So... from being someone who bought lots of books of short stories but hardly ever read any (I know) I've become someone who likes to have a volume on the go most of the time. They're fun, and fill a half hour of free time, and also you get to discover new authors, or possibly decide you don't like someone's writing after all...
My last book for 2020 was a book of tales from the British Library's collection, Weird Woods: Tales from the Haunted Forests of Britain edited by John Miller.
This collection is pretty much what it says in the title, macabre stories that involve trees, woods and forests. I had several favourites.
Man-size in Marble by Edith Nesbit (author of the 'Five Children and It' series for children) involves a couple buying a cottage near Romney Marsh in the SE of England. All is well until Halloween when their excellent housekeeper won't stay in the house because of a local story of something that 'walks' on that night. Very atmospheric.
Ancient Lights by Algernon Blackwood, one of my favourite ghost story authors, well known for setting stories in the northern forests of Canada. This one tells of a surveyor's clerk visiting a client in the South Downs in Sussex. Said client wants to do alterations to an ancient wood, so on the way the clerk decides to walk through the wood. Wrong choice.
A Neighbour's Landmark by M.R. James involves some woods on a hill that are no more but something has been left behind. Wonderfully creepy as you would expect from James.
N by Arthur Machen. Three men are in an inn recalling all their walks around London. The subject of the area around Stoke Newington comes up, people who have been there but can't recall what they did or where they went, or even if they went at all. Does Cannon's Park exist or doesn't it? Naturally someone has to go and look for himself.
An Old Thorn Tree by W.H. Hudson was my favourite of the collection. It's set on the Wiltshire Downs, which is one of those mysterious areas of England, lot of standing stones, barrows, more crop circles and UFO sightings than anywhere else, that sort of thing. It's easy to sense a weirdness when you're there and this story of a solitary, ancient thorn tree on the top of a hill plays on that atmosphere. The narrator feels drawn to the tree and sits in a pub listening to stories about the tree and it's effect on local people's lives. Brilliant.
These collections vary a bit, some I like a lot, the 'sea' collection for instance, and some are a bit average. This 'trees' anthology was very good, terrific sense of place in most of the stories, and there were only a couple I thought were a bit daft or confusing. The rest were all excellent.
Next up, Death's Detective by Charlotte E. English, my first book for 2021 and one I saw reviewed here on Pat's blog, Here, There and Everywhere.
I hope everyone else has had a good reading start to 2021? I see lots of people signing up for challenges and it's fun to see what they're doing. I've just signed up for one for now, Marg's Historical Fiction 2021. Whether I'll end up doing more I'm not sure at the moment. We'll see.