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25th Jul, 2016

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Book Log 45/2016 - Karen Tuft: The Earl's Betrothal

Earls BetrothalA damaged hero. A beautiful heroine who has no expectations because of her lowly birth. A good hearted family. This book has a typical Regency romance, but also shows the returning soldier with a case of PTSD after happenings at Badajoz in the Peninsular War.

Amelia Clarke, destitute daughter of a deceased country vicar, has (through the good offices of the aunt of her late mother's school friend) taken up the position of paid companion to a kindly lady whose two sons are dead and whose husband is at death's door. And then the younger son, Anthony, not dead after all, turns up on the doorstep having left Wellington's army following his wounding at the brutal seige of Badajoz. There's much rejoicing, but Anthony's scars are more than physical and he's barely holding it together, especially since his older brother's death has left him the heir and now his perilously ill father is pressing him to marry and produce the required 'heir and a spare'.

Despite the obvious growing attraction, Amelia knows that Anthony is out of her reach, until something happens that makes her situation both exciting and untenable.

Being able to guess how something will end doesn't necessarily spoil the enjoyment of finding out how the characters get there. There's a nice double twist regarding Amelia's humble origins and a surprising way for Anthony to expunge his demons.

Sadly I don't think the cover does this a lot of favours.

22nd Jul, 2016

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Book Log 44/2016 - Georgette Heyer: The Quiet Gentleman

Quiet GentlemanNot my favourite Heyer by any means, but still worth reading. Gervase Frant, having been estranged from his father for most of his life inherits the earldom, much to the chagrin of his younger half-brother, Martin, and his father’s second wife, an annoyingly boring dowager with barely two brain cells to rub together. He’s in the army (just after Waterloo) and waits a year to resign and go home – home being a rambling old castle in Lincolnshire – and is met with barely concealed hostility from his stepmother and half-brother, though welcomed by his amiable cousin, Theo, who stewards the earl’s holdings exceedingly well. Soon after Gervase’ old army friend arrives and there ensues some rivalry for the hand of Marianne whom Martin considered to be ‘his’, though Marianne has other ideas. After a couple of suspicious accidents it becomes obvious that someone is trying to murder Gervase. Suspicion naturally falls on the hot-headed and ill-tempered Martin, but there is no proof. This isn’t so much a whodunit as a who’s-trying-to-do-it. Gervase figures it out with the help of Miss Morville, a guest at the castle and a young woman possessed of a great deal of solid common sense, though, sadly, not looks. The romance in this Regency romance, is downplayed in favour of the attempted murder plot, but it’s sweet all the same, even though we don’t get to see much of it from inside the character’s heads. The heroine is stoically intelligent and her parents (who have raised her to be solidly republican) are amusing. So why isn’t it one of my favourites? Perhaps because the main viewpoint characters are heavily male the conversations are somewhat verbose and a little stiff at times. Yes, I know, that’s Heyer all over, but this took a little chewing through in the early chapters and only picked up pace towards the end. Also Ms Heyer doesn’t reveal much of what’s in her characters’ heads, so we’re locked out of Gervase’s thought processes, simply to make the end reveal a surprise.

20th Jul, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Ghostbusters

GhostbustersThis week has been busy at the cinema and because we know we'll be seeing Star Trek next week, we did two consecutive days at the movies this week with Tarzan and Ghistbusters (and we still haven't seen 'Now You See Me 2').

So... Ghostbusters.

A remake with plenty of nods in the direction of the original movie. This Ghostbusters has an all-female team with Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones sitting easily in the lead roles. (I don't always like Melissa McCarthy in movies, but I did here.) Two physicists, an engineer and a native New Yorker are pitted against creepy Rowan (Neil Casey) and a hoard of vengeful ghosts. There's a lot here that's familiar (proton packs and slime) and a lot of nods to the original movie including cameo appearances by all the major (surviving) stars.

It's good-hearted and downright funny in places with plenty of euwww-slime moments. In itself that's not enough to sustain the humour, but Chris Hemsworth, playing against type as the dumb beefcake receptionist (Clark Kent strippogram!) who can barely answer the phone adds charm. In fact he gives a very creditable performance.

Expect lots of pop-culture references as the ladies 'go for the ghoulies' and enjoy this movie for what it is - a summer popcorn flick. It's never going to replace the original and it certainly can't deliver any real surprises, but it was a fun way to spend Wednesday afternoon and - hey - the cinema has air conditioning! Sit through the credits, because there's an easter-egg right at the end.
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Movie of the Week: X-Men Apocalypse

X-men ApocalypseFor some reason I missed blogging this back in May, so in the interests of providing a full and complete record, here it is, now, except...errr... it's a couple of months since I saw it and...it hasn't left much of a lasting impression. So that says something for starters. What does stand out is an interesting personal story for Eric (Magneto) who is incogneto Magneto working in a factory in Poland. When his wife and daughter are killed it turns him to the dark side (oops wrong movie, but you know what I mean). Michael Fassbender is once again, top-notch as Magneto. We also get to see the transition of Xavier from hirsute to egg-head. I still can't quite get my head around James McAvoy as a young Patrick Stewart, but - hey - that's my problem, not his. It was nice to see Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones) kicking arse as a young Jean Grey and Evan Peters did a decent turn at Quicksilver.

Apocalypse is a god-like entity, not an event, BTW, and it takes all the X-Men working together to stop him. There are a few twists and turns along the way, but any more an that would be a spoiler. What the movie gains in action it generally loses in characterisation. This followed on from the other X-Men prequels but it falls into the more-of-the-same-but -different category. There was nothng earth-shatteringly new in here.
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Movie of the Week: The Legend of Tarzan

TarzanJohn Clayton (Alexander Skarsgard) is settled in England, married to Jane and seems to be well adjusted coinsidering he grew up wild in the jungle. Backstory in interspersed with the ongoing film plot which revolves around Belgian agent, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz - everyone's favourite villain lately) luring Clayton back to Africa to the tribal chief who wants to kill him. Accompanied by American George Washington Williams (Samuel L Jackson), the Claytons soon discover a wicked plot to enslave the whole of the Congo for its diamonds and ivory.

Sadly Skarsgard is muscular but unremarkable, and Samuel L Jackson seems out of place as the token representitive of the American government, though Margot Robbie impresses prettily as Jane. There are some strange editing leaps. Journeys that are not only over in a flash, but are chopped out altogether leaving logic holes. This is more noticeable towards the end of the movie, as if they're trying to reduce screen time - though it didn't seem overly long even at 1 hr 50 mins. There are some action sequences athat are so impossible they are more reminicent of animation than live action.
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Book Log 43/2016 - Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric & the Shaman – Penric & Desemona #2

Penric & the ShamanThe second Penric novella, picking up Penric’s story after he’s been trained and installed as a Divine of the Bastard’s Order, and a Sorceror, in the religious house of the princess archdivine in Martensbridge. Penric rides (or is ridden by) a demon, Desdemona who has already inhabited many other divines in her long relationship with humans, so Pen not only had the demon personality breaking through his own, but also the other divines Des had inhabited. It gives him skills and powers he can call on when he needs to, but the other personalities also pop up when he doesn’t always want them.

Called away from his task of making woodcuts of the Temple’s books (magically) Pen is sent on a mission to retrieve Inglis, a rogue shaman wanted for murder. His companion (apart from the ever present Desdemona) is Senior Locator Oswyl, a man who takes his duties very seriously. Pen and Oswyl don’t really see eye to eye. Oswyl follows his head and Pen follows his heart. When the shaman is found their troubles are only just beginning. Set in the world of the Five Gods (like The Curse of Chalion) theology is a practical discipline, not just a theoretical one.
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Book Log 42/2016 - Eileen Putman: The Dastardly Duke

Dastardly DukeI guess the author is American because we didn’t have lynx and bobcats in British woodland in the Regency period. Neither did we eat ‘biscuits’ for breakfast. I recommend Ms Putnam reads: Susanne Alleyn: Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders to remind her that a little fact checking is better than making assumptions.

OK that’s got that out of the way. That apart, the rest of it works well. The book is fun. The Duke of Claridge takes a bet and must take a street wench and turn her into a society lady. (Yes, one of those stories.) The difference here is that his street wench, Hannah Gregory, is not quite what she seems. She is a lady but has fallen on hard times due to the fact that she’s profoundly deaf. It adds another dimension to what might otherwise be a Regency re-tread of My Fair Lady (or Pygmalion).
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Book Log 41/2016 - Alexandra Bracken: The Passenger

PassengerEtta Spencer is an up-and-coming concert violinist about to make her debut in New York when her world is turned upside down. She fluffs her performance because of a strange sound and then, following it, trips over the corpse of her beloved teacher and then is shoved down a time tunnel ending up in seventeen hundred and something on a sailing ship heading for America with a bitchy young woman (the one who pushed her) and a mixed-race young sailor, Nicholas. (Plus a piratical crew.)

It turns out that Etta is one of the great time-travelling families, but her mother, rather than training her, has left her in complete ignorance. The head of the Ironwood Family has kidnapped Etta's mother back in the present, and unless Etta retrieves a hugely valuable and powerful astrolabe for him her mother will die.

Etta and Nicholas go hurtling off through time tunnels. It's a story of love, intrigue and adventure. Officially this is aimed at the Children's market but it doesn't much feel like a children's book. It's at least YA/New Adult.

