February 2022 book blog

For the first time since I started setting a reading target on Goodreads, I’m behind. It’s grief, I suppose, although I’m not weeping or feeling awful, I’m somewhat tired and listless. I’m watching TV and knitting rather than reading or writing. I’ll have to shake myself up and get back to work. Like most people these days, I’m finding things a bit overwhelming, and in the face of war, climate disaster and disease, it’s hard to believe that there’s any point in publishing my own novels.

That’s not to say that reading hasn’t been a pleasure. I ended my January book blog with a note that I’d started Dan Simmons’ book ‘The Terror’.

Basically, the book is 98% about stubborn and short sighted English and Irish men travelling to the Arctic on a voyage of exploration. For a variety of reasons, they suffer and most of them die. Some of them die at the claws of a giant polar boar that is stalking the trapped ships, but a lot of them die of gangrene, drowning, scurvy and good old fashioned mutiny and cannibalism. And that is the vast majority of the book. Simmons has done his research, and he makes it clear exactly how miserable the explorers on The Terror and The Erebus were, for several miserable years. He lists the ships’ inventory in great detail, and repeatedly reviews the number of dead crewmen, their ranks, and cause of death. It’s tedious and long winded and almost made me give up. However, I’ve finished worse books than this, so I plodded on, even though the racism and misogyny were pretty nasty, because I kinda understood that the nastiness sprang from the characters, not the author.
As the end grew near, I began to hope that the tedium of the regurgitated research was making a point, about how boring life was on that fated expedition. The last few chapters covered the rescue and redemption of a sole survivor, and his growth into someone who could live with his environment instead of fighting against it. I quite enjoyed those chapters, but even at the end, the research that Simmons did into indigenous Arctic societies was right in the foreground of the story.

In the end, I got what I wanted from this novel. I wanted to find out more about the only truly intriguing character in the story, and even though they disappeared for a large chunk of the book, their reappearance saved it.

After ‘The Terror’, I thoroughly deserved Grady Hendrix’s ‘The Final Girl Support Group’. I’d been looking forward to it for months, and I finished it in two days. It was the book equivalent of party food. Here is my review.

I read this in two days, which shows that I enjoyed it. There’s been a lot of hype about it, and several people who I respect have recommended it, so it was on my ‘December list’ of books that I asked my husband to get me for Christmas.
So, if you don’t know, a Final Girl is the last survivor of a horror film, the one who kills the monster and quite often, kills him (it’s always a him) again.
The Final Girls of this story are the survivors of the massacres that horror film franchises were built on. They meet up regularly and secretly to discuss their lives and give each other the kind of emotional support that only they can understand. And then one of them is murdered, and everything that was wrong suddenly gets a hell of a lot worse.
It took me a while to get my head round the different Final Girls and their respective franchises and personalities, the book dives into the action before the characters are properly established, but that’s my only gripe. The plot takes so many twists and turns I felt like the Final Girl in a helter skelter massacre, and the ending is great.

Having finished The Final Girl Support Group in less than 48 hours, I picked up ‘We Sold Our Souls’ by the same author. It was a December gift from my husband, who got A LOT of brownie points for getting it so right. This book was made for me. Here’s my review.

It’s one thing to sell your soul for rock ‘n’ roll, but selling someone else’s is a bit naff, and definitely not in the spirit of things. It’s funny, isn’t it, how metal attracts the lost and lonely, but often ends up unflinchingly serving the big corporations and their ruthless lackeys?
So, Kris was a lost and lonely girl who discovered her inner guitar goddess and started a band. Terry was the older boy who sang her songs and sold her out. And decades later, Kris wants to know what exactly happened on contract night, and why her life turned to shit so fast and so completely. Meanwhile, Terry is on top of the world, and is planning the biggest metal festival ever. Which of them is going to get the band back together first?
I absolutely, unashamedly adored this book. I’ve had a soft spot for rock and roll horror since ’92, when the anthology ‘Shock Rock’ came out. There’s not enough of it about, but I’m proud that my first published short story ‘The Brane’ falls firmly into that category.

