ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Adventures in Kindling - My Year In Books 2018

Turns out I read about forty books this year. A lot of the reason the number is so high was because I spent half the year in Afghanistan, so no TV to compete with my time. I can't write about all forty, but I did want to highlight some of them because talking about books is one of my favorite topics of all time. 

My favorite of the year was The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky by John Hornor Jacobs. I fell immediately in love and posted about it here. While TSDIITS is definitely my favorite read of the year, every other book on this list is a close second. TSDIITS provided me with the greatest enjoyment I think because it gave me everything I want out of Cosmic Horror. You see, I heart cosmic horror. I heart conspiracies larger than ourselves. So, when I began reading, I was hooked.

A young teacher named Isabel meets a gnarly old one-eyed poet simply named Avendano. They've both fled their homeland in South America and now make their home in Spain. The cafe and literati scenes reminded me in all the best ways of Roberto Bolano's works, such as The Savage Detectives. The way Jacobs slides us into the setting is so gentle I feel as if I've been there all the time.Then Avendano, like a cosmic lure, propels Isabel into such an otherworldy mystery that I actually found I couldn't breath in many places.

I've read a ton of books this year and two stand out as incredible. Victor LaValle's The Changeling which won the American Book Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the British Fantasy Award, among others. The other is John Hornor Jacobs The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky, which hasn't won any awards so far. I'm thinking that will change. At least it should. At the very least, I encourage you to read this lovely dark cosmic novella and ask yourself, what is the price of home?

The Changeling by Victor LaValle. As I mentioned above, I read and loved The Changeling. 

From Google Books - "When Apollo Kagwa was just a child, his father disappeared, leaving him with recurring nightmares and a box labelled 'Improbabilia'. Now a successful book dealer, Kagwa has a family of his own after meeting and falling in love with Emma, a librarian. The two marry and have a baby: so far so happy-ever-after.However, as the pair settle into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Emma's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, until one day she commits an unthinkable act, setting Apollo on a wild and fantastical quest through a suddenly otherworldly New York, in search of a wife and child he no longer recognizes. An epic novel for our anxiety-ridden times, The Changeling is a tale of parenthood, love - in its most raw and brutal form - and, ultimately, humanity."

I think The Changeling could be called cosmic horror as well. There were several WTF moments where I couldn't breath. I actually exclaimed aloud at one point. If you haven't read this one, you're seriously missing leveling up in life.

The Croning by Laird Barron is definitely cosmic horror. 

From Google Books -"Strange things exist on the periphery of our existence, haunting us from the darkness looming beyond our firelight. Black magic, weird cults and worse things loom in the shadows. The Children of Old Leech have been with us from time immemorial. And they love us... Donald Miller, geologist and academic, has walked along the edge of a chasm for most of his nearly eighty years, leading a charmed life between endearing absent-mindedness and sanity-shattering realization. Now, all things must converge. Donald will discover the dark secrets along the edges, unearthing savage truths about his wife Michelle, their adult twins, and all he knows and trusts. For Donald is about to stumble on the secret... ...of The Croning. From Laird Barron, Shirley Jackson Award-winning author of The Imago Sequence and Occultation, comes The Croning, a debut novel of cosmic horror."

Up until now, I'd only read Laird's short fiction and novellas. When I saw this novel and the description, I knew it was something I'd dig into. And I did. I absolutely loved the way Laird crafted and delivered the mystery and I love the way he took us through several decades of a man's life and brought us to an ending that had to be. So perfect.

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge is a book I thought was cosmic horror but wasn't. What it is is a book within a book within a book. 

From Google Books - "Marina Willett, M.D., has a problem. Her husband, Charlie, has become obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, in particular with one episode in the The Night Ocean follows the lives of some extraordinary people: Lovecraft, the most influential American horror writer of the 20th century, whose stories continue to win new acolytes, even as his racist views provoke new critics; Barlow, a seminal scholar of Mexican culture who killed himself after being blackmailed for his homosexuality (and who collaborated with Lovecraft on the beautiful story "The Night Ocean"); his student, future Beat writer William S. Burroughs; and L.C. Spinks, a kindly Canadian appliance salesman and science-fiction fan -- the only person who knows the origins of The Erotonomicon, purported to be the intimate diary of Lovecraft himself. In the summer of 1934, the "old gent" lived for two months with a gay teenage fan named Robert Barlow, at Barlow's family home in central Florida. What were the two of them up to? Were they friends--or something more? Just when Charlie thinks he's solved the puzzle, a new scandal erupts, and he disappears. The police say it's suicide. Marina is a psychiatrist, and she doesn't believe them."

