top of page
  • Writer's picturePhil Parker

Recommendations for Santa's sack 1

Looking for a book for someone special this Christmas? Not sure what to get them? We've asked some of our Speculative Faction friends to make some suggestions, hopefully they will present you with some great ideas! Why not check out their catalogue too? Here is the first bunch in this series. (There are links in the title to take you to Amazon, if that helps.)

Recommendations from RJ Barker

RJ Barker is the author the Wounded Kingdom Trilogy and his newest novel is the critically acclaimed The Bone Ships, the first in the Tide Child Trilogy with the second Call of the Bone Ships being released at the end of November. His work has been shortlisted for the Kitschie, The Gemmell, The British Fantasy Society and the Compton Crook award. RJ lives in Yorkshire with his wife, son and unpleasant but very spoiled cat and a collection of old and slightly odd taxidermy. Find him on twitter or at and in all good book shops.

A Private Cathedral – James Lee Burke.

I’ve always loved James Lee Burke’s crime fiction. He’s an astounding prose stylist, uses words in amazing ways to convey the American South in books heavy with the threat of violence and full of regret for it. There’s quite often been supernatural overtones, very subtle, and even without those, the way he writes lends the books an almost magical realist feeling. The last book in his Robicheaux series, New Iberia Blues was a hard read, probably not a book I’ll ever go back to as it was so heavy with hurt – while still being quite wonderful – but it did make me a bit apprehensive for A Private Cathedral. Even more so when I read that it was about a time travelling thousand year old hit man from hell. These are books very firmly set in our world and the supernatural, though present, has never been overt. I was always going to read it, just to see how the author approached what seemed an impossible premise. I need not have worried, I think it’s testament to his skill that you never question what’s happening. It seems all too plausible and his love of humanity shines through. It’s an amazing book and I thoroughly recommend it. Though if you’re unfamiliar with the series then it’s worth starting at the beginning. You won’t regret it.

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy.

I tried reading The Road when everyone was talking about it, just before the film came out I think, and it didn’t stick. It just felt so unrelentingly miserable that I had no real wish to read on and with that I’d presumed McCarthy wasn’t for me. But, I think it was the crime author Steve Mosby who talked about this book and he’s mentioned a fair few books I’ve loved (Slow Horses by Mick Herron being the most memorable) and I like a cowboy book so I thought I’d give it a try.

Wow. This book is astounding while also being one I will never, ever read again. It’s a trip, the writing is wonderful, it sucks you in to these massive vistas. These huge open places while we follow a bunch of amoral drifters on a murder spree in search of Indian* scalps. It’s a big book asking big questions, about good and evil and why people do what they do. It also has something of the fever dream about it, a hyper realness that makes it unreal. The violence being so unthinkable, so terrifyingly casual that it takes on the form of a nightmare everyone in the book is trapped within. It also leaves a tremendous amount of its world open to interpretation by the reader. I feel like there are large parts of the end of the book, which may not actually be happening, and maybe there are even characters in the book that possibly don’t exist. It’s a book without anything supernatural in it that also manages to feel like a ghost story. Unlike the James Lee Burke books, you may actually regret reading this, but it is definitely worth that regret.

*I’m using the book's terminology here.

Scalped – Jason Aaron/R.M. Guera

I have a weird relationship with graphic novels. I have loved 2000AD for a long time but when it started doing that American thing where it would finish stories from one magazine in another it effectively priced me out as a kid and then a skint adult. Similarly, American comics were just never on the board for me and I’m not a big fan of super heroes anyway. They don’t do it for me. But Tade Thompson (who wrote the superb Making Wolf and Rosewater books) put me on to these. A story about a native American cop on a reservation. They are very noir, violent, unpleasant, and I’m not sure I am meant to like anyone in it, but it’s also excellent. I’m only on the second graphic novel so I can’t say a huge amount about plot. Often with graphic novels I’ve felt like there’s not much there, I’m whizzing through it and fifteen minutes later I’m finished. But these feel like novels, they have a real weight.

