28 June 2011

Continued Reading

Pretty Twisted by Gina Blaxill
This teenage book is a thriller told from the view points of two characters. Jono is a 16 year old who's having difficulty adjusting to sixth form college without his girlfriend Freya. Ros is a 14 year old who feels like her best friend is slipping away from her. They randomly become friends via instant messages. Events take a turn for the worse when Freya breaks up with Jono and then disappears
The book starts part way through the story -at a particularly dramatic point- to engage the reader's interest, before jumping back to the character introductions and the start of the plot. This means that the reader is curious to see what will happen, and also slightly suspicious of the characters.

The book mentions being careful who you meet online, and Ros shows how easy it can be for cyber friends to misrepresent themselves -even if her's is only a white lie. It also warns that young people need to be careful about who they meet in real life as well. There's a good portrayal of a relationship coming to an end and the silly things people do when they have a crush. Jono's inability/unwillingness to settle in at college is familiar, and Ros's uncertainty about her appearance is a common experience for teenage girls.
I will be recommending this strongly at the next Teenage Reading Group.

Fluffy by Lia Simone
This sweet little graphic novel was recommended by a colleague.
It's about a man called Michael who is Daddy to a very small bunny called Fluffy. Michael is unimpressed by his job, is an a relationship with Fluffy's rather clingy nursery teacher, and seems generally dissatisfied. A trip to visit family in Sicily leads to family drama and then a moment of clarity.
There are plenty of odd things in this book, initially the fact that a man is the (adoptive) father of a bunny. Large parts of the book are narrated by a dust mote. The art work is simple and charming. The content is a mixture of child-like, innocent wonder and grown up complications.

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whelan Turner
This book was lent to me by a friend, it's the sequel to The Thief, lent to me previously by the same friend. I didn't mention it hear because I think I read it around the time my laptop wasn't working.
The books are set in a world based on Ancient Greece, which is why my friend thought I'd enjoy it. The updated from a technological point of view. There are guns, but they are rarely used as arrows are generally more available and reliable. There is a pantheon of various gods who embody features of the natural world and human life, there is a varied mythology around the gods and those humans who long ago interacted with them. The countries mentioned are coastal or mountainous and there are great olive plantations. There are various words that are Greek like megaron and amphora.

The Queen of Attolia was a good story, although it didn't feel quite as personal or contained as The Thief. The story takes place over quite a long period and involves characters who are monarchs, making it more political and complicated than the quest story in the first book. The resolution was not what I expected, and the romance plot line, which is underplayed until the end of the book, was very odd.
 Still I'm looking forward to reading the next book, which is good as my friend lent me that one as well.

Alt.Fiction - Sunday Edition

This year I went to Alt.Ficiton in Derby for the the secons time.
It was a 2 day event for the first time, which is good because I would have had to miss it otherwise. Sadly this year I was working on Saturday so I was only there on the Sunday. I got the impression that Saturday had perhaps been the better day, but I was glad to have gone all the same.

After getting up as early as I would to go to work and catching a bus then a train I arrived in Derby, where the sun blazed down in a very holiday-like way.
The first programme event I attended was Juliet E. McKenna's Workshop on making every word count. It was an interesting and fun workshop which was very interactive and got the participants to focus on use of words and ways to use language in order to raise questions and assumptions in a reader's mind.

The nicest thing about Alt.Fiction was catching up with various people I'd met last year and at Eastercon, especially Saxon, Emma, Charlotte, Sam and Tom. I had been hoping to catch up with a few more people but the heat became less holiday-ish and more boiling-you-alive-ish. This meant that my mental processes were particularly slow and when I saw people I knew on the other side of the bar I found it massively difficult to remember to get up and talk to them. Then by the end of the day the ratio of Alt.Fiction people to the general public had shifted in favour of the latter.

