You are viewing birdsedge

Previous 50

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.
blue eyes

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.
blue eyes

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.
blue eyes

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. and on LJ

17th Mar, 2015

blue eyes

Book Log 10/2015 - David Barnett: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl

Gideon Smith & the Mechanical GirlGideon Smith, son of a Whitby fisherman from Sandsend is an aficionado of the true adventures of Captain Lucian Trigger, Hero of the British Empire, so when his father's fishing boat is found floating, abandoned, with all the crew lost, Gideon goes looking for answers. There's a strange creature walking the night, one that's scarily reminiscent of a mummy described in one of Trigger's tales, and strange goings on at Lythe Bank. He meets writer Bram Stoker, himself investigating another unexplained abandoned ship and the strange tale of a fierce black dog that came ashore. Unconvinced that Stoker's quest (with Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Dracula's widow) is tied to his own Gideon heads for London to seek help from the redoubtable Captain, on the way rescuing Maria, an automaton powered by pistons, but with a human brain. Once in the capital, a city of stinks, mechanical marvels and plenty of reminders that the British Empire is enormous following the failure of the American War of Independence, he and Maria seek Trigger with the dubious help from a potty-mouthed Fleet Street journalist, Bent. They are bound for disappointment, but gradually a story unfolds that draws all the separate strands together.

A super, steampunky romp with vampires, mummified beasties, airships and automata that starts in Whitby, moves to London, Egypt and back to London again. Well-paced this is obviously only the start of Gideon's adventures due to a large dangling thread at the end. And, indeed, checking up, there's already  one more Smith book published and another to come in September 2015. Highly recommended.

11th Mar, 2015

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Chappie

ChappieA Neill Blomkamp movie set in a near future Johannesburg with a robotic police unit designed by Deon (Dev Patel). Deon is working on true artificial intelligence on his own time, and when his boss (Sigourney Weaver) turns down his request to experiment on one of the police robots that's been damaged beyond repair, he does it anyway. Unfortunately the robot, still a naive infant, though in a poerful shell, falls into the hands of Ninja and Yolandi, a pair of criminal thugs invested in gang culture and in desperate trouble with the violent local gang leader. They are planning a heist and the robot, named Chappie by Yolandi, is a likely candidate to help them.

Just to confuse you totally, Ninja and Yolandi are played by husband and wife team Ninja (no surname) and Yo-Landi Visser. Both are members of the South African rap/rave group Die Antwoord with only mild previous brushes with independent movies, however both are excellent as the developing 'parents' of the childlike robot.

But if you think this sounds like a South African version of Short Circuit, think again. This is Neill Blomkamp, South Africa and a 'fifteen' certificate. Chappie is soon being taught to say motherfucker, slouch with an attitude, and steal cars. When he refuses to shoot at humans his ned 'dad' tells him that knives are OK because they only make people sleep. (Yes, 'Dad' is a nasty piece of work.)

Despite having been kidnapped and almost killed by Ninja's gang Deon comes back time and again to try and educate Chappie..Chappie's education, gang culture and the gradual change in Yolandi and even in Ninja as they have to learn to moderate their behavious for the sake of the  new child in the family are fascinating, but there's a major plot bunny in the shape of Deon's jealous fellow robot designer (Hugh Jackman) whose own pet project, a giant battle-robot remotely controlled by an operator, has been shelved. Jackman's robot looks like a cross between an At-At and a dumpster, but it's big and powerful and as mean as the brain behind it - which unfortunately is Jackman's character.

Cinematography is gritty and grim, entirely in keeping. The robot design is intriguing. Though it has a human-shaped body, the face is not designed to bring forth a chorus of aaahhs and awws from the audience. Mistakes are made. Stuff happens, and I'm not going to offer any more spoilers. It doesn't have a fairy tale ending, but it does have a satisfying one. Watch it for yourself. Highly recommended.
blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

MarigoldIf you liked the first Marigold Hotel movie (which I did) you'll love this. The venerable cast on British thesps are on top form, though Richard Gere seems a little out of place (but does add eye-candy, for a certain value of eye-candy). Sonny (the excellent Dev Patel) is hoping to expand his business and buy another hotel, so is courting American backers. Things start going haywire when he makes assumptions about a guest (gere) whom he believes to be the 'guy' who has been sent to check out the hotel. With his wedding looming over him it seems that Sonny can't get anything right, though, of course, his guests always rally in support.

There's a sweet romance going on between characters played by Judi Dench and Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith is her usual redoubtable self. The cinematoography is excellent capturing the vivid colours and the heat of India.

Yes, I'm a sucker for the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - and though you can never quite recapture the pleasure of seeing the first one for the first time, the Second Best is not really second best. Highly recommended

7th Mar, 2015

blue eyes

Book Log 09/2015 - Peter Dickinson: The Changes trilogy

The Devil's Children
The Weathermonger

Changes TrilogyThe big dilemma in reading The Changes is whether to tackle the books in publication order or in internal chronological order. The three books are all snapshots in time and don't feature the same characters. Wisely the omnibus version goes for internal chronology, beginning with The Devil's Children in which we are introduced to a post apocalyptic Britain in which everyone has suddenly developed a horror and hatred of machines. Society has broken down. Even simple machines such as locks have suddenly become ineffable and working machines engender a murderous rage that doesn't stop until the machines have been destroyed. Even the language of machines

We see events through the eyes of Nicky Gore who has sensibly returned home to her house in London to await her parents--parents who never come. After a wait of 28 days, devastated by her abandonment, she takes refuge with a party of Sikhs, strangers and strange to her in their culture. Here she believes she can find succour without the danger of emotional involvement. These people are unfamiliar enough that she will be able to remain aloof.

But the Sikhs haven't been affected by the anti-machine madness as Nicky herself has, so Nicky becomes their canary, able to warn them if they are in danger of drawing attention by acting against what has become the new norm. They travel through the English countryside and eventually find a farm to settle on. The exploration of Sikh culture through Nicky, who seems to have forgotten what she knew about a lot of things (a symptom of the machine-madness), is fascinating and for its time (first published in 1970) made it unusual amongst its contemporaries. It explores xenophobia and the descent into feudalism in a fairly simplistic way

There follows Heartsease, which is set in the 'witch hunt' era of the Changes, and finally The Weathermonger, which sees the solution to the original problem

I was impressed by these books when they were first published and I think they've stood the test of time reasonably well. I note that reviewers are talking about them as YA novels, but their original publication dates them to the timer when YA was barely developing as a concept. Originally these were just classed as children's books and as such I think they are accessible to a wide age range. This is a re-read courtesy of the electronic version from Netgalley, though I still have the original paperbacks on my bookshelf.

4th Mar, 2015

blue eyes

Goodreads Starry Update

Five stars to Goodreads for their customer service. Yesterday I queried and today got this email.

"We did recently migrate our database to bigger servers, and that change did cause some unexpected problems. One of the errors that we noticed at the time was that some ratings weren't being updated automatically and we had to manually update it. Unfortunately, this did cause some confusion around ratings at the time and I'm sorry if you were affected by this.
"Zero star ratings have never been an option on Goodreads and I'm sorry that it affected you in this way. We have since solved all the problems that was caused by the move, so it definitely shouldn't happen again."

So that should be OK now, right?

3rd Mar, 2015

blue eyes

Stars in Your Reviews - the Goodreads Conundrum

This is for all you people who read and review or add star ratings on Goodreads.

I just read a review of Charlie Stross' first Laundry book on Goodreads and I noticed that though the review was positive the reviewer hadn't given it a star rating. I was talking to another author after my first book came out and she said she was happy to review books on Goodreads, but she didn't feel it was fair for her - as an author - to give star ratings. I can thoroughly sympathise with this feeling. When your own books are up there for comments and reviews, you suddenly lose your taste for slamming some poor fellow author with a stinker, however what she hadn't realised was that not giving a star rating when you review effectively means you've given the book zero stars.

