Other Minds is all about octopuses. Written by a philosopher who just really likes them, it's an alternative look at a fascinating animal.

Other Minds sets out to do two things: it wants to look at the evolution of the octopus, and how it go to where it is; and it wants to explore what it is like to be an octopus. This leads to the question "How does it feel to be an octopus?". I thought this is an extremely ambitious question. After all, who can answer the question "How does it feel to be a human?" Or "what's it like to be a human?"

I've read the book, and I understand a lot more about the evolution of octopuses. It's absolutely knowledge that is in no way vital. It's not going to help my  life at all, but its pretty interesting to know, and it's what makes this book. Humans share a common ancestor with most intelligent animals going back to around dinosaur times. Our last common ancestor with octopuses goes back to when all life on earth consisted of worms in the sea, some 600 million years earlier (if I remember correctly). From there octopuses evolved completely separately from the other intelligent animals, making them the closest thing we have to aliens.

The book is fascinating. There are so many interesting tidbits and subjects that get more and more complicated as we drill down into them - Godfrey-Smith is a philosopher after all. Did you know octopuses change colour to match their surroundings, but they are colour blind? How does that work? Other Minds gets deep into questions like this, among others, some of which appear straight forward and simple (Why do we get old?). It debates the theories, tries out possible answers and settles on one. It's an interesting way of looking at biology - it's a debate rather than a book of facts.

The one and only criticism I'd have of this book is it lacked any sort of direction. It jumped from one subject to another, and didn't round off with a nice conclusive chapter. It's a small gripe, but a sense of direction can make these pop-science books a much more satisfying experience. 

Ultimately, this is a pretty fascinating book. The subject matter is so ordinary yet so extraordinary, its utterly riveting. Highly recommended. I'm not sure I know what it is like to be an octopus though.
Here it is! Here is the annual run down of my favourites that I read this year. Just a quick disclaimer - this isn't a top 10 of books that were released in 2019; it's the top 10 books that I read in 2019 - the books can be released in any year, which renders the list useless I suppose, since there is no frame of reference. Anyway let's go! 

10. Cucina Tipica - Andrew Cotto

Andrew is a real foodie. Not a pretentious food snob, he has a genuine passion for good food. A travel writer by trade, this is his third novel, about a soul searching trip through Italy. It's got such a relaxed vibe, the slow italian way of life starts to overtake you, as you start to think "...I'm going to go part time." Great book, really chilled, nice summer book.

Check out my review here

9. The Galton Case - Ross McDonald 

This is a "classic" detective novel. Rather loose usage of the word "classic" there. It's not especially ground breaking, but it does what it does very well. It's twisty and dark and full of surprises. Also, the main character is known as Archer, which is my son's name. Cool.

8. The storyteller - Pierre Jarawan

The Storyteller is all about a Lebanese refugee searching for his lost father. It's got deep, heavy subject matter combined with excellent writing (translated brilliantly from German). Really, really great, and also an education.

7.Laurence Westwood - The Willow Woman

I couldn't leave him out.

For all the trouble he can be on Twitter, Laurence's The Willow Woman is an excellent piece of work. Based in china, and inspired by the tradition of Chinese detective novels, this is a little trip down to the crime ridden streets of Chengdu. God knows how many pages and characters are here, but don't be intimidated - it is really worth the effort. Laurence has promised there is a sequel, which seems to be eagerly awaited on Twitter. (People keep telling him to go away and write his book).

6. Only Americans Burn in Hell - Jarett Kobek 

Kobek is establishing himself now in the literary world. Only Americans is the his latest novel, which is more of an angry, cynical tirade against the modern world. I don't know who hurt Jarett and made him the way he is, but I'm grateful for it. Is that wrong?

5. 10.89 - Ben Lerner

10:04 takes the usual structure and premise of a novel and shakes it all up. Set in New York during hurricane Sandy, 10:04 plays with it chronology, goes back and changes past events and blurs the lines between real life and fiction. This is big brain time.

