The Barren Author, Series 1 by Paul Birch (Spiteful Puppet, 2021) Freewheeling, frothy and irreverent. Richard O’Brien puts in a bravura performance as Baron Munchausen, Rudolf Erich Raspe’s famous teller of tall tales—updated here by way of Paul Birch’s outrageous script and unleashed upon the 21st Century. Sophie Aldred offers well-pitched support.
Doctor Who: Nekromanteia by Austen Atkinson (Big Finish, 2003) A potentially mind-blowing SF concept that’s skirted around for too long and rushed through at the end. Atkinson manages some adept characterisation on a micro level, but this is undercut by cackling stereotypes and dolloped tropes of corporate greed, betrayal and comeuppance.
The Land Before Avocado: Journeys in a Lost Australia by Richard Glover (ABC Books, 2018); audiobook read by the author (Bolinda, 2018) Part personal recollection, part assiduous research, Glover delivers a time capsule of Australian social history for the years 1975-1985. Though the material itself is fascinating, and tragicomic in a ‘truth as satire’ way, the delivery suffers whenever Glover…
Des dir. Lewis Arnold (ITV, 2020) A three-part miniseries about 1980s serial killer Dennis Nilsen, played by David Tennant. The production remains true to life and derives its impact from Nilsen’s acute emotional remove—an unsettling detachment rendered darker still by his harangues in favour of due process.
The Hippo at the End of the Hall by Helen Cooper (David Fickling Books, 2017) A straightforward middle-grade story, copiously illustrated, of hope rediscovered and museum exhibits come to life. The fantasy element is sweet enough—the animals’ personalities are brought out in Cooper’s line drawings—but the book’s greatest strength is Ben’s relationship with his mother.
Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin (Arena, 2009) Kalin’s fantasy debut carries an inherent realism and explores questions of self-worth and female circumscription within a genre that often casts such considerations to the wayside. There are no easy answers here, no glorified notions of integrity. Matilde’s strength lies in surviving.
Never and Forever by Cressida Cowell (Hodder, 2020); audiobook read by David Tennant (Bolinda, 2021) The finale of Cowell’s Wizards of Once series proves both cathartically climactic and something of a let-down, the extended codas drawing attention to a bloated cast of characters and the padding these provide. Nonetheless, a rousing MG adventure, elevated in audiobook form.
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart (Orbit, 2020); audiobook read by Natalie Naudus, Feodor Chin & Emily Woo Zeller (Hachette, 2020) Stewart’s world-building has a certain intrigue (the shifting archipelago setting is a pleasing point of difference), yet the concept of bone-shard magic, which one might expect to drive the plot, proves mostly a curiosity shunted aside in favour…
When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (Thomas Dunne, 2016) Young adult magic realism so steeped in wonder as to be almost a fairy tale. McLemore crafts a rich, sad tale of gender identities, fears and prejudices; of self-determination. Dreamlike imagery hangs thick, leaving little breathing room for a more traditional narrative.
The Future Diary by Katsuhiko Takayama, dir. Naoto Hosoda (2011-2012) A potentially intriguing anime with Death Note pretensions but an unhealthy fixation on graphic violence, sexual assault and titillation via the transgression of social mores. The protagonist is flaccid and the central premise falls by the wayside until a late, confused flurry.