tate to act the conscience for him.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Tate’s wife had a significant role in this book. If you’ve read the earlier books, then you know she has been mostly out of the picture. Now her presence brings Tate both joy and anxiety. I don’t want to say too much because I do my best to avoid spoilers. Just know that Cleave is upping his game by bringing Bridget into the mix.

There’s also Warren the spider, a kind of pet to one of the characters. His cheeky remarks provided some humor to this dark and gritty tale. I was a little sad to see that Warren will probably not be in further novels.

The plot was intense! I now, I already mentioned that, but I really mean it! There was never a dull moment. As the reader, we know right away who this mysterious avenging killer is. At first, I was rooting for this person, but as the story unfolds, this vigilante makes mistakes and good people start dying. With the first accidental death, I was ready to forgive the vigilante, because, hey, we all make mistakes. But the bodies kept piling up and it became obvious that this type of justice has a cost. Cleave is clever in that he doesn’t stop there. Instead, through these gripping characters, he asks the question of whether this cost is less or more than the cost society and victims pay under the current justice system. The cat and mouse game continues as each of our main detectives have to weigh the answer for themselves.

This was an excellent murder mystery turned thriller. I really wasn’t sure where Cleave would take the story on the final stretch. In the end, I was very satisfied, feeling that a kind of justice was meted out while staying true to overall feel of the book. I look forward to seeing what he does next. Theo Tate already needs plenty of therapy.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox.

Narration: Paul Ansdell did a pretty good job. His individual voices started off crisp and distinct, though well into the book Tate and Schroeder started to sound the same. From there forward, it was off and on with the clear distinction between these two. However, the text is often very clear about who is talking, so that made it easy for most of the book to keep things straight. Ansdell has believable female voices unless they are sad and anguished. His voice tends to drop several notes when he mimics a woman in deep sorrow or distress. For the purposes of the story, that doesn’t really matter. Ansdell does a great job imbuing the characters with emotion.

What I Liked: The dark feel to the story; a great way to vent some inner need for vigilante justice; Cleave tells a great, complex tale of what vigilante justice could look like; Schroeder and Tate – such a great combo!; the intense cat & mouse game; a very fitting end. 

What I Disliked: There were a few times where the narration was a little muddy on character distinction.

What Others Think:

Martha’s Bookshelf

NZ Booklovers

Crime Watch

Caffeinated Book Reviewer

Mysterious Bibliophile

Audiobook (CDs) Giveaway!

Heldig is absolutely ignoring me while Claudie snoozes on.
Heldig is absolutely ignoring me while Claudie snoozes on.

About a week ago I received a package in the mail and it was a box of audiobooks! Hooray! But wait! Not all these books were intended for me. So I have decided to share.

Now first, I want to tell you about this awesome audiobook site where you can request audiobooks in exchange for an honest review. This site is Audiobook Jukebox. I have been working with this site for years and the two people who run it (Susan and Jeff) are awesome people since they keep this site rolling on their volunteer time alone. If you want to get into audiobook reviewing, this is a great way to do it. You don’t have to have a blog, but you do have to post your review somewhere and then share a link to that review with Audiobook Jukebox. Easy peasy. Also, I think you will be impressed with the large selection of books for review.

So I requested a book from Dreamscape Audio via Audiobook Jukebox and their shipping department inadvertently sent me 5 books, 4 of which were intended for other audiobook reviewers. When I contacted Dreamscape, they told me to keep all 5 books and they would reship the audiobooks to the correct reviewers. That’s really cool of them.

So I am offering up 3 different audiobooks in this giveaway. You’ll see a different Rafflecopter for each one. You can enter all 3 or just the ones you’re interested in. Due to shipping costs, I will have to limit this to North America (Canada, US, or Mexico).

First up is Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave (regular audio CD – 12 discs). I actually requested the MP3 CD version of this (which came in the box with this one). I have read several Paul Cleave books and have enjoyed them all. Narrated by Paul Ansdell.

Book Blurb for Five Minutes Alone:

CleaveFiveMinutesAloneIn the latest thriller by the Edgar-nominated author of Joe Victim, someone is helping rape victims exact revenge on their attackers, prompting an edge-of-your-seat, cat-and-mouse chase between old friends, detectives Theodore Tate and Carl Schroder.

