2May E Scrap Metal***** – Harper Fox. This is a beautiful m/m romance set on the Scottish island of Arran. I love Harper Fox’s writing style which is very lyrical but at the same time detailed and earthy, and I love the UK settings for her stories, especially the northern ones. She describes landscapes well and her characters, even the minor ones, are very real. Her romances usually have an element of suspense and violence and this one is no different, but as usual, the story ends on a note of hope for the future.
7May E Cat’s Creation**** – Natasha Duncan-Drake. A competent sequel to Cat’s Call (with the same proofreading flaws). The team have an interesting assignment which takes up most of the book. Probably a very appealing book for YA readers wanting excitement with plenty of character development and coming-of-age plotlines. Now that I have gained some insight into the ‘world’ of Charlie and his cat spirit I am less interested but can still admire the story structure.
9May P The Church of Dead Girls** – Stephen Dobyns. A very unpleasant story about how a serial abduction case (later known to be a murder one) creates suspicion and havoc in a small American town. I was intrigued by rave reviews by writers I respect (e.g. Stephen King) but found myself disliking almost all the characters, including the narrator and the victims, and skimming the detailed descriptions of society to find out who was the villain. Not an author I would try again.
11May P Treasure Islands***** – Nicholas Shaxson. Subtitle: Tax havens and the men who stole the world. This was a very readable and gripping acount of offshore banking and the effects it has on global finance in general, and the current banking crisis in particular. I kept feeling that I was being told something I ought to have known – and yet the details are carefully brushed under the carpet by politicians and journalists alike, and the ordinary citizen is kept in ignorance. A fascinating book and one that has opened my eyes to the way finance works. Highly recommended.
14May P Piece of my heart** – Peter Robinson. Thriller set in a semi-fictitious Yorkshire Dales which threw me because of my own connections with the area. I kept trying to fit the made-up names and descriptions to real places. The story dealt with a case in 1969 and one today. Eventually, the two turn out to be linked. The modern case concerns DI Banks, a detective I enjoyed in the TV series but found slightly boring in novel form.
15May P Kingdoms of Elfin** – Sylvia Townsend Warner. A few people had recommended this and other books by the same author, presumably because I have written about ‘fairies’. I managed to buy a second hand copy of this one (supposedly her best) which is currently out of print. I was terribly disappointed. Ms Warner’s fairies are arbitrary, cruel and amoral but that wasn’t the problem; my own fae don’t always adhere to human rules of conduct. The trouble is that the fairies in Elfin (and the mortals, for that matter) are never developed into fully three-dimensional characters. We learn what they do, but not really how they feel about it. I really didn’t care about anyone in the stories and whilst their antics were intriguing it was almost like watching flocks of birds or clouds of insects. Some of the societies and events were brilliantly depicted and the descriptions showed unusual imagination but there was no attempt to develop any empathy or sympathy. I had to struggle to read to the end and only did so to be able to discuss the book with the people who recommended it in such glowing terms.
18May P You Belong To Me***** – Karen Rose. Karen Rose’s thrillers are over the top and somewhat formulaic. They shouldn’t fascinate me but they do. She creates characters I care about from the first chapter, in some cases from the first page, and the action is always intensely gripping. I put off meals and bedtime to read just one more chapter… So her writing is extremely good, to have such an effect. I think the appealing characters are the key. Other thrillers have fast-paced and exciting plots but don’t hook me. In this story, from the moment when Lucy stumbled across a corpse and met JD, the homicide detective, I wanted them to be together so I read on through 547 pages of angst. It was worth it.
19May E Human Tales**** – ed. Jennifer Brozek. An anthology of ‘fairy tales’ told from fairy and other supernatural points of view. The humans of the title come across as difficult – and sometimes wicked – but always interesting. As with any anthology the quality varied but every story drew me in and made me care about the main characters. Much more to my taste than The Kingdoms of Elfin, read earlier in the month.
23May P Edge***** – Jeffery Deaver. I bought this at a charity shop because I’ve enjoyed his detective novels and because I was interested to see what the author given the task of writing a new James Bond novel could do in a slightly different type of thriller. Edge follows four days in a case of protecting a family who are the targets of a ‘lifter’, someone paid, not initially to kill, but to get information by any means possible. It’s all told in the first person by the main protector and is quite gripping. There’s a great deal of discussion about game theory which is interesting, and the plot has numerous twists and turns. Not my usual choice of fiction but very good, all the same.
25May P Wink**** – Leyton Attens. This is a volume of One Short Story to be Told and I was the latest recipient of the single copy that is travelling around the world. The story was readable and competently written but the main intrigue is in following the story of the stories.
31May P Everything is Obvious (once you know the answer)**** – Duncan J. Watts. Subtitle: How common sense fails. An interesting book about sociology and recent research in the field. The author does indeed manage to get the reader to question their common sense assumptions. The experiments, particularly the ones carried out on huge samples via the internet, were fascinating. The explanations became somewhat repetitive on occasion.
31May P The Rook Trilogy (The Edge Chronicles)**** – Paul Stewart and Chris Ridddell. This is a children’s book – a long saga of war and friendship in a world of humans, goblins and gnomes and stranger monsters, some good and some evil. The descriptions and world building are richly detailed as are the black and white illustrations. I found it interesting and will definitely keep it for my grandson, but I did find myself skimming a lot of the battle scenes. I would probably recommend it for reading aloud to seven year olds upwards and for slightly older children (or maybe just more able readers) for reading to themselves, but the reviews at the back suggest that younger teenagers love the series and are thrilled by the associated website at http://www.edgechronicles.co.uk. There are apparently three trilogies, to date, and a book of oddments.
3May Ratatouille*** – Disney cartoon film about a rat who wants to be the best chef in Paris. Quite a sweet story but it dragged a little.
16May The Golden Compass** – Gorgeous special effects but if I hadn’t read the book I would be very confused. I assume they are going to make films of the other two parts of the trilogy otherwise there really doesn’t seem much point to the story.
20May Misfits**** – Season 1. Clever dark comedy about a gang of young offenders who get superpowers during a freak storm.
22May The Lakehouse** – I rented this because I’d read an intriguing fanfic based on the premise in the story. Well made but disappointing with an ending that didn’t make sense. The couple in the film are living in different times, roughly two years apart, and though they meet it is never ‘right’. It’s a romance, but a strange one and it never explained how they got together at the end.
24May The Brothers Grimm***** – A gorgeous mix of fantasy, folk tale, horror and humour, with excellent acting and special effects. Slight echoes of Tim Burton and of Pan’s Labyrinth, and all the unusual detail you can expect from Terry Gilliam and Czech film making. I don’t know why this didn’t attract greater critical acclaim. Highly recommended.
25May Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1* – I thought this was a deeply flawed film. I enjoy the Harry Potter world – books and films – but this was far too dependent on knowledge of the book, to make sense, too slow to retain interest, too visually dark and too unfinished. OK, they made Part 2 (and I have yet to watch that) but although the first part of the final book drags in much the same way as the film the slowness is in keeping with the context and the reader is able to go straight on into the rest of the story. As a piece of cinema, I think this film fails. I think it was made purely with the profits of the series in mind, and not with any artistic vision.
An interesting month with some highs and unexpected lows. What have you been reading and watching?