From Welsh to Gaiman: Great Reads of 2018 (so far…)

This is my first year of being self-employed, being my own boss, and it’s resulted in more reading time! Here are my favourite reads of 2018 so far…

Skagboys

by Irvine Welsh

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I read a few Irvine Welsh books years ago and loved them all. In December, I finally got round to watching Trainspotting 2, having been putting it off for ages expecting it to be rubbish. It turned out to be bloody brilliant, so I put Skagboys on my Xmas list and my Mum delivered. I highly enjoyed spending so many pages of tiny type with the boys and girls of Leith.

Art Forms in Nature

by Ernst Haeckel

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I’ve had this book for ages and I often leaf through it, wondering which drawings would be best as tattoos, which ones would make great wallpaper, etc… This year, I read the introduction and other writings included in the copy. Some of it is a bit dry, but I really love going through all the beautiful images.

Starter Zone (The Revelation Chronicles, #1)

by Chris Pavesic

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I reviewed this book back when I read it in March. Chris also wrote a great guest post on Hodags!

Hatshepsut: The Pharaoh-Queen of Egypt

by in60Learning

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This was a quick and easy way to learn about a subject I was interested in but knew almost nothing about! The book is short enough to try, without the commitment of a more traditional historical text. In60Learning also has short books on numerous other figures and events. Hatshepsut (1478-1458 BC) was an important figure who helped to reunite a broken Egypt.

Have a go if Cleopatra is the only female figure of Ancient Egypt that you’re familiar with! It’s worth it for an interesting and very easy read. Take a look at my original review here.

Indigo Glow and The Tree Outside My Window

by Israfel Sivad

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Read my original review of these two poetry collections here. I also reviewed a novel by Israfel last year and you can read one of his poems here. Oh, and there’s an author interview too – great guy!

True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart

by Thich Nhat Hanh

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This was actually a re-read. I find I can go back and read Thich Nhat Hanh’s words again and again, and this is probably my favourite of his books.

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

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This was another re-read, as I was teaching the text to a student this year. I must admit to not really being a fan of Dickens, but I find A Christmas Carol very heart-warming and enjoyable. Of course, The Muppet’s Christmas Carol and Blackadder’s Christmas Carol are both far superior to the book!

Docherty

by William McIlvanney

Docherty by William McIlvanney
Docherty by William McIlvanney

I hadn’t heard of William McIlvanney, but following another emotional adventure with Renton and co, I needed more tartan noir. This was an excellent book and I found it both funny and moving. It’s set in a small pit village in Scotland at the time of the First World War and revolves around one family.

The Big Man

by William McIlvanney

The Big Man by William McIlvanney
The Big Man by William McIlvanney

I decided to read this after reading McIlvanney’s Docherty. I preferred Docherty, probably because it’s a bit of a coming-of-age story and I like that, but this was still a great book. I’m looking forward to trying his other novels.

Counterfeit World

by Daniel F. Galouye

Counterfeit World by Daniel F. Galouye
Counterfeit World by Daniel F. Galouye

My Mum gave my other half a big stack of old Science Fiction Book Club books a few years ago, which she was lucky enough to pick up at a local auction. This is the first one I’ve got round to reading and it was great fun.

I only realised afterwards that I’ve seen a film based on the novel called The Thirteenth Floor. I can’t say I’d recommend the film, but the book was way ahead of its time. It was published in the 1960s and it really reads like it comes from that era.

The Man in the High Castle

by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

This instantly became one of my favourite books of all time. At least in the top three! I haven’t seen the TV series, but I have a feeling that all that I love from the book would be missing, so I don’t think I’m going to try.

A Scanner Darkly

by Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

After reading The Man in the High Castle, I needed more Dick! This wasn’t quite as good but it really was still fantastic. Surreal fiction at its best. I saw the film when it came out at the cinema and I disliked it. Quite a lot. If you felt the same, don’t let it stop you from reading this great book!

