No Cats Allowed

18 May

“No Cats Allowed” is the seventh ‘Cat in the Stacks’ mystery by Miranda James.  Seven books in, and each one just gets better.

The university at Athena library has a new interim director, Oscar Reilly, a nasty bit of work who even the mild mannered Charlie Harris dislikes intensely, when he tries to get Diesel banned from the campus.

When Oscar is found murdered, there is no shortage of suspects.  But Charlie is incredulous when his childhood friend, Melba, becomes a serious suspect.  Charlie has to clear Melba’s name, and find the true culprit, before someone decides he should follow Oscar into death.

An excellent read that fairly bounces along.  Well plotted and entertaining.  We get to see a lot more of Melba in this one.  Alas, there is very little Stewart Dellacorte, but he and his boyfriend Haskell Bates are there when it counts.  Looks like Haskell may become a bigger character in future books.

I cannot recommend this book, or indeed, this series, highly enough.

Shakespeare Live

8 May

I went to the cinema yesterday to see “Shakespeare Live”.  The RSC homage to the Bard on the 400th anniversary of his death.

A friend of mine saw it back in April and commented that it was very much like the curate’s egg.  I pretty much have to agree with her.  It was good in parts, mediocre in some, and downright terrible in others.

However, good, bad, and mediocre are subjective, so I’ll just dwell on the parts I truly loved and leave it to others to make their own minds up.

In my view it was an inspired choice to have the production hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate, who were the RSC’s most popular Benedick and Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing”.  They work well together and were obviously enjoying themselves.

Catherine did the “Seven Ages of Man” speech, which worked very well.

Dame Judi Dench made a wonderful Titania from “A Midsummers Night’s Dream”.  I love the fact that the RSC will not be bound by convention.

Sanjiv Bhaskar and Meera Syal gave wonderful performances as Benedick and Beatrice from “Much Ado About Nothing”.  I would love to see them in a production of the play.

Roger Allam’s performance of Lear’s ‘blow winds’ speech was powerful.  Roger is constantly under-rated as an actor.  He has one of the most glorious voices.

Some of the music was very good too.  Rufus Wainwright has put some of the Sonnets to music.  The one he sang was beautiful to listen to.  I shall have to see if it is available on CD.  It is something I would listen to for sure.  Alison Moyet provided music to Shakespeare’s song “Sigh No More”, which was hauntingly beautiful.

For me, and I suspect, for many others, was the ‘To be or not to be’ sketch.  A young actor begins to declaim the speech only to be interrupted by other actors trying to instruct him how to do it.  Starting with the very funny Tim Minchin.  Benedict Cumberbatch’s entrance during this sketch was greeted with massive applause.  Tim Minchin’s confusing him with Eddie Redmayne was hilarious (“I loved you as the Danish girl”).  David Tennant, Ian McKellen and others all adding their ten cents worth.  But the high point was Prince Charles appearing on stage to declaim the first two lines of the speech.  Brilliantly done.

All in all, “Shakespeare Live” was a fitting tribute to the man who has given the English speaking world so much.


The Beauty in the Beast

1 May

Hugh Warwick has a unique concept: “gateway species”, species which people form an attachment to, and then forge an attachment with nature in general.  For Hugh (and for myself) this species was the hedgehog.

In “The Beauty in the Beast” Hugh goes looking for people with a deep attachment to their “gateway species”, and in doing so meets a variety of charming and eccentric individuals, and gets up close and personal with many different English creatures.

For Hugh, the idea was to find another creature who delighted him as much as the hedgehog does, and that creature would be immortalized as a tattoo on his leg…to go with the hedgehog one he already had.

The book provides an enchanting look at various British creatures, and also the people who now dedicate their lives to them.

There are sections on otters, dragonflies, water voles, bats, badgers, and many more.

“The Beauty in the Beast” is both enchanting and depressing, because you cannot write about wild creatures without writing about their rapidly shrinking habitat and the attitudes of both governments and big business… ie…they couldn’t give a stuff, in most cases.

I came away from the book with a desire to know more about water voles, and a desire to see them in the wild, if at all possible.

And no, I won’t be getting a tattoo.

In the Dark

26 Apr

“In the Dark” is a stand alone thriller by Mark Billingham.  Except it really isn’t.  The main character is DC Helen Weeks, who becomes a major character in the Tom Thorne series later on.  I love the fact Mr Billingham created a character he felt was too good to only use once.

Helen is heavily pregnant when her partner goes out on a night out to farewell a retiring fellow police officer and is killed by a car at a bus stop, when the car is shot at by gang members.

But is everything what is seems?  Confused and grieving, Helen’s cop sensors still pick up that something is wrong.  She sets out to find out the truth.

Meanwhile, a young man, who happened to fire the shots into the car, finds his world collapsing around him.

Eventually their paths cross as “In the Dark” twists its way towards it’s finale.

I admit to feeling a little let down by the penultimate chapter, but it did not detract from making the book a powerful and absorbing read.

Like the majority of Mark Billingham’s books, “In the Dark” is set in London, giving added pleasure for Londonphiles like myself.

Highly recommended.

Walk the Lines

25 Apr

I took my first ride on the Underground when I visited London last year, and promptly fell in love with it, so “Walk the Lines” caught my eye when it came up on my recommendations on the Good Reads site.

Mark Mason’s book, “Walk the Lines: The London Underground, Overground” is a walking tour of all the lines above ground.  Some took three days to traverse on foot!

This book is a wonderful homage and love letter to the Underground system, and London in general.

There is so much marvelous trivia in this book on people and places, that it is the sort of book you keep to dip into again and again.

It will also be a memory jogger for those who have visited or lived in London.  Mark Mason paused to drink at a pub near the hotel that I stayed at last year.  Being able to visualize the scene made it that much more enjoyable to read.

A rare five stars from me, and this book now sits snugly among my permanent collection of books for future re-reading.  I can see me re-reading both before and after every London trip.

Highly recommended.

The Day They Met

19 Apr

Wendy C. Fries pondered the concept that the friendship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson is something that would exist across time.  That it was something that was meant to be.  So she sat down and wrote 50 short stories of how these two friends could possibly meet which was published as “Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: The Day They Met”.

The ways of meeting are many, varied, and deeply entertaining.

From John Watson finding Sherlock Holmes asleep in a morgue drawer, to meeting whilst Watson performed first aid on Lestrade, the book is packed with wonderful, entertaining, and, above all, believable alternate meetings.

Wendy C. Fries is well known in the Sherlock fan fiction world as Atlin Merrick, so trust me, this lady can write!

“The Day They Met” is a  charming little book which should delight all Sherlockians of all ages.

From The Dead

17 Apr

“From the Dead” by Mark Billingham is an excellent British crime novel.

In DI Tom Thorne, Mark Billingham has created a detective as interesting and as readable as Ian Rankin’s Rebus, or Peter Robinson’s Banks.

The Tom Thorne books are mostly set in London, for those who like their reading in familiar locales.

In “From the Dead” a woman who has served ten years for conspiring to murder her husband is released from prison.  Then someone starts sending her photos of her husband… her still very much alive, husband.

From that point onwards the book becomes a roller-coaster ride of action and murder.

This book has, quite frankly, more twists than a corkscrew!

Fantastic read.  Highly recommended.


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