May 2021 book blog

I tried out a new author in the first week in May, I’d been promised sf, but I don’t think it was. Not my thing, but it was well presented and I’m sure other people would like it, so I won’t comment further.
So I picked up a book from my December pile, this was a gift from my husband. ‘The City in the Middle of the Night’ is the first book I’ve read by Charlie Jane Anders. I really liked it, proper science fiction, interesting characters, intriguing world building and an engrossing story line. It set the tone for a great May reading list, and I moved on to Widowland, by C.J.Carey. This had been sent to me for an honest review, which you can find in my previous blog post. I’d say that it falls more into the ‘thriller’ category than sf, but I did enjoy it.
Now and again I’ll read a YA novel, because why not. ‘Sweet Erin’ by Sian Turner is one that I’d definitely recommend for a teenager. Two girls are connected by a mysterious app, and they develop a friendship that helps them through their adolescent troubles. An enjoyable read, but it put me in the mood for something a bit meatier. The next book on the December pile was another Charlie Jane Anders novel, ‘All the Birds in the Sky.’ I read it in two days, which pretty much speaks for how much I enjoyed it. Magic and advanced technology collide in an intriguing way that suggests that they are separated only by differences in approach and intent. Definitely recommended.
I like to re-read books, there’s a pleasure in revisiting old friends. When I was in my teens and twenties I re-read a lot, especially in my twenties when I didn’t have easy access to a fiction library and was dependent on my relatively small collection of books. Things are different now, and I have a lot of books. Too many to re-read, to be honest, but as I don’t know which ones I’ll want to re-read, it’s hard to cull them. Despite the high pile of new books that I have to look forward to, I was drawn to the Stephen King shelf, and I picked up ‘Revival’. It came out in 2014, and my copy was a birthday gift from my parents. I know I read it, probably in early 2015, but I realised that I couldn’t remember a single thing about it. So, pretty much, I was holding in my hands an unread King novel. Fantastic! Having a rubbish memory has its rewards. ‘Revival’ isn’t the best King novel that I’ve ever read, but he’s the master, and I read it in three days and didn’t begrudge a minute of it. Something about the villain’s charismatic power over others led me to revisit ‘The Vampire Tapestry’ by Suzy McKee Charnas. Her vampire, Weyland, is a lone figure whose vital emotional isolation from his prey is threatened by a series of interactions with humans whose lives intersect with his. It is one of the greatest vampire novels I’ve ever read and I’m glad that I took this chance to read it again.
May’s reading experience was a pretty good one. Two re-reads, one new author that I’ll definitely seek out again, a couple of stand alone novels that have certainly given me something to think about in my own writing, and a ‘dud’ that reminded me that not everyone likes the same thing, but every writer needs to write their own truth.
What will June bring?

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Widowland by C.J.Carey – a review by Jeanette Greaves

Image of the front cover of the book

Widowland is a alternate history thriller set in a dreary 1950s South East England. The story unfolds in dull monochrome, the only splashes of colour come from red Nazi flags, yellow flowers of resistance, and a vintage blue dress that makes its appearance at the end of the book.
The baseline for this alternate history is that the UK caved in to Germany in 1940, signing a treaty that gave the fascists complete control of the country. A Stasi style system of mutual surveillance has led to a society without trust. The Imperial state controls the media and the message, and has teams of natives literally rewriting history.
One of the pet projects of the regime has been the implementation of a caste system for women, based on looks, fertility, intelligence and obedience. Our heroine, Rose, has been placed in the highest rank, the Gelis, with access to better nutrition and housing than the lower ranks. Rose has a job … rewriting beloved and popular novels to censor anything that presents intelligence, defiance or rebellion in girls and women as a good thing. She’s been given the job because she’s trusted, but then again, she’s being exposed to a lot of interesting characters and ideas. How can you meet Jo March, Jane Eyre and Dorothea Brooke and escape unchanged?
In contrast. the very lowest rank is the Friedas, unmarried childless women who are past childbearing age. They have been stripped of their homes and possessions and forced to live in slum housing on the edges of towns. These areas are the Widowlands of the title. And they’re breeding grounds for insurrection.
The story focuses mostly on Rose’s socialite life in London, I would have liked to see a lot more about the older women in the Widowlands, but their world is left mostly to our imagination. This is perhaps a lost opportunity. Widowland borrows heavily from The Handmaid’s Tale regarding the caste system, even going as far as to use popular women’s names to label the castes, but Atwood told the story from the point of view of the downtrodden, and meted out the background in tiny doses. Widowland is drawn with thicker lines, and there is plenty of exposition to let us know exactly what our heroine is dealing with.
Widowland is an alternate history thriller that speaks as much to 2020s Britain as it does to the 1950s. It’s a great read, and recommended to fans of the thriller genre.

