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20th Nov, 2015

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Book Log 32/2015 - Stella Duffy: Dr Who: The Anti-Hero - Time Trips

Dr Wgo Anti-HeroA short novel/novella featuring the second doctor, Jamie and Zoe getting mixed up with auromata and muses at the Library/Museum of Alexandria. A quick, easy, but largely uninvolving read, even when Jamie has a scalpel poised above his chest. There are a few references for current (adult) Whovians to catch in passing, but this largely relies on readers already being familiar with the characters. This is part of the Time Trips series and is obviously aimed at/would be good for young or reluctant readers who are Who fans.

I read this as a review copy from netgalley

18th Nov, 2015

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Recent posts on the writing blog

Here's a list of things you might be interested in on my writing blog over on Wordpress.
No pressure.

17th Nov, 2015

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Book Log 31/2015 - Diana Gabaldon: Lord John and the Private Matter - Lord John #1

Lord John & Private MatterThe year is 1757.It's early in the Seven Years War between Britain and France. Lord John Grey has a very delicate problem when he witnesses something intensely personal that could impact dreadfully on his own family. At the same time he is officially ordered to investigate the murder of a brother army officer. From polite drawing rooms to eighteenth century molly houses, Grey's investigation leads him deeper and deeper into political intrigue, treachery and plot.

Grey is a fiercely intelligent and honourable man with a secret that could ruin him. He's gay at a time when it's a capital offence. He's not only an officer in the army, but aristocrat with a name and a family to protect.

Lord John's timeline weaves in and out of the Outlander books. This is the first full length novel. It takes place between the novellas collected in Lord John and the Hand of Devils, and in the overall timeline it comes after the events of Ardsmuir Prison in the Outlander novel, Voyager. Grey has met (and fallen for) Jamie Frazer, but though his affection is not reciprocated (and he's too much of a gentleman to push matters in that respect) Fraser is still very much in his thoughts. The sexual orientation issues are handled sensitively and in keeping with the attitudes of the day.

The Grey novels are historical mysteries without the fantasy elements and the raw passion of Outlander, but they are well written and good page turners in their own right.
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Book Log 30/2015 - Diana Gabaldon: Lord John and the Hand of Devils - Lord John #.05 (Outlander)

Lord John Hand DevilThree Lord John novellas which offer an introduction to the spinoff series from the Outlander novels featuring Lord John Grey. Outlander had fantasy elements (time travel) but Lord John is much closer to being straight historical fiction/mysteries. Lord John appears in the Outlander book Voyager and these shorts are from various times within the Lord John novels.

Individually the novellas are as follows.

Lord John and the Hellfire Club: Lord John investigates a murder which leads him into political treachery and into the realm of the debauchery of the hellfire Club.

Lord John and the Private Matter coimes here in the timeline

Lord John and the Succubus: Lord John is on active duty in Prussia and has to solve the mystery of a murdered soldier, a treacherous Gypsy and the Night Hag.

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade comes here in the timeline.

Lord John and the Haunted Soldier. Recovering from serious injury, Lord John has to investigate an exploding cannon and the possibility that someone is sabotaging ordnance.

Readers of the Outlander novels have already met Lord John when he was put in charge of the Ardsmuir prison during Jamie's incarceration in Voyager. Jamie is not a character in these stories. John is an interesting character in his own right, intelligent, honourable, brave, and gay at a time when it's a capital offence. I'm always wary of spinoff novels, but these novellas had me hooked on Lord John right from the start.
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Book Log 29/2015 - Diana Gabaldon: The Drums of Autumn - Outlander #4

Drums of AutumnI must admit, I've fallen for this series, hook, line and sinker and now I have several friends yelling I TOLD YOU SO!
Yeah, OK, I admit it. They did tell me so and I resisted... But Gabaldon can write a page-turner, and once you get hooked on the characters you have to keep reading.

Claire and Jamie are struggling to set up a new settlement deep in uncharted territory in the Americas while in the 1960s Claire's daughter, Brianna discovers an old newspaper article revealing that her parents died in a house fire - something that her beloved, Roger Wakefield, has decided to keep from her so as not to upset her. This is what happens when Brianna decides to go through the stones to warn her parents.

Lots of exciting stuff in here, contact with American Indian tribes, friendly and not so friendly, Jamie finds allies and saves a life only to find that no good deed goes unpunished.

Claire and Jamie are getting older, but still seem like youngsters in terms of energy level and story. Are they ever going to grow old gracefully? On this showing I doubt it, which bodes well for future volumes. Although there are other major characters this is still very much Claire and Jamie's story.
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Book Log 28/2015 - Toby Venables: Hunter of Sherwood: Knight of Shadows - Guy of Guisburne #1

Hunter of SherwoodThough you might expect the hero of this tale to be Robin Hood, in an interesting twist Venables' hero is Guy of Guisburne, and Hood is a figure of chaos, Guy's nemesis, though in this book he only appears as a secondary figure.

Guy is a kind of 007 to Prince John, who in this telling is the good brother and Richard the Lionheart is the shit who virtually abandoned all responsibilities in England and drew off all the resources he could monetise to support his endless warring in the Holy Land. That Richard cared nothing for England is much is pretty well a historical truth. Richard did say that he would sell London itself if only he could find a buyer. John, however did have his flaws, though they seem to have been overlooked here.

Sir Guy is given a task by Prince John, steal a holy relic--the jewel encrusted skull of John the Baptist--before Philip of France can get hold of it. Most of the action takes place in France, but at the same time as the forward action is progressing, we learn of Guy's backstory, his struggle to become a knight, with all that entailed, and his relationship with Robert/Robin Hood when they were both mercenaries, ending up surviving the Siege of Hattin, a huge defeat for Christendom.

Guy's enemy is Tancred, the rogue Templar de Mercheval, and his henchman Fulke. Both Tancred and Fulke are pretty nasty characters. Fulke is bad enough, but Tancred is as mad as a bag of spanners, believing himself to be blessed by God and the dispenser of His justice. He wants the relic for himself. On his side Guy has his somewhat opinionated squire, Galfrid, forced upon him by John, and a mysterious and beautiful stranger, Melisande, a woman who fights better than any man, with assassin style training. There's also a Q to Guisburne's 007 in the personage of Prince John's armourer, Llewellyn, who provides Greek fire and gadgetry.

This book doesn't work perfectly, there's one point where Guy's plan is frankly suicidal and yet he survives it, however the things that do work, work very well indeed. The characterisation is excellent, I especially like Galfrid who makes a brilliant sidekick. The characterisation of Hood also shows what have always been taken as his good points to be severe flaws that make him almost impossible to reason with. Guy himself is a sympathetic hero and we learn a lot of his backstory, which all adds to the character building.

In essence this is a set-up book for future stories and I think we can expect very interesting things from Sherwood in the future.

16th Nov, 2015

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The State of the Jacey

I'm behind on my booklogs, not because I haven't been reading, but because I've been snatching odd chapters between bouts of writing and so not reading in quite such a concentrated fashion as I usually do. I'm about five books behind on writing up my book bloggage - for which I am about to make up. As usual in a year with a lot of writing, it's my reading that suffers. I do find it difficult to read fiction when I'm writing a first draft of something. I'm always wary in case ideas bleed over without me realising. In a normal year I might read (and blog) 50 or 60 books, but this year I'll be lucky to manage 35 or 40.

Cinema, too. Frankly for the last few weeks there's been nothing on we've wanted to see.  I was tempted by the new Bond movie, Spectre, but my cinebuddy, H, went to see it with her best beloved. (Like my best beloved, he doen't much care for cinema trips, usually.) H would have been happy to see it again but she said a) it wasn't as good as the last one and b) it was exceedingly LOUD in places. Besides, I've been busy...

Winterwood front cover-smallI decided to pace myself alongside NaNoWriMo to get a whole heap of extra wordage on the work in progress. I'm currently working on the frst draf of Silverwolf, which is the sequel to Winterwood, my magic pirate book, which comes out in February. (And for which I've just had the cover.) My deadline for delivery of Silverwolf is February, but I want to get the first draft done by Christmas if I can, so that I have time to let it settle, let a few beta-readers have their wicked way with it, and then do any redrafting necessary to lick it into shape. There will, of course, be editorial comments from Sheila at DAW, and a further edit (at least one) beyond that. Publication date hasn't been confirmed yet, but depending on my delivery of the first draft it will either be late 2016 or early 2017.