4. Ghost stories - M R James

Ghost Stories is exactly what it sounds like. A dozen or so stories about the paranormal written by the Victorian master. Still spooky, still great writing which carries an air of authority, making the stories a bit more frightening.

3.  Men Without Women - Haruki Murakami

Men Without Women is a collection of short stories about single men. Sounds basic and simple, but there's a lot of variation in these stories, and a lot of thoughtfulness too. Murakami is one of the best around.

2. Nights At The Circus - Angela Carter

Nights at the Circus has even described in hundreds of ways. Feminist, fairy tale, surreal, religious allegory - all of these seem to fit. It's like nothing else I've ever read. Really great magical realism.

1. The Black Cloud - Fred Hoyle

For some reason I didn't review this book - I don't know why. It's a fantastic sci-fi apocalyptic novel, but it's written by a leading physicist. Hoyle invented the phrase Big Bang, though he was against the now widely accepted theory. In The Black Cloud he combines he scientific knowledge with sci fi and creates a really gripping, scary story. Check it out!

Let me know what you've been reading this year, what you loved and what you didn't, or if you've read any of the above in the comments

The Umbrella Men is the story of a waning business, amidst the 2008 financial crisis.

The Umbrella Men jumps around between various little plots which are all connected through the mining company Rareterre. There's the story of the company's management in London who are trying to keep the business afloat, the story of the residents who live near the mine and think it is a blemish on the natural landscape, and the stories of various investment bankers, who are playing the market to make as much money as possible, regardless of any consequences. And this is really a story about consequences and selfishness, not just on the part of the bankers.

This is a hefty book, but it ticks along at a fast enough pace. The story is mainly about bankers and investments, so theres a lot of financial stuff going on, and the accountant talk gets a bit heavy at times. Now here's a confession - I work in the financial industry (not a banker. Insurance, if that makes it any better). I knew what was going on when the finance talk got going but I wonder whether this would keep a layman entertained or interested.

I went into this book expecting a satire on the financial industry, on the markets and the people who play them. I wouldn't say that is really the case. It's more a peice of literature based around the financial crisis - and it is a pretty good piece of literature. There's plenty of themes running through this book and food for thought.

I liked this book. The plot is the strong point - it raises questions of fate and consequences, and made me think of the old saying about a butterfly starting hurricanes. If you can get through financial guff, check it out!

(This review has been all over the place - apologies reader. Its 2 days before christmas and my wife and I have just had our 3rd baby.  Happy Christmas all!)
This is a collection of stories from the Victorian master of the paranormal.

M. R. James was born in 1862. He went to Eton, where he excelled, then went on to university, and became the vice chancellor of Cambridge University. Spending most of his life as an academic, it is his scary stories that he is remembered for. This book is a collection of 13 of his stories, some of them are his greatest hits and there's a couple of lesser known B-sides here as well. The quality is pretty consistent though, and it's a great little collection.

James's signature trick is his understated way of writing. He can create menace and dread with small occurrences, like a book missing from a shelf. There is no blood splatter here, no guts or gore. James takes a subtle approach, and it makes the stories start off slow, and then gather momentum. Things always start off perfectly ordinarily, then they start to seem a bit strange, then they become terrifying.

It is said the Victorian's wrote the best ghost stories. Maybe this is because people were used to creepy stuff anyway  - death masks and post-mortem photography were a thing back then. James's writing benefitted from the prudish culture of the times - there is no vulgarity in these stories, whether it be sex or violence - which adds to the focus on the unusual goings on. The characters are all pretty shallow and simalar - there is no differentiating from the protagonist in one story and another. They are all male, studious and unmarried. And that's ok. There is no need for deep complex characters. The stories aren't about that. It seems James had the good sense to write about what he knew, as he too was a studious, unmarried man

The Victorian English that M R James uses has an authority about it - he was a scholar and he held a high office - so his words carry weight. This man is an expert on medieval times and religious dogma; he wrote whole paragraphs in effortless Latin, perhaps he is an expert in ancient demons and reanimated corpses? While there is little offered in way of explanation of where the ghosts have come from, the reader happily accepts their existence, and finds them utterly terrifying. 

