Reading List for 2019

Happy belated New Year to all!

It’s that time of year where we start making promises we know we won’t keep but in the spirit of trying, I’ve decided I’m going to formally commit/attempt at reading a set number of books this year!

Indeed, as far as Goodreads is concerned, I have set myself an achievable target of 30 books (1 down, 29 to go).

I’m hoping to make this a mix of published and self-published books but, for now, here are the top five novels – in no particular order – I’m hoping to get my hands on.

1) Prince of Thorns – Mark Lawrence

prince of thorns

“Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone and what is left of them lies in my mother’s tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse.” – (Goodreads)

It’s reportedly very dark, the front cover’s gorgeous, and George R. R. Martin’s a fan. What’s not to like?

Follow a young boy called Jorg, driven by an insatiable thirst for vengeance after watching the cold-blooded slaughter of his mother and brother – I did mention that it was dark, right?

2) Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

children of blood and bone

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.” – (Goodreads)

That’s two cases of parental killings now – I worry I’m starting some kind of morbid theme. Anyhow, putting aside the fact that Adeyemi’s debut novel won a Goodreads Choice Award (for Best Debut Author), what really grabs the attention is the story’s West African influence.

3) The Rage of Dragons – Evan Winter

the rage of dragons

“One in twenty-five hundred Omehi women are Gifted, wielding fragments of their Goddess’ power and capable of controlling the world’s most destructive weapon – Dragons. One in a hundred of their men has blood strong enough for the Gifted to infuse with magic, turning these warriors into near unstoppable colossi.” – (Goodreads)

Okay, okay, I know its a book of dragons, yes… I see the dragon… yes the author compares the book to Game of Thrones but hear me out! It’s a self-published, debut novel by Evan Winters, which comes with swathes of high recommendations.

Like Adeyemi’s, Winters’s novel is similarly influenced by the author’s African upbringing and should hopefully be just as fresh a breath of air as Children of Blood and Bone.

4) Senlin Ascends – Josiah Bancroft

senlin ascends

“Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.” – (Goodreads)

Ooooh…. pretty. Did I mention I’m a sucker for a good cover?

You may also remember Mark Lawrence from #1, who simply can’t get enough of Senlin Ascends, and sells the book far better than I could at this stage:

“It’s the story of a man’s literal ascent up the many tiers of the Tower of Babel, a series of bizarre ring-doms standing at the centre of a huge and varied empire. Senlin goes there on honeymoon armed with his expertise on the subject in hand, and finds the reality very different to what his reading has led him to expect. As with all journeys of consequence, Senlin’s ascent has an impact on both the traveler and those encountered on his travels.

It has truly excellent prose. So many lines made me deeply jealous. Clever, literary, insightful lines that cut to the quick of the matter.

The story is compelling. It unfolds and unfolds. Because the characters are excellently drawn I cared very much about where it was all going.

The imagination is unbound and intriguing. This has a strong Jack Vance, Dying Earth vibe, mixed in with overtones of Kafka, but it’s also very much its own thing with hope and defiance to offset the cynicism.” – (Mark Lawrence, Goodreads)

5) Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas

throne of glass

“In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake. She got caught.” – (Goodreads)

Meet Celaena Sardothien, a teenage assassin forced to compete with her fellow assassins to serve as her king’s champion – and personal killer – and earn her freedom.

I’m more curious than anything with this New York Times bestseller, to be completely frank. Anyone who spends any time in the depths of Instagram’s ‘bookstagram’ world will be all too aware of the unrelenting horde of Maas followers.

I’m bowing to the horde with this one.

 

So there’s my top five books for 2019! But I’d love to see what you’re all hoping to read this year and what you enjoyed in 2018! Feel free to leave your favourites in the comments below.

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Selection Headaches and Titles

Can Liverpool’s newfound depth help bring the title back to Merseyside?

