Once again we follow Zen Starling as he travels across the galaxy with Nova, the almost human Motorik, trying to work out their relationship – (How does that even work, a human and a Moto? Zen is asked.) – whilst fighting the Guardians for control of the Great Network. Continue reading “Station Zero : Philip Reeve”→
Baking with Kafka is a delight – full of whimsical musings on reading, writing and how to get a publishing deal after a skeleton apocalypse.
I can’t really do justice to the range over topics Tom covers with his clean, flat drawings and economical writing style so here’s some titles of his cartoons to give you a flavour :
War and Peace Clickbait
Keyboard Shortcuts for Novelists
JG Ballard’s Books for Children were not a Success
Dystopian Road signs.
Tom Gauld grew up in Scotland and now lives with his family in London. His work is regularly published in the The Guardian, The New York Times and New Scientist. To learn more about him, click here for his website. You can also go to the Guardian website’s profile of him for his latest cartoons for the newspaper.
But really, Tom‘s latest hardback needs to be bought.
Baking with Kafka, Comics by Tom Gauld was published by Canongate Books in September 2017.
The Ghost is a thoroughly fascinating book which traces the development of ghosts from warnings from the afterlife, through escapees from purgatory and then the devil’s playthings and finally to delicious, terrifying entertainment purely from the imagination. Continue reading “The Ghost A Cultural History : Susan Owens”→
Deliciously anecdotal and splendidly erudite, Stuart Kelly has written a crash course in the Canon via an Incomplete History of All the Great Books You’ll Never Read. From Greek plays praised in passing to the possibility of Sylvia Plath‘s second novel, from the celebrated Mystery of Edwin Drood to the fabulous Yongle Encyclopaedia ,Stuart’s charming and witty scholarship lets you muse upon what might have been. Perfect for bedtime reading.
I have no idea why I hadn’t heard of it before! Highly reccommended.
Stuart Kelly is the literary editor of Scotland on Sunday and a freelance critic and writer.
The Book of Lost Books (New Expanded Edition) by Stuart Kelly was published by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltdin 2010.
Another trend I’ve spotted from my favourites reviews of 2017 is the artists and writers’ response to nature.
Are we down in the terrifying muddy ditches of the Cumbrian badlands with Jacob Polley‘s sparkling poems about Jackself : “By head-lice powder, Paraquat / snapdragon’s snap and rat-tat-tat / who’s at the door / of the door of the door / it’s Jackself in his toadskin hat?” ? (Every Creeping Thing in Jackself : Jacob Polley.) And dying, sodden and foolish, from wearing Italian walking gear in a collection of ephemera created by Rebecca Chesney‘s Death by Denim. (Creating the Countryside : Compton Verney) ?
Or are we celebrating the lyricism in nature along with Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane in their stunning The Lost Words – a beguiling mix of illuminated manuscript and spell grimoire? And reflecting how nature can enrich our lives with Alex Preston and Neil Gower in the delightful birder’s book As Kingfishers Catch Fire. ?
Of course it’s both – but the oscillation between the two sides I find do fascinating.
I am also intrigued to find that most of these meditations on nature are through illustration and poetry – as if the elusive quality of our responses cannot be tied down in prose. As Polly Atkins writes: “All I can do / is believe you will keep on being the warm / vaulting life, ravelled round mine, / although I may never hold you.” (Rabbit in morning in Basic Nest Architecture)
… fighting, moral ambiguity, death – what’s not to like? …
I hadn’t really heard the term “grimdark” until a couple of years ago and, as a relatively new term the definition is still fairly flexible. Wikipedia currently has this: Grimdark is a subgenre or a way to describe the tone, style or setting of speculative fiction that is particularly dystopian, amoral or violent. I guess what sets grimdark apart from horror is that the supernatural element can usually be controlled by characters or is treated as a force to be channelled by these characters rather than being some nameless inhuman horror.
Three of my favourite reads this year have been set squarely in the grimdark field: their protagonists are not very noble, their worlds are dystopian with dark forces at work and the deaths are generally gruesome.
Strangely enough I don’t like horror. Never read the stuff. So why did I enjoy these books?
After much thought I think it’s a combination of the pace, the unpredictability and the black humour of this genre I love so much. Looking back over my reviews, I use phrases such as: tremendous pacey thriller, a beguilingly flawed hero, exuberant story telling and enough twists amongst the battles and assassinations to keep the pages turning fast.
Two other favourite reads of 2017 could almost be grimdark for their flawed protagonists, black humour and dark forces. The urban fantasy Corpselight by Angela Slatter with an excellent detective, Verity Fassbinder, set in Brisbane and the Young Adult novel, The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin which will be out next year. It is a delicious mixture of folklore, fantasy and horror.
