Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Week 6: Eye Contact vs Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion

Airship300 Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion is published by Wizard’s Tower Press who also produced the tribute Colinthology. They are a curious publisher who specialise in science fiction and fantasy but don’t want submissions and won’t read them if you send any. This isn’t the only reason they have become a firm favourite, they are also very friendly and are big fans of the south west.

The short stories in the current Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall edited work are Bristolian from title to end. The title is a play on the phrase ‘shipshape and Bristol fashion’, a term dating from 1840 when talking about the treachorous port of Bristol. Its very high tidal range of 13m meant that if things weren’t tied down they would end up overboard.

Not only is the time period fitting to these stories but their genre seems surprisingly apt. “Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century.” It all makes for a very respectful tribute to this city. The following quotation from the introduction says it quite nicely:

Take a walk around Bristol, and history seeps from the walls. The city can claim more than its fair share of firsts, including the first iron-hulled steamship, the first female doctor, the first chocolate bar and the first use of nitrous oxide as an anaesthetic, the invention of the Plimsoll line, the first undersea telegraph cable, the world’s first test tube baby and the first transplant organ grown from stem cells, and a large share of the world’s first supersonic airliner. Now, from this fertile ground comes an anthology charting other realities and alternate histories, in a collection as rich and varied as the true history of this great British city.

— Gareth L. Powell

“Not bad for a little city” said Bristol Culture editor, Martin Booth,  when I read the above to him and he would add that Bristol is where Ribena was invented too.

Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion doesn’t shy away from the less glamorous aspects of the city such as its slavery connections and the tobacco industry but all is included in a rich Bristol setting.

Two excellent stories from its collection are Joanne Hall’s Brass and Bone which is based in Clifton and touches on the use of the Suspension Bridge in both folklore and local awareness.

The Girl with Red Hair, by Myfanwy Rodman is written so beautifully and hauntingly while making sure to use Bristol to its most picturesque best, never losing sight of its story. Not all the stories are as strong but all are true to their setting.

eyecontact Eye Contact by Fergus McNeill on the other hand is a debut novel published by the same company that has published Stephen King. They are big and they have money to spare. McNeill’s work is about a serial killer whose method of choosing victims is in the title.

It starts on Severn Beach with a body and then begins from the serial killer’s perspective in Clifton. There is a subtitle in parentheses – DI Harland Book I and it has a sequel, published in 2013, with its follow-up title DI Harland Book II.

As all slickly published and promoted books, these days, there is a trailer.

Eye Contact is set in Bristol but it has no love of the city. At least none more than a passing acquaintance because of the fact that it is set here. Clifton Down, Whiteladies and Starbucks feature prominently in the beginning and even after a walk up to the Clifton Observatory, and the obligatory mention of the Suspension Bridge there is no sense that these characters are part of their setting.

Clifton is an obvious choice of a setting for tourists and casual Bristolians but when a character in Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion visits a pawnbroker on Hobbs Lane then you know you’re reading someone who knows their city.

Eye Contact could be set anywhere without the story changing. The depth of the characters doesn’t go far enough to touch anything more than a curiosity about the plot. The writing is smooth, it’s slick and it’s glib. If you like Peter James then you’ll like Fergus McNeill, and if you love Jeffrey Archer then you’re in for a treat.

For the purposes of this tournament however, there is only one choice for the work that is shipshape and Bristol fashion and it’s the collection of short stories which references many airships. Not bad for a little publisher, who certainly outshone Hodder & Stoughton on this occasion.

Stuff everyone should know from Quirk Publishing

There is a quirky little series from Quirk publishers, of Worst-case-scenario handbooks fame,  made up of small and short books that tell you all about stuff you should know. Dad’s learn how to get rid of monsters from children’s bedrooms; Women learn all the jokes they should ever know. There is stuff for husbands, dads, men, moms and I’ve already written about being a woman and recipes for men.

Most of them are very likeable and readable, packaged in hardback and pocket-sized. The Jokes Every Woman Should Know however is filled with old smutty jokes that are mostly about sex. Editor Jennifer Worrick really missed a trick in finding some fresh and innovative material from so many brilliant women comedians.

Insults Every Man Should Know spends three pages in its introduction talking about masturbation. Not a highlight but the rest isn’t too bad.

My favourite is Stuff Every Mom Should Know and the advice ranges from how to deal with unsolicited advice to getting rid of lice.

