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Crimes of GrindlewaldThis is visually striking and the magical special effects are... well... magical, but as far as storytelling goes it's a bit of a hot mess, and when you actually examine it, it really doesn't move the story far forward from the first Fantastic Beasts movie. I'm not a great Eddie Redmayne fan, which doesn't help (though I admit he's an excellent actor) and they missed a few tricks with Johnny Depp as Grindlewald. I AM a Johnny Depp fan, but his Grindlewald makeup was so unappealing that you couldn't envisage the character being charismatic enough to gather a band of followers.

OK, so what happens? Magizoologist Newt Scamander, due to a misundertanding, now has a strained relationship with love interest Tina (established in the first movie). Grindlewald has escaped from the American Ministry of Magic. Credence Barebone (presumed dead) had reemerged in Paris. So when Dumbledore sends Newt on an undercover trip to Paris, all bets are off. We meet Nagini, a maledictus snake shape-changer, who will later become Voldemort's creature, and there's a guest appearance by Nicholas Flamel and some cute nifflers, but to be honest I'm already losing the thread of what happened when and to whom. Not a good sign.

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Catching up on some movies I missed writing about.

Bohemian RhapsodyI know Bohemian Rhapsody had a few sticky reviews re not going deeply enough into Freddie Mercury's life and the real man, but a movie can only do so much, and this was worth seeing for the music alone. Also the performances were superb. Yes, OK, maybe Rami Malek's teeth were a little overdone re the overbite, but in all other ways he made a very believable Freddie. I'd like to do a special shout-out for Gwilym Lee who looked more like Brian May that Brian May himself. When is a biopic not a biopic? According to Freddie's partner, Jim Hutton, Freddie was diagnosed HIV positive in 1987, while the Live Aid concert took place in 1985. The movie would have us believe that Freddie already knew he was under a death sentence (as AIDS was then) when he walked out on stage to perform the iconic set that cemented Queen's position as a rock legend. Also the way Freddie met his partner, Jom, was certainly not as shown in the movie, so take the 'facts' with a pinch of salt. The music, however... Brilliant.

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When their husbands are killed in a heist-gone-wrong Veronica (and therefore the other widows) are pressed for $2m by a crime boss turned politician. Their only way out is to carry out the next heist that the late Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) had meticulously planned.  This isn't simply a caper movie like Oceans 8. It's gritty and there's a twist. Harry's widow, Veronica, is played by the excellent Viola Davis, and she carries the whole thing, with Liam Neeson adding gravitas. Colin Farrell plays a politician who may be slightly less corrupt than his father, but is he really?

It's hard to tell who the good guys are in this - if indeed, there are any - however you certainly know where your sympathies lie. It's an excellent movie, if gruelling.

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This movie is not as good as it thinks it is. Visually it's sumptuous, but there's something lacking. The best childen's movies work for adults, too, but this simply didn't work for me.

The blurb says: Clara needs a magical, one-of-a-kind key to unlock a box that contains a priceless gift. A golden thread leads her to the coveted key, but it soon disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. In that world, she meets a soldier named Phillip, a group of mice and the regents who preside over three realms. Clara and Phillip must now enter a fourth realm to retrieve the key and restore harmony to the unstable land.

It's a relatively simple story with an unexpected twist, but sadly the only performance that comes close to being engrossing is Helen Mirren as Mother Ginger.

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This book isn't out until the new year, but if you like Rod Duncan's writing as much as I do, you'll pre-order it now. I had this as an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for  an honest review.

This is the second book of the second Elizabeth Barnabus Trilogy (the first trilogy being the Gas-Lit Empire), but you could be forgiven for thinking it isn't about her to begin with because Elizabeth doesn't appear until well into the story. It's partly narrated by the outlaw, Elias No-Thumbs, a man in search of a certain kind of revenge, or maybe justice, and it's set in a dangerously feudal version of Newfoundland where people are bound by tattooed oaths. Warlords, known as Patron Protectors, rule, supported by thugs. The upstart Jago is one such, a man to be feared.

