Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review 2011 #8 - Paul Magrs' Never the Bride

Never the Bride (Brenda and Effie Book 1) by Paul Magrs
Book Provided by Headline Publishing
Published by: Headline Publishing
Publication Date: 2006
Format: Paperback, 280 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Brenda has decided that after her long long life it's time for some peace and quiet in the small northern seaside town of Witby, famed for Dracula's ship, the Demeter, crashing into its harbor. While the town does have many B and B's, Brenda sets out to make hers the friendliest and cleanliest for a few select guests. Settling down has always been the last thing on her mind in a life of tumult and late night escapes, but she has a nice routine and a best friend, Effie, her neighbor next door who runs a junk shop filled with centuries of family ephemera. Days are spent cleaning and making her home nice, going out for tea and dinners with Effie, and quietly getting on with life, something the bride of Frankenstein never thought possible. Yet Brenda realizes it is too good to last when during one of her and Effie's outings, their regular waitress at The Christmas Hotel, Jessie, is literally 20 years younger. She has gone to a new boutique in town and the years have just been taken away. Brenda's years of being surrounded by the strange and peculiar means she knows that this "Deadly Boutique" has to be up to something, and her feisty new friend Effie is all for investigating. The boutique though is only one of many strange occurrences. Aliens, vampires, every manner of supernatural goings on start to happen, and they all seem to have one thing in common, Brenda.

For quite awhile now I've had two books by Paul Magrs on my "to_get" shelf on goodreads (I've also oddly had one of them on the shelf nearest my computer tower that I just recently rediscovered). Never the Bride and 666 Charing Cross Road intrigued me, yet not being in print here I was at the whims of someone selling a copy to a used bookstore or biting the bullet and paying the shipping charges from overseas. I met Paul this past fall at TeslaCon and realized that these books needed to be bumped up the list. Paul is an engaging reader. Sometimes authors get up to read their work and it falls flat. You aren't drawn into the world. I was instantly drawn into the world of Brenda and Effie as the characters took him over. During the weekend I got to know Paul a little, attending his readings and Q and A's, hanging out at the hotel's bar. 

We're now facebook friends and he put me in touch with his publicist to wrangle me a few of his books for my blog here, yeah. I was instantly over the moon and filled with dread. Here is someone I had met who I genuinely liked but had yet to read his work. What if it was awful? What if he asked me how I liked it? What if I had to break it to him that I hated a book with characters so dear to his heart? It's a constant fear of reviewers, or at least a fear of this reviewer. What if you get too close to your subject? What if you form some alliance or tentative friendship that can't withstand the truth? Because I will always tell the truth. I can't lie. As an artist I have learned to take harsh criticism, and it has made me better at what I do, so therefore I'm not trying to be mean, I'm trying to make you better. Sadly it's easier to write about a bad book than a good one, but when it's someone you like and admire, you feel bad that you didn't like it. I've even once or twice hesitated to even publish my review because the book was so bad and the author someone I so admired, yet I still published my review for all to read. Because in the end, the truth will out. As you've probably surmised because this book is on my top ten reads for 2011 that all my fears where unjustified in this case. Whew.

The book combines so many of my favorite things into one book it's instantly a series I must now devour. Never the Bride is set up like an old fashioned chap book, with each chapter dealing with a different crisis that has arisen. Just like the different guests that stay at Brenda's B and B, each chapter is a cozy little mystery that while solved by chapters end, adds a little more to the books overall story arc. I like cozy little mysteries. There's something comforting about them, but then, sometimes they are formulaic. I think by adding in a few vampires, aliens and characters from Gothic literature, that Paul has smashed the formulae and made something new. It's like Mapp and Lucia for the supernatural set. Buffy for retirees. Being Human, but just a little more mature. In fact I can totally see this as a series with Geraldine James as Brenda and perhaps Annette Crosbie as Effie.

At different points in the book I was sad that the chapter was ending, because, the characters being guests, would leave, and leave me a little sad. The family of aliens that Brenda harbors where so sweet and so well developed they didn't devolve into the horror of cliche, Simon Pegg's atrocious Paul anyone? Because I'm sure the first time I said this book had aliens, you kind of cringed a little, as I myself did. Aliens and Neanderthals (Australopithecus to be exact) don't usually seamlessly fit into fantastical fiction, I'm sure the Neanderthal episode of Buffy wasn't your favorite, aside from adding "Beer foamy" to you quotes; and you sometimes end up with the mess that Jasper Fforde has gotten himself into with his Thursday Next books where you just don't care anymore. But here each character is created with such loving detail that no matter how much you think this might be too much or too far, it isn't. It's just perfect. I instantly felt that these fictional characters where in fact my friends and can't wait to visit them again and again. If only I could stay at Brenda's B and B sometime... and not just in my dreams.

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