2018 Christmas Haul

IMG_0793As is traditional around these here parts, I thought I’d pull together a quick post to boast about, sorry, update everyone on the cool books and other stuff that I got for Christmas.

Book stuff

Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking by Deborah Cadbury – “In the late nineteenth century, Queen Victoria had over thirty surviving grandchildren. To maintain and increase power in Europe, she hoped to manoeuvre them into dynastic marriages.”

The Rig by Roger Levy – An astounding SF thriller for fans of Adrian Tchaikovsky, Neal Stephenson, Alastair Reynolds and David Mitchell says the blurb.

Melmoth by Sarah Perry – “Twenty years ago Helen Franklin did something she cannot forgive herself for, and she has spent every day since barricading herself against its memory. But her sheltered life is about to change.”

A Gentleman’s Murder by Christopher Huang – “The year is 1924. The cobblestoned streets of St. James ring with jazz as Britain races forward into an age of peace and prosperity. London’s back alleys, however, are filled with broken soldiers and still enshadowed by the lingering horrors of the Great War.”

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull – “Great Barwick’s least popular man is murdered on a train. Twelve jurors sit in court. Four suspects are identified but which of them is on trial?”

Thomas Cromwell by Diarmaid MacCulloch – how many biographies of Master Cromwell does one need? All of them!

Cassandra Darke by Posy Simmonds – “Cassandra Darke is an art dealer, mean, selfish, solitary by nature, living in Chelsea in a house worth £7 million.” A modern-day Scrooge?

Non-book stuff

The Meg – Jason Statham versus an enormous shark; I know who my money is on…

Ghost Stories Based on Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s original Olivier nominated stage production, the same team have co-written and directed this adaptation for the big screen.

Mission Impossible: Fallout – Loved this in the cinema so it had to be added to the permanent collection

The Steampunk TarotRetooling the gears of the Rider-Waite tradition, the artwork evokes the imagery and spirit of this unique visual style. Another deck for my collection.

Something 16th century? Check. At least one crime novel? Check. Something horror adjacent? Check. Tom Cruise? Check.

Well, everything seems in order here!

November Movie Round-up

The last round-up of the year – everything finished will have been accounted for and posts from now on will be in real time. Which is nice. I may also do a couple of favourites posts but will see – depends on how full I am after eating all of the Christmas food.

Anyway – to the movies!

Locke

Ivan Locke, a dedicated family man and successful construction manager, receives a phone call on the eve of the biggest challenge of his career that sets in motion a series of events that threaten his carefully cultivated existence

Tom Hardy is a compelling presence and I have enjoyed most of the films in which he has starred, but I was a bit wary of watching something in which he is the only physical presence; the remainder of the admittedly excellent cast is voice only. But I needn’t have been concerned – Hardy delivers an excellent performance as a man who is used to having all aspects of his life under tight control finding himself having to watch it all unravel as he tries to do the right thing.

It’s an odd but well made little film that turned out to be very different from what I expected. It’s a sad and compelling but not hopeless story, which could have done without the subplot of Locke’s Dad but otherwise delivers a very human situation. And of course, as someone who spent the bulk of their civil service career in procurement, I was most fascinated by the bits focussing on the concrete pour and project management with a side order of where was their contingency plan. I also had to check that Tom Hardy wasn’t Welsh as I thought his accent was pretty spot on.

Worth watching.

Deets: Directed by Steven Knight, Locke is 85 minutes long and rated 15 for very strong language

Hotel Artemis

Mr B spotted this one early on and who am I to deny him the opportunity to see it? I admit I was also intrigued.

Set in riot-torn near-future Los Angeles, follows the Nurse who runs a secret members-only emergency room for criminals

So as I said above this sounded very promising, but it didn’t really deliver on that promise. It’s probably deeply unfair to compare it to the John Wick franchise but given the subject matter, it couldn’t be helped.

In terms of casting, Jodie Foster and Sterling K Brown were both very good indeed, and Dave Bautista continues to delight. A star-turn cameo by Jeff Goldblum at his most Goldblmiest was also very entertaining, as was Zachary Quinto as his very shouty son.

A couple of the sub-plots didn’t really add anything to the storyline, and one was clearly just a convenient plot device. Having said all that, I really wouldn’t mind watching it again.

Deets: Directed by Drew Pearce, Hotel Artemis is 94 minutes long and rated 15 for (takes deep breath) strong language, bloody violence, injury detail and drug misuse. 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

IMG_2190Here we are with the last Sunday Salon post before Christmas. There are already a few book-shaped packages underneath our tree so no worries there. It has been a good week but I haven’t been able to do much reading.

Well, not actual books anyway.

So, what have I actually been doing since my last post? Well, there was the carol service I attended in London on Monday (hence the super picture above) in which my singing voice (such as it is) betrayed my recent chest infection. My voice cracked at all the best bits, but as usual I made up for being a lousy singer with significant amounts of enthusiasm. We also headed into London to do some Christmas shopping for luxuries. Have a look at my Instagram if you want to see a Bride’s eye view of the Christmas retail experience!

IMG_3187In terms of reading, there has been very little (as I said above), but I needed a self-care day yesterday so launched into Comixology for a heartening amount of violence. Say hello to my new special friend, Katana –>.

But you want the dazzling details I presume?

Books bought this week:

  • The Year of Less by Cait Flanders – how a young woman in her twenties stopped shopping, gave away her belongings and discovered that life was yada yada – I can’t resist these things so will read while no doubt rolling my eyes a bit
  • Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar – I love Margrate Millar and this is apparently a rediscovereed noir classic – not only that but its a physical book I bought in an actual bookshop

Books finished:

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Next question.

Currently reading (still):

  • The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch – I am determined to finish this before Christmas Day when I am more than likely going to be distracted by the bookish equivalent of Bright and Shiny Things

I’m also still reading Global Crisis, which brings me to this week’s fun fact from the 17th Century –

In Scotland, exasperated by the constant lawlessness of one particular clan, in 1626 the government deported all men named “Macgregor” to continental Europe, “sufficiently guarded by some of their officers who will be answerable for their not escaping”.

Indeed.

I hope you all have a wonderful festive season however you celebrate it or not.

October Movie Round-up

Thoughts on the films I watched way way back in October…..

Venom

IMDb is distinctly unhelpful on the plot, thusly

When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego “Venom” to save his life

So many questions. Who is Eddie Brock? How did he get all symbiotic? Why is his life in danger? Who is the bad guy in this situation?

So I thought this was not as bad as most reviews have made it out to be, but it is fair to say that it’s a film with an identity crisis – it really doesn’t know what tone to take. Parts of it are really funny, and if they’d stuck with that it would have been so much better; there are some laugh out loud  bits when Venom him/itself finally appears. There’s a mismatch between the hero and the villain – Riz Ahmed is too subtle so he needed to ramp it up or Tom Hardy needed to rein it in. The final fight is messy and difficult to follow, there are lots of “but how?” moments and for a high security site, Riz’s megavillain lair seems pretty easy to get into when required by the plot. So fine, but Elon Musk may sue.

Coco

Miguel is a young boy who loves music and wants a performing career, but the problem is that his family has banned music because of the actions of his great-grandfather, who abandoned the family to go off and be a star. On the Day of the Dead, Miguel enters the Land of the Dead to find him and try to change the minds of his relatives. Things of course do not go according to plan.

This superficially is very similar to The Book of Life (you can find my thoughts on that here on the old Screen God), but to me it is far superior in both plot and structure. Coco is beautifully animated and incredibly charming. A lot of fun and I may have cried a tiny little bit because, you know, happy endings. Worth watching if you love animation and the music is very cool indeed.

Just lovely.

Blair Witch

After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his vanished sister, James & a group of friends head to the forest believed to be inhabited by the Blair Witch

The whole purpose fo this film seems to be to try to capture the mystery from the first film and cash in on its success, but that was a loooong time ago and we have all moved on since then. But it was Halloween and I wanted to watch a horror film and there it was.

It’s put together really were and is much less ambiguous than the original. It’s also more jump-scary and less creepy and intense than the first film. But its fine, no more than that.

The Last of My Autumn Reading

So here we are, hurtling towards the end of 2018 and it’s the time of year when I scramble to catch up with reviews of those books and movies that I didn’t get around to talking about at the time I read/watched them.

In this post I’m covering three books I read in the autumn, which brings me up to date as I haven’t finished anything else since then.

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

I have a tendency to veer towards Scandi noir fiction but only in a very patchy way, which is why I think I hadn’t heard of this husband and wife team writing as Lars Kepler even though they are huge best-sellers and there are already a number of volumes in this series. I started with the first  and it is an odd book.

I read the title and thought “ooh, serial killer hypnotist” but * SPOILER ALERT * – though not really giving anything away – the hypnotist of the title is involved in assisting the police in investigating a family murder. Of course things go horribly wrong, and a chunk of the book is focussed on said hypnotist’s back story. For that reason I don’t think the book is entirely successful – I wanted more of a police procedural rather than a sort of psychological study, but having said that a lot of the writing was very good and I had no problem finishing the thing. I have, of course, already bought the second…..

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

Whom I kept on thinking of as Oscar de la Renta; which is very sloppy thinking on my part, possibly offensive to the gentleman concerned and shows that clearly I’m reading too much Vogue.

Anyway, this was recommended in a blog post by (I think – apologies if not) Christopher Fowler, so I thought I’d give it a try only to discover that I had already purchased a copy a few years ago and had just forgotten. The novel is set in Edinburgh around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, and our hero, Inspector Ian Frey, is sent to Scotland when a violinist is murdered in a way reminiscent of the Ripper’s crimes. Frey is partnered with “Nine-Nails McGray”, a notorious local inspector with Tragedy in his past and an interest in the supernatural and related things. They insult each other constantly and at a wonderfully extreme level which I found very funny. What starts off as a locked room mystery followed, of course, by other deaths is very cleverly done and I enjoyed this thoroughly. Recommended if you like a mixture of horror, historical crime and comedy.

And finally….

Bestial by Harold Schechter

A fascinating, deeply gruesome and upsetting non-fiction examination of the crime spree carried out in the 1920s by Earle Leonard Nelson, starting in San Francisco and ending in Canada. To give you an idea of what’s covered here the blurb on the book screams:

From social outcast to necrophile & murderer, his appalling crimes stunned an era.

So, obviously reader beware – this is only for experienced aficionados of true crime. It’s clearly been throughly researched and is written in a breezy journalistic style but, as a woman in my late 50s, I became increasingly grumpy at the descriptions of Nelson’s older wife by (presumably) the author. Is 58 elderly? Is a woman in her 60s really a crone? I know things were different back in the 1920s and a woman of that age would have had a harder life than the one I have experienced, but who calls anyone a crone? Honestly, says Disgusted of New Malden. But Ann Rule rated Schechter so I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

All caught up on the book front – yay me!

An Unexpected Hiatus

I haven’t written here since * checks blog * oh – last month apparently. This unplanned break was entirely due to my developing a nasty chest infection which required lots of inactivity (believe me, any movement led to the most dreadful coughing fits). But as described by Silvery Dude, I am no longer sickly and off games, so thought I’d catch up with what’s been happening round these parts, besides the coughing of course.

The last thing I did in the great outdoors before succumbing to the dreaded lurgy was visiting the British Museum to see the exhibition on Ashurbanipal, which was fascinating and full of wonderful objects (as in the photo above). I love Assyrian art (I always visit the permanent exhibition whenever I’m in the BM) but recognise that they were a bloodthirsty lot, at least at the kingly level, so some of the images are graphic. I can recommend this if you are in London, I think it’s on until late February.

I may have bought a lot of things in the gift shop, including the book listed below – don’t judge me.

After that it’s all a blur. I was supposed to attend the British Library on 2 December to hear Ian Rankin talk, but just wasn’t well enough and, let’s face it, no-one wanted to hear me coughing over all of the speakers (I suspect there would have been very hard stares and possibly some tutting). I tweeted my disappoint and got a very nice get well soon tweet from Mr Rankin himself, which was unexpected and demonstrates once again that book people are good people.

I did a little bit of reading but didn’t finish anything, so current reading status is still:

  • The Hanging Tree – about 50%, hoping to finish it this weekend
  • Global Crisis – about 11% through but I’m reading this slowly because it is both enormous and full of interesting facts which I may share here on occasion

Actually, let’s go ahead. This week’s interesting fact is about intermarriage in the Spanish royal family which meant that:

Philip IV of Spain boasted only 8 great-grandparents instead of the normal 16; and after he married his niece in 1649, he became the great-uncle as well as the father of his children, while their mother was also their cousin

Books bought in December so far:

  • Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield – A SPELLBINDING, MULTI-LAYERED MYSTERY SET IN THE 19TH CENTURY AROUND THE THAMES shouted Amazon; this was a pre-order
  • The Willows by Algernon Blackwood – short early weird horror
  • The Favourite: Ralegh & his Queen by Matthew Lyons – the 16th century never loses its fascination for me
  • Cradle Song by Robert Edric – dark and grim crime novel, first of a trilogy set in Hull; don’t know why I do this to myself….
  • When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger – I can’t resist reading or listening to podcasts about cults, so this academic study on how a group handles the failure of their prophecy that the end of the world is/was due was a no-brainer
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean – a book about the fire which destroyed 400,000 books in the Los Angeles Public Library, this was a pre-order that arrived signficantly earlier than I expected; a nice surprise
  • Passing Strange by Ellen Klages – finalist for the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella
  • A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P Djeli Clarke – “Egypt, 1912. In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine” – had to be done
  • New Amsterdam 2 by Elizabeth Bear – more stories from the wonderful Ms Bear
  • Should I Stay or Should I Go by James Ball – and 87 other serious answers to questions in songs, such as how do you solve a problem like Maria?
  • How to be Invisible by Kate Bush – when you discover that one of your favourite authors is a hardcore Kate Bush fan, and then discover that he has written an introduction to a book of her lyrics, well – David Mitchell has gone up even higher in my estimation!

Of course these all break my self-imposed book-buying embargo, but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t (and none of them were on my Christmas list so technically that’s OK. I think.)

Anyway,  have a wonderful reading week and hopefully normal blogging activity has resumed chez Bride!

 

Autumn Fiction Round-up #1

 

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

This was a planned read for a book club that I follow but don’t actually attend, using mostly for reading ideas (as if I needed any more help in finding books….). The Cabin is the most recent of Tremblay’s horror novels and the first one (but not the last) that I have picked up.

Wen, who is seven, is on holiday in a remote cabin with her dads, Eric & Andrew, when a huge young man turns up asking to be let in with Wen’s help. He is soon joined by three others, two women and a man, and they have a mission – they need Wen’s family to make a sacrifice to avoid the end of the world.

It’s a home invasion story with a twist, and it’s never made clear through all of the terrible events whether the incomers genuinely believe they have a mission to head off the apocalypse or whether they are just horrible people doing nasty things. There are clearly events happening in the outside world which are informing their actions, but we never really find out what’s going on.

It’s all very vague & ambiguous, especially the ending which doesn’t provide any closure at all, but I was hooked and thought it was very well done.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

One night in a warehouse in New York, the body of Ashley Cordova, daughter of a famously reclusive film director, is found dead. Most people, including the police, believe that she has taken her own life, but this doesn’t convince Scott McGrath. He’s a journalist who ruined his career by pursuing Cordova the father, making rash allegations that he couldn’t prove. And he’s still obsessed.

This is a literary thriller and a huge one at that. I was given this as a Christmas present a few years ago and hurried it up the TBR pile when I saw it mentioned in a list of recommended horror novels earlier this year. I had to cave in and buy the Kindle version because I found it physically difficult to read in hard copy, so be warned.

It seems to be a real love-it-or-hate-it book; if we’re keeping score, the Guardian hated it and the Telegraph loved it. I fell somewhere in between – it was worth reading and I did gallop through the second half when I was on holiday, but I didn’t really warm to any of the characters (except for Scott’s wee girl, who was adorable and hopefully grows up undamaged by the way her parents behave) so it became more about the puzzle than the people. The structure is interesting and the idea of a filmmaker so reclusive, and whose work is so horrific that it is only viewed in bootlegs by ardent fans, was intriguing. Some reviewers likened it to The House of Leaves (which I loved and need to re-read), and although I can see how they came to that conclusion I don’t think Night Film has the same impact; certainly not on me.

So an interesting novel, frustrating at times, and if you pick it up be prepared to make a significant investment of time.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Longlisted for the Man Booker prize and winner of the Arthur C Clarke award, Jessie Lamb is yet another post apocalyptic novel, or more of a rushing headlong towards extinction novel if I’m honest. I cannot resist these at all.

Jessie is 16 and living in a world where an act of biological terror (presumed not explicit) has set loose a virus which is activated in a woman when she becomes pregnant, resulting in an extreme form of CJD and the death of the mother and baby. Science is looking at solutions and settles on the concept of Sleeping Beauties – women who will be put into an artificial coma and given drugs to stop the disease progressing while their baby comes to term. Once the child is delivered, immune to the disease, the woman will die.

Jessie has made a choice to become on of the Beauties, and the novel is about how she reaches that choice and the consequences. This is particularly an issue for her parents, who see the need for the solution but don’t want it to be their daughter. Jessie’s story is told against a background of civil unrest and protest, and her decision is he attempt to make the world better.

I like Jessie very much, though she clearly sees the world very much in black and white as most teenagers do. Some scenes, especially when she is imprisoned by her desperate father, are very upsetting but not gratuitously so. I’ve seen a couple of commenters mention the heavy religious symbolism of her name (Jessie = Jesus, lamb = sacrifice) but I have to say if that was the author’s intent it went completely over my head.

I thought this was very well done, and not as bleak as many of the novels I read in this genre; it makes clear that sometimes there are no easy choices. Well worth reading.