Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Magrs Month Winners Announced

So who will be spending November curled up reading about Brenda and Effie and who will be glorying in the wonders of a card worthy of Mrs. Claus?

Our grand prize winner is... musichistorygeek!

With Janice and Mark E being the runners up thanks to email entries. I hope you all enjoyed this past month, from my stats it looks like you have! Best month this year since January, oh my. Be sure to stop by for some wonderful end of year surprises, as well as checking out Paul Magrs, he is totally an author deserving of his own month, every year if I have a say!

Happy Halloween!

Wishing all readers a Happy Halloween from the denizens of Whitby, Pandas everywhere, Art Critics and otherwise, Paul Magrs and Me, Miss Eliza. May it be a memorable one! Perhaps with a little punch up in true Brenda and Effie style.

*Thanks to the amazing artist Bret Herholz for letting me use one of his sketches of Brenda and Effie! The Rocky Horror font though is all me.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tuesday Tomorrow

Hollow Earth by John Barrowman and Carole Barrowman
Published by: Aladdin
Publication Date: October 30th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Imagination matters most in a world where art can keep monsters trapped—or set them free.
Lots of twins have a special connection, but twelve-year-old Matt and Emily Calder can do way more than finish each other’s sentences. Together, they are able to bring art to life and enter paintings at will. Their extraordinary abilities are highly sought after, particularly by a secret group who want to access the terrors called Hollow Earth. All the demons, devils, and evil creatures ever imagined are trapped for eternity in the world of Hollow Earth—trapped unless special powers release them.

The twins flee from London to a remote island off the west coast of Scotland in hopes of escaping their pursuers and gaining the protection of their grandfather, who has powers of his own. But the villains will stop at nothing to find Hollow Earth and harness the powers within. With so much at stake, nowhere is safe—and survival might be a fantasy."

I love the siblings Barrowman. What could make this cooler? If I actually get to go to the book launch in Milwaukee!

The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins
Published by: Angry Robot
Publication Date: October 30th, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Cora and her husband hunt things - things that shouldn't exist. When the marshal of Leadville, Colorado, comes across a pair of mysterious deaths, he turns to Cora to find the creature responsible, but if Cora is to overcome the unnatural tide threatening to consume the small town, she must first confront her own tragic past as well as her present."

They had me at "True Blood meets True Grit."

The Twisted Tradgey of Miss Natalie Stewart by Leanna Renee Hieber
Published by: Sourcebooks
Publication Date: October 30th, 2012
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For Natalie Stewart, a normal life has never seemed so far away. Her only solace, Lord Jonathan Denbury, is wanted for murder. To clear his name, Denbury must return to England and assume the role of his demon doppelganger. But Natalie begins to doubt his true motives, especially as a new gentleman begins whispering in her ear. Natalie and Denbury may be able to visit each other in their dreams, but they can't escape the darkening shadows. Amid spontaneous explosions, friends turned enemies and dangerous secrets revealed, there's still a demon who has Natalie's scent, and someone is trying to resurrect the ultimate evil."

Just sounds like a fun late fall read!

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: October 30th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Hopelessly crossed in love, a boy of half-fairy parentage leaves his mundane Victorian-English village on a quest for a fallen star in the magical realm. The star proves to be an attractive woman with a hot temper, who plunges with our hero into adventures featuring witches, the lion and the unicorn, plotting elf-lords, ships that sail the sky, magical transformations, curses whose effects rebound, binding conditions with hidden loopholes and all the rest."

Beautiful new edition of Stardust, which, wasn't my favorite Gaiman, but it was my favorite movie adaptation of all his books... I'm pretending Neverwhere never existed, oh, so bad...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Q&A

As Magrs Month draws to a close, we take this time to highlight what is truly important in life. Pandas and cats. We also thank Paul for all of his time, but mainly, it's just about the Pandas and cats.

Animals with tuxedo coloration are the best, true or false?

Panda’s and special little cats and tapir – of course!

Question: As someone who skirts the campy macabre, was naming your cat Fester, by chance, an homage to Charles Addams, and if so, how awesome is Charles Addams?

Answer: Wonderful. I’ve always had an extremely soft spot for his work. And others who’ve ploughed that same macabre, monochrome furrow – cartoonists and writers like Edward Gorey and my sometime collaborator, Bret Herholz.

Question: Ungow?

Answer: Something Fester says. He’s an extremely vocal, older cat. He can also shout my name – no messing. If I’m working somewhere in the house or garden, he will come looking for me. He’ll actually shout: ‘Paaaaa-oowwww-llllll!!’ Until he finds me. Then he jumps onto the desk or my lap and sits there, concentrating with me on whatever I’m writing or reading. He’s an amazing cat. He came to us as a stray. He adopted us six years ago and he’s a marvel.

Once during the CBS nightly news Bob Schieffer declared that “Everybody Loves Pandas.” Would you agree with this statement?

I would. Though Panda himself can be circumspect about others of his ilk. Those who don’t wear silk cravats, have a penchant for film noir, contemporary classical music or the novels of Ngaio Marsh.

What inspired your Panda?

Answer: I’m not sure. He came into our lives quite a while before he wandered into the adventures of Iris Wildthyme. He likes to be involved in what’s going on. What he really likes – as an Art Critic – is having his photo taken, in locations all over the world, standing in front of all sorts of artworks – famous or otherwise. My partner Jeremy has got quite an amazing collection of photos of Panda delivering his critiques in this fashion. What Panda likes most of all – besides wild adventures in space and time – is causing a right old rumpus in an art gallery.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review - Paul Magrs' 666 Charing Cross Road

666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs
Published by: Headline Publishing
Publication Date: 2011
Format: Paperback, 390 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Liza Bathory loves books. The older, more gothic and mysterious, the better. Her niece's boyfriend, Daniel also likes old books, but this will never endear him to Liza. She just doesn't like Shelley's man. She likes him even less when she learns that Shelley is rushing things and has moved in with him on the Upper West Side, giving up her own shitty apartment. If this relationship fails, which Liza is sure it will, then where will Shelley go? To Liza's own little sanctuary on the Upper East Side. At least Liza has her young gay friend Jack. Sure the bookstore he works at is no longer the type of olde thyme bookstore that Liza loves, instead selling all the hip and sexy vampire fiction you can shake a stake at, but he knows Liza's tastes and helps her to find the books she wants.

That's where the trouble starts. Jack sees a little ad in the paper for a bookshop in London, 666 Charing Cross Road, which specializes in what Liza loves, gothic, mysterious, macabre, old vintage paperbacks with lurid covers. They have no phone or website and do their sales only by correspondence, Liza is in heaven. Her first selection of books is beyond her wildest dreams, Fox Soames rarities, paperbacks of the most lurid nature, even if it turns out their address is the more prosaic 66b Charing Cross Road. The second package leaves something to be desired. Mr. Wright, the proprietor, has sent Liza a grimoire stained in blood. The book exudes evil, and Liza should know, she spent a great deal of her past fighting vampires and demons, but that's all done and now she just reads and edits books.

On Thanksgiving when she takes the book to Daniel's for dinner with her niece, Jack and his new boyfriend, Ricardo, a chain of events is set in motion that no one could have seen coming. Liza berates herself later that she should have, given her past, but who could have known? Shelley is stressed but still crowing over the discovery of a weird effigy her and Daniel are showing in their Museum of Outsider Art that has the whole town talking. The weird "Scottish Bride" or Bessie, as she comes to be called, is bringing patrons to the museum for the first time. The effigy has a strange life to it, almost as if she where once alive.

