Top 10 Books of 2018

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Every year, you think the world can’t get any weirder, and then it does. 2018 was disastrous in many ways, but thankfully there is always fiction to provide you with a safe space. My 2018 was one of mixed emotions, but was redeemed by reaching the crowdfunding target on my second novel, The Third Wheel, getting to hold it in my hands, attending the wedding of one of my best friends and being asked to be a “bridesmate” for my oldest friend this coming year, and, of course, books. I also finally got Netflix this year, which took up an inordinate amount of reading time, but I still managed to hit ninety-one books.

Truth be told, I reached the end of the year struggling with how to write this post. As it got down to it, I remembered reading a good number of books I enjoyed, but very few that stood out as great books. As I went back through the list, though, I found several that really did outshine the rest, and I present them to you now. These are the ten books I read in 2018 that I would most recommend to anyone looking for a new book.

(As a side note, if you purchase any of the books here via the links I provide, I get a little bit of money, so thanks in advance!)

1. The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe by Douglas Adams

Arthur Dent is one of only two humans left in the universe. Along with a collection of assorted aliens and a depressed robot, he is now hurtling through space with no home planet to return to, and being pursued by a Vogon spaceship that has orders to kill Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Galaxy. As the plot pinballs through the universe, but one question remains pivotal for every character involved: “Where are we going for lunch?” There’s only one answer, though. Milliway’s – the restaurant at the end of the universe.

Really, I’d pick the whole series – or at least the first four books – but Restaurant, for whatever reason, has the most emotional pull for me. Daft, witty and somehow still emotional, Adams changed the rules when he wrote these books, proving that with an entire universe of improbability to play with, writers didn’t have to stick to rigid rules regarding how aliens and planets behave. Inventions such as the Babel Fish and the answer to life, the universe and everything being 42 are now iconic in pop culture, and quite rightly so. I can only dream of being this creative.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

2. Not Working by Lisa Owens

Claire Flannery has quit the job she hated, but hasn’t yet figured out exactly what it is she wants to do instead. Her mental health deteriorates as she struggles through job applications and the judgement of friends and family, not helped by the fact she made an inappropriate joke at her grandfather’s funeral and now her mother isn’t talking to her. Claire needs to find some answers to the questions everyone is asking her about her future, but sometimes they come along just as you stop looking.

Having spent an enormous amount of time over the last two years out of work, this book hit home in various ways. While funny, it’s also terribly poignant, dealing with love, loss, a feeling of worthlessness and how no one seems to really understand the emotional and mental impact of unemployment in a capitalist society unless they’re undergoing it themselves. I don’t wish it on anyone, but this book was a brilliant analysis of the topic, with an enormous number of quotable lines and a true sense of reality. I adored it because it made me feel less alone.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

3. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Tom Barren lives in the 2016 that we’ve all dreamed out. With flying cars, food pills, teleportation, total equality, and limitless energy, Earth is a utopian paradise where everybody has enough and comfort and happiness comes as standard. Tom’s father, Victor, is a scientist who is on the brink of inventing time travel, with plans to send someone back through time to the most important moment in history, when Lionel Goettreider turned on his perpetual motion machine which sent humanity into its perfect future. But when Tom goes back by mistake, he accidentally changes history and returns to a broken, backwards world he doesn’t recognise: ours.

This was one of the first books I read in 2018, and I knew from then it would appear here, regardless of what else I read. Mastai has created a fascinating twist on the alternate universe and dystopia theme by having our world be the bad timeline, rather than create something new. It’s funny, engaging and packed with outlandish science that somehow all still seems real and just out of our grasp. To be honest with you, it’s a strong contender for book of the decade, and is one of the best science fiction stories I’ve ever read.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

4. A Short History Of Drunkenness by Mark Forsyth

From the moment our ancestors came out of the trees, and perhaps even before, humans have loved a drink. It defines us as a species as much as our reliance on technology, desire for exploration, and need for telling stories. From the first farmers to the speakeasies of Prohibition, Mark Forsyth explores the entire of human history through our drinking habits, exploring not just what we were drinking, but why we drank, who with, and what for. How well did the plan for Australia to be an entirely dry culture go? And why was ale once drunk through a straw? All this and more will be covered.

