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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‘Taking Steps’ on Enjoy Radio

Would you like to hear my poem ‘Taking Steps’ read by a professional? It’s featured on this episode of Lesley Atherton’s ‘Words and Music’ show on Enjoy Radio. The show’s theme is ‘Bad Man’ and she’s chosen some cracking words and music. She reads my contribution from 1:45:20 and it’s just a minute long. Enjoy!



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June 2021 book blog

‘Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang’ is a Kate Wilhelm book that I’ve wanted to read for decades. It was one of the books that I bought with my December gift vouchers and I wasn’t disappointed. It looks at the survival of a family after a creeping apocalypse has destroyed civilization. The family gathers their considerable resources together and retreats to a remote homestead where they make their plans and hope that future generations will hold to the dream.

And then I gave in that itch that ‘The Vampire Tapestry’ had planted in my brain. The protagonist of that book is called Weyland, and the name had reminded me of the tales of Weyland / Wayland Smith, and the first time I encountered the name, back in the 80s. So, I dug out Julian May’s ‘Saga of the Pliocene Exiles’ which I’ve not read for at least fifteen years. When the saga was first published, a friend bought me the second book. Which, of course, meant that I had to buy the first book, and subsequently the third and fourth as they were published. I’ve read them many times, and certain scenes are firmly embedded in my brain. They also take me right back to the kitchen of the student flat that I shared with some very close friends. We were all reading that saga, along with the Thomas Covenant books and the Belgariad. Anyway, the books deserved another read and they got it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the saga, the premise is that a significant percentage of the human race has developed psychic powers that were strong enough to attract the attention of other species in the galaxy; and Earth and its colonies are now part of a pan species spiritual and mental unity. As with any paradise, there are misfits, and luckily for them a curious scientist has succeeded in opening a one way gate into the Pliocene, six million years in the past. A trickle of discontented citizens of Earth, a few dozen a week, pass through the portal into a world that has already been colonised by a dimorphic race of alien beings, the Tanu and the Firvulag. And the fun begins.
As I’d bought half a dozen brand new books in June, I’ve sent the set to a charity shop. I hope they don’t get pulped, there’s a couple more reads left in them at least.

I rarely buy books from supermarkets, but I’d noticed ‘Later’ by Stephen King on the shelf at Sainsburys and couldn’t resist. It’s one of his ‘Hard Case Crime’ stories, and a stable mate for ‘Joyland’ and ‘The Colorado Kid’. I wasn’t expecting a reunion with the entity formerly known as Pennywise. I loved this book, and pretty much devoured it in two sittings. It’s going back on the shelf for a future re-read.

Speaking of shelves, they need purging, but I don’t like to say goodbye to a book unless I’ve checked it first. ‘Song of Kali’ by Dan Simmons has been waiting for a read for several years, I bought it secondhand but hadn’t got round to reading it. It’s well written, but not quite what I’m looking for. I could see a certain scene looming and realised that I didn’t want to read it, so I abandoned the book part way through. I don’t often do that, although maybe I should. So many books, so little time …

So, in summary, June was a bit of a nostalgia fest. The Wilhelm took me back to the sf of the seventies, when I first started reading the genre. The May took me back to the eighties, and the King, as always, dragged me into his world and reminded me that it’s high time I re-read IT. Maybe sometime this year ?

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Some poetry …

My poem ‘Taking Steps’ was awarded 2nd place for the Pomfret Cup section of Lancashire Authors Association 2021 competition.

My poems ‘Surety’ and ‘Time for a Cuppa’ were commended in the Batty Cup section of the Lancashire Authors Association 2021 competition.

Taking Steps

A thousand and three up to the tree
That blankets the pavement with gold
A hundred and two to the house with a view
Of your yard, or so I’ve been told

Two thousand more takes me to the door
Of the pub where you tell all your lies
A dozen or less to the bar where you spar
With the fools who believe you are wise

It’s less than two miles to the root of your smiles
A distance I’ll cover with ease
I’ll watch and I’ll wait by the rusty old gate
And I’ll grin when I see your smile freeze.

Time for a Cuppa

Fascination. A silver plated spout with lines
Engraved forever in my mind
A pale drop lingers then falls to the
Floral cup. A splash, a quiver, then milky stillness.
‘Tea’s ready, father.’

Anxiety. A novelty pot, caution orange
Cheap and uncheerful, leaks and splashes
Hot cheap brew on yellow formica
Chipped mugs await
‘Three sugars, luv.’

Friendship. Five mugs crowd together
Sharing space in happy clutter
Screaming steam’s a promise now
Of well earned rest
‘Is that for me?’

Patience. A trembling saucer
With cup awash with tea
Too bitter, harsh and dark
From that sweet child
‘You clever girl!’

Happiness. A favourite mug
Brew just the right shade
Every day and night
To be known so well
‘Thank you love.’

Surety

As sure as the sky is blue
She says
On a midnight plain with velvet skies
As sure as the sea is green
He says
As grey waves pound the shore
As sure as the silver moon
They say
As a blood red crescent sets
As sure as my love for you
I say
As I turn and walk away



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The Young Man and the Sea and The William Baron Cup

I suppose it’s quite unusual to get to the grand old age of 57 without winning a cup, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve finally broken my duck. My flash fiction ‘The Young Man and the Sea’ was awarded first place in the flash fiction section of the Lancashire Authors Association annual competition.

I wrote the story several years ago, during a writing exercise at a Chorley Writers meeting, and it’s always been a favourite of mine.

Here it is.

The Young Man and The Sea

He is back in the town where the sea curls round on three sides; where it draws away and darts back in, twice a day. The waves nibble at the cliffs, and throw back pebbles and sand. The tide takes away dead gulls and rats, and leaves behind shells, seaweed, and sun bleached driftwood.
It’s been seven years since his last visit. He’d tried to forget, but today, he is back. He is kneeling on the beach and stroking polished gems of green sea glass. He is remembering the wine bottle, and the storm, and he is remembering the girl.

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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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