M R James said there is no receipt for success on writing this form of fiction. "The public are the ultimate judges: if they are pleased it is well; if not; it is no use to tell them why they ought to have been pleased". So I reccomend that you see if it pleases you, rather than let me tell you. Just do it with the lights on.
Mindhunter is the story of John Douglas's career, and how he developed criminal profiling within the FBI. 

Douglas joined the FBI after studying psychology during his time in the US Air Force. He joined a team in the FBI that travelled the country, and gave lectures and ran courses for local police forces  on famous cases, particularly serial killers. Douglas was frustrated doing this, and felt that all the material he was teaching was recycled from other courses and lectures, or from old case notes. On the road, feeling tired of his current material, Douglas took the opportunity to interview a serial killer in a nearby jail (I think Ed Kemper was the first he spoke too - I'll double check) and found the experience enlightening. He then started interviewing killers at every chance he could, and eventually this developed into the science of criminal profiling. Douglas and his team could examine a crime scene, and any evidence, and build an idea of the perpetrators personality.

This book is pretty fascinating. The conclusions Douglas can reach from studying a crime scene appear to be telepathic. There's the easy details, which aren't overly impressive, like age or gender of the killer, but then he can go into some insane detail, such as what colour the killers car is, how old it is and how well maintained it is. It's an interesting concept, and it feels a bit Sherlock Holmes - extrapolating from clues on the crime scene to choose a suspect. Unfortunately, Douglas didn't go into great detail about his craft. He talks us through notable cases and his conclusions on them, and whether or not he was correct in the end (99% of the time he is. Not sure if that is due to only including his successes in the book or if his track record is that good). Douglas tells us the amazing, far fetched predictions he made then expects us to be amazed when they are correct. It's amazing the first time, but 300 pages in it loses its wow factor. 

This book could have benefitted from being a bit less about Douglas and a bit more about his methodology. I didn't care about his childhood or the decline of his marriage, I dont really care how he got into the FBI. No one is reading this to learn about his career, Douglas could have taken a step back, but his sizeable ego is apparent throughout this book, as he reels off one successful case after another. Also, there's quite a few times in this book where Douglas airs his pro-death penalty views, which seem a bit outdated.

True crime fans will probably enjoy this book, due to Douglas's extensive interviews with serial killers. All the big names are there - Manson, Kemper and Gein to name a few. The back of the version I had said that the book would revisit Jeffrey Dahmer's case, but unfortunately there was only a sentence or two on Jeff.

Overall this book was pretty interesting. It was intriguing to see how the investigators put together their profiles that led to them catching the killers. It was great to read about some famous cases from someone who worked on them. It was boring to read about some guys start in law enforcement. 

Nights at the Circus is the story of Sophie Fevvers, a woman who was born with the wings of a swan. Set at the star of the 20th Century, Fevvers is a star in the circus, famous throughout Europe and performing for kings and emperors. A journalist, Jack Walser, is writing a feature on Fevvers, and follows her from London to Russia and through the Siberian wilderness, and experiences strange and unexplainable happenings along the way.

The story is mainly about Fevvers, and her background. She was raised in a brothel, lived in a sort of house of horrors, then an ice cream parlour and finally she joined the circus. She met many eccentrics through her life, from dangerous men who fetishized her wings, to other outcasts with deformities (such as the 4 eyed woman in the house of horrors), and then the utterly weird characters in the circus. Being exposed to dangerous men throughout her whole life, she learnt to stand up for herself, and became a hardened woman by the time this story starts. There's a sense of mystery running through this plot- it isn't clear if Fevvers is the real deal or a hoax. We're told her origins, but only her unreliable version. Her adoptive mother seems to be capable of magic too, but her abilities are never explained, just used sporadically through the book. This all adds up to a really weird atmosphere, where the book has one foot in the real world, but one foot in fantasy, so absolutely anything can and will happen.

