Posted in 2020, Audible, audible original podcast, Audiobook, Contemporary Fiction, Podcast, Science Fiction, Short Fiction, various authors

Beta Life: Stories from an A-Life Future

Computers are changing. Soon the silicon chip will seem like a clunky antique amid the bounty of more exotic processes on offer. Robots are changing, too; material evolution and swarm intelligence are creating a new generation of devices that will diverge and disperse into a balanced ecosystem of humans and robjects (robotic objects).

Somewhere in between, we humans will have to change also… in the way we interact with technology, the roles we adopt in an increasingly intelligent environment, and how we interface with each other. The driving motors behind many of these changes will be artificial life (A-Life) and unconventional computing. How exactly they will impact our world is still an open question.

But in the spirit of collective intelligence, this anthology brings together 38 scientists and authors, working in pairs, to imagine what life (and A-Life) will look like in the year 2070. Every kind of technology is imagined: from lie-detection glasses to military swarmbots, brain-interfacing implants to synthetically grown skyscrapers, revolution-inciting computer games to synthetically engineered haute cuisine. All artificial life is here.

Also featuring stories by Dinesh Allirajah, Lucy Caldwell, Claire Dean, Andy Hedgecock, Annie Kirby, Zoe Lambert, Sean O’Brien, K. J. Orr, Joanna Quinn, Sarah Schofield, Margaret Wilkinson, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Adam Roberts, Adam Marek, and Toby Litt. Plus afterword’s by scientists J. Mark Bishop, Seth Bullock, James Dyke, Christian Jantzen, Francesco Mondada, James D. O’Shea, Andrew Philippides, Lenka Pitonakova, Steen Rasmussen, Thomas S. Ray, Micah Rosenkind, James Snowdon, Susan Stepney, Germán Terrazas, Andrew Vardy and Alan Winfield.

What will life look like in the year 2070?

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(Audible Studios, 10 August 2018, 12 hours 30 minutes, @audibleuk Original Podcast, free with membership, various narrators, edited by @martyn_amos & Ra Page)

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I’m what you call cynical about AI and how much we’ve come and may grow to rely on technology in our lives. AI scares me a little. Can machines ever become better than us? Maybe they already are. I think AI can be useful in certain areas such as medicine or improving the lives of people with certain disabilities. Anyway, enough with the conspiracy theories. I enjoyed these stories, even though the concept of some of them made me uneasy. I must admit I started to listen to the notes that accompany every episode then got bored and stopped. What I liked about is the diverse way the stories consider all the possibilities of AI.

Posted in 2020, Audible, Audiobook, Fairytale Retelling, Fairytales, Philip Pullman, Short Fiction, Top Books

Grimm Tales for Young and Old by @PhilipPullman

In this enchanting selection of fairy tales, award-winning author Philip Pullman presents his 50 favourite stories from the Brothers Grimm in a ‘clear as water’ retelling, making them feel fresh and unfamiliar with his dark, distinctive voice. From the otherworldly romance of classics such as ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Snow White’, and ‘Cinderella’ to the black wit and strangeness of such lesser-known tales as ‘The Three Snake Leaves’, ‘Hans-my-Hedgehog’, and ‘Godfather Death’, Pullman captures the appeal that has held the imagination of children and adults alike for centuries. In his introduction, he discusses why these stories have lasted so long and become part of our collective storytelling imagination. Pullman’s Grimm tales of wicked wives, brave children, and villainous kings will have you listening again and again for many years to come.

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[In the olden days, when wishing still worked, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful; but the youngest daughter was so lovely that even the sun, who has seen many things, was struck with wonder every time he shone on her face]

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(Audible Studios, 27 September 2012, 10 hours 24 minutes, audiobook, copy from @audibleuk, narrated by Samuel West)

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I love Grimm’s Fairy Tales and I’m a huge fan of Phillip Pullman, so both of these things made this a must listen audiobook. I recently studied he complete fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm as part of an Open University course so I was familiar with a version of all the stories offered here. It was a treat to listen to them. I would have preferred Pullman read the audiobook but we can’t always get everything we want. Many stories and many of the elements used to retell them are familiar but they are also unique as well. I enjoyed the familiar tales such as Snow White and Cinderella. I preferred, however, the lesser known tales such as The Three Snake Leaves or Godfather Death which allowed Pullman more wriggle room to make the stories his own. This was a treat to listen to.  

