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.

Posted in Fiction, Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Fiction, Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Non fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in News, Review, Witterings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

August 2022 book blog

Cover image of Ransomed Hearts by Jeanette Greaves. A young man playing an electric guitar on a small stage.

A big month for me, I self published my second novel, ‘Ransomed Hearts’ and did a read through of book 3, to see just how much work it needs to shape it into a proper book. I’ve also given book 3 a name, ‘Hearts’ Home’, which I haven’t really publicised at all.

August was a great month to be a writer, but also to be a reader. August arrived with me half way through Becky Chambers’ ‘The Galaxy and the Ground Within.’ It’s the final book in the Wayfarer’s series and just as an aside, doesn’t Chambers have a wonderful knack for titles? This book filled my life from the moment I picked it up. A very disparate group of travellers have stopped to rest and refuel at an intergalactic service station / guest house when a planetary crisis confines them to quarters for several days with no means of communication with anyone outside the guest house dome. Each of them has good reason to be anxious about the delay and the lack of communication. Their host and her child do their best to make them comfortable and entertain them, and over the course of their delay, they get to know and respect each other. This is a beautiful book, and in the world we live in today it reads like escapist literature at its best.

From deep space and time, to alternate history. I literally stumbled into Harry Turtledove’s ‘In at the Death, Settling Accounts 4’. It was in a pile of second hand books on a charity stall at my local supermarket, and I lost my balance trying to read the titles without my specs on. I know of the author, of course, although it’s probably decades since I read anything by him, so I decided to put things right.  It’s the final volume of a multi book series set in an alternate universe where the confederate states won the American civil war. This part of the series is set in the early 1940s. The world is at war, but the alliances have changed and the United States are once more at war with the Confederate States, which have built and used death camps to murder their black population. The frequent use of the n word was a shocker, but given the context its use is understandable.
The cast of characters is enormous, and looking at Wiki fandom explanations of some of the back story, it seems like it might be nice to start at the beginning of the series and find out more about the characters and their ancestors.
Don’t be fooled by my two day read of this book, it was an amazingly hot weekend when I picked the book up and I didn’t have the energy to do anything but read. 

The next book was one from the TBR pile. I’ve been making eye contact with ‘The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories’ for a while and it was definitely time to pick it up. Thank you to everyone at Valancourt Books for re-publishing this collection of horror stories from one of the best selling writers (Marjorie Bowen) that I’ve never heard of.
The gothic is strong in this one, and amongst the wrong women, ruined buildings and desperately degenerate aristocrats are some real gems.

I finished my last book of August on the last day of August, which made me happy. I confess that I know one of the authors in this gorgeous little collection, and that she was kind enough to send me a copy. Skulls and spells is a beautifully presented collection of flash fiction, short stories, art, comics and poems. It’s basically a festival in a book. The work embraces queer and non-binary horror. It’s published as a colour illustrated hardback by the micro-press Artemesia’s Axe.
There’s a heavy focus on body horror, the illustrations inevitably draw heavily on the red part of the spectrum.
In a mixed media, multi author / artist collection, everyone is going to have their favourites. For me, they were two of the short stories.
Sanni de Soto’s ‘Darned’ has enough worldbuilding in one short story to sustain a TV series, and I really hope that someone with influence reads this story and moves it forward. I loved it.
Karen D’arcy Kernan’s ‘Amygdalin’ mingles chemistry and food within an abusive relationship, it’s a satisfyingly gory body horror with such a strong food theme that I would strongly advise you not to read it before dinner.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 2022 book blog

You remember how I stopped reading so much, to give me more time to write? That didn’t work out so well, so I read a lot more in July and also managed to finish my second book. ‘Ransomed Hearts’ will be out soon and I hope that you enjoy it.

I read seven books in July, and whilst I’m fairly sure this isn’t a personal record, it’s certainly a respectable total.

‘Violeta’ by the wondrous Isabel Allende was pretty much consumed in a day. It had been a long time since I’d read any of Allende’s work, and I’d bought this on impulse as a gift for my mother. She passed it on to me, and I ate it whole. Violeta strides through life, making decisions both good and bad, loving the right men and the wrong men, and developing bonds of trust and friendship with other women that lead her from her conservative roots to a late feminist blossoming. This is a book about family, and politics. It reminded me a lot of ‘Dreamers of the Day’ by Mary Doria Russell.

July’s next book was Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. This was an impulse buy last year when I was in the wonderful Ebb & Flo bookshop in Chorley. I started reading this before bedtime and finished it the next day. I was fundraising for a local charity, holding a craft stall at a fair. Sadly, the customers weren’t buying, but it did give me the opportunity to read almost an entire book in the space of six hours. I felt very full when I’d finished.

Piranesi lives in harmony with his world in the Halls of a gigantic mansion that is washed by great Tides of water. The only other person in his world meets with him for an hour, twice a week, to discuss Piranesi’s research into how the world works. Piranesi keeps journals, indexed and treasured, and when Other tells him that the world makes everyone forgetful, Piranesi decides to check his old notebooks for evidence that he hasn’t lost his memories. What he finds changes everything.

