April 2024 book blog

As promised, ‘Earth’ by David Brin. In the afterword of this book, the author talks about the challenges of writing a book set 50 years in the future. It was written at the end of the 1980s and is set in the late 2030s, and from the perspective of the mid 2020s, Brin did a pretty amazing job of predicting the challenges of the 21st century. I read it in 1990, when it was first published, and again a few years later. It does feel odd to look back at 1990s me and her thoughts and memories about reading this books. It’s tempting to list the things that Brin got right, and discuss the things that he missed or was overly optimistic about, but that would be unfair, it’s a novel, not a prediction.
As a novel, it’s still a wonderfully engrossing and entertaining work of sf. The only jarring notes are the sudden in depth descriptions of someone’s race and skin colour, and a description of a non-white woman as ‘exotic’. Whilst these passages are clearly not written to offend or upset anyone, the passage of time has made them seem odd enough to jolt me out of the story for a while.
This is a plot driven novel, and whilst the characters are relatable and sympathetic, they’re there to serve a purpose. The plot itself is fascinating, and the story remains remarkably fast paced for such a long book. The broad cast of characters all have their own challenges to meet, which helps to keep the story moving.
In a world where the post-apocalyptic thriller holds a lot of sway, it’s fun to read a book which is about trying to avert an ongoing apocalypse where one unexpected threat suddenly puts all the others in the shade.
A very enjoyable book with some memorable scenes.

From a doorstopper SF novel to a collection of Charles Dickens stories … it was time to finish Christmas Stories. I started reading this book a long time ago, probably not the nine and a half years ago that Goodreads claims, but it was certainly several years ago. Then I mislaid it. Go on then, I admit it, I didn’t mislay it, I misremembered the colour of the cover and the size of the book, and it became invisible on the shelf. Also, Dickens needs to have the right mood, because he does go on, doesn’t he? I have to be in the right mood, and when this book actually physically fell off the shelf when I got my knitting caught up my books, it was serendipitously at a time when yes, I was in that kind of mood.
So, it’s a lot, lots of stories, lots of words, and it’s funny and touching and at times it’s laugh out loud. If you like Dickens, you should read it.

From a book that took me YEARS to finish, straight to one that I read in a day. Carol Walker’s ‘The World According to Spud’ is written by a friend of mine, someone I’ve known in the world of cat rescue for decades. This was a fast and fun read. Spud’s views on life are divided into short chapters, and each chapter is divided into sections. For example, the sports section is divided into football, rugby, cricket and darts. This makes it very easy to read. This approach seems to be very practical, but it’s put to great effect. We learn about Spud’s humble origins as an unwanted kitten, and his elevation to a show winning ‘household pet’ at cat shows. We learn about the volunteers who rescued him, and who are still working hard to rescue and help other cats and kittens; and their co-operative work with other local charities. We’re told about the cats that live with Spud, and his ‘mum’, Carol, the author, and their home in a small town just south of Preston, Lancashire. I really enjoyed this book, and how it was laid out, it’s factual and fun, and I recommend it.

I started to read Jeff Noon’s ‘Gogmagog’ at the end of April, but I’ll save the review for my May blog.

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March 2024 book blog

The Burning God by R. F. Kuang, being the 3rd book in the The Poppy Wars trilogy. Well. First of all, the entire series was fast paced and almost impossible to put down. There was something going on pretty much all the time. It was usually something depressing, violent or downright evil, but yes, there was a lot of action in this book. There was precisely one sympathetic main character in the book, and his relationship with our protagonist threatened once or twice to save her from herself, but never quite made it. The ending was sad but expected; after watching our protagonist repeat the same mistakes time and time again, it was obvious that there was never going to be a happy ending.
I found it to be an interesting series, but I won’t be reading it again. Kuang’s later novel, Babel, is one of the best things I’ve ever read, so please don’t let this put you off reading Babel.

Dark Terrors 2 is a horror anthology from the mid 1990s. It’s basically an old bag of Revels in which some flavours have stood the test of time a lot better than others. As always with ‘older’ horror anthologies, I’m left wondering where the women authors are. I’ll leave it at that.

