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).
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.
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.
Heya Everyone! I was recently tagged byThe Audiobookwormin this fun book tag. Feel free to comment on my book choices or to add your own for each category in the comments. I’m going to tag a few people at the end, but if you want to throw up a post with your answers, leave me your link in the comments so I can swing by.
1. “Tale As Old As Time” – A popular theme, trope or setting you will never get bored of reading.
Theme – Underdog
The Red Rising series by Pierce Brown was excellent. Can’t wait to see more from this author. If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s a mash up of Roman mythology/military command structure with terraforming of Mars and beyond. Be proud of your scars. You’ve earned them!
D-List Supervillain series by Jim Bernheimer – which is just a lot of damn fun! Mostly, the supervillains in this series are just anti-organization. The various super-characters are imaginative and there’s plenty of humor.
Trope – Artificial Intelligence
I recently read a whole bunch of AI stuff. The Wrong Unit by Rob Dircks was a delight. It had that right mix of humor and serious bits. The AI units are programmed to learn to care for their humans, so the anthropomorphizing of the AI units is realistically built into the story.
Ray Jay Perreault has written several stories that feature AI and I have been enjoying making my way through his audiobooks. Progeny is one of my favorite AI stories, though his AIs run the gamut of cold, calculating evil to human-like societal beings.
Serengeti by JB Rockwell was super intense in several ways. The story starts off with a space battle and the AIs are the ships, though they all have human crews. This space battle takes perhaps as much as half the book. Then the second half is the story of this one ship trying to limp home. The humans have to go into stasis, so that just leaves the ship’s AI and her little AI minion bots. The struggle to reach their goal, to stay sane over the lengthy years, to keep functioning just enough to keep the human crew alive – just an excellent tale.
Setting – Ancient Times
There’s plenty of stuff that happened in ancient times. Most of it is interesting, gritty, and dramatic. Here’s a list of some of the stuff I’ve read so far and have really enjoyed.
Conn Iggulden’s Emperor series – This series focuses on Julius Caesar, starting with his boyhood years and going all the way through his life to the dramatic, bitter end.
The Rise of Zenobia by JD Smith – set during the Roman empire in the Syrian city of Palmyra. I learned from this book and that always is a plus.
John Maddox Roberts’s SPQR murder mystery series – Set in 1st century ancient Rome during the time of Crassus and Pompey. Who could resist murder mystery and ancient Rome? Not me!
Patrick Bowman’s retelling of The Odyssey for young adults – The Odyssey of the Slave series. In this series, the focus is on a young lad who is taken as a slave when the famous city of Troy falls.
Colossus by Colin Falconer – This is a tale of Alexander the Great. Technically, it’s an alternate history, but if you don’t know much abut Alexander and the arc of his life, you wouldn’t know it. I really enjoyed this tale – elephants!
The Sekhmet Bed by LM Ironside – set in ancient Egypt. Ahmose was raised up to Great Royal Wife status. Political intrigue plays a big role in this story.
Rise to Power by Uvi Poznansky – set in the land of Israel in the 1st or 2nd century BCE. This is the first book in a series about David and his rise to power told from a secular point of view.
Claimed by the Enemy by Shauna Roberts – despite the title and the cover art, this book is pretty darn good. Set in ancient Mesopotamia during the time of King Sargon, the book focuses on two young individuals who were placed in difficult positions.
2. Belle – A book you bought for it’s beautiful cover that’s just as beautiful inside too
Guy Gavriel Kay never fails to provide a beautiful story and his covers are always so well done. Recently, I read Children of Earth and Sky, and the cover is indeed just as beautiful as the tale inside. If you said I had to pick my favorite GGK novel, I would be hard-pressed to say which it was. His Sarantium duology is about the fall of an empire, so plenty of vast ideas going on there but with excellent pinpoint characters that do a great job of showing the human side. I also loved The Lions of Al-Rassan, which is based on Moorish Spain. There’s plenty of areas of conflict but also plenty of areas for commonality. I could go on and on, but you should just go pick up some GGK for yourself.
