book reviews 2024

You may be aware that I read a lot of books. So many that I often forget to talk about them until I’m lumbered with making a big list at the end of the year.

This is a shame because I’d like to talk more about and share the things I’ve enjoyed.

This year, Glorious 2024, I had an urge to document my reading better, and am attempting to review all the books I read with at least a couple of sentences. All in one sensible place: my own website. Right here.

So, that’s what we’re about to do. There’s no real order to this except that I’ll attempt to group these by month and indicate genre.

Jump to the months here:

For more book recommendations, and a more immediate indication of the things I like, don’t forget you can check out my:

the chatelaine book cover

January Mini Book Reviews

The Chatelaine by Kate Heartfield (historical/horror) – I came into this expecting a medieval historical horror maybe a bit akin to Between Two Fires, but this is something all its own; a unique and overall unusual tale of hellish creatures and defiant woman, best understood as a novel version of the painting Dull Gret.

NOS4R2 by Joe Hill (horror) – not actually sure if I finished this in 2023 or not, but here it is; this an inventive horror saga with Christmassy undertones, fun and easy to read. A bit overlong for my tastes and, hating to say it, felt a lot like an imitation of his father’s work…

The Lord of the Rings trilogy (fantasy) – okay, time to get serious, I had an itch to read something epic and of a guaranteed ponderous charm. I got through all three of the Andy Serkis audiobooks in January (let’s list them, to look more important, that’s The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King), which are superbly performed. It’s been some 30 years since I first delved into Tolkien so it was well past time to revisit it, and the magic is all still there, in such a superbly crafted mix of meandering adventure, lore and action. You don’t really need my review of this, we all know where the Lord of the Rings is at. It was a lot though; I’m going to get into some shorter books for a few weeks now… 

She Topples Giants by Morgan Stang (fantasy) – I wanted more from this author after enjoying Murder at Spindle Manor via SPFBO, so started here. This follows a gang of mercenaries embroiled in a revolution, and plays out at length with much banter and loitering, then much violence – like cosy fantasy interspersed with a couple of incredibly brutal scenes. It’s ultimately rather sprawling and could’ve been half the length, but Stang’s writing and character-work are consistently enjoyable and I’m always a fan of writers who can weave a bit of horror into unexpected places.

No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter (play) – I saw this play a few years back and it stuck with me; it’s a simple set-up of four boozy chaps chatting in a room that spreads into often abstract monologues and I loved it. There’s something captivating about the language, with themes of memory and mortality mixed into often crude and abrupt asides, coming together in a mildly surreal way.

The Witchwood Knot by Olivia Atwater (historical fantasy) – You should know what you’re getting with Olivia Atwater by now and if you don’t then quit dallying and go read all her books. Another eminently charming and delightful foray into shenanigans with Regency fae. There were some darker edges to this one which I obviously enjoyed.

The Hallows by HL Tinsley (urban fantasy) – I was lucky to get an ARC of this new departure from Holly; in a city run by superpowered nuns, freak mutation/murder is afoot and it’s up to the dudes with flowers for names to stop it. That sounds too blithe, sorry, it’s actually a taut and tightly woven thriller. Tinsley is efficient with language, which I always respect, and she’s pulled off a solidly original and engaging story. The powers work here in inventive ways and there’s some great imagery involved.

Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood (non-fiction) – this series of essays on writing from a master of the craft is insightful in a particularly Atwood manner, in that she takes us on tangents and thought processes you might not expect. There’s some keen ideas in here well worth checking out, the most interesting to me being her thoughts on how readers decide relevance and how we’re all just writing because we’re scared of death…

the cloud roost book by travis riddle

February Mini Book Reviews

Okay so after the mammoth Lord of the Rings trilogy I intended to read some shorter stuff and have some quicker reads this month. But it didn’t entirely work out that way…

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (historical fantasy) – I’m always up for fantasy in different eras and this is a rare example of a Great War-era fantasy. An interesting spin on a war story involving communicating with ghosts and a dose of intrigue, though the characterisation didn’t fully grab me and was maybe a bit too similar to what she later did better with The Calculating Stars.

The Cloud Roost by Travis Riddle (fantasy) – another triumphant return to the Jekua series; at Book 5 we’re stretching towards the finish line of a consistently creative, charming and just all-around delightful story. There’s more wild and nasty jekua here, for a good dose of drama (and it gets pretty brutal in places!), but the main draw remains how engaging it is to simply spend time in this world with these well-realised characters. Riddle has a real gift for drawing you in so it feels like comfort reading, even when things get ugly.

