My 16 Best Books of 2016

In order to compile my list of the best books I’ve read in 2016, I sat back and thought about the books that have had the biggest impact on me. I quickly wrote down all the ones that came to mind, and so here they all are. I have also included how I came across each book, ie was it recommended to me, was I sent it and so on. I thought this might be useful! I have read so many books this year, and it is simply impossible to list them all, so I have tried to pick books here that are the sort of thing I generally look for when reading.I have not listed them in order of preference, they are simply listed in the order they came to mind. However, there is one book that stood out above all the others for me personally, one book that I can safely say is the best book I have read in 2016 and this is listed as Number One. Enjoy.

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  1. The Improbable Wonders Of Moojie Littleman by Robin Gregory is an absolutely beautiful book and very unique. It had me smiling from start to finish, contains fabulously flawed and addictive characters and provides a great big splash of the hope and positivity we all so desperately need right now. I’ve actually lost track of the amount of awards this book has won, so I’ve added a link here . I’ve also got to mention that Robin provided me with a wonderful interview you can read here and she is a thoroughly lovely person!
  2. No Dogs Or Indians by Lisa Hare is  a book I read purely by accident. I’m one of the reviewers for Underground Book Reviews, where authors pick reviewers based on their reading preferences. I was sent this book by accident, as it was not on my list, but was advised to read it anyway as it’s been nominated as one of the books of the year. It sounded interesting so I dived right in and came out with tears running down my face. One of the best books I’ve read in ages, and again, very unique, beautiful in its themes and messages, and one that will stay with me for a very long time. Get it!!
  3. A Necessary Act by Tony Wirt is a book I did choose to read for Underground Book Reviews, and I nominated it for a top pick and book of the year, it was that good. The plot revolves around a really interesting question; if you were utterly convinced a fellow schoolmate was well on the way to becoming a serial killer, would you do anything to stop him? The book puts its teen characters in this predicament and ends with a twist I never saw coming. Tense, horrific, unputdownable!
  4. The Many by Wyl Menmuir is probably one of the most controversial books on my list. By that I mean, it has the most mixed reviews I’ve ever come across! From glowing five stars to downright grumpy one stars, it seems this is a love it or hate it or plain just don’t get it kind of book! I first heard about it on my Facebook timeline as it had been longlisted for the Booker prize which was quite an achievement for a debut novel signed to a small press. I then came across the author in a magazine I receive for being a NAWE member (National Association of Writers In Education) I was so inspired by his article about independent writing spaces in school I contacted Wyl and thanks to his advice, I will hopefully be diving into my first school project next year with my business Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. But anyway, back to the book! Haunting, surreal, dark and claustrophobic are just some of the words that spring to mind. Eerily silent and with an ending that quite literally punched me in the gut. If you are looking for something unique to read, something that has divided opinion quite wildly, then this is the book!
  5. L-2011 by Mark Gillespie is written by a fellow indie author I’ve followed for a while. I loved the idea of this speculative fiction novel; what if the London riots in 2011 had not ended? What if the riots had gone on and on? In this gritty coming of age drama, Mark introduces us to some memorable and believable characters in this book which is the first in the series. The second book Mr Apocalypse is not now and is on my to-read list as I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
  6. The Unwind dystology by Neal Shusterman will go down as the most disturbing series I have read this year. If you are at all into The Hunger Games, Divergent or The Maze Runner books, then you simply have to dive into this YA series, as it is so much better! It’s taken me all year to read the four books, partly because I have so many other things to read, and partly because they get under my skin too badly and I just need a break between reading them! This series takes us to a not too distant future after a civil war in America led to a new law being written where parents can retrospectively abort their children between the ages of 13 and 18. They are not technically killed though. Every single part of them is harvested (while they are fully conscious) to be donated to people who need them. Quite horrifically, troublesome teens body parts have become a very valuable commodity. The most genius part of book one is how the author makes you wait until nearly the end of the book to show you what actually happens during unwinding. All the way through you are thinking about it and trying not to think about it, and the tension becomes unbearable. Just finished book four today and I’m really excited to hear they’re being made into films. But read them first, please!
  7. Daydreams and Devils by the brilliant Robert Cowan is a book I selected to read for Underground Book Reviews. I was attracted by the storyline of gangsters and bands and was not let down in the slightest. It was another of my top picks of the year for UBR and I currently have another of Robert’s books on my to read list. This book ticked every box for me; great characters, believable dialogue, fast paced, edgy, coming of age and with an awesome musical soundtrack. I was one happy reader from start to finish and Robert is a terrific reader I am very happy I discovered in 2016
  8. The Leaving by Tara Altebrando is a book I noted down when it came up on a best YA books list. I bought it for my daughter and we both really enjoyed it. The plot revolves around six five year olds who went missing eleven years ago. Out of the blue five of them have now returned. What I liked about this mystery novel was how each chapter was from a different characters viewpoint but in the third person. Each chapter had a very different voice and was written differently, even set out and formatted differently to the others. Very spooky with plenty of twists and turns, I think anyone would enjoy this!