It turns out that Elizabeth and her friends, Julia and Tinker, have been shipwrecked on the shores of Newfoundland and the problem is how to get off the island, since the only routes in and out are dictated by the patrons – but we don't discover that until Chapter 9, the second part of the book. Thereafter the viewpoint is shared between Elizabeth and Elias. This is really Elias' book. He's the one with the greatest journey to make in order to understand the lengths he'll go to for revenge on the ones that outlawed him and cut off his thumbs. Elizabeth gets embroiled in Elias's troubles in her search for a way off the island.  

There's obviously another book to come, and I'm looking forward to it. I've thoroughly enjoyed Rod Duncan's Barnabus books. Maybe this one slightly less than Queen of All Crows, but it's still well worth reading.

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The final EmpireThis book reminds me of why I'm reluctant to commit to reading long series these days. I'm simply too busy to devote so much time to getting involved with a trilogy which leads into yet more books in the same series. I know this has hundreds and thousands of good reviews and a huge fan following, but all I was thinking was 'How much longer before I reach the halfway point / then the 70% marker that tells me I'm on the home stretch / near the end? I think this review is saying way more about me than it is about the book, which is a bit sad really. Sanderson is a phenomenal world-builder. He's created a world that has a well thought out magic system, internal logic and consistency, and he's peopled it with three-dimensional characters… and yet… I'm not sure I'm going to continue to read books 2 and 3. The main character in this is Vin, a street brat who turns out to be a magically talented allomancer (someone who uses metals to perform feats impossible for a regular human). She throws in her lot with Kelsier and his thieving crew who are planning a revolution rather than a heist. Why a revolution? The Skaa are oppressed by the upper classes, but there's more. Kelsier has his own agenda, having been caught and imprisoned by the Lord Ruler, not just a ruler but effectively a god, eternal, invincible. Kell's former life (and his wife) were destroyed, so he's vowed death to the immortal. Vin isn't sure he knows what he's doing, but it turns out that Kelsier had a plan all along
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Ryan Gosling has turned in a tightly controlled, measured performance as Neil Armstrong in what amounts to a biopic recounting his journey to become the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong was, by all accounts, a man who didn't wear his emotions on his face and Gosling manages to convince as he journeys from commercial test pilot to astronaut. It's fascinating with information about the moonshots as well as Armstrong's private life. Recommended.
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To be honest I didn't think much to this. It was all very sweet, but a bit slow and nondescript. Ewan McGregor is always good value and as the harassed salesman trying to keep his job to the exclusioon of wife and family, he made a decent job of it. It takes Winnie the Pooh to knock some sense into him.
It's all really an excuse to revisit favourite characters from childhood.

To be honest the summer films this year have been a bit rubbish. This was one of the ones we tried, but I'm glad we didn't pay full price. This is why my movie of the week posts have slowed right down.

