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!
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
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.
In January the wonderful fellows at Sceptre Books sent me a proof called ‘In Every Moment We’re Still Alive’ by Tom Malmquist. The press release that accompanied this book stated that Malmquist had ‘taken the Swedish literary world by storm’ and you know what… I think book is going to take the English literary world by storm as well.
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive, it begins with Tom who is at hospital with his girlfriend Karen, 33 weeks pregnant and fighting for her life. Tom is bombarded with medical jargon while he sits helplessly while his wife and daughter’s lives hang in the balance. There’s a sense of numbing shock that Malmquist purveys with his writing that is like nothing I’ve ever read.
Being told that your child is going to be delivered by emergency c-section, 6 weeks early was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve had to read. Having experienced it first hand, the blunt realisation that today you will become a parent is terrifying. Tom is robbed of any preparation time but also has to compartmentalise with the fact that his wife isn’t there to go through it with him.
Parts of this book I found too hard to read. I sat on the beach, reading and sobbing as this beautiful story of love and loss captured my heart.
Powerful, stark and tender. I can’t find enough words to describe this outstanding novel, all I can do is urge anyone who has experienced loss to embrace this novel.
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist published by Sceptre Books 9781473640009
The first book of 2017 I read was a novel by Amy Engel called The Roanoke Girls. A mystery with deep dark roots, The Roanoke Girls left me rattled, thrilled and moved. Last week I was lucky enough to ask author Amy Engel a few questions about The Roanoke Girls.
This is your first novel for adults, how was it transitioning from YA to adult fiction?
The transition was actually pretty painless. For me, the crux of any story is the characters and that doesn’t change whether I’m writing YA or adult. I was, of course, able to go to some darker places with the adult book, but the actual writing process wasn’t all that different.
The Roanoke Girl is so dark and provocative. What was it like to write something so emotive, was it difficult? Did you have any special processes to help you write?
The book wasn’t actually that difficult to write, although at times I did find myself having to shake it off after a day of being immersed in the world of Roanoke. I didn’t really have any special processes unique to The Roanoke Girls that helped me write it. I tend to write all my books in a certain spot in my house (a big comfy chair in my living room) and that didn’t change with The Roanoke Girls. I definitely think this is a story that wanted to be told, because I never had much trouble getting it to flow.
I loved the setting of The Roanoke Girls, the hot Kansas landscape really transported me. What sort of research did you have to do for the book?
Very little research when it came to the setting, actually. I was born in Kansas, my mom grew up in a small town there, and I spent many, many summer in rural Kansas. So I know the rhythms of small time life well, along with the stifling, oppressive heat and the relentless boredom. I pretty much just plucked from my own past for those parts without having to do any research.
What was your favourite thing about writing The Roanoke Girls?
Honestly, all of it. For such a dark book, it was a tremendous joy to write. I especially loved writing Lane, who I know can be awful and difficult at times, but I always felt such sympathy for her. She’s doing the very best she can, and I admire her strength.
Were there any writers or stories that inspired you when writing The Roanoke Girls?
My love for gothic novels definitely inspired The Roanoke Girls. In fact, the first line of the book is my own little homage to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Gillian Flynn is always an inspiration when it comes to diving into very dark places. And Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell inspired me with its strong evocation of place, which I really wanted to achieve with The Roanoke Girls. There’s also a little nod within the novel to the story of the lost colony of Roanoke, Virginia, but so far only a couple of people have made the connection.
Finally, what’s next for you?
I’m working on a new adult novel, psychological suspense again. I’m hoping to have the first draft done soon!
The Roanoke Girls is published 9th March by Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN: 9781473660311
With thanks to Trish Brown for author images.
Most of my reading time is taken up by reading picture books to my toddler. 2016 and 2017 so far has seen some outstanding releases already. Compared to when I was growing up the standard of pictures books and titles aimed at younger readers is os much better!
Here’s a few of the books we’ve been reading on rotation.
The Unexpected Visitor by J. Courtny-Tickle published by Egmont Books.
