The United States of Absurdity

THIS IS DEFINITELY MY NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR.

The United States of Absurdity by Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds illustrated by James Fosdike is one of the funniest books I’ve ever come across.

I was only introduced to The Dollop a few months ago by one of my best friends. I’m somewhat of a podcast addict, I love Night Vale, My Favourite Murder and Hamish & Andy. When I first listened to The Dollop is wasn’t feeling it, then my friend said “Listen to the Rube episode.” after that I was hooked.

Earlier this year the hosts of The Dollop announced they were releasing a book, obviously I couldn’t wait.

I don’t even know where to start when taking about this book as it’s so obscure. If like me you have no interest in American history whatsoever, this is the book for you! Every page of The United States of Absurdity is hilarious. Dave Anthony and Garry Reynolds have plucked some of the most ridiculous stories from America’s past, by the time you reach the end of this book you’ll be left fathoming how as a race we are still alive.

Have you heard of Oofty Goofy or Ten-Cent Beer Night? No, of course you haven’t, but they’re amazing stories you need to read to believe!

The illustrations by James Fosdike are great and a little traumatising (check out The Stomach Men page for nightmare fuel).

This book is worth every penny and I really hope they decide to do a sequel.

Game On

I reckon about a third of my life is dedicated to books and another third to my toddler but that last third is taken up by gaming. I’ve always had a console, my mum got me a Sega Megadrive when I was tiny and I haven’t been without a console since. I’ve never considered myself a gamer as growing up it was always a mild interest but in the past few years I’ve fallen in love with RPGs. I love the epic sprawling ones that take way too much to complete like the Final Fantasy games, Kingdom Hearts, Bioshock and the Tales series.

This week I finally caved and got Persona 5. I’ve played the others and I avoided getting this one as I knew it’d take over my life. I only started Persona 5 a few days ago and I’m already nine hours deep, it was while I was playing I was mulling over why I got so absorbed in these types of games and it’s obvious: they’re great stories.

The story writing and editing of these types of games parallel the best novels out there. Bioshock Infinite for one left me shook and years on I’ll still go back and watch the ending on Youtube just to fathom it once more (and tbh I’m still trying to get my head round it). More recently I’ve devoted a large portion of my life to Final Fantasy XV. I bloody love everything about this game, I haven’t been as emotionally invested in a FF game since FFX which left me in bits by the time I got to the end. The fact that each part of the game is divided into chapters says that you’re not just playing a game, you’re taking part in a story that a team have put their heart and soul into.

If like me you love a game for it’s story you might find these books right up your street.

Lyonesse by Jack Vance – I read the first book in the Lyonesse trilogy about six years ago. I picked up a copy purely because the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks edition has a stunning front cover and I wasn’t expecting much from what sounded like a paint-by-numbers fantasy novel. This book is very epic considering it’s the first in a trilogy, it’s a heady mix of fantasy, fairytale, myth and legend. I’ve not made it round to books two and three yet but I managed to get copies with the original 1986 cover.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – Taylor’s previous series was wonderful escapism so obviously this new novel was going to be just as ace. Strange the Dreamer starts with Lazlo running away from his abusive life and he takes refuge and solace in a library where he becomes to inhabit. Lazlo’s love of books is so beautifully written and as he starts to discover that there’s a strange truth to the books he considered as fairytales you find yourself being sucked into an emotionally deep fantasy. It’s got really brilliant characters and some wicked cool Gods, have a read.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King – OBVIOUSLY THESE BOOKS WOULD BE MENTIONED! I think everyone should read them, not only has King created an epic intricate world that could rival any Final Fantasy game, he also gives readers an amazing journey. Seven books (and Wind Through the Keyhole) which leave you wanting so much more and a cast of characters so rich you can’t help but agonise that you hadn’t read them sooner. This is must for Bioshock fans, the complexity of the story is outstanding. Most of The Dark Tower books read like really cool RPGs and there’s so many chapters and fights that you can’t help but think “this would make an amazing video game”.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – It’s magical realism at it’s finest. 1Q84 is a book made up of three volumes and from the start you feel your world changing around you as you become so completely involved in Aomame and Tengo’s story. When her taxi becomes stuck in a traffic jam Aomame is warned by the driver that getting out of the cab could change reality the world, not wanting to be late for her meeting Aomame gets out of the car. 1Q84 is one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read. It’s long, it’s complicated but it’s as close to perfect as a novel gets. It’s David Mitchell meets FFXV.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – Now this is a bit of a life-ruiner of a book. It’s weird, really weird and mind bending and amazing and just head-shattering. I finished Annihilation about three months ago and I’m still numbed by the ending. I can’t bring myself to even consider book two in the Southern Reach trilogy yet. The story follows a nameless biologist and her companions as they set out to explore Area X. That’s all you need to know about Annihilation, just go and read it.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – This is one of the best road stories out there. After being released from prison Shadow ends up travelling across the States with a ‘man’ only known as Mr Wednesday. American Gods is beautifully written balance of travel, mystery and mythology. This is a must read and I’m about to re-read this as I first finished it about five years ago. I just finished the television show (which was brilliant) and after watching I had the strangest sense to play Devil May Cry for the billionth time.

