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The Other Lives of Miss Emily White by A.J. Elwood

5th April, 2024.

The Other Lives of Miss Emily White

Steeped in a “there’s something just out of sight” atmosphere that nags at you rather than catches you with a jump scare, this deftly unnerving tale is expertly crafted by A.J. Elwood. 

 

I took a step out of my usual reading zone for this supernatural, gothic infused tale of the uncanny set in a Victorian school for girls.  Pretty much none of the words in that sentence would find a home in any description I would write about the type of books I normally enjoy.

 

But, you know, variety-life-spice and all that and - more importantly - I’d been hearing great things about publisher Titan Books.

 

In 1924 London, a woman is stealing herself to reflect back on her life and we are given hints at secrets, and a troubled past, with clues that we should be wary about what we may seen, or what we think we may see. It gave me the flavour of books written in that era which would often start with a letter describing some awful event that must be recorded for posterity. It sets the tone perfectly.

 

We then flash back 60 years and Ivy has been dispatched by her parents from their farm to a boarding school, where she is to learn the ways of a young woman suitable for marriage. We are given immediate clues - “twenty six other well bred ladies - and me” - that she doesn’t fit in and isn’t like the others. Like Victorian Mean Girls, they have their clique and a queen bee, whilst Ivy prefers the garden and the horses. Her loneliness is acute as she struggles with the other girls and she is quite isolated. Until the arrival of Miss White, their new teacher. 

 

But whilst Ivy is drawn to Miss White believes she feels a connection , the other girls whisper and share rumours that Miss White is not…natural. And soon mysterious sightings of Miss White begin…who is she? And is Ivy’s interest becoming a dangerous obsession? The drama  floats in a liminal space between a haunted house shocker and the folklore country superstitions - is that someone at the window? What is happening to the crops and the animals? 

 

The Other Lives of Emily White is a deftly unnerving and a carefully crafted story. It builds skilfully as a psychological thriller that uses quiet imagery and insidious whispers to put you on edge.  Elwood draws you in and leads you on such a not-so-merry tale that maybe - like me - you won't see the reveal coming…

BISCUIT RATING

Chocolate fingers - it reminded me of the creepy tales and ghost stories I used to read more of when I was a kid, and liek chocolate fingers, I should probably treat myself to them more often as an adult. 

Safe Hands by W A Kelly

29th March, 2024.

Safe Hands

I heartily recommend getting yourself a copy of Safe Hands by W A Kelly, whether physical copy, digital ebook, or listening on audible as it is an absolute treat - especially if you are a fan of crime thrillers, even more so if you’re craving a British crime thriller, and absolutely if you want a British crime thriller with older lead characters that’s set in 

Skegness. 

Bit niche that last bit but still…

Retired safe cracker and ex-boxer Mickey Blake is living out his days exiled in Spain with his sick wife. When a debt is called in from one low life crook, he is forced to take on a risky job for another low life crook back in England on the coast. With the help of vengeance seeking single mum Hazel, can Mickey keep himself and two families safe whilst solving a mystery AND paying off his debt? 
 

Actually, I’m not joking about that being a plus point of the novel - I really enjoy a book that can vividly build a world and for me, that’s just as important with a local crime drama as it is with a sci-fi or fantasy novel. It also helps the novel feel different from the early pages due to the simple fact that it’s not set in one of the usual big cities. 

 

Mickey Blake is an intriguing main character and his past as a boxer and a safe cracker combine with a complex family situation to give depth to the “one last job” set up. With a sick wife at home in their Spanish retreat, Mickey is dragged back to England to settle a debt via a dubious sounding casino job. But something is definitely fishier than the local chippy and Mickey seems right to not trust anyone as he embarks on his own investigation before he’s the next to be battered. (Yeah, ok, sorry, that was bad.)

 

MORE DEPTH

The usual “detective and junior partner” duo is given a twist here as Mickey crosses paths with Hazel - a single mum with a score of her own to settle. Both of them are blunt, fiercely protective of their families, and it's fun to see them spar and circle each other in a refreshing change to the usual romantic leads. As someone who is - shall we say - 'no longer young', I thoroughly enjoyed reading lead characters who weren't effortlessly leaping and running about without a care about the impact on their knees or whether they'd put their back out. Being middle aged means that these lead characters hae to navigate extra baggage and history, and this presents different challenges and adds a depth to exchanges and situations.

 

Like the tide retreating to reveal what lies beneath, Kelly skilfully lets the characters divulge their murky pasts and true motivations as we build towards the conclusion of both stories. It hits the spot as a page turning thriller and is immensely satisfying as it pieces together the clues with tension occasionally lifted by some wry, dry, and deft humour. 

THROWBACK

The book is a bit of a throwback - in a good way - in that the big set pieces are more analogue than hi-tech and the characters remind me of the  type you’d bump into at the bar buying their scampi fries rather than in the “rustic” bar drinking a cocktail out of a jam jar. And you know what? A crime series set around the East Midlands sounds like a winner to me - chip cobs all round. And with the author working on the sequel now, fingers cross we might get to see Mickey Blake curse his way across our screens.

 

You can win your very own signed copy of Safe Hands by simply going to social media and following and liking and/or sharing our posts about the latest podcast episode - which features my interview with Wayne Kelly about Safe Hands, and what it was like producing his own book as independent publisher.

BISCUIT RATING

There was really only direction I could go in for a biscuit to rate this book with local connections - with the biscuit factory down the road from making McVities I’ve had to go with a Club biscuit - locally made, comforting, a bit of a throwback, and thoroughly satisfying.

 

Dead Man's Grave by Neil Lancaster

29th March, 2024.

Dead Man's Grave.jpg

Neil Lancaster has quickly made a name for himself with a couple of deetcive series and having seen favourable comments on twitter, I decided to go back to the first instalment in his Max Craigie series.

This well thought out crime action caper delivers some genuine thrills but really excels with the authenticity of the spy elements and the characters development - get hooked by the spying, stay for the spies.

Starting with a mysterious and almost folksy horror scene in a remote Scottish graveyard, Dead Man’s Grave pitches relocated Met detective Max Craigie into a centuries old feud and institutional corruption in a thriller that races across Scotland. 

 

The opening in the graveyard is a nice hook, and from there the story is set up sharply and little time is wasted in pairing Detective Max Craigie with rookie Janie Caldie. Both of them are wary outsiders with Craigie transferred from the Met whilst he faces an inquiry about a shooting, and Calder is highly rated and on for fast track promotion despite the less than favourable attitudes of her colleagues. 