I went to 2 of the podcasts, run by the lovely Adele - another person I should have spoken to more. I am impressed by her commitment as she sat in a small, hot room for most of the day.
Although one benefit of the very hot little podcast room was that work yesterday didn't seem so hot. At least until the afternoon when the air was completely still and stifling, by then I just found excuses to stand in the coll storage closet.
  • Has Genre Conquered the Mainstream? was an excellent and thought-provoking discussion which covered various points. It seemed to suggest that genre may well have conquered (or at least infiltrated), but this is a fact little-known by both fans and -I suspect- the mainstream people (whoever they may be). I did make a comment, which I think started as I question but then changed as I was speaking (apparently this is not unusual for me). My experience in the library is that there are a lot of people who will read SF but who aren't geeky, or part of fandom and would be confused by the idea that they should be. I think sometimes fan-based events and publications can forget these people, but they are there.
  • Using Mythology in Your Writing was another excellent podcast, and well worth listening to. The discussion was very interesting and ranged from the popularity of Sumerian mythology, through Cthulhu mythos, to celebrity culture and conspiracy theories. I found it fascinating even though I was sitting on the floor and had to (very quietly) move every so often so that I could continue to feel my legs. There was a brief musical interlude provided by a marching band outside, from my floor level vantage point I couldn't see them, but I'm told they were Girl Guides. K. A. Laity valiantly tried to continue the podcast to the rhythm provided, but sadly the laughter of the audience caused the whole thing to stop until the band had gone on it's way.
The Publicising Yourself and Your Writing Panel was good. There was much discussion of Twitter and how to use it, which I found very informative as I am still getting used to Twitter and I'm not sure I'd been thinking about it in the right way. (I'm @ctjhill, by the way and I've just figured out how to put my Twitter feed at the side of this blog.) It seems Twitter is best when thought of as a conversation, which made so much sense I wasn't sure why I hadn't realised that before. Part way through the panel we heard the return of the marching band, who sounded as though they were launching an assault on the building and coming up the stairs.

Overall it was an excellent day. Even if I did end up missing my original train and losing an earring to the streets of Derby. Though if that hadn't happened I would have missed out on some fascinating conversation, and finally talking to someone else who has read all of both Vellum and Ink by Hal Duncan.

I really hope that whatever I'm doing next year I'll be able to come again, and hopefully for the full weekend.

24 June 2011

Reading Groups

Tomorrow is National Reading Group Day in the UK.
Reading Groups are a good thing.

Getting together and talking about books is fun. Reading groups can help you find all sorts of things you wouldn't have otherwise, it's great for people who want to broaden their reading experience. And if you find yourself with a book you don't care for, well even an unfinished book can be an experience. Besides the books that members don't agree on are often the ones that stimulate the most debate.

At the moment I belong to, and co-run, a teenage group at work.
This has led me to read a variety of books I might not have otherwise, and also made me appreciate (or at times become annoyed at) the teenage book market. There's a lot of good stuff out, and some absolutely brilliant authors (Sarah Dessen, Tabitha Suzuma & Jaclyn Moriarty, to name a few) - however there is a ridiculous quantity of paranormal romance, or books packaged to look like paranormal romance.
The teenage group is good because all the members read what they like, or what they come across, then recommend books and authors to the others, or sometimes warn them off.
This is nice way to run a group as it means there's no pressure to obtain and read a particular book and it allows people with different reading styles to meet and chat and expand their reading.

I sometimes think I'd like to join an adult group too, although I think I'd probably go for a genre specific one. Or one that deviates from the standard one-book-in-one-month format, as I have way too much to read as it is.

18 June 2011

What I've Read

I need to come up with catchier title for these posts.
You would think that as a library worker I would be able to come up with better words for book-related stuff. But I'm not at work just now, so hopefully, dear readers, you'll forgive my lack of cleverness.

Declare - Tim Powers
This WWII/Cold War supernatural, espionage thriller was excellent. I've only read two of his books but already I think I'm becoming a Tim Powers fan. I was very impressed by how well the story fit into the gaps between real events -admittedly I've mostly taken the author's word on this, but he seems like a writer who does his research. Declare was intriguing as at first I didn't know quite what was going on (much though I enjoyed The Anubis Gates I did guess a major plot point by the end of the second chapter). The supernatural elements unfolded far more slowly and were initially more subtle. It kept me reading as I wanted to know what was going on.
The book was only published in the UK last year, but was oublished in the US in 2001. The copy I read was an American version and I noticed that trousers were called 'pants', and pavements called 'sidewalks'. I'd be curious to look at a UK copy to see if that's changed.

I find the idea of UK to US translations odd, it's the same language just a different dialect. I've read plenty of US written and set books that didn't seem to be translated into English (UK). I've also read a US Harry Potter book which was entirely translated into English (US), that was very weird. Though possibly that was because Harry Potter is a children's series.

The Bloody Chamber - Angela Carter
This is my first Angela Carter. She is a writer I have heard loads about but somehow had never read before. This collection of short stories is based on several fairy tales. None are direct retellings. Some reflect the events of a particular tale, many just have the themes, while others are based on tales I couldn't identify. The stories all had women at the centre, told mostly from their point of view. There was much erotic and sexually-charged content mixed with the talking animals, metamorphoses and random magic that make up fairy tales.