Then all hell breaks loose. Liza gives Daniel the grimoire to just get it away from her and he ends up possessed by the book and becoming a vampire King, who turns Jack's boyfriend, Ricardo. Than Bessie comes to life and shows up at Liza's apartment. Soon all of New York is overrun with Vampires and Bessie is convinced that she was brought back to life to help vanquish them. If they can return the book now in Daniel's possession from whence it came, perhaps they have a chance at stopping the evil, or perhaps they might spread this evil to two continents.

This is the book that first alerted me to Paul Magrs. I am a Helene Hanff devote. I liked her most famous book, 64, Charing Cross Road, but I adored her followup, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and her collection of radio spots for the BBC Woman's Hour. She is, in my mind, New York. Therefore, if you where to pick someone that exuded the book world to be a protagonist in a new series set in New York, I don't think you could do better than to model the lead on Helene Hanff. It also helps that for some reason, despite Helene being played by Anne Bancroft in the movie adaptation of 64, Charing Cross Road, I have actually always pictured her more as Ruth Gordon. The Ruth Gordon most known for the macabre Harold and Maude and of course Rosemary's Baby, is eerily the perfect combination of who Helene Hanff was and what Paul's book is about. Old New York dame, who happens to be an ex vampire slayer, demon hunter and witch defending the world against evil.

For me, the book was a leisurely stroll through the holiday season in New York with impending evil. They didn't really feel like they where pushing to solve the problem, but doing a lot more thinking and then, when push came to shove, solved it all in a flurry of action that left quite a few loose ends, that, while giving the book resolution, also left it open ended enough so that more books could come. I don't know if it was my mood or the writing style, but it felt like a book where you read a little every night and think on it versus pushing through till the end. I like reading this kind of book. It's a less demanding book and more of a nice calm that you lose yourself in. I know, it's weird thinking of vampires and demons as calm, right?

There was a part of me though that felt this had maybe a few too many similarities to Paul's much loved Brenda and Effie series. We have the sweet intentioned gay side kick with the otherworldly boyfriend, the lady made up of spare parts, who really is this world's Brenda, the elderly witch, and than the younger female sidekick with man troubles. Yes, there's much much more than this, but the basic character traits where eerily similar. But I could forgive this all because I loved the parody of modern literature and the hatred Liza has to the modern vampire literati, Moira Sable, who is basically a Laurell K. Hamilton type that goes for sex and blood versus real ability to write. Paul nails the parody of current literature trends with Fangtasm. He also perfectly captured the previous era of literature with Liza, and I can't tell you how amused I was with every little nod and wink to Helene Hanff and her life. Her wacky neighbors and all!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Review - Paul Magrs' The Ninnies

The Ninnies by Paul Magrs
Book Provided by Obverse Books
Published by: Obverse Books
Publication Date: April 30th, 2012
Format: Kindle, 172 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy
One day Alan's Dad disappears. Everyone, even his Mom, believes Alan's Dad has done a runner. The family's reduced circumstances with a new baby on the way would make anyone do a bunk. Alan knows it isn't true. He saw his dad taken. They where tall with scorched looking skin and drove a black limousine. Then there was the sound of their feet, krunch, krunch, krunch, and their high pitched laugh, hee hee hee. These creatures where the very stuff of nightmares. But why would they want Alan's Dad? He's just a window cleaner, nothing much. More importantly, what are they?

Soon there are more disappearances in town. The police aren't taking an interest, but Alan knows it's the same creatures. In the flat above Alan's are two oldsters, a brother and sister, who, despite their advancing years, are quite sprightly, and noisy, and are driving Alan's mom insane with their disco music. When Alan finally gets to know Bunty and Marlton, he finds out that they have had dealings with these creatures and they know what they are, they are Ninnies.

No one quite knows what a Ninny is or what a Ninny wants. They are scary, shadowy creatures. They might be from space, or a different dimension, or straight out of our nightmares. They could explain the unexplainable, they might be the fairies and trolls of legend, they could be the spacemen people claim to see, they could be all of this and none of this, but disappearances are the first sign that they have arrived. The second sign is mutilation of animals. This soon occurs at the Bonnitime Zoo which is run by Twitsy Nesbit, a friend of Bunty and Marlton's. The final sign is people being addicted to some savory treat... very soon there is a new brand of crisps on the mark, Krispies, with strange names like "Zebra and Artichoke." Alan finds out about the crisps from his classmate Amy who works at her families store. Alan quickly becomes addicted. Even once he knows they are from the evil creatures that took his Dad, he can't stop himself. The Ninnies meanwhile can't leave Alan and his friends alone. Tapping on windows late and night, their menacing hee hee hee's coming out of the shadows. Something will have to be done about them... after one more bag of Krispies.

This book quite literally blew me away. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. The title and the cover led me to think that this would be a silly little story about some mischievous creatures called The Ninnies that would be on the younger side of YA... don't ask me to explain why my brain thought this, it just did. My brain was not prepared to be blown. I think that's the best kind of book, the one that sneaks up on you and just wows you. This book was like Roald Dahl at his best, Neil Gaiman at his darkest and wittiest, or what you always wanted the Sarah Jane Adventures to be, but never quite where. Ghoulish, macabre and suspenseful, I loved it. It kept my up to the wee hours every night hoping not to hear a ghoulish hee hee hee coming from outside my bedroom door.

The mystery of the Ninnies combined with their side business in Krispies, which was run out of an old red brick Victorian Factory, made me feel like I was reading the dark cousin of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's like the Oompa Loompa's had taken over the factory and started to kill and eat the small children. Hence it isn't odd that the book felt reminiscent of Gaiman, with his proclivities to kill families and children. Yet, despite these literary correlations, this book was all Paul Magrs. His wit and humor remained intact. You could tell this was the writer of the Brenda and Effie books with the eccentric cast of characters, the loving way he portrays the elderly and his love of pick and mix shops, yet, he stepped it up a notch. More humor, more horror, more suspense. The fact that Alan, once learning the truth of his food addiction and being unable to give it up, left you with a slight nauseous feeling while you where also finding it funny that he's hiding crisp packets about his person so that no one knows his "dark secret."

The Ninnies I think has quickly become my favorite of Magrs works. It brought back that feeling of horrible delight I had upon first reading Roald Dahl's Matilda in sixth grade. He also was able to maintain the suspense by only giving us a little bit at a time, like a single crisp instead of an entire packet to wolf down like Alan. If there was a down side it was that I felt the story should have been self contained and not open to a sequel. Sometimes a stand alone is what's needed and I don't know if the horrible suspense Paul has created will be able to carry though a second volume... but that again, I am willing to be surprised.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith
Published by: Pantheon
Publication Date: October 23rd, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The newest addition—the ninth!—to Alexander McCall Smith's ever-delightful Isabel Dalhousie series.

Isabel is asked to help a wealthy Scottish landowner who has been robbed of a valuable painting. This painting, by the celebrated French artist Nicolas Poussin, had been earmarked for ultimate donation to the Scottish National Gallery. The owner is uncomfortable about an approach he has received from the thieves and hopes that Isabel will assist him. She agrees—in spite of the misgivings of her husband, Jamie. There is also the question of the thieves' identities. Could they be people who are rather close to the owner? It begins to look as if this may be so . . . Against the backdrop of this intriguing case, Isabel leads her day-to-day life, coping with issues small and large. One small issue is whether her three-year-old son, Charlie, is a budding mathematical genius—and what should be done about it. And then there is the question of whether she should help a young man employed in her niece's delicatessen to live with his girlfriend against the wishes of the girlfriend's parents. The answers to both of these questions test Isabel's qualities as a parent, a philosopher, and a friend."