 

The two are packed off to investigate the disappearance of the head of Scotland’s most powerful crime family - why these two? Because there’s a worry that this crime family may have infiltrated the police. Once we have the basic details we are off and racing across  Scotland with a gripping set up of criminals (and maybe police?) following Max and Janie as they try to stay a step ahead in solving mysteries old and new. 

 

SUPER SPY

Turning to crime writing after serving in the police or armed forces seems to be such a popular career path that I’m surprised they’re not using it as a recruiting tool - “want to fight crime AND become a published author? Sign up to join the police today.” The extra spin that Lancaster brings is that he was in fact in both the armed forces and the police, as well as having served as a covert police specialist. He bequeaths super surveillance skills to his detective and it adds an extra layer of excitement and joy to the proceedings. Craigie doesn't just use the smart tech, he knows how to build and adapt it - he's Q and Bond.It also provides another way for the case to develop and these skills are put to the test when it is made clear to Detective Craigie that he may well be fighting this battle without the full support of law enforcement. Fortunately, Calder is on his side and she proves to be a more than capable partner and a more rounded, interesting  supporting character than some lesser crime books provide. 

 

As well as the authenticity and extra detail that Lancaster brings to the case and the characters, he also spins a speedy yarn that has some fine action and some su plots and additional characters that are developed with relish and hint at what might be to come in future books. 

 

Not only does this book get a thumbs up from me, but I also lent it to my brother when he was back from his travels and he promptly read it in a couple of days and ordered the next two and flew through them too. I am now keen to catch up…


BISCUIT RATING

Biscuit rating for Dead Man’s Grave - a ginger cream crunch - solid, dependable, and with a little kick of extra flavour and enjoyable filling that makes you glad there’s another one to start on.

By Ash, Oak and Thorn by Melissa Harrison

5th January, 2023.

Bestselling author, nature writer, and podcast host and creator Melissa Harrison has created an instant classic with her debut children's novel. Like all the best children's novels, it's not just for children and weaves together adventure, folklore, and a deep love of nature that is irresistible.

By Ash, Oak and Thorn

Melissa's Harrison's By Ash, Oak and Thorn immediately appeals to folksy, nostalgic type charm with the cover and the blurb hinting at a modern folklore tale. We follow three of the ancient Hidden Folk - guardians of nature - as they set off on a quest to solve a mystery that threatens their existence.

It's a beautiful tale of wonder that will delight readers of all ages.

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the carpet downstairs of my local library and reading stories. I don’t know if the library had someone special come in, or if it was just someone who worked there who did it but I know I was hooked on the power and magic of words.

And although I did enjoy some of the established classics, I clearly remember the affection I had for those that were set in nature; stories like The Magic Faraway Tree, and a series called Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem about a group of mice were big favourites. I particularly remember the Brambly Hedge ones that focused on each season of the year. Even now, just thinking about them gives me a cosy feeling.

If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend seeking them out. 

This joy in nature writing pretty much stayed dormant until I read Clay, Melissa Harrison’s debut novel. It’s one one of those novels that seemed a little impossible - a new story that felt like it belonged in the classic section and managed to gently draw you in to the natural world and an urban drama. That same magic formula is at work deep within the roots of this, her debut children's novel.

 

Cumulus, Moss, and Burnett are Hidden Folk - an ancient trio of a rare race who are the guardians of nature - the Wild World. A mystery and an accident cause them to flee the ash tree they call home at the bottom of a residential garden. They say goodbye to their familiar surroundings and animal friends and set out on a perilous journey to seek out any of their kind - if they still exist. Can they find a reason (and cure) for Cumulus fading away? And can they do it whilst avoiding the dangers that Mortal kind (humans) may present?

 

The story is a beautiful hymn to the wonders of the natural world and connecting with the wildness around you. It is full of descriptions that conjure delight and nourishing nuggets of factual details about the lives of animals and the places they inhabit.  Harrison’s writing keeps the adventure rolling along with a genuine sense of peril, whilst also pausing to enjoy the wonder of a deer’s precarious journey; the specific calls and songs of countryside birds; and not forgetting the glorious invention that one of the Hidden Folk creates with discarded human footwear…

I first started reading this to classes in Primary School and they loved it - the magical quality and folklore elements are great hooks but it was the relationships of the Hidden Folk that made the characters all the more loveable - in particular how they navigate their emotions and experiences. And who doesn’t enjoy a lesson on bravery from a pigeon?

 

I realised that I hadn’t taken time to sit and just read it for myself, and although it starts in spring time, I found reading it in the depths of winter a real balm for my craving of more light and it was an ideal companion with a hot chocolate (have I mentioned the popcorn flavoured Galaxy hot chocolate one? Oh MY). 

 

There is such a deep love of the natural world in this book, and especially in highlighting little details, that you can’t help but look a little closer on your next walk…what are those footprints? Are those birds pointing? What’s that little hole in the trunk of that tree…

 

By Ash, Oak and Thorn is available now - as is the follow up, By Rowan and Yew. Click the link to find out more and order your copy.

Melissa Harrison: https://melissaharrison.co.uk

My biscuit rating?

Home made oatmeal and raisin cookies - Full of heart and goodness.

Possible Worlds and Other Stories.

by Rachel Handley

20th October, 2023.

This short story collection opens the doors to incredible worlds and leads you confidently through thought provoking and poignant themes via a delicious cast of characters - both human and...not human.

There was a moment in the first story abut a custodian of a mysterious door where I did an awkward out loud snort laugh and I knew I was in safe hands and was going to enjoy this collection. Handley writes and constructs with deft assurance and that compels you to join in the gleeful ride across the universe. Whether you you want to take a bite of one just one story at a time, or race through in one go - this is a collection to savour. 

Philosopher, author, and poet Dr Rachel Handley has drawn together a wide variety of stories that hop across the universe introducing us to imaginative characters and worlds, and posing challenging questions. There are definite thematic links as well as some stories that clearly inhabit the same narrative world - as Rachel herself says, these are little easter eggs for you to find and I did find myself flicking between stories and getting a thrill of "oohhh, right!" when making a connection. 

 

There is a real sense of joy and playfulness in exploring wild ideas and the "possible" in the title is really pushed - a world of intelligent crabs anyone? Although some stories definitely have the potential to be explored further, there is also something satisfying about being able to get these shot sharp blasts of a different place and an idea and then move on. In our podcast chat, Rachel expands on this by saying that whilst she can see potential for the title story to be developed, she is already working on a novel - and it has nothing to do with these stories. I can't wait to see where it takes us.

The inherent fun of these stories is best illustrated through the humour that pierces most pages. It immediately reminded me of Red Dwarf and Terry Pratchett, so it was gratifying to hear Rachel say they were favourites growing up. If you are thinking "Hang on, I like Pratchett and Red Dwarf" then I can say with some confidence that I think you'll get a kick out of Possible Worlds and Other Stories.  

Possible Worlds and Other Stories is available from bookstores and online and you can find links to get it right here, along with social media and website for Dr Rachel Handley: https://linktr.ee/_rachelhandley

Go to the podcast above (or follow the links to where you normally get your podcasts) to listen the interview with Rachel and hear about how the themes were drawn together, where the inspiration for the humour comes from, and how she approaches world building. 

My biscuit rating?

Mini Iced Gems - bite sized treats that are great to enjoy one by one or all at once.

 

(Apologies for no transcription of this interview - it was the plan but then I got covid, and then some other bug and now I'm waaaay behind. Hopefully I will get chance to revisit and get it sorted.)

iced gems.heic

Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky

21st October, 2023.

Children of Memory is the final book of a trilogy by prolific sci-fi writer Adrain Tchaikovsky. The first one in the series - Children of Time - won the Arthur C Clarke Award for Science Fiction – the UK’s most prestigious science fiction prize.  EDIT: And now winner of the Hugo award for best science fiction series.

Mistrust of those outside of our group; debates about what “intelligence” actually is, and that who we are isn’t governed by the bodies we inhabit - Children of Memory takes very now topics and blasts them thousands of light years away into the future and plants them into something of a philosophical horror story.  

This probably isn’t the most cheery way to start a book review but, well, bear with me a mo’ - it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to look at the world around us, to look at the news, and come to a conclusion along the lines of “huh, these humans might not be able to stick it out much longer on this planet.”

And the question “could the human race make a home and continue on another planet?” doesn’t seem that preposterous and we know that for starters there have been projects looking at how people might survive not just a trip to Mars, but how they might live on the red planet in the short term. But what might the survival of the human race look like faaaar into the future? 

 

HOME AND AWAY

Don’t worry, I’m not going to fling around any big spoilers, but with this being the final book in a trilogy, I kinda have to mention the first two in order to do justice to this last one. 

When I read the first book - Children of Time - a few years ago, I can still recall just how impressed I was with the imaginative and creative world building. 

 

We are into the far future and ships have been sent across the Universe to attempt to terraform suitable planets. One such controversial mission sets out to “start again” with the human race by sending monkeys to live on a planet and to use a nano-virus that will speed their evolution. Conflict on earth reaches the stars and the plan goes awry causing a whole different species to evolve…

 

In the second book, we are taken to two neighbouring planets where humans have succeeded again in terraforming one of them and populating it with an evolved species courtesy of the nano virus. When the situation escalates between the two planets, there is a further link to the first book to help resolve it. 

 

I really hope I am explaining this in a way that doesn’t make it sound massively complicated, but you’ll have to believe me that Tchaikovsky’s attention to detail and masterful description of the science aspects make it not only vivid, but also incredibly logical and easy to imagine.

 

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

When we arrive at Children of Memory, we get to meet a surviving Human crew on an Ark ship that is carrying thousands of people who have been in suspended animation for the millennia journey across the stars. The crew have been woken intermittently to keep the vessel on track. But now it is time for Captain Holst to lead his tattered crew and their world building tech down onto the planet Imir and try to build a new civilization. 

 

The heart of this story follows Liff, a teenage girl who has grown up on the planet as a descendent of those first settlers. It is a little like tales of the families making a life on the old wild west frontier - trouble with livestock, crops, natural disasters, and an increasing superstition about what is to blame for their troubles. Or is it more than superstition? Is there, perhaps, something really out there sabotaging their community? And why do events seem to be repeating for Liff? She sets out to find the witch in the woods as she searches for answers that her dreams keep promising her.

 

There is a lurking sense of dread and a haunting creepiness to this desolate world and it manages to highlight some of the best, most indomitable qualities of human beings alongside some of our worst. The questions ‘what really is intelligence?” and “what really makes us who we are?” take turns in being very simple and then …not.  

 

STRANGE NEW WORLDS

Quite often in science fiction, alien worlds or species don’t stray too far from the familiar.  With Tchaikovsky’s work, it’s almost like that’s an insult to the very notion of evolution.  He takes current ideas around genetic and bioengineering, nano tech, and AI; and has enormous fun exploring how they might develop into the distant future. I don’t think it’s that far-fetched to suggest that there are more original ideas in this novel than we have seen in the last few years from major movie studios. 

 

New life forms are intricately mapped out with a full evolutionary history and social structures as well as detailed physiology. I particularly enjoyed how the idea of a shared history and knowledge can be passed down genetically through generations, and how communication had developed in radically different ways. 

 

There is a precision to the writing that ensures everything weird and new is described with clarity. It’s kinda like the opposite of those vague and generic house descriptions that estate agents are so fond of. As someone who enjoys being able to picture everything and isn’t a fan of having too many unanswered questions - this style is immensely appealing.  

 

By the end of this book, I had grown quite attached to the unique space gang that was exploring the universe and I will hold out hope that it is a series that the author might return to at some point. 

 

Also, for those of you that like a BIG BOOK, if you get into this series, you get THREE BIG BOOKS to keep you going. How satisfying is the “whomp” noise you get when you close a big hardback book?

Adrian Tchaikovsky: https://adriantchaikovsky.com/

My biscuit rating?

Le Petit Biscotte crunchy cinnamon - unique, slightly exotic, with a rich complex taste.

Between Us by Mhairi McFarlane

5th August, 2023.

(The podcast version of this review is below and short video at bottom of the page. You can find the links to listen on Apple, Spotify, Amazon at the top and bottom of this page - you can also search on your usual podcast platforms.)

Between Us

It's one thing to find out your partner has shared your secret with someone else - it's something else when they put it on screen for the whole world.

If someone can do that - what else are they capable of?

That is one of the questions that drives the action in the latest chart topper from Mhairi McFarlane.

I have been a slightly embarrassing fanboy cheerleader of Mhairi McFarlane’s fiction since her debut You Had Me at Hello in 2012. She was generous enough to chat to me for a previous podcast and I was trying to find the original correspondence for that conversation but all I could find was a gushing message I’d sent after reading and loving her second novel - Here’s Looking at You

So. Yes. She is on the list of authors that when their new book is released I need to put aside a day or two as once I open the front cover not much will get done until I’ve turned the last page.

So did Between Us live up to my great expectations? 

