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:
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…
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 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.