Honourable mention – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

I hope you enjoy these recommends for gamers and give me a shout if you know of a stand out RPG I must play!

Parade

Last week I finished reading Parade by Shuichi Yoshida. Villain had been a novel on my radar for a while but the blurb hadn’t gripped me enough to buy it. That’s when I saw Parade, I read the back cover and figured that this book sounded cool.

It’s a fairly short book that surrounds four people flat sharing in Tokyo. I really loved the way Yoshida nails the mundanity of modern life, especially when you’re in your twenties, you live in a big city but it’s lonely as hell. Parade took almost no time to read but I found myself let down by the ending. It’s something you sort of see coming but the build up didn’t feel good enough. Considering you have such a cast of such complex characters and their situations vary so much it seems insane that they know each other, let alone live together.

Having read a lot of Japanese fiction this book didn’t connect with me the way that Kawakami or Minato did. Or so I thought.

It’s currently 3AM and I’ve sucummed to an awful summer cold. All I can think about at this time of night is Parade. I wasn’t going to review Parade as I concluded that it was just a bit ‘meh’ but this book has gotten more under my skin than I orignally thought.

Maybe it’s the Lemsip induced delirium or maybe it’s Yoshida’s subtle writing style. I dunno.

Any way here’s to an averagely enjoyable book that has stuck with me for no apparent reason. Read it… or don’t.

How To Stop Time

So Penance properly got to me. That book was a different level of twisty darkness so I needed to read whatever was the opposite of that book.

We received a proof of the new Matt Haig book a couple of weeks ago and like a greedy troll I snapped this book up.

So you’ve heard of Matt Haig right?…. RIGHT?! If you haven’t I urge you to read Reasons To Stay Alive, it’s a life changing book and really is the sort of thing everyone should read.

Now, his new novel How To Stop Time had been on my periphery for quite a while. There’s a lot of twitter buzz about this book, it’s already being turned into a film starring Benedict Cumberbatch so I wanted to get on the hype train and find out why everyone was banging on about this book.

Tom Hazard looks like a seemingly average 41 year old man, but he isn’t. Tom Hazard has been alive for centuries, he suffers from a rare condition that means he ages slower than average humans.

From the start, How To Stop Time, is such a breath of fresh air. Tom Hazard has an overwhelming sense of pity about himself but as you get your teeth into the story you suddenly realise that it’s not just his body that is afflicted by this slow process of ageing but also his emotions, joy is quick but grief is so much slower. As I was reading I found myself putting myself in Hazard’s shoes and just fathoming how you’d take the mental toll of loss if it lasts hundreds of years. This isn’t a bleak book, it’s massively uplifting and How To Stop Time thrusts the reader through the peaks and troughs of life.

The charm of Matt Haig’s writing whisks you through the story, jumping between present day and various points of Tom Hazard’s life. The characters that Hazard engages with in his long and varied life are so fun, plus you can’t fault a book that has a decent dog.

I love this book, it was utterly breathing and it just makes you stop and think “we all need to stop being such massive dicks to each other”. This is a humane novel that is a proper book lovers book. Haig’s writing reminded me a little of David Mitchell and it spent most of time as I was reading, hoping that one day I’d be able to write as magnificently as Haig.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig published by Canongate Books – 6th July 2017

Strange Magic

The past few months I’ve been super lazy with the proofs I’ve been reading, I have a monumental stack of books from autumn, winter and spring which I haven’t touched… Not to mention all the other books I have bought in the meantime.

One of these books was Strange magic by Syd Moore.

Syd used to be my tutor, so when OneWorld sent me an advance copy of Strange Magic it went to the top of my pile…then I moved house, then Christmas happened and I still hadn’t gotten round to reading Strange Magic.

When it rolled round to April I got an invitation to the launch of Strange Magic, so the overwhelming guilt I felt when I realised I hadn’t read the book yet was ridiculous. I started Strange magic ASAP.