After that I have Nimbus, the third Psi-Tech novel to write. Before I knew DAW's publication order for the next two novels, I'd done the first 10k words on that, so I have some ideas sloshing round in this bucket I sometimes call a brain.

So NaNoWriMo is halfway over and so far I've written almost 22,000 words, taking a couple of days off for a) my daughter and grandson's all-too-rare visit, and b) Novacon in Nottingham. I need to do at least 1,900 words a day now to make up the 50,000 words for November. Right... onwards and upwards...

20th Oct, 2015

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Movie of the Week: Pan

PanHow can something that is a visual delight be so boring? Pan has everything going for it - including Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, the villain - but manages to miss the mark by a mile. I'd read bad reviews. I should have believed them.

Okay, it's not all bad news. Levi Miller is an effective lead as Peter Pan and largely holds the movie together. Garrett Hedlund is an engaging Hook (who has not yet lost his hand and fallen out with Peter), though he plays it straight out of the Star Wars book with so many Han Solo momentds that you almost wonder which film you're watching. Rooney Mara is a very cute Tiger Lily and gets some pretty cool swashbuckling action scenes. Sadly Hugh Jackman plays Blackbeard as if he were in pantomime. Very occasionally there's an 'acting' moment, and you see a real person behind the character, but I suspect the director kept him firmly two-dimensional because this is certainly not his usual standard of acting. It has to be deliberate.

There's some good CGI with flying three-masted sailing ships, and one or two slightly tacky moments, but mostly the visuals are good, if a little 'Avatar' on occasions. I'm deeply relieved that we saw the 2D version, however.

What lets the whole thing down? Poor script and lacklustre direction/editing. It takes a long time to make its point and to get from event to event. On the whole, I spent the last half of the movie checking my watch because I'd seen enough by that time.

Do yourself a favour, go and see The Martian instead.

18th Oct, 2015

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The Other Blog

Recent posts to my other (writing) blog include:Do go and take a quick look if you have time.
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Movie of the Week: The Martian

MartianFor various reasons we missed a few weeks of regular cinemagoing, so were delighted to be able to see The Martian last Wednesday. I'd heard good things about it and - thenkfully - they were all true. Great plot tension, absorbing problem solving and an engrossing storyline on Mars and the parallel story on Earth with the NASA crew.

And (bonus) Sean Bean didn't die!

By now most people know the basic theme. Astronaut is left for dead on Mars when the crew has to abandon the base due to a storm that's threatening to destroy their ride back home, but astronaut (Matt Damon) survives and then has the problem of keeping himself alive until a) more supplies can be delivered or b) a rescue team arrives.

I am informed by my friends who know more about the science than I do that the science in this is plausible, which is gratifying, but also the storytelling is excellent. It's a man-against-the-environment story told with an interesting 'voice'. While Matt Damon's character is sciencing the shit out of his situation, the NASA crew are working out ways to bring him home. Disagreements surface and are dealt with - one way or another - which leads to a dramatic rescue attempt thanks to the cooperation of the Chinese.

Matt Damon is an effective lead. The Martian landscapes are beautifully realised. Visually satisfying.

Highly recommended.

22nd Sep, 2015

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Movie of the Week: The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner 2)

Scorch TrialsWhat a mess this movie is. I saw Maze Runner, but still spent the first half hour of this wondering what the hell was happening. I hope the book has more clarity. I suspect it does.

Visually it has some good outdoor settings, though it retreats to the obligatory derelict factory for a fair bit of the movie. And when will moviemakers read the Evil Overlord list? In particular the point that it makes: "When I am Evil Overlord I will not have air ducts big enough for a perspn to crawl through."

Plotwise, the kids who escaped the Maze in the first movie (all boys except for Teresa) now have a new set of trials to face. The good guys who rescued them at the end of the Maze Runner turn out not to be so good after all and they have to go on the run into the scorch - the wasteland peopled by zombie-like victims of a plague to which our kids are immune and therefore very valuable (biologically).

Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones) plays the chief bad guy, channelling Gary Oldman. The lead character, Thomas is played by Dylan O'Brien and Teresa is played by Kaya Scodelario who looks like a bland version of Evangeline Lilly (who I like). Sadly, neither actor is memorable or even particularly noticeable. Thomas Brodie Sangster (Game of Thrones, Wolf Hall) is a more interesting actor, but gets little to do here, though the little he does, he does well. Sangster could probably have played the lead in this with one brain cell tied behind his back. Ditto Rosa Salazar as Brenda. Hopefully she'll be in the third movie in the trilogy (Please, gods, I hope they don't make the last book into two!)

In the current trio of teens-against-dystopia trilogies/quartets: Hunger Games, Divergent/Insurgent and Maze Runner, Maze Runner comes a very poor third. Pity because i would have so liked to like it.

The only upside was that the set of trailers they showed with this bodes well for the rest of the year: Star Wars (yay!) Bond - Spectre, Pan, The Martian and Mockingjay. in particular I've been waiting for the theatreical trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Hopefully Disney has done it justice and we can all forget about Episodes 1, 2 and 3 and reset to 4, 5 and 6 (i.e. the original three) and beyond.

21st Sep, 2015

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Movie of the Week: Man from UNCLE

ManFromUNCLEDespite a bad review from a friend whose opinion on movies I value, I enjoyed this much more than I expected to. It's true it bears next to no relationship with the original TV series other than the names Illya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo, but it's a fun romp for all that. It is what it is, and I guess it would be unfair to review it in the light of what it is not. Yes, I fall into the camp of 'Wouldn't it have been nice if they'd asked David McCallum to play Mr. Waverly?" but they didn't and that's that.

So this is an origin story as Solo, ex thief and con-man now working for America rather than wasting his talents in jail, is forced to work with Kuryakin, fearsome Russian agent with a slightly loose screw. It's set in the 1960s (and captures the era reasonably well).It's the height of the Cold War. A mysterious criminal organization plans to use nuclear weapons to destroy the fragile relationship between the USA and the Soviet Union. The pair have to find a missing German scientist, and their only lead is his beautiful and resourceful daughter (Alicia Vikander).

U.N.C.L.E. isn't mentioned until the end when Mr. Waverly (Hugh Grant) finally makes his presence felt.

Henry Cavill plays Solo and Armie Hammer is Illya Kuryakin. One thing which does mirror the original show is that Kuryakin is a much more interesting character than Solo and Armie Hammer plays this version of Kuryakin to perfection. The story is pretty unremarkable, but in part it's balanced by the over-the-top set-pieces and underlying tongue-in-cheek humour
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Book Log 27/2015 - Kevin Hearne: Hexed - Iron Druid #2

HexedI thoroughly enjoyed the first Iron Druid book, Hounded, and Hexed did not disappoint.

Atticus O'Sullivan, the last (real) druid fought and killed Aenghus Óg: Celtic god of love, in the first book. Now he has to deal with the consequences. He still has Fragarach, a sword of unearthly power. His Irish Wolfhound, Oberon, with whom he can communicate telepathically, is his companion. Oberon is obsessed by sausages and French poodles, and gets all the best lines.

The death of Aenghus Óg has caused ripples throughout the Irish pantheon, the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Morrigan and Brighid are snapping at each other's heels and Atticus may well be piggy in the middle, but his immediate task is making peace with the survivors of a witch coven led by Malina somewhat tricky since he was (in her eyes) responsible for the loss of half her coven in the first place.

Malina is only the first of his problems; he's shown his hand by killing Aenghus Óg and there are those quick to take advantage of his skills. Coyote shows up and wants him to kill a demon (released in the Aenghus Óg fight and now preying on high school students), Then he has to deal with a strange priest and a rabbi whose intentions are not entirely clear, and Malina wants him to kill a bunch of dangerous Bacchants. But all these seem minor because a new coven has moved into town and is trying to take over the area. Atticus has tangled with them before and already has an old score to settle. It becomes personal when it becomes clear that their first objective is to kill him, his friends (including his new Druid apprentice Granuaile), his staff at the bookstore he owns, and Malina's coven. This is a fight he can't walk away from.