How does he do it? This man, along with James Patterson and Nora Roberts has a prodigious output of written works!

Beautiful Redemption by Kami Carcia and Margaret Stohl
Published by: Little Brown
Publication Date: October 23rd, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 576 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Is death the end . . . or only the beginning?

Ethan Wate has spent most of his life longing to escape the stiflingly small Southern town of Gatlin. He never thought he would meet the girl of his dreams, Lena Duchannes, who unveiled a secretive, powerful, and cursed side of Gatlin, hidden in plain sight. And he never could have expected that he would be forced to leave behind everyone and everything he cares about. So when Ethan awakes after the chilling events of the Eighteenth Moon, he has only one goal: to find a way to return to Lena and the ones he loves.
Back in Gatlin, Lena is making her own bargains for Ethan's return, vowing to do whatever it takes -- even if that means trusting old enemies or risking the lives of the family and friends Ethan left to protect.

Worlds apart, Ethan and Lena must once again work together to rewrite their fate, in this stunning finale to the Beautiful Creatures series."

The authors I was saddest to miss at the RT Convention this past spring... perhaps I can catch them on their book tour somewhere...

All the Wrong Questions by Lemony Snicket
Published by: Little Brown
Publication Date: October 23rd, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In a fading town, far from anyone he knew or trusted, a young Lemony Snicket began his apprenticeship in an organization nobody knows about. He began asking questions that shouldn’t have been on his mind. Now he has written an account that should not have been published, in four volumes that shouldn’t be read. This is the first volume. "

Perhaps we'll get some more satisfying answers than we got at the end of A Series of Unfortunate Events... or perhaps I shouldn't get my hopes up.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Q&A

This Sunday we veer away from the more generalized questions and concentrate on what this month is all about, before I dedicated it to Paul. The Gothic, the macabre, and Halloween!

Have you ever gone to the Whitby Goth Weekend? 

Answer: The Whitby Bookshop – a lovely independent bookstore with a friendly staff and a rickety spiral staircase – has held Brenda and Effie evenings each Beltane and Hallowe’en for as long as the Brenda books have been coming out. Each time it’s during Goth weekend, and they attract a lovely crowd – usually dressed up in Goth and Steampunk finery. I sit on a red velvet chair and read them a bit and do a Q+A and sign all their books.

Question: Authors Bram Stoker, Lewis Carroll, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and A.S. Byatt all have had ties or works set in Whitby. What is the lure of Whitby? 

Answer: Whitby is an amazing place to visit – and it’s one of the most literary spots in the country. The first poet in written English was Caedmon – a cattle drover who lived at the Abbey – so it’s an extremely long lineage of those who’ve sent their characters running up and down those 199 steps. It’s an epic landscape and a cosy town – the perfect setting for the kind of stories I love.

Question: With new adaptations coming out every few years and with the recent success of the National Theatre’s production of Frankenstein, what do you think makes the story of Frankenstein withstand the test of time?

Answer: It’s a great story and has great characters – in both its literary and film incarnations. But it also taps into very big questions about what it means to be a human being and, beyond that, a person. The monster’s quest is about earning the right to be seen as a person in his own right.

The poor, abandoned Bride gets an ever rougher time than he does. Brenda’s search is always about becoming her own woman.

Question: Do you have an end goal in sight for Brenda and Effie, or will they keep toddling along messing with the mystical in Whitby?

Book Six is about to be published – ‘Brenda and Effie Forever!’ And you’ll see that they come to a kind of conclusion.

However… I’m working on something that will take them into a new dimension, of sorts.

Question: Do you ever hypothetically cast your books for the long overdue adaptations? And if so, who would you cast? Because if you don’t, I have some suggestions!

Answer: I try not to while I’m actually writing the things. But there’s lots of fun to be had doing that kind of casting once the books are finished. I love listening to people’s suggestions for Brenda and Effie character casting. I’m not even sure who I think of by now. Who do you think..?

I personally think that Geraldine James would be perfect for Brenda. Sure she's mainly known for the newer Robert Downey Junior Sherlock and Little Britain, but she's a fierce actress and has enough of a presence to do Brenda justice. As for Effie, I always see Annette Crosbie. She always comes across as funny and a little do-lally, but, if you've watched An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, you know she can kick some ass. As for Robert... hard choice, I picture him kind of innocent, like Thomas Howes as William from Downton, but he's too young, so let's go with Arthur Darvill from Doctor Who! I wish he could have ditched Amy and gone traveling with the Doctor alone... but that leaves him open for Brenda and Effie!

Question: October is the best month, ever. Disputable or indisputable?

Answer: I love Hallowe’en – and I think I might like November even more, though. This year’s perfect because the Hallowe’en Goth weekend in Whitby falls on the first weekend in November. I’m a Scorpio – so it’s home to me, really, this time of year. I like frosty blue mornings; misty afternoons with mulchy leaves, woodsmoke, wearing long coats and scarves and drinking spicy tea – and early nights with spooky old films and ghost stories and French red wine.

Question: Best Halloween costume you’ve ever had?

Answer: Best costume? When I was nine we had a wonderful teacher who directed our whole class in a twenty minute long, musical version of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. Many of us were chosen to be trolls and we had marvelous costumes – mostly shredded old clothes – that came out again for that Hallowe’en and traipsing around our council estate, knocking on doors and giving people the screaming ab-dabs.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review - Paul Magrs' The Bride That Time Forgot

The Bride That Time Forgot (Brenda and Effie Book 5) by Paul Magrs
Book Provided by Headline Publishing
Published by: Headline Publishing
Publication Date: 2010
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy
Even in Whitby Brenda's life might be going to the bad. Sure there have been dangers before, but they've always found a way to have a punch up and be victorious. The return of Effie's fancy man Alucard might be the turning point. Because Brenda may be in denial about what this once and possibly still evil vampire has done to her best friend. She doesn't want to go accusing Alucard of turning Effie unless she is certain, and she sure doesn't want to be certain. Yet, there is no way of denying that the vampire population in Whitby is on the rise... which brings Henry Cleavis back into Brenda's life. Brenda sure does have her trouble with men, either they're monsters, like her MIA husband, or monster hunters, like Henry.

If vampirism wasn't enough, there is a new bookshop in town, The Spooky Finger, run by an odd lady, Marjorie Staynes, who doesn't quite get that a book club should have a broad range of reading material, and instead focuses on the works of Mrs. Beatrice Mapp, an Edwardian writer, who placed the majority of her work in the fictional land of Qab, where men are subservient to women, which is the main draw for the book club. But the name Beatrice Mapp sparks something in Brenda's mind... what is her personal connection to Beatrice, and, on a side note, Marjorie's assistant and Robert's new plaything, Gila, looks suspicious like the subservient lizard race of Qab. Could Qab be real? Before long there are vampire attacks and portals to other places with tears in the very fabric of time, yet the strangest thing that happens is that Brenda willingly, if begrudgingly, takes the help of Mrs. Claus. Maybe that is the first sign that it's the end of days?

Qab. That land before time of garish colors where Jane Fonda from Barbarella wouldn't be incongruous. Qab was interesting, as was the Professor Challenger "Lost World" vibe. Yet, it felt wrong somehow. Spending so much time and energy on a place that's not the Whitby I know and love. This really pushed the series, not in a different way, but in a direction that, while logical, I wasn't that keen on embracing. My brother was always the "Land of the Lost" person in the family. He had the bad eighties posters of dinosaurs with mauve skies that would make your eyes water. I was never into this prehistoric or postapocalyptic man-eating Eden. Also, not to mention my nightmares of dinosaur dioramas from the Milwaukee County Museum, this volume just didn't grab me. We had just another creative medium that creates a vortex, like the previous installment and the film, Get They Inside Me, Satan. Personally, if I had to chose, a film would be a better vortex of evil than a book any day...

Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the book and there where aspects that I loved. Effie finally going to the bad after all the hints and intimations, a book club that is really a cult. Because truly, if you think about it, I spent years trying to find a book club, and they're hard to break into, so, really, they are very much like a cult. I give Penny big props for getting on the inside, even if sometimes she started to believe the retoric. Mrs. Mapp and Bloomsbury! Adored this! I love that how Brenda describes Mrs. Mapp's writing, or more truthfully, her channeling of Qab. I knew something was up with her writing style, it was too much like Automatic Writing, where the writing is "produced from a subconscious, and/or external and/or spiritual source without conscious awareness of the content." I have always found Automatic Writing fascinating, and to have it in this book made me a little giddy, if truth be told. There where a few things that where left open ended, which I hope will be handled in the next book, mainly, the Limbosine and what happened to Leena.

Finally onto the nit picky. The switch back to first-person narrative was a bit jarring. It's not like this series hasn't utilized it, but since the third book we've been in third-person narration which made sense considering the expanding cast of characters and certain events that made Brenda unable to continue the narration herself. Here it seems to be occasionally forcing the narrative back on Brenda or Effie in her letters to Alucard, so that all news and events must filter through them and it's kind of awkward. Even more awkward is the fact that the book doesn't stay in first-person, but jumps back to third-person or vice versa, sometimes in the same chapter. The really really long chapters. I like third-person, it works for these books, even if we lose Brenda's voice, her voice is so strong now it can survive the change over from first-person.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review - Paul Magrs' Hell's Bells

Hell's Belles (Brenda and Effie Book 4) by Paul Magrs
Book Provided by Headline Publishing
Published by: Headline Publishing
Publication Date: 2009
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Whitby is abuzz. The approach to Halloween usually means the town is deep in preparations for the annual Goth Weekend. But this year brings even more excitement. Whitby is to be the location for the remake of Get Thee Inside Me, Satan, which will film it's climax at the ruined abbey on Halloween night. The movie that was filmed in the sixties and has been wiped off the face of the earth because of the curse that lives within the film. Death and destruction have followed in this films wake. Yet one day at the local thrift store, Penny, Robert's new assistant up at the Hotel Mirramar, finds a copy of the film on DVD. How is this possible? This film should not exist in any form. Penny can't help herself. The coincidence is too much and she buys the film. She needs to see the original, see if it's true that the film holds pure evil, see if it's true that the star, Karla Sorenson, hasn't aged a day as she readies to film the remake, see if she, Penny, can survive watching it with her sanity intact.

Meanwhile, Brenda has been off gallivanting with her husband Frank, but she is returning for Goth Weekend. Her B and B will be filled to the rafters. Though she knows in her water that the filming in Whitby is bad news when she confirms that Karla Sorenson is there. Brenda was there, in the creepy quarry in Wales, all those years ago when the original film released evil into the world. And Karla remembers her. With mysterious arrivals in town and evil afoot, the film's curse looks as if it could bring all of Whitby to hell. Unless Brenda and Effie with their posse can bring a stop to Karla and her enrapturing ways as well as the mysterious Brethren.

Their is something primal about horror films. Everyone remembers their first real horror film that brought nightmares for years to come. That might still give you nightmares! The mere mention of the film brings chills to this day. For me it was The Legend of Hell House. Britain dominated the making of low budget B grade horror films in the sixties and seventies, Hammer Films being the most prolific and well known. While The Legend of Hell House wasn't a Hammer production, it had all the hallmarks of British cinema at the height of horror; a few "name" stars with Roddy McDowell and Michael Gough, a house steeped in evil where no one makes it out alive, and implied psychological horror versus too much on-screen gore.

I can still remember the morning I first watched the film. It was August the second, 1996 or 1997. Our house had just been tpeed, with over 167 rolls of toilet paper. It was a grey day, where it feels like it's constantly twilight or dawn out, you just can't tell; wet and humid, where your clothes stick to you no matter what you do. We spent hours and hours cleaning. When we cleaned up as much as we could, I was so exhausted I just came in the house and sat on the couch and turned on AMC. The Legend of Hell House was just starting. I have never been the biggest fan of scary movies, but that day I stayed my hand on the remote. I was a fan of Roddy McDowell and Gayle Hunnicutt, who I loved on Dallas was also in it. I don't know if it was just the exhaustion or the subject matter, but this movie freaked me out beyond belief. Weird possessions, mysterious deaths, nothing really scary, just the feeling of the whole. The movie come through my mental barriers and has forever haunted me.

Therefore, a film, albeit imaginary, but of the same school, thought to be actually possessed by the devil doesn't seem that far fetched to me as I think back to that fateful day in August. Paul was able to use his story to tap into my preexisting fears to create a delicious and scary read. While I was curled up in a comfy chair on a hot August day, I was also on that lumpy couch with my clothes plastered to me watching The Legend of Hell House for the first time. While I've enjoyed and loved Paul's writing in the previous Brenda and Effie books, I had never felt so connected with his writing as I was with Hells Belles. You could feel his love of this tacky genre and it made the book shine. He created something magical and luckily I was just drawn into the pages of a book, not into a quarry in Wales in the sixties.

Everything else was just icing on the cake. The introduction of new characters, from Penny Danby (that last name is so going to be important), the run away housewife Goth, to Michael, the mysterious Irish lad, to Karla the unaging vamp and the thrift store ladies who have other things in mind than "saving the kiddies." The final reveal of Mrs. Claus's secret, which has been building up and hinted at for quite some time, to the return of someone instrumental to Brenda's past. All of this is just extra wonderfulness on top of this horror movie framework. Next please!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tuesday Tomorrow

Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur
Publication Date: October 16th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Years ago, Emily's childhood nemesis, Emma Callum, scandalized polite society when she eloped to Venice with an Italian count. But now her father-in-law lies murdered, and her husband has vanished. There's no one Emma can turn to for help but Emily, who leaves at once with her husband, the dashing Colin Hargreaves, for Venice. There, her investigations take her from opulent palazzi to slums, libraries, and bordellos. Emily soon realizes that to solve the present day crime, she must first unravel a centuries old puzzle. But the past does not give up its secrets easily, especially when these revelations might threaten the interests of some very powerful people."

Oh, new Lady Emily! Also, answers to some questions and how jealous am I that Tasha wrote this book in Venice? Very!

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Published by: Atria
Publication Date: October 16th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The new novel from the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Distant Hours is a spellbinding mix of mystery, thievery, murder, and enduring love.

During a party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the road and sees her mother speak to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions she has not thought about for decades. From pre-WWII England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, discover the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined.

The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams, the lengths people go to fulfill them, and the consequences they can have. It is a story of lovers, friends, dreamers, and schemers told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world."

I am insanely excited for this book, not just because I enjoyed The Forgotten Garden, but because I'm going to a "tea with the author" event in Milwaukee for this book. Woo and a hoo!

Father Gaetano's Puppet Catechism: A Novella by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: October 16th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 136 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the creator of Hellboy, an illustrated novella that brings Twilight Zone originality to the written page

In the aftermath of a critical World War II battle, Father Gaetano is assigned as the sole priest at the Church of San Domenico in the small, seaside Sicilian village of Tringale. The previous pastor has died and there is a shortage of clergy at the moment, so until another can be spared, the young priest must say all of the masses himself.

Mass is not Father Gaetano’s only responsibility, however. The war has created many orphans, and thus the San Domenico rectory has been converted into an orphanage which is also his domain. The children are a joy to him, but they have lost so much, and many have begun to question their faith and their God, and his attempts to teach them catechism are in vain . . . until he finds an old puppet theatre and an ornate box of puppets in the basement. Handcrafted by the building's former caretaker, now absent, the puppets seem the perfect tool to get the children to pay attention to their lessons. But after dark the puppets emerge from that ornate box, without their strings. While the children have been questioning their faith, the puppets believe Father Gaetano's Bible stories completely. But there is such a thing as too much faith. And the children's lives will never be the same again."

I've been a fan of these two great men collaborating for some time now! Check this one out.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Q&A

So, for this Sunday's installment of questions, we go more cultish... meaning, it's time to discuss one of the many awesome things Paul does, which is Doctor Who!
Question: From being your friend on facebook I have noticed your decided lean to campy television and B-movies, aside from the obvious references in Helles Belles, how has this worked its way into your writing? 

Answer: I’ve always loved to mix high and low cultural points and I dread the kind of snobbery that separates these things out. I hope what I’m doing through my novels is constructing a kind of secret narrative history of recent centuries, told through various forms of cultural flotsam and jetsam. Soap operas; the Brontes; Shakespeare and the Fantastic Four, Dracula and H.R Pufnstuf – I like to mix it all into a reeking broth.

Question: Expanding on the previous question, your tastes seem such an obvious fit for Doctor Who, how did that writing job come about and do you ever dream of going beyond the books and audios and doing an episode of the show?

Answer: As a kid I wrote Doctor Who stories all the time. The first 30-page story I ever wrote long hand and then drafted and typed up was when I was twelve, and it was a Fourth Doctor story about giant bats in the Lake District. I always, always wanted to write a Doctor Who book. First of all I published some other novels – set in my own universe! – and then, when I had a bit of a publishing record – I approached BBC Books, who were then publishing original Eighth Doctor novels. After that came several others, and then several Big Finish audio scripts for the 5th, 6th and 8th Doctors, and then my adventures with Audiogo, Doctor 4 and Mrs Wibbsey. It’s been an amazing process. Of course I’d love to write for the TV show! But the people that do have big TV CV’s – which I don’t.

Question: Current favorite Doctor, given that this preference could change over time?

Answer: Tom Baker is always my favourite. To me, everyone else is an actor playing Doctor Who. Tom simply is Doctor Who.

Question: Sick Building was rumored to have had the working title of The Wicked Bungalow but was changed prior to release by Russell T Davies. Aside from the fact The Wicked Bungalow is a better title, how much creative interference do you encounter?

Answer: There are always compromises! On every single project that you do. There has to be. Everything is a collaboration – even a single-authored novel. You have to listen to your editor and agent and everyone else involved. They know about getting your stuff out to the audience and can help tailor what it is you’re doing. (I still don’t fully understand the Wicked Bungalow thing, though. I think it was thought to be too ironic-sounding. But that title wasn’t trying to be ironic – it really was a book about a bungalow that was quite, quite wicked.)

Question: You're in a completely hypothetical desert, walking along in the sand when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling towards you. You reach down and flip the tortoise over on its back, Leon. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over. But it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping. I mean you're not helping! Why is that, Leon?

Answer: I still don’t get this? Is it from Blade Runner…..?*

*I'll leave this up to my friend Aaron to explain, because he really wanted this question asked... if I remember right the reasoning is because all writers who have written in the sci fi genre should know Blade Runner, which this quote is indeed from. Hey, I took the effort to find a poster with Leon in it, so that's my standing. Also, I just realized Blade Runner is two words, how did I never notice that before? I even read the book... though in fairness, Blade Runner isn't it's title.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Review - Paul Magrs' Conjugal Rites

Conjugal Rites (Brenda and Effie Book 3) by Paul MagrsPublished by: Headline Publishing
Publication Date: 2008
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy
"You are mine. And I want to see you. All these years. Years and years. We've never really met. But you are mine. And I have rites. Conjugal rites. You are mine and I am coming to see you. I know where you are now. I have been looking. Now I know where you are. And I am on my way. Your husband is coming to get you."

So Brenda is warned at the end of Something Borrowed. Her husband is coming home. Though for the pragmatic Brenda, thinking about what might come in the future, sometimes torches and lynch mobs if history where to serve, are not as immediate as dealing with the overflow from the Masked Hero Convention up at the Christmas Hotel. The old age pensioners trying to relive the good-old-days means nothing when her nemesis, Mr. Danby reappears. While he claims to be hosting an innocent late night call in show, "Night Owls," Brenda is sure that something is afoot. After all, even Effie and Robert are calling in and revealing deep, dark secrets about themselves and others. They even almost reveal who, or what, Brenda is to everyone listening, which happens to be all of Witby. Mr. Danby is up to no good. How is he getting these people to spill their souls over the airwaves?

After a dust up with Danby, Brenda gets the surprise of her life. She knew one day HE would come for her, she had fair warning, but she didn't expect it to end with a scuffle and a fall over the Western cliff straight into hell. Effie and Robert are at a lose. Brenda was the glue between them and now everyone says she's dead. But Robert and Effie won't lose hope so easily. Effie has had first hand experience with the gateway to hell the resides in Witby. Perhaps Brenda is in hell and not gone forever. If Effie's ex Alucard could go in, perhaps they could too... only they plan on coming back. Headed to the old Abbey one night, with Shelia Manchu tagging alone, they ask the old Abbess to help them rescue their friend. Whether their plan will work is anyone's guess.

I have a feeling that my reviews for all the Brenda and Effie books will start "Yet another wonderful entry in Paul Magrs's Brenda and Effie series." Literally, there has not been a misstep! Granted, I've only finished the first three, but the teaser for book four almost made me abandon my organized reading list for the month and rush to pick up the next one. Each one is witty and fun and develops off the previous installment in a natural way but expands the story and the universe logically, so that each book is something more instead of just treading the same ground over and over again, like some series are wont to do, especially of the supernatural variety (*cough* Sookie Stackhouse *cough*).

Conjugal Rites deals with the big elephant in the room when it comes to Brenda. She is "The Bride of Frankenstein," emphasis on the "Bride." While she has mentioned in passing her creation and her mate that she was literally made for, the fact that her long-lived spouse hasn't come calling has always been hanging there in the corner. Now he has finally arrived. I liked that it acknowledged Frank and brought a bit of closure to this chapter of her life. If Frank never showed up, we would always be left wondering. I also loved that while he is a bit of a brute of a man, what with the neck bolts and strong Northern accent, there is something that draws Brenda to him. Not just the fate, but there is something else there. A kindred goodness deep down that makes it right for them to be together. I for one am excited to see how their relationship develops, I view it as a kind of supernatural Wuthering Heights.

Speaking of relationships... while I was sad that Brenda was off in the wings for a good portion of the book, what I loved was the bonding between Effie and Robert. Everyone has, at some point in their life, had someone they hung out with a lot, but aren't exactly friends with. It's not for any logical reason, it's just that they are a friend of a friend. For Effie and Robert, Brenda has always been the one that bonded their group. Effie and Robert always viewed Brenda as their friend and the other as Brenda's friend, not their own. Yet, because they had to come together in order to rescue Brenda, their relationship naturally changed, and they have started to form a friendship without Brenda. I was cheering on this fledgling friendship. Some of my strongest friendships have started in this round about manner, and I really have the highest hopes that Effie will no longer look slightly askance at Robert and Robert won't view Effie as the odd lady with the junk. Going to hell and back together, it's the best bonding there is, like a cross country road trip, you really get to know the other person and hopefully, at the end of the day, you're better friends than ever.