Carl Schroder and Theodore Tate, labeled “The Coma Cops” by the media, are finally getting their lives back into shape. Tate has returned to the police force and is grateful to be back at home with his wife, Bridget. For Schroder, things are neither good nor bad. The bullet lodged in his head from a shooting six months ago hasn’t killed him, but, almost as deadly, it’s switched off his emotions.

When the body of a convicted rapist is found, obliterated by an oncoming train, Tate works the case, trying to determine if this is murder or suicide. The following night, the bodies of two more rapists surface. It’s hard to investigate when everyone on the police force seems to be rooting for the killer.

There’s a common plea detectives get from the loved ones of victims: When you find the man who did this, give me five minutes alone with him. And that’s exactly what someone is doing. Someone is helping these victims get their five minutes alone. But when innocent people start to die, Tate and Schroder find themselves with different objectives, and soon they’re battling something they never would’ve expected: each other.

To enter the giveaway for this book, do the rafflecopter thing below or answer these questions in the comments: 1) What country do you live in? 2) Which book or books would you like and why? 3) Leave a way to contact you (if your wordpress login email is good, then no need to leave it in the comments). Due to shipping costs, I will have to limit this to North America (Canada, US, or Mexico). Giveaway ends Nov. 25th, 2016 at midnight.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Second is The Once in a Million Boy by Monica Wood (regular audio CD – 9 discs). This one looks like an emotionally heavy book, which can be good if I’m in the right mood for it. Narrated by Chris Ciulla.

Book Blurb for The Once in a Million Boy

WoodTheOnceInAMillionBoyThe story of your life never starts at the beginning. Don’t they teach you anything at school?

So says 104-year-old Ona to the 11-year-old boy who’s been sent to help her out every Saturday morning. As he refills the bird feeders and tidies the garden shed, Ona tells him about her long life, from first love to second chances. Soon she’s confessing secrets she has kept hidden for decades.

One Saturday, he doesn’t show up. Ona starts to think he’s not so special after all, but then his father Quinn arrives on her doorstep, determined to finish his son’s good deed. The boy’s mother is not so far behind. Ona is set to discover that even at her age the world can surprise you, and that sometimes sharing a loss is the only way to find yourself again.

To enter the giveaway for this book, do the rafflecopter thing below or answer these questions in the comments: 1) What country do you live in? 2) Which book or books would you like and why? 3) Leave a way to contact you (if your wordpress login email is good, then no need to leave it in the comments). Due to shipping costs, I will have to limit this to North America (Canada, US, or Mexico). Giveaway ends Nov. 25th, 2016 at midnight.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The third and final book is Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others by Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes’ Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. (regular audio CD – 3 discs). Narrated by the author, Cheryl Bachelder.

Book Blurb for Dare to Serve:

BachelderDareToServeCheryl Bachelder joined an ailing restaurant chain and turned it into the darling of the industry – by daring to serve the people in her organization well. When Bachelder was named CEO of Popeyes in the fall of 2007, guest visits had been declining for years, restaurant sales and profit trends were negative, and the company stock price had dropped from $34 in 2002 to $13. The brand was stagnant, and relations between the company and its franchise owners were strained.

By 2014 average restaurant sales were up 25 percent, and profits were up 40 percent. Popeyes’ market share had grown from 14 percent to 21 percent, and the stock price was over $40. The franchisees were so pleased with the turnaround that they began reinvesting in the brand, rapidly remodeling restaurants and building new units around the world. The difference maker, Bachelder says, was a conscious decision to lead in a new way.

She and her team created a workplace where people were treated with respect and dignity yet challenged to perform at the highest level. Silos and self were set aside in favor of collaboration and team play. And the results were measured with rigor and discipline. Servant leadership is sometimes derided as soft or ineffective, but this audiobook shows that it’s actually challenging and tough minded – a daring path. Bachelder takes you firsthand through the transformation of Popeyes and shows how a leader at any level can become a Dare-to-Serve leader.

To enter the giveaway for this book, do the rafflecopter thing below or answer these questions in the comments: 1) What country do you live in? 2) Which book or books would you like and why? 3) Leave a way to contact you (if your wordpress login email is good, then no need to leave it in the comments). Due to shipping costs, I will have to limit this to North America (Canada, US, or Mexico). Giveaway ends Nov. 25th, 2016 at midnight.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Cleaner by Paul Cleave

CleaveTheCleanerWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Paul Ansdell

Publisher: Dreamscape Media, LLC (2015)

Length: 11 hours 36 mins

Series: Book 1 The Cleaner

Author’s Page

Note: This book can be read as part of the bigger series of crime novels that all take place in Christchurch, New Zealand. Some characters from those other novels are mentioned here but you don’t have to have read them to understand the context. It works just fine as a stand alone.

