The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.

Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn

I wanted to nail this one, and I don’t think I did — just so I’m clear — you want to read this. Any of your kids over 13 (and maybe some under) will likely enjoy this. Don’t be put off by the labels attached: “Post-apocalyptic,” “YA,” or whatever — this is a good story about kids in the nearish future.

Children of the Different Children of the Different

by S.C. Flynn
Kindle Edition, 316 pg.
The Hive, 2016

Read: September 12 – 13, 2016

I’m going to get this quotation wrong, so remember it’s just a paraphrase: William Gibson’s early works were said to be set “Fifteen minutes into our future” — they’re futuristic SF, but only barely. Using that as a basis, I think you’d be safe saying that this book is set 20 minutes into our future — when Gibson’s cyberpunk present falls apart. Yes, it’s technically post-apocalyptic, but so is The Sword of Shannara, but that doesn’t mean you can walk in with any idea of what its’ going to be like. Think of this as a fantasy world very much like our own (but with cooler accents) — but where almost nothing works and teenagers are threats to their own health and safety, but also to pretty much the entire world’s health and safety.

We meet the twins Arika and Narrah just as Arika is beginning her time in the Changeland. Which is a stressful time for everyone in her life — but her brother Narrah does something quite out of the ordinary, he takes advantage of their inherent psychic link and enters the Changeland with her. By doing so, they set down on a path that could change the world forever. Not that they knew this. These aren’t a couple of Promised Children, Children of Destiny or whatever — they’re just a couple of kids in the right place and the right time to become the Children of Destiny. Arika’s the strongest character, the best fleshed out and it’s her reactions to everything that inform the readers’. Not to discount anyone else, but it’s her fears, her hopes, her determination that set things in motion (even Narrah will defer to her). Before I leave Arika — her friend, who I see as a combination of Luna Lovegood and Sybill Trelawney, but far less chatty — is such a great character. She’d have been easy to use wrongly, but Flynn gets is just right. She’s very likely my favorite part of the whole book.

While in her Changeland, Arika finds an enemy and Narrah finds a potential ally. Both show up later when Arika returns the favor and comes to Narrah’s rescue in his Changeland. It’s really kind of hard to describe, read it yourself. His is radically different and more hazardous — as are the conditions he finds himself in. I don’t want to get into the story beyond that, but let me just say that nothing in the story worked out the way I expected, and I’m so glad for it. The novel ended in such a way as to be initially dissatisfying, but with just a little thought, it was perfect — you don’t want more than you’re given, really — it seems like you do, but after a little time and thought, you get why he doesn’t the way he ended it the way he does, and actually end up pretty satisfied with the whole novel.

Oh yeah, there’s this great part that turns out to be a description of Echolocation. That was cool — I know I was wearing a big grin for a few paragraphs once I figured out that’s what was going on. That’s just an aside and your results my vary, but I really dug that scene. Almost as nifty are Narrah’s new abilities, and I’ll just leave it at that.

Flynn gives us clear, well-defined, and distinct characters here. I can’t say that I got too emotionally attached to any of them — but I was very curious about all of them. I imagined more of what life was like for the twins and their friends growing up in their circumstances, what made the various people who left their settlement do so, and just what might happen after the book ends. At the end of the day, these are people you want to see succeed, even if you don’t have that big emotional bond with them.

Once you get your bearings (which took a little longer for me than it should’ve, I think I had an off day), you can really get into this world and get an idea how things function (or don’t) on the Australian continent — and you can guess what’s going on in the rest of the world, too. Between the powers, the hard life and the machinations of the leaders — there’s plenty going on to keep you turning the pages — some is exciting, some is rich in imagery, some is tense and all is entertaining.

A heckuva debut novel — I can’t look forward to more enough.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my participation in the Book Tour and my honest post.

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4 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…S. C. Flynn

You’ve maybe seen him here and there in the feedback for various and sundry posts, I know I have. S. C. Flynn’s been all over this blog — and I appreciate it. Thankfully, his book was good enough that I didn’t have to feel awkward (because it’s all about me, right?) Here’s a lil’ Q&A that S.C. and I did this week. I didn’t actually ask him more questions than usual — he edited my questions to make the answers better.

