August 2023 book blog.

Some books have just been there, my entire adult life. The Stand is one of them. Along with ‘IT’, this novel is one of the Stephen King books that I can’t imagine being without. Complete and uncut, this is the third time that I’ve read this edition, my readings of the book as a whole is probably in double figures now. I’m definitely getting to the age where a whopper of a book like this is as much a physical undertaking as a mental one, this book weighs a fair bit! Still, most of the time, I didn’t notice the size of the book, because I just fell into the story and stayed there until my eyelids started to droop. The Stand, even this updated version, is showing its age. There are words and scenes and points of view that King probably wouldn’t write now, but they weren’t that jarring back in the late seventies when the original book was published. That aside, this book’s greatness isn’t in its ambitious story telling, or even its politics, the reason I love this book and repeatedly come back to it, is the cast. Stu, Fran, Larry and Nick are part of my life. I know them as well as I know many ‘real’ people in my life, and it was an absolute pleasure to go back and meet them again.
So, from an old friend to something very new, a relatively recently published book by an author I’ve never read before, at least at novel length. ‘Hell Sans’ by Ever Dundas came very highly recommended by several people whose opinions I respect, but it never quite gelled with me. I admire the courage and imagination that went into this book, the changes in perspective in both first and third person are bold and central to the concept of the book. The world building is deft and the plot is intrinsically exciting, but sadly I just could not get into it. I made it to the end, and am glad I did, because this isn’t a bad book. I just need to feel some empathy for at least one protagonist in order to care about the story, and I found both of the central characters very hard to get on with. Four stars because it’s technically very competent and as a writer myself I found a lot to admire in some of the twists in the writing.
And … back we go. If you’re reading my decluttering blog, you’ll realise that I’m saying goodbye to a large part of my book collection. Some have been ruthlessly packed away and sent to a charity shop, others are getting a final read before they go. Clifford D Simak’s ‘Enchanted Pilgrimage’ makes that cut, primarily because I have no recollection of ever having read it. It’ll be a charity shop / market stall buy from years ago that got shelved then lost. I know why I bought it, Simak was one of my introductions to science fiction. My grandma bought me one of his collections at a jumble sale, probably closer to fifty years ago than forty years ago, and I read it avidly and repeatedly for a long, long time. So, here I am, suddenly finding myself with an unread Simak novel, and this is what I thought. This was very much a ‘few pages before bedtime’ kind of book. There were several lovely characters, who got great introductions but then seemed to fall by the wayside and become part of the background. A group of nice people find that they have a range of quests which lead them to the same place, so they decide to travel together. Their journey introduces some great ideas and the plot reveal would make a great fantasy book, but sadly this isn’t it. It’s a shame, I have a soft spot for Simak’s short stories, but this novel felt somewhat stretched. Great ideas, lovely characters, just a bit too fast paced if anything. At times it reminded me of Pratchett, which is, of course, a good thing.
I finished the Simak in early September, but will include it here because a two book month looks a bit sad, even if one of those books was The Stand Complete and Uncut.

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The Decluttering Blog – Part Three

I’ve been keeping notes, and for the sake of brevity, I’ll collate the results. First of all, books. There are a lot of them. I am putting some on eBay, but if they don’t sell fairly quickly then they go to the charity shop to make way for a new listing. I’ve put three tatty old 1960s / 1970s pulp paperbacks in the book recycling box at the local recycling centre, sold two books on eBay, and donated two dozen to charity. That’s nearly thirty books gone in two weeks. I’m not going to pretend it was easy, but it’s done. One of them was a pretty and new hardback from a favourite author that I read and enjoyed, but it’s unlikely that I’ll read it again, so I’ll release it into the world to find new fans.

I paid my credit card bill as soon as it arrived, and filed the statement. Pre-emptive decluttering, or just being a grown up? Not sure, don’t care. I also filed some stray bank statements and some receipts. I now have a specific box for receipts that I need to keep.

A huge ball of yarn that arrived as a charity donation without a label had been taking up space on a shelf. It was going to be hard to sell without an identifying ball band, so I bought it myself and made some beanie hats to give out as gifts. Ironically, a fellow stall holder saw me knitting the last one and asked me to make him one in dark grey, so I then bought a 400g ball of grey aran yarn. I’m making the third and penultimate beanie out of that yarn now, two of them have homes to go to. So, I guess until I give away the original beanies, I have to chalk this down as a failure, I started off with about 350g of yarn and ended up with 550g of yarn and beanies.  