It’s so easy to get behind the main character and follow him on his devastating journey. I’ve read reviews which say this book is hard to get in to, but I really was hooked from the start. It’s also an excellent portrayal of drug use, or how people get into the world of addiction and can’t escape. Who’s who in this world?

The only other novel I’ve read by Philip K. Dick is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, so I’m really looking forward to trying more.

Strange Secrets

by Mike Russell

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It was great to have another dose of Mike Russell’s entertaining, yet unsettling surreal fiction this year! Highly recommended for fans of The Twilight Zone, Philip K. Dick and strange things in general.

Each story is easy to read, yet a puzzle to digest. It includes mysterious wardrobes, a little boy with a troubling map, and a couple who can’t agree on the species of tree in a forest. Who’s really the puppeteer? Can the truth survive? You can read one of Mike’s stories here. Strange means strange.

Dark Alchemy

by Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Mary Rosenblum and others

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This was also a re-read and you can view my original review here. It’s a perfect collection for cold nights or rainy days.

The Unity Game

by Leonora Meriel

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Check out my original review of this great book and also of Leonora’s earlier novel, The Woman Behind the Waterfall. She also took part in a great interview. The Unity Game really is an enthralling book. It’s got an excellent unlikable protagonist, something I really enjoy in a novel.

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Next up: I’m currently having a great time reading One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre. He’s new to me – another discovery on my quest for tartan noir. I’m also planning to delve into Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

 

 

The Friday Film – Burn After Reading

This week’s Friday Film is the Coens’ Burn After Reading! I love it when those brothers do silly and this film is certainly that. Their ability to make Brad Pitt seem like a youngster is also far more impressive than anything achieved by Benjamin Button.

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Haven’t seen it? Go and check it out! You have? Tell me what you thought!

Mike Russell and his Surreal Stories

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Mike Russell is the author of two short story collections; Nothing Is Strange and Strange Medicine. His work is surreal and often humorous, with some stories even being described as erotic, absurd or disturbing. Mike has performed his stories in the South of England for over a decade, wearing his famous top hat with its all-seeing eye.

A review for Mike’s first collection, Nothing Is Strange: “Reader Beware: If you enjoy reading stories that are written with structure, stories that are comprised of a beginning, middle, and end, or stories that do not transcend the boundaries of reality, then this book is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to read stories that will free you from the chains that are attached to the anchor of reality, then this is your must-read collection.

Nothing is Strange is a collection of twenty short stories in which everything is strange, but strange in a good way.

The twenty stories are miniature narratives. The collection is well written and highly imaginative. Each story takes you on a journey where the imaginary becomes reality. Instead of reason we have imagination. In place of the banal we have passion for liberation. Instead of the ordinary, we have magic.

By their very nature, the stories are freeing. They will take you to places within your mind you never knew existed. For those unaccustomed to reading surreal stories these stories may be hard to swallow. One might compare it to looking at modern art for the first time. I can only imagine how people felt the first time Duchamp exhibited his Readymades, or Picasso his art. A typical first reaction might raise the question of whether or not the artist is authentic, or is he simply trying to put one over on us.

The concept of these stories first appears to be too simple to be called art. Yet, as one delves into the collection, and crosses back and forth between the boundaries of real and unreal, one comes away with the feeling that there is more to them than at first appears – and you would be correct in this assumption.

Reading these stories feels as if you’re following footprints in the snow, footprints that take you somewhere and nowhere. Sometimes the footprints are deep and easy to follow, but sometimes they are obliterated and nearly imperceptible. The reader may, for a time, get lost. For some, tripping through these stories may be a harrowing experience. But for others, the journey on the wind of imagination will be a mind-blowing and rewarding experience.

But the magic doesn’t end there, for once discovered and devoured, the effects of a surreal adventure multiplies the further out one travels.