This story appears to be mostly a character study of Fevvers, but it's more about the cyclone of madness going on around her. This book is more of a string of events than a plot driven story, and the events themselves are absolutely surreal. There's murderous clowns, hermits who are secretly musical geniuses, chimpanzees who are master negotiators to name a few. Tigers turn into broken mirrors, trains are shrunk into snow globes and time stands still. This book, being part of the magical realism trend of the late 20th century, plods along in reality then suddenly throws something totally bizarre at the reader. It makes for a unique and at times very funny book.

Carter has a wide range of themes and influences on display here. Theres a lot of interpretations of this book out there - it's mostly thought of as being an inverted fairy tale, instead of a prince charming we have a big, foul mouthed Cockney woman. There's also feminist themes running through this - lots of independent & sex positive women, which isn't common in books set in Victorian times. 

This was a great book, on the surface it's funny and interesting enough, but it also drops enough subtleties and symbolism to give you something to think about long after you've finished it.

Goldfinger is the book behind the classic James Bond film. It's got all the James Bond elements - big bad guy, lots of girls for James to treat like objects and danger that seems like it is utterly inescapable, yet there is never really any threat since the reader knows they are reading a James Bond book, and they can predict the ending before the book has even begun.

The story here is that James has been told to get more intelligence on Auric Goldfinger, who is suspected of smuggling gold internationally. James has already met Goldfinger by chance before he is given this mission, so happily when James's mission is explained the reader knows who all the characters are so no one gets confused. Conveniently, Goldfinger is a member of the golf club James played at when he was a teenager so James hangs out there and waits for Goldfinger to show up, then challenges him to a golf game which is 18 agonizing holes and about 30 pages long.  James wins, of course. Then James and Goldfinger become chummy, and James does a bit of sneaking around, but gets caught and Goldfinger keeps him prisoner and makes him do the admin work for his next heist. How will James save the day?

The story here is nothing groundbreaking or exciting. Everything that happens is pretty standard procedure for a spy book, and there is little that would surprise anyone. Maybe it's because this such a famous Bond story, and has inspired countless other spy books and films, that Goldfinger doesn't feel fresh and original. Maybe in 1959, before there were the Bond films and all the books, this felt new and exciting, but 60 years and lots of Bond stuff later, and all if this feels a bit old fashioned.

Speaking of old fashioned, I think we need to talk about the women in the book, or maybe Bond's attitude to them, or maybe Fleming's attitude. We all probably expect this, but every female character here is drawn to James, and is little more than an amusement to him, except (ahem) Pussy Galore, who is a lesbian crime boss that James manages to seduce and turn straight. He says she just hasn't met a real man yet. And at that point my eyes rolled harder than they ever have. Maybe if I was 13 or so I would have thought Bond's gifts with women was awesome, but as a grown up it seems horrendously cliche and adolescent. James is some sort of super macho, male fantasy super hero and it's all awfully tedious.

Another part which I think needs mentioning is the page or so rant Fleming goes on about "pansies" being a result of giving women the vote and sex equality (his words not mine). I didn't know people in 1959 still thought women shouldn't be allowed to vote, and this was really clumsily thrown in there - maybe it had been building up in Fleming's head and he had to get it out some how.

All in all, this was not my cup of tea at all. I didn't think it would be going in, and I only read it because it was on sale for £1. This is one where you should stick to the film.
This is the famous novel about the prisoners of war in Burma during World War II, which served as the inspiration for the classic film.

