SPFBO 2018 Opens Today – with over 100 books on offer

SPFBO 2018

It’s an exciting day for self-published fantasy authors and readers alike, as the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) 2018 kicks off today. Especially exciting for me because Under Ordshaw is in the contest!

If you’re not familiar with the contest, it’s an annual competition hosted by fantasy author Mark Lawrence. It’s been responsible for some massive successes from self-published authors, including Senlin Ascends (one the best books I read in 2017, self-published or otherwise) and the rollicking The Grey Bastards (one I’m reading right now).

How does it work? 300 books enter, 1 leaves.

10 bloggers/blog teams will read 30 books each, deciding upon semi-finalists and then forwarding a single finalist for all the other blogs to read. The 10 finalists will be reviewed 10 times, and one is declared the winner. To great aplomb. You can learn all about it HERE.

To make things extra thrilling for anyone following the contest, from August 1st to 5th only, over 100 of the contending books are available at only $0.99/£0.99. Check out the full list HERE. there’s a great gamut of different fantasy genres – I’ve got my eye on a few.

Under Ordshaw is one of the many on offer, so if you haven’t picked up a copy yet, check it out HERE. Who knows how far it’ll get in what promises to be a strong competition – but it’s been a great experience before it’s even begun, thanks to the community surrounding the contest. And I’ve seen some positive vibes sent the book’s way already, so fingers crossed!

6 Months of Reading

The start of July. Halfway clear of the dystopian wastes of 2018, with the days threatening to get shorter again. A time to stop and think about all the things we thought we’d achieve back in January that we then got distracted from by US politics.  More importantly, a time to think about the books we’ve read.

At the end of last year, I posted a short list of the best books I’d read in 2017. That was from a total of some 45 books. As July loomed, it dawned on me that I’d already read some 34+ books in 2018. More than enough to discuss without waiting for the year to end. And being a writerly sort, I’d already made an annotated list of the books I’d finished. How very shareable.

I’ve abridged the list to ones I’d really recommend from what I’ve read so far this year. If you’re interested in the rest (many of which I did enjoy, but would have to cavaet), I’ve included the titles of the rest below. There’s little particularly current or newsworthy about these titles, just the random tract of reading that my mind and bookshelves have taken me on.

The books are listed in the order that I read them, nothing more. I’d have no idea how else to order them, truth be told. Except that Blood Meridian would be on top.

Top Reads of 2018 So Far

The State of the Art – Iain M Banks – sci-fi short stories; a solid collection of dark and humorous vignettes from the Culture series, with the titular tale seeing the Culture coming to Earth

Maskerade – Terry Pratchett – fantasy, humour; light read laced with Pratchett’s usual wittiness, as the witches solve an Opera mystery

The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester – sci-fi, dystopian; classic crime procedural packed with emotion and creativity – angry, raw and brilliant

Wired for Story – Lisa Cron – non-fiction, writing/psychology; excellent exploration of how people respond to stories, neurologically and psychology, shedding light on why stories work – and why they matter

Tishomingo Blues – Elmore Leonard – crime; criminal conspiracy against a background of high diving and Civil War re-enactment – slickly on par for Leonard

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanne Clarke – fantasy, historical; exceptionally stylised alternative history of magic (re)emerging during the Napoleonic wars – surprisingly readable considering the Victorian style adopted

Blood Meridian – Cormac Mccarthy – western, literary; described by a critic as a “nightmare odyssey”, no better way to say it – haunting, enthralling, stunning

C is for Corpse – Sue Grafton – crime; another perfectly enjoyable mystery for Kinsey Millhone

When God Was a Woman – Merlin Stone – non-fiction, religion/gender studies; survey of the history of gendered worship and patriarchal society – should be required reading

Pagan Babies – Elmore Leonard – crime; curious blend of Detroit mafia and the Rwandan genocide – Leonard’s usual stylish caper with an added touch of social conscience

Stardust – Neil Gaiman – fantasy; a great deal of imagination in a relatively short tale – efficient and charming

The Examined Life – Stephen Grosz – non-fiction, psychology; easily digestible anecdotes illuminating problems both unique and universal

Before They Are Hanged – Joe Abercrombie – fantasy; takes the distinctly unheroic heroes of the First Law series on a saga across the world – dark, humorous and immersive

Influence – Robert Ciadini – non-fiction, psychology/marketing; the first book in decades that I’ve read multiple times, a revealing study of the powers of persuasion

Last Argument of Kings – Joe Abercrombie – fantasy; the First Law trilogy comes to a neatly wrapped, violent close – a fitting end to a consistently engaging epic

Black Holes and Time Warps – Kip T. Thorne – non-fiction, relativity; surprisingly accessible approach to a difficult topic – will leave you questioning reality

Mona Lisa Overdrive – William Gibson – cyberpunk; the concluding chapter in the Sprawl trilogy, every bit as frenetic and inventive as the rest

Other titles that I’ve been inclined to read…

Of the rest, there’s a fair few I’d say were worth a read. Some I did not get on with but others might like. There’s about 3 here that I feel like I shouldn’t have bothered finishing.

  • Barricade – Jon Wallace – dystopian adventure
  • Angels of Darkness – Gav Thorpe – sci-fi, action
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams – sci-fi, time travel
  • The Dog Listener – Jan Ferrell – non-fiction, dogs
  • The Clearing – Tim Gautreaux – historical, crime/drama
  • Mastering AMS Ads – Brian Meeks – non-fiction, marketing
  • Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card – sci-fi, military
  • Predator’s Gold – Philip Reeve – dystopian, steampunk
  • Death – Todd May – non-fiction, philosophy
  • Storm Front – Jim Butcher – urban fantasy, crime
  • The Death of Bunny Munro – Nick Cave – literary
  • Where the Wild Ferns Grow – William Rawles – literary, coming-of-age
  • The One – John Marrs – sci-fi, literary
  • Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel – post-apocalyptic, literary
  • Wilderness Tips – Margaret Atwood – literary short stories
  • The Wind Up Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi – dystopian, biopunk

And there’s one book, not on this list, which I actually gave up on (after reading a substantial amount – I expect there’s a handful I never got into). But we won’t go into that.

Onward to the next 40. I’ve already got my first book of July read, and especially look forward to exploring some indie fantasy in the coming months as I’m gazing with intrigue at the SPFBO list. More on that soon…

Got any recommendations, anything that’s particularly stood out for you in 2018? Let me know!