The Best & Worst of 2016

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).

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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Skin Game by Jim Butcher

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Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave

Tofu will help me hide the bodies.
Tofu will help me hide the bodies.

Anne Manx on Amazonia by Larry Weiner

WeinerAnneManxOnAmazonia

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

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The Green Children by Domino Finn

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Dragon Gate by Gary Jonas (Jonathan Shade #3)

JonasDragonGate

Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword by Kiera Gillett

GillettZariaFierceAndTheEnchantedDrakelandSword

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Chupa being weird.
Chupa being weird.

Cthulhu Armageddon by C. T. Phipps

PhippsCthulhuArmageddon

I did some rereads this past year – The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (yep, from the beginning), Terre D’Ange Cycle by Jacqueline Carey (I’ve been reading with a great group of on-line friends and we’re up to Book 7 now), Dune by Frank Herbert (just because it’s awesome), Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney (I read this in paperback some years ago but now it’s available as an audiobook and it is incredibly well done).

Here are the top 3 books that didn’t do it for me:

Lover Eternal by J. R. Ward

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A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole

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Hair Power by Piers Anthony

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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.

Also here are some of my notable firsts for 2016:

My first Stephen King novel – 11-22-63

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My first Star Wars novel – Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

Guess which side of the Force Chupacabr is on?
Guess which side of the Force Chupacabra is on?

My first Podiobooks audiobook – Marker Stone by Paul J. Joseph

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My first Kurt Vonnegut novel – Cat’s Cradle

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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.

Audiobook+ Giveaway & Interview: Terry Maggert, Author of Heartborn

MaggertHeartbornEveryone, please welcome Terry Maggert to the blog today. I really enjoyed his suspenseful YA angel novel, Heartborn. A big thank you to Jess at The Audio Book Worm for setting up this book tour. Swing by the tour page to catch more interview, reviews, giveaways, and guest posts. If your interested in the giveaway (and who wouldn’t be?), scroll to the very bottom to learn how to win an Amazon GC, an audiobook copy of Halfway Dead by Terry Maggert, or a bluetooth speaker. On to the interview!

*Author’s note: these are great questions, and it’s high time someone considered my feelings about draconic issues.

Would you rather have a dragon, or be a dragon? 

Have, and my reasoning is purely selfish: I want to experience the majesty of having a dragon as a friend– think of the things it would lead to. Never search for a parking space. Avoid the DMV forever. No pesky TSA, or the need to check your broadsword before you board a cruise. Those are all things of the past. Additional fun: Think of the speaking engagements. “Terry and Banshee, thank you for being here. Could you tell us a little about your”—

“ROOOOAAAAARRRR.”

“Banshee would like me to tell you to never give up on your dreams. Did someone say there was an open bar?”

I’m don’t see a downside to this. Ever.

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

I could blather on about some obscure French film but that would just be posturing. In film, it has to be Star Wars because I was nine years old and it was the closest thing I’d ever seen to my dreams made real. I was a little boy when the Apollo missions went to the moon; I’d stand in our front yard (I’m from Florida) and watch those enormous rockets blaze upward and it was like I was onboard. If that doesn’t kindle your imagination, nothing will.

For books, it has to be The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. It is, and will always be my first printed love. I’ve bought, re-bought, and bought them again because I wear them out. Seriously.

If you were sent on a magical quest which other 4 fantasy authors would you take with you?

This is EASY. Magical quests are always filled with things that have tentacles and fangs and whatnot. So, as follows:

Larry Correia (GUNS!).

Jim Butcher (KNIVES!)

Ursula K. LeGuin (Diplomacy/Magic)

And, there’s an up-and-coming British writer named J.K. Rowling who, I’m told, might be able to contribute magic systems and *possibly* finance the whole mission, although we’ll have to see if her books become popular. I’m pulling for her.

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

As a writer and history prof, this question brings me great shame. Among the numerous classics I *should* have read by this stage in my life, I think the most important one is Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. He was an emperor who found time to write. I should find time to read it, in between eating cookies and goofing off. Oh, and I need to re-read Frankenstein because my love for monsters has been like a fire in my imagination.

To sum up: Yes, I feel shame.

If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in SFF literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

This is one of the most hotly contested subjects I’ve ever discussed at author events; it’s much like arguing about the greatest baseball player or singer or whatnot.

*Author’s note: my choices are Ted Williams and Freddy Mercury, respectively.

