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Holiday Reads 2016

It’s time again for my annual break in the sun. I’ve not packed my case, I’m not sure I have enough t-shirts or sun cream, but I have sorted my To Read Pile for my holiday. I had sorted that out weeks ago!

Once a year, I have a week with very little to do, on purpose, and few distractions. In such an environment I can read a book in about a day, more or less. That’s very unusual for me because I don’t read that fast compared to some people. So five books is good for a week, with 4-5 trade paperback comics to read as well when I only have a short period of time to read. This year my holiday reads are:-

The Fire Sermon by Francesca HaigThe Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig – I’ve met Francesca a few times at book events and as it happens we also share an agent. She’s incredibly intelligent and just a warm and lovely person. The initial premise of this book has always intrigued me, but whenever I hear her talk about it, I’m made very aware that there’s a lot more going on than what appears on the surface. She recently appeared on BBC Radio 4 talking about twins which is central to the premise of the series. Without having read the book (so my view might change after) it has echoes of H.G Wells’ Time Machine with the Eloi and the Morlocks. Post apocalyptic, every child born is a twin that is vastly different from the other and yet they are connected right up to the moment of their death. Can’t wait to start this one soon.

When We Were Animals by Joshua GaylordWhen We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord – I’ve been saving this book up for a few months now.  One of my favourite books, probably ever, is The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell, which is a pen name for JG. I knew nothing about Reapers, as I was reading advanced review copy, and totally fell in love with it. The sequel is amazing too, Exit Kingdom. This, under his own name, is a new world, new characters, new story. I know only what it says on the back of the book and that’s probably too much of a spoiler. There’s a certain joy is opening a book and knowing almost nothing about it if you trust the author. That’s where I find myself with this and I can’t wait to get stuck in. I’ll probably burn through this book easily in a day.

The Incorruptibles by John Hornor JacobsThe Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs – Part Western (so that’s me sold on the book already), part fantasy, this book sounds like a cracking combination of two genres that I love. I met Jon and at a UK convention two years ago I think it was and heard him read a section at the Nine Worlds event in the New Voices panel and he really impressed me. He also very kindly stepped in to help someone else by reading one of the characters in a section and he did it with such aplomb, plus a convincing accent, that it made the reading that much more memorable and a lot of fun. The book as it happens was Nunslinger by Stark Holborn, another one on my list.

The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den PatrickThe Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick – The second of The Erubus Sequence. The first introduced me to a dark, devious, corrupt and twisted fantasy world unlike any I’d seen before. Part gothic horror with warring families, duels, creepy characters lurking in shadows, the first was, in some ways, a coming of age book unlike the usual trotted out as a trope of fantasy. The second book picks up the story a few years later, in the same world. It’s fair to say I’ve not read a fantasy book like this and have been saving this for when I have sufficient time to read it with few interruptions and soak into the atmosphere.

Aurora by Kim Stanley RobinsonAurora by Kim Stanley Robinson – Robinson is another gap in my reading history. It used to be that I could keep up with the number of fantasy novels coming out each year, but over time the volume and my pace of reading meant that wasn’t possible. I’ve always tended to read 80/20 fantasy to sci-fi, just because of my preferences and I enjoy fantasy more. I’m also quite picky when it comes to SF. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about Aurora and I love the core idea of this book, a generational ship travelling to a new world. That idea is something I’ve always wanted to see explored and who better to do it than Robinson who is very highly regarded. I’m partially going into this book blind, as that’s kind of all I know about it, so I’m hoping I enjoy it as much as other people.

Those are my holiday reads for this year, I’m taking one other book to read on the way there for the flight and waiting around in airports and customs. Do you save up special books for your holiday? What are your stand-out fantasy or SF books from the last few years? I’m definitely open to some really good SF recommendations. I’m not a fan of hard SF, I’m more interested in story and characters and world-building than it being possible with current science.