I also read an ARC of Aliette de Bodard’s new novellette, ‘Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances’ and I’ll tell you more about this little gem closer to publication day.

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January 2022 book blog

January was an odd month. It was the month that I decided to stop indulging myself with other people’s books, and to get my own second and third novels finished and sent to the copy editor. It was also the month that my dad died, suddenly. His death was peaceful, at home, and hopefully as easy on him as a death can be. He was 82, almost 83, and in January we had a small celebration on his birthday in his home. And then we tidied up the financial loose ends, looked after mum, looked after ourselves, and waited for the funeral. I didn’t get any writing done at all.
Before all that happened, I read the third and final part of NK Jemisin’s ‘The Broken Earth’ trilogy. ‘The Stone Sky’ wrapped the trilogy up perfectly, Jemisin had set up an immense challenge for herself in book 3, which she more than met. I loved it. Then I moved on to a much awaited treat. I promised myself it would be the last book for a while. I’d bought Pat Cadigan’s Alien 3 as a Christmas gift for my husband, and he obligingly made it the first of the pile of new books to read. As soon as he’d put it down, I picked it up. Cadigan’s novelisation of William Gibson’s screenplay is a very enjoyable romp in Xenomorph town. Yeah, anywhere can become Xenomorph town, given human stupidity, human greed, and just the slightest infusion of the tiniest little Xenomorph. It’s very Aliens centred, Hicks has survived the Sulaco, and is leading the resistance. It’s fun, I recommend it.
Then I went for a bit of guilt reading. I bought Dan Simmons ‘The Terror’ as a Christmas or birthday gift for my husband a few years ago, and it’s been gathering dust ever since. That shouldn’t happen to a book. I’ve been reading it for a few weeks now, and it’s pretty good as a grief book. The characters aren’t a bit sympathetic, the monster is vague, and it’s very easy to put down after a few pages. Lady Silence, the mutilated woman who has been taken in by the crew of The Terror, does intrigue me though, I hope we find out a lot more about her. In case the TV series has passed you by, The Terror tells the story of a doomed Arctic expedition, of two ships and their crews trapped in the ice for years on end, and a mysterious creature that is hunting the crew members. I’ll probably still be reading it in March, so there may not be a February book blog.

Right, I’m going back to my own writing. See you on the other side.

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December 2021 book blog

If you read my November blog, you probably gathered that I really enjoyed N K Jemisin’s ‘Inheritance Trilogy’. So much so that I dived headfirst into her next books, ‘The Killing Moon’ and ‘The Shadowed Sun’, which together make up the Dreamblood saga. Gods take a back seat in this series, although religion and ritual are firmly in charge of the direction of the book, along with a good dollop of politics. Damaged heroes and heroines carry the story along to a very satisfactory ending. Loved it.

I took a short break from Jemisin to read Wild Cards vol 1, the first of the ‘mosaic novels’ curated by George R R Martin in the Wild Cards universe. Unsurprisingly, it followed a similar pattern and timescale to Vol 26, which gave us the origin stories of the British Aces and jokers. The stories were written a quarter of a century apart though, and it really shows in the writing and the plots. There were two standout stories for me, Zelazny’s ‘The Sleeper’ and Snodgrass’s ‘Degradation Rites’.

And then, back to Jemisin, with the same sense of anticipation that I have for Stephen King, Robin Hobb, Lisa Tuttle, Iain Banks with or without his M, and Chris Brookmyre. How could she disappoint? The Broken Earth Trilogy won a Hugo three years in a row, and it is absolutely deserved. I’ve not quite finished the third book yet, but ‘The Fifth Season’ and ‘The Obelisk Gate’ combine faultless worldbuilding, plotting and characterisation with heartbreaking themes of parenthood, betrayal, friendship and power that tie together centuries of the history of a future Earth.

I’m going to take a short break from reading when I’ve finished ‘The Stone Sky’ because I have a book of my own to write. See you on the other side!