I don't think Goodreads explains this, and I only realised when I added it up. As a very new author I had so few starred reviews that it was obvious the reviews that hadn't been starred had pulled down my average rating as if they were zeroes (despite the reviews being positive.)

My feeling is that Goodreads should be asked to display a warning that says: Please note any review without a star rating effectively counts as a zero stars review. This would actually be a bonus to some folks who begin reviews with: "I'd like to give this book no stars at all..." Effectively you can do that.

My point is, however, that it would be useful for people to know that declining to give stars at all is the same as awarding zero out of five to a book you may have quite liked.

25th Feb, 2015

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Big Hero 6

HeroWhat a delight this movie is - well worth its Oscar. I'd seen a few mixed reviews, but today is the last Orange Wednesday, so there was no way H and I were going to miss our cinema trip. With Fifty Shades of Domestic Abuse showing there really wan't much choice, so Big Hero 6 it was, and it would have been a shame to miss it. Funny and serious in turns the manga/anime style is attractive without being over-exaggerated and the setting (a Japanese version of San Francisco) works well. The story is tight, the characters appealing and the moral is obvious without being heavy.

Ostensibly it's about the bond that develops between robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada and blimpish inflatable robot Baymax, a medical robot created by his dead brother, but it's about much more than that. It's about the effects of loss, the emptiness of revenge, and the value of friendship (and also the value of nerdship).

After the death of his bother Tadashi in a fire, Hiro is rescued spiritually (and often physically) by Tadashi's robot creation Baymax, and Tadashi's nerd-college friends, as he investigates the fact that the fire may not have been an accident after all.

Highly recommended.

24th Feb, 2015

blue eyes

Book Log 08/2015 - Jill Schultz: Angel on the Ropes

Angel on the RopesThere's a lot in this book, inventive world building, a three-dimensional heroine with inherent conflicts and a multi-strand plot which includes class structure, bankruptcy, personal jeopardy, health care, ecological disaster, political unrest and a love triangle. Yes, that's a huge amount for one book to cope with and at times it seems almost too much, and not all the strands are resolved.

The setting is a human colony on Penance, a Dyson Sphere created by (now long-gone) aliens. Amandine is three things, a pacifist Seeker, a circus trapeze artist of extraordinary skill, and a leopard, a human born with a gene mutation that causes spot marks on her skin. Unfortunately it's a common belief that leopards are plague carriers (they aren't) so a zealous sect of Plaguellants is in the business of tracking them down and murdering them, apparently with the approval of the authorities.

Penance society is somewhat bent out of shape. Not only does it allow the indiscriminate persecution of leopards, it has a highly divisive class system whereby the haves, Titans, basically make all the rules to suit themselves. (Hmm, this is sounding familiar.) There's a twisted universal healthcare system which allows (ordinary) folk to insure only one organ, so woe betide if you have a kidney complaint when you chose to insure your liver. Additional healthcare is also available via casinos - you need win the jackpot if you or your loved one needs a medical procedure that you're not insured for. Lose and you're indentured for a number of years to work in any one of a number of menial tasks. Of course the system is stacked against you.

Amandine is a trapeze artists, but she is also part of the Seeker network. In her role as a Seeker she acts as a guide to take endangered leopards to a hidden sanctuary. As the book opens she makes a mess of her assignment. Leopards are killed and she comes to the attention of Brother Sterling, the chief Plaguellant. In the meantime Cristallo, the circus that has sheltered her for seventeen years, is on the verge of bankruptcy and her long term lesbian relationship with Malaga (who runs an Exotica shop) is breaking down. Out in wider society there's a backlash from the Spots, a radical bunch of leopard terrorists who are protesting the situation with indiscriminate violence.

The circus research is impeccable and the descriptions of Amandine's trapeze routines with her catcher, Jango, her heart-brother, are lovingly and viscerally realised in great detail.

Gender roles are open, relationships are bisexual with single or multiple partners. The romance angle is beautifully written, Amandine after breaking up with Malaga meets Nikos, and it's love at first sight. They are soul mates and a pair bond made in heaven. Their love is thrilling, sensual and utterly believable. The reader meets Nikos, a Titan and a healthcare reformer, early in the book without realising the importance of his character (to Amandine) I wish she'd met him earlier because we're halfway through before their relationship starts and I would have liked to see more of that.

The physical world is fascinating though some of the world building is detailed while other bits fade to grey in the distance. Dyson spheres are problematical for human colonisation, but we don't get detailed explanations of how this works technically, just hints about its size and the fact that only some of its atmosphere is human-friendly.

If this review is a little jumbled it's perhaps because there are many facets to address. It's a self-published book and, for me, seems to spread itself too widely, tries to do too much and because of that lacks a little focus. It comments on contemporary society's healthcare issues, radicalisation of the disaffected, the dangers of religious extremism, class structure, and the beneficent effects of art. Any one of those would make a book in itself. There's enough material here for a trilogy.

This book came highly recommended. Perhaps I was expecting too much because I didn't immediately engage with it as well as I had hoped. It took me almost to the halfway point to really get into it and then I found the ending was a bit of a let-down which either went on for too long after the main story arc had finished, or didn't go on for long enough, because though resolution is in sight, it is not achieved. The character that goes through the greatest change is Brother Sterling and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. There are some loose plot threads (The snakehead fish? Malaga?) so I wonder if Ms Schultz is planning to revisit this world.

Downloaded from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

17th Feb, 2015

blue eyes

Book Log 07/2015 - Octavia Butler: Dawn - Exogenesis #1

Dawn-ExogenesisI've been aware of Octavia Butler's writing for some time, but somehow never managed to get round to reading one of her books. My loss. This won't be my last Butler book..

A devastating nuclear war all but wipes out humanity and the few scattered survivors are rescued by extraterrestrials, the Oankali, a species driven to blend their genes (fairly indiscriminately, it seems) with other intelligent species, changing both species permanently. The first book serves as a first contact book. Lilith wakes from a centuries-long sleep and is gradually introduced to her saviours. At first she finds them terrifying and repulsive. They look like ugly sea-slugs with sensory tentacles all over their bodies instead of eyes/ears/noses. Gradually she gets used to them and comes to understand them a little.

The Oankali have three genders, male, female and the strange ooloi, genderless individuals with the power to manipulate genes, and also with consciousness sharing powers which include mental sexual stimulation between male and female partners of any species. (Threesomes being fun in this case.) After initial tests and acclimatisation to the Oankali, Lilith is charged with the task of waking forty human adults and training them to return to Earth to a rain-forest environment..

What she doesn't tell them at first, because she can hardly bear to think about it herself, is that the Oankali intend the next generation of human children to be Oankali-Human hybrids - a 'better' organism for survival on the recovering Earth.

This book contains a mixture of interesting ideas, weird sex and a deep examination of alienation and 'the other'. The conflict comes between Lilith's desire to remain human and preserve humanity in its original form, and her need to survive. The Oankali believe that humans, left to themselves, will self-destruct. Their controlling, paternalistic, Oankali-know-best attitude gives the humans little choice in the matter, so, of course, they rebel, leaving Lilith caught between her own species and the Oankali who have become her family.

There are several points to make about this book being a product of its time. Octavia Butler was the pioneering American black female writer who wrote about black female characters and paved the way for other writers of colour. Also, this book, published in 1987 was written before Stockholm[*1] Syndrome was a widely recognised phenomenon, but Lilith certainly develops sympathy for the Oankali whom she first sees as her captors, while they see themselves as her rescuers. It's a post-apocalyptic version of Beauty and the Beast, maybe.

[*1] The incident Stockholm Syndrome was eventually named after took place in 1973, but originally went under the catchy name of Norrmalmstorgssyndromet, only later becoming Stockholm Syndrome.

12th Feb, 2015

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Jupiter Ascending

JupiterThis is a film that poses one huge question: how will Sean Bean die?