The second book in the Iron Druid series lives up to expectations as a fast-paced, engaging urban fantasy with mythic overtones. There are some loose ends which I trust will be dealt with in later books. Leif--Atticus' vampire lawyer--extracts a promise that Atticus will kill Thor. Yes, THAT Thor.

31st Aug, 2015

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Book Log 26/2015 - Ann Aguirre: Forbidden Fruit: Corinne Solomon 3.5 (novella)

Forbidden FruitA novella which is - according to the afterword - number 3.5 in the Corinne Solomon series, but since I picked this up at random and haven't read any of the others I just took it at face value. Corinne Solomon doesn't actually appear, so it seems to be more of a spin-off than a continuation, or an infill. I don't know whether these two characters are staples of the series or not.

It's pretty obvious there's something strange going on. Shannon communicates with the dead via an antique radio and Jesse is a cop who's looking after her as she resettles in Laredo. There's a hole in her memories, apparently the result of some sort of spell and Jesse, an empath as well as a cop - has the same gap in his knowledge. There are demons after Shann, buit we don't really find out why. I suspect that wuill be revealed in other books in the series. Basically this is the story of how two people's relationship changes. Sweet and sexy in turns this is a quick read and pacy enough for me to wish it continued. Okay - I guess I just have to start reading the Corinne Solomons. I'm already a fan of Aguirre's Sirantha Jax books. Like the Jax books this is written in the first person present, which is not something I'd generally say I liked, but it works for me in the Jax books, and it works here, too.
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Book Log 25/2015 - Terry Pratchett: the Shepherd's Crown - Discworld #41 - Tiffany Aching #5

Shepherds CrownAh, the very last Terry Pratchett and a farewell not only to the author but to one of his most endearing characters, Granny Weatherwax who sets her affairs in order, cleans the house, weaves her own coffin and meets Death as an old friend, leaving her cottage, her boots and her steading to young witch Tiffany Aching.

Tiffany is a powerful young witch, yes, but stepping into Esme Weatherwax's shoes (while not giving up her own steading on the chalk) is a very big step and there are some senior witches, particularly Mrs Earwig, who would deny her the opportunity. Indeed, people are always underestimating Tiffany. She's young, working class, she comes from the chalk, not from Lancre (and chalk is 'soft') and her kind of witching largely consists of going round the district dealing with births and deaths and cutting old men's toenails because that's what needs doing. And that's what a witch does. It's not flashy magic, in fact, it's not always magic, but it's what's needful.

Tiffany has allies. Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax's long time friend, knows that Tiffany wouldn't have been named as her successor unless she was worthy, and the Nac Mac Feegles, the Wee Free Men of the first Tiffany book - a cross between miniature Scottish Nationalists, Glasgow boys on a Saturday night out, and Braveheart extras with double woad - are her staunch supporters and protectors. And then there's Geoffrey, the boy who wants to be a witch, and Tiffany's long distance boyfriend who is learning to be a doctor in Ankh Morpork at the Lady Sybil Free Hospital.

All this comes together when there's another major incursion from the Elves, those Lords and Ladies repulsed by the elder witches in the novel of the same name. Elves are nasty and dangerous. They live by their glamour and take delight in doing mischief from ruining beer to stealing children and tormenting and killing humans in various despicable and painful ways.

Needless to say Tiffany deals with the Elves in her own way and becomes her own witch in the end, not following exactly in Granny Weatherwax's bootsteps, but making her own.

This is a delightful book, a fitting end to Terry Pratchett's oeuvre. I have to say that right from the start there were moments when I could hardly read it dry-eyed. Tiffant has a lot to say about humanity, but she leads by example, working it out for herself as she goes.

When I finished the final page I was left with a hope that somewhere, in some reality, Terry Pratchett and Esme Weatherwax are sitting in the sun enjoying a substantial cup of their favourite tipple together.

25th Aug, 2015

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The Other Blog

I have a new post up on my Wordpress Blog about editing Winterwood, my upcoming third book. Please swing by and take a look. There's a partial of one of the potential cover images.
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Movie of the Week: Absolutely Anything

Absolutely AnythingWe had planned to see Man from UNCLE this week, but a particularly damning report from a friend sent us (almost at random) to see Simon Pegg in Absolutely Anything. A good choice as it turns out.

The premise: a bunch of poweful aliens are trying to decide whether the Earth is worth saving or whether it should be obliterated. As a test they select one person to be the recipient of a power which enables him to do absolutely anything. The power lands on the shoulders of mild-mannered British school teacher, Neil (Pegg) and we follow his discovery of the power, his inept usage for immediate personal benefit and his attempt to use it for the good of mankind. Imagine what a really twisted genie could do if it was granting you three wishes and you might imagine what happens to neil when the wishes he makes are granted literally.

Kudos to the voice actors, all of the surviving Monty Python team as the aliens and the much-missed Robin Williams in his last ever movie as the voice of Dennis the dog - a critical role as Dennis is a bit of a scene stealer.#

A very sweet movie, entertaining and funny - maybe not laugh-out-loud funny, but it certainly offered lots of smiles. Well worth seeing.
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Book Log 24/2015 - Diana Gabaldon: Voyager - Outlander #3

Outlander VoyagerSPOILERS FOR BOOKS 1 & 2 AHEAD.

Nearly twenty years have passed since Jamie sent Claire back to her own time to save the life of his unborn child while he returned to the battlefield of Culloden, expecting to die, and there isn't a day when she hasn't missed him despite getting on with her life, training to be a doctor and having a rocky relationship with Frank (recently deceased) while raising Jamie's red-headed daughter Brianna.

Through a series of flashbacks we see what Jamie and Claire's lives have been in the years they've been apart. Yes, that's right, Jamie didn't die at Culloden, though he had a pretty grim time of it afterwards.

Through some judicious searching in Claire's present (1960s) she, Brianna and Roger Wakefield trace Jamie's family history, discover he's still 'alive' (in his own timeline) and Claire decides to go back. Jamie and Claire are reunited, leading to further adventures and an epic voyage.

This book is back to the top form of the first one. It's interesting in that there are viewpoint shifts, some of it being in third person and Claire's narrative in first, but this isn't jarring. It's a long book, but I galloped through it, unable to put it down.
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Book Log 23/2015 - Georgette Heyer: Cotillion.


I wanted something fluffy to read while editing my magic pirate book and Cotillion seemed like just the job. Kitty Charing has been raised by her irascible adopted uncle. Determined that he is dying of gout he summons Kitty's unwed male cousins-by-adoption and promises to leave his considerable fortune to whichever one of them will marry her, leaving nothing to Kitty in her own right. None of the cousins actually needs the money, being reasonably well-heeled. There's Hugh, a stiff and slightly pompous clergyman; Freddy, an empty-headed dandy more concerned about the knot in his neckcloth than acquiring a wife; Dolphinton, an Earl, but slow-witted, and Jack, a regular Corinthian, gamester and rake-about-town. It's Kitty's choice, but the one she really wants, bad-boy Jack is the only one who doesn't respond to his uncle's summons. So Kitty comes up with a scheme to get herself away from Uncle's restrictive country home, up to London, made fashionable, and introduced into society, to put herself in Jack's way. To this end she coerces the amiable Freddy to a sham engagement, is installed with his respectable married sister (whose diplomat husband is abroad) and is launched upon society. She enters into several matchmaking schemes for other people, but neglects to make progress with her own. The dashing Jack proves to be not all Kitty believed him to be and in the end it's dear, dependable, thoughtful Freddy who comes through, not quite as empty-headed as he thinks himself.
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Movie of the Week: Fantastic Four

Fantastic 4Is it me or are reboots coming so thick and fast that we all wonder why they bother any more? Or maybe why we bother. Spiderman, Superman and now Fantastic Four.

This is the origin story again with Reed Richards transitioning from child-geek to adult geek, making incredible scientific discoveries and learning how to transport organic matter to another universe by playing with bits of junk from his friend's scrapyard. Yeah, right. I can believe in kryptonite, but interdimensional travel via junkyard parts? Not so sure.

FF may be one of my least favourite comic book stories.Is it because the superpowers that our heroes get are a bit lame. Mr stretchy-man? Really? It's not very sexy, is it? As a movie this version was more than a little bland with no stand-out performances. I wasn't all that fond of the 2005 Fantastic 4 but at least Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis had a bit of charisma. I've already forgotten the names of the actors in this.
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Movie of the Week: Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation

MI Rogue NationTom Cruise is always watchable and this Mission Impossible installment delivers what it says on the tin, Lots of excitement, edge-of-the-seat set pieces, twists and disguises. A nice turn by Simon Pegg as Benji and Jeremy Renner as Brandt. Ethan and crew have to take on the Syndicate, a team just as clever and well equipped as they are, and at the same time are disowned and disbanded by their own side. Hounded by both the good guys and the bad guys, Ethan has to go rogue to achieve the impossible.

And yes, I'm sure Tom Cruise has a picture in the attic.
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Movie of the Week: Ant Man

Ant ManI'm not a comics reader, though I generally like marvel movies and this is no exception. I had no prior knowledge of Ant Man, so the movie came as a very pleasant surprise. Paul Rudd is a very engaging Scott Lang/Ant Man, an ex-con, drived to become a small-time burglar, who dons the Ant Man suit in which he shrinks in size while growing in strength. Michael Douglas is Hank Pym, his mentor and Evangeline Lilly, Pym's spirited daughter and (predictably) the love interest.

There are some nice human touches, some finely judges humour combined with full-on action adventure. Pym sends Scott to steal back Pym's technology that he fears will be used to the detrement of mankind.
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Movie of the Week: Inside Out

Inside OutAn animated psychology text book. Sweet in places and quite insightful. I would expect some of this is a bit scary for children. I'm not sure who this movie is aimed at. Parents will probably appreciate it most, I guess. There are some very funny moments (especially Dad putting his foot down) and a useful message: it's OK to be sad.

24th Aug, 2015

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Book Log 22/2015 - Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly in Amber - Outlander #2

Outlander Dragonfly in AmberWARNING SPOILERS AHEAD
Apologies, it's impossible to blog this without spoilers for either earlier books in the series, or twists in this book.

The continuing adventures of Jamie Fraser and his wife, Claire, an ex-army nurse from World War Two catapulted back (via a magical stone circle) to the time of the '45 (that's 1745) the Highland rising which culminated in the battle of Culloden when the English army crushed the Scots decisively.

With Claire's foreknowledge if how disastrous Bonnie Prince Charlie's return to Scotland will be for the Highland Clans, Claire and Jamie journey to France to try to prevent the prince from returning to Scotland, but their attempts to change history fail and Jamie is embroiled in the ill-fated campaign on Scottish soil, knowing that it will lead to the  end of the Highland Clans and cruel persecution by the English.

No matter what Claire and Jamie try it seems that history is going to take its course, so with Claire pregnant and Jamie convinced that he'll die at Culloden, he sends her back through the stones to save her life and the life of his child.

Though an excellent read, this second book in Gabaldon's Outlander series wasn't quite so gripping as the first, but it was still plenty good enough to have me reaching for the third book. There are few series that have gripped me enough to make me read three very hefty tomes in a row. Excellent characters and a real page turner.

4th Aug, 2015

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BOOK DAY! Crossways is out today.

CrosswaysIt's BOOK DAY! Crossways, my second novel, is out today.

What starts out as a search for survivors turns into a battle for survival. Space stations, corrupt corporations, telepathy, relationships and something moving in the depths of foldspace.

Not read the first one yet? Empire of Dust is still available, of course. Empire made the Locus Best Seller list in the month it was published. For Crossways to do the same it would be great if those of you who are going to buy it (if you haven't already, do so today or within the next few days. That would be fab. (No pressure, just if...) One small step for readingkind - one giant leap for Jacey!

Where to get it. If you're in the USA/Canada then all good bookstores,  Amazon/ Barnes & Noble etc. It's available as paperback or electronic version (Kindle Nook etc.). If you're in the UK then it's a bit more limited due to it being an American import, but Amazon.co.uk has it.  or Forbidden Planet if you're lucky enough to have a branch in your area.'re lucky enough to have a branch in your area.

If you want some background on the Psi-Tech universe then there's a page on my website here: http://www.jaceybedford.co.uk/psi-tech.htm

And a reminder, not just for my book, but for all books. If you like a book, talk about it, post to facebook, twitter, your blog. Tell your friends. Make recommendations. With fewer and fewer bookshops on the High Street, browsing is limited, so the best way for news to get out about new books is by word of mouth.

Thank you, readers, reviewers, bloggers, retweeters, facebookers. Without you...

21st Jul, 2015

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Time Out

Jacey Crossways 3I haven't been around LJ much for the last month or two because I'm flat out in the middle of editing Winterwood, which is the book after next, due in February 2016. This is the magic pirate book that was the one I actually made the first sale to DAW with but due to publishing schedules is the third book to be published.

The second book, Crossways, is due on 4th August - eep, just a couple of weeks away - and I just got my author copies. The cover is (once more) by Stephan Martiniere and I've done an analysis of why I love it here on my Wordpress blog: https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/book-cover-crossways/

In the meantime - apart from having my nose down to the keyboard, I spent a couple of days in London to attend the Science for Fiction Writers course, at Imperial College (organised by Dr Dave Clements who I met throiugh Milford). Some fascinating items delivered by top scientists in a way that wasn't too hard to follow for us non-scientists, though I'm still a bit boggled by the concept that time doies not exist and constantly retreat to the Douglas Adams lline of : Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so. I was fascinated by the account of Rosetta and the Philae Lander. I mean - landing something the size of a washing machine on a tiny rock zooming round space, after a ten year journey. Wow!

Since Imperial College is in South Kensington, just a spit from the museums, I also managed a trip to the Victoria and Albert to check out their Regency costume for the Winterwood book and a dash into the Science Museum to look at spacesuits.
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Book Log 21/2015 - Georgette Heyer: An Infamous Army

An Infamous ArmyThis is almost more non-fiction than fiction. Ms Heyer delves into the social history immediately preceding the Battle of Waterloo, thunders through the battle itself and it's only in the aftermath that romance and history truly meet. It's a fictionalised and extremely well-researched account of Waterloo built around what seems to be a doomed romance between notorious widow, Lady Barbara Childe a heartbreaker at the centre of the social whirl in Brussels where the English have set up their own fashionable society while waiting for Wellington's army to arrive, and the very decent (and hugely forgiving) Colonel Charles Audley, one of Wellington's aides-de-camp.

I tend to read Heyer for a bit of light relief, not a history lesson, though I usually take her research for granted. This book had a huge cast of genuine historical characters - possibly rather more than I wanted to deal with, so all-in-all not my favourite Heyer, though I can understand why it's the book that she was most proud of writing.

On a secondary note - with no bearing on the quality of the story whatsoever - this particular cover bears absolutely no resemblance to any of the major characters in the story.
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Book Log 20/2015 - Diana Gabaldon: Outlander - Outlander #1

OutlanderOutlander was originally published as Cross Stitch in the UK, but I bought it from Amazon as Outlander in ebook form. It's difficult to review this as a book because I confess I watched the firsat season on TV, courtesy of Amazon Prime, before reading the book, so first of all, the book was very close to the TV series, though, of course, that should be the other way round. I greatly enjoyed revisiting the story and perhaps getting a li8ttle more depth and explanation via the text.

The story is of Claire, a Second World War army nurse reunited with her husband, Frank Randall, shortly after the war's end. They are trying to reconnect after many years apart and they go to Scotland on a second honeymoon during which Frank does a little family history, learning, in particular, about his many times great-grandfather Black Jack Randall, a British redcoat captain stationed in Scotland with a reputation to match his name.

When Claire visits a ring of standing stones she finds herself whisked back two hundred years to the time of Black Jack Randall and the time very shortly before Culloden. Randall is the first person she meets, and not in a good way. Startled to find he's the spit of her husband in looks and then horrified to find he's nothing like Frank in temperament, she ends up falling in with a tough band of kilted highlanders. Taken first as an English spy, she proves her usefulness as a healer and finds herself drawn to James Fraser, an outlaw with a price on his head and history - very bad history - with Randall.

