Reviews

Miss Peregrine�s Home for Peculiar Children. Book review

July 17, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Quirkbooks, $17.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

 The production values on this book are excellent, with its red cloth hard covers with gold lettering and stitched inner using good quality paper. It has lavish illustrations, mostly old photographs but with the occasional line drawing.

When Grandpa Portman dies Jacob catches a glimpse of the monster that killed him, and realises that the crazy stories Grandpa told may not be that crazy. When Jacob is left some odd photos (used in the book) he persuades his father to take him from Florida to North Wales on a holiday to find what the photos could mean.

As the title suggests this is about a home for peculiar children which appears to be a 'Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters' with a dose of Hogwarts. There is a hint of Lovecraft and a suggestion of Alan Garner in the way that Jacob uncovers his family legacy bound inextricably with legends of the past. An older reader (especially the British ones) may find the portrayal of Wales and the Welsh somewhat odd, and the oddly elastic age of Jacob from young child requiring Dad's permission to go out alone to teenage lad in love, a little irritating. But this is a YA book (up to 15 years) and for that audience will be a good exciting read with bags of intrigue and a cliff-hanger ending that bodes fair for at least a second volume.

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Captives by Barbara Galler-Smith And Josh Langston. Book review

July 17, 2011

Captives by Barbara Galler-Smith And Josh Langston. Edge Publishing (2011) $14.95

Reviewed by Craig Knight

Captives is a tale of betrayal, hardship and vengeance. Set in the days of the Roman Empire, the story portrays the lives of two druids as they face threats both from within their own ranks and from the oppression of the Romans.

Captives requires a little perseverance. The story opens with a barrage of characters introduced in such rapid succession it's difficult to keep up. The narrative itself suffers from a similar problem as events happen so quickly and with such little attention, it threatens to destroy the believability of the plot. Have a little patience, however and the story finds its feet. As soon as the story adopts its style of two alternating plot strands, everything takes off. The first strand portrays the plight of Master Druid Mallec and the second the suffering of enslaved Driad Rhonwen. These two plot strands are ultimately united at the book's mid-point in a very satisfying and unexpected way. There's a lot to deal with in the second half but it is done so well, there's not a chance to lose interest.

The story has its mix of villains, from the devious Driad Deidre to the much more effective Roman slaver Scotus. Easily stealing the scene for most brutal character, Scotus is sadistic and cruel, creating a fitting antagonist to the main characters.

Captives can be forgiven its initial stumble as it delivers a rich and atmospheric story with well-written and distinct characters. Stick with it, it's definitely worth it.

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River Marked by Patricia Briggs. Book review

July 17, 2011

River Marked by Patricia Briggs. Orbit (2011) '7.99

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

There's a rule about picking up a novel that's partway through a series: don't. Unless the writer's really good, you'll end up baffled, confused and (probably) irritated. Sure enough, by page four of this latest Urban Fantasy about coyote shapeshifter Mercy Thompson, I was hopelessly lost. Briggs just throws it at you, mercilessly: names, what they did, who they're doing, when they did it'

It might help if the characters had some form of individuality ' but not one of them leaves the page; all have the same voice. And most of the time all they seem to be doing is telling each other facts they should already know (like one vampire telling another vampire what vampires can and can't do. Well, duh!). And yes we have vampires, and werewolves (and werecoyotes) ' like a TV series of True Blood re-written for the Cartoon Network.

And there's also something killing people in the local river'

There's a blurb on the back cover claiming this is Urban Fantasy at its very best. In which case I'd say there's a similar rule about picking up an Urban Fantasy novel.

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Watch by Robert J Sawyer. Book review

July 17, 2011

Watch by Robert J Sawyer. Gollancz (2011) '7.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

The problem with writing the kind of near future SF that Sawyer specialises in is that we catch up with it quickly, as he found with a previous novel Flashforward.

This is essentially a young adult novel and the sequel to Wake. In the first book, sixteen year-old Caitlin Decter received an implant that allowed her to see for the first time. This also gives her a direct, visual contact with the internet, leading her to make contact with an emerging intelligence that she names Webmind. At the start of Watch she tells her parents. As hers is a family of geeks and mathematicians they have no problem in accepting this new presence in their lives. Not so the American organisation, WATCH, whose main job is to look for terrorist traffic and monitor other countries' communications. They want to find out where Webmind is situated, how it is constructed and, if necessary, how to kill it ' another story of the little people against the big bad government.