I read a couple of bad reviews of this which almost put me off going, but that would have been a pity because although it's fluff, it's entertaining fluff with gorgeous visuals and a sequenmce of events (maybe i won't call it as plot) that fairly zip along. The bad review complained of the plot being hackneyed - poor earth girl, Jupiter Jones, is actually alien royalty: hijinks ensue - but it works on an entertainment level, which is exactly what I was after on a chilly Wednesday afternoon. Yes, Jupiter has to be rescued a few times, but to be fair she's not set up as a kick-ass heroine. She's an illegal immigrant in Chicago who cleans toilets for a living. And when it comes down to it she does manage to rescue herself a couple of times.

There's a lot of explody chase sequences and not too much soul searching even though it's mostly about Jupiter trying to stop her inherited family from harvesting Earth's humans for less than great reasons.

Eddie Redmayne is the scenery-chewing pantomime villain, only slightly worse than his two screen siblings. Mila Kunis does well enough as Jupiter. Channing Tatum is the hero/space cop/love interest, which is a pity because, well, Channing Tatum. Sorry, but personality-wise and everything else-wise he doesn't do it for me, but Sean Bean just about rescues it as Tatum's one time seargeant in the military. He still has a Sheffield accent of course, and I'm reminded of the Dr Who episode in which we were reminded that: 'Every planet has a north!'

So this is a Wachowski sibling movie, so Jupiter's life changes, but ultimately she has a choice of whether to buy into that or to go her own way.

And the big question? Does Sean Bean die? Sorry, you'll have to go and see it for yourself.
blue eyes

Book Log 06/2015 - Genevieve Cogman: The Invisible Library

As an ex librarian I have a fondness for anything library-oriented so I wanted to like this a lot - and I did. Invisible LibraryGenevieve Cogman's debut novel is a delight.

Irene is a junior librarian - an agent of the Invisible Library which exists between dimensions, but has access to all the alternate earths in the multiverse. It's purpose is to collect and preserve all the alternate versions of important books that have been published in the various dimensions and the librarians are, essentially, book thieves (or sometimes book-buyers). Getting hold of the book seems more important that the morality of their methodology.

Sent to a steampunky alternate London to collect an important copy of Grimm's Fairyt Tales she's given the bare minimum of information and saddled with a trainee, the elegant and handsome Kai who is eager (maybe over-eager) to have a field assignment since he's been cooped up in the library for the last five years, learning the ropes.

Irene is bonded to the library which gives her certain powers, including being able to speak the language of the library which enables her to commence (mostly) inanimate objects, such as locks to unlock. Kai is not yet bonded but seems to have a skill-set of his own, which is a puzzle to Irene at first.

Irene is wrong-footed even before crossing over into the alternate London by Bradamant, once her mentor and now a rival. Bradamant wants the gig of finding the Grimm, but Irene suspects her motives and her authority and manages to cross over and leave her behind. In the alternate she's given, yet again, a bare minimum of information. This steampunk alternate is inhabited not only by humans, but by fae, werewolves and vampires. It's been infected with chaos, and chaos magic and the library's own powers don't mix. The book's owner, a vampire, has been murdered and the book is missing. Irene goes to investigate and quickly meets Silver, a fae who wants the book, and Vale, the Great Detective - that alternate's analogue of Sherlock Holmes.

Irene and Kai battle mechanical crocodiles, werewolves, silverfish, Bradamant (again) and, most terrifying of all, a renegade librarian who is known for returning the vital organs of those librarians whose paths have crossed his - mostly in separate, neatly wrapped packages. Zeppelins and mechanical hansom cabs are involved as well as a very proper policeman called Singh and an elderly blackmailer. The action takes place across London, including, of course, the British Library and the British Museum

It's well-paced, inventive and a very satisfying read, with Irene and Kai both being engaging and well-drawn protagonists with their own strengths, weaknesses and backstories. Yes there's a hint of attraction between them, but this is anything but a corset romance. I hope this book isn't the last in this universe. I'd love to read more.

5th Feb, 2015

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Kingsman: The Secret Service

KingsmanSince I'm not a comics reader, i didn't know in advance that this is yet another comic-to-movie project, but that certainly didn't spoil the fun. I really enjoyed this. It's fluff, but well-executed fluff, which suits me fine.

The film's blurb says: Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton), whose late father secretly worked for a spy organization, lives in a South London housing estate and seems headed for a life behind bars. However, dapper agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) recognizes potential in the youth and recruits him to be a trainee in the secret service. Meanwhile, villainous Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) launches a diabolical plan to solve the problem of climate change via a worldwide killing spree.

Colin Firth is nails it as the posh spy, Harry Hart, suave and sophisticated with a very dangerous edge. Playing a character who can kill you with his umbrella requires a deft touch not to tip it over the edge into cartoonish comedy, and Firth is pitch-perfect.  Egerton gives an excellent perfomance, as the dodgy London layabout who is transformed into a mini James Bond. Spies don't usually have mums, but there's a good sub-plot about Eggsy's mother and baby sister and the street gang Eggsy is leaving behind. (Don't dash out the instant the credit6s roll or you'll miss the payoff scene.) There's a potential for this to turn into a series, though as a set-up film or a standalone this works well. Potenial Kingsman recruits have to go through intensive training and a rigoroius selection process. It's lovely to see Marc Strong for once not playing a villain, but rather playing 'Merlin', the recruits' trainer. The villainous Valentine's 'muscle' is Gazelle, a lithe and dangerous young woman with artificial legs, played by Sofia Bputella. It was also nice to see Mark Hamill in a cameo role as a university professor, barely recognisable, looking like an old man and with a credible British accent, which reminds me that I'm so looking forward to seeing what Disney does with Star Wars 7.
blue eyes

Book Log 05/2015 - Patricia Briggs: Dead Heat - Alpha and Omega #4

Dead HeatThis is a review of an advance uncorrected proof via Netgalley. It's due out in early March 2015.

The Fae's war with humanity, as depicted in the crossover Mercy Thompson series, is escalating and alpha werewolf troubleshooter Charles Cornick and his omega-wolf wife Anna are drawn into some nasty paranormal business while visiting an old friend to buy Anna a new horse.

A powerful fae is on the loose, kidnapping and killing (eventually) human children, replacing them with simulacra. Charles' old friend's grandchild is targeted via a particularly nasty piece of magic, and that involves the werewolves in the investigation.

This is Patricia Briggs usual tight plotting with a huge helping of will-they-won't-they dramatic tension, but what I found just as interesting is the continuing development of the relationship between Charles and Anna and also the examination of friendship between an (almost) immortal being (werewolves live a long time) and their human friends. It all hinges on the nature of love and whether it's better to love and lose, or to refuse to engage for fear of eventually getting hurt.

Charles' non-werewolf friend, Joseph is, indeed an 'old' friend. In the days of his youth he and Charles worked together, fought together and let off steam together. In the end Joseph married Maggie, whom Charles had loved. Now Joseph and Maggie are elderly and Joseph is on his death-bed. Charles steered clear for twenty years because he couldn't bear to see his friend's slow slide into infirmity. Now he has to say goodbye. There's an answer. Joseph could be 'turned,' made werewolf. His father, Hosteen, who still looks like a young man, is a werewolf and alpha of the local pack, but Joseph has chosen to stay human.

Also, the other side of this coin, Anna wants a baby. Werewolves can't carry children because the change from human to wolf causes spontaneous abortion, but Anna has a notion that invitro fertilization and a surrogate mother might work. Technically it's possible, but Charles doesn't want to see a child of his grow, age and die, or be endangered by the nature of the dangerous work Charles is often engaged in, dispensing rough justice to werewolves who become too dangerous to control their appetites.

Their problems are explored as the story progresses, which gives the book a good emotional kick as well as a solid whodunnit plot. As usual Briggs writing is absorbing and Dead Heat is a real page turner. Highly recommended, though if you're not familiar with Briggs' werefolf world, you may want to read some of the other Alpha and Omega books first, beginning with Cry Wolf.