I did enjoy this except... except... I hated the ending. In fact it didn't have an ending. It simply stopped. I felt completely let down. This broke the implicit contract between author and reader in that I was looking for a resolution which was absent. It may be a cunning trick to get me to buy the next book, but it was such an abrupt cut-off that all it did was to leave me feeling extremely let down. I don't mind a few loose ends to tease me into reading the sequel, but I do want some kind of resolution at the end of the book.
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Movie of the Week: Independence Day - Resurgence

Independence Day ResurgenceQuite by chance I saw the original Independence day on TV just a few days before going to see Resurgence at the cinema, so I had the original movie firmly fixed in my brain with it's starry ensemble cast. Very pleased to see most of that cast reprising their roles. i can only speculate that Will Smith didn't want to play himself twenty years on, but everyone else aged relkatively gracefully, especially Goldblum and Pullman.

For anyone who'd had their head in the sand the original Independence Day saw our heroes fighting off all powerful alens by blowing up the mother ship from the inside in a suicide mission that didn't kill off the heroes. Now, a generation down the line mankind had been scavenging and using alien tech in an effort to beat them at their own game next time. Of course, Resurgence is the story of Next Time. The aliens are back, and they've had twenty years to get ready, too.

This time our hotshot heroes are the next generation, sons of the original heroes: Liam Hemsworth (Gale in the Hunger Games and brother of Chris) acquits himself well as Jake Morrison, the young pilot who has a problem with authority and Jessie T Usher as Dylan Hiller, the golden boy of flight school, son of the character played by Will Smith in the original. Jeff Goldblum reprises David Levinson, the scientist who is now in charge of preparing for the next time and Judd Hirsch, once again the comic relief, is his aging father. Brent Spiner reprises Dr Okun (no it appears he wasn't killed in the original; he's been in a coma for 20 years).

There are absolutely no surprises. This is pure hokum, but it's entertaining hokum. Don't expect any Oscar nominations for this one.

23rd Jun, 2016

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Book Log 40/2016 - Peter S Beagle: Summerlong

SummerlongA beautifully written allegorical tale set in the Pacific North West of the USA. Abe, a retired history professor who plays harmonica and writes his book has a long term relationship with Joanna Delvecchio, a senior airline stewardess, with four years to go to the end of her career, and with Jo's often troubled daughter, Lily, who has a series of failed lesbian relationships behind her. They've all been together for twenty years, though they each maintain a separate household, Lily and Del on the mainland, Abe on Gardner, one of the many islands in Puget Sound.

Life is predictable until the arrival of the unlikely sounding Lioness Lazos, a quiet but charismatic waitress at Abe's local diner. Whatever it is that causes Abe and Del to brefriend the newcomer spins its gentle effect wherever she treads. The island seems to be undergoing a perfect summer, flowers bloom where no flowers should be, orcas dance offshore and gradually the lives of three people are irrevocably changed. Who is Lioness and what, or who is she running from?

Saying more than that would give away the twist, but suffice it to say it's a retelling of a very old story.  This is a gentle tale with a bittersweet ending - slightly more bitter than sweet.

I received this as an uncorrected proof review copy from Netgalley

21st Jun, 2016

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Book Log 39/2016 - Lisa Tuttle: The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief

Somnabulist and the psychic thiefThis is a detective story with a supernatural theme. Miss Lane, having left her previous job as companion to a psychic investigator (who turns out to be a fraud) ends up falling into the job of assisting Jasper Jesperson, a Sherlock Holmsian type of consulting detective. It’s all very proper as the household is managed by Mrs Jesperson, Jasper’s formidable mother. Clients are not exactly falling over themselves to employ Jesperson and Lane and the rent is due, but they take on a seemingly simple job to discover where a somnambulist goes when he sleepwalks. Things get complicated when this crosses over with a mystery which brings Miss Lane back into contact with her previous partner. Someone is kidnapping psychics and the police don’t seem very interested in finding out who. Naturally it’s a job for Jesperson and Lane.

I found myself liking the characters. Miss Lane (she hates her name Aphrodite) is intelligent and proactive without ever stepping out of the character of a Victorian lady while Mr Jesperson is hugely talented, though has an enormously high opinion of himself which takes a while to justify. I’m not a natural reader of Victorian detective fiction, though the supernatural elements appealed. To be honest, though it’s extremely well written, I found this a little slow at times, especially in the first half. Ms Tuttle tries for the Victorian voice, and succeeds, but that does mean that everything is very polite and steady; slightly stiff, in fact. It does, however, warm up in the second half as the mystery deepens. I would guess, that this is setting up a series for Jesperson and Lane. Recommended for lovers of detective fiction and the Victorian era.

I received this as a review copy via Netgalley
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Book Log 34/2016 - Jodi Taylor: No Time Like the Past - Chronicles of St Mary’s #5

No Time Like the pastOut of sequence because somehow i forgot to enter this in my booklog at the right time...

It’s the aftermath of the battle with the Time Police, but everything is settling down until Dr Bairstow announces that there’s going to be a fundraising open day and St Mary’s acquires a ghost that only Markham can see. Max confronts Isabella Barclay (almost disastrously) and finally makes a commitment. About time too.

This was a very engaging book. I’m still loving the Chronicles of St Mary. It read a little more like a series of incidents rather than a complete novel, but even so it hung together well and delivered the usual mix of humour and mayhem.
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Book Log 38/2016 - Benedict Jacka: Chosen – Alex Verus #4

ChosenAlex Verus, keeps a magic shop in London and keeps his head down, or tries to. He’s not very popular with mage society, having once been apprenticed to a dark mage. His particular skill is that of a diviner. He can see possible futures. It’s not a very strong power, especially when compared to someone who can throw firebolts, but if he can see where the firebolt will land it enables him to not be there when it does.

As this series develops Alex, once a loner out of necessity) begins to gather friends and he’s discovering that he’s comfortable with it. Unfortunately that means when there’s a threat it rebounds on to them as well, and he doesn’t want to put them in danger. The Nightstalkers are hunting dark mages and they have Alex firmly in their sights. The mage council isn’t going to step in (what’s it to them if Alex is killed?) so Alex is more or less on his own… though maybe not entirely.

There are rumours that Alex’s old dark master is returning and Alex is faced with the prospect of revealing things he’s really not proud of to the people he’s come to like and trust. He’s pretty sure that once they learn the truth about him he’ll lose their friendship and support.

One of the charming things about these Alex Verus novels is the voice. Alex is an excellent narrator, wry and down to earth. Jacka is a master of pacing and tension. Highly recommended (though I suggest you read them in series order).
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Book Log 37/2016 - Joe Hill: The Fireman

FiremanI’ve had Joe Hill recommended to me a number of times, but this is my first foray into his writing. The Fireman picked me up and wouldn’t let me stop until the very last page. It’s a long book and doesn’t always move at a fast pace, but there’s always something to hold interest. The cultural referencing is a neat trick that keeps the reader grounded in the increasingly horrific world.

There’s a plague – not a virus but a spore. It has a fancy name but everyone calls it dragonscale. First you get the marks on your skin then you burst into flame and burn to death. Understandably the world is trying to keep this in check, but no one really understands how it’s spread, so it’s spreading rapidly – and huge swathes of America are burning.

Harper is a school nurse, but when the schools are closed she volunteers at the local hospital, fully covered in a protective suit. That’s where she meets The Fireman for the first time.  He brings in a child for emergency treatment (appendicitis) and Harper helps him to get medical attention in time to save the boy’s life, thus putting him in her debt. When Harper herself gets the first signs of scale the Fireman is there to save her (and her unborn child) from the husband, Jakob, who wants them to both die in a suicide pact. He takes Harper to a summer camp, a secret refuge for the scale-infected, and there she learns that there’s an alternative to going up in flames.

But the camp is not the ultimate answer. Duelling paranoias cause problems and Harper’s troubles are only just beginning. Her husband has become one of the anti-scale vigilantes and no one is safe. Harper has to protect herself and her baby while at the same time unravelling secrets of the Fireman’s past and his extraordinary talents.

Gripping and involving. Highly recommended.

I had this as a galley proof from netgalley in exchange for a review.

27th May, 2016

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Book Log 36/2016 - Jodi Taylor: Lies, Damn Lies and History - Chronicles of St Mary’s

Lies, Damned Lies, and HistoryIf you’ve been following my booklogs you’ll realise that I’ve read all seven of the St Mary’s books in the space of just over a week, plus the five available short stories. To say I’ve enjoyed them would be an understatement. The mayhem caused by the time-travelling historians of St Mary’s, disaster magnets all, have been immensely amusing—just plain fun..

To begin with Max and her partners in crime (literally this time) Peterson and Markham are in deep trouble, having done the wrong thing for the right reasons – or maybe it was the right thing… but no one else sees it that way, It all starts when they accidentally get caught up in a battle involving (King) Arthur and spot an opportunity. Things go sour. They try to set it right and end up almost under house arrest. Regardless of her burgeoning pregnancy Max tries to make amends with another wild scheme. It would have worked out well without Max’s arch-enemy Ronan stepping in. There’s a real race against time at the end.

Whether there will be more to come after this book remains to be seen, but Ms Taylor has left some nice loose ends, although she pretty much sets Max down at the beginning of a new phase in her life. There are still plenty of opportunities for more, however. Oh, and there’s a nice little twist right at the end that made me smile. I highly recommend the whole series – but read them in order.