I found a prescription receipt in my bedding drawer. Ahem. It’s gone into the shredding pile. Theatre tickets from a cancelled 2019 event have also gone in the shredder. Also, a four metre strip of plastic ribbon that I ‘saved’ from a hamper, several years ago, has been thrown away.

Another failure, I went recreational shopping with a friend and my mother. I rarely shop recreationally, and when I do it’s for books or yarn. I bought forty cute buttons and 500g yarn. It’ll get used, I’m not worried about it. I also gave away 100g of yarn oddments and some old buttons to my mother for a knit and natter project, not quite balance, but it’s better than nothing.

Four knitting patterns have sold on eBay, they’re not really big enough to be noticeable, but there is enough space in my ‘selling’ folder now to list another small pile of patterns, which are on a shelf and are noticeable. It’s re-organisation rather than disposal, but it still makes the place look tidier.

I had a fairly good weekend at the craft fair, covered the stall hire and more besides, and came home with less stock than I went with. I’ve bought a birthday gift for a friend, and some bird food, which I’d run out of. I managed to refuse an offer of about 2kg of yarn, and am glad I did, for reasons which will become clear later on.

I’ve filed more paperwork, and got rid of a bucketful of magazine inserts and scrap notes. I’ve sorted out some yarn and stuffing for a lady who is crocheting some items for the stall. Then things get cluttery –  we get a delivery of craft related stuff to sell for the charity. There is half a car full. I took two large shopping bags full and will take more as it sells. Most of it is now listed on eBay, including some unopened crafting magazines complete with freebies. I’ve given away a pile of magazines and will give the rest away soon, they’re not something that sells well.

Last week I was feeling glum, for existential reasons as well as having a house full of stuff, but eBay sales continue to trickle in. A drop in the ocean, but the ocean is made of drops, so I’ve been told. I’ve listed four more knitting patterns / booklets today, and put two damaged and unsaleable booklets in the recycling. I’ve also tidied up a crafting kit to car boot selling level, should get a pound for it, and have retrieved some gift tags that may also sell.

I’ve parted with some training course notes from ten years ago, the lever arch file has gone to the car boot sale, the notes in the recycling. The damaged booklets, the tidied up craft kit, the unlabelled yarn and the gift tags are all things that are donated in good faith but need to be worked on.

Sales from the craft stall continue to pay for the stall rent and bring in a few extra pounds. Taking the stall out increases the visibility of the charity, so all sales are a positive. They also reduce the clutter as I move things from carrier bags to the stall boxes.

I’ve sold four smallish blankets online to someone who saw one of my posts on Twitter. That’ll help the charity, and has made room for more blankets in my craft fair boxes.

Addition – I won a nice candle in a raffle at a craft fair, it will make a nice stocking filler for someone.

Years ago, we bought ten rolls of packing tape, and are still working through them. I finished a roll off today.

There doesn’t seem to be any real reduction in the amount of stuff yet, probably because most of it was hidden in a storage unit until last month! I’ll keep ploughing through.

There’s a large box that’s open that had various balls of knitting yarn in plastic bags. I can move them to the main stash. There’s a tote bag that has seen better days, it was a 40th birthday present from a friend, nearly twenty years ago. It has holes in it. It can go. There was also a pebble in that box, it’s been around for a long time, I can’t even remember where it came from. It’s in the garden now. That’s another box emptied.

After the last craft fair I got home to a lovely surprise, my husband had put some shelves up in the garage and reorganized things so there’s space to cut some card for price tags etc. I tackled that old tote bag too, there was a Christmas cracker prize that will go for recycling, some knitting tools that I’ll put in the right place, and lots of bits of yarn. Some I’ll throw away, some I’ll use. I’ll give the bag a wash and take it to the next car boot sale. I don’t need it.

I’ve opened a donated box of hand made greetings cards, I’ll distribute them to other volunteers for fundraising once I’ve priced them up.

I’ve also repaired a damaged pull up banner, it can go to another volunteer to be used. I now have a fairly large amount of stuff ready for redistribution, I just need to get it to the right people.