While these reasons for loving the book are more on the "deeper" side, dealing with love and life and the connections between disparate people on this earth we call home, it's the zaniness that balances it. The pensioners in superhero costumes, the fact that the first level of hell is 24/7 Christmas. The ingenious realization that our favorite clothes that we loved and lost really where just dragged to hell. Perhaps that's where missing socks go as well? Is the sock monster perhaps a being from a hell dimension? I think so. Also Paul's obvious love of the B-movie genre, with the very green Frank, the return of Dracula, oh, I mean Alucard, and a Monkey's Paw playing a crucial deus ex machina, not to mention Sheila's long gone husband, Mumu, a very hilarious reference to Fu Manchu, led to a B-movie extravaganza of fun! Also, back to the more serious side, I liked Sheila finally being confronted by the actuality of her husband Mumu, her "God," and realizing, that perhaps, she was idolizing him and romanticizing her past a little too much. Ok, back to the funny... an escalator to hell! Now I have to go read the next one, whose review will most likely start "Yet another wonderful entry in Paul Magrs's Brenda and Effie series."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review - Paul Magrs' Something Borrowed

Something Borrowed (Brenda and Effie Book 2) by Paul Magrs
Published by: Headline Publishing
Publication Date: 2007
Format: Paperback, 280 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Brenda wants a return to normalcy, while Effie is all for further fun. Brenda just wants to run her Bed and Breakfast and make it the cleanest and friendliest place in all of Whitby. Yet their adventures of the previous year has made Effie realize that there's so much more out there. Sure, growing up with a family of powerful witches, you know about "other" things, but dating Dracula and watching a hell mouth open change your priorities. Without consulting Brenda, Effie has got them a case investigating a string of poison pen letters. Sheila Manchu, who runs the decidedly low rent Hotel Miramar, is the latest victim. She has been shaken by the accusations and hopes that Brenda and Effie can help her.

Their first suspect is Mrs. Claus, with her mysterious ways and otherworldly air. She runs the upscale Christmas Hotel and is hoarding more secrets than perhaps even Brenda. Yet, she seems to be too classy to resort to poison pen letters. Lucky for Brenda and Effie, their now significantly transformed friend Jessie's nephew Robert works at both hotels and is will to help in their investigations when not tending to his womanzee aunt Jessie.

With a beer garden with evil undertones and a rampaging womanzee, sleep deprivation and things that scuttle in the night, surprisingly it's a man from Brenda's past that upsets the precious balance of life in Whitby. Henry Cleavis was a part of Brenda's life at one time, if only she could remember that time. Both of them are long past the time they should have left this earth, Brenda for more easily explainable, if unbelievable reasons... Henry though? What secrets does he hold? One things clear, he still hunts monsters, so where does that leave him and Brenda... Jessie is in danger, that's for sure. Yet if he's in town, there must be something more sinister that drew him here.

At first I was not sure if I would love this second book in Paul Magr's Brenda and Effie series as much as I did the first installment. There was a distinct structure shift. The narrative style changed from little vignettes to a more overall narrative arc. I loved the little "monster of the week" structure of Never the Bride, because it felt more Victorian in construct. Little sweets of stories that take place in Brenda and Effie's lives. Yet, there shouldn't have been a doubt in my mind. While the structure changed, my love for the characters didn't. Paul's style change perfectly fitted the story at hand. Instead of all these little individual tales, we have one tale that every little aspect of the narrative fed into. The story kept building on itself till we finally got the big reveal in Brenda's flashback that locked all the pieces down into place.

Also, learning more about Brenda's past, and her working as a housekeeper and maid back in 1946, makes sense with her continued love of a clean home. Her run in with Dracula way back in the day makes sense as to her prejudice against him when he previously was in Whitby and courting Effie. Secret societies comprised of academics, B Horror movie characters come to life and running amok. Creatures so dangerous that other evil creatures will inexplicably band together for "the greater good" all make this book a wonderfully fun read.

Still, the heart and soul of the book is Brenda. One doesn't really sit down and often think about if someone had an extremely long life, without the supernatural elements, Brenda after all is a creation of man, having been created by Doctor Frankenstein, what would happen to your brain after all these years. Obviously, there's only so much information that a human brain can retain, so amnesia or just plain having problems remembering your own past would be common. Not to mention, there might be a lot that you wish to forget! Brenda has "too many memories to fit inside one body." Memories return to her in flashes. Everything would be easy if she could quickly recall what happened the last time her and Henry where together, because it's obvious with his return, whatever was a danger to them in the past is a danger to them in the present. Yet, that is not how things work. Life is complicated and messy, and never simple, especially if you've had more than your fair share. You can quite literally be haunted by your past... who knows who or what might appear next. I know I can't wait to read about it!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tuesday Tomorrow

Into the Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond by Kim Harrison
Published by: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: October 9th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Enter the woods . . . if you dare
Into the Woods

For centuries, the woods have been a pivotal part of the wonder and danger of fairy tales, for once you enter anything can happen. Elves, druids, fairies—who knows what you will find once you dare step into the forest?

And now, New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison ventures into these mysterious, hidden lands of magic and mystery in her first short-story collection. Into the Woods brings together an enchanting mix of brand-new, never-before-published stories and tales from Harrison's beloved, bestselling Hollows series.

The tales here include an original Hollows novella, Million-Dollar Baby, about Trent Kalamack's secret elven quest in Pale Demon; two original short stories, "Pet Shop Boys" and "Temson Woods," that explore just what happens when humanity and the supernatural collide; and two novelettes, "Spider Silk" and "Grace," set in new worlds of imagination and adventure. Into the Woods also contains all of the previously published Hollows short stories—together in one volume for the very first time.

Step into the woods and discover the magic for yourself. "

Kim Harrison, short stories, I'm in.

The Unfailing Light by Robin Bridges
Published by: Delacorte
Publication Date: October 9th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Lush and opulent, romantic and sinister, The Unfailing Light, Volume II in The Katerina Trilogy, reimagines the lives of Russia's aristocracy in a fabulously intoxicating and page-turning fantasy.

Having had no choice but to use her power has a necromancer to save Russia from dark forces, Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, now wants to forget that she ever used her special powers. She's about to set off to pursue her lifelong dream of attending medical school when she discovers that Russia's arch nemesis--who she thought she'd destroyed--is still alive. So on imperial orders, Katerina remains at her old finishing school. She'll be safe there, because the empress has cast a potent spell to protect it against the vampires and revenants who are bent on toppling the tsar and using Katerina for their own gains. But to Katerina's horror, the spell unleashes a vengeful ghost within the school, a ghost more dangerous than any creature trying to get in."

Russia, I can't get enough of ya!

White Truffles in Winter by N. M. Kelby
Published by: W. W. Norton and Company
Publication Date: October 9th, 2012
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935) was the unparalleled French chef whose impact on restaurants and high cuisine is still with us. He was also a complicated man—kind yet imperious, food obsessed yet rarely hungry, capable of great passion and inscrutable reserve. In this lushly imagined new novel, N. M. Kelby transports us into Escoffier’s private world, weaving a sensual story of food and longing, war and romance.

The novel opens near the end of Escoffier’s life, as he writes his memoirs. He has witnessed a tumultuous sweep of history from a unique position, and he recounts his days as a cook in the Franco-Prussian War, a chef for the beau monde in Paris and at the London’s Savoy, and a confidant of royalty and world leaders.