Claire and Jamie end up married as an expedient move to make her a Scot by marriage and therefore outside of Randall's immediate jurisdiction. Despite her feelings for Frank and her longing to return to her old life - if she can - she finds herself falling for Jamie, an exasperating, red-headed, stubborn-as-an-ox highlander whose bravery, honesty and sense of honour are amongst his redeeming features. He's not a twentieth century man, however, he's a product of his time, and Claire a product of hers. Clashes are inevitable. He's a soft heart, but a hard head, and his history with Randall is going to cause painful problems for both of them.

I'm not overly familiar with Scottish history, but this feels very well researched. There's a tiny bit of dialect, but only enought ot make it feel authentic. The writing style is beautifully transparent, letting you get on with the story. Nicely done considering this was Ms Gabaldon's first book.

No more spoilers because if you like rollicking historical adventure, more than a touch of romance (and sex) and a dollop of time-travel thrown in this is the perfect book for you. I apologise now to my friend Mary-Anne who told me to read it twenty years ago. I should have taken her advice. But now I have the pleasure of seven more books to look forward to. (And another in preparation, I understand.) Highly recommended. I just ordered the second book, Dragonfly in Amber.

29th Jun, 2015

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Movie of the Week: Minions

MinionsThe minions, having evolved to serve supervillains, can't find one bad enough, at least, not one that survives for long, so after falling into terminal depression, hiding out in an ice cave for a couple of centuries, minons, Kevin, Stewart and Bob set off to find the perfect supervillain, which they do, eventually, after adventures trying to steal the crown jewels. The best jokes are in the trailer, but even so it's a sweet movie for an otherwise dull Monday afternoon
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Movie of the Week: Jurassic World

Jurassic WorldThis is everything everyone says it is, good and bad. Leave all sense of logic at the door and collect it again on your way out of the movie theatre and you'll probably enjoy it a hell of a lot. Chris Pratt makes a decent hero. There are nods to the old Jurassic Park movies and the heroine manages to stay looking reasonably clean for way longer that you might expect. There's a lot of gratuitous violence, but if you didn't expect that to begin with what the hell were you doing going to see this movie anyway? Trained raptors? Well... OK, if you must!

18th Jun, 2015

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Book Log 19/2015 - Lia Silver: Partner

PartnerPartner by Lia Silver is a direct follow-on from Prisoner. The second half of the same story, in fact. Not just action and adventure (though there is that) but also a lot (maybe too much?) exploration of PTSD and combat stress. Though this is something hardly ever tackled to this depth in what appears on the surface to be a lightweight novel, so it certainly adds something. The author certainly knows what she's talking about, being a professional therapist in her other life.

A combination of thriller with supernatural romance. DJ Torres is a 'born' werewolf and a marine who, after being injured in Afghanistan, has been imprisoned by a shadowy government agency somewhere out in the desert. There he's partnered with tough-as-nails superspy and assassin, Echo, one of two surviving experimental clones.

Though they try to hide it because they know that their captors will use it against them, Echo and DJ have bonded. In this half of the story they have to figure out how to escape the secret base, rescue DJ's former marine buddy, Roy, whom DJ bit to save his life when he was dying of wounds. They also have to bring Echo's dying clone sister out with them and liberate the pack of made werewolves who have been experimented on.

Packed with emotion, this book is more about relationships than action (though action is certainly not absent). Echo must learn how to deal with newly awakened emotions when her feelings have been in lockdown mode for many years. DJ has to deal with a new mate bond. The thrust of the story, the escape and the search for Roy, almost plays second fiddle to the psychology. Some of the urgency of the must-rescue-Roy part of the story is weakened.. The solutions, when they come, are maybe a little too easy, though the main characters don't get out unscathed. There's a missed opportunity in that much of Roy's story happens off the page (and is possibly covered in a third book which centres on Roy, which I have not read). But that's me being nitpicky, the whole thing carries you along and it's one of those stories to gulp down quickly while it's hot. It also looks as if there's another book about Echo and DJ which i look forward to reading.

15th Jun, 2015

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Phone Woes

I have a new phone. A smartphone, no less, Motorola G. Bought by doubling up my Tesco clubcard points, so I didn't actually buy it with real money, but still, it seems like a nice piece of kit... I've dowloaded some nice apps and I'm getting good wifi connection at home.

But I haven't used it as a phone yet. I was going to go with Tesco because you get triple credit. Pay a tenner, get £30. Then I realised that the extra £20 evaporates after a month if you don't use it, and since I'm a low user... no point...

So I decided to stick with Orange since I've been with them forever and I get 14p minute phone calls, but this new phone needs a mini sim, so I can't just swap my sim card over from my old phone. And that's where it all falls apart. Has anyone ever tried to talk to a real person at Orange/EE customer services? It's next to bloody impossible. It took five tries to get to someone last week - the line kept cutting off to a long bleep right after: 'We'll put you through to someone who can help you,' And this after going through several frustrating menu choices on the automated systen, none of them seeming quite adequate for what I needed. Anyhow, eventually i got a real person who arranged to send me a new mini sim. All I had to do when it arrived - he said - was to phone on _this_ number to port the number over and activate it.

So today the new sim arrives. It's EE not Orange (contrary to what I'd been told) but it's just a plastic sim with a paper label cointaining the sim number stuck to it and no phone number or instructions attached. There's a printed impersonal Welcome letter and a number to call,

I called the number. Jumped through all the menu choices and... BEEEEEEP. Cut off, just like last week. Tried again. Same. Tried Customer Services number - got someone who couldn't help me. Call the shop. Called the shop. What's the phone number on the new sim? they ask. There isn't one, I reply. But what's the phone number they ask again. I describe what's in the envelope I've been sent. One bit of plastic, one welcome letter, no packaging, no phone number. Hmm, that sim seems to be a blank one that's not active, they tell me. You need to call the PAYG helpline. Called the PAYG helpline. No. No. You need to call the shop. THIS IS MY SIXTH PHONE CALL. ALL I WANT IS A NEW SIM THAT WORKS!!!!! (Yes, I'm getting a little tetchy by now.)

Eventually gent with heavy non Brit accent who was obviously having as much trouble with my Yorkshire as i was with his whatever, calls me back. They are sending me a new SIM. Great, what next?

When you get it call this number...


And then to add insult to injury I look online... Why do all the PAYG have 'packages' that expire within a month if you don't use them, and which you have to commit to paying a minimum of £10 per month? If I wanted to commit to a specified amount each month I'd have a bloody contract. The whole point of PAYG is that you buy minutes and when you've used them you buy more. Doesn't that make sense? It makes sense to me.  Ah, but you get 500 free minutes if you agree to buy £10 of credit a month. Scuse me? Those minutes are not free. I'd be paying £10 for them. And £10 for 500 minutes is not such a good deal when I only use five of them and then i lose them because my month is up. What is it about LOW USER that EE doesn't get? I'd be hard pressed to use 500 minutes in a year let alone a month. Why? Because we have rubbish signal at home and the only way I can use my mobile is to hang out of the front door. It's something I have for emergencies only. The only time I make use of it is when I'm at SF conventions, to keep in touch by text with my conbuddies.

Dear Orange, I promise to buy £10 of credit a year whether I need it or not. Stop trying to sell me stuff I don't need and can't use. just send me a sim that, yanno, actually works and give me my old number. And also send me a new sim for my old phone because though I only paid £20 for it and have had it for three years, it still works a treat. Thank you Rio.

12th Jun, 2015

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Book Log 18/2015 - Firefly: Still Flying (Various authors.)

FireflyA book of Firefly trivia, nicely produced with excellent illustrations and the added advantage of four new pieces of short fiction by Ben Edlund, Jane Espenson, Brett Matthews, and Jose Molina. It's for fans, but that's OK. Shiny, in fact.
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Book Log 17/2015 - Lia Silver: Prisoner

PrisonerSherwood Smith's review pointed me at this one (two, actually because 'Partner' is a direct continuation of the story and takes up where Prisoner leaves off. (I'm only just starting on that one). This combines adventure thriller with supernatural romance. DJ Torres is a 'born' werewolf and a marine who, when his helicopter is shot down in Afghanistan goes against everything he's ever been taught and bites his badly wounded best buddy, Roy, to try and save his life. Having given away his secret, DJ finds himself imprisoned by a shadowy government agency somewhere out in the desert where he's partnered with tough-as-nails superspy and assassin, Echo, one of two surviving experimental clones. Echo has superstrength and lightning fast reflexes. DJ and Echo are both physically capable of escaping but Echo is held back by her frail clone sister who is gradually succumbing to the defects of her body, and DJ is held back because the bad guys have Roy stashed in some secret lock-up and threaten him with torture if DJ steps out of line. Things are complicated by a pack of unhappy 'made' wolves, each one of them with a power and a problem.

