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

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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)

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Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword by Kiera Gillett

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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 & Interivew: Keira Gillett, Author of the Zaria Fierce Series

GillettZariaFierceAndTheSecretOfGloomwoodForestFolks, please give a warm welcome to Keira Gillett! I’ve really enjoyed the first 2 books in her Zaria Fierce series (The Secret of Gloomwood Forest and The Enchanted Drakeland Sword) so it’s a real pleasure to have her on the blog today. We chat about Scandinavian folklore, cover art, magical quests, and plenty more! Also, please check out the audiobook giveaway at the end of the post!

Susan: Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

Keira: Great question, Susan! I believe all fictional stories regardless of genre help to shape the world around us because they shape the people reading them. Things that were once the stuff of science fiction are today the norm – flying machines, submarines, space stations. Anything that sparks the imagination towards discovery and progress is a great thing. Fantasy is the same, and while we might not be riding around on great winter-wyverns like Norwick, there is always more to learn about the world around us. I read an article recently about a new species of whale that’s been discovered. A whale! Those creatures are huge! So I think fantasy keeps readers interested in how things seen and things hidden intersect and connect with each other. They share a sense of wonder and hope that anything is possible.

Susan: What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

Keira: I’m lucky because I don’t think any of the jobs I have held have been difficult or beyond my capability. The hard part was probably the commute. Writing can be done anywhere. Zaria’s story in its current form started when I was in the car driving and I pulled out my phone at a stoplight and opened the voice memo app. I started talking about her, introducing her to readers, and later transcribed it. The hardest part about writing is distractions and research rabbit holes that I fall into. I love looking into things and figuring out how to adapt and incorporate them in the Zaria Fierce world. Sometimes I would be so involved I’d look up and it’d be time to go to bed and not a lick of writing had been done.

Susan: If you were sent on a magical quest, which 4 other children’s books authors would you take with you?

I love quests and there are authors out there who really understand how to get into and out of trouble. If my quest involved an ancient culture I would snag Rick Riordan. He’s got his fingers on the pulse of several and would be handy to have around. If it involved magic and alternate worlds connected to our own, then C.S. Lewis is a definite must for the party to succeed. If the quest would involve politics, years of travel, and dangerous objects J.R. Tolkien would be my go to guy. The last person I would bring is Cressida Cowell, for she is the best in the world for dragons, which almost always guard hoards of secret treasures.

Susan: In my experience, some of the best fiction is based on facts. How do you build your research into your fictional works?

Keira: For one, I read a bunch of folktales, and in fact, I am reading right now another book of them that I found recently for Norse and Scandinavian folklore. The Tall Ships Race actually exists and has been held in Fredrikstad in the recent past. I watched several videos on YouTube featuring ships and people from the event. I even got a map/brochure of the different events happening around the city tucked away. The castle and its grounds that are in the Under Realm are based on real Scandinavian castles. I look at maps and try to keep my kingdoms in real locations so readers could say to themselves, maybe… maybe it’s there if I look hard enough.

GillettZariaFierceAndTheEnchantedDrakelandSwordSusan: 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?

Keira: I haven’t really a story about fans or authors, but I did write Robert Pattinson a letter once. It was really bad, but I remained cool and didn’t express my undying love or anything. LOL But it was bad enough that not even his people bothered to send me back a form letter thanking me for writing. Mostly when I gush I gush to like-minded individuals near me and not to the objects of my intense gushing. I spare them the indignity of having to pry me off.

Susan: Cover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. Your books have great cover art. Can you tell us a little about how you found the illustrator and the collaborative process that lead to the book covers?

Keira: Thank you! I love my covers too. I think they really stand out and grab attention in the best of ways. They were a collaboration with Eoghan Kerrigan. He provided the cover art and I set up the covers with fonts and backgrounds. I found Eoghan through a series of events.

On one of my rabbit hole research trips, right after I had decided Zaria would be set in Norway, I found myself looking into John Bauer’s art. He created such ethereal landscapes and fantastic little trolls. Somewhere in that search I found a piece where an artist copied Bauer’s style on Deviant Art, but when trying to locate that artist down the road as the story neared its conclusion proved impossible.

I spent hours looking at other artists on the site and discovered Eoghan Kerrigan’s magnificent trolls. I fell in love with them on the spot. I tracked him across several websites trying to determine if he was open to commission work and lucky for me it turned out he was. We connected on Facebook and then by e-mail and the rest as they say is history.

Eoghan is fantastic to work with. He’s very open during the process. We did a few rounds of sketches to determine how Zaria and Olaf would look like, and another round for the covers. Once that was sorted I gave him carte blanche to pick what he wanted to illustrate for each chapter and I’m so glad I did. His style brings such realism to the books, characters, creatures, etc.

Susan: What is the first book you remember reading on your own?