One of two non-fiction books entering the top ten this year, this might seem a surprise candidate, but I haven’t had this much fun reading a non-fiction book in a long time. Hugely entertaining, Forsyth balances the fascinating history of alcohol with whimsy and great laughs. I’ve been repeating several of the facts ever since, including the facts that civilisation almost certainly began because of beer, and that in London for a short time, gin was served out of stuffed cats. You’ll have to read it yourself to find out more.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In the near future, fertile women are lesser citizens, sent to live with married couples for the express purpose of having children, with no say over whether or not they want to. Trapped in her life of servitude, Offred remembers the time before the government instigated this way of living, and she isn’t yet ready to give up her dreams. As it stands, the only way of getting anything resembling a better life is to get pregnant, and her whole life rests in the hands of two men who could make or break her future with one word.

Of course this makes it on to the list. I’m still appalled it took me so long to read it, but I think 2018 was actually the year it needed to be read most. There is so much to learn from this novel that shows how the world can change in unfathomable and unthinkable ways if certain ideas and figures aren’t opposed. The characters are fascinating, the world interesting, and the writing, as always with Atwood, beautifully charged with emotion. I’m intrigued by the promise of a sequel, too, and wonder where the story will lead next.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

6. Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

The nameless narrator recalls a project from elementary school where he and his classmates released some balloons into the world with their names on them, in hopes that they get responses from people elsewhere in the city, or perhaps further afield. At first, nothing returns for him, but eventually he begins receiving blurry photographs. First one, then another, and then so many arrive that he stops opening them. It’s only sometime later when he takes a look again that he notices something the photos have in common … he’s in all of them.

Horror isn’t something I read a huge amount of, but there was something so compelling about this novel. I had doubts at first, but it turned into one that my mind has kept returning to since, which I take as a good sign. Just eerie enough to catch you off guard, the book is worth a read for anyone who likes being creeped out. I suppose it’s more of a thriller really, and it definitely makes good on that promise. A truly haunting, terrifying, uncomfortable read.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

7. Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

On an alternate Earth, the planet is still in the grip of an Ice Age, and humanity has had to evolve to hibernate, with the vast majority of the population spending the coldest months in a state of induced sleep. Charlie Worthing is a new recruit among the Winter Consuls, the select group of protectors who remain awake all Winter to ensure that nothing bad happens to the sleepers. Rumours are abound of a viral dream, and Charlie finds himself up to his neck in trouble after he accidentally falls asleep for four weeks and is now trapped in an area of Wales that he won’t be able to leave until the thaw. It’s time to learn what it really takes to survive the Winter…

Straight up confession – this isn’t my favourite Fforde book by any means, but it’s still a Fforde book and that immediately puts it on a higher level than almost everything else published in 2018. After a long absence, it’s refreshing to have him back and still on good form, creating his fifth fictional world that is entirely realised with an enormous scope. Although a standalone novel, I would happily return to this world, just to spend more time with Fforde’s talents for wordplay, comedy and pathos. Truly the greatest writer working today.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

8. Scythe by Neal Shusterman

A few centuries down the line, humanity has cured death. To keep populations in check, there is now a group of people called scythes whose job it is to kill (“glean”) people, in whatever manner they see fit. Citra and Rowan have just been taken from their families to begin training as the next generation of scythes, but both are appalled by the concept of killing, despite knowing that it must happen. Never before has a scythe taken on two apprentices, however, and at the first conclave of the year, a decision is reached – whichever of the two does best in their final exams when the year is out will win the scythe’s robe and ring – and have to glean the other…

It’s not often a YA novel makes it way onto a list of my favourite books of the year, as I tire with a lot of them quickly, but there was something remarkable about Scythe. I haven’t really stopped thinking of it since and have already bought the sequel. Shusterman builds a rich world here and it’s one that I’m happy to spend time in. There are some particularly shocking moments in it, but they somehow work and the whole thing feels effortless in its appeal in a way I’ve not encountered since the Chaos Walking series. This should really be better known than it is.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

