June 2019 | Second Half Round-Up

Halfway through the year already and as I didn’t post last week because I was under the weather for a few days this will be a catch up for the second half of the month. Here we go!

Books read

I managed to finish two books, both in this past week. The Man From the Train is a true crime book which was totally fascinating, and Strange Practice was a really excellent urban fantasy which I’ve had on my virtual TBR shelf since it came out a couple of years ago. I enjoyed it so much I’ve bought/pre-ordered the rest of the series (see below). Reviews of both of these books will follow later this week if I stick to my planned schedule.
I’m also on track for my #20BooksOfSummer reading plan.

New books

  • Chanel’s Riviera * Anne de Courcy – Life, Love and the Struggle for Survival on the Cote d’Azur 1930-1944 – ‘Far from worrying about the onset of war, in the spring of 1938 the burning question on the French Riviera was whether one should curtsey to the Duchess of Windsor. Few of those who had settled there thought much about what was going on in the rest of Europe. It was a golden, glamorous life, far removed from politics or conflict.
  • Chaos * Tom O’Neill – Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties – ‘In 1999, when Tom O’Neill was assigned a magazine piece about the thirtieth anniversary of the Manson murders, he worried there was nothing new to say. Weren’t the facts indisputable? Charles Manson had ordered his teenage followers to commit seven brutal murders, and in his thrall, they’d gladly complied. But when O’Neill began reporting the story, he kept finding holes in the prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s narrative, long enshrined in the bestselling Helter Skelter. Before long, O’Neill had questions about everything from the motive to the manhunt. Though he’d never considered himself a conspiracy theorist, the Manson murders swallowed the next two decades of his career. He was obsessed.
  • Dreadful Company * Vivian Shaw – A Dr Greta Helsing novel – ‘When Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead, is called to Paris to present at a medical conference, she expects nothing more exciting than professional discourse on zombie reconstructive surgery. Unfortunately for Greta, Paris happens to be infested with a coven of vampires – and not the civilised kind. If she hopes to survive, Greta must navigate the maze of ancient catacombs beneath the streets, where there is more to find than simply dead men’s bones
  • Our Rainbow Queen * Sali Hughes – ‘This riotously colourful book takes a photographic journey through Queen Elizabeth II’s ten decades of colour-blocked style. The photographs, which span the colours of the rainbow and a century of style, are gloriously accessorised with captions and commentary by journalist and broadcaster Sali Hughes.
  • The Affair of the Mysterious Letter * Alexis Hall – ‘Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation. When Ms Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham is drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way, he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

Currently reading

This morning I started The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, a sort of steampunk-alternative-history-YA-romance-mystery starring Sherlock Holmes’ niece and Bram Stoker’s sister. So far lots of fun, a lovely light read..

Other stuff

We had a couple of really good days out this last week despite horrendous humidity which left us both exhausted and grateful for our aircon at home.

On Tuesday we went to the House of Illustration in King’s Cross with our friend Susan to see the Posy Simmonds retrospective. It was so, so good to get close to her work; many of the cartoons I remember from reading her contributions to the Guardian’s Women’s Page back in the day had the original artwork on display. I may have bought one or two things from the gallery shop.

We also went to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden which was huge fun; it’s ages since I’ve been there.

Photos from both events are available to view on my Instagram feed; do go and have a look if you don’t follow me there already.

Hope you all have a great reading week!

Men in Black International

The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.

MIB: International is, of course, a reboot of/sequel to the very successful movies with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones from back in the day. Here we have Tessa Thompson (still have a huge girl crush on her) who is determined to become an MIB agent after having an experience with a tiny alien when she was a child and failing to be neuralised. You have seen the poster, so you know she gets her wish, courtesy of the amazing Emma Thompson who is as close to the Big Boss as we see.

Agent M, as Tessa becomes, is sent off to London where there is an Unspecified Problem and finds herself working with Agent H, played by Chris, the Greater Hemsworth. There is action aplenty – much of London is wrecked though I think Greggs may have survived – the inevitable heroes on the run plot, and some lovely scenery. All is, of course, resolved more or less satisfactorily.

I guessed who the mole was going to be within the first 5 minutes, based on a tried and trusted formula which I will not share here but which has worked for almost every TV crime story I have ever seen and didn’t let me down.

We could have done with a few more actual aliens, though the ones we have, especially the alien twins, were pretty cool and I even liked Pawny (who some have found annoying I know).

The touching reunion at a key moment plot device was fairly obvious, the person being signposted as the mole was clearly never going to be the one, and there was insufficient Emma Thompson, though honestly when is that ever not the case?

I suppose I’m being really picky here but I genuinely liked the film. The chemistry between H and M is the main reason it worked for me. It’s light, amusing rather than laugh out loud funny and fairly predictable in its story, but for a Thursday night date movie it hit the spot, and I can see myself happily watching it again. It’s fun, and sometimes that’s all a film needs to be 🙂

Dazzling details: directed by F Gary Gray, MIB: I is 1h 54m long and rated 12A for moderate violence, threat, sex references, language

Siren Song

When the luxury yacht Helen Brooks was last seen on is found abandoned amid the treacherous marshlands of the Humber Estuary, foul play is suspected. However, in the absence of a body, nothing can be proven. The owner of the yacht, ambitious businessman Simon Fowler, seems unprepared even to offer any sort of explanation as to what Helen was doing on board. A year later, Hull private investigator Leo Rivers is approached by Alison Brooks, Helen’s mother, to investigate both the background to this disappearance and Fowler

Siren Song is the second in Robert Edric’s Song Cycle featuring Leo Rivers; I bought this and indeed the third novel after finishing Cradle Song which I reviewed here. I’ve read some of Edric’s other work and enjoyed it and it is interesting to see how he approaches the crime genre given his more “literary” background (I hate that phrase but what can you do?). When reviewing books I tend to focus on my own reading experience but I will occasionally go off and have a look at what professional reviewers are saying. It is always interesting to see what others think, especially when, in this case, the response is negative (dull and pedestrian seemed to be the keywords) or at best damned with faint praise.

I enjoyed this book. I like Leo Rivers as a character, perhaps because he is something of a cypher and we don’t really get a feel for his private life and circumstances, which is offputting to some. I do sometimes get irritated by crime novels being more about the investigator than the crime itself, and although Rivers does get intimately involved with on of the other characters it is part of the general theme of manipulation which underpins the plot. there was an added pleasure in that one of our friends is called Simon Fowler and every time I saw the name it gave me a little jolt.

I didn’t work out the solution which is something I can’t help but try to do when reading a crime novel, but I don’t think that’s the point here; the focus for me was on the moral ambiguities involved in the various relationships. There is quite a high body count for a story that isn’t about a serial killer though.

I thought this was a complex and satisfying tale about seeking the truth, finding peace and taking revenge. It’s fair to say that some of these aims are achieved more successfully than others but that reflects life I guess. I’m looking forward to reading the third volume soon.

This was my third read for 20 Books of Summer.

My Week | Out & About & Mini-Reviews

This time last week we were celebrating the Book God’s birthday, and those celebrations extended into the Monday when we travelled to Brighton so that we could visit the Royal Pavilion. Now we’re back to old clothes and porridge as they say (in a stronger Scottish accent) where I come from. More on Brighton later, but first – the books

I had a really good reading week, finishing three books, starting with Siren Song by Robert Edric, which I’ll review in a day or so.

As for the other two:

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark – so I am fascinated by true crime as I have gone on about here ad nauseam, and one of my favourite sources is the podcast My Favourite Murder hosted by Karen & Georgia, the authors of this book, which is basically a joint memoir expanding on the stories they have told about their lives during the non-murdery parts of their broadcast. I love them and thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The Private Life of Elder Things is “a collection of new Lovecraftian fiction about confronting, discovering and living alongside the creatures of the Mythos.” This is a bit patchy as all anthologies tend to be, but there are some very good stories included. A quick read with one of my favourite things, author’s notes.

This week’s new books:

  • The October Man * Ben Aaronovitch – A Rivers of London novella. Trier is famous for wine, Romans and for being Germany’s oldest city. So when a man is found dead with, his body impossibly covered in a fungal rot, the local authorities know they are out of their depth. Fortunately, this is Germany, where there are procedures for everything. [Pre-order]
  • The Paper Wasp * Lauren Acampora – An electrifying debut novel of two women’s friendship, a haunting obsession and twisted ambition, set against the feverish backdrop of contemporary Hollywood. [Pre-order]
  • 1913: The Defiant Swan Song * Virginia Cowles – It’s the eve of the First World War. One era ends as another is set to begin. Before life is changed forever in the maelstrom of war, the excess and extravagance of European high society blazes its trail. Acclaimed historian Virginia Cowles paints a picture of the glamour and scandals within the upper echelon of society of seven major cities, through rich prose and lively anecdotes.
  • Just One Damned Thing After Another * Jodi Taylor – Chronicles of St Mary’s Book 1 – When Madeleine Maxwell is recruited by the St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, she discovers the historians there don’t just study the past – they revisit it. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And she soon discovers it’s not just History she’s fighting…

I’m currently reading The Man from the Train by Bill James which is an early twentieth-century true crime murder mystery. I’m still considering my fiction read.

Back to Brighton. We had a super day walking around the Pavilion before having a delicious meal in a local Italian restaurant, all of this despite the best efforts of two railway companies and rain that was at almost biblical levels. Seriously, it was running down the streets. But we still had fun.

Have a great reading week!

Movie Round Up – The MCU Mini Review

This will be a mini-review simply because everything that needs to be said about both of these films (mainly that they are awesome) has been said better by others but, as a completist, I have to throw in my tuppence worth! This will be a mini-review simply because everything that needs to be said about both of these films (mainly that they are awesome) has been said better by others, but as a completist I have to throw in my tuppence worth!

Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse

Teen Miles Morales becomes Spider-Man of his reality, crossing his path with five counterparts from other dimensions to stop a threat for all realities.

Such an exciting film in terms of animation design and story. I loved all the versions of Spiderman that appeared, the dynamic that Miles has with his family and the amazing voice cast. I was sad to have missed it at the cinema where I’m sure it looked amazing, but it’s still pretty cool on our big TV screen 🙂

Avengers: Endgame

After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos’ actions and restore order to the universe.

A worthy sequel/part two to Avengers: Infinity War. It’s great to see such a large ensemble cast being handled so well in a film which not only delivered in terms of action but actually had a plot that made sense, at least as much sense as any time travel based plot ever makes sense.
I was sad at the characters that did not make it to the end (not naming them because spoilers, of course), mildly annoyed at a couple who survived but shouldn’t, and really pleased at how funny it managed to be while still dramatic and sad and moving. Yes, I cried both times and yes that means I’ve already seen it twice. Shouts out (shout outs?) to the character design for Thor, the presence of so many excellent female characters, and Karen Gillan’s Nebula in particular. It’s a classic, what else can I say?

The Vanishing Season

A recent abduction becomes an unexpected link to a decades-long spree of unspeakable crimes.

This is the fourth entry in what was originally The Collector Trilogy which last year turned into The Collector Series. I had been quite sad when I finished The Summer Children (number 3) because I enjoyed this series so much, a feeling that turned to pleasure when I realised there was going to be a fourth book, and now I’m sad again because the changes that occur to a number of the main characters in The Vanishing Season are sufficiently significant that any additional books would require a major shift.

But at least the series gets a proper conclusion, and for that I should be grateful.

An eight-year-old girl, Brooklyn, has gone missing. Not only does this happen on the anniversary of the disappearance of FBI agent Brandon Eddison’s little sister, but the girls are also the spitting image of each other making this case particularly difficult for everyone involved. The Crimes Against Children team investigate and Agent Eliza Sterling quickly comes to the conclusion that not only are the two cases linked but there are many other cases going back decades.

Can they solve it? Yes, they can.

I really enjoyed this novel. It is well-written, nicely paced and although the crimes are awful the author doesn’t dwell on the nastiness too much, focussing instead on the procedural aspect of the investigation, and I’m a sucker for that sort of thing so this was very much in my wheelhouse

The series as a whole has developed nicely, moving from a story about victims in The Butterfly Garden which border on horror to the focus on the CAC team in the latest volume. This is a change that has happened gradually and organically but without losing any of the key people from the earlier stories.

I can’t recommend these books enough.

Series Details

Tnis is my first completed read for #20BooksOfSummer

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

The crypto-zoological agency Monarch faces off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah.

I enjoyed both the original Godzilla (as in the 2014 version, not the original original Godzilla from the 1950s) and Kong: Skull Island and was very keen to see the next stage in this universe (as we have to call these things now). Main takeaway for me is that if you are looking for a big dumb movie with the emphasis on dumb (at least where the humans are concerned) then you have come to the right place.

Things have moved on and the impact of the events from the previous two films has been felt around the world, so much so that the US government, as is its wont, is keen to seize control of the research into the Titans from Monarch. It’s clear that there are many more of these creatures than was originally thought, and nefarious plans are afoot to deploy them to rid the world of humans, courtesy of Charles Dance’s eco-terrorist. Cue the action.

Without going into spoiler territory there are several things that stuck with me after the film ended. Apologies for the brain dump to follow 🙂

  • I still like the chunky Godzilla design, don’t care what anyone says
  • why did that character have to die?
  • why did that other character have to die?
  • how come Bradley Whitford (for it is he) got all the best lines – not that I’m complaining, I love Mr Whitford and believe in fact that there was not enough of him in the the movie, but still
  • I like the design of Mothra even though I loathe moths, to an extent that is just short of a phobia
  • there was SO MUCH destruction, I kept on wondering just how many people in this film died, and think there should be a John Wick scale to measure such things
  • talking about dying, that character simply had to die because of what they had done; can you imagine family gatherings if they had survived?

However, the thing I found most silly was the recurring tendency for characters to yell the at/for other characters who could not possibly hear them due to a combination of at least two of the following taking place at any one time – (1) hurricane-level storms, (2) exploding volcanoes, (3) roaring monsters in general and (4) bashing each other vigorously. How did they think anyone was going to hear them?

Having said all of the above I actually enjoyed Godzilla: King of the Monsters, even though most of the people were annoying and the plot was also a bit silly, and (heresy I know) I think there may have been too many monsters. But it was a Tuesday evening and it made for a fun date night. A film not to be taken too seriously I think.

Dazzling details: G:KotM was direeted by Michael Dougherty, was 2h 11m long and rated 12A for moderate threat, violence and infrequent strong language.