What could be a fairly standard adventure romance is lifted above the average by the exploration of dyslexia, and PTSD and the psychological effects of warfare and violence. (The author is a therapist in real life, specialising in PTSD.) DJ has been shaped by marine culture: never leave anyone behind and pack principles. Echo, born in a test tube, raised by carers, bottles up her emotions and is used to working alone. She's watched three of her close sisters die as their bodies failed them, now her last sister, the only person she cares about, is a fragile invalid. When the sister dies her controllers will lose their last hold on Echo, so they try and team her up with DJ to give her something - or someone - else to care about.

This is slight in terms of page count, but high in emotional intensity. Lia Silver is a pen name. The author also writes as Rachel Manija Brown. I've been hearing good things about her books from a number of people. This one certainly didn't disappoint.
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Book Log 16/2015 - Winston Graham: Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall 1783 - 1787

RossPoldarkI'm not sure why it's taken me the best part of forty years and two TV dramatisations to read this book. Perhaps because it was written in the 1940s I assumed the prose style would be a little stodgy, but not a bit of it. This reads like a much more modern novel. Winston Graham had a light touch

In 1783 Captain Ross Poldark, a gentleman, returns to his Cornish home from the American wars. Headstrong and volatile when he left, he's now more seasoned and prepared to take on the near-derelict family home, Nampara, after the death of his father. He's anticipating that Elizabeth, the love of his life, will be waiting for him to sweep her off her feet and marry him, but arrives to find her on the point of marrying his wealthier cousin, Francis.

He buries himself in work, repairing the house, cultivating the land, with only his plain cousin, Verity, as a friend. But Ross has the common touch. Despite the Poldark name, he's always been equally comfortable with the common folks who work the land and the tin and copper mines. He rescues a waif of a girl, Demelza Carne, and takes her in as a kitchen maid, not realising until several years later that she's grown into a lovely (and loving) young woman. marrying beneath his class causes scandal in the neighbourhood; the Poldarks are considered to be Cornish aristocracy while Demelza is the daughter of a drunken miner.

The story will not be new to anyone who has seen either the Robin Ellis TV version or the current Aidan Turner one. The first season of the current televised version takes incidents from the first two books in the series (there are 12 altogether), but this book ends before the birth of Ross and Demelza's first child.

Themes include love and loss, class struggle and rivalry, both personal and industrial. (Though in the first book the enmity between Ross and George Warleggan seems relatively unimportant.  Graham's historical background and setting is well-researched. He captures the world of eighteenth century Cornwall well.

poldark-aidan-turn_3257153bAnd yes, I did resist using the TV tie in cover with Aidan Turner's face all over it. Disappointed? Well, here you are then. Ross Poldark as played by Aidan Turner. You're welcome.

2nd Jun, 2015

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Movie of the Week: Tomorrowland - A World Beyond

TomorrowlandSpolers ahead.

Tomorrowland is a curate's egg of a movie, i.e. good in parts, but if you think about it too much the theme, which seems to be 'hope overcomes all the bad stuff' is actually not played out to its logical conclusioin. Should I be looking for logical conclusions in all of this? Well, i'd like to.

Start off with the old Cherokee tale of two wolves fighting it out inside your head. One is dark, the other is light. Which one wins? The answer is: the one you feed.

OK, so it's a Disney movie aimed at kids, which means that on the surface it's fairly simplistic. There's a place in another dimension called Tomorrowland - created by Tesla and the best minds of his age -  where some of the brightest and best have been recruited to create a perfect world.

There's a framing device which is the older Frank (George Clooney) and teenage Casey (Britt Robertson) speaking straight to camera addressing us (or so it seems) and telling a story which begins with Frank as a child - a whizz kid, ever hopeful child inventor, being recruited to Tomorrowland at the 1966 World's Fair in New York by a pretty child called Athena. Skip forward to the present day and Casey is indulging in a bit of honest terrorism, trying to prevent NASA from demolishing its own launch pad (and presumably ending any pretensions to accessing space). Her dad is one of the NASA engineers employed on the demolition project. Inevitably she gets caught, spends a night in jail and is bailed out in the morning. Amongst her belongings is a strange button which, when touched, gives her a wonderful vision of the utopian Tomorrowland. Full of hope she goes in search, but it turns out that it's not going to be so simple. The utopia has failed and together with Athena (who has not aged), Casey (chased by robots) goes in search of Frank, now old and embittered. Athena thinks that Casey can prevent the end of our world and change the world of Tomorrowland if only they can get back into it.

OK, with me so far? It's impossible to explain this without spoilers, so I'm going to stop right there. Actually watching this with a hefty chunk of WSOD is the only way that it can work because when you think about the themes too deeply the ending is somewhat unsatisfying. Yes they do what they set out to do and that's OK for Tomorrowland, but kiunda sucks for Earth-as-we-know-it because, although the world does not end as predicted, nothing changes except that the brightest and best are sucked away into the utopia where they can fulfil their potential.

The good includes Clooney's performance and that of all the major characters - all the rest of them youngsters except for Hugh Laurie as Nix. The imagery of Tomorrowland itself is fantastic (literally) and i could have done with a bit more of that. The bad--well--it's a really slow start. Despite being called Tomorrowland much of the plot takes place on Earth-as-we-know-it and there are times when you wish it would chage gear and take us somewhere else. There's some snappy dialogue between old Frank and Casey, but the script is otherwise pretty forgettable.

Passing note for SF fans, one of the villains of the piece is a comic book store owner in the present day called Hugo whose surname, mentioned only once, is Gernsback. Homage? In-joke?

This didn't do well at the box office and I can't say I'm surprised. It's a mish-mash and for all its promise, it doesn't really deliver.

30th May, 2015

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Book Log 15/2015 - Peter O'Donnell and Jim Holdaway: Modesty Blaise - The Gabriel Set-Up

Modesty Blaise-Gabriel Set UpI've always been a big Modesty Blaise fan, coming to the books first, long before I realised that the character originated from the serialised graphic strip which first appeared in The Evening Standard (one of the Beaverbrook newspapers) in 1963. This collection of four stories reprinted from the original newspaper strips features black and white artwork by the late Jim Holdaway. (Literally black and white, not greyscale.)

I've said before that I often have trouble with graphic novels because I'm not used to the style and I find some of the artwork difficult to 'read'. Whether that's my fault for poor interpretation, or the artist's fault for poor execution, I don't know, however with this simple line-drawing style I have no trouble at all. Holdaway's characters are very easily differentiated from one another and the action is crystal clear.

The stories: La Machine, The Long Leaver, The Gabriel Stt-Up and In the Beginning are typical Modesty stories. La Machine is her first introduction to the British Secret Service's favourite civil servant, Sir Gerald Tarrant and his sidekick, Fraser.

Modesty is a capable female protagonist in her own right, kick-ass but feminine, sexually independent, fiercely intelligent and with a background in organised crime but a sound moral compass. Her sidekick, the equally capable Willie Garvin has been reborn in Modesty's service. Starting out a a mean fighting machine, Modesty has given him her trust and he's picked it up and run with it, turning into her loyal right-hand man. Their non-sexual love story underpins the whole Modesty Blaise oeuvre. They are partners who trust each other totally, but they are capable of working independently and they don't own each other. There is no hint of jealousy when they take partners, long term or one-night stands. They love each other, but they are not in love, neither are they lovers. (Their adult attitude and relationship puts Bella and Edward-Sparkly-Vampire to shame. Just sayin' because I read these books at about the same age as millions of teens read Twilight.)

Three of the stories are set in Modesty and Willie's present, but In the beginning is Modesty's origin story as a refugee child walking through the Middle East in the aftermath of war, educated by life and a displaced professor whom she protects. Modesty ends up running a crime network and for six years Modestly and Willie fight and scheme and bleed together, tending each other's hurts and growing very rich. The Modesty Blaise stories are set after Modesty and Willie have retired from their life of crime and realised that settling down is difficult for a pair of adrenaline junkies.

