This Year In Books (2016)
So, it’s December 30th, and this fetid colostomy bag of a year has almost gone down. I’ll try not to die before I finish this article, at the very least.
I’ve been doing this “Year in Books” for a while, just running a quick rundown of the books I’ve been running this year. I didn’t read as many books as I normally do, but I also got a lot more writing done and also my son started walking. So I spend most of my time on Toddler Suicide Watch, which cuts into reading and video game time somewhat.
January: The Walking Dead Compendium 2 (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard)
Why I Read It – Last year this (former) Walking Dead TV show fan finally took the dive and tried out the comics, specifically the first compendium, which covered issues 1-48, or, from the beginning to the prison arc. I chowed that thing down in like two days, so I decided to check out the second run, which covered issues #49 to #96, or the “Hunters” arc all the way past “No Way Out” at Alexandria to “A Larger World” where they meet other towns.
Did I Like It? – Absolutely! The pace of these comics is insane. People are always getting murderlated left and right, and the storylines open and close quickly . . . unlike the TV show. There’s a bit of a detriment – you don’t feel like you know the characters as well as you do in the show – but damn if they aren’t page turners.
I thought the show did the cannibal arc and the “throat-bite” better, but the comic did the whole Alexandria thing and “No Way Out” better. In the comics there are WAY fewer zombies, so what they do to deal with them makes a lot more sense than in the show, where they upped the herd of zombies to like 10,000 but kept the same solution.
This compendium was also notable because it’s near where I stopped watching the show, and what I know of what happens next, it’ll probably be where I stop reading the comic. I just don’t care about Negan. Sorry, superfans.
February: The Crimson Campaign (Brian McClellan)
Why I Read It – Because the first book in this series, “Promise of Blood,” was one of my absolute favorite books of 2014. A fantasy war story mixed with a Victorian noir mystery set after a French Revolution-esque conflict on another world? Where specialized soldiers called “powder mages” snort gunpowder like cocaine to fuel their magical powers? Uh, fuck yes.
Did I Like It? – Loved it. Loved everything about it. I’m obsessed with running a tabletop RPG set in that universe, that’s how bad I’ve got the hots for this series. This one ups the stakes of the first story, and sees Tamas trapped behind enemy lines, Taniel Two-Shot facing court martial while trying to hold a ragtag front together, and Adamat dealing with a collapsing capital. Plus you’re treated to a lot more backstory about all the characters, and it’s all solid storytelling.
This series is a must-read if you care even a little bit about books or fantasy.
March: The Magician’s Land (Lev Grossman)
Why I Read It – Because the previous books in the series, “The Magicians” and “The Magician King” were subversive, thoughtful, funny, sorrowful takes on the “normal guy sucked into a magical world” stories. They’re Harry Potter meets Narnia written by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s great stuff. So I had to finish the series.
Did I Like It? – Endings are difficult, but Lev knocked the ending of this series into an alleyway and then beat it with a broken mop handle. I’m not going to ruin anything, but I am going to say that the story somehow managed to wrap everything up and yet also leave plenty to the imagination. It’s a difficult trick, and maybe not everyone would appreciate how it’s done, but the ending is as clever as the rest of the story, and does justice to all the main characters that have drifted through the series.
April: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
Why I Read It – My wife yelled at me to read it so I read it.
Did I Like It? – Yes! As a huge fan of sci-fi dystopias in general, this book delivered. It’s a slog in the beginning – I kept ribbing my wife about the three pages it took to describe eating an egg (that’s real, by the way, THREE PAGES) – but, that’s kind of the point of the story. Offred’s journey is about the mundane, the day-to-day horror of submission to fascist rule, and all I can say is that it’s a classic for a reason.
May: Woken Furies (Richard Morgan)
Why I Read It – As you can see, I continued/finished a lot of series this year. Woken Furies is the third book in the Takeshi Kovacs series, after Altered Carbon and Broken Angels. Woken Furies returns to the cyberpunk nature of the first novel, finally showing us Kovacs’ home and diving deep into his backstory.
Did I Like It? – Of course. Richard Morgan has convinced me with Altered Carbon and Broken Angels that he’s the heir to the William Gibson throne, the father of cyberpunk. The dude is a master. Woken Furies digs into the character of Takeshi Kovacs himself and it’s a fascinating ride. The ending is beautiful and sad and horrible and great, everything you want out of cyberpunk. There are ninja surfers and clone doubles and murderous robots; just check it out. Start with Altered Carbon.
June: What is the What (Dave Eggers)
Why I Read It – Because I’d been reading so many series that I needed to cleanse the palate. Try something new. My wife suggested this non-fiction story of sadness and something.