But, on to the topic at hand:

For sci-fi, I say start deep in the past. Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs are an absolute must. They led to the explosion of what we call genre fiction, and thus, we have the golden era. I’d say, given twelve books in SFF?

  1. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne
  2. John Carter of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs (the origin of Star Wars!)
  3. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin
  4. The Passage, Justin Cronin
  5. Startide Rising, David Brin
  6. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  7. A Spell for Chameleon, Piers Anthony
  8. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
  9. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  10. Sunshine, Robin McKinley
  11. The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkein
  12. Dune, Frank Herbert

Of course, we will now let the arguments begin.

Care to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

This is actually one of my high points. I was signing at LibertyCon this summer, and paired with Todd McCaffrey for an autograph session. Some points to know:

He is the son of my favorite writer, Anne McCaffrey.

He now writes my favorite series.

I’ve carried a copy of Dragonsong with me for more than 35 years.

I brought my tattered old book with me (given to me by my buddy Tim when we were kids), and Todd didn’t just sign it (he’s an incredibly nice guy), but chatted with me about his mom and their books. Aside from my parents, the McCaffrey family is the longest relationship I’ve had in my life. Here is the evidence:

Terry Maggert's favorite book.
Terry Maggert’s favorite book.

Then, for my fanboy moment, he signed MY dragon book, Banshee, which is dedicated as follows: “To Tim, who gave me Anne, who gave me dragons.”

I was, and am, giddy.

Terry Maggery with Todd McCaffrey
Terry Maggery with Todd McCaffrey

What are the top 3 historical time periods and locations you would like to visit?

Let’s consider this for a moment, based on something I say as a history professor. “The good old days weren’t very good.”

I love things like dentistry, clean water, and air conditioning. With that in mind, if I’m going to visit the past and have a return ticket, I say:

Stonehenge. I MUST know who built it, and why.

Machu Picchu during its peak. Can you imagine a city in the clouds?

Paris in the 1880s— Ain’t no party like a Parisian Belle Epoque Party cuz a Parisian Belle Epoque Party don’t stop. The art. The culture. The intrigue. The wanton alcoholism and nudity. It’s all there.

You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?

We will run and drink mead, as the Gods intended. And by we, I mean, “Me, Leif Ericson of the Norsemen, and the Celtic warrior queen Boudicca, because I’m not just going to run that course, I’m going to WRECK it.”

AuthorTerryMaggertAbout Terry Maggert:

Born in 1968, I discovered fishing shortly after walking, a boon, considering I lived in South Florida. After a brief move to Kentucky, my family trekked back to the Sunshine State. I had the good fortune to attend high school in idyllic upstate New York, where I learned about a mythical substance known as “Seasons”. After two or three failed attempts at college, I bought a bar. That was fun because I love beer, but, then, I eventually met someone smarter than me (a common event), and, in this case, she married me and convinced me to go back to school–which I did, with enthusiasm. I earned a Master’s Degree in History and rediscovered my love for writing. My novels explore dark fantasy, immortality, and the nature of love as we know it. I live near Nashville, Tennessee, with the aforementioned wife, son, and herd, and, when I’m not writing, I teach history, grow wildly enthusiastic tomato plants, and restore my 1967 Mustang.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~Facebook ~ GoodReads

MaggertHeartbornSynopsis of Heartborn:

Her guardian angel was pushed.

Keiron was never meant to be anything other than a hero. Born high above in a place of war and deception, he is Heartborn, a being of purity and goodness in a place where violence and deceit are just around every corner.

His disappearance will spark a war he cannot see, for Keiron has pierced the light of days to save a girl he has never met, for reasons he cannot understand. Livvy Foster is seventeen, brave, and broken. With half a heart, she bears the scars of a lifetime of pain and little hope of survival.

Until Keiron arrives.

In the middle of a brewing war and Livvy’s failing heart, Keiron will risk everything for Livvy, because a Heartborn’s life can only end in one way: Sacrifice.

Fall with Livvy and Keiron as they seek the truth about her heart, and his power, and what it means to love someone who will give their very life to save you.

Audible        Amazon

JuliaWhelanNarratorAbout the Narrator Julia Whelan:

Julia Whelan has appeared in many films and television series, most notably ABC’s Once And Again. After receiving a degree in English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College and Oxford University, Julia began narrating audiobooks. She’s recorded hundreds of novels across all genres and has received multiple Earphones and Audie Awards. She is repeatedly named one of Audiofile Magazine’s Best Voices and was Audible’s Narrator of the Year.