When Rosie Strange becomes the inheritor of the Essex Witch Museum she soon finds herself deep in the mystery of locating the bones of Ursula Candence, a witch put to death many years ago. With curator Sam Stone, Rosie’s thrust out of her day-to-day and is wrapped up in the secrets of the past and an all too present danger.

You know when you just ‘get’ a character? After a couple of chapters I thought ‘If Lyra from His Dark Materials had grown up and gone into benefit fraud, she’d be Rosie Strange”. Syd Moore totally nails the concept of making a character feisty without making her annoying and Sam Stone, well your cold dead heart will beat a little beat for him. Even if you’re not into paranormal fiction this is one to read just for the characters.

I was lucky enough to sit in on a talk Syd gave on Saturday and there’s so much research that’s gone into her novels. Her comparisons between witch hunts and feminism are eye opening. Plus she’s unbelievably captivating, she talks the talks and writes the… book.

Having recently gone through a couple of books I thought were dark, it was so refreshing so read something that was FUN. Yeah, it goes into some of the outrageously horrendous crimes committed against women thought to be witches, but you’ll find yourself getting to a point in the book where you won’t want to put it down.

Strange Magic has been compared to Ben Aaronovitch and that’s so true. The River’s of London books are fab, so Strange Magic is the perfect wine to go with that cheese.

Strange Magic is the first in the Essex Witch Museum series and Strange Sight will be published in October 2017. Read this book! ***And if you get a chance try and attend a talk by Syd Moore, it was one of the best events I’ve been to in years***

Penance

I’ve just finished a book called Penance by Kanae Minato and I need to tell everyone about it.

A colleague first alerted me to Penance a few weeks ago. I didn’t think I’d heard of Kanae Minato before, to was only after googling I realised that she had written the novel Confessions, which was adapted into the most darkly upsetting films ever.

My spawn woke me up at 5AM the other morning for no reason, unable to go back to sleep I started reading Penance. By 7AM I was over half way through.

In a tiny Japanese village with the cleanest air, a factory is built bringing in new residents to this little community. Five young girls are playing volleyball when a stranger approaches the group. Within hours one of the girls is dead and the fallout from discovering their friend’s body haunts the girls for the rest of their lives.

Penance is the sort of book I would have finished in one sitting (if I hadn’t have had to go to work and look after a small child). I did manage to read it in a day even though I was interrupted too many times to count. When I finished this book I was shocked, numb and chilled. When I went to sleep I couldn’t help but think that a twee little Japanese housewife wrote this novel.

Penance is a story that will really chill you. I want to read everything Kanae Minato has written, reading her gave me the same rush I had when I first read Ryu Murakami. She’s utterly fantastic, brutal and manages to tap in a special kind of female darkness. I need to read Confessions. Minato’s writing is sensational and there’s something quite brutal about a Japanese housewife sitting down and writing this book.

This is a must read for crime fiction fans and even more so for Japanese fiction fans.

Penance is published by Mulholland Books and translated by Philip Gabriel.

Can You Hear Me?

The past couple of month have been a total reading struggle for me. I struggled to get into anything after reading In Every Moment We Are Still Alive, I spend most of my evenings reading pictures books with my daughter and sometimes after reading The Bear Who Stared for the 15th time I’m too exhausted to read anything else.

A while back one of my best friends gave me a copy of The Power by Noami Alderman and it was so bloody outstanding. I was sorted and was out of my reading rut.

Just before the Easter bank holiday I got sent a big bag of Italian biscuits and a book called ‘Can You Hear Me?’ by Elena Varvello. This proof had a plethora of quotes on the front and back cover, singing it’s praises so this book had me hyped.

Set in the hazy Italian summer of 1978, the small town of Ponte is shaken by the murder of a young boy. Sixteen year old Elia Furenti is living in his secluded home with his mother and newly jobless father.

From the start this novel is heady and you can feel the Italian heat in every sentence. Considering how dark and intense this novel gets it’s passionate and you find yourself relishing every chapter. Varvello’s writing is like a shadowy mix of King and Du Maurier, it’s part compelling noir and elegant coming -of-age story. Elia’s proof that the modern teenage experience is pretty much the same regardless of location. I was so rooted in the story, Elia’s confused emotional state and his father’s mental decline was fascinating. Also I must mention the translation of this novel is brilliant, when reading translated fiction is often noticable when a translator loses the flow of the story but this doesn’t happen at all in this book… it just feel like Italy.This is going to be my book of the summer and potentially the year.

Can You Hear Me? by Elena Varvello will be published by Two Roads on 13th July 2017.

This year has been so outstanding for publishing, currently I have a few different titles on the go; Strange Magic by Syd Moore, The Book of Luce by L.R. Fredericks and When Marnie Was There by Joan G Robinson.