26th May, 2016

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Book Log 35/2016 - Jodi Taylor: Two short stories - Chronicles of St Mary’s

Christmas PresentShips and Stings and Wedding Rings
Chronicles of St Mary Short Story
In which Max, how happily married to Leon and somewhat pregnant, goes haring off to ancient Egypt in search of a modern gun that one of her team members has left behind – a cardinal sin.

Christmas Present
Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 4.5
I managed to read this out of order. It introduces the character who causes the big problem in Ships and Stings and Wedding Rings. St Mary’s prides itself on never leaving anyone behind, but that’s without the interference of Clive Ronan who has come from the future and plagues them up and down the timeline. This rescue is either ten years late or right on time, depending on your perspective.
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Book Log 33/2016 - Jodi Taylor: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? - Chronicles of St Mary’s #6

What Could Possibly Go WrongThe sixth St Mary’s novel – only one more to go before I’ve caught up with all of them – and they’re still not getting old. After the incidents in No Time Like The Past, Max is on light duties for six months while she fully recovers from various injuries, so she swaps departments with Petersen and takes on the mantle of head of training. It should be easy because there are no trainees… until there are, and Max has to not only devise a new training programme but keep her unruly charges under control, preferably without killing or injuring them. If that’s supposed to be light duties I’d hate to see what she’d end up doing on normal duties. She has five students, some of them almost as bolshy as she was herself, but it turns out to be the quiet ones you have to watch. From the Valley of the Kings, the burning of Joan of Arc, a meeting with Herodotus and the opening of the Clifton Suspension Bridge to the Battle of Bosworth Field, Max has to protect the timeline and if that means making some harsh decisions, she knows she’ll have to do it. If she doesn’t History will. I’ve enjoyed all the St Mary’s books. After No Time Like the Past, which was episodic, this one returns to form.
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Book Log 33/2016 - Jodi Taylor: No Time Like the Past - Chronicles of St Mary’s #5

No Time Like the pastMore Max Maxwell and the chaotic bunch from St Mary's who explore history via time travel. It’s the aftermath of the battle with the Time Police, but everything is settling down until Dr Bairstow announces that there’s going to be a fundraising open day, and St Mary’s acquires a ghost that only Markham can see. Max confronts Isabella Barclay (almost disastrously) and finally makes a commitment. About time too.

This was a very engaging book. I’m still loving the Chronicles of St Mary. This one read a little more like a series of incidents rather than a complete novel, but even so it hung together well and delivered the usual mix of humour and mayhem.

23rd May, 2016

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Book Log 32/2016 - Jodi Taylor: Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Stories

Very First Damned ThingJodi Taylor: The Very First Damn Thing
A welcome St Mary's short story which shows Edward Bairstow coming back through time to establish St Mary's, acquiring funding, and drawing together his team of founder members.

Jodi Taylor: When a Child is Born
Max, Peterson and Markham are sent back to 1066 to observe the coronation of William the Conquror, but stumbling across an injured woodcutter on the way they end up missing the main event and doing something more important. Screwing with the timeline can have consequences, sometimes fatal ones. Luckily History had planned it all along.

Jodi Taylor: Roman Holiday
Max, Markham, Guthrie, Peterson and Van Owen are sent back to ancient Rome to get a look at Julius Caesar, his wife, Calpurnia, and his mistress, Cleopatra, who are sharing a house. Whose great idea was that? Of course, nothing goes according to plan.

I've lumped these short stories together, even though they were all purchased as individual titles for my Kindle. They are all written with Ms Taylor's usual feel for voice and with her light, humourous touch, however because they are standalone incidents, apart from the first one, they don't move the story arc forward. I was a little worried that I might read them out of order (I do like to read a series in timeline order if possible) but it's not obvious from the second and third which part of the St Mary's timeline these belong to, They are enjoyable, but not essential reading. Recommended for completists.

21st May, 2016

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Book Log 31/2016 - Jodi Taylor: A Second Chance - Chronicles of St Mary’s #3

Second ChanceI appear to be well and truly hooked on Ms Taylor’s St Mary’s books. This is my third-in-a-row and I’m just about to order number four.

In this outing for Max Maxwell and the disaster-magnet time-travelling historians of St Mary’s we visit Troy, both before the siege and during, take a quick trip back to the Cretaceous, get mixed up in the Battle of Agincourt, and switch between two realities following a similar timeline. Max manages to deal with an old enemy, but because this is time travel there’s nothing to say that he’s gone forever. This is a very difficult book to review without spoilers – even the book’s own blurb gives more than a clue that there will be a calamitous, event for Max, and indeed there is, but not at the end of the book. This deals with the event and the aftermath and then piles on another calamitous event that occurs at Agincourt… and resolves it in a way that’s entirely unexpected.

Did I say I was hooked on these books? Highly recommended, but read them in order.

20th May, 2016

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Book Log 30/2016 - Jodi Taylor: A Symphony of Echoes - Chronicles of St Mary’s #2

Symphony of EchoesI jumped into this on the same day I finished ‘Just One Thing After Another’ – the first St Mary’s book – and since it picks up right where the other leaves off it was just like a continuation. Everything that I liked about the first book was echoed in this one. Ms Taylor gives her lead character, ‘Max’ Maxwell (no one ever calls her Maddie) a unique voice, quirky and caustic but with great underlying humanity. In the wake of the attacks in the first book, the same antagonist is still around, or rather, is around for the first time, because when they encounter him in Mary Queen of Scots' Edinburgh they have the advantage that it’s (for him) before their (Book One) encounters in the Cretaceous and at the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. The disaster-prone historians from Max’s near future timeline end up going further into the future to help sort out Future St Mary’s which is under attack. Max ends up leading (temporarily) with the aid of Chief Farrell, which whom she still has a very stormy relationship.

I must admit I immediately wanted to go and buy the third St Mary’s book and was only prevented by the arrival of a posse of visitors. I’ve tried starting a couple of other books since but just not been able to get into them… oh, okay, I’ve given in and ordered #3. It’s obviously where my reading brain wants to go.

16th May, 2016

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Book log 29/2016: Jodi Taylor: Just one Damn Thing After Another - Chronicles of St Mary’s #1

Maddie 'Max' Maxwell PhD is inaugurated into St Mary's Institute of Historical research which uses time travel to grub out the facts of history. Dark, exciting and hilarious in turn, this is a real page turner and yet delivers some real laugh-out-loud moments. Max is the product of a bad upbringing, saved only by the right teacher at the right time. Now that same teacher (retired) points her at St Mary's.

The institution is chaotic and dangerous. Eccentric hardly begins to cover it. Some of the staff are just plain bonkers, but in a useful way. Historians lose their lives or end up injured in a variety of ingenious ways, but somehow they keep functioning. Max survives her initial training, gets promoted to 'historian' and is attracted to tech Chief Farrell. Great! She's in business!

But someone is messing with the timelines, using history for pleasure and profit. On a trip to the Cretaceous to study dinosaurs everything comes to a head and Max must cope!

This book's a lot of fun and highly recommended. I immediately went out and got the second in the series.

12th May, 2016

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Computer Joy

Joy? Well, almost.

I have a new Lenovo ThinkCentre - a high spec desktop machine running Win7pro. It's got 16g memory, a 1tb hard drive and an i7 processor. So far I am steadily trying to install (carefully) all the programmes I usually use. It took over 8 hours to download Office 2013 from the web. Why the chuff couldn't they include disks in the package? It was a paperback-book sized box to hold a business-card-sized 'key' and a download link. In comparison, loading the Lotus programmes I needed from Smartsuite was a doddle. The other grump about Office 2013 is that it doen't allow a custom install, so whether I wanted them or not (and I didn't) I have One Drive and Powerpoint. At least with the Home Edition I didn't get bloody Access and Outlook

Luckily BBs post-mortem backup of the deceased laptop has saved my email files (including the address book) and the database files I'd forgotten to back up.

I am lucky and BB is a certified genius.

I've been so used to running everything from laptops for years that I'd completely forgotten that desktop machines don't have (as standard) built in cameras and wifi. The camera I was prepared for, but I was gobsmacked about the wifi. We've had to send for a card, though currently I'm online with a hardwired cable and I've pinched BBs little portable camera so (once I've loaded it) I can get back on Skype. Anyhow those are small inconveniences. I can, once again, do email on a screen that shows more than three lines of text. Yay!

The whole thing has been extremely stressful, but I think I'm almost coming out of the other side of it, now. All I have to do is catch up with work. BB has ordered a new hard drive for the laptop as during the post mortem it seemed as though this was the obvious culprit for the breakdown. If he can get that back up and running I'll use it as a backup. My little EEE PC saved my bacon, but, oh, it's so slow especially with our glacially sluggish broadband speeds.

10th May, 2016

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Tales of (Computer) Woe

Back up your computer. Now. Go! Do it.

Right?

Done it?

If not, why not?

Luckily something someone said a couple of weeks ago caused me to do just that because I'm generally not very good at reembering to do it. So at least (most) of my work files are pretty much backed up. Good job I did because on Friday - after being sluggish for a couple of weeks - I went to reboot my 22 month old Lenovo laptop - my main machine - and it wouldn't. Just wouldn't. Nothing I could do would persuade it to bypass the Lenovo recovery screen - and the Lenovo Recovery screen just led it in a circle back to--you guessed it--the Lenovo Recovery Screen.

