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11th Nov, 2016

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Book Log 76/2016 - Julia Quinn: The Viscount Who Loved Me - Bridgertons #2

Viscount Who Loved MeJulia Quinn's sequence of books about the Bridgertons takes the matrimonial foibles of each alphabetically-named Bridgerton sibling in turn. The first book featured Daphne, oldest girl but fourth sibling. In it we met Anthony who was pigheaded and hot tempered, attempting to shove a sharp spoke into the wheel of matrimonial bliss for his sister and his one time best friend from school.

Now Anthony gets his own book.

It's interesting to see a character broadened out. Not an entirely lovable character in the first book, we now see something of what was behind his actions. He's got a secret. It's a little nuts, but he believes it implicitly. Because the recent males in the Bridgerton family have died young, he thinks that will be his fate, too. After all, his father was killed by a bee sting. If something like that can fell so great a man, then what chance does Anthony have. As a result of seeing his mother's life as a widow, he determines that though he must marry and produce an heir, he shouldn't marry for love. He's not afraid of death, but he is afraid of leaving someone he loves to face widowhood.

Bonkers, right? Of course. He's devoted the last ten years of his life to being a principled rake (his conquests have always been women who knew what they were getting into) but now he's looking for an innocent. He draws up a list of the attributes his wife should have and picks out a very pretty miss. Only then does he discover that her older, plainer and much stronger sister is determined to protect her from suitors such as him. Sparks fly when he meets Kate...

Quinn injects humour and snappy dialogue into the Regency romance and this is a perfectly diverting piece of fluff.
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Book Log 75/2016 - Miniatures - The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi

MiniaturesI'm not generally a great reader of short stories, but these are short stories by John Scalzi. OK, I thought - I'll give it a go. I'm glad I did. Verging  on the humourous (mostly) there are stories here about sentient youghourt ruling the world, a superhero booking agent, complaints form smart-applicances, absurdities of human/alien interaction and a selection of all the alt. history ways Hiltler might die. All this and a poem for Penelope. Highly recommended.

9th Nov, 2016

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Book Log 74/2016 - Benedict Jacka: Veiled - Alex Verus #6

VeiledThe sixth adventure for Camden’s mage-on-the-edge. Alex Verus is horribly aware that his old master, dark mage Richard Drakh, has returned. He and his group of friends (Anne, Luna and Variam) have been working under cover for Talisid to try and expose Richard’s plans, but they haven’t made much headway. There’s a lot of mage-politicking going on in this book. The Council (light mages) don’t trust Alex, so he’s stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place, To protect himself and his crew Alex volunteers his services to Caldera and the Keepers (who police magicians) but soon finds out that even the simplest of investigations can go south in a heartbeat. What seems to be a routine enquiry is connected to a larger enquiry… and it all leads back to Richard Drakh (though he stays completely veiled in this book, but the potential threat is ever present). This is a good addition to the series. The tension is ramping up. Alex has choices, but no good ones. Does he choose ‘bad’ or ‘worse’? I’ve already got the next one in the series loaded up on my Kindle.

4th Nov, 2016

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NaNoYesNoNoNo: NaNoWriMo

quill&booksIt's that time of year again. November is NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. It's really aimed at those who have trouble finishing a novel because the target is to write 50,000 words in a month from 1st to 30th November. You're supposed to start from scratch (maybe having made a plan beforehand, or maybe not) and then just keep ploughing onwards. If you can manage 1,667 words per day, you can reach that target.

There's quite a buzz when everyone competes to finish the wordcount and, for me, some incentive to pace myself alongside all the NaNoWriMo folks. Yes, I know I've proved I can finish a novel. There are three on bookstore shelves already, and one more due out in January 2017, but it's still quite an undertaking, especially when you're writing to a deadline.

I've started November with 20,000 words written on Nimbus, the third novel in my psi-tech space opera series. By the end of the month I hope to have 70,000 words. That will take me roughly to halfway throiugh the first draft. My previous two psi-tech books are 171,000 and 173,000 words each, but if I can finish the first draft in 130,000 to 150,000 words that gives me a little room to add some more once my editor (Hugo-winning Sheila Gilbert from DAW) makes suggestions. So far, Sheila's suggestions have always led to the addition of words, not the subtraction. DAW likes long books.

I'm hoping to have at least 100,000 words by Christmas and a complete first draft by the end of January. After that there's the whole editing processes to go through (content edit/edits, copy edit and preaf rooding). The provisional publication date is October 2017.

So, how's it going so far?


It's been a slow start because of conflicting work from the day job, but I'm now at 22,250. My starting point was 19.836, so my total for three days is  2414 words. Day 4 - today - is not over yet.

So off I go to bash out more words on my keyboard. Wish me luck.

Silverwolf final cvr sm

Empire of Dust - final_websize Crossways-cvr-400
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Book Log 73/2016 - Julia Quinn: The Duke and I - Bridgertons #1

Duke and IDaphne Bridgerton is blessed (or cursed) with four strapping brothers. Unfortunately she's everyone's pal and so in her second London season she's still on the shelf. Her only suitors are totally unsuitable. Simon Basset, having spent the last several years abroad to keep clear of his hateful father has sworn never to marry or produce an heir for the dukedom. Unfortunately the ambitious mamas of the ton still see him as fair game for their darling daughters.

Simon and Daphne never intended to fall in love when they concocted a plan to make it seem as though they'd formed an attachment. With a duke sniffing at her heels Daff suddently becomes remarkably attractive to plenty of other suitors, and with Daff rumoured as his intended Simon can avoid advances from prospective mothers in law.

Unfortunately being caught in a compromising situation by one of Daff's brothers the pair are more or less forced into marriage. They love each other, so what's the problem? There's the small matter of Simon vowing never to produce an heir.

This is a good-hearted and good humoured book. No it's not a comedy, but the couple really do care for each other and they laugh together - a lot. Quinn's dialogue is snappy and the book is charming. I'll certainly look out for more of her Bridgerton books.

3rd Nov, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Dr Strange

Dr StrangeI loved this! I'm not a comics reader, so I went into it with no preconceptions at all, and nothing to compare it against. It's an origin story - starting us off down another tributary which will eventually join up with the big river that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This time it's an earthly superhero who taps into magic. That works for me.

The visuals are great. Stephen Strange's transformation works. He goes from brilliant, but arrogant surgeon, to broken man, to someone with a deeper understanding of the supernatural world and a new direction in life. When Strange's hands are almost destroyed in a completely avoidable car crash, modern medicine fails him. A surgeon without his hands is nothing, so he goes searching for alternative therapies, ending up in Nepal being taught by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton at her bald best) to tap into magical energy. Chiwetel Ejiofor has a strong supporting role as Mordo and Benedict Wong (as Wong) adds a dash of welcome humour. But, of course, Benedict Cumberbatch is the show's star and he makes an appealing Strange. I'm not a Cumberbatch fangirl, but he's a good actor, well-cast.

Having been introduced to the world of sorcery, Strange has to decide where his path lies, when Kaecilius, a renegade former disciple of the Ancient One, makes a bid for world domination. That kind of thing rarely ends well when there's a superhero-in-the-making around.