La Farge's narrative style and choices in this weren't something I would have done but I think they work wonderfully. What I'm saying is that in the end I found his choice to be much better than how I would have done it. I finished The Night Ocean and wanted to read it again. Something that doesn't often happen. Plus, I love found document fiction. La Farge is now on my list.

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffery Ford. Jeffery Ford was an author who I thought I'd read. It turns out that I hadn't, so I eagerly picked this one up. 

From Amazon - "All Maggie, Russell, and Henry wanted out of their last college vacation was to get drunk and play archaeologist in an old house in the woods outside of town. When they excavate the mansion's outhouse they find way more than they bargained for: a sealed bottle filled with a red liquid, along with the bizarre skeleton of a horned child. Disturbing the skeleton throws each of their lives into a living hell. They feel followed wherever they go, their homes are ransacked by unknown intruders, and people they care about are brutally, horribly dismembered. The three friends awakened something, a creature that will stop at nothing to retrieve its child."

What appears to be a haunted house story is far more than that. This is a haunted cosmic horror story with characters that reminded me of those in Brett Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero. The research conducted in the book - the found fiction - is also one of my favorite things. Here I'm introduced to Kind Nepenthe for the first time and note that there's now a book with that title from Matthew V. Brockmeyer that is on my list of things to read. Thank you Jefferey Ford for not pulling punches with this one. I've already downloaded The Shadow Year and can't wait to dive in.

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler is not a cosmic horror novel. It's not even a genre novel. It's a book I read right before I went to Afghanistan--literally buying it at the airport as I left. You can read the full post here but I'm providing an excerpt.

From Google Books - "Camp Chippewa, 1962. Nelson Doughty, age thirteen, social outcast and overachiever, is the Bugler, sounding the reveille proudly each morning. Yet this particular summer marks the beginning of an uncertain and tenuous friendship with a popular boy named Jonathan. Over the years, Nelson, irrevocably scarred from the Vietnam War, becomes Scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan marries, divorces, and turns his father’s business into a highly profitable company. And when something unthinkable happens at a camp get-together with Nelson as Scoutmaster and Jonathan’s teenage grandson and daughter-in-law as campers, the aftermath demonstrates the depths—and the limits—of Nelson’s selflessness and bravery.

 "The Hearts of Men is a sweeping, panoramic novel about the slippery definitions of good and evil, family and fidelity, the challenges and rewards of lifelong friendships, the bounds of morality—and redemption.

"The Hearts of Men is a grand novel, well-chosen for its purpose. It's a story about a changing time, when the idea of being a Boy Scout is becoming less and less significant. It's about ethics and what to do in bad situations. It sometimes painfully puts its characters in too real places that make you want to stop reading, but just as the characters are performing for you, out of respect, you have to stay through their performance.

"It's a book about the complexity of always trying to do the right thing."

I cherished this book and it indeed prepared me for Afghanistan. I feel it in my chest. I feel it in my head. I was once a Boy Scout. I made it to Life. My father was an Eagle Scout and was a scoutmaster. Both of these things prepared us in our lives. A little reminder helped rekindle those memories and reminded my that being Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent were things to which we should all attain, despite those around us who would devalue these traits.

Finally, its about being your own man and accepting yourself for who you are.

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker was a book I read in Afghanistan. I immediately face palmed because the title and the idea was so damn obvious. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it myself.

From Amazon - "When the world ends and you find yourself stranded on the wrong side of the country, every second counts. No one knows this more than Edgar Hill: over five hundred miles of devastated wasteland stretch between him and his family. To get back to them, he must push himself to the very limit―or risk losing them forever. His best option is to run. But what if his best isn't good enough? End of the World Running Club is an otherworldly yet extremely human story of hope, love, and the endurance of both body and spirit."

I really bought into the desperation of the main character and as a person who runs, and sometimes doesn't, understands how hard it would have to be to do what he did. Superior effort by the author. Well done. 