Here’s a useful tip to prevent lice: create or purchase a solution of pure peppermint or tea tree oil mixed with water at a ratio of five drops of essential oil to one cup of water. Spritz this mixture onto your children’s hair, hats, coats and backpacks to prevent infestation. This spray will repel lice and is useful to have on hand when you are notified that your child has been exposed.

Received for review from Quirk Publishing.

Extra tip*:

How to rid a room of monsters

– Perform a thorough search. Follow your child’s lead, since he’s the one who’s been pondering the likeliest monster hiding spots. Use a flashlight to search under the bed, inside the closet, and behind the furniture. See, no monsters!

Make up a story. Tell your child that only nice monsters live in your house and their names are George and Kitty.

Mix up a monster-repellant spray. Solicit your child’s help in gathering ingredients, such as water and a variety of spices. Pour them into a spray bottle. Walk around the room, spritzing under the bed, inside the closet and behind the furniture.

Introduce a guardian. Offer him a new stuffed animal, doll, or toy that has been empowered to protect children from monsters. If he’s still unconvinced, heap on the hype. Explain that this protector has been passed through three generations of children who all grew up safe and sound.

* For Nick

With Liberty and Justice for some, Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a hard-hitting, lawyer turned blogger who has recently signed up with the Guardian after leaving his writing platform of Salon. He has been described as excellent by the liberal-media critics Medialens and regarded with much defensiveness by already established journalists.

In With Liberty and Justice For Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful, Greenwald takes on the effectively two-tiered US legal system which leads to elites facing no repercussions to the most extreme of law breaking while those of society who are the poorest and most powerless are ever increasingly and more harshly subject to incarceration and the full brunt of the law.

He begins by contemplating the type of society the founding fathers of the United States wanted, by tracing the principles of the constitution – equality before the law for all citizens and especially in order to subject those in power – and then contrasts this with the practises of the US governments in recent years.

The wire tapping practices which while blatantly illegal saw no one convicted and even had legislation passed to retroactively protect the perpetrators.

There is the Iran contra scandal and the conviction against the United States for arming Nicaraguan guerillas which was simply ignored.

There was the illegal war in Iraq; the torture which was widely admitted but which saw no one in a position of power convicted; and the use of arbitrary and secret extra-judicial killings by Obama: the infamous kill list. (see this brilliant Gawker video where a journalist asks Democratic delegates whether they would trust Romney with the kill list).

There is also an examination of the prison industry and Obama’s failure to prosecute Bush’s crimes.

“To date, Obama has succeeded in blocking and suppressing virtually every investigation into Bush crimes, whether by congressional committees, courts, international tribunals, or even internal executive branch inquiries.”

This is a thorough and motivating read as Greenwald’s anger gives it a vibrant tone. I had to put it down* a few times when the examples were so repugnant that it was hard to comprehend the type of society the United States have become. Some of the more heartbreaking points were statistics about people being jailed for life for small crimes. One person’s life destroyed, just like that, by an unfair system.

You can find Glenn Greenwald on Twitter


*figuratively speaking as I was reading an ebook on my Kindle app on my phone

Dead Wood, Dani Amore

I’ve probably read worse books in my life but I can’t recall any being quite this terrible. Dead wood is half the size of normal novels and is only available on Kindle. It’s the first murder mystery in the John Rocken series. Rocken is a private investigator who was dismissed from the police force after six months and is now married with two children.

I can’t really tell if the plot is interesting because the writing is so bad. There is a constant attempt at humour which reads like second-hand script outtakes stolen from cancelled series on TV. There is a huge amount of description where it isn’t needed. Amore has a horrible habit of telling the reader every thought and assumption she thinks her protagonist is having and making.

There are inconsistencies within paragraphs of each other like Rocken’s friend Nate who he has known since he was a ‘chubby little kid’ but we later find out has been since high school. Clarence Barr is Rocken’s client but he is introduced to us as Marshall Dillon.

The characters are at best two-dimensional and it’s all tell and very little show. There’s a bizarre parallel character referred to only as the Spook who is even less solid as the rest of them. He has a love for guitars and the case Rocken has taken on is about a murdered woman who used to make very high quality hand-crafted guitars. Cue an interlude about a singer and her entourage, then a boat, a lighthouse, bizarre twins and an attempted rape scene of the PI.

I skim read the last half. It was worse than the first part.

Amore has written more books available only on Kindle. Avoid.