Highly recommended.
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Book Log 72/2016 - Den Patrick: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade - Erebus Sequence #1

Boy witrh the Porcelain BladeI’d heard very good things about this book, so I was a little disappointed that it didn’t live up to its hype. There was much to admire, but also things that rankled. I’ve lost track of the number of times Lucien, our hero, was knocked unconscious, for instance. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Set in the sprawling castle of Demesne in the kingdom of Landfall, Lucien is an Orfano, one of the despised and feared, yet privileged Orfani (orphans, geddit?) who are all deformed in some way—born different—but not imbued with any special powers as far as I can tell. Raised in the castle and given the best education in all things, including martial arts, the Orfani are neither one thing nor the other. Set against each other by the system of annual testing, their lives are constantly in danger, from each other as well as from factions who should be protecting them (the mysterious Major Domo and one particularly vicious teacher).

Lucien’s story is told in two separate timelines: from his fateful testing at eighteen and what follows, interspersed with chapters from his childhood, filling us in on the backstory. He’s a lonely little boy who grows up into a lonely young man. He’s desperately concerned with his deformity (lack of external ears, though it doesn’t seem to affect his hearing). Much of this book is concerned with the origins of the Orfani and what Lucien discovers causes an eventual confrontation with the mad king and his Major Domo. The alternating chapters don’t really work for me. Breaking the forward narrative to leap back to a childhood incident pulled me out of the story. I could have done without the flashbacks altogether. Each one made a point or added information, but this could have been covered by a brief summary.

The setting is vaguely Italian Renaissance, delivered mostly via the names and the occasional swear word, yet nothing seems to exist beyond the island kingdom of Landfall. There’s no trade, no diplomatic missions, no sense of geography. We are given an origin myth which involves a ship landing and sleepers being woken, which hints at spacefarers being woken from coldsleep by the person who becomes the king, but it’s never followed through, so maybe this is foreshadowing for a future book, since this seems to be the first in a sequence. Is it possible that Landfall is the only human settlement on an earth-type planet?

Received from Netgalley in return for a review.
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Book Log 71/2016 - C.C. Aune: The Ill-Kept Oath

Ill Kept OathI almost didn’t finish this one even though it has many of the elements I like in a novel. It’s a Regency romance with magic. Nuff said? Just my sort of thing, usually, but it took me a little while to get into it.

Prudence Fairfeather and Lady Josephine Weston have been raised together as cousins, but have not been told of their magical inheritance. Lord Middlemere (Josephine’s somewhat lacklustre father) has taken an oath to keep them from magic.

Prudence goes to London for her debut season, but when she’s given some artefacts that belonged to her late mother, things start to get weird. In particular the wearing of her mother’s ring seems to imbue her with a talent for the truth. She managed to have a few fairly disastrous happenings which put a dent in her chances in the Marriage Mart. Meanwhile Josephine, still too young to attend the London season, discovers a talent for swordsmanship and an attraction to a certain young lieutenant who is hunting trolls (yes, trolls) in the district.

The characters are well-drawn, though I could have wished that the pace was a little more sprightly, especially in the first part of the book. It picks up in the second half, however and fairly romps home to an ending. It’s not a perfect book by any means, but it’s a competent debut.

Received from Netgalley in return for a review.
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Book Log 70/2016 - Sean Danker: Free Space - Evagardian #2

Free SpaceI really enjoyed the first Evagardian book, The Admiral, and on a general level I enjoyed this one, too, but where The Admiral had more questions to answer, in Free Space we already know some of the answers, so a large chunk of the intrigue is missing. When the Admiral (we still don’t know his real name, but we now know what he did and why the Evgardians want to silence him) and three companions are kidnapped while on a jaunt to a leisure destination, this book turns into another get-me-out-of-here story, though not on the same scale as The Admiral. Our main character (I can only keep calling him the Admiral, sorry.) is relying on his wits (and his date, Salmagard, one of the trio of rookies from The Admiral) to survive. It would help, of course, if he hadn’t been injected with a deadly poison to start off with. He may not necessarily be at his best.

When the opening kidnap took place I expected that it would be resolved quickly and the story would move on, but, in fact, the whole book is the kidnap and how they all survive it. The writing is equally gripping, but the scope of the whole book smaller than its predecessor. It’s still worth reading (and I will read the next one when it’s published) but it didn’t grip me as much as The Admiral.
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Book Log 69/2016 - Leigh Bardugo: Ruin and Rising - The Grisha # 3

Ruin and RisingIn the final Grisha book things come to a head for Alina and Mal. The Darkling rules and Alina has fallen under the power of a bunch of zealots who worship her as a saint, but won’t let her reclaim her Sun-Summoner power. Alina determines to find the last of the amplifiers to boost her power to defeat the Darkling, but there’s a nasty twist lying in wait for her. The triangle between Alina, Mal and Sturmhond/Nickolai is still causing problems. Alina has a big decision to make.

I’ve enjoyed Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. I wish I’d read it before the Six of Crows duo as the knowledge of the Grisha feeds into Six of Crows, and some of the characters return in a minor role. Also Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom shows the author’s growth. (They are also highly recommended.)
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Book Log 68/2016 - Leigh Bardugo: Siege and Storm - The Grisha # 2

Siege and StormFollowing on from Shadow and Bone, this book sees Mal and Alina fleeing Ravka, but their freedom is fleeting. Alina is unhappy, and covering up her Sun Summoner powers takes its toll. The Darkling emerges with a frightening new power. We meet a fabulous new character, Sturmhond, a privateer who turns out to be so much more. There are complications between Mal and Alina, between Alina and Sturmhond and between Mal and Sturmhond. This is not exactly a love triangle, but it is a triangle and it’s developed quite well (though Mal spends a fair bit of time being an arse in this book.) It’s all about the search for amplifiers that will increase Alina’s power an enable her to defeat the darkling and reverse the big nasty darkness that splits the land.

I can’t say much more without spoilers. The whole Grisha trilogy is one story served up as three books, rather than three standalones. I recommend reading all three together.

23rd Oct, 2016

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Movie of the Week: The Girl with All the Gifts

Girl with All the GiftsI was going to read the book (by M.R. Carey) until a friend put me off by saying he thought the book was mostly great but he didn't like the ending. I don't know if the film followed the book closely, so you'll have to tell me whether it's the same ending if you've seen/read both.

I wouldn't normally go for zombie movies, but this isn't a normal zombie movie.

In a dystopian near future a fungus has infected a large proportion of the population turning them into flesh-eating, slow moving zombies. A group of children have been infected, but they still have intelligence and can control their bloodlust to a certain extent. Melanie is one such child, living in a government research facility where Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), a research scientist, is conducting experiments on them, trying to find a cure. Gemma Arterton is Miss Justineau, Melanie's sympathetic teacher and the only person who treats the child as an individual to be nurtured. Colm McCarthy directs.