The Bridge on the River Kwai
 tells the story of British P.O.W's placed in Burma under the control of the Japanese during the Second World War. The prisoners are tasked with building a bridge, with the bridge and the schedule of work all been designed and thought out by the Japanese. The English prisoner, Colonel Nicholson, disapproved of how the work was managed, thinking the construction work would be far more efficient and the result far more solid and aesthetically pleasing if the design and management had a few tweaks. Nicholson protested the Japanese commander's rulings until the Japanese allowed a few changes to how things were run in the camp, and eventually Nicholson found himself managing the whole job of building the bridge, even redesigning the whole thing. Called a tribute to British eccentricity, this turned out to be a light hearted plot, which is at odds with the subject matter and setting.

So I knew very little about this book going in. I haven't seen the film and I had only a loose grasp of the plot - I knew about the notorious bridge, and I knew about the conditions the prisoners lived in. I expected this book to be about  the prisoners - the  back breaking labour they carried out, and the deaths within the camps. This book quickly touches on these subjects, but only devotes a paragraph or two to the hardship of the prisoners - I'm not sure it even mentions deaths. It's quickly brushed off and seems to belittle what they went through - as if the prisoners would go home and get over it. We all know that wasn't the case - over 12,000 allied prisoners died during the construction of the railway that this bridge is a part of, and the ones who survived carried the experience with them for the rest of their lives. This is an issue which is close to me - an older relative was a prisoner in Burma and worked on the railway, and by all accounts was never the same afterwards. Apparently this is quite a popular criticism of the book. Maybe it's nature of the subject matter inevitably bringing up criticism that it wasn't handled appropriately. Maybe if Boulle hadn't used a real bridge where real people died he would have saved himself this criticism - if he had used a fictional bridge it would have avoided this issue.

Anyway, back to the book. So it wasn't a harsh look on the lives of the prisoners. It was more a look on the absurdities of war - very similar to Catch 22, but not done as well as Heller's masterpiece. A number of absurd and comedic situations rise up, such as when a soldier will need to do his first parachute jump in an upcoming mission, and enquires about doing some practice jumps. He's told that the law of averages means that the more jumps he does the more likely he is to die, so better just do the one and hope it goes ok. Maybe its funnier in the book.

This is the second book I've read by Boulle, the other being Planet of the Apes, and it is (in my opinion) the stronger of the two. This reads like a classic book, written by a master of his craft, whereas Apes is a bit more of an amateurish affair. Maybe it's the translation - both books were originally in French - and we know great writing can lose a lot when shifted into another language. Happily, this isn't the case here. Kwai stays sharp, and is still great even after being moved away from its mother tongue. Boulle's description of Nicholson proudly walking on the finished bridge is absolutely magnificent, and shows what a capable writer he was.

I really enjoyed Kwai. It's a great book. It's got a good plot and it's written well, and there's a message in there too. It's a shame it deals with the plight of the prisoners so flippantly - this has caused what should have been thought of as an excellent book to be just a very good one.

Solving Cadence Moore is the debut mystery novel from author Gregory Sterner. It follows radio DJ Charlie Marx as he puts together a six part podcast series trying to solve a decade old missing person case. It's a new take on an established genre, and a strong debut from Sterner.

Charlie Marx is a rising radio presenter, who is gaining a reputation through his conspiracy show, Underground Broadcast. His mentor, Tyler Ruebens is hoping to break into the podcast market, and thinks Charlie is the man to do it. The pair plan a special series, where they will attempt to solve the unsolvable case of the disappearance of Cadence Moore. Cadence was a singer, who had low level fame, and disappeared without a trace some ten years ago. It's a high profile case, which has never had a solution, though a recent documentary, Moore to the Story has reached their own conclusions, and taken America by storm.

There are really two stories going on in this book. There is the story of Cadence, her life and background and her disappearance, which is told through transcripts of the podcasts, and there is the story of Charlie Marx, trying to put the podcast together while he is faced with deadline issues and pressure from management. The main thing  people will pick up on is the podcasts, and the telling of the story through the transcripts. This works well, and it added a new flavour to the tried and tested recipe of mystery novels. The podcast chapter in Solving Cadence read like a crime documentary, and feel like watching a six part documentary on Netflix. It's a good way of getting all the details in, the basic facts of the case and filling the reader in on what's what. 