 

Secondary English teacher Roisin Walters is somewhat of a curiosity at her school - not just because of her burgundy hair - but also because her long term boyfriend is a famous TV writer with a Line of Duty type smash hit behind him and a much hyped risque new show on the way.  He will be joining her and four of their best friends at a country mansion for a weekend party to celebrate one of their group’s birthday AND see the premiere of this new show. 

In the film version - and due to McFarlane’s crisp descriptions I find it impossible to not picture it as if filmed - all of this would be done over the opening credits with a catchy and cool soundtrack.

(For what it’s worth I’d cast Holliday Grainger as Roisin.)

What genre do we normally get at country mansions with a group of friends or family? A whodunnit. In that vein we get a healthy serving of clues as to possible cracks in different relationships as dinner is prepared. Once drinks and food are served we rattle through a quick sequence of events that set up the main storylines, headlined by: Why did Roisin’s boyfriend take a secret part of her life and put it on screen?

Roisin must deal with her issues of trust as she plays detective delving into her and her boyfriend’s past and what’s happened in their relationship. At the same time, her mum needs her help at the family pub in the country and the threads of family memories are pulled along with pints and at times it’s not clear which is the most bitter. When the pub needs a positive spin for the village fete, there is attractive assistance at hand from Matt - the recently self exiled member of their friendship group - who has secrets of his own …

Who can Roisin really trust and count on as she pieces together the clues and uncovers something she wasn’t expecting?

We also get a thriller-ish mystery element to the tale as Roisin is dogged in wanting to get to the truth, even if she might uncover darker secrets than she imagined.

 

There’s an accepted ingredient list for stories set in the notional genre “rom-com” that allow a writer to play around in the kitchen trying out different combinations and flavours whilst making sure to give you a taste of what you want. McFarlane is now an expert chef and it’s like she’s mastered the Ready, Steady ,Cook format of taking a basic counter of ingredients and whipping up a gourmet delight. 

 

  • One female protagonist whose relationship status is about to get a jolt.

  • One attractive but questionable love interest.

  • A punnet of witty and winsome friends.

  • A garnish of contrasting locations.

 

Ready. Steady….WRITE!

 

But many people try following a recipe and you often end up feeling that something’s missing or the flavours are off. McFarlane’s skill is her flair for creating flawed but loveable characters that you want to spend time with and care about. And she really hits the spot with the com part of the rom-com. Sharp barbs are traded and gags are so well crafted that I’m often glad I don’t read in public due to the proper guffaws this book elicits. 

 

Between Us navigates sensitively but candidly through a raft of issues and themes from gaslighting and fidelity, to mental health and female solidarity, as well as how we decide what in our lives is private and public. It also revisits a theme of McFarlane’s work - grief. Not just for people we lose, but for parts of our life we lose or the idea we had of others. Letting go can be hard, taking the next step in moving on is often harder. But Between Us is also a tremendously hopeful story with characters confronting and dealing with the messy complicated aspects of life and that makes finishing the final page and leaving them behind a little easier.

My biscuit rating for Between Us is: Leibniz milk chocolate. 

A welcome treat that you know will deliver in every area and make you feel better.

Also, they go well with your tea when you start reading this during the day, but also with the wine you swap to later when you still haven’t put the book down. 

Mhairi McFarlane website

Mhairi McFarlane books at Harper Collins.

Isabella & Blodwen by Rachael Smith

21st July, 2023.

Isabella & Blodwen

When you have a writer that creates memorable characters and well crafted and interesting stories, you always want more.

Artist, writer, and comic book creator Rachael Smith has built a loyal following with her autobiographical comic strips. 

These sit neatly alongside her fictional works that also playfully but genuinely examine our social and emotional foibles. During the pandemic her daily Quarantine Comix not only resonated with many people, but also showcased her winning ability to address what can be HUGE emotional thoughts with nimble humour and wit.

Artist, writer, and comic book creator Rachael Smith has built a loyal following with her autobiographical comic strips. 

These sit neatly alongside her fictional works that also playfully but genuinely examine our social and emotional foibles. During the pandemic her daily Quarantine Comix not only resonated with many people, but also showcased her winning ability to address what can be HUGE emotional thoughts with nimble humour and wit.

It was around this time that I spoke to Rachael for an early episode of Humanish and whilst she couldn't talk about some of her upcoming work she did say: “I'm working on Isabella and Blodwen. That’s about a young girl and a malevolent witch and their kind of strange relationship.” 

Upon hearing that I excitedly declared it sounded exactly like the type of show Netflix would go for and that “in the next three years, it’s going to be on.” Well, that was just over 3 years ago so …

 

The premise for Isabella and Blodwen is right up my street and reminded me a little of the fantastical story Rachael created in one of her previous books - Rabbit. Both have a larger than life disruptive character who arrives to wreak havoc for our hero but this time we are led in a different direction with a more playful tone masking some of the darker thoughts.

 

Our hero is Isabella - a precocious 16 year old who is struggling with the social aspect of life at Oxford University.  Highly strung and anxious, but also brilliant and determined, she has no time for her flatmates - even the well-meaning one - as she is determined to pour her time and energy into securing a summer internship with her favourite professor. 

 

It is on a Uni trip to Pitts River Museum that an incident occurs that leads to the centuries old  witch Blodwen being unleashed. Despite coming across like the frenzied child of Slimer from Ghostbusters and Grotbags, Blodwen professes to want to help Isabella. Although her chaotic witchery comes across more like sabotage.

 

(As a side note - this gave me some weird flashbacks to 20 years ago when I ended up at that same museum on a trip when I was with an ex and their mum took us there. Anyway, after some brief therapy I was able to finish the book.)

 

On my first read through I loved the artwork, especially the shape shifting BIG persona of Blodwen.  Rachael’s skills at depicting such nuanced emotions and thoughts in character’s expressions means that when she does rely on words, they are completely necessary and are delivered with zest.  It was on the second read through that I honed in on the storyline of “I don’t know how to fit in whilst being me”. This is often given to teenage characters but it is something that I’ll admit to still finding tricky at the age of …not a teenager. 

 

After listening to the podcast series “Witch”, I also went back to read the parts where Blodwen corrects an historical story about witches - and it’s appropriate that the mistelling is given by a cock sure - in more ways than one - male professor.  The art and colour for these retellings are lush and also help elevate the story and Blodwen.

Grotbags, Slimer, Rik Mayall as Fred

The odd couple relationship of the two main characters has echoes of the manic energy of Bottom and I couldn’t help but imagine Blodwen as a female Rik Mayall. Maybe I was thinking of Drop Dead Fred? There is a fun contrast between the ancient but impulsive Blodwen and the young but apprehensive Isabella, and there’s a nice balance with the caring flatmate Annie. Between them, there’s a sweet and important tale of who’s got your back when you need it most.

 

This might sound odd but there’s an element of Speilberg’s early family films to this book in that depending on your age you’ll relate to and respond to different parts of the story. And I know we might be reaching a point of fatigue with expanded stories and Universes but I really could go for an Isabella and Blodwen series to follow these characters and at least take Isabella through University. 

 

Like I said, when you have a writer that creates memorable characters and well crafted and interesting stories, you always want more.

Click here to find out more about Rachael Smith.

Biscuit rating:  Mini Party Rings.

My Biscuit Rating for Isabella and Blodwen is mini party rings - slightly chaotic and colourful fun and good for sharing. 

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

20th April, 2023.

Open Water

I don’t tend to re-read books. I will be re-reading Open Water. It is one of the most beautiful, immersive, and emotive books I can remember falling into. 

 

I can’t provide a neat categorisation for this book and that is definitely part of what makes it so memorable. It has stayed in my head since I read the final words with a sad but contented sigh. Sad, because the characters and story had taken up a comfy residence in my brain and it was a wrench to say goodbye. But contented due to how damn satisfying and nourishing reading it had been. 

Caleb Azumah Nelson drops you into Open Water in the basement of a London pub. You are with a friend, you notice a woman. You think about the music. Through the second person narrative you are the nameless protagonist - an early 20s black British man in London navigating a complex relationship with his identity and city and the young woman meets. She is a dancer. He is a photographer. She waltzes into his life and he sees the picture of her with his best friend. And so the love story begins. 

This is like no other love story I have read and everything - to me - is familiar but unusual. It is a hymn (a gospel? A prayer?) to black culture and the experience of being a young black man in modern London. Often in fiction the use of cultural references feels a tad forced, awkward, an affectation. Here it imbues every action - the use of musical artists sets mood, tone, emotion and I was grateful for the official playlist as the protagonist mentions specific songs. At one point the film Moonlight is referenced, another scene is soundtracked by Solange, something else brings a memory of a play. These varied cultural references help to clue us in to the soul of our protagonist. 

The language and style gives events a heightened feeling - eating outside with friends on a hot day is elevated into cinema, sleeping close to each other is balletic, dialogue full of pauses like Pinter, emotional outpouring like an opera. This book is so poetic in its feel and prose and as I was reading the references to Drake, Dizzee Rascal, Frank Ocean, Solange, it also reminded me of the visceral work of Federico Garcia Lorca, and also of Christina Rossetti with the repetition and natural imagery. 

 

There is a real convergence of classic and contemporary and this mash up suits a story that is both ancient and modern; memories of grandparents and family in a far away country brush up against the modern world and paint their history over today.

Right from the start the connection between "you" and the young woman is clear but so is the tension - she is with your best friend, you are unsure of how to proceed. This tense undercurrent underpins your interactions with everything - the police, the violence, uncertainty about the future. Do you belong? How can someone truly see you when you are struggling in your own skin?

 

The narrative is fragmented and episodic at times - like a photographer's exhibition of snapshots - but there is the connecting lyrical thread that joins together the verses and the rhythm of the prose keeps the beat going. From pubs to clubs, from sun splashed  gardens to cocooned bedrooms, and from fast food joints to the barbers. Oh the barbers. Like the psychiatrist's office the scenes in the barbers trim away more than hair to see the vulnerability, the bruised masculinity, but also the determined heart. 

 

Please forgive me a minor tangent - I am a fan of podcasts because of how a great one can pull you in and it’s just you and the audio in your ears and on a long walk I can be somewhere - someone - totally different and be utterly transported. There is one that has stayed with me for years (Something Large and Wild by This is Love.) It tells the story of a swimmer, a teenage girl on her morning swim in the ocean when she senses something beneath her. Something big. What follows is tense, startling, an unconventional story of love. I am not a swimmer. I have not swam in the ocean with something beneath me. But emotions? The compulsion to do something based on a feeling? Yes, absolutely. Even thinking about it now I get this non verbal reaction - just a swell, a surge of feeling. It’s the closest I can get to describing Open Water. It is a story you feel rather than one you follow.

Sometimes that feeling is like a punch. Like when you the protagonist are stopped by the police. They. You. The short, disembodied sentences make it routine but quick. Tense. Then the release as they let you go - but the effect of the action is done. 

“You are hollowed out, like it was not just your bag they emptied.”

 

This book is full of moments like this, where it made me pause, stop, think, imagine, feel. Something so brief, so seemingly inconsequential but sends out ripples. Sometimes there is a big splash - like when his love goes away. He sees her off on the train and if you have ever waved off your love on a bus or train you will know that awful feeling of loss whilst in a public place - to this day I have a weird feeling at bus and train stations. The description of the tears flowing and the plunge into emotions is deep and overwhelming:

 

“It is an ache you have not known and do not know how to name. It is terrifying. And yet, you both knew what you were getting into. You know that to love is to swim and drown. You know to love is to be whole, partial, a joint, a fracture, a heart, a bone. It is to bleed and heal. It is to be in the world, honest.”

 

This book is honest and true and this gifted writer makes you live this world - this world where everything feels close - the weather, the music, people…but at any point it could all drop away to the depths. It is a story about being seen, feeling accepted, somewhere to belong:

“You didn’t have a home coming not this world, but you're home now. You’re home now.”

 

Caleb Azumah Nelson’s next book is out now: Small Worlds.

Biscuit rating: Dark Chocolate Viennese fingers..

Stylish and elegant but also tender and delicate with a hint of bitterness providing contrasting flavours. 

The Night She Disappeared  by Lisa Jewell

20th April, 2023.

The Nigh She Disappeared

Somehow, the last novel by Lisa Jewell I read was Ralph’s Party, released in 1999. If it sounds like a 90s British rom-com then you wouldn’t be far off. It focuses on a 3-storey house in London and the residents who get entangled in different love triangles.

 

The Night She Disappeared on the other hand features a mystery kicked off by an anonymous sign stuck in the ground saying “dig here” that may be linked to a teen girl who goes missing at an old mansion called The Dark Place. 

Somehow, the last novel by Lisa Jewell I read was Ralph’s Party, released in 1999. If it sounds like a 90s British rom-com then you wouldn’t be far off. It focuses on a 3-storey house in London and the residents who get entangled in different love triangles.

 

The Night She Disappeared on the other hand features a mystery kicked off by an anonymous sign stuck in the ground saying “dig here” that may be linked to a teen girl who goes missing at an old mansion called The Dark Place. 