My advice then, dear reader, is for you to read this collection. Take a chance you may be hooked on the reality of non reality, which, in turn, will inspire you to explore other artists of the genre, some who are long gone, and others, like Mike Russell, who are our modern guides on the surreal journey.

So go ahead: Jump into the swimming pool with your clothes on. You may very well find you won’t want to get out of the water.” – Gerard Bianco

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Mike Russell’s website is StrangeBooks.com and both books are available in paperback or for Kindle. You can also read Dunce, a story from Nothing Is Strange for free here, and Flock, a story from Strange Medicine for free here!

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The Weird West

I’ve been reading Dead Man’s Hand, an anthology of Weird West short stories put together by John Joseph Adams. Adams has previously collated a book of fantasy short stories Epic: Legends of Fantasy.

Dead Man’s Hand includes work from Mike Resnick, Beth Revis, Alastair Reynolds, Hugh Howey, Kelley Armstrong, Jeffery Ford, Fred Van Lente, Christie Yant and others. Published last year by Titan Books, this genre is new to me.

I’m familiar with Weird Fiction, but this Western niche has escaped my attention until now. During the introduction Adams explains that the phrase “dead man’s hand” refers to the poker hand held by the gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok when, in 1876, he was shot and killed by the coward Jack McCall.

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It was the third story, David Farland’s Hellfire on the High Frontier, that prompted this blog post. Farland manages to pack a ‘skinwalker’, a stranger who “turned into an oily shadow and wafted away”, a box of beating black hearts, a plague merchant, a steam-punk airship with a balloon of golden silk, and so much more into just eighteen pages.

Despite this huge heap of fantasy, he manages to create a despairingly honest story with (in my opinion) no hero and no hope. Farland (also known as David Wolverton) hails from Utah and is the New York Times Best Selling author of The Runelords and YA fantasy thriller Nightingale.

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Need more Weird Westerns? I’m intrigued by this recommendation from Fred Van Lente (whose short story Neversleeps appears in Dead Man’s Hand): “my absolute favorite is this rarity from 1989, Secret of San Saba, in which early conquistadors from early Texas discover an unearthly Lovecraftian horror beneath the sagebrush that poops gold. (Yes, really.) It’s been out of print forever, like most of Jackson’s work, so if you see it in some dusty bookstore shelf–grab it!”

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To quote Adams: “So that’s the game, pard. Pull up a chair, ante up, and I’ll deal you in. The game’s “Weird West,” no limit, and everything‘s wild.”

10 Short Stories challenge – day 1

I’ve set myself a challenge – to read ten short stories over the next ten days and blog about them here.

 

All of the stories will be strange or odd (of course!) and all will be free to read online. I’ll post a link with each post so that you can read the story too (comments would be lovely so that I don’t get lonely on the challenge).

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So, the first story! Today I read Thomas Ligotti‘s The Night School.

To be honest, I nearly gave up after the first two paragraphs. I found it a bit clunky and it wasn’t holding my interest. Then (and I’m not sure when or how), I was sucked in. The school in the story is such a wonderfully scary building and I don’t know how the narrator managed to continue on his journey. One of my favourite things for a story to do is smell. That may sound weird if you don’t have the same opinion, but I find that with some books (Gormenghast springs to mind), I can smell the room, the person, the feeling. The Night School reeks!

Ligotti is easily one of the most respected horror/supernatural authors alive today, often compared to Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. I must admit, this is the first Ligotti story that I’ve read and I’m looking forward to more (suggestions and links very welcome). How I’ve not stumbled across him before (although I’ve heard his name dozens of times since the release of True Detective), I really don’t know.

If you prefer to be scared via audio, have a listen to this:

David Tibet of Current 93 is a friend of Ligotti and they have collaborated on numerous tracks. The one above features Tibet reading Ligotti‘s poem I Have A Special Plan For This World, set to eerie music and startling sound effects.

I read The Night School over on Weird Fiction Review. Go and have a read and come back to tell me your thoughts in the comments 🙂