Yeah, didn’t expect this to make my list, but here it is. That’s not to mean that I don’t like the Halo franchise, far from it. I love the lore. More so now that I can understand what the hell’s going on in the games since as a kid I just enjoyed them for their awesome gameplay. Who knew a terrific story weaved the whole Halo tapestry together? The Flood is pretty much Halo: Combat Evolved in a book. Except instead of following the Master Chief everywhere, you jump between him, Captain Keyes (my favourite Halo character), various UNSC personnel such as Foehammer and Melissa McKay. You even follow two Covenant soldiers: Zuka ‘Zamamee, an Elite, and Yayap, a Grunt. Their interwoven story is outstanding on its own actually, since they are tied together through the Grunt’s bad luck and opportunistic gumption to save himself. Together they spend the book tracking the Master Chief’s tail so the Elite can kill him gaining favour with the Covenant hierarchy. Having played through the game more times than I’d like to admit, it was a real treat to experience different sides of the fight on the ring-world as well as those iconic missions the Master Chief goes through. When I think of Halo: Combat Evolved, my mind always jumps to the ‘Assault on the Control Room’ mission where Chief and a bunch of Marines head to the control room to find out what Halo is. And of course the suffocating and terrifying ordeal through the Library where it’s just you, a shotgun and the Flood. For Halo fans, I’d recommend this as not just beautiful nostalgia, but a great new perspective on things that happened off-screen. What happened to Keyes while the Flood had him? What was Foehammer doing throughout the whole campaign and what about the Marines trapped on Halo while Chief is going solo? It’s all here. And it’s awesome.
Whether or not you’ve seen the movie, the book is a miracle. Every character here, both inmate and guard is damaged, miserable and hopeful that something good waits for them on the other side. For John Coffey, his path has been written for him, and as Old Sparky waits to hug him tight he has to come to terms with his supernatural gift while surrounded by insanity, a dishonorable guard and a bunch of screws who have taken a soft spot for him. I haven’t seen the whole film, but when I saw Michael Clarke Duncan playing John Coffey, that image was stuck in my head. I can’t imagine Coffey as anyone else. Clarke just nailed the character from his appearance, his gentle personality, and his cracked eggshell soul. You know early on without any real answers that Coffey is more of a victim than a criminal, and the real monsters are made clear. You’ll want the right characters to survive and you’ll want the bastards to suffer. It sounds cold, but it’s true. Hope is a rare thing on E-Block and since the inmates know they’re here to stay until Old Sparky says otherwise, it’s the guards who need hope more than anyone. How many men can a guard send to death for his spirit to break? How many times can they strap a con to the chair before they stop deluding themselves that they are doing good things? The guards are men of God and even though their devotion is unquestionable, you get the sense that even they are skeptical if Saint Peter has the stomach to let them in heaven. Stephen King places work on death row under scrutiny, but it’s never done cruelly, far from it. Someone’s got to do it, right? No. Nobody should ever have to strap a man into a knackered wooden chair and watch him sizzle, scream and burn until he’s dead. And that’s if the sponge on the prisoner’s head is dry. You could look at the guards on E-Block as nothing more than garbage men, just cleaning out the human trash because no other sucker’s going to do it for them. This is not just a book you read, it’s a book you’ll cry over and believe, really believe that these characters have lived. And they have. You can bet your life they have.
For a year now I’ve jabbered about this perfect, perfect, PERFECT book. I finished it on New Year’s Day and pretty much knew right then that that book was as good as it was going to get. If a story features cities, lonely characters, a lot of nighttime, drugs and music then I want to read it. Just shy of two-hundred pages it’s the ideal afternoon read, but if you’re like me, you may intentionally stop yourself just so you can save it for another time. That’s how it is with me and TV shows. I could bench-watch Scrubs all day, but I won’t. Same with video games. Anyway, back to the book. Unlike most books, it’s written in second-person which makes everything immediately more personal. It’s you who is in the action. It’s you who starts off in the club with a shaven-headed girl doing cocaine in the bathroom. It’s you who insists you can write the article without help, and it’s you who falls for a girl called Megan. Every. Single. Page is magic. So much so that I had to stop myself from finishing the book in a day so I could keep it going. It’s hard to come up with anything new that I haven’t said. Some scenes stand out more than others, like any book. Your date with Megan at her house is especially enchanting, the nights out with Allagash are to be treasured and the constant description of your failings, hard-luck and misery is ever-present and engrossing with every flick of the page. I’m just all about these books, and when they are as tippy-top as Bright Lights, Big City, it’s the best thing ever. Even the name alone is particularly beautiful. I’m a sucker for great names. I’ve waffled for too long. This is not only my top favourite book I’ve read in 2014, but it’s in my top three of all-time. If there was one book I’d demand you go and read, it’s this.
Believe the hype, that’s what I say. I didn’t know what to expect with this one. I didn’t even know it had aliens in it, but when I started it I knew I would love it. Watching Andrew Martin’s evolution from an unfeeling alien into an all-feeling human is one those one-of-a-kind reading experiences that I hope everyone can feel. I wish I came up with this book! Matt Haig is a bloody great writer, and you should check this out.
This book earns the ‘Made me Bloody Sad’ award this year, easily. Well, since that isn’t a real award on my scale, although it should be, it still deserves a mention. This was one of those books that I didn’t expect to enjoy that much. Considering the subject that’s still a hypersensitive one to talk about, I couldn’t put it down. Oskar Schell was a wonderful protagonist. You just want that nine-year old to invent more and more and find the missing key for that lockbox. In fact, you just want to turn back time so 9/11 never happened and he could have his dad back and they could be happy again. But that’s not how it happened. I don’t know if I’d read it again, but I’m glad I did. And you know the saddest thing of all? There probably is a little Oskar Schell out there somewhere in New York. He may not be an inventor, but he misses his dad. The title really does say it all.
This contemporary crime thriller was so strange for me. Why? Because Tom Rob Smith wrote about mobile phones, the internet and credit cards instead of AK-47s, Communism and politics. Since the Child 44 trilogy is done, it’s on to new and exciting things. The Farm was every bit as great as I hoped it would be, and his knack for storytelling isn’t just reserved for Cold War stories. Based off his own life, this chilling novel is all about family, lies and mental illness and it’s all brought to life from his mother’s retelling of life in Sweden. It does all the right things for a good story, and what’s more, it’s something original. This happened to Tom Rob Smith, and now he’s telling it to us. Can’t wait for more.
Urban fantasy, awesome stories and amazing characters. Every single book stands out on its own and when you connect them all together, you’ve got a gallery of the finest pieces of art. Not one book in this series is a perfect achievement, but it’s a brand new beautiful story that I hope won’t end anytime soon. I’m not done with mystical London and insane River Gods and cocky police officers, the weird Molly and the ancient Nightingale, and I hope Ben Aaronovitch isn’t either.
As the last blog post of the year, I think this wraps it all up nicely. 2014 was great for books, both ones that came out this year and ones that didn’t, but when they all come together it makes for an awesome reading year to look back on. I’ll drink to a new year full of more amazing books, and I’d got a ton to read. Next up is my December book haul. It’s a big one. Until then, have yourselves a happy New Bookish Year.
Songs of the Week:
- 'The Good Left Undone' by Rise Against
- 'Methadone' by Rise Against
- 'Nobody's Home' by Avril Lavigne
- 'Fall to Pieces' by Avril Lavigne
- 'If You' by Skrux
- 'So Wrong' by Illenium
- 'Now' by Blackmill & Mt Eden
- 'Statues' by The Eden Project ft. Leah Kelly