IMDB ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ GoodReads

GIVEWAYS!!!

There are 3 different giveaways for this tour. You can enter any of them or all of them. These giveaways are hosted by The Audiobookworm and the prizes provided by the author. Enjoy!

Giveaway 1: A $10 Amazon Gift Card

Heartborn Audiobook Blog Tour

Giveaway 2: A Digital Audiobook Copy of Halfway Dead by Terry Maggert
Halfway Dead Digital Audiobook

Giveaway 3: Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

Mini Bluetooth Speaker

Hair Power by Piers Anthony

AnthonyHairPowerPublisher: Dreaming Big Publications (2016)

Length: 128 pages

Author’s Page

Quiti is a young lady who unfortunately has terminal brain cancer. She’s been dealing with it well, but the cost of it emotionally on her parents and friends is weighing upon her. She has chosen to take her own life, planned it out in fact. However, at the moment when she is determined this is the right path and she is about to go through it, she meets an alien hairball that needs her help. Of course, she can’t say no to it’s simple request, but much to her surprise, her outlook changes and her cancer appears to be going into remission. What follows is a story of a buddy superhero and her adventures with her alien hairball.

This was an odd mix of a story for me. On one hand, the story is very simply told. The sentences are short and to the point. There are few descriptors and few large words. On the other hand, there are some adult themes (mostly sex) that crop up several times in this book. I don’t mind sex in books, but I wasn’t expecting the array of sexual relationships in this book, only one of which is a standard loving husband-wife scenario. I was constantly wondering if I was reading a book for teens or a compilation of sexual conquests, given the various scenarios. I will say that it was refreshing to have a young lady be so straight forward about her sexuality, though she does manage to get nude quite often, and sometimes it did not really pertinent to the plot.

I liked the start of the book the best. I felt that had the most meat to it. As Quiti gets to know her new hair better, she continues to develop superpowers. At first, it is just a raised IQ that makes her last year of highschool that much easier. Then she turns into a babe, which is, sadly, really important for the rest of the book because she uses her sexuality to distract people or obtain things. Her new looks definitely attract Speedo, who is a few years younger than her. In fact, they have a rather odd night together where she gives him permission to do as he likes provided it’s not intercourse and then she proceeds to sleep through it. This scene was the first time I really questioned where the author was trying to go with this book. I never really stopped asking that question. Couple that with the attempted rape scene at a highschool dance, well, read it and wonder.

Of course having the cancer disappear was awesome, but she felt she had to keep that under wraps at first. She ends up going on an impromptu trip to avoid being captured by some nebulous entity that somehow knows about her hair and her burgeoning superpowers. Along the way, she meets many interesting people like Gena (a truck driver), Idola (a 10 year old that needs a new family), Roque (a college kid who’s just figuring out his life), Desiree (a prostitute), and Tillo (a boy in need of some role models).

Here and there are hints that some secretive government agency is trying to track Quiti and her hair, but we see few manifestations of this until the last fifth of the book. Even then, it’s still nebulous, disjointed, and not at all fleshed out. In fact, most of the book felt like a very detailed screenplay for a movie rather than a novel. Actions are told so simply, the character’s logic laid out so straight forwardly that it seemed that Quiti lacked character. There were few facial expressions, few mentions of emotions, never really any going back and forth on decisions or anxiety or happiness, etc. I would have enjoyed this story much more if it had been fleshed out instead of just bones, tendons, and ligaments.

Also, Quiti gets so many powers from the hair that it seems there is almost nothing she can’t do. There’s invisibility, flight, underwater breathing, no need for clothing, super intelligence, invulnerability to bullets and knives, quickened reflexes, perfect health, ability to change appearance, etc. She does need to eat a lot (she’s eating for two) and the hair likes to sunbath daily if possible. It eventually got to the point that Quiti became boring because she was so powerful. There was no worthy adversary that could match her. So I was never really concerned for her safety or freedom and therefore the plot was a bit boring as well. All told, this was a rather ho-hum tale for me.

I received a free copy of this book.

What I Liked: The story’s set up; how Quiti came to know her hairball alien; her initial superpowers; the cover art.