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear was one of my favorite reads of 2015. The cover did a great job of capturing the Wild West and Steampunk mix of the story. Karen was also a wonderful character, not being a stereotypical kick ass heroine that are so abundant lately. She does kick ass, she’s just also a real person who happens to be brave when backed into a corner.
3. Beast – A book you didn’t expect much from but pleasantly surprised you.
Zorro by Isabel Allende was a pleasant surprise. In essence, it was an origin story for Zorro. I loved watching the black & white TV show was a kid so it was pretty cool to read this book and get Allende’s take on how Zorro came to be. There was a lot more depth to this character than I expected, which, in retrospect, was silly of me. Zorro lived during a time of Spanish colonialism in the New World – there were plenty of cultures and conflicts. Allende did a great job of pulling those elements into this tale.
The Fold by Peter Clines was one of the best SF Thriller novels I have read. It was fun. It was intense. It had SF themes that I could get into. The characters were also interesting, especially the lead guy who has a true eidetic memory. This was both a help and a hindrance to him.
11-22-63 by Stephen King is the first King novel I have read. It won’t be the last. King did a really great job with the characters in this book. I know some folks have labeled him as a horror novelist, and nothing more. However, this book shows that he has a lot more going on. It’s obvious he put quite a bit of research in to the time and location (1963, Texas) of the bulk of the book. While I do expect that as I explore King’s works, this novel won’t be my favorite but it certainly delivered more than I expected.
4. Gaston – A book everyone loves that you don’t.
Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel – I was on the fence about this one. I liked that it was a post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel that wasn’t full of angst. However, I didn’t really care for the character Arthur Leander, who all the other characters are somehow connected with. He was boring and I wanted to know more about these other characters but the story kept coming back to him.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo – it’s a young man’s adventure quest and it’s been done so many times before. All the ladies are in some subservient role, which is also a standard (unfortunately) in such adventure tales. Most of the men have a Personal Legend to find or to fullfill. Meanwhile, the 3 female characters lack any such ambition.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith – The most exciting parts of this book were the dream sequences and even those were mean tricks. The reader enters each of the dream sequences as if they are the next part of the story and only at the end of the scene do you realize it’s a dream. I really liked Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and his Unholy Nights was pretty entertaining as well, so I was sad to say that I found this book to be a snoozer.
5. Lefou – A loyal sidekick you can’t help but love more than their counter part.
Jean Tannen from The Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch – This series is full of creative cursing, thievery, camaraderie, magic, death, romance, pirates, evil people getting their due, the good guys getting the crap beaten out of them, and more creative cursing.
Adrian from the Cheshire Red Reports by Cherie Priest – Adrian is still a bit of a mystery, since I have only read the first 2 books in this series (I hope there will be more in the series!). He’s ex-military on a search for his missing kid sister. He’s also a dragqueen, and his parents have disowned him because of this. He makes a great sidekick for Raylene, the vampire thief.
6. Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumier & Cogsworth – A book that helped you through a difficult time or that taught you something valuable.
For over a year now, I have been going through this medical thing. I’ve basically been on bed rest for a year now and I was finally diagnosed in May with CTEPH – which is basically blood clots that have hardened in my pulmonary arteries, which has caused pulmonary hypertension to a moderately high degree, which will be fatal…. in perhaps 6-10 years, unless I have this big, kinda cool in a SF way, kinda scary in a mortality rate way, surgery. That’s scheduled for early February. So, these books have helped me cope with this lengthy process.
Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford – this is a coloring book for adults and it’s the first one I ever bought. It’s remarkably detailed and it’s pretty amazing how coloring really takes me out of my current situation. Also, it’s something I can do while listening to audiobooks.
