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.



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)
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)
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)
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)
Lost Child of LychfordThe three witches of Lychford are challenged once again when a ghost child finds its way into Lizzie’s church. What does it want? When Lizzie realises that it’s the ghost of a child still happily living in Lychford she enlists the help of her two witchy friends, Judith Mawson and Autumn, the local witchcraft shop owner, to track down the significance of the apparition. They’re on a deadline. Christmas is coming and unless they can do something about a magical incursion it may never arrive. Each one of them faces a personal challenge. This is the second of Paul Cornell’s Lychford novellas and the characters continue to develop. Lovely.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Black PrismHaving adored Weeks' Night Angel series I was surprised that it took me a while to get into this. I put it on one side, almost stopped reading, and then came back to it after a couple of months. Reasons for putting it aside included not being able to feel much empathy for the main characters... but that changed as the book progressed. .

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

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

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

It's a sprawling plot involving an uprising and a battle. There's tension between Gavin and Karris (his ex fiancee) who is also a super-soldier. Kip's point of view is on the point of being amusing as we get insights from his fifteen year old viewpoint. There's a reveal part way through the book that suddenly makes Gavin's character much more complex.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Where the hell is TeslaChip is a bit of a slacker, working as a security guard on the night shift, but when he demands a desk for his empty room and discovers the lost notebook of Nikola Tesla in a locked drawer everything changes. Chip and his friend Pete decide to test out the Interdimensional Transfer Apparatus that Tesla set up in the hotel room where he lived. Having figured out the portal into the multiverse – they forget to mark the way back home and the adventure begins. Humour is so subjective and I suspect I’d find this funnier if I were a leftpondian. It’s not laugh out loud, but it’s quirky in a ‘Hey, dude, where’s my flying car?’ kind of way. There are times when Chip’s voice gets a bit wearing and the comedy is a bit thin, but Tesla saves the day in more ways than one. If you’re a Bill and Ted fan, you’ll like this.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Martians AbroadBook blurb reads: Polly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly's plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever.

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

But then a series of accidents involving high profile kids starts to happen. Polly, Charles and a few of their trusted classmates try to get to the bottom of it. Charles is the brain, but Polly is the heart.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Dr Who - Engines of WarFeaturing a battle-weary Doctor as depicted by John Hurt, i.e. the War Doctor, who only had a very brief outing on TV in Day of the Doctor. I expected more from this because the blurb promises: ‘Searching for answers the Doctor meets 'Cinder', a young Dalek hunter. Their struggles to discover the Dalek plan take them from the ruins of Moldox to the halls of Gallifrey, and set in motion a chain of events that will change everything. And everyone.’ Like many spin off books it has to leave the main character more or less reset for the next book, so there's action, but no insight into the War Doctor's final act, which was what I thought I was going to get. This reminds me why I tend not to read franchise books. The authors don't get free rein to go where (if it were an independent book) the characters need to go. Well written as far as it goes.
jacey: (blue eyes)
La La LandHonestly, if you want to see a 'good old Hollywood musical like they used to make, skip La La Land and buy a video of Singing in the rain instead. I'm not sure how LLL got all the hype - well, actually I am. Hollywood loves a self-referential movie. My cinebuddy H and I took a friend to cheer her up. Unfortunately I had to wake her up halfway through this as she was starting to snore. That's how riveting La La Land is. The singing is lacklustre, the songs both tiresomely repetitive and intantly forgettable at the same time. The story... well there isn't one really. Aspiring actress meets aspiring jazz musician. The ending? Somewhat downbeat, I thought. And it's about 30 minutes too long. Altogether it hasn't got much going for it. Kudos to Ryan Gosling's piano playing. They claim that the onscreen fingers are really his and that he learned jazz piano especially for the movie.
jacey: (blue eyes)
AssassinsCreedWith plot holes you could drive a bus through this game-to-movie outing featuring Michael Fassbender in a 'shirt-off' role is what it is. I don't play the game (or any games) so whether it will suit game players who already know this world remains to be seen, but as a one-off cinematic event the action fairly rips along. There is - as you would imagine - a lot of posing on rooftops, hand to hand fighting and a plot with Jeremy Irons (always worth watching) as the villain of the piece. There's a cameo by Charlotte Rampling, and I'm always reminded that someone once famed for her looks has matured to be a fearsome older woman. Of course she does only get cameo roles now, but she acts her socks off in them. Worth watching? Yes if relentless action is your thing.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Duke of DeceptionAquilla Knox is still unmarried after five London seasons, largely because she’s developed a way of deterring prospective husbands. She doesn’t want to marry - she’s seen what marriage can be – but a fifth season in London gives her the chance to get away from home. Edward Bishop, Earl of Sutton, is in need of a wife, but no one has yet fulfilled his list of requirements. He needs someone who can keep a secret. To be honest neither secret is desperately painful, but the two prospective partners are kept dancing around each other in an amusing way.