The Bloody Chamber
By far the longest story, this eponymous tale tells of a young bride being brought to the castle of her older, widowed husband. The tale is full of description and the scene is set very thoroughly. The story itself felt a little contrived, though fairy tales often are, but the way it was told was excellent. Based on the Bluebeard story, with which I'm actually not very familiar.

The Courtship of Mr Lyon
A fairly faithful retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story, in which the Beast is especially lion-like. I liked the fact that Beauty is not simply the lovely, wonderful maiden that these tales often star. She almost forgets the Beast, dazzled by the high-life of London and a certain amount of careless self-interest.

The Tiger's Wife 
This story is also based on Beauty and the Beast, and was far weirder than the previous one. Full of odd imagery it tells of a young woman lost in a card game by her father and sent to the mansion of a lord, who seems to be a tiger in a human disguise. There's also a valet who seems to be far better at pretending to be human, and a robotic maid.

A tale told by a cocky tomcat about the antics of himself and his roguish, human master. The young man falls in love with a cloistered young wife, and he and his resourceful cat plot to remove the husband. The amorality and cynicism of cats is made plain here, and I found it all too believable (seriously this terrifying advert has it spot on). A more grounded story than most of the others and the only one told from a male point of view.

The Erl-King
This vivid description of a strange woodland man/creature is powerful. The simple plot is not totally clear as this is mostly a descriptive piece. I'm not familiar with the character described.

The Snow Child 
A strange, quick version of the Snow White story. The child or woman (not sure which) is in existance for only a short time and dies only to have her corpse violently defiled. I didn't really enjoy this story as much as the others.

The Lady of the House of Love
A Gothic story that combines some elements from Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk with vampire mythology. The female heir of Nosferatu lives isolated in her castle and plays Tarot throughout the night in a hopeless attempt to discover a cure for her vampirism. I felt as though the story also had resonant with The Lady of Shallot. I liked how the image of this long-lived, tragic, sensuous figure is subverted once the hero arrives and sees her only as a sickly, emaciated child. I liked the way this story was written. The glamour of vampires is something that needs subversion.

The Werewolf
A short and violent version of Red Riding Hood with a twist in the tale. Not sure who to sympathise with in this one.

In the Company of Wolves
A longer, closer version of Red Riding Hood, which seems a lot like the original version, or at least like the version told by Gilbert in Neil Gaiman's second Sandman volume, A Doll's House (I am a Sandman geek and can remember vast swathes of it very easily). In this version the young woman saves herself from the wolf and joins him on her own terms.

A story about a feral child who can't be civilised by well-meaning nuns and is sent to live in the home of a sinister, ghostly/vampiric Duke. This is mostly a story about coming into self-awareness, and is interesting for that itself. The background presence of the supernatural, bloody Duke adds a strange dynamic to the story, a wait for an ending that ends up far more positive than expected. I think the mirror and name might have been a reference to Lewis Carroll, but it wasn't very clear.

The Unwritten: Dead Man's Knock - Mike Carey & Peter Gross
I'm very much enjoying this Vertigo comic book series, now in it's 3rd collected volume. My preference for graphic novels means that I have a bit of a wait between installments, but I am a patient individual.

The series follows Tom Taylor, son of world-famous author Wilson Taylor, and inspiration for his father's globally popular boy wizard Tommy Taylor. Grown-up Tom has been living off the cache of 'being' a much loved book character since his father's mysterious disappearance. At a convention a woman claims that Tom is a fraud, a boy bought from an Eastern European couple in order for Wilson Taylor to lend weight to his work. Then a lot of weird stuff starts happening.
This is a series that looks at fiction, at stories, at literature in a fascinating and sometimes mind-boggling way, and also tells a good story for itself. There are so many references to literature, especially where literature collides with real, geographical locations. There's been a lot of mystery and unanswered questions, now I feel like some answers have been given and the shape of the overall story is starting to appear.
This particular volume includes an ingeniously-done choose your own adventure section that has you flipping back and forth through the pages. Not since Alan Moore's Promethea have a read a comic in such an unorthodox manner (although nothing has yet beaten Promethea's figure of eight storytelling that had me turning the book right the way round, twice).

11 June 2011

X-Men: First Class

The best X-Men film since X2, although considering the train wreck that was Last Stand and the pile of meh that was Wolverine I'm probably damning it with faint praise.