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This is a follow up book to White Silence, featuring Elizabeth Cage, who sees people's moods/auras in swirling colours, and Jones, spy and possibly killer, whom she is drawn to, but does not trust. On the run from Sorenson (who imprisoned her in a psychiatric facility in the last book and who wants to exploit her talents) Elizabeth has fled her home in Rushford with a little money, but nowhere and no one to run to.  She ends up in Greyston, a picturesque village in the middle of nowhere, and feels as though she might be able to stop and rest for a few days, but Greyston is no ordinary village, and the women there have a strange relationship with three ancient standing stones. Maiden Mother and Crone. Elizabeth is drawn into the intrigue and suddenly can't get out again. An innocent young man is about to die horribly unless she can do something about it. Jones to the rescue... or is he? What's his hidden agenda? Jones and Elizabeth do care for each other, but they never show it except in ascerbic dialogue and witty banter. Ms Taylor is very good at dialogue which says more than it seems to on the surface. This is fast paced and engaging and there's a fair bit of rescuing going on (not always in the same direction). Elizabeth's psychic talents seem to be increasing. From lacking in confidence altogether, she's growing as a person. I'm pretty sure there's enough here for at least one more book, if not more, which is excellent. Jodi Taylor is a buy-on-sight author for me, whether it's her Chronicles of St Mary's, The Nothing Girl, or these Elizabeth Cage books. Highly recommended.
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This is the third book about the Gale Women. (I still think the first, Enchantment Emporium is my favourite.) Charlie, talented Gale woman, musician, and cousin to Allie who runs the Enchantment Emporium, is on her way to becoming a Wild Power. Not quite what the gale Aunties would have wished, but there's not much they can do about it. Unfortunately Charlie is drawn towards Jack, a Gale boy and also a Dragon Prince and sorceror, but their age difference is too great for the Aunties to sanction any kind of romantic relationship. That doesn't stop Charlie and Jack pining for each other, while keeping up a platonic relationship. However when an asteroid is discovered, racing for earth, the Gale Aunties decide they can't do anything about it, except try to save their own. Charlie wants to save the world. According to NASA she has 21 months. There's a fair amount of Charlie/Jack angst, and for a while it seems like the ending is going to be BAM! SPLAT! But Charlie is resourceful and Jack has hidden depths.
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The Fires StoneI kept getting the feeling I'd read this before, but I couldn’t quite remember it. Three main characters come together to retrieve the stone that holds the magic of the volcano in check and prevents it from rising and destroying the city. Princess Chandra, a wizard of the nine, who is trying to avoid an arranged marriage to Prince Darvish of Ischia, a dissolute younger son with an alcohol problem. Into this situation falls Aaron, former can chief's son turned runaway and thief. The fun of this book is the changing relationship between these three protagonists and their eventual resolution. (And the recovery of the stone, of course, despite pirates, storms and traitors.) A fun book. Recommended.
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LancasterThis is a straightforward (clean) romance. Not much happens, except the two protagonists, each with a total lack of self-esteem, finally get over their self-doubt and see what's been right under their noses since the beginning of the book. Not terribly exciting, but it's sweet. It's #4 in a series, but can easily be read as a standalone.
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Hidden SunJaine Fenn has a gift for building unusual and fascinating worlds. The pockets of shadowland are protected from the deadly sun and exist as autonomous city states. Between the city states the skylands are deadly. Exposure to solar radiation is lethal for non-adapted humans. Only the skykin – bonded with a symbiote – can survive there, and even then everything about it (the lands and the wildlife it harbours) is deadly.

Rhia is a noble of Shen, one of the Shadowlands. She's a Natural Enquirer, the closest thing to a scientist Shen has, but it's not a seemly task for a woman. Her feckless younger brother is missing, reportedly having crossed the skylands to another shadowland, and a girl has been brutally murdered. Is there a connection? Rhia hopes not, yet when the Duke sends three soldiers to escort him home she feels compelled to join the party.

