on 19 April 2009
I've read` pretty much everything Paul Magrs has written and loved all of it but I am beginning to think that the Brenda and Effie series could end up being thebooks he is most fondly remembered for - though I hope to get to read much, much more of his work and am prepared to be proven wrong!
Magrs takes the seaside town of Whitby, installs Brenda the most mysterious landlady since Mrs Madrigal and sits back as we are taken on a Gothic romp via magic realism. It's a hoot! I sat and read the book in almost one sitting and then turned to the first page and read it, more slowly again. Each creepy character leaps out from the page and you are left wondering who Brenda is and of course wanting more.
More there is! Personally I'd buy books two and three now so you don't have to wait for the second one to arrive - you'll be kicking yourself if you don't.
on 31 May 2010
Set in Whitby (famous as the North Yorkshire seaside town where the ship carrying dracula's coffin was washed ashore in Bram Stoker's Dracula) 'Never the bride' has as its main characters two mature ladies: Brenda and her good friend Effie. Effie runs the ramshackle family junk store which has more than its fair share of disturbing items in the attic. To the untrained eye, Brenda is simply a lady of a certain age running a B&B just like any other. But Brenda had led a VERY colourful past, one that she hopes will leave her in peace now.
But the thick fog drifting in from the sea is hiding quite a few unsavoury goings-on in Whitby, and wherever the two women go, trouble is never far behind. As well as the two main characters, there is a cast of oddballs - each one camper and more sinister than the last. I LOVED it!
Paul Magrs has managed to combine elements that the reader is familiar with in a way that they haven't considered before. He's taken the theme of elderly curtain-twitching/sleuthing ladies and put a very funny gothic twist on it - think Miss Marple meets Horror Hammer meets The League of Gentlemen. Having said that this book isn't easy to compare to others. Just one of the things that makes it so fantastic.
I have to say I don't usually read horror fiction, but Brenda and Effie are so well drawn that you simply can't help but get pulled into their adventures. I thought they were wonderful and their antics so entertaining, you'll be rooting for them right from the beginning.
And do you know what the best thing about Brenda and Effis is? This is a series!!! Four novels have been published so far with the fifth coming out in October this year. I am so tempted to just devour the second one right away but I won't. No, I am going to try and show some restraint - for once in my life!
on 5 February 2009
First up: I read this AFTER Something Borrowed because I didn't realise that it was a sequel. I thought it was unusual that the main characteors would make casual reference to incidents that had happened previously, as if the reader should know about them. Of coure I should, but I didn't. Never mind.
This book is imaginative, clever, witty and on occcasion, quite insightful. You can feel the charactor develope as the book progresses, and from my perspective of being one book ahead, I could see it all pulling towards the sequel. An odd but interesting way to go about reading.
There are a few short stories woven into this book in the form of the early adventures of these two women(?) but they are nicely interlaced with the book as a whole so you feel that you are getting several short books in one, but properly meshed.
I definietly recommend this book, but even more so the sequel, Something Borrowed, which to my tastes was even better.
on 17 February 2011
This book is a delicious mix, a blend of the Ladies Detective Agency and a gothic comedy. I flew through it in a few days because it was so easy to read also just a lot of really good fun. The book is split up into several smaller connected stories featuring the adventures of the mysterious Brenda and her friend Effie. Magrs has picked a wonderful location for such a weird and sometimes spooky story and he uses it to its full, with many a nod to its associations in literature.
My favourite character has to be Brenda. She is a fascinating woman and wonderfully written as a very lonely and tragic figure who has lived for a long time and accomplished so many wild things it would probably make Hugh Heffner jealous. But now she's much older and she wants a quiet life. And most of all she just wants to be left alone and not noticed by anyone because there is much that is unusual about her. I won't spoil the surprise, although you can probably guess from the synopsis above, but once her real identity is known you realise there is so much to play with and so many areas that could be explored. The story does dip into the past on occasion as Brenda reminisces on her birth and some of her more interesting encounters, but in the main, the narrative is very much set in the present. Even without her unique history Brenda reminds me of many women I've seen and met; mature women who have a no nonsense approach to life. They've seen it all and nothing shocks them anymore. She is tough and outspoken and takes no prisoners, making her the perfect person to tackle the supernatural and the unpleasant happenings in Whitby. She is Buffy as a tough old biddy, if you like.
