Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bouncer the dog and Maurice the cat are back again trying to keep their master, the Rev. F.O. Oughterard, out of trouble in Suzette A. Hill's book Bones in the Belfry, the second in the series featuring the characters. In the previous book, A Load of Old Bones, Rev. Oughterard was placed in a precarious position by a rather rash crime he committed. It was up to Bouncer and Maurice, who alternated telling the tale with the vicar, to keep him out of prison.

All of the characters are back in this version, with the vicar once again in hot water. Due to his fumbling attempts at covering up his crime in the last book, he'd had to call on an acquaintance from his past, the shifty Nicholas Ingaza, for an alibi. Nicholas complied, but felt that he was due something in return. This book begins with Nicholas depositing two large, hideously ugly paintings with the Reverend "for the time being." The two paintings are soon in the news as being very valuable and (naturally) stolen.

The Reverend must attempt to hide the paintings until they are claimed again. After a great struggle, they are deposited in the belfry, but the arrival of mystery novelist Maud Tubbly Pole puts an end to that hiding place. She wants a tour of the belfry as research for her upcoming novel. The Reverend then takes the paintings to his sister's house for safekeeping, but she is also an artist and ends up inadvertently donating one of the paintings to a charity event.

The rest of the novel is a narration of the Reverend desperately attempting to get the painting back, as well as offload them on Nicholas again as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the cat and dog do little more than narrate in this book. They do manage to head off another of Ms. Tubbly Pole's tour requests: to visit the site of the crime from the earlier novel. Other than that small service, however, they are relegated to spectators in this novel.

I preferred the first novel in the series, due to the dog and cat having more to do. This book had some comic episodes, but I felt it was a bit too outlandish in its resolution. Still, when you're reading a book featuring narration from a dog and a cat, I suppose you have to be prepared to suspend disbelief for a while.

Final Verdict for Bones in the Belfry: Two Gherkins, for being an enjoyable, if somewhat inferior sequel

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Don't you just hate it when you are out in the woods on a "team building exercise" and you inadvertently step in a bear trap? That will surely ruin your day. Bear traps are just one hazard that the employees of Palisade Defense encounter in the British horror film Severance.

The seven employees have been sent to a lodge somewhere in Eastern Europe (could be Hungary, could be Serbia) to engage in activities meant to improve their working relationship and productivity. The seven include a variety of stereotypical characters: the ineffective boss who's anxious not to offend; the druggy slacker; the hot blond chick; the nerdy uptight girl (who looks like a cross between Velma from Scooby-Doo and Sonia from Eastenders); the smarmy suckup, etc.

The group is going along in a bus toward the lodge when they are stopped by a tree across the road. There is a crossroad nearby, but the bus driver claims to have heard bad things about what goes on "down there" and refuses to take that road. The boss talks everyone into abandoning the bus and walking to the lodge on the "shortcut." Why, once they were on foot, they couldn't just climb over the tree and continue on to their final destination was not clear. Anyway, they eventually arrive at a run down building that they assume must be the lodge.

Things get weird the first night when smarmy-suckup-guy "finds" a pie and serves it up to his co-workers, one of which finds what appears to be a human tooth in his first bite. Things only get worse from there. During a team-building paintball exercise, one of the group encounters the bear trap, and things just get worse from there on out.

It seems there is a group of former mercenaries who have escaped being hunted down and killed by forces using equipment from our old friends Palisade Defense. Helpfully, the bus the group travels on had the big Palisade logo on the back, so the deranged killers have no problem identifying their next targets.

What makes this film a bit different from other horror films are the occasional flashes of humor and odd situations that occur. The film has been compared to Shaun of the Dead, and while not as good, it does have similarities. Several of the employees meet grisly ends, as do some attackers (how many of them were able to hide out in the woods, anyway?).

Overall, the film was enjoyable, if somewhat predictable. The gore wasn't terribly overdone and there were some giggles throughout.

Final Verdict for Severance: Three Gherkins, for being an amusing slasher-flick

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Jane Austen is in the news once again with new theories about the cause of her death. She and Edgar Allan Poe apparently were suffering from so many diseases that it's amazing they lived as long as they did! The latest theory is that poor Jane was done in by tuberculosis caught from cattle. Stranger things have happened, I suppose!

Jane Austen's characters remain a fertile ground for modern authors to manipulate. Who knew that zombies roamed the land in 19th century rural England? Poor Elizabeth Bennet had enough problems with her wild sisters, genteel poverty and uppity suitors without throwing in the added difficulties of zombie hoards roaming the countryside. Still, that is what she has to contend with in the imaginative novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.

The story of Lizzy Bennet and her four sisters remains the same (the elder sisters calm and in search of suitable marriage partners, the younger silly things in pursuit of flirtations with soldiers). In this instance, however, all have studied the "deadly arts" for many years in China under the tutelage of Master Liu. As their home area is overrun by a plague of zombies, their expertise in dispatching the unmentionables is frequently put into action.

At the same time, there are the social niceties of balls, visits and letter-writing to be attended to. Every social outing is fraught with the possibility of zombie attack, but Elizabeth is just as likely to attempt to decapitate non-zombies who annoy her. In this sense alone, there is a great improvement on the original novel -- the women of the book are literally more powerful than the men for once.

There are also the usual scandals and misunderstandings which result in lovers being united and parted in sometimes amusing ways. Poor, foolish Lydia is given a suitable punishment for disgracing the family by eloping with a soldier.

As amusing as the novel was, my favorite part came at the very end in the form of a "Reader's Discussion Guide." Those questions were hilarious! My favorite: "Some critics have suggested that the zombies represent the authors' views toward marriage -- an endless curse that sucks the life out of you and won't die. Do you agree . . . ?" All in all, the book was a very funny and enjoyable take on the beloved Jane Austen novel.

Final Verdict for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Four Gherkins, for being an amusing update on a classic novel

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

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