Fangs – Sarah Andersen

fangs cover

What happens when a 300-year-old vampire meets a charming werewolf in a bar? Well, in Fangs it’s the start of a beautiful – if odd – relationship.

example panel from Fangs

There’s a lot to like about this book. The humour is – sorry not sorry – ‘fangtastic’ (haha!). I loved the doggish behaviour from a big scary bloke who turns out to like having his tummy tickled on a full moon as much as any labrador. And the vampire doing her makeup in a mirror that shows nothing of what the makeup is being applied to.

And yet, it took me a while to get into this, and it was hard not to write ‘I wanted to love it more than I did’. I really really love Sarah Andersen’s Sarah’s Scribbles comics, and it was perhaps the very different artwork style here that threw me a bit. It’s a bit disjointed, too, less a story and more a series of humorous vignettes – although that’s maybe less surprising – and the humour is rather gentle, if a little dark.

But then… It wasn’t hard to keep reading and as I did I realised it was less about pithy one-liners and more revealing about relationships in general. The match here is rather sweet, all things considered. You don’t have to be undead or a shapeshifter to see the rather lovely way this portrays a … unique? … partnership, and what makes it work.

example panel 2 from Fangs

Take it for what it is rather than comparing it to the author’s other work, and actually this is a really nice, if slightly slim volume.

NetGalley eARC: 115 pages
First published: September 2020
Series: none
Read from 26th-29th August 2020

My rating: 7.5/10

The Constant Rabbit – Jasper Fforde

constant rabbit cover

“Somebody once said that the library is actually the dominant life form on the planet. Humans simply exist as the reproductive means to achieve more libraries.”

I’ve long been a fan of Jasper Fffffforde and his madcap sense of whimsy. The Thursday Next books could hardly have appealed to me more, with books acting as portals into their own stories. The opening quote of the new, non-series book, gave me false hope of more bookish fun – actually, ‘speed librarying’ suggested only anxiety, and plays little part in the story beyond the opening chapter.

Instead, we enter an alternate Britain which is about to mark the 55th anniversary of ‘The Event’: the time when several handfuls of rabbits anthropomorphised overnight. DNA tests cannot distinguish them from normal bunnies, but you wouldn’t get confused: the new lot, and several generations of their offspring, are tall as humans,  vaguely human-shaped, walk upright, and can talk and think better than most of the people currently going to pubs in a global pandemic. Ahem, sorry 😉

The allegory isn’t particularly deep as we delve into rabbit-phobia and political parties gaining power by playing on the fears of the human population that the Rabbit is trying to take over, sideline our human way of life, breed us into a minority, etc etc. In fact, to begin with I wasn’t sure I was really up for this kind of story. However, sticking with it and Ffffforde’s storytelling is its usual wonderful self, mixing the wacky with the serious message, even if the latter does get a bit heavy especially towards the end.

This isn’t my favourite of the author’s work by a long stretch, but it was a lot of fun to read. And if he has a slightly more serious message under than capers than usual, well, I think we’re living in those kinds of times. Life probably would be better following the Rabbit Way – although I’ll hold on to my thumbs, thank you very much!

Recommended, but with that caveat that it isn’t wholly lighthearted, despite the 6ft rabbits.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages
First published: 2nd July 2020
Series: none
Read from 28th June – 4th July 2020

My rating: 7.5/10

The Geeky Bartender Drinks – Cassandra Reeder

geeky bartender cover

“Since, well, birth, but more publicly since I started The Geeky Chef in 2008, my passion project has been making recipes for fictional or unusual foods from books, TV, movies, and games.”

I think I’ve just found my new favourite cocktail book! Inspired by geek culture, this features ‘potions’ and cocktails from a range of video games, books, and tv shows. For example, the author’s take on Shimmerwine as mentioned (just mentioned, briefly!) in Firefly. Or Giggle Juice from Fantastic Beasts. Romulan Ale, of course! Or just your generic red/blue/green potion from any number of games. Each recipe begins with a note about the inspiration, and the humour evident in these is worth the read by themselves.

I love love LOVE the presentation – the usual glasses, etc, but also flasks and potion bottles. The book opens with a set of tips and tricks to make the presentation really zing, from rimming the glass to actual ‘special effects’ (e.g. edible glitter), and the photography is excellent in capturing the sense of the magical about all of these.

Moonglow potion - purple liquid in potion flask

I hugely appreciate the approach, which is very much as simple as possible, not too many expensive bells and whistles. So, minimal required kit, and not too many outlandish ingredients – just outlandish inspiration! Sections are wonderful titled Magical Elixirs, Sci-Fi Spirits, etc, and a Comedic section that’s a bit less SFF. There’s even a set of non-alcoholic options, which are equally imaginative.