X-Men: First Class is an entertaining film. A good superhero film that -for the most part- successfully balances it's ensemble cast. There's a despicable villain, but also moral greys among the current good guys. The sixties aesthetic gave it a distinctive style and allowed some fun in a film that covered some very serious issues.

The storyline felt rushed.
In the Stewart/McKellen version of events Magneto and Professor X were best friends. They shared a common dream and worked towards a better future for mutants, building a school -not to mention Cerebro- together. However this is a summer superhero flick and so things must be accomplished quickly, lest there be too long a gap between fight scenes and explosions.
The deep bond between the two future enemies -who don't even meet in the first third of the film- is established with alacrity and conveyed through a few touching moments and so much man-gaze that shipping is rendered irrelevant.
These are supposed to be two pillars of the mutant community, men who helped defined mutant identity in its formative stages. Their split in ideology tore that fledgling community in two. Their bond and the conflict that breaks it should have been epic. Here they know one another for a couple of months, have some fun working together, but then realise they have different ideals. Mutantkind as a whole seems largely uncaring.

The real long-lasting friendship in the film is that of Charles and Raven (Mystique). Although I again feel that their parting of the ways was underplayed.
Charles and Raven have a sibling-like relationship, at least from Charles' point of view. Raven jokes that she is Charles' only friend because he's rather geeky and very bad at chat-up lines (those women should have rolled their eyes - it might have worked in US, but the whole charming-English-accent thing doesn't work so well in the UK). However it is clear that Charles is everything to Raven -her saviour, protector, and probably only friend- since she was a child. Her insecurity about her mutation means that she has clung to him her whole life.Sadly rather than supporting her as a mutant (as future-Professor X would) Charles seems just as embarrassed about her true form as she is, something which is clearly very damaging to the poor girl. So it is not surprising that she feels jealous and resentful when he chats up women with mundane pretty-girl 'mutations'.
While her split from Charles isn't surprising (and not just because we know it's gonna happen) I felt that perhaps it needed more weight. Whatever their personal problems I didn't see why Raven didn't agree with Charle's ideals. Unfortunately it did kinda seem as though she went with Erik because she had a crush on him.

I really like the idea that Raven lived in that mansion for a decade and no one but Charles knew. In fact I want to see a comic in which young-Charles Xavier and young-Raven Darkholme get up to all sorts of telepathic/shape-shifting hi-jinks. All the while keeping her presence a secret from Ma and Pa Xavier and the snooty, suspicious butler - though I imagine they might let a friendly gardener's boy/maid know. It'd be all sorts of fun!

Back to the film.

Magneto was handled well - especially after what they did with him in Last Stand. He has a vengeful Wolverine-like role early in the film, a loner not a team member. A more redemptive story would have him taking down Shaw, his organisation and all he stood for. The film-makers were short on in-story time and as Magneto had to go from lone killer who's unaware of other mutants to a mutant extremist leader it made sense for him to take control of an evil organisation that was already in place. Yes, it does mean he becomes the same as the man he hunted down. Not everyone rises above what was done to them, and it still makes Magneto fairly sympathetic as a villain.

Moira McTaggart was a good character, although I prefer the Scottish scientist of the comics, I suppose that in a film set during the Cold War an agent made sense too. I didn't like the Superman II-esque memory wiping kiss at the end- though at least memory wipes are actually one of Professor X's powers.
Firstly I don't think that she was a liability as she was totally on Charles' side against both Magneto and her own government. Judging her as such just because she isn't a mutant seems somewhat prejudiced.
Secondly, WTF! He stole her memory without her consent and disguised this act of betrayal as a romantic gesture, bastard! The kiss just seemed to be an attempt to make a nasty expediency seem romantic (same as in Superman II), and it wasn't as though Charles and Moira had romantic relationship earlier in the film, so the kiss just seemed kinda creepy in context.

I was surprised to see Beast played by Nicholas Hoult, he wasn't so identifiable on posters. I liked the character, but like McTaggart I felt he wasn't used well. His driving motivation was that he didn't like his weird feet. He had no problem with smarts or agility (which we didn't see much of), but was completely defined by his odd feet, which are frankly a very easy body part to hide. Shame and confusion about mutation is a very valid thing to explore, but if you are going to focus on appearance don't do it with a character whose physical mutation is minimal and normally unnoticeable.