Godblind by Anna Stephens was published by Harper Voyager in June 2017 in the UK. My review can be read here and her twitter account is @AnnaSmithWrites
Blackwing by Ed McDonald was published in July 2017 by Gollanczin the UK. My full review is here. Ed’s very entertaining blog is here It includes some great posts on writing and the publishing journey. And longsword technique. He is on twitter @EdMcDonaldTFK
Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff was published by HarperVoyager in September 2017. My review is here. For further information on Jay, his website is here. His twitter feed is fun to follow @misterkristoff
Corpse Light by Angela Slatter was published by Jo Fletcher Books in July 2017. My full review can be read here and her twitter account is @AngelaSlatter
The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin will be published by David Fickling Books in March 2018. My review is here and his twitter account is @TheCallYA
A gem like collection of reminiscence, poetry, description and birding facts, Alex Preston has teamed up with the brilliant graphic artist Neil Gower to produce a wonderfully engaging commonplace book – perfect for Winter reading and musing.
In 21 chapters from Peregrine to Nightingale, Alex weaves his personal history around a wide ranging collection of poetry and descriptions of birds. Each chapter is illuminated by Neil’s art. Their enthusiasm spills over into some delightfully discursive end notes and beautifully designed end papers. If you like Robert Macfarlane‘s works such as The Old Ways this is definitely for you.
As Alex says in his introduction : “This book is, above all, a history of the deep joy that comes from looking up and writing down.”
Alex Preston is an award-winning novelist. He writes for magazines as well as monthly fiction reviews for the Observer. He is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Kent. He is @ahmpreston on Twitter.
Over the past 30 years Neil Gower‘s clients have included most major publishing houses in the UK & US. He spent 10 years as Contributing Artist to Conde Nast Traveler in New York. He runs a delightfully engaging website which includes his background notes to creating this book here. Neil can also be found on twitter here.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire was published by corsair, an imprint of Little, Brown on 13 July 2017 and is my twentieth review for the British Books Challenge 2017.
… addictive mix of wild savagery and messy emotions …
Peadar is a master of combining thrilling horror with thoughtful characterisation, creating an addictive mix of wild savagery and messy human emotions. As with The Call, he drives The Invasion‘s plot forwards at a tremendous pace whilst adding just the right amount of intimate scenes for the reader to become very attached to his cast – an incredibly difficult balancing act to achieve. I guess it’s something to do with his Irish folklore heritage.
Peadar’s mixture of horror and tragedy is highlighted by the deformed S’dhe animals made up of tortured humans including the centaurs apologising as they scythe through people and, my particular favourite, the tiny winged Fr Ambrosio who craves eyeballs.
The Invasion‘s story is spread across three different viewpoints: between Ness, the main character in The Call, her boyfriend, Anto, and Aoife, a student from their Boyle Survival College. I was keen to find out how he could make their predicament even worse than the first book. Well, Peadar doubles the pressure by making the beleaguered government believe Ness to be a S’dhe spy. They lock her up in prison research establishment whilst sending her beloved Anto to the front line of the Sidhe invasion. Can Ness use her S’dhe given powers to defeat the invasion and be reunited with her beloved Anto? The plot races to a satisfying final battle and conclusion.
With his tightly written story telling and deft characterisation, Peader is one of the finest YA novelists around. The Call was on the shortlist for The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize 2017. My review of it is here. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
Notice: The horrors are truly disturbing and there’s a little discreet sex so this book is definitely a Young Adult rather than a Pre-Teen choice.
Cover design moment: The striking cover is by the award winning Blacksheep design team. It’s not black! HURRAH. Proving images can be sinister and intriguing with being black. Further details of their work can be found here.
The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin will be published by David Fickling Books in March 2018.
This haunting collection makes me pause and remember that the poetry I love is just like good architecture. Polly creates the scaffolding of an idea and then she leaves enough space between the words to allow my thoughts to hang around her ideas and then flow out and into that indefinable space of imagination.
I particularly liked the poems of her magical encounters with wild animals : rabbit, fox and deer which reminded of Rilke‘s Unicorn Sonnet; and her Jack Daw description which, like Robert Macfarlane, seems to conjure the bird alive.
Other more lengthy reviews can be found on the publisher’s website here.
Polly Atkin lives in Cumbria. Her debut poetry pamphlet bone song (Clitheroe: Aussteiger, 2008) was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award, 2009. Her second poetry pamphlet Shadow Dispatches(Seren, 2013) won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize, 2012. In 2014 an extract from Basic Nest Architecture was awarded New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Prize. Polly has taught English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University and the Universities of Strathclyde and Cumbria.
Cover design moment: The amazing cover features a still life of an exploded nest and bird parts by the wonderful Mary Jo Hoffman. She posts photographs of natural objects found usually around Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota, on her website here. I am so glad I have discovered her site!
Added 20/11 Polly says: “The powers of the internet! I was looking for images that tied together bodies, nests & a sense of structure & found her …” When asked whether she had designed the whole thing, she said that Seren were ” … definitely responsible for putting it together so beautifully though & bringing the egg pattern into the lettering. Great design work!” All of this was via a Twitter exchange I had with Polly @pollyrowena
Basic Nest Architecture by Polly Atkin was published by the Welsh independent Seren Press on 27 February 2017 and I bought in from the lovely Artworks, gallery and shop, in Aberdyfi. If you are in the area the shop is well worth a browse.
This is my nineteenth review for the British Books Challenge 2017.