When the situation outside the compound gets worse as the 'hungries' overrun the uninfected, Miss Justineau, Melanie, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) and squaddie Kieran Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade) go on the run in a world filled with people who only see them as a meal. Melanie, polite, intelligent, caring, yet terrifying, is the only one who can bridge the gap between the zombies and the unaffected humans. More clues than that would plunge this into spoiler territory. There aren't a whole raft of CGI effects, and it's not all thrill, spills and excitement - though there is action and tension. It does well with what's probably a smallish budget. Some of the aerial footage was shot by a second unit in the ghost town of Prypjat, near Chernobyl, in the Ukraine, so if the post-apocalyptic imagery looks realistic, it is. (Thgough some was also shot in Birmingham, so what does that say?) Though it's not exactly a fun movie, it is interesting and worth watching. Sennia Nanua plays Melanie in a nuanced performance that bodes very well for her acting future. The film takes the zombie theme and does something different with it, driving it to a different conclusion than the one we might expect.

9th Oct, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Bridget Jones's Baby

Bridget Jones babyBridget is now 43 and once more living the single (and more-or-less celibate) life. She's a successful news producer by day, and a couch potato by night... until she's dragged to a music festival and after promising to shag the first man she meets, does just that. Luckily the shagee is Jack (Patric Dempsey). Just a week or two afterwards she meets old flame Mark (Colin Firth) who is on the verge of getting a divorce from his wife. More shagging ensues.

So, knowing the title of the film, you can see where this is going. Bridget is pregnant, but which one of the two gorgeous men in her life is the daddy and how is she going to explain to each one of them exactly what the situation is. There's a great love triangle vibe with stuffy, uptight Mark and easygoing, freewheeling Jack each vying for paternal recognition. There a hilarious dash (or not) to the hospital when the time comes.

Renee Zelweger is brilliant as Bridget, but Emma Thompson as the obstetrician easily steals every scene she's in. Very enjoyable.
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Movie of the Week: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

miss-peregrines-homeVisually stunning (with a lot of CGI), this is a Tim Burton movie about time loops, strange children and scary monsters. Jake (Asa Butterfield) has grown up on his Grandpa's (Terence Stamp) stories about his life fighting monsters wothout actually giving any of it much credence, until his grandfather is murdered by a monster that only Jake has seen.  He goes in search of the orphanage (on an island off the coast of Wales), and finds the ruin of the Victorian Gothic house, bombed during the Second World War... or was it? Jake finds the time loop and is introduced to Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and the peculiar children with a variety of talents (not all of them useful). He also discovers that the monsters are real.

I felt as though this was a movie I should love. It's quirky and imaginative but somehow Jake should be the emotional centre of the movie, and he isn't. I'm not sure whether to put it down to the director or to Butterfield himself, but he simply doesn't cut it. There's an excellent turn from Terence Stamp as Grandpa Abe and a brief appearance by Judi Dench (always good value) but the children themselves are a bit underdeveloped, character-wise. It's not a movie that's going to stick in my mind for very long.

It scores bonus points for having Blackpool (and Blackpool Tower) as one of the settings.
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Book Log 67/2016 - Leigh Bardugo: Shadow and Bone - The Grisha # 1

Shadow and BoneAlina and Mal, Mal and Alina. It's always been just the two of them against the world. Brought up on charity, both refugees from Ravka's seemingly endless war, they end up doing military service, Mal as a tracker, Alina as a cartographer. When their unit has to cross the Shadow Fold, a preternatural darkness filled with flesh-eating monsters, danger strikes and Alina saves Mal by manifesting light. It turns out she has a rare power that just might save Ravka, so without a by-your-leave she's carted off by the darkling to train as a Grisha. That's good, right? Well, yes and no. Her talent is elusive and something is going on that she doesn't understand... (If I told you any more I'd have to shoot you.)

This comes before Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, and in a way I wish I hadn't read the other two first because the other two are superb and this is merely good. Having said that good is GOOD, and I've immediately started reading the second book in the trilogy. Alina is an excellent character and the plot is twisty.

The setting is interesting. It’s a secondary world fantasy with heavy Russian overtones. For someone who knows little about Russian culture and history, there’s enough here to give a flavour and to lift it out of generic medievaloid fantasy. The level of technology is interesting. There’s gunpowder and the army has rifles, but there’s not much evidence of an industrial revolution, so no trains or heavy industry (that we see).

5th Oct, 2016

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Book Log 66/2016 - Leigh Bardugo: Crooked Kingdom - Six of Crows #2

Crooked KingdomCrooked Kingdom begins where Six of Crows ended. After pulling a successful caper at the Ice Court on behalf of Jan van Eck Kaz Brekkers gang has been ruinously doublecrossed and Inej, the Wraith, taken prisoner. Though he would never admit it Inej means more to Kaz Brekker than anything else, but Kaz is a hard-nosed criminal and part of his invulnerability is caring for nothing.

Kaz is nominally second in command of a street gang called the Dregs, though their leader Per Rollins has relaxed into letting Kaz do all the work. Kaz has assembled his own little team: Nina, a grisha (magic) heartrender who can control the human body with the power of her mind, but who is now suffering the after effects of a drug; Matthias, a Fjerdan soldier who promised to kill Nina, but fell in love with her instead; Inej, the Wraith, a light-footed, acrobatic spy who was brought to Ketterdam as a slave; Jesper, a sharpshooter whose big failing is that he's addicted to gambling. The sixth member of the team is Wylan, the son of Van Eck, the council member who doublecrossed Kaz and his team. Wylan has his own problems with dear old dad. In addition there's Kuwei Yul Bo, half their hostage, half under their protection and all trouble. Kuwei's father invented a horrific drug, jurda parem, which amplifies the talents of Grisha before killing them, and Kuwei might be the best hope for finding an antidote. The problem is that he's wanted by almost every faction in the city.

Thus the stage is set for another hectic visit to Ketterdam and, more specifically, the Barrel - the bad part of a bad place. Kaz Brekker is out for revenge and one way or another he intends to see van Eck pay for his doublecross and Pekka Rollins pay for a much deeper hurt inflicted six years earlier.

The characters are fascinating. They are a bundle of conflicting flaws. Kaz is clever, twisted and dark, ruthless and desperately trying to hide the fact that he's become fond of (and reliant upon) his gang. He's as hard as nails, but has a weakness that he keeps hidden, knowing it could kill him. Inej can scale a building or walk a high wire, but after a year imprisoned in a brothel she doesn't want to be touched. Nina is still at the stage of withdrawal that she'll beg for another dose of parem. Wylan, despite his cleverness with chemicals, can't read and believes this makes him a second class human being because it's what his father has always told him. Jesper is always driven towards risk and the next big gamble. Matthias thinks he's a traitor to his own country, which isn't too far from the truth.

The action is fast and furious with many twists and turns while Kaz and his gang try to keep ahead of the people who want them dead--which is just about everyone in the city, mercher and criminal alike. There's a satisfactory ending (no cliffhangers like Six of Crows) but enough possibilities that I hope this is not the last we see of Brekker and his Crows. Though this seems to be written for the YA market, it’s hard enough and fast enough to easily appeal across the board.
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September Retrospective #2 Fantasycon

IMG_20160925_090611849Fantasycon-by-the-Sea in late September was... interesting. It was held at the Grand Hotel, Scarborough, which is undoubtedly no longer grand, though it is big.

It remains the most writerly of cons with most panels aimed at writers and peopled by writers and industry professionals. Its progamme is hard to fault and there are lots of book launches and plenty of freebie books. (I scored Adrian Tchaikovsky's Guns of the Dawn, Naomi Novik's Uprooted and Helen Keen's The Science of Game of Thrones.) I signed up for a couple of excellent small events, including the Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear one on being a writer.

The panel rooms were a good size (some of them in the Grand's sister hotel just round the corner) and there was always social seating available in at least one of the bars. The Grand Hotel was actually a perfect setting for a horror con, but it worked for fantasy, too. 365 rooms, 12 floors, four turrets for days of the year/months/seasons. It's Victorian Gothick or possibly Victorian Grotesque. (Just check out the brickwork in the photo.) It must have been very grand in its heyday, but now it's being milked by Pontins. The maximum profit for the minimum amount of renovation/upkeep seems to be the way of things, so there are patches of damp plaster, broken toilets, lifts that don't work (and when they do you kind of wish you weren't trusting your life to them). The lounge bar which still has glorious ornamental plaster pillars similar to the ones in the Brighton Pavilion now has a row of fruit machines, and the corridor leading to the dealer rooms was jam-packed with re-charging mobility scooters.

IMG_20160923_140643448But the staff were unfailingly pleasant and you can't beat it for value for money. The basic room-share cost £40 per person per night for bed, breakfast and evening meal. I'm surprised they can function at all at that price. We paid an extra tenner per person per night for a sea-view room and a place in the 'posh' dining room. (Same food but no gueues.) That was a good move. Our room was tired, but functional and clean, and the view over South Bay was magnificent. Bonus was an enormous 'afternoon tea' at the Grand. It was so big we didn't know whether to eat it or ride it. I don't normally take photos of food but this had to be an exception.

27th Sep, 2016

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September Retrospective #1 Milford

Despite only lasting one week Milford seems to slurp up the whole of my September. First I'm getting ready for it, prepping my own submission (up to 15,000 words in one or two pieces), and this year the words would not behave themselves. I send one sub at the right time, but the other was a week late - which makes it difficult for the other participants who are standing by to receive, read and critique the pieces. After launching my own submission into the ether I then had a week to read all the other subs. There are fifteen writers in total so a potential 14 x 15,000 words to critique. That's 210,000 words to not only read, but read analytically and say helpful and sensible things about.

So by the time I climbed in my car and headed off to North Wales, I'd already done a lot of work. Then Milford itself is a mixture of free tme in relaxing surroundings, formal critique sessions, and social evenings with other writers. Hey, it's fun, but it is tiring. By the time I got back I was ready for a little lie down in a darkened room.

Here are some of my pics of the week...
The Nantlle Valley is truly beautiful. That's Mount Snowdon in the distance.
Nantlle Valley

The view from the main house at Trigonos looking down towards the lake.

Lake 3

Food is fresh from the gardens at Trigonos (and from local suppliers). Breakfast, elevenses, lunch, cake o'clock (4 p.m.) and dinner at 7.00. You certainly don't go hungry!

lunch 1

Peaceful mornings. (David Allan hard at work on a manuscript in the Trigonos library)David Allan reading

Though sometimes the strain begins to show! Jim Anderson awaiting a critique of one of his pieces.

And finally, the whole Milford group of 2016:
L-R standing: John Moran, Dave Gullen, Terry Jackman, David Allan, Guy T Martland, Jim Anderson, Liz Williams, Jacey Bedford, Glen Mehn, Elizabeth Counihan, Lizzy Priest. Seated L-R: Sue Thomason, Amy Tibbetts, Paulina Morgan, Siobhan McVeigh.
Milford 2016-03
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Book Log 65/2016 - Regina Jeffers: Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep

Angel comes to Devils KeepAn unlikely but amusing plot. When Angelica Lovelace, American born daughter of an English ‘younger son’ comes to England to find a husband she promises her father she’ll make a good marriage. On the way to a house party her coach is wrecked in a storm and she stumbles across Huntington McLaughlin – almost literally. Hunt’s horse throws him when Angel pops out of the forest and he sustains a head injury resulting in amnesia. Angel rescues him from rising waters but gets into a tangle when she claims to be his wife so as not to scandalise the farmer who takes them in. I’m certainly not going to outline the plot, but one thing leads to another and Hunt and Angel spend a fair amount of the book knowing that they shouldn’t fall in love but… Well, you get the drift. It’s a bright and breezy read.
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Book Log 64/2016 - Janis Susan May: Miss Morrison's Second Chance

Miss Morrison's Second ChanceA Regency romance featuring Verity Morrison and her one time sweetheart Bradford Pemberton, torn apart by jealousy some twelve years earlier. Verity has dwindled into spinsterhood while Pemberton, exiled to foreign lands, made his fortune. When Pemberton returns for a visit to set some affairs in order he expects that Verity must me long married. Verity, seeing Pemberton in the company of her flighty and disreputable married sister, wonders whether she ever had his heart in the first place. It’s one of those stories where the protagonists could have solved a lot of misunderstandings if they’d sat down together over a nice cup of tea, but I’m probably not giving much away to say that it all works out in the end.  It’s a pleasant read – worth spending a few hours on.
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Book Log 63/2016 - Alastair Reynolds: Revenger

RevengerSet in the far, far future when there are myriad small worlds interconnected by trade routes and some 'baubles' containing remnants of alien tech which are valuable but difficult (and dangerous) to get. There are vessels and crews whose sole purpose is to penetrate the baubles and amongst those crews there's a fair amount of rivalry, but no crew as cruel or ruthless as that led by the legendary Bosa Sennen

Two teen sisters, Adrana and Arafura Ness, escape the clutches of their overprotective father to go off adventuring into space, ostensibly to shore up the family's failing finances. They are bone-readers with the capability to jack into alien skulls and communicate across space instantly. Captain Rackamore takes the girls on board and teaches them the basics, but when they are attacked by Bosa Sennen everything goes pear-shaped. Adrana and Fura are separated and Fura, who narrates the story, must go to extraordinary lengths to keep a promise she's made to herself.

This is a little coy about admitting it's a book suitable for the older end of the YA market, but it's actually a book that can easily cross over into both adult and YA. It's a rip-roaring space-based adventure with high stakes. The blurb says it's for lovers of Firefly and Star Wars and I can see where it's coming from. There are certainly echoes of Firefly in the independent nature of the small crews risking all, sometimes scoring, sometimes not.

The worldbuilding is imaginative, but Reynolds doesn't spoonfeed the details to the reader. What are the baubles? How are they sealed? What were the alien occupations that went before? We gradually find out more as we go through, but there are many more layers to this universe that could be unveiled in future books.

Imaginative and exciting. Well worth reading.
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Book Log 62/2016 - Georgette Heyer: The Talisman Ring

Talisman RingLord Lavenham’s dying wish is that Sir Tristram Shield should marry Eustacie, his young French cousin and take over the administration of the estate, since the heir, Ludovic, is currently out of the country, having been accused of murder a few years earlier. Tristram is mature and sensible, Eustacie young and flighty (and somewhat silly). It looks like a match made in hell, though Tristram is willing to go through with it as he thinks it’s about time he should wed. His heart is not involved.

Things turn rapidly when Eustacie decides to run away and with the organisational ability of a cucumber manages to get herself into trouble almost immediately by running into smugglers on a dark and lonely stretch of road. But the leader of the smugglers is Ludovic and when he’s shot by excisemen, Eustacie ends up at an inn with him where they meet Sarah Thane who is travelling with her brother who has settled in to the Inn with a severe case of man-flu and several bottles from the inn’s excellent cellar. Tristram isn’t far behind and soon Sarah muscles in on the adventure,too. It turns out that Ludovic, protesting his innocence in the murder, reckons that his cousin (who stands to inherit the Lavenham estate) is the guilty party and finding the talisman ring will prove the matter.

A regency romance with a twist of mystery, adventure: smugglers and a murder. A missing ring can prove one man’s innocence and another’s guilt. There’s a riotous cast of characters, not all playing the traditional roles. Whose story is it? Who’s the hero and who’s the heroine?

7th Sep, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Swallows and Amazons

Swallows-And-Amazons-posterWhat can I say about this? Well, I expected it to be a nostalgic trip back to the type of books I read in my childhood (though I admit I never read this one). Sadly it wasn't enough to hold my attention. I have to say that my enjoyment of this was severely curtailed by the audience. Why on earth someone would think it was a suitable movie for a two year old I have no idea, but said two year old was then allowed to run up and down the aisle for the duration. Couple that with a fidgety family kicking my seat at frequent intervals and I may not have been in the most receptive of moods. Yes, I know you can expect children in the audience at a children's film during the school holidays, but is a certain level of good behaviour (from the parents) too much to ask? Am I just a grumpy old git?

Ok, back to the movie... Setting: the Lake District. Time period: 1930s/40s (unspecific, but the book was written in the 30s). The Walker children (the Swallows) are given permission to camp on an island in the middle of a lake. When they get there, they have to battle against a pair of local girls (the Amazons) for control of the island. There's no health and safety rubbish, just four kids in a boat squabbling like kids do until you want to bang their precious little heads together. The book character Titty has been coyly turned into Tatty for obvious reasons. There's a 39-Steps type spy drama grafted on to the original, but I'm not sure it rescues the film. Pity.
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Book Log 61/2016 - Roger Zelazny: A Night in the Lonesome October

Night in the Lonesome OctA friend recommended this to me a couple of years ago and I kept forgetting about it – which is a pity because it’s great. Set in a Victorianesque England and told from the point of view of Snuff, the dog, who belongs to Jack, it’s horrific, quirky and funny (those aren’t mutually exclusive). We’re left to figure out what’s happening as a bunch of characters from (his)story and fiction (Jack the Ripper, Dracula, Rasputin, Dr Frankenstein, Larry Talbot and The Great Detective amongst others) prepare for some kind of game or contest which involves a fair amount of grave robbing and—it seems—a little murder and mayhem. There are factions—openers and closers—and we must fathom who is aligned with whom. Snuff does occasionally get to discuss things with Jack, but mostly his circle of friends-who-might-be-enemies includes the familiars of the other magical types: cat, rat, snake, bat and owl. We follow the crew through the days of October, day by day, as the game builds to Halloween. Light in tone, but grim in subject I have to admire Zelazny’s imagination and brilliance.

Review copy provided by Netgalley.

31st Aug, 2016

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Book Log 60/2016 - Donna Lea Simpson: Lord St Claire’s Angel

Lord St Claires AngelI’ve had a spate of reading Regency romances of late, so maybe I’m getting a bit jaded, but this wasn’t the best. The heroine is an arthritic spinster (which is a refreshing change) and the hero a rake about to reform. Both of them are sympathetic characters, but unfortunately they spend far too much time musing on the meaning of love and the whole thing seemed somewhat over-long to support the simple story. Sweet but not riveting.
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Book Log 59/2016 - Jodi Taylor: Little Donkey

Little DonkeyA short story which follows in from The Nothing Girl. Apart from a glitch in timing (something right at the end of The Nothing Girl doesn’t tie into the timeline of Little Donkey) this is a fun read. The vicar wants to borrow Marilyn the Donkey for the church nativity play but anyone who knows what kind of chaos the Checkland household lives in could predict the results. More about Jenny and Russell (post wedding) together with the excellent peripheral characters and even a visit from Thomas the invisible (to most people) horse. You should probably read The Nothing Girl first. Recommended.

25th Aug, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Pete's Dragon

Petes DragonIt's that time of year again. Most of the new movies are kiddie films. Thankfully Pete's Dragon was better by miles than last week's offering: Suicide Squad. I didn't see the original cartoon version of Pete's Dragon, so no comparisons. This was live action with a CGI dragon featuring Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Karl Urban and Wes Bentley in the adult roles and a very cute Oakes Fegley as Pete. You probably know the story. Small child is orphaned by a car accident wonders into the forest and is looked after by a dragon (whom the child names Elliott). Six years later the child is found and the dragon revealed (to a timber cutting crew) whereupon unsympathetic adult (Karl Urban) captures the dragon and sympathetic adults help Pete to release him.
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Robert Redford continues to be magnetic on screen despite wrinkles. Oakes Fegley, as Pete was supposed to be ten years old but looked about seven. (His bio doesn't give a definitive age, but he was approximately nine or ten at the time of filming. For a child of that age he has an impressive acting resumee already.

The dragon was a bit... lumpy and it had fur. Was that to make it less scary for kids or with a view to marketing plush toys?

Your kids might well enjoy it. The car crash at the beginning in which Pete was orphaned, was sensitively handled. No blood, no dead bodies and a quick move to 'six years later'.
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Book Log 58/2016 - Jodi Taylor: The Nothing Girl

Nothing GirlI’ve burned through all Jodi Taylor’s back catalogue this year – her Chronicles of St Marys’ books and her historical fiction under the name of Isabella Barclay– but since I mostly read SF and historicals I hadn’t considered reading The Nothing Girl. At first glance it looked like chick-lit, which I’m not fond of, however, I’ve loved all of Ms Taylor’s writing so thought I should give it a try. I’m not disappointed. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed it, I’m not actually sure how to categorise it. Chick-lit crossed with fantasy? Possibly. Mystery – yes, there’s a bit of that, too. Romance? Ditto. Or maybe it’s just mainstream fiction. It all depends on whether you think the giant golden horse that only Jenny can see is real or imaginary. The fact is that Jenny thinks he’s real, so that’s good enough for me.

Jenny is an introverted young woman with a dreadful stammer not helped by her aunt and uncle’s overprotectiveness. Her parents died and left her well provided for, but traumatised. She lives quietly in an attic room, fully equipped with bookshelves, computer, and a giant golden horse called Thomas who arrived on the day she tried to commit suicide as a thirteen-year-old. Thomas is still with her – and will remain with her until she doesn’t need him any more.

It’s a complicated family worthy of Jilly Cooper. The daughter of the house, Jenny’s glamorous cousin, has had (or maybe is still having) an abusive on-off relationship with Russell Checkland (currently off) whom Jenny has known since school (where he was one of the few who treated her kindly). Russell, a talented artist, lost his muse and his will to paint when Jenny’s cousin left him. Jenny’s cousin has a new man but doesn’t want anyone else to have Russell – which is a pity because Russell has just asked Jenny to marry him. What? Where did that come from? Well, it’s simple enough. Russell has a fabulous old farmhouse but no money to repair it. Jenny has an inheritance but no life outside of her bedroom. Jenny gets a home, Russell gets to keep his home together. It’s a simple arrangement that’s about to get a whole lot more complicated, especially since Jenny keeps having ‘accidents’. Who’s to blame or is she just very clumsy?

As ever I loved Jodi Taylor's 'voice'. There were definite giggle moments in this book. It's light and entertaining while telling an interesting story of genuine depth.

BTW, I don't think the cover does this book any favours and is probably what originally contributed to me dismissing this book as 'chick lit'. without examining it too closely
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Book Log 57/2016 - Sean Danker: Admiral - Evagardian#1

AdmiralFour cryo-sleepers wake on a strange vessel in space, the first three are rookie Evagardian military personnel and the last is an admiral - or so it says on his sleeper. He's as surprised about this as the other three are. This is a get-me-out-of-here story paced like a race over hurdles. Problem after problem besets our quartet at breakneck speed. They are not actually in space, but on a planet, their ship on unstable ground, and the crew is dead--in bizarre circumstances. The planet is uninhabited and uninhabitable, but are they alone? Though they don't all trust him the three rookies (skilled but inexperienced) follow the admiral's lead. Throughout the story we get hints as to who this 'admiral' might be. I guessed (about halfway through) what he'd done, if not who he was, and it turns out I was right, but the narrative kept me engrossed to the end. Yes, the 'admiral' is an unreliable narrator deliberately hiding his identity, but I can forgive that for the rest of the book and the fact that it is the first book in a series. I'll be looking for the next. Highly recommended.

22nd Aug, 2016

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Book Log 56/2016 - Allison Butler: The Healer - Borderland Brides #1

HealerDid the fashion for sexy men in kilts begin with Outlander or was there an earlier trend that I missed? (Disclaimer: I’ve never had a thing about men in kilts!) Well, this is one of those sexy men in kilts books, but for all that it’s engaging and a quick, light read.

Lynelle is an outcast in her own family home just south of the Scottish border (in the days when the border was somewhat flexible and border raids were de rigeur). She’s been rejected by her father and stepmother and has been brought up by the local healer (now deceased). When her half-brother is kidnapped by a Scottish raiding party from just over the border, Lynelle sets out to rescue him, not so much out of love for the boy, but because she wants to prove herself to her father. She exaggerates her healing skills – learned but little practised. In a trade (two weeks of her time in return for the release of the boy) she’s sent along to Closeburn with Laird William Kirkpatrick to tend his injured brother. William is shy of healers, having banished one from Closeburn for failing to save various members of his family.

Of course Lynelle falls for the brooding William (rather too easily, maybe) and you can probably more-or-less guess the rest. It’s a fun, light read and there are no great surprises in the ending, but it satisfies the story.

Just for the record, I hate historical romance covers that have headless bare six-packs on the cover. At least this one has a headless bare back.

Note: Review copy provided by netgalley

20th Aug, 2016

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In other news, tomorrow is our 45th wedding anniversary. Forty five! You do understand that I was a child bride, I hope. If they hadn't lowered the voting age I wouldn't even have been able to vote, yet I could get married and jointly own a mortgaged house!

BB says 45 is our Sapphire anniversary and so a couple of days ago he took me into Huddersfield and we came back with a sapphire and diamond eternity ring - narrow and very delicate. I look forward to seeing if it still fits tomorrow!

We didn't have a proper photographer (too expensive) so we ended up with a series of snaps. Brian and I are pretty obviously 'bride and groom' but the others are, left to right: Brian's Mum, Evelyn Bedford (Brian's dad was there as well but got chopped off by the photo-snapper), Best Man, John Louth, just peeping up from the back between me and Brian is my maternal grandpa, Tommy Bennett, then my dad, Tony Lockyer, my mum, Joan Lockyer, wearing a lampshade on her head, and my grandma, Annie Bennett. We lost touch with John when he emigrated to South Africa many years ago, and of the rest, only my mum is left, so this holds a lot of memories.
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Book Log 55/2016 - C.E.Murphy: House of Cards - The Negotiator #2

House of CardsThis is the second outing for lawyer/negotiator Margrit and gargoyle, Alban, in contemporary New York City. Following the events in Heart of Stone, Margrit, who works for the city as a public defence council, is now fully aware of the Old Races, Vampires, Dragons, Djinni, Gargoyles and Selkies, though Selkies, as far as she knows, are a diminishing race. She’s in a dangerous position, but things have quietened down somewhat since Alban (Gargoyle) has decided that he's going to step back from any kind of relationship with Margrit in order to keep her safe. Sadly, his logic doesn’t work. Margrit is attacked in Central Park, and then drawn into a negotiation between crimelord Janx (a Dragon) and billionaire Eliseo Daisani (a Vampire). Tensions mount when Margrit’s boss is murdered, with all the signs of a Djinn being the culprit and Margrit suspects Janx’s henchman, Malik, whom Margrit finds even more scary than Janx. Her on-off relationship with detective Tony is even more off than on and finally she admits that it may be permanently off. The balance of power shifts when a new player comes to town. Margrit is offered an ultimatum and a new job and learns a few hard truths. And then there’s Alban…

I thoroughly enjoyed this and will certainly be watching out for more books by C.E. Murphy in future.

Because I bought this book for my kindle, I didn’t pay much attention to the cover until I came to do my write-up. Margrit in the book is most definitely African American, consistently described as ‘café latte’ in skin tone, however the cover, though a night-time scene with lots of shade, makes Margrit look distinctly pink in hue, which is a pity. No reflection on Ms. Murphy since the cover choice usually belongs to the publisher, not the author.

19th Aug, 2016

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Book Log 54/2016 - Willow Palecek: City of Wolves

City of WolvesA murder mystery. Private investigator Drake doesn't work for nobility, but he's not given much choice when he's set upon by two thugs. It's not entirely the best way to set on a new employee, but he's persuaded to investigate the death of Lord Abergreen. His investigations lead him to a shocking discovery. If I said the clue is in the title, that's as much as you're going to get.

I'd almost decided not to finish this book when there was a turn of events that piqued my interest. Luckily the book itself was short or I might still have given up.. I think my main gripe was the fact that I didn't much care for Drake. He was a bit of a negative character and didn't seem to care for much himself, except staying alive.

18th Aug, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Suicide Squad

Suicide SquadThe trailer looked quirkily amusing with plenty of action and a cast of interesting characters. How wrong can one trailer be? Yes there was a plot (as much as there is ever a plot in this type of movie) which involved a lot of action (expected) but the pacing was off. There was way too much character set-up, way too little chartacter development and everything was deadpan straight. The whole thing just felt like a joyless mishmash.

Honourable mentions go to Viola Davis as Amanda Waller; Jay Hernandez as Diablo, Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn for making the most of a lame duck. H and I got the Meerkat two-for-one ticket deal and I still felt as though we'd been robbed.

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Book Log 53/2016 - Regina Scott: The Husband Campaign - The Master Matchmakers #3

Husband CampaignI downloaded this from netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Note this is number three in a series, but not having read the first two wasn’t a problem. It works as a standalone. Maybe I didn’t look too carefully at the rest of the blurb once I’d seen there was a horse element to the story, but I didn’t realise this was a Christian–inspired historical romance. If I had I wouldn’t have started it. However the Christian aspects didn’t grate on me. Since this is set in the Regency it’s quite likely that the protagonists have a deep and abiding belief and that in times of trouble their thoughts turn skyward.

That said, unfortunately the characters and the storyline left me feeling a little meh. Other than two socially awkward people deciding they are in love after their marriage the only thing at stake is an equine transaction. The hero, John, is a minor aristocrat and a breeder and trainer of fine horses. Having accidentally ‘compromised’ the heroine he marries her out of a sense of duty and the rest of the book is Amelia setting out to earn his love and to get him to turn their relationship sexual. She would probably have an easier time of it if she had four hooves and ate oats for breakfast. John seems somewhat colourless and mostly sexless and Amelia is too nice (which she freely admits).

It’s a fast read and not without some interest, however the thing that really threw me out of the story is the heroine breakfasting on cold popovers—in a REGENCY novel! Harlequin, what was your copy editor thinking? Also the author is obviously American because a lot of her horse terms are particularly Americentric and they don’t transfer across the Atlantic. So instead of a stud or stud farm we have a ‘horse farm’ and instead of a bridle or even a headcollar, Amelia’s horse wears a ‘headstall’. John does explain to Amelia what a girth is, but instead of tightening the girth he ‘cinches’ it. Okay, maybe I’m being picky, and it doesn’t really affect the quality of the writing, but I do wish editors would run books set in England past an English beta-reader. Each time I came across something like that it dragged me out of the story.
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Book Log 52/2016 - Jodi Taylor: The Great St Mary’s Day Out - Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story

Gt St Mary's day OutMax and Leon now have a child which means they can't go on missions together in case they don't come back. So on this occasion Max, fresh from maternity leave, gets to go on a 'day out' to see a Shakespeare play - which just happens to be Hamlet at the Globe in 1601, with the Bard himself playing the part of the ghost. Most of St Mary's volunteer for the trip, including Dr. Bairstow, the director, the cook, the costume mistress, not to mention the usual suspects: Max herself, Guthrie and Mr Markham. If only Professor Rhapson hadn't become a stowaway on a voyage to the New World and Mrs Mack hadn't used a skillet in anger things might have been OK... until, that it, the point at which Shakespeare went up in flames. Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Marys are an instant must-buy and until there’s a full-length novel available I’ll settle for a short story full of the usual disasters and humour.

10th Aug, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Jason Bourne

Jason BourneMore of the same from the Bourne franchise. It's ten years since Matt Damon's last appearance as Bourne. Now we're on a post-Snowden/post Wiki-Leaks era, and technology has given the CIA the ability to sit in a room in Virginia and track Bourne and his associates in real time through Athens, Rome, London and Las Vegas. In the ten years since we last saw him Bourne appears to have been making his living as a bareknuckle fighter. When an old colleague looks him up to offer information Bourne is drawn back into conflict with the Agency.

There's a lot of fast camera work as Bourne goes through several chase sequences (the last one being about three years too long) and the final fight with 'The Asset' is fast, blurry and confusing, but all in all it's an entertaining couple of hours.

Matt Damon's looking good for 45. Alicia Vikander succeeds in walking a line between symapothy and ruthlessness. Tommy Lee Jones is... Tommy Lee Jones (but that's OK).

The big question is: did it move Bourne's story forward? Considering a lot of this is about backstory Bourne (or David Webb as his real name was) and his father, then it's not a story with a lot of forward momentum, even though it has a lot of fast action.
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Book Log 51/2016 - Georgette Heyer: Regency Buck

Okay, I admit it, I've just binge-read three Heyers in a row. It must be the after effects of finishing my own historical fantasy and sending it on its way to the publisher.

Regency BuckOn the death of their father, Judith and Peregrine Tavener, rich but underage, are left to the guardianship of Julian Audley, Lord Worth, someone they have never met and know nothing about. They decide to leave Yorkshire and set themselves up in London. Worth, their guardian, turns out to be not much older than they are and, after the unfortunate circumstances of their first accidental meeting, dislikes the guardianship arrangement as much as they do. Judith is contrary and independent. Worth is overbearing and domineering and Heyer pretty much tries to set him up as the villain of the piece to begin with. (Heyer readers will, of course, realise this is a false trail of breadcrumbs.) Apparently this was Heyer's first Regency Romance. It contains real historical characters (Beau Brummell, the Prince regent, the Duke of Clarence etc.) mixed in with fictional ones. Judith is contrary and occasionally downright stupid. Audley is arrogant and annoying beyond belief, but (contrary to Judith's belief) has their best interest at heart. I'm inclined to think that these two characters deserve everything they get. The best character is Worth's brother, Charles Audley, who will reappear as the main male character in This Infamous Army. I wondered how the Alastair-Audley books linked up, but apparently the female protagonist in Infamous Army, is the granddaughter of Dominic, Duke of Avon from Devil's Cub.
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Book Log 50/2016 - Georgette Heyer: Devil's Cub

Devils CubThis is the next generation book following on from These Old Shades, which makes the setting slightly earlier than the Regency, so let's say 'Georgian' - however it's still a 'silver fork' novel. Dominic Alastair, Marquis of Vidal, is a reckless, hot-headed youth, a duellist, a rake and a seducer posessed of a murderous temper. He plans to steal away with the lovely Sophie Challoner, who (encouraged by her grasping mother) believes he'll have to marry her if he compromises her (not what Vidal has in mind at all). At the last minute he's thwarted by Sophie's thoughtful older sister who (masked) takes her place at the rendezvous. In a rage Vidal kidnaps Mary, taking her aboard his yacht and sailing to France. Once he calms down he realises she's 'not that sort of girl' and that he's compromised her reputation beyond repair. The rest of the book is Vidal making amends and Mary, not believing his sincerity, and trying to look out for herself. Typical Heyer, very enjoyable.
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Book Log 49/2016 - Georgette Heyer: Sylvester

SylvesterSylvester, Duke of Salford, somewhat self-important and a bit of an arse, decides he needs a wife and clinically begins to consider suitable young ladies. Persuaded by his godmother that Phoebe Marlow (her granddaughter, might suffice he goes to Wiltshire to meet her, finding her overbearing parents insufferable and Phoebe a nondescript country miss. She's had one season in London and on returning home has (secretly) has written a novel in which Sylvester (whom she met only once) is the thinly disguised villain. It turns out that Phoebe, far from nondescript except when her stepmother is urging her to be on her best behaviour. She learns that Salford is likely to propose and decides to run away to London, to her grandmother, to avoid being married to an insufferably arrogant man she barely knows. Persuading her best friend (male) to drive her she gets herself into an awkward situation which Sylvester gets her out of. This follows Heyer's usual pattern of misunderstandings (especially when the novel is published and becomes the talk of the ton) and an eventual reconciliation, so we get the expected ending, of course. (And Sylvester is not quite such an arse by the end of it.)
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Book Log 48/2016 - Kevin Hearne: The Purloined Poodle - Oberon's Meaty Mysteries

Purloined PoodleOne of the best characters in Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series is Atticus O'Sullivan's Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. Oberon can talk (telepathically) to Atticus and can understand human speech. He likes watching TV, and even has some grasp of human history and literature, but forget numeracy, (his grasp of that is none, one, lots). Despite his language and education, he remains wholly dog and can't quite understand why humans refuse to sniff each others' butts on first meeting.

This novella is from Oberon's viewpoint. When champion show dogs begin to disappear Oberon determines that he (assisted by Atticus) should be the one to find them. (He even insists on a deerstalker hat and a pipe to make himself truly Sherlock Holmesian.)

Told in Oberon's unique voice this is an amusing novella, set somewhat later in the series timeline that I've read, but as a standalone it's not a problem.

9th Aug, 2016

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Book Log 47/2016 - Julie Daines: Willowkeep

WillowkeepCharlotte Darby is in dire straits. She's run out of money; her mother is dead; her shipping merchant father has vanished presumed dead, and she's the guardian of her much younger special needs sister, a difficult, uncommunicative child prone to massive temper tantrums and uncontrollable behaviour that has made her a target for derision in Hull, where this story begins. Then the unimaginable happens, a young man appears on her doorstep to tell her she's heiress to the prosperous Willowkeep and a vast fortune. So you'd think everything would be all right, yes? Well, no. Though Charlotte is no longer in danger of starving, her good fortune brings its own problems.

Henry Morland is Charlotte's estate steward, an astute young man, impoverished by the need to pay off his father's considerable debts. He's Charlotte's only friend. Her late uncle's widow, resident at Willowkeep, resents Charlotte having the fortune to which she assumed her son (by her first marriage) would inherit. The son has set his cap at the heiress, and there are strange goings on designed to part Charlotte from her fortune. Then she discovers that in order to keep her inheritance she must marry before her twenty-first birthday but she's determined that even if she goes back to a life of poverty, she'll never marry. There are reasons...

I've been reading a lot of Regencyesque romances lately. This one is quite refreshing as it avoids London and the season in favour of staying in the country. Charlotte tries hard, but she doesn't have the polish that the ton expects, and she's also independently minded, having looked after herself since she was in her early teens. Also the challenging sister, possibly autistic, is an unusual and by no means unwelcome character. And then there's the ghost of Anne Boleyn...

31st Jul, 2016

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Book Log 46/2016 - Sally MacKenzie: What to do with a Duke

What to do with a DukeI had this as a review copy from netgalley. it's a fun read as long as you don't know too much about the period. Both the main characters have incredibly modern ideas for people of the Regency. Having said that, if you take it for what it is, this is engaging, light and frothy and you'll rip through it in a day, forgiving it its inconsistencies and somewhat odd central concept. The duke of the title, Marcus, has been cursed for the deeds of his ancestor two hundred years ago. Unless he marries for love he'll die before his heir is born. Family history bears out that the curse is effective. His own father died while he was still in his mother's womb. The curse also demands that he maintains a house in the village of Loves Bridge (close to the ancestral seat that he avoids like the plague) which can be occupied in peace by a spinster. When the incumbent spinster unexpectedly decamps to get married, there are three Loves Bridge females vying for the place but Marcus only has eyes for one of them.

Cat is twenty four and considers herself on the shelf. She wants to be an author so she's not anxious to find a husband even though her desperate mother keeps throwing her at a local farmer who persistently asks for her hand. The vacancy at the spinster house is an opportunity to get away from the crowded vicarage and her six younger siblings, so she pursues it with vigour, even though the arrival of the (absentee landlord) duke does turn her head a little. More than a little, in fact.

You can see where this is going, can't you? Yes, of course you can, and it does go there in no uncertain terms. If I have one criticism it is that the duke's head is in his pants every time he sees Cat. He seems to have a problem with... err... tumescence. (Quite a problem in tight breeches and cutaway jackets I presume!) Pretty soon Cat's head is also in her nethers... as I say, attitudes not usually seen in Regency romances. It adds to the fun, but detracts from the period feel.

My other caveat is that there's rather a large loose thread at the end, which apparently is finished off in the next book, so this is not really a standalone if you want to see how Cat and Marcus' future plays out. It does make the ending slightly unsatisfactory, but I guess has the effect of encouraging the reader to seek out the next in the series.

29th Jul, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Star Trek - Beyond

Star Trek BeyondH and I have been so looking forward to this for months, and we were not disappointed. H thought it was possibly the best of the three ST reboots so far. maybe I wouldn't go that far, but I did enjoy it. The Enterprise is three years into her five year mission, with both Kirk and Spock starting to wonder if they need a new direction. When they stop over at Yorktown, a massive Federation city in space they get involved in answering a distress call that leads them into a nebula to rescue shipwreck survivors. It's a trap. Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships and the survivors end up on the planet Altamid where Krall has enslaved a variety of survivors (from the Enterprise and various other wrecks). The Enterprise crew is split up: Scotty is recued by a loner called Jaylah (who has escaped imprisonment by Krall and is repurposing a crashed federation ship); Spock and McCoy have adventures with emergency surgery; Sulu and Uhura are enslaved, and Kirk, Chekov and the somewhat devious Kalara end up together. It takes all of them to beat the forces ranged against them. Star Trek works best when the ensemble cast comes into full play as it does here.

There's lots to like, good action, fine effects, a more or less logical story and some character development. All the main actors turn in good performances, especially Simon Pegg who has some good snarky lines with Jaylah. (Pegg co-wrote the script, so perhaps not surprising that Scotty plays a pivotal role.) Sofia Boutella is great as Jaylah. Chris Pine's Kirk seems to be growing into his role as captain.

Sadly, during production, the film saw the passing of Leonard Nimoy (probably while the film was still in pre-production) and Anton Yelchin (just before the film opened). Nimoy's passing was acknowledged with the 'death' of original timeline Spock on New Vulcan (which affected new-timeline Spock). and both actors were acknowledged in the credits. The film is dedicated to the memory of both Leonard Nimoy (“In loving memory of Leonard Nimoy”) and Anton Yelchin (“For Anton”).

25th Jul, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

22nd Jul, 2016

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

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

20th Jul, 2016

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Movie of the Week: Ghostbusters

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

So... Ghostbusters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 2017



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