Tag Archives: friendship

Review: ‘Black Summer’ by M.W. Craven

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars, is charming, charismatic and a psychopath. He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found but Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I loved The Puppet Show‘ by M.W. Craven (you can check out my review here) and was dying to read ‘Black Summer‘. Thanks to the generosity of M.W. Craven, who I have been fortunate enough to interview twice this year, I got an advance copy of ‘Black Summer‘. 

I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ so much that I thought Craven had given himself a tough job in trying to top it but I shouldn’t have worried: ‘Black Summer‘ is an absolute triumph. As with the first Washington Poe novel, Craven evokes locations perfectly, using the beauty of the Lake District in contrast to the brutality of the crimes Poe is investigating.

The relationship between Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, his brilliant but socially awkward colleague, has progressed since the first book in the series as the pair continue to be an investigative dream team. Craven’s ability to balance drama with humour is testament to his skill as a writer. Bradshaw and Poe’s friendship often provides some light relief when things get really dark. 

One of the most impressive elements of ‘Black Summer‘ is the character of Jared Keaton who is one of the most repugnant villains I think I have ever encountered. The back and forth between Poe and Keaton is well-written with their conflict leading to Poe finding himself in a jam that may prove too difficult even for him to get out of . 

M.W. Craven’s Washington Poe series continues to get stronger. 

Vic x

2018 Review: Emma Whitehall

Today’s guest is Emma Whitehall, member of Elementary Writers and editor of ‘Sisterhood‘. Like many of our guests, Emma has had a rather eventful year but I’ll let her tell you all about it.

My thanks to Emma for her honesty and for taking the time to review her 2018.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
The first half of this year was dedicated to putting together Sisterhood, which is an anthology of fiction featuring some absolutely phenomenal women writers. I came up with the idea around this time last year – I wanted to celebrate female friendship, and put some good out into the world at the same time, and the idea hit me like a lightning bolt. I have to say, working on Sisterhood is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. So far, we’ve raised more than £300 for Newcastle Women’s Aid (a charity that helps women and children who are survivors of domestic abuse), and, on a personal note, I got to know nine truly wonderful, talented women, who have inspired me so much this year at times when I really wanted to throw in the towel. I am so, so proud of what we accomplished, and want to say thank you to all the girls – long live Elementary Sisterhood!  

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Anyone who knows me knows that the musical Hamilton has a very special place in my heart. For my birthday back in May, my mam and I travelled down to London to see the West End production, and it was incredible. I was sobbing before the first song was over, and essentially didn’t stop for nearly three hours. It was my first time in London, too! We did a little sightseeing the next day, and saw the city from the top of the London Eye, but being in the second row at a West End show, watching my favourite musical, was simply beyond compare. My mam was a good sport, too – seeing as she commented, about a month before we went down, that she “hates rap music”…

 Favourite book in 2018?
I also started a new job this year, working as a Bookseller at Waterstones, and one of the first books I read “for work” was The House With Chicken Legs, by Sophie Anderson. I hadn’t dipped into children’s fiction since I was a child myself, and this book rekindled my love of the genre. It’s a beautiful book, about a girl who is torn between following in her grandmother’s magical footsteps helping spirits pass on to the next life, and living a normal life on her own. I love it so much, and I was so happy to see it on the Blue Peter Book of the Year shortlist. Now, almost everything I read is “middle grade” fiction! 

Favourite film in 2018?
I’d have to go for The Shape of Water. A lot of the film was beauty for beauty’s sake, I thought – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. Plus, I love a strange, sad monster story – it’s all I write about!

Favourite song of the year?
This has been a year for fluffy pop on my Spotify playlist, if I’m being honest. My top two plays have been Cut to the Feeling by Carly Rae Jepsen, and Be Alright by Ariana Grande. I’ve had a lot of stress this year, and my usual crashing rock music or melodramatic Broadway numbers haven’t helped a lot – but both of these songs are light, happy, and leave me dancing, even just a little.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
This year has been non-stop, for me. I edited an anthology, changed jobs, nearly moved to London, and now I’m in the process of buying my first flat. I have to admit, this summer I had a very bad time with my anxiety. Luckily, I have some very good friends who set me on the right path when things were at their bleakest. Thanks to them, I went to counselling, made some tough choices, and I’m leaving the year feeling more positive. 

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
To be kind to myself. The main thing I took away from my counselling was that I’m not very good at that. So my main resolution for 2019 is to stop giving myself a hard time, accept compliments when I get them, and try to stick to the new thought patterns my counsellor taught me. 

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I want to do more with Sisterhood. I always said to the girls that I’d love it to become a regular publication, and to open submissions up to everyone who identifies as a woman. But, in the short term, I just want to get settled into my new home, and get it looking how I want it to. I get to have a study, and I can’t wait to have a special place just for writing!

Review: ‘Luke and Jon’ by Robert Williams

‘Luke and Jon’ is a heart-warming tale of Jon who, after the death of his mother, moves to a scruffy northern town with his almost entirely mute father who is drinking heavily. Jon meets Luke, a boy in 1950s clothes with a side parting and a twitch. The kids at school refer to Luke as “slackjaw”. Luke has a secret, though, and when Jon finds it out it changes everything for Jon and his dad.

‘Luke and Jon’ is a coming of age story about family, death, depression, friendship and redemption. Robert Williams’ debut novel is really impressively written and has a lot of heart. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, it’s heart warming and, at times, funny.

Shortlisted, rightfully, for several awards, ‘Luke and Jon’ won the Betty Trask Award – and rightfully so.

Vic x

Review: Bridesmaids

When I saw the critics calling this “the female Hangover” I thought it was just a buddy movie for girls. I didn’t realise it was literally going to be like ‘The Hangover’ with plenty of swearing, arguing and toilet humour. I should have known when I saw Judd Apatow’s name on the poster.

‘Bridesmaids’ focuses on Annie, a thirty-something singleton who is at a low point in her life since losing her dream bakery, her boyfriend and all of her savings. Annie shares an apartment with Matt Lucas and his crazy sister, resisting her mum’s advice to move home. Only her friendship with Lillian (played by Maya Rudolph) keeps her going. When Lillian gets engaged she asks Annie to be her maid of honour. Lilian also has her sister-in-law-to-be (the best character in the film), two other friends and her fiance’s boss’s wife – Rose Byrne plays Helen – as bridesmaids.

What follows is a silly but funny, and scarily accurate portrayal of female relationships. Helen and Annie are clearly jealous of each other’s friendship with Lillian but have to spend a lot of time together in the run-up to the wedding. Helen is rich and vain with connections Annie could only dream of. Helen gets the girls into a bridal shop without an appointment, books tickets for a hen do to Las Vegas and overrules Annie at every turn.

Throughout this, Annie is still trying to put her life together, doing a crappy job, seeing a bloke who doesn’t respect her, flirting with a guy who is so much nicer (The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd) and being evicted but Lillian isn’t around to talk to.

These set-ups provide some genuinely funny and sad moments. I personally enjoyed the jokes that involved less vulgarity but that’s personal choice. I was surrounded in the cinema by women crying with laughter. What I liked about ‘Bridesmaids’ was that it was so realistic in its portrayal of women and their relationships with each other. We’ve all known a Helen and have often felt like Annie. We do have bodily functions, swear and have sex. It’s silly and sentimental – so are we.

This film will not only apply to women but also men, no mean feat.

Vic x