So I did what any sane and sensible person does when faced with a computer problem. I yelled for Best Beloved.

BB does not claim to be a computer expert, but he's built several machines from the motherboard up, so has a lot more experience than I have when it comes to persuading misbehaving machines to toe the line, however his dire prognostication was simply: It's broken, i.e. hardware failure of some kind.

And that's when I realised that simply backing up work files isn't enough. There's a whole load of stuff on files other than in my work directories. Such as my email address book and stored emails and my passwords (heavily disguised). I have an older version of my password reminder file, but the emails and addressbook? Sadly no. I could blame Windows7 because on previous machines I've stored my email in my work directory but Win7 uses 'Libraries' and I allowed it to store my email in the default place (i.e. not in the libraries). Silly me.

So, having realised how vulnerable my whole work/work balance is with both my day jobs (the writing and the music agency) stored on one vulnerable computer with a outboard drive for backups I've been and ordered a new desktop machine. It's another Lenovo BB has one that hasn't let him down after 22 months). It runs Win7pro and it's got 16 g of memory, a 1 tb hard drive and an i7 processor - a bit of an upgrade on my laptop which has the 1 tb memory but only 8 g of memory and an i5 processor. The monster machine is available for collection on Wednesday and one we get it home, strip out all the bloatware and re-load all the essential programmes (Lotus Smart Suite, Office, Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Scrivener) we can try loading the backup files that BB managed to drag off the horribly corrupted hard drive using an Acronis boot up disk. I'll also discover whether the large number of photographs that I scanned and sorted after the last backup need to be scanned again.

At that point I'll discover whether the email address book with twenty years' worth of contacts is viable or not amd whether I can recover my password file. Thank goodness my bank passwords are in my head not on the machine.
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Book Log 28/2016 - Gaie Sebold: Babylon Steel

Babylon SteelI’ve had this book on my to-be-read pile ever since it came out but somehow never managed to read it. It turns out that it was my bad luck because it’s brilliant and now I have to go and read Ms Sebold’s other books: Shanghai Sparrow and Dangerous Gifts (another Babylon Steel novel).

Babylon Steel is a high-class brothel keeper in Scalentine, a place with many portals to other planes and a mixed population of humans and other races, furred, scaled and magical.. She’s a tough cookie, revelling in sex and always ready for a fight. She’s gathered about her a family of sorts: her cook, her guards and her prostitutes, plus there’s a police chief she can rely on for a good game of chess. She prides herself on running the best brothel in town, but she’s not having a good week. Her taxes are way overdue and sher’s not sure she can pay the bill. The Vessels of Purity, a strict religious order (of men)  are protesting against brothels.

When the mysterious (and very attractive) Darask Fain offers her a job finding a missing girl, Babylon decides to take it, but there are complications.  Neither Fain nor the missing girl are quite what they seem, but neither is Babylon, and Babylon’s secret past is about to catch up with her. Babylon’s past and present are told in alternating chapters, beautifully timed so that they both come together at exactly the right time. Babylon has a thing about young girls being taken advantage of and what she’ll do to help goes beyond money.

This book has a great cast of characters and there’s never a dull moment. Babylon has the knack of making friends and her contacts across the city are introduced both as characters and as part of the world-building. From lizard men and four-breasted hermaphrodites to Police Chief Bitternut who’s a were… but a were what… this is fascinating glimpse into the world of Scalentine as Twomoon approaches – a massive conjunction that echoes across all the planes of existence.

I particularly liked Babylon’s crew. Flower, the big green troll cook, Cruel and Unusual, a pair of siblings who cater for clients with ‘special tastes’, Laney the fae and Previous, the ex-mercenary who guards the door, but doesn’t do ‘upstairs’ work.. They don’t get much page time, but they are well drawn and sympathetic, particularly Previous.

What you think is going to be the main thrust of the story isn’t actually, but it looks as though it will re-emerge in Dangerous Gifts, which I’m looking forward to reading. In the meantime I thoroughly recommend this story. Don’t leave it as long to read it as I did.
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Book Log 27/2016 - Sarah Hegger: The Bride Gift

Bride GiftA fairly straightforward historical romance set during the wars between Stephen Empress Maude. Helena of Lystanwold is married by proxy to Guy of Helston. They didn’t even meet until after the wedding day.. Guy’s motive is to  possess Lystanwold, (which he does once he’s married to Helena). Helena’s uncle’s motive in pushing for the proxy wedding is to give Helena protection from the grasping, cruel Ranulf, near neighbour with his beady eye on Lystanwold and the earldom.

Yeah, OK it’s not as if you haven’t read this story before in all its variants. Reluctant bride (tick) marries hunky knight (tick) against her will (tick) but they fall for each other regardless (tick) and he saves her from a fate worse than death / death / rampaging hoards (tick). She’s usually feisty (tick) and unforgiving (tick) but it all ends up happily ever after(tick). Having said that this kept me turning the pages. It’s a light read, but engaging.

The sexual tension is handled well and the pace is nicely done. There’s tension with Rosalind whom Helena sees as ‘the other woman’ and Helena takes a while to get over her jealousy. I like Rosalind and could have happily read something with her as the main character. Towards the end of the book, however, both Helena and Guy acquire a sudden dose of stupid and act completely out of character which annoyed me somewhat. I did feel as though they acted for the sake of plot rather than following their own character traits to their logical conclusions, but everything else worked well.
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Book Log 26/2016 - Tim Lebbon: Pieces of Hate with Dead Man’s Hand

Pieces of HateTwo novellas paired in one offering: the first a gunslinger story, Dead Man’s Hand, and the second a pirate tale, Pieces of Hate, linked together by a vengeance plot and a character living through the centuries until he gets his revenge. Gabriel is the one-eyed assassin seeking vengeance on Temple a shape changing demon who slaughtered his family a thousand years ago. The family seems to be a plot device as they don’t get much page time.

It’s one of those ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenarios; having wished to kill Temple without realising that Temple is a demon, Gabriel is condemned to live long enough to complete the deed, and that could be forever. The first story is set in Deadwood, in the American west - chronologically later than the second story which is set on board a pirate ship.

Gritty, bleak and gruesome, this couldn’t be described as a feelgood story and unsurprisingly Gabriel fails to kill Temple on both occasions, so there must be more to come.

Received from Negalley in exchange for a review.
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Book Log 25/2016 - Guy Haley: The Emperor’s Railroad – Dreaming Cities #1

Emperor"s RailroadA post apocalyptic novella of a journey through a land which suffered devastation and a zombie plague a thousand years ago. This is what remains. A boy, Abney, and his mother are trying to reach their cousin in Winfort after their own village has been overrun by zombies. When the postman they are travelling with is killed in an accident they are helped by a knight – Quinn – one of the legendary few remaining. Quinn is a knight of the city of Atlantis, one of the Dreaming Cities. Their perilous route is made worse by the retribution of the Angels in the dreaming cities of Pittsburgh and Columbus after the long-ago Emperor picked the wrong side in a fight between the two. Their travels take them through the kingdom of Virginia along the disintegrating tracks of the long abandoned Emperor’s Railroad, collateral damage in the Angels’ war.

Abney is the viewpoint character, an uneducated twelve year old boy with limited experience and (like many twelve year old boys, a reluctance to let his inexperience show). Dangers include brigands, the unfriendly inhabitant of Charleston, a dragon and, of course, zombies, not to mention the unfriendly inhabitants of Winfort, their destination. I was pretty relieved to find this story was only novella length. I’m not sure I found Abney a particularly interesting character to spend time with and his Virginia accent irked me (on the page). The tale is told in flashback by Abney as an old man, and it’s not linear, beginning in the middle and dropping the backstory in as we go along.

It’s a slow start but not lacking in tension, and builds up to considerable action towards the end, however I confess that I’m not overly fond of zombies, so I’m probably not in the target readership for this book. It did, however, pique my interest regarding Quinn, the knights and the ‘Dreaming Cities’ which were alluded to but not explained.

Received from Negalley in exchange for a review.

5th May, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Captain America - Civil War

Capt America Civil WarI read a review that called this movie: the single most complex, thematically and ideologically chewy movie Marvel have produced to date, and that's pretty much on the nose. Despite being a Captain America title this is really an Avengers movie featuring an ideological split between those Avengers who agree that the UN should have oversight and those who believe that the Avengers themselves are in the best position to decide when superhero action is required. Leading the opposing forces are Captain America and Iron Man, friends who find themselves on opposite sides.

When the team tries to take down a villain there are civilian deaths, collateral damage. On top of the massive death-toll in Age of Ultron - which Stark still feels responsible for (in that he created Ultron, albeit unwittingly) - Iron Man, seemingly against type, agrees to the Sokovia Accords, accepting oversight. Steve Rogers, seemingly against type, because as an ex military man you would expect him to accept the chain of command, refuses to sign. Possibly he would have done it anyway, but when his friend Bucky's life is on the line he barely hesitates.

Each one of them takes superheroes with them, for and against the accord. Black Widow, War Machine, Vision and (introducing) Spiderman are with Iron Man while Cap has not only Bucky, but Falcon, Hawkeye, Ant Man and the Scarlet Witch. The Black Panther (also newly introduced) is on his own side for much of the action.