Thank you to Quercus Books for the review copy.

ON SALE: 10th June 2021

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April 2021 book blog

Another book blog. These aren’t reviews, as such, more of a log of why I chose to read the book, and how it made me feel.

I kicked off the month with Familiar Spirit by Lisa Tuttle. I’ve been a fan since the 1980s, when I found her work in The Womens Press SF books, and then found what I thought was her first novel, Gabriel. Then the internet came, and I found out very recently that her first novel was, in fact, Familiar Spirit, a story of possession set in Austin, Texas. Of course, I had to read it. It’s very much a 1980s story of demonic possession, with lots of sex, gore and a dark, lonely house. I enjoyed it a lot, and wish that I’d first read it thirty or forty years ago, I’m sure I would have re-read it as often as I read ‘Gabriel’
Then, from horror to contemporary fiction, and from Austin to Southport, just down the road from me. I first met Carys Bray when she was a special guest at a spoken word event that I used to go to in Preston. She read a short story from her first, prize winning, collection, and I was struck with envy by the power of her story telling. I made a stab at disliking her, but it’s frankly impossible, she’s far too nice, and I’ve bought a copy of every book she’s written since. Sometimes two copies, to spread the word. ‘When The Lights Go Out’ is the story of a marriage that is changing as the world changes, It’s a great story, well told. This book was a gift from my husband, and yes, he did check with me before buying it, in case I already had it.
‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St John Mandel was another December gift from my husband. The book starts with a global pandemic that wipes out most of the human population. Cheers mate, great choice. It follows the paths of a group of people who were connected to an actor who died (of non-plague causes) on the first night that the plague hit the US. There are no supernatural or horror elements, but it reminds me a little of The Walking Dead, in that it has groups of people trying to keep civilisation and culture alive in a dying world.
Now, the chapbooks, two from Claire Dean, another local author, and six from Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar series.
The Claire Dean chapbooks are under the Curious Moss imprint, they’re handmade and gorgeous and I bought them because I love Claire’s fables. I read ‘Old Snow’ and ‘DiscountWonderStore’ in one sitting, and then put them aside to read again. They are modern fairy tales, and absolute gems.
I’ve been buying Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar Press chapbooks for years now, sometimes they introduce me to a new author, sometimes they provide a little treat from an existing favourite, and sometimes they’re just an exotic treat from a literary world that I rarely venture into. ‘Like A Fever’ by Tim Etchells is very much in the latter category. It’s a stylistic piece that hints at an underlying story. It made my brain tingle a bit. I moved straight on to ‘House Calls’ by Vlatka Horvat. This was another stylistic piece that at the same time managed to be a rather creepy horror story. I loved it. I’ve really let those chapbooks build up over the last few months, and the next one on my list was ‘Shannon’ by Angela Goodman. I really enjoyed the way that the first paragraph established a strong sense of the time period in which it was set. I’ve been treating this pile of chapbooks as an anthology, and the next story was ‘Signal’ by Michael Walters, a creepy tale with hints of the supernatural. The main character was a very sympathetic one, making for a memorable story. From the cityscape of ‘Signal’ I moved to the bleak hillside of ‘On Blackfell’ by Tom Heaton, an ill prepared hike in winter sets the scene for an exploration of family relationships. The last chapbook for April (I still have one left for May) was ‘Cocky Watchman’ by Ailsa Cox. I’m hoping for more from this writer, I really enjoyed the short story, which explored themes of alienation, exclusion and long buried crimes.
And after reading six stories from previously unknown authors, I reached for an anthology bought with my December book tokens. ‘The Inheritence’ is a bit of an odd anthology. It contains stories by Megan Lindholm and Robin Hobb. Now, they’re the same person, but the introduction makes it clear that they are not the same author. I’m a fan of both of them though, and was so, even before I knew that they are the same person. I had a lot of fun reading this anthology, and for the sake of Robin Hobb fans who haven’t yet read the whole of the Realm of the Elderlings, it’s OK, there are no spoilers.
I had every intention of moving on to another new book, but I was tidying my shelves (hahaha) when my copy of Graham Chapman’s ‘A Liar’s Autobiography, vol VI’ stared me in the face. This book was a gift from a close friend when I was in my late teens, and I probably read it a couple of times, then it disappeared into a box somewhere. I spent two or three decades wondering where on earth it had got to, then it suddenly turned up. It’s definitely my original copy, it bears signs of being dropped in the bath, for one thing, and the edition is the right one. Anyway, it was very much the worse for wear, and loathe as I am to destroy a book, this one was ready for the recycling bin. I couldn’t do it though, not before one last ‘pity read’. It’s entertaining, informative about a lifestyle that now seems disturbingly hedonistic and outdated, but it still holds touches of pure humanity and love. It’s a story of its time, but that time, hopefully, is passing. By the time I’d got to the last page, the middle had fallen out. I hope its pulp finds a noble purpose in its next reincarnation.

