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Monday, January 9, 2017

What I Read in 2016

In 2015, I did a GoodReads Readers’ Challenge, where I tried to read 12 books in a calendar year.  I did 10 or 11, but I liked the experience so much that I decided to do it again.  This time, I crushed the goal by August.

So then I said, “Why stop there?”

I bumped the goal up to 16, and got there in October.  I was feelin’ froggy, so I shot for 20.  I got to 17 before life took over.

As with last year, some were surprisingly bad, some were shockingly good, and one book made me wonder why I even write.  I read 10 books that were part of 2 individual series (so, yeah, there’s that).  I’ve read hundreds of thousands words that weren’t my own.  I wrote reviews of some of them early on, so I’ll post blurbs from those here.  But for the ones I haven’t reviewed yet, this is where it starts.

Here we go…

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon: I started this in late 2015.  It’s a hefty read, incredibly dense, and follows Archie Stallings and his failing record store on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, California. The other book of Chabon’s that I read, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, was a fantastic bit of wonderful that fell into a “stick with it, you’ll love it category.”  Like Kavalier and Clay, Telegraph Avenue took a while to find its footing.  Unlike Kavalier and Clay, the payoff wasn’t worth it.  The author seemed less concerned with storytelling, and more concerned with showing us that he’s a talented writer.  That culminated in a chapter that consisted of an 11-page sentence.  11 pages.  One sentence.  I was incredibly disappointed.  There is good stuff there, though, the relationships between the characters feel real and you ultimately do care for the struggles of Archie and his family, but the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.  Goodreads rating: 1*

Assassin’s Code by Jonathan Maberry:  From the review posted on February 16, 2016:  I've become a big fan of the Joe Ledger series. I look at it as the popcorn movie in my TBR list. Are we getting deep, life changing events? No. Are we getting radical philosophical shifts? Of course, not. But what we are getting is fast-paced, highly entertaining action. And I'll take it.  Goodreads rating: 4*

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines:  From the review posted on February 17, 2016:  One part Avengers, one part Dawn of the Dead, sprinkle a little of The Warriors in there and you have Ex-Heroes, an entertaining novel that clips along at a rapid pace.

Two years after civilization fell, Los Angeles became split into two communities: The Mount, a converted movie studio lot watched over by a mismatched team of super heroes-- The Mighty Dragon (glides, invulnerable, breathes fire), Cerberus (scientist in a giant armored suit), Gorgon (vampire stare), Zzzap (living electric dynamo), Regenerator (heals himself and others) and Stealth (genius billionaire fashion model turned ninja)-- and the Seventeens, an LA gang that seeks to expand its turf in this new world order. Between the two groups lies the rest of LA's 5 million residents, all dead, all walking. But things get a little weirder when the zombies -- the ex-humans-- start talking. And making demands.

I like superheroes and I like some zombie stuff, so of course I liked this book. It screams of an idea that's too good to pass up, a "why didn't I think of this?" sensibility. There are some small issues to be sure regarding an improperly reflected diversity in the city of Angels, but overall this was a very enjoyable read.  Goodreads rating: 4*

Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines:  Original review posted February 17, 2016: I gotta say, this has been plenty of fun!

Ex-Patriots, the second book in the Ex-Heroes series, continues a couple of months after where Ex-Heroes left off. The super powered heroes of The Mount -- a community of zombie apocalypse survivors in L.A. -- are recovering from their war with the Seventeens, a street gang in the city who had their own survivor community and were led by Peasy, a man with the ability to control the zombies. They are contacted by the remnants of the US military, an enhanced soldier project called Krypton, led by Captain Freedom (actually his name) and Agent John Smith of DHS and DARPA. After agreeing to visit their base outside of Yuma, Arizona, the heroes find that there is more going on than they were led to believe, complete with a mad scientist and a small army of zombie soldiers, as well as a villain with mind-control powers.