Much as I love cocktails, I’ve never felt quite so inspired. I soooo want to host my next board game night (yes, yes, I am a giant geek!) and impress everyone with some pretty concoctions. I think little inner 6-year-old me who sort of wanted to be a witch and make potions has found an outlet…!

Recommended – it’s huge amounts of fun and looks so good!

NetGalley eARC: 160 pages / 10 sections
First published: 5th May 2020
Series: related to the Geeky Chef cook books
Read in April 2020

My rating: 8/10

Misbehaviour (2020)

misbehaviour poster

Looks like I managed one last cinema trip before the COVID-19 lock down o.O Oh well. Here’s my review, in case you want to watch out for the movie on streaming…!

The 1970 Miss World Competition, held in London, was controversial for several reasons. The main one examined in the movie is how the parade of young women being judged ‘like cattle at market’ sat so poorly with the rising Women’s Liberation movement. Sally (Keira Knightly) doesn’t really want to join the politics of it, but every turn of her life shows her how much she needs what is being fought for. It’s hugely frustrating watching this intelligent woman being talked over by men, dismissed as lesser, and even having her own mother judge her harshly for living what we today would see as a fairly normal life: divorced, living with a partner who does the cooking while she studies. How radical!!

When she falls in with Jo’s (Jessie Buckley) group, the plan is hatched to protest at the symbol that is Miss World 1970. Interwoven with this plot is an inside look at the contest. Some contestants aren’t too happy with the media frenzy. Others see it as a way out of a harsh life. And for a few, they are making history: the first black South African to take part, in this time of Apartheid, for example.

The contrast of the two stories is perhaps what makes this so interesting: the clash between wanting to make a statement about women’s rights, and the ‘lucky’ few who needed the hope that winning the contest would bring them. The question is raised: should you fight so hard for women’s rights, when minority rights are still so far behind? There’s a hugely poignant moment when Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is told “you don’t think people like us can win, do you?” – ouch, but rings so true.

Still, something didn’t entirely click for me. It’s a nice movie, and I’m not sure that was the right tone – too much is left hinted at, or stated and not really examined. Which doesn’t make it a bad movie by any stretch, and indeed it was enjoyable and watchable, but given the anger I felt at how women were treated not that long before I was born and hell that some of it hasn’t changed now (I get spoken over *so* much, still; one of my colleagues has noted that if I answer a tech Q I get challenged far more often than one of the more junior boys), it just felt a little ‘lite’.

The subplot with Bob Hope (a great impression by Greg Kinnear) felt a bit flip on top of everything, but in hindsight it fits the themes perfectly. The relationship between Miss World organiser Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans) and his wife, Julia (Keeley Hawes), could have done with more development to make a similar message stick, but maybe that’s the problem: too many issues, too many viewpoints, nothing that hammers home.

Still. If it went too far into ‘radical feminist’ territory, it would probably be less watchable. Like over half the human race, we just can’t win 😉

Recommended, although didn’t require the big screen per se (probably a good thing in this testing time!). The performances are great, the music and fashion is wonderful, and there are threads of several very decent stories going on. And the ending, with some of the real people involved and updates on their lives – well, that was the uplifting message that we needed!

Released: 13th March 2020
Viewed: 13th March 2020
Running time: 106 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Onward (2020)

onward poster

Once upon a time, there was magic in the world, a world populated by elves and pixies, mantacores and unicorns. But magic was hard, and folk found a way to make things easier – things like electricity, and the combustion engine.

On Ian’s (Tom Holland) 16th birthday, his mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives him and his older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), a gift from their late father: a genuine magic staff. Knowing he was ill and dying, he wrote a spell that would allow him one last day with his sons, to see what kind of young men they’d grow into. When the spell goes a little awry, Ian and Barley set out on a quest that will test them both…

A Pixar movie is still an event worth seeing, and the added world building here really appealed to me – feral unicorns! Angry sprites! The whole fantasy-meets-reality element worked really well for me throughout, and allows for a gorgeous colour palette and plenty of whimsy.

The main strength, however, is the brotherly relationship between Ian and Barley (or, Spider-Man and Starlord…!). As the pair race to complete the spell in time to talk to their father, the emotion that both bring to the bond is hugely touching.

It’s a bit less ‘ta da!’ than say, Toy Story or Wall-e, all in all a rather more gentle kind of tale. But it has a great deal of heart, looks just lovely, and I’d say is well worth a look for children and grown ups alike.

