Auld Long Syne…or a Long Long Time Ago

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old long syne.

On Old long syne my Jo,
On Old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On Old long syne.

Personally, I could take slight offence at this, being named in said poem and told I cannot reflect on times long gone, which is of course poppycock. I am ever so good at reflecting. In fact I over-reflect to the point that my analysis bemuses even the most agile of associative thinkers… because most of what I say out loud is doused in hot air. But I digress.
It is New Year’s Eve. Here on our little island in the stream, or the River Meuse if we’re being specific, the better half and I sip our red wine and try to ignore the dulcet tones of explosions going off in the distance. We are fortunate that we live in a firework-free zone, but the zone ends about 50 metres from where we sit, so everyone just outside of that zone is making darn sure we know they are out there and they mean business.
Luckily, Finn the Cat does not yet seem to be worried by these noises. Compared to my caterwauling on the cello and violin, these thuds and bangs are probably a lot more musical.

So, time to reflect on 2014. What can I say about a year? It was a good one, no, better yet, a fantastic one! I had an awful lot of fun being a pretend-rockstar. I wrote. I read. I went on adventures, and best of all, I got a cat.
I mucked about on boats. I went on a lot of long long walks in the mountains of Scotland. I played violin and cello and guitar. I painted pictures. Oh did I mention I read?… a lot… more than I can remember. However, a few excellent books stand out that I am going to list here:

My top ten (actually thirteen) books for 2014:

The first three I mention because they are wonderful, but not new:

The Lord of the Rings – I read it again for the third time and it is still brilliant. Tolkien’s ability to interweave old myths from Germanic traditions into an English heroic tale of epic proportions is still astounding. Yes, the movies are good, but they will never ever be a substitution for the books.

The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Again, I reread this for the third time. My sides still hurt from all the laughing.

The Necronomicon, The Best Weird Tales of H.P Lovecraft – I am quite new to Lovecraft, having always been more of a Poe admirer. But after receiving this huge, beautifully bound collection of Lovecraft’s works as a gift, I started making my way through his most well-known weird tales. It took some getting used too. Lovecraft’s prose is a purple as it comes and his fondness for certain adjectives can sometimes be a little irritating. However, once you are used to his style and start reading a little deeper, the stories he crafted are quite phenomenal. Well worth the spending of a few stormy nights reading by candlelight in a darkened room.

Now onto newer titles:

The Dream Guild Chronicles: Irradiance and Sight – By David Bruns

I’m putting books one and two into this list as they are part of the same series. As speculative fiction goes, Mr Bruns knows his stuff and writes beautifully crafted and well researched tales. What I really loved about these first two books is that from book one to two you are taken on a journey through two entirely different landscapes. The first is very high tech and makes some very interesting points about climate change, whilst the second takes you to an almost prehistoric past and tribal cultures dealing with the coming of foreigners.
Both are fantastic works and I cannot wait to read book three, which came out recently.

The Song of the Sea God – Chris Hill

I really really enjoyed this novel. This is my kind of literature! The themes are not happy or light hearted in any sense. They deal with a darker side to human nature and take a good look at human conditioning and our propensity to be easily influenced by people who are very aware of which buttons they need to press.

Diamonds and Dust – Carol Hedges

What a fantastic adventure! Ms Hedges takes us to Victorian England where murderous individuals roam the streets, quite literally. Excellently researched and written with wit and a modern insight into the rigid conventions of those years, this book is well worth the read. I won’t say anymore, as being a mystery, I wouldn’t want to give the game away.

Fraud – Peter Davey

This has to be one of the best brain benders I’ve read in a long time. The plot twists and turns and then turns back on itself to the point where just when you think you’ve got it figured out, it goes and dashes all of your presumptions in one fell swoop.

Aunt Coco and the Marionette Man – Lynn Moorhouse

In the review I wrote for this I mentioned that this novel thrums. It really does. The emotions invoked and the images it conjures resonate with the reader in such a beautiful way that when you come to the end you are almost breathless. Set in South Africa and England, it tells the story of a family going through some of the most difficult decades in South Africa’s history and the effect this has on people from both sides of divide.

Trackers – Deon Meyer

Another South African tale here, this time from well-known crime writer Deon Meyer. In a way he reminds me of a South African Raymond Chandler or Robert Parker. His crime writing is gritty and noir-ish with a generous lashing of South African humour thrown in. His characters are what really make the story and they are all vividly drawn and equally flawed.

Damned – Chuck Palahniuk

I’ve been a Palahniuk fan for quite some time, and while many of his admirers shun his newer work, I thoroughly enjoy his new, more black comedy than nihilistic, style of writing. Damned is the story of a thirteen year old girl who finds herself in Hell after accidentally causing her own death. Hell turns out to be rather disappointingly Hell-ish. It has all the expected grossness but is not as bad as she was lead to believe. In addition, the denizens of Hell can still make contact with the land of the living by working in a call centre. Hilarity ensues.

Cthulu Cymraeg – Various

This is an anthology of Lovecraftian tales but with a Welsh twist. All of the weirdness, but with the added twist of Celtic spookiness.

My better half is always a treasure trove of undiscovered authors that I somehow missed along the way. It is due to him that these last two books are on my list. They are not new releases, but I was so entranced by them that they had to be on the list of favourite reads for this year.

Kiss Me Judas – Christopher Baer

Kiss Me Judas is dark and fatalistic, but at its core it a love story between a broken man and a wounded woman. Neither of them want to be in love, but somehow they just can’t be without each other. The mood is grim, the themes are difficult and this is not fare for the faint of heart, but if you like your novels gritty and gutsy, this is one to read.

The Contortionist’s Handbook – Craig Clevenger

This was another treat to discover. Clevenger is not as gritty and dark as Baer, but the atmosphere is similar. Again, the protagonist lives in a world a good deal shadier and less legal than the one most of us live in. But where Baer deals with broken people, Clevenger’s characters are more upbeat, more optimistic, even if they do live on the more risky side of the tracks. One can also learn an awful lot of interesting information on counterfeiting smiley_wink

Thus ends my year in books, which, if I’m totally honest, is where I spend most of my time.

Here’s wishing you all a fantastic New Year and may 2015 being you all you hope for.

See you next year!


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