Dark Love is another mid nineties horror anthology, with a fairly obvious theme. I’m pretty sure I bought this anthology when it came out, and have read it a few times since. I’ve mentioned before how weird it feels to look at the contents page of a horror anthology and see so few female names. It’s even weirder because, you know, 1995 doesn’t FEEL that long ago. Well, not to me anyway.
So, this book. It starts off with what is probably my least favourite Stephen King short story, ‘Lunch at the Gotham Cafe’ I’ve read this story a few times, it’s been anthologised by the master himself, but I just can’t get on with it. It’s just too dismal. ‘The Psycho’ is a nice little story with a killer punchline, I enjoy it every time round. Kathe Koja’s ‘Pas de Deux’ didn’t really ring my bell, and I dnf’d the story, I’ve read this anthology several times now and even my terrible memory let me know that I wouldn’t enjoy the rest of it. It’s a perfectly good story, just not my thing. ‘Bright Blades Gleaming’ is your standard serial killer / Jack the Ripper origin story. OK, but nothing to set the world on fire. And so we reach John Lutz’s ‘Hanson’s Radio’ which is still a cracking, creepy, and well crafted dose of horror. ‘Refrigerator Heaven’ is a proper horror story, along the ‘evil that men do’ route of the sheer banality of evil and horror. I still liked it, and enjoyed the hint of eldritch horror lurking behind the normality of the story. ‘Ro Erg’ is basically a Mary Sue story about adopting a new identity and being a naughty boy. I finished it, out of curiosity. It’s well written, but the story didn’t stir any interest this time round. Ah, but then the English master takes his turn – Ramsey Campbell’s ‘Going Under’ is properly creepy and horrible, and is one of the best tales in the book. ‘Hidden’ and ‘Prism’ are very short stories about troubled children, I enjoyed both of them, and am glad the authors didn’t try to lengthen them, they’re perfect as they are. ‘The Maiden’ is a nasty little story about some nasty little teenagers. It’s not subtle. ‘You’ve Got Your Troubles, I’ve got Mine’ is a first person pov story about a chap who really shouldn’t have been allowed out of the asylum. ‘Waco’ is a tale examining how one of the poor deluded victims of the Waco cult would react if they truly believed they were meeting God. ‘The Penitent’ is an ode to torture. Not my thing. ‘Driven’, the next story, did hit my buttons. I do enjoy a story about desperation and mundane threats. It’s well written and I was ‘driven’ to re-read it to capture it properly. ‘Barbara’ is a tale of tables turned, a fun read with a fairly predictable but still satisfying ending. ‘Hymenoptera’ is a story about a fashion designer and a wasp. I got nothing from it, I’m afraid. That’s the thing about these multi author themed collections, every so often the box of chocolates yields a malteser. ‘The End of It All’ is another nasty story about nasty people who all get what they probably believe they deserve. ‘Heat’ is another very short story about sex and violence. ‘Thin Walls’ is a thin but enjoyable read, with two of the few characters in this anthology that I found myself caring about. ‘Locked Away’ is pretty much porn, with very little story. It’s followed by the last story of the collection, ‘Loop’ which is appropriately enough about porn, with a lot of story.

After reading a fantasy trilogy and two horror collections, I was in the mood for a hefty sf novel, so I’m currently re-reading David Brin’s ‘Earth’. I’ll review it next month.

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February 2024 book blog

February began with a couple of new paperbacks that had arrived as gifts in December. I didn’t review Ambrose Parry’s ‘A Corruption of Blood’ at the time, but from the vast distance of six weeks, I’ll confirm that it was a jolly good read, mixing mystery, medicine and mayhem in Victorian Edinburgh. If you like a good historical whodunnit, this might hit the spot for you. As I’ve mentioned before, Ambrose Parry is the joint pen name of Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman.
Being already in a Brookmyre state of mind, I followed up ‘A Corruption of Blood’ with ‘The Cliff House’, a standalone crime thriller by Brookmyre alone. The story is told from multiple viewpoints, and is set on a remote Scottish island that has been hired for a hen party. There are secrets, lies and a lot of history bubbling under the surface, and they all become a lot more important when one of the hens is abducted. I absolutely adored this book, it was witty, warm and clever.
I started reading ‘Dark Terrors 2’, a 1990s horror anthology edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton, but I’m still dipping into it, so will leave the review until next time.
And so to the meat of the matter, the second book in R F Kuang’s ‘The Poppy War’ trilogy. ‘The Dragon Republic’ evoked mixed feelings. I hated this book, I cringed at the horror of it, the casual cruelty, the obscenity of war and genocide, and the despair of the protagonist. I loved this book, I raced through it and when I got to the end I was angry with myself for leaving it too long to order book 3. I had to wait three days for it to be delivered. I shall report on ‘The Burning God’ next month.