She treats people as individuals and judges them by their actions not what others tell her, making her someone we should all aspire to be. There are subtle messages about minorities and treating everyone as equal, but I never felt the author's voice intrude as Brenda is a unique and used to being an outsider. Perhaps it Brenda's attitude that makes the incredible easier to swallow and the fact that the setting is very ordinary and where the highlight of the main character's day could be a pie and peas dinner.
Every other character in the book, from Brenda's apparently plain and nosey neighbour and friend Effie, to the waitress at the local hotel, feel incredibly real. Throughout the course of the story all sorts of secrets are revealed about them and gradually all of the stories and characters criss-cross until you feel as if you know the town and all of the people. Some of these secrets are spectacular and others more mundane, but the message was clear to me. All of us have secrets but also our first impressions of people can often be hasty and it can take months or even years before you really know someone.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that despite some of the hairier and darker moments in the story it is extremely funny. The mundane meets the magical and sometimes the latter is promptly told to sit down, shut up and wait its turn. There is also a very funny pastiche of a well known TV show where they visit supposedly haunted houses and a medium attempts to speak to the dead. This is the sort of show where they film everything in the dark on night vision so it appears green and white and zoom right up peoples noses. Where they play spooky music and get themselves worked up by nothing more than their active imagination, as week after week they apparently encounter spirits. But like so many things in this book, nothing is what it appears to be on the surface.
I am very happy to say Never the Bride is the first book in a series and without giving anything away, it very effectively establishes the landscape for the future, and it leaves a few plot threads dangling on the larger story to be picked up later. This is a wonderful, entertaining and enjoyable book and I absolutely will be picking up the next ones, and I think Paul Magrs has created something unique and rather special.
on 22 March 2010
Bride: "A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her" - Ambrose Bierce
Part of what marked Paul Magrs' "Doctor Who" books out from the tie-in herd is the plethora of ideas which seemed to pour out from his head onto the page, with one insanely wonderful concept following the next like a series of bright marbles thudding down a wooden staircase. Glass men and cardboard UNIT captains tumble after mutating gila monsters and time splicing pinking shears; manipulative power-mad poodles bound alongside fantastically-endowed Robins, the Queen of Spring and Tom Baker-shaped sex robots; and a TARDIS in the shape of a double decker bus putters down behind the lot of them, a gin-soaked old harpy at the wheel.
On the other hand, in the non-Who world Magrs started off writing 'traditional' magic realist novels. Interesting and imaginative ones, as well written as you would expect, but in certain ways deliberately limited by their chosen form. It was only in Who that he appeared to really let rip and in doing so created work which you really can't imagine anyone else doing.
With his previous novel, "To the Devil - a Diva" Magrs began to bring more of the style of his Who novels into his mainstream work, but it's only in "Never the Bride" that a wholly successful mix has been achieved.
There are obvious similarities between the two novels and in some ways "To the Devil" can be seen as a rehearsal for "Never the Bride" - specifically in that both novels use the tropes and trappings of horror movies to weave a truly fantastic tale set in contemporary England.
It's an interesting point, actually - for Magrs to write this kind of book, he needs something to play with, something to roll between his fingers, mutate and subvert. In these two novels, Magrs utilised the long history of respectively, the Hammer and Universal horror film collections and gently tweaked their tails while creating something altogether new from the base material.
There is still a leavening of the grittiness of his early novels, which is all to the good (the depiction of the submerged loneliness of the two leads is particularly well done), but "Never the Bride" isn't a 'literary' novel in the sense that, say, his earlier "Could it be Magic?" was. This is a piece of work informed by the visual not written media, where the creations of James Whale and Tod Browning, not Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, come flocking to Joss Whedon's Hellmouth - only to be confronted not by the petite Sarah Michelle Gellar, but by Elsa Lanchester as the 'monsterous' Bride of Frankenstein.
Or Brenda the B&B Lady as he's known to her friends in Whitby.
Which is the point at which "To the Devil" and "Never the Bride" deviate. "To the Devil" has been described, pretty unfairly, as a "Harry Potter parody for naughty big boys" - it's a lazy comparison, but it is fair to say that To the Devil could easily be made into a big-screen extravaganza in the Potter mould, filled with visual spectacle and colourful set-pieces. The characters remain true to their reassuringly recognisable roots - Karla is a Hammer queen in the mould of Ingrid Pitt, Lance is the archetypal soap star and so on - and the urban Manchester and flashback evacuee settings are ones which viewers might expect and which they are likely to be comfortable with, and the Wheatley-esque elements provide a cinema-friendly frisson of the occult.
"Never the Bride", on the other hand, could only be filmed if Tim Burton or David Lynch wanted to do it as a TV series. It's set in a small old-fashioned town, there's a plethora of monsters, the good guys and bad guys are not who you might initially expect and swap places now and again, the novel ends with a ton of loose ends and the story line is really a set of linked short stories rather than a linear threaded narrative. It's very clear that this is a deliberate ploy by the author - each chapter is a different self-contained episode with the entire novel as a season arc, as Brenda and Effie bustle about town investigating sinister goings-on and bitching about their neighbours, as though Mapp and Lucia had become friends and turned detective. Affectionate nods to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Most Haunted and Twin Peaks serve to cement the feeling of a TV series in prose.
It's beautifully paced and enormously well-written, with some absolute killer lines - and it's got more ideas in it than a dozen JK Rowling books.
Paul Magrs has created his own universe in which to play and, as readers, we can only be happy.
on 31 October 2014
Three Cheers for Paul Magrs.
Sometimes a book comes along that sticks with you – and a dinner party conversation had me blushing that I’d read and enjoyed this book but never reviewed it as a vote of ‘thanks’ on Amazon. ‘Never the Bride’ by Paul Magrs is one of those books – light , witty, dark, wildly imaginative but totally plausible and full of surreal characters that are strangely…real.
Take Brenda and Effie – two elderly women living in Whitby – well I’m not going to give the game away but any book with the a character called Stella Manchu gets five stars from me even before the off. Add to that the loathsome Mrs Christmas in her motorised wheelchair, Effie’s odd ancestry and the fact that Brenda is at least two hundred years old and a holiday by the sea may never be the same again.
The whole point of an improbable story is its plausibility and that’s the skill of a master story-teller, creating clearly drawn characters that have a distinct voice lifting them beyond the stereotype of two potty old women and into a world where they just might actually exist. True some of the situations get a little side tracked by a couple of sub-stories but to be honest I was too hooked to care.
And if ‘Never the Bride’ wasn’t riches enough Paul Magrs has also given us ‘Something Borrowed’ and ‘Conjugal Rites’. None of them will change your life, unless you rank reading with a smile on your face a life-changing experience – well maybe we all should?
on 12 August 2010
This is the first in the on-going Brenda series, and introduces us to the central character, a woman of mysterious provenance with hands of different shapes and feet of different sizes. After a lifetime of wandering, she has finally decided to settle down and open a Bed & Breakfast in Whitby. Next door, her best friend Effie has a second hand shop stocking everything from lamps to recondite tomes of ancient lore. As we soon discover, all is not well in Whitby. For one thing, the sinister and smarmy Mr Danby has just opened The Deadly Boutique where women can have the years quite literally taken away. Then there's Brenda's guests, the distinctly odd Green family, and the private eye on their trail. And is Mrs Claus, the large lady who runs the Christmas Hotel, really as vicious as she seems? While investigating these and other mysteries, Brenda and Effie will encounter sinister elves, frozen corpses, and ancient keepers of forbidden lore, and will even have to take part in a cable TV ghost-hunting show, before the dénouement at the celebrated ruined Abbey.