Dej is destined to be a bonded skykin, but we first meet her in a shadowland crèche where she's a little troublemaker. Imperfectly bonded to her symbiote, she's no better off in the skylands, ending up clanless. Meanwhile a priest is carrying out illicit experiments with recovered skykin symbiotes, seeking the secret of immortality. Viewpoint shifts between these three complex characters, but it isn't until the last third of the book that the Dej and Rhia strands mesh. The story resolves, but there are still many unanswered questions about the world that Ms. Fenn will hopefully answer in the next book. Highly recommended.
(Reviewed as a ARC from Netgalley.)
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Matrimonial AdvertisementJustin Thornhill, lately Captain in the army in India, needs a wife, someone to smooth the way for him with locals, to manage his bleak household and to occasionally warm his bed. An advertisement seems like just the thing. Helena Reynolds is desperate to escape London, even if it means marrying a complete stranger and moving to a remote estate in North Devon. It's a business arrangement, right? No one was meant to fall in love. But Helena's past is catching up with her and Justin is obliged to protect her. Or is it more than obligation? This is one of those books where both partners are hiding secrets that could have (or maybe should have) been revealed earlier, but where's the fun in that? A 'clean' Victorian romance with a touch of sexual tension.
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MarkedNinth in an ongoing series. I have every respect for Mr Jacka. Sustaining this length of series is a marvelous achievement, especially to keep characters developing. This time Alex is sitting on the Junior Council (as a Dark Mage) in Morden's place while Morden is in jail awaiting trial/punishment. No one quite knows what Morden is up to. It's certainly not like him to sit back and wait to be executed, but whatever it is has left Alex once more in the shit. It seems that half the council wants him dead and the others are only keeping him around because he's being useful, reclaiming some of the missing imbued items that were stolen in the last book. Assassination attempts are a regular occurrence. Alex is beginning to realise that if he's going to protect his friends he needs to a) play the council game and b) acquire more power. Is he beginning to want power for power's sake? Are there elements of Dark Magery he's gravitating towards? Dark is not necessarily evil… but there's a fine line between the two. Alex is also finally admitting to himself what we've known for several books… his feelings for Anne. About time Mr. Verus. These books are a buy on sight for me. My only problem is that now I've caught up with the latest, I have to wait for Number Ten. Highly recommended, but start at the beginning.
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I somehow missed the third book in this series, so as we jump to the fourth Isaac Vainio, Libriomancer, has revealed to the world that magic exists. He is in charge of research at New Millennium, a new facility for the Porters just outside of Vegas, and he appears to have a version of the now-dead Gutenberg (Yes that Gutenberg) living inside his head. His lover, Lena, a dryad, and her lover Nidhi, are still living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Isaac is splitting his time between the facility and various congressional hearings in DC when various senators are trying to determine whether magic is dangerous, and others are grasping at a way to weaponsise magic. magic users are being secretly incarcerated. Isaac is struggling against political conspiracies while trying our new, somewhat experimental types of libriomancy, and also fighting against the government's restrictions on using magic to cure illness (specifically that of his neice). Libriomancers can magically pull artifacts from books, so there are some great pop culture references to classic science fiction and fantasy, as well as recent book. Lucy's magical healing potion from 'The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe' proves particularly useful. This appears to be the final book in the Magic Ex Libris series, though future installments would be possible. It hasn't completely closed off the story.

Low Carb

Aug. 4th, 2018 02:59 pm
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I've been doing low carbs for the last five weeks and not finding it difficult. My blood sugars have come right down, which is the whole object of the exercise, though if I lose a few pounds I won't be upset. I got some interesting low carb/low GI recipes from the web and then tried a bit of experimenting.

This morning's breakfast was a crispy pancake made with
a rounded soup spoon of flax meal
same of coconut flour
same of ground almonds
generous pinch of salt
a large egg,

I beat the ingredients together then patted it out thin between two pieces of kitchen paper (it's fragile at this stage) and flopped it into a large frying pan of sizzling butter. Turning it whole is difficult because it tends to break up, but cutting it in half I managed to turn it without too much mess to lightly crisp up the other side, then I sandwiched the two halves with grated cheese and cooked it a bit more to melt the cheese. While it was melting the cheese I chopped and fried 4 large strawberries in butter (in the other half of the same pan) and poured the strawberry goo over the cheese pancake.

Yum! I'd post a photo but I ate the evidence.

A similar mix with grated cheese stirred in and a half teaspoon of baking powder, baked in bun cases in the oven, comes out like little scone-shaped bread substitutes. They make great butter carriers for savouries, and you could probably miss out the cheese and have them with fresh strawbs and clotted cream as a cream tea.
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I'm winding down my LiveJournal account, so no longer crossposting from here.  I think just about all my friends have either moved here or become more active on Facebook. I'll be closing LJ permanently in mid-August, but I've already stopped crossposts.

One question: I don't seem to be able to post replies to blog entries on my reading page. Does anyone have a solution?

