psutto's 2016 challenge

Talk2016 Category Challenge

Join LibraryThing to post.

psutto's 2016 challenge

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Edited: Jan 25, 2016, 6:25am

Just leaving this here... I hope to be back in 2016 with a new challenge - and hopefully doing reviews again...

Categories so far (no real theme strikes me at this point sadly)

Cat 1 - Ho Ho Oh No - presents
Cat 2 - Lessons in Literature
Cat 3 - The luck of the Irish
Cat 4 - SF book group
Cat 5 - ARCs
Cat 6 - The discoverability challenge
Cat 7 - Off the TBR (books bought prior to 2016)
Cat 8 - Just one wafer thin mint? (Books bought in 2016)

Edited: Jan 1, 2016, 10:45am

January reading - Ho Ho Oh No! New books from Christmas and Birthday (my birthday is just after New Year)

Books that came into the house as presents (plus any left over from last Christmas and birthday)

So, unless I read these in the next couple of weeks this is what's left of 2015 Base Camp:

Lectures on literature by Vladamir Nabakov

Finite and infinite games by James Carse - I tried to read this again and failed. So am admitting defeat. Got about 5 pages in both times I've read this before going "huh" and not getting why he's writing what he's writing. The meaning is clear - just philosophogibberish! (More intelligent folk than me may disagree)

So here's what I've unwrapped so far (more presents on Sundat for the bday)

Collected stories Roald Dahl a chunky 850 pages!
The Centaur Updike - not read Updike before & don't know what to expect
watchers of the dark Lloyd Biggle Jr was a childhood favourite - wonder if the suck fairy will have struck?
Glass - only other Palmer I've read was Memory seed a long time ago - it has an intriguing premise
Delusions of gender by Cordelia Fine. Looks very interesting!
Conquest of the useless I'm a big Herzog fan (his documentaries more than the other films) so that's a good present choice!
shooting straight - this is a bit of a wild card choice. I'm no fan of Morgan (who is??) but the issue of gun control is an interesting one so I am looking forward to reading it, oddly.

Since I told folk to not get me books - as the TBR is out of control I've not done too badly

Edited: Dec 17, 2015, 8:23am

I may turn Lectures on literature into a category - as you're meant to read along...

If so that would mean reading:

mansfield park
Bleak house - his longest book?
Madam Bovary
The strange case of Jekyll & Hyde (which I've previously read & is nice and short! yaay)
In search of lost time part one
metamorphosis (which I've also previously read)
Ulysses gulp - that one may need a support group!

so about one every two months then!

Any classics fans here? Any versions that are recommended?

Dec 17, 2015, 10:42am

<3> This sounds like a worthwhile project. Best of luck. I read Bleak House two years ago and it wasn't half bad. I followed reading each chapter with the online Cliff Notes to make sure I didn't miss anything. The only support I could give you for Ulysses is a pair of crutches (teehee). I really have no desire to read that.

Dec 21, 2015, 8:30am

Good luck with your read of Bleak House. I think that book is the perfect example of Dickens being paid by the word. ;-)

Dec 27, 2015, 8:15pm

>3 psutto:
Sounds like a great plan. For Ulysses, I highly recommend getting Ulysses Annotated - it does wonders for understanding.

Dec 31, 2015, 7:01pm

Your "Ho Ho Oh No!" title cracked me up! :) If it helps, I really enjoyed Bleak House -- and of course, Mansfield Park is fantastic as well. I don't envy you for tackling Ulysses, though, I must admit!

Jan 1, 2016, 10:30am

Looks like Bleak house is doable & good tip from Eva on the Joyce!

I've just returned from a trip to Dublin where I visited the Writers museum (small but worth a look if life takes you to Dublin) so now I want to read all the Irish writers :-) so making that a category...

Book group books still a category

I've signed up for this (making it a category)

And I've been promised some ARCs so that's a category too

Jan 1, 2016, 10:47am

A rule I failed to stick to last year, but will be enforcing this year, is that for each new book I read (and by new I mean enters the house in 2016) I must read 2 from the TBR. So with 7 for Xmas that's 14 I should read from the TBR already!

Jan 1, 2016, 5:09pm

Nice rule and good luck with that. I don't have the will power to follow through with that rule. Yes, I am a weak person who can be enchanted by any book that comes my way. ;-)

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2016!

Edited: Jan 3, 2016, 12:53pm

And the birthday haul is:

Atlas of cursed places - this looks like fun!
what if? by Randall Munroe (XKCD)
Wormholes John Fowles - I've read all of Fowles's novels...
Wired for story an author friend recommended this so I stuck it on the wishlist...
life on the edge quantum biology by Jim Al-Khalili
How poetry works - I have signed up to read at a poetry event end of January - I know next to nothing about poetry...
the art of the publisher - intriguing small book...

Jan 3, 2016, 12:41pm

What If? looks fascinating. I gave a copy to my dad but foolishly did not read it first. Great birthday haul, and happy birthday!

Jan 3, 2016, 12:54pm

Thanks & yes looks very intriguing

Jan 3, 2016, 1:29pm

The birthday haul should give you some variety in your reading!

Jan 3, 2016, 1:37pm

Christmas took place in 2015. Just saying.

Jan 3, 2016, 3:59pm

Yeah books that came in since Christmas count

Jan 4, 2016, 7:37am

At the moment i'm reading (since Christmas day - but bought before) Restless Cities and have started and am boggling over shooting straight guns gays and George Clooney

Jan 4, 2016, 8:43am

Good luck with your challenge and especially that self-imposed rule of 2-for-1. I only wish I had that kind of fortitude though I am contemplating a clearout of the tbr shelves. Get rid of some of those tomes that have been there for a few years and never made it close to the top of the next read list.

Jan 4, 2016, 9:04am

I'm going to be taking a ton of books with me to a games con I'm going to in February with the aim of selling them - the "get rid of pile" has also grown ;-)

Jan 5, 2016, 9:02am

First book of the year is Shooting Straight Guns, Gays, God

The tagline to this book reads - "Guns, Gays, God and George Clooney"

This was a present, I need to stress that right? I unwrapped this on Christmas day and thought - wuh?

But turns out that the gifter knew more about me than I thought - it was a compelling read, in a way, and repulsive too.

Morgan comes across exactly as you'd expect. There is somtheing amphibious or even mollusc-like about Morgan. His rampant ego, his superciliousness, the fact that he was the editor of the News of the World, the company he keeps. He's a huge fan of the royals, and Trump (except I wonder what he'd think about him now - the book was written in 2013) and literally fawns over Murdoch.

And for the first half of the book this was the car-crash entertainment of reading about him in his own words. He thinks he's being self-depreciating but it's not even vaguely funny (apparently Yanks don't get his weird English humour... well it's not just Yanks really) and not in the realms of humble brag, since there is a lot of just plain old-style playground bragging in there too. The book has naff all to do with George Clooney by the way, he's just one of the many names Piers feels he needs to say are his friends. It impresses me as much as a cab driver saying "I had that bloke from Eastenders in my cab once" - interviewing people is his job. He gets to go to parties where the rich and famous hang out, of course he's going to meet celebrities.

It's about him taking over from Larry King on CNN and written in 2010-2013, it'd be interesting to see how things have changed in the last couple of years I think.

When building his team at CNN some of King's people don't want to work with him - which is understandable.

"I suspected the hand of Wendy Walker, Larry's long-time producer, and erupted in anger in an email to Jonathan (his manager).

'Right,' I wrote. 'Fuck them. Let's go to war. Wendy and her coterie have wasted enough of our time.'
'I think you "Replied All", so they'll get the message loud and clear,' he wrote back.

There is a "Oh God I didn't" but no thought as to how hurtful that could have been...

There's a section on the phone hacking scandal, and how Rebekah Brooks is such a wonderful person unfairly treated, how in fact the whole tabloid industry is unfairly treated. Then he watches as Murdoch, who he absolutely gushes over, is giving evidence -

"... a protestor ran forward and tried to hot him with a custard pie. Rupert's young wife, Wendi, sprang from her chair and punched the guy. It was a magnificently quick, gutsy reaction. I was still laughing about it an hour later... "

There are also some interesting insights into the way the establishment has co-opted the 4th estate, which should hold them to account, not cosy up to them.

This bit on Gordon Brown especially -

"Gordon Brown is in LA to make some speeches, so Celia (Morgan's wife) and I had dinner with him and his wife Sarah tonight.

'Where are you watching the football match tomorrow?' he asked as the bill arrived. Arsenal, the team I've supported since I was a boy, were playing a big match.
'My place, want to join me?'
'That would be great'"

And so he does - I know Brown is no longer PM at that point, but isn't it a bit weird to be so friendly with a journalist? This is also what's wrong with Cameron having Coulson as his communications guy and being such good friends with Brooks. It's insidious.

A later episode, he just can't help brag about Prim Ministers he's met and talked to, is to do with the Queen. His gushing praise is so smarmy it is truly nauseous. However irritating it is to this republican to be told that anyone against the royal marriage (William and Kate) didn't understand the true meaning of royalty (spit) that's not the telling part:

"But if you ask me what the queen's most important 'point' is, I would say it's the weekly meeting she has with her prime minister.
I spoke to three of them - Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - about these encounters ... (They each go on to praise the Queen's wisdom, experience and intelligence. Brown said she's "never hesitate to challenge me on something if she didn't agree")
I suspect a lot more British government policy is decided over a cup of tea in those meetings than in any cabinet meeting."

And there, in a nutshell, is a major problem with the monarchy. They have a huge influence on policy. In private. With no accountability. Just because they were born to it. But this is no place for a republican rant!

But then there are signs of a turning point - there are a few mass shootings that he's sort of vaguely aware of and baffled by the average American's reaction to. But then his daughter is born and there is the Sandy Hook school shooting and suddenly he's all over gun control like a randy dog on a visitors leg. With as much subtlety and as welcome.

But! He actually makes good points and puts them across intelligently (in this writing - I can't really attest to how it came across on the show, this is in his own words after all) and persists in pushing for gun control on his show, despite, to some extent (the method, not the cause itself), it being against the wishes of his editor and manager.

I mean, he continues to hustle for ratings, he continues to name drop and brag (it sounds like he was all over Clinton like a rash, one caught in embarrassing circumstances too) but he does stick to his guns (pun intended) on the issue. It's nice to see someone being principled, but on Morgan it's a little weird. But good on him.

Sadly it kind of fizzles out - there is no crowning moment (he tries for that for an award he wins from an anti-gun organisation) but the book just kind of stops. The show was cancelled in 2014 - I'd have liked Morgan to write about it start to finish - but then he didn't know in 2013 that it'd be cancelled (probably) although ratings were plummeting and possibly the gun control stuff was his downfall?

As far as the prose goes, Morgan, being a former journo, can write good copy and it's a very easy read.

Jan 6, 2016, 2:40pm

Wow Pete, my hat's off to you as I doubt I could stand to read a whole book by Piers Morgan. I suspect it would get thrown across the room as he usually just has to open his mouth and I am repulsed.

Jan 6, 2016, 2:58pm

Sounds a bit masochistic, but it is sometimes good to read people you don't agree with.

Jan 6, 2016, 5:23pm

Piers Morgan wrote a book? My bad, apparently he has written more than one book. I see he tends to choose interesting titles for his books, not just the one you have reviewed. Learn something new every day. ;-0

Jan 7, 2016, 4:19am

If it wasn't a present I wouldn't have read it - or acquired it ;-) But I thought the gun angle was interesting. -Friends are telling me I should watch his show when Alex Jones was on - they said they "almost felt sorry for Piers"...

I've just been sent two ARCs from Newcon press - Digital Dreams and Obsidian a decade of horror (no touchstone yet) which fit in with my discoverability challenge :-) I've started on the SF one

Jan 7, 2016, 4:52am

I wonder if Morgan's book title was an homage to Huckabee's Guns, God, Grits and Gravy? They share a certain love of alliteration.

Jan 7, 2016, 5:16am

OK - so I watched the Alex Jones versus Piers Morgan on Youtube - not exactly enlightening & that's a whole lot of minutes of my life I won't get back...

Jan 15, 2016, 8:40pm

Really enjoyed your review-rant of Piers Morgan! Good on you!

Jan 24, 2016, 3:42pm

Please don't be hurt that I didn't read your assuredly wonderful review - it's just that I didn't want to be annoyed by Morgan today. I run hot and cold with him and am trying to maintain some Sunday chill here.

Still! Good luck this year with your 2-for-1 goal. If I'd done that, I'd have to have read 44 books by now. (Which, actually, is what I should be doing. I mean, yes, I could not have brought 22 books into the house, but what fun is that?!?)

Can't wait to see what book #2 is!

Edited: Jan 25, 2016, 6:24am

Thanks Lisa & Laura!

I've been away for two weeks in the Canaries getting some winter sun and sailing in an old Ketch - which was great and just what I needed :-)

I read a few books along the way and will update with reviews very soon:

Light on a dark horse - off the TBR
Galore - bought for the trip (tangentially about sailing I guess, although the man in the shop oversold that aspect methinks)
Obsidian - A decade of Horror by women ARC - no touchstone (discoverability challenge)
Digital Dreams - A decade of SF by women ARC (discoverability challenge)
Mutants ARC by Toby Litt - no touchstone
Refuge Collection Volume 1 - no touchstone (research, as I'm writing a story for Volume 3)
writing poems: bloodaxe - off the TBR (I'm performing at a Poetry evening on Wednesday - I don't write a lot of poetry so needed some help!)

I finished Mutants over breakfast this morning and, being back from hols now, will have the "what book should I read now?" task awaiting me when I get home from work :-)

I haven't quite finished Restless cities but suspect I will in the next day or so

I think I need a TBR category!

I think any book about writing I read will slot nicely into "lessons in literature" (talking of which I'd better get onto reading 1 of the books from the Nabokov soon!)

Jan 26, 2016, 7:37pm

Sounds like a wonderful vacation!

Jan 29, 2016, 5:14am

>30 lkernagh: - It was!

2 from Category 5 now -

At the beginning of the year Joanne Hall invited me to take part in her discoverability challenge as I'd commented on how few women I'd read in 2015. There's all sorts of data that shows that publishing is skewed towards men so it is important to make a conscious effort to read more women. The essence of the challenge is to read a female writer new to me at least once per month.

So it was with delight that I saw that NewCon Press, as part of their decade in publishing celebrations, were publishing two new anthologies with all women contributors.

Obsidian: A decade of horror


Digital Dreams

I immediately requested copies...

Included in both anthologies were names that I'd been meaning to get around to reading, and what better way to see if they were for me than to sample a short story by them. But the names that I didn't know I needed to read were just as valuable a find.

Digital Dreams has stories from Pat Cadigan, Kim Lakin-Smith, Heather Bradshaw, Sarah Singleton, Jaine Fenn, Una McCormick, Lauren Beukes, Tricia Sullivan, Nina Allen, Ruth Booth (an award winning story no less), Justina Robson, Rachel Armstrong, EJ Swift and Rebecca J Payne.

From space opera, to futuristic war, to new technology to a fear of flying. There's something to interest any SF fan. My personal favourite in this collection was The Crepuscular Hunter by EJ Swift - a very well-crafted dark tale of involuntary disconnection. I'd also highlight The Honey Trap by Ruth Booth and Collateral Damage by Jaine Fenn although, to be clear there weren't many that didn't hit the spot in this collection.

Of even more interest to me was Obsidian, since I've been getting back into horror recently. This has stories in by Sarah Pinborough, Liz Williams, Marie O'Regan, Kari Sperring, Tanith Lee, Kelly Armstrong, Alison Littlewood, Molly Brown, Donna Scott, Susan Sinclair, Lisa Tuttle, Emma Coleman, Maura McHugh and Laura Munro.

Donna Scott's tale of Grimoire's in The Grimoire was very clever and a must-read for any book lover, the Underfog by Tanith Lee and On the Grey Road by Alison Littlewood were both very good, the first being about wreckers and the second about Scottish folklore. Sarah Pinborough's Did you see? ticked all the right boxes for me. Maura McHugh's tale Valerie will stay with me for a while, and I won't look at rubber fetish gear the same way ever again! and Lisa Tuttle's Paul's Mother was really quite disturbing.

overall - it's obvious that NewCon have great taste and these collections showcase a lot of talent. I now have a longer list of names to look out for at the bookshop... and I read many female writers who were new to me.

If you can only afford to buy one of these books - borrow some money so you can get both!


Jan 29, 2016, 5:52am

Another Category 5

Mutants Essays is a collection of essays from accomplished novelist and creative writing lecturer Toby Litt. Full disclosure - I received my copy in return for a review here. I'll leave it to you to imagine how daunting it is to write a review/essay on someone so erudite and talented knowing that they will read it! Also knowing that I'm a fan and that Deadkidsongs is one of my favourite books should tell you that although this is an honest review, the expectation is that I would enjoy the book (spoiler alert - I did!)

The book is split into two halves - "What I think" and "Why I think it" and includes the text of several of Litt's summer lectures on creative writing. Litt teaches at Birkbeck which is one of the top Creative Writing courses on Unistats. And, judging by these lectures, you can see why. Being a writer, aspiring to be published, as I am they really hit the spot for me - but you don't have to be a writer to get something from them, for example you'll get an insight as to why some authors have the swing and others don't.

However these lectures, including one on how jazz can teach you about writing (hence the swing comment above), come after a series of essays on writers as varied as Tolstoy and Spark. It's obvious that Litt is well-read and reads well. These are insightful, and often entertaining essays. I especially liked the one on Muriel Spark, a writer I admire. The description of headfuck literature in an essay entitled - Headfuck fiction versus Carlos Labbé really chimed with me too, especially since I read Navidad Y Matanza in 2014.

The "what I think" section then is full of confident opinion pieces, but what of "why I think it?" Well here we get some insights into reading, on perversity, on monsters, on ghost stories and why historical fiction is problematic. These essays are just as insightful as the first half's. For example the essay on Sebald clarified what it is that I've been struggling to express about the writer since reading The rings of Saturn and The Emigrants.

I also enjoyed the essay on Hogarth and London, having attended the same exhibition that sparked the essay and the insight it gave into Litt's own novels - especially Hospital another of his books I'd recommend.

If there were any criticism it would be that some of the information contained in what are clearly originally standalone essays is repeated in others that were not originally meant to be read together. But there are only a couple of examples of this, and it didn't mar my enjoyment of the collection.

Overall - This is a collection you should read if you are interested in literature, in reading it or writing it and/or you're a fan of Litt's fiction.

Highly Recommended.

Feb 2, 2016, 4:58am

I started the Nabokov (but not yet Austen) and it is odd - the first chapter, on Austen, basically summarises the book with plenty of asides on what's good about the writing. Thing is I no longer feel the need to read it and am wondering about reading the others - if I've read the book the summarising will be annoying I think...

I took a break to read "a couple of essays" from A slip of the keyboard and read 2/3rd of it in one night, still it's a TBR book so that's good :-)

Feb 2, 2016, 5:38pm

>33 psutto: I love books like that, where you think "Oh I'll just read a little bit" and then the next thing you know 100 pages have passed :)

Feb 4, 2016, 6:14am

>34 rabbitprincess: Yeah it's great when it happens

the last few essays were a bit maudlin though, dealing with his thoughts on Alzheimers - such a tragic end :-(

Feb 4, 2016, 6:17am

I appear to be on an author's collected essays trip at the moment, just started wormholes occasional writings

However also snagged a copy of Best of Apex magazine volume one via Early Reviewers (even though I don't actually remember asking for it - I seldom check Early Reviewers any more) so i'd best start on that soon!

Feb 9, 2016, 8:28am

I appar to be reading several books at oce at the moment - not able to settle

What if? by the XKCD guy is entertaining to dip into and I'm still reading Wormholes and the Nabokov lessons in lkiterature book...

but I may dump them all for city of blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Feb 9, 2016, 1:47pm

>37 psutto: I appar to be reading several books at oce at the moment - not able to settle

That's how I have been recently too. I have started several things and not finished any of them. I would be enjoying what I was reading but for some reason I would put it aside and start something else. Now I am concentrating on one at a time to get them finished!

I want to read What If?. Glad to hear you're enjoying it.

Edited: Feb 16, 2016, 9:50am

Writing Poems (Bloodaxe Poetry Handbook)

This was more a 'why write poems' and 'how to write better poems' than a basic primer. This is not a one stop shop if you want to learn how to write poetry (or indeed write better poetry) and fails as a primer, assuming that you have the basics already. It also seems to assume that the reader will be teaching others to write poetry. Still it's a book that would be handy to you if you ever did decide to write poetry, but I can't help thinking that there are better out there. This does get a vast amount of great reviews, so perhaps there aren't?

Open to recommendations on writing poetry books...

Light on a Dark Horse by Roy Campbell

Campbell is like the poetic version of Hemmingway - he was a bullfighter, s deep sea fisherman, he fought in the Spanish civil war (on the side of Franco) and was fully immersed in 1920'2 & 30's literati society. He was born in South Africa and this book (the first in a two book anthology) covers his early childhood and early literary success. I would have like to learn more about his exploits in Spain and WW2, but that would mean tracking down volume 2, and I'm not sure I can be bothered.

Campbell is an interesting character but very not PC (surprise!) and pretty right wing. I've not read any of his poetry (which I think I should, just because I no know lots about his life) but expect it to be just as dismissive of leftish leanings.

It's an interesting read despite the dodgy politics, good old fashioned racism and misogyny because it does conjure a lost world of pre-world war two (he tried to sign up to fight in WW1 but was discovered to be too young).

I mainly got this because of As I walked out one Midsummer by Laurie Lee, where Lee meets the poet, who makes a big impression on him. The introduction to this book is by Lee.

Galore by Michael Crummay

A whale is washed up dead on the Newfoundland coast. There is a man in the belly. He is alive. He has miraculous powers. There is a sprawling family saga between the Sellers and Devine families. When I got to the end of part one I put it down and wasn't inspired to pick it back up again. i don't know how it ends and have no desire to find out. The writing wasn't bad as such, but the characters were studiously quirky and the type of family saga with no real plot didn't really do it for me.

The Refuge collection volume one

This is a collection of short stories set in the strange town of Refuge (where everything is clearly NOT alright) with more than a soupcon of horror. All the proceeds go to refugee charities and therefore it's worth supporting for that. Luckily it's also a great little collection where each story adds layers to the town and the recurring characters and with there being several more volumes coming I'll be following along. Full disclosure - I'll be writing a story for a later volume so there's that too.

Wired for story by Lisa Cron

Our brains are wired for story - it is a result of our evolution and why we are so successful as a species (if you believe that - and we aren't the equivalent of yeast about to drown in our own waste... ) and this book uses the science of psychology to highlight what good stories do. It is the usual mix of storytelling advice wrapped in a pop-psychology jacket. It is actually a good writing advice book. But it's not the only one out there and you may get on with another better. Anyone who tells you they have THE answer when it comes to storytelling is either mistaken or trying to sell you something...

Lectures on literature by Nabokov

I was so looking forward to this book. I have huge respect for Nabokov as a writer and looked forward to getting his insights into several classics. Sadly the lectures seemed to mostly be summaries of the books that were set texts for the course. Having struggled through Mansfield Park I flipped through the lectures on Bleak House and although there are gems in there (no doubt) they were buried in the summary. It's an odd mix, fully expecting the student (reader) to have read the text (which I confess I ddin't) but then spends around 80% of the lecture summarising what happened chapter by chapter and the other 20% is mostly detail about the period...

A slip of the keyboard by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett wrote numerous essays over the years, many of which were published in various newspapers. This book collects them together. They are, as you'd expect, amusing, erudite and eloquent. I sat down to read "a couple of essays" and before I knew it I'd read most of the book. This is an essential purchase for Pratchett fans and also well-worth buying if you are an aspiring writer (lots of insight into being a writer).

I found that for the last few chapters, as pTerry struggles with Alzheimers and the ethics of choosing your own way to die were just heartbreaking. For me (and until fairly recently I assumed everyone else but several people have disabused me of the notion) the fear olosing your mind is much greater than that of physical injury and the thought that you'd lose it by degrees knowing that you were losing it, and not being able to do anything about it, or end it whilst you were still you, fills me with horror. That it happened to someone like pTerry is a tragedy, and i did find that there was something in my eye as I read through some of those final chapters. In 2013 at World FantasyCon I had the chance to go and see pTerry in public for what was one of the last times. I decided that I didn't want to remember him struggling under the weight of the terrible disease that had took hold of him. Others that did said it was like watching a dragon die.

I did a tribute to Terry Pratchett for Far Horizons magazine which can be seen here:

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers

by Randall Munroe (XKCD)

The guy who draws XKCD has a blog where he allows people to ask stupid questions about science (he's a physics graduate & self-proclaimed science geek) which he'll try to answer with serious science. The questions are in the style of - "what would happen if the sun went out" or "what if i took a swim in a spent nuclear fuel pool." amongst many many others.

Munroe does both an admirable job of explaining the science simplistically and also give entertaining answers, with amusing illustrations. This is a bit of a dipping into book and ideal for the mini-library by the side of the toilet (what do you mean you don't have one?)


Feb 16, 2016, 2:00pm

>39 psutto: What If? really caught the attention of one of my autistic students. He regularly visits the website to see what's new there.

Feb 19, 2016, 9:59pm

>39 psutto:
Lovely article! Definitely putting A Slip of the Keyboard on the wishlist.

Feb 20, 2016, 4:52am

RIP Umberto Eco :-(

Feb 28, 2016, 4:12pm

>42 psutto: Oh no! I missed that sad piece of news. I'm planning on reading The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by him in March.

Feb 29, 2016, 4:33am

Best of Apex Magazine Volume 1

I received this book in return for a review

First of all - what a cover! I love this, and it really sets an expectation of quality that I'm glad to say was more than met by the stories inside. Usually with a collection of stories that are unthemed and from different authors there would be an unevenness and a hit and miss quality. This wasn't the case here - although not all the stories were to my taste there were certainly no bad ones. Indeed as a writer there were plenty of - 'I wish I'd written something like this' moments.

It was also very nice to read a few new authors, although there were also some old favourites (of mine) like Genevieve Valentine, Ken Liu and Rachel Swirsky all of whom didn't disappoint. Especially Valentine's story - Armless maidens of the American Midwest which was one of the stand out tales of the anthology.

Other tales that I especially liked were: L’esprit de L’escalier by Peter M. Ball which is a striking tale and one that stays with you for days, telling of a grieving man who decides to descend an endless stairway; Remember Day by Sarah Pinsker in which one day a year a veil is lifted from those who have voluntarily given up their memories of a horrible war and Advertising at the End of the World by Keffy R.M. Kehrli which managed to be both melancholy and creepy at the same time.

Overall I can give this a hearty recommendation. Maybe not all the stories will hit the right spots for you, but if you don't read it you'll be missing out on some excellent examples of the speculative.

Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood

I received this book in return for a review

Imagine what South Africa would be like now, if Mandela hadn't been released, if Apartheid didn't end, and where someone invents a device that allows for direct exchange of memories, thoughts and feelings.

We follow two characters - Martin, a white psychologist and Sibusiso, a black man suffering from PTSD after seeing a friend killed in a demonstration where the police use live rounds to disperse the crowd.

Martin, and a friend, have invented the device the plot revolves around. Despite the ethical quandary it poses he uses it to treat Sibusiso and risks his job, and after a warning from the secret police, his freedom.

There is the touch of a thriller as the box becomes an object that different groups desire, for different purposes. The ANC, the secret police etc. Both Martin and Sibusiso are thrown headlong into confronting the inherent nature of such an apartheid state - from different ends, white privilege and black oppression.

There's more than a hint of Orwell's 1984 here, especially with the fabled Room 619 (from which people do not return) although it is brought bang up to date and, as is pointed out in Imaginary cities (which has changed my perspective of dystopias permanently), each dystopia also contains someone's utopia and vice versa.

This is an intelligent book that manages to transcend the thriller style plot to be genuinely thought-provoking. Which is what speculative fiction should be.


Feb 29, 2016, 7:58am

>44 psutto: Both of those books sound like good ones for me.

Feb 29, 2016, 9:17am

>45 LisaMorr: I honestly enjoyed them both, unlike another review book I've got to try and find something nice to say about...

Mar 1, 2016, 8:16am

Process: The writing lives of great authors by Sarah Stodola

I find it interesting that this book started out as a method of procrastinating from writing. Stodola sought out other writer's processes whilst avoiding working. If you've ever wondered at the writing habits of George Orwell, Vladimir Nabokov, David Foster Wallace, Virginia Wolf and many many more - then this is the book for you.

Divided into sections such as Nine to Fivers (obvious) such as Kafka and autodidacts (I think that'd be most writers surely?) such as George Orwell and Winging it such as Salman Rushdie.

This is interesting for the sheer variety of approaches to writing as a career but I guess it's a fairly niche interest. Luckily I am well into that niche being a bit of a literature nerd.

I listened to the audio version of this book narrated by Andi Arndt who did bring it to life. However at the end of each chapter Stodola didn't really end with a hook or an obvious "and this is finished" and Arndt just stops so it took me a while to get used to this (as I was listening a chapter at a time)

If you're at all interested in the writing live of your favourite writers then you should check this out

Mar 6, 2016, 9:08am

Very happy to announce that I've signed a publishing deal!

I'm going to get the publisher to provide early reviewer copies here on LT...

Mar 6, 2016, 7:20pm

Huge congrats!!!!

Mar 6, 2016, 7:35pm

Woo hoo! Congratulations!!

Mar 7, 2016, 6:15am

Congrats Pete! Happy for you.

Mar 7, 2016, 6:58am

Amazing! Congrats!

Mar 7, 2016, 11:23am

And what a handsome picture, too!

Mar 7, 2016, 11:25am

Wow! Congratulations!!

Mar 7, 2016, 12:13pm

Thanks all!

Mar 7, 2016, 1:44pm

>48 psutto: Congratulations! That's a huge accomplishment.

Mar 7, 2016, 5:07pm

Wonderful news, Pete. Congratulations!

Mar 7, 2016, 5:53pm

Fantastic! Congratulations!

Mar 8, 2016, 3:23am

I hope that everyone will want to read a copy of A Tiding of Magpies when it comes out later this year ;-)

Talking of short story collections here's one the publisher sent me in return for a review (and I'm glad they did as I loved it)

The sign in the moonlight By David Tallerman (no touchstone -although it has been released)

David Tallerman's short fiction is commonly seen in all the best genre magazines and anthologies, which tells you that it is well-crafted. This collection showcases a short story writer of uncommon skill.

In here you'll find stories that brush the unknown with fingers outstretched, that send shivers down the spine, that paint with a palette of darkness. Tallerman is obviously influenced by past writers of the macabre in some of these tales but the range is much broader than that. Be he writing in the style of Victorian ghost tale, pulp era horror or modern his voice comes through.

Tales of mountain explorers, barrow dwellers, Santa Things, freezing deserts, soulful scarecrows and, of course, ghosts fill these pages and you'd be hard pressed to find an off note in the symphony of shadows. It is possible to find favourites though. I was especially taken with The facts in the case of Algernon Whisper's Karma a very clever tale of reincarnation. Also The war of the rats, written especially for this volume, was an utterly compelling tale of World War 1. Another favourite was the charmingly disturbing tale of My friend Fishfingerby Daisy, Aged 7.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this work to fans of Lovecraft, MR James, Algernon Blackwood et al as Tallerman can take his place amongst those, and other, master craftsmen of the dark tale.

Mar 8, 2016, 5:00am

>48 psutto: Congratulations! Let us know when each book is released?

Mar 9, 2016, 8:38am

>60 RidgewayGirl: - I sure will :-)

The short story collection will get a pre-order phase at a very cheap price on ebook, so I reckon that'll be the best way to get hold of it if you're not in the UK

I'll add any link here

I finished the Creative Compass last night - so will add a review to that soon

and I'm going to start This Census Taker by China Mieville tonight (and probably finish it too, it's pretty short)

Mar 10, 2016, 9:09am

Congratulations! I love the title for the collection.

Mar 10, 2016, 11:15pm

Just catching up on threads and saw your news -- congratulations! How exciting that they're publishing both a short story collection and a novel!

Mar 12, 2016, 7:23pm

>48 psutto: Congratulations! Very happy for you!

Edited: Mar 15, 2016, 1:24pm

Thanks everyone - I've been sent the cover this week and it is brilliant (something I've been pretty nervous about - a bad cover can kill a book)

I'll continue to share news here

In reading news I finished This Census-taker and started all the birds in the sky which is a bit YAish to start, but I'm hoping it'll improve when they become adults, but I'm not enamoured so far & almost at the 50 page rule...

Mar 15, 2016, 10:48am

>65 psutto: The touchstone for the Mièville works if you put the hyphen in. I hope you liked it!

Mar 15, 2016, 1:24pm

>66 mamzel: - aha! thanks for the tip. Yeah I liked it, not entirely sure what it's about, but I like it ;-)

Mar 15, 2016, 4:51pm

>67 psutto:
"not entirely sure what it's about, but I like it"
I'm intrigued. :)

Mar 16, 2016, 5:57pm

>48 psutto: - Congratulations on your very exciting news!

Edited: Mar 22, 2016, 9:34am

>68 -Eva-: - still thinking about it - it's an odd little book, but very good :-)

Far Horizons are running an Indiegogo -

Mar 22, 2016, 4:10pm

I've just finished all the birds in the sky which is being lauded. I don't get why. It's a very flawed book, starting as YA and with an uneasy lurch into possibly adult fantasy - a mix of science fiction and fantasy - a witch and mad scientist fall in love during the apocalypse basically. It was written in a weird POV - sometimes omni, sometimes close 3rd - which means you never really get close to the characters, besides which I was unable to identify with anyone in the book. The YA part has the terrible trope of all adults are against you. The book has a Deus Ex Machina ending and terrible writing in parts - so and so "got done" doing something - I get the US Slang, but really? If it came from a character's mouth then OK, but this was in plain narration. Also how do you furrow your eyes? you could say furrow eyebrows in an awkward way of saying frowned I guess? Or "she half-closed one eye in a sort of smile" - er?? or he half-grinned - why half? what does that look like in the mirror? There were far too many of these moments for me to enjoy it. Not recommended!

Mar 23, 2016, 8:11pm

Making note to avoid all the birds in the sky. Does not sound like my kind of read and it just sounds a little too 'out there' and with some interesting phrase choices. Pass.

Mar 24, 2016, 5:22am

It is being lauded - lots of 5 star reviews - I am mystified as to why though. I would have given up on it but it's a book group read...

Mar 24, 2016, 5:33pm

Darn those book group reads... ;-)

Mar 25, 2016, 12:03pm

Just started a rather fabulous collection called fight like a girl which reads like a who's who of female SF&F writers - hmm no touchstone, but then I did nab an early copy - launch next week

Mar 30, 2016, 4:03am

Fight like a girl

I received this book in return for an honest review. Happy to say I really enjoyed it.

Grimbold Books have called some of the best female genre writers together under a fantastic cover to tell tales of what it actually means to 'fight like a girl'. Of course that has been thrown as an insult by boys of all ages but what would it actually mean?

There are stories here that run a gamut of second worlds, near and far futures. There is a collection of superb female characters, often making tough choices. This is a rich and varied anthology.

As with all anthologies the variety may mean that not all stories hit the right note for all readers but there are no real duffers in here. With stories by the likes of Juliette McKenna, Gaie Sebold, Julia Knight, Lou Morgan and Joanne Hall (amongst other names you may recognise) you know there will be a quality selection.

There are women who are hard as nails, women who have tough choices and women who fight because life has left them no other option.

I was especially taken by Danie Ware's near future apocalyptic story, Unnatural History, in which the setting stood out, it would have slotted quite well into a collection of weird fiction, a particular favourite genre. Gaie Sebold's Fire and Ash takes control of your emotions in a fitting end to the collection. And those tough choices are rarely tougher than in Joanne Hall's Arrested Development

Also worthy of note were Turn of A Wheel by Fran Terminiello and Vocho's Night Out by Julia Knight - neither author I've read before and both I'd like to read more from.

And that brings me to the discoverability challenge. As with the NewCon Press collections I reviewed in January this is a great addition to the shelves as it has a number of female writers new to me, ones I'd like to read more from.

Overall - If you're a genre reader you need this book on your bookshelf

Apr 3, 2016, 9:29am

I went to the Fight like a girl book launch - you can read about it here:

Apr 7, 2016, 3:47am

this census-taker by China Mieville

China Mieville returns with yet another different book. This one a novella. It is extraordinary (being both remarkable AND unusual)

The narrator is less than reliable, in identity, in time, in tense, in age...

A boy ran down a hill path screaming. The boy was I ... He was nine years old, I think, and this was the fastest he'd ever run, and he stumbled and careered and it seemed many times as if he would fall into the rocks and gorse that surrounded the footpath, but I kept my feet and descended into the shadow of my hill.

This uncertainty in perception runs through the book. It opens with the boy telling the people in the village that his mother has killed his father, or was it that his father killed his mother? The narrative is built upon shifting sand and with each page Mieville poses a new question. But then answers each with ambiguity. This could, in lesser hands, be terribly unsatisfying but Mieville pulls it off with a flourish. It is all misdirection, all illusion, none of it is misdirection, none of it is illusion.

Why 'this' census taker? Who are the census takers and what are they taking censuses for? There are hints and prompts for supposition but there are no easy answers. I expect that this is the type of book that you have to read several times to fully experience, and that is either a masterpiece or not worth the effort - depending upon your point of view.

With well-written books you get the impression that the book is only the visible part of a larger body, like an iceberg. With this book Mieville has obfuscated the visible part and you are left with glimpses of a much larger world, through a foggy lens. It is a masterfully crafted puzzle box that ends on an acrostic. The meaning of which is just another hint, another question, another mist-shrouded viewpoint that makes you wonder, makes you question, makes you want to read it again.

A boy ran down a hill path screaming...

Overall - Mieville fans will have scooped this up, devoured it, left satisfied and yet wanting more. Non-Mieville fans can't really exist, can they?

Apr 7, 2016, 7:24am

I'll be doing a book launch on the 30th June if any local/semi-local folk would like to drop in...

Apr 7, 2016, 12:52pm

>78 psutto:
I got my copy early, but it's still waiting on the bedside table unread. It sounds fascinating, though. I want to have enough time to read most of it in one sitting, so I may have to bring it on vacation...

>79 psutto:
Congrats - hope it goes well!!

Apr 7, 2016, 2:33pm

>78 psutto: Non-Mieville fans can't really exist, can they? Sadly there are. I enjoyed the twisty viewpoint, ambiguous action, and up-in-the-airness of the story. And I thought that was a cool opening line with an immediate switch in POV.

Apr 7, 2016, 2:34pm

>78 psutto: It's a Mieville so I'll definitely be picking it up at some point. I still have a few of his that I've not got around to as yet though so probably not too soon.

>79 psutto: Manchester to Bristol is a bit too far for me to just pop in and say hello but I do wish you every success with it.

Edited: Apr 9, 2016, 5:55am

The Redensive Epiphanies of Pouty McNavel

Who is Pouty Mcnavel? What was their epiphany? And, perhaps most importantly, why was it redensive?

Find out in these tales collected in a short, but always entertaining collection. I enjoyed all of the stories and the exploration of just what it all means. And I think you will too.

Written by known and unknown writers inclusing David Gullen, Gaie Sebold and Helen Callaghan this is definitely a collection that will fit on your bookshelf next to say last drink bird head

As a bonus there are some excellent and remarkable arty photographs in here

Overall - a thoroughly enjoyable quick read

Apr 15, 2016, 4:53am

As I'm racing towards a novel deadline I have been reading poetry - Dystopia 38:10 and writing books (I tend not to read fiction whilst writing a book in case I unconsciously start using another's voice)

So in quick order I read: Revision: An author's guide which was useful and I'll definitely be applying some of the advice

Fiction First Aid - which I found to be an excellent guide to writing


Writing Dialogue which didn't really do anything for me - I found the narrator a little weird really (I mean his very first piece of advice is to write down everything you say, to anyone, and his second was that you should always eavesdrop on other people's conversations and write them down)

I also read a lot of magazines whilst writing so my TBR isn't really going down this month.

I have ordered Fellside though and holding off on reading that when it's in my sweaty little hand will be difficult!

Apr 16, 2016, 7:20pm

"always eavesdrop on other people's conversations"
Erm, not sure that would be a popular move. :)

Apr 17, 2016, 6:01am

"always eavesdrop on other people's conversations"
Erm, not sure that would be a popular move. :)

It seems most governments do it these days so why not?

Apr 17, 2016, 5:05pm

>48 psutto: Congrats, Pete!

Apr 17, 2016, 7:16pm

>86 AHS-Wolfy:
True. But still not appreciated. :)

Apr 25, 2016, 7:53am

All is quiet as I'm only reading poetry and books about writing (technical craft ones) as I work to deadline - I need to send a draft of my novel to my publisher end of May...

Hands up if you'd like a copy of the short story book? (coming end of June) - I'll probably do some giveaways

Apr 25, 2016, 12:31pm

>89 psutto:
Well, yeah! Very difficult to write a review for a friend's book, though... :) As you well know... :)

Apr 26, 2016, 4:18am

>90 -Eva-: - Of course

May 3, 2016, 5:21am

Continuing to read books about English and writing - the well-tempered sentence is good and short introduction to punctuation - am just reading The transitive vampire which is in the same vein...

aspects of the novel I didn't really get on with - lots of people quote it but it took a looooong time to say anything and I didn't have the patience (it's really short but I never finished)

Good English: How to speak and write it was interesting from a historical point of view - how much the world has changed since the 40's eh? Wouldn't recommend this one - I only read it as I picked it up at a charity bookshop for less than £1

Literary Bristol: Writers and the city This was a collection of academic papers from different authors and I found a lot of them quite dry - if there was a pop version of this it'd be great, as it was it was a bit of a slog - Bristol is the home of many great writers (now, and in the past) and it was nice to read of Chatterton, Southey, Coleridge, Angela Carter (she went to Bristol Uni and her first three books are known as the Bristol Trilogy), Diana Wynne-Jones and others...

Inspired by the book (I've read Carter a long time ago) I picked up, and have started shaking a leg which is a real chunkster at over 700 pages...

May 10, 2016, 4:38pm

Read the rather amazing Fellside for which I need to do a review, and am now reading Little, Big which is failing to grip me - but I'll give it a bit of a chance, am on page 100 out of over 500...

Edited: May 17, 2016, 4:31am

My short story collection is listed on Amazon - the Kindle version coming soon.

May 15, 2016, 2:33pm

I read an ARC of Helen Cunningham's Dear Amy which I'd highly recommend if you like psychological thrillers - I'll do a proper review next week

May 17, 2016, 4:04pm

I have review copies of my short story collection - A Tiding of Magpies - mail me at BRSBKBLOG (at) (my blog address) if you'd like to have one in return for a review!

May 18, 2016, 5:54am

Just finished distrust that particular flavour on audio, a lot of the essays are historical, but Gibson does a note on each one at the end - and many of them are entertaining despite being dated, and some because they are dated. I'd say if you're a Gibson fan this is a worthy purchase, if you're not already a fan it's of limited interest - I enjoyed it, despite not having read much Gibson, and the stuff I read was a long time ago - his essay on buying a watch from eBay (in the VERY early days of eBay) was fascinating :-)

May 20, 2016, 5:56am

I've added A Tiding of Magpies (no touchstone) to the member giveaways - there are a few copies (ebook) if you're quick - I'd like a review in return for the book please!

May 24, 2016, 1:59pm

Reviews - Crime triple bill

It's a bit of a coincidence but in the week leading up to Bristol Crimefest I read three (very different from each other) crime books:

Fellside by M.R. Carey

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan


I Was Dora Suarez (Factory 4) by Derek Raymond

Fellside is a book set in a women's prison and has a supernatural bent. Dear Amy is about a missing girl and is a psychological thriller and I was Dora Suarez is a deep black noir - the three books are tonally different from each other. But each very good.

Fellside - The Fellside of the title is a maximum security women's Titan prison in Northern England. Jess Moulson sets a fire to kill her abusive boyfriend and instead kills a little boy and is sent down for murder. When she reaches prison she decides to take her own life, in the only method available, by hunger strike. However the ghost of the little boy she killed will not let her take that easy escape.

Carey is a master of pace with each sentence, each paragraph, each page, each chapter a hook that pulls you through the story. It's really rather marvelous to experience. This is a page-turner and I devoured it.

It reminded me a little of Carey's first Felix Castor book with a ghost seeking resolution and the main character seeking redemption. But it's of a different flavour to that book. Jess is a compelling lead and the cast of characters are well set up and well drawn, and believable.

In Dear Amy, another book with a female protagonist, Margot Lewis, an agony aunt receives a letter from a girl who had gone missing assumed abducted many years ago, which leads her down a very long dark rabbit hole indeed. Callaghan has created a taut thriller full of entertaining turns as Margot follows the clues as to how she could possibly be receiving these letters from someone presumed dead for years.

This is an impressive debut and I suspect that Callaghan is going to be huge. This deserves a large readership and I heartily recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers.

I also am very happy to say that I have a blog piece from the author - coming up next post...

Whilst it doesn't have a female protagonist I was Dora Suarez would be both incomplete without the voice of the victim and poorer. With one of the most brutal, and effective openings to a book I've ever read this immediately alerts you that this is an author that is going to paint with a palette of darkness.

Part of the Factory series, but standalone, this follows the investigation of a brutal axe murder by an unnamed Detective Sergeant who falls in love with the dead girl. The fact that the girl was dying of AIDS before the murder adds a level of poignancy to what could otherwise be a salacious crime novel.

As a dark reflection of Thatcher-era Britain, in a filth-encrusted mirror, it is a deeply disturbing read. It is also a darkly compelling tale.

I don't often read crime, but my foray into the genre has been interesting. I highly commend all three books.

Now I'm off to read E M Forster's A Room with a View to take a break...

May 24, 2016, 7:35pm

>100 psutto: I was always going to be picking up Fellside but looks like I should keep an eye out for the other two authors as well.

May 26, 2016, 5:34am

>101 AHS-Wolfy: - I was Dora Suarez won't be to everyone's tastes but I highly recommend Dear Amy

May 27, 2016, 3:39am

A room with a view by E M Forster

I really enjoyed this romantic comedy - Forster writes with style and wit and to anyone familiar with the Merchant Ivory film with Helena Bonham Carter it will feel very familiar. Lucy Honeychurch, along with chaperone Charlotte Bartlett, holiday in Florence where George Emmerson steals a kiss on one sunny afternoon trip. When Lucy returns to England she agrees to marry Cecil - but when George moves in to a house close by all her careful plans go astray.

It's written with an obvious love of Italy and a clear view of English character, and well-defined characters - there is an over the top Edwardian-ness to it that's just delicious.

This is rightly a classic and a very easy and enjoyable read

Edited: May 27, 2016, 3:51am

Next up - One flew over the cuckoo's nest - I watched a documentary on Kesey (and the magic bus) recently which prompted me to buy the book in a second-hand shop - I am expecting it to be very different to the film (based on Kesey's comments in the documentary)

I also visited Shakespeare & Co last night to catch a poetry reading (I'm working in Paris this week) and, of course, walked away with a couple of books - better living through criticism I was vaguely aware of the Twitter storm over A O Scott's review of the first Avengers film and having recently been accused of "hating films" (because of criticising e.g. Star Trek into Darkness and Interstellar) this caught my eye...

I also bought Magic Hours which looks quite interesting - with essays on David Foster Wallace Werner Herzog & Tommy Wiseau - how could I resist?

May 27, 2016, 8:42am

>104 psutto: Last week I was reading about Shakespeare & Co during the German Occupation. Sylvia Beach sure was a courageous lady!

Jun 2, 2016, 10:48pm

>103 psutto: So glad you enjoyed A Room with a View -- it's one of my favorites!

Jun 8, 2016, 5:12am

I tried to read The Centaur by Updike but abandoned it - he's rather fond of alliteration, which was a bit distracting and weird in such a lauded novelist, but the reason I stopped was for me the marrying of myth with modern day never felt real. It just didn't work for me and I kept putting the book down and then being reluctant to go back to it - so I knocked it on the head - not recommended

Jun 11, 2016, 11:36am

I'm almost at the end of Magic Hours which is uneven, but fun - especially enjoyed the essays about Herzog (I'm a big fan) and Tommy Wiseau's The Room (if you haven't seen this film you really must)

I read Power of the Dog for book group - it was OK, not as powerful as it was made out to be by the bookseller, I may or may not get round to doing a review, as ever my writing time is now taken up with my own writing

talking of which -

I've just remastered a book I edited Former Heroes that you can now pre-order -

& I've just written a long short story for The Refuge collection called The Detective's Tale - all proceeds from the sale of this story (and it's only 99 Cents) go directly to refugee charities - so I'd appreciate it if you'd buy a copy. I think it stands alone but you may get more from it if you read the first volume. The tale will be in Volume 5 and in the second collected issue (once Volume 6 is completed)

My book launch for A Tiding of Magpies is going to be on the 30th of June & it's available on Amazon worldwide: - There are copies on Member's Giveaways and I'd love to collect a few reviews from you guys :-)

I've just (end of May) handed in my second novel - Sick City Syndrome - and my first novel - Seven Deadly Swords - is currently being edited by the publisher All very exciting :-)

Edited: Jun 12, 2016, 7:40pm

>94 psutto:

>103 psutto:
Such a beautiful book.

>104 psutto:
Very, very different indeed. Be prepared for some drug-induced chapters. :)

Jun 12, 2016, 6:54am

>108 psutto: 2nd novel done already? Congrats! Are you trying to outdo Brandon Sanderson in prolificness?

Jun 13, 2016, 6:19am

>109 -Eva-: - Thanks! I really enjoyed One flew over the cuckoos nest too :-)

>110 AHS-Wolfy: - average of one book a year so far ;-)

I've had the first advanced review of A Tiding of Magpies from a complete stranger (to me) and it's lovely!

Jun 13, 2016, 12:57pm

>111 psutto:
Wow, congrats! Those are some very nice words indeed - must feel amazing!

Jun 14, 2016, 10:15pm

Congratulations on all the success that is finally coming your way. That is a wonderful review and one that should make you feel very proud!

Jun 17, 2016, 12:09pm

Thanks - and yes it's a lovely feeling. Dreading the first bad review - it's bound to happen! Even if I know it's mainly about taste its still going to sting I think :-o

Anyhow I have finished a book and done a review - full disclosure I've met Neil socially and he's a nice chap - but then I've met lots of writers, and I don't give all of them glowing reviews...

Secret Language by Neil Williamson

I thoroughly enjoyed The Moon King, Williamson's novel published in 2014 and eagerly awaited more from the author. So when I saw that he was bringing out a collection of shorts I jumped at the chance to grab an ARC in return for a review. Sadly my own writing has mean that this review is coming slightly later than planned, but not because I had any problems with the book, just purely time to put my thoughts in order.

Williamson says that he was obsessed with secret languages as a child and some of that has obviously bled into his prose. No more than in The secret language of stamps a very effective and menacing tale about stamp collecting. He also mentions that he's a musician and music plays in the background of many of his stories and takes centre stage for stories such as Arrhythmia which was shortlisted for the BSFA award.

But there is much more to enjoy with these stories than these obvious notes. Williamson has a knack for effective prose and le mot juste and for that alone his stories are a pleasure to read. However it is in the realm of ideas that any true writer of speculative fiction will be judged, and if this collection is anything to go by Williamson passes judgement, with flying colours.

I think my favourite in this collection if I can be so crass to pick a favourite amongst so many quality stories, is Lost Sheep. With a few deft swipes of the writing brush Williamson conjures an entire universe. And you don't see many stories that feature a spaceship full of ruminant nuns!

I enjoyed it so much I'm going to buy it in hard copy. If Williamson is speaking a secret language it is one that resonates, surprises and entertains and one that it would be worth your while learning by picking up a copy.


Jun 20, 2016, 12:20pm

Congratulations on all the news on the writing front!

Jun 26, 2016, 9:23am

It's so nice to have a published author in our midst. And critically acclaimed as well! Congrats!

Jul 2, 2016, 9:13pm

Well, I just finished A Tiding of Magpies - HUGE congrats on a fantastic book!

Jul 3, 2016, 10:18am

>117 -Eva-: thanks Eva! What a lovely review you gave me!

Jul 3, 2016, 10:18am

& thanks Mamzel :)

Jul 6, 2016, 4:08am

Silence rides alone by Charles Millsted

In the 70's & early 80's there were always Westerns on TV, along with repeats and old B&W movies, especially Laurel & Hardy. But I grew up watching a variety of Westerns, including Bonanza, Maverick and an endless repeat of John Wayne, John Ford and other western films. Later I graduated to Clint Eastwood and the Spaghetti Westerns and films like Unforgiven.

Millsted's book is more in the vein of my earlier viewing and therefore a nice nostalgic read. The book opens with the Nussbaums doing what many have done before, going west in a covered wagon. When the wagon is attacked our eponymous hero arrives on the scene to help Manny Nussbaum find out who and why his family were attacked.

"My name is J.T. it's just short" Silence has his own grief from past tragedy and when their investigations cross there is hell to pay.

Millsted does well to build the characters quickly, with a memorable supporting cast including a military intelligence officer confined to a wheelchair and a gunman in the Lee Van Cleef mould called Van Hook. Corrupted officials, ranch owners and their daughters, saloon whores etc. The plot whizzes along gathering steam until the final very memorable showdown.

This has everything you want from a western, and I highly recommend it

Jul 14, 2016, 12:29pm

I have just finished Bleakwarrior by Alistair Rennie and I can honestly say I've never read anything quite like it - I wasn't sure at first but it definitely grew on me and I really enjoyed it - I'll do a proper review soon

Just snagged an ARC of Gaie Sebold's Sparrow Falling which I've dived right into

Jul 19, 2016, 7:07am

Really enjoyed Sparrow Falling by Gaie Sebold (no touchstone?) and also read a weird little book Memory Theatre which was very short (70 odd pages with pictures) and was more a long short story - the narrator receives a set of boxes, labelled with the zodiac from a philosopher colleague and discovers that there is an astrology chart mapping out his own life with startling accuracy. It was OK, lots of name dropping of philosophers and the denouement wasn't totally shocking, but an enjoyable short read

Am now reading Zen in the art of writing by Bradbury

I'll do a proper review of the Sebold (if you enjoyed the first get the second) and Bleakwarrior (if you like weird fantasy go and get a copy) soon

Jul 22, 2016, 8:29am

Zen in the art of writing

Bradbury is instantly recognisable of course and a book of essays from him, his thoughts on the craft, of much interest. However it is a bit of a mixed bag, as the essays have been written over a long period of time and there is quite a lot of repetition. When he's good he's very very good, but often he's mediocre. At the end of the book are a set of poems, which was a little unexpected.

Essays like - 'How to keep and feed a muse" and "On the shoulders of giants" were of most interest. I could see that if you were a big fan, getting an insight on how he developed the ideas that became Dandelion Wine, or Fahrenheit 451 would also be great reads, but I was less interested in them.

Overall - a so-so book about writing, one for the fans

Sparrow Falling

Make no mistake you need to have read the first book to get the most from this, the second in the series. However, although there is no precis of the former I was soon back into the swing of Sebold's Dickensian steam and gas London. This is more a function of being back with instantly recognisable characters like fox-spirit Liu, the brilliant Ma Pether and, of course, Evvie Sparrow herself.

In this installment the plot revolves around the school and an unsavory sort called Stug. When Evvie suspects Stug of doing something wicked with the children of families he houses as a slum landlord she becomes embroiled in the workings of the Fair Folk.

There is plenty here to enjoy, I wish Sebold had done more with the flying machine (although I'm guessing she's setting that up for next time) and the plot charges you along without you really noticing. Until the last few pages are gripped and released.

Overall - Thoroughly entertaining steampunk


"The Folly of Brawl is a tower of disproportionate girth, besmirched at the base with festering lichens and nettled clumps" - so starts one of the most idiosyncratic books I've read for a while. Bleakwarriror is a metaphysical romp disguised as swords and sorcery disguised as a metaphysical romp.

The Bleakwarrior of the title is a meta-warrior - a 'physical expression of natural states that serve no purpose beyond their immediate function.' a wandering masterless killer seeking his purpose. Each dense chapter is stuffed full of memorable characters (all the meta-warrirors are great, it's a real shame when some of them kill others because some deserve larger parts) and along the way he is helped or hindered (mostly hindered) by others of his kind.

This is foot to the metal, balls-out, foaming at the mouth prose and yet at the same time lush dense verbiage that deserves to be fondled and savoured. How Rennie achieves such a dichotomy is beyond me. This is not for the squeamish or prudish - there is much gratuitous violence and even more gratuitous sex. It is also a book that you need to put your brain in another gear before reading - but what a pleasure it is once you are on the same plane.

This is like Hunt Emerson meets Gormenghast. Very much in the weird and very much a book that defies quick review.

So please make your way to the nearest convenient source of books and purchase a copy

If you are still not convinced read this great review which does it more justice than I ever could.

Overall - Highly recommended but treat with approrpiate care, it's not an easy book but it is a good one

Aug 8, 2016, 8:51am

Finished mountains of the mind which is very well-written but I wish he'd done a whole book on Everest instead as that was by far the best chapter!

Just started an ARC Cinema Alchemist and have been sent two other ARCs House of shattered wings and Shakespeare versus Cthulhu so some good reading coming up :-)

I'm off to 9 Worlds Geekfest this weekend - so am bound to pick up a book or two...

Aug 8, 2016, 10:15am

>124 psutto: Didn't see your name on the guest list so I'm guessing you're going just for fun. Have a great time.

Aug 9, 2016, 10:52am

Yep just for fun :-)

Aug 9, 2016, 1:56pm

>124 psutto:
I just looked at the pics from last year and it looks like a lot of fun! Have a great time!

Aug 16, 2016, 7:19am

Just finished art and fear on Audio - it was interesting, occasionally useful but ultimately forgettable

Aug 26, 2016, 11:03am

Michael Faber - Under the skin

This was recently made into a film (a major motion picture in the jargon of the industry) starring Scarlett Johanssen which I haven't seen. It is the story of Isserley, a female driver who cruises the Scottish Highlands picking up hitchhikers. I'm not sure it's much of a spoiler to say - she's an alien - but Faber seems to think so as he doesn't explicitly reveal that fact for a third of the book, although it's obvious from very early on. For some reason that conceit is a little irritating - it's a bit like watching a zombie movie where no-one is saying the z-word.

The glimpses into the POV of her victims is fairly repetitive, apparently all men can think of are tits - but then again that is her main feature, as Faber continuously tells us.

On a sentence by sentence level this is good writing. It just failed to engage me overly much, although I read it in just a couple of days of easy reading. And in the end it left me a little cold and unchanged. But I do want to watch the film to see how it has been adapted.

Overall - It may just be a very long advert for vegetarianism

Aliette de Bodard - The House of Shattered Wings

Paris has been devastated in a great war between rival houses. Fallen angels are the source of magic in the city and they scrabble around in the ruins vying for domninon. Mortals and immortals all chasing the last wisps of magic in a corrupted world. This book mainly revolves around the story of Silverspires, one of the great houses, formerly the greatest with Morningstar himself as its head. As we follow a cast of characters, as flawed and broken as the city they inhabit.

There is a murder mystery conceit but that just serves as a vehicle for intense character exploration. Mainly of the mysterious Vietnamese Philippe and the ingenue Isabelle, newly fallen and tied to Philippe though his imbibing of her blood (since fallen are the source of magic, people tend to harvest them). There are a host of interesting minor characters, although at the beginnign I was mixing some of the minor, less fleshed out characters up.

There's a lot here to like - the grand houses, the magical system, strong imagery and character. I would have liked to have seen more of post-fall Paris (a city I know quite well through many visits) but it's a world that Bodard will obviously return to. And some of it needs to be returned to I feel, I'd like to explore the under the Seine kingdom more and see inside the other houses so I will definitely return to the world once she writes more.

Overall - Enjoyable aftermath tale featuring fallen angels battling for Paris

Roger Christian - Cinema Alchemist

Roger Christian is the legendary set designer for Star Wars and Alien and if that in itself doesn't make you want to pick up this book where he tells all about his experiences working on those films then I'm not sure what will.

The iconic nature of the films is such that any insight into how they were made is welcome. But especially the art department's role in creating some of the most recognisable characters - including of course R2D2 & C3PO.

Christian has obviously polished some of the anecdotes that appear in this book and it is a delight to see the films through his eyes, as well as the directors, actors and other crew. Tales of regular ten hour drives back and forth through the desert during low-tech days without mobile phones seem like a different world (the past is a different country after all)

If I had any criticism, and this is only very minor as I hugely enjoyed the book, Christian has the tendency to repeat himself - for example telling you there was a Roman road to Tozeur and then a few pages later telling you the drive to Rozeur is down a straight Roman road or the description of the Chinese restaurant is repeated a page later, or saying that there were no cellphones on page 124 and then repeating it on page 125. It happened so often that it was a little distracting once I'd noticed it and I think a good copy-editor could have picked up on that and smoothed it out for the reader. But, as I say, a minor criticism.

I enjoyed the Alien chapters more than Star Wars, but mostly because I'm a bigger fan of Alien than Star Wars (Geek friends don't hate me!) It was also interesting to read about his own directorial work on his own film Black Angel and his stint on Life of Brian (which re-used a lot of the same locations as Star Wars as any good fan knows)

There are a set of nice photographs of Star Wars and a storyboard of Black Angel but I wondered why there were no pictures of Alien.

Overall - This is an excellent book to add to the shelf if you are a Star Wars or Alien fan or any sort of film buff.

Aug 26, 2016, 4:06pm

Love your "overall" review for Under the Skin!

Aug 31, 2016, 8:05am

Edited: Sep 2, 2016, 12:49pm

Hey Jonathan L Howard fans - he's currently in Atlanta for DragonCon!

Sep 13, 2016, 6:04am

I very rarely read series nowadays but have just started on the (so far) excellent A city of blades by Robert Jackson Bennett - I really recommend the first City of Stairs to all fantasy fans

Sep 28, 2016, 6:18am

Sep 28, 2016, 7:34am

Wow, congrats!

Sep 28, 2016, 7:34am

>134 psutto: Congrats!!

Sep 28, 2016, 1:01pm


Sep 29, 2016, 10:17am

Thanks :-)

My first novel, with my first publisher is out in October - I hope to be able to do a LT Giveaway for it

Oct 1, 2016, 6:20am

>134 psutto: Congrats Pete! Great news for you.

Oct 1, 2016, 10:33am

>134 psutto: Excellent news! Congratulations!

Oct 3, 2016, 9:31am

Thanks all

I am reading Frankenstein again for book group - I'm reading the 1831 version, Claire is reading the 1818 version and we are comparing notes...

Oct 5, 2016, 6:57am

The Good Immigrant Edited by Nikesh Shukla

From the back - "What's it like to live in a country that doesn't trust you and doesn't want you unless you win an Olympic gold medal or a national baking competition." This Unbound book was inspired by a comment on a Guardian article (don't they always tell you to never read the comments?) The commenter wondered why a more prominent author wasn't interviewed in a piece by an Asian journalist who had interviewed five or six people of colour. The commentator supposed that they were all friends of the journalist just because they were mostly Asian too.So the editor got together twenty writers of colour to talk about what it felt like to be a person of colour in modern day Britain. This was written before the Referendum though, so I can only imagine that it has got worse.

Hence there are personal stories about anglicisation of names, the treatment of Muslims at airports, what it felt like to have no good role models and therefore to choose Kendo Nagasacki as one, why stories have to be about white people and many more.