Yes, it was predictable, but it was an extremely fun read, if for no other reason than the fact that I'm a big comic-book nerd. The action clips along at a frenetic pace and there aren't any lulls. And two books in, Zombies vs. Superheroes still holds up as a concept. Goodreads rating: 3.5*

Adultery by Paulo Coelho:  From the review posted on February 27, 2016:  Adultery is the running inner monologue of a woman in her 30's who has everything she can ask for -- perfect children, a husband who adores her, a fulfilling career, the ability to flit about the world at a whim -- and yet is terribly unhappy, largely because she chooses to be.  She inexplicably one day blows a politician (who happens to be the ex-boyfriend from high school that she was so into that she fantasized about him constantly through her adolescence), and that kick-starts a vicious cycle self-hatred and bad decision-making, all while her doting husband tries desperately to help her find her way of whatever depression and melancholy she happens to be in.

I find characters who do the  super-entitled pity party ("woe is me, I have everything) to be grating, especially when they narrate the story, as in Adultery and  Douglas Brunt's Ghosts of Manhattan. It's hard to empathize with them as a reader because for me at least, it's impossible to understand them, especially when at the end, they haven't changed very much because their lives are so insular, so perfect, they're not required to.  Adultery's narrator, Linda, almost ruins two marriages -- her own and her lover's -- and never has to face the consequences. She's spared the humbling embarrassment of having to say she cheated, while putting her lover in a position to lie to his wife's face.  At the end of the day, her relationship with her husband somehow ends up stronger because she realizes that she has it all and decides it's not a prison.  I mean... come on.  Goodreads rating: 2*

From here, I read the remainder of the Joe Ledger series (Extinction Machine, Code Zero, Predator One, and Kill Switch) and the Ex-Heroes series (Ex-Communication, Ex-Purgatory, Ex-Isle).  To sum up: big dumb fun.  No new ground broken.  3 stars.

Dodgers by Bill Beverly:  Powerful read.  Bill Beverly puts together a twisted coming of age story involving teenage gangbangers on a cross-country road trip from South Central LA to Wisconsin to assassinate a key witness to a crime.  I couldn’t put it down.  It’s the kind of book that sticks with you for months after you finish it.  Goodreads rating: 4*

The Travelers by Chris Pavone:  Slick novel about an accidental spy that makes a job in publishing seem extravagant and glamorous.  Travel journalist Will Rhodes finds himself embroiled in international intrigue when he finds out that Travelers Magazine is a front for a private spy ring, and his wife is one of those spies.  It’s a fun read that I got through in about a week.  Chris Pavone’s style is very engaging.  Goodreads rating: 3.5*

Moonlight Serenades by Thom Carnell:  From the review posted on July 8, 2016:

This collection is a guided tour through one man's process of dealing with grief, and in that tour, some of the images he uses will stay with you for weeks. From the opening story, which left me audibly exclaiming in public, to the centerpiece, a very clever noir called "Clown Town," Thom Carnell's Moonlight Serenades is incredibly addicting, and sticks with you like a great meal.  Highly recommended.   Goodreads rating: 5*

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch:  Six hours, from start to finish.  Far and away the best book I read in 2016, and there are some heavy hitters in this list.  Physics professor Jason Dessen is abducted and finds himself transported to a life where his wife is not his wife, his son’s not born, and nothing is quite the same.  And that’s about all I can say without confusing you or spoiling the story.  Like The Martian from last year, this is a must-read.  Drop everything.  Do it now.  Goodreads rating: 5*

Chasing Embers by James Bennett:  Modern fantasy tale about a man who is secretly a dragon and can shift form at will.  A breakdown in a magical pact sends various factions of witches and assassins to kill him in service of a newly reawakened dragon queen.  Fantasy was never my thing, but this was fun.  The prose and storytelling was a bit dense, though.  Goodreads rating: 4*

And there you have it!  That’s my list from 2016.  Let’s see if I can do better this year!

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