And just to remind folks... I have a writing blog on wordpress: https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/

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Steam Pump JumpAnother of Jodi Taylor's shorts. This comes firmly after An Argumentation of Historians. Max is still confined to her hospital bed, recovering from her usual collection of injuries, but she still finds time to interfere in everyone's lives, this time via Markham. Peterson is struggling with another bereavement and Max thinks he needs distracting, maybe Miss Lingoss can help, but since all her focus is on the steam pump demonstration that they've travelled back in time to see, it's not very likely unless Markham can come up with something on the spur of the moment. What could possibly go wrong? Markham is one of my favourite characters in the Chronicles of St Mary's. I'm really enjoying his development. Jodi Taylor's books are buy-on-sight for me and this does not disappoint.
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Freeze-Frame revolutionSunday is one of the workers on the gate-setting 'ship' (hollowed out asteroid) the Eriophora along with thousands of other 'pieces of meat' i.e. the crew who are in sleep-storage, only being revived for a couple of hours once every few thousand years when Chimp – the AI in charge - thinks he might need a bit of human insight into a problem. The mission is set to last for millennia, and it does, without an end in sight. Surely if humans were going to appear through one of the new gates and take them all back to Earth, they would have done it by now. Does Earth even exist any more? Are Eriophora's meat that last humans in the galaxy? What happens when someone realises that Chimp has extinguished 3,000 of the 30,000 on board? Lian thinks it's about time that the humans took over from the AI that could so easily wipe any one of them out at a moment's notice, but even when Sunday is convinced, how do you organize a revolution when you are only away for one day in every few thousand years, and your co-conspirators awake time may not coincide with yours?

Hard science fiction that occasionally left me boggled, but eventually delivered a very human story.
Long novella length. Review copy from Netgalley

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Mama Mia...againThe first Mama Mia movie was fun. I found this one maudlin, though the songs were well done. It got me in the feels, several times, as, indeed, it was trying to do, but so OTT that I disliked my emotions being manipulated. The performances were good, the set pieces excellent. Pity that the character of 'Fernando' was dropped in with all the subtlety of a clog in order to get the one song in. So what did I like about it? Well, as usual, the three dads, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth, played it perfectly and Julie Walters and Christine Baranski reprised their characters beautifully, but if you were expecting another tour de force from Meryl Streep, forget it, except in flashback and a cameo at the end. This was mainly the younger actors taking over. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) wants to know how her three dads met her mum, so cue the younger versions of Donna (Lily James), Harry (Hugh Skinner), Sam (Jeremy Irvine), and Bill (Josh Dylan) with young Rosie (Alexa Davies) and Young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynne). Kudos to Lily James and Amanda Seyfried (presuming they did their own singing). And, yes, I did spot Benny Andersson as the piano player in the cafe scene.

It's set five years on from the last movie and things have changed in a big way. Sophie is reopening the hotel after renovations and has some good news to relay to husband, Sky (Dominic Cooper). Guests are gathering for the grand party, but Donna has left a big hole in everyone's lives. Enter Grandma (Cher!).

And how about the songs? Well, it was obvious they couldn't have all the same ones again (though they did duplicate the obvious one) so there were some that I wasn't familiar with, only having a passing acquaintance with Abba. They all worked well, on screen, though. And if it handn'r been for the excessive tear-jerking I might have given this five stars. As it is, maybe three and a half. Worth watching, but I won't be rushing out to buy the DVD.
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This is every bit as good as everyone is saying. It's a study of female empowerment and middle-aged male angst wrapped up in a a slick script with superb animation. (Mr Incredible's facial expressions are a treat.) Super heroes are still banned but when a movement to get them accepted again focuses on Elastagirl, Mr Incredible is left holding the baby - literally - and wrestling with his older offspring, one at the teen-girl stage and the other a rambunctious boy with overdeloped ideas of his own prowess. It takes the whole family (and their friend Frozone) to foil a dastardly plot, of course. Highly recommended.
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Sancia Grado is a young thief who escaped slavery and now scratches a living in the Commons of Foundryside, the squalid shanty town that exists in Tevanne between and around the campos where the four leading merchant houses exist in their own comfortable enclaves thanks to their wealth and their magic/technology – scriving. Scrived objects are created with industrialised magical inscriptions. They power everything: carriages that move without horses, ambient flying rigs (basically targeted parachutes), and weapons that are powerful enough to shoot a bolt through metal. Sancia has a talent. She can hear the chattering and murmuring of scrived objects and by touch can learn the nature of whatever she touches. She saves this for inert objects. Touching another human is frequently too painful. When her usual fence offers her a job that will pay a small fortune the fee is simply too tempting to apply her normal caution. She steals an ancient artefact, which has some very peculiar properties, but before she can deliver it and get paid, people start to die. From then on she's trying to get out of the resulting scrape, but she can't do it alone.

