Saturday, December 17, 2011

2011 That Was the Year That Was

Well, we have another year just about done and dusted, and I'm sure a lot of people are with me in saying that this is a year we'd be happy to say goodbye to.  As I was packing my suitcase today in preparation for my Christmas holidays I was thinking about some of the books that I have read this year.  I can't count 2011 as my best year of reading as I didn't make my challenge of 75 novels, but if you consider that my list included Melmoth The Wanderer, Anna Karenina (nearly finished), several Charles Dickens novels and The Iliad (halfway through it), I'm pretty happy with my effort overall!

2011 was the year that I discovered Haruki Murakami, firstly with the strange Wind Up Bird Chronicle and then the beautiful Kafka on the Shore.  Dance, Dance, Dance was a little disappointing but I'm waiting in anticipation to next year when I'll be reading IQ84.  It's kind of funny but when I first joined a Book Club the genre I disliked the most was Magic Realism yet I find that the more I read, the more I enjoy it.  Murakami's novels are certainly unusual, but there's something about the characters that intrigue you; especially characters like Mr Nakata in Kafka on the Shore.  

2011 was the year that Earth Abides by George R Stewart was recommended to me by a fellow blogger after they read my review of Children of Men.  Isherwood Williams is a wonderful character, his love of the written word and his care of one of the last remaining libraries in his post apocalyptic world is very poignant in relation to today's e-book revolution.  The final chapter contains imagery that I don't think I will ever forget.  It's quite a novel, and probably one of the best in the genre.

2011 was the year that I became disillusioned with Michael Crawford after reading his autobiography Parcel Arrived Safely - Tied with String.  It taught me a lesson - if you admire someone then don't read about them!  He's way too full of himself and the fact that he had cheated on his wife totally finished me - I can't even watch him on TV now.  The realm of the autobiography is a dodgy one, in a way the author is re-inventing his own past for entertainment and that's not always such a good thing. There's something to be said for a little mystery when it comes to celebrities.

The highlight of 2011, for me, was meeting one of the best literary characters ever and his name was Owen Meany.  This diminutive little guy with the weasley face, big ears and high pitched voice was an unlikely hero.  But, hero he became and I just loved his outlook on life - he could not be put down, he had something to say and he said it loud and proud.  A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving is both funny, sad and a wonderfully put together novel. The ending is so unexpected, but the storyline had been building to just this the whole way through.  It's fantastic story telling and I totally recommend it.

So now I'm debating do I take a real book on my holiday or do I take my Kindle? I generally don't read much when I am away but I did recently pick up Cold Hand in Mine by the master of eerie stories Robert Aickman so that may make it's way into my hand luggage.

In 2012 I hope to be dabbling into a lot of Indie Horror, and have five more spots left on my list if anyone would like me to read and review their novel.  Details can be found here:

I'll be off the air for around three weeks, so have a safe and happy Christmas everyone and I hope you find your next favourite novel in your Christmas stockings :)

All the best


Thursday, December 8, 2011

The New Death and Others by James Hutchings

If you like your short stories cynical and twisted, or your fairy tales fractured, then this is a perfect coffee table book full of cynical and twisted tales, interspersed with some very good dark poetry.

Mr Hutchings left a message on this blog asking if I would read and review his book.  I had put the call out to ‘independent authors’ in an earlier post for my 2012 Reading List, but I think this was a random request and I’m so pleased to have been asked as this little book really tickled my sense of humour and touched those dark chords that draw me to unsettling and unusual fiction.

I have never read a book quite like this, it has no particular order, being a total mix of work which makes it perfect for picking up and selecting a page at random. I didn’t like some of the stories, but I did appreciate most of them, and the poetry I thought was wonderful.

An obvious cat lover, there are several references to cats throughout, such as the disturbing How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name and the gorgeous little poem My Cat is Not Like Other Cats, which all of us cat lovers can definitely identify with!  In The Death of the Artist it is revealed that all writers and artists have cats, a fact which takes on a sinister significance; and now I fully understand that when my Tenshi is staring intently at nothing she is actually enhancing her mental powers!!

Of all the short stories I really liked the atmospheric The Scholar and the Moon which has less of the cynicism that prevails in most of the other work, and the nightmarish The Dragon Festival. The poetry, as I have said, is very good with some of it being based on actually stories by Lovecraft, Dunsany and an author I have only just recently ‘discovered’ - Clark Ashton Smith.

Yes, some of the stories are corny or just plain silly, but others have a touch of sheer brilliance to them. If you tend to get bogged down with some heavy reading, which I do on occasion, this is a breath of fresh air.  I didn’t want to put it down, and looked forward to the twisted endings and the clever play on words and ideas.  Even the corny stories got a giggle as well as a groan out of me.

It’s on Smashwords and if you want to inject a bit of random fun into your reading,  I recommend you check it out: