Tag Archives: bookreview

Review: Reel Love

Reel Love by Owen Michael Johnson

Reel Love by Owen Michael JohnsonIn a quiet corner of England, a young boy visits the cinema for the first time. Overwhelmed by the experience, he returns to see a movie which will ignite his imagination, fill his head with fantasy and change the course of his life. That enthusiasm carries him though to his adolescence, when he gets a part-time job as an usher at his local cinema. Falling in with the motley crew of cinephile staff, he falls in love, finds his tribe, and fantasises about his film-filled future.  The final act sees that same boy as a grown man, back in his hometown after life panned out in a slightly unexpected way. When an opportunity to break into the film world presents itself, he finds that his life has come full circle as he sets out again to make his magnum opus…

It’s a bit of an unusual read for me; film and memoir aren’t usually my genre, but I bought this (hard copy! Signed!) on the recommendation of a colleague – and it’s definitely worth it.

This is a sweet, poignant and drama-filled story about cinema; about growing up, discovering love and life and passion; about having dreams broken and then finding them; and about how to rediscover something that you weren’t sure if you’d broken forever, or just needed to see under the layers of influence and memory.

The artwork is lovely; Johnson’s got a dramatic style and an eye for visuals that really works with the subject matter, and takes a lot of influence from a wide variety of film. There are multiple references to the genre – both from the visuals, the plots, and the directing side – but it’s also a sweet and simple story about love, and family, hometowns, moving away and coming back, teaching, memory and learning.

There’s a lot of love and passion that comes through in the story; it’s a tribute both to growing up, to memory and influence, and to the films that shape the protagonist, and a beautifully drawn series. If you’re into film or memoir, it’s worth a read.

Review: A Trio of Crime

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

Saville’s corpse, already stiff, was laid on a table beneath the kitchen window; upstairs the shape of his sleeping self was still indented on the sheets and pillow of the cot.

On a summer’s morning in 1860, the Kent family awakes in their elegant Wiltshire home to a terrible discovery; their youngest son has been brutally murdered. When celebrated detective Jack Whicher is summoned from Scotland Yard he faces the unenviable task of identifying the killer – when the grieving family are the suspects.

The original Victorian whodunnit, the murder and its investigation provoked national hysteria at the thought of what might be festering behind the locked doors of respectable homes – scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing.

So I think the attraction in this is the detail; it’s the little things about Victorian life and the life behind closed doors that attracted the Victorian press and now the modern read.

But, I admit, it’s not for me. I read the first quarter or so, and got bored…I skimmed, skipped to the end, and was happy enough having read the conclusion. Otter has been reading this too and we got to discuss some of the details, so that’s been interesting – but overall, I just found it too slow and almost devoid of personality, for all that it’s touted as being full of drama. Mr Whicher’s process and conclusions were interesting, and it being one of the first detective cases…but overall, just not my thing.

Mr Briggs’ Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain’s First Railway Murder by Kate Colquhoun

In July 1864, Thomas Briggs was travelling home after visiting his niece and her husband for dinner. He entered a First Class carriage on the 9.45pm Hackney service of the North London railway. At Hackney, two bank clerks entered the carriage and discovered blood in the seat cushions; also on the floor, windows and sides of the carriage. A bloodstained hat was found on the seat along with a broken link from a watch chain.

The race to identify the killer and catch him as he flees on a boat to America was eagerly followed by citizens both sides of the Atlantic. Kate Colquhoun tells a gripping tale of a crime that shocked the nation.

Unfortunately, this was pretty much the same feeling as Mr Whicher. I got further with this one – nearly halfway! – but again, the multitude of details and the writing style just didn’t grab me. I found the repetition of details frustrating – I was being told something, and then given the original wording from a newspaper that said the same thing – and the frequent diversions into details about life at the time were both useful/interesting and frustrating! That said, it’s a very interesting book, and I definitely appreciate the interest in the case at the time; Otter complained that Mr Whicher had rather spoiled whodunnit, but I don’t think that’s really the point of the Mr Briggs case – it’s more the inconsistencies and questions over the entire case which meant that the man they hanged might not have been the right man! It’s much more a study in the detection process in its infancy, and all the problems inherent in that.

So – very good if you’re into that sort of thing, but not for me.

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Martin Chorley, aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run.

Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.

But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan.

A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees.

To save his beloved city Peter’s going to need help from his former best friend and colleague – Lesley May – who brutally betrayed him and everything he thought she believed in. And, far worse, he might even have to come to terms with the malevolent supernatural killer and agent of chaos known as Mr Punch . . .

This is very much a continuation of the same Rivers of London vein; action-packed, decent characters, lots of mythology, and some nice nods to a whole bunch of London and police in-jokes. However, for me it was spoiled by two things; minor errors on the copy-edit side, and the fact that I read the last book at least a year ago and so can’t remember a) most of the plot, and b) who anyone is. Despite that, it was an ok read; I definitely could have done with re-reading some sort of summary, but that’s mostly on me not managing to pick this up- it was a good read anyway, albeit occasionally confusing. It is also the seventh in the series, but if you liked the rest – you’ll like this!

Review: Love&Bubbles

Love&BubblesA Collection of Queer Underwater Love Stories, edited by Jaylee James & Jennifer Lee Rossman

Love & Bubbles coverDive into romance with these twelve stories of queer love under the sea!
 
