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My 2021 TBR for the Rest of the Year

I recently read an article on Kay’s Book Nook outlining the remaining books on her TBR for the rest of the year.

And after checking out her list, it seemed like a good excuse to get my own TBR organised for the rest of the year!

Without further ado – here is my remaining TBR for 2021.

Click or tap the book cover for more information!

T is for Time Travel, Stanlei Bellan

I don’t know too much about this one, except that it’s a collection of short stories about time travel. The author and his representatives reached out to me a couple of months ago asking if I was interested in reading & reviewing it.

Needless to say, the blurb sold me!

“In this collection of ten stories, author Stanlei Bellan takes you on a rollicking journey through the timestream.

  • Discover a lamp on the beach holding a genie that can grant you three…trips?
  • Meet a veteran soldier assisting a mad scientist who is convinced he’s created the first time machine; a harmless delusion – until it works.
  • Watch a 19th century lighthouse keeper find out what she’s willing to fight for, and then find a whole new world of trouble.
  • Explore the dangers of time looping aboard a spaceship with an ensign who is stuck between duty and his conscience. Would you make the same choices?

T Is for Time Travel is a fun and fast-paced collection of timely short stories that will introduce you to characters you’ll love, thrilling adventures, and thought-provoking scenarios – with plenty of laughs along the way.

Are you ready to jump in – whenever it may take you?”

Winter in Tabriz, Sheila Llewellyn

I adore what I’ve read so far. It’s a fascinating narrative, framed by globetrotting Irishman Damian, reflecting upon his time in Tabriz, Iran with friends Anna, Reza, and Arash.

Through Damian’s recounting of the past, through memory and through journal entries, the reader begins to piece together the events of the past few years. 

The prose is absolutely stunning, binding together a storm of passion, emotion, ennui, tragedy, nostalgia, and empathy. Based on what I’ve read so far, this will definitely be up there with my top books of 2021.

“Gripping and atmospheric, Winter in Tabriz tells the story of four young people living in Iran in the 1970s during the months immediately prior to the revolution, and the choices they have to make as a result of the ensuing upheaval.

The lives of Damian and Anna, both from Oxford University, become enmeshed with two Iranians, Arash, a poet, and his older brother Reza, a student sympathetic to the problems of the dissident writers in Iran, who is also a would-be photojournalist, interested in capturing the rebellion on the streets.

The novel draws on Sheila Llewellyn’s own experience of living in Tabriz through the winter of 1978, during the last chaotic months before the revolution took hold in January 1979.

It is a powerful portrayal of the fight for artistic freedom, young love and the legacies of conflict.”

Life is Strange, Emma Vieceli & Claudia Leonardi

Life is Strange is one of my favourite video games of all time. It’s an episodic graphic adventure game reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye (the main character is even called Max Caulfield!), but with more modern social mores.

So, I was thrilled to see that the series of graphic novels, which look altogether fantastic, are set following the end of the events of the first game.

I’ve had this on my TBR for a while now (since last Christmas, in fact!) so I am absolutely determined to get started on this volume. My partner kindly bought me the hardback of Volume 1 for Christmas last year – it’s a beautiful looking graphic novel [ADD PICS]

“The story fans never thought they’d see, continuing the acclaimed story of Life is Strange, one of the hit game’s two shocking endings.

One year after the storm destroyed Arcadia Bay, fan-favourite characters Max and Chloe have a new life together… but timelines are starting to tangle.”

The Handsworth Times, Sharon Duggal

I was drawn to Sharon Duggal’s writing after attending one of the #BluemooseWomen2020 online events in which Sharon was a speaker.

Set in Handsworth, Birmingham, The Handsworth Times explores the day-to-day life of an Asian family in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.

I’m a big fan of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane – both novels that tell of immigrant families in inner city urban environments, adapting to their surroundings – they give me a perspective I’m typically not privy to.

You may have seen her latest novel, Should We Fall Behind, on BBC2’s Between the Covers book show with Sara Cox. I’ve heard great things about that one too.

“Mukesh Agarwal sits alone in the Black Eagle pub, unaware that a riot is brewing or that Billy, his youngest son, is still out on his bike …A mile away in the family home in Church Street, Anila, one of the three Agarwal girls, is reading Smash Hits and listening to Radio One as she sprawls across the bottom bunk, oblivious to the monumental tragedy that is about to hit her family …

It is 1981 and Handsworth is teetering on the brink of collapse. Factories are closing, unemployment is high, the National Front are marching and the neglected inner cities are ablaze as riots breakout across Thatcher’s fractured Britain. The Agarwals are facing their own nightmares but family, pop music, protest, unexpected friendships and a community that refuses to disappear all contribute to easing their personal pain, and that of Handsworth itself.

