Rising to the challenge

I was in my teens when the number of books arriving on my shelves began to outstrip the number of books I could read. I must have given away something like 30 boxes of the things over time but the bookstack keeps growing. Go figure. Sadly, since starting to work as an editor, I’ve found myself reading less and less for my own sake. That partly comes down to time management and partly because it feels like a busman’s holiday. I tried to get back into pleasure reading last year, with limited success, but the determination and effort it took was horrifying. Nevertheless, my intentions are to press on through 2023 in order to rebuild the habit and rediscover the pure joy of it.

Matthew Cavanagh recently posted a challenge on their blog to help people like me, frozen in the teetering shadows of our bookstacks, to start tackling them in a structured way, and that sounded like a damned fine idea.

Can I manage it? God knows. I still have to put time into earning money, into family time, into hobbies with my friends and whatnot. Time management, like I say. I shan’t tie myself to the ambitious stretch goals, but I’ll have a good go at the main event— and yes, I’ll write reviews of each book at The Fine-toothed Comb to help mark the journey.

So, what have we got in store, then?


January – End to end temptation: read your most recent book.

Three large old-fashioned suitcases are piled atop each other against a blue background. Written in white are the words: A Bunch Courtney Investigation, then the title: In Cases of Murder, then the author: Jan Edwards.








A murder mystery set during World War II, featuring a plucky female police consulting detective.

In Cases of Murder, by Jan Edwards (Penkhull Press)


February – Short steps: read 28 short stories.

A Van Gogh=style swirling blue moon fills the night sky. Below, at the very bottom of the cover, a stretch of land with conifer trees on it are silhouetted. The title and author are written across the moon in black: Starless and Bible Black Sue York.A black, blood-spattered cover features the blurred, candle-lit image of a saintly figure, raising a hand in benediction. Across its head is a halo of sharp spikes. The face of the figure appears to be wearing black eyeliner and lipstick. In bold yellow writing across the centre we see the title: The Book of Queer Saints, within which the two letter t's are picked out in red. At the bottom it proclaims that the book has been Edited by Mae Murray, Foreword by Sam Richard.

A collection of short stories by a friend, and an anthology of short stories which seek to reclaim queer villainy.

Starless and Bible Black, by Sue York (Midnight Street Press)

The Book of Queer Saints, by various (Mae Murray)


March – Fresh starts: read the first book of a series.

A spherical machine, picked out in blue, with 3 suns about it. Below sits a pyramid, a human figured dwarfed in front of it. Above is the author's name: Cixin Liu. Below is the title: The Three-body Problem.

A highly-rated Chinese SF book which leaps from the cultural revolution into a future filled with nanotech and virtual realities.

The Three-body Problem, by Cixin Liu (Head of Zeus)


April – Open and shut case: read a standalone book.

Against a blue star-filled sky, we see a line-sketched greek column. Atop this dances a faun, playing pipes. Behind the column, across the bottom of the page, an ocean of water or possibly cloud. The author's name tops the page: Susanna Clarke, with the title of the book at the bottom in a wobbly font: Piranesi.

A slender but profound book from the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell that places us in an enigmatic and unique world.

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury Publishing)


May – Crowning glory?: read a book about revolution.

A blurred backround of blue and black with vague indications of architecture. Standing in the foreground is a humanoid warrior dressed in armour, a sword at his side. Above his head is the name of this mini-series: Tales of the Apt. Over his shins and feet the title and author are depicted in white: A Time For Grief Adrian Tchaikovsky

A second collection of interstitial short stories set during the epic events of the Shadows of the Apt series.

A Time for Grief, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Newcon Press)


June – Longest nights: read the biggest book on the bookstack.

The base colour is black. An intricate silver design is etched across it - a little like a spider web, though far more detiled and dense. Across it top centre is the word 'Epic' and 'Tales' is similarly picked out across the bottom centre. A sqaure of black is left free in the middle of the cover. The title Persian Myths & Tales is written here in gold, with the head of a stylised Persian figure below it.

Collected mythological works from ancient Persia, recommended to me by my beloved sister-in-law.

Persian Myths and Tales (Flame Tree Press)


July – Holidays are coming!: read a book from the author who lives farthest away.

Top third of the cover is black, with the title in white: Dark Winds Over Wellington. The subtitle is Chilling Tales of the Weird & the Strange. Below this is a slash of purple and pinks, within which is a blurred sun. Across this scene, blades of grass are silhouetted. Below is another black area, featuring the author's name: Tabatha Wood.

A collection of short stories set in and around the Wellington area of New Zealand.

Dark Winds Over Wellington, by T. Wood (indie)


August – Holiday treats: read the book you most want to read.

A white cover features a central circle which appears to be the map of a labyrinth. Around it, picked out in red, is the title: Threading the Labyrinth. Surrounding the writing and filling up most of the cover are various plants in muted colours. At the bottom, the author's name is printed in black: Tiffani Angus.

A novel by one of my favourite people, released through one of my favourite publishers. Yoink.

Threading the Labyrinth, by Tiffani Angus (Unsung Stories)


September – Seven deadly tempts: read a book connected to the seven deadly sins.

A CHinese puzzle box dominates the cover, the whole of which is tinted red. In the central circle of the front-facing side of the cube is a silhouette of the great detective, complete with deerstalker and pipe. The text at the top of the page reads: Set in Clive Barker's Hellraising world, Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell. The author's name: Paul Kane, sits at the foot of the cover.

Holmes meets Hellraiser. Is there anybody not gagging to read this?

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, by Paul Kane (Solaris)


October – Spooky season cometh: read a book with a spooky or dark theme.

A black cover is dominated by a strange, parasitic worm-like creature, picked out in chalky white. Its head raised to strike, two concentric circles of sharp teeth poised to latch on. The mouth area is reddened with blood. Above this creature is the author;s name: Adam L.G. Nevill. Below, the lower case title: wyrd and other dereclictions.

A chilling little collection from the author of The Ritual and No One Gets Out Alive.

Wyrd and Other Derelictions, by Adam Nevill (Ritual Limited)


November – Small press, big stories: read an indie book.

A grey, stone-textured cover is apparently cracked down the centre, opening up a holw near the bottom centre, through which peers a dark face and a wide white eye. Written across this image, carved like a gravestone, is the title: Trying to be so Quiet & Other Hauntings. Below the eye, the author is named: James Everington.

A novelette of bereavement from a wonderful, sensitive and lyrical writer.

Trying to be So Quiet, by James Everington (Sinister Horror Company)


December – Don’t forget to say thank you: read a book someone gifted to you.

A river leads from the bottom right of the cover to the centre left. a city silhouetted in the distance against a smoky yellow, blue and grey sky. Central to the image is a flag pole from which a red flag streams out with a stylised sun on it. Above is the author's name: Joe Abercrombie, and below, the title: A Little Hatred

First of a new grimdark fantasy series by Joe Abercrombie. The Age of Madness has arrived.

A Little Hatred, by Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz)


What else have we got in store for the blog in 2023? I’ll be getting back to regular posts mixing up Personal stuff, Reviews, Creative pieces and Editing-related topics, but this will now be on a fortnightly basis rather than every week. There’s only so much time after all, and I have an increasing amount of work to do at the University.

That’s about it for now. Wishing you all the joy and contentment a New Year can bring.


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