Posted in 2020, Ali Smith, Contemporary Fiction, library book, Short Fiction

Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith

A richly inventive new collection of stories from Ali Smith, author of How to be both, winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize and the Costa Novel Award and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Why are books so very powerful?

What do the books we’ve read over our lives – our own personal libraries – make of us?

What does the unravelling of our tradition of public libraries, so hard-won but now in jeopardy, say about us?

The stories in Ali Smith’s new collection are about what we do with books and what they do with us: how they travel with us; how they shock us, change us, challenge us, banish time while making us older, wiser and ageless all at once; how they remind us to pay attention to the world we make.

Public libraries are places of joy, freedom, community and discovery – and right now they are under threat from funding cuts and widespread closures across the UK and further afield. With this brilliantly inventive collection, Ali Smith joins the campaign to save our public libraries and celebrate their true place in our culture and history.

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[I had come to the conclusion – LAST]

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(Hamish Hamilton, 5 November 2015, 220 pages, hardback, borrowed from @GlasgowLib)

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I’ve become quite a fan of Ali Smith over the past few months after studying her work via an Open University Course. I’ve become committed to reading her back catalogue. This is an excellent collection of short stories. In my experiences, a lot of story collections are uneven with a mixture of good and not so good stories. It’s rare to find one where every story works and earns its place. Every story is spot on here. I enjoyed all of them. The stories are all different so I didn’t know what treat Smith would offer next. The stories have mini essays in between where Smith asks various other writers why public libraries are important to them. I enjoyed these as well. To be clear, the stories are not about public libraries so the point of these mini essays is not clear to me. The stories all use books as a central theme so there’s that I suppose. The best stories are Last, The Beholder, The Human Claim and The Art of Elsewhere.

Posted in 2020, historical fiction, james lovegrove, Review Copy, Short Fiction

The Manifestations of Sherlock Holmes by @JamesLovegrove7

Twelve sensational Sherlock Holmes short stories from a bestselling master of the genre.

Tales of treachery, intrigue and evil…

MAVERICK DETECTIVE SHERLOCK HOLMES AND HIS FAITHFUL CHRONICLER DR JOHN WATSON RETURN IN TWELVE THRILLING SHORT STORIES

The iconic duo find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events: an otherworldly stone whose touch inflicts fatal bleeding; a hellish potion unlocks a person s devilish psyche; Holmes’s most hated rival detective tells his story; a fiendishly clever, almost undetectable method of revenge; Watson finally has his chance to shine; and many more – including a brand-new Cthulhu Casebooks story.

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[‘Now here is a queer thing’ said my friend Sherlock Holmes one September morning in 1893 – THE ADVENTURES OF THE MARCHINDALE STILETTO]

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(@TitanBooks, 21 January 2020, 288 pages, ebook, copy from @TitanBooks and voluntarily reviewed)

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I’m a massive Sherlock Holmes fan. Who isn’t? I’ve actually listened to all 70+ hours of Sherlock Holmes The Complete Collection on Audible. I must admit I do prefer stories which stay pretty close to the original Conan stories. Until now that is. I thought every story in this collection was pretty awesome. I loved the fact the stories are all quite different and show us Holmes in a varied range of situations such as a HP Lovecraft’s Cluthu Mythos. There are usually one or two stories in a collection that don’t quite work but every story ticks all of the boxes.

Posted in 2020, Contemporary Fiction, library book, Margaret Atwood, Short Fiction

Dancing Girls and Other Stories by @MargaretAtwood

Pregnant women, students and journalists; farmers and birdwatchers, ex-wives, adolescent lovers – and dancing girls. All ordinary people. Or are they? In this collection of short stories, Margaret Atwood maps human motivation we scarcely know we have.

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[A LONG TIME AGO Christine was walking through the park – THE MAN FROM MARS]  

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(@vintagebooks, 15 May 2012, first published 1977, 240 pages, ebook, borrowed from @GlasgowLib via @OverDriveLibs)

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I’m a huge fan of Atwood. However, I’ve come to realise I like her novels far more than her short fiction. This was a mixed bag of stories for me, some really good and some lacklustre and confusing. The best stories were Betty, Under Glass, The Grave of the Famous Poet and The Sin Eater. The rest of the stories fell a little short. The remaining stories come across as immature and experimental with no real focus and a sense of confusion. At times they even felt very rough and unfinished.