The pace is lively, the characters interesting and the magic system complex (and occasionally boggling). This is the first in a new series. It's out on 23rd August from Jo Fletcher books. I had a review copy from Netgalley.
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Oceans 8I saw the original Ocean's 11 many years ago, but I haven't seen the recent ones, however an all-female version was intriguing enough to send us scurrying to the cinema on a hot Wednesday afternoon. (Thank goodness for aircon!)

It's an excellent cast headed by Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett with a good supporting cast that includes Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter. It's a heist movie. Debbie ocean has spent several years in jail carefully working ot a daring heist - steal a fabulous diamond necklace during a glttering gala. It's a clever plan and, of course, you're on edge to see whather it works out or not...

Some reliable performances. Special kudos to James Corden as the insurance inspector.

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Theft of SwordsI didn't realise until I was well into this (Kindle edition) that it was two books in an omnibus edition. I read the first, The Crown Conspiracy, so this is only a review of that one. I was looking for some fantasy or science-fictional heist books and this was on someone's ten-best-heist books list. Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater are thieves, successful enough that they haven't been caught yet. Royce is the lock-picker and Hadrian the brilliant swordsman from a good family (and we only get hints of what brought him to thieving for a living). They are careful to plan out every heist carefully, but they get into a spot of bother when they fall for a sob story and unwisely take on a job to steal a sword from the king's chapel. It's a rush job. They don't have time to check it out first, and unfortunately it's a set up. What they find in the chapel is the body of the king and they are framed for the murder. It's looking bleak when the king's daughter makes them an offer. She'll let them out of the dungeon if they will steal something else for her. She wants them to steal the prince, the new heir to the throne. Their kidnap job turns into a rescue and they face a plot to take over the throne. It's a straightforward read with a simple plot and a cast of engaging characters. (Yes I will read the second one, but not right now.)

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Apocalypse NyxReview copy from Netgalley.

This is a collection of five short pieces and can be read as an intro to the world of Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha world, which began with God's War. I confess I have only read the first two stories, slightly over half the book. I've seen Nyx described as 'painfully hard to like' and I'd go with that description. Her answer to everything is to smash heads (or maybe hack them off), and by the time I'd read the first two stories I needed a rest. Nyx is a former Bel Dame, a government assassin turned bounty hunter. She's seen a lot of gore, and contributed greatly to the body count, but she's damaged, and like her surroundings, she's angry, grim, and bloody. She has a team, but she's not sure she can count on them and, what's worse, she's not sure if they can count on her. I will go back and read the other three stories in this collection, but I need to decompress first.

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Queen of All CrowsReview copy from netgalley.com.

I really enjoyed Rod Duncan's first Elizabeth Barnabus trilogy (The Bullet catcher's Daughter, Unseemly Science, and Custodian of Marvels) so I was delighted to find that he's picked up Elizabeth's story again a short while after Elizabeth has won her freedom from the lecherous Duke and the Patent Office. She's having a clandestine affair with Patent Office agent John Farthing, but when she discovers that her best friend Julia has gone missing after her airship has been shot down in the middle of the Atlantic, she resolves to leave John and risk all to find out what's going on. Other airships and vessels have gone missing, too, and there are rumours of a band of female pirates with high-tech weapons. In the guise of a man - her alter ego has always been her (invented) brother – she becomes a spy for the patent office and ventures beyond the borders of the Gas Lit Empire to where she's completely out of her depth, in more ways than one. But Elizabeth is resourceful and what she seeks, she finds, which leads to adventures she could never have dreamt of. This certainly did not disappoint and I'm looking forward to Elizabeth's further adventures.
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I didn't have enormously high expectations of this, but I went in expecting fun and that's what I got. It's a rehash of 'Dances with Dinosaurs' but this time the dinos are off the island.