Over the week or so of this narrative arc, Caitlin and her mother spend a lot of their waking time teaching Webmind the niceties of polite society, a task they are well suited to as Caitlin's father is autistic. Nevertheless, Caitlin still has time to acquire a boyfriend, Matt, another maths nerd.

There are many elements that make this a typical teenage read but also some aspects that would make an adult wonder if they had been added to extend the scope of the novel. For example one plot strand involves a chimp-bonobo hybrid, Hobo, who has been taught to communicate via sign language. There are also several passages of discussion between the characters that seem unlikely, even between intelligent teenagers. Not one of Sawyer's better efforts.

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Jeanette by Joe Simpson Walker. Book review

July 17, 2011

Jeanette by Joe Simpson Walker. Chomu Press (July 2011) '13.00

Reviewed by John Howard

I didn't know what to expect with Joe Simpson Walker's new novel Jeanette. Walker is described as a writer 'interested in bizarre psychology ' obsessions, compulsions, phobias, taboos, etc ' and in the conventions of genre fiction.' I haven't read any of his other novels, but Jeanette certainly does seem to tick all these particular boxes.

Jeanette Hesketh is a troubled teenager living in respectable suburbia with her father and beloved dog. Her mother has run away with a television repairman (a vanished species and a nice period touch). Jeanette's closest friend is Mark, the attractive young man from next door; Miss Thaine, one of her teachers, is also a confidante (or thinks she is).

Of course, nothing is what it seems. Just about everyone has a secret, if not more than one. Respectable suburbia is anything but. Jeanette and Mark's relationship is nothing less than sado-masochistic. Jeanette's desire and willingness to let the dangerously charismatic Mark humiliate and dominate her and his desire and ability to do so forms the basis for events that, inevitably, spin out of control.

Jeanette is set in the early 1960s, its themes grounded in 'a time when fetishism, bondage, masochism, transvestism and homosexuality are still condemned as perversions.' But there isn't much of a sense of the past; and there are many who would echo those condemnations half a century later (which is now). Jeanette shines a fitful light onto its chosen themes, and succeeds in doing so in a non-sensational way. The compulsions of the characters are narrated in a pedestrian style that is the opposite of the subject matter. Nothing is gratuitous; everything holds together for a reason. But reading Jeanette was more of an exercise in duty than any sort of pleasure. Maybe that was the point?

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Mirror by Graham Masterton. Book review

July 17, 2011

Mirror by Graham Masterton. Hammer (July 2011), '7.99

Reviewed by Jim McLeod

What if a mirror really does trap a man's Soul? For those who know the genre, you know it's not a good idea to buy a mirror that once belonged to, and hung in, the house of a tragically murdered child star of the 1930's. You know it's not going to turn out for the best. When Martin Williams does just that, he soon holds in his hand a portal to a dark and hellish world.

In this novel, Graham Masterton spins his version of Alice Through the Looking Glass. And what a novel this is. He has crammed the book with great characters and great ideas. One of things I love about Masterton's early books was the taking of a well known rhyme, fairy tale or old wives tale, and how he would spin a new take on it. To this day I still don't like looking on mirrors, and if one breaks I have to bury it the garden and walk seven times anticlockwise around it.

A chilling book written by a truly talented author. 

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Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Book review

July 17, 2011

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H Winters. Quirk Books, $12.95

Reviewed by Matthew Johns

Another of the series of classic novels reimagined to include some form of horror ' in this case, as the title suggests, sea monsters.

Winters manages to keep the story of the Dashwoods flowing along, with the added bonus of the waters surrounding England being full of mutated sea monsters and man eating fish and crustaceans. Mrs Dashwood and her three daughters find themselves in the classic Austen scenario of losing their family home and riches, and in this version of events end up living with an eccentric, monster-hunting relation of Mrs Dashwood in a rickety sea shack on an island in an archipelago off the coast of Devonshire.

Those acquainted with the original work will find many familiar characters, including the massively obnoxious Mr John Dashwood, the slightly grumpy and aloof Colonel Brandon (but with added facial tentacles) and the bumbling, but loveable Edward Ferrars, beloved of Elinor Dashwood.

The addition of sea monsters and the peril that the Dashwoods find themselves in on a daily basis, existing in their shack on Pestilent Isle, add an extra depth to the story that Austen somehow managed to miss when writing the original text. The humour slots in well to the original storyline, making this a very enjoyable read.