The action sequences are suitably... err... active - though there is some annoying 'shaky-cam'. I'm glad I didn't see it in 3D. Where this film wins out is in its characterisation. It's not really a Captain America and Iron Man movie, it's a Steve Rogers and Tony Stark movie. Each is affected by the past, from their childhood to the recent movie adventures.

3rd May, 2016

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Book Log 24/2016 - Tim Powers: Down and Out in Purgatory

Down and Out in PurgatoryI read this as a review copy from Netgalley.

Tom Holbrook is a man bent on revenge. The girl he loved in college, Shasta, married John Atwater instead of him. Atwater eventually murdered her and got away with it in court. Holbrook has spent the last six years of his life hunting Atwater down, only to be thwarted by Atwater dying, inconveniently, of natural causes. Not to be deterred Holbrook arranges to have himself shot and follows Atwater to purgatory where he intends to wipe out Atwater's ghost as well.

Weird? Yes. A bit too surreal for me, I'm afraid. I've never liked overly long strange dream sequences and most of this novella feels just like that. The ending is a little predictable, but that doesn't really detract. The writing is elegant, as I would expect from Tim Powers, but ultimately, though I wanted to like it, I found this unsatisfying.

1st May, 2016

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Book Log 23/2016 - Rachel Miles: Chasing the Heiress - The Muses Salon #2

Chasing the HeiressDue for Publication 31st May 2016
I had this as a review copy from Netgalley and I confess that I wouldn't have read it if I had known in advance that it was a second book in a series. I prefer to read series in order. However it can mostly be read as a standalone, until you realise that there are a few ongoing plot threads that are not going to be explained.

But worry not, the main plot resolves itself. An heiress - Lucy - on the run from a grasping cousin is hiding out, pretending to be a scullery maid in an inn. Her medical skills (from a life in army camps) save Colin, the younger brother of a duke and currently working for the British Government - a sort-of forerunner of the secret service. He's been sent on a mission without all the facts and it goes sour on him. And of course Lucy and Colin fall in love... There are two plots to resolve, hers and his.

Set in 1819 there are a few historical inconsistencies that pulled me out of the story. For example: pound coins. There was no such thing as a British pound coin until 1983. Also the clothing wasn't quite right for the period, but that's maybe more the fault of the cover artist as Ms. Miles mentions colours but not details of styles. Regency dresses were still high waisted and not crinoline-shaped in 1819.

Despite all that the romance bits were well written and the plot fairly rattled along. It was a light read, but engaging, and kept me turning the pages for the best part of a day. Though I have to say that much trouble could have been avoided if the main protagonists had just had an honest conversation.
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Book Log 22/2016 - Diana Gabaldon: Virgins - An Outlander Novella

VirginsA novella detailing some of the adventures of Jamie Fraser and Ian in France. Set before the happenings in the first Outlander novel, the action takes place just after the death of Jamie's father and the flogging that disfigured Jamie's back. It's a standalone adventure with Jamie and Ian working in a mercenary company detailed to protect a consignment for a Jewish doctor. The two protagonists are little more then boys, the virgins of the title, but big boys with swords. I thought it might detail how Ian lost his leg, but it leaves the duo still standing to fight another day.

I bought this as a separate ebook, but I believe it was originally in the Dangerous Women anthology edited by George R.R. Martin.
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Movie of the Week: Jungle Book

Jungle Book 2016My friend H and I agreed to disagree over this version of Jungle Book. I thought it seemed over-long, dragging in the middle section - H didn't. That apart, we both agreed that it's a visual treat. The CGI and live action is seamless. Once again a Brit voices the bad guy, with Idris Elba's version of Shere Khan bringing a chilling menace to the part. Neel Sethi is the only live actor, playing Mowgli very well, though I wasn't too sure about the American accent at first, though I quickly ceased to notice it.

One oddity is the use of music from the animated (classic) Jungle book, though not in quite the same format. Homage? Re-tread? I'm not sure, but I don't think it was necessary to reintroduce I wanna Be Like You and Bear Neccessities - it just served to highlight the fact that this was Jungle Book with all the cartoon humour removed. There's no reason why a darker, more narrative Jungle Book  isn't equally valid, of course, in which case why the songs?

SabuBut song choices apart, the climax of this was gripping and really well done.

It's a long time since I've seen the original Jungle Book Movie with Sabu (right) as Mowgli. I'd like to see it again for comparison's sake. All live action, of course in 1942.

29th Apr, 2016

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Book Log 21/2016 - Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut's Windlass - Cinder Spires #1

Aeronaut"s WindlassWow! What a ride! Jim Butcher kicks off his new Cinder Spires series in fine style with The Aeronaut's Windlass, a steampunky tale of action and intrigue set in Spire Albion. The humans (and not quite humans) live vertically in the spires, huge monoliths two miles in diameter and monstrously tall. Whatever is on the ground is no longer friendly to their kind. Transport is by 'airships' but not as we know them. They are powered by enormously valuable crystals for lift and power, harnessing the ether.
There's a cold war brewing, about to turn hot. Captain Grimm of the privateer vessel Predator has been a thorn in the side of Spire Aurora for some time and finally the Auroran navy sends a warship after him that almost finishes Predator completely. With his crystals cracked and his ship in a bad way Grimm is offered a way of earning his repairs - a mission to the lower levels of the spire, crowded and dangerous, with an oddly assorted bunch of spies.

Gwen, from the powerful House Lancaster (Albion's crystal growers) and Bridget of House Tagwyn are new recruits to the Spirearch's guard. Together with Gwen's cousin, the warrior-born Benedict and Bridget's friend, Rowl, a cat, and two etherealists, they make up the somewhat oddly composed spy-party, but each one has a part to play after the Auroran's mount an attack on Albion. It's not simply an attack for its own sake, there's a purpose, but what is it? Grimm and his crew together with the 'spies' are despatched to find out.

Mayhem ensues.

The worldbuilding is fascinating and the characters, human and otherwise, complex and interesting. It's an ensemble piece told from various viewpoints. There's a lot of action and violence including hand to hand and pitched air battles. Butcher carries it off with ease. I liked Grimm a lot, while Bridget, Benedict and Gwen were interesting and sympathetic characters. I was less fond of Rowl, the talking cat. (All cats talk it's just that not all humans can speak cat like Bridget can.) I'm pretty sure if you're a cat person you find Rowl both amusing and characterful. I found him slightly annoying and could have done with a little less cat in the book. That apart it was a good set-up for a new series and I'll be watching out for the next one.

22nd Apr, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Eddie the Eagle

Eddie the EagleI don't remember too much about Eddie Edwards, Eddie the Eagle, in the Calgary Winter Olympics of 1988 except that for a short time he was a phenomenon, loved for coming last, for just being there and competing, the only British ski-jumper in the Olympics. The film lived up to the trailer's promise. It's a piece with tremendously good heart. Taron Egerton plays the misfit Eddie joyously as he overcomes all obstacles just to compete. His life's ambition to be an olympian, finally realised with the (fictional) help of alcohol-fuelled former ski-jumper Peary, generously played by Hugh Jackman. This unlikely 'odd couple' succeed in coming last, but that's not the point. The point is that Eddie, despite all odds, competes because he's willing to take the knocks and get up every time he falls down. It's the underdog story that was a sensation (briefly). The Olympic committee later changed the rules to make sure that no independents of Eddie's like would ever again be able to compete in the Olympics. Sad that.
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Book Log 20/2016 - Georgette Heyer: The Masqueraders

MasqueradersI read this back to back with Anne Gracie's The Perfect Rake, thinking to make a comparison, but picked one of the few Heyers that is not Regency, but rather is Georgian, set just after the 1745 Jacobite rising, a time of hooped skirts and powdered wigs when former Jacobite supporters were being sent to the gallows by the cart-load.

In the wake of the rebellion brother and sister, Robin and Pru, are in England heavily disguised. The slight Robin is in skirts as 'Kate' and his sister, tall and big-boned, has become 'Peter'. They have arranged to meet their father in London. He's mostly referred to as 'the old gentleman' since he changes his name more often than his socks. Aiding and abetting their deception is the stalwart servant, John and complicit is their hostess, Therese.

On the way to London they intercept an elopement gone wrong, rescuing Letty Grayson from her drunken would-be suitor, Mr. Markham, when she realises he's not quite as gallant as she thought he was.

The cross-dressing siblings are a pair of scam artists, though good-hearted ones, who have been dragged around Europe in the wake of their opportunist rogue of a father, taking on new identities, male and female, as the situation required. It was their father who involved them in the Jacobite cause, but now his mercurial character has taken him on a completely new track, but he hasn't bothered explaining it to them, just given them instructions which they are supposed to follow to the letter. Complications arise when Robin begins to fall for the rescued Letty, an heiress, and Pru takes a fancy to Sir Anthony Fanshawe, a friend of the Graysons and a solid mountain of a man, considered to be a little slow and dull witted, but who sees far more than everyone realises.

No more of the story for fear of spoilers. That's just the set-up. I found this one of the most difficult Heyers to get into. The opening chapter is dense to the point of confusing as the siblings are first of all presented as the gender they appear to be, calling each other by both real names and assumed ones and often addressing each other as 'child' (doubly confusing). It takes a few chapters to sort out who's who and why, and the rest is revealed at a leisurely pace. Speech is somewhat cod-Georgian and stilted at times. It takes perhaps the first third of the book to get comfortable with the style. It irritated me at first, but by the time I was halfway through I found I was enjoying it - almost to my surprise. There are some extremely witty moments hidden inside it, notably the siblings' cynicism about their father's carrying on.

When the old gentleman turns up his character explains Pru and Robin perfectly. Walter Mitty hardly begins to cover it. He's got unshaken belief in the magnificence of his own grand plans and rides roughshod over anyone who stands in his way, using everyone else as pawn in his great game. He's the sort of character who needs double-wide doors to get his head through.  I think he's meant to be charming and funny, but if I'd been Robin and Pru I would have abandoned him years before. If Heyer meant us to like him, I'm afraid she missed the mark with me. Whimsical is one thing, but insufferably pompous is another. Good job I liked Robin and Pru. Sir Anthony Fanshaw also get brownie points for being an unflappable hero despite not getting much page-time. The unsung hero is John, the servant, who is also more than he seems.

Of course, it's all right in the end - this is Heyer but all things considered, not my favourite. Apparently this is one of her earlier novels (1928) and it shows.
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Book Log 19/2016 - Anne Gracie: The Perfect Rake - Merridew Sisters #1

Perfect RakeThe first of two historical romances read back-to-back. The first is set in the Regency period.  Merridew sisters are trapped with an autocratic and violently abusive grandfather at his country home after the death of their parents. Beatings go on for almost ten years, getting worse and worse until Prudence Merridew, just a few weeks short of her twenty first birthday can take it no more. On her twenty first birthday she gets custody of the younger girls, but unless she marries there's no money and they will be destitute. So Pru's plan is to launch the girls on the London season and find them suitable husbands. (They are all great beauties apart from her and all of age to marry apart from the ten year old.) When there's a particularly nasty incident at home which leaves the youngest girl badly beaten and grandfather laid up with a broken leg, they make their break.

Staying with an indulgent, but somewhat straight-laced great uncle Pru is launched on society, but Great Uncle won't allow the other girls to come out until Pru is safely betrothed. He reasons that since they are way more beautiful than she is, she won't stand a chance once they're on the marriage market. This doesn't suit Pru who wants all the girls out there at the same time. The first one to secure a husband ensures safety for all. So she invents a betrothal to a duke known to be reclusive and never in town - except he is and he's looking for a bride.

Things get complicated and somewhat silly when Pru goes to confess her lie to the duke and mistakes his rakish friend, Gideon Carradice, for his lordship. Gideon is a rake with a dense of humour and - if everything everyone says about Pru is accurate - defective eyesight, for he sees the plain Pru as beautiful from the beginning and ignores her pretty sisters completely. Things are doubly complicated because Pru, four and a half years earlier, entered into a secret betrothal with Philip who then promptly went off to India to seek his fortune and has been absent ever since, his letters becoming ever more rare.

Okay, that's the set up. There are issues. At times this is frothy and absurd, at other times very dark secrets are revealed. In some ways the book doesn't really know what it wants to be. The girls don't seem to have suffered any lasting mental trauma or trust issues from their harsh upbringing. Grandfather is a cardboard villain and we only really see one side of him. Pru and Gideon fall for each other (without admitting it) too quickly without any real reason. Gideon turns from his rakish ways in an instant, converted by the power of love. Despite all that and the convoluted twists and turns as Pru tries to extricate herself from her lies while digging an ever deepening hole, this is a fun, light read. Of course it all turns our right in the end, mainly due to the fact that Pru was labouring under a couple of misapprehensions the whole time. I can see why some reviewers compare this with Georgette Heyer, though the authorial touch is somewhat heavier. In the end it is what it is and you just have to go with it. An enjoyable read.

17th Apr, 2016

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Movie of the Week: The Huntsman: Winter's War

HuntsmanBoth a prequel and a sequel, this movie wraps itself around Snow White and the Huntsman, made better by the lack of Snow White, who is not on screen. It's a kind of grown up 'Frozen' with two sisters, each with different magical powers. Ravenna is the evil queen from Snow White, not quite as dead as we thought. Her sister, Freya, horribly betrayed by her lover, turns out to have ice magic. She runs off and sets up her own kingdom (queendom?) harvesting children and turning them into warriors to be her army.

And that's where Eric, the Huntsman, comes in. He's one of Freya's children - along with Sarah, fellow warrior, whom he eventually falls for. They are separated and, believeing her to be dead, he goes off, gets drunk and the whole of the Snow White movie happens. And then there's the aftermath when Ravenna and Freya meet and eventually clash - with Eric and four dwarves caught in the middle.

I'm trying not to give away too many spoilers. Chris Hemsworth is suitably rugged as The Huntsman. Charlize Theron reprises her role as Ranvenna. Sheridan Smith, Rob Brydon, Nick Frost and Alexandra Roach play the short-stature parts. Sheridan Smith and Rob Brydon are particularly good.

While it won't set the world on fire, it was an entertaining Wednesday afternoon, slightly better than its predecessor.
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Book Log 18/2016 - Leigh Bardugo: Six of Crows - Six of Crows #1

Six of CrowsA fast-paced thrill-ride, supposedly for the YA market, but very adult in the amount of violence perpetrated by the good guys as well as the bad. This book follows the Grisha trilogy, set in the same world, which I have not read.

Kaz Brekker is a young criminal prodigy in the barrel, the rough part of Ketterdam where anything goes. He's part of a gang - the Dregs - seemingly heading towards taking over the whole operation before he's too much older, presuming he doesn't end up face down in the canal first. He's offered a chance at a dangerous heist for more money than he can dream of, but it's a job for a team and Kaz is not big on trust.

He assembles a team of like-mainded rogues: Nina, a grisha (magic) heartrender, who can control the human body with the power of her mind; Matthias, a Fjerdan soldier who has promised to kill her, yet can barely cope with his feelings for her; Inej, the Wraith, a light-footed, acrobatic spy who hates killing, but will do it if she has no choice; Jesper, a sharpshooter whose big failing is that he's addicted to gambling. The sixth member of the team is Wylan, the son of Van Eck, the council member who offered Kaz the job. Kaz thinks Wylan might be insurance to make sure they get paid after the heist, but Wylan just wants to get away from his father. The others tend to think of him as a liability, at least at the beginning.

The job is to steal a scientist, Bo Yul-Bayur, away from a highly secure prison in Fjerda's Ice Court. The scientist has developed a new drug, jurda parem, a super-stimulant, which makes grisha ultra powerful, but ultimately destroys them because it's highly addictive. The Fjerdans have him in the centre of an impregnable fortress... so Kaz had better come up with a good plan.

This story rattles along at a cracking pace and the interactions between the characters work well. Nina and Matthias are constantly at odds despite their mutual attraction. Kaz is trying not to admit that he's fallen for Inej. he has a deep-seated problem with getting too close to people. There's a hint that Jesper and Wylan could become more than friends. There are crosses and double-crosses abounding. Kaz is not the only one who has a hidden agenda. As we go through, we gradually learn something of the backstory of each one of the six 'crows'.

This book is almost perfect though it both starts and ends in a way that usually I'm not fond of. The first chapter is from the point of view of someone who is instantly disposed of, along with the object of his affections. I always feel that it's a bit of a twist too far when the book sets up reader expectations and then stomps them into the ground - though I do admit it helps to set up the problem.

At the end there's a major unresolved plot point that's pretty much a cliffhanger and obviously meant to lead into the next book. I really don't like cliffhanger endings, especially when the next book is not yet on the horizon. Sure, it makes me want to read the next book NOW, but will I still feel the same by the time it's actually available? Crooked Kingdom is due in September. I will read it, but I hope clifhangers are not this author's stock-in-trade.

11th Apr, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Batman V Superman - Dawn of Justice

batman_vs_supermanWhat can I say? This movie has received auch a lot of hype coupled with abuse, that it's difficult to take it at face value. There was a lot wrong with it, but overall I wasn't bored and it worked on some levels. It wasn't as bad as I feared, but it was certainly not as good as I'd hoped. Unfortuantely it was a mishmas of a mashup.

Yes, it covered the making of Batman yet again as the Wayne parents were killed in an alley and young Master Bruce, traumatised by bats, was left in the care of Alfred, this time played by the delightful Jeremy Irons (bonus), who is hardly the typical butler. Ben Affleck makes a surprisingly decent Batman, though I still can't take to Henry Cavill as Superman, but then I'm of the Christopher Reeve generation and no one will ever better that.

Despite the fact that it's Batman versus Superman, there's only one actual fight and the rest is Lex Luthor playing the psychology game, making sure that the two of them are ready to fight each other. It all starts to improve when Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) turns up

There are one or two weird things going on. Clarke and Lois are obviously in a physical relationship, and she's well aware of his 'secret.' Re the imbalance between human physiology and the Kryptonian physiology, I'm not quite sure how Lois has survived nights of passion. Read Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex by Larry Niven for more speculation about Superman's sex life.

So if I've read this movie right, its the set-up for the Justice League movie
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Book Log 17/2016 - Ann Aguirre: Endgame - Sirantha Jax #6

EndgameI almost didn't want to start reading this because I knew it was the final Jax novel and I've loved the series so much I didn't really want it to end. Jax started off in the first book as a bit of a wild child, blessed (or cursed) with the talent to navigate a ship through Grimspace - a talent that is not only addictive, but likely to cause burnout at an early age. Jax was living it up while she could. Now, six books later, she's developed a sense of responsibility, had the early death sentence removed, courtesy of nanites, and paired up with March, telepathic pilot and seasoned mercenary - though they've been separated by circumstances as March tries to raise his dead sister's child in relative peace.