 

If they sound like they can’t possibly have anything in common then that would be an understandable mistake. As much as The Night She Disappeared is a tense and suspenseful thriller that grabs your hand and pulls your breathlessly through page after page; it is also a fascinating character study. 

 

Sophie has moved in with her very new boyfriend (older, separated, two kids) as he takes up the position of Head teacher at a private school in the leafy village of Upfield Common in the Surrey Hill. It comes with a house on the grounds where Sophie is hoping she will be able to continue writing her detective books. Clue and pointers adorn the page like you’d imagine bunting would adorn the village square in the fictional village for the annual fete. I love all this. If you were watching this on TV you’d be narrating loudly to anyone in the room (or like me, tweeting) “See? She’s not convinced about this move. Something not right about them two.”

 

The novel then switches between present day (2018 in the novel) and the previous summer. Teenage parent Talluah lives with her mum, and when she and her boyfriend Noah don’t come home from an impromptu party with friends, her Mum sets off - baby in tow - to find out where she is. We then switch back to the present day where Sophie is warned about the old abandoned house in the woods. At this point I am already IN. But then we go back to meet Tallulah before she goes missing and find out why she might not want to stay with her boyfriend - her baby’s Dad - and who is Scarlett, the hell-raising girl at her school. 

 

Part teen YA-ish drama, part Miss Marple-esque pastoral whodunnit, and part slightly psychological thriller, The Night She Disappeared seems ready made to be a big summer TV series with cliffhanger endings to chapters and a plot that compels you to try and figure it out for yourself. If you ever watch the long distance Olympic runners, you get to marvel at how they judge the pace so perfectly, never forced or running out of gas. This is the literary equivalent. You propelled through chapter after chapter with enough left for that sprint finish to the end and you can collapse the book and take a breath. 

 

And if that’s all that The Night She Disappeared was, you would be delighted to have it entertain you as you blitzed through it. But you lucky readers get so much more. Like a Christmas cracker that actually has something useful inside and not just a crap joke, Lisa Jewell gives you the bang for your book and then provides something to keep hold of. 

 

I said you might not see what this book has in common with the rom-com debut Ralph’s Party but getting you to want to spend time with a bunch of people and follow their relationship is a skill and it’s one that is carried on here with aplomb. We don’t just get a well drawn and interesting lead character with flaws and desires that clash. Nope. We get four fascinating women who are all battling internal and external demons. They are so well drawn and we are given such insight into them that even the drama heightens and we get to the point where with a less skilled writer you might say “what? No chance!” with Jewell it makes perfect sense. 

 

Having the four character’s perspectives also gives us different angles on the various mysteries. Oh yeah, there’s not just the mystery of Tallulah’s disappearance. That one mystery is the Russian doll of mysteries in this book and out pop ever evolving other mysteries. 

What is up with Scarett - Tallulah’s new rebel friend?

Why is that house called The Dark Place and why is it abandoned?

Who’s leaving clues for Sophie and why is she not telling her boyfriend about what’s going on?

 

Look, you’ll just have to read it - trust me, it won’t take you long. I recommend not starting it at night otherwise it will be The Night You Disappeared into a book and didn’t appear until dawn. 

Biscuit rating: Chocolate Malted Milk.

My biscuit rating? Chocolate Malted Milk. 

Addictive. Delicious. I’m shocked if others don’t love it. More please.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

6th April, 2023.

The blurb to Elizabeth is Missing hints at two mysteries to be solved - but by the end I had third to ponder: how had Emma Healey managed to draw together two stories 70 years apart, whilst elegantly colouring in with different genres? And all led by a protagonist suffering from dementia?

Enjoying a book you’re pretty sure you’re going to like is all well and good but… there is a special kind of thrill when your wariness on page 1 has been gently painted over with vivid swirls of “oh my this is great” by the final page.

Enjoying a book you’re pretty sure you’re going to like is all well and good but… there is a special kind of thrill when your wariness on page 1 has been gently painted over with vivid swirls of “oh my this is great” by the final page.

THE SET UP

Elizabeth is Missing had me intrigued with the set-up of Maud, an elderly lady suffering from dementia who is convinced something has happened to her friend Elizabeth. But I also worried it might be hard work, a worthy book that my focus wouldn’t cope with and perhaps one I should acknowledge as good, rather than one I would find enjoyable. 

 

To begin with, everything unfolds quite quickly into what seems like a neat little mystery with a twist; Maud is desperate to find her missing friend Elizabeth - despite her memory being impaired by dementia. But then with chapter change or title as a warning, we’re swept into the past and another mystery - someone else goes missing - in the rubble of the second world war, Maud’s sister Sukey disappears.  Are they related? Does Maud know what has happened to each woman and has just forgotten? 

The first person narrative pinches you into Maud’s present tense thoughts and actions and the permanence of her now is way more unsettling than I was expecting. When the comfort blanket of actions following a chronological sequence is taken away we’re left with the cold reality of Maud’s mind quantum leaping into each moment. ​

 

SYMPATHY AND FRUSTRATION

Our sympathy is clearly with Maud, we experience her disorientation, we feel the shame and heartbreak of an early accident that shows how the loss of her mind also affects her body. The world is not kind or accommodating to an elderly lady living on her own who is trying to cope with dementia. Early on it is established how isolated she is without her husband, with her children taking contrasting approaches towards her and her friends gone for different reasons. She is berated for eating too much toast and is clearly struggling to keep a house in order and remember what to buy - and not to buy - at the local shop. 

 

But we also see how exasperating Maud’s condition can be to those who care for her, and the toll placed on her daughter in particular. And as her dementia is worsening, we are all too aware that time may be running out for Maud to discover what has happened to Elizabeth and to resolve the mystery of her sister. All this whilst we genuinely worry about her own safety. 

 

Being inside Maud’s mind is a little like being cast adrift at sea in a boat you’re not sure how to steer and with the navigation down all whilst a storm gathers momentum. You’re never quite on an even keel to feel like you’re in control and as details slide from surfaces and are scattered on the floor, you’re then hit with a wave of memories that totally consume you. But luckily, the author is skilled enough to never let us capsize completely. It’s a journey that I could well understand some readers not having the stomach for.

 

I have to admit, at one point I had to put the book down and go for a walk and do something else as it was just too frustrating. Maud writes post-it notes to herself as reminders. Sometimes these are numbers or instructions, sometimes they don’t even make sense, especially as she can’t remember when or why she wrote them. And this was my big frustration - why not write the time and date with each note? Why didn’t some give her notes each day with that day’s date on? Look, I know it wouldn’t have worked but this is the extent to which I was drawn in by this character and the mystery that Emma Healey was taunting me with. 