There was some iffy stuff from a sexist/racist point of view.
I mean the film had Emma Frost, a character I cannot take seriously as her every appearance (even in children's cartoons) screams EYE CANDY so loud that my brain is deafened. Other female characters were also cast into eye candy role, some rose above it (McTaggart) some didn't (Angel).
The black guy gets vaporised first and the Latin girl goes bad. It's better than Last Stand's Brotherhood of Evil Minorities, but still the characters left at the end are all white (or blue, but previously white) and that seems a shame from a franchise that has such a diversity of characters to choose from.

Over all X-Men: First Class was an entertaining film, and I enjoyed watching it. It was more serious than superhero films tend to be, and perhaps gave the viewer more to think about. Many of the flaws I've identified are ones that are common to Hollywood films, and things that occurred to me after watching.
I would certainly recommend it to superhero film fans, and hopefully it's a sign of the X-Film Franchise getting back onto it's feet.

7 June 2011

Doctor Who - A Good Man Goes to War

This will contain some spoilers.
Also Blogger lost the first version of this post, so I'm writing bits of it hurriedly from memory.

The Doctor Who team are meanies. Big, rotten meanies!
In country where our series are short but complete they decided to borrow the US-style gap in the middle of the series, rather than the increased episode count.* Why cut a much loved series in half, unless it's to make an episode into an event? Are they just trying to top themselves?**

The episode was fast-paced and exciting with a lot going on -maybe too much at some points. It was obviously trying to be all epic, and while it mostly succeeded it was at time trying too hard.

Many new characters are introduced very quickly -I had to watch Confidential to find out what a lot of them were called. The character introduction montage was a lot like the Tenth Doctor's goodbye flit about -here are some characters, here's a quick sum-up of their situation-  except that it covers a variety of new and interesting times and places. Will we ever see these settings again?
The sympathetic soldier-girl Lorna Bucket (whose role was made very obvious from the beginning) was good, and provided foreshadowing as presumably the Doctor will meet her as a child later on. The Victorian Silurian sleuth/adventurer (Madame Vastra) with her maid/lover was a lot of fun. The Sontaran nurse (Commander Strax) was mostly amusing. The blue, Buddha-looking black marketeer (Dorium) was funny and well done. Although one can't help but wonder why, if the Doctor has all these interesting contacts and acquaintances from all over space and time, does he only ever travel with humans, and mostly ones from the early 21st Century? Not that I have a problem with such people -obviously- but it seems like the TARDIS could have a bit more variety in it's crew.

Who (not just RTD) seems to like big set pieces with cameos by previously seen characters/creatures, and while it can be fun it can also feel a bit crowded as well.
Also, shouldn't those pirates be stuck on their hospital ship?

There were good bits:
I loved badass Roman Rory, mostly because you know that he's still lovely Rory underneath. It was really nice to see him with his daughter.
The appearance of the Doctor on the Demon's Run asteroid base, it was obvious but still fun. Those headless monks are clearly the best guys to disguise yourself as.
The baby turning to goo was horrible, and it was good that it was announced because springing that on people would have been nasty.
River explaining that all this happened because of the Doctor's reputation. I thought that his big shouty speech at Stonehenge would come back to haunt him, turns out it wasn't only a reason to put him in a box.

Not so good was River's rise high and fall hard line, which built up expectations that weren't fulfilled. Yes it all seemed good and triumphant until the trap was sprung, but we were clearly told it was a trap. Too much was going on and there didn't seem to be the emotional peaks and troughs needed to fulfill the expectations

So there were answers, but were they good ones?
The situation with Amy's pregnancy wasn't very surprising. It occurs to me that it was great way of having a pregnant character without any pesky stuff like morning sickness or a great big bump getting in the way of all that running.
I'd already suspected that Eyepatch lady (Kovarian) was in some way monitoring the pregnancy and obviously we all kinda knew that the girl in the spacesuit was probably Amy's baby. Though why the Doctor let an obviously very important little girl just slip away between episodes is beyond me. Especially as he'd earlier promised he'd help her, and there's been a big focus on the Doctor as a helper of children (Amelia Pond, the sad child on the Britain spaceship, I'm sure there are others).

The identity of River Song was rumoured on the internet. I don't know if that was a leak or just people figuring it out. I'll admit I didn't think that that necessarily was the case, guess I was wrong. I don't think it felt necessary for River's identity to be further tied to the Doctor and his companions, she was already a good intriguing character. This development does lead to interesting questions, but now River can't be revealed to have breezed into the Doctor's life from place/time unknown (as Captain Jack did).

