April 2023 book blog

April was all about Adrian Tchaikovsky and Shadows of the Apt, I began the month with three novels and three anthologies still to read, and ended it with just two anthologies to go. ‘The Air War’ does exactly what it says on the tin. The arms race continues with the development of new aircraft, weapons and defence systems, focussing on the Wasp Empire seemingly unstoppable advance on the city of Collegium. Seda’s fear of Che’s power takes a backseat in this book as Sten totters on the brink of becoming exactly what he’s always hated. Battles are fought on several fronts as we follow the stories of two fly kinden women on opposite sides of the air war. Oh, and as everything comes to a head on all fronts, I stay up until silly o’clock because I can’t get to sleep until I know how it ends. Loads of fun, especially for students of early 20th century history.

It felt appropriate to take a short break from the novel saga and take some small sips of short story from ‘A Time for Grief’, being the second set of short stories from the ‘Shadows of the Apt’ universe. These stories are side journeys from the main story told in volumes 1 – 10 of Shadows of the Apt, and the last one is a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t read books 9 and 10. I raced through the entire book within 24 hours, because each story was so good I just wanted to get my teeth into the next one. The potential of Tchaikovsky’s worldbuilding is clear as he delves into the backstories of places and people to play with different literary forms. Tisamon plays The Man With No Name, a Collegiate am dram company conjours the ghost of Pathis past, a land of gentle Grasshopper kinden goes locust loco when the moon rises, in a zombie / werewolf tale featuring our favourite brigand, Dal Arche and his Merry Men. My favourite was the title story, taking us on a visit to Salme Dien’s Butterfly lover, Grief. Princep Salma, the city of equality and idealism, founded in Salma’s memory, comes under attack from organised crime / government who see it as a fast route to riches and glory … and who can stop them?

And then, back to the fray, with the end in sight, I fell into the ninth novel, ‘War Master’s Gate’. More arms racing, more magic, more testing of power, and oh my DOESN’T Thalric get one of the best scenes in the book, in a Buffyesque takedown of book 9’s Big Bad. Seda does as Seda does, in a temper tantrum that changes the world, a student invents a superweapon and barely anyone notices, and here we are, all set up for book 10. Genius. Thank you!

The final book in the series is ‘Seal of the Worm’ and in a series that focuses so strongly on war and weaponry, it manages to deliver one of the most truly horrific images of the entire saga as the war draws to an end. I will miss the world building, the arms race, the conflicts and the compassion and humour behind all the death and destruction. Everything has been brought to an end. All loose ends have been tidied up. No spoilers, but I’m happy with how it all turned out. There have been some sleepless nights when I just didn’t go to bed because I couldn’t sleep without knowing how a story ended. The housework has not been done. I’ve neglected my own writing. It’s all been worth it.

There are just a couple of anthologies still unread, I know I’ll enjoy them.

There was a nice moment as I was reading Book 10. I was doing some voluntary work, running a stall at a craft fair. When things were quiet, I was reading. My book was on a chair next to me as I was serving some customers, and one of them got very chatty about SF and fantasy in general, and Tchaikovsky in particular, it’s been a while since I met anyone who was so passionate about books, and I hope that he takes my advice and reads Shadows of the Apt very soon.

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Monday 4th

Pilates am, dentist pm.

Tuesday 5th

Phone GP, lunch with Alys

Wednesday 6th

Dr Green @ 10.05 am, photography club AGM pm

Thursday 7th

Meetup with Julia and Mum

Friday 8th

Pilates am, St David’s hospital Dr Reese, 3 pm

Saturday 9th

Pack for Greece. Airport 3 pm

Sunday 10th

Athens St David’s, MRI scan

Monday 11th


Tuesday 12th

Athens St David’s, Dr Reese’s surgery, 9:15 am

Wednesday 13th

Mykenos Cancel Japan in September, ring Alys

Thursday 14th

Mykenos Ring Dogs Trust re Harry.