  9. Far Cry From The Turquoise Room by the amazing (and still my favourite indie author) Kate Rigby is a great example of Kate’s work, which is often edgy, gritty and retro. I love her style and her characters who you just want to take home. In this story a young Asian girl feels shunned by her charismatic father after the death of her sister and ends up running away. Kate covers so many hard hitting subjects in this book, and always in a tender, humorous and realistic manner. I’m working my way through her books and always relish getting my hands on the next one!
  10. Chance by Peter Dudgeon was recommended to me by a friend. It’s about a killer who picks his victims by random chance and 9-year-old Cassie who is able to see into the future when someone is about to be hurt. Being in close proximity to both the killer and some of his potential victims allows Cassie a disturbing glimpse into his warped mind and she soon realises the police are on the wrong track completely. Brilliantly written, tense and gripping, you won’t be able to put it down. There is also a sequel which is on my to-read list, and Peter Dudgeon is another author I’m very glad I discovered this year!
  11. Nightfall by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski is another book I read after my teenager had her hands on it. She picked it up in the book shop one day and after reading the blurb I couldn’t wait for her to finish so I could start. It’s an eerie YA dystopian set on a mysterious island , where it is daylight for fourteen years followed by nightfall for fourteen years. During the nightfall the islanders pack up and leave the island and do not return until the next daylight. The main characters Marin and Kana are brother and sister and they miss their boat off the island when they go in search of their best friend Line, who is missing. When reunited, the three teens have to face the darkness as it begins to fall, knowing they are trapped on the island for fourteen years, but worse than that, they soon realise they are not alone. Loved this from start to finish! So well written, steadily paced, so much is held back until you need it, which makes you just keep turning the pages.
  12. The Recital by Kyle V. Hiller is another book I chose to read and review for Underground Book Reviews. I was intrigued by the storyline which promised contemporary issues wrapped up in magic realism. The story is told in the first person from the wonderful Edith, a 12 year old girl I quite quickly fell in love with. Edith has a few troubles on her plate. She hasn’t grown in a year, she is in love with a boy who is dating her arch enemy and her family life is about to be shattered. On top of all of that she has just found out she is a witch who needs to learn to control her powers (which, by the way, can have quite horrific results for anyone who is in the wrong place at the wrong time!) As Edith staggers awkwardly from one disaster to the next, an intriging and unique story unfolds, involving magic and spells, as well as coming of age, bullying and sexuality. Put a smile on my face from start to finish and I will definitely be reading more from this author!
  13. Those Who Wander (All That Glitters Book 1) by Shalaena Medford is a fast-paced steampunk YA novel which involves pirates, maps, and a stolen zeppelin. In many ways an action-packed steampunk adventure, but also a coming of age tale, in which main character Song has to let go of the past and construct a new, true version of herself, this book is a journey in many ways. I felt like I was on the journey with her, both the physical and the emotional one. Extremely visual, I could see this making an awesome movie! I was very impressed and will definitely be buying book two when it is released. Anyone who likes steampunk, action, adventure, fantasy or sci-fi will love this! I came across this book as I follow Shalaena on social media.
  14. The Soul Bazaar by Anthony Morgan Clark is a uniquely crafted and captivating collection of dark stories, which will have both a physical and emotional effect on the reader. From the title story The Soul Bazaar, which introduces a chilling trader of souls, who wears only red, to post-apocalyptic disease and violence in After The Disease Part One and Two, this is a rollercoaster ride of horror and uneasy feeling. Wake, the story of a man enduring a life-saving transplant, will stay with me for some time to come. As will Bes, a glimpse into the troubled mind of a dangerous individual and his imaginary friend. The author has the unique ability to make your stomach cramp with the tension he builds, and the language used to convey the horror his characters live through is just perfect. A disturbing and spine chilling read, highly recommended. I came across this book as I follow Anthony on social media.
  15. Spine Chillers: Hair-Raising Tales Book One by Q.L Pearce is a book fans of Goosebumps will really enjoy.  I was sent this book for free in return for an honest review. (Plus, look out for an exclusive interview with Q.L Pearce in the New Year here on my blog!) Each one is guaranteed to offer the reader a dark and bumpy ride into the unknown and leave you with your jaw hanging open. I enjoyed all of these stories but got a particular kick out of Hale Hallow Woods, a tale of ghostly revenge, Seaworthy, a creepy pirate themed adventure, and my firm favourite, The Healer. The twist in The Healer is one I did not see coming and have been unable to stop thinking about ever since. This is a flawless collection of spine chilling tales and I very much look forward to the next instalment.
  16. The Giver by Lois Lowry is a book I had been meaning to read for a very long time. When I finally got around to it, I was not disappointed in the slightest. I was enchanted, disturbed, touched and intrigued. You probably all know the plot, but for those who don’t, 12 year old Jonas lives in a seemingly perfect, pain free world where children are assigned to their parents, just as spouses are perfectly matched and employment is dealt out depending on personality and skills. The system works. no one feels pain and everyone is content. But when Jonas goes up to receive his position he is told he is to become the next Receiver of Memory. His training starts right away with an old man known as the Giver, and Jonas soon discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world. A trail blazer in the genre of dystopian fiction, this book is simply breathtaking. I quickly ordered the entire quartet and read them one after the other. (My daughter is getting them all for Christmas and I really can’t wait for her to read them so we can talk about them lots and lots!)
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Guest Post; ‘The Alt-Right and Their Irrationality’ by Toby Martin

