Along with many others, I'm sure, I normally find January to be a real grind as emotional lows and dark nights really start to take their toll. Not so this month. If anything, I feel more at ease with the world than ever. This could be due the the pain medication I'm on for my back, which also involves the taking of an anti-depressant for the nerve problems. Whatever it is, I'm not complaining.
The writing's fun just now. Even though the paths through my current novel haven't been quite as easy to find as I might have hoped, I've been able to hack my way through the mass of thoughts and return to the main drag often enough to keep up the momentum.
Favourite film of the month was one I stumbled into last night, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. As I don't get out much, TV is my main access to movies, so they're not always current releases. This one was a real surprise, a well-handled coming-of-age piece that was able to use the odd cliche and still remain engaging and fresh. As well as being vibrant and energising, there was plenty of dark material in there as the story unfolded. I did cry at the end and that doesn't happen too often.
I also picked up a couple of belated birthday gifts. The first was a pair of slippers (always welcome) and the second is photographed at the head of the page. It's the text of White Fang presented as an image. I love the result and am writing beneath it now. There are loads of other classics over at Spineless Classics if you're looking for a suitable gift for a book lover.
Reading's been slow but delicious.
First off, a novel by George Simenon called Striptease. Essentially, it shines a microscope onto the lives and relationships of those who work in the club. Celita is the long-standing mistress of the proprietor of the club and is keen to keep her man even though his wife is constantly watching and all-knowing. Problems arise when a new and pretty young thing arrives and captivates Monsieur Leon with innocent ease. The result is not so much a love-triangle as a love-knot as bodies and stories are shared between the characters. Though not my favourite Simenon by quite some way, it's still a treat to read. Some of the descriptions of the relationships are possibly telling about the author's own attitudes to sex and I did occasionally feel like a voyeur as he pulled back the curtains and allowed me to gaze in. The ending has a real energy and power to it and I'd recommend you give it a go.
One of the reasons that my reading has been even slower than usual is that I took Willy Vlautin's The Free down from my shelves. I read it in small bites because I wanted to savour each section and as I came to the end, didn't really want to finish. It's a complex tale that builds up through the telling of a number of simple stories. Leroy is the veteran of the Iraq war who is a hospital patient and who survives in an imaginary world where he's on the run with his girlfriend. They're being chased by right-wing conservative vigilantes who are brutal and unflinching in their pursuit of the eradication of the mild. Though a central character in the piece, Leroy is also like the skeleton that allows the flesh of the novel to stand up. The flesh comes in the form of two wonderful people who work in Leroy's hospital. Pauline is a nurse with an enormous heart who gets by in spite of the weight of life she has to carry. Freddie is the night watchman who cares for the patients and also holds down a dead-end job in a paint store; the weight of medical bills and general misfortune are constantly threatening to wear Freddie's life down and every day brings a new battle. The celebration of Pauline and Freddie is surely also a celebration of those who care in general and the nursing profession in particular. Pick up a copy and see if you don't enjoy Freddie's routine stop at the donut shop as much as I did. It's a special story that makes me extremely grateful that we have the National Health Service here in the UK - let's not let that fall apart under any circumstances.
My short story cravings have been more than satisfied by the latest issue of All Due Respect magazine (number 5). This is a nicely varied collection of tales with twists. It kicks off with Steve Weddle and a novel excerpt. It's a great slice to be presented with as it seems to stand alone and yet completely whets the appetite for the whole story. I can't wait to get my hands on that when it's released. He's interviewed later by Jed Jedidiah Ayres and you wouldn't want to miss that. There are short stories in this collection by a range of talents - Paul D Brazill, Angel Luis Colon, Garnete Elliott, Gabino Iglesias and Joe Sinisi. These are all great pieces. There's also another story, Alkaline by Keith Rawson, which is my favourite in the pack. I loved the voice and the set-up from the opening and was keen to follow the story wherever it went even though I didn't have a clue where that might be. This rounds off sublimely and definitely has a real bite. If that weren't enough there are also a series of reviews including the latest Hard Case Crime pick and one for my own Southsiders. I'd like to thank Chris Rhatigan for his fine and kind words and for remaining an inspiration in the world of books. If you've not tried one before, please do yourself a favour and check it out. If you won't believe me, here's a tiny piece from a 5 star review that says:
'Take all these great stories and add reviews for Nigel Bird, Westlake, and Brewer and you have a must own collection here.
My TBR pile is extensive on any given day, and it just got bigger, as ADR just recently released a new one by Jake Hinkson and just published Uncle Dust by Rob Pierce. Guess what two books just jumped to the top of my TBR pile? I am in love with All Due Respect Books! Keep them coming!'
Younger by Therailsofficial
Bad Place For A Good Time by Kate Tempest
Metamorphosis by Pinkshinyultrablast
Swing Like A Monkey from The Len Price Three (tops) which is from a film called Pub Monkey which looks fab.
I'm hoping to get into the latest release from Anthony Neil Smith courtesy of Blasted Heath. It's called Worm and the cover is fab.
The same can be said of Uncle Dust by Rob Pierce and I can hear that one calling to me loud and clear.
Bitter Water Blues by Patrick Shawn Bagley and published by the excellent Snubnose Press is also one for your list.
And if that wasn't enough, there was another release from Number Thirteen Press this January, The Mistake by Grant Nicol.
Here's to a good February. Thanks for coming.