Friday 15th

Athens Gregson’s Solicitors, re will.

Saturday 16th

Fly home

Sun 17th

Meetup with Julia and Mum. Tell them.

Monday 18th

Pilates am Back at work pm. Speak to boss re working from home.

Copyright Jeanette Greaves, May 2023

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It’s not hoarding if it’s heirlooms, and it’s not Jessica’s fault that people trusted her with their button boxes. It was entirely reasonable that her great grandmother, two grandmothers, two aunts and a neighbour would pass their collections to the family craftswoman. It was, perhaps, unusual that Jessica spent so much time with the buttons. The old Roses and Quality Street tins of similar vintage both held buttons dating from the 1920s to the 1980s, but of vastly different quality. Silver, mother of pearl and exotic woods contrasted with fabric coated plastic and tarnished brass. Jessica’s grandmothers had never really got on. Her great grandmother’s legacy was a drawstring silk bag that held a collection of tiny shirt buttons and huge coat buttons that still smelled, after many decades, of snuff and gardenias. A Danish butter biscuits tin from the 1990s held the memory of biscuits and an assortment of plastic buttons, many of them still attached to the card. If Jessica closed her eyes, she could match them to the Aran knit cardigans that her aunt had worn so often. The other aunt had kept up with the times, her collection was sorted by colour into plastic bags, all packed solidly into a pretty Cath Kidston tin. As for the neighbour’s legacy, a deluge of lightly worn novelty buttons in an Asda bag spoke of a passion for yarn crafts and a bewildering supply of grandchildren.

Jessica knitted and crocheted, she made bookmarks and greeting cards, she moulded clay and strung jewellery, but never used the heirloom buttons. She visited them, talked to them, and remembered.

The day came when she remembered no more, she was bundled away, to be cared for. Her daughter found the buttons, and tipped them all into a bucket. £10, on Marketplace, collection only.

Copyright Jeanette Greaves, May 2023

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March 2023 book blog

I only read two books this month, but they were whoppers. I started off with a break from ‘Shadows of the Apt’ in the shape of a re-read of the classic anthology ‘By Blood We Live’, edited by John Joseph Adams. I do love a themed anthology, and this one has a pretty basic theme (vampires) which has drawn contributions from the great and the good of the genre. This collection has been sitting patiently on my shelves since I first read it a decade or so ago, so I’ve given it a farewell read before I send it out into the world to entertain someone else. The stories vary from full on gothic to modern imaginings of the genre. I’m only going to mention the stories that absolutely stood out for me, but with contributors such as Neil Gaiman, Anne Rice, Harry Turtledove, Tad Williams, Michael Marshall Smith, Jane Yolen, Tanith Lee, Joe Hill, Brian Stableford, Kelly Armstrong, Ken MacLeod, Robert L Sawyer, Stephen King and Catherynne M Valente, I think I’m on fairly solid ground when I say that if you’re a horror / sf / fantasy fan, you’ll probably find something to love in this book.
The book kicks off with a lush retelling of Snow White by Neil Gaiman. ‘Snow, Glass, Apples’ points out that there was always something a bit dodgy about that so called dead body in the glass coffin. ‘Under St Peter’s’ by Harry Turtledove is a story that once read, will forever colour your perception of Easter. Michael Marshall Smith shows off his writing skills with ‘This is Now’, a masterful telling of a simple tale. He winds the story in and out of the timeline without a single misstep, to amazing effect. Jane Yolen’s ‘Mama Gone’ has a determined heroine, a homesick hungry vampire, and several ineffective blokes, I truly enjoyed this story. Joe Hill’s ‘Abraham’s Boys’ takes a more critical look than usual at Van Helsing – was he really a slayer? John Langan’s ‘The Wide Carnivorous Sky’ is a science fictional stab at the vampire mythos, the story takes four traumatised US army vets and pits them against something hellish that tore from the sky one hot day in Fallujah. The collection is very neatly tied up at the end with a reprint of Stephen King’s return to Salem’s Lot. ‘One for the Road’ is always a pleasure to read.