9. The Third Wheel by Michael J. Ritchie

Dexter is a twenty-something teacher struggling with growing up. All of his friends have now coupled off while Dexter remains alone, with the world pestering him constantly with its obsession with finding “the one”, as well as an onslaught of double dates and wedding invitations. After a drunken encounter with an ex-girlfriend, his and everyone else’s world is turned upside down when aliens invade and decimate the population. Suddenly the problems of romance don’t seem to matter so much…

Don’t begrudge me putting my own novel on the list. I’m never going to claim it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, but I’m proud of it and the feedback I’ve had – from both friends and strangers – so far has been brilliant, so I think it’s a good call. As with my first book, I’ve tried to lace both very silly comedy with very dark tragedy, and I think it works well, producing a novel that is something different. I’ve tired of media reproducing the same thing over and over again, so I was determined here to break the rules and give the world something a little unique, with a focus on friendships rather than romantic relationships. Time will tell if I’ve been successful.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

10. The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

In this collection of essays, Olivia Laing explores the lives and works of several famous artists and how loneliness played a key role in their creativity. We get to meet Andy Warhol, who struggled with other people; Edward Hopper who immortalised loneliness in his painting Nighthawks, and Henry Darger who was only discovered to be an artistic genius after his death. Laing also introduces her own personal experiences of dealing with loneliness in a big city.

Emotionally charged and packed with wise words about loneliness, pain, privacy, acceptance and art, it is an important and beautiful book that explores many topics that society doesn’t like to talk about. I seem constantly attracted to books about loneliness, and this is the epitome of the theme, again very quotable and full of nuggets of wisdom to take with you. The stories, too, are fascinating and shine a light on people I didn’t know all that much about. Everyone should read this, particularly any creative types who think they’re alone in their struggles.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

And there you have it. Now, on with 2019 reading! My second novel is out officially this year, I’m beginning my re-read of the Agatha Christie back catalogue (it’s sad to not see her on this list), and there are hundreds of more books yet to explore. I can’t wait to get stuck in!

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“The Third Wheel” by Michael J. Ritchie (2019)

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“The room is perhaps eight feet square.”

Back in 2014, I published a novel. Now, I’ve done it again. There is no stranger feeling that seeing something you created for sale out in the world, but last time it was just an e-book. This time round, I’ve gone full paperback, and that’s truly bizarre, to be able to hold the physical copy of something that for a long time just existed in your head. This post obviously isn’t quite a review, but to keep the format, here’s what The Third Wheel is about.

Dexter is fed up. All of his friends are getting married, settling down, moving in together and growing up, and he’s being left behind with no one to hold hands with and only his ginger tom, The Great Catsby, for company. It’s not that he’s jealous of their relationships, it’s just that he thinks there’s more to life than wrapping yourself up with one other person for eternity.

But after a wedding that ends in drunken disaster, Dexter’s world – and everyone else’s, come to that – is shaken when aliens make first contact. Now faced with the prospect of imminent destruction and no practical skills whatsoever, Dexter and his friends, including sunshine optimist Ruby, science fiction geeks Jay and Kay, hard-nosed pragmatist Priti, and no-nonsense Gavin, set out on a mission to survive in this new world.

So I’m not actually going to review a book I wrote, but I’m afraid I am going to talk about it and why you should buy it for a little bit. I’m hoping that it’s something really different, as I’ve become somewhat tired of the entertainment market being saturated with remakes and retellings of the same stories. I’m not claiming that I’ve invented something brand new here – a first contact story is hardly unique – but I’ve tried to make something that doesn’t follow traditional rules. I’ve subverted the notion that science fiction always seems to have heroes who somehow possess just the right skills and knowledge.