Posted in 2019, Contemporary Fiction, l.m brown, Review Copy, Short Fiction, Top Books

Were We Awake by L.M. Brown

In each story of this collection, events make the characters understand that their world is not as it seemed.

In Hidden, the discovery of an affair between her father and aunt is only the start of finding hidden secrets for Hazel.

What it Means to Be Empty-Handed is narrated by a fourteen–year-old daughter of an alcoholic. Her denial and elaborate imagination starts to disintegrate when she lies to the wrong person.

In Crashing, a middle-aged woman lives a life of servitude until she hits teenage boy with her car.

A thirty-year-old murder takes its toll on the victim’s family in Walking A Country Road.

The stories are set in Boston and Ireland.

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[IN THE CLASSROOM, the children’s voices were often lost amidst the high pitched drills of the quarry COMMUNION]

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(Fomite, 25 November 2019, 215 pages, ebook, copy from the author and voluntarily reviewed)

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I was impressed with the quality of the stories in this collection. The stories are vastly different in scope, style and structure. There are no two stories alike. Most story collections have at least one or two that don’t work. I cannot fault a single story in Were We Awake. I loved every story. Walking a Country Road is the stand-out story in the collection. It’s one of the best stories I’ve read in a long time. I also loved Cold Spell and Green Balloons. What impressed me is that the stories start off seeming to be quite innocent and gradually get much darker in tone.

Posted in 2019, Contemporary Fiction, Horror Fiction, Joe Hill, Short Fiction, Top Books

Full Throttle by @joe_hill

A masterful collection of thirteen relentless tales of supernatural suspense, including In The Tall Grass, one of two stories co-written with Stephen King, the basis for the terrifying feature film from Netflix.

A little door that opens to a world of fairy tale wonders becomes the blood-drenched stomping ground for a gang of hunters in Faun.


A grief-stricken librarian climbs behind the wheel of an antique Bookmobile to deliver fresh reads to the dead in Late Returns.


In By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain, two young friends stumble on the corpse of a plesiosaur at the water’s edge, a discovery that forces them to confront the inescapable truth of their own mortality… and other horrors that lurk in the water’s shivery depths.


And tension shimmers in the sweltering heat of the Nevada desert as a faceless trucker finds himself caught in a sinister dance with a tribe of motorcycle outlaws in Throttle, co-written with Stephen King.


Featuring two previously unpublished stories, Full Throttle is a darkly imagined odyssey through the complexities of the human psyche. Hypnotic and disquieting, it mines our tormented secrets, hidden vulnerabilities, and basest fears.

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[THEY RODE WEST FROM THE SLAUGHTER, through the painted desert and did not stop until they were a hundred miles away – THROTTLE]

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(Gollancz, 10 October 2019, 480 pages, hardback, bought from @AmazonUK)

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So, I am a rabid fan of Joe Hill. He’s right up there with his father, Stephen King in terms of greatness in my humble opinion. I suspected Joe Jill was King’s son before it became public knowledge. I knew King’s son’s full name was Joseph Hillstrom King (I’m that kind of rabid fan). Also, some of his stories in 20th Century Ghosts reminded me of King. This collection is just as amazing as I expected it to be. The opening story, Throttle co-wrote with King blew my mind. I already have the e-book of In The Tall Grass and I loved re-visiting it. The best stories include Throttle, Dark Carousel, Late Returns and All I Care about Is You but to be honest I loved them all.

Posted in 2019, children's fiction, Fantasy Fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien, Poetry, Prime Reading, Short Fiction

Tree and Leaf by J.R.R. Tolkien

Repackaged to feature Tolkien’s own painting of the Tree of Amalion, this collection includes his famous essay, ‘On Fairy-stories’ and the story that exemplifies this, ‘Leaf by Niggle’, together with the poem ‘Mythopoeia’ and the verse drama, ‘The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth’, which tells of the events following the disastrous Battle of Maldon.

Fairy-stories are not just for children, as anyone who has read Tolkien will know. In his essay On Fairy-Stories, Tolkien discusses the nature of fairy-tales and fantasy and rescues the genre from those who would relegate it to juvenilia. The haunting short story, Leaf by Niggle, recounts the story of the artist, Niggle, who has ‘a long journey to make’ and is seen as an allegory of Tolkien’s life.

The poem Mythopoeia relates an argument between two unforgettable characters as they discuss the making of myths. Lastly, and published for the very first time, we are treated to the translation of Tolkien’s account of the Battle of Maldon, known as The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth.