There are a few other aspects that set this aside from the run of the mill mystery thrillers - Charlie's under pressure to solve a decade old mystery which adds some urgency to the proceedings, and the rivalry between the Charlie and the team behind the recent documentary on the case adds some great tension in parts (the chapter where the film's directors appear on the podcast is particularly heated). There is also the fact that everyone in this book is very much unlikeable, which I've seem some reviewers claim is a negative and criticised the book for it - I would wholeheartedly disagree. The characters dont have to be likeable and dont have to make you feel good. Sterner has written some good arseholes in this book and what they lack in charm they have in depth.  

This is a strong mystery novel and a promising debut from Sterner. Any fans of mysteries will love this one.

The Exploding Book is the story of a book with the power to destroy any book different to itself. It's a bizarre story of a village living with access to only one book, and no knowledge of anything that is contained in any other book. It's a unique novel - a plot unlike any other I can recall, and it's peppered with humour and tragedy.

So to expand on the plot a little bit - the library of Gladeville is destroyed, and the only thing left is a copy of "The Dark Book", which quickly becomes the only book in town. Schoolchildren study it, adults obsess over it, and the whole village lives their lives by the teachings of the dark book. There is no mention of things like sex or love or babies in the dark book, so no one in town knows what they are. Slowly, things start to appear which aren't mentioned in the book, so what are they? How did they come to be? Does this mean that the Dark Book isn't the whole, complete truth? The unusual happenings take the villagers on a journey of discovery - a spiritual journey as much as a journey for knowledge, and the whole thing concludes in a hugely satisfying, moral ending with a humanist lesson that we should all be able to appreciate.

So I liked the plot. I've left out some of the more surprising elements, to mainly avoid spoilers and also to keep the sheer insanity of this book a surprise. This is truly out there, definitely one of the most memorable books I have read in the last 5 years.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is it is completely written in the second person. You, dear reader, are as much a part of this book as any of the residents of Gladeville. You fly from house to house, from school to bakery to observe the story unfolding. You will be there at the inception of this tale and you will star in the closing scenes. It is such a simple device, but it is so effective and immersive - it is a huge achievement. I've been wracking my brains trying to think of other examples of where the second person has been used to suck the reader in to the story to this effect...and I can't. Mike has performed that rare feat of finding a great idea that is original yet so simple. A real "why didn't I think of that?!" For example, the book starts with "You see a gold temple. The temple is glowing; it is emanating a gold aura of extraordinary brilliance. The gold light touches you and you feel bliss"." Then off we go, your spirit leaves your body in search for this fabled temple. The book keeps up the direct way of talking, as we delve off in a brief bit of the meta-physical, the we are shipped off to Gladeville.

This book is published by Strange Books, and to be honest I was a little bit put off by that. I am rarely a fan of things that are strange for the sake of being strange. I like strange things - strange music, strange films and certainly strange books, but only if there is something going on behind the scenes to justify the weirdness. Being weird for the sake of being weird - to me- doesn't hold any water and can be a veil for a lack of depth. Happily, this isn't the case here. The Exploding Book is undeniably weird. It is totally strange and off the wall. But, it does have depth. Mike Russell has planned everything out, and there is a lesson to be learned. The strangeness here is necessary for the story and the message that Mike wants to tell.

I really liked this book, and I am going to keep an eye on Mike Russell.

Buy The Exploding Book on Amazon here

The Shadow Beyond is a paranormal thriller, full of mystery and a few monsters. It's a call back to the horror books of old, and reads like a true Gothic classic.

