Review: Spider Circus, by Alice Nuttall

Note: I was given a free copy of this for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.

Spider Circus (Amazon link) (also available from Smashwords) is a YA fantasy novel (the first of a series, though the rest aren’t out yet), following protagonist Lizzie as she is pulled into the world-travelling Spider Circus. While trying to find her feet and her niche within the circus and its folk, she also uncovers a mystery involving ringmaster Jack.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. I loved the world-building; the circus itself and the people in it, the multiple other worlds, and the interaction between the two. Lizzie is a great, sympathetic character, and I was emotionally involved in her various struggles. (She’s also black, and it’s nice to read non-white protagonists, especially when this isn’t made a big part of the story itself.)

Towards the end I did feel that things got a bit rushed. The plot and ending hang together, but the pace seemed to pick up quite abruptly from the earlier settling-in stuff. The reveal of the bad guys (she says, trying to avoid spoilers) was a bit too unexpected. Unexpected is good, but I didn’t feel that as a reader I’d been entirely set up for it. Ideally a plot twist should feel both surprising and, once it has happened, inevitable (“oh, of course!”). This had some of that, in that I did see how it fit in, but I think it could have felt a little more satisfying.

There were also a few stylistic niggles and infelicities here and there. But not many, and I noticed more of these in the first few pages than elsewhere in the book. I suspect this was because I was very quickly sufficiently drawn into the characters and the story that I didn’t mind any more. Personally, I would far rather read a gripping story and well-realised characters with the odd clunk than matchless prose with a dull story and characters I don’t care about.

Despite the ending feeling a little sudden, I finished the book very keen to read the next one (once, that is, it’s out), and I’d happily recommend it to others.

(One minor note which is not about the book but about me – I find the “leaving home without parents knowing” trope (very common IME in YA and especially in fantasy) really quite upsetting now in a way that I never used to. This parenting business does affect your brain.)

Alice’s website can be found here, with some more stories available, some of which are free.

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Iris Wildthyme of Mars

The author list for “Iris Wildthyme of Mars” (ed Philip Purser-Hallard), due out this summer from Obverse Books, was announced this week, and I am on it!

Iris is a splendid character to write, and I enjoyed putting the story together. (Writing for me often feels like that; like locking pieces of idea into one another to create a finished structure. I may be influenced in this notion by time recently spent with Duplo blocks.) It even has a permaculture genesis…

I’m looking forward to reading the other stories (I’ve already read a first draft of one of them, and it was great; and I’m familiar with previous work from several of the other authors), and to the book coming out. Watch this space, and so on.

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Intro to Permaculture course — free!

I’m running a free Introduction to Permaculture one-day course at Burgess Park Food Project on the 26th April (2014). Contact me, or the address on the website, to book.

There’s lots of other cool stuff going on there this summer, too. (JPG only at that link, sorry; have requested text version.)

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Hydroponics

Chris Wimmer of Captain Hydroponics recently dropped me an email to say hi. Having recently visited the Biospheric Foundation in Salford and seen their experimental urban aquaponics setup, I was interested and asked him a little more about hydroponics.

Chris says:
“Hydroponics is the practice of gardening without soil. This method allows you to grow your plants with less water and fertilizer than traditional gardening. You can even get creative by reusing existing household items in your hydroponic systems.”

His site explains it all in more detail. I quite like the look of this simple DIY system. I already have an airstone (bought for making compost tea) and I’m sure we have a plastic box kicking around somewhere. The 2-litre plastic bottle idea doesn’t even need an airstone, and this hydroponic microgreens setup is even easier. (Chris tells me that you can use non-peat alternatives to peat moss.) I shall see if I can give one of them a go this season — or if anyone reading does, please report back.

In case you’re wondering: the difference between aquaponics and hydroponics is that aquaponics also involve fish, with the idea being that the fish waste products act as fertiliser for the plants, with the plants therefore keeping the water clean. The Biospheric Foundation setup also involves compost, which in its turn produces worms to feed the fish. Graham Burnett at Spiralseed wrote up the LAND trip to Manchester that I was on which included that visit.

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Signs of Spring

I meant to post this last month, when it was a little more exciting. But still. Here is some of the spring growth in these parts:

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Blueberry blossom

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Grape vine shoots

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Daubenton’s Kale florets (with lots of bits chopped off where we’ve already eaten the bigger florets).