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March 2021 book blog

Ah yes, Rotherweird. I spent half of March reading Lost Acre. I admit it, I struggled. I’ve been wondering what went wrong, for me, with the Rotherweird trilogy, because it all started off so promisingly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s staying on the shelves because I want to re-read it again in a few years to see if it’s an easier read when I don’t wait a year or two between book 1 and book 2. I love the concept of Rotherweird, as a town. It’s got Gormanghast written all over it, and I bloody well love Gormanghast. I love the idea of secret places where those in the know can move between dimensions. I love the idea of the mixing place, and of the near immortal mixed. The villain and his plots are genuinely horrifying, and the idea of taking over a life by shapeshifting is great. There are lots and lots of intriguing characters. And I think that was my problem, the ‘lots and lots’. There were just too many irons in the fire and too many fires, and I really shouldn’t have left that gap between Book 1 and Book 2, because I lost the momentum and my grasp of the story. I’ll try again in a few years, because I do think it’s worth another go.

So, on to one of my book token impulse buys, ‘We Have Always Lived In The Castle’ by Shirley Jackson. I read it in 24 hours, and finished it with a feeling of elation at how great the story was, and mounting fury that NOBODY has ever told me to read it. Nobody. You utter bastards. There needs to be a foundation somewhere that gives copies to everyone on their fifteenth birthday.

The rest of March’s reading was filled out a little by the urge to read the pile of magazines that had piled up over the months, so I was only reading Becky Chambers ‘Record Of A Spaceborn Few’ for a few minutes every night, and it took a while to hit that spot two thirds of the way through where I just could not put it down. If you’ve not yet read any of the Wayfarers series, and you like SF, then I respectfully suggest that you save some pennies or make an order at the library, and treat yourself. The books are all set loosely in the same time period, with a human diaspora scraping a living in a multi-species galactic culture that has only recently voted to admit us as members. If you like guns and battles it’s probably not for you, but if you’re interested in exploring ideas of what it means to be a person and how a fractured race with little to offer can survive in a largely indifferent galaxy, then Wayfarers is for you.

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February 2021 book blog

And so, on to February, when I finished Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Echoes of the Fall’ trilogy by binge reading ‘The Hyena and The Hawk’. This series pushed all my buttons, strong female characters, children estranged from their parents, shape shifters, and a band of unlikely friends. Reading it was like eating a three tier box of my favourite chocolates. I suppose that ‘Shadows of the Apt’ is now on my 2021 Christmas list.

Moving from ‘Echoes of the Fall’ to a re-read of Joanna Russ might seem like an odd move, but it was February, it was lockdown, and I was missing friends and family. Tchaikovsky’s books were distracting, but Joanna Russ books are old friends, and if I can’t have a cuppa with a human friend, then at least I can curl up with couple of paperbacks that I bought when I was young … either from Grassroots in Manchester, or News From Nowhere in Liverpool, I can’t exactly remember, but I do remember the thrill of discovering the Women’s Press Science Fiction imprint. Both books were published by The Women’s Press in the mid 1980s, but weren’t new to me, I’d read them in previous editions from my local library. Reading them again was both comforting and disturbing, in that whilst it’s nice to remember my younger self reading the same books, nothing has really changed since they were written, and the fight goes on. I think ‘Picnic on Paradise’ is a brilliant short novel.

From the nineteen sixties to the twenty twenties, from Russ to Fahey, and there’s joy to be had in knowing that the torch is still burning. Fahey’s collection of body horror stories, ‘I Spit Myself Out’ addresses several of my own obsessions … twins, interfaces, and loss.

Looking back on February, I really did indulge myself, I didn’t try anything new, I had a wonderful time reading a great fantasy trilogy, two old friends, and a fantastic new collection of short stories from my anthology sister Tracy Fahey.

Then, right at the end of the month, I returned to Rotherweird …

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January 2021 book blog

Goodreads is a useful way of logging what I’ve been reading, but I thought I’d start a more personal reading blog here. I’ll start with January just gone, and aim to catch up with the rest of the year soon.

