Greenglass House – Kate Milford

Greenglass House cover

“There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smugglers’ town.”

It’s the first day of the Christmas holidays, and Milo already has his homework out of the way so he can enjoy the festivities with his parents. Then, disaster: the usually quiet season for their family-run hotel is disturbed by not just one unexpected guest, but an increasing parade of odd and shifty characters. It seems obvious that they’re all looking for something – probably the same thing – but what on earth could be hidden in the home Milo’s lived in all his life?

After reluctantly teaming up with the housekeeper’s youngest daughter, Meddie, the pair set out to discover the secrets of Greenglass House. After all, it was once owned by a famous smuggler…

I am so, so glad I took up the recommendation to read this book – and to read it instantly, not do my usual of adding it to the insane reading pile – as it is quite possibly the best thing I’ve read in ages! Fair warning: it’s a ‘middle grade’ book, so the main character is about eleven, but think Narnia or¬†Sabriel – by which I mean, the themes are still a little dark at times, and the language is totally not ‘dumbed down’, despite the suitable-for-younger readers status. It’s also hugely suitable for older readers, who are open to having a little magic in their lives ūüôā

There is an absolute magic in this story, in the way it swept me up and stirred up memories of childhood adventures – or at least, the ones I imagined, whereas Milo and Meddie get to have the reality of familiar surroundings becoming so much more exciting. The plot is a perfect mix of mystery and adventure and a little of the supernatural. It’s also got a huge amount of heart, not least from the background detail of Milo’s adoptive status. Overall, it’s just¬†lovely!

Not only was I utterly in the mood for that, but reading this actually reminded me of why I want to write: to capture the excitement and enthusiasm for stories, for adventures. I can’t give that anything less than full marks!

Do yourself a favour: at time of writing this is still on sale in the Kindle store, under ¬£2. It’s an absolutely perfect, slightly cosy but still exciting book to snuggle up with and particularly appropriate for the Christmas season. Go go go!! ūüôā

Kindle: 384 pages / 15 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: Greenglass House book 1 (of 2 so far)
Read from 11th-15th October 2017

My rating: 10/10

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Death Overdue – Allison Brook

death overdue cover

“Time to move on.”

I’m getting quite fond of the ‘cosy mystery’ genre, turning to these kinds of titles for easy and uplifting reads. I also love books set in libraries, so this sounded like a win-win.

Carrie Singleton is getting ready to leave her childhood town again and go back to her rootless existence when she’s offered a better role at the library where she’s been temping. One of her first tasks is organising a talk by a former police detective, one who’s now promising to solve the cold case he failed with fifteen years before: the murder of a local mother and library employee. However, it seems that the secret killer might be less than keen to let him have his say…

There’s plenty to enjoy reading this book, but in all honesty I can’t give it a very high rating. It’s a lot more ‘chick-lit’ and romance-based than I would have hoped, which could be fine, but alas that pushes the mystery and paranormal bits not only to lesser importance but to rather rushed and not-great written parts. The opening murder, for instance, seems very clunkily handled: a ‘I know I need this bit, but not quite how to write it’ feeling, which is a real shame.

There’s also the usual fluffy genre failing of the heroine’s too-perfect life falling into her lap. First it’s the near-perfect job – okay, that one comes with half an explanation. But then there’s the massively reduced rent on an amazing house, interested dishy men to chose from, family who spoil her endlessly, enemies made good, and heck – we can even squeeze a kitten in here because why not?! I didn’t even wholly like the main character, with her goth look so easily cast aside, murky reasonings for turning sleuth and quite frankly daft ways of stumbling onwards, and not-great treatment of other characters.

Still, it was easy enough to read and keep going with, despite the flaws. Perhaps the next in the series will be able to build on the strengths – an intriguing and helpful library ghost, for instance, or perhaps an explanation as to how this particularly library is so well-funded – and lose some of the fluffier failings.

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 37 chapters
First published: October 2017
Series: A Haunted Library Mystery book 1
Read from 6th-11th October 2017

My rating: 5/10

The Witch at Wayside Cross – Lisa Tuttle

Witch at Wayside Cross cover

“The man was dead, and although he had not cut a particularly large or imposing figure when he was alive, his lifeless body seemed to take up more space in our entranceway than a whole crowd of living, breathing visitors.”

The first book in the¬†Casebooks of Jesperson and Lane, The Curious Affair of the¬†Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief,¬†finishes one mystery only to tease us with the start of the next: a frantic late night visitor who drops dead in the investigative duo’s front hall. So of course this follow-up installment picks right up where we left off.

Billed as a paranormal-ish take on a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, this time we follow our detectives out of Victorian London and into the Norfolk countryside. It seems the dead man was a devotee of a pagan-like cult, keen to bring back ‘natural’ British magics to rival the mysticism coming from the East. However, it’s one thing saying that ‘witch’ simply means practitioner of herbalism and the like, and another to avoid the age-old fears, especially when a baby goes missing.