Terre D’Ange Cycle by Jacqueline Carey – This series has been awesome and I have been part of a group read along with several wonderful ladies on the blogosphere. I’ve read Book 1, Kushiel’s Dart, so many times but it was quite something to share it with others in this in-depth discussion of the book. We started the read along back in May 2015, and now we’re on Book 7, Naamah’s Kiss. We’ll have to finish the last two books after my surgery – so that gives me something to look forward to. If you haven’t checked this series out, then I highly recommend it for alternate history and epic fantasy fans. I know sometimes it gets panned because there is plenty of sex in it, but the amount sex doesn’t outweigh all the awesomeness – the political intrigue, the sword fights, the desperate straights of the heroes, the saving of the realm! Honestly, the sex enhances the characters instead of just being padding to up the page count.
7. “Something There” – A book or a series that you weren’t into at first but picked up towards the end.
The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan – It took me about 4 books to really get into this series, but I’m very glad I read it as it is a touchstone for epic fantasy fans. The first book really took a lot from Tolkien’s works and I was bit insulted the first and second time I read it. However, I was encouraged by a great group of book bloggers, who were part of this big 2+ years-long read along of the series, to keep going. Also, in an interview, Jordan spoke about how he wanted to model Book 1 on Tolkien’s works to give readers something familiar. Eventually, starting at Book 4, Jordan’s genius really starts to show through. I am very much hoping they do make this series in to a quality TV series or a quality series of movies.
8. “Be Our Guest” – A fictional character you’d love to have over for dinner.
Harry Dresden & Bob the Skull from Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files – This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. The first few can be read in any order, but I think the series is best read in order since the larger story arc starts really building on itself around Book 4 or 5, though there are small things even in Book 1 that are tied into again later in the series. Bob would be a hoot at any dinner party. He doesn’t get much socializing, so he lacks all those hindrances that make most dinner conversations so dull.
Atticus & Oberon from Kevin Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles – this is yet another favorite urban fantasy series. Oberon would bring the appetite and the humor with his simple doggy demands. Atticus, being the 2000+ year old druid that he is, would be able to chat about several entertaining subjects.
So now I would like to tag some other bookish folks, though please don’t feel obligated if this isn’t your cup of tea. Also, if I don’t tag you but you want to play along, please do! And leave me a comment with a link to your post so I can visit.
And I would like to smash into this long post a big thank you to Austine! I won a very fun book package from her recently. It was full of books and bookish things and fake tattoos and a red mask and nail art. And then she wrapped everything in gold paper! This box of goodies was such an upper, especially since I have been sick. I loved unwrapping everything and modeling the mask, tattoos, and nail art for my man. Thank you Austine!
Note: You really need to read the previous books in this series to understand this book.
Book 2, Golden Son, left us on a hell of a cliffhanger. Luckily, Book 3 picks up where things were left, which was right in the middle of a mess. Our hero-to-be Darrow, the Reaper, is in desperate straights. Things went horribly wrong with an unexpected betrayal. Friends and allies have been killed or imprisoned. Others, such as Mustang, are off on their own, their intentions unknown.
The author doesn’t disappoint with this book. The mix of tension, action, betrayals, loyalties, saving people, executing people, adventure, dismemberments, and body enhancements continues to be excellent. Darrow continues to yank the feels out of me by a fishook! He’s at the center of this rising, doing his best to maintain his own humanity and yet sometimes he has to sacrifice it in order to bring it out in others. In Book 1, Red Rising, the story started off with Darrow and his Red family. Book 2 hints that Darrow’s family is at his core, the thing that makes him strong. In Book 3, it’s very satisfying to see that come full circle with Darrow’s family, both biological and the family of friends he’s built, standing strong behind him.
This book should get an award for creative cursing. Oh, dear Severo! He made me laugh so hard, and sometimes inappropriately, with his flagrant curses. He’s such a harsh man and he seems to revel in being crude or disgusting. While Darrow was temporarily out of the picture, he had to rise above and become more than he thought he could be. However, the eventual, and perhaps inevitable, butting of heads between these two friends had me gnashing my teeth! After the unexpected betrayal at the Book 2, I was constantly on the look out for the next breaking of friendship or betrayal or splitting of paths. I need a back massage just from being so tense throughout this book!
