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10th Apr, 2017

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It seems as though nearly all my friends are migrating to Dreamwidth, so it looks like I'll have to do it as well because, after all, that's why I keep up with LJ. I do already have a DW account. I'm 'jacey' over there (not birdsedge). Please link to my DW account if you haven't already. I'm not 100% comfortable with DW, so I'll probably run both that account and this in tandem for a while at least.

As I type DW is migrating 154 weeks of LJ posts - yes, that's correct, it's 3 years since I last called in there and migrated posts over

26th Mar, 2017

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Book Log 31/2017 - Lois McMaster Bujold: Mira’s Last Dance - Penric and Desdemona #4

Mira's Last DanceThis picks up immediately after the last Penric Novella, Penric’s Mission, and should be read after it. Not without cost to himself, Penric has succeeded in rescuing and healing the betrayed General Arisaydia and they are now fleeing across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia towards Orbas with Arisaydia’s widowed sister Nikys. And Penric is falling in love. Penric is complicated. He’s inhabited by a demon, Desdemona, who carries the echoes of her previous ten human riders and at any moment they can pop up in Pen’s head offering help, advice, or sometimes unhelpful suggestions. When the trio takes refuge in a whorehouse, Mira, one of the aforementioned previous riders, a courtesan comes to the forefront with some rather alarming knowledge. No spoilers because it’s funny and sweet, and Penric certainly has to step out of his comfort zone to get them all to safety.

Anything by Lois McMaster Bujold is buy on sight. She’s one of my all-time favourite writers (perhaps at the very top of the list, in fact). If you haven’t read any of the Penric stories yet, I heartily recommend them. I would suggest reading all four in order, but to enjoy Mira’s Last Dance, you need only read Penric’s Mission to catch up with the story.
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Book Log 30/2017 - Emma Newman: Brother's Ruin

Brother's RuinVictorian England with magic. Charlotte (Charlie) is a powerful but untrained mage who is trying to avoid being noticed by the Royal Society, because then her life will never be her own again. She’ll have to abandon her family (parents and brother), her sweet fiancé, George, her (secret) career as a book illustrator, and devote her life to magic. Her brother, Ben, however, is happy to be swept up by the Royal Society when they mistakenly believe him to be talented. It’s all about the money, you see. Families are compensated for the loss of their talented children (and punished for not giving them up), and Charlie’s dad has borrowed more than he can pay back from an unscrupulous moneylender who is in some kind of partnership with an even more unscrupulous mage.

This is obviously a set-up book for a series, so not all questions are answered. Charlie is an engaging character, her brother less so, but Charlie, in trying to protect him and help her father, gets herself into a few scrapes which might have disastrous consequences but for one Royal Society mage who seems to know more than he should.

I’m a bit worried about George, the fiancé. It seems to be Charlie’s dream to settle down with him, yet she hasn’t told him about her secret life as an illustrator (under a man’s name, of course because this is Victorian England) and though she seems quite fond of him she’s not burning with passion. Now that young mage chap… he really seems to make her blood race.

This works as an introduction to a new setting, though I’m not entirely sure the moneylender plot makes a lot of sense. Why do the moneylenders need magic to off their debtors who don’t pay up, and what benefit is it to the mage in question to provide such a device. I suspect we shall find out in subsequent books. I certainly hope so, anyway.

25th Mar, 2017

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Movie of the Week: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty & the beastA live action remake of Disney's animated Beauty and the beast, complete with talking household knick-knacks and singing furniture. Emma Watson apparently turned down LaLa Land and that was a very wise decision. Her singing is excellent and she makes a very fetching Belle. Kevin Kline is very sweet as her dad and Luke Evans takes the mickey out of himself beautifully as the self-absorbed Gaston. Dan Stevens is the Beast/Prince, but to be honest it's hard to tell how much is him and how much is CGI.

Yes, we all know the story, so no recap of that, except to say that the Beast gives Belle a whole library! Wow! Who cares what he looks like? He's a man with a library!

Yes, of course they all live happily ever after, even the kindly teapot (Emma Thompson), the annoying animated candlestick with the cod French accent (Ewan McGregor), and the stuffy old Ormolu clock (Ian McKellen). It's sweet and the singing is qualiity. Now if only I could get rid of this damned earworm.

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Movie of the Week: Kong: Skull Island

Kong Skull IslandTom Hiddleston takes the weight of this film making a good action hero. A team of scientists go on an expedition to explore a hitherto uncharted island taking with them Hiddlestone as a jungle tracker, Brie Larson as a world-class photographer and a military flotilla of helicopters with a somewhat unstable commander. Of course, nothing goes according to plan. There are people on the island already - and the inevitable ape the size of a skyscraper who isn't the monster the military types suppose him to be. There's also a pilot who crashed there in World War Two who provides information and a boat (of sorts) when the mission turns into 'get out alive'. It's all a frothy bit of fun with explosions and dismemberments and the sort of thing you expect from a movie called Kong: Skull Island. Leave your critical brain at the door and collect it again on your way out.
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Movie of the Week: Logan

LoganPossibly the best Logan outing of them all featuring Old Man Logan after the rest of the X-men are history. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is trying to live as unobtrusively as possible, working as a driver to support a ninety year old Charles Xavier, Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is frail and liable to dangerous psi-fits if he's off his meds. Caliban (Stephen Merchant) is helping out as a babysitter. Logan calms Charles with stories of the boat they'll buy when they have enough money, but of course this is just a pipe dream.

Logan is essentially the gunslinger archetype, trying to hang up his six guns, and, of course, something happens to make him take one last X-shaped chance.  Following a shady breeding programme a bunch of mutant kids have escaped from custody, helped by their nurses who didn't want to see them put down like animals. Dafne Keen plays the child who is like Logan, claws and everything. (She's brilliant, by the way.)

Charles, not as senile as he sometimes appears to be, persuades Logan to help the child and thus begins Logan's (and Xavier's) last journey to take her to safety.

It's a thoughtful film, eschewing the flashy CGI super-hero mode for camera work that's more personal. This is a Logan who is more Logan than Wolverine. More human that super-hero. We all know he's going to suffer for his efforts, but that's OK because in the end Logan is going to do what he has to do, and do it well.

Highly recommended.
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Movie of the Week: The Great Wall

great_wallA couple of European mercenaries, journeying to China to find the secret of (or supplies of) black powder get embroled in a battle on the great wall to keep out creatures that rise every 60 years. Matt Damon plays William who finally finds a cause worth fighting for after many years of being a mercenary. It's a slight plot with lots of monster action and some breathtaking visuals. Despoite what I read in one review it's not 'white man shows the locals how to save themselves'. The locals are doing just fine on their own. Matt Damon is always worth watching so this was a good way to spend a wet Wednesday afternoon on the two-for-one deal.
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Book Log 29/2017 - Georgette Heyer: The Corinthian

CorinthianYou always know what you’re going to get with one of Heyer’s Regencies: a tangled plot, misunderstandings, a solid hero and a touch of adventure. With this one, throw in some missing diamonds, and a murder which doesn’t seem to upset too many people.

Sir Richard Wyndham – age 29 and the wealthy Corinthian of the title – needs a wife according to his family, so he’s about to be pressured into marrying a bit of a cold fish, the daughter of a family well bred, but constantly in debt. Since he’s never actually been in love he’s almost ready to give in. Then Pen drops into his arms – literally – and everything changes. Seventeen, young and impulsive, Pen, dressed as a boy,  is running away because her aunt is pressuring her into marrying her cousin to keep Pen’s fortune in the family. Sadly the fortune-hunting cousin looks like a hake, so Pen is running off to marry her childhood sweetheart (whom she hasn’t actually heard from in 5 years).