I still love the ideas of this series, from the Victorian setting to the smart female detective. However, while I do think this improves on a few of my irks from the first volume, it’s not quite perfect. Ms Lane narrates a little less of her feelings, which is great, but if anything Jasper Jesperson is becoming more annoying: certainly, to drag his supposed partner across country but refuse for the whole trip to reveal a single thing about his suspicions, would have earned him a swift kick in the shins from me!

Perhaps that is the problem: it’s nice getting a female co-lead, but she has then either to act very out-of-time, or feel very old-fashioned. This is only highlighted in these pages, when Ms Lane has to defend her choice of being a woman and employed, and more scandalously, to traipse about the country with an equally unmarried man. Heavens!! *fans self* I do applaud the author for trying to walk that thin path, and mostly successfully, at that.

Another path to be carefully trodden is the balance between the detective mystery and the supernatural. You do have to go into these books knowing that it has that supernatural twist, otherwise it might feel a bit strange when not all of the mysteries Рwhich develop nicely in layers here Рare solved by logic! This mix is fairly well handled, putting me in mind of something of a cross between The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (the real life case behind which is actually referenced here) and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, with folklore being very real.

Minor grumbles aside, this was an enjoyable, fairly easy read, with a great period setting plus a darkly gothic atmosphere. I’ll be looking out for the next ‘Curious Affair’ ūüôā

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 25 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: The Curious Affair of / Casebooks of Jesperson and Lane book 2
Read from 13th-16th August 2017

My rating: 6.5/10

The Mummy (2017)

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is not a very nice guy, using his role as army reconnaissance as an excuse to loot antiquities from warzones. However, he’s about to get his comeuppance when a mission goes a little awry, and he ends up uncovering the prison-tomb of a cursed Egyptian princess with a dark thirst for power and death.

This new version of¬†The Mummy (with absolutely nothing to do with the Brendan Fraser/Arnold Vosloo version) is the first in an intriguing new ‘Dark Universe’ series, supposedly bringing all those old Universal monster movies back to a new audience. Based on this, though, I’m not going to hold my breath that we’ll see any more of the series…

Because, yes, the reviews were right and this movie is quite a bit of a mess. It’s not unwatchable, in the right frame of mind, but it’s got very little to recommend the effort, tbh.

First off, the plot: it’s not very different from the previous version(s), in that an ancient evil is awoken (through greed, mainly), and starts stalking the person/people responsible in an effort to regain power and facial tissue and generally take over the world or something. Other mummies are raised as minions (not actual Minions, which would be hilarious, just small-m-minions to do all the legwork) whilst the big bad does a Terminator-esque slow march towards folk, whining about something or other before sucking faces off. Does anything else happen? Urm, not so much.

There is that element of ‘shared universe’, which adds a clunky layer of exposition to the movie. Here is a group tackling evil. I think. Something like that. Did I care? Hmm.

And of course, the cast. Cruise is at least trying to break the mold a little, and spends half the movie in a concussed, confused, vaguely drunk kind of a state – urm, okay… At least it’s better than Annabelle Wallis as the brains of the piece, who brings a strangled, mouth-full-of-marbles quality to a truly dreadfully written role. The pair share less chemistry than… than… well, than the rest of the movie, which is entirely chemistry free o_O

On the plus-ish side, Sofia Boutella does reasonably well as the Mummy, particularly with the physical demands, although the character is hardly well rounded. Jake Johnson gets to have a good time as the comic relief buddy, but tonally it’s all just a little off – and that’s half the problem, nothing entirely seems to¬†fit within this movie.

The other half of the problem is the awful dialogue. I shall say no more – and wish the scriptwriters had thought of that!! o_O

So. No, don’t bother. The action levels could be vaguely fun (I do get the impression the rest of the movie was just an excuse for the airplane crash), but just so disappointing and uneven that I’m sure there are many, many better options for your cinema bucks.

Released: 9th June 2017
Viewed: 23rd June 2017
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 4/10 and that might be generous

Wild Things – Christopher Golden

“Alone in the dark.”

I’m in the process of trying to slim down my book collection, and as part of that there’s a goal to finish off series I want to get rid of. This is one of those series. It’s not awful – I’ve made through all four books (albeit over several years!) – but it’s also nothing particularly special, tbh. Damn my habit of buying a whole series before reading the first book, eh?!

Prowlers is pretty much a werewolf series. Two young, Bostonian, Irish pub-owning siblings and their friends discover that shapeshifters are living among us. When a group of said ‘prowlers’ decide they want to reclaim the glory days of being at the top of the food chain, the friends end up battling the nasties. That’s pretty much the synopsis for all four volumes, btw!