Now at last it all comes together. Jax promised that she'd try and end the slavery on La'hengrin, occupied by foreign conquerors - humans - and that means liberating the whole planet together with La'hengrin native Loras, formerly of March's crew, and Vel, insectoid bounty hunter who started out as Jax's enemy and has become her friend. More than a friend if Jax is honest. Vel has been there for her when March has not, and they have developed a special bond, one that March has difficulty getting his head around.

Jax is in the middle of a revolution. One person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist and Jax, Vel and Loras wage a revolutionary war against the planet's oppressors. March and his nephew are dragged into it, much against March's will. Though this is a blow by blow account of a terrorist civil war it's also a study of changing relationships as Jax, Vel and March dance a three-step with a satisfactory conclusion.

As I said at the beginning, I almost didn't want to start this book, but I'm so glad that I did. It provides a fitting end to Jax's story arc.

6th Apr, 2016

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Book Log 16/2016 - Liesel Schwarz: A Conspiracy of Alchemists - Chronicles of Light and Shadow #1

Conspiracy of AlchemistsA steampunky adventure featuring Eleanor Chance, a dirigible pilot who is sucked into plots and skulduggery when she's employed to transport a mysterious box from Paris to England for Hugh Marsh, a warlock. When the box is stolen it turns out that Elle has the only key. Elle's inventor dad is kidnapped and Elle and Hugh go haring across Europe to find him, getting into all sorts of bother and forming a relationship as they travel. They are pitted against Abercrombie, also a Warlock, but one in thrall to a Nightwalker. Elle and Chance are good characters, there's an unexpected betrayal, some swashing and buckling and a bit of experimental aviation.
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Book Log 15/2016 - Veronica Roth: Insurgent - Divergent #2

InsurgentDystopian fiction set in a fenced-off future, post-apocalyptic Chicago where everyone is divided into factions and the worst thing imaginable is to be factionless. Tris and Four take refuge with Amity after stopping the simulation in which Dauntless soldiers killed many members of Abnegation while under the influence of a drug concocted by Erudite. All this took place in the first Divergent book. In this, the middle book of the trilogy, Tris and Four, both 'divergents' (i.e. showing talents for more than one faction) though officially still part of Dauntless discover what can happen when the factionless band together. They take the fight to Jeanine and the Erudite in order to retrieve information that Jeanine was willing to kill a whole faction to keep hidden. Note: I've seen all the movies before reading the books, but it was still well worth reading. The characters are explored in more depth and Tris and Four's relationship hits a few rocky patches which keeps up the tension.
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Book Log 14/2016 - Emma Newman: Between Two Thorns - Split Worlds #1

Between Two ThornsCathy is trying to get away from her controlling family by living in our world, Mundanus, even though she knows she'll age and die like a mortal. She has a mortal boyfriend whom she loves dearly and she's making a life for herself. When her family catch up with her she's dragged back to undertake an arranged marriage in the world of the Nether, a Regency-esque buffer region between Mundanus and Exilium, the home of the exiled Fey. The Fey are still powerful, even in exile, and the great families in the Nether are still obligated to their Fey lords. Cathy is a member of the Papaver family, obligated to Lord Poppy. The Rosa family, powerful in London, is now jostling for position in Aquae Sulis, the Nether version of Bath. The Iris family contains Will, Cathy's potential bridegroom. There's a lot in here: a sorcerer; the wicked Rosa family; a kidnapping of Bath's Master of Ceremonies with the season about to start; an Arbiter who's been split from his own soul (which is now residing in a gargoyle);. It's all a little confusing and sadly I'm sometimes easily confused, but there's still a lot to like. Once minor gripe is that it doesn't really resolve, so I presume the second book picks up where the first left off.

20th Mar, 2016

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Bath - the place not the bathroom fixture.

IMG_20160314_160305245They say third time lucky, so after two aborted attempts to visit Bath for some Georgian book research - one in January when I discovered one of the museums I wanted to see closed for the whole month, and one in February when I fell and damaged my head and leg - I finally made it. Since BB is not into museums I met up with my friend Sarah and we had three nights at the impeccable Francis Hotel, in Queens Square. The Francis is one establishment which has taken up the whole of the Georgian terrace on the square's south side. I got a good deal (3 nights for the price of two) and it was worth every penny. Lovely room on the ground floor with an accessible bathroom, great service, elegant surroundings - and it was only a few yards away from the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus which stopped at all the museums we wanted to see. I would be very happy to stay there again.

We arrived Monday, had two full days doing the main attractions and then departed Thursday afternoon. The tourist bus is expensive but a ticket lasts for a whole 24 hours, which basically means that you get the day you bought it, and also the following day up to 5.00 p.m. Essentially two full days of museum-trotting if you start early. Since Sarah uses a rollator, we took full advantage of the bus's access and disabled space and also discovered that in all the museums we visited, the disabled person pays, but the 'carer' (me) goes free, which saved us a decent amount since the museums are not cheap.

IMG_20160315_122512824_HDROn Monday afternoon we walked up to the Jane Austen Museum on Gay Street, but as it was already late we didn't do the museum itself. Instead we had a cream tea in the Georgian-style cafe which served gluten free scones for Sarah. On Monday night we met up with carl_allery and mevennen plus mevennen's partner and mum. The Brasserie Blanc at the hotel served up lovely food. I can recommend the Beef Stroganoff. On Tuesday we did the Fashion Museum (which used to be the Museum of Costume) and since that shared a venue with the Assembly Rooms also managed a quick peek (though one room was closed off as they were preparing for a concert that night) and a trip to the cafe for a late elevenses. Next stop on our bus route - via the very elegant Circus - was 1 Royal Crescent, a restored Georgian house on (yes, you've guessed it) Bath's famous Royal Crescent. Then we still had a few hours so we caught the tour bus to the centre of town because Sarah had heard there was a knitting shop behind Marks and Spencers. Since we were by that time in need of refreshment we stopped off at Sally Lunn's Restaurant - one of the oldest houses in Bath where I had smoked salmon pate on a sally lunn bun. We found the wool shop. I managed to avoid buying more yarn because I didn't want to have to carry it home, but Sarah succumbed. On Wednesday we did the Roman Baths and the Pump Room (another cream tea) plus some shopping. Aaargh... I shopped. I dropped. A miniature kite for my grandson, a model wolf for me (because it was just like Corwen in my Rowankind books), one coat (rather unusual in style) and two tops later we staggered back to the bus. Sarah also bought a coat, a top and two gilets - OK, one was for a friend (she says!). Sarah's rolator was loaded up with so many carrier bags that we looked like a tag-team of bag-ladies. IMG_20160315_110226553Then on Thursday morning we checked out of the hotel, left our luggage for safekeeping (yes I did get all my new purchases in my suitcase) and walked up to the Jane Austen Museum before having tea in the hotel and getting a taxi back to the station.

The Museums:

The Fashion Museum had a lovely array of Georgian and Regency clothing, but sadly most of it was for women.  Next time (and there will be a next time) I need to book a study room and ask to see some of the garments for men. They had nothing on display between 1780 and 1820 and the period my books are set in is firmly between those dates (1800-1801). I had also hoped to get a better idea of how a bib-front 'Empire' line dress was constructed and worn, but everything was behind glass. Yes, I've seen the diagrams, but there's nothing better than seeing the real thing. I'd have settled for an accurate copy. Accessibility was good for Sarah, with a lift to the exhibition area (downstairs) and very helpful staff.

IMG_20160315_125253399_HDR1 Royal Crescent was everything I'd hoped it would be. Not too grand, but well appointed with some nice touches such as a gentleman's banyan laid out on the bed. Sadly not all the rooms are on display, so bedrooms, but no dressing rooms, and you couldn't go and look in the attics where the servants would have slept, though the kitchens and the housekeeper's parlour were on display. Staff were friendly and knowledgeable. Accessibility here was more limited but the lift gave Sarah access to the basement, ground and first floors but not the two upper floors.

Roman Baths. Strictly speaking I didn't need to see these, but with my Georgian head on it was fascinating to see what the baths might have been like in the Georgian era since the Pump Room which is part of the complex, is altogether in the period I'm researching and a lot of the above ground part of the baths was constructed in the seventeenth century. The sacred spring, where hot water bubbles up out of the ground, was not used for bathing in Roman times, but in Georgian times it was flooded to a much higher level and used for immersion therapy.

On my first trip to the Roman Baths, many years ago, the sacred sIMG_20160316_122431561pring was still flooded, but now it's been drained to its Roman level and much more of the stonework has been revealed. (The brown stain is the previous water level.) Not all Roman, of course, since much of what you can see is sixteenth century I believe, but there are still a couple of Roman archways. Access was excellent with lifts to all levels. The floor around the baths themselves, however, is original Roman paving, part cobbles, part uneven slabs, so though we could get to that level Sarah couldn't easily get into all the areas. She was, however, happy to sit and take in the atmosphere where she had a good view of the main bath while I poked into odd corners. TIMG_20160316_113848915he first time I went to the Roman Baths was before it was 'museumised' so you could literally go and poke about - even jump down into the hypercaust if you wanted a closer look. In those days they even opened up the baths for swimming (at a price). However there was a Legionnaire's Disease scare some years ago, the baths were closed, excavated and reopened as a museum. I visited in the 1990s and found it over-museumised. This visit was a pleasant surprise. yes it's still museumised, but I think it's more sympathetic, now. The Pump Room remains unchanged, a lovely Georgian room with a trio (piano, violin, 'cello) playing classical music. The fountain where you can take the waters is still functional (and filtered after the Legionnaire's thing) but you can no longer just go up and help yourself. The waitress, however, was happy to bring us a couple of glasses of 'the waters'. I recall it tasting like bad eggs on my first visit. Now it's much less metallic tasing and pretty much like drinking water from your own hot tap, i.e. not terribly pleasant, but no longer objectionable.