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January 2024 book blog

January and the first half of February were about writing more than reading, and I’m very happy to announce that I sent book 3 to the copy editor today. Hearts’ Home will be self published, just as the two previous books in the Ransomed Hearts series were. Of course, writers gotta read, and I pretty much spent January reading ‘Screams from the Dark’ a monster 470 page trade paperback sized anthology edited by Ellen Datlow. Appropriately enough, the theme is ‘Monsters’.
There are 29 stories in this book, and as with most multi-author collections, some hit the spot and others didn’t quite do it. The stories, and the collection as a whole, doesn’t shy away from the idea that humans can be the worst monsters of all. Because I don’t have any other books to talk about this month, I’ll go into some detail here. Beware spoilers.
Ian Rogers’ ‘You Have What I Need’ is a cool little vampire story set in a busy hospital. Fran Wilde’s ‘The Midway’ harks back to the Golden Age of SF and horror, evoking both Bradbury and Lovecraft with a touch of Free Willy.
I’ve learned to watch out for Gemma Files stories, they’ll eat into your head and seed your nightmares. ‘Wet Red Grin’ has a title that made me think immediately of Barker’s ‘Rawhead Rex’, and whilst the plot doesn’t echo that classic horror story, the vibe certainly does. Probably one of my favourites of the book.
Daryl Gregory’s ‘The Virgin Jimmy Peck’ grabs the ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ trope and sends it through the Buffyverse to a tragicomic and unnerving conclusion.
Priya Sharma’s ‘The Ghost of a Flea’ was a bit above my head. I’ve heard of William Blake, but until now the only John Varley I’d heard of was the USian SF writer. I’m afraid this story fell somewhat flat for me, although it was well written and plotted, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Brian Hodge’s ‘The Atrocity Exhibitionists’ catches the zeitgeist. It’s one of those stories that will doubtless age poorly, but is enormous fun today. The monster is us, and our unrelenting social media demands on celebrities. The monsters are the celebrities who feed on clicks and adulation and will do anything to protect their fame. It’s not subtle, but it’s fun.
Joyce Carol Oates is a welcome contributor to any anthology, and with ‘The Father of Modern Gynecology’ she brings to our attention a true monster of his time.
Continuing the theme of monstrous males, Indrapramit Das’s ‘Here Comes Your Man’ is a tale of predatory men and a young couple from the city.
Siobhan Carroll’s ‘Siolaigh’ makes a welcome and enjoyable contribution to the sea monster / folk horror / sacrifice genre.
‘What is Love But The Quiet Moments After Dinner’ is a tasty little treat from the very reliable Richard Kadrey. Sometimes, you meet your soul mate, and when that happens, the results can be messy.
Norman Partridge’s ‘The Island’ is a mythic vampire tale that takes a while to get over.
Garry Kilworth took the theme pretty literally with ‘Flaming Teeth’. It’s a story about an ogre, and some people who got really, really out of their depth. I loved it.
Caitlin R Kiernan’s ‘Strandling’ is about love and death and the end of the world. It’s a beautiful story.
‘The Special One’ served as my introduction to Chikodili Emelumadu. I very much enjoyed this creepy little story of self delusion.
Glen Hirshberg’s ‘Devil’ wouldn’t find itself out of place in a horror anthology from the last few decades, it has a remote location, innocent tourists, a ghost story and a monster. This is another of my favourites.
A C Wise absolutely creeped me out with ‘Crick Crack Rattle Tap.’
Stephen Graham Jones takes on an urban legend in ‘Children of the Night’ and turns it into one of the most entertaining vampire stories I’ve read in ages.
Kaaron Warren’s ‘The Smell of Waiting’ is an inventive, creepy tale that draws you in, but didn’t quite pay off for me. Am I allowed to be sad about an unhappy ending in a horror story?
Livia Llewellyn’s ‘Now Voyager’ was my only DNF in the collection. It didn’t grab me, but bear in mind that I was reading all these stories right before bedtime, and I may have loved it if I’d come to it with more energy.
Carole Johnstone’s ‘The Last Drop’ is another story based on historical facts. Mary Timney was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Scotland. This story explores the monstrousness to be found in all of us.
Nathan Ballingrud’s ‘Three Mothers Mountain’ reads as a fairy tale, and leaves behind a haunting feeling of wanting to return to the world he’s created in this story. This is probably the only story in the collection that has left me wanting to know more.
Margo Lanagan’s ‘Widow-Light’ is another of my favourites. Every year, a girl or a young woman is chosen to be sacrificed to the monster on the hill. One year, the villagers pick the wrong victim, and things suddenly change.
Joe R Lansdale’s ‘Sweet Potato’ is a luscious little story that I very much enjoyed.
Brian Evenson’s ‘Knock Knock’ is a scary story about a monster that just wouldn’t stay dead. Rules are rules, until they’re not.
Cassandra Khaw’s ‘What is Meat with no God’ is fantasy horror. The undying soldier, animated by magic, is a fearful creature, but what would it be like to be that soldier?
A new Laird Barron story is a treasure, and ‘Bitten by Himself’ does not disappoint. Some men are just born to be monsters.
The mother / daughter / sister relationship is fertile ground for horror, and Kristi DeMeester digs deep in ‘Burial.’
I found myself thinking about Jeffrey Ford’s ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ several times in the weeks after I read it. Again, it has echoes of Rawhead Rex, which the universe is clearly telling me to re-read. We have a secret government experiment, an isolated community, and a dreamlike telling of the chaos that ensues.
John Langan’s ‘Blodsuger’ is one of the longest stories in the collection, and brings the book to a close. I do enjoy a story of European monsters transplanted to the US. This would make a great film.