Mostly, however, I’ve done away with the romantic subplot. This is one of my biggest bugbears about modern media – the insistence that no matter the genre or plot, there always has to be a romance somewhere in it, often detracting from the main story or simply weakening it. That was actually the original seed of the novel – a story in which a romantic subplot wasn’t possible. I confess that your opinion may vary as to whether I’ve been entirely successful in this aim, but hopefully I’ve subverted it and played with the trope enough for you to accept that this is a rare book in that respect. I’ve attempted to write about friendships, as I think truly that platonic relationships get a hard rap in fiction and we don’t get to read enough about them. Like Dexter, I don’t believe that we’re all destined to find “the one”, and I struggle with society’s insistence that we all belong in pairs. I’m a full person by myself, and so is Dexter. On the other hand, I hope that the novel doesn’t seem to be an attack on romantic relationships. I’m a fan, of course, I just don’t think they’re for everyone.

The novel is a curious blend of typically English humour and dark scenarios, but I think they mix well together and allow for a deep novel packed with emotional punches. I’ve done my best to create a large cast of unique personalities so that you find yourself rooting for everyone, but accepting that none of them are perfect. Dexter is perhaps something of an unreliable narrator, but that plays in to the theme I had of life never giving you all the answers. Yes, you almost certainly will have questions by the end about things that don’t get cleared up, but like life, it’s messy. However, if you want a few answered, read on past the acknowledgements for a few bonus chapters that fill in some of the gaps, showing scenes that occurred when Dexter wasn’t around to narrate.

If you want to pre-order the book prior to its release on January 17th 2019, you can do so at Amazon or Waterstones, and doing so will give them an indication of demand, so it would really help me if you could. It is available as both a paperback and an e-book. I really hope you enjoy it, and if you do, please let people know on social media and use the hashtag #TheThirdWheel to spread the word. If you’re not already, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for more information.

Right, better get on with the next one.

Crowdfunding Update: 65%!

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It’s been a long couple of months, but I’m pleased to report that my novel, The Third Wheel, is now 65% funded! That’s nearly two-thirds of the way there! Thank you so much to everyone who has pledged support so far, now I just need a little more help to push it up to the 100% mark and get it out there for everyone to read!

If you haven’t had me tell you before, here’s a synopsis of what to expect:

Dexter is fed up. All of his friends are getting married, settling down, moving in together and growing up, and he’s being left behind with no one to hold hands with and only his ginger tom, The Great Catsby, for company. It’s not that he’s jealous of their relationships, it’s just that he thinks there’s more to life than wrapping yourself up with one other person for eternity.

But after a wedding that ends in drunken disaster, Dexter’s world – and everyone else’s, come to that – is shaken when aliens make first contact. Now faced with the prospect of imminent destruction and no practical skills whatsoever, Dexter and his friends, including sunshine optimist Ruby, science fiction geeks Jay and Kay, hard-nosed pragmatist Priti, and no-nonsense Gavin, set out on a mission to survive in this new world.

So this is where you can help me out! If you want to see this book come into existence and find its way onto bookshelves, and you’re able, please consider pledging support to the project. Everyone who pledges gets their name in the book to say thank you, but there are plenty of other rewards too! Here’s what you get:

If you pledge £10 … when the book is released, a copy will be sent right to the e-reader of your choice.

If you pledge £15 … when the book is released, you’ll get an e-book edition and a first edition paperback sent right to you, wherever you are in the world. This is a limited price, with only 8 left; after that, this will be a £20 limit.

If you pledge £25 … you can read with a friend! This option will ensure you get sent two physical copies of the book.

If you pledge £40 … this is where things get really fun! At this level, you still get the paperback and the e-book, but you will also get some additional scenes that didn’t make it into the book that further expand the world and answer some of the questions left hanging.

If you pledge £75 … you’ll receive five copies of the paperback and e-book. This is the perfect option if you want to read it for a book club, or maybe if you just need to come up with a whole bunch of Christmas presents really quickly.

If you pledge £100 … you’ll get the e-book and the paperback, fine, but you’ll also get the opportunity to name one of the minor characters. Want to have your name appear in the text? Want to immortalise your soulmate? This is your chance!

Whatever you choose to pledge to support me, you have my eternal gratitude and if we ever meet, you shall be hugged and thanked personally. I hope you’d like to support me in this project – how often can you help a book be born? Hit the icon below and support my novel today!

