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.
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.
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…
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.
Diary of an Accidental Witch by Perdita & Honor Cargill; ill. Katie Saunders (Little Tiger, 2021) A witchy school adventure in the ‘Wimpy Kid’ style, double-spaced and peppered with illustrations and marginalia. Bea Black’s mishaps skirt the edge of being too cringey to read, but the vivacious narration and her fatalistic fortitude combine to carry the reader through.
Grantchester, Series 1 (ITV, 2014) Post-war period drama with an arresting cast and impressive production values. The focus on societal issues carries the day, though the leads forge their relationship rather too quickly and the relatively short episode length (45 mins) holds the show short of greatness.
The Clubhouse Mystery by Erika McGann (O’Brien, 2017); audiobook read by Aoife McMahon (Bolinda, 2020) A lively introduction to Irish primary-school detectives Cass and the Bubble Street Gang. Cass is an optimistic, self-centred fantasist whose gung-ho, take-charge leadership comes zestily through in the first-person narrative (and especially in McMahon’s audiobook reading). The mystery is slight but age-appropriate.
Melleron’s Magic ill. Steve Hutton (Oxford University Press, 2000) While Melleron’s monster friends are quite memorable, Melleron himself has precious little personality or agency. The fantasy setting lacks depth and development. The villainous magician and his hench-monsters evince evil without motivation. A lacklustre offering from a writer capable of much more.