Did I Like It? – I honestly didn’t finish it, which means, as usual, I’m not qualified to review it. I can say that the writing is good, but I couldn’t deal with the pace. I tried my damnedest to finish this book, but after like two months of flailing I gave up. There’s an exhausting framing device to the story as it switches between past and present, but the “present” situation is dragged out and completely without tension. The main character is in a bad situation, but instead of trying to do anything about it he just lies on the ground and feels bad for himself. While he thinks about the past. For 12 chapters.
It honestly made the main character so unlikable I had to check out. I know it’s a true story, and I feel bad for the guy, but holy crap I need some agency in my characters.
July: Red Harvest (Dashiell Hammett)
Why I Read It – Dashiell Hammett is one of my favorite writers – he’s the godfather of noir mystery. I like the dude so much I named my son after him. Really.
Did I Like It? – It was the “flow doggity,” as the kids are saying. If you’ve seen “Yojimbo,” “Fistful of Dollars,” or “Last Man Standing,” you know the basic plot structure, because all of those movies were loosely based on this novel. Dude comes into town, plays two factions against each other, bad things happen, etc. This book is smart, fast, and written with the soiled-soul poetry that noir is so famous for. Highly recommended.
August: Red Seas Under Red Skies (Scott Lynch)
Why I Read It – Because the previous book in the series (sensing a pattern), “The Lies of Locke Lamora,” was dope. It was Ocean’s Eleven meets Kill Bill in a fantasy Venice and if that doesn’t entice you then you’re dead to me.
Did I Like It? – Yarp. It mixed up the story, introduced a high-seas pirate element, and told an emotional tale about true friendship. You gotta check it out.
October: Ghost Story (Jim Butcher)
Why I Read It – Blah blah, series, blah blah.
Did I Like It? – Except for the epilogue, it was perfect. The last book, #12, took Dresden through the meat grinder and took everything away from him. This story changes the formula up and tells a unique story about stuff I can’t talk about without it being a total spoiler. To keep it short: the whole book is rendered kind of pointless by the epilogue. It’s the only complaint I have.
November: The Diviners (Libba Bray)
Why I Read It – Another suggestion from my wife, and another unfinished book. The idea sounded great – a ’20s, flapper period piece urban fantasy story during Prohibition.
Did I Like It? – Yes, and no. Again, I didn’t finish it, though I threw like a month and a half at it. Libba Bray is a FANTASTIC writer, and I absolutely mean that. The prose is mouthwatering. It’s hilarious when it’s trying to be funny, it’s horrifying when it’s trying to be scary, it works. The characters are great, the setting is fully realized and well-textured. The pace, however, was just too slow for me.
I made it half way through the book and the protagonists hadn’t done anything yet. Like, at all. The main conflict and the villain were all over in this box, and the protagonists hadn’t left their starting position yet. The characters were great, and I liked reading about them, but at some point they needed to get off their asses and do things, and by 50% they hadn’t. I just couldn’t hang any more. I will absolutely check out more by Libba Bray because she’s such a good writer it gives me jealous, heart-stabbing spike of pain in my chest.
December: Star Wars – The Final Prophecy (Greg Keyes)
Why I Read It – I guess I felt a strong urge to finish as many of my lingering series this year as I could, probably because everyone in 2016 was dropping off like George R. R. Martin characters and I was worried about being next.
Did I Like It? – Sure. Okay, listen. I’ve been reading this 19-book Star Wars series (“The New Jedi Order”) since I was a sophomore in high school, which means I’ve been off-and-on following this particular series for 16 years. Half my life. Are Star Wars Expanded Universe novels good? Meh. The best ones are fun and the worst ones are excrement, and this one qualifies as “fun.” It’s the second-to-last story in the series, and since I haven’t read any of the series in like four or five years, I decided I should just knock this bad boy out.
It follows a few of my favorite EU-only characters that I really like, Tahiri Veila and Corran Horn, and it has a decent little “enemy mine” situation between the two Jedi and a trio of snakey Yuuzhan Vong that COULD BETRAY THEM AT ANY TIME.
I dug it, it was fine, but I’m most excited to just read the last book of the series and put a bow on 16 years of reading.
December: End of Watch (Stephen King)
Why I Read It – Well, it’s the end of a series (!!!!!!!!!!!), so there.
Did I Like It? – I haven’t finished yet – I just got it for Christmas – but it’s already doing some interesting twists and turns. The first two novels of the series, “Mr. Mercedes” and “Finders Keepers” were straight detective novels, a rare genre for Stephen King. Without spoiling anything, I’m just going to say that “End of Watch,” the last novel, is COMPLETELY different. And since I’m the kind of guy who likes when a story changes genres, I’m all about it.
Favorite Book of 2016
As is often the case, we’ve got a two-way tie: “Red Seas Under Red Skies” and “Woken Furies.” So, pirate-con artists and surfer-ninjas.
I like weird books, okay, DEAL WITH IT.