Finally, I’ve gone through my ‘car’ file, and got rid of several years of service records and a cardboard folder, also an exercise book that I’d filled with notes from my language courses. I don’t need to keep it.

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July 2023 book blog

I finished Babel at the beginning of July, but included my thoughts about it in my June blog.
After finishing Babel, I decided to finish reading Interzone 294, which had been hanging around my ‘currently reading’ list for several months. It’s the first edition of the long running SF magazine to be published in the new format, and for some reason that made finishing it seem more urgent. I have to confess, there weren’t any stories in this collection that made me want to follow up on the authors, but maybe 295 will be more to my taste.

It’s unfair to compare a ‘Best Of’ collection to a single edition of a magazine, so I won’t, but it just so happened that the next thing I read after the Interzone issue was Ellen Datlow’s ‘The Best Horror of the Year, volume 14’. Datlow is THE go to anthologist for horror these days, and this is her fourteenth annual collection. There wasn’t a dud in the collection, but I’ll just mention my favourites here.
To my absolute delight, this collection kicks off with ‘Redwater’ from Simon Bestwick. He’s an anthology brother of mine from the Hic Dragones collections of dark fiction, and his work just gets better and better. This story left me wanting more. Christopher Golden’s ‘The God Bag’ absolutely cries out to be filmed, it is so very visual. I loved it. Gemma Files is always reliable, and her ‘Poor Butcher-bird’ doesn’t disappoint with a story that would fit well in a very dark version of the Buffy universe. Eric LaRocca’s ‘I’ll be gone by then’ somehow manages to be more Michael Marshall Smith than MMS’s own contribution, it’s a story that will linger in my dreams for a while. The last story in the book, Laird Barron’s ‘Tiptoe’ isn’t new to me, I mentioned it in my review of Datlow’s previous anthology ‘When Things Get Dark.’ It’s even better on a second reading.

‘The Red Scholar’s Wake’ by the wonderful Aliette de Bodard gave me everything that I was expecting from this short novel about lesbian space pirates. The Red Scholar is dead. The balance of power of the space pirates is changing, and The Red Scholar’s widow must fight desperately to hold on to the society that she built with her late wife. By the way, the widow is a spaceship, the Rice Fish, and she desperately needs an ally. Enter a young prisoner, terrified and alone, technically gifted and emotionally shattered. Rice Fish sees her potential, and offers her an alliance, a contact … a marriage. Loved it.

I started a re-read of Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ in July, but as I mostly read it in August, I’ll leave it for my August catch up.

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The Decluttering Blog – Part Two

It’s been nearly two weeks, and time for an update. What’s in, what’s out, and what’s lying on a table waiting for a decision? Some of these questions will be answered below.

I took eight thick science fiction books by Alastair Reynolds to the charity book stall at the supermarket. I’ll never read them again, although I enjoyed them when I first bought them. As I left, I saw someone looking through them. I went to the same supermarket later in the month, and they were gone. They have a good home, or maybe someone thinks they can sell them on, either way, they’re no longer taking up space in my home, and I hope that they’ll soon be out of my head.

I’ve listed a few books on eBay and Facebook marketplace, some are mine, some were donated to the charity, all the proceeds from all the books will go to the cat charity. Since my last blog I’ve sold and posted out fourteen of my own books, most of them I’ve had for decades. I’ve also put a donated book in the recycling, it had fallen apart as I was photographing it for sale.

I sorted through a bag of oddments in my study, it was taking up floor space, and had been a dumping ground for things that ‘needed sorting’. Some of it has gone to a fellow charity volunteer for the tombola, some will go on eBay. There are a few of these ‘sorting bags’. As other hoarders will attest, these bags pile one on the other, and have to be tackled one at a time.

I’ve also put a 40th birthday card in the recycling, it was from someone I loved who is no longer with us, but she wouldn’t have wanted me to hang on to it. I compromised, I took a photograph then sent it on its way.

I also photographed my sixth form folders, and shared the images. I’ve decided that they can go too. This is a really big deal, they’re from my late teenage years, but nobody is going to want to keep them when I’m gone, and I suspect that at some point during my London years the mice got at them. I’m finding that photographing and writing about these things helps me to let go of them.

On the negative side of things, I’ve recently been given two large bags of stuff to sell for the charity, I’ve sold the largest item from the two bags, and listed more, but in terms of volume it just replaces the books that have gone. Hopefully I’ll sell it all quickly.