The heart of Escoffier’s story, however, lies in his love for two very different women: the famously beautiful and reckless actress Sarah Bernhardt, one of the most adored women of her day, and his wife, the independent and sublime poet Delphine Daffis, whose hand in marriage Escoffier gambled for, only to live apart from her for much of his career.

Now Escoffier has retired and returned to Delphine. She requests just one thing: that he produce a dish in her name as he has done for so many, including Bernhardt and Queen Victoria. Yet how does one re-create the complexity of love in a single recipe? The great chef has no idea. Aided by a headstrong young cook who looks remarkably like Bernhardt, Escoffier must rediscover food’s emotional capacity, its ability to communicate passion, regret, grief, forgiveness, and love."

I didn't really hear anything about this book when it was released in Hardcover, but than again, it had a crappy cover, so pretty cover means I sit up and take notice!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Q&A

So, as you've by now guessed, this month is dedicated to the writer Paul Magrs.There's a banner designed and a giveaway, this shouldn't be a surprise. Paul was more than generous with his time and willing to be submitted to my silly questions which I will post, along with his answers, every Sunday this month. To start us off, I figured some general questions about the life of a writer and his books was as good a place as any to start, so let's cede the blog to Paul!

 Question: I personally have this question asked about me a lot, but how do you find the time to do all you do? From writing and reading and reviewing and events, not to mention making sure Panda and Fester are happy, how do you do it all?

Answer: I think I developed a good relationship with time and its management from working and teaching in universities for all the years that I did. You get used to working on your own writing in the gaps and spaces of your days. That kind of training sticks with you! So, today, for example – as well as emails and a spot of writing practice and some contract and business stuff – I’ve worked on four different projects (two of them first draft and still top secret, with 1200 new words on each, and then in the afternoon – two more projects, both scripts, at a second draft stage.) It’s always a question of structured time management – and with that in place – you can spin off through time and space wherever you like. Usually.

Question: How important is having other writers as friends and part of your community to inspire and help out and commiserate with?

Answer: I’ve always had lots of writing friends, and I’ve been very lucky with that. I think it’s vital to have some kind of network of pals you can connect with. Not necessarily reading each other’s work and critiquing all the time – sometimes it’s just nice to know they’re out there, doing the same kind of thing. What’s great about lots of the writers I know is that they like to have a good, gossipy time when they actually manage to get out of the house and meet up – at festivals or writers’ retreats, or whatever. I’ve got some great friendships with people in the same world as the one I’m in.

*Paul pictured with fellow author George Mann

Question: You are that rare breed of author whose public readings not only connect the listener to your writing but also enhance subsequent readings of your books. Have you ever considered pulling a Neil Gaiman and doing your own audio books?

Answer: That’s very nice to hear, thank you! And, yes, I recorded my own unabridged audio for my 2010 YA novel, ‘The Diary of a Dr Who Addict.’ It was terrific fun to do and I learned a great deal from my producer while I was at the studios in Bath. We also got snowed in as all these blizzards in Jane Austen's town. It was just after New Years’ – and three of us were recording books that week in those studios – Nerys Hughes, Jacqueline Wilson and myself. We thought we were going to be snowed in for weeks!

Question: With many of your books having characters that jump from one book to the next, do you consider all your books as existing within the same universe?

Answer: Perhaps – or maybe universes that touch upon each other at oblique angles. A recurring motif throughout many of the books are the magic Pinking Shears that get passed along between characters such as Iris Wildthyme and Noel Coward. Whoever ends up with them generally causes chaos, cutting a swathe through the Very Fabric of Space and Time and stepping through…

I think it’s because I grew up loving Marvel and DC Comics that I ended up obsessed with the idea of crossovers and cameos and guest appearances. But I do like to make sure that each book is explicable on its own terms, with little or no prior knowledge of my many universes required…

Question: I was first made aware of you and your work by 666 Charing Cross Road, an obvious wink and nod to Helene Hanff and her book 64 Charing Cross Road. How much did Helene’s own writing affect how you handled the book?

Answer: I read all of her books in one go, a few years ago. I knew ’84 Charing Cross Road’ of old – both the book and the film – and I was delighted to follow her adventures further in these slim, erudite and irascible books. I loved her book about visiting London at last, and her book about rediscovering New York. I wish there was more of her in the world. I hope a little of her spirit and her tone went into the character of Eliza Bathory – the literary demon hunter – in my novel.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Review - Paul Magrs' Never the Bride

Never the Bride (Brenda and Effie Book 1) by Paul Magrs
Book Provided by Headline Publishing
Published by: Headline Publishing
Publication Date: 2006
Format: Paperback, 280 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Brenda has decided that after her long long life it's time for some peace and quiet in the small northern seaside town of Witby, famed for Dracula's ship, the Demeter, crashing into its harbor. While the town does have many B and B's, Brenda sets out to make hers the friendliest and cleanliest for a few select guests. Settling down has always been the last thing on her mind in a life of tumult and late night escapes, but she has a nice routine and a best friend, Effie, her neighbor next door who runs a junk shop filled with centuries of family ephemera. Days are spent cleaning and making her home nice, going out for tea and dinners with Effie, and quietly getting on with life, something the bride of Frankenstein never thought possible. Yet Brenda realizes it is too good to last when during one of her and Effie's outings, their regular waitress at The Christmas Hotel, Jessie, is literally 20 years younger. She has gone to a new boutique in town and the years have just been taken away. Brenda's years of being surrounded by the strange and peculiar means she knows that this "Deadly Boutique" has to be up to something, and her feisty new friend Effie is all for investigating. The boutique though is only one of many strange occurrences. Aliens, vampires, every manner of supernatural goings on start to happen, and they all seem to have one thing in common, Brenda.

For quite awhile now I've had two books by Paul Magrs on my "to_get" shelf on goodreads (I've also oddly had one of them on the shelf nearest my computer tower that I just recently rediscovered). Never the Bride and 666 Charing Cross Road intrigued me, yet not being in print here I was at the whims of someone selling a copy to a used bookstore or biting the bullet and paying the shipping charges from overseas. I met Paul this past fall at TeslaCon and realized that these books needed to be bumped up the list. Paul is an engaging reader. Sometimes authors get up to read their work and it falls flat. You aren't drawn into the world. I was instantly drawn into the world of Brenda and Effie as the characters took him over. During the weekend I got to know Paul a little, attending his readings and Q and A's, hanging out at the hotel's bar. 

We're now facebook friends and he put me in touch with his publicist to wrangle me a few of his books for my blog here, yeah. I was instantly over the moon and filled with dread. Here is someone I had met who I genuinely liked but had yet to read his work. What if it was awful? What if he asked me how I liked it? What if I had to break it to him that I hated a book with characters so dear to his heart? It's a constant fear of reviewers, or at least a fear of this reviewer. What if you get too close to your subject? What if you form some alliance or tentative friendship that can't withstand the truth? Because I will always tell the truth. I can't lie. As an artist I have learned to take harsh criticism, and it has made me better at what I do, so therefore I'm not trying to be mean, I'm trying to make you better. Sadly it's easier to write about a bad book than a good one, but when it's someone you like and admire, you feel bad that you didn't like it. I've even once or twice hesitated to even publish my review because the book was so bad and the author someone I so admired, yet I still published my review for all to read. Because in the end, the truth will out. As you've probably surmised because this book is on my top ten reads for 2011 that all my fears where unjustified in this case. Whew.