4th Feb, 2015

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Into the Woods

IntoWoodsI generally like musicals, but where does a musical stop and an opera begin? Into the Woods has lots of music, but no good songs and only one memorable (9 note) musical hook, which recurred. I confess I'm not a great Sondheim fan (you guessed, huh?). Having said that, the singing was good, especially since most of the participants were actors not usually known for singing roles.

The plot is an original strand about a baker and his wife (the surprisingly effective pairing of and impressive James Corden and Emily Blunt) who can't have a child until they've lifted a curse by collecting three items for the witch next door (Meryl Streep). Into this is twisted a collection of Grimms' fairy tales such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood (with a cameo by Johnny Depp as Mr Wolf). The fairy tales were all twisted, of course, deliciously so in some cases. (The prince who was raised to be charming but not sincere, for instance.

I've watched too many Dr Whos recently because I confess that when James Corden's baker eventually got his baby I had to woner whether its name was Stormageddon.
blue eyes

Book Log 04/2015 - Jen Williams: The Copper Promise

Copper PromiseI read excellent reviews of this book and really wanted to love it. Ultimately, I didn't engage as well as I'd hoped, though I found much to admire. Jen Williams' worldbuilding is excellent. Though the setting is medievalish, she builds a world in which the old gods and their power have been shut away. There are knights, mercenaries, taverns and lords, but it feels anything but generic.

I bounced off the characters, however. The three main ones are basically unlikeable in their selfish disregard for others.  Wydrin of Crosshaven, a hard-drinkin' hard-fightin' female fighter and her friend and companion, Sir Sebastian, a disgraced Knight of Ynnsmouth, who clings to the essence of the Order even though they kicked him out for something heinous, are chancers, mercenary adventurers living from hand to mouth and job to job. The trouble starts when Lord Frith employs them to see him safely into the dangerous underground labyrinth beneath the Citadel - a place from which few return. What could possibly go wrong?

I've never played Dungeons and Dragons, but the first part of this reads like a trip through the Dungeon and yes, there is a Dragon, though it's not your regular kind, this one's a god with a manufactured army of green women warriors, new-born into the world. Frith gets what he wants, in fact he gets more than he bargained for, but only by ignoring the needs of others. An unspeakable horror is released, and our heroes run in the opposite direction. Frith isn't interested in the horror, he's single-mindedly seeking revenge on the people who broke into his castle, killed his family and tortured him for the location of the family vault.

The rest of the book is straightforward quest narrative. They all have to face individual fears, Sebastian's dark secret is finally revealed, though it's well flagged up in advance (and it's not heinous at all). There are gains and losses and a few more gains until they are eventually in a position to do something about the problem they caused in the first place, though many people (thousands?) have already died because of it.

What I didn't know before reading it is that this book comprises four serialized novellas – Ghost of the Citadel, Children of the Fog, Prince of Wounds, and Upon the Ashen Blade. Had I known that in advance it might have accounted for the fragmentary nature which I found almost disorienting at times and is probably what prevented me from engaging as fully as I might have done.

What I did find fascinating were the scenes from the viewpoint of the individuals in the manufactured army as they gradually become self-aware. I could have done with a whole lot more of that kind of thing. they engaged my sympathy even though they were part of the murdering hoard they'd been 'born' to.

I read this in order to read The Iron Ghost, which I have as a review copy from Netgalley. I'm looking forward to finsing out whether their adventures have changed Wydrin, Sebastian and Frith.

27th Jan, 2015

blue eyes

Book Log 03/2015 - Joe Abercrombie: Half a King - Shattered Sea #1

Half a KingYarvi is a prince, but a younger son, so not expected to inherit, which is just as well because he was born with a deformed hand and can neither hold a shield nor scale a fortress wall. He's never going to be the man leading an army into battle. He's destined to be a minister and has almost completed his rigorous training when his father and older brother are killed and he's dragged into the limelight - and not to his advantage.

Betrayed by his uncle and surviving only by good fortune and his quick wits, Yarvi is sold into slavery, strapped to a galley oar where he seemingly will stay until he dies, but Yarvi is clever. He's only ever had his wits to rely on in a land where physical prowess counts for everything. And despite the hardscrabble world he's been thrust into Yarvi is essentially kind, though not weak. He's determined to survive and determined to get revenge on his uncle.

When eventually he gets his chance for freedom, he takes a bunch of shipmates with him on a gruelling journey back to his homeland. There's a surprise twist at the end which means Yarvi gets what he wants, but not in the way he expected to get it and not without consequences.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I see some reviewers have dubbed it Abercrombie-lite because compared to the author's earlier books this is nowhere near as grimdark, however they don't seem to have taken into account that it's written with young people in mind. The story is more simple, more accessible than the First Law Trilogy, but no poorer for all that. It's a coming of age story with a physically flawed protagonist that kept me hooked. In fact - I only intended to read a chapter but I couldn't put it down. I read the whole lot in one sitting without even coming up for air or coffee. That's a real page turner.
blue eyes

Movie of the Week: National Theatre's Treasure Island (Live Broadcast.)

TreasureLast Thursday we went to the delightful Penistone Paramount to see the real-time live broadcast of the National Theatre's Treasure Island which turned out to have Arthur Darvill as Long John Silver and folkie, Roger Wilson, singing shanties and playing fiddle. But the star of the show was the girl who played Jim Hawkins. Yes Hawkins was a girl - Jemima Hawkins - played by Patsy Ferran. She carried the show effortlessly - and there were female pirates as well adding a touch of gender balance to a story written in the days when only men and boys had adventures.

The adaptation was excellent for family audiences without erasing the essential darkness of the original story. The stage set was spectacular with a surround of ribs, like the wreck of a wooden boat, a full lighting rig that created a planetarium sky, complex turntable and rising sections forming instant scenery. The inn (outdoors and in), the ship Hispaniola (complete with climbable rigging) and the desert island. You can see the set here:

These NT broadcasts are really the next best thing to seeing the show live (and a lot cheaper). We saw Frankensdtein last year with Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller. That was a re-run of the recording of the stage play. Treasure Island carried the frisson of knowing you were watching in real time. i guess they will repeat the showing now that they have it in the pot. I heartily recommend it.

This week (weather permitting) we're going to see Into the Woods.
I'm also looking forward to Ex Machina and Jupiter Ascending - but am deeply disappointed that Orange Wednesay twofers are coming to an end in late February.

14th Jan, 2015

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Birdman

BirdmanWe'd planned to see Into the Woods, but on a whim went to see Birdman instead. Wow, what a movie! Intense, funny in parts (though not a comedy) and gruelling at times it's the story of Riggan Thomson, an actor who twenty years previously was a movie star playing superhero 'Birdman' and who is now trying to redeem his flagging acting career by sinking all he has into a serious Broadway play. Don't whatever you do, assume this is a one-man version of Galaxy Quest. Nothing could be further from hard reality. On the edge of losing it, Riggan is plagued by the voice of Birdman in his head and superpowers that manifest sporadically when no one else is around (or do they?). (The voice and the character costume are a serious echo of Keaton's Batman.) Michael Keaton's self-referential performance as Riggan is little short of brilliant. Edward Norton as the talented but destructively egotistical actor who comes in at the last minute to 'save the play' is powerfully played. Kudos also to Emma Stone as Sam, Riggan's daughter. It's a small cast and all the performances are excellent. One of the stars of the show is the cinematography. Fluid hand-held camera work captures the grim claustrophobia of backstage: scruffy dressing rooms, labyrinthine corridors, peeling plaster and bare brickwork, compared to the frightening openness of the stage itself where suddenly every flaw is in the spotlight.

It's already being tipped as an Oscar contender*. I thought it was brilliant with strobe-like flashes of deeply uncomfortable truthfullness. My cinebuddy, H, hated it from beginning to end. Take your pick.