Milner penalty celebration with Firmino and Keita

Firmino and Liverpool summer signing Keita celebrate a Milner spot-kick

Whilst ill-reflected by the scoreline, the manner of Liverpool’s victory at Selhurst Park on Monday evening was arguably more demonstrative of how the Reds will fare this season than their goal glutz of an opener against West Ham.

Facing a well organised Palace side, Liverpool were forced to adopt a more considered approach. Indeed, they were unfortunate not to be rewarded for their patience halfway through the first half when, after leaving Andros Townsend in limbo with a timely flick, Naby Keita found Mohamed Salah in the opposition box with a sublime lofted pass. Uncharacteristically, however, for Liverpool’s top scorer of last season, the Egyptian lifted the ball too high over Wayne Hennessey. Ultimately, goals from James Milner and Sadio Mané were enough to bring all three points back to Merseyside.

Whilst the plaudits will rightly go to Liverpool’s rearguard, much improved since the start of Jürgen Klopp’s regime, the game, along with the opener at Anfield, highlighted Liverpool’s much improved depth. Certainly, a bench featuring the likes of new signings Fabinho and Xerdan Shaqiri, as well as Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson, is nothing to sniff at. The fact that Fabinho was not even present within the Palace matchday squad should demonstrate how tough competition for places has become. Of course, one would suspect, given Klopp’s previous comments on the former Monaco midfielder, that Fabinho will eventually be drafted into the squad come December – if not sooner – much the same as right-back Andy Robertson.

In numerous interviews, Klopp has stressed the importance of fostering such a competitive environment in order to mould a team capable of facing any given opponent and style of play. Pep Guardiola’s record breaking ‘centurions’ are arguably evidence of the fact that such strength in depth correlates strongly to points on the pitch.

Klopp - Pre Palace Press Conference

Klopp: “…I really love the fact that we have the possibility to bring other players in with similar qualities…”

There are other factors at play of course, as both Leicester and Chelsea have demonstrated, the lack of European football can be a significant advantage in regard to mounting a successful title challenge. However, England’s Premier League has proved time and time again to be a long slog to those managers who fail to invest properly in their squads following a title win. Inevitably, to compete on all fronts it has become increasingly clear that a wide squad is an absolute must.

Take Manchester City’s impressive campaign last year, which saw them maintain their berth at the summit of the league from September through till May, and secure both the League Cup and their third league title. Even with an impressive bench boasting the likes of Ilkay Gündogan, Yaya Touré, and Raheem Sterling, City still stumbled against League One winners Wigan in the F.A. Cup and took an earlier exit than expected in the Champions League, albeit due to an elite Liverpool performance over two legs.

A strong starting eleven can only get you so far. Lacking the same level of quality over the entire squad, Liverpool’s route to Kiev was paid for in a number of drab draws across April, as tired legs began to show. Although, many will be quick to point out that, before the last Merseyside derby, City had a jaw-dropping sixteen and eighteen point lead over Manchester United and Liverpool respectively. But, in most cases, such a point gap late into the season is a particularly rare occurrence, which underlines the level of Guardiola’s accomplishment.

2015 -16 2016 - 17 2017 - 18 table comparison (matchweek 31)

Premier League table by Matchweek 31, gap between top 2: 1) 2017/18 season (top): 16 point gap; 2) 2016/17 season (middle): 7 point gap, 3) 2015/16 season (bottom): 5 point gap

While it would be presumptuous to write off fellow challengers in Chelsea and Tottenham, one could argue that Liverpool – especially given the club’s success in head-to-head fixtures against the current champions – offer the most considerable threat to City’s chances of securing a consecutive league title. In shipping out Loris Karius, a keeper who many once thought had a promising future at the club, in favour of £66.9m Alisson, Klopp has shown how ruthless he is prepared to be to end Liverpool’s twenty-nine year wait for a title. And with other key additions having been made to the squad, the German should feel like this is his team’s first proper crack of the whip. After all, as Klopp has reiterated over the course of his tenure, competition for places and squad depth can only be good for performance, and, hopefully, titles.