I recommend the novels heartily and this reproduction to the early comic strips is a lovely way to revisit Modesty's adventures.

17th May, 2015

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Book Log 14/2015 - Judith Tarr: Forgotten Suns

Forgotten SunsOn the deserted world of Nevermore, a family of archaeologists labours to uncover ancient mysteries despite the threat of funding cuts which will lead to the United Planets stripping the planet's resources in a legal invasion.

Nevermore presents a conundrum. If the people of this world had suffered a wipeout after some apocalyptic upheaval there would be evidence, but there isn't. The buildings have crumbled, but all the records, statuary, art and artefacts have all disappeared. There are no skeletons, nothing to say whether the inhabitants were humanoid or alien. While her parents struggle to understand the mystery of the ruins and fight to retain the funding that will protect the project, and the world, Aisha accidentally blows the top off a mountain revealing a strange being, a living treasure. Human in appearance, Rama is even stranger than he first appears. Dressed in rags, but wearing enough gold artefacts to stock a small museum, and quite mad in a compelling way, he begins a quest to find Nevermore's missing population. They've only been gone for five thousand years, so that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Aisha's Aunt Khalida, a Military Intelligence officer is on leave after a mission that broke her. She's living with the burden of guilt too big for any one person to carry and Psycorps patent fix hasn't taken. Now both the MI and Psycorps want her back on duty. She's forced to return to Ariceli, the world where she committed the ultimate war crime, to negotiate a peace - at least that's what they say. It just happens that Ariceli is also Rama's first port of call… and Aisha is not letting him go gallivanting round the universe without her. She's desperately trying to find a justification for the continued funding of the Nevermore expedition and Rama is the likely key.

The question of who is Rama? turns into the question of what is Rama? Aisha may be the only person tying together disparate strands which all belong to the same puzzle.

Of course it's all a lot more complex than that. Everyone has their own agenda: Rama is still searching, following a trail of breadcrumbs; Khalida has to prevent one of the factions in her peace negotiation from blowing the whole planet of Ariceli apart; Aisha is searching for anything that will help her parents.

When they rescue an enslaved sentient ship a chase across the universe ends up as a journey through the multiverse. Rama must not only find his people but must also fulfil an ancient prophesy, one that's likely to kill him and anyone who helps him.

Psionic powers and magic mesh with science in this enthralling adventure. Characterisation, human and non-human, is complex and layered. Determined Aisha. Cocksure Rama. Damaged Khalida. They all have a part to play. The setting is a multiverse full of diverse worlds from Nevermore to Ariceli and Starsend via a free-trader's hub in the company of a worldly wise opera singer, a renegade Psychorps lieutenant and a boatload of angry scientists. The writing is often lyrical without being overblown, the tension is well-wrought and the pace fairly rattles along.

Highly recommended.

14th May, 2015

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Crossways Page Proofs

Crossways-cvr-400I've had my head down working my way through five hundred and thirty six pages of page proofs for the upcoming novel, Crossways. My good friend and cinebuddy, H, is also reading the page proofs because she's brilliant at finding typos. This afternoon she sent me the corrections for the first 300 pages. I expected we'd have some overlap, but there are hardly any typos that we both spotted, yet we each found a few. (Maybe only five or six per chapter - sometimes fewer.) I'm combining them into one list now.

This leads me to wonder how individual brains work when it comes to spotting typos.

Hell, if I knew that, I probably wouldn't make the typos in the first place.

Have a picture.

13th May, 2015

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Movie of the Week: The Age of Adaline

Age of AdalineSlow-paced tale of a 29 year old woman who due to some scientific technobabble comparable to introducing midichlorians into the Star Wars prequels ceases to age. There's a lot of initial exposition before we get to meet Adaline who is geting through life by changing identities every ten years, with only her daughter (who by now loooks like her grandmother) as a constant in her life.

The image on the poster says it all. It's an angsty romance with none of the other aspects of not aging explored except in a very cursory manner.

Blake Lively and Michiel Huisman are somewhat instantly forgettable as the angsty lovers, but the whole thing is saved somewhat by a good turn from Harrison Ford as ... well, if I told you that it would be a major spoiler... and Ellen Burstyn as the aged daughter.

I can see this eventually becoming one of the staple afternoon movies on TV on some obscure channel.
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Movie of the Week: Far From the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding CrowdMy cinebuddy, H, has a far better memory of the 1967 Julie Christie version of this and she had quite a lot to say about the loss of dramatic moments, particularly the ending. I wasn't as critical of it as she was. I particularly liked measured take on Gabriel Oak (never having been much of a fan of Alan Bates) and I like Carey Mulligan, though to be fair I also liked Julie Christie in the Bathsheba Everdene role. There's no comparison between Sergeant Troys, however. wins by a mile, leaving Tom Sturridge standing at the starting gate. As for Farmer Boldwood, yes I think I like somewhat better than Peter Finch. If there was drama lost at the end it was a directorial quirk not an acting one.

No spoilers for anyone who hasn't been forced to read the book at school (and I have to say that I hated Thomas Hardy, though this does seem to be one of his more cheerful books, despite the body-count.) Bathsheba Everdene turns down a marriage proposal from one man, comes into some property, is proposed to by another, marries for lust and... well... no spoilers. One woman, three men and eventually a satisfactory ending (for Bathsheba, at least, with a few trials and tribulations along the way.

The 1867 version was interesting in its choice of folksongs: Julie Christie (dubbed by Isla Cameron according to IMDB) singing Bushes and Briars as compared to Carey Mulligan's Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. I stuck around for the music credits to see if i could catch on to who did the actual singing but although Eliza Carthy and saul Rose were heavily mentioned in the credits they flashed by too quickly for me to be sure and seemed to be mostly for arrangements. Though there was a version of Lay Me Low straight out of the John Tamms songbook. His version to a T. Though to be fair it is a Shaker song from the 1830s. I was amused by the fact that IMDB says: "The song sung by Carey Mulligan in the teaser trailer is a cover of "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" (traditional) by Pentangle" Oh dear, IMDB, yes I'm sure Pentangle did sing it, but so did an awful lot of other people, What don't you get about 'traditional'?

Anyhow now I suppose the only thing I can do is to go and order the remastered DVD version from 1967.

12th May, 2015

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Book Log 13/2015 - Terry Pratchett: Raising Steam - Discworld #40

Raising SteamI so wanted this to be the best Terry Pratchett ever. It isn't, but it ticks several boxes for me. It more or less rounds off the history of Ankh Morpork's ascent to the modern era with the arrival of the steam railway. Though Moist von Lipwig is the central character (and he's never been my favourite) there are glimpses of Vimes (who is my favourite) and a fair bit of Vetinari (and Drumknott). As the railway travels across the face of the Discworld we briefly see landscapes we know and love. It's a farewell piece. We don't get to say goodbye to the witches, however. Maybe that will happen in the, as yet unpublished, fifth Tiffany Aching book.

6th May, 2015

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For all my UK friends as the election draws near. This is my one and only political post. Skip it if the election is driving you nuts already.

I come from Barnsley, Labour heartland, so it's not surprising that I want the current Con-Dem government OUT! Their record is appalling, and their outright lies about Labour causing the economic collapse are simply shameful and their dismembering of the NHS is, frankly, terrifying.

I want:

  • A Britain that's humane, i.e. fairer for all, including the disadvantaged, the underfunded and the sick. (I want an end to the scroungers and the immigrants rhetoric! People on benefits and immigrants are not the problem, and never were.)

  • I want a strong, expanded NHS with all elements of profit for private companies removed from the equation.

  • I want education to return to child-centred-learning, not accountant-centred-learning or 'academies'.

  • I want an end to the kind of austerity that clips the wings of the poor and lets the rich fly high.

  • I want a re-nationalised railway system with fair, affordable ticket prices.

  • I want Generation Rent to be able to afford houses at a sensible price (whether rented or purchased)

  • I want a sensible, sustained approach to renewable energies with a 1 kilometre standoff from housing for wind turbines and subsidies that profit developers reduced and instead offered to householders to make home solutions affordable (ground source heat pumps and PV glass roofs for instance).

  • And I'd really like it if we didn't get involved in any wars for the next few hundred years, please.