The cover is boring (so similar to so many others), but though it's fluffy, some of the dialogue carries the story well.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I did well this year – almost a hundred books read from cover to cover. I’m not counting books I bought and used for research because I don’t tend to read them in linear fashion, I cherrypick sections and information. The only non-fiction on this list has been read cover to cover. You can find full reviews of everything on this list at my Goodreads account or on my blog here. Filter by booklog 2016. (Note the numbers may not correspond exactly.)

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


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

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

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

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

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

  • Sean Danker’s The Admiral

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

  • reading more Georgette Heyer Regency romances – always a delight

Here’s my full reading list.

FICTION


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

  2. Andy Weir: The Martian.

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

  4. Paul Cornell: The Witches of Lychford

  5. Seanan McGuire: Every Heart a Doorway

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

  7. David Tallerman: Patchwerk

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

  9. Benedict Jacka: Taken – Alex Verus #3

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

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

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

  13. Veronica Roth: Insurgent – Divergent #2

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

  15. Ann Aguirre: Endgame – Sirantha Jax #6

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

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

  18. Georgette Heyer: The Masqueraders

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

  20. Diana Gabaldon: Virgins – Outlander (novella)

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

  22. Tim Powers: Down and Out in Purgatory

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

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

  25. Sarah Hegger: The Bride Gift

  26. Gaie Sebold: Babylon Steel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  39. Joe Hill: The Fireman

  40. Benedict Jacka: Chosen – Alex Verus #4

  41. Lisa Tuttle: The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief

  42. Peter S. Beagle: Summerlong

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

  44. Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch

  45. Benedict Jacka: Hidden – Alex Verus #5

  46. Isabella Barclay: A Bachelor Establishment

  47. Walter Jon Williams: Voice of the Whirlwind

  48. Alexandra Bracken: The Passenger

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

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

  51. Georgette Heyer: The Quiet Gentleman

  52. Karen Tuft: The Earl’s Betrothal

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

  54. Julie Daines: Willowkeep

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

  56. Willow Palecek: City of Wolves

  57. Georgette Heyer: Sylvester

  58. Georgette Heyer: Devil’s Cub

  59. Georgette Heyer: Regency Buck

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

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

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

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

  64. Sean Danker: The Admiral – Evagardian #1

  65. Jodi Taylor: The Nothing Girl

  66. Cassandra Rose Clarke: The Wizard’s Promise

  67. Jodi Taylor: Little Donkey

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

  69. Roger Zelazny: A Night in the Lonesome October

  70. Georgette Heyer: The Talisman Ring

  71. Alastair Reynolds: Revenger

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

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

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

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

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

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

  78. Sean Danker: Free Space – Evagardian #2

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

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

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

  82. Benedict Jacka: Veiled – Alex Verus #6

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

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

  85. Benedict Jacka: Burned – Alex Verus #7

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

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

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

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

  90. Nick Wood: Azanian Bridges

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

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

NON-FICTION


  1. David McKie: What’s in a Surname

  2. Allison Kinney: Hood

  3. Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward: Writing the Other

  4. Susanne Alleyn: Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders

  5. Louise Allen: Walks Through Regency London

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

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

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

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