The Oracle’s Embrace

You got used to the screaming. It stayed with Markus for a while, and little helped to drown it out. With each new suspect another scream was added to the batch, a cacophony of terror that became all he would ever hear when he closed his eyes. More than once it had got too much during one of Mentor’s ‘sessions’. Markus had abruptly severed his own connection, or ‘Embrace’ they called it, to one of the suspects they were dealing with when the man’s screams had worn him out. The screaming stopped with it, and he remembered profusely apologizing before bursting into tears. Mentor had cuffed Markus on the back of his head three times without a word, not as hard as he could, but enough so that it made a point. What the point was though, he was not exactly sure. Then, after every single time he had messed up, Mentor would take Markus’ place and be finished within the hour. The men never once screamed under his Embrace.

The nature of the Oracles’ work mean that there were very few applicants and even fewer Oracles. Applicants cracking during the process was not uncommon, most minds weren’t strong enough to carry the pressure, Mentor had said. There were even rumors about the deaths of applicants, something about faulty connections or people getting too attached to the point they couldn’t withdraw cleanly. But they had all been warned. Mentor, among others, made sure the applicants knew that most of them would not last long enough to become an Oracle, and that those who did would be changed forever.

It made Markus wonder at times what Mentor had been like when he had been his age, standing where he stood, watching an Oracle ease open someone’s mind. Had the screams once tested his resolve? Private memories once rattled the emotions he now seemingly held caged behind a grim exterior? His eyes were less comforting, they didn’t really seem to grasp you as much as Markus had thought they might. Rather, they seemed to look beyond you, at the bigger picture. Given his line of work, he was used to seeing through people.

“What does this one’s mind reveal to you?” Mentor asked, immersing his eyes in shadow with a tip of his wide-brimmed fedora.

‘This one’. The Inquisition chose to distance itself from any conception of the human being as a living, emotional thing. To the Inquisition, these suspects were nothing more than tools to be manipulated until their further use became unnecessary… or they broke.

Markus focused on the images cast before him. So many key moments that had inspired this man’s life up to this very moment. The meadow where he had met his lover featured prominently, he was a miner, he didn’t care much for the job, but it was honest work. One image kept catching his attention, the miner and his lover locked in a warm embrace under the stars, their bodies entwined in each others. He felt a warmth rise behind his ears. This man had done nothing wrong, but here he was, snooping through all his most private and treasured possessions. With the miner’s groaning beginning to intensify, Markus cut the connection, and the man fell swiftly quiet.

“What did you see?” Mentor asked.

“Nothing of note, Mentor” Markus replied hurriedly, “he – i mean this one – led a simple life.”

“You’ve searched thoroughly?”

“He yearns for his lover, Mentor” Markus said, feeling the heat behind his ears spread to his cheeks, “he feels-”

“This one’s emotions are irrelevant, Stryde” Mentor said, “don’t let them blind you of the truth.”

“Mentor” Markus bowed his head.

“And as for these images you’ve been shown…”

Mentor took a step forward and angled his head towards the prisoner.

The suspect’s eyes opened once more, but he didn’t struggle anywhere near as much as he had under Markus’ Embrace.

“Now what do you see?”

Hesitantly, Markus reopened his connection with the suspect and was greeted with familiar images. But in seconds they began to darken and ripple around the edges. With a faint sigh from the suspect, a torrent of new images began to flood before his eyes.

He caught sight of a hand around a woman’s throat… a pick-axe held aloft in the air.

“What… are these?” Markus murmured, “I don’t understand.”

“His life… stripped bare of the illusions” Mentor replied.

Farage Rallies the Troops amidst Referendum U-Turn

To the shock of ‘remainers’ and ‘leavers’ across Britain, prominent Brexiteer – and former UKIP leader – Nigel Farage acknowledged the possibility of there being a need for a second referendum on the question of leaving the EU in the future.