January is my favourite month of the year for reading. I have a December birthday, so by the end of December I usually have a fairly hefty pile of new books, and a nice armoury of book tokens to deal with any sequel emergencies. This year I started out with a fair number of sequels, some stand alone novels by new to me authors, a trilogy that I’m really looking forward to, a couple of collections of short stories, a nice haul of chapbooks, and a poetry collection. Where to start?

The book that ticked over from 2020 was Wyntertide, the second book in Andrew Caldecott’s Rotheweird trilogy. It had been on the shelves for at least a year, but it’s a complex tale with many characters, and I wanted to delay reading it until I had the third book ready to read. Christmas brought me Lost Acre, the third book, so I settled down with Wyntertide. As I thought, the complexity of the plot and the wide cast of characters made for slow going at first, but eventually I got back into the spirit of the story and was ready to plunge straight into Lost Acre and finish the trilogy.

But hang on. My lovely husband, knowing how much I’d enjoyed Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Children of Time’ and ‘Children of Ruin’, had bought me a quite beautiful paperback by the same author. ‘The Tiger and The Wolf’ has a gorgeous cover that tempted me away from ‘Lost Acre’. It also has a first chapter that had me so rapt that I broke away only to order the second and third book in the series, spending some of my lovely book tokens. Luckily for me, most books arrive quite quickly these days, and I pretty much just got to the end of ‘The Tiger and The Wolf’, and plunged straight into the sequel, ‘The Bear and The Serpent.’ I’ve realised now that there’s an entire series that I should, perhaps, have read first, but the Echoes of the Fall series does stand alone perfectly well.

So, just three books in January, but to be fair I was spending quite a lot of time getting my own first book, (Fight for the Future), ready for publication. I was also dipping into Rosie Garland’s poetry collection ‘What Girls Do In The Dark’. I’d been reading it, on and off, since the start of November, and I’ve probably read each poem three or four times, and I’ve kept the book close at hand in case I need to dip into it again. The collection is life affirming and magical, and I love it to bits.

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B(racket)

There’s a racket out there and a bracket in here
And I’m not quite sure what I mean
Is it anyone for tennis?
Is it anyone for edits?
Is it something not quite out of a dream?
There’s a bracket out there and a racket in here
And I think there’s a scam going on
Is it bad for your wealth?
Is it holding up a shelf?
Is it what I should be hiding from?
There’s a bracket round me and a racket round me
And the noise won’t stop when I scream
Does it define what I am?
Is it banging on a a pan?
Tell me please should I change my routine?

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Complaint

This apple has a rotten spot

I think I should complain

I’ll write to Asda, double quick.

Oh hell, here comes the rain.

My washing was so nearly dry,

And now it’s all wet through

The weather forecast told a lie

A quick complaint is due.

My laptop’s ready for the job

I’m going to tut-tut

I’ve got the kettle on the hob

Oh no! A power cut!

I’ll sit down here and use a pen

At least I can still write

To Asda first, and only then …

… Wow, that lighning’s bright!

The fire brigade are on their way

At least that’s what they said

I’ll sit here tight and come what may

I will not lose my head.

I’ve made a list, it’s nice and long

Of all the silly twits

Who always get everything wrong

So nothing ever fits.

There’s something banging at the door

I think it has a horn

I just cannot take any more

Really? Demon Spawn?

Dear Sir or Madam, from these lips

Of mine please hear my plea …

This noisy, wet apocalypse

Is really not for me.

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Fight for the Future out now.

My first novel, Fight for the Future, is now available as a paperback or for Kindle here.

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Fight For The Future

Many, many years ago, I started getting spectral visits from a young red headed woman. She wouldn’t tell me her name at first, but she did tell me that she was a shapeshifter, and that she had a story for me. That story is the story of the Ransomed Hearts, and is the subject of my next novel. Once she was sure that I’d got the message, she left me alone, and I wrote lots of stories about her family and their adventures. One of the stories was set several decades in the past, and at first all I knew was that it started with two scruffy looking lads climbing down from an old fashioned bus in a village in the north of England. That story became ‘Fight For The Future’ and is my first independently published novel. It’s been a long time coming, and for that, I apologise. It was pretty much finished a few years ago, but it took me a while to pluck up the courage to send it to be critiqued, and then edited.
I don’t expect wild success, as the whole series is hard to categorise. It will have to find its own audience. It’s about shapeshifters, but not the paranormal. It’s about centuries long feuds, terror and murder, but it’s also about love and laughter and family.
I’m hoping to finalise the publication of ‘Fight For The Future’ very soon, and in the meantime I’m licking the second book into some sort of shape before I dare to start sending it around for reading and editing. The third book is written, and has a title too, but we’ll save that for later eh?
I’ll let you all know when you can buy the first book, and I hope that some of you, at least, enjoy it.

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