And from there, I returned to the characters that feel like old friends by now. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Heirs of the Blade is the seventh novel in the ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series. It’s worth mentioning that some of the short stories from ‘Spoils of War’, the linked anthology, feed into this novel, and whilst it’s not necessary to read them to enjoy the book, it’s nice to have the back story to some of the new and returning minor characters.
Things are really kicking off now, as our heroine Che sets off to find her sister Tynisa, hoping to save her from a vengeful killer ghost. Che’s old enemy has become her closest friend, whilst the young Empress of the Wasps travels to an ancient city to claim untold powers from the Masters.
With the exception of a short visit to Kanophes, this book is mostly set in the Commonweal, where Dragonfly and Grasshopper kinden inhabit a world where chivalric tradition has been knocked over and mugged by the Wasp invasion and the massacre of a generation of Commonweal youth. Tynisa has fled there, hoping to find some trace of her dead friend Salma, and Che is following fast in her footsteps, desperate to save her sister from madness and corruption.
I loved this book, and I especially loved the use of Tynisa’s and Che’s point of view to illustrate both Tynisa’s madness, and her belief in the nobility of Salma’s family and cause.

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February 2023 book blog

‘The Witch in the Well’ by Camilla Bruce was my Jan / Feb crossover book. I’ve reviewed it separately with its own post.

From there, I didn’t move very far away from the Shadow’s of the Apt series by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I kicked off the month’s ‘new books’ with ‘Spoils of War’. This is a mixed bag of tales, set in the universe of the ten novel series ‘Shadows of the Apt’ Most of the stories are back stories for major characters or locations in the Apt series, and some of them really do shine out as great stories. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the short story collections in this universe.

‘Spoils of War’ was an excellent springboard back to the series proper, and I dived straight into ‘The Scarab Path’ The first four books of ‘Shadows of the Apt’ were essentially a quadrilogy within the series. The Scarab Path, whilst definitely a sequel to that story, is a self contained story in its own right, focusing on Che, Totho and Thalric, and their experiences in the ancient city of Kanophus. With fewer battles – but still plenty of fight scenes – the story gives the ideas and characters the chance to breathe. I particularly loved how the Che / Totho story played out.

Book 6 of ‘Shadows of the Apt’ is another thick volume, which introduces new people and settings. What a whopper! I would definitely have read this book faster if I’d had stronger arms. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Stenwold’s adventures under the sea. It was eerily reminiscent at times of China Mieville’s ‘The Scar’ which I read last year. What are the odds of me reading two undersea fantasy stories in the space of a few months? The Sea Watch is a lively and entertaining book, with some genuine moments of horror mixed with the military and political scenes. I loved the octopus / squid people, and the ancient octopus was a great character in its own right.

Incidentally, I got to meet the author at Lancaster Litfest in March. He was charming, amusing, and passionate about writing. It was a pleasure.

I’m taking another short break from Tchaikovsky’s ten book series with a re-read of an anthology about vampires. I’ll tell you more about that in a couple of weeks time.

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The Witch in the Well – a review by Jeanette Greaves

Thank you to Transworld for the review copy of this book.

Getting a review copy of a book usually leads to an interesting experience, because they’re usually by an author I’ve not yet read. This was definitely an interesting experience. A copy editing error and a confusing turn of phrase early on in the book put me in a negative mood early on, but I persevered out of curiosity. The author has created three intensely unsympathetic female characters and divided the story between their voices, using flashbacks and present day narratives.

The Witch in the Well is Ilsbeth, the long dead young wife of a local landowner, who was murdered by the townsfolk in the nineteenth century, accused of killing several local children. Her life story is wreaking havoc between two former childhood friends.
Cathy is a local, she grew up near the well, and has an affinity with Ilsbeth’s tale. As an awkward, unsocial woman who sees herself as an outsider, she is sure that Ilsbeth was wrongly accused. Cathy has settled down in a basement with the town archives to write a biography of Ilsbeth and hopefully clear her name.