This month’s guest post comes in the form of a poem written by a brilliant 19 year old, who comes to my writing group. Toby Martin is studying Screenwriting at Bournemouth University, but he also writes short stories and poems and is working on his first novel. Toby read this poem out one evening at writing group, post Brexit. As we are generally of similar opinions, we were all laughing and nodding as he read it out. We look forward to Toby’s poems and short stories at group, as they are always full of dark humour and never fail to make us laugh. Thanks for this Toby!

Is it really true that sanity has died?

That people didn’t know Farage had lied?

And now Brexit’s happening, but not so swiftly.

The government is unwilling to trigger Article 50.

And why should they? It’ll be suicide economic,

And May’s too busy preparing for apocalypse atomic.

I know I should be grateful we’ve finally got a cabinet sorted,

And that Michael Gove’s gone – perhaps hopefully to be deported.

But at the slightest criticism, May will rebuke us,

Just like she did to Caroline Lucas,

When the latter suggested just the slightest doubt,

That nuclear proliferation could ever work out.

To me, the problem lies with misinformation,

Twisting the truth coupled with outright fabrications.

The Daily Mail is the most popular paper,

Which is depressing considering the many capers

The rag has performed over its many years of circulation,

Baiting minorities, and deceiving the nation.

It’ll get away with lies, slander and exaggeration,

Claiming things to be fact without proper citation.

Consider when they attacked Ralph Miliband, father of Ed,

He hated Britain! The tabloid read,

Despite his dedication for the country’s armed forces,

While the paper’s creator, Lord Northcliffe endorses

Hitler’s Germany, fascists and Italian blackshirts,

At least until we went to war, and then he averts,

Any association he had – he puts it to bed,

Then goes on to attack other groups instead.

Even worse than the Mail (excuse me will I gag)

Is The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s favourite rag,

That used to be the most popular, and probably still would be,

If they hadn’t done away with the topless women on page 3.

Because that’s what we need in a modern liberal nation,

Public pornography and blatant objectification,

(No doubt subjected to excessive masturbation,

And if they get caught, they’ll blame immigration.)

Despite having half the world’s media under his control,

Murdoch will still claim his views are unheard, on the whole.

And whilst UKIP are laughing about their victory,

An exit from the EU will be rather contradictory,

As nothing they care about will likely change,

They’ll still be foreigners in their visual range,

And in anger at being deceived by their leaders,

They’ll go the same route as tabloid readers

And blame any minority group that they see fit,

And it’ll be blameless victims that get the worst of it.