Amused as everyone was by the title of the next episode, I can't help but feel that it doesn't seem like a continuation. I enjoy a fun, adventurous, timey-wimey episode as much as the next person, but it sounds like they'll make us wait all the longer for answers and I'm afraid of plot threads flapping loose and being unresolved. It happened in Life on Mars and I was fairly disappointed by that at the time.

There are still questions left unanswered:
Why did the TARDIS explode?
Who kills the Doctor? River seemed as surprised by that as everyone else.
What happens to spacesuit girl (River/Melody) after the Doctor, Amy and Rory surprisingly forget her to go gadding about with pirates? And actually how did she end up with the Silence in the first place?

Overall I enjoyed the episode, but it was slightly overshadowed by the knowledge that this will be the last Doctor Who fix in months. I think that the episode probably loses some appeal if you think too much about it so -for once- I'm trying to restrain myself from doing that.

* The whole mid-season break thing is actually one of the top 3 reasons I would not move to the US. I just cannot understand the point of it, other than being a good way for a programme to fail.

** When I say 'top' here I mean outdo, not kill. It occurred to me that that could be misread.

1 June 2011

What I'm Reading

The Adoration of Jenna Fox - Mary E. Pearson (contains spoilers)

This teenage book is soft sci-fi in that it's set in the future, but focuses almost entirely on the feeling and experiences of its 17 year old protagonist.
Jenna was in a terrible accident and has woken up from a year-long coma. She can't remember very much about who she was or what she was like. Why is she kept so isolated in the family's new home, and why does her own grandmother seem to hate her?

I felt like I knew what the big secret was from the outset, there were a lot of clues and foreshadowing in the text -though the cover kinda gave it away too. It wasn't actually cloning (my initial theory), but it was a similar sort of thing. A very advanced replica made from biotech, with the original mind (or part thereof) downloaded into it. Luckily, unlike other teenage books that have had a big but obvious secret (Fallen I'm looking at you), the big reveal comes halfway through, and there is plenty of subsequent exploration of what this means.

The author seemed to be exploring the ethical implications of advanced technology, especially in the arena of medicine and human biology. In some respects this book is about something that could become transhumanism, although the book didn't link to other SF ideas, and the epilogue suggests that things don't go that far. Though the wider concerns of such advances are mentioned, the focus is on what this miraculous process does to a family, and to the unwilling recipient of such a procedure.
Generally I found it to be an emotional and interesting book, which incorporated normal teenage themes and behaviours (rebellion against parents, not being a child anymore, becoming independent, identity issues) with a major crisis about how you define humanity.

One bit I liked is when Jenna's father explains that she's no less a human than a genetically modified tomato is a tomato. "But I'm not a tomato." I really hope that was intentional on the part of the author, cos it made me smile.

The Bride that Time Forgot - Paul Magrs (pronounced Mars)*
5th in excellent Brenda and Effie series.
If you haven't read this series you really should, it is weird and funny and very imaginative. The first in the series is Never the Bride.
Oddly enough it's kinda like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if the hellmouth was in Whitby, Buffy was an old, not-quite-natural B&B owner, and the Scooby gang was made up of ladies of a certain age, a 30 year old gay man and a Goth receptionist. See how that sounds exactly the same?

The series works very well because it combines the wildly supernatural, spooky, and horrific with the practical and mundane. The whole series is based on horror and pulp themes, which come thick and fast in a delightful stew of the weird and wonderful. This is all confronted by our intrepid investigators, after a good cuppa, a natter and a hearty helping of fish and chips.

The characters really make these books. Brenda is the main character and the heart of the book. With her strange anatomy and centuries of bad memories, she really is a great invention. The kind of person you'd love to have as an aunt or next door neighbour. Effie is a less friendly but very familiar character, a slightly prickly and disapproving old woman. Like Granny Weatherwax, but with less obvious witchiness. There is a lot of warmth for and between the characters, and as we regularly see things from their point of view it is easy to understand them, even when they are at odds, as happens in this book.

This book riffs off pulp adventure stories, especially Rider Haggard's She books. It also takes an renewed look at human-vampire relationships (something which featured in earlier installments), but with none of your poncy angst-filled, pubescent vamps. In fact at one point a character bemoans the existence of scally vampires, proving that vampirism doesn't automatically equal a sense of style, or even an appreciation of the gothic. There's also a Dreadful Flap and some time-travel shenanigans. All in all it's good fun to read.

* I was told this by a friend, who has a friend who knows the author. Although I noticed that this advice was also included in the author's bio. I think he must be fed up of people mispronouncing his name.