Gift bags aren’t ‘clutter’ are they? They’re useful, I never throw them away unless they’re really far gone. July brought a nephew’s birthday and my husband’s birthday, so we’ve gained, overall, two gift bags and a bottle bag. They’ll be gone soon. I’ve also used approximately as much packaging material as I’ve received over the last couple of weeks. I rarely throw it away. In fact, I’ve just bought some big envelopes, but I do need them for online sales. There is a space for them.

One problem with clutter is that it’s sometimes hard to find the important things, and my phone charger was AWOL for a couple of days. I found it under my knitting, which meant that I could photograph and list things online.

I made a recycling trip, and took a fair bit of sorted rubbish to the recycling centre. This doesn’t really help with the decluttering, to be honest, as I do it regularly. I will, however, claim a bag of polythene from the garage, the metal bars from my sixth form lever arch files, and a dead ink cartridge that has been lying around for years as definite wins. Anything that’s been in the house for more than a year is a win. I also went through my writing group file, and have put ten years of prompts, leaflets and miscellaneous bits of paper in the recycling bin. Maybe fifty sheets of A4? Small gains, but they are real.

Now, this is very cheeky claim – I used a face mask that I’d been gifted. I’m claiming it because usually I’d hang on to something like this, meaning to re-gift it, until it’s out of date. Honestly, every little helps, and now my face feels fantastic.

I’ve sold some of the yarn that was given to the charity. It’s all been around for less than six months, but it’s gone now. About a kilo, I reckon, in three separate lots.

This blog will only be honest if I include additions. I bought a couple of nice notebooks and some washi tape. I’m an absolute sucker for a notebook, and the washi tape is for card making once the spare room is clear enough for me to start crafting again.

My paperwork system is in a right mess, so I’ve started to tackle it. A big wodge of paper has gone in the recycling bin, and another wodge is ready for shredding. I’m going through my box of receipts and throwing away anything that’s more than two years old. My desk now looks reasonable. I mean, a clean freak wouldn’t like it, but I’m fairly sure there aren’t any biscuits hiding in the paperwork (joking …) When I was sorting out my desk, I found two of my missing pairs of tweezers (decluttering bonus!) and I also found a Level 4 Hoarding Tupperware box into which I’d stuffed things ‘out of the way’. Inside it were receipts, which have now been filed or disposed of, and to my absolute horror and embarrassment, a plastic bag that my prescription arrived in. I hadn’t put it for recycling because it had my personal details on it. I’ve destroyed the details and put it in the recycling bag. I think that was about as bad as it’s ever got. Who does that? Who stuffs random stuff in a takeaway tub, slams the lid on, and then pretends it’s not there? I’m beginning to think I’ve caught this problem just in time. Another ‘hide it away’ tub contained a four year old part used asthma inhaler. That’s gone now, and I even managed to put the tub itself in the recycling.

Finally, instead of stuffing a ripped pair of jeans under the bed until I have the time and the skill to repair them and embroider them beautifully (ha ha), I’ve given them to a friend who has a sewing machine and sewing skills, she’ll use the denim to make something nice.

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The Decluttering Blog – Part One

It has been brought to my attention that I may be a hoarder. I’ve been allowed to live in denial of this by virtue of having an obsessively tidy husband and only two rooms in the house that I could hide my belongings in. Two years ago we decided to turn the larger of those two rooms into a guest bedroom / book room, so we hired a storage unit and started to empty the room. To be honest, nothing really got going until about six months ago, when we finished emptying the room, decorated it, and put a bed, bookshelves and a desk in there. It looked fab. Then we started to bring the boxes back from the storage unit.

At some point within the last few weeks, I’ve accepted that I have many more books than I could ever have time to re-read. I have many more books than I have room for. Some of them will have to go. It’s not just books, it’s bits and pieces that we’ve just never thrown away. It’s hard to say goodbye, it seems, so I’ll write about things as they go. It makes it easier, and may assuage the awful anxiety and the sleepless nights. You see, one day I might REALLY REALLY NEED something that I’ve let go of.

