The Clockwork Scarab | Colleen Gleason

Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you’re the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood. And when two society girls go missing, there’s no one more qualified to investigate.

Young society women don’t just go missing, and when a couple of them are found dead Irene Adler (for it is she) summons the Misses Stoker and Holmes to assist her in getting to the bottom of this mystery, all at the behest of HRH The Princess of Wales. After all, without this patronage how could any respectable young lady afford to get mixed up in this sort of business?

Not that these two are entirely respectable. Evaline has inherited the family mantle of vampire hunter, albeit not terribly successfully so far, and Mina wants to follow in her uncle’s footsteps given that Mycroft Holmes, her father, is rarely around and her mother is out of the picture, so she is very much left up to her own devices.

This is the background to a fun young adult novel set in an alternate Victorian London where electricity is banned for being dangerous and everything operates on steam and clockwork, and where a cult based on the worship of ancient Egyptian gods seems to be enticing debs away from the social whirl. There may even be an inadvertent time-traveller hanging around.

I will confess that I set this book aside about a third of the way in because I just wasn’t in the mood for the story of two young women who don’t get along being forced to work together surrounded by male persons expressing varying degrees of disapproval and disdain. But I wanted to know how the story developed, so picked it up again after a few weeks and I’m glad I did because it was very enjoyable once it got going. There is definitely more than a hint of romance – there is much blushing and fluttering of hearts – which isn’t normally my thing but in this context it works for me, and the developing realtionship between Evaline & Mina is well done.

The Clockwork Scarab is the first in a sequence of five novels which develop the relationship between these two young women, and I’m looking forward to reading them at some point soon.

Sunday Salon | 15 September

So here we are, halfway through the ninth month of the year and autumn is definitely on its way. This has been a bit of a stressful week – various medcial appointments meant that I spent a lot of time just hanging around waiting, which had an impact on my reading. I was very glad to end the week on a really joyful event (more on that later!)

The Stats

Books read = 1 single solitary volume – Dahlia Black by Keith Thomas which I really enjoyed and will be reviewing shortly

Currently reading – as I said above, I did a lot of hanging around so decided not to launch into Missing Person (as mentioned last week) but picked up the first volume of Roy Strong’s diaries, covering the period 1967 to 1987. Strong was director of two of my favourite museums – the V&A and the National Portrait Gallery – and moved in rarefied social cricles so this is a real treat full of gossip and waspishness and fashion. Ideal for reading in snatches.

Books bought – the pre-orders

  • Gideon the Ninth * Tamsyn Muir – “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!” —Charles Stross
  • The Testaments * Margaret Atwood – the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale
  • The Only Plane in the Sky * Garrett M Graff – a comprehensive oral history of the events of 9/11

Books bought – the impulse purchases

  • The Outside * Ada Hoffman – superintelligent AI Gods rule the galaxy, apparently. Recommended by the Book God
  • The Golden Hour * Beatriz Williams – a romantic thriller set in the Bahamas in 1941 against the background of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor and the murder of Harry Oakes. Not that I’m suggesting the Windors murdered him, of course….
  • The Destroyer * Tara Isabella Burton – a mother and daughter mad scientist story
  • Ragdoll * Daniel Cole – a body is discovered but not just any body, oh no, this is built up of six victims stitched together.
  • A Memory Called Empire * Arkady Martine – civil servants in space! Recommended by Twitter and the Book God (again)

Other Stuff

On Saturday afternoon I went to Sadler’s Wells to see a programme of pieces performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. It was so, so good, especially Revelations which they perform on every appearance.

It’s set to a soundtrack of African-American spirituals, gospel and blues and reflects black life in the American South. Brilliant stuff, standing ovation and it’s not that often the company applauds the audience. I came out of the performance feeling so happy and energised.

Hope that we all have a wonderful reading week!

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Or as I originally typed Fantastic BEATS, which would have been a very different film…..

As always I turned to IMDb for a quick summary of the plot and they let me down:

The second instalment of the Fantastic Beasts series featuring the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander.

That is a prime example of the desire not to give anything away veering hard towards being wilfully obscure.

So basically the film starts with a lengthy escape sequence where Grindelwald gets out, as we all probably thought he would, and heads off to Paris to plot mayhem and havoc. The Ministry of Magic wants Newt to help them but he doesn’t want to work with their team despite the urging of his big brother. Dumbledore then persuades Newt to hunt down and help Credence (who has survived the first film) and in the process face Grindelwald because he (Dumbledore) can’t do so.

Then it all kicks off.

Everyone who survived the first film turns up in Paris and although the story does move things forward a fair bit we are clearly being set up for the next instalment.

The good stuff:

  • the creature design is stunning as always
  • Jude Law makes a dashing Dumbledore
  • I’m still very fond of Newt and I like his brother Theseus also

The meh stuff:

  • whatever you may think of the casting of Mr Depp, he is fine in the part I guess
  • maybe too many characters, several of whom did not have enough to do

The stuff I did not like:

  • oh boy, some Choices were definitely made, including one that doesn’t really make sense
  • Tina being sniffy
  • and the thing I HATED – Queenie is absolutely my favourite character and I am not at all happy with the direction they have sent her in. Not. At. All.

But despite my feelings veering towards this being a bit messy as a film, I will be watching the next instalment. Of course, I will. That is how they all make their money.

Dazzling details: directed by David Yates, FB: TCOG is 2hrs 11 long and rated 12A for moderate fantasy threat (and questionable plot developments IMHO)

Slowly We Die

Slowly We Die by Emilie Schepp is just the latest in a long(ish) line of Scandinavian crime novels that I am seemingly unable to resist. I have mixed feelings about this one, but before we get into that…… to the plot!

A tragic incident on the operating table leaves a patient damaged for life and leads a young surgeon to abandon his profession as a physician… Now, years later, a series of senseless, gruesome murders are rocking the same medical community.

I picked up this book following a recommendation on Twitter, I think, though I can’t remember from whom (sorry for that – I really do have to get better at recording where I find out about books to read) and started to read it when I hit a bit of a slump in my #20booksofsummer reading list. I have found in the past that crime fiction will almost certainly help me get my reading mojo back.

So, as the quote above says, we have the Swedish medical profession represented mainly by an ambulance crew who unfortunately keep on turning up at the scene of horribly gruesome murders. We have the police who are investigating the cases while also looking for a dangerous criminal who escaped from hospital. And last but not least we have Jana Berzelius, the investigating prosecutor with her own set of secrets. But why are these people being killed?

I do enjoy a good medical thriller and this seemed promising but, for some reason, I stalled about a third of the way through and set it aside for several weeks. Looking back I think it was mainly because I finally twigged that this was actually the third book in a series featuring Berzelius, which explained why some of it didn’t quite make sense.

Some reviewers have suggested that you don’t need to have read the previous books to enjoy this one to the fullest, but sadly that wasn’t my experience; the significant subplot involving Jana kept getting in the way of my working out what was going on.

And it was the desire to find out the solution that took me back to the book. It was an interesting story and I failed to work out who the killer was so that’s par for the course.

In one sense I wish I had read the previous books as those would have added some useful context, but as I didn’t actually like Jana very much I can’t see me searching them out.

Not at all a bad book, just not for me.

Sunday Salon | 8 September

The season is changing and I for one am happy to welcome our autumnal overlord.

This has been a quiet week focussed mainly on medical and associated stuff, namely routine appointments and new computer glasses. At the moment all is good and hopefully will stay that way.

Bookish stuff:

Read this week – Swan Song by Robert Edric, the third in his Song Cycle Trilogy set in Hull. Loved it. The whole series was excellent and I’ll be writing a review soonish (I’m a little behind again but not by much)

Currently reading – Dahlia Black by Keith Thomas, one of those fictional oral history books that I can never resist. Not quite halfway through but thoroughly enjoying it.

Up next – Missing Person by Sarah Lotz. This also counts as my single purchase of the week. I always pre-order her novels as soon as they are announced because I just love her stuff. Looking forward to launching into this one.

What we’ve been watching:

I don’t normally talk about what the Book God and I watch on TV because there is so much and most of it is dragged out over time – a binge watch for us is three episodes 😀 Anyway, worth noting that being characteristically late to the party we have just finished the first season of Bosch and thought it was great. We are also working our way through Dig (hello to Jason Isaacs!) which is very silly and immensely enjoyable.

Other stuff:

Booking for the London Film Festival opened to memebers this week and I managed to snag tickets to all four of the films I wanted to see:

  • The Personal History of David Copperfield, dir. Armando Ianucci
  • The Lighthouse, dir. Robert Eggers
  • Marriage Story, dir. Noah Baumbach
  • Knives Out, dir. Rian Johnson

We normally miss the LFF because we are on our annual holiday but we are heading off to Scotland a little bit later this year so I’m finally getting the chance to go. I am very excited 😀

That’s me for this post. Hoping to get three reviews up before the next Sunday Salon (have probably just jinxed myself!), and wishing you all a wonderful reading week!

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I can be ambivalent towards (about?) Quentin Tarantino especially after his last movie, but I won’t deny that I was desperate to see his take on late 60s Hollywood and all that entails, so unusually for me I insisted on going to see it on opening night. So glad I did.

A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles

I managed to avoid any spoilers about this film before going to see it and fully intend to make sure not to include any here. So although I knew it was mostly about the two male leads as embodied by Leonardo DiCaprio (Rick Dalton) and Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth), I assumed that the story of Sharon Tate and the awful Manson business would loom large. And it did, but not quite in the way that I expected, making it all the better. I say that as someone who has been deeply interested in the whole Manson thing for a very long time, and this film has got me ready to do a deep dive back into the story of that dreadful man and his followers.

But I digress.

There is something that happens earlyish in the movie which had me in my standard “but that never happened in real life” position which has spoiled movies for me before, but as the film went on I realised that the event was deliberately wrong and set the stage for what was going to happen later. I know that’s probably unnecessarily cryptic but see reference to spoilers above.

Some of the very best bits involve delving into the collected works of Leo’s character, including short clips from various films and TV series he’s worked on in the past and the amazing posters produced to support that conceit, any of which I’d be thrilled to have on my walls. Leo & Brad (for so I shall refer to them) make a really cool double act, complementing each other in their portrayals of the two friends. There are also some lovely scenes about spaghetti westerns which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Margot Robbie is wonderful as Sharon Tate, giving life to a person who sadly is almost always referred to as a victim of a horrible crime as if that summed up her whole life. Emile Hirsch also deserves a shout-out as Jay Sebring.

There are some amazing cameos from some big names, but my favourites were:

  • Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen – I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it
  • Luke Perry as an actor in a TV western – I think this may have been his last role before his untimely death
  • Julia Butters as a child actress in the same western – I think it’s still a cameo even if you’re not famous, but to be honest I don’t care as she is going to be famous soon enough.

Can you tell that I loved it? Recommended.

Dazzling details: directed by (of course) Tarantino, OUATIH is 2h 42m long and rated 18 for strong bloody violence.

Ralph Breaks the Internet – a mini review

Six years after the events of the first film, Ralph and Vanellope, now friends, discover a wi-fi router in their arcade leading them into a new adventure.

Sort of.

The console machine thingy on which Vanellope’s game is played has been damaged and they need to get a new one from eBay so they head off into the Interwebs to find it and adventures ensue.

The film is bright and shiny and you will spend loads of time looking at the background to see all of the riffs on famous corporate names. By far the best bit features all (more or less) of the Disney princesses together with some little digs at the Mouse House.

The story is of course about the nature of friendship and the fact you don’t need to be together all of the time to be close, and that people grow and move on at different speeds. All that jazz.

Being about 45 years older than the top end of the target audience I found it to be fun and surprisingly sweet. Think I preferred the first one though…..

Dazzling details: directed by Rich Moore & Phil Johnson, Ralph is 1h 52m long and rated PG for mild threat and rude humour.