May. 29th, 2017

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Jodi Taylor - And the rest is HistoryI adore Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary. This is the eighth and she’s not running out of places to take the story. Still quirky, this is darker than the rest because Clive Ronan is back and he’s even more determined to inflict pain and suffering on Max, her family and all the staff at St Mary’s. There’s some gut-wrenching stuff in this as well as Jodi Taylor’s usual wit. It’s a laugh-and-cry rollercoaster and not everyone makes it to the last page. The history side of it is, as usual, fascinating, from the Egyptian desert to the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

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Here are the second and third books in the Shattered Sea triligy

Joe Abercrombie: Half the World – Shattered Sea #2

Following on from Half a King, Half the World concentrates on two new characters, Thorn Bathu, a fighter from the word go, but deeply disadvantaged by her gender, and Brand, a young warrior who wants to do right, and who hates senseless killing.  From the training ground straight into a dangerous journey with Yarvi (from Half a King). Now Father Yarvi, a deep cunning man and the King’s (or the Queen’s) minister. Joe Abercrombie has a knack of writing deeply flawed characters that we like despite what they are and what they do. Thorn pretty much hates everyone, and those she doesn’t hate, she doesn’t trust, but while Yarvi hones her as a weapon, Brand offers her his humanity. There’s a love story which would be resolved more quickly if only the two protagonists would damn-well TALK to each other, but I can forgive that for all the other many good things about this book: characterization, worldbuilding and twisty plot. Though this is the second book in the trilogy, you could actually read it without having read Half a King.

 

38) 29/05/17

Joe Abercrombie: Half a War – Shattered Sea #3

War is coming. In this third book in the Shattered Sea trilogy we have yet another set of main viewpoint characters, Princess Skara of Throvenland, the last of her royal house, who has to use deep cunning herself to keep up with Father Yarvi. Only half a war is fought with weapons, the other half with words. There’s also Raith, a warrior who thinks of nothing but blood, but learns that there’s more to life than killing. We also see some of this story from the point of view of Koll, who was an inquisitive boy in Half the World but three years on is a young man torn between his apprenticeship to Father Yarvi and his attraction to Brand’s sister This conclusion to the Shattered Sea brings together the main characters from all three books in a final desperate fight against Grandmother Wexen and the High King. Is it simply a fight against tyranny or is there more to it? As you might expect from Abercrombie, there are some clever twists, but though it’s a YA book it’s dark (and the characters are dark), with some gut-wrenching moments, and the ending is satisfying but with typical Abercrombie bleakness.
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Gideon, Duke of Rothwell should probably have stayed at home instead of going adventuring in Canada. (Which I’m not altogether sure was simply ‘Canada’ during the Regency, as Upper Canada and Lower Canada were ‘the Canadas’ – what is now Ontario and Quebec. The provinces weren’t merged until 1840.) Anyhow, that’s not the point of the story… Gideon returns to find that he’s inherited a dukedom impoverished by his father’s strange behaviour and his father’s grasping mistress. He’s not in a position to marry until he’s set his finances in order, so meeting and falling for his best friend’s sister, Lady Louisa Vivers, is somewhat unfortunate, or at least the timing is. Louisa, however, is a force of nature. She hadn’t intended to marry during her first season in London, but she decides that Gideon is the one for her. There are, of course, speedbumps along the road to true love, mostly Caused by misunderstandings. (Sigh.) Why don’t people just talk to each other?

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Kellen is a fifteen year old mage in training, but despite his father being one of the greatest wizards of the age, and his younger sister already having more potential than is good for her, his own magic seems to be fading fast. If he can’t pass the three mage trials he’s going to end up in the servant classes, something he dreads. Apart from his own future, his failure will also threaten his father’s standing as he hustles for the leadership of the clan. But Kellen is not entirely without resources. He’s intelligent, observant and asks the right questions. He wins his first mage duel, the first trial, by cunning and psychology rather than magic, but it all goes sour when his own sister accuses him of cheating and nearly kills him. He’s saved by Ferius Fairfax, a mysterious Argosi traveller who lives by her wits and a deck of cards. Difficult and unpredictable, Ferius nudges Kellen in the direction of doing the right thing, which loses him friends, but gains him a somewhat fierce talking squirrel-cat. There are a lot of twists in this. Characters are not always what they seem to be. Kellen is let down by the people he trusts the most, and finds help where he least expects it. This is an excellent introduction to this magical world. I haven’t read any Sebastien de Castell before, but I’ll certainly be looking out for the rest of this series.

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Lieutenant Josette Dupre is a female auxiliary in Garnia’s air corps fighting both in the never-ending war against the Vins, and against the position of women as second class citizens. Chauvinism is rife. The female auxiliaries are banned from combat, but when her Captain is killed in battle, Josette’s bravery and resourcefulness earn her command of her own ship. Garnia’s first female captain is regarded as an affront as far as the general is concerned, so he sends a spy, his foppish nephew Bernat, to observe and send back reports that will effectively construct a character assassination in order to get Josette demoted and posted to the fever swamps. Bernat is a hedonist, a flirt and a gambler with as much military savvy as a teacup (He can shoot straight, but he doesn't know how to load a rifle because they have servants for that kind of thing.). In addition to everything else, Josette’s new ship is a new and untested design. While she’s still conducting air trials, she’s swept into combat. The one thing that Josette is good at is military strategy, but being female, she still doesn’t get any credit for taking down an enemy airship and scouting to discover that the Vins are about to attack on a second front.

I really wanted to like this book. The blurb made it sound amazing, but it was a bit too much of a one-note for me I wanted more from the characterization, or maybe more change in the characters over the course of the book. Neither Josette nor Bernat are particularly likeable Josette is angry most of the time and admits she’s not good at getting people (especially her crew) to like her. Bernat suggests that she gets more out of them by being relentlessly scary, which is not innately appealing. Other reviewers said they thought the book was funny as well as violent. I must need a sense of humour transplant because it didn’t strike me as funny at all. Josette was very much the angry young woman while Bernat was the clueless fop. And though there were moments when it seemed that both might be inching towards a change of attitude, those moments were few and far between. Bernat found his spine towards the end, but I didn’t feel that Josette had changed much throughout the story. The war between Garnia and the Vins seems to have no real cause and is masterminded by incompetents if the general is anything to go by, (He’s very two dimensional.)

Kudos to the author for working out exactly how a steampunky airship works, from where the struts go, and the properties of luftgas, to how the whole shebang reacts when a canon is fired from her hurricane deck, or how the riggers need to move to keep the vessel balanced. It’s a great authorial feat, but I’m not sure we, as readers, need to know all the nitty gritty several times over. This book seemed to be little more than battle after battle. I would have liked to know a little more about what made Josette and Bernat tick.
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A novella set in the period between Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree which sees Peter Grant and Jaget Kumar of the British Transport Police (one of the regularly recurring characters in the series) trying to sort out a ghost on the underground. As a novella, there’s not as much time for the ongoing story ark, so this doesn’t delve into the defection of Lesley May, but it does bring in Peter’s teenage proto-wizard cousin and a nascent river god who has been adopted by a well-meaning childless couple. An excellent stopgap while we’re waiting for the next full length book. It’s got all the trademark elements of the series and Peter’s wry and funny ‘voice’.

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Peter Grant #4.5 Graphic Novel

I'm not generally very good at reading graphic novels (I don't always identify the drawn characters from one frame to the next) but this is an exception. The artwork (Lee Sullivan and Luis Guerrero) is sumptuous and every frame is clear. I got the hardback edition which combines the five 'chapters' issued separately, and I'm so glad I did. It's even a signed limited edition - number 84/1000 - from Forbidden Planet.

The story, by Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, is a case for Peter Grant. A haunted car (or maybe cars). It's short and sweet, but a welcome return to the London of Peter Grant and the weirdos at the Folly, with a host of favourite characters, Nightingale, Molly and Toby, of course, but also Guleed and Stephanopoulos.
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Gemma Arterton plays Catrin Cole, a newly appointed script writer working on wartime propaganda films in the middle of London in the Blitz. The Ministry of Information wants a film that the public will relate to, so when Catrin finds a tale of two sisters who took part in the Dunkirk evacuation they jump on it as a possible storyline. Working with fellow writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) and over-the-hill actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) they gradually pull it all together, though not everything goes their way. Catrin faces many challenges, personal and professional but succeeds. The overall tome of the movie is sweet.
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Anyone can save the Galaxy once... so second time around Star Lord has some additional help from old foes who become new allies - Nebula, Yondu and Mantis. Add to that a delightful Baby Groot. (How can an animated twig be so appealing?) Of course the original team - Peter's family -  is still on board, Rocky, Gamora and Drax.

The opening sequesnce is merely a warm-up for the main tale as our hereoes battle the Abilisk - something that looks like a space octopus -  to protect some super-shiny batteries for their current employers, the Sovereigns (Nice cameo from Ben Browder in gold paint.) Of course they manage to upset the Sovereigns and after a space battle end up crash-landing on a planet where Peter Quill/Star Lord meets his father (Kurt Russell as Ego - the clue is in the name) and discovers he's half a god - unfortunately not the all-powerful half. In the process he learns more about the true meaning of family.

This is fun all the way with hijinx and mayhem plus some smart one liners. I found it just as enjoyable as the original. Highly recommended.

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As movies go this one wasn't as bad as some of the reviews I've seen. The real problem was that it tried to present itself as a King Arthur movie while abandoning all elements of the legend apart from the sword in the stone and the names Uther, Vortigern and - oh yes - Arthur. Merlin got a brief mention but all of the magic came from his apprentice, a witch (unnamed). If the movie had simply presented itself as a second world fantasy it might have been better received.

Charlie Hunnam made a passable hero and Jude Law a slimy villain, but the 'castle' stretched credibility somewhat, though Londinium did look to be growing out of the remnants of Roman occupation. Maybe having a kung-fu master called George was a little out of place, but - hey - there was so much out of place that picking one thing would be mean.

So... Vortigern betrays Uther and Arthur - as a small boy - escapes downriver in a boat. He's rescued and brought up by whores in a brothel, gradually going from being protected to being protector and ruling the criminal element of the docklands, until he gets whisked off along with a load of other young ment the right age to try his hand with the sword in the stone. Vortigern quite rightly wants to discover who his rival might be and put an end to him.

Yes, of course, in trying to avoid the prophecy of the true born king, Vortigern puts everything into place for it to be fulfilled.

Update

May. 29th, 2017 06:14 pm
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Sorry if I've been out of the loop, I've been writing, but at last I'm getting to the end of Nimbus. I just have to do a final read-through now before sending it off to my editor. As soon as it goes I'll be working on the next one, of course.

It's a wet and misty bank holiday Monday, so I've just had a massive catch-up day posting my book logs and movie-of-the-week posts. Though to be honest it's been a bit of a thin few weeks for movies - or at least for the movies that we want to see. My cinebuddy, H and I try to go on a Tuesday or a Wednesday afternoon, taking advantage of the Meerkat Movie two-for-one offer. We make a beeline for science fiction and fantasy. We really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy 2, though both of us drew the line at Alien Covenant, since Promethius was so bad. Luckily we have Pirates of the Caribbean 5 and Wonder Woman coming up.

It's been a busy few weeks at Bedford Towers with several musician friends passing through - often with barely any time to change bedding between visits. Our washer and dryer have been working overtime and I've been trying to remember who's allergic to what when planning meals. One is dairy, eggs and gluten intolerant, another is onions, and one of them is allergic to 'pretty much everything except fish and a few vegetables, but luckily is happy to cook suitable meals separately.

First Tania Opland and Mike Freeman from Washington State via Ireland. Then it was the Northwrite weekend with four writers staying for our critique day on the Sunday.

As the last writer left on Monday Morning, Dan McKinnon (Canada) arrived from the airport. Cloudstreet

Dan left and James Keelaghan and Hugh McMillan arrived, also from Canada,

The day that they left Cloudstreet (right), John, Nicole and Emma, arrived from Australia, so it's been pretty full-on, but we have a few weeks now before Cloudstreet swing back again as they arrive to do three gigs in Yorkshire at the end of the month.

Then we have a few days before Dan returns, this time with his wife, Nancy, who's joining him for the last part of the tour,

I have some of the best houseguests.






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Locked away in an underground bunker (a massive cave) for a year-long experiment to find the secret of star-travel, Kir, a young scientist with a super-computer in her brain tries to figure out what’s really going on.

Is it me? I read a lot of science fiction, but there were times when I simply didn't follow this. Not sure it makes me like it if it makes me feel stupid. And I REALLY wanted to like it. The blurb for the book explained things far more clearly than the text did. Sadly the jargon, somewhat hazy explanations and the heroine Kir who seemed strangely incurious and unemotional even when her emotions should have been screaming at her, put me off this.

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