10Oct P Ice, Wind and Fire***** – Mel Keegan. An excellent thriller featuring a pair of gay investigative journalists who are holidaying in Jamaica when they run foul of organised crime. Exciting, interesting and well written. Even the explicit sex scenes, which are frequent, were always carefully designed to further character development and plot. I borrowed this from a friend and was glad to be introduced to such a competent author.
13Oct P Firewall*** – Henning Mankell. This is one of the Wallander series, made popular by two TV shows, one Brit, starring Kenneth Branagh, and the other Swedish but shown in UK with subtitles. I haven’t watched either but am assured that the Swedish version is better. I think the same might be true of the books. The plots are complex and fascinating, and the characters are well drawn but the language, I suspect, suffers in translation. Almost all the sentences are short and simple which gives a staccato effect. Occasionally two simple sentences are joined with a conjunction which comes almost as a relief. The plot, which centres around internet crime, must have been original and startling when the book was first written in 1998. Translation took ten years and was probably only undertaken in response to the TV shows. The story is no longer ‘cutting edge’ but is still very plausible.
16Oct P Death’s Head***** – Mel Keegan. Another exciting m/m romance, this time sci-fi. There were, for me, too many detailed battle scenes and these could have been cut without affecting the basic story, but I’m sure a lot of readers would be enthralled by the futuristic armour, weapons and strategies. A pair of ship captains are involved in policing drug running and riots – one stays with the ship while the other goes undercover. They want each other but the service doesn’t approve of involvement that might endanger missions. When one is caught by the drug lords and forcibly addicted the other agrees to a permanent empathetic bond to save his friend. The results are fascinating. An unusual and interesting novel.
19Oct P Love Song**** – Charlotte Bingham. This was a traditional romantic tragedy with a helping of hope at the end. It was, in some ways, over sentimental but it was beautifully written and interesting from a point of view of studying the writing technique. It follows the dissolution of a marriage and the growth of a new love, with sub-plots detailing the lives of the adolescent children. I thought the epilogue was unnecessary and the few things it told us about the future could have been worked into the body of the novel, but apart from that I found the story gripping and could only admire the execution. It was also wonderful to read a book that had no typos or other infelicities. Not my usual choice of reading matter but I enjoyed it.
23Oct Before the Frost*** – Henning Mankell. Another Wallander story – I picked up three at a charity stall. I didn’t enjoy this one much although the translation was slightly better (or the original writing was…). At the end of the previous book I read, Wallander’s daughter is about to join the police force, and this book is written from her point of view. I found her a less interesting and sympathetic character than her father, even though the case revolved around some of her friends. The plot grows out of the 1978 James Town massacre of the Christian sect led by Jim Jones but the beliefs of the supposed survivor are not well explained.
28Oct Anguished English** – Richard Lederer. A book of idiotic abuses and misuses of our language by students, politicians, newspaper headlines, etc. Something to dip into rather than to read at one sitting. I imagine that when it was first published readers split their sides laughing. The trouble is, so many of these readers have since shared their favourite quotations with the rest of us via ‘joke’ emails that the originals no longer raise a smile.
October in general… I have been reading some online zines, especially Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Each issue contains at least two short stories or a short story and the first (or second) part of a slightly longer one. From time to time the zine publishes an anthology of ‘the best of’. I loved the cover pictures and thought there would be plenty of sci-fi and fantasy. I was very disappointed in the contents. Most of the writing was pretentious and quasi-experimental. There seemed to be a ‘fashion’ for setting the stories in a pseudo-oriental world with the addition of magic. Altogether disappointing. I also read a couple of issues of Silver Shorts – free short stories by authors who publish with Silver Publishing, presumably intended to showcase and advertise their skills, and available to people who purchase from the publisher’s site. These were better, for the most part, than the Ceaseless Skies offerings, but were too short to appeal to me much – I like to get really into a story and settle down to enjoy it. The occasional ficlet can be entertaining but a diet of them left me feeling cheated.
I have also been spending a lot of time reading the stories in a fandom ‘big bang’ which is when writers and artists join to provide a diet of illustrated novellas spanning a month. As I was one of the authors I felt a need to check out the offerings of my fellow contributors and spent a great deal of October enjoying their work and entering into fandom discussion about it.
11Oct A Very Long Engagement**** – French film about a girl searching for her fiancé – she does not believe reports of his death in the first world war. Exquisite filming and direction, and some good acting, but the film was long, dark and quite depressing, with gruesome footage about the trenches, so I had mixed feelings about it. However, I had wanted to see it for ages, and am glad I eventually did.
19Oct Taken*** – Liam Neeson as a CIA operative rescuing his daughter from sex traffickers. I kept getting distracted (this was on TV) and followed the main story but never got truly involved.
23Oct Bride and Prejudice** – The Bollywood version of Pride and Prejudice. I have heard about this film for ages and finally rented it from LoveFilm. It crashed, twice, and the second time, I gave up, because I wasn’t particularly enjoying it anyway. I find musicals tend to bore me, Hollywood, Bollywood, or otherwise. The plot adaptation was clever, but didn’t live up to Miss Austen’s standards. The acting was mediocre. So I haven’t actually watched this film to the end, but I can imagine the ending because I know the original story so well.
25Oct Priscilla-Queen of the Desert*****- some excellent acting. Terence Stamp was amazing as Bernadette. I loved seeing parts of the Australian landscape again, and the plot was endearing. I had heard of this film but never seen it, and LoveFilm sent it quickly as compensation for the breakdown of Bride and Prejudice. I enjoyed it. I wish I had seen it before I saw the play Ladies Down Under at the theatre (which a friend produced) because I now realise that the play was in some senses a kind of homage to the film. I think the cross references would have been fun to recognise at the time. One thing I hadn’t known in advance was that the Priscilla of the title was a bus.
31Oct Going Postal*****. This is the third in the Terry Pratchett DVD trilogy of films my sister-in-law bought me last Christmas. I absolutely loved it and found it really exciting even though I have read the book and knew perfectly well that the hero was going to survive. Well, I thought I did, because of course Terry himself endorses these films. But it’s a measure of both the original story and the film version that the ending is truly gripping. The filming is superb, with wonderful attention to detail in both the locations and the ‘machinery’, and all the acting, from a host of well-known names, is great. David Suchet, for example, makes a fantastic villain, and Charles Dance is convincing as the enigmatic Lord Vetinari. Highly recommended, and one I will re-watch.