Richard’s excuse for getting involved in Pen’s wild schemes is that he was drunk at the time, but once he sobers up, he keeps up the act of being Pen’s uncle/cousin/tutor (the story keeps changing). Of course, there are misadventures on the road, a meeting with a chap who speaks almost unintelligible thieves cant, the above mentioned missing diamonds and a murder. When Pen finally meets her childhood sweetheart his feelings have changed (and to be honest, so have hers. But it takes a little persuasion for Richard to finally convince Pen that they are right for each other.
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Book Log 28/2017 - Ann Aguirre: Perdition – Dred Chronicles #1

PerditionAlmost a spin-off book from the Jax books, taking a minor character, Jael and making him one of the two central characters in this along with the Dred Queen. This is set on a prison ship in space where the inmates are left to their own devices and death takes the weak and the meek very quickly. Jael is a new fish, straight off the transport, and Dred is one of the bosses who have carved out little kingdoms for themselves. No one there is innocent. Mostly the inmate population consists of psychopaths, sociopaths and mass murderers – those considered beyond redemption. Jael and Dred both have secrets, but no one here is interested. A person is what a person is, and Dred is a queen, trying to keep her little empire from being overrun by neighbouring overlords, each worse than the last. Food and kindness are in short supply, but Jael and Dread come to an understanding and with the help of a couple of loyal followers deal with the immediate problems of incursions from neighbours and defeat a tough enemy. This is the sort of book that makes you want to climb in the shower after reading. It’s full of blood, guts and excrement, but there are moments of human emotion, too and it’s certainly a page turner, like all of Ann Aguirre’s Jax books.
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Book Log 26/2017 & 27/2017 - Ella Quinn: The Second Time Around & Three Weeks to Wed - Worthingtons

Second Time AroundElla Quinn: The Second Time Around
I read two Ella Quinn’s in the wrong order. (Ella Quinn not to be confused with Julia Quinn), so the beginning of this was more than a little confusing with rather a lot of characters (including 12 children) which made me boggle somewhat. Patience is a widower with four children from a loveless marriage. Richard, Viscount Wolverton lost her many years earlier, entirely due to carelessness on his part. Now he’d like to marry Pae, but her four children are officially the wards of her stepson and she’ll lose them if she marries. Complications abound even though sitting the characters down together and making them talk would solve everything. But, hey, it’s a fast read and even though you know everything will be all right in the end it keeps you guessing as to how. This is a confusingly numbered series, however, which doesn’t seem to include this one – though it obviously is.

Three weeks to Wed27) 23/03/17
Ella Quinn: Three Weeks to Wed
Worthingtons #1
I should have read this one before ‘The Second Time Around’ because it tells the story of how Matt and Grace, each with responsibilities which seem insurmountable, manage to get together despite twelve children, an entirely unsuitable night of passion, two great Danes, a disreputable cousin in need of funds, and an over-eager investigator.
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Book Log 25/2017 - Julia Quinn: The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever - Bevelstoke #1

Secret Diaries Miranda CheeverOne of Julia Quinn’s one-off (so far) stories with a familiar Regency setting, but otherwise unrelated to her main series. Miranda Cheever fell in love with Nigel Bevelstoke, Viscount Turner, when she was only ten. Nine years later, Turner is a changed man. He’s a widower who can’t even mourn his faithless wife, but can’t bring himself to contemplate remarriage. Miranda has to change his mind. There’s some good dialogue in here and Quinn’s usual light touch despite such a joyless main (male) character.
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Book Logs 23/2017 and 24/2017 - Nnedi Okorafor: Binti and Binti: Home

Binti23) 14/03/17
Nnedi Okorafor: Binti – Binti #1
This is very short – novella length – telling the story of Binti, a mathematical genius, who is the first of the Himba people (Namibia) to leave home and travel to university on another planet. Her customs are strange to her fellows. She uses otjize paste made from butterfat and ochre paste on her skin and hair – which is traditional because of the lack of water in the hot desert climate. (Despite the fact that water is plentiful on board ship and at university – her otjize is her cultural norm.) On the way to the university, the ship she is on is invaded by the alien Meduse. Binti is the only survivor and must use all her skills to effect a rapprochement between the Meduse and the people of Oomza University who have inadvertently wronged the Meduse through not understanding their culture. Basically it’s a novel about acceptance of other cultures and miscommunication. Binti mediates between the two groups and all is forgiven, which rather makes light of the shipload of people who have been horribly done to death and don't seem to count for anything.

Binti Home24) 16/03/07
Nnedi Okorafor: Binti: Home – Binti #2

When I read Binti, I wasn’t aware that it was the first part of a series of three novellas, and when I read Binti: Home I wasn’t aware that there was still one more novella to come. I’m going to state right at the beginning that I hate cliffhanger endings. Once again this is about acceptance as Binti returns home to Namibia of the future with her Meduse friend, Okwu, the first of his people to come to Earth in peace. Binti is now an oddity. Her family never wanted her to leave, now they aren’t sure about her return. It may be the old story of ‘you can never go back’. Something bothers me about the plotting of this. Binti still suffers from PTSD after the attack in which Okwu and his people killed everyone on the spaceship she was travelling on (except her) but despite this her only friend is Okwu one of the Meduse mass-murderers. Then because she is homesick she travels back to Earth and takes Okwu with her, despite the fact that the neighbouring people in Namibia regard all Meduse as the enemy. Okwu seems to have no status or protection or even a real reason for being there. He’s an odd choice of travelling companion.
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Book Log 22/2017 - Jodi Taylor: The Something Girl – Frogmorton Farm #2

Something girlI love Jodi Taylor’s voice. The Frogmorton Farm books began with The Nothing Girl, had a brief short story appearance in Little Donkey and this is the second full length book featuring Jenny who took back her life from her hideous family in the Nothing Girl, married anarchic Russell, and ended up at Frogmorton Farm with Mrs Crisp and a variety of animals that are possibly even more bonkers than Russell. Now Jenny has a baby (Joy) and responsibilities which quickly encompass Russell’s Patagonian Attack Chickens. Thomas the magic horse shows up again to help, and Jenny has to finally deal with the relatives who almost convinced her that she was going mad, while quietly spending her inheritance. I started reading JodiTaylor’s Chronicles of St Marys and although there’s no time-travel mayhem in this, it’s set broadly in the same world and has the same kind of quirky character voices.
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Book Log 21/2017 - Val McDermid: Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey McDermidI read Austen’s Northanger Abbey for ‘O’ Level many (many) years ago and haven’t read it since, so I came to this with only vague memories of the original book being a satire on gothic novels of the day and the impressionable mind of the young woman who’s hooked on them. Val McDermid brings the story into the present day. It's set, not in Bath, but at the Edinburgh Festival where impressionable (and sheltered) Catherine Morland takes her first tenuous steps in society away from her overprotective, homeschooling parents. She falls for Henry Tilney and is then swept sideways by Bella and obnoxious and overbearing John Thorpe. It’s been called a ‘brilliant reworking’ and ‘very different’ from the original’, but to my dim recollection it follows the original quite closely – given that the settings are 200 years apart. Bella’s modern day slang is appalling. ('Totes amazeballs'  - ugh!) Do people really speak like that? She seems to pounce on every verbal cliché and use them repetitively to the exclusion of all else. There are times when the author uses a shoehorn to keep the story on track, scene by scene, and to my mind is shows and thus feel a little selfconscious at times. Carriages have been replaced by cars, of course, and letters with texts, gossip with social media. I feel this updating is so faithful to the original that it still feels out of place in a 21st century setting. Sadly not for me, though I’m sure Val McDermid’s thrillers are exemplary there was not much in here to thrill.
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Book Log 20/2017 - Lisa Shearin: Treasure and Treason – Raine Benares world

Treasure & TreasonRaine Benares family are a bunch of pirates, very successful ones, which is why when Tam Nathrach needs to sail off to a place that few return from to deal with another stone of immense power – the Heart of Nidaar – he takes ship with Raine’s cousin Phaelan Benares. Phelan doesn’t trust magic, and with good reason. This is the usual fast-paced plot that I’ve come to expect from Lisa Shearin. It was all going so well... until it simply stopped. Beware it ends on a cliffhanger – one of my pet hates.
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Book Log 19/2017 - Lisa Shearin: Wedding Bells, Magic Spells - Raine Benares #8

Wedding Bells Magic SpellsI didn’t realise there was going to be another Raine Benares novel after everything seemed to be all set for a happyeverafter in Book 7, but I’m delighted to find that there is. All the old favourites are back again as Raine, Elf soldier Michael and dark Goblin lord Tam Nathrach try to prevent peace talks between the various kingdoms from being undermined. If Raine thought she’d given up her magical powers when she parted from the soul-sucking stone, the Saghred, she’d better think again.
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Book Log 18/2017 - Julia Quinn: An Offer from a Gentleman – Bridgertons #3

Offer from GentlemanJulia Quinn has a light touch when it comes to Regency Romance. (And I've been reading a lot of it while I've been writing science fiction.) Her Bridgertons series is laced with humour, and if characters behave in a slightly more modern way that you’d expect from regency characters, I can forgive this because it is, after all, fiction and not a history book on etiquette.