Thank you x

🙂

“The Third Wheel”: How You Can Be A Part Of Something Awesome

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In 2014 I published my debut novel, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus. Instant fame and fortune did not follow – who knew? But here we are again. I’ve written a second novel, this time called The Third Wheel. Want to know what it’s about? Here we go…

English teacher Dexter feels like he’s being taunted by the universe. Everywhere he turns he’s accosted by wedding invitations, housewarming parties and tables for two. Every last one of his friends is settling down with their other halves, while Dexter spends his evenings marking schoolbooks with his ginger cat for company. The thing is, he doesn’t even mind being single; he just wishes his friends were too.

After another wedding ends in a drunken disaster, Dexter is musing on the situation and wondering what he’s going to screw up next, when he gets the shocking reminder that he’s not the centre of the universe. An alien spaceship has landed on the continent and when first contact is made, it’s anything but friendly.

Humanity’s numbers dwindle immediately, and the survivors are left to do exactly that – survive. Dexter gathers his friends and they all set off on a mission across the country, each with the goal of preserving their own lives in this new world. But these aliens are two-headed, tenacious and have technology beyond anything seen on Earth, so saving the day looks more and more unlikely as they track down Dexter’s motley crew. In the end, perhaps it is the one thing Dexter dislikes most that will help him survive, if he can just stop thinking about himself for one minute.

Written to subvert any story that insists on including a romance subplot, as well as any science fiction story where untrained amateurs inexplicably have the right skills to save the day, The Third Wheel shines a light on those who are just trying to make it through to tomorrow in the face of overwhelming odds.

But here’s the thing. I’m working with a company called Unbound this time, who used a crowdfunding model to get their books out there. I would be eternally grateful if you, yes you, would join me in this endeavour. Just click the link below to pledge your support to the project and be part of something really cool. There are loads of rewards available too, from first edition copies of the book, deleted scenes from the text, and even the opportunity to name a minor character after yourself.

Let’s do this!

Click here to be part of something awesome.

“The Atomic Blood-Stained Bus” by Michael J Ritchie (2014)

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I done a book!

I done a book!

“The Atomic Blood-stained Bus has gone by many names over the last few centuries, and many different appearances.”

This isn’t actually a review today, if only because while I have read the book in question, I also wrote it, so to review my own work seems an insane idea. And probably something an American would do. So, yes, I am now officially a published author, which is going to be fun to say when I’m at a party and someone says, “So, what do you do?”

The Atomic Blood-stained Bus is the story of cannibalistic, near-immortal druid Garfield Sutton who drives the titular bus around Britain feasting on unsuspecting members of the public. He is accompanied by Algernon, the former God of Spring who has been ejected from the heavens and now lives on earth, unable to die and filling his days helping Garfield (his part-friend, part-captor) and writing his memoirs about his time as a god.

Garfield is in turn assisted occasionally by Britain’s last witches, who are perhaps more self-serving than they would like to assume and only appear when something big is about to happen. And indeed something big is about to happen, as tabloid journalist Gwen McKenna, a woman with strong interests in both magic and missing persons, has latched onto Garfield’s scent and has begun tracking down the bus, not knowing what far-reaching consequences this will have for everyone involved.

The novel has apparently given my publishers some grief as its genre is hard to pin down, stretching across fantasy, mythology, horror and black comedy. Still, I never wrote with a particular genre in mind – it’s hard to write if you do that. The book was actually written originally for NaNoWriMo in 2012 so the original first draft was completed in twenty-nine days and then edited thoroughly the following year. A journalist friend of mine had some contacts in the publishing world who were looking for new authors so I submitted on the off chance and, well, here we are.

Hopefully some of you at least will like the book (the first chapter is probably a little bit darker than the rest, so if it feels too much to stomach, just hold on a bit) and may even find yourself chuckling at the bits I hope are funny. Or maybe at the bits that aren’t meant to be funny, and that’s OK too. If you have any questions about the book while you’re reading it, or when you’ve finished, please leave me a comment on this post and I will get back to you with an answer.

If you want to download this yourself (and I would love it if you would) then it can be bought on Amazon by following this link. As for me, I’m now off to continue work on my second book. Or, you know, maybe I’ll just read something else instead and write some more reviews.