Without giving much away, I really enjoyed the visit to Ragnar’s homeland. It was so different from what we had seen so far. And his isn’t the only alien landscape our heroes visit. There’s the moons of Jupiter as well. The author did a great job of maintaining realistic travel times between all the points of interest in the solar system.
Towards the end, when I was down to the last 6 hours or so, I wasn’t sure how the author was going to wrap up everything that still had to be done. I was a bit worried that things would get rushed towards the end, unrealistic compromises, etc. tossed in just to wrap things up. However, our author wasn’t that clumsy. Things did unfold in a realistic way and everything got wrapped up nicely. I was quite satisfied by how things came to be in the end. Yes, there were plenty of deaths and sacrifices. Yes, not every person who committed some despicable act was killed. Yet I felt that Darrow and his close friends have laid solid ground work for a new regime. In the end, I so enjoyed this book I wanted to go back and listen to the series all over again.
The Narration: Tim Gerard Reynolds once again does this series justice. I really enjoyed his accent and voices for the new characters we meet on Ragnar’s home world. His creative cursing as Severo is very entertaining! His range in accents and character voices make this an excellent listen!
What I Liked: This series gets better with each book; Darrow’s center of friends; Severo’s cursing; new people to meet, new places to dominate; the unexpected changing of loyalties; the ending was very satisfying; excellent narration.
What I Disliked: Nothing – truly an excellent read!
Note: You really need to read Book 1, Red Rising, to understand this book.
This book picks up several months (a year?) after the end of Red Rising. It’s a space battle! Well, it’s a training space battle for the Academy. Darrow and his crew finish out the contest well enough, but then Darrow is publicly humiliated. Darrow is on the brink of losing it all and he must make some daring moves to maintain what he has worked so hard to achieve. Yet with his boldness comes new challenges and new enemies.
I thoughts the story couldn’t get any better when I finished Book 1, but I was wrong. Golden Son has impressed me more than Red Rising did. I became attached to several of the characters in Book 1 and that held true for Book 2. Darrow remains a complex character, discovering new parts to himself as he continues his ruse as a Gold. The layers of lies start to weigh on him and some of his closest friends notice his moodiness. There were so many times where I wasn’t sure whether Darrow should open up to a friend or not – can any of them be trusted with his deepest secret? Argh! It was nail biting!
There were moments where I was cheering the book on, doing a little fist pump when no one could see me doing so. Then there were times that my eyes misted up a bit. There are several intense moments in this book. Tactus. Mustang. Quinn. Darrow’s mom. Even though this book wrung emotions from me I wasn’t sure I had before, when I finished it, I wanted to go reread the first 2 books again.
While Book 1 took place all on Mars, Book 2 spreads out a bit and we get to see more of this terraformed solar system. Book 1 taught us the basics of this hierarchical society, but Golden Son shows us people from these other castes and what they are capable of. Darrow certainly has his hands full with the Sons of Ares and trying to upturn this caste system.
And why don’t we chat about the Sons of Ares. I, like Darrow, was expecting them to be all on the same page. Unfortunately for Darrow, that was not so. This added another dimension to the plot and made one more dangerous pitfall for Darrow to avoid. Though I did guess who Ares was early on, it was still a great reveal scene.
Next to Darrow, Sevro is my favorite character. He acts crude and rude all the time, but he has these shinning moments where he sets the bar high for what true friendship is. To my surprise, I became a bit attached to Victra. Perhaps it was her unashamedly flirtatious manner. Ragnar was an excellent new addition to Darrow’s circle of friends. The characters all around are just very well done. I love that the author doesn’t hold back from placing female characters in every job a male character traditionally holds in so much of SFF literature. The swordswoman Ajah is terrifying. The Sovereign is wickedly smart but also too proud of that fact.
The ending is super intense and I am so glad I have Book 3 lined up and ready to go. Golden Son does end on a cliffhanger and if I had read this book a year ago before Book 3 was out, this might have bothered me. Books 1 & 2 have set the bar high for Book 3 – I have every expectation it will live up to it!