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November 2021 Book Blog

This is a proper winter list of books, the nights have lengthened and it’s cold and wet outside, so there’s even more time for reading. And I’m not complaining.

I started the month with two anthologies from National Flash Fiction Day. ‘Legerdemain’ is this year’s collection, on the theme of magic. ‘And We Pass Through’ is the 2019 collection, on the theme of Doors. I enjoyed these short glimpses into many different worlds and lives, and found several short stories that I genuinely loved.

My next read was ‘Recursion’ by David J Harrison. I know the author’s dad, but even if I didn’t I would probably have been intrigued by the premise of an alien time shifter lurking in a Lake District village. It’s a genuinely creepy story with some interesting ideas.

Then I moved onto Body Shocks, a new anthology of body horror stories, edited by Ellen Datlow. Whilst the anthology is new, the stories aren’t guaranteed to be, and I was pleased to find an old favourite, ‘Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Report’ by Michael Blumlein, tucked in at the end of the book. There wasn’t a dud story in the book, but I was a little bit surprised not find any Lisa Tuttle or Tracy Fahey stories in there.

I picked up Madeline Miller’s ‘Circe’ secondhand at a charity fundraising event. It was practically forced on me by a friend who had read it previously and guessed that I’d love it. I did. The witch, Circe, appears in many old tales and this novel brings everything together and tells a story from her point of view. I found myself caring for the characters and rediscovering my teenage obsession with Greek mythology.

I passed Circe along to my niece, and decided that it was time to find out if I’d been right or wrong in buying pretty much the complete (so far) set of N K Jemisin’s novels. Other writers had recommended them, and I think I’d been avoiding them because I’d have felt a bit of an idiot if I’d hated them, Luckily, I loved them, Moving from ‘Circe’ to Jemisin’s ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ turned out to be an accidentally perfect move. Both books deal with the interactions of gods, the children of gods, and mortals, and both books throw in a fair amount of magic. Of course, I found myself half in love with Naha, the lord of shadows, and entertained by Sieh, the god of childhood, who is a very naughty boy indeed. The second book in the series is ‘The Broken Kingdom’ and deals with the downfall and slow redemption of the god of light, alongside the story of a blind woman who is trying to survive in a world newly awash with magic. A great story, well told. I liked the change in perspectives that gave us another way of looking at the protagonists of book 1. I’ll include the third book of the ‘Inheritence series’ in my November blog, because I just about started it in November and it keeps things tidy if I talk about it here. ‘The Kingdom of Gods’ is a thicker volume than the preceding books, and tells a more complex story, Sieh, the god of childhood, is sick. He’s growing up, and growing old, and he’s mortally in love with a pair of siblings from the family that cruelly kept him imprisoned for countless years. I really enjoyed this book, and the short story at the end of it, and hope that the author revisits these characters and this world at some point.

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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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Lorraine Baxter’s Hallowe’en Party

