Reads of 2016

I usually finish off the year with a blog looking back over the books I’ve read during the last twelve months. Unfortunately, I didn’t blog last week because I was away without Internet access and so this particular blog is a few days late and, owing to a tight schedule during 2016, liable to be even more pitiful in number of books read than the last couple of years. Still, I can’t let the year pass completely without mentioning a few titles.

I read a few light novels at the start of 2016 that aren’t worth listing. In May I opened up Sunfail, by Steven Saville, an espionage tale that’s decidedly plot-driven but which I enjoyed. I’ve seen one review calling it slick, and I agree. I also discovered Nigel Williams, my first read of his being R.I.P. I knew I was going to enjoy this the moment I read the opening line of the blurb: ‘Retired bank manager George Pearmain is, apparently, dead.’ This is a nicely humorous, sardonic read.

Joyland and a few of the Gunslinger Graphic novels was a visit by me to a longstanding and constant writer, Stephen King, followed by a Heart-Shaped Box by his son, Joe Hill. The title caught my attention and for the most part, I enjoyed the book, but not as much as my 2014 read of Horns. To me, a Heart-Shaped Box started out well but didn’t go dark enough. What started out as a promising scare didn’t quite hold its momentum or its thrills but it still earns a place on my bookshelves.

I started The Enchantment Emporium, by Tanya Huff while on holiday and was immediately captivated and added this writer to my list, purchasing the following two books to add to my to-be-read mountain. The stories are definitely aimed at women but contain enough various elements to hold my interest — a blend of family issues, romance, and magic. The series had me at ‘Dragons’, of course.

Winter Tales is an anthology I had to check out because it features several writers including me. I found I was more taken with the stories in the beginning of the book and, therefore, exceedingly happy where mine was placed, but like with every anthology, each reader will have their own preferences. I still like a short story and a selection is always a good way to check out new talent.

The Unquiet  was my latest read by John Connolly. Unfortunately, I am behind on his books simply because of that mountain awaiting my attention. I readily admit that. I’ve the next two in said pile.

The Wine of Angels was my first foray into the world of Phil Rickman and his character of Merrily Watkins. I liked the concept of a female priest thrown into small village intrigue and investigation and thoroughly enjoyed this book, the characters in the village and the writing. Alas, I didn’t take to Merrily. I’m sure to read more of these titles but it’s a bit like watching an episode of a favourite show where the supporting cast are stronger and more interesting than the lead. I hope this improves as the series continues.

Bleu/Blaque by Belinda McBride is worth mentioning for anyone looking for a m/m romance title. I’m ashamed to say I’ve had this one lingering for far too long but going on the better late than never concept it’s one I’m happy to recommend. Bleu and Blaque prove to be interesting contrasts and not solely owing to their being vampire and werewolf. They are two characters I would happily revisit.

An American friend has been reading Notes from a Small Island, and The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson. Again, the first has been sitting in ‘the pile’ for far too long so I’ve read one and have just purchased and started the second. My American friend’s take is that it was that, though enjoyable, it was difficult at times to decipher between the humour and straightforward complaining and there were a few moments when I took this point on board. I was surprised by how far Bill Bryson walked, and have to admit his way of touring wouldn’t be my preference having read even a portion of these books. I’m sure I’d want to spend longer in some areas, less in others, and some I wouldn’t want to visit at all, and while ‘wandering at will’ seems enticing I’d do more research into my intended stops. The books, though, remain a delightful look into the British way of life particularly for those who don’t know the UK so well…with one word of warning. The politeness and attitudes Bryson encountered in the first book have flagged somewhat. I’ve only just begun the second book and it will be interesting to see if Bryson has also noted any such changes since he first perambulated the UK.

Overall, the year has been pretty disappointing reading-wise so I’m happy to finish with two highlights both picked up for intended Christmas reading. My first is The Martian, by Andy Weir. Having seen the film three times, I was interested in reading the book and would recommend anyone who liked the film to do the same. I’ve seen both have had their usual share of mixed reviews, but I’m amazed how anyone can fail to appreciate the research and science-made-interesting portions of the book, the added details of which exceed those in the film, is beyond me. Sure, the ending in both the book but especially the film is far-fetched. It’s FICTION. I’m one of many who does not understand this current inclination to dismiss fiction that is implausible. Many occurrences in life are implausible and fiction by its very nature can achieve the impossible. I’m quite happy to suspend belief and to be entertained and maybe even learn a little in the process, or, if not, that’s good, too. There is nothing wrong with sheer entertainment. For the writer that I am, it’s interesting to note that I read Andy Weir first published the book as snippets on the web. To get the whole story without waiting, people had to buy the book…and then a publisher took it up, there’s been a film and one hell of a success story about a man stranded on Mars — the very definition of good fiction. The film…it’s a good adaptation of a book given a Hollywood treatment that’s not at all painful. Mild spoiler: It does have a more exciting and implausible ending, but this is only to be expected when a book is taken to film, as is the trimmed-down science behind the writing.

But my recommendation this year also happens to be my final read. A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman breaks the rule of ‘show don’t tell’ yet is an easy read that is thoroughly entertaining, truthful, poignant, funny, moving, uplifting, and sad. It’s painful and beautiful, which is the best type of storytelling.

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