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The Devil’s Rock. DVD review

July 17, 2011

The Devil's Rock. Written by Paul Campion, Paul Finch & Brett Ihaka. Directed by Paul Campion

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

The eve of D-Day. Two New Zealand commandos land on the small island of Forau; their mission: to sabotage the Nazi gun emplacement and contribute to the Allies' misdirection campaign ' making Hitler believe the invasion was coming through the Channel Islands. Pausing only to establish that Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) is still mourning his wife Helena, and his partner Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater) has a hot date waiting back in Blighty, they creep into the ominous concrete bunker. Where all is not well.

The interior is a claustrophobic nightmare: narrow corridors that terminate in impenetrable shadow; tight, grimy rooms strewn with dismembered dead; all filled by echoes of screams and indistinct voices. There is just one German left alive: Colonel Meyer (Matthew Sunderland) ' and a young girl (Gina Varela), shackled to a wall in a locked room. Has Meyer gone mad, murdered all of his comrades just to have the girl to himself? Or is there something much worse going on?

Sunderland and Hall work well in what is essentially an intimate two-header. Director Campion mostly goes for the less is more approach ' leaving the bunker's dark and cramped atmosphere to scrape at the nerves. There are even cheeky nods to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lovecraftian Mythos.

I have some reservations: Sunderland's German accent is noticable by its absence, and the New Zealand locations don't look anything like the Channel Islands (black volcanic sand?) ' but perhaps the slight wrongness contributes to the film's overall atmosphere. There are the usual interviews and shots of set-building among the extras (though the sound quality during Paul Finch's snippets is shocking.)

Overall, a film that works very well within its restrictions. Recommended.

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We have three copies of The Devil's Rock looking for good homes. To be in with a chance of winning simply send an email to news@britishfantasysociety.org  with the subject line DEVILS ROCK. The competition is open to BFS members only (and over 18). Competition deadline is 28 July 2011.

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The Hilliker Curse by James Ellroy. Book review

July 11, 2011

The Hilliker Curse by James Ellroy. William Heineman '16.99/'8.99.

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

This book is subtitled 'My Pursuit of Women' and I guess that gives you a huge idea of what it's all about. It all started in the late 1950s when his Ellroy's mother obtained a divorce. The ten year old boy had difficulty adjusting emotionally and became fixated on her ' both desiring and despising her. It was lust and hate, so much so that Ellroy wished her dead. In a few months she was found murdered and, to this date, her killing has not been solved. Her death left a void in the boy. As he grew Ellroy entered a life or petty crime, and a life spent looking for that one woman to save him. But he was looking for his mother.

Fortunately for him and us, he found a few women able to tame his destructive streak, which became channelled into some of the finest crime fiction I've read. The pinnacle of his oeuvre is, arguably, LA Confidential. Although I rate American Tabloid I feel that Ellroy's writing had by now become too abrupt, like bullet points. This staccato style is very much an acquired taste and persists into The Hilliker Curse and this, I fear, detracts from a full appreciation of the story. It's quite exhausting to read ' although I guess people well versed in the vernacular he employs may not agree with me.

Despite all that, I do suggest that for the writer of crime stories, this book provides excellent research and background material. It allows you to get into the mind of Ellroy as he matures into manhood, as he seeks out his ideal woman.

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The Beautiful Room by RB Russell. Chapbook review

July 10, 2011

The Beautiful Room by RB Russell. Nightjar Press '3.00

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Publisher and editor Ray Russell is a man of taste, devoted to elegant fiction with a penchant for dark, ghostly and supernatural stories. As a writer he's the author of two short story collections (Putting the Pieces in Place and Literary Remains) and of the  novella 'Bloody Baudelaire'.

Russell's writing style is consistent with the refined nature of his literary choices. Subtlety and ability to gently disquiet and unnerve the reader, wrapped in a classy, polished wording, are the main characteristics of his fictional output.

The Beautiful Room, a twelve-page booklet from Nightjar Press, is no exception. The plot is quite simple. A couple, just relocated abroad and looking for an apartment to rent, inspect a  house which immediately takes the woman's fancy because of a gorgeous bedroom. The man, however, doesn't share his mate's enthusiasm and, in just a few sentences, Russell contrives to depict how the relationship has its uneasy moments with a slight undercurrent of  resentments and recriminations.

The discovery that a flock of birds is trapped within the room's walls will lead to unexpected developments ending up in an ambiguous Aickmanesque fashion apt to leave behind an unsettling sense of foreboding.

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