When a volcanic eruption threatens to turn the dinosaurs extinct there's a great debate as to whether nature should be allowed to take its course, but a privately funded foundation wades in with the offer to catch and ship the dinos off the island. They're supposed to be going to an uninhabited island, but...

So enter Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) who is the only person who can successfully catch the raptor, Blue, that he trained in the first movie. He ends up on the Island with Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). If they looked to be heading for a happy ever after in the first movie, they are now on the other side of that... but, yes, obviously the movie needed a way of stretching out the sexual tension.

Anyhow, it all gets doubly dangerous when the volcano erupts and the bad guys show themselves up for what they are... and I'm not going to go any further in case you haven't seen it yet.

Is it worth seeing? I think so. Chris Pratt is good in this kind of role and he makes it work. It's obvious from the ending that there's going to be another one.

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This is a Vorkosigan novella centered on Miles' wife Ekaterin who is working with scientist Enrique Borgos on a scheme to clean up the lands of the Vashnoi exclusion zone, radioactive since the Cetagandan invasion. When Enrique's bioengineered bugs go missing, Ekaterin discovers that the zone is not quite as uninhabited as everyone thinks. In the Vorkosiverse timeline, this comes after Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. I'm a Vorkosigan addict. I'd love to see another string of Miles books, but if I can't have those than this is a very nice stopgap. Ms Bujold can do no wrong.

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One of my favourite books so far this year

A modern fantasy, rural rather than urban. Dan works with wood, moving from place to place so he doesn't get too close to anyone. A century ago, a person with a secret could simply move to the other end of the country and take up a new identity, but nowadays with CCTV and social media, it's not so easy. Dan has a big secret. His mother is a Dryad and that makes Dan… different. When a young woman is murdered and left in Derbyshire woodland, Dan realises that the culprit is from his world. She's not the first. The police are never going to find the serial killer, so it's up to Dan. Dan is a great character, always trying to avoid that attention of the local police, but rarely managing it. He's a big lad with powerful fists and usually at the top of the list when the Law comes around asking questions. I do hope Juliet McKenna makes this the first in a series. I'd love to read more. There's a wealth of British folklore in here, and a damn good story.
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Trying to separate his young cousin from making a disastrous marriage with a young woman who is mistress of her aunt's gaming house, Max Ravenscar discovers that there's more to Deborah Grantham than meets the eye. Unromantic Max has a shock in store. There's a gentle comedic element to this as Deborah deliberately upsets Max when she could have allayed his worries in an instant if he'd only been less overbearing. Fun, but not my favourite Heyer.
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Due for release on 1st July 2018, I had this review copy from Netgalley. The book is already available to pre-order from that large company named after a South American River – and it's well worth getting. The setting is Edwardian in feel with an ongoing war about to draw to a close. I'd say it's steampunky, but instead of steam it has magic and bicycles. Magicpunk? Anyhow, the main character in Miles Singer, a young doctor who has survived his part in the war, discharged after a spell in an enemy prison camp. He's left his wealthy and influential family behind to work as a psychiatrist in a veterans' hospital where he can (with all appropriate caution) use his magical talent for healing. If he's caught he'll be confined to a witches' asylum or enslaved by his own family. He puts his own freedom at risk to solve a problem illness for his patients, which turns out to be a wider threat and intersects with the concerns of a handsome stranger from another world. This certainly kept me reading and while not perfect it's an excellent debut.
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The third Elizabeth Barnabus book set in the gas-lit Empire, following on from The Bullet Catcher's Daughter and Unseemly Science. Elizabeth is on the run from the authorities as both halves of Britain – independent and suspicious of each other – prepare to sign an extradition treaty that could send Elizabeth and all the Kingdom refugees back home against their will. If that happens the slimy Duke of Northampton will be waiting to snatch her into sexual slavery. Elizabeth takes to the canals in order to become invisible to the law, but eventually takes matters into her own hands in a dangerous, last-ditch attempt to be free. We meet some old friends from previous books. There's a slow burn romance with Patent Office agent John Farthing, a daring heist, and a satisfying resolution. I've thoroughly enjoyed the whole trilogy and I see that Elizabeth is back in The Queen of All Crows, book 1 of a new trilogy. Excellent!
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SoloI saw the Solo movie yesterday. It wasn't horrible, but I confess to being underwhelmed. It was actually a little boring. It's a simple heist story showing Solo's origins in the underworld of Corellia and his progress through and out of the Imperial military before latching on to a criminal gang trying to steal coaxium (very valuable hyper-fuel). It shows how Han meets Chewbacca and Lando, and in the closing scene shows a cameo appearance by Darth Maul indicating that there's more to come from that direction.