Sister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy A. Snyder (horror) – this was a marvellously twisted tale of disease and End of Days iconography, probably best approached with the least known the better, for maximum impact. Not for the squeamish; even made me grimace or laugh with distress at times. But I bet Ms Snyder is a lovely woman in real life.

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez (literary/horror) – a short story collection of vignettes of unpleasant life in Argentia, where murderous gangs and soldiers are the norm; arresting and memorable images that I hesitate to label as horror because a lot of the worst stuff is really quite believable.

Gothic by Philip Fracassi (horror) – a fantastic example of how a good writer can take an idea that feels tried and tested (in this case a cursed horror writer spiralling out of control) and still spin an absolutely compelling and brilliantly crafted tale. Only my second Fracassi since discovering him last year but it’s doubled my confidence in him, well worth checking out.

Corsets to Camouflage by Kate Adie (non-fiction) – a thoroughly interesting account of women’s involvement in war over the past few centuries, mostly concerning Britain and WW1 and WW2. Writers beware, practically every other paragraph of this book contains an incredible story begging to be expanded into a full novel or film.

From Below by Darcy Coates (horror/thriller) – a dive team investigating a wreck get some ghostly surprises; I’m a sucker for diving stories but find they rarely hit the mark, and this one left me feeling a little flat. There are some tense moments but it had some structural issues that undermined it, and the characters didn’t really draw me in.

This is Where We Talk Things Out by Caitlin Marcaeu (horror) – short and sweet (well, sinister); I picked this novella up on a cheap whim. It does a great job of capturing a weekend with an overbearing mother, and it would’ve been horrible enough if it just kept that up without the nastier twists you can rather see coming.

dandadan comic cover review

Dandadan by Yukinobu Tatsu (scifi/horror manga) – I read all this fabulous series in a few weeks of binging (get it on Manga Plus, it’s legit) and what an absolute delight. Exactly my kind of blend of spec genres and humour, with monstrous horrors, space aliens and all sorts of weirdness in between. There’s a little classic manga perviness in places but that is offset somewhat by how the characters call each other out. The dialogue and comic timing is consistently on point, and the artwork (especially considering it’s produced weekly) is frequently astounding.

Spy x Family Vols 9-10 by Tatsuya Endo (spy thriller/humour manga) – catching up on one of my most amusing comics; it got a bit samey around Vol 9 but it’s back on track with crazed antics and humour at the moment. Still makes me laugh, that’s the main thing. Sometimes a lot.

Affinity by Sarah Waters (historical fiction) – a fairly slow but moodily atmospheric tale of a woman who grows attracted to a mysterious medium in a Victorian prison, with Waters’ usual trademark twists, turns and messy sapphic relationships. Keeps you guessing as to how supernatural it is, and strikes some strong emotional chords.

Guns of Avalon by Roger Zelazny (fantasy) – it’s taken me far too long to get back to the Amber series, after the first one single-handedly inspired me to write some more myself, but this second book delivers the same ruthlessly efficient brilliance. With a great blend of world-hopping fun and strong characters, Zelazny packs more skill and creativity into a couple hundred pages than most writers manage in an entire series.

The First World War by Martin Gilbert (non-fiction) – and the perfect counter-balance to any lighter reading, an absolute TOME of a textbook, a classic in Great War histories (maybe?). This vast survey of the war strikes an excellent balance between the broad strokes and gritty, personal stories that draw out the human elements. Though I don’t imagine I’ll retain a fraction of the information I’ve read…

The Mortecarni by Kelly Evans (medieval horror) – zombies in Medieval France! Top marks for the concept and solidly realised historical detail, but despite some suitably grizzly action scenes this one didn’t really win me over owing to a fairly ponderous stop/start pace and what felt to me like a rather dull style and characterisation.

 

necromancers house book review

March Mini Book Reviews

I started this month with a Christopher Buehlman book and thought everything else was going to be disappointing by comparison. But, plot twist, my March reading went from strength to strength and I’d highly recommend every book I read in March. Some I may have enjoyed even more than the Buehlman. Unthinkable. I’d be tempted to write full and thoughtful reviews for each of them, if only I had the time, but here’s what you get instead…

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (military sci-fi) – first, I actually read this last month and forgot to include it; an intergalactic war that lasts centuries with a few ordinary soldiers caught up in it. This is a tremendous example of how solid character work and voice can elevate a seemingly simple concept to something exceptional and timeless – an excellent indictment of both the horrors of war and the complications of space travel.