This is a Cinderella story. Sophie Becket, born on the wrong side of the blanket, has been cheated out of the inheritance her father, the Earl of Penwood, left for her by her wicked stepmother and two stepsisters. She’s treated like a servant, but when she gets the opportunity to go to a masked ball she grabs it with both hands. There she meets Benedict Bridgerton—the second Bridgerton brother—and he becomes her prince charming. But Sophie’s fortunes take a turn for the worse and three years pass before the couple meet again. Though Sophie immediately recognises Benedict, he doesn’t recognise her and he still has his heart set on the mysterious masked woman from the ball. Another enjoyable romp from Julia Quinn.
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Book Log 17/2017 - Diana Gabaldon: I give You My Body

I give you my bodyThis is an interesting take on how to write sex scenes from Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series. I know a lot of writers who would rather write a bloody battle than a sex scene (actually there are some similarities), so some of the advice offered here is interesting. Note that at no time is she prescriptive and her take is this is how she does it – not necessarily the only way to write about sex.
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Book Log 11/2017 to 16/2017 - Ben Aaronovitch: Rivers of London & subsequent. Peter Grant 1 - 6

Because I'm catching up with my booklog I'm going to review all of the first six Peter Grant books together. I read them together because they were so goof I have to bounce on from one to the next.

Rivers of London11) 10/02/17
Ben Aaronovitch: Rivers of London – Peter Grant #1
(Midnight Riot in the USA)
New mixed race copper in the Met, Peter Grant, has his life turned upside down when he discovers that he can see ghosts and that he has the potential to be a wizard. Also that the Met has its own wizarding department – though no one ever talks about it – run by Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. Seconded to Nightingale to learn the magical ropes, Peter discovers a world where the gods and goddesses of the Thames and its tributaries are real and interact with humans. This is a smart blend of urban fantasy and police procedural. The main character, Peter Grant, has a great ‘voice’ and his witty observations are crisp and funny. London itself becomes a character, too and there’s a solid sense of place. The supporting characters are well fleshed out, Leslie, the mysteriously silent Molly and her culinary experiments, the enigmatic Beverley Brook, Lady Tyburn and the other River gods and goddesses, Dr Walid the pathologist, Guleed, Seawoll, Stephanopoulos and even Toby the dog I enjoyed this so much that I galloped through all six available Peter Grant books without coming up for air. Highly recommended

Moon over Soho12) 12/02/17
Ben Aaronovitch: Moon over Soho – Peter Grant #2
Peter Grant’s Dad is an ex jazzer, so Peter instantly recognises the tune that’s hanging about the corpse in Dr. Walid’s mortuary. Yes, that’s ‘vestigia’ the after-trace of strong magic. So this book hinges on the jazz scene and a strange magically created menagerie, though aside from the current crime, there’s an ongoing plot featuring the Faceless Man and Leslie who is also faceless due to unfortunate consequences in Rivers of London.

Whispers Underground13) 14/02/17
Ben Aaronovitch: Whispers Underground – Peter Grant #3
A dead American art student in the underground seems like a fairly mundane mystery but when the murder weapon is a shard of strange pottery. There’s something slightly off happening, which is why the Met’s magical department is called in. Peter goes exploring underground (too far underground in one instance) and we meet a new character, Jaget Kumar a member of the transport police and explorer of hidden London. And Leslie is back—wearing a mask because of her facial disfigurement—but back.

Broken Homes14) 16/02/17
Ben Aaronovitch: Broken Homes – Peter Grant #4
More Mayhem for Peter Grant and Leslie following a grisly murder which ends up with them going undercover in a tower block with impossible architecture. The Faceless Man, developing as the big bad over the whole series, is here but unseen… until the very end when there’s a dramatic escape and interesting plot twist that I didn’t see coming.

Foxglove Summer15) 18/02/17
Ben Aaronovitch: Foxglove Summer – Peter Grant #5
London has always been a major character on the Peter Grant books, but this time Peter is out of his city and his comfort zone when sent to Herefordshire to assist with aspects of the disappearance of two girls that don’t quite fit ‘normality’. Ptere’s girlfriend Beveley Brook, the goddess of a small London river that feeds into the Thames, is even more in evidence in this one.

Hanging Tree16) 20/02/17
Ben Aaronovitch: The Hanging Tree – Peter Grant #6
The Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows, and Lady Tyburn, the goddess of that particular river has never been kindly disposed towards Peter, but she calls in a favour that’s been hanging over his head since Whispers Underground. Her teenage daughter has been at a party in an exclusive Mayfair apartment where someone dies of a drug overdose and Lady Ty wants Peter to get her off when she’s implicated. It’s not all that simple, of course. The Faceless Man is back, and Leslie is back – with a face.

I love all these books and read them quickly, one after the other. Especially good is Peter’s cheeky voice, often with added pop-culture references, but quickly snapping to attention when things get serious,. Nightingale as the mentor is very old school British but the rest of the cast of characters run the gamut of inclusivity. As you would expect in multi-cultural London the characters are multi-ethnic, too, from Peter himself who is mixed race to Guleed and Kumar. And it doesn’t stop there. There are half fae and a housekeeper who has more teeth than seems strictly necessary and a strange culinary relationship with offal. The orverarching story ark is a puzzle to be solved and I’m looking forward to the next one in the series.
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Book Log 10/2017 - Lisa Shearin: The Grendel Affair - SPI Files #1

Grendel AffairMackenna Fraser is a seer working for ‘Supernatural Protection and Investigations’ (SPI) investigating things that go bump in the night. Working with her far more experienced partner Ian Byrne she’s still a newcomer. She’s not supposed to take on monsters, simply identify them and let Ian and the team do the rest. So when she gets involved in the hunt for a serial killer that tears the head and one arm off its victims, she’s at a bit of a disadvantage. I loved Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares books. I’m less convinced about the SPI files, maybe because I prefer a straight fantasy setting to urban fantasy - especially urban fantasy set so firmly in America. It’s good. It’s readable. It just didn’t grab me like the Benares books.
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Nimbus. Finished! (Well, first draft anyway.)

Yay, last night I finished the first draft of 'Nimbus' - which is the third book in the Psi-Tech trilogy. It has taken a lot longer than I expected due to ending up at 163,000 words - and that's just the first draft. I was anticipating finishing the first draft in around 120,000 words and then adding some in the revision. Eeep! (I may still need to add some in the revision, of course, depending on what my editor wants.)

Anyhow, now I can take a couple of days and catch up with book logs and movies of the week, so expect a flurry of reviews. I read these while writing, but have only just managed to log them.

