53. The Lost Child of Lychford by Paul Cornell
Another novella, the follow up to Cornell's novella from last year, The Witches of Lychford.
Where the first book was mostly humorous - about three women, who all in one way or another can tap in to something "other", trying to stop a supermarket setting up shop on the outskirts of their small town, because it will bring down the barrier between worlds - this one is dark and scary.
It starts with one of the women (a C of E vicar) seeing the ghost of a child who is very much alive and well and loved begging for help. A prince of Faerie contacts the owner of the local magic shop to try to warn her that something is wrong. From there on the reader can see perfectly well what is going on, but the characters can't. We also find out the truth about Judith's husband and it's not comic, as we've been led to believe, it's pretty horrific.
I couldn't put this one down, it's simply wonderful.
53. The Lost Child of Lychford by Paul Cornell
A ghost story set in a women's prison. I'm a big fan of Carey's work and attended an interview with him at Waterstones where he talked about this book & the research he did before I read it, so I know that he has become a passionate advocate for prison reform and against the privatisation the prison services and the cutbacks that make life worse for inmates and staff alike.
He had wanted to write about drug addiction so it almost inevitably became a story about prison. A woman who has committed arson whilst under the influence of heroin, which resulted in the death of a child living in the same block of flats, is committed to Fellside, an enormous and corrupt prison for women in the middle of nowhere in the north. She is haunted by the ghost of her victim.
But mostly it's about prison life and survival in prison (for staff and inmates alike). It's not much like his previous work at all. I hate to use the terms literary and serious, but it is, and is more character than plot driven.
I liked it very much, but still not nearly as much as The Girl With All The Gifts. And although I saw the ending coming, I still didn't like it.
41. The Wylde Hunt by Gunnar Roxen
Bought this from the author at BristolCon last year. It's a far-future hardboiled detective/scifi adventure. The London in it is so far-future and alternative that I think it would have been better placed in a wholly fictional environment. The plot, while a bit predictable, was pretty damn good.
However, it was let down by some seriously awful copy editing - comma splices abounded where they did not add effect or emphasis, wrong words used - which made it more difficult than it needed to be and ruined the whole experience.
42. Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough
September's Bibliogoths selection. I've heard a lot of good things about Pinborough, from people like Paul Cornell who I esteem highly.
It's a fictionalised interpretation of the Thames Torso Murders, which happened about the same time as Jack the Ripper. (Remember: I have close to zero tolerance for all things Ripper). While I wasn't feeling immersed in Victorian London, I only picked up one linguistic blunder.
It's a good enough yarn, but I didn't feel the love at all. Partly because a lot of it centres around opium dens in East London in the 1880s and I recently attended a talk about how everything we think we know about them come from one "news" source written by a guy who'd never been to one. Partly because there's too much poverty tourism on the subject already. Mainly because nothing about it really grabbed me.
I was in the minority - everyone else loved it.
43. Revolutionaries: Inventing an American Nation by Jack Rackove
So some time ago we were watching Turn and Sons of Liberty concurrently and I realised that most of what I know about the American Revolution is primary-school level stuff that was probably more legend than truth, and this had been on my wish list since the author was pimping it on the Daily Show years ago.
The early bits about how the Adamses and Washington etc evolved their thinking to becoming independent were quite interesting; the later bits about how they actually built a new government from the bottom up were important to know but not that gripping. And someone the story of Adams and Jefferson in Paris came across as very dull indeed.
44. The Education of Auggie Merasty: A Residential School memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty
My brother sent me this for my birthday. It's a very short volume in which an aging Native man recalls his harrowing experience at one of Canada's infamous residential schools. (I'm not articulate enough to explain: Google it. Let's just say it's not Canada's finest hour).
Harrowing stuff, but an absolutely essential read.
45. Railsea by China Mieville
Moby Dick but with giant moles where the sea is a giant quicksand desert only passable by rail.
It took me ages to get into it but eventually I quite enjoyed it.
46. A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell
The complete short stories of Paul Cornell. I bounced off a few of them, but some are very good indeed. My favourite, conceptually, is a mashup of MR James and Scooby Doo. I laughed very hard at that. I by far prefer his Shadow Police novels though.
47. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Last month's Bibliogoths book. I can't believe I've never read it. Something Wicked is one of the few books I've kept re-reading regularly since I was 12 but for some reason I thought I didn't like Bradbury's science fiction.
I liked this a lot more than I expected. There's a lot to it, none of which I can articulate here. And his prose is lyrical and magical.
48. Base Spirits by Ruth Barrett
Disclaimer: I have known Ruth since 1986. She was my partner in crime when I first came to Leeds as a student in 1989-90.
This is a ghost story about a Canadian woman who is in a terrible marriage, has writer's block and is on a deadline for a commissioned play. Her husband has some academic commitments in England so they rent Calverley Old Hall (a real place, with a real traumatic past) to stay in so she can work. Along with some friends, they get drunk and summon the spirits of the place. Things go badly.
It's genuinely spooky - I couldn't put it down. But it's really about domestic violence and toxic relationships and the damage those do.
Highly recommended. I'm not just saying that because I know her.
49. The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth
An introductory text to the Viking Age but presented in a way that was really different from every other basic text on the time I've read. For a start, it starts with a Viking raid on Nantes in the 840s rather than the standard opening of the raid on Lindisfarne, because we have a much more detailed description of the raid on Nantes than we do for any other single raid. How did I not know that?