The Necromancer’s House by Christopher Buehlman (horror) – I’m almost all caught up with Buehlman’s work now (just got to get hold of Suicide Motor Club somehow) and every one of them absolutely nails its corner of the genre. In this case, washed up mages, addicts and folklore horrors collide in a lakeside retreat. Brilliantly realised, efficiently pacy and just eminently readable; Buehlman is a ludicrously talented writer.

Dean Spanley by Lord Curn (literary/screenplay) – a curious combination of a classic novel from the 1930s and the screenplay based on it. The novel is a quirky exploration of canine life through the eyes of a stuffy dean (voicing a reincarnated dog when he’s drunk). The film particularly struck my heartstrings, cleverly combining comedy with a story of family and grief. It hit me hard when I saw it not long after losing my mother, so it was really interesting to see how the much less emotional spawned such a result. But even without that connection it’s a charming story worth investigating.

Ten Low by Stark Holborn (sci-fi/western) – a fast-paced, adventurous tale of oddballs on the run on a frontier planet, this has all the hallmarks of a solid western (enough that I’d put it in the genre description) but with a colourful, characterful new setting and some creative complications with the alien life.

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez (literary/horror) – the saga of a black lesbian vampire trying to find her place/balance in the worlds of humans and vampires over a century of vignettes. It’s fairly slow and ponderous at times, punctuated by action and violence right when things seem calm, which I think is the nature of the vampiric saga, not one I typically dip into. The revolutionary nature of the story itself is impressive though, with Gilda’s atypical background and development through the journey. I felt Butler’s Fledgling refined this well, but Gilda was there first, and laid groundwork for what was to follow. It’s due (and I believe is getting) a resurgence…

P is for Peril by Sue Grafton (crime) – continuing my decade-long journey through the Alphabet series, I’d put this one off because I have it in hardback, which is not my favourite. But it’s another great turn from Kinsey Milhone, who’s simply an incredibly likeable character to spend time with – here following a messily layered mystery and a strikingly different ending for the series. It’s a wonderful series overall but this one felt particularly memorable.

brainwryms by alison rumfit review

Whalefall by Daniel Kraus (horror/thriller) – like Gothic of last month, this is the exemplary kind of horror that takes a simple concept and makes it work through identifying and realising a strong emotional throughline. In this case, the story of a man getting swallowed by a whale is underpinned by his troubled relationship with his father. You’ll wonder going in how it’s possible to write an entire book about a chap being swallowed alive, and this is absolutely how. And it totally broke my comments last month about finding it hard to find diving books I really enjoyed – this is excellent stuff.

Brainwyrms by Alison Rumfitt (horror) – I was not prepared for how much I was completely sucked into and enjoyed this book, even after I thoroughly enjoyed Rumfitt’s Tell Me I’m Worthless last year. It’s brilliantly voiced and excellently encompasses some of the major issues facing the world at the moment through a very acute lens (that of two unstable people in an unstable relationship). It’s absolutely cringy, icky wrong at times and I couldn’t get enough; I breezed through it in just over a day. Also extra points for the Brighton setting familiar to me, the descriptions of the White Rabbit had me chortling.

Men, Women and Chainsaws by Carol J. Clover (non-fiction) – one of those ‘why hadn’t I heard about this book sooner?’ moments: a thoroughly insightful look at gender in the horror genre, and one which is still hugely relevant today, with things to say that go far beyond horror itself. Packed with interesting ideas, many of which were particularly curious for me as a writer who frequently features female leads…

Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman (LitRPG / fantasy) – after some heavy reading, I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon with this light book I kept seeing popping up online. I soon realised I didn’t know what this was: first, that it was a LitRPG (not my usual fare, the novel equivalent of watching someone play a computer game); second that it was really rather dark and has some deep socio-political undercurrents; and third, it’s absolutely on point, massively engaging fun. I have regrets having started it because I’m going to have to read the whole series fast, now.

the world we make book cover

April Mini Book Reviews

After last month’s frankly difficult act to follow, April held less superlatives – but I still enjoyed a set of solid reads which you wouldn’t throw out of bed (you shouldn’t be throwing books anyway). It reached a zenith at the end with the Blackwater Saga, but there was plenty more quality before that…

Godkiller by Hannah Kaner (fantasy)  – a decent fantasy quest with a good sense of representation, and well-paced, but this didn’t really stand out to me as particularly special or different.