Elena is successful writer and influencer, with links to the area. She used to spend her summers with her uncle in his big house near the well. During those summers, she developed a friendship with Cathy that didn’t survive their childhood. When Elena returns to the town, she brings with her the need to produce that difficult second book, and is inspired to write about Ilsbeth. Inevitably, the shared goals lead to trouble, and none of the three women come out of it looking good.

I’m left with the utmost admiration for a writer who has created such self absorbed, unlikeable characters, and drawn me into their story to the extent that I returned to it every chance I got. I liked the different narrative origins – Ilsbeth has left a handwritten journal to be found by Cathy, Elena has hand written a journal and hidden it in a tree, where is it found by Cathy, and Cathy has written her side of the story as a public Facebook blog, which in itself forms a strand of the story.

If you don’t need a heroine or a sympathetic character to enjoy a book, then this may be for you. At times it reads like a black comedy, as Cathy persists in blogging every detail of her life, despite the pleadings of her lawyer, her ex husband, and her son. I’m glad I read it, it will haunt me for a while.

‘The Witch in the Well’ is available now in hardback from Bantam Press, and will be released as a paperback on 23rd February 2023.

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January 2023 book blog

That thing, where you binge a series of fantasy books, it feels so naughty doesn’t it? Like sitting with a box of chocolates and barely stopping until you hit the next layer. I did that last month with the first four volumes of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series.

We start with book 1, Empire in Black and Gold. My first impulse was to four star this novel, the first in a series of ten, but I thought about it and realised that I was comparing it against The Tiger and The Wolf, a book published eight years later by a vastly more experienced storyteller. It didn’t seem fair to withhold that one star when I’d enjoyed the story so much and was ready to pick up book 2 straight away. So, five it is.
Empire follows the typical fantasy path of assembling a mismatched group from different parts of the story’s world, adding some conflict and a hint of romance, and sending them off on a quest. The hook in these novels is that their home cities and the people within are physically defined by an affinity to a type of insect. So, whilst all the characters are fully human, they have some characteristics of, e.g. spiders, moths or beetles, sometimes to a degree that appears to be supernatural or monstrous to others outside their group. The quest that the young people have been set is to gather evidence that the Wasps are mounting an invasion of the Lowlands, the home of several cities and cultures. On the way there are many battles, a bit of romance, a parent / child reunion that could end very badly, and lots of intrigue. Book 1 of any series has a lot of ground to cover, and although my personal taste would be for fewer fight scenes and more intrigue, this is a book about war, after all.

Book 2, Dragonfly Falling, continues the story as a typical fantasy book 2 – Engrossing storyline, lots of battles and fight scenes. Great character development for the group of youngsters that we first met in book 1.

Book 3, Blood of the Mantis is less bloody, with more world building and character development. We get some time to get to know the characters a bit more, allowing us to get invested in some of them against our better judgement …

Book 4, Salute the Dark – It’s all battles and fights and plots isn’t it? This has the feel of a final book in a series, as Tchaikovsky draws together his various characters. The Empire of the Wasps may have over-reached itself, as revolution, rebellion and resistance flare up at city and individual levels. Prepare to be heartbroken.

At this point I took a break to read and review Camilla Bruce’s ‘The Witch in the Well’ and to enjoy the tasty morsel that is ‘The Photographer’ by Maxim Jakubowski, a dark and literary short story brought to us by Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar Press series of chapbooks. My review of The Witch in the Well is posted separately.

Next, for February, more from Shadows of the Apt.