Whereas most English-language books on the Vikings focus on contact with Britain and Ireland, Winroth gives more information on interaction with Northern Germany and the Carolingians. As well as the standard material about exploration into the Byzantine Empire and points east.
This is a fantastic book - engagingly written, I learned new things and saw things I know from new perspectives. It's a really lovely volume too.
50. Spirits from Beyond by Simon R Green
I read one of Green's Nightside novels years ago and although it's sheer pulp, I loved it, mostly for the characters. I've been meaning to read more since. Green is very prolific and has many different series of books. He was at Bristol Horror Con last month and only had some of his "Ghost Finders" series so I bought one.
I didn't like this as much, mainly because the characters are just assholes. However, when the book finished all the set-up and story arc stuff and it got to the nitty gritty of the haunted pub, I couldn't put it down.
51. The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf
I went to a panel at Foyles last year about writing historical fiction, and Jack was on the panel. It was probably the most interesting literary discussion I've been to in a very long time; and I was totally convinced about this novel.
It's the story of Tristan Hart, a squire's son in Berkshire in the mid-18th century, who goes to London to lodge with Henry Fielding and study medicine with Hunter. Hart is an avowed atheist and scientific rationalist.
Except that he's a sexual sadist and (most of a problem) completely insane, absolutely convinced of the existence of a malign world of fairies who have it in for him.
It's written in as close to an authentic 18th century voice as Wolf thought he could get away with. A lot of people (note to self: Don't read Good Reads, ever. Bunch of morons who don't get out much) find that really annoying, but I think he trod the line really well. It's 550 pages long and at the start I thought, I wonder how long it will be before this pisses me off, but it didn't. It conveys the protagonist's conflict between rationalism and madness really well.
It's pretty difficult, emotionally and textually, but I found it was thoroughly worth the effort - even though it's taken me about two months to read, in small bits, I absolutely loved it.
54. Haunted Highway: The Spirits of Route 66 by Elle Robson and Diane Freeman
Local ghost story collection my mother picked up for me on one of their winter trips to the southwestern US. None of the stories are particularly spooky, but a lot of the locations sounded really cool, so it infected me with the road trip bug.
55. The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales by Kate Mosse
Kate Mosse is always a bit hit and miss for me. Some of these stories (particularly the Breton folk tale inspired ones) are really spooky, but some of them are just chick lit with a ghost. I felt badly let down by the ones set in the Languedoc - one of my favourite places in the world, but the stories were particularly soppy. Glad I got this from the library.
56. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Tartt's The Secret History is my favourite book; The Little Friend is also really good. So I can't believe how long it took me to get round to this one.
I absolutely loved it. I didn't have as many opportunities to read it as I'd have liked but every time I picked it up I'd be sucked in and read 100 pages at a time.
Had lots of thoughts about it at the time but have been unable to put them coherently together.
57. In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon's Wars, 1793-1815 by Jenny Uglow
A social history of Britain during the Napoleonic wars, told mainly through the use of diaries and local publications, but also poetry and literature, which is the aspect I'm familiar with. Gives a really good picture of how British society at all levels was affected by the Napoleonic wars, through trade, instability in wages and prices, brutal repression of radicals.
This could have been dull (and a couple of chapters were, a bit) but overall it's fascinating and does its job really effectively. Makes me want to go read Wordsworth though, which is just Bad and Wrong.
Bierce was a 19th-century American writer of ghost stories (and other weird & macabre tales), though is primarily remembered today for The (Enlarged) Devil's Dictionary. His stories often appear in collections of Golden Age stories of the supernatural, though I have to admit that I couldn't remember any, nor did any in this collection ring a bell. I have been too lazy to consult my ghost story collection to check.
As ghost stories go, I was a little underwhelmed. Most of them are too short to build up any real suspsense and the stories can be a big repetitive. His writing style is good, though at times he wants to be Mark Twain so much it hurts.
I was, however, fascinated by the settings for Bierce's stories - several involve the Civil War, and most are set in frontier locations, most notably California Gold Rush towns (before California was a state, so characters refer to going back to "the States"). Bierce moved all over the US during his lifetime and disappeared in the Mexican revolution in 1813.
So - not bad, but probably only of interest to serious ghost story nerds.
Not one of the best in the series, which is a disappointment as the history and geography of BC should make for some great ghost stories. There might well be some in here, but the way she tells them fails to excite.
31. The Reapers by John Connolly
I've been putting this off because I wanted to do this book justice, but my brain's not going to get into gear any time soon, so here goes:
It's not a secret that I'm a terminal fan girl when it comes to Connolly, so I've really been looking forward to this. The prose is, as always with Connolly, beautiful - he really makes you feel for characters that you really shouldn't care about, and the pacing is perfect.
Connolly's usual detective, Charlie Parker, is only a secondary character in this book, which is about Louis and Angel, who are Parker's closest friends, and Willie Brew, an elderly Queens-based mechanic who has a complex almost feudal-style relationship with Louis. Louis used to be an assassin in a group known as The Reapers, and his past finally catches up with him. It all goes pear-shaped, leaving only Parker and Brew to go to the rescue.
It's a great read, but, like Bad Men (the novel in which Parker makes only a cameo appearance), there's a lot of things that are morally dubious in ways I can't get past.
Set in North Dakota (which as far as I'm concerned is a horror story in itself), it turns out it was filmed in Saskatchewan. Studio work was done in The Place We Don't Talk About, and location work was in the town of Indian Head, where I've also spent some time. Didn't recognise it though - all small towns in that part of the world look the same.