Keira: The first book I remember reading on my own is probably Nancy Drew. I read that series until there wasn’t a single yellow book on the shelf left. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Baby-Sitters Club. The first book I remember being read to me is Half Magic. My mother read it at home and would volunteer to read it at my school too. Great books.

Susan: 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?

Keira: Can it be a zipline course? I love those. Getting to climb around in the trees and soar across spaces is so much fun. Food is probably some sort of meaty, hearty fare to keep you full and ready to tackle the next obstacle. I’d probably bring friends and family and make a day of it. Thanks for having me at Dab of Darkness, Susan. This has been a lot of fun! If you keep scrolling there’s information about a giveaway below.


Zaria3Book Three in the Zaria Fierce Trilogy

Summary: “Nothing can save you now, Princess.”

How can anyone be tricked twice? Isn’t there even a saying about that? Zaria Fierce is determined to get things right this time and with the Drakeland Sword in her possession she’s ready to take on trolls, dragons, and whatever else may come… but first she and her friends are going to have to figure out just how much trouble they’re in at home.

Release Date: July 1, 2016

Available in E-book, Paperback, and Audiobook (Coming Soon)

Praise for Zaria Fierce and the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Shoes (Book 3):

“That’s the great thing about the Zaria Fierce trilogy: adventure is fast, furious, and loaded with Norse mythology, but the friendship between Zaria and her group of friends is the heart that drives this story.” Rosemary, Mom Read It

Zaria Fierce and the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Shoes was the magical conclusion this trilogy asked for. Filled with action and adventure, Zaria and her friends showed us the importance of teamwork, friendship, and having courage in ourselves. The perfect ending to a fun series, I recommend this to all fantasy lovers, middle school and beyond!” – Emily, Midwestern Book Nerd

Zaria Fierce and the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Shoes was a spectacular conclusion to a great trilogy (though the ending left the door open for more adventures). Filled with magic, a great story line, amazing and real characters, wonderful settings and beautifully explored themes, Keira Gillett created a trilogy that I will always cherish and will visit anytime. If you like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, The Spiderwick Chronicles or simply love a book filled with Norwegian folklore and fantasy, then this is the ultimate series for you to read, devour and lose yourselves in.” – Ner, A Cup of Coffee and a Book

Excerpt:

Hector was right that the group wasn’t far from Malmdor. They reached the entrance before night fell, and in the gloomy dusk that slipped around them like a cloak, they reached the edge of the forest and stopped. Below them in a wide clearing was an abandoned quarry filled with water.

The lake was nestled at the bottom of a deep, steep pit. Its deep blue water was smooth and glassy, protected from wind by the rocky walls and surrounding forest. Zaria could see the lakebed in the shallower areas. Something large swam in the center, too deep to see clearly.

“What is that?” asked Filip, having spotted the creature at the same time.

Hector said, “It’s a water-wyvern.”

“Is that like the Loch Ness Monster?” asked Christoffer. “Cool. No wonder they can’t find it in Scotland.”

“You haven’t seen a winter-wyvern,” Zaria said. “I bet it’s more like Norwick.”

“The flying snow leopard-bear-bat thing you told me about? Even better,” Christoffer said, rubbing his hands together in glee. “Do we get to meet it?”

“Is it friendly?” worried Geirr.

“The beastie is not friendly,” said Hector, grimly. “And yes, we will be meeting it. Water-wyverns are wild, unpredictable creatures. This one is particularly nasty. It was captured and transported to this quarry lake over a century ago. It can’t escape – water-wyverns aren’t able to live out of water for very long. This makes it very angry. The lake is too small for him.”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Geirr said, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “So, can it eat us?”

Hector nodded. “It once devoured an entire legion of dwarf handlers because they smelled bad. They’ve showered regularly ever since.”

Geirr looked at Zaria. “Why?” he moaned. “Why do we have to meet it?”

“Look on the bright side, mate,” Filip said, clapping Geirr on the back. “Maybe we get to ride it.”

Hector shook his head. “The water-wyvern is the guardian of Malmdor. Its job is to keep out all trespassers.”

Christoffer sighed, disappointed. “Too bad. I would have loved to ride him.”

“Will we have to feed it to get by it? What does a water-wyvern eat?” Aleks asked, readjusting his backpack and bow.

“It eats whatever it can catch,” Hector said forebodingly. “We’ll have to be careful as we near the shoreline. A water-wyvern might not have much in the way of limbs, being adapted to the water, but it has enough leg-power to propel itself onto the shore and attack.”

“At least it can’t fly,” said Geirr, relieved. “Small favors.”

Zaria and her friends gasped as it breached the surface, blowing out a large stream of air. The water-wyvern was magnificent with a gray-and-white pattern. It had a seahorse face, with a long snout, and no ears. The top of its head bore a wavy crest that trailed down its neck.