Tree and Leaf is an eclectic, amusing, provocative and entertaining collection of works which reveals the diversity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagination, the depth of his knowledge of English history, and the breadth of his talent as a creator of fantastic fiction.

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[I propose to speak about fairy-stories, though I am aware that this is a rash adventure – ON FAIRY-STORIES]

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(HarperCollins, 6 December 2012, first published 1 January 1992, 176 pages, ebook, borrowed from @AmazonKindle #PrimeReading)

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So, this is a bit of a mixed bag of Tolkien’s work including a rather long essay and a poem. I enjoyed the essay the most. I thought it was well researched and hugely entertaining. I also enjoyed the poem, Mythopoeia. I’m a bit of a poet nut though and there’s not enough genre poetry around if you ask me so this was delightful. The other two pieces, Leaf by Niggle and The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth were just so-so. This wasn’t a bad read.

Posted in 2019, children's fiction, Fairytales, hans christian anderson, historical fiction, Short Fiction, Top Books

Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales: A Selection

‘My fairy tales were as much for older people as for children…humour was the real salt in them.’

Hans Andersen is best remembered for the tales collected in this edition, stories that have become classics and have been translated into over a hundred languages.

This selection contains twenty-eight stories, including ‘The Tinder-Box,’ ‘Thumbelina,’ ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘The Ugly Duckling,’ and ‘The Snow Queen,’ as well as others that are less well known. Some of the tales are taken from history or Danish folk tales, but the majority are Andersen’s own invention and often feature the author, his friends and enemies in a variety of guises.

This classic edition is accompanied by the original illustrations by Vilhelm Pedersen and Lorenz Frøhlich.

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[A SOLDIER came marching down the road – left! right! left! right! – THE TINDER-BOX]

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(Oxford University Press, 1 July 2009, 349 pages, paperback, bought from @AmazonUK, set text for @OpenUniversity course)

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I grew up with Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales. One of my favourite books as a child was a massive door-stop of a book that contained hundreds of fairy tales by Anderson and the like. I lost it, sadly years ago but this book was one of many that turned me into a reader and a lover of books. I’ve read and seen many versions of Anderson’s stories over the year and they still make the child inside me glow. I was familiar with many tales in this volume including The Princess and the Pea, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes and my absolute favourite The Snow Queen. I also read many stories for the first time including The Galoshes of Fortune and The Buckwheat. This was a treat and I loved the black and white illustrations as well.

Posted in 2019, Anthology, ARC, Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Review Copy, Short Fiction

Hex Life: Wicked New Tales of Witchery

Brand-new stories of witches and witchcraft written by popular female fantasy authors, including Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine and Sherrilyn Kenyon writing in their own bestselling universes!

These are tales of wickedness… stories of evil and cunning, written by today’s women you should fear. Includes tales from Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine and Sherrilyn Kenyon, writing in their own bestselling universes.

Hex Life: Wicked New Tales of Witchery will take the classic tropes of tales of witchcraft and infuse them with fresh, feminist perspective and present-day concerns–even if they’re set in the past. These witches might be monstrous, or they might be heroes, depending on their own definitions. Even the kind hostess with the candy cottage thought of herself as the hero of her own story. After all, a woman’s gotta eat.

Bring out your dread.

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[Merrinvale was a town that needed witches – AN INVITATION TO A BURNING BY KAT HOWARD]

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(Titan Books, 1 October 2019, 400 pages, ebook, ARC from @TitanBooks and voluntarily reviewed)

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So I have a bit of a soft spot for witches, magic and the like. I’ve binge watched Charmed (the original series not that god-awful twee re-boot several times). This collection contains an impressive mix of stories covering other world magic, eerie, dark, disturbing and beautiful whimsy so there’s a good mix here and something for every taste. I cannot fault a single story in this collection. I had a great time reading them all. I liked the fact the stories cover multiple genres including traditional fairy tales and more modern stories. The stories are funny at times, sad, touching and scared the crap out of me more than once. The best stories were Widows’ Walk by Angela Slatter, The Night Nurse by Sarah Langan, Bless Your Heart by Hillary Monahan, and This Skin by Amber Benson. I had a mild fan-girl freak out when I realised Amber Benson aka Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a story in this collection and it’s one of the best. I’d only read a couple of the authors before so it was great discovering new voices.