Last week was a good week. I managed to relinquish fourteen beautiful, fantastic, amazing books by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I hadn’t had them quite long enough for them to sink into the great mass of literature that insulates the house, so the emotional tug wasn’t too bad. FOURTEEN BOOKS gone at once. It would be a huge success, except for the fact that I’d bought every one of them since hiring that storage locker, so there was no real net gain on the 2021 situation. Still, fourteen books eh? I also said goodbye to a couple of 1980s Frank Herbert Dune books that I’ve been carrying around the country since forever. I think I last re-read them in the 1990s. Sixteen books gone. It’s not just me, a lot of the books are my husband’s, and he decided to relinquish a couple of fairly modern editions of Philip K Dick books. Eighteen books gone. A newly read / newly acquired but ancient and crumbling edition of Brian Stableford’s Werewolves of London has gone to be recycled. Nineteen books gone. And lastly, book wise, I took seven environment / ecology related books to a local charity. Twenty six books gone. Granted, fifteen of them had been in the house for less than two years, but it’s still progress eh?

A lot of the ‘stuff’ is actually stock for the charity craft stall that I run, and I obviously can’t get rid of that, but hopefully I can reorganise it a little better. I rounded up some bits and bobs that have been given to me recently for the charity, washed an ironed a tatty tote bag that I found and had no previous memory of, and unpacked some donated handcrafted items from a jute bag into a half full box. The jute bag and the tote bag half full of toiletries has now gone from the house. A small victory, but still …

One of the boxes to come back from the lockup was in the dining room. Insomniac me took advantage of 3 am decluttering anxiety to do some decluttering. There’s a letter and a graduate list from my Manchester Uni M.Sc, I’ll keep and file that. There are copies of my school magazine, I’ll keep them. There are ring binders from my biology and physics A levels, scribbled over and vastly nostalgic, I’ll keep them. There’s also a twelve inch deep pile of research papers and reports from my working life. They’re going. The actual box was quite tatty, so that’s going too. Oh, and there were four amazingly mucky and faded card or plastic coasters from the 1980s. That’s not me, it’s my OH. He conceded that they were ready for recycling / landfill.

If you’d like to help me, please check out my ebay page – it’s Knit One Purr One. Most of the sales go to help cats in need. At least I don’t collect cats …

