June 2022 book blog

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

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

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May 2022 book blog

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

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

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

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April 2022 book blog

Another quietish month for reading, I’ve been busy getting ‘Ransomed Hearts’ ready for publication, and I have to confess that I’ve spent a lot of time in front of the telly watching ‘Deep Space Nine’ again. Those of you who know DS9 will understand that no apology is necessary.

I read ‘Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances’ by Aliette de Bodard as an ARC, pre publication, you can read my review in my previous blog post. de Bodard has created a detailed and seductive world with her Dominion of the Fallen stories, and any trip there is a welcome one. ‘Of Charms’ is a novella, a weekend away under the Seine to enjoy a simple tale of complex people. Her short tales featuring the adventures of Thuan and Asmodeus are little treats for her readers, and shouldn’t be missed by fans of her novels.

From there I revisited Dave Harrison’s fantasy trilogy about the adventures of Tyrant. ‘King of the Desert’ is a hefty book, in the grand tradition of hefty fantasy books. There are a hundred chapters, that follow several different characters for a few pages at a time each. This makes for a fast moving book with lots of cliffhangers, and it has to be said, it’s a lot of fun. In the first book, Secret of the Scrolls, we met Tyrant, an affable chap who just wants to be left alone, and has therefore carefully cultivated a reputation for very effective violence. By the end of first book, he’s in a position where he actually cares about other people, which makes his life a lot more difficult. Wittingly or unwittingly, the other characters are moved like chess pieces by several different spirits in order to place Tyrant in the right place at the right time. The poor guy just wants Bignuts, taterlicker and a quiet life, and instead he meets the monster who blighted his childhood.

My third and final read of the month was ‘The Way of all Flesh’ by Ambrose Parry. Neither historical fiction nor crime fiction are genres that I often dabble in, but when I was checking that I’d not missed any Christopher Brookmyre books, I found out that he’s been collaborating with his wife, Dr Marisa Haetzman, on a series of historical crime books under the joint pen name ‘Ambrose Parry’. I bought the first book in the series, and found it very hard to put down. It’s informative, topical, and damn good read.

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Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances – a review by Jeanette Greaves

There’s something about Thuan and Asmodeus …

So, a quick catch up, This gorgeous little fantasy novella is set in a Paris that has been torn apart by a war between Angels. The Fallen (angels) now rule the city, organised as great Houses, and de Bodard has written many excellent novels and short stories about their quarrels and intrigues. The series is called ‘Dominion of the Fallen’ and I love it. In one of the later books, Asmodeus, the violent and somewhat sadistic head of House Hawthorn, establishes an alliance with a kingdom of river dragons that live beneath the Seine. He marries Thuan, a dragon prince, in a marriage of convenience. But he underestimates Thuan, a courageous and determined character, and the two become co-rulers of the house. The marriage of convenience becomes one of love and quite a bit of lust.

This novella, Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances, is the second standalone story about Asmodeus and Thuan, and like the first one, is set in Thuan’s old home beneath the Seine. The pair are on holiday, and have taken a couple of the House’s kids along with them. Asmodeus has a very, very strong sense of duty when it comes to looking after those in his care, and when the kids find a hungry ghost child at the site of a murder, the fallen angel takes the ghost under his wing, and sets about solving the murder with the help of Thuan. The pair have become a real power couple, with Thuan using his wits, charm and diplomatic skills as a complement to Asmodeus’s tactics of brooding menance and precise violence. In the background of the story is the newness of their relationship, characterised  by mutual physical infatuation and a nebulous fear that their love can’t quite be real.

If you like a romantic love story, or a political murder mystery, or a good old fashioned fantasy story, then there’s a good chance that you’ll love Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances. I did. It’s out on 28th June, featuring a cover by Ravven that perfectly captures Thuan.

You can find out more here.

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March 2022 book blog

Well, the good news is that I’m back in the swing of things with getting my own book ‘Ransomed Hearts’ ready for market. Of course, that means that I didn’t read much in March, but what I did read was meaty and full of delicious bloody and creepy horror. Yes, the march of time has brought me Ellen Datlow’s ‘The Best Horror of the Year. Volume Thirteen.’

Datlow’s annual anthology and Stephen King’s latest offering are pretty much the only books that automatically go to the top of the tbr pile, and I lost no time getting stuck in to Datlow’s latest collection. My review is on Goodreads, the short summary is that my favourite stories were (in no particular order) by A C Wise, Gemma Files, Catriona Ward, Steven Graham Jones, Simon Bestwick, Michael Marshall Smith, J A W McCarthy, Sarah Pinsker, Maria Haskin and Jack Lothian. I’m already looking forward to Volume 14.

And now for something completely different. Kathleen Clunan is a member of my writing group, and last year she published her first novel, The Evolution of Christie Harris. It’s unashamedly chicklit, which isn’t my genre, but Kathleen is lovely and funny and I wasn’t disappointed when I read the book and felt her personality shine through. Christie is a young art teacher who is having an eventful holiday. The first scenes paint her as a passionate and committed art teacher who wants to bring out the best in her pupils. She loves her life, her house share with her best friends, her parents, her job, but everything is going to change when a globally famous celebrity with an agenda all of her own moves in to Christie’s life and turns it upside down. It was a fun read, and if chicklit is your thing, then you should definitely give it a go.

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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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