What I Disliked: I never did figure out what the author’s goal was with this book; Quiti has so many powers she becomes boring because I never worry about her; Quiti goes from average to beautiful, which appears to be very important for the rest of the book; some odd sexual encounters (which normally I don’t bat an eye at); the nebulous government foe; the lack of descriptors and big words made it feel like I was reading a book for teens or younger.

What Others Think:

Bookworm for Kids

Nerd Lexicon

Barb Taub

Clabe Polk

K. C. Gray’s Book Reviews

Interview: Piers Anthony, Author of Hair Power

AnthonyHairPowerFolks, please give a warm welcome to Piers Anthony, author of the famed Xanth series and his latest book Hair Power. I grew up reading Mr. Anthony’s works and I was pleasantly surprised to see him working with a small publisher on yet another novel – such a productive man! I am sure you will be as amused and entertained by his interview as I am. The publisher, Dreaming Big Publications, has provided this prepared interview with Mr. Anthony.

Tell us about your latest book.

Hair Power is a novella about a girl with terminal brain cancer who helps an alien hairball, who rewards her with hair that not only replaces her own lost hair, but cures her cancer and makes her something of a super woman. In time that hair is six feet long and she wears it like a cloak. That’s only the beginning.

Tell us a little about some of the others who contributed to your book, such as cover designer or editor.

I have to default on that, as I don’t know them.

Who are your favorite authors?

If I lost my memory and had my choice of reading matter, I hope my favorite would be Piers Anthony. I try to write what I would like to read. As for other authors, I have admired many in the Science Fiction and Fantasy fields, from Robert A. Heinlein on down. I am also an admirer of the plays of George Bernard Shaw, and not just because he was a vegetarian.

What advice do you have for other writers?

Publishing is changing so much now that much of what I might say would become dated about ten minutes after I wrote it. So I’ll just say read and study the genre you are in, keep writing and improving, and may the world go well with thee.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

For me the best thing is getting to exercise my imagination and being independent. I can’t be fired for someone else’s mistakes.

What’s the hardest thing about being a writer?

It used to be dealing with publishers, who were like insensitive robots interested only in money, regardless what they claimed. But the old order is passing and the new publishers I am dealing with are generally more compatible. Some of them even like good fiction. So now the hardest thing is facing the prospect of my declining ability with advancing age. I’m not capable of simply letting it go and retiring. So when I no longer write well, I hope I am the first, not the last to know it.

AnthonyBioOfAnOgreWhere can people find out more about you and your writing?

My web site is www.hipiers.com where I have a monthly column, commenting on whatever is on my mind, and background information on my titles. I have also written two autobiographical books: Bio of an Ogre and How Precious Was That While.

How long did it take you to write your book?

Three Weeks for this 35,000 word novella. It moved well, and I am an efficient writer.

Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected?

I don’t think so. I had worked it out pretty well before I started writing. I’ve always loved long hair on a woman, so this was easy imagination.

Where can a reader purchase your book?

From wherever the publisher puts it.                                         

What are you doing to market the book? 

Precious little. I’m a writer, not a marketer.

Who inspires you?

The world inspires me.

How do you research your books?

There wasn’t any real research for Hair Power. I generally try to stay within the boundaries of what I know. When I do need to research, I buy books on the subject.

Do you have another work in progress? Tell us about it.

I am working on the sequel, Hair Suite, wherein there is competition with Cyborg aliens in very attractive human form. Until the two cultures have to unite against a third.

Have you written other books? Where can readers purchase them?

I have written about 175 other books. Readers can find many of them listed on Amazon. Many readers like my Xanth fantasy series, which now number 42 novels, not all in print yet.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing verses traditional publishing?

I approve of self publishing. In the old days only about one aspiring writer in a hundred could ever get anything published. That led to bigger sales for the one percent, and tough luck for the 99%. I prefer that every writer have a chance. That’s why I have worked to make self publishing possible for anyone, notably by my early investment in Xlibris – I am no longer connected – and my ongoing survey of electronic publishers. The playing field will probably never be level, but it’s better than it was. Traditional publishers had dictatorial power for over a century. Now it’s the writers’ turn.

AnthonyHowPreciousWasThatWhileWho or what inspired you to become a writer?

I needed to decide on my college major. I pondered a day and a night, and it came to me: I wanted to be a writer. It was like a light turning on and it has guided me ever since.

Does your family support you in your writing career? How?

My wife supported me. She went to work so I could stay home and try to be a writer. That was when I broke through with my first story sale – for $20.00. But it led to greater things, in time.