 

IS THIS A THRILLER?

Back in the 1940s the story of Maud’s sister unfolds in a more familiar manner and is described with vivid period detail of life on rations and the struggle to survive and move on. Although we are on a surer footing with the how the story is told, we are still presented with a Maud who seems very much on her own, and a Maud who is surrounded by characters she might not be able to trust.  And to be honest, I wasn’t sure how much of an unreliable narrator Maud was in all of this and that just added to the general unease. As young Maud searches for clues about her sister, characters reveal themselves as different flavours of suspicious. 

Maud’s dad? Suspicious and distant. 

Sukey’s husband? Suspicious and dangerous.

The lodger? Suspicious and creepy.

 

Wait, when did this turn into a sort of crime thriller? Wasn’t this a sad story about an old lady with dementia? Yes. And no. Look, just allow yourself to get drawn in and essentially you’re getting several genre stories for the price of one here. There’s definite elements of a psychological drama threaded through the main two mysteries, and then there’s the addition of the flashbacks, which almost gives it a cold case flavour. At times I was curling myself into my chair with tension as the child Maud takes bigger risks in the search for her sister in the past and older Maud mirrors her desperate search in the present for Elizabeth. 

 

There is a sequence in a department store that used all the trademarks of a horror, with quick reveals and short sentences to put me through the ringer as if a character were fleeing a monster rather than simply trying to find the exit.

 

In fact, trying to escape is one of the recurring themes of the novel along with memories and the past being buried, but perhaps always waiting to be dug up. If you dig into this superb novel, you will be rewarded with a bountiful harvest.

Garibaldo.jpg
BORDER.jpg

Biscuit rating: Garibaldi and Border Classic Selection.

Elizabeth is Missing is a gorgeous beast of a story that spills treats from each and every page. 

I have to give this a double biscuit award of a Garibaldi AND a Border Classic selection as it provided something different to chew on whilst also giving me a delicious quality and variety to savour.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

29th January, 2023.

The Power

The Power is a provocative near future science fiction novel that poses a “what if?” scenario and dares you to confront the world around you and your place in it. It is quite literally shocking, as well as a world-hopping thriller with graphic action and uncomfortable moral choices. Could it also be the smash hit TV show of 2023?

Streaming platforms’ love of taking existing work and adapting them for blockbuster TV shows looks set to continue in 2023. Alongside Daisy Jones and The Six, The Last Thing He Told Me, and The White House Plumbers (the title doesn’t really help that one), we also get Prime Video’s The Power by Naomi Alderman. A book that seems made for a TV adaptation.

The set-up.

The Power is set 5000 years in the future and in our present day. In the future, a male author compiles a manuscript that documents events in the early 21st Century that completely changed society. Young women around the world - almost simultaneously - begin to developskeins across their collar bones. These skeins are a biological development that give them the ability to exert electricity as a weapon.

Alderman wastes zero time in revealing what “the power” is. This “no, we are not hanging about here” style is something it has in common with outbreak stories, or zombie tales - a world wide event presents a scenario that threatens civilisation as we know it.  It also shares the common trait of presenting multiple characters and storylines and then races off shouting “come on, keep up” as it speeds away. In fact, it might be advisable to keep your own glossary of characters to refer to as you zip along as you might wonder - who is this one again? This is another aspect that makes me say it seems like a book that is made for TV - you can picture the cut to a new location and a title informing you what day it is, or what country we are in.

Roxy, the gangster's daughter.

The characters and the scope.

As gangster’s daughter Roxy realises how she might reinvent her life with this new ability, we see Allie overcome trauma to reframe what is happening as divine intervention. Before we can settle in with the domestic drama of one and the philosophical reasoning of the other we are off to political intrigue in America and Eastern Europe and uprisings in Asia and the middle east. It is probably here that you are due a content warning warning about the graphic sexual content with torture, rape, and murder falling quickly inline like blood drenched dominoes.

In the 7 years since The Power was released, how we are defined by our biology and our sense of self is more relevant than ever and you could easily use elements of this book and claim a trans allegory or trans erasure.

It is hard to imagine that the TV adaptation won’t explore this further and add more than just the one intersex character that is in the novel.

 

The huge scope of the novel could easily have stretched to a 500+ page tome but this leanerversion helps reinforce how quickly events happen. Although there are similarities to the outbreak genre, the neat twist here is that you aren’t dealing with something that is contagious, that you can prevent from spreading. After the familiar attempts to stop, quell, and protect - the novel moves into a different area that becomes the main topic - how can it be used ?

Margaret Atwood and the portrayal of female characters.

Alderman talked in interviews about the mentorship scheme that paired her with Magaret Atwood. With that knowledge you could claim 20/20 vision of stylistic similarities - the poetic documentary prose, or a sense of emotional detachment from some of the events - but for me it is in the areas she chooses to stage conflict - what arenas would this fight be fought?

It was no surprise when I was digging around in my research to find an interview with PBS  in America during which Alderman talks about how she discussed with Margaret Atwood finding “where the pressure points might be.'

The arenas she picks for these pressure points are fascinating and varied and all too believable - although after collating my own thoughts here, I'm keen to find out what people from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East thought about the scenarios she has imagined.

 

In the same PBS interview, Alderman talks about wanting to give female characters exciting action and fight scenes. We get those. A lot. Graphically. And there is a reason for this.

The power of The Power

Perhaps deliberately, there is a double play on the famous quote “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Science, politics, and religion wage a familiar war over ownership and control, and this is played out via some compelling characters that are often more nuanced than you might expect. Sure, we get villains and others we could asterixas “heroes” but they are generally all warped by their own desires.

 

And it is here that we consider what is probably the most provocative - or controversial, depending on your outrage barometer - element of the novel. What would people do - regardless of their biology, race, religion, gender, socio-economic background, geographic location, or anything else you can think of - if they had the physical power over other people? What would you do?

Are some groups of people inherently predisposed to be “good” or “kind”? Or do we all have a base level of violence?

It is an uncomfortable question.

 

The answers this book offers about human nature might be shocking and unpalatable, but as Alderman says herself, if you take out the new power she invented, the acts of violence committed are already around us in the world today and is it just doing what all good dramas should and holding a mirror up to our society? Perhaps it is more to do with the type of female characters Aderman wants to see in fiction. This is her talking during a Facebook live event for BBC Radio 4.