The question arose during a recent episode of ‘The Wright Stuff’ on Channel Five, where Farage claimed that a second referendum would serve to further entrench the leave majority.

“I think if we had a second referendum on EU membership we’d kill it off for a generation. The percentage that would vote to leave next time would be very much bigger than it was last time.”

An interesting observation, considering that polls as far back as December have begged to differ on the matter. Indeed, a snap poll conducted by The Independent, in response to Farage’s U-turn on the matter, has revealed that the result of the first referendum would be effectively overturned. Reportedly, the Remain side would claim victory with 55 per cent of voters opting to remain in the EU, completely reversing the original vote. A further study undertaken for The Independent by BMG Research supported this discovery, showing that 51 per cent of people would prefer to remain in the EU, compared to 41 per cent who would not.

Amidst a flurry of calls on his LBC slot, Farage disputed the concerns of several leave voters that he was accepting the inevitability of a second referendum. The former UKIP leader admitted that there was indeed a possibility, [of a second referendum arising] following his meeting with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, earlier this week. Indeed, he attested on LBC that his apparent U-turn was prompted by his discussion with Barnier, in which the EU negotiator had allegedly convinced Farage that the UK would not be offered a good deal.

http://www.lbc.co.uk/radio/presenters/nigel-farage/nigel-farage-prepare-second-referendum-brexit/

“My pessimism in that meeting with Barnier, realising he’s not going to give us a good deal was of course backed up by the three leading British businessmen who went to see him yesterday.”

Bemoaning the lack of a ‘united campaigning group’ to counter the heavy remain forces protesting in the streets of London, he urged leave voters to wake up from the stupor of the first referendum, and begin marching on the streets. Although, Farage hastened to add that he did not want a second referendum, if it could be avoided, but reiterated an earlier point that, should it occur, it would grant the leave side an even bigger majority.

However, it would surprise many should Farage’s concerns come to fruition, given Theresa May’s position on a second referendum hasn’t changed. Indeed, the Prime Minister has said on multiple occasions that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal.” Which would appear to suggest that the current government would not attempt to undo the process by voting on a second referendum. This has been perpetuated by May’s latest addition to the Brexit Department, Suella Fernandes, who claimed Britain could still prosper without any kind of deal being reached. Although, an array of leading economists agreed that Britain would feel the negative effects of Brexit for years to come.

Even if, as some Tory MPs say, that Farage’s U-turn is a desperate cry for attention, his comments have once again sparked considerable controversy. Despite consistently backing the narrative of ‘Brexit means Brexit’, Farage’s latest admissions should come as a cause for concern for leavers, and a spark of hope for the EU faithful.

Melancholy Mill

A young prince, Rorie, visits Melancholy Mill, a building in the Moorlands where no soldier will willingly venture

Darkness had fallen.

It was the blackest night Rorie had ever seen. The moon was hidden away by thick plumes of clouds that obscured its light. The dying campfires below were the soldiers’ only solace.

It was the fourth night Rorie had quietly stolen away from the royal encampment. Indeed, by now, he knew the guard patrols like the back of his hand, and tonight, like it had been for the past week, darkness was his ally. Father Tomlin would have raised hell on earth has he found out, but, as of yet, he had been completely unaware of his midnight antics. Although, as he weaved through each of the rend tents before him, reciting the patrols under his breath, he could not help the Father’s warning spring to mind: the dark is thick here, lad. Be careful where you tread, for the Moorlands have swallowed many a man.

He had thought of the Priest’s words as nothing more than an old wives’ tale to keep the young’uns in check. But now, as he departed the warm glow of the last campfire, Rorie’s mind began to wonder. What truth was in Father Tomlin’s words? Dark shapes twisted through his mind, and he pictured the charcoal clouds above descending down towards the moors, reaching out towards him with wispy tendrils. The dark is thick here, lad.

Rorie shivered, as if someone had traced a cold fingertip down the bumps in his spine, and shook himself.

