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***
Ages ago a proof turned up from Sceptre books called The Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar. Remember that old saying ‘never judge a book buy its cover’ thats only ever partly true. This book looked super cool, sprayed red edges and beautiful cover illustration to boot.
What I wasn’t expecting when I started Spaceman of Bohemia was a warning letter from the editor, which left me buzzing with excitement.
Jakub Prochazka, Czech scientist sent into space to investigate a dust cloud that has formed near Venus. As Jakub embarks on his eight month mission, his marriage starts to deteriorate and potentially his mental health when he starts conversing with a spider named Hanus.
Considering I hate spiders (I don’t want them in my vicinity and I don’t want to read about them), this book was tremendous. The writing is intelligent, witty and incredibly humane. The book goes back over Jakub’s political upbringing, there’s chapter towards the beginning about the annual slaughter of a pig. It was written in such a visceral and morbid way but was a happy childhood memory for the main character.
There’s a bleak beauty to Kalfar’s writing. It’s well paced and I can’t wait to see how Kalfar is going to follow up this novel.
Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar is realised on 9th March 2017 published by Sceptre Books.
It’s taken me over a year but I finally got round to reading The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. This book has been recommended to me more time than I can count, by colleagues, friends and strangers. I think I was putting this off because all I rarely read science fiction or books set in outer space.
Being the first sci-fi novel I’d read in a long time I wasn’t the most enthusiastic going into the novel but within a couple of hours I was 100 pages in. This book was… out of this world.
TLWTASAP starts with Rosemary Harper joining the crew of The Wayfarer, a ship built for making tunnels in outer space. Rosemary is a brilliant point of view to see the Wayfarer’s crew for the first time.Captain Ashby and the crew of the Wayfarer are given job of a lifetime, when they’re offered the opportunity to build a tunnel to a unfamiliar and far-off planet.
Chambers writes non-human characters in such a non-threatening and interesting way so that science fiction novices like myself aren’t intimidated or put off by entities that are so bizarre and you feel the initial excitement that Rosemary feels when meeting the more alien-like crew members. Chambers also goes out of her way to excellently describe how aliens perceive us. Her description of human beings and humanity as a whole is fantastic.
When you enter the story with Rosemary the crew takes her under their wing so quickly and so naturally that you as a reader feel like you’ve been upon the Wayfarer for an age.
Even though there were a couple of characters that I found irritating, it didn’t stop me from enjoying every page of The Way To A Small Angry Planet. Becky Chambers takes on standard science fiction ideas in new and unconventional ways.
Drama and action are beautifully written and blended together in such a way that you’ll find yourself roaring through this book. This is easily one of the best books I’ve read in years, it’s fun, exciting and wonderfully humane. It’s the sort of book I never want to see an adaptation of as every page is perfect.
Read this amazing book, I guarantee it’ll make you a better person.
The past year or so I’ve pretty much read nothing but children’s books. Most are fairly terrible. But there’s one trilogy of books that stand out more than any other; Jon Klassen’s Hat trilogy.
Five years ago I came across one the best children’s books that has ever been published. I Want My Hat Back was funny, witty and had a sly dark nod to older readers. A bear has lost his hat and goes around asking if anyone has seen his hat but he has no luck. No one’s seen the hat, not even the sneaky rabbit in a red hat…
The first time I read I Want My Hat Back to my daughter she was fascinated was Klassen’s soft illustrations but was genuinely freaked out by a page in which the bear is very wide-eyed.
It was followed up by the equally brilliant This Is Not My Hat in which a naughty little fish steals a hat from a very big fish… I’m pretty sure you can guess what the out come will be.
The final book in Klassen’s hat trilogy is published by Walker Books on 11th October is his finest work yet. Every page of this book is an utter delight and the most refreshing picture book my daughter and myself have had the pleasure to read.
Read this book. It’s probably the most perfect thing you’ll ever lay your eyes on.
HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt was a book that was cropping up time and time again on my twitter feed and at work. People we’re singing this book praises and there was a big fat quote on the front from Stephen King so I knew that our paths would cross at some point. Obviously they would, everything’s eventual.
Going into HEX I knew nothing and nobody close to me had read it. Weirdly I was also putting off reading The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Why? Because I had heard so many good things about it, what if I didn’t like it? What if it was another Gone Girl, nothing hype and bad writing?
So what better way to distract myself by reading HEX.
I started reading HEX on a rainy summer night. I was exhausted from work was only prepared to dip into HEX. Before I knew it I was a quarter of the way through. When I went to sleep that night I had a nightmare. I woke up, completely freaked out. HEX WAS BRILLIANT.