Not all Brexiters are racist – just short on facts,

But now it’s being used an excuse to commit senseless acts

Of mindless xenophobic violence and hate,

While government opposition are declared enemies of the state.

Over in America, things might get steadily worse too,

After Donald Trump’s support unexpectedly grew,

A madman is now in a position to take control,

(Although even he might get fed up of Boris Johnson being a troll.)

And his supporters are too making a spectacle as they see fit,

Like Milo Yiannopoulos, the internet’s favourite hypocrite.

Finally banned from Twitter after racist abuse,

On top of his record of misogyny and homophobia that he would excuse.

And his first claim following his suspension,

Was that he was being oppressed by hate-crime prevention,

Forgetting conveniently enough that he claimed before,

That Twitter didn’t have the stomach to tell him what for.

Why then, do these liars get away with their lies?

Well, in many respects, it’s a curse in disguise.

Personal opinions are important, there’s no doubt about that,

But the danger comes with conflating opinions with fact.

Suddenly there are multiple truths, not just one,

And you get to choose which, to you, is the most fun!

So you can believe in a hollow Earth, or an expanding Earth or an Earth made of sponge cake,

You can believe in Phantom Time or that the Apollo landings were fake.

But some conspiracies are much more harmful with a lot more danger,

That play upon our instinctive fear of the stranger.

I’m talking about those who claim that vaccination,

Is an attempt at government world domination.

That jabs will make your child autistic,

Despite going against the accepted statistics.

But internet culture has a habit of demonizing reason,

Thinking that they’re out to get them for committing high treason.

As a result, we had thousands of children who weren’t immunized,

And as a result had their overall health compromised.

And once again this was a confirmation of the worst fears –

And the first death from measles in Britain in 14 years.

This is just one example of such a foreboding act,

That occurs when we value personal feeling over objective fact,

Be sure to spread this lesson amongst our impressionable youth,

Or we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would obscure the truth.

You can follow Toby on TwitterWattpad and his excellent blog tobythewastrel

 Look out for next month’s guest post, a detailed piece on why going indie was the right decision for him, by horror writer Anthony Morgan Clark

Do you have something you would like to submit to this blog? It can be a poem, short story, novel extract, or a blog style post about writing, reading, or an experience of being an outsider (and not caring!) As long as it is glorious then sent it my way! Guest posts are once a month.

When Fear Drives Fiction

So, I’m reading George Orwell’s 1984 for the first time and wondering if what deterred me from it for so long was fear of fear. By that I mean there is already so much to be afraid of in this world, why would I want to give myself more? I’m currently writing from a place of fear and uncertainty and it’s pretty obvious that I’m not the only human feeling like that right now. And I mean on a daily basis. It’s like that Monday morning stomach lurch, except it happens every morning. It’s like the heavy sluggish twisting guts you get before an exam, before a driving test, before you do anything you’re scared to do. Except it never goes away. It’s there all of the time. Weighing me down, wringing me out, making me pause to catch my breath. It’s like that too; like I can’t breathe properly, like there is a deep and shaking level of fear rising up to the surface, and if I am quick I can take a breath and send it back down again. Deal with it another day. Move on quickly into the light.

And there is light. It’s vital to remember that. There is light and love everywhere, and I hope you’ve got as much as I have in my life. When I feel too bad, when the sinking feeling starts to drag me down, I buck myself up and busy myself with the things I love. My beautiful children. Loud music. My garden full of flowers, vegetables and animals. Writing and books.

I’m examining the world right now and wondering if life imitates art, or if it is in fact the other way around. Does art reflect the world we have already created? Or does it project our fears for the future based on what’s going on around us right now? George Orwell must have been pretty terrified, that’s all I can think. Big Brother. Thought police. Uniforms and Two Minutes Of Hate. Chilling stuff. Which all feels rather apt and grim at the moment.