The darkness here didn’t just affect him, or Father Tomlin. In fact, it seemed to impact all manner of man and beast, even the elements. The horses throughout the day had to be periodically comforted by the soldiers, and it only got worse during the night. Only the day before, one of the more nervous horses had broken free of its reins and galloped off into the distance. It never returned.

The men broke long periods of morbid silence by swapping tales and stories, further perplexing still, about the Moorlands. It was as if they sought to numb themselves from the terrors around them by unsettling each other even more. Or perhaps they simply drew solace from the fact that they weren’t the only ones that were scared. It really seemed to Rorie a most bizarre place to camp.

Alas, he thought he was not as frightened as the rest, and was eager to explore ‘Melancholy Mill’. A short distance away, resting on top of a hill just beyond the campsite, a windmill of ebony lay, so dark it almost faded away entirely into the gloom that hung around it. Despite its ominous colour, it was seemingly just another windmill, although somewhat derelict and not visibly connected to any nearby farmland, as far as Rorie could tell. Its purpose was unclear. Although the soldiers had many a story to tell about it.

Advanced patrols claimed, somewhat unconvincingly, that the tattered blades, of their own volition, swept around and back without the aid of wind, switching independently from clockwise to anti-clockwise. But another spoke with less embellishment, and more chilling certainty, about what he had heard. Cries and moans he said had cascaded down the hill. They had come from Melancholy Mill, he swore, and this time, no one dared to challenge the soldier’s claims. Rorie’s father had laughed off the men’s concerns, citing it to ‘proactive imaginations’, a side effect of the long journey to the Moorlands. The boy would soon find out the truth of the matter.

Having climbed the hill, cautious not to slip on the damp grass, the mill now stood before him. As he treaded slowly towards it, he had a niggling sensation of being watched, but wherever he looked he could not spy an onlooker. The mill was literally in the middle of nowhere. What purpose did it fulfil in being here, other than to terrify those who passed by? Before he could ponder this question further, Rorie spotted something on the front of the mill. A door, barely highlighted by the smallest of nicks in the black paint that covered the mill, revealing part of the door’s outline.

Perhaps someone was inside, someone to whom the cries could be attributed. But to Rorie’s disappointment, the ‘door’ lacked any sort of knob or pulley to open it. He tried, at first, with his fingertips, pulling the door, and when that failed he tried to barge it open with his shoulder. The door remained stubbornly closed as if a great weight was piled against it. What kind of door was this, Rorie thought.

But just as he decided to give up and turn to march back down the hill, he felt a sudden chill tickle his ankles, like a draft. Then suddenly, a voice spoke out behind him, “Are you of Blackthawne, boy?”

Rorie jumped and slowly swivelled round.

Standing in front of the door, as if he had been there all this time, stood a knight. His armour was of the blackest metal, so dark he could have easily blended in beside the mill. His broadsword, a heavy looking weapon that, set against the ground before the knight’s feet, stood as tall as the boy. Where had this knight come from? Was this the source of the cries the soldier had heard?

“H-hello,” Rorie said.

“Are you of House Blackthawne, boy?” the voice demanded for a second time.

House Blackthawne? Rorie had never heard of a House Blackthawne…. Perhaps it was one of the smaller provincial houses he hadn’t told of yet? But he certainly wasn’t of this house.

He began to reply in the negative, but paused before the words could leave his lips. Why did the knight want to know? What would happen if he said no? The knight looked to be guarding this mill, perhaps he would take offence if he found out the boy was not of his House.

“Why do you wish to know? Sir Knight,” Rorie added hastily.

“You are not of House Blackthawne?” the voice said.

Rorie felt a lump begin to rise in his throat, and tensed as the Knight raised his broadsword. But the Knight merely stamped his sword into the ground twice, and barked: “leave!”

He had so many questions, but reluctantly obeyed the knight’s command. Slowly moving backwards with his hands outstretched before him.

Then suddenly the cold draft began to blow again, more intensely than the last time, and the door behind the knight suddenly blew open.