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When I was very young there didn’t seem to be many novels being published in the genres I was most interested in; science fiction and fantasy. I read all of the classics and new books that I could find and then sat on my hands and waited months for another book to arrive by one of my favourites author (at that time) because obviously there was nothing else to read out there! At some point, instead of staring at the wall and trying to make time go faster with the power of my mind, I eventually went elsewhere, read the entire myths and legends section of the school library and then read books from outside the SFF genre.A Wizard of Earthsea 

Nowadays, I could set myself a challenge to read one new science fiction or fantasy book every week of the year and I would never run out. In fact I could probably do that for several years, possibly forever. There are only a couple of problems with that challenge. Firstly I couldn’t read a book in a week (I’m not that fast at reading) and secondly it would bankrupt me. But apart from that, you get my point.

There are just so many new and amazing SFF books being published these days it makes it difficult for me to keep up. It can also create a bit of a blind spot as sometimes a friend will mention a particular novel or author, and I just haven’t heard of them, despite reading news about the genre. I’m peripherally aware of some authors, and I vaguely know what sort of fantasy and SF books they write, but beyond the taglines or bullet points, I know nothing else about them. There are some I have completely no clue about even though I hear their name being thrown about. Patrick Rothfuss had been published for a year before I paid any attention and I think it was another 2 or 3 years after that before I read The Name of the Wind.

All of this in turn led me to think about rereading and how often I have actually reread a book or had the inclination to do so. With so many amazing new stories coming out, why go back and read something again for a second or even a third time? When you know what is going to happen, why read it?

Having thought on this a bit more, I’ve come up with a shortlist of two books that I have read in the last 5 years that I really want to read again. Before I mention them, I should say there are some long running series that I really enjoy and I do intend to re-read them again, but that’s a much bigger hill to climb than the odd book here and there.

Anyway, the first I am going to re-read was my favourite book which was published in 2010 – The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell. It’s a post apocalytic story about a teenage girl called Temple who was born into the world after the disaster and it follows her on a journey across America. Straight away there are a couple of things that really interest me. First, the main character is not someone lookingThe Reapers are the Angels back on the good old days, trying to get back to her old life, and second, this is by an author I’d never heard of before reading Reapers. So I came to this project fairly blind and was utterly blown away. It’s an amazing and remarkable story about loss, love, bravery, family, friendship and a thousand other things. I should also point out that this is a post apocalyptic novel with zombies, but it’s really about Temple and not the undead. They feature in the story, but this is Temple’s story and even though it is set in a horror framework, I wouldn’t classify it as horror in the traditional sense. I’m also not really a horror fan, books or films, so this was a remarkably anomoly. The prose is deceptively simple, bleak and so easy to read and I found myself quickly being drawn into the world. Fans of the Walking Dead show should definitely check it out. Also it’s a fairly slender novel in comparison to some of a similar ilk (The Passage) and in my opinion, far far superior.

The other book I am going to reread could not be more different to Reapers. It is a fairly meaty read that has beautiful prose and yet it is also something that is easy to read. Some fantasy novels are huge doorsteps and that can be intimidating to a new reader, it raises concerns about padding, that it is going to take them months to read, or that it features dozens of point of view which means nothing will be resolved in the first book. Thankfully The Name of the Wind doesn’t suffer from any of those issues. I came to it late but thenThe Name of the Wind found it was a book that I didn’t want to put down.

I’m also not someone who is particularly drawn to well crafted prose. For me, it’s about the ideas, the story and the characters. Simple and straight forward prose is fine and is actually what I prefer. Too much florid prose can choke a story, can feel like padding and make it difficult to connect and relate to the characters because by the time you get to the end of the sentence you’ve forgotten what was happening at the beginning. The Name of the Wind is jam-packed with lots of amazing ideas, it’s very well written and now that I have a copy of the sequel I want to read the first one again. The stylish prose by Rothfuss enriched my reading experience and didn’t create a barrier.

So, being completely honest, what books are you actually going to reread in the next year or two? What is so special about those books that warrants them getting a reread instead of something new?

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