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.