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Strange Bedfellows

The anthology Strange Bedfellows, from Bundoran Press, is on sale now (wherever books are sold, and also specifically direct from the publisher or from Amazon UK). My story Blocking features it.

It’s an anthology of specifically political SF, from a broad range of political perspectives. My story concerns spacefaring anarchists (as may not be terribly surprising to anyone who is familiar with my political biases), and the making of decisions, personal and collective. There’s a review of the book as a whole over on Black Gate. I’ve been reading the rest of the stories (not quite all done yet as my author copy only arrived recently) and it’s a thought-provoking read all round.>

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Twisted Boulevard out in UK

Twisted Boulevard (featuring ME) now available from Amazon UK. (As far as I know this is the only UK online retailer; although your local indie bookshop ought to be able to order it in for you.)

(I still haven’t seen my contributor copy, but looking forward to reading it when I do.)

In other news, I have had a lovely weekend up in Manchester. Leon was particularly fond of this train, where by “particularly fond of” I mean “refused to get off until it stopped running for the day”. After that there were ducks, and vegan curry; an excellent day all round.

This week: lots of writing to be done. Story to edit for another forthcoming anthology; novel to work on; Linux Voice article to finish.

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Permaculture Parenting in Juno

I wrote a piece on applying Holmgren’s 12 Principles of Permaculture to parenting for the current issue of Juno, now out online and in shops.

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Other things in this issue include an interview with Shelia Kitzinger; an extended feature on home education; Sarah Ockwell-Smith discussing bed-sharing myths; Talking Point on organic cotton; a mum sharing her positive experience of elimination communication; ideas for free outdoor activities for Spring; eco-holiday recommendations; encouragement to become a Flexitarian and simple gardening inspiration. I’ve just finished my copy and thoroughly enjoyed it; it’s all worth a read.

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Twisted Boulevard out

Black and white photo of urban street, hotel or similar in the background with a lit-up canopy, silhouette figure in foreground sitting on a low pillar. "Twisted Boulevard" in red down the left, and "Edited by Angela Charmaine Craig" at bottom.

Cover for Twisted Boulevard

Twisted Boulevard, the urban fantasy anthology from Elektrik Milk Bath Press in which I have a story, is now available. They will do international shipping there, but it should also be available from Amazon UK in a week or so. (For some reason there is always a delay, apparently.)

Over on writer Gregory L. Norris’ blog, a few of the writers in the anthology (including me) have shared a little snippet of what’s behind their stories.

I am looking forward to receiving my own copy soon and getting to read the other stories.

(In unrelated news, I really wish I knew why my laptop was running quite so slowly. It is most annoying.)

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Forest Garden update

My forest garden is really more of a forest fence, but nevertheless, over the winter I have started planting up. At a workshop recently someone mentioned that you should try to get a photo from the same place once or twice a year as your garden develops, so here is my first one:

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Very far right, in shade, is a blackcurrant bush with some daffodils by it, and to the left of that, a space where I will plant tomatoes in pots again this year as they did very well last year. (Not really part of the ‘forest’.)

In the bed right of middle, I’ve planted a fig tree against the fence, in a paving-slab box. There’s some volunteer parsley in that bed too, and some ground cover strawberries. I’m planning to plant some fennel, chard, and perhaps Good King Henry in there later this month as a herbaceous layer; and probably some rocket will show up as it does everywhere else. I may well train the fig against the fence, which is a bit against the forest garden theory but more practical in this tiny space.

The left-hand bed has a grape vine, which I will train up the fence and over to the left. There’s also a Daubenton’s Kale (looking a bit toppled-over; it seems taller than the one I have had before but we’ll see how it does), some chard and rocket, and I’ve moved my thyme in there. I’m considering moving some of the other perennial herbs in there too.

Then looking left again there are the herb pots; and since taking that photo earlier in the week, I’ve moved the mini greenhouse again so it too is against the fence. I planted a dwarf cherry tree in a pot against the fence at the other side, and an autumn olive at the shady end of the garden, so there are lots of things to keep an eye on this year. I’ll take another photo like this in late summer to see how it’s all looking.

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