OK, I'm not going to get that from any one political party (and, no, I'm not going to start my own), but I'm certainly not going to get it from the Conservatives. They've already proved that, and that particular leopard is unlikely to change its underpants spots. Since none of the other parties is likely to be in a position to form a government I'm voting Labour, even though they don't tick every box on my list. Labour SNP coaltion? Not a problem. Labour/Green? That's OK, too.

Whatever your choice, please, please, please use your vote on Thursday, otherwise you'll get the government you deserve, not the one you want.

28th Apr, 2015

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Avengers - Age of Ultron

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-PosterIt's been a bit of a dry spell at the movies for most of April with hardly anything worth spending money on, especially now we don't get the Orange twofers. When we could see a film on a two-for-one offer then we were more inclined to risk the occasional movie that was outside our usual genre/parameters with the predictable patchy result from the excellent Chef to the appalling A Million ways to Die in the West.

So H and I have been waiting for Avengers - Age of Ultron with some impatience. I'm pleased to say that we were not disappointed. I've said before that I'm not a comic book reader, so though I know the characters I'm not hampered by knowledge of comic-book back-stories or the desire to see those stories faithfully reproduced on screen. If you are a comic book reader, your mileage may vary.

It's always nice to have the characters fleshed out while the action is zooming across the screen. Ultron has plenty of action. It's a mad-scientist-creates-something-bad-by-accident' story. In this case Tony Stark's attempt to invent an artificial intelligence to protect the world goes horribly wrong. But it's not a Tony Stark movie. Joss Whedon manages to give all the major players screen time and character development. It's particularly nice to see Hawkeye, who was largely sidelined in the first Avengers movie, get a life outside of his bow-and-arrow role. Good, too, to see some development for Bruce Banner and Natasha. (But there's no cross-reference to Agents of Shield/Agent Coulson.)

The movie drops us right into the action with the Avengers attacking a Hydra stronghold to retrieve Loki's staff and pretty much goes from set-piece to set-piece with all the usual battle scenes you might expect. There are some new characters introduced to the Avengers universe. (New to me, anyway. Comic book readers will be familiar with them, I believe.) It's darker than the first Avengers movie, but the witty Whedon script delivers a series of excellent one-liners, many in the voice of Ultron (nicely played by James Spader).

Sad that this is (apparently) Whedon's last Avengers/Marvel movie.

27th Apr, 2015

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Book Log 12/2015 - C.E Murphy: Heart of Stone - Negotiator Trilogy/Old Races Universe #1

Heart of StoneLoved this.
Margrit Knight, a lawyer and negotiator in New York City gets involved with a world she never knew existed when she meets Alban - a gargoyle and one of the Old Races.

Someone is killing women in Central Park and Alban has been framed. Who and why? That's the big question. Margrit's homicide detective off-on lover, Tony, thinks he has the answer. Margrit helped to give it to him, but when she listens to Alban's side of the story she realises that she was too hasty. She also realises that she's powerfully attracted to the gargoyle (no, he's not always made of stone) and her rocky relationship with Tony is going to suffer even more.

This is a whodunit and a whydunnit, but it's also about race and acceptance. Margrit is black, from a privileged family and has to examine her own prejudices when she discovers beings in NYC who may not be human but dammit, they're still people. The characters are powerfully drawn, Margrit is a compelling heroine, fiercely intelligent, dedicated to her job (and her clients) and fearless in the face of danger (even when she probably shouldn't be). The setting and set-up is fascinating and though I'm not usually a sucker for police/lawyer type crime novels the urban fantasy aspects of this drew me right in. I'd like to read more about Margrit and Alban.
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Book Log 11/2015 - Ian Whates: Pelquin's Comet, The Dark Angels #1

Pelquins-ComeSpace opera, adventure, treasure hunting, a motley crew, aliens and some corporate intrigue are the building blocks that form this science fiction tale from Ian Whates. Pelquin is a free trader/ The Comet, his ship, and motley crew, bear some resemblance to the Fireflyesque scenario (no bad thing in my book) in which a rag-tag bunch of adventurers skirt the barely legal side of free trade amongst a collection of worlds. Pelquin, the captain has a lead on a cache of valuable alien artefacts, but to get at them he needs to finance his expedition with a hefty loan from the First Solar Bank. He gets the loan, but also acquires a sharp-suited banker, Drake, who is a lot more than he seems to be, and, when his engineer, Monkey, is injured, Pel casually acquires a young woman replacement who's not quite sure who or what she is, but super-soldier wouldn't be far off the mark.

This is a set-up book for more adventures and so there are a lot of potential avenues unexplored, but on this first showing I'd be happy to read more books set in the dark Angels universe. Some questions are answered, more are asked, so if (like me) you like your spaceship crews a little rough and ready. Morally ambiguous while retaining the general designation of good-guys, this is for you. It's well-paced, twisty and gives a good glimpse into the possibilities of Pelquin's universe. Oh, and it's got a gorgeous cover - art by Jim Burns.

30th Mar, 2015

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Cinderella

Bad timing. We arrived at the cinema to find it's half term week, so instead of the usual audience of half a dozen we were surrounded by tiny girls, some in fairy outfits. Ah well, at least they were well behaved.

Cinderella_2015This was a little girls' film despite being directed by Kenneth Brannagh. No surprises and few deviations from the Perrault fairy tale (though no cutting off of heels). I still have a sneaking liking for Ever After - A Cinderella Story (1998, Drew Barrymore) and, of course The Slipper and the Rose (Richard Chamberlain/Gemma Craven, 1976), but this is a perfectly servicable Cinderella interpretation with Lily James as Ella and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) as Kit, the prince. Helena Bonham Carter is the fairy godmother while Cate Blanchett chews scenery as a suitably nasy stepmother, with her two dim, but not unattractive, daughters. Derek Jacobi steals the show as the ailing king with barely five minutes of screen time.

Richard Madden is allowed to flesh out the role of Prince Charming a little more than usual, though since the last screen wedding he attended was the Red Wedding I wanted to warn Ella that things might go awry and not to invite Walder Frey to the nuptuals.

Verdict? Perfect for eight year old girls in fairy dresses.
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Movie of the Week: Home

Home_(2015_film)_posterA Dreamworks animated adaptation of Adam Rex's children's book, The True Meaning of Smekday featuring the voice of Jim Parsons (Sheldon from Big Bang Theory) as Oh, a somewhet incompetent but endearing alien. Given that the alien Boov have taken over Earth and moved all the humans to encampments in Australia Oh is starting several points down in the popularity poll when he meets a surviving free human girl, Tip (voiced by Rihanna), who's mother has been kidnapped along with all the other humans.

Much of the humour comes from the unlikely pairing of human and alien. As alien invasion movies go it's pretty benign, but pleasant entertainment. There are some sweet moments.
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Movie of the Week: Insurgent

Insurgent 2015I continue to be impressed by the Divergent/Insurgent franchise.  Presumably this is the middle film of three (though since trilogies seem to be expanding into four movies these days, maybe all bets are off on that one, especially since there's already a collection of short stories focusing on hero of the piece, Four.). I think Insurgent holds up pretty well as a second movie. There are bound to be parallels drawn with Hunger Games and for my money this is better.

With Hunger Games I read the books first and then saw the movies. This time I'm doing it the other way round. I read Veronica Roth's Divergent after seeing the first movie and was struck by the adherence to book-plot. I can't say whether that's the case this time because I haven't read the book yet.

Shailene Woodley and Theo James are an attractive pair of leads with good on-screen chemistry. The story takes up just a few days after the close of Divergent with Tris and Four and the escapees taking refuge in Amity - the agricultural area outside the city proper (but still inside the fence). The plot centres of Janine (the antagonist) trying to open a message from the past and finding she needs a divergent to do it - and not just any Divergent either, it has to be Tris.

No more plot spoilers. Well worth seeing if you saw the first one. I'm not suire whether it's a good entry point if you didn't. My recommendation is to get the DVD of Divergent before seeing this.
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Lessons Learned and Applied - The Parallels Between Singing and Writing.

I've contributed a blog post to Gill Polack's Women's History Month blog. This is a slightly rejigged and expanded version of the one that appeared on Ruth Booth's blog last year. http://www.gillianpolack.com/jacey-bedford-womens-history-month/ and on LJ http://gillpolack.livejournal.com/1373839.html

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November 2015



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