Category Archives: Brenda & Effie

Hell’s Belles – Paul Magrs

I ummed and ahhhed about if I should post about the fourth in Paul Magrs Brenda & Effie series ‘Hell’s Belles’ because as some of you will know Paul has become a firm friend (and a fabulous coffee and charity shopping partner for days out) alongside a fellow founding member of The Green Carnation Prize. However, I hope that you would all know that regardless of knowing an author I would be truthful about how I felt about any book that I read of theirs, slightly more dangerous now I am open to the idea of negative reviews. There, that feels better. I was actually a fan of the Brenda and Effie series way before I knew Paul and in fact it was a feature on the two ladies in question and him I did for the magazine I work for that led us to contacting each other, I seem to remember us both laughing a lot during the phone interview. It was interesting then that when I took ‘Hell’s Belles’ with me to the hospital recently that I got a bit nervous. What if I didn’t like it?

The seaside town of Whitby is welcoming some mysterious new arrivals both unknown and infamous as ‘Hell’s Belles’ opens. First there is Penny, arriving for a receptionist job a job at the Miramar hotel as a newly found all year round Goth and quite possibly escaping something. Second is the cult horror b-movie actress Karla Sorensen, arriving to remake the movie ‘Get Thee Inside Me, Satan’ which caused shock back in the 1960’s when various members of the crew and the viewing public for its limited cinema run seemed to become cursed. After the arrival of these two women, and a miraculously appearing DVD copy of ‘Get Thee Inside Me, Satan’ in the Save The Kiddies charity shop, things start to get a little stranger in Whitby and soon the unlikely and rather odd duo Brenda and Effie must investigate and see if they can save Whitby from the supernatural, including a bit of time travelling as they go, once more.

Meanwhile as the main plot unfolds we also have several other minor ones that interweave it, and might explain a few things, such as Brenda’s other best friend Roberts new mysterious fella, Brenda’s rather monsterous husband, lots of past secrets (like how Karla and Brenda have met before) and a few surprising love affairs kicking off. There is a lot going on in this book, the longest of the series so far, yet it never feels over done or trying too hard, nor does it get complicated and have you at your wits end.

Not that you need to read the rest of the series to enjoy this one, in fact actually I think this book is probably the most standalone in the series after the first ‘Never The Bride’. There’s no massive recap at the start, things from the past are nicely woven in as we go along. Not that this will bore readers who have read and loved the series so far either as Magrs tells them  through Effie’s or Robert’s reminiscing (Brenda doesn’t appear until page fifty which interestingly I really noticed, this book comes alive when both women are at the helm) this worked rather nicely showing the different dynamics between the characters and their friendships rather quickly all through newcomer Penny’s eyes and the gossip she hears as she becomes accustomed to the new bizarre haven she has found herself in.

I can’t give anything further away about the book but it had a lot more twists and turns as the tale develops, stories that had been bubbling away in the past books (along with characters like Mrs Claus of the Christmas Hotel) seemed to come much to the for yet without stealing the limelight. In fact I actually couldn’t believe how much I was starting to like Mrs Claus who up until now I had rather enjoyed loathing. It’s the way that Mr Magrs writes characters. In fact be they goodies or baddies, new faces or old friends, they all make you want to read more. Its the characters in both dramatic points and random very normal moments that add to the books charm. You might be ‘agog’ when evil things happen, yet its scenes like Brenda and Effie watching, erm, titillating old horror b-movies over cheesecake, Brenda rather excitedly and Effie rather snappily shocked, or Effie falling out with the local charity shop women, are become the scenes that stay with you for quite some time.

It’s the slight gossipy and often campy nature of ‘Hell’s Belles’ along with being reunited with Brenda and Effie and all the other wonderful characters that makes it so readable. I love how it’s cosy, spooky, funny and thrilling all at once. I also really liked the fact that just when you think you might know all the skeletons in the cupboards of Brenda’s B&B and Effie’s antique shop another one comes and takes you by surprise, again illuminating just how unusual these two wonderful women are, and often in the most funny and enjoyable of ways. It shows that this series has endless possibilities and I am excited about the next one, though I will be savouring reading it as I have nearly caught up with them all now. 8.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publishers, you can see my other Brenda and Effie thoughts here.

So who else has had an adventure with Brenda and Effie and what did you think? Which other spooky series would you recommend I pop in my reading path at some point? Do you know of any other books set in Whitby (apart from ‘Dracula’ or ‘The Whitby Witches’ both I have read), as I am off there later in the year for something a bit special and would like a Whitby based tale to take along?

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Filed under Brenda & Effie, Headline Review, Paul Magrs, Review

Conjugal Rites – Paul Magrs

I decided in the lead up to Halloween that rather than read a ‘chilling tale’, I would wait for that on the actual night and instead in the lead up to All Hallows Eve I would read something with a supernatural rather than spooky theme to it instead. Now if you mix a good helping of the supernatural, a few scares, two old ladies, the town of Whitby, lots of mystery and some camp adventure what do you get? Why, the Brenda & Effie mysteries of course.

Conjugal Rites is the third in the Brenda and Effie series though author Paul Magrs manages to make all the books intertwine and yet they can be stand alone books so you could read them in any order. Brenda and Effie live in the seaside town of Whitby, which of course is famous for its supernatural tales such as Dracula. Magrs captures the town wonderfully with all its cobbled streets and touristy hot spots. Amongst all this though lie tales of the supernatural which B&B owning Brenda and Antiquities Shop owner Effie are the unlikely heroines who have been given the task of protecting Whitby from the perils that lurk in the night, and indeed the day.

In this instalment both our elderly heroines have to face their pasts which come back to haunt them (excuse the pun) as it were. One of Brenda’s ex’s Frank turns up making her face her past and literally drags her through hell, whiles Effie faces up to her family past in order to save Brenda along with their delightful sidekick Robert. Though there is a main plot what I also love about this series is every book does actually have several small sub-plots running through them that all accumulates in the end. With wonderful, though evil, characters such as Mrs Claus who owns the Christmas Hotel where every night is Christmas eve and every day is Christmas) I don’t know who could failed to be won over by this series its just marvellous.

Being the third in the series though I am trying not to give too much away even though they are stand alone if you do want to start from the very first one and then go onto the second one before this there are a few secrets I could giveaway that might lessen the fun as you start from the beginning. Was that me slightly over complicating things then? If you love a good plot, or even a few of them, quirky characters including two brilliant leading ladies, lots of laughter and something a bit dark then I think these books would be right up your alley.

I have noticed Paul has started a blog so if you want to find out even more you can go there. There is also one of his other non-supernatural books I have looming on my TBR that this has reminded me I simply must read. It’s called Exchange and it’s about a young man called Simon who along with his Gran has a voracious appetite for books and reading which leads them onto adventures and mysteries. Does that remind you of anyone? Ha!    

For actual Halloween I will be reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson which I will share my thoughts with when am back from Manchester. What are you going to be reading by candlelight/torchlight/on the sofa with all the lights on this Halloween?

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Something Borrowed – Paul Magrs

One of my favourite books as a youth was The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis and indeed the rest of the Whitby series; it was always The Whitby Witches that I returned to again and again however. It was a book that I could get totally lost in, a book set in the here and now (well back then the early nineties) that just happened to be full of magic and mysteries all before the Harry Potter phenomenon. Now about fifteen years later in my adult hood I have found a series that as an adult makes me want to turn off the rest of the world and revel in the magic and mysteries of Whitby alongside some wonderful ‘investigative’ old ladies.

Something Borrowed is Paul Magrs second foray into the world of Brenda and Effie who are two of the most delightful characters to go on a journey of almost 400 pages with. Brenda, not quite considered an outsider by the town but by no means a local yet, runs a B&B in Whitby next door to Effie and her Antique’s Shop. These two unlikely friends like nothing more than morning tea’s, gossiping and investigating all the mysteries of Whitby and its locals; also known as sticking their noses into other peoples business. It’s ironic in some ways that both of them love to find out all the secret going on in everyone else’s lives when they go to great lengths to hide their less than normal and mysterious pasts.

We follow the duo not long after all the going on in their debut outing ‘Never The Bride’ the following spring. It appears that all the mysterious and magical things in Whitby have gone to rest until someone starts sending people poison pen letters, and this person seems to know everything about the villagers with the most secrets to hide including Brenda. There is also the matter of Jessie who, until she became the living dead, was one of Effie’s very few friends and now seems to be intent on striking terror into those in Whitby she doesn’t try and eat. Plus there is a blast from Brenda’s past as Henry a professor of Icelandic history turns up to add more mayhem to the mixture.