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June 2023 book blog

After months of fairly concentrated reading (Tchaikovsky and indies) my June reading list turned out to be a really mixed bag.
If you know my likes, you know that I like a themed anthology. I started to read ‘Tesseracts Nine: New Canadian Speculative Fiction’ in April or May, dipping in an out of the book when I fancied a treat. This is one of a series of speculative fiction anthologies by Canadian writers, and I read it for the first time shortly after publication in the mid 2010s. This was a farewell re-read, as my house refuses to stretch. It has an introduction by Geoff Ryman and an afterword by Nalo Hopkinson, who are the collection’s editors, and twenty three varied stories and poems packed in between. I will comment on the ones that made the biggest impact.
‘Lemmings, in the Third Year’ by Jerome Stueart, is a nicely pitched commentary on animal research that I remembered from the first read. The name Candas Jane Dorsey on a story always raises expectations, and ‘Mom and Mother Teresa’ doesn’t disappoint. It’s funny, sharp and very pointed, I loved it. ‘See Kathryn Run’ by Elizabeth Vonarburg is presented as a joint translation from the original by the author and Howard Scott. It is my favourite story in the book, and follows one woman’s adventures in other dimensions as she seeks to direct her own fate. Sarah Totton’s ‘Jimmy Away To Me’ is a tale of love and displacement that echoed with me for days after I’d read it. ‘Mayfly’ by Peter Watts and Darryl Murphy is still, barely, speculative fiction, but it doesn’t seem that far from reality these days. Pat Forde’s ‘Omphalos’ was a little hard to get into at first, but persistence paid off and I loved this story about tech, politics and futurology.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and we get ‘A Desolation Called Peace’ by Arkady Martine. This was one of my December books. For new readers, ‘December Books’ are books that arrived on the shelves as birthday or Christmas gifts, or books bought with vouchers that arrived as birthday or Christmas gifts. Anyway, I’m an absolute sucker for weird aliens and sf writers who make them believable, and the ‘enemy’ threat in Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series / duology / ? is as weird as they get without going all Adrian Tchaikovsky all over the page. This book takes us away from the Teixcalaan capital and sends its heroines flying around the universe in a desperate attempt to understand a) each other b) the politics of the military system and c) the alien enemy. It’s a hugely enjoyable story with plenty of politics, humour, action and romance centred on four of the main characters from the first book. Loved it.
My third June read was Stephen King’s ‘IT’. Most of my re-reads these days are goodbyes, but I really hope that this one isn’t. There’s a waxed paper boat riding a torrent of storm water. It’s forever the scene that means that there is horror to come. This doesn’t feel like re-reading a book, it feels like going to visit old friends and talking about the bad old days. I was in my very early twenties the first time I read this book. I’m nearly sixty now and I still love it. It feels like the blueprint King book, kids, the power of imagination, love and friendship, and the use of human proxies by an ancient evil.
My fourth and last June book was actually finished in July, but I’ll include it here, as I spent the last week of June reading it. I was already reading ‘Babel when I started to read this book. I’d picked up ‘Werewolves of London’ from the charity bookstall in a local supermarket. This copy is falling to bits, is very, very foxed, and has quite a lot of tears and creases, leading me to realise just how long ago 1990 was for a cheap paperback book, and also to decide that this read is its last one, it’s going to the great Pulper in the Sky (or in the paper recycling plant, one or the other). I decided to take a break from ‘Babel’ because I was taking a charity stall to a local craft fair and didn’t want to take a hardback book to read. ‘The Werewolves of London’ was on the top of my tbr pile.
It’s a slow paced novel that meanders around the question of Creationism, but not in the Christian sense; dipping into the nature of humanity, reality and individuality. The eponymous Werewolves of London take something of a back seat in the book, with the main characters being somewhat unsympathetic. I admit, I struggled to finish this book, but I was interested enough in the plot to battle through to the end. Another couple of co-incidences leapt out from this book. Firstly, the last book that I finished was King’s ‘IT’, which featured a werewolf and a monstrous spider, as did this one. Secondly, the dedication mentioned the film ‘Clash of the Titans’ which I just watched all the way through for the first time ever.
So, apart from the Arkady Martine book, this was pretty much an eighties / nineties revival month, with two re-reads and two new re-reads. July beckons now, I’ll tell you soon about more summer reads.

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May 2023 book blog

It’s nearly the end of June, and I’ve only just got round to this. I blame a rather nasty bout of food poisoning and some stupidly hot weather for me being so out of it recently. So. What did I read in May?

Although I’d finished Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ten book Shadows of the Apt Saga, I still had a couple of the anthologies to read.
‘For Love of Distant Shores’ is the third book in the Tales of the Apt series of short story anthologies set in the Shadows of the Apt universe. There are four novellas, or longish short stories, in this collection, and the timeline pretty much covers the extent of the ten book series. Each story is an account of a mis / adventure that has befallen Fosse, a delightfully unimpressed Fly woman, and her employer, Dr Phinagler, a Beetle and professional traveller from the city of Collegium. You really need to have read the ten book ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series to get the most out of this anthology, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has read the series and is wondering if the anthologies are worth it. Incidentally, Fosse is one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest creations, I love her.

The final Tales of the Apt anthology is ‘The Scent of Tears’. In which Tchaikovsky throws the world of the Kinden open to other writers, with various degrees of success. I’ve read a few shared world / multiple writer anthologies, but never one that was so firmly associated with a single writer. It can’t be easy walking into someone else’s world and telling your own story there, but some of these stories do it very well. There is a limitation on these authors, in that they’re asked to write a concise and close ended tale within a longer story that many of the readers will already be familiar with, where there is an established canon. Other than the first and last stories, which are by Tchaikovsky himself, my favourite tale was The Mantis Way. Tchaikovsky himself has said that the best characters go against type, and our protagonist in this story definitely does that, until she doesn’t …

My next two reads were by Al Ramsay. Alan is an indie writer and a member of my writing group, so I’d give five stars whatever … us indies need all the help we can get.
Having just started reading Al’s 2023 book, Free Lunch, it’s become clear that The Decoy is the second book in the Felix Haythornthwaite Files, and I should have read The Free Lunch first. It doesn’t matter much, the plot of The Decoy wasn’t dependent on the plot of The Free Lunch. However, you should buy both, and read The Decoy second, it’s just easier. The Decoy is set in Lancashire, in a fictitious coastal town, somewhat down at heel and peopled by families like Felix’s, who are just trying to get by but somehow get wound up in all kinds of shenanigans that get more and more complex. This is an amusing and fast paced story with engaging characters. I enjoyed it.