1. Why Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy (I didn’t even know that was a thing)?.
It is rare; I can hardly think of any examples of this sub-genre, and those are a long way from CHILDREN OF THE DIFFERENT. I suppose post-apocalyptic fantasy is rare because, as I see it, it is a mix of science fiction and fantasy. SF provides the background – in my case, an epidemic that affects the human brain such that by adolescence the second generation of survivors are already in part a new human species with enhanced abilities. Then the fantasy comes in, based on science and a little bit of magic!
I found this a neat way to let my imagination go where it wanted, while still having a plausible basis in our world.
2. Why YA?
I have written various other novels – all fantasy, but very different from this one – and been close to breaking into conventional publishing via professional literary agents over a period of many years. I had never written Young Adult before, though, so it was something new to try, together with the new strategy of quality self-publishing that I am carrying out, with an all-pro support team.
Writing YA has been a really enjoyable challenge. A Young Adult novel must have all the things that any good novel must have: strong plot, well-developed characters and convincing setting. By definition, the writer is limited in how much sex, coarse language and graphic violence can be included in a YA novel. That means that you have to work harder with those basic components I mentioned – plot, characters and setting, in order to achieve your effects you need.
Once I had the basic idea – namely, following the brain disease epidemic that destroyed civilisation, adolescents go into a coma and emerge either with special powers or as dangerous Ferals – the choice of YA was made for me. The logical time for this Changing to occur was at the onset of puberty, so the main characters (twins Arika and Narrah – a girl and a boy) are 13 years old. Arika and Narrah can read and write, but they have always lived in a small, isolated non-industrial settlement, and their language and thoughts are conditioned by their limited knowledge of the world. In CHILDREN, we see everything from the twins’ viewpoint, so the style in which their story is told necessarily had to be simple and clear. That fits perfectly with the Young Adult audience.
3. What was it about this story that made you say — yup, this is the one?
CHILDREN OF THE DIFFERENT leaped into my mind almost fully formed once I had the basic idea. Of all my novels, CHILDREN was by far the easiest and quickest to write, at least as far as the first draft was concerned.

I am an obsessive reviser, so that was four years ago, during which time there have been long pauses while I was revising other novels, or even – surprisingly enough – taking some time off from revision. Still, the first draft of CHILDREN virtually wrote itself – every day when I needed a scene, it was there ready-made.
I had never written about Australia before, so probably, without realising it, I had a great amount of background knowledge ready to use. My other novels are quasi-historical fantasy and required a lot of research.

I think the main characters really wanted to tell their story, as well.

4. You’ve been doing the SF/F blog thing for a while now — how has that helped you as a novelist??
The style of writing that works on a blog is completely different from what fiction requires, so I see them as two separate skills. As I said before, I have written novels for many years, so my fiction style was probably formed in large part before I started blogging.

Blogging certainly keeps you up with the latest books and what people are saying about them, and the skills of writing blog posts is essential for trying to publicise your fiction. Setting up a blog also brought me out of my corner, where I had been writing for years, and got me into contact with lots of cool people who have helped and encouraged me.

5. What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that?”
Wool by Hugh Howey. A very clever dystopian idea, and also a book that helped to revolutionise the self-publishing industry.
6. Aside from a burning desire to buy copies to give away as gifts, what are you hoping your readers take away from this book?
An optimistic post-apocalyptic story like CHILDREN is an important one to tell, for me. It contains a warning about the dangers of technology, together with hope for what our society could achieve if technology were used for good purposes.

CHILDREN also contains a hopeful message that our very young people can achieve great things. Like the twins, adolescents are not stupid, but just lacking in experience, exposed to dangerous influences and struggling to work out who or what they are turning into. It is up to us to give them the best chance we can and leave them the best world we possibly can./td>

7. What’s next for S. C. Flynn?
There has so far been a fair bit of interest from reviewers in seeing more of the world of CHILDREN OF THE DIFFERENT. So, one possibility would be to write a sequel.
The alternative would be to publish one of the completed novels I referred to before. Three of those are of publishable quality, in my opinion, having been through years of editing by professional literary agents, as well as my own fanatical revision.For now, I will wait and see what happens with CHILDREN.
Thanks so much for your time, and I hope your launch week meets with a lot of success.

Children of the Different by S. C. Flynn Book Tour

Welcome to our Book Tour stop for Children of the Different. Along with this blurb about the book I’ve got a Q & A with the author, S. C. Flynn and my 2¢ about the book.

Book Details:

Book Title:  Children of the Different by S. C. Flynn
Release date:  September 10, 2016
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy
Extract: THE ANTEATER

Book Description:

Nineteen years ago, a brain disease known as the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. The survivors all had something different about their minds. Now, at the start of adolescence, their children enter a trance-like state known as the Changeland and either emerge with special mental powers or as cannibalistic Ferals.

In the great forest of south-western Australia, thirteen year-old Arika and her twin brother Narrah go through the Changeland. They encounter an enemy known as the Anteater who feeds on human life. He exists both in the Changeland and in the outside world, and he wants the twins dead.

After their Changings, the twins have powers that let them fight their enemy and face their destiny on a long journey to an abandoned American military base on the north-west coast of Australia. If they can reach it before time runs out.

Author Info:

SCy-Fy: the blog of S. C. Flynn

https://twitter.com/LaughRiotPress

https://twitter.com/SCyFlynn

S. C. Flynn’s Amazon Page