I’m writing to you from a post Brexit Britain. I hate the word Brexit. To me it sums up the dumbing down we’ve been subject to for so long now. Let’s join two words together and make a new one so we don’t have to say too many words! Now I don’t care how you voted, and I’m not going to talk here about my vote, or the whole situation in any real depth. I personally feel that there were good reasons to stay and to leave, but that as usual the government and the media focused on immigration and fed us lies, and what an ugly divisive country this now looks as a result. Let me say again, if you voted to leave, I respect that vote and your reasons for it, and I’m not going to talk about what might happen next. What saddens me most right now is the applause and delight demonstrated by far-right groups across the globe. Whether you like it or not, there are many people out there using this situation to legitimise racism and xenophobia, and that makes my heart sink. I thought we had come so much further than that, but it feels like we are slipping backwards all the time.

It feels like we are now adrift, with no one stepping in to guide us through this unchartered territory. The Labour party and the Conservatives are in turmoil. Everything feels weird and unsafe. I can’t help but wonder what future writing will evolve from this tumultuous time in politics. And that’s the only way to get through it, I feel. Write about it.

My next two books certainly reflect a lot of my current fears, thought I don’t think I was entirely conscious of it to begin with. The Tree Of Rebels was conceived one day when I signed an online petition to prevent Monsanto patenting seeds. I didn’t really know too much about the case, but some very concerned friends of mine deemed it a very serious issue, so I signed it and hoped for the best. It got me thinking though. What if a company could patent seeds? All the seeds? What if they could then, bit by bit, own nature? What if in the future, growing your own food was banned? Surely a government with complete control over nature, would have complete control over its people. The idea made me wonder further; how would this society operate without total rebellion? Well, the people would need to be thankful for what they were given, and what makes people thankful? Perceiving life to be better now than it was then. A story driven by wonder and what if’s…but ultimately fear. I’m a keen gardener myself. I worry so much about the state of the world, so I’m trying to become more self-sufficient, just in case. The thought of someone telling me it’s now illegal to grown my fruit and vegetables or raise my chickens and ducks is terrifying. The thought of a giant and powerful company with extremely dubious ethics essentially owning nature appalls me. So I wrote about it.

Writing helps me make sense of the world. Or at least it is my desperate attempt to. I guess we all have our fears. Things that keep us awake at night. I’ve felt for a while that the world and all it’s people are heading towards some kind of tipping point. Is the world now worse than it has ever been? I scroll through my Facebook feed to witness a never-ending roll call of human misery, animal abuse, environmental damage and worse than all of that; apathy. I feel sick to my stomach, as well as helpless, cynical and angry. Are these the most selfish times we’ve seen? The most brutal? Maybe it is all too easy to look back on the past too fondly. I’m guilty of this myself. I become convinced that the 1980’s and 90’s were a wonderful, simple time. Surely it was all lovely then, wasn’t it? Well no, actually. It’s just that I was a kid and totally unaware.

Fear and dismay drive fiction. We create stories we are frightened of as a way of warning ourselves and others. Helplessness spawns words and worlds and sometimes, if we are lucky, solutions. At least it makes us feel better, anyway. Elliot Pie was born of this frustration with the modern world and the way it is all heading. Elliot is 12 and he wants to do something to help his mother, who is refusing to leave the house after a number of hard knocks. How can he convince her the world is not a bad place filled with bad people?

It’s been quite a task for a writer currently so disillusioned and afraid. But I had to go back and look at it all through a child’s eyes. Elliot doesn’t want to give up on the world yet, or on life. He feels like the adults in his life have all written it off for him before he’s even had a chance to work it out for himself.

Like Elliot, and for my own children, I have to cling onto a dangerous and painful amount of hope. I stand by the very few politicians who have decent intentions. I hope the powers that be don’t prevent them trying to change things. I hope that people are not too apathetic, too far gone, too addicted to reality TV and pointless celebs to fight back before it is all too late. I hope George Orwell was wrong. I hope Elliot Pie is right.

In the meantime, my advice to anyone feeling like I am right now, is to do what you can to ensure love wins. Whatever that means, in whatever way you can, make spreading love and tolerance part of everything you do. This morning I woke up feeling more positive than usual. I decided on the school run journey that I would be kinder than normal, and I let out as many waiting cars as I could. It was actually sad how many of the drivers looked genuinely surprised and thankful. I played some invigorating, uplifting music, told my kids I loved them, and decided that if the two little rabbits in the adoption centre of the pet shop were still waiting for a home, then I would get them. I’d had my eye on them for a while, and once I’d learnt their history (four years of neglect) it was a done deal. I know it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but every little bit of love counts. And at least I changed the world for them.

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