Love & Bubbles is a short fiction anthology of love stories united by an underwater theme and featuring characters from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
 
Go on a deep-sea voyage to study a brand-new species alongside a cute, distracted scientist. Discover your magic with a water witch and the help of a cute mermaid. Explore the waters of an alien ocean. Get summoned to the surface with a grumpy old merman and his non-binary water demon neighbor. Swim with a catfish goddess, rescue a dolphin… and so much more!

So. Cute! The anthology is a lovely collection of sweet stories, and definitely worth picking up if you need the equivalent of a warm hug. I love the sheer range of protagonists, places, romance choices and possibilities; from the one central theme, the authors have all gone in very different directions, while still keeping the thread of romance and sweetness throughout.

Summoned by Minerva Cerridwen is about a very sweet elderly couple; a grumpy merman meets his strange neighbour and accidentally ends up going along for his next job…which, incidentally, made me laugh that you’d summon the equivalent of a demon for it! In the second story, Worlds Between Us by Riley Sidell, I love the dual-world nature; it’s got long distance relationship issues alongside communication and “will this magic even work?” problems, and I love the complex relationship and cultures hinted at – and the nosy whale, who is adorable.

Some of the stories have similar themes; Color and Pressure by Evvan Burke follows undersea scientists, and I like the worried and reserved nature of the protagonist. Stuck by Mharie West has a similar premise, but taken in a more sci-fi direction as it follows scientists working undersea, getting hung up on an ex…and what happens if your attention gets distracted by a colleague! The Dwindling Forest of Kelp by Victoria Zelvin also has a sci-fi feel, alien and yet familiar; a visitor to the planet trapped along with an inhabitant, learning to communicate and also wondering where/how they’re going to go…

The Selkie Wife by Lia Cooper is a very sweet story; I love the idea of a selkie in the modern world, and the changes in the seas that make coming back to the one place that much harder! Familiar Waters by VS Holmes has a similar feel; it’s very poetic and beautiful, with a mix of mythology and romance – the idea of migration and leaving, and the changes that happen over time, but the relationship remains. Shallows by Jennifer Lee Rossman has a more modern theme, with dolphin shapeshifters and romance – what’s not to like? Signing Under The Sea by Lizzie Colt is also quite modern, following a slowly growing relationship between an ocean dweller and human visitor.

Some of the stories are more human-centric; possibly my favourite story, Tanner and the Water Nymph by Jaylee James, has a non-binary protagonist and a problem with the shower which means meeting an unexpected visitor, and I love the conclusion to this story! It’s so sweet. A Happy Place by Maggie Derrick follows a witch in exile because she hasn’t yet found her magic, and the realisation that maybe she doesn’t have to stick within the confines of what she’s expected to do…especially as she meets someone she’d like to know better… And the last story, Ondine by M Hollis, follows someone returning home after their mother’s death, remembering former history and an old love, and wondering if it’s something they want to return to.

So, overall – a very sweet and unexpected anthology, and definitely worth a read if you want a diverse and light-hearted, romantic read.

Review: The Wizard’s Daughter

The Wizard’s Daughter by Jeff Minerd

Sixteen-year-old Brieze is the apprentice and adopted daughter of a powerful wizard. She never met her biological father, a merchantman from the faraway Eastern Kingdoms who had a brief romance with her mother, then disappeared. When Brieze discovers her mother is still secretly, crazily in love with this man, even after seventeen years, she decides to find
him, confront him, and get some answers from him for her mother’s sake.

In her small airship the Devious, she makes the long and dangerous journey to the Eastern Kingdoms. Along the way, she confronts pirates and the nocturnal ship-crushing beast known as the Nagmor. She survives a harrowing trip through the legendary Wind’s Teeth. She discovers why her father disappeared, and in the process she learns the true
version of her own story.

When Brieze’s boyfriend, Tak, receives word she’s in danger, he sets out on his own journey east to help her. Will he be able to rescue her, or will she end up having to rescue him?

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this from Jeff as I’d read The Sailweaver’s Son and reviewed it over at SFFWorld. This is the second in a projected three (I think?) – certainly it ends on something of a cliffhanger, so we’re certainly set up for another one!

While the last book focused on Tak, this one is firmly about Brieze (albeit there is some storyline that follows Tak, now training to be a soldier.) The wizard’s apprentice has decided to find her father, and I adore her – well, basically, pig-headed stubbornness that means she’s going to do it, no matter what anyone else says! The characterisation throughout the book is lovely, and Brieze’s stubbornness, independence and sheer character comes through well. My favourite part was probably her trying to sneak out of the Palace, but fighting the Nagmor was a close second.

The atmosphere and worldbuilding is very good, and I loved the Wind’s Teeth, along with the cities; the characters are also entertaining, and the story rattles along at a nice pace. Tak’s arc, while brief, gives a nod to PTSD and the stupidity of young love;  and Brieze finds some of her answers while getting more questions – and everything gets pushed along nicely for the third book, which I hope will give both characters some interesting conclusions!

In short; if you like a mix of epic fantasy and steampunk in a world with floating ships, goblins, sky-monsters, pirates, wizards and very stubborn heroines, then read The Sailweaver’s Son, and then read this!