August 2022 book blog

Cover image of Ransomed Hearts by Jeanette Greaves. A young man playing an electric guitar on a small stage.

A big month for me, I self published my second novel, ‘Ransomed Hearts’ and did a read through of book 3, to see just how much work it needs to shape it into a proper book. I’ve also given book 3 a name, ‘Hearts’ Home’, which I haven’t really publicised at all.

August was a great month to be a writer, but also to be a reader. August arrived with me half way through Becky Chambers’ ‘The Galaxy and the Ground Within.’ It’s the final book in the Wayfarer’s series and just as an aside, doesn’t Chambers have a wonderful knack for titles? This book filled my life from the moment I picked it up. A very disparate group of travellers have stopped to rest and refuel at an intergalactic service station / guest house when a planetary crisis confines them to quarters for several days with no means of communication with anyone outside the guest house dome. Each of them has good reason to be anxious about the delay and the lack of communication. Their host and her child do their best to make them comfortable and entertain them, and over the course of their delay, they get to know and respect each other. This is a beautiful book, and in the world we live in today it reads like escapist literature at its best.

From deep space and time, to alternate history. I literally stumbled into Harry Turtledove’s ‘In at the Death, Settling Accounts 4’. It was in a pile of second hand books on a charity stall at my local supermarket, and I lost my balance trying to read the titles without my specs on. I know of the author, of course, although it’s probably decades since I read anything by him, so I decided to put things right.  It’s the final volume of a multi book series set in an alternate universe where the confederate states won the American civil war. This part of the series is set in the early 1940s. The world is at war, but the alliances have changed and the United States are once more at war with the Confederate States, which have built and used death camps to murder their black population. The frequent use of the n word was a shocker, but given the context its use is understandable.
The cast of characters is enormous, and looking at Wiki fandom explanations of some of the back story, it seems like it might be nice to start at the beginning of the series and find out more about the characters and their ancestors.
Don’t be fooled by my two day read of this book, it was an amazingly hot weekend when I picked the book up and I didn’t have the energy to do anything but read. 

The next book was one from the TBR pile. I’ve been making eye contact with ‘The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories’ for a while and it was definitely time to pick it up. Thank you to everyone at Valancourt Books for re-publishing this collection of horror stories from one of the best selling writers (Marjorie Bowen) that I’ve never heard of.
The gothic is strong in this one, and amongst the wrong women, ruined buildings and desperately degenerate aristocrats are some real gems.

I finished my last book of August on the last day of August, which made me happy. I confess that I know one of the authors in this gorgeous little collection, and that she was kind enough to send me a copy. Skulls and spells is a beautifully presented collection of flash fiction, short stories, art, comics and poems. It’s basically a festival in a book. The work embraces queer and non-binary horror. It’s published as a colour illustrated hardback by the micro-press Artemesia’s Axe.
There’s a heavy focus on body horror, the illustrations inevitably draw heavily on the red part of the spectrum.
In a mixed media, multi author / artist collection, everyone is going to have their favourites. For me, they were two of the short stories.
Sanni de Soto’s ‘Darned’ has enough worldbuilding in one short story to sustain a TV series, and I really hope that someone with influence reads this story and moves it forward. I loved it.
Karen D’arcy Kernan’s ‘Amygdalin’ mingles chemistry and food within an abusive relationship, it’s a satisfyingly gory body horror with such a strong food theme that I would strongly advise you not to read it before dinner.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 2022 book blog

You remember how I stopped reading so much, to give me more time to write? That didn’t work out so well, so I read a lot more in July and also managed to finish my second book. ‘Ransomed Hearts’ will be out soon and I hope that you enjoy it.

I read seven books in July, and whilst I’m fairly sure this isn’t a personal record, it’s certainly a respectable total.

‘Violeta’ by the wondrous Isabel Allende was pretty much consumed in a day. It had been a long time since I’d read any of Allende’s work, and I’d bought this on impulse as a gift for my mother. She passed it on to me, and I ate it whole. Violeta strides through life, making decisions both good and bad, loving the right men and the wrong men, and developing bonds of trust and friendship with other women that lead her from her conservative roots to a late feminist blossoming. This is a book about family, and politics. It reminded me a lot of ‘Dreamers of the Day’ by Mary Doria Russell.

