October 2021 Book Blog

October was a fairly slow month for reading, until right at the end, when I binged three novels in five days. Let’s start at the beginning. Well, almost the beginning, because I finished Year of the Fruitcake at the start of this month.
‘Nightmare Flower’ by Elizabeth Engstrom is a single author horror anthology from a writer I hadn’t previously encountered. I confess, I bought the book because it was pretty. The Valencourt ‘Monster She Wrote’ collections have gorgeous cover art and I splurged earlier in the year and bought three of them. This one is a collection of short stories and novellas of varying lengths, and whilst I enjoyed them, I didn’t love them. There was an interesting coincidence in that ‘Project Stone’, one of the novellas, has a major plot point in common with Atwood’s ‘The Heart Goes Last’, in that they both feature a closed community that promised tranquillity and safety, but became corrupted and dangerous.
As my local library is open again, it’s seemed increasingly rude not to venture in there. The sf and horror offerings are very limited, but I picked up a shared world anthology edited by George Martin. No. 26 in the Wild Cards series. Normally you’d be in at the deep end with No. 26 in any series, but luckily ‘Knaves over Queens’ is the first in the series to deal with events in the UK, and follows a timeline from the mid 1940s to the present day. Shared world anthologies have a certain weakness, in that variations in style between different authors can become jarring. Everyone has their own take on staple characters, and even a series bible and a dedicated editor can’t iron out the differences in approach. Perhaps it was the UK aspect of this volume that reminded me of the ‘Temps / Villains’ shared world anthologies about flawed superheroes, but the resemblance drew me in. There were some stories that I loved, some that I found pedestrian, and some that entertained. And guess what, I’m intrigued enough to seek out more … I’ll start with Vol, 1
‘The Heart Goes Last’ by Margaret Atwood was a charity shop find, and I was several chapters in before I started to suspect that I’d read it before. I checked Goodreads, and I have, four and a half years ago. Nevertheless, I finished it. As I mentioned earlier, there was a strong link to Angstrom’s ‘Project Stone’ in the main storyline. I found it an odd book, bringing a mixture of dark humour and slapstick (Elvisbots?) to a dystopian storyline. I understand where Atwood is going with this, but I’m fundamentally a reader in need of a sympathetic protagonist or two, and Atwood’s characters are painted with a shallow and unsympathetic brush.
My trip to the library to return the Wild Cards anthology reaped rewards in the shape of two unread Chris Brookmyre novels – Fallen Angel, and The Cut. When I swapped a swipe of my library card for the chance to read them I was glad I was wearing a face mask, because my gleeful grin might have scared the librarian. There I stood, a woman in dire need of a sympathetic protagonist or two, with a couple of novels that were guaranteed to deliver. Brookmyre’s books are amongst the few non-sf / horror books that I know I’m going to love (although his forays into genre have not disappointed). I’ve glowingly reviewed the books themselves on Goodreads, so I’ll just mention here that I read them both in less than 72 hours, that I loved them to bits, and Millie Spark is one of my favourite protagonists since Stephen King introduced us to Holly Gibney.

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