THE HANDSWORTH TIMES is a story of loss and transition, and pulling together because ultimately, there is such a thing as society.”

Captain Jesus, Colette Snowden

Another of Bluemoose’s talented authors, Captain Jesus is a book I’m dead excited to read. I actually bought this on release day to support the author, Colette Snowden, but I’m yet to read it.

Here’s a flavour of it:

When three brothers find a dead magpie and peg it to the washing line, the resurrection re-enactment becomes a portent of tragedy to come, and a reminder of past guilt and trauma. 

In Captain Jesus we see a family struggle to cope as loss rips through their lives; through the teenage eyes of their mother, twenty years earlier, we glimpse the events that shape her response. 

The icons, influences and family histories that define faith connect the two narratives as the family gradually heals, thanks to the quietness of love and the natural world.

Red Pill, Hari Kunzru

I bought this book by author Hari Kunzru after attending the wonderful Desi Blitz book festival in 2020. Kunzru spoke about his research of alt-right conspiracy groups on the internet.

Red Pill is about a regular guy, Brooklyn-based, who gets roped into a Q Anon-esque conspiracy ring. It’s a novel about how easily someone, if given the wrong information, can be radicalised.

“After receiving a prestigious writing fellowship in Germany, the narrator of Red Pill arrives in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee and struggles to accomplish anything at all. Instead of working on the book he has proposed to write, he takes long walks and binge-watches Blue Lives–a violent cop show that becomes weirdly compelling in its bleak, Darwinian view of life–and soon begins to wonder if his writing has any value at all.

Wannsee is a place full of ghosts: Across the lake, the narrator can see the villa where the Nazis planned the Final Solution, and in his walks he passes the grave of the Romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist, who killed himself after deciding that no happiness was possible here on earth.

When some friends drag him to a party where he meets Anton, the creator of Blue Lives, the narrator begins to believe that the two of them are involved in a cosmic battle, and that Anton is red-pilling his viewers–turning them toward an ugly, alt-rightish worldview–ultimately forcing the narrator to wonder if he is losing his mind.”

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time Book 1), Robert Jordan

I’ve been wanting to read Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series for years, trying and currently failing, to find some fantasy that can hold a candle to Tolkien.

With Amazon set to release a Wheel of Time TV adaption in November 2021, I’d like to try and read at least the first novel in the series before it comes out. After all – I find it preferable to read the book before watching the TV show.

“The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs-a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts- five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light.”

Winterset Hollow, Jonathan Edward Durham

I think it’s fair to say that Winterset Hollow is by far and away the most interesting proposition on my TBR list.

The author reached out to me a short while ago with an epic pitch so, despite my submissions being closed, I simply had to take him up on it.

It’s a difficult book to summarise, with some fascinating meta elements and anthropomorphism implied by what I’ve read so far. 

Here’s the blurb – it’s a good’un!

“Everyone has wanted their favorite book to be real, if only for a moment. Everyone has wished to meet their favorite characters, if only for a day. But be careful in that wish, for even a history laid in ink can be repaid in flesh and blood, and reality is far deadlier than fiction . . . especially on Addington Isle.

Winterset Hollow follows a group of friends to the place that inspired their favorite book-a timeless tale about a tribe of animals preparing for their yearly end-of-summer festival. But after a series of shocking discoveries, they find that much of what the world believes to be fiction is actually fact, and that the truth behind their beloved story is darker and more dangerous than they ever imagined.

It’s Barley Day… and you’re invited to the hunt.”

Step Forward Harry Salt, Rose Lowe

The final book on my 2021 TBR is Step Forward, Harry Salt by the delightfully pleasant Ross Lowe.

I found out about Lowe’s debut novel through his publisher Bearded Badger Publishing & Books – a local outfit based not too far from me.

Being a novel with a local angle – and the opportunity to support a local press – this is one I’m super excited about.

“Something strange is afoot in the Derbyshire hills. But what does that mean for Harry Salt? He’s a young man with a big secret. So big, that the Prime Minister wants a piece of him.

Trouble is, it’s such a deeply buried secret that Harry doesn’t even know about it.But when he starts his new job at the Ministry of People and the anxious UK prepares for The Change, things get steadily more strange and frightening.

Dreams filled with painful memories and snarling black dogs. Endless ham baguettes. A 900-year-old Starsky & Hutch addict. Murderous lollipop ladies and milkmen that bite.

Yes. Something is definitely up.

It’s time to Step Forward, Harry Salt.”

Any of these on your TBR? Read them already? Let me know your thoughts on them in the comments below!

Dune Messiah Book Review

Dune Messiah Book Review

Oh dear.

Dune Messiah is a mess of a book.

It successfully achieves the stunning feat of being half the length of its predecessor, whilst reading as if it’s three times as long.

The biggest crime that Dune Messiah commits, however, is that it’s tedious and boring. Sci-Fi is meant to fill you with wonder, awe, and excitement about the fantastical possibilities of science, whereas this is like reading the phone book backwards.

And that’s frustrating because the world itself, the ‘Duniverse’, is actually wonderfully creative.

He's not the Messiah, He's a Very Naughty Boy

At the end of Dune, our hero Paul Atreides braved the desert of Arrakis (or Dune) and raised an army of Fremen against the Emperor – installing himself as the top guy.

The beginning of Dune Messiah tells of the Jihad that saw Paul’s Fremen conquer the galaxy and exterminate 16 billion people in the process. Grim, but nonetheless fascinating.

So Herbert, naturally, decided to gloss over this huge moment in history and start Dune Messiah 12 years later. It’s baffling.

This isn’t the rollicking narrative-driven epic of Dune – the novel is a study of how bureaucracy and deification can lead to the downfall of governments.

Not particularly thrilling. 

But that’s exactly what this is – bureaucracy in print. Here’s an example of what to expect:

“Production growth and income growth must not get out of step in my Empire. That is the substance of my command. There are to be no balance-of-payment difficulties between the different spheres of influence. And the reason for this is simply because I command it.” 

The novel is full of menial prose like this. 

It’s jam-packed with pseudo-intellectual musings on government and religion, internal monologues sprawling all over the place, and dialogue goes absolutely nowhere.

Still, it’s not all bad. Herbert’s a smart guy and, as ever, there are some great quotes.

And much like Dune, Dune Messiah holds a mirror up to the reader, challenging their real-world views.

Meanwhile, the world remains a fascinating place, and additions such as the Tleilaxu faction – an engineering race – and the Gholans, add another excellent layer of lore.

Conclusion

Perhaps Frank Herbert sought to write a metatext, the prose as bureaucratic as the themes in the text. But I bet he didn’t.

Instead, Dune Messiah takes all of the worst parts of Dune and consolidates them into a 300 page book. 

Woeful, tedious for long stretches, and saved only by the fact that the world of its predecessor remains in-tact and a thoroughly interesting setting – I cannot and do not recommend Dune Messiah.

1/5

Dune Messiah is available at Bookshop.org in paperback and hardback. 

Dune Book Review

In a galaxy far, far away…

George Lucas is reading Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Upon closing the final pages, Lucas happens upon a groundbreaking idea. Totally unique. 

A space opera, set upon the backdrop of a desert planet, about warriors in tune with powerful cognitive abilities. A young mentat Jedi, faced by tragedy, is forced to undergo training in order to prepare himself for a fight against space fascists.

And thus Star Wars was born.

(Now, to be clear, and to avoid a tedious exchange in the comments section, I am being mildly facetious – but the similarities between Dune and Star Wars are rather striking).

The good news here is that if you enjoy Star Wars (the original trilogy anyway), you’ll probably enjoy Dune too!

But back to the serious stuff.

Desert Power

The house of Atreides, previously of Caladan (a planet similar to Earth), is tasked with ruling the fiefdom of Arrakis – an inhospitable desert planet that just happens to provide the only source of melange (a rare spice) in the universe. 

To put this in perspective, the spice is akin to oil in our own times – highly sought after, difficult to mine, and often the source of conflict. Whereas the Atreides relied on water and wind power on Caladan, desert power reigns on Arrakis – known also as Dune.

Frank Herbert’s first entry in the so-called ‘Duniverse’, is the coming of age story of Paul Atreides – a man who’s descent from comfort and privilege into hardship is an undeniably compelling tale.

Along the way, Herbert examines complex topics such as planetary ecology and the politics of empire. Throw in some religious fervour and autocracy onto an already burning pyre, and you’ll get a glimpse into the world of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

The fascinating thing about this novel is that it’s Sci-Fi, but draws heavily upon fantasy, Shakespearean tragedy, Islamic mythology, and philosophy. Just to ensure it’s not too high brow, Herbert includes giant space worms because of reasons.

It’s a highly intellectual novel and surprisingly, aside from some of the writing getting in the way of a good story, it works exceptionally well.

The characters too are excellent, for the most part, with minstrel Gurney Halleck, swordmaster Duncan Idaho, and Lady Jessica of the Bene Gesserit being the real standouts. Gurney in particular acts as a delightful opposite to Paul’s serious, christ-like demeanour.

