Feb. 16th, 2017

jacey: (blue eyes)
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.
jacey: (blue eyes)
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.)
jacey: (blue eyes)
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.
jacey: (blue eyes)
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.
jacey: (blue eyes)

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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