“Let him enter,” a new voice rang sharply from the open doorway.

The knight then kneeled beside his sword, his free arm resting on his knee.

“As you wish,” the knight said.

To Rorie’s amazement, the edge of the knight’s armour began to wisp away into shadowy tendrils, the rest of his armour and his sword slowly following suit before he completely dissipated in the air, like sand in the wind. The open door now beckoned towards him. Spellbound, Rorie accepted the invitation.

The Palmeira Murder

Out one cold November morning, something gruesome awaits Thomas Smith…

It was a day like any other. Or so Thomas thought. He woke up in the morning at 10 O’clock, kissed his wife on the forehead and went to take a shower. He then got dressed into his suit and ate breakfast, which generally consisted of cornflakes, or his daughter, Priscilla’s, coco pops, if he felt in the mood. Before leaving the house Thomas gave Priscilla a bear hug and then jumped into the car with a goodbye peck from his wife.

It was a cold autumn day outside the car window. A sombre and yet aesthetic scene of trees lined the road to the clinic, some bare to their wooden bones, their foliage scattered around them in seas of red and gold, others somehow still hanging on to their charges, as if wary of the loneliness their departure would bring. Thomas slowed the car to a stop outside his usual parking space down Palmeira Square and pushed open the door. The November chill tentatively crept onto his seat, tickling his ankles and scratching at the exposed skin of his face and neck. He pulled his coat tighter against his body before getting out of the car. The autumnal frost hadn’t quite stained the grass yet, but Thomas could already feel the raw bite of the cold.

He pondered for a moment on the mournful scenery surrounding him; blight and rot dominated his vision. If Summer was the peak of nature’s powers, then Autumn was its deathbed; yet there was a quiet beauty to the decay to be found. A song edged with ice whistled in the wind, a lullaby to Summer’s end and a call to Winter’s cold embrace. It was a melancholy beauty he felt only a select few could fully appreciate.

Thomas briefly danced on the spot for warmth whilst rubbing his hands together. He glanced upwards at the sign placed precariously on the front of pearl white stone slab supported by the matching two columns, typical of the architecture of Hove, which read: Smith and Gauld, Psychology Experts and Therapy Ltd. Although, the E had long since fallen off Experts and the P looked like it would soon follow suit. He made a mental note to remember to order replacements. To be honest, he and his long time friend and colleague, Jason Gauld, were incredibly lucky to even have the sign and their business here. It was something of a stroke of luck that an old client had leased them the bottom floor flat after learning about his ambition to run his own therapy clinic.

He smiled to himself, but turned away and crossed into the main square. He had something to do first. The homeless man was sitting in his usual spot on the park bench directly opposite his parking space, his back facing Thomas and his head drooping into his chest. He rummaged through the contents of his bag, pulling out a canister which gave off faint steam when it came into contact with the air. As far as he could remember, the homeless man had sat on that same park bench in Palmeira Square, and Thomas had always brought him a canister of piping hot coffee at almost precisely 11 O’clock in the morning on the dot. They were both nothing if not creatures of habit.

Thomas offered a brisk “good morning!” and sat down beside the homeless man. The man’s chin did not raise from his chest, nor did his eyes flicker in response. Thomas frowned and checked around and under the bench for any loose paper bags or bottles. He came up empty. He scratched his head; he’d never found the man asleep. Upon consideration of how he could approach this anomaly, he decided to settle with a gentle shake of his shoulder. “You alright?” Thomas said. When this failed to rouse the homeless man from his torpor, he shook the man more firmly which resulted in his body slumping onto his lap. Thomas gasped when he caught sight of the man’s now exposed throat. He didn’t know how he’d completely failed to miss the sheer amount of dried blood in the first place which covered the top of his chest and the brim of his thermal underneath his coat. He sat there – for god knows how long – in stunned silence, before managing to find some sort of composure to fumble inside his jacket pocket for his mobile and dial with shaking hands 999.