The publication of Seoul Survivors made 2013 a busy year for my writing career. With the next two SF novels pawing at the door, however, at times I feared my reading was suffering. In line with my random book-grabbing habits, I made a haphazard effort to post reviews on Goodreads, but found it impossible to keep up regular appearances. So when Charles Boyle kindly asked me to contribute a title or two to his cbeditions Books of the Year blog post, the invitation provoked a bout of serious year-end reflection. Compiling the following more fulsome list helped me to pick out recurring themes in my reading and writing, and set some intentions for 2014; it may also bring to your attention titles that may otherwise have flown under your radar. For those who really like this sort of thing, The Rules were: 1) Contenders did not have to be published…

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Midnight Mass isn’t really my tradition. I was brought up a Quaker, and while my ex-Anglican parents would occasionally take us to a hymn service at Christmas, I much prefered being tucked up in a duvet on the sofa listening to Twas The Night Before Christmas, read to us from a little red book with a sellotaped spine. Christmas was also pink grapefruit with brown sugar for breakfast, a Terry’s chocolate orange, a snowy walk in the Saskatchewan prairies, then home to the traditional feast served on a pink and orange tablecloth. After my parents’ divorce my mother’s staunch commitment to the decadance of the holiday became more apparent: while my budget doesn’t stretch to a shopping trolley full of speciality alcohol, and my own taste in decorations runs to pine-cone hedgehogs and felt robins, I always pick up a box of liqueur-filled chocolates in her memory, and adore tinsel-dripping…

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          Raw sewage and muddy rainwater rising in the fruit and vegetable market. Six hours of electricity a day, while snow blankets the Middle East. Will it be frostbite, corpses and medieval diseases this Christmas for Gaza? The world’s media, of course, pays not a fig of attention to the crisis.* Meanwhile here in Brighton & Hove, today at the weekly Boycott Ecostream demo – urging consumers not to buy products made by an Israeli company with its HQ illegally situated in occupied territories – local Zionists chanted ‘The BDS-ers don’t care about Palestinians, they only care about their human rights agenda’. The Zios also repeatedly, loudly, denounced us all as ‘crybabies’ and anti-Semites, and gleefully hurled vacuous personal slurs – ‘You spit like a girl’ to one man who hadn’t even opened his mouth. We laughed about that one later on in the cafe – …

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          Here we are once more, gearing up for the annual winter whirl of gift-giving, soul-searching & future-facing. If you’re looking for an unusual present for the person who has everything, I am offering Tarot Card Reading gift certificates this year. Sensitive and compassionate, my readings are intended as opportunities for the querent to pause and reflect on their journey through life. Each purchase comes with a free signed copy of my pamphlet Red Hot & Bothered – a spicy stocking stuffer, or collectible little treat for you, the weary online shopper! Price: £20 – includes a Gift Certificate for a 1/2 hr Tarot reading at my flat in Kemp Town (easily accessible by bus from Brighton Station or seafront walk from the pier) or my summer stall on East St (weekends only from April); plus a copy of Red Hot & Bothered, signed and posted…

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