There is an ongoing story arc completed through the four, which is kind of nice, along with the battle-per-book. However, I just didn’t connect much with the characters or the writing; I suspect that it’s aimed at more of a teenage audience, as there’s limits on the gore and no sex that I can recall, despite the young-adult romance subplot.

Overall: acceptable beach-reading fluff, if you like your sunshine to contain a little darkness. And now I can dispose of another four books from my shelf. Woo!

Paperback: 311 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2002
Series: Prowlers book 4 (of 4)
Read from 18th May – 5th June 2017

My rating: 5/10

Moon Over Soho – Ben Aaronovitch

“It’s a sad fact of modern life that if you drive long enough, sooner or later you must leave London behind.”

In Rivers of London,¬†PC Peter Grant discovered that ghosts are real, as are various supernatural creatures such as the personifications of the eponymous rivers, and that the Metropolitan Police have a ‘spooky’ department. He’s swiftly sworn in as the new apprentice wizard with the latter, the first in years.

The second instalment of the series picks up where we left off, with Peter continuing to train and use his skills while working on police cases. This time he’s caught up in the suspicious deaths of various jazz musicians, a crime rather close to home given his father’s former fame in just that genre. A second case is more obviously ‘spooky’ – and quite frankly with various men turning up missing an, urm, important body part, is this really the best time for Peter to get a new girlfriend?

I talked about this series possibly being the new¬†Dresden Files for me, and while I thoroughly enjoyed¬†this return to that world, I’d have to say the jury is still out on whether or not it can live up to the other-wizard-called-Harry.

For a start,¬†the two cases that might just link up by the end seems a rather obvious and overdone structure, and it was¬†a little distracting seeing it so noticeably.¬†We’re also very quickly into ‘middle book’ territory,¬†meaning this couldn’t be read as a standalone with any great satisfaction – which is fine, because I firmly believe in starting at the beginning of series, anyway!

On the other hand, the ongoing plot threads – certain people having been shot, others facing disfiguring conditions – really add depth to the characterisation. It’s also intriguing to start to get some of the history of the department of magic, so to speak.

I’m not convinced I like Peter Grant as much as Harry Dresden, at least not yet. But he’s lovely and¬†real, and the down to earth telling is a great deal of fun to read. Bring on book 3!

Kindle: 384 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: PC Peter Grant (Rivers of London) book 2 (of 6 currently published)
Read from 11th-18th December 2016

My rating: 8/10

Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

“It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St Paul’s at Covent Garden.”

I think it’s fair to say I’m always on the hunt for a ‘new¬†Dresden Files‘, which is a terrible expectation to put on any book/series. I think, though, I might just have stumbled across something pretty close, with the added benefit of a droll British sense of humour ūüôā

PC Peter Grant isn’t too happy that he’s about to graduate¬†from ‘thief-taker’ training to a dull police clerical role, when an encounter with a strangely see-through witness at a murder scene propels him into a rather more secretive department. Yup, the London police force has a supernatural branch! It’s a bit less X-Files – well, okay, it’s a lot like the X-Files, come to think of it, given that it’s one rather strange bloke not taken all too seriously by his¬†peers.

We follow Peter’s initiation into the ranks of magic¬†while two cases require juggling: the inciting murder and a wave of violence that seems to spread out from it in a rather familiar kind of a pattern, and a bit of a disagreement between old Father Thames and sexy newcomer Mamma Thames. Yup, those ‘rivers of London’ have actual personifications, and they’re certainly not damp squibs!

I thought the two threads balanced each other wonderfully, and really allow for Peter’s role to start to form. The magic system is excellently introduced: not too powerful, definitely not easy, and with a down-to-earth approach to the big questions like, “Do magic and science interact?” (yes, not always well), and “Why are magic spells always in Latin?” (because the people who wrote them down were trying to sound clever, more or less ;)).

If there’s a single thing I’m not sure about it’s the sweeping statements about a culture not the author’s own (or mine, so my opinion isn’t hugely valid). As a wannabe writer I’m well aware of the need for diversity in books, but¬†I do wonder a little at what point it veers dangerously close to stereotyping. This added just a mild discomfort for me at certain points, but your mileage may vary.

That said, I thought this was a brilliantly fun romp. Usually books so London-centric as to make the city a character are a bit of a turn off to me (as a non-Londoner Brit, it can be wearing!) but the author’s love of the city comes over well without all that centre-of-the-known-universe smugness. Just a lot of giggles, a bit more gore than I was expecting, and a well developed story. More, please – and oh, look: book 6 is just out. Excuse me while I go catch up ūüôā

Kindle: 400 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: PC Peter Grant book 1
Read from 7th-15th November 2016

My rating: 8/10