As the creature dove beneath the water, it flipped its body into the air. There were no scales anywhere on it, as far as she could see. Zaria half-expected a whale fluke, but its tail looked like an eel’s. The thing was massive, at least four times bigger than Norwick, and hideous.

They stood there, watching the shifting, undulating, shadow in the water. Aleks wore a pensive frown, his brown eyes narrowed. “Does it have a name?”

“The dwarves call it Vingar.”

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29983980-zaria-fierce-and-the-dragon-keeper-s-golden-shoes

Keira Gillett author pictureAuthor Bio: Keira Gillett is a technical publications librarian, book blogger, world traveler, artist, and now author. She graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Arts in Drawing and Painting. From an early age her mother instilled a love of the written word, as such she has always been a big reader. Her first book, Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest, is about a young girl who must complete a quest to save her friend from a nasty river-troll.

Website: http://keiragillett.com

Social Media: Twitter (keiragillett), Facebook (zariafiercetrilogy), Pinterest (zariafierce)

Giveaway: Keira is offering up the first 2 books in the Zaria Fierce series in audiobook format (from Audible.com) to one winner. Enter the Rafflecopter by clicking the link below. Ends Aug. 14, 2016.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword by Keira Gillett

GillettZariaFierceAndTheEnchantedDrakelandSwordWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Michele Carpenter

Publisher: Keira Gillett (2015)

Length: 5 hours 14 minutes

Series: Book 2 Zaria Fierce

Author’s Page

Note: This is a series best read in order. So start with the most entertaining Book 1, Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest.

Continuing Zaria’s adventures in Norway, she and the boys have the chance to set sail to visit the giants! Who could say no to that? Yet even on the initial leg of their journey, Zaria feels that something is following her, perhaps even haunting her. No one else sees it or feels it in anyway so Zaria begins to doubt herself. And this is not an adventure for the faint of heart! Giants and elves and dwarfs! And don’t forget that shadow of the dragon Koll that seems to loom over everything.

In Book 1, Christoffer had to sit out most of the book since he was being held captive by the river troll Olaf. Now he’s free and he happily joins his friends in this latest adventure. Aleks, the changeling, once again uses his Stargazer to freeze time so they can leave without stirring a fuss with their parents. Geirr and Filip are definitely up for another adventure! Hector has asked them to come along in his quest to obtain a mighty sword that will aid him in freeing his son Hart, who was taken captive at the end of Book 1. Zaria feels quite a bit of responsibility for how things went wrong and she wants to make up for it by helping Hector anyway she can.

Once they board the ship, the kids learn the captain is a troll and they are a little leery. After all, their only experiences with trolls have been a bit negative. But they soon learn that Captain Bjarke is a good person and a friend to Hector. The land of the giants was quite fun. Pet woolly mammoth! Such great imagery. The first giant they meet, Ingdor, is working the harbor and the kids quickly have to become accustomed to either them or whatever they are standing on (like the ship Ursula) being picked up and moved about. Hector is hoping to barter for safe passage to the Dwarven lands but Oskar the Elevated and his wife Siela, her Altitudiness, are not willing.

The action amps up as they try a trickier way into the Dwarven halls. Unfortunately, they come across a group of tricksy elves. Zaria uses her wits to maneuver them into agreeing to three challenges. Things could go wrong in so many ways! Without spoiling anything, let me just say Zaria and crew eventually do get to chat with the Dwarves but it’s not as warm a welcome as Hector had been hoping for.

Both Aleks and Zaria are adopted and both have to deal with their fae heritage. Aleks has been told all his life to avoid it and that makes this trip extra hard for him. Zaria only found out about her fae heritage towards the end of Book 1 and it’s still a big, big mystery to her. But they aren’t the only ones dealing with fears. One of the lads has a great fear of being underground. Zaria is haunted by this apparition that only she can see from time to time. Indeed, the kids are growing up and part of that is facing these fears.

The ending was clever, dramatic, and I definitely felt for Zaria. Ugh! This girl will need therapy. She already carries some weight for the capture and imprisonment of Hart in Book 1. Now, she has to face the unexpected consequences of her well-intentioned actions. I look forward to seeing how Zaria saves the day or compounds the problem in Book 3.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Once again, Michele Carpenter did a great job. She has the perfect voice for Zaria and I love how she gives light Norwegian accents to the all the boys. There’s even one song that is actually sung (though I believe another voice actress came in and performed it). Still, it was nice to have that little addition to the book and it was well edited in – the volume was the same, etc.

What I Liked: There’s giants and one of them has a pet woolly mammoth!; Zaria and the boys learn that not all trolls are beastly brutes; the elves are tricky and condescending; the dwarves aren’t very cooperative; Zaria has this fear that she is being haunted;  both Aleks and Zaria have to start dealing with their fae heritage; a complicated ending but perfect set up for a hero to ride into Book 3 and save the day; excellent narration; great cover art.

What I Disliked: Nothing – great book!

What Others Think:

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