The Jane Austen Museum was slightly disappointing from my point of view because I'd mainly gone to see the clothes on the understanding that you could try them on. I'd hoped for genuine Regency construction (reproduction would have been fine) but they were designed to look OK for photographs but had elastic waists and tie backs. The house itself is interesting, however, as it's a narrow Georgian town house, much less fine than 1 Royal Crescent. The exhibition is in a large, recently constructed, extension downstairs. Access throughout the whole building is not good. Sarah had to leave the rollator on the ground floor and manage a flight of stairs for the introductory talk, and then there was another half flight of stairs down from the ground floor to the exhibition itself. On exiting the exhibition there was a slope up to the ground floor and if the staff had bothered to mention it, going in by the exit would have saved Sarah having to use the stairs. Surely they could have thought of that.#

So, all in all, a great time was had by all. The train journey (Wakefield, via Bristol Temple Meads to Bath Spa) was pretty easy with enough changeover time in Bristol for an easy connection, and plenty of journey time to catch up with a good novel on my kindle. Thank you, Bath, I will be back.
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Movie of the Week: Hail Caesar

Hail CaesarIt's the 1950s. Hollywood superstar Baird Whitlock (George Clooney at his bewildered best) is kidnapped in the middle of filming a blockbuster movie about a Roman centurion who finds God. It's up to studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) to find him while juggling smaller dramas happening on other movie sets at Capitol Pictures. Brolin is the heart of this movie but there are excellent performances from the aforementioned Clooney, and from Ralph Fiennes as camp director Laurence Laurentz. I'm not usually fond of Fiennes but he has a superbly light touch with comedy.  Alden Ehrenreich, playing contract singing-cowboy actor Hobie Doyle, whose normal repertoire consists of 'Howdy', is delightful when dropped into a movie part that's way beyond him. There are subplots involving Scarlett Johansson as an Esther Williams style swimming star, Tilda Swinton playing a set of rival gossip columnist twins, and Channing Tatum in an all-male song-and-dance set-piece that could be straight out of a Gene Kelly movie.

No slapstick, but lots of smiles. This is, after all, a Coen Brothers film which sends up Hollywood, the fifties, and itself at the same time. Highly recommended.

19th Mar, 2016

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Book Log 13/2016 - Zen Cho: Sorcerer to the Crown - Sorcerer Royal #1

Sorcerer to the CrownA book set in Regency England (mostly London) with magic. The Royal Society for Unnatural Philosophy has its first African Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias Wythe, a freed slave brought up as the adopted son of Sir Stephen Wythe, and taught magic by him. The recently deceased Sir Stephen, previous Sorcerer Royal, had always intended Zacharias to follow in his footsteps and the circumstances of Sir Stephen's passing gave him the staff of office, much to the displeasure of the grand gentlemen (in their own opinion) of the Society. Zacharias has many enemies, some of whom will not stop until he's dead. In addition the British government wants him to support their ambitions in Indonesia, the Banda Strait, but Zacharias feels that this warlike step may invalidate the Society's agreement with the French magicians against participation in the Napoleonic Wars. On top of all this he has the problem that magic seems to be in short supply. The flow across the border from Fairyland has stopped and there have been no new familiars for many years.

Meanwhile in Mrs Daubeny's boarding school for magically inclined young ladies, Prunella Gentleman, a somewhat put-upon pupil teacher, abandoned there by her father as a child, is feeling the strain of suppressing her magic (or appearing to). Magic is not for the frail female form and any magically inclined girls are being taught how to restrain their unseemly talents. Half-Indian, Prunella knows nothing of her origins until, while clearing out the attic for Mrs D., she finds her father's valise with some strange, but obviously magical treasures.

Prunella and Zacharias' paths cross when he visits the school to give a talk to the young ladies and observes Prunella's talent, and Prunella, having shown too much magic, is downgraded by Mrs D. from the position of student teacher to servant. This decides Prunella that she needs to go up to London and find herself a suitable husband to secure her position. Naively she believes Zacharias is just the chap to introduce her to society. Poor Prunella couldn't be more wrong. Studious Zachariah has more on his mind than balls, society events and tickets to Almack's.

Veering from the comedic, light and frothy to the deeply serious and occasionally chilling, this is an entertaining read. Zen Cho has a light touch with humour but is not afraid to tackle the serious side of Regency England, including attitudes to race and prejudice, firmly set into the context of their time.

10th Mar, 2016

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Book Log 12/2016 - Adrian Tchaikovsky: The Tiger and the Wolf - Echoes of the fall #1

Tiger & the WolfManiye has been brought up in the Wolf tribe, disenfranchised because although she is the daughter of the chief, her mother was of the Tiger tribe, captured, raped and then killed after Maniye's birth. She's small, counts for little and largely goes her own way when she can keep away from the cruel priest and her father's fists. But Maniye harbours a dangerous secret. She carries two souls, one a wolf and the other a tiger.

All humans are shapechangers, whether wolves, tigers, boars, bear or crocodile. There are non-shapechanger versions of all these creatures, but no non-shapechanging humans - or none that we see. Maniye is both tiger and wolf, though she has to keep the tiger well hidden

When Maniye's father reveals his plans for her, she's horrified. He wants to send her to the tiger clan to claim her birthright as daughter of the queen. He believes maniye can step into the role of leader by blood heritage and then betray the tiger so that the wolves can defeat their old enemy once and for all.

Dad is clearly bonkers, so Maniye takes off into the heart of a northern winter, surviving by good luck and help from unexpected sources. She spends most of this book running away from the destiny her father and the priest had planned but discovers that the two souls warring within her have to be reconciled otherwise she's not going to survive.

Tchaikovsky rattles through Maniye's adventures at a furious and exhausting pace. The book is brutal and visceral, though Maniye, herself, avoids repeating the cruelty that she's been brought up with. This is a monstrous feat of worldbuilding and imagination encompassing anthropology, religion and spiritualism with a wide (and largely frozen) landscape. There are some gruesome bits that might make you wince and some heart-stopping fight scenes in which the protagonists step between their human and animal forms in the blink of an eye.

It's the first in a new series, so although it reaches a satisfying conclusion it's obviously only an interim point in a much longer story. As an added bonus this has one of the best covers I've seen in a long time.

23rd Feb, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Zoolander 2

Zoolander2Don't, just don't. Go and see anything else.

I enjoyed Zoolander on some level. Sure it was corny and more than a bit bonkers, but it was basically good hearted. They should have left it at one. There were one or two laughs in this as Derek Zoolander dragged himself out of retirement and back into the limelight of the modelling world, but most of it was groanworthy, and not in a good way. It was full of gratuitous appearances by stars appearing as themselves. Only Sting had a part to play.

I'd tell you the plot but... life's too short. Though it does start with the murder of Justin Bieber. Make what you wish of that.

I'm really pleased we did Meerkat Movies and didn't pay full price for this.

20th Feb, 2016

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Winterwood news, reviews and interviews

19th February
I was invited to write a piece on aletrnate history for SF Signal's Mind-Meld, but due to being accidentally missed off the 'meld' article I've ended up with a piece of my own. Thanks, Andrea.
19th February
Another interview - this time at The Qwillery.
19th February
My interview at My Bookish Ways goes live today

18th February
I now have a firm date for the publication of Silverwolf - second in the Rowankind sequence and a direct sequel to Winterwood - of 3rd January 2017.

16th February
Pleased that Winterwood is a Night Owl Review Top Pick:
"a fabulous plot and engaging storyline. Don’t miss this fantasy read. It’s quite unlike anything else on the market."
13th February
Nice Historical Novel Society review of Winterwood.
13th February
Thanks to Sherwood Smith for the nice mention for Crossways in her article on Book View Cafe entitled 'My Genre is Growing Up.'
10th February
Interview here at Civilian Reader
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8th February
Interview and book giveaway(US) in Urban Fantasy Investigations.
3rd February
Nice to get a brief mention for Winterwood at Kirkus in their 'looking forward to... ' section
3rd February
Guest post on Juliet McKenna's blog on the transition from SF to historical fantasy

Winterwood

2nd February
BOOK DAY!

Winterwood is published today! Yay!

2nd February
There's an advantage to being close to the front of the alphabet. Winterwood is the second book in Locus' new releases today.

1st February
Another nice Winterwood review on thre wonderfully titled 'No More Grumpy Bookseller' blog.

1st February
Lovely that Winterwood is on Fantasy Faction's radar here: http://fantasy-faction.com/2016/fantasy-titles-on-our-radar-february-2016-edition

27th January.
Absolutely delighted that Winterwood is included in Fiction Affliction at tor.com
22nd January
Nice review of Winterwood at The Bibliosanctum.

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