And right after I wrote this it picked up nine Oscar nominations and won Best Movie
blue eyes

Book Log 02/2015 - Lisa Shearin: Wild Card

Wild cardThis is a prequel novella in Lisa Shearin's Raine Benares series detailing her first meeting with Tam Nathratch, the one-time dark Goblin mage turned casino owner. Raine is a magical seeker, finding goods and people that have gone astray. Between them Raine, Tam and Raine's piratical cousin, Phelan, get involved with reclaiming jewels that have been used to store the stolen souls of children.

It's a fairly straightforward plot, but Shearin's strengths are character, pace and voice and this has all of her trademark quirks in good measure. It serves as a good intro to her world and a nice revisit for those of us who have read all of the Raine Benares series beginning with Magic Lost, Trouble Found. A quick read. Recommended.

13th Jan, 2015

blue eyes

Book Log 01/2015 - Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus

Night CircusA literary fantasy set in the final years of the nineteenth century, ostensibly about a mysterious and wonderful circus which appears suddenly and is only open from dusk to dawn. But the circus - a collection of sideshows rather than the three-ring variety - is only half the story. The underlying story is a contest between two magicians, played out through their students acting as the protagonists. The reason the circus has been created is as a venue for the ongoing contest, a somewhat confusing affair in which neither the students nor the reader knows the rules.

The contest is basically a nature versus nurture contest. One student is the genetic daughter of Prospero an actual magician masquerading as a popular stage magician. His bastard daughter, Celia Bowen, is dumped on his doorstep when her mother commits suicide and Prospero quickly binds her (magically) into a lifelong competition with his rival's protegee, Marco, an orphan picked up off the street.

SPOILERS AHEAD: The circus, weird and wonderful, is the venue for their contest which (we learn later) will only end when one of them dies. In the meantime, though both are told of the contest neither is given a list of rules. Marco goes to work for Chandresh Lefevre, the rich impresario who owns the circus (and believes it to be his own idea, not realising how much he is being manipulated). Marco works on creating magical illusions from the outside. Celia, in the meantime, becomes the circus illusionist, travelling with the circus and working from the inside. Marco knows who Celia is, but it's many years before Celia discovers who her opponent is.

Despite this being a contest to the death, there's no sense of urgency, little dramatic tension and the whole thing in more like a collaboration than a competition. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace with sumptuous descriptions of the magical circus attractions, side-forays into the team of people Chandresh draws about him to create mechanical marvels and elegant costumes, (resulting in around fifteen point of view characters which dilutes any focus you might expect the novel to have). There's a sub-plot about American farm-boy Bailey and his growing relationship with the circus-born twins, Poppet and Widget which eventually ties into the solution to the contest.

The viewpoint shifts between omniscient and all these (15) characters. The tense shifts queasily between present and past. At times reading this book is like walking on quicksand while wearing a pair of sparkling magical fairy slippers.

Did I enjoy it? In a way. I enjoyed the imagination, but the playing out of the actual storyline was slow. Marco and Celia fall in love (eventually) and there is a resolution but there's no triumph or tragedy and the sociopathic magicians who started the whole process get neither a real result nor a comeuppance.

12th Jan, 2015

blue eyes

Short Story Sale

Clour me gobsmacked... I've had another short story sale this morning: The Urbane Fox (reprint) to Trysts of Fate for February publication. That's four short story sales so far in the first 12 days of 2015, which has prompted a blog piece on selling short stories over on t'other blog at Wordspress.

These are the stories that have sold, but have not yet been published:
The Urbane Fox (Reprint) to Trysts of Fate, February 2015
Mort’s Laws to Nature’s Futures 2015.
Times Two to Saturday Night Reader (Canada)
Late Breakfast to Every Day Fiction, 2015
Last Train to Grievous Angel, sold 2014 for 2015 publication.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Panda (Reprint) to Buzzy Mag. Sold 2014 for 2015 publication

Absolution Pass to Andromeda’s Offspring (Anthology – Sold in April 2013, still not out.)

7th Jan, 2015

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Night at the Museum 3 - Secret of the Tomb

NightMuseumI resisted Night at the Museum when it did the rounds of the cinemas because it didn't look like my sort of film, but caught it on TV just before NatM2 came out and was surprised to discover that it was much better than I expected, sweet and funny with a splash of tension and mild peril.  Hence I also enjoyed NatM2 and therefore was prepared to enjoy Night at the Museum 3. If it didn't quite live up to the first two movies it still didn't disappoint.

Ben Stiller is one of those actors I always underrate, but he's actually a very good at creating comedy while playing straight. In the third movie the team of usual suspects set off to the British Museum to try to fix the magic Egyptian tablet that animates the museum exhibits at night. Stiller is Larry, the night guard at the museum. There are good turns from Steve Coogan at Octavius and Owen Wilson as Jed reprising their love-hate relationship as the miniature centurion and the cowboy. Crystal the Capuchin monkey acts her socks off again. This movie is notable for being his last movie appearance of Robin Williams (as Teddy Roosevelt)  before his untimely death last year and the penultimate movie for Mickey Rooney who bowed out last April, age 93.

Larry is having problems with his teenage son who is showing signs of kicking over the traces as he approaches college application stage and his magical job at the museum is in crisis as the Tablet of Ahkmenrah begins to deteriorate, jeopardising the nocturnal lives of the museum inhabitants. The actual solution to the problem comes a little easily but in the meantime there's mayhem ion the British Museum. Effects, as usual, are very well done and the comedy level is smiley rather than laugh out loud funny, but the movie's heart is in the right place and there's a bittersweet ending which wraps up the trilogy reasonably well.

A special mention for Hugh Jackman playing himself (briefly).

2nd Jan, 2015

blue eyes

Book Logs 2014

So this 2014's reading suffered greatly from all the writing that I needed to do. i find it almost impossible to read while I'm writing a first draft - unless it's non-fiction. Stories providre a distraction and might, subconsciously also provide influence. In oprevioius years I've read and blogged between fifty and sixty books. This year I didn't even manage twenty, though as an excuse I offer the notion that the two George R R Martins and the Jilly Cooper probably add up to six or seven books between them.

Favourites of 2014 were the Scott Lynch Gentlemen Bastards books, though very honourable mentions go to Pratchett for Dodger, Patricia Briggs for Night Broken, the eighth Mercy Thompson book, and Tom Pollock for The City's Son. I don't buy many books on writing techniques, but the three Donald Maass books are excellent and being non-fiction didn't clash with the writing I was doing in parallel with reading.

Books read and blogged (in reverse order):

1st Jan, 2015

blue eyes

2014. Looking Both Ways. 2015.

Looking back on 2014

Overall 2014 was a pretty benign year for me and mine, for which I an heartily grateful since I know some of my friends have had less than stellar years. Though my uncle died recently, he made it into his 90s and had a good innings and is remembered fondly. Three friends with serious and somewhat scary illnesses are all well on the way to recovery, which is excellent news.

Financially it could have been better. We spent a serious chunk of our nest-egg on a complete makeover for the bedroom in the early part of the year (which we don't regret in the slightest because we love the result), but an unpredictable financial setback in the last three months of 2014 caused a bit of a blip which will likely last until February/March. It's been difficult but not disastrous. You expect ups and downs when you're self-employed and luckily this down is one we've been able to ride so far.

2014 is the year I achieved my ambition and officially became a novelist with the publication of Empire of Dust in November. I'm still slightly surprised - even though I've known since mid 2013 that it was going to happen. It's so gratifying when you open the box from the publisher and find 20 perfect copies of your own book staring up at you. As a result I made a special effort to attend more conventions than usual, so I not only went to Eastercon (which I usually attend) but also to the World Science Fiction Convention, which was in London this year, Fantasycon in York, Bristolcon and Novacon in Nottingham, where I had an unofficial book launch. Since my book is published in the USA (and not officially in the UK) there won't be an official launch, but it's gathered some decent reviews already.

Looking forward to 2015

Grandma 2013-06-16-smIt's my mum's 90th birthday on 6th January. She continues fit, well and bright for which we can only be thankful. She takes care of herself well, still runs the Monday Friends group in the village and is a member of the art group, occasionally selling paintings.

Artisan will be doing a reunion tour in 2015. Rather than do a short concentrated tour we're spreading it out to a leisurely few gigs a month. There are already about 25 gigs in the pipeline including ten festivals. We're sticking to the UK for this tour because though Mum is fit and well it wouldn't be fair to leave her alone to look after the dog for the four or five weeks it would take to make a tour of North America viable. We're doing most gigs as a one-off to reduce overnight stays as much as possible. We're just about to start rehearsals and we're looking forward to singing again and seeing lots of old friends. (Though looking forward to the travelling slightly less.)

On the writing front my second book, Crossways, comes out in August. I've finished the first draft and have until the end of March to complete all necessary revisions and polish it.  I've seen the cover illustration - another image by the amazing Stephan Martiniere - and I love it. I'm planning to attend Eastercon and Fantasycon and probably Novacon this year, but the Wortld Fantasy and the World Science Fiction Convention are both back in the USA, so way out of my price range.

Milford (SF Writers' Conference) is happening in September and I expect to be there as usual. Spending a week kettled up with a bunch of like-minded writers always gives me a great writing-energy boost.
blue eyes

Movies of 2014 - Roundup

My year in film was SEMI-bookended by Hobbits. I saw the Desolation of Smaug (for the second time) in January, and The Battle of the Five Armies in late December. I know fantasy fans are deeply divided about Jackson's take on all things Middle-Earth, but though I've read and enjoyed Tolkien, I'm not such a fan that I recall every word and therefore resent every image on screen that doesn't match up with the pictures in my head. I love the movies (almost) unreservedly. A film isn't a book and though I was surprised when The Hobbit was stretched to three movies, I think Jackson made it work.

I saw 24 films in 2014, slightly fewer than my usual average of 30. Mostly my cinebuddy and I try to see science fiction and/or fantasy, though if it's a slow week we might be persuaded to something non-genre.

Highlights of 2014: Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America - The Winter Soldier, Edge of Tomorrow, Divergent and Interstellar, all hugely enjoyable. X-Men, Days of Future Past seemed to break the previous storylines and inexplicably reinstste Patrick Stewart's Prof X, which is fine by me. Hunger Games 3.1 is worth seeing, especially if you've already invested time in the first two, though making the third book (the weakest for me) into two movies is a bit of a stretch. Katniss has very little agency in the first half of the book and this is a problem which the film struggles to overcome. And while we're on YA dystopias... I enjoyed Divergent enough to put the DVD on my Christmas wish-list. (Thank you, Santa.) Like the Hunger Games it's another YA dystopia though this time with restrictive utopian overtones. It has good performances from the main cast and I look forward to the next two in the trilogy. I wanted to like The Maze Runner and The Giver, but couldn't work up much enthusiasm for either of them. I did, however, really enjoy Belle, which speculates as to how the presence of his black neice, Dido Elizabeth Belle, in his household, affected the ruling of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, then Lord Chief Justice of England, on the case of the Zong massacre.

I didn't particularly like Maleficent. The idea was sound, but Angelina Jolie didn't hit the spot for me. Ditto Transcendence. I like Johnny Depp, but this movie was instantly forgettable. Spiderman 2 was a storytelling mess. I'm really not sure it was time to remake Spidey. And talking of remakes, I wondered why they really needed to remake Annie, but the updated version will certainly work for a new generation of kids. I can see it becoming a staple afternoon holiday movie on TV in a few years time.

Best SF? Hard to choose between Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy and Edge of Tomorrow. They were all good for very different reasons. Honourable mentions: Divergent, X-Men - Days of Future Past, Captain America - The Winter Soldier and Hunger Games 3.1
Best Fantasy: The Hobbit - Desolation of Smaug. Honourable Mentions: How to Train your Dragon 2
Unexpected charmer: Chef, with John Favreau and a load of Hollywood's great and good in tiny cameo roles. This film had tremendous heart. If you didn't see it - get the DVD.
Worst movie of 2014: A Million Ways to Die in the West. Awful, just awful.
Worst genre movie of 2014: Lucy. Plot Holes-R-Us.

My reviews (in reverse date order)

  1. Movie of the Week: Annie

  2. Movie of the Week: The Hobbit - Battle of the Five Armies

  3. Movie of the Week: Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

  4. Movie of the Week: The Maze Runner

  5. Movie of the Week: Interstellar

  6. Movie of the Week - The Giver

  7. Movie of the Week - Lucy

  8. Movies of the Week - Summer Roundup (covers 9 to 13)

  9. How to Train Your Dragon 2

  10. Guardians of the Galaxy

  11. Maleficent

  12. Chef

  13. What If

  14. Earth to Echo

  15. Movie of the Week: Belle

  16. Movie of the Week: Edge of Tomorrow

  17. Movie of the Week: A Million Ways to Die in the West

  18. Movie of the Week: X-Men: Days of Future Past

  19. Movie of the Week: Spiderman 2

  20. Movie of the Week: Transcendence

  21. Movie of the Week: Divergent

  22. Movie of the Week: The Monuments Men

  23. Movie of the Week: Captain America - The Winter Soldier

  24. Movie of the Week: The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug

  25. Movie of the Week: Jack Ryan, Shadow Recruit

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Annie

My last movie of 2014. H is away so S and I went to the cinema on New Year's Eve to see the remake of Annie. We got the last two seats in the house, right down at the front (which is always a bit eye-boggling).

As an adaptation of a stage musical, you know what to expect from a film like this. It was actually very good if you like that sort of thing. Cute kids, feelgood (emotional manipulation), slightly OTT acting, and breaking into song and dance at unlikely moments. You probably have to be in the right mood, take it at face value, suspend disbelief and go with it.

In fact I was in the right mood for something entirely daft and soppy. It's a decent update on the 1982 version. Annie is played by Quvenzhané Wallis who is excellent and already has an impressive list of movie credits for a twelve year old. Jamie Foxx makes a decent job of playing the tycoon who finds his heart thawed gently and Cameron Diaz plays the wicked (foster) step-mom. Musical numbers include updated versions of the Annie classic songs 'Tomorrow' and 'Hard Knock Life' - the latter excellently staged.

It'd definitely a film for kids but the adults who are dragged along kicking and screaming will probably enjoy it more than they will ever admit to.

18th Dec, 2014

blue eyes

Katharine Kerr needs our help.

Originally posted by seanan_mcguire at Katharine Kerr needs our help.
Katharine Kerr is a nice lady, a fellow DAWthor, and a really great storyteller. She needs our help.

Tthis is a nice lady who tells great stories, and needs us, maybe now more than ever. Take a look.

Thank you.
blue eyes

Movie of the Week: The Hobbit - Battle of the Five Armies

I've been looking forward to the new Hobbit movie ever since last Christmas, so H and I went today to see the 2D version. We both thoroughly enjoyed it but it seems to be fashionable to give it a bad review. I can understand why Tolkien purists hate this. There isn't really enough plot in The Hobbit to make into three mega-movies, but despite that this movie certainly doesn't drag. 

As usual for a Jackson/Tolkien movie, it's visually gorgeous. There was some good acting, particularly Martin Freeman, of course, though Richard Armitage, Luke Evans and Evangeline Lilly were all very watchable, as was Aidan Turner.

Yes the battle was long, but it wasn't all hack and slash. It was broken in manageable chunks as we hopped from one character to another.

I thought it wrapped it all up rather well. 

We might even go and see it again at the Imax in 3D where we can get far enough back from the screen not to go dizzy, but I certainly didn't miss 3D today.

Basically if you enjoyed the other two Hobbit movies this won't disappoint, though probably it's lighter than the others in terms of plot/content.

I was, however, working out how they managed to get to five armies. Elves, Dwarves men and orcs make four. There are two separate Orc armies and Radagast's creature army -  and that makes six, plus Thorin's small band if you want to count them separately.

One disappointment today (though not with this movie). Now that Orange has been absorbed into the EE mobile phone network, I suppose it was just a matter of time, but the Orange Wednesday two for one cinema ticket offer ends in February 2015. H and I have been taking advantage of the deal an average of 25 visits a year for the last three or four years, that's a saving of at least £450. It has kept me loyal to Orange even though Tesco's mobile phone charges are a cheaper, so we'll see if there's a new offer coming up. If not I may change my phone provider.

13th Dec, 2014

blue eyes

Book Log 19/2014 - Carrie Vaughan: Kitty and the Silver Bullet - Kitty Norville #4

Following on from the events in Kitty Takes a Holiday, Cormac is in jail and Kitty is living with her lawyer and new-made werewolf, Ben.

Kitty and Ben are drawn back to Denver when Kitty's mom is taken ill, which puts Kitty back in a confrontation situation with the pack (and alpha) that she fled from less than a year ago. She's also landed in the middle of a vampire takeover bid and it seems that Arturo, Denver's current master vampire, is using the werewolf pack as foot-soldiers. There's also a new vampire player in town (or rather, passing through) and some hints at vampire politics and a wider supernatural plot that will likely resurface in a future book.

Kitty as usual is just trying to get by, but ends up taking the initiative when her family is threatened.

This is unexpected in that Cormac, pretty much set up as Kitty's reluctant love interest in previous books, is now out of the running and Kitty has mated - in every sense of the word - with Ben. I miss Cormac, though he is still in it - being visited for advice. Vaughan's Kitty books are fast reads, but always absorbing. Kitty is an excellent character and this sees a major development in her story arc as she has to face the werewolf couple who bullied her when she was first turned and who killed her best friend TJ in the first book.

Recommended, but probably better to read the series in order.

12th Dec, 2014

blue eyes

Author Interview

jpsorrow has just posted an intyerview over on the DAW books blog.
Over on the DAW books blog to go with the earlier book discussion...
Interview here:
and book discussion here
Many thanks to Joshua Palmatier/Benjamin Tate

10th Dec, 2014

blue eyes

Book Discussion: Empire of Dust

jpsorrow has just posted a discussion of Empire of Dust over on the DAW books blog. Please swing bay and discuss.

7th Dec, 2014

blue eyes

Book Log 18/2014 - Sherwood Smith: Rondo Allegro

When sixteen year old Anna's father is dying in Naples he arranges for her to be married off to a sea captain in Nelson's navy. Henry Duncannon is a penniless officer estranged from his good family, who is more or less forced into the marriage of convenience. Within half a day Henry and Anna are separated as Henry heads back to sea, leaving the marriage unconsummated and Anna under the protection of Lady Hamilton. But war is flowing through Europe in the shape of Napoleon's armies and soon Anna is left alone - with her faithful maid - and determines to make her way using her only skill, music. She takes up singing in an opera company. It's six turbulent years in war-torn Europe before Anna and Henry are reunited and the love story truly begins.

This is a book in two halves - the opera years and the regency romance and both have theitr appeal. Ms Smith says that the novel came about because she originally intended to novelise the journals of Betsey Wynne, and, indeed, there's lots of rich detail in here and an underpinning of authenticity. The story is a slow-burn romance despite the early marriage of convenience. Anna survives post-revolutionary France, a theatre fire, touring with the opera company which at times is nore hazardous than the Battle of Trafalgar. Possibly more terrifying still is Anna's introduction to Henry's English family and the woman who spurned him for his older brother.

Packed full of ideas, but not falling into the trap of unlikely melodrama this is an engaging read. Highly recommended.

1st Dec, 2014

blue eyes

Book Log 17/2014 - Karen Traviss: View of a Remote Country

I really admire Karen Traviss' writing and so the opportunity to revisit some of her early short stories in this book was not to be missed. Thirteen short stories including some classics such as 'Suitable for the Orient' and 'Does he take Blood?', and my personal favourite, 'Evidence' which is the powerful tale of how an  archaeologist interprets/misinterprets the evidence in the find of an alien burial on a remote planet, with particularly devastating consequences. All the pieces have speculative fiction content, mostly science fiction, some of it social, some of it alt-historical, some of it alien/extra-terrestrial and (unusual for Traviss) a smattering of fantasy. All of it speculative in the widest sense of the term.

Highly recommended.
blue eyes

Book Log 16/2014 - Steven Erikson: Willful Child

I really *really* wanted to like this book. The blurb was superb and it sounded like immense fun, especially  "bravely going where they really shouldn't...". As it turned out there was much to recommend it, with Captain Hadrian Sawback plunging into a series of ever more improbable and impossible Trekkie-type situations and trying to sleep his way around every female member of his crew. (This guy has no concept of what constitutes sexual harassment.)  It was, however, relentless, and I found I could only read it in small chunks. It works excellently on the level of a Star Trek spoof, but less well in its own right. I know I'm not comparing apples with apples, but as Star Trek spoofs go it doesn't generate the affection that Galaxy Quest manages so effortlessly.
blue eyes

Book Log 15/2014 - Terry Pratchett: Dodger

I'm a big fan of Pratchett's discworld and although this book is set in London in the early years of Victoria's reign, the feeling is very Ankh-Morporkian, or maybe that should be that Ankh Morpork is very much based on London. Dodger lives in the Seven Dials and makes his living as a tosher, i.e. trawling through the city's sewers, true Roman relics, for valuables that have been washed away down the city's drains (at this stage more for rain water and detritus than personal waste). He's a geezer, known by and knowing all the likely coves in his orbit and he's not above finding the odd item that the owner didn't know was lost, however, Solomon, his landlord, friend and mentor, far from being a Fagin character, strives to keep the lad on the straight and narrow.

And indeed, Dodger's not a bad lad, though he's no soft touch, except perhaps where the vulnerable are concerned. Emerging from his sewer one night he sees a scuffle, an attempted murder maybe, and rescues a young lady who has been severely beaten up, possibly a young lady of quality by the ring on her finger (which amazingly Dodger leaves there). Close by, a certain journalist named Charlie Dickens grows interested in the happening and thus begins an adventure to rival anything the Discworld has to offer. The stews of London, the Peelers, nobby gentry, Solomon's wisdom, Onan the (very) smelly dog, a lethal assassin, Benjamin Disraeli and even Queen Victoria herself are all in the mix, plus Dodger's attempts to find out who is trying to harm the young lady that he's rapidly falling for, and a plan - which doesn't go entirely... err... to plan. Dodger's wry voice is appealing and his view of his surroundings and the people who inhabit them is amusing if not laugh out loud funny. A lively read. Highly recommended.
blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

This is a really difficult film to review, firstly because it's only half a story and secondly because it's the weakest half of the final book in the Hunger Games Trilogy. Pretty much like the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter) and the final Twilght movie (the title of which has blessedly slipped from my mind) it has the difficult task of making a complete story out of... well, not very much really. My gripe with the book (though I did think it worth reading) was that in the third instalment Katniss doesn't have much agency. She's been a pawn of President Snow for two movies, but managed to show remarkable resiliance, skill and initiative, but now she's broken. She's been rescued and taken to the safety of District 13, but Peta has been left behind in the Capital and Katniss is, quite frankly, broken. She's not the subject of this story any more, but the object. Forces act upon her, but she's reactive, not taking the initiatuve. She knows what she wants, but President Coyne and the powers-that-be in District 13 are not going to take much notice of her wishes as long as she can be of use to them as the figurehead.

While this is entirely consistent with Katniss' story so far, it makes for a difficult movie. I think the movie has managed to beef up Katniss' agency a little bit, and it certainly delivered plenty of explosions and danger, but ultimately the whole thing hinges on what they'll do with the finale when it's released (next summer?).

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy this movie. Now that I'm invested in Katniss' story I want and need to see how it ends. (Yes, OK, I have read the books and I don't expect major changes.) It was nice to see Gale back in the picture and to see how the embryonic romance, is playing out. A three-way emotional triangle is always difficult when one of the members is not actually present.

It's also probably the last thing Philip Seymour Hoffman filmed before his  untimely death.

26th Nov, 2014

blue eyes

Guest Blog Roundup

25th November 2014
SF Signal's Mind Meld

16th November 2014
Guest Interview on Chuck Wendig's Diabolical Plots

Review on Jaine Fenn's Tales from the Garrett.

6th November 2014
Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds blog - Five Things I learned while Writing Empire of Dust

6th November 2014
Whatever Makes You Weird, an interview by Nancy Jane Moore at Book View Cafe

4th November 2014
Worldbuilding from the Coffee up on Anne Lyle's Blog

31st October
Guest Post on Gaie Sebold's blog

22nd October 2014
Deborah Walker's Blog

21st October 2014
Everyone's a Critic on Ben Jeapes' Blog
(on writers groups in general and Milford in particular)

20th October 2014
An interview on the Bristol Books Blog courtesy of Pete Sutton.
Some wide-ranging questions that let me talk about my book and my writing process.

17th October 2014
The Parallels Between Singing and Writing on Ruth Booth's Blog.

And don't forget my other blog

blue eyes

Mind Melding

I'm included in SF Signal's Mind Meld

20th Nov, 2014

blue eyes

Movie of the Week: The Maze Runner

I not only forgot to blog this, but when I was sitting here desperately trying to remember which movie I'd forgotten to blog I couldn't bring it to mind. I guess that tells you as much as you need to know. It's not terrible, but altogether i found it a bit underwhelming.

IMDB says: Thomas wakes up in an elevator, remembering nothing but his own name. He emerges into a world of about 60 teen boys who have learned to survive in a completely enclosed environment, subsisting on their own agriculture and supplies. A new boy arrives every 30 days. The original group has been in "The Glade" for two years, trying to find a way to escape through the Maze that surrounds their living space. They have begun to give up hope. Then a comatose girl arrives with a strange note, and their world begins to change.

Okay, I admit there's some fast-paced action, i.e. a fair amount of running and fighting. Dylan O'Brien is completely forgettable as Thomas, but that's probably down to my advanced age and thinking most teen/twenties actors in Hollywood (male and female) look like they came out of the same mould. (Is it just me?) There's an interesting twist at the end, but Hunger Games is isn't.
blue eyes

Meanwhile on t'other blog...

A roundup of books I love if you want any suggestions for gifts or for holiday reading ideas:

My guest interview on Diabolical Plots:

Writerly musings on the three letter word. (S. E. X.)

Gust post on Book View Cafe:
blue eyes

Movie of the Week: Interstellar

I loved this movie. Was it really three hours long? There wasn't one moment when I felt it was dragging.

OK, here's the blurb from IMDB. I'm going to avoid plot spoilers.
In the near future, Earth has been devastated by drought and famine, causing a scarcity in food and extreme changes in climate. When humanity is facing extinction, a mysterious rip in the space-time continuum is discovered, giving mankind the opportunity to widen its lifespan. A group of explorers must travel beyond our solar system in search of a planet that can sustain life. The crew of the Endurance are required to think bigger and go further than any human in history as they embark on an interstellar voyage into the unknown. Coop, the pilot of the Endurance, must decide between seeing his children again and the future of the human race.

The first, perhaps 45 minutes of this movie established just how damaged earth has become and sets up the strong realtionship between (widowed) Coop (Matthew McConaughey) and his chaildren, particularly his daughter, Murphy. It is also extremely effective at showing dustbowl earth. When Coop - the last man on the planet who has actual experience of a space mission - is dragooned into flying the desperate mission the wrench away from his family is particularly affecting.

There's been a lot of talk about the science behind Interstaellar and i'll leave it up to those far better qualified than me to judge it against sound scientific principles, but as far as I can gather it has tried to use science and extrapolate from what we know. It uses time dialtion to particularly good effect as a plot device. It certainly has verisimilitude, though when it gets to the last sequence - a representation of five dimensional space on the cinema screen it does get a bit 2001, but all is explained.

Just about the only thing I didn't like was the volume of the background music which obscured some of the dialogue - a beef I often have with movies. I didn't dislike the score, just the volume it was mixed at. There's really no excuse for  intrusive incidental music.

6th Nov, 2014

blue eyes

More Guest Posts

6th November 2014
Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds blog - Five Things I learned while Writing Empire of Dust

6th November 2014
Whatever Makes You Weird, an interview by Nancy Jane Moore at Book View Cafe

4th November 2014
Worldbuilding from the Coffee Up on Anne Lyle's Blog

31st October
Guest Post on Gaie Sebold's blog Interview questions answered.

And a couple of reviews
Review on Jaine Fenn's Tales from the Garrett.
Review at Publishers Weekly Publishers Weekly

5th Nov, 2014

blue eyes

Book Log 14/2014 - George RR Martin: A Dance With Dragons - A Song of Ice and Fire #5

Though it's getting long and drawn-out I'm sticking with A Song of Ice and Fire because I love so many of the characters (mostly the original ones that GRRM hasn't killed off yet), but can't help wondering how and when it will come to a conclusion. A Dance with Dragons runs alongside the previous book exploring (mostly) a different set of characters, but there are some frustrating cliffhangers at the end, leaving some characters in an 'are-they-alive-or-dead?' scenario and, of course, no follow-on book in sight. We're moving steadily towards a confrontation between Targaryan and Lannister with a side order of Baratheon in the struggle, but if GRRM is going to tie it all up neatly I reckon it will take at least another two books.

Characters explored include Arya, Bran, Daenerys, Jon Snow (which is perhaps the most interesting story arc going on here as he continues his relationship with the Wildlings) Cersei, Tyrion (my favourite character because he's brain, not brawn), Theon (who might just be about to redeem himself) and his sister Asha. We also get some viewpoint from Davos Seaworth, who has not quite managed to capture my interest. There are new characters, such as Quentyn Martell, who is charged with finding and marrying Dany and bringing her dragons to Dorne, and a new Targaryan player about to make a bid for Westeros. (Trying to avoid major spoilers, here.)

So, A Dance With Dragons is more of the same. If you liked the previous books in the series, you'll like this one, too, but there's no way this is a stand-alone, so don't start here. As a few other people have mentioned in reviews, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons are really two halves of one very long book since many of the story arcs parallel each other.

Bonus happening: at last someone gets to ride a dragon.

4th Nov, 2014

blue eyes

Book Day: Empire of Dust

Yes, today is book day. Empire of Dust is out at last.

I confess I ordered a copy from Amazon just for the pleasure of having it appear in the post - y'know, like a real book! - and it arrived this morning, smack-bang on time.

I have a guest post on Worldbuilding from the Coffee Up over at Anne Lyle's blog.

And there's a review here on Jaine Fenn's Tales from the Garrett.

In other news, today would have been my favourite grandma's eleventy fourth birthday, so because you're probably sick of pictures of my book cover I give you Annie Bennett (nee Shaw) 4th November 1900 to October 1975
Grandma Annie Bennett 1957

31st Oct, 2014

blue eyes

In Stores Now

Though Empire of Dust doesn't officially come out until Tuesday 4th November I just had an email from my friend Clarisse in Toronto to say that she just purchased a copy from Bakka - Toronto's excellent SF bookstore. Since she didn't take a photo of it sitting there on a real bookstore shelf with other real books you'll have to make do with my shelfie.
blue eyes

Guest Posts - Roundup

Guest Post on Gaie Sebold's Blog
In which I answer several questions about writing

Deborah Walker's Blog
Trying to stay Cool About the Book

Everyone's a Critic on Ben Jeapes' Blog
(on writers groups in general and Milford in particular)

An interview on the Bristol Books Blog courtesy of Pete Sutton.
Some wide-ranging questions that let me talk about my book and my writing process.

The Parallels Between Singing and Writing on Ruth Booth's Blog.
Ruth is also a singer and a writer, so this seemed like a good excuse to compare the two.

More to come.

Previous 50

blue eyes

March 2015



Page Summary


RSS Atom
Powered by