Lorraine Baxter’s Hallowe’en Party. That’s how I thought about it in the week leading up to it. Afterwards, people called it a lot of other things. They called me a lot of things too, and I understand that, I was the only one left to blame.
It was just one of dozens of Hallowe’en parties that year, it was before the holiday got Americanised, before Trick or Treating, before dressing up in supermarket costumes, before pumpkins. But it was still Hallowe’en, a night different from the others, and this year it was on a Saturday.
We were third years … yeah, I know, the dreaded Third Years, or Year 9s as that group is known now. Old enough to have got settled in and cocky at secondary school, but just young enough to be outside the reach of external exam pressure and thoughts of sixth form and careers. It’s a dangerous age, you feel immortal, omniscient and utterly invulnerable. Every little gang of friends was planning a party, and our lot were meeting up at Lorraine’s house. Her parents were going out, and had said she could have a few friends over. Her big brother had agreed to stay in, just to keep an eye on things. We didn’t mind that, Greg was quiet and bookish, and was guaranteed not to be annoying.
Lorraine lived four miles away, I knew the way there like the back of my hand, mostly suburban estates and main roads, but there was that one stretch by the railway and the old coal depot that seemed to be longer than the half mile it actually was. I remember glancing down at it from the top deck of the bus on the way to Lorraine’s, it was already dark at 6:30 pm, but a flicker of green light caught my attention for a second. Probably marsh gas from the coal mines, but it didn’t usually burn green, and it rarely caught fire at this time of year. Spooky though, and I decided to tell the girls about it later. I got off the bus, wrinkling my nose at a sudden stink rolling in from the direction of the canal, and walked the last ten minutes to Lorraine’s house. A faint light came from her upstairs window, the rest of the house was dark. I knocked twice before the hall light came on and Greg answered the door. ‘Ah, Paula. The new girl.’ He stepped out of the way. ‘They’re in Loz’s room, go on up.’
I winced ‘New Girl?’ I’d been at Woodside for over a year. Sure, I’d transferred a year late, when me and mum moved from Yorkshire, but I’d made lots of friends, and didn’t think of myself as ‘New Girl’ anymore.
Paula’s door was shut to, I could hear music, and voices, and I hesitated, not quite ready to just barge in. I knocked, firmly, and heard a small scream, then giggles as the door opened and Lorraine grabbed my arm and pulled me into the room. It was decorated with pentagrams made from orange yarn and toothpicks, a broomstick was propped up in a corner, and my four best friends were standing in front of a rickety card table, hiding something.
‘What’s that?’
‘Ouija board’ Lorraine said, she was smiling, excited. ‘I bought it in Manchester last month. Don’t tell anyone, OK? It’s just a game.’
‘We were waiting for you.’ Marie offered. ‘You’ve not missed anything. We have to make a circle around the board, and put our hands on the … thingy.’
‘Planchette’ Lorraine said. ‘It’s a planchette. We put our hands on it, and the spirits move it.’
I snorted. ‘Can’t the spirits move it without our hands being on it? I mean, it’s probably easier for them to move a few grammes of plastic than to take over our hands …’
The glare that I got from Marie told me that she was prepared to take this seriously. Not just a game then … I sighed and took my place between Bridget and Kath. There wasn’t much room, and our elbows kept nudging at each other.
Lorraine put a red scarf over her table lamp, making the room even darker. She switched on her tape deck, and I jumped when the music from The Omen came on. We’d watched it together the year before, and it had thoroughly creeped me out. Marie saw my reaction and smirked. ‘Scaredy cat …’ she mouthed. I stuck my tongue out at her and put my hand on the planchette. ‘Me first.’ I said firmly, finding myself with a point to prove. I’d seen this stuff in horror films, and managed to jerkily spell out ‘S A T A’ before Lorraine squealed at me and took my hand off the plastic marker. ‘Not funny!’ she said. I put on an innocent expression and said ‘What? It’s just the spirits ordering satay sauce, you know? Chinese food …’
