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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