The book combines so many of my favorite things into one book it's instantly a series I must now devour. Never the Bride is set up like an old fashioned chap book, with each chapter dealing with a different crisis that has arisen. Just like the different guests that stay at Brenda's B and B, each chapter is a cozy little mystery that while solved by chapters end, adds a little more to the books overall story arc. I like cozy little mysteries. There's something comforting about them, but then, sometimes they are formulaic. I think by adding in a few vampires, aliens and characters from Gothic literature, that Paul has smashed the formulae and made something new. It's like Mapp and Lucia for the supernatural set. Buffy for retirees. Being Human, but just a little more mature. In fact I can totally see this as a series with Geraldine James as Brenda and perhaps Annette Crosbie as Effie.

At different points in the book I was sad that the chapter was ending, because, the characters being guests, would leave, and leave me a little sad. The family of aliens that Brenda harbors where so sweet and so well developed they didn't devolve into the horror of cliche, Simon Pegg's atrocious Paul anyone? Because I'm sure the first time I said this book had aliens, you kind of cringed a little, as I myself did. Aliens and Neanderthals (Australopithecus to be exact) don't usually seamlessly fit into fantastical fiction, I'm sure the Neanderthal episode of Buffy wasn't your favorite, aside from adding "Beer foamy" to you quotes; and you sometimes end up with the mess that Jasper Fforde has gotten himself into with his Thursday Next books where you just don't care anymore. But here each character is created with such loving detail that no matter how much you think this might be too much or too far, it isn't. It's just perfect. I instantly felt that these fictional characters where in fact my friends and can't wait to visit them again and again. If only I could stay at Brenda's B and B sometime... and not just in my dreams.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Bibliophilic Spree

1) Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie - Because I adore this little short story that introduced the world to Peter Pan. Also, my copy is a tiny little paperback Penguin mini that hasn't aged very well, whereas this is a Facsimile Edition of the original with drawings by Arthur Rackham! Score! Bought at Frugal Muse.

2) Endgame by Ann Aguirre - The end of Sirantha Jax, weep, sob. Bought at Barnes and Noble.

3) Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann - I have been wanting to get my hands on this book in George's Ghost series for awhile, and imagin my joy and finding both at once. There was almost a happy dance, I lie, there was a happy dance, once I had taken the books of the shelf and made sure no one would snag them from beneath my nose. Bought at Barnes and Noble.

4) Ghosts of War by George Mann - Ditto above, happy dance, yeah! Bought at Barnes and Noble.

5) The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron - I admit I know nothing about this book. But I had a 30% off one YA or Kids book and I saw this vaguely Steampunky cover and read the blurb and it said English Country Estate, so I was sold, if it's any good, only time will tell... Bought at Barnes and Noble.

6) The Curse of the Kings by Victoria Holt - So over on Lauren Willig's site, she was having a discussion/recommendation as the best "gateway" book for those who've never read Victoria Holt. I personally have never read her and when her recomendation was one about Egypt, I went straight to Amazon and bought it now. Bought at Amazon.

7) Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie - Another Christie facsimile I ordered with Mrs. Oliver, finally arrived from England! Bought at Amazon UK.

8) Third Girl by Agatha Christie - Ditto! Bought at Amazon UK.

9) The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe - I've been waffling on buying this one for awhile, so the fact that she was doing a signing at Murder by the Book swayed me to the yes category. That and I could get my copy of her first book signed! Bought at Murder by the Book.

10) Seizures by Katy Reichs - Again, another book I was debating that swung to the yes category by a signing at Murder by the Book. Bought at Murder by the Book.

11) Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr - Yeah, a new Melissa Marr book which everyone has told me is awesome. Though it's still hard for me to type "carnival" and not want to but an "e" on the end. Damn, I miss that show. Bought at Murder by the Book.

12) Ruby Red by Kersin Gier - Has been on my "to get" list for a long time and to tie in with the new book they re-released the first book (aka, this one) in a snazzy new and elegant cover. Bought at Amazon.

13) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - Did I know that they had released the book in the Everyman's Children's Classics Library? Uh, duh, no I didn't otherwies I would have bought it long ago! I love this series from Everyman's Library! Bought at Amazon.

Ok, now here will be the, damn, she went to a Fierce Reads author event with Marissa Meyer, Ann Aguirre, Lish McBride and Elizabeth Fama, so I couldn't NOT buy all their books... right? Also, I know you're jealous I was there and just won't admit it...

14) Enclave by Ann Aguirre - I was kind of kicking myself for not getting this book in the spring at the RT Convention where I first met Ann, so luckily I got my chance again! Also, right when Outpost came out, which leads too... Bought at Books and Company.

15) Outpost by Ann Aguirre - See, I couldn't just buy Enclave, now could I? Bought at Books and Company.

16) Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride - Serious cover lust and after hearing more about the book, it made me want to stop reading my current book and pick this up. Bought at Books and Company

17) Necromancing the Stone by Lish McBride - Perhaps even great cover lust, sigh. Bought at Books and Company.

18) Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama - Probably the book prior to the event I was least excited about, until I heard, evil mermaids, New England, and kind of like Frankenstein. Yeah, sold! Bought at Books and Company.

So, with all the work at school I've been stressed, and I tend to stress by books... it's weird, but it's like, I'm looking forward to when I have free time so I over buy books. Also, as a side note, perhaps it's unwise my doctor's office is like right near Barnes and Noble, so when I went in thinking I was breaking out in hives (I wasn't, just bug bites) to calm myself after, what better thing is there than books?

19) Foretold by Carrie Ryan - YA Anthology that I've been waiting for. Even better, it arrived at Frugal Muse so I got it for a quarter of the list price! Bought at Frugal Muse.

20) The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash. Never heard of this book. Saw it and it looked awesome, so, yeah, I bought it. Bought at Frugal Muse.

21) The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer - As I said on "Tuesday Tomorrow" it's about Egypt, so I'm sold, also, gorgeous cover! Bought at Barnes and Noble.

22) Dodger by Terry Pratchett - DUH! Terry Pratchett devote in the house! Bought at Barnes and Noble.

23) In a Witch's Wardrobe by Juliet Blackwell - Witchy fun, perfect for October! Bought at Barnes and Noble.

24) Alchemystic by Anton Strout - The proclaimed nemesis of Patrick Rothfuss, who donated money for every preorder... odd that I bought Pat's nemesis's book on Pat's recommendation... Bought at Amazon.

25) Death on a Silver Tray by Rosemary Stevens - The first in her Bean Brummell mystery series, highly recommended by Lauren Willig. Bought at Amazon.

26) The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King - I recommended the newest in this series about Sherlock Holmes recently and realized, I haven't read the first. So this is the first, fyi. Bought at Barnes and Noble.

27) Happily Ever After by Harriet Evans - I love Harriet Evans and have been wanting her newest book for quite some time but sadly every time I tried to get a copy it was damaged beyond belief, sometimes it astounds me what mailing a book does to it. But FINALLY I found a mint copy! Bought at Barnes and Noble.

Note on the bookstores: - because sometimes, more often that not, your local Barnes and Noble didn't stock that ONE book you where looking for, and having prime means everything shows up so fast!

Barnes and Noble - the last big chain in the Midwest that everyone knows and loves or loathes accordingly.

Books and Company - Local bookstore, not local to Madison, but Oconomowoc, which isn't that far away. They have great signing events, I got to meet Erin Morgenstern through them last year!

Frugal Muse - local Madison, Wisconsin chain with two stores in town which sells both old and new books at wonderful prices (at a really steep discount for new books too) and is easily my favorite bookstore.

Murder by the Book - the best bookstore in the world! They're in Houston, Texas and have tons of amazing events and for every book you buy they'll let you send in three books to get signed. Love you all!

Newer Posts Older Posts Home