The Narration: Tim Gerard Reynolds continues to do this series justice. I love that he shows a little of Darrow’s Red heritage in his accent when he thinks of home, yet maintains his cultured Gold accent throughout the novel. His voice for Ragnar is very well done, considering limitations on human vocal cords. Surprisingly, Reynolds does a very good sexy vixen for Victra.
What I Liked: The series continues to impress!; we get to see more of the the settled solar system; the witty scene between Darrow and the Sovereign; this book brings out the emotions but also packs a lot of action as well; very intense ending!
What I Disliked: Nothing – truly an excellent read!
Set in a far distant future on Mars, Darrow works hard mining below the surface. Mars’s caste system has kept the population, and especially the Reds like Darrow, working hard for a better, brighter future for their children for generations. However, Darrow loses much even as he gains knowledge of the great betrayal perpetrated by the ruling classes. Now he’s determined to up end things, even if it takes becoming what he most despises.
This was an excellent book, one of my favorites of the year so far. It has depth, a brilliant plot, a unique and gripping setting, and characters with teeth. The story is told through Darrow’s eyes. His story arc for this book takes him from hard working family man to accomplished upper-crust warrior. Generations past, those terraforming Mars set up a caste system, complete with color coding. The Reds, which is Darrow’s caste, is the lowest of the castes. The Golds are the rulers of the planet and live in comfort and excess. Initially, Darrow is quite happy to spend his life working hard to provide a better future for the next generation. He has a loving wife Eo who he dotes on. She is the first in the story to hint that there is something more to be had and she encourages Darrow to dream bigger. Then tragedy opens his eyes to the reality and he undergoes a bit of terraforming on his own body and mind in order to infiltrate the Golds and set in motion a long-term plan to up end the caste system. Darrow was a hard man to start with. He had to be in order to be the brilliant, talented Hell Diver he was on the mining crew. What he undergoes by the end of this book chisels him, mind, soul, and body, into an even harder person.
The secondary characters are just as brilliant. Darrow expected all the Golds to be the same but his time at the Institute, a kind of war games training ground for the up and coming Golds, shows him that not all Golds are the same. Alliances must be made in order to dominate the game, but they are playing for keeps and this means there will be serious injuries and even deaths. It’s a brutal sifting to remove the chaff from the grain.
I loved all the references to Roman deities and the use of Roman titles in the military hierarchy. The setting for the war games is little more than Medieval – no indoor plumbing, being hunted by wolves, castles to lay siege to, etc. There are a few bits of cool tech that come into play and there’s references to human colonies on other moons/planets in the solar system. The author does a great job of keeping us focused on Darrow’s circumstances while also hinting at the larger picture.
This book brought out some strong emotions for me, which I always love in a book. Darrow lives through some harrowing things, but he also has to do some heinous things. There are plenty of tough choices for him in this book. Several of the other characters also held my attention, such as Sevro and Pax. Sevro’s family history makes him interesting but then Sevro himself beat the odds against at the Institute, surprising everyone. Cassius is another curious character, capable of great loyalty and true brotherly affection. Yet if he is betrayed, his vengeance can be a game changer. Quinn is a scary, scary woman. I definitely wouldn’t want to cross her. There is also Mustang, who kept her loyalties close to her chest throughout the story.
All together, it’s a brilliant science fiction setting coupled with the brutality of a tale of the Roman Empire. I very much look forward to reading the next installment.
The Narration: Tim Gerard Reynolds did an excellent job with this book. His voice for miner Darrow had a bit of an Irish accent, and accent that the character must dampen as he morphs into a Gold. Reynolds did a great job of portraying this with his voice talents. His character voices for the other characters were each distinct and his female voices were believable. He also did a great job of imbuing Darrow’s voice with emotion.
What I Liked: Great setting; impressive story arc coupled with Darrow’s character arc; so many betrayals; unexpected friendships; the war games – brutal!; clever book cover art; excellent narration.
What I Disliked: Nothing – truly an excellent read!