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December 2023 book blog

I finished reading ‘The Plague Dogs’ early in December, but reviewed it in November. I passed my battered old copy to my sister, who remembered it from our teenage years. Books have history.

My next book was ‘The Firework Maker’s Daughter’ by Philip Pullman. This is a nice little children’s story that made me smile. I was out at a craft fair without anything to read, and found this at the bottom of a bag. No idea how it got there! I read it and passed it on to a friend who has a small child. A plucky girl sets off on an adventure, followed by a concerned friend or two, and everyone learns something about themselves. It’s nice to read a kids’ book now and again.

The following day also found me at a craft fair, business was quiet, but I’d had the forethought to drop a slim book into my bag. Slim books are best for craft fairs, it’s easier to find your page again when you drop everything to make a sale. This particular novella was ‘Ghost Wall’ by Sarah Moss. It started with a fair bit of promise, but the ending was rushed and felt clumsy. It’s a novella that would have made a great short story simply by stripping away half of the characters. I loved the idea of the story, but the protagonist is too thinly drawn for her plight to really draw me in. I passed the book onto a friend straight away.

I’d been saving King’s latest, ‘Holly’, for a rainy day, and we got a lot of rainy days last month. I started off by nibbling quietly at this book at bedtime … just a little taste. It didn’t seem quite the usual thing, but I persevered, taking bigger and bigger bites, until I realised that I loved it so much I didn’t want to stop and devoured the whole thing in one big sitting. Some people have said that this is King’s ‘Covid book’, but it’s not really. The virus is there, in the background, playing its part, adding tension and colour, but it’s a minor character that adds depth and emphasis to the Big Bad, which isn’t supernatural or paranormal, but is still breathtakingly monstrous. This is a Stephen King book, so I shouldn’t have to point out that it’s not for the squeamish. However, just so you can’t say I didn’t warn you … it’s not for the squeamish.

This was the month that I found my way back to the library. There was a brand new shiny hardback from Naomi Alderman just waiting for me, with not a single stamp on it. It would have been rude to go home without it. So, if you’re looking for a fast paced near future techno thriller … yeah, it’s all that. Three tech multi billionaires know they’re wrecking our civilisation but their main response is to build themselves a bunker or ten. Four of the people closest to them realise that something has to be done. It’s not the greatest book ever written … if you like this kind of thing, go to Doctorow or Gibson … but it’s OK, and it kept me reading to the end, even though … spoiler alert … one of the narrative voices doesn’t tell us everything. Secrets and lies, right to the end.