July’s next book was Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. This was an impulse buy last year when I was in the wonderful Ebb & Flo bookshop in Chorley. I started reading this before bedtime and finished it the next day. I was fundraising for a local charity, holding a craft stall at a fair. Sadly, the customers weren’t buying, but it did give me the opportunity to read almost an entire book in the space of six hours. I felt very full when I’d finished.

Piranesi lives in harmony with his world in the Halls of a gigantic mansion that is washed by great Tides of water. The only other person in his world meets with him for an hour, twice a week, to discuss Piranesi’s research into how the world works. Piranesi keeps journals, indexed and treasured, and when Other tells him that the world makes everyone forgetful, Piranesi decides to check his old notebooks for evidence that he hasn’t lost his memories. What he finds changes everything.

Essentially, this is a crime novel, but the crime is something that could never be prosecuted in our world, because who would believe in a world like Piranesi’s?

So, July was off with a roar, two books in three days! My tbr pile isn’t actually a pile, it’s a scattering, and when I reshelved ‘Piranesi’, I picked up ‘Purgatory Mount’ by Adam Roberts, which was on the same bookshelf and had been bought with my December money. Coincidentally, this book also deals with the them of memory. That’s two memory themed books in a row. Funny how these things work out.

This is a tale in two parts. In the far future, heavily augmented humans travel to a far distant planet to investigate a gigantic structure. The two parts of this story bookend the second part of the book, a story about five friends trying to survive a second US civil war in the near future. I’ve been reading Adam Roberts’ stories since SALT came out, many years ago, and they always leave me with the sense that I’m not quite clever enough or well read enough to understand what’s going on. Nevertheless, I keep coming back, because the stories are great.

The next book to grab my attention was a secondhand ex library copy of Bob Shaw’s ‘Dark Night in Toyland’ Those yellow Gollancz covers are catnip to sf fans who grew up in the seventies. I’ve definitely read this collection before, but I can’t remember when. Bob Shaw can always be relied on to put some humour into his sf, and some of these stories are pretty much extended jokes (which Shaw admits). In general, a nice collection of stories.

The next book had been sat on my bedside table for months. It’s one of those mysterious books that turn up out of nowhere, neither me nor my husband could remember acquiring it. ‘Kafka on the Shore’ by Haruki Murakami kept me occupied for a week. It’s a measure of how good the story is that I carried on reading after a graphic scene of cat slaughter. It’s a measure of how well the story held my curiosity that I carried on reading after a rape scene. Trigger warnings are controversial, I know, but I probably wouldn’t have read the book if I’d known in advance about those scenes. There’s a lot going on in this book, and oddly enough a lot of the goings on hook onto the theme of memory. It seems that I can barely pick up a book at the moment without walking straight into musings on the nature of memory. This story explores it beautifully, with a cast of intriguing and (mostly) sympathetic characters.

Joe Hill’s books are always a treat, and ‘Full Throttle’ is no exception. I fair rattled through this anthology, with enormous pleasure. I’ve never met a Joe Hill story that I didn’t like, and there are some that I love. Check out my Goodreads page for a full review. I read this book during the hottest day I’ve ever experienced in the UK, in the coolest room in the house, too hot to do anything but read.

From the comfort food of Hill to a more experimental diet. Sarah Hall’s ‘Burntcoat’ was another impulse buy from Ebb & Flo in Chorley. It took me a while to get into this book, at first I thought it was a story that had been smashed against a wall and assembled back in no particular order, but by the end I realised that it had actually been cut with surgical precision and assembled with enormous care.
The references to the craft and art of the protagonist’s profession fascinated me, and at first were what kept me interested in a book that shifted timelines so often that I was fast losing interest in the story. But, suddenly everything started to come together and I read the last two thirds of the book at once, unable to go to sleep until it was finished. I was left with a nagging feeling that I’ve read books with this kind of bloody dream quality before, and this morning I made the link with Alan Garner’s more recent work, particularly Strandloper.

At the end of the month I picked up a book that I’ve been looking forward to since it arrived as a December gift. ‘The Galaxy, and the Ground Within’ is the fourth book in Becky Chambers’ ‘Wayfarers’ series. I’m about half way through, and will review it in my August blog.

Posted in Fiction, Review, Witterings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment