This year, again, thanks to Jo Hall, I committed to increasing discoverability by reading one women author, new to me, per month. For maximum effectiveness I decided to restrict it to living authors.
So how did I do?
I managed (heh, like it should be difficult or something) to read a book a month but I failed utterly to do many reviews so will do a quick summary here now for the ones I missed reviews on. This will be in addition to the usual end of year statistics about books I do.
January: Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sarah Baume
Of course in January I did do a review…
The book is told as an ongoing ‘conversation’ between a man and his dog, One eye.
You find me on a Tuesday, on my Tuesday trip to town. A note sellotaped to the inside of the jumble-shop window: COMPASSIONATE & TOLERANT OWNER. A PERSON WITHOUT OTHER PETS & WITHOUT CHILDREN UNDER FOUR.
The book explores the friendship of man and beast, with both being outcasts and misfits. It is often lyrical and beautifully developed. It is literary but not self-consciously though, I’ve read reviews that say it is plotless, which is a little unfair. There is a sense of forlorn loneliness that runs through the novel and it could have been maudlin if mishandled. But Baume has a deft touch and it is therefore touchingly melancholy. But it is still a pleasurable read as Baume’s imagery and poetic prose is a delight.
Initially, I wasn’t sure if I’d get on with the style but I soon settled into Baume’s rhythm and couldn’t wait to get back to the book on the few occasions I had to put it down.
I’d highly recommend this book
February: Into the Mist by Lee Murray
I picked this up as it was on the Stoker preliminary ballot and I’m not disappointed. Reading like a mix of Congo, Predator and Valley of the Gawnji set in New Zealand, Murray provides a white-knuckle ride from page one. Throw in a hefty mix of Maori mysticism and you have a unique monster tale.
A geological survey team with a military escort is sent into Te Urewera, an area of mostly forested, sparsely populated, rugged hill country in the North Island of New Zealand . The escort is there to investigate some disappearances, including a previous military expedition.
Murray excels at action and the novel has many thrilling page-turning moments. There is a large cast of characters and mostly I was able to keep them straight but occasionally the fast pace made me think ‘who was that again?’ The landscape is evocatively crafted, although, having been to NZ perhaps my memory provided some of the backgrounds. The mists visibly swirled throughout the pages and the unique New Zealand fauna breathed in the margins.
I would definitely read another of Murray’s books and this one gets a recommendation from me, If you like monster movies or military SF you should check it out.
March: My name is Mary Sutherland by Kate Farrell
The narrator of this tale is a young girl, the eponymous Mary Sutherland, who lived in Aigburth and who had family in Birkenhead. I grew up in Birkenhead so her voice was immediately recognisable.
The book starts with a TV crew coming to interview Mary who is in an institution. Mary then tells the story in her own words of how she ended up in the institution, the trouble started when her mother got sick.
Farrell is great at creating suspense and you know that it doesn’t end well, but you don’t know exactly why until right the last moment. It was an effective little plot tightly told in 170 odd pages.
I didn’t think the framing device (of the TV interview) was needed personally and there was an occasional lapse in voice but overall this is a well-written book.
April: The Enclave by Anne Charnock
Other reviewers like this book because it allows them to live a little longer in the world of her novel A Calculated Life. However I’ve not read the novel, but after reading this novella I would like to. It seems like a well-drawn world and Charnock writes with both grace and heart. This novella is the story of a young climate change refugee, Caleb, who has been sold into indentured servitude to Ma Lexie in The Enclave of the title. Ma Lexie’s crew recycles trash into sellable goods. Caleb demonstrates aptitude and skill in sewing clothes and allowing Ma Lexie to make money in the market. He also has a remote friendship with another such as himself in a neighbouring Enclave who he communicates with by putting messages in a bottle which he tosses over the gap between buildings.
This is an interesting, character driven, social and political science fiction. I will be checking out A Calculated Life based on my enjoyment of this novella.
This is one of four novellas from Newcon Press that are collected in a beautiful box set.
May: The Three by Sarah Lotz
From Amazon – Black Thursday. The day that will never be forgotten. The day that four passenger planes crash, at almost exactly the same moment, at four different points around the globe.
There are only four survivors. Three are children, who emerge from the wreckage seemingly unhurt. But they are not unchanged. And the fourth is Pamela May Donald, who lives just long enough to record a voice message on her phone. A message that will change the world.
The message is a warning.
I Read this on a plane journey. Enjoyed it enough. It’s the start of a series.
June: The Poisoner’s handbook by Deborah Blum
Another I didn’t write a review of at the time. This is a very well-written pop science book with the science being toxicology. I did toxicology as a module on my Environmental Science degree and can attest that this still had the capacity to surprise and entertain. After all who doesn’t love a good poisoner story? The chapters on prohibition and early cocktail making are an eye-opener! Recommended.
July: Bodies of Water by VH Leslie
I read this one as a judge for the BFA Novella category.
From Amazon – After ministering to fallen women in Victorian London, Evelyn has suffered a nervous breakdown and finds herself treated by the Water Doctors in the imposing Wakewater House, a hydropathy sanatorium. Years later, Wakewater House is renovated into modern apartments and Kirsten moves in, fresh from a break up and eager for the restorative calm of the Thames. But her archivist neighbour, Manon, fills her head with the river’s murky past and with those men of science and art who were obsessed with the drowned women who were washed up on its banks. As Kirsten learns more about Wakewater’s secrets, she becomes haunted by a solitary figure in the river and increasingly desperate to understand what the water wants from her.
This is an enjoyable novella with some genuinely creepy moments. It reminded me a little of Dark Water
August: Pseudotooth by Verity Holloway
Another first-time author, and another accomplished debut.
From Amazon – Aisling Bloom is a young woman beset by unexplained blackouts, pseudo-seizures that have baffled both the doctors and her family. Sent to recuperate in the Suffolk countryside, she seeks solace in the work of William Blake and writing her journal, filling its pages with her visions of Feodor, an East Londoner haunted by his family’s history back in Russia.
The discovery of a Tudor priest hole and its disturbed former inhabitant lead Aisling into a meeting with the enigmatic Chase and on to an unfamiliar town where the rule of Our Friend is absolute and those deemed unfit and undesirable have a tendency to disappear into The Quiet…
I found it really interesting, mixed William Blake with Le Corbusier and a dysfunctional family. Strong tasting fiction. Recommended.
September: The Burial by Courtney Collins
This was a debut and one I thoroughly enjoyed. A ‘western’ set in 19th Century Australia inspired by the true life story of Elizabeth Jessie Hickman and narrated by Hickman’s dead and buried daughter. Judging by this debut Collins will have a stellar career.
October: Writing past Dark by Bonnie Friedman
From Amazon – The first book for writers that explores the emotional side of writing–dealing with everything from envy to guilt to the dreaded writer’s block.
Except it doesn’t really. Friedman uses each negative emotion to riff off but it fails to really get to the meat of the matter (for me). It is very nice prose but ultimately holds no answers if you’re an author struggling with the negative emotions that hinder your work. YMMV – it does get mostly good reviews.
November: The Paper Cell by Louise Hutcheson
An aspiring author brings a manuscript to a publisher and is rejected. A few days later she is dead. So starts an intriguing and entertaining little book that combines murder with aspiring novelists and the business of publishing. Worth a read if you’re a crime lover.
December: – I’m going to be reading a Grimbold book to review in Far Horizons in February – Scylla & Charybdis
Anaea Carlisle, raised on an isolated space station populated solely by women, believes the rest of the universe has been plunged into anarchy and ruin by an alien-engineered disease known as Y-Poisoning. On a salvage mission, she helps rescue a hypermental named Gwydion who challenges everything she thought she knew.
Forced to flee the station with Gwydion, Anaea finds herself in an inexplicable, often hostile world, permanently divided between the Galactic Collective and the Pinnacle Empire. She longs for some place to call home, but first, she’ll have to survive…