The Book That Wouldn’t Burn by Mark Lawrence (fantasy) – as captivating and inventive as you’d expect from Mr Lawrence, this was a fun and creative book which delivers his typical skill with memorable phrases, a good variety of characters and unexpected swerves. Even knowing there had to be twists coming, some still caught me unawares, and the world-building opened up a lot of scope for more…

The World We Make by NK Jemisin (urban fantasy / cosmic horror) – every time I read an NK Jemisin book I scold myself for not reading it sooner. I know I’ll love them and then just forget. Same here. A brilliant follow-up to The City We Became, this is bursting with life (and doubles-down on her great twist on modern-day Lovecraftian lore), so much so it made me want to go back to New York (no easy feat, I had a weird time there. Twice.). And it says something about her skill that I found the most moving chapters those involving the pitiful embodiment of Staten Island.

The Three Books of Enoch and the Book of Giants edited by Paul Schneider (religious / non-fiction) – sometimes you just need to read mysterious Biblical texts, and this one promised giants so how could I not? It proved a lot more apocalyptic than I expected, with some heavy judgemental content, which was interesting in its own right, but I’m sorry to say the bit about the giants was a handful of pages at the end with most of the words missing. So a mixed bag here.

The Nox by Joe White & Catriona Ward (horror) – technically an audio drama, but whatever I was in it for Catriona Ward and that counts as bookish. This dystopian Arctic horror sees a crew stranded in the ice with strange things afoot. An entertaining, thrilling listen which makes great use of sound (though fair warning, it doesn’t clearly lay everything out – to its benefit, in my opinion). Excellently performed, too – I particularly enjoyed Kelly Paterniti’s character.

White Pines by Gemma Amor (horror) – an atmospheric and unsettling folk horror, where a woman returns to her mysterious Scottish childhood village and uncovers an island of secluded weirdos. From there, it does not go where you’d expect – nicely twisty, twisted and chilling. (And, slightly spoilerish, this made up for the lack of giants from those books of Enoch.)

The Lost Girls by Sarah Painter (urban fantasy) – mysteries afoot in Edinburgh as a student keeps losing time/memories, young women are getting murdered and a demon hunter is given an iffy new assignment. This is my kind of urban fantasy, gritty and original, with a great sense of place.

Penric’s Demon by Louis McMaster Bujold (fantasy) – my first McMaster Bujold; when I started this its magical charm felt familiar and made me think I might’ve read it as a child. Then I realised it was a relatively recent release (2016) and felt like a cad. But this is a lovely light read as Penric gets possessed and has to attend court, trying to get a grip on what that means. Short and sweet.

blackwater saga book reviews

Shattered Spirits by Cal Black (horror) – another short, but this time grim, journey, with Lovecraftian overtones, as our protagonist tries to uncover the secrets of an island community against the background of war. It’s eerie, unsettling and fast-paced, with bonus points for an unusual secondary world time period (WW1esque thank you), though admittedly I found the main character a bit unsympathetic.

Carl’s Doomsday Scenario by Matt Dinniman (LitRPG / fantasy) – after the surprise thrill of the first book last month, I was eager to dive back into this, but found this lost a bit of its charm in the opening. It continued straight on with some busywork, feeling more like a serial than a sequel in its own right – but once it got going again, the thrills returned, and by the end I was chomping for more. The setting and adventures take on a more open-world style for a questing story, underpinned by the same sense of moral ambiguity that gives this series its edge.

Down Below by Leonora Carrington (non-fiction / memoir) – let it be known this was the month I discovered this incredible surrealist artist and her madcap life. This short, revealing memoir covers a period when Carrington was committed to an asylum after spinning out of control following the capture of her partner by Nazis. I expected a gritty account of abuse and injustice, which this is in part – but it’s also a no-holds-barred account of a genuine descent into madness, told with charm and even a good measure of humour.

The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington (literary / surreal) – to follow, Carrington’s most celebrated novella, this surrealist adventure follows an unlikely 92-year-old protagonist as she’s committed to an unconventional care home, where we encounter psychics, a connection to a swashbuckling historical nun, a murder plot and an unhinged final act. With strong parallels to the events of Down Below, it’s very inventive and amusing, especially effective at capturing elderly conversations, but at times treads a thin line between eccentric genius and simple silliness.

The Blackwater Saga by Michael McDowell (Southern Gothic / horror) – this could technically be considered six books, as it was published, and is a beast to get through, but I listened to the admirably performed single audiobook. While most appropriately labelled as horror, this is really an epic family drama, exploring the trials and relationships of a small collection of people in the Deep South, with occasional sprinklings of the supernatural. And it’s absolutely quintessential Southern Gothic; the setting, characterisation, subtle weirdness, hints at hauntings, overbearing matriarch… it all adds up to a wonderfully complete and compelling atmosphere. One of those reads that really takes you on a journey and leaves you feeling like you really connected with the lives presented. While also throwing in a few gruesome fantastical scenes. Wonderful stuff.