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December 2022 book blog

Another month when I read a lot less than usual. I blame Netflix and a free Prime month. I spent most of the Christmas holidays bingeing two seasons of Fear The Walking Dead, which has well and truly jumped the rotting corpse of the zombie shark, but is still a fun watch and something entertaining to follow whilst I’m ironing or knitting. Knit and Splatter?
Anyway, long overdue catchups of fave zombie programmes aside, this is supposed to be a book blog, so here we go.
I first ‘met’ Alix Harrow in a short story anthology, and loved her story so much that I bought ‘Ten Thousand Doors of January’ as soon as possible. Then, I promptly lost it. I’m getting good at this buying and losing books lark. I was reluctant to buy it again, because it had to be somewhere, didn’t it? Anyway, a while later ‘The Once and Future Witches’ came out and it wasn’t a sequel, but it was Harrow, so I bought it, read it and loved it. I loved it so much that I ordered the paperback of ‘Ten Thousand Doors of January’ and put it in a safe place once it had arrived.
I caught up with it in December and read it in two days. Don’t believe my Goodreads account, that blog site is useless these days. I forgot to tell it that I wasn’t a robot when I logged the read, so it’s been pretending that I took five weeks to read the book. So, it’s a fantasy, and there’s magic, and a quest, and romance and a villain AND a villainous conspiracy. It’s great, it’s everything that I thought it would be. It’s a hugely fun read with sympathetic characters and unless you hate fun fantasy reads, you’ll probably enjoy it.
My next, and final, read of the month, which I finished on Jan 1st 2023, was Marc Burrows ‘Manic Street Preachers. Album by Album’. There are a lot of books about the Manics, and whilst I’ve not read them all, I’ve read a fair few. Simon Price’s ‘Everything’ remains the gold standard, but it’s very out of date now. Burrows’ book is clearly written by fans, which is not a bad thing as Manics fans tend to be pretty thoughtful people. The book consists of a strictly chronological history of the band, divided into album eras. The lists of events are split up by essays about each album, from Generation Terrorists to Resistance is Futile. The essays are fan written, and each one addresses a different album. This book did take nearly a month to read, I was dipping into it and reading a section at a time. I’m a Manics fan (FMF) myself and the book took me on a startlingly clear (ultra vivid?) trip down memory lane. This is a must read for Manics fans, and an interesting window into the world of the Manics, their music and their fans for the uninitiated.

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November 2022 book blog

This was the month that I only read two books.

Not even two books, because it was still October when I started to read Ellen Datlow’s collection of Shirley Jackson inspired dark tales, ‘When Things Get Dark.’ Appropriate, I thought, for the time of year. It has got awfully dark hasn’t it?

Datlow is a reliable anthologist for me, our tastes are similar, and her collections often introduce me to new authors whilst also giving me a fix from writers who she’s previously introduced me to, or I’ve encountered elsewhere. Laird Barron, Gemma Files and Seanan McGuire all fall firmly into the ‘Datlow writers’ camp and I was happy to see new stories from them. Barron’s story ‘Tiptoe’ is the stuff of nightmares. It’s very gently written, and it takes a while for the full measure of terror to hit, I think it’s my favourite story from them so far. ‘Pear of Anguish’ by Gemma Files explores relationships between misfit girls and is written with such descriptive ease that I can still visualise the settings of the story, weeks after reading. McGuire’s ‘In the Deep Woods’ is a solid horror story that won’t disappoint her fans.

‘Sooner or Later, Your Wife will Drive Home’ by Genevieve Valentine evokes the kind of feelings that I got from early Lisa Tuttle stories, I got the feeling that we’re looking at the same people in different dimensions / timelines. A creepy story that any woman who has driven in the darkness will relate to. Kelly Link’s ‘Skinder’s Veil’ is a slow burner with a punchline that’s worth staying home for, but my standout story of the collection has to be Josh Malerman’s ‘Special Meal’. It brings to mind one of the first sf anthologies I ever read, a tatty hardback edition of Clifford Simak stories. I loved it.

