Sunday, 31 May 2015

Book review: Mrs Danby and Company

Like Paul Magrs' other novel series featuring Brenda and Effie or Iris Wildthyme, Mrs Danby and Company - which also has the feel of the first in a series - takes its characters or situations from classic stories by other writers then gives them a different twist. This time three characters who seem rather familiar from Victorian adventure stories are thrown together a few years after their biggest triumphs, on a journey to New York in the early years of the 20th century: It's not hard to see who Mrs Danby, former housekeeper to a great detective, or vampire killer Abraham van Halfling could be based on, while Professor Zarathustra is every Jules Verne character in one. After an adventure on a sinking ocean liner and a voyage to an underwater city (including battle with the inevitable giant squid) the trio arrive to both unexpected celebrity, and more vampires in New York. In the usual crossover with his other series we get a brief insight into what all the fuss about Sheila Manchu's husband Mumu was, as he sends the characters into even more peril through a series of magical doors. It doesn't quite have the campness of Magrs' other series but the fun touch in Mrs Danby and Company is that the narration switches between the three lead characters, giving us a view into how differently they all view their situations, and especially each other - the unstoppably arrogant Zarathustra unable to take a honking great hint about what the other two really think of his self-proclaimed greatness. It's a fun and funny bit of steampunk but it does seem as if Magrs keeps kicking similar off new series about adventurous old ladies rather than focusing on one.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Ad break for sociopaths

Been a while since I blogged a dream but I nodded off a little while ago and ended up with a two-parter, both parts set in a dark conference centre with maze-like corridors. To start with I was there for a job interview, but after six hours of waiting it was announced that the interviewers had seen the minimum amount of people they had to so would be packing up now - there followed a frenzy of people in suits, the interviewers, trying to get out, clearing all their things and locking up behind them. I realised I'd left my bag behind, and needed to shoulder my way into the doors to get them to unlock them and let me back in.

I managed to find my bag but on the way out, although the location was the same, now I was starring in a TV advert for a hit-man service, playing the victim. A doorbell rang and I walked through a number of corridors to answer it, while a calm American woman's voice narrated "Problems with your staff? Osama & Papa Enterprises can help. This worker made jokes at work and reduced productivity." As I went through one corridor, I saw a waitress with a trolley of tinned food, all with cheap-looking labels that said "Osama & Papa Enterpises," she said to me "New supplier!" I kept going to the door where another waitress was waiting, but woke up before I found out whether she was the one who was going to kill me, or if the tins of food were poisoned or a bomb.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Book review: Trigger Warning

The third of Neil Gaiman's short story collections, Trigger Warning includes a couple of novellas set in existing fantasy universes - there's a Doctor Who story, "Nothing O'Clock," set during Eleven's first season, which comes up with some new monsters whose entire existence is based on screwing with time, so it's a satisfying little addition to the Doctor Who canon; and the finale is an enjoyable American Gods sequel, "Black Dog," with some creepy moments. Of the rest of the stories as usual I wasn't a fan of most of the poetry, and a number of the short stories did very little for me, but there's a few very strong ones in there as well: A Sherlock Holmes story, "The Case of Death and Honey," wonders why a character so easily bored chose beekeeping as his retirement pastime, and comes up with a bit of a wild answer; a pair of stories, "Observing the Formalities" and "The Sleeper and the Spindle," give different twists to the Sleeping Beauty fairytale; "The Return of the Thin White Duke" is an origin story for how David Bowie came to Earth; "The Thing About Cassandra" would make you a bit concerned if you ever had an imaginary friend. The most old-fashioned spooky tale is "Click-Clack the Rattlebag," but the one I found creepiest, and probably the one most worthy of an actual trigger warning, was "Feminine Endings." What's maybe even creepier is that in his introduction he says this is the story he wrote for his wife when he first met her.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Book review: The Silkworm

After The Cuckoo's Calling, the second "Robert Galbraith" novel is The Silkworm. J.K. Rowling has said that one of her ideas behind writing this series of crime novels was to do stories about fame - hence a detective whose father was a famous rock star, which brings him a lot of celebrity clients but also unwanted attention. This time she really goes for her specialist subject as Cormoran Strike is hired to find a missing author, so the pool of suspects and witnesses is drawn from the publishing world. Strike's assistant Robin gets increasingly caught up in the action, and the book gets a running subplot of her enthusiasm for her new job getting in the way of her relationship with her fiancé. I enjoyed the first novel but thought this was better - there were a couple of gasp-out-loud moments, and a major clue nicely disguised as a character note.