Marie glared at me and put her hand on the planchette. Lorraine had picked up a notepad and pencil and started to jot down the letters. ‘O A K T R E’ Marie stopped and said ‘Oak Tree?’ The planchette moved swiftly to ‘YES’ and I scowled. ‘Let someone else have a go.’ I suggested, but Marie shook her head. Quite violently, as I recall. ‘R D M U R’ Lorraine looked up. ‘That doesn’t spell anything …’ I swallowed and whispered. ‘RD … Road. Oak Tree Road.’ Marie looked straight at me. ‘M U R?’ she asked, and I knew that she knew. I knew that somehow she knew why mum and me had moved sixty miles and across the Pennines, why I’d changed schools at the start of the second year, and why there was just me and mum. This wasn’t funny, and I was suddenly very aware that Marie was not my friend. I backed away from the board. ‘I’m not feeling well, I’d better go home.’ I managed to blurt out, before backing out of the room and running downstairs. I was fumbling at the door, trying to open it, when Greg wandered downstairs. ‘You OK?’ he asked, with what seemed like genuine concern. ‘Yeah, fine. Just need to get home.’ I said. I stood back whilst he unlocked the door and then I fled. Greg shouted something after me, something about walking me to the bus stop, then I heard a scream and the slam of the door. I didn’t look back, I wasn’t amused. I wondered if they were all in on it, or if it was just Marie, jealous of my friendship with Lorraine.
I stood at the bus stop for half an hour until a passing motorist stopped to tell me that the bus drivers had called a strike and there wouldn’t be a bus home. He offered me a lift, but I wasn’t quite that daft. I waited until he was gone before I started to walk home. It was going to take me an hour, it was cold, drizzling and very dark. Much darker than it should be. Apparently a bus strike wasn’t enough, there’d been a power cut too, and the street lights were off. The green glow from the coal depot wasn’t right either, but I was too angry to be spooked by it. I’d been through too much to be scared of a weird light. That stench from the canal was stronger now, and I picked up my pace, the night was getting more and more unpleasant. I didn’t realise how tense I was until I’d cleared the railway stretch and found myself on the main road, lined with pubs and takeaways. The takeaways were shut, but some of the pubs were still open, lit with candles and bustling with trade. It was early enough in the evening for the sight of a thirteen year old girl to be unremarkable, but people were staring at me. I realised then that I was crying, and I wiped at my eyes. An older woman tried to stop me, she looked concerned, but I veered away and tripped over a loose flagstone. I was bleeding when I got up, but not too badly, and I walked faster, breaking into a run for the last quarter mile and banging on our front door for what seemed like hours. By this time I was sobbing. ‘Paula, whatever’s the matter? I wasn’t expecting you home yet … why are you bleeding?’
‘There’s a power cut, and the buses are on strike and, and Marie … Marie knows about daddy and she was mean.’ I realised that I sounded about six years old, and took a deep breath. ‘I’m OK, I just fell over, and I’m cold and …’
‘Well, the power’s back on now. Let’s run you a hot bath and then we can have some supper together and listen to some of your records. How does that sound?’ Mum always knew what to say.
And that was it, I thought, as I went to bed an hour or so later. I was tired but Mum had calmed me down, she’d got the whole story out of me, and explained that there were always going to be people who would try to provoke a reaction from me about what happened to Dad, and I would always have the choice of walking away if I wanted to.
We both slept late on Sunday, we were woken up by the police. Just one car, outside. I freaked out, and started sobbing when Mum let the officers into the house. A man and a woman. Just like when Dad … like when we lost Dad. I think that’s what made it worse, they thought I was crying because I already knew, that I was crying because I was scared of consequences. They knew that I’d been seen walking home covered in blood. They knew that I’d been there.
And even though other people had seen Lorraine’s house filled with a weird green light, even though they’d smelled something monstrous and obscene filling the street, even though the window in Lorraine’s room had been smashed in from the outside, I was still questioned. There wasn’t enough evidence to arrest me though. As if I could even have done what was done. Especially to Greg. It was in all the papers. Look it up. But you won’t find it called Lorraine Baxter’s Hallowe’en Party.