This is a beautiful little story about friendship and fishing, the illustrations are soothing and delicate. We read this one chilly night and by the end I was genuinely warmed.
Life is Magic by Meg McLaren published by Andersen Press
This book is cheeky, fun and magical! A magician’s rabbit who’s bored of being a sidekick causes all kinds of chaos. The illustrations are Ghibli-esque and had my daughter laughing and shouting “bunny!” all night.
The Bear Who Stared by Duncan Beedie published by Templar Publishing.
This earned its place amongst my daughter’s favourite books straight away. We’ve read this every night for about a month so far. It’s got everything, a shy weirdo bear, a rude badger and a cheeky frog, The Bear Who Stared puts across a message about shyness and friendship which is delightful.
The Lumberjack’s Beard by Duncan Beedie published by Templar Publishing.
Judging by The Bear Who Stared I knew we were in for a treat when this book arrived. Straight away it was a hit in my household. Ridiculous and brilliant, The Lumberjack’s Beard is a sweet story about home and every page has enchanting illustrations. If you’ve enjoyed Jon Klassen then Duncan Beedie will be right up your street!
Sunk! by Rob Biddulph published by Harper Collins Children’s Books.
Blown Away was the one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure to read with my daughter, Odd Dog Out almost drove me to insanity, it was so wonderful but I know it off by heart, it was read atlas three times a day so when I saw that Sunk! was due to be released I skipped with joy. It’s just a refreshing to get a children’s book with fantastic rhyming, fun illustrations and great adventure story. Get on board with Penguin Blue!
Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davies published by Walker Books.
A great story about imagination and storytelling which has a ukulele playing octopus, a little girl, a bunny and a spaceship. What more could you want!? This was delightful to read and the illustrations are so lovely.
I just hope 2017 carries on with this high standard of publishing!
I couldn’t wait to start The White Road by Sarah Lotz, I kept seeing a whole load of social media buzz when the proofs of this came about. I loved The Three and Day Four was really enjoyable, so I had a rare lay in, grabbed a cup of tea and started The White Road.
The White Road starts on a grey, drizzly day in the Welsh countryside. Simon, part-time barista and co-founder of new buzzfeed-esque website decides that he’s going to spelunking in some closed off underground caves. Simon hires a guide via a caving forum by the name of Ed. Ed is grizzled, slightly unhinged and totally paranoid, not exactly the sort of person you want leading you through confined, narrow caves.
The first part with Simon caving is claustrophobic, intense and Lotz’s writing is manic and panic and you really end up putting yourself in Simon’s shoes as the situation escalates.
The second part of the novel follows a climbing called Juliet and her attempt to submit Everest. Juliet’s extracts of her journey are really exciting. I have a family member who has taken part in big climbs like Kilimanjaro so I got completely lost in this part of the story. Part two was so exciting, I was hooked by the time I got to last the journal entry it was so tense and there was a looming dread that overtook the book. I yelped out loud as I read Juliet’s entries, partly because it was creepy and partly because I live in an old house and it makes all sorts of terrifying sounds.
In the third part of the novel Lotz’s writing has you believing that Everest is it’s own intimidating character. I was reading this book on a bitterly cold night but it was nothing compared to the endurance and harsh conditions our characters. Every page tickled you with dread, her characters were all believable. Juliet was determined and climbing to redeem her name and make a better life for herself and her som, whereas Simon was a bit of mess of a human, he didn’t really know what he was getting himself into. Even after his ordeal in the caves at the start you can tell he’s quite self-destructive and denies being traumatised by what he went through.
Towards the end you get another part of Juliet’s diary which I was thrilled to read, I found myself reading until 3AM just so I could finish this unnerving, sinister plot. When I put this book down a chill went down my spine. It was everything I was looking for, chilling and disturbing. With the expedition on Everest taking just over a month I was worried this novel would drag but Lotz doesn’t fanny around and gets straight to the point. She doesn’t unnecessarily drag anything out and it’s the sort of book which would make a brilliant screen adaptation.