As we all know from the book’s description, Joe is the Christchurch Carver, and 7 killings have been attributed to him. But he only killed 6, so he is determined to hunt down this copy cat killer and punish him for overstepping. Right away, I had a little evil chuckle over the idea that serial killers have a code of polite behavior among themselves. Later on, the reader meets Melissa, another killer, and she’s pretty miffed at Joe for breaking her ideas of polite behavior as well. Obviously, things would go much easier for Joe if he had a rolodex of the local killers in Christchurch and could coordinate such things. Alas, to be a serial killer is to be a loner.

Joe likes to play the mentally retarded janitor and that’s how he got the job at the Christchurch police headquarters. This allows Joe all sorts of access to the investigation into his killings. For much of the book, no one is aware of what Joe is. Detective Schroeder, who we’ve seen in other Christchurch crime novels by this author, is unaware of Joe’s real abilities. Even his mother, who is verbally and sometimes physically abusive, finds him subservient. It was a delicious kind of agony to know that Joe is this vicious killer!

The author did a great job of balancing the story – I wanted Joe caught, but not so soon or not so easily because I wanted an interesting tale. The violence is, for the most part, referred to instead of portrayed in grim detail. Though there is one scene where Joe suffers a significant injury that was graphic but since he’s the evil serial killer, I was fine with that.

Joe’s mom was excellently done. She’s into memorizing the grocery store ads and puzzles and she’s not a very good cook but thinks she is. In some eerie ways, she reminded me of my own mom. Not that I’m going to turn into a serial killer because of it or anything. 😉

Then there’s Sally, a maintenance worker at the police precinct. She had a brother who passed away and Sally becomes a bit fixated on Joe, wanting to help him. She plays a key role later on in the book that I won’t spoil, but her character went from being pretty mellow boring to rather interesting. She’s got her own hang ups and parental issues.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is that I kept questioning whether or not Joe was mildly retarded (and he just didn’t accept that) or if he was really delusional about some things. He’s obviously a planner and can blend in when he decides to do so. I liked that I kept questioning his IQ throughout the book. Over all, it was pretty thrilling to watch a serial killer go on the hunt for another killer, working outside legal limits.

Narration: Paul Ansdell was, once again, a good fit for the main character. He had a variety of British accents, making it easy to keep the characters straight. His female voices were believable and I especially liked his eerie crazy voice for Melissa. He did a great job switching between regular Joe and retarded Joe.

What I Liked: A serial killer hunting a copy cat!; Joe’s disguise & how long it works; Sally and her history; Melissa and her short term goals; Joe’s mom; great cover art.

What I Disliked: Nothing – I really enjoyed this book.

What Others Think:

Crime Watch

Reviewer’s Choice

Buried Under Books

AustCrime

Blood Men by Paul Cleave

CleaveBloodMenChupaWhere I Got It: Won a copy

Narrator: Paul Ansdell

Publisher: Dreamscape Media, LLC (2015)

Length: 10 hours 9 mins

Series: Christchurch Mysteries

Author’s Page

Note: This book is part of the Christchurch Mysteries series but it works just fine as a stand alone. It does reference the main character in the Theodore Tate mysteries in a few small ways and chronologically, happens after Book 1 (Cemetery Lake).

Edward Hunter lost his father when he was 9 years old. The man was a serial killer and he was finally caught and imprisoned. Edward has tried very hard to forget him ever since and be his own person. Now, decades later he has a wife (Jody) and a young daughter (Sam) and a successful job (as an accountant). But a bank robbery turned bloody will bring cruel violence back into Edward’s life, affecting those he loves the most. Once again, the ugly question of whether or not Edward is like his father will be raised.

I’m totally going to love on this book. I really enjoyed it, even more so than Cemetery Lake. Set in modern day Christchurch, New Zealand, Edward is a very interesting character and we get to see him during his worst hours. I really felt for the guy. First he has this horrible family history that’s full of tragedy. Then he has is own little demon to contend with, one he thought he had beaten down many years ago. Finally, he has the worst week of his life during the length of this book. He goes through quite the range of emotions.

