Articles, reading

Top 3 reads of 2021

2021 has been a pretty good year for me reading wise. I’m really pleased with how many books have managed to squeeze in with some effort so I think it would be good to just go through three of the more memorable reads that I’ve really enjoyed this year.

The Warehouse by Rob Hart

The Warehouse: A brilliantly imagined, thought-provoking and exciting  Orwellian thriller eBook : Hart, Rob: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

This book is an excellent example of what I seem to enjoy the most both in reading and my own writing – taking a prescient or emerging current issue and extrapolating it to an extreme with around which a compelling story is built. With The Warehouse we get an almost cyberpunk twist on a massive corporate conglomerate (analogous to at least one company right now…) that has its tendrils in everything. I enjoyed the speedy pace and how it introduced us, the reader, to concepts in the story world that become important later and I was quite engaged to find out the revelation of the mystery. The riffing of the characters off each other and their dynamic was quite good to see. This was a thrilling and enjoyable read that was right up my street.

Cold Storage by David Koepp

Cold Storage: From the screenwriter of Jurassic Park, comes one of the best  and most thrilling science fiction books of 2019 eBook : Koepp, David:  Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

This book was another thrilling and claustrophobic and read. While the ramifications of the plot are huge, the action takes place in a very small and compact setting with only a handful of characters that we do get to know pretty well by the conclusion. I thought the stakes were built up quite quickly and it felt believable in the universe and there was a lot of tension as the clocks are wound down towards the disaster. Cold Storage was another read that flew by pretty quickly, it grabbed me pretty fast and left me wanting more! David Koepp being a screenwriter on Jurassic Park impressed upon me its technothriller heritage and considering the novel of Jurassic Park is a firm favourite, Cold Storage is a definite contender for carrying on the mantle of what made Michael Crichton’s books so good.

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

Dan Brown books are always a little bit chaotic but this was one that I got quite into. The plot played at breakneck pace while I knew that the main plot device was a slightly nonsensical if given a great deal of thought, I managed to suspend my disbelief enough for it to be an enjoyable and brisk thriller read. What this book does well is not to get hung up too much on the religious aspects but to focus on using those religious elements as devices on which to hang a thrilling plot.

I hope my recommendations of these books helps you find some good reads to fill your shelves! If you want to see the full list of books I managed to have a go at (as I didn’t finish all of them) then I set up this page on my Goodreads. I generally use this just for my own purposes but you might find something you’re interested in!

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Announcements, Writing

Growing Storm – Short Story Announcement

It’s unprecedented times right now, and we’re all concerned about what’s going on. However, to find a positive in this troubling world, I have found some time to work on some creative endeavours. I’m pleased to announce therefore that I have posted a new short story Growing Storm, on my site and you can read it right now!

This started as a short story I’d initially wanted to release for Halloween 2019 but that didn’t happen for many reasons, but I’ve finally finished the story. It’s a “spooky sea shanty”, another experiment into horror/sci-fi writing that takes a lot of inspiration from one of my favourite novels, The Day of the Triffids, while hopefully doing its own thing.

This image summed up the mood of the story, and some of the key elements!

Please let me know if you what you make of the story!

READ THE STORY IN FULL HERE

In strange times like those we’re currently experiencing it’s important, I think, not to let ourselves be consumed by what’s happening in the world and allow ourselves some escapism – if anything it’ll alleviate the boredom of a long spell at home! I hope my short story – and the others here on my site help with that!

Articles, reading

Defending the Love of Reading

World Book Day happened last week and I was pleased to see so many children getting involved in dressing as their favourite characters. World Book Day is a great day to champion quite how magical reading a good story can be and the levels of participation seen across the country.

Last week also saw the frankly heart-breaking story of Callum Manning, a 13-year-old boy from Newcastle bullied for his love of reading.

Callum’s story really got to me as I do relate very much – even from my own secondary school days, reading was an almost weird activity to admit to enjoying. Perhaps that’s due  to secondary school being the domain of adolescents with other more physical pursuits that leaves those content with nestling away with a book in the library seen as “abnormal”.

As a secondary school kid myself back in 2001 I found it very difficult to fit into the cliquey nature of secondary school as I didn’t really share many of the more “mainstream” interests in sport, nor did I find socialising with my peers at an all-boys school particularly easy because I didn’t share those core, keystone interests that boys bond over. For some reason, then and now, boys who don’t seek the pleasures of sport – or the opposite sex – aren’t seen as “normal” boys.

Is this because of a predilection to assume masculinity in this country (and perhaps the Western world generally) does not promote intellectual prowess as a key trait? Perhaps it keys back to prehistoric times where physical strength was valued as a survival trait?

Both of those questions are a little beyond the scope of this post but both pose interesting questions about how boys are raised in this country, on a societal level. Maybe World Book Day is seen as a more “childish” thing, so reading in general is lumped in with that?

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

But getting back to the point of reading, I feel that there are very few male role models in Western society that seem to champion the power of thought. Most boys have sporting icons as heroes and the few that seemed to exist (the Doctor from Doctor Who, prior to 2018 at least) seem to have largely fallen by the wayside.

Therefore, I understand the mindset of those that cruelly tormented Callum for his love of reading, but pity it immensely. As an adolescent myself I recall I had to be very select about who I shared my “esoteric” interests – history, computer games that weren’t the usual “boys” staple, like The Sims and SimCity, and books – and it’s this that likely made me the very private person I am today. It’s something I’m attempting to shed as a characteristic in my 30s now because I’ve stopped caring, frankly.

That said I think this perceived anti-intellectualism that pervades society to look strangely at readers continues. When I joined Facebook in 2008, a disappointing number of people listed things like “I don’t read” in their favourite books section. Even now, researching this post, 78,000 people have this on their page as of 2020. It’s sad and heart-breaking because it’s such a missed opportunity.

I also apportion some of the blame for this sentiment to mass media – shows like Love Island, Geordie Shore and The Only Way is Essex are harmful as they actively promote a “it’s cool to be stupid” air to them. It’s a race to the bottom, and society seems to be dumbing down.

Even back in my more formative years, shows like Big Brother catapulted people such as Jade Goody to public consciousness. While what happened to Jade at the end of her life was awful and not something I’d ever wish on someone, was Jade quite the person to be front and centre of British society like she was? I was sceptical at the time and remain so.

Image result for love island logo

Of course, I don’t propose we bring up kids on a diet of Radio 4, classical music and Tolstoy. These shows, the most egregious I think being Love Island, actively promote this apparent “bimbo” culture – if you have a “hot bod”, it doesn’t matter that you know nothing. You will succeed on no discernible “talent”, but on how marketable your image is. Indeed, there’s already some consternation about the hidden toxicity of the show right now.

It’s a superficial culture that seems to actively promote a lack of thought, a shallowness that I find, personally, distasteful. While I would never begrudge these people their “trash TV”, I do find its prevalence in a race-to-the-bottom worrying. And as we’ve seen with Love Island recently, the brightest candles burn shortest.

But let’s get back to the more positive nature of World Book Day. I think it’s wonderful to see so many kids celebrating their love of stories. I think reading is a magical activity – you stare at ink on a dead tree and imagine things. It’s totally engrossing and I’m so glad my own reading has taken up this year, I am very much enjoying it.  More and more people should take the time, challenge themselves to a book and they’d realise too what an engrossing and amazing experience getting lost in a good (or bad) story can be!