The Shadow Beyond tells the story of Robert Adderly. Born at the start of the 20th Century, he had a normal childhood, exploring his hometown and the surrounding countryside with his friends. They explored haunted houses and local folklore, which involved a few stories involving the occult, then he grew up and largely forgot about it. He was a gifted student, and went on to study mathematics at university. While there, he met the love of his life, who he quickly became engaged to. While they were celebrating their engagement, she suddenly burst into flames, and within minutes had quickly burned, leaving no remains behind. Obviously, Robert was devastated, and sought answers to what had happened - how did a human being just catch fire, and be completely devoured by the flames within minutes? The questions led him down a deep, dark rabbit hole; one of ancient wisdom, gods and demons, occultism, magic and dangerous ceremonies.

I was sent this book by the publisher, Vulpine Press, and it was described as a fantasy horror, which isn't my usual cup of tea. After a few emails were sent back and forth I decided to give it a go - it's good to try new things right? I'm glad I did. While The Shadow Beyond has strong fantasy elements - magic and demons are the main plot points - there is enough other stuff to keep anyone interested. Robert starts off as a good Christian man, who just wants to focus on his studies, but slides further and further into the occult and magic until he ultimately can't escape (this isn't a spoiler, it's all told to us in the foreword). His decline is something that's interesting to watch.Robert grapples with is morality and his priorities, and has a lot of internal conflict. There's also the mystery side of things - it quickly becomes clear that some people know something about his fiance's death - what are they hiding? Robert is on his own to figure out everything that is going on. There have been clues throughout his life, and he has to piece the puzzle together. This is another great thing about this book - I think Reiner covered all his loose ends, and all the little questions get answered in one way or another.

But the thing I really enjoyed about this book, is how it felt like an old horror book. To me, stylistically, it was very reminiscent of Frankenstein, and that meant the book had a charm about it. It's set at the start of the last century, so the language and phrasing is old fashioned and has that "classic" feel about it, and it made it an absolute joy to read. If you enjoy Gothic horror stories, or classic horror stories, then I think you would enjoy this. There's monsters, so it's tempting to compare it to Lovecraft, but to be honest I'm not enough of an expert on H.P. to be able to do so. There are few nods to Lovecraft throughout the book (Cthulu and the Necronomicon being the mains ones, I'm sure there's more that I didn't notice), so I think it is fair to say that Reiner has taken a lot of inspiration from the master of monsters. I've had a quick look into the themes of Lovecraft (forbidden knowledge, non-human influences on humanity, fate, religion) and there all present and correct here. So if you're a fan of Lovecraft, or Lovecraftian horror, this is definitely one to check out.

I really enjoyed this book. It's good to read something outside of your comfort zone once in a while.
Rusticles is a collection of 11 short stories from indie writer Rebecca Gransden. These stories are all dark, dealing with the underbelly of the lives in the fictional town of Hilligoss, but I would hesitate to label it as horror. There is something more human about them all - they have been written to do more than scare us.

Rusticles is a collection of 11 stories centred around the town of Hilligoss. Hilligoss seems like a dark, dark place. The residents are dealing with stealthy flamingos, ghosts which may or may not have been summoned, missing addict family members and many other surreal and not so surreal predicaments. The eleven stories all read like they are an excerpt from much larger pieces of writing. They hit the ground running, with no introductions to characters or settings or motivations. The reader then must start to fill the gaps in the picture with dribs and drabs of information, and ultimately decide for themselves what the picture is. Take the first story, The Neon Black Wall for example. The lead character, a teenage girl is re-visiting a place where something awful happened to her. We don't know what. We don't know when or who. We just see this part of her life - the return to the place where it happened. And it makes for some great reading. I don't mean to say the stories are incomplete - it feels like Gransden has written exactly what she set out to write - and it's up to us to fill in the gaps.

The writing throughout the collection felt extremely deliberate. Every word seems to have been picked with a lot of thought, and Rebecca has manged to give the town of Hilligoss and the book a really dismal feel through the language she's used. In The Dilapidated Flamingo the flamingo is said to "stick its head out of the leaves, like a dog's lipstick". Gross. But surely Rebecca could have used a thousand different similes for this - what about regular lipstick? But she didn't. She gave us this image. Thanks Rebecca. Flamingo was one of my favourites in this collection, by the way. It tells the story of a teenage boy who keeps spotting a flamingo in his garden. His father and his neighbour can't see it, and he can't trap it. It's a wonderfully strange little tale, that mixes childish innocence with a more grown up way of thinking. And what does that flamingo represent? I think it's the narrator's sexuality - if you have read this please do let me know your thoughts.