The author pulls in characters from the Theodore Tate novels, specifically Detective Schroeder. He’s cynical and sharp and married to doing the right thing (and doing it by the books as much as possible). In fact, the book opens with him and his guys looking into the death of a man in a trench coat and large suction cups. Yeah, I giggled too. Schroeder is quickly pulled off this case to attend to a bank robbery, the same one that Edward is caught in the middle of.

After the robbery is all said and done, Edward feels he must find the bandits. His father, who is still in prison, gives him a call and asks him to visit. That really starts the slippery slope for Edward. What follows is a mix of righteous payback, a struggle against Edward’s baser desires, and Edward coming to terms with who he is (including his relationship with his father). Be prepared for a respectable body count on this one.

Some animals suffer in this book. The author provides one clear, detailed example and then alludes to the others without giving specifics. These episodes are used sparingly and definitely add to the character’s dimension; these scenes aren’t here merely to up the horror level of the book.

The story held my attention all the way through and I finished it in three days. The novel brings up questions of inner evil and what constitutes free will versus a mental illness. The main characters are well done. There’s some interesting twists that kept me guessing as to where the author would take the story.

I won a copy of this book from The Audio Book Reviewer) with no strings attached.

Narration: Paul Ansdell was a great voice for both Detective Schroeder and Edward Hunter. I liked his slightly gravelly voice for the older, jaded Schroeder. He did a great job of portraying Edward’s many emotions throughout the novel. His female voices were believable. I wonder, as I did with Cemetery Lake, why no New Zealand accents? Perhaps this was the publisher’s direction, but I don’t really know.

What I Liked: The the book cover; fascinating main character Edward; several twists I wasn’t expecting; Detective Schroeder is great; the Christchurch setting; great narration.

What I Disliked: Why didn’t the narrator use NZ accents? I wonder if that was per the publisher’s direction….

What Others Think:

Crime Watch

AustCrime

Beth’s Book Reviews

The Audio Book Reviewer

Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave

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

Where I Got It: Won a copy

Narrator: Paul Ansdell

Publisher: Dreamscape Media, LLC (2015)

Length: 11 hours 3 mins

Series: Book 1 Theodore Tate

Author’s Page

Set in modern Christchurch, New Zealand, Theodore Tate used to be a cop, but 2 years ago his wife and daughter were in a terrible accident. Things have been on a downhill slant since then. Now, he does some work for the local police and one of those things is to be present during exhumations and sign off on the paperwork. However, this exhumation brings up lots and lots of questions. First, there’s a couple of bodies in the cemetery lake. Next, the body they expected to be in the coffin isn’t there; instead it’s a body of a young woman.

From there on, the police want to take point and the tell Tate to butt out. However, he can’t let it go. He calls in favors and old friendships as he does his own investigation. He’s driven because he believes it is all related to a case he was working when his family was in the devastating accident, a case he dropped the ball on and should have finished out. The mystery leads to more bodies and Tate breaks so many rules.

Things are complicated and part of that complication is a priest who knows more than he’s telling. He’s bond by the confessional and that makes things tricky, morally speaking. I liked this twist being tossed in because for me it is simple: the law comes before the confessional, especially when it comes to very serious crimes such as murder. But that is not the case for everyone and this story really delves into those facets.

To add fuel to the fire, there is this news reporter that pushed him into saying things he shouldn’t, which she uses in a slanted news story. It’s more hot water for our troubled would-be hero. I found him fascinating because he isn’t your typical Good Cop Fallen On Hard Times character. Throughout the course of the story, he does a few things that I don’t agree with. He does feel remorse over most of them and yet his drive to solve this keeps pushing him to greater extremes. The ending wrapped up the murder mystery nicely, but left plenty of questions as to what will happen to our main character in the next installment.

I won a copy of this book from the Lazy Day Library Facebook group (via The Audio Book Reviewer) with no strings attached.

Narration: Paul Ansdell was pretty good, tho I don’t know why he didn’t use any NZ accents. I did go double check myself by listening to some NZ folks on YouTube. He had a variety of British accents and that was great for keeping all the characters distinct. His female voices were believable.

What I Liked: The setting; Tate is not your normal cop/detective hero; things are complicated for Tate; love the cover art; satisfying ending while also leaving me wanting Book 2.

What I Disliked: Why didn’t the narrator use NZ accents? I wonder if that was per the publisher’s direction….

What Others Think:

Reviewing the Evidence

Euro Crime

Petrona

Beth’s Book Reviews

The Audio Book Reviewer