The second book of November 2022 was China Mieville’s ‘The Scar’. This continues my proud tradition of being utterly oblivious to sequels of great books. I read ‘Perdido Street Station’ not long after it came out. It was a maze of a book, and although I liked it, I never have got round to re-reading it. That was about twenty years ago. Then, last month, I was browsing in the local charity shop and spotted ‘The Scar’, a hefty hardback that was, apparently, the second book in the ‘New Crobuzon trilogy’. It was 30p. You can’t even buy a Freddo for 30p these days, but there I was, with several thick inches of early 21st century steampunk clutched to my breast. It went to the top of my tbr pile, along with a ‘December books’ request for the third book in the series.

I LOVED it. From the first pages of eldritch horror, right through the winding plot, the amazing locations, the writ bold characters who still drew sympathy and affection, to the final pages of resolution. Someone should have told me about this book a long time ago.

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September and October 2022 book blog

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana …

October was a busy month, there was a family wedding (congratulations to my wonderful nephew Jake and his talented, funny, witty and utterly amazing bride Eva) and also lots of promotional stuff going on for my second book, Ransomed Hearts.

None of that stopped me from reading, but I obviously didn’t get round to doing a September blog. So, here goes.

September started with a gorgeous new collection of Lisa Tuttle stories, courtesy of the brilliant Valencourt Press. I am, absolutely, a fan of Lisa Tuttle. I found her stories at an impressionable age (early twenties) and have reacted to any and all of her work with a very enthusiastic ‘WANT’. ‘The Dead Hours of Night’ did not disappoint, and although they span almost forty years of writing, they are all, clearly, Tuttle stories.

I felt like a woman with two lovers as I slipped away from the Tuttle anthology and went to meet Gwyneth Jones’s ‘Life’ Somehow this book slipped through the cracks and I’ve only now got round to reading it. It’s a keeper, it’s going nowhere. I’m not lending it out or giving it away, I will come back again and again.

‘Life’ feels like stepping sideways into my favourite books. It’s a cousin of Mary McCarthy’s ‘The Group’ in its sexual politics and focus on the dynamics of a group of fellow students as they grow up and go into the world. Reading it also brought back the urge to re-read Marge Piercy’s ‘Vida’, there’s something about the way the protagonist lives in her own world of research, whilst her most important relationships drift away, that reminds me of Vida’s political isolation. Most of all though, the book feels a hair’s breadth away from Gwyneth Jones’ own ‘Bold as Love’ series, in its general mood and the personalities of the major characters. Loved it.

I don’t read much literary fiction, but I make an exception for the Nightjar chapbooks, single story editions of dark fiction, edited and presented by Nicholas Royle. I tend to save them up and treat them as an anthology. I had a pile of chapbooks going back to last year, so I settled down with them, and over the course of two or three weeks I read almost two dozen chapbooks. They’re all listed on my Goodreads page, but the standouts for me were Claire Dean’s ‘Middleton Sands’, Françoise Harvey’s ‘Guest’, David Bevan’s ‘The Bull’ and ‘The Golden Frog’ and Joanne Done’s ‘Medlar’.

After dipping into so many worlds by so many voices, I picked up ‘The Stars Seem So Far Away’ by Margrét Helgadóttir. Margrét is an anthology sister of mine, from one of the Hic Dragones anthologies, and I bought this book a long time ago, shelved it, and never saw it again. Last month I accepted that it was, mysteriously, gone for ever, and bought another copy. It was definitely worth buying twice, and I loved the interlinked short stories about a group of young people surviving and making their way through a world changed by global warming.

After spending the best part of two months reading short stories, I was hungry for something different, and it doesn’t get much more different than a chunky Stephen King novel. Fairy Tale could have easily been a series, in the style of The Dark Tower, but King has reined himself in and kept it to supernovel length. What can I say? It’s Stephen King, I loved it.

And then, back to the short stories. Ellen Datlow is my favourite anthologist, and ‘When Things Get Dark’ is a collection of dark tales rooted in the style and feel of Shirley Jackson stories. I’m still in the middle of it, and will post a review next month.

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