I do have two teeny tiny niggles with this book and they would be that the chapters are very long, each on in a way is like a short story that all comes together near the end which is wonderful I am just a short chapter person. I still raced through this though you simply cannot help yourself it’s just so readable and so well paced. The other thing would be that while I absolutely loved reading more of Brenda’s back story there was less of Robert and his high drama and also less of Effie and her slightly prickly awkwardness that I had come to love so much in the previous book. These are two very, very minor niggles though and only come because I love Magrs’ characters so much. Mind you there is a third instalment ‘Conjugal Rites’ already out with the fourth following in the autumn so I cant complain as I will be getting my fix of these wonderful characters and all the delightful and dark goings on in Whitby twice more this year.

As you can probably tell I absolutely loved this and in a world where books such as Twilight (which after reading the first is a series I am avoiding like the plague) doing so well, I think people should be reading wonderful supernatural mystery romps like this instead. Books that are both plot and character led and that make you laugh along the way whilst being taken into the macabre. I do need to add that two separate scenes in this book actually properly scared me as I was reading in bed of a night, seriously. Now if any f you are sat there thinking ‘I don’t like sci-fi, supernatural or fantasy’ neither do I normally, well bar the supernatural stuff as a complete Most Haunted addict, but this book is also comical and looks at villagers and their secrets with a splash of the bizarre and I promise thats a concoction that can’t go wrong! If you haven’t started this series of wonderful books then I advise you to do so pronto.

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Never The Bride – Paul Magrs

After my difficult times through Twilight earlier in the month I hadn’t planned on reading any fiction that had any spooky goings on for a while. However I will be doing an interview in February with Paul Magrs and so the people at Headline sent me the ‘Brenda and Effie’ series as it stands so far as the latest ‘Conjugal Rites’ is out in Paperback in March and me being me I cant read things if its not in order so I decided after ‘The Spare Room’ I would give this a go as the reviews seemed to all be calling t a black comedy, just my humour and just needed after the subject of the last stupendous book. This was the perfect read and I have to say as this year comes to a close I am finding it harder to choose my favourite books of the year as right now I am reading so much (on the whole) that I completely love.

Brenda runs a B&B in Whitby, she has chosen the location for its peace and quiet and also as somewhere to finally settle along with her best friend Effie she spends various afternoons having tea or having a nice night out together. They also love a gossip and they also love a good nosey into mysterious happenings which seem to be happening a lot more often in Whitby.

Why does everyone come from ‘The Deadly Boutique’ looking several years younger but also growing oddly smaller? Who are the strange Green Family who come and stay with Brenda and have an odd look about them? Who is the new mysterious Mr Alucard? What is really going on at The Christmas Hotel with its scarily sweet owner? In what could be a collection of short stories you are taken on an adventure each time with Brenda and Effie as they bumble along like two slightly warped Miss Marple’s, a character I adore.

Having read some other reviews which said the book was ‘like living in parallel Whitby where demons and vampires live with the locals’ or ‘totally for Goths’ or ‘surreal sci-fi’ my thoughts are ‘no, no, no’. Do not let these reviews put you off as they might have done me. This book shouldn’t be pigeonholed into genres its simply fantastical story telling where spooky goings on happen in a sleepy sea side tourist trap. I wanted to move their instantly and be having afternoon teas with Brenda and Effie straight away.

Magrs has created two brilliant heroines. Brenda is nosey and investigative but kind and thoughtful which balances out Effie’s slightly cynical and misunderstanding nature. Both of them, though Brenda far more so, also have very dark pasts and as the book develops you slowly find out more and more about the two women and the skeletons in their cupboards.

I absolutely loved this as you can probably tell. I didn’t think it was like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in book for I thought it was a wonderful tale about two nosey women, their friendship and what happens when things start to go bump in the night. If you loved Willis Hall, Robin Jarvis or even The Brothers Grim as a youngster then you will love this book as someone older. Or if like me you love Most Haunted, there is a brilliant similar show in the book with hilarious outcomes or anything of a spooky nature. This book has thrills, spills, spooks and a good sprinkling of laughter thrown in. Perfect!

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Filed under Books of 2008, Brenda & Effie, Headline Review, Paul Magrs, Review