Copyright Jeanette Greaves, 2021

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September 2021 Book Blog

It’s been a funny old month. It started with the every reliable Mr King. His latest novel, Billy Summers, has barely any supernatural elements, apart from a nod to The Shining and Doctor Sleep. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and loved the way that it was told. I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I’ve not wanted the latest King as soon as it came out, and nothing has changed.
From King to Datlow, with a similar theme, if there’s a new Ellen Datlow anthology around, I want it. I waited a long time for ‘The Best Horror of the Year Volume 12’, indeed, it’s almost time for Volume 13. I find Datlow’s tastes similar to my own when it comes to short stories, so her collections are always welcome on my shelves.
So, the first half of the month was taken up by two predictable, reliable and enjoyable books, and I moved on to a collection of flash fiction. ‘Root, Branch and Tree’ is an anthology of many very short stories on the theme of family. With such a huge selection of stories from all around the world, some did fail to capture my imagination, but there were enough quite brilliant stories and ideas to make the anthology a worthwhile read.
Gillian Polack’s ‘The Year of the Fruitcake’ arrived on my shelves in a fairly unusual manner. An acquaintance of mine had ordered a copy from a local bookshop, and due to some confusion, the bookshop had ordered a second copy by accident. I decided to take it off their hands and took the risk of a new novel by an entirely new author. It’s not an easy read, and it puts me in mind of some of the feminist science fiction of the late twentieth century, especially the work of Josephine Saxton. The unreliability of the narrator made me wonder more than once if we were reading the journal of a powerful alien with the authority to destroy the earth, or the journal of a lonely woman looking for meaning in the deterioration of her mind and body, and the loss of those she loved. Overall, a fascinating read. This last novel leaked over into October a little, but I’m including it in the September blog.

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August 2021 Book Blog

This month’s reading was a fantasy trilogy, one that I’ve been saving for several months now. I started reading it at the beginning of the month and finished it minutes before midnight on the 31st August. How perfect is that?
So, a little background. The trilogy is the Tawny Man trilogy by Robin Hobb, and I’m feeling all sorts of emotions because I’ve now read all the Realm of the Elderlings novels. I’d been aware of Robin Hobb as a fantasy writer for years, but she doesn’t write much short fiction, and I usually ‘meet’ new authors in anthologies. Then a few years ago, I read a Megan Lindholm short story in an anthology, and I loved it so much that I headed online to find out more. That’s when I found out that Megan Lindholm and Robin Hobb were the same person. Just a few days later, my favourite charity shop had Books 1 – 3 of the Rain Wild Chronicles on the shelves. I bought them, and was half way through Book 3 before I realised I wasn’t reading a trilogy, and had to order Book 4. I got the gist that it was part of a wider cycle of stories, which I was reading out of order, but a few months later, when I saw Fitz and the Fool trilogy in stock at my local bookshop, I just couldn’t resist. They’re the last books in the cycle, and the second set that I read. By then I was committed to these books, but was determined not to rush them. I read the Farseer Trilogy next, which was a bit odd, to go from the end to the beginning, but Hobb is such a great writer that I actually enjoyed finding out more of the back story to Fitz and the Fool.
At this point, the sensible thing to do was to actually check what the other books were, and which order to read them in. With only two trilogies left, I did the sensible thing and read The Liveship Traders trilogy last year, and ordered The Tawny Man trilogy for this year. And now I’m done, and I know I’m going to miss Fitz and the Fool forever now, because they are wonderful characters and I will always want to know more about them.
Thank you to Robin Hobb for a wonderful August spent in the company of an amazing cast of characters. My last thought … the saga depicts many relationships between dragons and humans, but the one between Tintaglia and Nettle has to be the best.

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Things Sometimes Went Bump

I originally wrote this flash fiction on the theme of ‘Beneath’. I’ve never written about my home town before, but I’d recently found out about the old underground canals beneath the place where I grew up, and it made me think about how the houses would move and how the ground would open above the old mine workings. And I wrote this.

I submitted it earlier this year to the Dulwich Festival flash fiction competition, and it received a ‘Highly Commended’.

Things sometimes went bump. Small bumps, but they’d make the saucers shiver, and my grandparents would glance at each other then quickly glance away. Earthquake, they’d tell me. Far underground, hundreds of feet probably. Nothing to worry about.

Sometimes, walking by the canal, I’d see things. Squirmy, pale things. Albert, the ancient pike, soon snapped them up. He’d cruise just below the surface, weighing me up until I got big enough to stare right back. My uncles, anglers all, admired Albert. ‘He knows when to disappear’ they’d say. For years, I thought they were talking about fishing competitions.