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. My editor at Rebellion Books was the one who turned me onto this book and I'm glad he did. I'm not so much a fan of time travel books because of all the plot holes one can find, but Mastai plugged those holes. 

From Amazon - "It's 2016, and in Tom Barren's world, technology has solved all of humanity's problems—there's no war, no poverty, no under-ripe avocadoes. Unfortunately, Tom isn't happy. He's lost the girl of his dreams. And what do you do when you're heartbroken and have a time machine? Something stupid. Finding himself stranded in a terrible alternate reality—which we immediately recognize as our 2016—Tom is desperate to fix his mistake and go home. Right up until the moment he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and the woman who may just be the love of his life. Now Tom faces an impossible choice. Go back to his perfect but loveless life. Or stay in our messy reality with a soulmate by his side. His search for the answer takes him across continents and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be. Filled with humor and heart and packed with insight, intelligence, and mind-bending invention, All Our Wrong Todays is a powerful and moving story of life, loss, and love."

I also read this one in Afghanistan and I remember looking forward to getting off work so I could return to my hooch and read this. With plenty of surprises, Mastai didn't mess around. If there was an opportunity to fuck with his main character, he took it-- in fact he took them all. 

The Cabin At the End of the World by Paul Tremblay is just another one of Paul's fabulous books. I love that he keeps hitting it out of the park and can trust that when I see one of his books that I will love it.

From Amazon - "Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road. One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, "None of what’s going to happen is your fault". Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: "Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world." Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined."

I also read this in Afghanistan. When the description above used the words 'incredibly tense,' it meant it. Twice I remember calling Paul a Fucker for what he did. This is not an easy book to read because of it, but its a tremendous book that makes you question your own faith. 

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessle is similar in plot device to The Cabin At the End of the World because the protagonists are forced to choose who dies. 

From Amazon: "Once upon a time, back at Darrow-Harker School, Beatrice Hartley and her five best friends were the cool kids, the beautiful ones. Then the shocking death of Jim--their creative genius and Beatrice's boyfriend--changed everything. One year after graduation, Beatrice is returning to Wincroft--the seaside estate where they spent so many nights sharing secrets, crushes, plans to change the world--hoping she'll get to the bottom of the dark questions gnawing at her about Jim's death. But as the night plays out in a haze of stilted jokes and unfathomable silence, Beatrice senses she's never going to know what really happened. Then a mysterious man knocks on the door. Blithely, he announces the impossible: time for them has become stuck, snagged on a splinter that can only be removed if the former friends make the harshest of decisions. Now Beatrice has one last shot at answers . . . and at life."

I almost didn't buy this because it's being sold as a YA book. Not that I don't read YA books, it's just that they are not my first choice. This despite me being a huge fan of Night Film, which I wrote about recently in an essay published by Locus Magazine in their Author's Roundtable called Found Footage Fiction. I don't think this is a YA novel and probably a marketing technique to draw in other fans. Not that Marisha needs it. She's fabulous on her own. What I found most interesting during the middle of the book were the choices her protagonists made and how reliving a day over and over changed them. Then came act three. Just wonderful. I also read this while in Afghanistan.

The Sighting by Christopher Coleman is the only self published book on this list. I enjoyed it because it's cosmic horror. Although there are some minor pacing issues and the main character is sort of a dick, I still appreciated the author's invention. A sign of the author's skill is that even though the main character is sort of a self-centered prick, I still cared for him and was stressed when bad things began happening to him.

From Amazon - "One morning during his daily run to the beach, Danny Lynch witnesses the strangest and most incredible thing he's ever seen. A dark, man-like figure emerges from the ocean, stands for just a few moments on the beach, and then retreats back to the surf. Danny's perspective on the world changes, and as the only eyewitness to this event, his mission now is to convince anyone who will listen that what he saw was real. But with only a vague photo and a dubious story, that task is proving almost impossible. His only hope may be in finding a mysterious woman who was at the beach earlier that morning, and who may hold the terrifying secret that could cost Danny his life."

This is not a novel but a novella. Note that I'm currently reading the follow up to this called The Origin and am so far enjoying it.

So, there you have it, folks. I just wanted to share some of the highlights of my reading this year. Feel free to comment or hit me up with what you think I should be reading. And if you feel like it, try one of my books. I'm told they aren't bad.

(Adventures in Kindling TM is Trademarked by Weston Ochse) 

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