Set in the small American town called The Black Spring the residents are plagued by a dark and undeniably evil presence. Her name is Katherine and when you see her you report her to HEX. Katherine goes from home to home, shop to street to woodland. Her eyes and mouth are sewn shut and no one dare unstitch them.
It wasn’t until I was a 100 odd pages in that a colleague informed me that HEX was translated from Dutch. I had no idea as it’s so rooted in America it’s impossible to think that this book had started in another language.
HEX took no time at all to read. From the off this book is incredibly unsettling. The writing is powerful and eerie. It’s really scary and there’s a couple of chapters which got to me. It’s the first time since Misery that a book has given me real nightmares.
HEX is a must read horror novel and it escalates in a totally brutal manor. It’s a book that’ll leave you completely cold, it’s every bit as nasty as you’d want it to be and I can’t wait to see the forthcoming adaptation.
Since finishing HEX I’ve started The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers and I was a fool to not start this sooner.
After finishing Infinite Ground I needed to read something completely different. With two other books on the go (Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and 2666) I did the stupid thing and started another book. I’d been going through a bit of a Japanese culture phase for the millionth time, I had recently finished watching Terrace House and was part way through watching Orange so I figured I’d start some Japanese literature.
At work I had recently come across copies of a new book called The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami and recalled that this author had another book published not too long ago. After a bit of hunting around I found myself a copy of Strange Weather in Tokyo.
Strange Weather in Tokyo starts with 38 year old Tsukiko going for a drink on her own at a bar near the station and finds herself sitting next to her old high teacher, Harutsuna Matsumoto, whom she only refers to as Sensei. As Tsukiko and Sensei begin this restrained, polite friendship across the bar room and the reader is enveloped in Kawakami’s poetic, yet poignant writing. Early on Sensei comes across as quite a strange man with his collections of peculiar objects and mushroom hunting in a tweed suit but you soon realise that his bizarre nature offsets Tsukiko’s emotional absence.
The translator, Allison Markin Powell, does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the Japanese culture in the simple things like during the elegant pouring of sake. It is also worth mentioning that Strange Weather in Tokyo is a beautifully published book and Portobello books have outdone themselves with this title.
As the novella progresses if becomes surprisingly humous and the way Kawakami write about food really is something. After a few chapters I found myself pulling out my favourite cookery book, Tokyo Cult Recipes, to find some of the dishes mentioned in the bar room parts of the novel.
Strange Weather in Tokyo is the sort of book that makes you feel alive. Kawakami’s interpretation of love and friendship is warm, delicate and natural. The relationship between Tsukiko and Sensei is bittersweet and unnecessarily complicated.
Saying this book is a ‘gem’ is such a disservice to the novel. Strange Weather in Tokyo is a fleeting look at real, emotional love and upon finishing this novel I felt something in-between quiet grief and complete happiness because I’d just read something amazing.
I’d love to set myself a reminder to read this book again on my 38th birthday just so I can feel a little closer to what Tsukiko was feeling.
I just finished a book. When I finished my book I sat for a while and had a think. Then I went to the fridge and had another think. Then I got a beer from the fridge and thought some more.
I’ve just finished reading Infinite Ground by Martin MacInnes and I genuinely have no idea what I’ve just read. On the cover of the book is quote by Jeff Vandermeer saying “I doubt you’ve read anything quite like it” and he’s right. I’m a bit blown away by this book. It’s a proper what-the-fuck read. The first chapter already has you second guessing what you’ve just read and it only gets better!
What starts out as a semi-retired inspector investigating the disappearance of a young gentleman, Carlos, soon turns into a surreal exploration that takes the inspector and readers on an incredible journey.
I had never heard of the book Infinite Ground until the end of July. I came across the odd mention here and there through colleagues then one night my colleague Emma tweeted “Got to the part about the guy wanting to remove his mouth by dislocating his jaw” and I was instantly sold. I demanded to know what this book was and literally got my hands on a copy the next morning.
The less you know about Infinite Ground the better but trust me when I say that this is a phenomenal debut novel and by the time you finish this book you’ll wonder how on earth MacInnes has the talent to make this his first! I was so enthralled by this book. The writing style flits between a literary noir, to eye witness reports and scientific style publication. There are parts of Infinite Ground that I found so visceral and intense, I felt like this was a novel that I’ll go back to again and again. There’s literally pages in which I had no idea what I was reading (but in a good way).
It’s been a while since I’ve finished a book and really had to digest what I had just read. I’ve got such a large to-read pile and I can’t thank my bookseller pals enough for highlighting this outstanding story.
Please get yourself a copy of this as soon as you can. Infinite Ground is profound, marvellous, mysterious and humane. It’s up there with my books of 2016 and I will be waiting with baited breath to see what Machines has to offer next.