Then there were the stories about the missing children. Out too late, people would mutter. The police would drag the canal, send in divers, but always in the daytime. I wasn’t allowed near water after dark. In winter, grandad would meet me at the school gate and walk me home. He carried a whistle, it was usually in his pocket, but when we were on the towpath he’d put it round his neck. He taught me to look out for Albert, hanging still in the orange water, a lurking shadow. ‘If Albert’s about, walk home fast. If he’s not, then run.’ We ran, a couple of times. Granddad made a game of it, but boy could he run. He never let go of my hand, not once. A couple of teenagers went missing near the Pigtail Lodge up Highfield, then a middle aged angler didn’t get home one morning. Enough was enough, the miners muttered, and the lodge was drained down to the mud almost overnight. There was a fire that night, on the fields behind the lodge. The men took coal and wood by the barrow full, and the clouds glowed red above them. The men came home stinking, then the next week they turned out to work in the mud. An old shaft, they said, it needed making safe. The lodge stayed drained, and kids played in the reeds amongst the frogs and mud until a new generation ploughed it up and dried it out and made a football field of it. The next generation built houses on it, and sometimes, in the kitchens, the saucers shiver.

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July 2021 book blog

July kicked off with a return to an old favourite, I recently realised that Octavia Butler had written a sequel to ‘Parable of the Sower’, so I decided it was time for a re-read of the original and to read the sequel. I know, I’m very late to the party, but better late than never eh?
I haven’t read Parable of the Sower for a long, long time, and I was a bit taken aback by how closely the timeline of the story tracked current events. Despite the events of the book, this is an uplifting story, the main character is determined to build something big, whilst concentrating on the small things at the same time. Loved it, I’ve always loved it.
Whilst I was waiting for my copy of ‘Parable of the Talents’ to arrive, I picked up a December book, a gift from my husband. Arkady Martine’s ‘A Memory Called Empire’ is a political thriller with added science fiction. This novel’s MacGuffin takes the shape of an implant that records a person’s memories and personality. It can then be implanted into that person’s successor to give them the benefit of one or more generations worth of experience in the job. I loved the idea, and there’s a lot to play with, with that alone. Add to the mix a dying Emperor from a different culture, the threat of an alien invasion, and a young woman finding her feet in her dream job, and you’ve got the makings of a great story. I enjoyed it a lot, and as it looks like the sequel is already out, I’ll drop a hint to my husband re December pressies.
And then, there it was, the book I didn’t know I’d been missing for several decades! ‘The Parable of the Talents’ is a sequel told from three points of view, over a period of many decades. Again, many of the themes are quite prescient, but hope and determination save the story from a dystopian bent. No spoilers, you should read both of these books.
I was tidying some shelves when Rosemary Sutcliff’s ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’ literally fell on my head. Never one to ignore an omen, I settled down with it that very night, and remembered why I’d loved it so much as a child. It’s a great story, and guess what, I’ve just found out that there are seven sequels. Oh dear. I might have to binge some young adult Roman Britain books some time next year. I read the book several times as a teenager, but my first re-read as an adult held a bit of a bonus … since I last read it, I’ve become familiar with the area of Kintyre where parts of the book are set, so I had some fun checking off the locations on a map as I read it. It’s true, we never read the same book twice.
Continuing on the Young Adult theme, for some reason I had a copy of ‘How I Live Now’ on the shelf. It’s definitely one of those ‘How Did That Get There?’ books. I have seen the film adaptation, and remembered it once I started reading the novel. Anyway, Meg Rosoff’s tale of a USAian girl getting caught up in a war of invasion whilst visiting her ever so slightly weird English cousins is an entertaining read.
July’s last read was Cloven Hooves by Megan Lindholm. This was an impulse buy when I was spending some vouchers earlier this year. My thoughts keep returning to it. It can be read as a straight story of a young woman and her relationship with a satyr, or as an allegory for a journey of self discovery. I prefer the second, as otherwise it’s just a depressing tale of a young woman who sinks without resistance into a submissive life as a wife and mother not once, but twice. The second time around is very different on the surface, but it boils down to the same thing. It does have a happy ending though, so all is forgiven. I’m glad I read it.

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