And then there’s Feyd-Rautha – a cruel, violent warrior with a predilection for poison, and member of the Harkonnens (the Atriedes’ rival house). He is delightfully cruel – a snarling, vicious individual who I only wish Herbert had spent more time writing about.

The Various Influences of Dune

In case it isn’t yet apparent, Dune is a highly thoughtful novel and like all the best Sci-Fi, it holds a mirror up to the reader, asking them to examine their own contemporary world. And bar a particularly orientalist presentation of the Fremen, the ideas and political discourse of Dune have aged well.

What perhaps hasn’t aged well is the pacing and writing. This is a novel that rewards patience. 

Enormous amounts of patience. 

Herbert has a tendency to overwrite dialogue to the point of tedium. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of it. Meanwhile the purple prose can grate. There’s also a lot of philosophical musing and portents of fate that couch banal writing behind the illusion of intellectuality. 

Still, Dune absolutely rewards the patient reader with an utterly enthralling final third. A true epic in every sense of the word, it’s easy to see why Frank Herbert’s novel is a Sci-Fi classic.

Of course, with Dune being such a seminal piece of writing – its own influences upon contemporary SFF culture and creativity are obvious for all to see. The world-building, for example, is phenomenal. 

So phenomenal in fact that Star Wars, and even Games Workshop’s own Warhammer 40k universe, borrow from it quite significantly.

Conclusion

Dune is one the most ambitious Sci-Fi novels I’ve read so far – or rather in this case, listened to, having downloaded the Audible edition. 

It’s a bit of a strange production, sometimes feeling like an audio drama – at other times an audiobook. I wasn’t entirely sold on this edition.

Regardless, the story, characters, and depth of world-building are standout successes. 

Yes, long stretches of the middle section drag, but Dune is a unique piece of writing with some phenomenal moments. 

It’s is also packed with some absolutely belting quotes such as “No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a Hero” – no doubt alluding to the events of the sequel, Dune Messiah.

If you love Sci-Fi, you need to read Dune. If you love fantasy, you need to read Dune. But really, this is a novel that any reader with a healthy scoop of patience should enjoy quite nicely.

4/5

Dune is available at Bookshop.org in paperback and hardback. 

My Mental Health Awareness Day Story [Meta]

This was originally posted on my LinkedIn profile for Mental Health Awareness Week. With World Mental Health Day upcoming, it seemed the right time to share my experiences with my bookish followers – a handful of whom I know suffer with similar illnesses.

TW: Attempted suicide

Just under 5 years ago, shortly after this picture with Felix the Huddersfield Train Station Cat was taken, I tried for – I hope the final time – to take my own life.

It was an ordinary working day for many. But for myself, a dark internal dialogue had been brewing for quite some time. For years, actually.

Felix Huddersfield Train Station Cat

A potent cocktail of grief and low self-esteem. To this day (until now) only a handful of people knew of this.

I couldn’t concentrate all morning. At lunch, sat in an awkward silence with a couple of colleagues, I apologised, got up, and left the building.

I was compelled, as if my own legs were on rails, to walk towards the thankfully-now-demolished Broadmarsh car park, where I would throw myself from the top floor.

Someone had successfully committed suicide recently in the same spot. So, walking past the bus station every single morning on my walk to the office, carrying upon my shoulders the unnaturally heavy weight of gloom – and a couple of previous unsuccessful attempts behind me – it felt like the time was right to see it through.

I’m a painfully rational person. Those who know me know I have little time for superstitious beliefs. But emotionally, it felt right. Crucially, and rather alarmingly, it felt right logically too.

But equally, it was a truly terrifying prospect. After all, there is no pain-free way of killing yourself. Trust me, I’ve done the homework.

I’m fortunate enough that a colleague and friend noticed my out-of-sorts behaviour and texted me asking if I was okay.

Upon receiving this message, I continued to walk, quickening my pace a little, before reluctantly slumping against a wall, and forcing myself to sit down and breathe before my body tried to spur me on.

That simple gesture of kindness probably saved my life that day.

That’s it. Just that.

Never underestimate the difference you can make to someone’s life by simply asking if they’re okay. Ask twice, just to be certain.

You may well get a few gruff responses from someone who has had a few bad nights of sleep. But on the other hand, you have the power to save a life.

As it happens, the person who sent that text is now the mother of my 8-month old child. A happy circumstance for which I am, truly, immensely thankful.

Things will always get better. Eventually.

My younger self rolled his eyes at that sentiment, almost clichéd though it is.

But it’s true.

At times, even just living is an act of rebellion for us walking dead.

You just have to try to ride it out.

For more information on how you can get help, do check out the following link: https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/mental-health/find-an-urgent-mental-health-helpline