December is Birthday month, and R.F. Kuang’s ‘The Poppy War’ was a requested gift, based on how much I’d enjoyed their Babel. It’s odd how I started and ended the year, pretty much, with war based fantasy. ‘The Poppy War’ is a formulaic fantasy with strong TWs for rape, genocide, torture and anything else you care to mention. Apparently there are sequels. I will be reading them, because some formulae work if they’re written right, and Rin is a wonderfully tragic protagonist.

Another Birthday book was Kelly Link’s collection ‘White Cat, Black Dog’ which came recommended by Lisa Tuttle in her regular Guardian column. I’d made a note back in March and put it on ‘The List’. I was overwhelmed when I finished it. OK, I don’t even feel worthy as a person to give this book five stars. It’s so far above me that I’m just going to let it simmer for a while and think about it. I daren’t review it. I’ve already read Skinder’s Veil in one of Datlow’s ‘Best ofs’ and honestly, it felt like a new story to me, there was so much, so so much, that I’d missed the first time round. Buy it, read it, keep it, read it again and again.

My final book of 2023 was John Scalzi’s ‘Starter Villain’. I’ve heard the author’s name mentioned many times on social media, but had never seen any of his work in the wild. And yet, there it was, on the ‘new books’ section in the public library, with only one other reader so far. I was tempted, and checked it out. ‘Starter Villain’ is fast moving, easy reading and fun. I read it in a day, but isn’t that why we have Christmas? Broke, divorced and barely employed, our hero finds himself drawn into the world of the superwealthy and their plots and spats.
This is the second book that I’ve read this month concerning the problem of the superwealthy and what to do about them. ‘The Future’ was kinder to them.

So, that’s it for 2023. According to Goodreads I read 52 books in 2023, which is a satisfying number. Of course, there were a few unpublished books that I beta read for other writers, and lots of magazine articles that didn’t get logged, but I think I’ve commented on every published book that I read. 2024 is here, and eight days in I’m still reading the huge Ellen Datlow anthology that I started to read on NYE. I’ll tell you all about that one next month.

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November 2023 book blog

Wow, it’s nearly 2024, so I’m a little bit behind with this. Now, where were we? Oh yes, ‘The Fiends in the Furrows II’. These themed anthologies are very moreish, and I’m going to have to get my hands on the third instalment soon. I was greedy, I read I and II back to back. Folk horror has a few things to say about greed, but I’ll pretend that I didn’t notice. So, Nosetouch Press has got editors Neal and Scott to gather together a motley collection of creepy stories, and has also scored an introduction from folk horror star Andrew Michael Hurley. It’s also got a closing story from my anthology sister, the talented and terrifying Tracey Fahey. I am developing a theory that a Tracey Fahey story is a great way to end a themed set of stories, she has a knack of writing tales that linger, and her ‘Dearg-an-Daol’ deals with love, duty, family and superstition with her usual deftness.
With any themed anthology, the variation in voices risks a few stories missing the mark with any individual reader, and I confess that not every tale in this book hit the spot for me, but I am but one glutton with an endless supply of stories at my disposal, your opinions may well vary. Speaking of gluttony, one recurrent theme of this book is the environmental apocalypse that prompts people to turn back to the old ways of the land in a desperate attempt to survive. However, one of my favourite stories in the book is set a thousand years ago, far from our current mess. Jack Lothian’s ‘A Deed Without A Name’ was rightly included in Datlow’s Best Horror 13 and is a genuinely brainchurning side trip from a very well known tale.

My second book for November was Theodore Sturgeon’s ‘More Than Human’. It’s very odd to think that this book is seventy years old, it feels modern. First, a history of this copy. It was obviously a library book at some point, it’s been read a lot. Then it found its way into private circulation, and somehow ended up in a charity shop, where I bought it. It would have been a while ago. Since then it’s lurked around the house, been packed away and brought out again, and at last it found its way to a shelf, from which it was chosen last week. Soon it’ll be passed on, as I loved it, but I need to reduce the number of books in the house, for reasons of sanity.
Second, a kind of review. This book made me happy, for all sorts of reasons. It’s a very well written book. It has a whole load of sympathetic characters, who remain sympathetic even when they’re being obnoxious. It has great plot, that winds around and circles back on itself, but is ultimately satisfying and rewarding. It’s the ultimate buddy book, a group of undesirables, lost and unwanted and frustrated alone, find each other and discover that together they are more than the sum of their parts. And at the end, it gets even better.