12th Mar, 2017

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Dropped off the Face of the Earth

No, I haven't--dropped off the face of the earth, I mean. I've been writing, and I'm just in the throes of finishing 'Nimbus' with the deadline rushing towards me like an oncoming train.. I will catch up with my booklogs and my film logs, just as soon as I've written The End, but in the meantime, these are the books that I need to log:

  1. Julia Quinn: And Offer from a Gentleman (Bridgertons #3)

  2. Lisa Shearin: Wedding Bells, Magic Spells (Raine Benares)

  3. Lisa Shearin: Treasure and Treason (A Raine Benares World novel)

  4. Nnedi Okorafor: Binti

  5. Nnedi Okorafor: Binti - Home

  6. Lisa Shearin: The Grendel Affair

  7. Ben Aaronovitch: Rivers of London (Peter Grant #1)

  8. Ben Aaronovitch: Moon Over Soho (Peter Grant #2)

  9. Ben Aaronovitch: Whispers Underground (Peter Grant #3)

  10. Ben Aaronovitch: Broken Homes (Peter Grant #4)

  11. Ben Aaronovitch: Foxglove Summer (Peter Grant #5)

  12. Ben Aaronovitch: The Hanging Tree (Peter Grant #6)

  13. Diana Gabaldon: I give you My Body

And the movies:

  1. Star Wars Rogue One (again)

  2. The Great Wall

  3. Logan

16th Feb, 2017

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Movie of the Week: Hidden Figures

Hidden FiguresWe had to go to Sheffield to find a cinema showing this in an afternoon. (Wakefield, our usual venue) only had it on for one week in the evening.) It was worth the effort - well worth it. Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, and starring Taraji P Henson as Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, this tells the true (more or less) story of three of the black women mathematicians (known as 'computers') who worked for NASA (pre electronic computers) and calculated the trajectories for the Americans first flights into space in the 1960s.

Great quote from the script:

KATHARINE JOHNSON: On any given day, I analyze the binomial levels air displacement, friction and velocity. And compute over ten thousand calculations by cosine, square root and lately analytic geometry. By hand. There are twenty, bright, highly capable negro women in the west computing group, and we're proud to be doing our part for the country. So yes, they let women do some things at NASA, Mr. Johnson. And it's not because we wear skirts. It's because we wear glasses.

Held back from senior positions by their gender and their colour these women eventually succeeded to become leaders in their field. It's easy to forget that the 1960s in America still had separate toilets and drinking fountains for 'coloureds', separate sections in the library, separate schools, and that racism was endemic with a kind of casual, unthinking cruelty that passed over the heads of white folks who believed they were enlightened, but who really weren't. This movie brings it all back:

Kudos to Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons for playing second fiddles so well in order to let the real story shine through.

Go and see this movie. You won't regret it.

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Movie of the Week: Sing

SingAn animated movie from the creators of Despicable Me about a struggling theatre impressario in a city of humanoid animals, who dreams up a singing competition to bring in an audience and get his theatre out of a deep financial hole. From there we break out into the individual stories of the aspirants from Johnny (voiced by Taron Edgerton), the young gorilla  who doesn't want to be in his dad's gang of robbers to Meena (Tori Kelly), the shy young elephant and Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) the pretty but put-upon pig housewife and mum who is so thoroughly taken for granted by her husband and kids that they don't even notice she's not there as long as her chores are done. Told as a live action movie without the animal aspects this would still be a pretty neat story, but the animation is delightful.

Spoiled only by the mum who brought two children way too young and let the older of the two kick the back of our seats all the way through. Yes, it's a movie for children, but not exclusively so and the guidelines suggest age seven. No wonder the two and five year old kids were bored.
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Book Log 9/2017 - Tade Thompson: Rosewater

RosewaterIn a near future Nigeria the city of Rosewater has grown up around a strange biodome, Utopicity, with life-enhancing powers (thought there's a creepy flipside to the 'cures' that happen when the dome opens). Kaaro is a 'sensitive', by day providing psychic security for a bank, but, when called for, an operative of the government's secret Section 45. He's actually one of their most senior psychics, but there's still an adversarial element to his relationship with his bosses and Kaaro has never quite outgrown the echoes of his youth when he spent most of the time using his talents to steal. He doesn't like working for the government. He especially doesn't like having to interrogate prisoners, using his talents.

When his fellow sensitives begin dying, Kaaro is motivated to investigate before he becomes the next victim - always circling back to Utopicity. This isn't a linear story. We get flashbacks to Kaaro's less than admirable past and Kaaro acts as our tour guide to the xenosphere and a greater understanding of what it is. There's a gritty realism, and Kaaro is no hero, but he tells it like it is.

Extremely well-written, this is essentially an alien invasion story, or possibly an aftermath story. They're here. They're staying, and they don't give a flying f**k what humans think about it. We gradually come to understand as Kaaro does.
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Book Log 8/2017 - Danielle Harmon: Captain of my Heart - Heroes of the Sea #2

Captain of My HeartBrendan Merrick, lately of His Majesty's Navy and now an American Privateer fighting King George's shipping, has designed the perfect tops'l schooner and arrives in town to have her built at the Ashton shipyard, unfortunately in a somewhat soggy condition, having been washed overboard from his own ship which is subsequently wrecked. Misunderstandings notwithstanding, he meets Ashton's daughter, Mira, She's a hellion, brought up in a household of noisy, argumentative men, who runs a riding school and to sails on her brother's privateer as a gunner when she can sneak past their father. (Unsurprisingly the riding school doesn’t appear to have regular customers.)

Yes, this is a romance so you can already see the ending looming on the horizon, and that's fine, but before then Merrick and Mira have adventures on sea and land -- she managing to fool Merrick into thinking she's a strange little sun-allergic gunner (with her hat pulled down over her face) on board his newly built schooner. There's a lot to like here--the research into ships and sailing seems particularly sound -- but there several occasions when I bounced out of the story needing a reality check. For someone who is supposed to be an excellent horsewoman, Mira managed to have a lot of out-of-control accidents/incidents, and shows next to no patience when teaching a nervous pupil. Merrick himself doesn't know how to ride, which is next to impossible as he's the son of reasonably well-off parents. He'd have been put on a pony as soon as he could walk. When horses (and carriages) are the only mode of transport, you learn how to use them or you do an awful lot of foot-slogging. Merrick must be as blind as a bat not to have rumbled Mira's disguise -- though all his sailors connive against him to keep her secret. And the Ashton family arguments escalate out of nothing at all. At least if people are going to start screaming at each other, give them a logical reason. Mira judgmentally jumps to a wrong conclusion at one point and I really didn't like her for it.

Merrick is a decent character, though I find it surprising that the son of an admiral and a committed Royal Navy officer would so easily turn himself into a privateer to fight against his king and country. His argument is with one particular Navy officer, not with the whole damn navy. And how did his crew manage to follow him to the Americas?  Getting off a British fighting ship is not so easy. Ms Harmon glosses over the mechanics of that. Merrick starts off on the wrong end of a rival officer's pistol and is plunged overboard. Then, suddenly, he's reinvented as an American privateer and his crew has defected, too.

Merrick's sister is a somewhat confused and confusing character. She's depicted as not particularly likeable, but I think we're supposed to like her. There's a villain - an English naval captain, whose enmity for Merrick stems from a promotion Merrick got while still in the Royal Navy. He's very one-dimensional (evil through and through).

I gather this is one of Harmon's early stories. This is supposed to be updated from the 1992 edition, but I think it shows the need for an astute editor. As it is, it's a bit of lighthearted fluffy romance which you mustn't think about too much. (And it has a terrible generic cover.)
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Book Log 7/2017 - Ellis Peters: A Morbid Taste for Bones - Cadfael #1

Morbid Taste for BonesI've seen all of the Cadfael TV shows, of course, so Derek Jacobi is my default Cadfael and it’s gard to get that image and voice out of my head when reading what came before. This is the first book in the series that I've read, though I'm familiar with the story, of course. Cadfael, Welshman and late adopter of the Benedictine habit is a man happy in his own skin, content with tending the abbey's vegetable garden and brewing healing potions from herbs. He's the nearest thing to a medieval forensic scientist and because he spent close to fifty years in the world before retiring to the cloister, he has a wider knowledge than most of the brothers in Shrewsbury.

The abbey is short of funds and it seems that if they can acquire suitable relics as the focus for pilgrimage, then their finances and their standing might both take a turn for the better. When one of the young monks has a vision, an expedition to find and recover the bones of Saint Winifred from the small Welsh Village of Gwytherin includes Brother Cadfael, a native Welsh speaker.

The villagers haven't exactly looked after the Saint's resting place but they are still reluctant to allow some English 'foreigners' to dig her up and take her away. When the leader of the opposition id shot with an arrow and the wrong man is blamed for it, Cadfael begins a quiet investigation which not only catches the killer, but smooths the path of true love - twice.

23rd Jan, 2017

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Book Log 6/2017 - Paul Cornell: The Lost Child of Lychford - Lychford #2

Lost Child of LychfordThe three witches of Lychford are challenged once again when a ghost child finds its way into Lizzie’s church. What does it want? When Lizzie realises that it’s the ghost of a child still happily living in Lychford she enlists the help of her two witchy friends, Judith Mawson and Autumn, the local witchcraft shop owner, to track down the significance of the apparition. They’re on a deadline. Christmas is coming and unless they can do something about a magical incursion it may never arrive. Each one of them faces a personal challenge. This is the second of Paul Cornell’s Lychford novellas and the characters continue to develop. Lovely.
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Book Log 5/2017 - Brent Weeks: The Black Prism – Lightbringer #1

Black PrismHaving adored Weeks' Night Angel series I was surprised that it took me a while to get into this. I put it on one side, almost stopped reading, and then came back to it after a couple of months. Reasons for putting it aside included not being able to feel much empathy for the main characters... but that changed as the book progressed. .

OK, from the beginning. This is a world of magic and the magic system is complex and well thought out. Drafters use light to draft coloured luxin that can have different properties, temporary or permanent. Most drafters can handle one colour, some can handle two, but Gavin Guile is the Prism, who can handle all the colours at once, which makes him tremendously powerful. He's nominally the 'emperor' figure, but not quite as grand as he eschews sitting in his ivory tower for being a hands-on prism, sorting out problems in the satrapies. The Chromeria - the governing guild which rules the drafters from training to their 'freeing' - is presided over by 'The White' and between them the White and the Prism are the head honchos of the magical fraternity. Unfortunately the more a drafter drafts, the closer he or she gets to going bonkers and turning into a colour wight. Before they get to that stage drafters are expected to volunteer to be 'freed'.

We pick up the story some fifteen years after a war between Gavin and his brother Dazen (the False Prism's War) which laid waste to a fair amount of real estate (and people), but Gavin is trying to put things right and turn things around. He doesn't have much time left. A prism doesn't usually last more than 21 years and he's had 16 already. He has goals for his final years (but we aren't party to them).

It turns out that in the heat of battle (well, maybe not during the battle, but you get what i mean) Gavin fathered a son and is now introduced to his 15 year old bastard, Kip, a potential drafter. There's something slightly awry (but we don't find out what until later in the book and no spoilers) however Gavin duly accepts Kip and sends him to be trained at the Chromeria as his... nephew.

It's a sprawling plot involving an uprising and a battle. There's tension between Gavin and Karris (his ex fiancee) who is also a super-soldier. Kip's point of view is on the point of being amusing as we get insights from his fifteen year old viewpoint. There's a reveal part way through the book that suddenly makes Gavin's character much more complex.
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Book Log 4/2017 - Rob Dircks: Where the Hell is Tesla?

Where the hell is TeslaChip is a bit of a slacker, working as a security guard on the night shift, but when he demands a desk for his empty room and discovers the lost notebook of Nikola Tesla in a locked drawer everything changes. Chip and his friend Pete decide to test out the Interdimensional Transfer Apparatus that Tesla set up in the hotel room where he lived. Having figured out the portal into the multiverse – they forget to mark the way back home and the adventure begins. Humour is so subjective and I suspect I’d find this funnier if I were a leftpondian. It’s not laugh out loud, but it’s quirky in a ‘Hey, dude, where’s my flying car?’ kind of way. There are times when Chip’s voice gets a bit wearing and the comedy is a bit thin, but Tesla saves the day in more ways than one. If you’re a Bill and Ted fan, you’ll like this.
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Book Log 3/2017 - Carrie Vaughan: Martians Abroad

Martians AbroadBook blurb reads: Polly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly's plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever.

This is a traditional school story (YA) with a difference. Raised on Mars in low gravity the Newtons have immense trouble adapting to Earth gravity, and since they have spent their lives in a closed environment, just stepping put under an open sky without protective clothing and a breather mask is scary in the extreme. The school they are sent to thinks itself to be super-elite where all the kids of 'people who are somebody' are sent, so their classmates are snobby and elitist, looking down on the non-earthers, because - hey - there has to be someone to look down on if you want to feel superior. Polly doesn't fit in, and doesn't have much desire to fit in, while Charles - too clever for his own good - seems to manage just fine.

But then a series of accidents involving high profile kids starts to happen. Polly, Charles and a few of their trusted classmates try to get to the bottom of it. Charles is the brain, but Polly is the heart.
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Book Log 2/2017 - George Mann: Dr Who-Engines of War

Dr Who - Engines of WarFeaturing a battle-weary Doctor as depicted by John Hurt, i.e. the War Doctor, who only had a very brief outing on TV in Day of the Doctor. I expected more from this because the blurb promises: ‘Searching for answers the Doctor meets 'Cinder', a young Dalek hunter. Their struggles to discover the Dalek plan take them from the ruins of Moldox to the halls of Gallifrey, and set in motion a chain of events that will change everything. And everyone.’ Like many spin off books it has to leave the main character more or less reset for the next book, so there's action, but no insight into the War Doctor's final act, which was what I thought I was going to get. This reminds me why I tend not to read franchise books. The authors don't get free rein to go where (if it were an independent book) the characters need to go. Well written as far as it goes.
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Movie of the Week: La La Land

La La LandHonestly, if you want to see a 'good old Hollywood musical like they used to make, skip La La Land and buy a video of Singing in the rain instead. I'm not sure how LLL got all the hype - well, actually I am. Hollywood loves a self-referential movie. My cinebuddy H and I took a friend to cheer her up. Unfortunately I had to wake her up halfway through this as she was starting to snore. That's how riveting La La Land is. The singing is lacklustre, the songs both tiresomely repetitive and intantly forgettable at the same time. The story... well there isn't one really. Aspiring actress meets aspiring jazz musician. The ending? Somewhat downbeat, I thought. And it's about 30 minutes too long. Altogether it hasn't got much going for it. Kudos to Ryan Gosling's piano playing. They claim that the onscreen fingers are really his and that he learned jazz piano especially for the movie.
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Movie of the Week: Assassin's Creed

AssassinsCreedWith plot holes you could drive a bus through this game-to-movie outing featuring Michael Fassbender in a 'shirt-off' role is what it is. I don't play the game (or any games) so whether it will suit game players who already know this world remains to be seen, but as a one-off cinematic event the action fairly rips along. There is - as you would imagine - a lot of posing on rooftops, hand to hand fighting and a plot with Jeremy Irons (always worth watching) as the villain of the piece. There's a cameo by Charlotte Rampling, and I'm always reminded that someone once famed for her looks has matured to be a fearsome older woman. Of course she does only get cameo roles now, but she acts her socks off in them. Worth watching? Yes if relentless action is your thing.

2nd Jan, 2017

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Book Log 1/2017 Darcy Burke: The Duke of Deception – The Untouchables #3

Duke of DeceptionAquilla Knox is still unmarried after five London seasons, largely because she’s developed a way of deterring prospective husbands. She doesn’t want to marry - she’s seen what marriage can be – but a fifth season in London gives her the chance to get away from home. Edward Bishop, Earl of Sutton, is in need of a wife, but no one has yet fulfilled his list of requirements. He needs someone who can keep a secret. To be honest neither secret is desperately painful, but the two prospective partners are kept dancing around each other in an amusing way.

The cover is boring (so similar to so many others), but though it's fluffy, some of the dialogue carries the story well.

1st Jan, 2017

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My Reading Year 2016

I did well this year – almost a hundred books read from cover to cover. I’m not counting books I bought and used for research because I don’t tend to read them in linear fashion, I cherrypick sections and information. The only non-fiction on this list has been read cover to cover. You can find full reviews of everything on this list at my Goodreads account or on my blog here. Filter by booklog 2016. (Note the numbers may not correspond exactly.)

So what have I been reading in 2016? Well, since I’ve also been busy writing I’ve tried to read books that haven’t interefered with my writing train-of-thought-at-the-time. Mostly I’ve succeeded. Highlights of 2016 have been:

  • the discovery of Jodi Taylor’s St. Marys books, wacky but with serious stakes

  • Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom duo and the rest of her Grisha books

  • Gaie Sebold’s Babylon Steel novels which I’ve been meaning to read for a few years and finally managed it

  • Ann Aguirre’s final Sirantha Jax book which i kept putting off reading because I didn’t want the series to end

  • catching up with Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels at long last – now i can’t wait for the next one

  • Sean Danker’s The Admiral

  • finally finding a Zelazny that wows me. (A Night in the Lonesome October, narrated by Jack the Ripper’s dog.)

  • reading more Georgette Heyer Regency romances – always a delight

Here’s my full reading list.


  1. Patricia Briggs: Fire Touched – Mercy Thompson #9

  2. Andy Weir: The Martian.

  3. Lois McMaster Bujold: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen – Vorkosi #16

  4. Paul Cornell: The Witches of Lychford

  5. Seanan McGuire: Every Heart a Doorway

  6. Julie Kagawa: The Iron King – The Iron Fey #1

  7. David Tallerman: Patchwerk

  8. Jim C Hines: Codex Born – Magic ex-Libris #2

  9. Benedict Jacka: Taken – Alex Verus #3

  10. Adrian Tchaikovsky: The Tiger and the Wolf – Echoes of the Fall #1

  11. Zen Cho: Sorcerer to the Crown – Sorcerer Royal #1

  12. Emma Newman: Between Two Thorns – Split Worlds #1

  13. Veronica Roth: Insurgent – Divergent #2

  14. Liesel Schwarz: A Conspiracy of Alchemists  – Chronicles of Light and Shadow #1

  15. Ann Aguirre: Endgame – Sirantha Jax #6

  16. Leigh Bardugo: Six of Crows – Six of Crows #1

  17. Anne Gracie: The Perfect Rake – Merridew Sisters #1

  18. Georgette Heyer: The Masqueraders

  19. Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Cinder Spires #1

  20. Diana Gabaldon: Virgins – Outlander (novella)

  21. Rachael Miles: Chasing the Heiress – The Muses Salon #2

  22. Tim Powers: Down and Out in Purgatory

  23. Guy Haley: The Emperor’s Railroad – Dreaming Cities #1

  24. Tim Lebbon: Pieces of Hate with Dead Man’s Hand

  25. Sarah Hegger: The Bride Gift

  26. Gaie Sebold: Babylon Steel

  27. Jodi Taylor: Just one Damn Thing After Another – Chronicles of St Mary’s #1

  28. Jodi Taylor: A Symphony of Echoes – Chronicles of St Mary’s #2

  29. Jodi Taylor: A Second Chance – Chronicles of St Mary’s #3

  30. Jodi Taylor: A Trail Through Time – Chronicles of St Mary’s #4

  31. Jodi Taylor: The Very First Damn Thing – Chronicles of St Mary’s 0.5

  32. Jodi Taylor: When a Child is Born – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 2.5

  33. Jodi Taylor: Roman Holiday – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 3.5

  34. Jodi Taylor: No Time Like the Past – Chronicles of St Mary’s #5

  35. Jodi Taylor: Ships and Stings and Wedding Rings – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 6.5

  36. Jodi Taylor: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? – Chronicles of St Mary’s #6

  37. Jodi Taylor: Christmas Present – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 4.5

  38. Jodi Taylor: Lies, Damned Lies and History – Chronicles of St Mary’s #7

  39. Joe Hill: The Fireman

  40. Benedict Jacka: Chosen – Alex Verus #4

  41. Lisa Tuttle: The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief

  42. Peter S. Beagle: Summerlong

  43. Tom Lloyd: Stranger of Tempest (Couldn’t finish)

  44. Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch

  45. Benedict Jacka: Hidden – Alex Verus #5

  46. Isabella Barclay: A Bachelor Establishment

  47. Walter Jon Williams: Voice of the Whirlwind

  48. Alexandra Bracken: The Passenger

  49. Eileen Putman: The Dastardly Duke – Love in Disguise #2

  50. Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric & the Shaman – Penric & Desemona #2

  51. Georgette Heyer: The Quiet Gentleman

  52. Karen Tuft: The Earl’s Betrothal

  53. Sally MacKenzie: What to do with a Duke – The Spinster House #1

  54. Julie Daines: Willowkeep

  55. Kevin Hearne: The Purloined Poodle – Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries

  56. Willow Palecek: City of Wolves

  57. Georgette Heyer: Sylvester

  58. Georgette Heyer: Devil’s Cub

  59. Georgette Heyer: Regency Buck

  60. Jodi Taylor: The Great St Mary’s Day Out – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story

  61. Regina Scott: The Husband Campaign – The Master Matchmakers #3

  62. C.E.Murphy: House of Cards – The Negotiator #2

  63. Allison Butler: The Healer – Borderland Brides #1

  64. Sean Danker: The Admiral – Evagardian #1

  65. Jodi Taylor: The Nothing Girl

  66. Cassandra Rose Clarke: The Wizard’s Promise

  67. Jodi Taylor: Little Donkey

  68. Donna Lea Simpson: Lord St Claire’s Angel

  69. Roger Zelazny: A Night in the Lonesome October

  70. Georgette Heyer: The Talisman Ring

  71. Alastair Reynolds: Revenger

  72. Janis Susan May: Miss Morrison’s Second Chance

  73. Regina Jeffers: Angel Comes to Devil’s Keep

  74. Leigh Bardugo: Crooked Kingdom – Six of Crows #2

  75. Leigh Bardugo: Shadow and Bone – The Grisha #1

  76. Leigh Bardugo: Siege and Storm – The Grisha #2

  77. Leigh Bardugo: Ruin and Rising – The Grisha #3

  78. Sean Danker: Free Space – Evagardian #2

  79. C.C. Aune: The Ill-Kept Oath

  80. Den Patrick: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade – Erebus Sequence #1

  81. Julia Quinn: The Duke and I – Bridgertons #1

  82. Benedict Jacka: Veiled – Alex Verus #6

  83. John Scalzi: Miniatures – The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi

  84. Julia Quinn: The Viscount who Loved Me – Bridgertons #2

  85. Benedict Jacka: Burned – Alex Verus #7

  86. Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric’s Mission – Penric #3

  87. Bianca Blythe: A Rogue to Avoid – Matchmaking for Wallflowers #2

  88. Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric’s Demon – Penric #1

  89. Gaie Sebold: Dangerous Gifts – Babylon Steel #2

  90. Nick Wood: Azanian Bridges

  91. Genevieve Cogman: The Burning Page – Invisible Library #3

  92. Jodi Taylor: My Name is Markham – Chronicles of St Mary’s short story


  1. David McKie: What’s in a Surname

  2. Allison Kinney: Hood

  3. Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward: Writing the Other

  4. Susanne Alleyn: Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders

  5. Louise Allen: Walks Through Regency London

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Movie of the Week: Passengers

PassengersNot what I expected at all, but enjoyable and interesting for all that, if a little low-key. When there is a glitch on board an automated passenger ship carrying five thousand cryo-passengers heading out to a colony, one passenger, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), is woken up 90 years too early and has no means of resetting his cryo capsule. He has a whole luxury liner to himself, but his only companion is Arthur, a cybernetic bartender (an eerie Michael Sheen) unable to leave his place behind the bar. Eventually, after a year of loneliness, he gives in to the temptation to wake another passenger, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a writer. He thinks he knows her after reading her writing, and believes that they will be soulmates.

It all goes well at first, though of course he hasn't told her that he's deliberately woken her... but then the ship starts to glitch a little and then seriously malfunction. A third person wakes, luckily, this time, a crew member. The three of them have to save the ship...

But that's not everything - the chatty android bartender has let slip Jim's big secret to Aurora, i.e. that he woke her deliberately and scuppered her life plans

This is as much a study of the effects of loneliness and a relationship which progresses in extreme isolation. It could be set in any closed environment, but having to save the ship adds a touch of drama  and tension to the otherwise fairly static plot.

28th Dec, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Rogue One - A Star Wars Movie

Rogue OneRogue One - very enjoyable. In the space battles they used archive footage of Red Leader and Gold Leader from the original Star Wars Movie, which was great for continuity. Some interesting CGI to create supporting characters from the right time period. (Actors long since gone!) Some of it (Peter Cushing) was a bit 'uncanny valley' but largely it worked. There's been a lot of online discussion about whether they should simply have recast characters like Tarkin, with opinion divided. I didn't mind the CGI. The whole thing was visually excellent, of course, and there's a new robot K-2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk. The plot held together reasonably well. It's a standalone story set just before the events in A New Hope, in which our heroes go after the plans for the Death Star. This is a one-off story, with one-off main characters. We kinda knew how it would go from knowing the status at the beginning of  A New Hope, so no complaints from me on that score. The ending was wholly appropriate and bringing in a fravourite character at the end was a great 'lifter'. Felicity Jones is good as Jyn Erso. Only complaint, why have two actors who looked so physically similar? I'm not that good with facial recognition and it took me a while to sort out Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) and Cassian (Diego Luna) in the early scenes.

I write this on 27th December, the day that Carrie Fisher's death has been announced. RIP Princess Leia. Taken far too young.
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Book Log 86/2016 - Walter Jon Williams: Voice of the Whirlwind

Voice of the WhirlwindEtienne Steward is a beta, a clone activated when his alpha is killed - murdered. Alpha Steward paid the insurance to store his clone then failed to update the memories. Beta Steward's memories stop fifteen years before Alpha Steward was killed. He knows nothing about the bitter Artefact War, fought over the loot on a deserted alien planet. he knows nothing of the aliens themselves, whose return put an end to the fighting between policorps, but not to the animosity.

Beta Steward, penniless, accepts a shady job from Griffith, a soldier who fought on Sheol in the Artefact War, and is sucked into a little not-quite-legal work on the side when he eventually gets his wish and goes back into space as an engineer on a cargo vessel plying its trade between stations in the solar system.

Things get complicated when Steward is taken to be his own alpha and is accused of murder. Getting more out of the interrogation than he gives, Steward begins to add things up and piece together what his alpha was doing to get himself killed. There's a nicely twisty plot. I did wonder whether the alpha was actually dead, but credit to the author that the plot didn't go where I expected it to.
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Book Log 85/2016 - Isabella Barclay: A Bachelor Establishment

Bachelor EstablishmanrIsabella Barclay is the pen name of Jodi Taylor, the writer of the St Marys historical time-travel books. This time she's written a straight historical. This is a Regency romance with a difference. Both protagonists have been round the block a few times and have given up on love. Neither is in the first flush of youth. Yay for middle-aged romantics.

Elinor Bascombe, a middle aged widow with a penchant for hard riding, almost tramples her new neighbour, Lord Ryde, while taking an illegal shortcut across his land. Ryde has neglected his property for years, taking whatever rents it yields while putting no effort into caring for the land. He's planning to do the same again and go straight back off on his adventure-seeking travels.

Elinor and Ryde don't exactly hit it off, but when Elinor is shot it's expedient that Ryde takes her into his decrepit and distinctly bachelor home. From that point he hardly knows what's hit him. Even from her sick bed Elinor (and her army of loyal servants) can manage a household, and Ryde finds himself thoroughly managed without actually realising it. The characters strike sparks right from the opening and a thoroughly believable romance develops without the usual breathless hearts and flowers. The shooter is still out there and after a second attempt the couple have to work out which one of them is the intended target and why.

I really enjoyed this somewhat unusual take on regency romance.
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Book Log 84/2016 - Benedict Jacka: Hidden - Alex Verus #5

HiddenAfter the events in Chosen Alex, a magical diviner, is still trying to reassemble his little family of mages and apprentices. With his dark past now revealed, he’s disappointed, though not surprised that both Anne and Sonder want nothing to do with him. Sonder can look after himself, but Anne is vulnerable. When Alex’s apprentice, Luna, persuades him to hold out an olive branch, he’s soundly rebuffed, but hardly any time later, what he fears most of all happens. Anne disappears, probably kidnapped by a dark mage. The Council doesn’t want to know, so Alex together with Sonder (under protest), Variam and his new ‘master’ – female -- one of the council’s police equivalent, decide to take on the job. There’s also the undercurrent that Richard Drakh, Alex’s one time master and a very dark mage, indeed, is back. That’s not something that Alex really wants to contemplate, but as they get closer to Anne he realises that he might have to.

Another good instalment in this excellent urban fantasy series set in London.
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Book Log 83/2016 - Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch

NonesuchSir Waldo Hawkridge is possessed of everything his younger cousins envy: a large fortune, physical prowess and good looks, excellent taste, and the reputation of being a Corinthian, noted for his sporting endeavours. It hardly seems fair to them, therefore, when an eccentric uncle leaves Broom Hall in the West Riding of Yorkshire, to the man who already has everything - the Nonesuch of the title. His cousin Julian is especially upset, being short of funds, mostly because money trickles through his fingers like water. Waldo's new inheritance is dilapidated and hardly palatial, but when he travels north to assess it, he discovers the neighbourhood buzzing with excitement. The Underhills together with their spoilt, beautiful niece, Tiffany Wield, a soon-to-be heiress, and her impoverished but genteel companion Miss Ancilla Trent, are the inhabitants of the other house of some consequence in the area and Waldo (with his cousin George) quickly achieve visiting terms with them. For a time George is dazzled by Tiffany, but Waldo begins to realise that the quietly sensible Miss Trent has very commendable qualities.

Waldo is admirably but quietly persistent. Despite his reputation he's not ostentatious. (Good heavens, he drives a curricle rather than a high-perch phaeton, even though his horses are 'proper good 'uns'.) Tiffany is somewhat one-dimensionally selfish. The cousins, George and Julian are polar opposites. George is solidly dependable and even Julian, though not endowed with vast intelligence, is occasionally grasping, but not an utter cad.

The story unfolds in typical Heyer fashion and ends where you expect it to end. On the way it's a delightful, if frothy read. Exactly what you expect (and want) from a Heyer Regency romance.
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Book Log 82/2016 - Genevieve Cogman: The Burning Page - The Invisible Library #3

Burning PageThis is the third adventure of librarian Irene and her assistant Kai, a dragon prince with two forms, also working for the Library. The library itself is an interdimensional repository of books in all their versions from the many worlds that are linked to its portals. Alberich, ex-librarian gone bad, is threatening the Library with total destruction and Irene and Kai, together with Vale a Holmsian ‘great detective’ in a steampunky alternate London, and his Scotland Yard friend, Inspector Singh are trying to stop him with occasional help and hindrance from a couple of Fae met in previous books un the series. The events in Book 2 are taking their toll, on Vale and Kai in particular. Expect explosions, assassination attempts and general mayhem.

27th Dec, 2016

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Book Log 81/2016 - Nick Wood: Azanian Bridges

Azanian BridgesSet in a present day South Africa where Apartheid was never abolished and the regime oppressed all the population, but particularly the black communities. Police checks; demands for papers; threats; casual, unthinking cruelty, and systematic institutional oppression. Sibusiso is an intelligent young black man who gets the opportunity to go to the city to go to college. At a demonstration he witnesses his friend killed and the resulting depression sees him admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he meets psychiatrist, Martin  who, together with his friend, Dan has invented an empathy machine. It’s not exactly a thought reader, but close enough for the authorities to be very interested. Martin wants to use it to make white South Africa empathise with black South Africa and reduce the chasm between them. The authorities see it as an interrogation machine. Sibusiso becomes Martin’s test subject but when he steals the machine in behalf of the Black African resistance movement he has to go one the run. This is told in first person from both Sibusiso’s and Martin’s points of view in alternating chapters, which works well in this instance. It’s intriguing and the taste of a dystopian South Africa feels terrifyingly real. The black South African experience comes over well, partly because of liberal use of isiZulu language and partly because of Sibusiso’s ‘voice’. Martin is a sympathetic character, lost in the system, white but also afraid of the authorities. He seems to learn more from his encounter with Sibusiso than Sibusiso does from him. The ending is entirely within keeping—sadly.

27th Nov, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic_BeastsRight off the bat I'll say that Eddie Redmayne is not generally an actor I'd pay to watch just because it's him, but he makes a pretty good stab at the deferential Newt Scamander, champion of strange magical creatures. Newt arrives in New York with a suitcase full of magical beasts. (Yes, like hermione's handbag, Newt's suitcase holds a veritable zoo.) Unfortunately the American magicians are a bit uptight about magical beasts - in fact they've more or less banned them altogether. So when one of newt's beasts escapes he's immediately arrested by Demoted Auror, Tina Goldstein. At the offices of the Magical Gongress of the USA (MACUSA) we encounter senior auror Percival Graves who dismisses Tina out of hand. Back at Tina's aprtment with  a no-maj (and American Muggle) more beasts escape and the hunt is on. This is all complicated by Mary Lou Barebone, the head of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, who claims that witches and wizards are real and dangerous, and something with an incrdible amout of power that seems to be wreaking havoc. Graves is after the power. Newt is after the creatures. It all gets terribly complicated, but, of course, is sorted in the end. And the ending ties in to what we know of a certain magician whose name was linked with Albus Dumbledore's darker past.

There's a lot riding on this film. A Harry Potter spin off without Hogwarts and without the Boy Wizard. Can the franchise reboot itself? It largely carries it off, and Potter fans who've been with the Potterverse from the beginning will not mind the darker tone. Does it succeed? Mostly. Yes, though I think it might be easily forgotten unless there's going to be a whole string of Fantastic Beast movies or further Potterverse spinoffs. (Which seems likely.)
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Book Log 80/2016 - Gaie Sebold: Dangerous Gifts - Babylon Steel #2

Dangerous GiftsI like Gaie Sebold’s writing style. It grabs attention and has a good character voice. In this case the voice belongs to Babylon Steel, whorehouse owner in Scalentene, whore, part-time bodyguard and one-time avatar of the god of soldiers and sex. Now if that’s not a great resume, I don’t know what is. This is the second outing for Babylon. In the first one she rescued a young woman, designated as the Itnunnacklish, designed to bring together the Gudain and the Ikinchli – two races of Incandress where civil war is brewing. In this book Babylon is propositioned by Darask Fain of Scalentene’s Diplomatic Section, (spies etc) – no not in that way – she’d probably go for that. Fain wants her to go with the Itnunnacklish, Enthemmerlee, back to Incandress as her bodyguard, just until all the ceremonies are over. Babylon has severe misgivings. Her gut tells her not to go, but one of her girls, Lainey, has mortgaged the whorehouse to the hilt and unwisely invested the cash in a cargo of very expensive silk which has to make it through troubled Incandress without a hitch, or everything Babylon calls home is lost. Besides, she likes Enthemmerlee. Unfortunately she has to leave Chief Bitternut behind. He’s a werewolf in charge of policing Scalentine, and Babylon is realising that he’s become more than just a customer. In addition to bodyguarding Fain also wants Babylon to do a bit of spying on the side and to smarten up Enthemmerlee’s own house guard. Not a tough job, then. Babylon is once more plunged into mayhem, but everything comes together finally, when a plot is revealed. Highly recommended.
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Book Log 79/2016 - Bianca Blythe: A Rogue to Avoid - Matchmaking for Wallflowers #2

Rogue to AvoidAh, sadly this may be a book to avoid. The good bits first. It’s amusing, nicely paced and has a pretty standard Regency romance plot. That’s fine. I don’t read Regency romance for innovation. It’s purely escapist fiction for me. Cordelia, the daughter of a very rich duke has been embarrassed by three broken engagements – all a bit hard to swallow when she’s aiming for perfection. The ton is starting to titter. Gerard doesn’t give a stuff about the ton. He’s up to his ears in debt thanks to his late mother’s gambling loans (from Cordelia’s dad) and the duke has sent a thug after him to chop off the odd finger or two unless he pays up. Fleeing from the thug Gerard comes across Cordelia. One thing leads to another and before you know where you are he’s asked her to marry him. Embarrased to make it four broken engagements Cordelia has agreed. Things go from bad to worse as the thug gets instructions to kill Gerard and the couple are running up and down the country trying to get married and avoid being murdered.

I could probably have swallowed this book whole, but for the author’s sense of history. I’ve come across historical inaccuracies in Regency Romance before, of course. (There was the author whose heroine ate cold popovers for breakfast… ouch!) Unfortunately there were a couple of things in this that were so obvious I was immediately jerked right out of the book. Describing the hero’s hair colour as espresso, some fifty years before espresso was invented is bad enough, but having Regency characters referencing Scott of the Antarctic just gobsmacked me. If you don’t care about obvious historical bloopers then the rest of the book is fine. Me? I guess I’m a bit too pedantic about these things. Sorry.
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Book Log 78/2016 - Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric's Mission - Penric #3 (And Penric's Demon)

Penric's MissionPenric and his resident demon, Desdemona, have moved positions. They are no longer in the court of the archdivine in Martensbridge. On her death Penric has been sent into the service of a duke. Penric and Desdemona are sent on a secret mission to contact a general who is about to defect. Unfortunately it's a put-up job. The general never intended to defect to Penric's people in the first place and penric is caught up on a trap for the general, brought down by manufactured evidence. So upon arrival Penric is thrown in jail, not a nice, cosy straw-carpeted jail cell, but an oubliette. The general - outmanoeuvred politically - is arrested, blinded, and sent home in disgrace, possibly to die. When Penric finally escapes and finds the general he finds that his simple courier job has become much more. Can he heal the general's eyes (one of Desdemona's previous hosts was a physician) and if he does, can he bring the general round to defecting? I like Penric. His solutions are always positive and in a violent world he truly seeks to do no harm. A good addition to the Penric cycle of novellas in the world of the Five Gods.

In writing this booklog I realised I'd missed book logging the first Bujold/Penric book, so here's a retrospective.

Penric's DemonPenric's Demon
This is the first Penric novella. Penric is a bright eyed innocent. On the way to his betrothal he stops to help and elderly lady and his life suddenly changes. She's a temple divine. Her avowed god is The Bastard, 'master of all disasters out of season." She carries a demon inside her. When she dies, the demon makes a jump, and that's how Penric, totally unprepared, acquires a demon who has the memories and knowledge of twelve previous hosts, and a mind of her own. This novella is bascally how Penric and his demon form a relationship, uneasy at first, and Penric joins the clergy. In the world of the Five Gods, religion is a practical subject raher than theoretical. The gods can, and frequently do, make their presence felt. This is a good set-up novella, in the world of the Five Gods where Curse of Chalion (my favourite book) and Paladin of Souls are set.

16th Nov, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Arrival

ArrivalThis movie got good reviews. It was labelled as 'cerebral', which closely translated into my understanding means 'no car chases'. That indeed is the case. There are no car chases (thank goodness) but plenty of tension. When twelve alien ships hang in the air over various points around the earth, twelve different governments rush to get their best translators on the job of 'talking' with the aliens, despite them having nothing in common on which to base language. It's an interesting problem. Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called in, alongside physicist/mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). Based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 short story “Story of Your Life” this is a smart and thoughtful movie, upping the stakes as other nations' interactions with their alien vessels are conducted with varying degrees of success (or failure). Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are well cast. There is some wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff going on which only makes sense in retrospect. I thought there was a big plot-hole and then I had a lovely ah-ha moment. Recommended.

13th Nov, 2016

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Book Log 77/2016 - Benedict Jacka: Burned, Alex Verus #7

BurnedAlex is really up against it this time. All his enemies are dogpiling on top of him and his friends. When the Light Council—for no good reason that anyone, including Alex, can figure out—issues a kill order, his first thought is to protect his apprentice Luna and Anne and Variam who are considered to be his ‘dependents. He’s got a week before it all comes into force (even Caldera doesn’t know about it, yet), but though that may be a long time in politics, it’s a short time when he has to play nice with other mages to even stand a chance of survival. There’s an artefact that the Council wants (which is also wanted by Alex’s ex boss, Dark Mage Richard Drakh) and if Alex can get it, he might get a reprieve. Richard is not on the page in this book but he’s an ever present menace. Lines are being drawn and Alex is about to be on the wrong side of them from whichever angle you look. This is a good addition to the Alex Verus series and the ending raises the level of the game considerably.

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April 2017



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