From ‘The Decoy’ I moved on ‘The Free Lunch’ I read the entirety of this book under the influence of food poisoning, which gave it a hallucinatory quality which may not be experienced by other readers. The protagonist of the book is Felix Haythornthwaite, a teenager, aspiring journalist, and middle child, resident in Frecklesall-on-Sea, an imaginary Lancashire coastal town with the usual coastal town issues. The town has a lido, currently derelict, but the townspeople hope that it will be restored, and it has an old lady (Felix’s great aunt) who runs a string of donkeys, the last tourist attraction in town.
Felix finds himself in trouble when an article written for the school magazine is somehow released without approval, putting his editorial role, and indeed his place at school, in jeopardy. As he investigates the case, there is a huge announcement – the Tour de France is coming to Frecklesall!
I enjoyed this story, it was fast paced, funny, and had a full cast of engaging characters.

I rarely read autobiographies, but when you meet someone who has written one, it’s only polite to buy a copy. I met the author a few months ago at a meeting of the Lancashire Authors Association, and more recently at meetings of Chorley Writers Circle, where I bought a copy of his book, ‘PC Mebs, Finding Myself’ by Mahmood Ahmed.

I rarely read non-fiction, and biography / autobiography is a field that I hardly ever touch, but Mebs’ story intrigued me and I finished the book within a couple of days. It was a remarkably easy and enjoyable read, apart from a chapter or two near the end which were quite technical and dry. The book covers his life from his early childhood in Pakistan, his move to England with his mum to join his father, his schooldays in Oxford, Bradford and Blackburn, and his working life. The story takes a themed view, rather than a purely chronological one, covering family life, romance, career and football whilst moving back and forwards through the timeline. As someone utterly unversed in the art of biography, I suspect that this isn’t an unusual way of telling the complex story of a single life. The book was honest and frank, discussing the positive effects of his decisions on himself, whilst unflinchingly addressing their negative effects on his wife and young sons. After an unpromising early career, during which he nevertheless developed some very important skills, Mebs joined Lancashire Police in his early thirties, and although he never rose above the rank of PC, he became a respected representative of the BAME community within the police force, and from the police force to the local BAME communities. This book would make an excellent read for anyone interested in the stories of immigrant children, the Asian community in Britain, community football, and how Lancashire Constabulary came to be seen as the leading force in addressing racism within the police force nationally.
Something that really struck me about his story was that despite his late start, he always had people who believed in him, and that was reflected in the faith that he had that other people could change their own ideas and behaviour for the better.

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April 2023 book blog

April was all about Adrian Tchaikovsky and Shadows of the Apt, I began the month with three novels and three anthologies still to read, and ended it with just two anthologies to go. ‘The Air War’ does exactly what it says on the tin. The arms race continues with the development of new aircraft, weapons and defence systems, focussing on the Wasp Empire seemingly unstoppable advance on the city of Collegium. Seda’s fear of Che’s power takes a backseat in this book as Sten totters on the brink of becoming exactly what he’s always hated. Battles are fought on several fronts as we follow the stories of two fly kinden women on opposite sides of the air war. Oh, and as everything comes to a head on all fronts, I stay up until silly o’clock because I can’t get to sleep until I know how it ends. Loads of fun, especially for students of early 20th century history.

It felt appropriate to take a short break from the novel saga and take some small sips of short story from ‘A Time for Grief’, being the second set of short stories from the ‘Shadows of the Apt’ universe. These stories are side journeys from the main story told in volumes 1 – 10 of Shadows of the Apt, and the last one is a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t read books 9 and 10. I raced through the entire book within 24 hours, because each story was so good I just wanted to get my teeth into the next one. The potential of Tchaikovsky’s worldbuilding is clear as he delves into the backstories of places and people to play with different literary forms. Tisamon plays The Man With No Name, a Collegiate am dram company conjours the ghost of Pathis past, a land of gentle Grasshopper kinden goes locust loco when the moon rises, in a zombie / werewolf tale featuring our favourite brigand, Dal Arche and his Merry Men. My favourite was the title story, taking us on a visit to Salme Dien’s Butterfly lover, Grief. Princep Salma, the city of equality and idealism, founded in Salma’s memory, comes under attack from organised crime / government who see it as a fast route to riches and glory … and who can stop them?