I write this on 27th December, the day that Carrie Fisher's death has been announced. RIP Princess Leia. Taken far too young.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Voice of the WhirlwindEtienne Steward is a beta, a clone activated when his alpha is killed - murdered. Alpha Steward paid the insurance to store his clone then failed to update the memories. Beta Steward's memories stop fifteen years before Alpha Steward was killed. He knows nothing about the bitter Artefact War, fought over the loot on a deserted alien planet. he knows nothing of the aliens themselves, whose return put an end to the fighting between policorps, but not to the animosity.

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

Things get complicated when Steward is taken to be his own alpha and is accused of murder. Getting more out of the interrogation than he gives, Steward begins to add things up and piece together what his alpha was doing to get himself killed. There's a nicely twisty plot. I did wonder whether the alpha was actually dead, but credit to the author that the plot didn't go where I expected it to.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Bachelor EstablishmanrIsabella Barclay is the pen name of Jodi Taylor, the writer of the St Marys historical time-travel books. This time she's written a straight historical. This is a Regency romance with a difference. Both protagonists have been round the block a few times and have given up on love. Neither is in the first flush of youth. Yay for middle-aged romantics.

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

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

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

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

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

The story unfolds in typical Heyer fashion and ends where you expect it to end. On the way it's a delightful, if frothy read. Exactly what you expect (and want) from a Heyer Regency romance.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Burning PageThis is the third adventure of librarian Irene and her assistant Kai, a dragon prince with two forms, also working for the Library. The library itself is an interdimensional repository of books in all their versions from the many worlds that are linked to its portals. Alberich, ex-librarian gone bad, is threatening the Library with total destruction and Irene and Kai, together with Vale a Holmsian ‘great detective’ in a steampunky alternate London, and his Scotland Yard friend, Inspector Singh are trying to stop him with occasional help and hindrance from a couple of Fae met in previous books un the series. The events in Book 2 are taking their toll, on Vale and Kai in particular. Expect explosions, assassination attempts and general mayhem.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Azanian BridgesSet in a present day South Africa where Apartheid was never abolished and the regime oppressed all the population, but particularly the black communities. Police checks; demands for papers; threats; casual, unthinking cruelty, and systematic institutional oppression. Sibusiso is an intelligent young black man who gets the opportunity to go to the city to go to college. At a demonstration he witnesses his friend killed and the resulting depression sees him admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he meets psychiatrist, Martin  who, together with his friend, Dan has invented an empathy machine. It’s not exactly a thought reader, but close enough for the authorities to be very interested. Martin wants to use it to make white South Africa empathise with black South Africa and reduce the chasm between them. The authorities see it as an interrogation machine. Sibusiso becomes Martin’s test subject but when he steals the machine in behalf of the Black African resistance movement he has to go one the run. This is told in first person from both Sibusiso’s and Martin’s points of view in alternating chapters, which works well in this instance. It’s intriguing and the taste of a dystopian South Africa feels terrifyingly real. The black South African experience comes over well, partly because of liberal use of isiZulu language and partly because of Sibusiso’s ‘voice’. Martin is a sympathetic character, lost in the system, white but also afraid of the authorities. He seems to learn more from his encounter with Sibusiso than Sibusiso does from him. The ending is entirely within keeping—sadly.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Fantastic_BeastsRight off the bat I'll say that Eddie Redmayne is not generally an actor I'd pay to watch just because it's him, but he makes a pretty good stab at the deferential Newt Scamander, champion of strange magical creatures. Newt arrives in New York with a suitcase full of magical beasts. (Yes, like hermione's handbag, Newt's suitcase holds a veritable zoo.) Unfortunately the American magicians are a bit uptight about magical beasts - in fact they've more or less banned them altogether. So when one of newt's beasts escapes he's immediately arrested by Demoted Auror, Tina Goldstein. At the offices of the Magical Gongress of the USA (MACUSA) we encounter senior auror Percival Graves who dismisses Tina out of hand. Back at Tina's aprtment with  a no-maj (and American Muggle) more beasts escape and the hunt is on. This is all complicated by Mary Lou Barebone, the head of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, who claims that witches and wizards are real and dangerous, and something with an incrdible amout of power that seems to be wreaking havoc. Graves is after the power. Newt is after the creatures. It all gets terribly complicated, but, of course, is sorted in the end. And the ending ties in to what we know of a certain magician whose name was linked with Albus Dumbledore's darker past.

There's a lot riding on this film. A Harry Potter spin off without Hogwarts and without the Boy Wizard. Can the franchise reboot itself? It largely carries it off, and Potter fans who've been with the Potterverse from the beginning will not mind the darker tone. Does it succeed? Mostly. Yes, though I think it might be easily forgotten unless there's going to be a whole string of Fantastic Beast movies or further Potterverse spinoffs. (Which seems likely.)
jacey: (blue eyes)
Dangerous GiftsI like Gaie Sebold’s writing style. It grabs attention and has a good character voice. In this case the voice belongs to Babylon Steel, whorehouse owner in Scalentene, whore, part-time bodyguard and one-time avatar of the god of soldiers and sex. Now if that’s not a great resume, I don’t know what is. This is the second outing for Babylon. In the first one she rescued a young woman, designated as the Itnunnacklish, designed to bring together the Gudain and the Ikinchli – two races of Incandress where civil war is brewing. In this book Babylon is propositioned by Darask Fain of Scalentene’s Diplomatic Section, (spies etc) – no not in that way – she’d probably go for that. Fain wants her to go with the Itnunnacklish, Enthemmerlee, back to Incandress as her bodyguard, just until all the ceremonies are over. Babylon has severe misgivings. Her gut tells her not to go, but one of her girls, Lainey, has mortgaged the whorehouse to the hilt and unwisely invested the cash in a cargo of very expensive silk which has to make it through troubled Incandress without a hitch, or everything Babylon calls home is lost. Besides, she likes Enthemmerlee. Unfortunately she has to leave Chief Bitternut behind. He’s a werewolf in charge of policing Scalentine, and Babylon is realising that he’s become more than just a customer. In addition to bodyguarding Fain also wants Babylon to do a bit of spying on the side and to smarten up Enthemmerlee’s own house guard. Not a tough job, then. Babylon is once more plunged into mayhem, but everything comes together finally, when a plot is revealed. Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Rogue to AvoidAh, sadly this may be a book to avoid. The good bits first. It’s amusing, nicely paced and has a pretty standard Regency romance plot. That’s fine. I don’t read Regency romance for innovation. It’s purely escapist fiction for me. Cordelia, the daughter of a very rich duke has been embarrassed by three broken engagements – all a bit hard to swallow when she’s aiming for perfection. The ton is starting to titter. Gerard doesn’t give a stuff about the ton. He’s up to his ears in debt thanks to his late mother’s gambling loans (from Cordelia’s dad) and the duke has sent a thug after him to chop off the odd finger or two unless he pays up. Fleeing from the thug Gerard comes across Cordelia. One thing leads to another and before you know where you are he’s asked her to marry him. Embarrased to make it four broken engagements Cordelia has agreed. Things go from bad to worse as the thug gets instructions to kill Gerard and the couple are running up and down the country trying to get married and avoid being murdered.

I could probably have swallowed this book whole, but for the author’s sense of history. I’ve come across historical inaccuracies in Regency Romance before, of course. (There was the author whose heroine ate cold popovers for breakfast… ouch!) Unfortunately there were a couple of things in this that were so obvious I was immediately jerked right out of the book. Describing the hero’s hair colour as espresso, some fifty years before espresso was invented is bad enough, but having Regency characters referencing Scott of the Antarctic just gobsmacked me. If you don’t care about obvious historical bloopers then the rest of the book is fine. Me? I guess I’m a bit too pedantic about these things. Sorry.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Penric's MissionPenric and his resident demon, Desdemona, have moved positions. They are no longer in the court of the archdivine in Martensbridge. On her death Penric has been sent into the service of a duke. Penric and Desdemona are sent on a secret mission to contact a general who is about to defect. Unfortunately it's a put-up job. The general never intended to defect to Penric's people in the first place and penric is caught up on a trap for the general, brought down by manufactured evidence. So upon arrival Penric is thrown in jail, not a nice, cosy straw-carpeted jail cell, but an oubliette. The general - outmanoeuvred politically - is arrested, blinded, and sent home in disgrace, possibly to die. When Penric finally escapes and finds the general he finds that his simple courier job has become much more. Can he heal the general's eyes (one of Desdemona's previous hosts was a physician) and if he does, can he bring the general round to defecting? I like Penric. His solutions are always positive and in a violent world he truly seeks to do no harm. A good addition to the Penric cycle of novellas in the world of the Five Gods.

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


Penric's DemonPenric's Demon
This is the first Penric novella. Penric is a bright eyed innocent. On the way to his betrothal he stops to help and elderly lady and his life suddenly changes. She's a temple divine. Her avowed god is The Bastard, 'master of all disasters out of season." She carries a demon inside her. When she dies, the demon makes a jump, and that's how Penric, totally unprepared, acquires a demon who has the memories and knowledge of twelve previous hosts, and a mind of her own. This novella is bascally how Penric and his demon form a relationship, uneasy at first, and Penric joins the clergy. In the world of the Five Gods, religion is a practical subject raher than theoretical. The gods can, and frequently do, make their presence felt. This is a good set-up novella, in the world of the Five Gods where Curse of Chalion (my favourite book) and Paladin of Souls are set.
jacey: (blue eyes)
ArrivalThis movie got good reviews. It was labelled as 'cerebral', which closely translated into my understanding means 'no car chases'. That indeed is the case. There are no car chases (thank goodness) but plenty of tension. When twelve alien ships hang in the air over various points around the earth, twelve different governments rush to get their best translators on the job of 'talking' with the aliens, despite them having nothing in common on which to base language. It's an interesting problem. Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called in, alongside physicist/mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). Based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 short story “Story of Your Life” this is a smart and thoughtful movie, upping the stakes as other nations' interactions with their alien vessels are conducted with varying degrees of success (or failure). Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are well cast. There is some wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff going on which only makes sense in retrospect. I thought there was a big plot-hole and then I had a lovely ah-ha moment. Recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
BurnedAlex is really up against it this time. All his enemies are dogpiling on top of him and his friends. When the Light Council—for no good reason that anyone, including Alex, can figure out—issues a kill order, his first thought is to protect his apprentice Luna and Anne and Variam who are considered to be his ‘dependents. He’s got a week before it all comes into force (even Caldera doesn’t know about it, yet), but though that may be a long time in politics, it’s a short time when he has to play nice with other mages to even stand a chance of survival. There’s an artefact that the Council wants (which is also wanted by Alex’s ex boss, Dark Mage Richard Drakh) and if Alex can get it, he might get a reprieve. Richard is not on the page in this book but he’s an ever present menace. Lines are being drawn and Alex is about to be on the wrong side of them from whichever angle you look. This is a good addition to the Alex Verus series and the ending raises the level of the game considerably.
jacey: (blue eyes)
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.
jacey: (blue eyes)
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.
jacey: (blue eyes)
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.
jacey: (blue eyes)
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?

Honestly?

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












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

August 2017

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