Released: 6th March 2020
Viewed: 29th February 2020 (special previews)
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

Good Omens

good omens poster

Throughout the history of the Earth (not as long as some scientists might have you believe), an angel – Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) – and a demon – Crowley (David Tennant) – come to a bit of an arrangement. Realising that their efforts largely cancel each other out, wouldn’t life just be easier if they didn’t… well, try so hard? I mean, as long as their respective Head Offices are getting all the right paperwork, will anyone really even notice?

The ‘bromance’ between these two characters is what lifts this story from fun to something a bit more special. Their friendship has formed over hundreds of years, each happily doing what they like on earth. Aziraphale loves human food. Crowley looks and acts like a rock star.

Everything’s great… until the birth of the Antichrist heralds the start of Armageddon…

I absolutely loved the book, co-written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and I think the reason this adaptation works is that Gaiman was brought on board to write the screenplay – something he has experience with, and also means that no one is straying too far from the beloved original version. The differences felt largely positive: the addition of a bullying Angel Gabriel (Jon Hamm), for instance.

Otherwise sticking quite closely to the book, I have to admit that the main plots – the switch-up at the maternity ward, an otherwise normal 11-year-old with the powers of the devil, and the ‘Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter (Witch)’ – were merely nice and totally overshadowed by how much I loved watching Tennant and Sheen having such fun with their respective characters.

As Crowley says, “I didn’t so much fall as saunter vaguely downwards.” Love it 🙂

First broadcast: January 2020
Series: 1 (and no, not likely to be more, it’s covered the whole book perfectly!)
Episodes: 8 @ ~60 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Highfire – Eoin Colfer

highfire cover

“Vern did not trust humans was the long and short of it.”

Vern might live in the Louisiana swamps, but he’s not short on luxury: vodka, cable tv, his beloved Flashdance t-shirts. The ‘gators bother him from time to time, sure, but any people who do likewise tend not to make it back out of the swamp. Which might be because Vern is short for Wyvern, Lord Highfire, last of the breed of dragon lords.

Still, even Vern might not be a match for 15-year-old ‘Squib’ Moreau, troublemaker and entrepreneur, constantly on the run from Louisiana’s most bent cop – who happens to be sweet on Squib’s mother. When these three combine, it might just get explosive…

Eoin Colfer is probably best known for the Artemis Fowl books. This isn’t his first book for adults, but it is for grown ups: yes, the main character is a talking dragon, but his language isn’t always clean and the violence is often spectacularly gory.

Still, if neither of those things put you off, then this book is huge amounts of fun. Well, there’s a sarcastic dragon with a passion for pop culture, for a start! Squib is also a great character, a bit surprising given he’s a teenager, and their developing friendship is done very well. Ooh, and I loathed the psychopathic Constable Hooke just as I’m sure I was supposed to – he’s a nasty one, but never pantomime-baddy.

Big shout out, too, for the descriptions of the setting. They plunge you completely into the mosquito-heavy atmosphere of the bayou, even if New Orleans seen from a dragon’s point of view isn’t exactly vacation-appealing!

Recommended – a full Squib-fingered score from me! 😉

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 21 chapters
First published: 2020
Series: none
Read from 22nd-28th January 2020

My rating: 9/10

Bloodlust and Bonnets – Emily McGovern

Bloodlust and Bonnets cover

“Somewhere in Great Britain at the tail end of the Regency…”

Take an English Regency setting and a nice young lady who’d rather be anything but, throw in Lord Byron (you know, from books), a mysterious, non-binary adventurer, a giant psychic eagle (who happens to be French), and send them all vampire hunting through the upper echelons of English society…

panel from Bloodlust and Bonnets

Oh yeah, and do it all under the penship of the wonderful Emily McGovern, who gave us the fantastic My Life as a Background Slytherin webcomic (if you haven’t discovered this – go go go!), and you can throw in some familiar flouncing. I’m not sure, but there might even be a bibbling little cameo…!

I utterly adored this book. It’s fun and irreverent and a bit daft and a lot of joy. It plays with all of the tropes from fiction of the period – Lucy goes to a ball, to Bath (natch), is talked down to by men and her social superiors (!), and meets a rich widow with an unfortunate habit of losing husbands. But as well it has a lot to say about current society, be that gender roles or the desirability of pockets in dresses.

The simple drawing style still captured such a lot of expression, despite the characters’ facial features being limited to eyes and eyebrows – I’m impressed! The colours are lovely, too.