From Sturgeon to Tuttle, and her ‘My Death’. A book from one of my favourite authors, a book that is almost twenty years old, a book that I didn’t even know existed until a few weeks ago. Ah well, thank goodness for social media eh? This is probably the paradigm of Lisa Tuttle books. It has the building blocks for many of her books and short stories. Insecurity? Imposter syndrome? A sense of impending doom and loss? It’s all there, all mixed together with a slowly growing fix of body horror. Of course I loved it.

‘The Plague Dogs’ spanned several weeks of November and December, but as I’ve read a fair books already in December, I’ll include my thoughts in the November roundup. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great book, but it just struck me that the plot is nearly identical to Enid Blyton’s ‘The Secret Island’, another book that I read again and again and always cried at the end of.This is a wonderful book, it is very descriptive, lyrical about the beauty and desolation of the Lake District, unforgiving about the machinations of reporters, politicians and scientists, and deeply sympathetic to the plight of its protagonists, being two dogs who have escaped from a research facility only to find themselves cold and hungry on the fells.I used to re-read this book a couple of times a year, back in the late seventies and early eighties, but this is my first dip into it for decades. I realised that I’d missed Snitter and Rowf a lot.Not for the faint hearted, but well worth a read.

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October 2023 book blog

I was reading the print version of Interzone 295 at the beginning of the month, but I can’t find it anywhere – I must have decluttered it. I do remember a stand out story titled ‘Hollywood Animals’ that deserves to be in a year’s best anthology. Definitely worth buying the issue for.
From the last print issue of Interzone for the forseeable future to a rare foray into non-fiction for me, with ‘Entangled Life – How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures’. This is a fascinating tour of the biology, ecology and cultural history of fungus. We start off by looking at truffles, head off to visit lichens, take a nice long look at mycelia, then finish off with yeast. I learned a lot, and was hugely entertained in the process. I’ll never look at a mushroom the same way again.
After that, I was in the mood for an old friend, so I went to my Stephen King shelf and chose ‘The Dark Half’. A re-read, of course. Probably the third or fourth for this one, it’s never been one of my favourite King stories, but I think I appreciate Thad Beaumont as a flawed protagonist much more this time round. His flirtation with his dark half seems much more understandable now, and adds a bit of spice to the story. So, for those who haven’t read it yet, this is a story of a writer (not Stephen King) who outs his alter ego pen name (not Richard Bachman) who has been the public name of the gorier stories that weren’t quite what he wanted to be associated with. Said pen name turns out to be a bit annoyed at being killed off, even though he was never alive in the first place, and embarks on a journey of bloody havoc.
So, a magazine, a non fiction hardback, and a revisited King – by now I’m in the mood for some new horror, and luckily I had Rachel Halsall’s gorgeous anthology ‘The Grave Bell’ on my tbr pile. This is a very readable selection of gothic goodies from my anthology sister (Hauntings). It is a very pretty book, beautifully and carefully produced, and the stories are a choice and delicious collection of very, very gothic tales. There’s a familiarity to them, as if they’re stories that you always knew, but just needed reminding of. Take one a day and digest carefully.
I moved from Halsall’s full on gothic tales to a closely related anthology of folk horror. ‘The Fiends in the Furrows’ is another beautifully presented paperback, this time a themed anthology rather than a single author one, but with Hallowe’en coming up, what better time to get stuck in? This had been on my tbr pile for months now, and was unusually ‘nicked’ from my pile by my husband, who also enjoyed it.
I was out fundraising, and the customers were few and far between, so I got the chance to read the whole book in one go. I have to say that there were a few confusing moments in some of the stories, where some sentences seemed to be a little jumbled, but on the whole these stories were really satisfyingly creepy. A couple were already familiar to me from Datlow’s ‘Best New Horror’ anthologies, but that made them more fun to read the second time around, if anything.
I started the second book in the series on Hallowe’en, but will review it in November.