What are you currently reading?

I am usually reading something, often a novel for review or blurbing. At the moment I’m between books.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

Writing is my passion and my life. All else feels like dross. But I do make the meals and wash the dishes, as my wife is infirm. I also like to play cards on the computer, mainly Free Cell, which I believe is the best card game ever.

What is your favorite line from a movie?

Great lines in movies are myriad, but it’s the quiet personal ones that get to me the most that others may not even notice. There was one whose title I don’t remember, where a man, a widower, got a girlfriend he was considering marrying. His early teen daughter lived with him. When the woman made them a meal, the man told the teen to do the dishes. The girlfriend intervened. “No, she doesn’t have to do that. I’ll do it.” Why?  “She’s your daughter and I want her to like me.” That disarming candor surely ensured that the girl would like the woman.

What do you like to snack on while you write?

I maintain my college weight, and I exercise seriously. I don’t eat between meals. I’m pretty fit for my age, pushing 82, and mean to stay that way.

When you walk into a book store, where is the first place you go?

The last local book store closed down.

AnthonyVirtualModeWhat is the funniest thing that you’ve been asked during an interview?

At the moment I’m not thinking of anything funny in an interview. But I was amused by a sentence in my fan mail: “Ha! Caught you reading fan mail!”

Sometimes I do learn things from my fan mail .

I had a suicidally depressive girl in one of my novels (Virtual Mode, if you must know) who regularly cut her wrists so that they bled. So she wore red bands on her wrists to conceal the blood. A reader wrote that I had it wrong: blood dries black, so she needed black wristlets. I suspect she spoke from experience.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

My biggest peeve is critics who come across like the Republicans with respect to President Obama: Anything he does is wrong. It seems similar for critics with me. I have a mock review of a trilogy such a critic would do with me. The first novel is inferior. The second novel is not up to the standard of the first. And readers of the first two novels will be sadly disappointed by the third.

Places to Find Piers Anthony

Website

Blog

GoodReads

Amazon

AnthonyHairPowerBook Blurb for Hair Power: Terminal cancer patient, Quiti, walks into an abandoned building planning on taking her life.

Instead, she encounters a telepathic ball of hair that insists it is an alien seeking to facilitate diplomatic communication on Earth.

Quiti assumes it is all a hallucination conjured up by her brain tumor.

Because of this assumption, when she saves the alien’s life and it insists on doing Quiti a favor in return, she only asks for her hair back. She soon discovers, however, that the creature’s gift extends much further than her new locks that can change color with a thought. As her powers grow and her deadly illness goes into remission, Quiti quickly realizes that there are those that would want to use her for her abilities and is forced to leave behind everything that she knew.

Will this blessing curse her to a life on the run, or does the mysterious hairball have more in store for her?

Piers Anthony, critically acclaimed author of the New York Times bestselling Xanth series, brings together humor and adventure in this original story of loyalty, friendship, extraordinary powers, and hair.

Possible to Rue by Piers Anthony

AnthonyPossibleToRueWhere I Got It: Won a copy on Eargasms (copy provided by the narrator) (thanks!)

Narrator: Al Kessel

Publisher: Audiobooks by Mike Vendetti (2014)

Length: 8 minutes

Author’s Page

The boy wants a pegasus. What is the father to do? Being a wealthy man, he had promised his 6 year old he could have whatever he wanted for his birthday. Of course, he wasn’t expecting the lad to ask for a mythological creature!

What ensues is creative fun involving an encyclopedia and several other animals. This short story was a joy to listen to as it was both clever and filled with child-like wonder. And perhaps a touch of 6-year old stubbornness. 🙂 With a touch of adventure and beauty, Piers Anthony has the reader looking as reality in a different light.

The ending was fun and satisfying. Even though this story is probably marketed for kids more than adults, I felt that it was good fun for this 36-year old!

Narration:  Al Kessel did a good job with the narration. He had distinct voices for the characters and injected emotions into the story. He especially did ‘wonder’ quite well. I liked his little kid voice the most.

What I Liked:  The cover art; magic in the mundane; the pegasus of course!; questioning reality in a fun way.

What I Disliked:  Nothing – I think this is a great short story!

VintageScifiBadgeThis month is Vintage SciFi Month (and we get to toss in vintage fantasy too) over at the Little Red Reviewer. Everyone is welcome to play along with your pre-1979 fantastical fiction! This short story was originally published in 1963.