Essentially, this is a crime novel, but the crime is something that could never be prosecuted in our world, because who would believe in a world like Piranesi’s?

So, July was off with a roar, two books in three days! My tbr pile isn’t actually a pile, it’s a scattering, and when I reshelved ‘Piranesi’, I picked up ‘Purgatory Mount’ by Adam Roberts, which was on the same bookshelf and had been bought with my December money. Coincidentally, this book also deals with the them of memory. That’s two memory themed books in a row. Funny how these things work out.

This is a tale in two parts. In the far future, heavily augmented humans travel to a far distant planet to investigate a gigantic structure. The two parts of this story bookend the second part of the book, a story about five friends trying to survive a second US civil war in the near future. I’ve been reading Adam Roberts’ stories since SALT came out, many years ago, and they always leave me with the sense that I’m not quite clever enough or well read enough to understand what’s going on. Nevertheless, I keep coming back, because the stories are great.

The next book to grab my attention was a secondhand ex library copy of Bob Shaw’s ‘Dark Night in Toyland’ Those yellow Gollancz covers are catnip to sf fans who grew up in the seventies. I’ve definitely read this collection before, but I can’t remember when. Bob Shaw can always be relied on to put some humour into his sf, and some of these stories are pretty much extended jokes (which Shaw admits). In general, a nice collection of stories.

The next book had been sat on my bedside table for months. It’s one of those mysterious books that turn up out of nowhere, neither me nor my husband could remember acquiring it. ‘Kafka on the Shore’ by Haruki Murakami kept me occupied for a week. It’s a measure of how good the story is that I carried on reading after a graphic scene of cat slaughter. It’s a measure of how well the story held my curiosity that I carried on reading after a rape scene. Trigger warnings are controversial, I know, but I probably wouldn’t have read the book if I’d known in advance about those scenes. There’s a lot going on in this book, and oddly enough a lot of the goings on hook onto the theme of memory. It seems that I can barely pick up a book at the moment without walking straight into musings on the nature of memory. This story explores it beautifully, with a cast of intriguing and (mostly) sympathetic characters.

Joe Hill’s books are always a treat, and ‘Full Throttle’ is no exception. I fair rattled through this anthology, with enormous pleasure. I’ve never met a Joe Hill story that I didn’t like, and there are some that I love. Check out my Goodreads page for a full review. I read this book during the hottest day I’ve ever experienced in the UK, in the coolest room in the house, too hot to do anything but read.

From the comfort food of Hill to a more experimental diet. Sarah Hall’s ‘Burntcoat’ was another impulse buy from Ebb & Flo in Chorley. It took me a while to get into this book, at first I thought it was a story that had been smashed against a wall and assembled back in no particular order, but by the end I realised that it had actually been cut with surgical precision and assembled with enormous care.
The references to the craft and art of the protagonist’s profession fascinated me, and at first were what kept me interested in a book that shifted timelines so often that I was fast losing interest in the story. But, suddenly everything started to come together and I read the last two thirds of the book at once, unable to go to sleep until it was finished. I was left with a nagging feeling that I’ve read books with this kind of bloody dream quality before, and this morning I made the link with Alan Garner’s more recent work, particularly Strandloper.

At the end of the month I picked up a book that I’ve been looking forward to since it arrived as a December gift. ‘The Galaxy, and the Ground Within’ is the fourth book in Becky Chambers’ ‘Wayfarers’ series. I’m about half way through, and will review it in my August blog.

Posted in Fiction, Review, Witterings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

June 2022 book blog

I ‘met’ Alix E Harrow in an anthology of short stories, and immediately knew that I needed to read more of her tales. Last month I finally got round to picking up her ‘The Once and Future Witches’. About half a chapter in, I told my husband to cancel everything for the next few days, I’d found my happy place. Three sisters have been separated by life and misunderstandings, three sisters desperately need each other, three sisters find magic and each other. A wonderful story, beautifully written.

My second (and final) read of the month was ‘The Art of Dying’ by Ambrose Parry. Parry is the pen name of  Dr Marisa Haetzman and her husband, Christopher Brookmyre, and this is the second book in the Raven, Fisher and Simpson series, set in Edinburgh in the mid 19th Century. Murder mysteries aren’t usually my bag, but Brookmyre is a favourite of mine, and there’s enough science, romance and humour in these books to make me a firm fan.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

May 2022 book blog

I’ve sorely neglected this blog. To be honest, I’ve neglected a lot of things recently, I seem to have spent the last two months binge watching TV. I don’t regret that, it’s been good TV and it all serves the great goddess of story and helps me learn how to tell what has to be told. Also, it’s a shared activity, something to chat about. But yes, I’ve not read very much at all.

Most of May’s reading was D J Harrison’s ‘Voyage to Oblivion’, the final book in his ‘Tyrant’ trilogy. The trilogy is a fun, rollicking read, with lots of sympathetic characters and only a couple of real villains. There are some dark moments, but overall the series is wise and witty and I loved it.

And that’s pretty much it. June was a little bit busier.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment