Kung Fu, Season 1 (The CW, 2021) Inspired by the 1970s series but featuring an almost exclusively Asian American cast (headed by younger actors, elevated by old hands Vanessa Kai, Kheng Hua Tan and Tzi Ma). The generational family drama dovetails nicely with Nicky’s mystic kung fu quest arc.
Return of the Jedi Annual by Archie Goodwin (Marvel, 1983) A 62-page graphic novelisation, drawn with moody backgrounds and an occasionally lurid palette. The story is a bit rushed once it reaches Endor, but for the most part this is an exciting, faithful retelling and a boon prior to home media release.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle dir. Matthew Vaughn (2017) A film that isn’t sure whether to be James Bond or Austin Powers, and comes off as an inferior version of both. A few over-the-top action sequences (to music) hint at Vaughn’s aspirations; others involve CGI so cartoonish as to be laughable.
The Famous 5 and the Golden Galleon by Serge Rosenzweig & Bernard Dufossé (Hodder and Stoughton, 1983) A dirty drawing style in which Julian and Anne look rather too similar, as do Dick and George, and all four children have been modelled on Mick Jagger. The adventure is a typical Famous Five romp, only with frequent bouts of fisticuffs.
My Life in Dire Straits by John Illsley (Bantam, 2021) An engaging autobiography. Illsley has an easy writing style and a good sense of pace, laying down his life story like he would a bass line. His pre-band experiences and the early years of Dire Straits carry a real sense of history.
Martha Mayhem and the Witch from the Ditch by Joanne Owen (Bonnier Zaffre, 2016); audiobook read by Amy Enticknap (Bolinda, 2017) A breezy adventure for young readers. The characters are silly, and Martha is stoic and happy-go-lucky in dealing with the troubles that beset her. However, the story is very much a moment-to-moment construction and the unremitting stream of alliteration…
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Delacorte, 2009); audiobook read by Jilly Bond (Magna, 2010) A cosy adult mystery featuring plucky, precocious 11-year-old Flavia de Luce. Flavia has character to burn, and in the audiobook is marvellously portrayed by Jilly Bond. However, the mystery itself is rather laborious and the story evinces almost no sense…
Wilberforce and the Blue Cave by Leslie Coleman; ill. John Laing (Blackie and Son, 1974 / Hamlyn, 1977) An innocent chapter book adventure weakened by several allusions far above the reading level, and by the rampant proliferation of stereotypes. The humorous appeal seems predicated on the fact that Wilberforce and friends perform everyday acts (unfolding maps, etc.) while living underwater.
The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars; ill. Ted CoConis (Viking, 1970 / Puffin, 1981) A simple, almost innocuous story, lent narrative power by its non-pandering depiction of character. Charlie, who is mentally disabled, appears likely to be the focus, yet it is his 14-year-old sister Sara whose adolescent problems are lent perspective when Charlie goes missing.
Making Millions by Erika McGann (O’Brien, 2017); audiobook read by Aoife McMahon (Bolinda, 2020) The Bubble Street Gang’s second adventure features plenty of personality but no real mystery (beyond the funny, blatantly spurious ‘invisible boy’). Cass’s wilful obliviousness is more than a trifle over-the-top, her schemes almost distressingly flawed. McMahon’s reading once again elevates the text.