And then, back to the fray, with the end in sight, I fell into the ninth novel, ‘War Master’s Gate’. More arms racing, more magic, more testing of power, and oh my DOESN’T Thalric get one of the best scenes in the book, in a Buffyesque takedown of book 9’s Big Bad. Seda does as Seda does, in a temper tantrum that changes the world, a student invents a superweapon and barely anyone notices, and here we are, all set up for book 10. Genius. Thank you!

The final book in the series is ‘Seal of the Worm’ and in a series that focuses so strongly on war and weaponry, it manages to deliver one of the most truly horrific images of the entire saga as the war draws to an end. I will miss the world building, the arms race, the conflicts and the compassion and humour behind all the death and destruction. Everything has been brought to an end. All loose ends have been tidied up. No spoilers, but I’m happy with how it all turned out. There have been some sleepless nights when I just didn’t go to bed because I couldn’t sleep without knowing how a story ended. The housework has not been done. I’ve neglected my own writing. It’s all been worth it.

There are just a couple of anthologies still unread, I know I’ll enjoy them.

There was a nice moment as I was reading Book 10. I was doing some voluntary work, running a stall at a craft fair. When things were quiet, I was reading. My book was on a chair next to me as I was serving some customers, and one of them got very chatty about SF and fantasy in general, and Tchaikovsky in particular, it’s been a while since I met anyone who was so passionate about books, and I hope that he takes my advice and reads Shadows of the Apt very soon.

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Monday 4th

Pilates am, dentist pm.

Tuesday 5th

Phone GP, lunch with Alys

Wednesday 6th

Dr Green @ 10.05 am, photography club AGM pm

Thursday 7th

Meetup with Julia and Mum

Friday 8th

Pilates am, St David’s hospital Dr Reese, 3 pm

Saturday 9th

Pack for Greece. Airport 3 pm

Sunday 10th

Athens St David’s, MRI scan

Monday 11th


Tuesday 12th

Athens St David’s, Dr Reese’s surgery, 9:15 am

Wednesday 13th

Mykenos Cancel Japan in September, ring Alys

Thursday 14th

Mykenos Ring Dogs Trust re Harry.

Friday 15th

Athens Gregson’s Solicitors, re will.

Saturday 16th

Fly home

Sun 17th

Meetup with Julia and Mum. Tell them.

Monday 18th

Pilates am Back at work pm. Speak to boss re working from home.

Copyright Jeanette Greaves, May 2023

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It’s not hoarding if it’s heirlooms, and it’s not Jessica’s fault that people trusted her with their button boxes. It was entirely reasonable that her great grandmother, two grandmothers, two aunts and a neighbour would pass their collections to the family craftswoman. It was, perhaps, unusual that Jessica spent so much time with the buttons. The old Roses and Quality Street tins of similar vintage both held buttons dating from the 1920s to the 1980s, but of vastly different quality. Silver, mother of pearl and exotic woods contrasted with fabric coated plastic and tarnished brass. Jessica’s grandmothers had never really got on. Her great grandmother’s legacy was a drawstring silk bag that held a collection of tiny shirt buttons and huge coat buttons that still smelled, after many decades, of snuff and gardenias. A Danish butter biscuits tin from the 1990s held the memory of biscuits and an assortment of plastic buttons, many of them still attached to the card. If Jessica closed her eyes, she could match them to the Aran knit cardigans that her aunt had worn so often. The other aunt had kept up with the times, her collection was sorted by colour into plastic bags, all packed solidly into a pretty Cath Kidston tin. As for the neighbour’s legacy, a deluge of lightly worn novelty buttons in an Asda bag spoke of a passion for yarn crafts and a bewildering supply of grandchildren.

Jessica knitted and crocheted, she made bookmarks and greeting cards, she moulded clay and strung jewellery, but never used the heirloom buttons. She visited them, talked to them, and remembered.

The day came when she remembered no more, she was bundled away, to be cared for. Her daughter found the buttons, and tipped them all into a bucket. £10, on Marketplace, collection only.

Copyright Jeanette Greaves, May 2023

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