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The Decluttering Blog – part five

It’s a constant battle isn’t it? I’ve bought the new Stephen King novel, because that is who I am. I’m the woman who buys the new Stephen King novel as soon as possible. I also have the ‘new’ Pratchett anthology for review, and have very sensibly promised it to a friend as a gift as soon as the embargo lifts. Still, as you’ll see at the end of the blog, the book balance has gone down.  

I didn’t mention the trip to the tip last month. Is it ‘decluttering’ when it’s all stuff that was sorted for the recycling centre months ago and has just been sat around in the garage since then? Whatever, it’s gone now. There was a bright yellow plastic inbox / outbox tray in that batch of stuff, I remember the day I bought it and brought it home. I was determined to get things a bit more sorted (haha) and it was also the day that I first spoke to the young man who is now my husband. A bit of a wrench, throwing those cracked old plastic trays in the skip, but hopefully they’ll have another life somewhere.

I took five old cassette storage boxes to the car boot sale last month. When I say ‘old’, we’re talking decades, as in forty odd years. They were snapped up as soon as the buyers got to the stall, I may have underpriced them, but they’re gone now. They took up a fair amount of space, so that’s a win. I also sold some paper crafting kit that I decided to sell four years ago, and have been carting around to events for the last year.

In an unsurprising turn of events, I then brought home a fair amount of paper crafting stuff and ribbons that had been donated to the charity. Some I will use / have already used, some will go to another volunteer, and some I have paid for as I gave it to a young relative. The ‘Thank You’ cards that I made have now gone to the charity for its use, along with some labels that I designed and printed. The cards count as decluttering, but the labels were in a box that is still taking up just as much room, and will be replaced when it’s empty, so I can’t count them. I can count the plastic wallet that I packaged them in can’t I? This is getting desperate, isn’t it? I’ve also made a start on our own Christmas cards for this year, and I’ve made some cards for the stall. Hopefully they’ll sell. All that cardmaking has made a tiny dent in the envelope stash, as well as the washi tape stash.

Yarn, ah, the yarn. No new yarn in for several weeks, which is good, after the silliness of last month, but then I took about 500g from another knitter. Whoops. Mum took 100g of her cousin’s yarn back, but there’s still a lot of it still in the car, ready to be knitted up. I’m busy knitting hats and scarves as gifts with the Aran wool that I bought last year. Two of the acrylic Aran hats from last month has been gifted, that’s four gone, the rest are in a storage bin, neatly labelled with the size and the fibre content. My next three knitting projects are already planned out! I’ve also been given even more yarn to sell or give to volunteers. Some of it has been sold.

I’ve also washed a mattress protector, sheet and duvet cover for a single bed, which we’ve had absolutely no use for. I’ll give them to a relative, who can use them. That’s emptied a drawer, which is good.

Ebay and other online sales have helped me to get rid of some knitting and crochet patterns and eight books. Also, 700g of yarn, which was donated to the charity and arrived on a Tuesday and was sold and posted the following Thursday, and another 500g which was also sold and posted within 48 hours. I’ve also bought some items off the stall and put them away as gifts, which is more moving things round than decluttering, but they’ll be out of the house eventually.

I took a full box of old books to the charity stall at the supermarket, and I also got rid of three or four at the last car boot sale. That has actually made some space … or it will once I throw the box away.

So, it’s been swings and roundabouts really, with wins on the books and some slight losses on the yarn, but I am getting through old paperwork at a fair rate too. I’m still decluttering!

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September 2023 book blog

The month began with ‘Wonder Worlds’ by William F Nolan. Another farewell read, for a book that’s been on my shelves for decades. It’s been a long time since I read these stories, and only a few felt familiar. This is a collection of dozens of short short stories, some of them almost flash fiction. Some are shaggy dog stories, some what ifs, but they are all of their time. There is humour in there, and some great ideas, but ultimately they haven’t aged particularly well. I think the author must have had a lot of fun writing them though, and I wouldn’t begrudge that of the author of ‘Logan’s Run’.