 

“We have to be able to imagine women as villains, people talk about the ‘strong femalecharacter’, I would rather see more strong female villains than I am particularly excited about seeing women who know kickboxing.”

 

Whilst The Biscuit Reviews is generally me chatting about things I like, I can obviously look back and see flaws in what I read, listen to, and watch. And there is plenty in The Power that could annoy - even anger - some people as well as the regular plot and style choices that can put people off. I’ll also confess to being blind to most flaws whilst I was reading it because I was caught up in the story and characters and wanting to know what was going to happen.

The TV series on Prime Video has been adapted by Alderman herself and as she hinted there were many more stories to tell, it would not be a great surprise if what we see is quite different to what we read. Indeed, it would not surprise me ifthe action in the novel is just the first series of a much bigger story to come - much like what happened with The Handmaid's Tale.

 

Aside from my main hope that the soundtrack doesn’t features a certain song by Snap! is that I manage to avoid the clickbait headlines and ensuing outrage that its broadcast will no doubt incite.

Biscuit rating: Garibaldi.

It offers a different experience and plenty to chew over.

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

15th January, 2023.

Fairy Tale

For me, the prospect of a new Stephen King book to immerse myself in is a proper treat - and Fairy Tale provided a vivid, thrilling, surprising, and enormously fun new world to live in.

Has Stephen King written a YA novel?

I reckon I can make that argument via some connections to Stranger Things and Hunger Games - and I also think I have a good suggestion for who would be the ideal film director for Stephen King.

Let's start with the title -. I do love a Ronseal title.

For the first part of the book, you might be forgiven for mumbling a tad bitterly “where’s my fairytale?” but like a number of recent King stories, things take a turn. I have to say, I’m a fan of this format - a bit like those songs that start all fluffy acoustic and then kick in with a drum beat and chunky guitar riff.

We get some of the tropes we might be expecting with a troubled upbringing for a child protagonist who fills out into a suitable hero as a teenage boy. Charlie Reade is a successful High school athlete struggling along with his recovering alcoholic of a dad in the small town of Sentry’s Rest in Illinois. We get a lot of detail about his childhood and hints about how he got up to no good as a kid when he was largely left to his own devices; and how a love of stories and books played a part in focusing him on more positive pursuits.

World building and whodunnit.

Even when we get to the haunted house (or is it?) bit of the narrative, King still takes his time to really sketch out the mysterious and possibly dangerous owner of the house Mr Bowditch and his rumoured Cujo type dog. But it is never a drag. King focuses on the story giving us all the info’ we need about Charlie and it clips along dropping enough gold nuggets to act as an enticing trail to follow.  I really don’t get how I sometimes see someone dismissed as a “storyteller” as if that means they can't also be a great writer.  Often “an economical style” isused as an insult, whereas it appeals to me as a compliment . That ability to expertly craft thenarrative to give you all the information you need whilst making it exciting to read without relying on stylistic flourishes.  That isn't to say that Fairy Tale isn't full of clever turns of phraseor interesting prose - it does.

 

I properly enjoyed King’s recent detective series (starring with Mr Mercedes) and here again King shows his credentials as a mystery writer who would surely be a dab hand at knocking out a whodunnit series. We get a string of questions to ponder and get us involved. Why is the shed at Mr Bowditch’s locked? And what are those noises coming from it? How does he afford this big old house and what did he used to do? Will Charlie’s past resurface?

 

In a satisfying fashion the answers lead to more questions and then the world is turned upside down with a quick sequence of events from an accident, to a mission, to a fatal encounter that leave Charlie with a defining choice to make. I don’t want to be too much of aspoiler so I’ll just say that there is adventure, fantasy, mystery, and a smidge or two of classic King horror.

 

It also gets bonus points for the abundance of animals that play a leading role. I mean, sure, a dog is pretty standard in a film or book; even the butterfly symbolism is not uncommon - but full marks for a starring role going to a cricket. He certainly helps Charlie become a real boy.

 

In fact, the natural world plays a significant role in this most unnatural of stories. There is much discussion and fear of humanity’s impact on the world and the horrors caused by a greed for resources. There is even an affliction that has decimated a population and keeps people separated and largely living in their own homes. It’s not hard to see where the inspiration came for a novel written during the height of the pandemic.

 

For me, the prospect of a new Stephen King book to immerse myself in is a proper treat - and Fairy Tale provided a vivid, thrilling, surprising, and enormously fun new world to live in.

So why do i think this is a YA novel?

So why do I think this is YA novel? Aside from the teenage main character, there is the coming of age quest, the battle with authority figures and a clear sense of struggling with what is “right.” There are some overlapping themes with Stranger Things in terms of the dark tone and battling a monster that may or may not have been conjured from imagination. Although, to be fair, Fairy Tale doesn't have some of the whimsical humour of Stranger Things.

 

In the final third there is a hint of Hunger Games and elements of the quest reminded me of the Maze Runner.  It would be quite a neat reversal if King had been inspired by Stranger Things - a show he has been a loud fan of - which had taken inspiration from Stephen King…

Let’s face it, King is no stranger to this genre and although his flavour may have been dark with Firestarter, IT, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and The Institute, he has never been shy about putting minors in mortal peril and challenging to grow up at the same time as trying to stay alive. Which brings me to my last point - surely the ideal director for King’s work is also someone else who has a track record with letting teens and children take the lead role, and is adept at putting time in peril and confronting them with the challenges of parents, monsters and growing up? Yes, Steven Spielberg. I mean, Fairy Tale even features the lead on a bike so the connecting threads are complete…aren't they?

On yer bike: Stranger Things, Goonies, ET
On yer bike: Stranger Things, Goonies, ET

Big screen adaptation and biscuit rating.

So it’s a little underwhelming to find out that although Fairy Tale is being adapted into a film,it isn’t Spielberg who’ll be directing, but Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy, Bourne Ultimatum, Green Zone, News of the World) instead. Perhaps the bigger surprise is that they’re going to try and cram into a single film rather than a TV series.

 

Maybe you’re coming to this with the briefest knowledge of Stephen King’s most famous works and have him neatly field away as horror. If so, this is the ideal book to reintroduce yourself and get acquainted with modern Stephen King.

 

Biscuit rating: Border classic selection:

Top quality all round and with a variety that you want to take your with and luxuriate in.

 

My next review will be The Coming Storm podcast series - a deep dive into the background of the Capitol Hill riots of January 6th and the links stretching from our the British government, to the Witch Trials, to conspiray theories online. Next review is The Power by Naomi Aldernman. But time now for a brew, and maybe a biccie. Until next time, ta-ra.

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