If I had to make a complaint, then it’d be that the plot is a bit rambling. But then, that’s also part of the joy.

another panel from Bloodlust and Bonnets

Recommended for those who think a mashup of Pride and Prejudice and Dracula is well overdue!

Paperback: 203 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 25th December 2019 – 1st January 2020

My rating: 9/10

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (2019)

once upon a time in hollywood poster

In 1969, the murder of the young, pregnant actress, Sharon Tate, by the followers of Charlie Manson, shook the world and started the crumble of the era of love, peace and hippies. This movie is sort of Quentin Tarantino’s retelling of that period and set of events.

Except, it’s not really. Tate (Margot Robbie) is pretty much a side character, as we instead follow the fortunes of her (fictitious) next door neighbour, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Rick was famous for a while, playing a cowboy in a TV show, but now he’s taking bit parts as villain of the week in new pilots. He’s accompanied everywhere by his stunt double, friend, and lackey, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who’s struggling even more for work, not least because of some dark rumours about his past.

In one way, the film is about the different approaches these two men have to slowly fading careers and inevitable aging. Both actors are outstanding, DiCaprio as the whiny, self-obsessed actor throwing tantrums and sobbing, compared to Pitt’s laid-back, shrug it off, que sera acceptance of his lot. I’d have to say the latter is far more appealing, lighting up the screen with charisma, self-assurance, and a rather impressive not-dad bod for a man in his mid-50s. Sorry, got distracted there… 😉

Mostly, though, the movie is just a homage to a period in time, and Hollywood of the late 60s – in the same kind of way that Singin’ in the Rain looked back three decades to another ‘golden era’ of Hollywood.

The plot sort of meanders, doesn’t really go anywhere much, but through it all everything just looks amazing. The real win here is how the viewer is entirely taken to a different era. It’s not just the visuals, but a slow pace quite at odds with today’s modern life, and a soundtrack that isn’t full of recognisable hits as much as just music of the time – and not just music, often the backing track is an advert playing on the radio, or the TV, and all the more ‘real’ for it.

I was a little baffled coming out as to how I was going to review this. On the one hand, I kept waiting for something to happen, and mostly it did not. There are a few ‘meh’ moments, such as Tarantino’s less than flattering portrayal of Bruce Lee. There were a lot of nods and ‘homages’ that went entirely over my head – many of the characters were real people, that I just didn’t know about, and the TV shows were also generally real. There was a huge level there that would have added more to the experience – I’m just glad I knew who ‘Charlie’ was, or I’m not sure how the film would have played at all.

And yet. It didn’t feel almost three hours long – I could have watched another hour, easily. I will happily see it again, and perhaps enjoy the atmosphere even more, without waiting for the ‘plot’ to happen. So. Yes. Worth the viewing, definitely.

Released: 14th August 2019 (UK)
Viewed: 16th August 2019
Running time: 161 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 8/10

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire – GM Nair

duckett and dyer cover

“So this is how it ends…”

Michael Duckett is a bit of a no-hoper whose sad life is about to be injected with terrifying levels of excitement. First his not-quite girlfriend goes missing – not the first disappearing act of late – and then increasingly strange things happen to him and best friend, Stephanie Dyer, a lazy lay-about with some odd ideas about the world.

But… when there are thunderstorms causing people to disappear, and ads in the paper for ‘Duckett & Dyer’ that neither set up – who’s to say what’s odd or not?

This book was… infuriating. Because I loved the story, and the wacky sense of humour, but wanted to slap the editor who didn’t tighten up a LOT on the writing style. Argh!!

So I started off feeling quite sniffy about this book. I thought, “poor man’s Dirk Gently fan-fic”. The acknowledgement of the cliche in the dectective being called ‘Rex Calhoun’, hard drinker, etc etc, didn’t stop it being gratingly un-ironic. But as the story unfolds, the weird and funny Douglas Adams-esque-ness is one of the strong points, and what I loved most. I sort of saw where the story was going early on, but it’s just such fun getting there…

Alas, what’s less fun is the language. It all feels like it’s trying too hard, and really could have done with some hefty editing. The characters tell us their feelings a bit too often, their interactions often a bit false. The number of adjectives and persistence in providing detail that wasn’t needed made this one to occasionally skim rather than read word by word. Otherwise it gets a bit much – which is a shame, because this *could* have been really really good, instead of just fun but far from perfect.

That said, it ends with a “Duckett and Dyer will return in…” which I rather do fancy picking up if/when it happens! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 300 pages / 32 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 1st-10th June 2019

My rating: 7/10 – bonus points for fun, although it’s far from great