On to something a little more up to date. ‘The Curious Affair of the Missing Mummies’ is the third book in the Jesperson and Lane series of paranormal detective stories by Lisa Tuttle. I’ve read and enjoyed the first and second books, and thoroughly enjoyed this installment of the adventures of the Victorian detective duo.
The pair have been professional partners for nearly a year now, and the story starts with Jesperson being quite bored by the lack of interesting work, dismissing potential cases with a Holmesian disregard. And then, he spots a young man approaching the house, and deduces immediately that this could be the next big case.
There follows a riveting and rollocking yarn that takes in a beautiful orphaned girl, mummies aplenty, venomous snakes, a possessed tomcat and even a brief non-appearance by the Prince of Wales. Recommended.

My next read was a very welcome review copy of ‘A Stroke of the Pen – the Lost Stories’ which is a collection of early and mostly unpublished short stories by the wonderful Terry Pratchett. My ‘official’ review is in my last blog post, but as this blog ultimately serves to remind me of what I’ve read and what I thought about it, I’ll do a quick summary here too. There are a couple of Introductions that explain how the collection came to be, then a fair number of very short stories. In ‘How it All Began’ a caveman invents fire, and gets carried away, he keeps on inventing whilst his companions wonder what will become of them all. ‘The Fossil Beach’ is a cute time travel story. ‘The Real Wild West’ is a crime caper set in Welshest Wales, but which has more than a hint of Hamish MacBeth. ‘How Scrooge Saw the Spectral Light …’ tells of how Scrooge embraced Christmas and then commercialised it beyond all reason. It’s the first of a run of Christmas themed stories. ‘Wanted – A Fat Jolly Man’ tells the tale of when Father Christmas quit his job and looked for another suitable post. ‘A Partridge in a Post Box’ is one of my favourites from the book, and looks at how a postman deals with someone’s true love sending all kinds of things through the post in the run up to Christmas. The next story introduces us to Blackbury, a town where odd things happen. ‘The Great Blackbury Pie’ is a parable on the importance of understanding the specification before embarking on the project. ‘How Good King Wenceslas Went Pop’ is a story of a well meaning old chap finally getting what he deserves. ‘Dragon Quest’ is a quest with a difference, that lets us know that dragons are people too. ‘The Gnomes from Home’ sees a business minded gnome take over a suburban garden – and a suburban gardener get the upper hand. ‘From the Horse’s Mouth’ is a shaggy horse story about a talking horse, and about learning respect. ‘Blackbury Weather’ has a real Discworld feel to it, and reminds me of the Unseen University stories. ‘The Blackbury Jungle’ is another deft little story about a silly event. ‘Mr Brown’s Holiday Accident’ is a Pratchettesque take on the Truman Show trope, with an added dollop of bureaucracy and 1970s TV. In ‘Pilgarlic Towers’ a haunted house is slated for demolition – but that won’t happen if the resident ghosts have anything to do with it. ‘The Haunted Steamroller’ was another favourite, it made me wonder how we’d be able to tell if an appliance was being run by an AI, or was haunted. ‘The Money Tree’ is literally about a money tree, and perhaps about being a bit too greedy for your own good. ‘The Blackbury Thing’ delves into the world of UFOs and escapees. Finally we come to ‘The Quest for the Keys’. This is the longest story in the book, it was initially serialised and we’re lucky that all the episodes were found. It has strong Discworld vibes, with a dodgy wizard and a hapless hero working through a series of quests to a typically Pratchett ending.

Since I finished the Pratchett collection I’ve not read much at all, I’ve been dipping into Interzone 295, and have nearly finished it. That’s a review for October, methinks.

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A Stroke of the Pen. The Lost Stories – a review by Jeanette Greaves

This one’s for the fans, it’s also for anyone who would like to make a good attempt at being a fan, or those who used to be fans but forgot. Oh, just read it, it’s fun and it’s Pratchett! I count myself as a fan, and loved this chance to explore Pratchett’s early work. A lot of these stories were published under a pseudonym in a local paper, and the story behind the stories is kindly provided in an Introduction by Neil Gaiman.
It was an utter delight to read this collection of early short stories by the man behind Discworld, and to enjoy again his humour, wit and humanity. Themes that will be familiar to his readers soon emerge, there is a good deal of absurdity and silliness, but through it all, his stories tell us that ‘people are people’ in all their glorious fallibility.
Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

The front cover of Terry Pratchett's collection of early short stories entitled 'A Stroke of the Pen. The Lost Stories'
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