Recommendations from Damien Larkin

Damien Larkin is an Irish science fiction author and co-founder of the British and Irish Writing Community. His debut novel Big Red was published by Dancing Lemur Press and went on to be longlisted for the BSFA award for Best Novel. He currently lives in Dublin, Ireland and is editing his next novel Blood Red Sand due out in May 2021. Find out more about Damien:

Website: FB:

Twitter: IG:

Smokepit Fairytales by Tripp Ainsworth

Smokepit Fairytales is one of the most entertaining reads I've come across in years. On the face of it, it's a war story following some US marines on their deployment to Iraq and the aftermath of a short war with Iran, but there's so much more to this novel. The humor is what sucked me in at first - the sharp, snappy one-liners heard in barracks around the world. The highs and lows were hilarious and brutal, from drunken rampages on crazy nights out to moments of raw suffering as the main character and his friends battle with PTSD and everyday life.

Full review here:

Awakening by PS Livingstone

(Beta read this and not out yet, but easily one of my top 3 reads this year)

Awakening is the stunning debut of up-and-coming author PS Livingstone and it's a roller coaster ride of a story. It's an epic urban fantasy novel with some romantic elements, but there's so much more to this book. The characters are so well written and realistic that they almost jump out from the pages. The snappy dialogue and interactions between Aubrey and Cathal are entertaining and full of emotional depth, while the author hurls exciting plot twists and curveballs that drive the action along.

Full review here:

A Ritual of Flesh by Lee Conley

A Ritual of Flesh - Book 2 in the Dead Sagas series picks up weeks after the first book and like it's predecessor, it doesn't fail to deliver. Where the first book ended giving us some insight into the approaching menace threatening the kingdom of Arnar, this novel starts by slowly setting the scene for the horror to come. The author does a great job of giving us snapshots into the lives of the ordinary folk whose entire livelihoods are at risk from the ever-encroaching sickness and the evil that trails it. The opening scenes are richly detailed, so much so that you can almost see the bodies sprawled on the streets or the tension in the air as law and order begins to break down.

Full review here:

Recommendations from Phil Williams

Phil Williams is an author of contemporary fantasy and non-fiction books, best known for the Ordshaw urban fantasy thrillers. He lives on the south coast of England and spends a lot of time imagining terrible things to write about, and moderate amounts of time imagining pleasant things.

I’m in the habit of reading something like 2-3 books a week now, including audio and graphic novels, so it’s hard to narrow down a year’s reading to 3 picks, but I thought I’d try and tread a line between not-completely-obvious choices (in the realms of Murderbot, Gideon the Ninth, Piranesi and such) whilst also having a general appeal to be gift-worthy. I’ve also tried to go for 3 very different books, one SFF, one literature and one non-fiction.

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Riot Baby stands out for me as something that is both a creative, page-turning story and an engine of raw, noteworthy emotion. While wrapped in elements of scif-fi and the supernatural, this book remains a heart-felt and gritty mirror to reality. Hugely topical and relevant, while also a solid example of a superhero-esque frame. Onyebuchi achieves one of the things I admire most in writing – the ability to present something huge and important in a very short space. Get it for anyone interested in racism and systematic oppression, or conversely anyone who’d appreciate a story of struggle and hope with a creative twist all of its own.

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

This is one I just recently finished that I feel is worthy of more note than you typically see; Jackon recs are always populated with Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (both amazing), but together with her other novels, Hangsaman has a subtle and uniquely different charm. While essentially a coming-of-age story of a girl first heading to college, it’s really a careful study of a wandering mind peppered with brilliantly realised vignettes of human interaction. Get it for anyone interested in a snapshot of human life woven with seamless flashes of dark day dreams.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane

Finally, a non-fiction recommendation that should appeal to just about everyone. Anyone familiar with my fiction will be aware I have an eager interest in the subterranean, and Macfarlane has taken that interest to extremes that make me wholly jealous. Through exploring the world beneath our feet, he jumps between studies of astrophysics, history, literature, and deep time itself. It’s an all-encompassing, fascinating book that I only wish there was more of (or that I could’ve been there to help research). Get it for anyone interested in the world around us, under us, before us and after. Anyone, get it for anyone.

Many thanks to RJ, Damien and Phil for their recommendations!
There will be more recommendations from other Speculative Faction friends coming very soon!

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page