Rusticles is a nice little collection - the eleven stories are told over 97 pages, so it is easy to read the whole thing in one sitting. It's like a little trip to a town where it's always night time and the residents are all hiding dark secrets. It's great fun. Rebecca has shown she has a natural talent for writing, and in particular giving her work a real atmosphere.

The Storyteller tells the story of a Lebanese family who have fled to Germany. Just like many other families who have made the same journey, they are still tied to Lebanon, and can never seem to fully escape the country. The father' heart belongs there, and he talks fondly of his life back among the cedars. One day, he disappears, and his son, Samir vows that one days he will find him .The Storyteller tells the tale of Samir's journey to Beirut to find his father, and the impact his disappearance had on his life.

I was sent this book by World Editions, in exchange for a fair review, and to be a part of the blog tour for The Storyteller. I don't usually take part in blog tours - mainly because I don't like to stick to a schedule - but for The Storyteller I felt the need to make an exception. The premise of the story grabbed me - a story that looks into the life of refugees isn't super common, and Lebanon doesn't get talked about much these days.

And I'm glad I took this on. The Storyteller was absolutely fantastic. The story begins in Samir's childhood, just after the family has been given a home after fleeing to Germany. Things look good, the family is optimistic and happy, and they are living in a neighbourhood with lots of other Lebanese people - there is a really strong sense of community. The narration is from the point of view of an adult Samir looking back, so it is full of nostalgia and fondness. The emotions shines through from the text. This sentiment doesn't last long, Samir's life is a tough one, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Then the text jumps back and forth, from adult Samir in Beirut searching for his father, and his childhood, until the two catch up with each other. There's a shift in tone from the childhood parts and the adult parts - the chapters from Samirs childhood are full of wide eyed wonder that only children can find. They focus on what a child would - he doesn't care that he's thousands of miles from where he's spent the start of his life, he just wants to hear his father's stories and play with the little girl who lives next door. Jarawan is clearly an extremely skilled storyteller - this book has been a best seller in it's native German - but some credit belongs to the translators Sinead Crowe and Rachel McNicholl. I've said it before - a good translator is worth their weight in gold. The ability to keep the flow and meaning of the original work is extremely rare - many translated books seem to be extremely dry. Happily, The Storyteller flows. Like, really flows. It's a big 460 page book, but it felt like a little 150 page novella.

The only concern I had going in to this is I know shamefully little about Lebanon. The civil war stopped just before I was born, and it seemed to have fallen out of the news by the time I started to pay attention. The only knowledge of it I had was from a recent visit to the Tate Modern where I had seen "Monument for the Living". Lack of knowledge isn't a hindrance going into the Storyteller. I fact, it's a bit of a history lesson. It was originally written for German audiences, so an in depth knowledge of Lebanese history isn't assumed. After reading this, I think its fair to say, the layman would have a little bit more of an understanding of the country - or if he doesn't he would at least have an empathy for it's people. As the saying goes "If you think you understand Lebanon, someone has not explained it to you properly".

So really there are two sides to this book. There's the story of a father and son who have been split apart, the son searching for his father and the impact of their torn relationship on his life. Then there is the story of a refugees going back to his homeland. There's the Lebanese side to this story. It's a perfect balance here - the Lebanese story doesn't impose on the family story, it doesn't take over and lose the father/son story, but at the same time it is ever present, always in the background of everything that's going on.

I really enjoyed the Storyteller. It deserves to be a huge book. Unless I have a phenomenal year of reading ahead of me, this will easily be on my top 10 list for 2019. Probably top 5.