My reading habits of 2016 were a bit scattered. I didn’t focus on new releases, old classics, or genres of choice: I just read whatever. It’s not the worst strategy, actually, because I read some truly excellent pieces of writing this year. In this list, you will find fiction, non-fiction, and even a comic book.
(If you are interested in any of the books listed, please consider clicking the covers. Doing so will bring you to Amazon via my affiliate link.)
10: BLOCKADE BILLY BY STEPHEN KING -- King loves baseball and this is his ode to the classic games of yesteryear. But, as expected from King, it has a dark edge to it. Rookie catcher ‘Blockade’ Billy Blakely becomes a rising star for the way he defends the plate, but there’s just something not quite right about the guy. I won’t spoil the surprises, suffice to say that it should equally appeal to fans of baseball and thrillers.
9: BROTHER BY ANIA AHLBORN -- Backwoods, redneck horror scares me more than most horror subgenres. It is stories like Brother that keep me from exploring the roads that lead behind the trees in certain regions. I think it’s because these horrors actually exist whereas zombies are a rare sight in the world of today (I’m not counting out future apocalypses, though). Brother never feels like a ‘plotted’ book. It feels character-driven and nasty on a level that’s all too real. But by the end Ania Ahlborn reveals that everything’s been carefully thought out. It’s a magic trick that makes you want to go back, discover the sleight of hand, and see how the story plays out differently now that you’re wise to its devious intentions.
8: EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS BY AUGUST RAGONE -- If you don’t know who Eiji Tsuburaya is, he’s the grandfather of Japanese special effects, the man who’s credited for creating suitmation among other techniques. Along with director Ishiro Honda and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, Tsuburaya helped bring Godzilla to the screen, thus creating the kaiju genre. The special effects wizard passed away in 1970 at the age of 68 but his legacy lives on in the imagination of fans and in the classic films he helped create. Ragone’s book Master of Monsters is a great, exhaustive look at the life and work of Eiji Tsuburaya. Full of interesting info and hard-to-find photos (so many great photos!), it’s a well-written biography for an important figure in film.
7: THE CITY STAINED RED BY SAM SYKES -- The City Stained Red is my kind of a fantasy novel. Instead of focusing on kings, manners at the table, the ranks of knights, and all the other stuff that the royals and their militaries are involved with, this book follows a small group of adventurers into a city that’s set to explode. The City Stained Red, like many pieces of genre fiction, has a lot on its mind. Mostly though, it’s a fun book. Filled with humor, likable characters, and set in an interesting, fresh fantasy world, it’s a novel that I’m quick to recommend to curious readers of fantasy.
6: THE NAZI HUNTERS BY ANDREW NAGORSKI -- Most of the tales of WWII focus on the soldiers and the leaders of the countries at war. For myself, I’ve always been more fascinated by the stories of those who operated without direct backing from government and military, like the French Resistance fighters or the Nazi Hunters. I must admit that much of my knowledge about the Nazi hunters was based primarily on novels, films, and dramatized versions of history. Andrew Nagorski’s The Nazi Hunters was my first real, ‘non-fiction’ look at the true story behind the mythmaking, and the men who refused to let war criminals slip into obscurity. Somewhere in the book, one of the captured Nazis said something along the lines of, “I am over it. If they’re not, that’s their problem.” To me, that’s what I’ll take away from this book most of all: the fact that the murderers thought it was their right to go on living their lives in peace after the war — that WWII was an event which belonged in the past and was no longer a part of them. Victims have longer memories, though. The Nazi Hunters is an endlessly compelling book, one which strips away the fiction of heroes and monsters and presents them as human beings.
5: THE SCARLET GOSPELS BY CLIVE BARKER -- My favorite madman of horror fiction has returned with a doozy of a book. With The Scarlet Gospels, Barkers brings back his two most popular characters, the demon Pinhead and magician/private eye Harry D’Amour. This time around Pinhead has gone rogue as he seeks more power in the domain of Hell. Harry’s drawn into the mess when he stumbles upon the demon’s puzzle box. The book puts its hooks in you within the first couple chapters and they only go deeper from there. It’s one helluva ride.
4: TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY BY JOHN LE CARRE -- I think Tomas Alfredson's 2011 adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of the very best films of the past decade, so I considered John le Carre's Karla trilogy a must-read. What strikes me is that the book may actually elevate my appreciation of the film; it's a very loyal, very well done adaptation. The book is beautifully written. The prose finds both tragedy and whimsy in the tale of the mole in England's MI6. A spy mystery that unfolds quite unlike most spy thrillers would, with a hero about as different from James Bond as you can get. Excellent novel.
3: SAGA BY BRIAN K. VAUGHN AND FIONA STAPLES -- Reading the comic book Saga, volume by volume, has been one of my greatest delights in 2016. A sci-fi epic about a forbidden romance that ignites an intergalactic manhunt and shifts loyalties during wartime, Saga is the most fun I've had reading comics in a very long time. Stylish and weird. Cool and funny. Epic and character-driven. It's fantastic. (You must start with Vol. 1)
2: DARK MONEY BY JANE MAYER -- Fascinating and infuriating, I consider Jane Mayer's Dark Money an absolute must-read. Your politics may differ from mine (and that's okay) but I'd like to think that every American fears the idea of a small group of the super-rich using their money to undermine democracy and reshape the country to benefit them and only them. Unsympathetic to the middle class and the poor, the Koch brothers and others like them have done everything within their power to corrupt the nation (thanks largely to Citizens United), taking over political parties from the inside and flooding so much cash into elections that it's become absurd. You want tax breaks to help your sister who's a single mom? Too bad. The Koch's friends want tax breaks for their personal jets? Oh, you betcha, that's a priority. Originally operating in the shadows, the Kochs are now out in the open and they don't like it. That doesn't mean they're losing, though. Read Dark Money and prepare to get angry.
1: THE CARTEL BY DON WINSLOW -- Don Winslow’s The Cartel is The Godfather for a darker, bloodier age, and sure to be considered a classic before too long. An epic spanning many years and featuring nearly countless characters, The Cartel covers the drug war on the border between the United States Mexico. It’s unflinching in its depiction of violence and corruption, revealing very few heroes in a fight that claims so many faceless victims on both sides of the border. The Cartel deserves all the praise and awards it has gotten since its release in summer 2015. I was horrified and enthralled throughout. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in years.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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