This is good writing and it is important writing. Representation is massively important and in today's social climate needed more than ever. I was very happy to support this on Unbound and glad it was such a great read, as well as being something I'd like to place in the hands of nearly everyone. Read this, it's important, I'd say...

If you want an idea of the quality & type of writing then you can read this piece by Riz Ahmed.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

What does it mean to be a soldier? This question lies at the heart of the second book from Robert Jackson Bennet in the series. A glittering, multi-faceted gem of a book it is too. I seldom invest in series, the author has to be just damn good to get me to buy more than one book in the same world and few make the mark. Bennett is one of them (Dave Hutchinson is another - see below). City of Stairs was bold, it felt fresh, it ticked all the epic fantasy boxes that I wanted to be ticked (caveat - I'm not a massive epic fantasy fan, you have to do something special in the genre to make me want to read it) and it was just a rollicking good read.

So I approached City of Blades with some nerves - I knew Bennett hadn't planned to write a sequel, I knew it wasn't going to be about exactly the same characters (although Mulaghesh is the main protagonist - and a fabulous kick-ass character too) and, although set in the same world, wasn't going to be in enchanting Bulikov.

Once I'd read a few pages any reservations I had were blown away. Bennett has the knack of grounding you in the story, you are immediately with the characters, absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of the world he's transmitting into your brain via the written word. It's a skill I am totally envious of.

General Turyin Mulaghesh has quit but is persuaded to come back for one last mission on behalf of now PM Ashara. The mission? To find a missing member of the government, someone who was investigating a new type of ore found beneath Voortyashtan, the home city of the former god of war and death. And so Bennett pulls out of the hat a second, brilliantly imagined, city in the same world as City of Stairs with an engaging plot, a new cast, with some cameos by old favourites, and a book that builds up to a page-turning second half.

I highly recommend this series to all, but especially to fantasy fans

Europe in Winter By Dave Hutchinson

To reveal any of the plot would just involve massive spoilers at this, the third book, so suffice to say we are back with Rudi and the Coureurs and we get to explore some of the loose ends of the previous two novels and get engaged in exciting new plots and plot twists.

If you haven't read the first two books then you need to remedy that! Set in a fractured Europe where the EU has mostly failed and the countries of Europe are breaking into ever smaller kingdoms and polities these books have a thriller/spycraft feel but with a healthy dose of near-future SF.

Hutchinson is a master of the splintered novel with a great many moving parts that in a lesser writer's hands would feel chaotic and random. If you've got this far however you'll know to trust that everything, all the various twits, turns, apparent digressions (that aren't) sub-plots and minor characters are there for a purpose that makes a coherent and quite brilliant whole.

I love that Hutchinson explores parts of Europe that are under-represented in other fiction - places like Poland and Estonia. I really enjoyed the Polish section as I've spent some time in that country working and Hutchinson's description gelled very much with that.

The fact that the first two books made the Clarke Award shortlist should tell you that this is an author to watch and watch I will.

Another highly recommended book.

I've also finished on audio - Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, which was a little tree-huggy but engagingly written and well-narrated

I'm still ploughing through Shaking a Leg which is a mammoth collection of Angela Carter's journalism

and finished how to write tales of horror, fantasy and science fiction - a collection of how-to tips by various published authors which was OK but I picked it up at a second hand stall, not worth buying first hand I think

Last month I was at FantasyCon in Scarborough where I did a reading and was on a panel
This month its Bristol HorrorCon, Bristol Festival of Literature and BristolCon - all the bookish events in my home city so no doubt my TBR will grow!

My novel - Sick City Syndrome is now available on Kindle and print -

I'd love it if you bought a copy (the Kindle is dirt cheap) and posted an honest review - it's my first published novel so it's going to have some warts, I am learning my craft after all...

Oct 18, 2016, 3:43am

Reviews - Two by Teodor Reljic & Starve better by Nick Mamatas
Two books of two halves

Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror…

Nick Mamatas has written a book in two halves - Lies and Life. I read this for the Lies part - his advice to writers and there was plenty of interesting advice from the writer and editor. I like that some of it chimed with my own writing, a celebration of ambiguity for example. Mamatas gained a bit of notoriety for earning money from writing term papers for students for money and the second half of the book, the starve better part, was how to earn fast cash as a writer. Some of which was morally er, ambiguous and I enjoyed that section a lot less.

Overall - if you are a writer you can live without this, but if you do happen to pick it up you may find something inside of use.

Two by Teodor Reljic

Full disclosure - I was introduced to Teo by a mutual friend at the recent Fantasycon where he gave me a copy of his book.

First things first - this is a beautiful book - the cover, the designs, the red tint to the pages - it's a visual delight. Luckily the story lives up to the promise of the outside - Reljic tells two tales (hence the title) at once, but in interspersed chapters - those following William and those following Vermillion, the protagonist of a story William's mother has been telling him. William and his parents are on their annual trip to Malta and when things go awry William retreats more and more into the Vermillion stories. The writing is dreamy, and poetic and often exquisite:

She lets words fall one by one, like they’re meant to die after they leave her mouth to be reborn in your mind.

William's POV is convincing and the story feels both complete and open, and there’s that ambiguity that I mentioned as recommended by Mamatas and I often explore in my own writing.

Overall - this is a book that will reward re-reading and is in a very appealing style. I really enjoyed it and look forward to seeing more from this author.

It is worth me stating, since there is a personal connection here, that plenty of people give me books to review, or I obtain books written by friends but I don't always fall in love with them enough to write a review.

Oct 24, 2016, 9:02pm

>134 psutto:
HUGE congrats!! That is just brilliant news - well done!!

Oct 27, 2016, 5:23am

>144 -Eva-: Thanks! It'll be out in 2018!! Meanwhile there may be another book next year - watch this space...

Nov 1, 2016, 7:28pm

Wow, you are in a prolific space, eh?! Nice!!

Nov 2, 2016, 7:37am

:-) that "may be" is whether I can complete the one I'm working on before end of April...

Nov 17, 2016, 5:36am

As usual I'm way behind on reviews

I'd recommend Lovecraft country, the loney and all the birds, singing though - read in October

Currently reading curiosity

Nov 23, 2016, 10:10am

I've had some really nice reviews for sick city syndrome but too few - if you'd like a copy in return for a review let me know

See what others are saying on Amazon -

Nov 29, 2016, 10:57pm

>149 psutto:
Already picked up a copy on Amazon US (didn't really hesitate about that after reading A Tiding Of Magpies...!) Looking forward to reading!

Dec 19, 2016, 6:24am

>150 -Eva-: - Thanks!

Dec 20, 2016, 8:04am

It's the end of the year post!

As ever the end of the year prompts a "best of" round up.

I've read 90 books this year (way down on previous years - but due to writing a novel and publishing a short story collection!)

I have only rated 9 as Brilliant - this is a lower percentage than previous years

15 books by women - which is woeful so I will definitely be doing the Discoverability Challenge (1 book by a women new to me with review per month) next year

17 ARCs - which is more than the 1 per month that I said I'd do...

51 bought this year - I need to read a higher percentage off my TBR list

21 as ebooks - this seems to be creeping up year on year

So those Brilliant books?

this census-taker by China Mieville

A masterly novella built more around what isn't revealed than what is revealed

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

A deserved classic that I can't believe I've only just got round to reading this year

A Burglar's Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

I'm a fan of Manaugh and this book doesn't disappoint. A history of burglary and architecture, highly recommended.

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

A collection of essays on what it means to be an immigrant in today's UK. This should be required reading!

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Intelligent fantasy and a brilliant sequel

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

This is a fabulous book blending Lovecraftian horror with the experience of racism of the black characters. Reads like a series of novellas.

Unflattening by Nick Sousanis

Like Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics this book seeks to explain and describe the unique nature of comic art. If McCloud's is a Comics 101 this is a masterclass. Highly recommend both.

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

A dark modern gothic tale, does a fabulous job of evoking atmosphere and a thoroughly entertaining read.

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

A cleverly constructed book that's a compelling character study in two narratives - one moving forwards in time and one moving backwards.

And that's it

I'm currently reading Don Quixote so expect that'll keep me busy til the end of the year...

Dec 20, 2016, 6:29pm

Great list, Pete. I've added a few to my wishlist. Enjoy the holidays!

Dec 23, 2016, 5:22pm

That is a great list, indeed. I really liked McCloud's, so Sousanis' book is going on the wishlist!

Dec 30, 2016, 9:04pm

Thanks for the wrap up! Enjoy the holidays!

Jan 5, 2017, 9:12am

I read a few books before the end of the year -

binti by Nnedi Okorafor - which was good but needed to be either a short or expanded, didn't work that well as a novella

twenty four hours in the life of a woman by Stephan Zweig - I really enjoyed this, although it was a bit over the top in a Victorian sort of way

take off your pants - by Libbie Hawker - great little writing handbook

Borges selected poems - by Jorge Luis Borges - been reading this on and off for months, he's a good poet

shaking a leg by Angela Carter - been reading this most of the year, 700+ pages of Carter's journalism

Jan 13, 2017, 4:21am

I kind of lost track of the challenge midway through the year (hence a much simpler one for 2017) - head on over to the 2017 challenge to see what I did next...