The book is more a collection of long short stories, five in all, rather than a novel, although all the strands come together very nicely at the end. Brenda is an interesting character, if not an entirely original creation. The story whips along at a good pace, raising questions about the characters and the plot while simultaneously dropping in clues along the way. The suspense is cleverly maintained, and while it is true that there are some clichés, others are neatly avoided. Whitby is an obvious place in which to set sinister tales and, if the author is not entirely successful in bringing the place to life, he does succeed in bringing some local colour and enough detail for the reader's imagination to do the rest. Whilst it's not entirely clear what age-range the book is meant for, I think there is enough here to entertain readers of any age. This is the first book in a series, with the fifth due shortly, and I aim to be along for the ride.
on 12 April 2010
Never the Bride is the first in the Brenda and Effie series by Paul Magrs. The books are set in Gothic Whitby, the sea-side town with the rolling mists and tales of vampires.
Brenda runs a Bed and Breakfast whilst her best friend Effie lives just next door where she runs a cluttered junk shop. All sounds pretty normal doesn't it? Don't be fooled, Brenda is hiding a terrible past, she knows that she will soon have to explain the intricate scars covering her body and the fact that she doesn't appear to age.
Never the Bride introduces us to these two women's wonderful friendship. They are quite happy going for quiet walks and sharing fish and chip suppers so it comes as quite a surprise to them that the gateway to Hell is situated in Whitby and they are the chosen guardians.
I instantly fell in love with the characters of Brenda and Effie. These two ladies take everything in their stride, from murder to martians and vampires. Paul Magrs offers his readers such an original story set in the beautifully atmospheric Whitby with it's dark alleys and age-old myths.
Never the Bride is full of dark, witty humour and I found myself completely carried away with the story. It's so exciting to find a new series of books to read and I can't wait to start the next one.
on 13 December 2015
One of my favorite things about this book is the protagonist, normally in books our leading lady is young and beautiful but never knows how beautiful she is! Brenda on the other hand is elderly and kick ass she describes herself as never having been beautiful and shes so much more relatable than the tired over done young beautiful female protagonists we usually get in books. Shes easily one of my favorite characters of all time.
Every character in the book is well written and incredibly likable except for when they're not meant to be likable such as the owner of the Christmas Hotel. I loved this book for the delightful romp it was, I'm not personally a fan of chick lit so finding something to read which doesn't ask too much of your brain can be slightly more difficult but this ticks every box for me and I couldn't ask for more from a book.
Set in Whitby, Yorkshire this delightful book takes you to visit such wonderful characters as Mrs Claus and her drugged elves at the Christmas hotel, Aliens, Dracula himself and of course the wonderful Effie - Brenda's closest friend and last in a long line of witches.
If you enjoy weird books then you'll love this, wrapped in mythology and unforgettable characters you'll never want to put it down so make sure you have books 2 and 3 waiting for when you finish up this one.
on 14 July 2006
If Tim Burton ever makes a book into TV show, this would be a fantastic choice. It's a quirky, whimsical fantasy which draws heavily from the `classic horror' genre. Our heroine is a sort of patchwork Miss Marple with a terrible past. In Whitby (of course it would be Whitby), she owns a B&B and stumbles onto one monstrous villain after another. The main character and her witchy neighbour/best friend are endearingly spooky/crabby old ladies, and I enjoyed their adventures a great deal. The setting is a sort of alternate reality in which many of the classic sci-fi and horror stories such as War of the Worlds and Dracula actually happened, yet most facets of modern life remain unchanged. There's a lot of scope in that for future plots!
Each chapter has a sort of episodic feel, yet none of the plot lines is completely resolved by the end--we're left a bit wanting. This ending is the reason I'm giving it 4 stars--one of the plot devices was a tiny bit derivative of Buffy, which I found a bit disappointing, and none of the mysteries that we saw along the way was worked out completely satisfactorily.
Still, the fact that we are left hanging means that we'll get to read more about our two supernatural old dears, and so I'm already excitedly awaiting the next book! I would recommend this book to fans of Charlaine Harris, M.C. Beaton, Gregory Maguire, or Jasper Fforde.