Unfortunately Alden Ehrenreich isn't a good choice of lead. It sadly misses Harrison Ford's charisma. There's no real sparkle. For someone brought up in the underworld, young Solo is terminally naive. I just can't see him growing into the streetwise Han from Episode Four.  I think it's probably a movie that should never have been made, given that turning back the clock and having Ford play the character is not an option, despite it being science fiction. Unfortunately it seems as though Ehrenreich is signed up for three Solo movies.

I'm not saying the performances are bad. Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra is decent and she's set to return, I think. Donald Glover is a good Lando Calrissian, but the best thing about the movie is Paul Bettany's Dryden Vos, a slimy, but believable villain.

Is it just me or is the star of the show actually the Milennium Falcon?
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Deadpool 2I enjoyed both Deadpool movies, despoite thinging that I really shouldn't. Deadpool (Wade Wilson, played by an almost unrecognisable Ryan Reynolds) is wisecracking pottymouth superhero with a disfigured face. In Deadpool 2 his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin) is killed and Wade blames himself. He tries to commit suicide, but he's not so easy to kill and he's rescued by X-Man Colossus and conscripted to the X-Men. When sent to resolve a stanbdoff between young mutant Russel )Firefist) he ends up taking the kid's side. There's prison, a warrior from the future, a sacrifice and - in case you were thinking of leaving you have to stick around for the end credits scene if you want to see how it really ends.
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Unseemly ScienceI read the first Elizabeth Barnabus book some time ago, but I was surprised how much of it I'd retained in my mind when I started in on the sequel. Post revolution the country is split into two, roughly north and south with the south ruled by aristocrats, and the repressed north very puritan-like. Elizabeth Barnabus, brought up in a travelling circus in the south, has fled to the north to escape being sold to the Duke of Northampton. Women have no standing in northern society, so - a mistress of disguise - she leads a double life, as both herself and her own invented brother, taking commissions as a private detective. In this book she's running from the law as the north and south prepare to sign an extradition treaty and begin to round up all the exiles in preparation for sending them home, something likely to be the death of most of them. Elizabeth gets mixed up with a charity that hides secrets, follows the trail of ice thieves and ends up discovering a world of bodysnatching and unseemly experimentation. I enjoyed this enough to go straight on to the third book in the series: The Custodian of Marvels.
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Book coverI somehow missed this when reading the Worthingtons books in order. It's the story of how Dottie Stern cracks through the polished finish of Dominic, Marquis of Merton. Dottie is best friends with Charlotte, Grace's sister. Merton is Matt's stuffy overbearing cousin whom no one likes. He was brought up by an uncle who left him with rigid ideas of what was proper and dutiful. Falling in love is not one of his ambitions. Falling for Dottie is definitely not on Merton's agenda… yet… And as for Dottie, well, she quite likes him if only he wasn't so hidebound, but maybe there's more to him than meets the eye. With the help of the chaotic Worthington clan (Matt and Grace and all the children, not to metion the dogs) and Dom's mother, Dottie succeeds in humanizing Merton. We knew that's what would happen, but it's the journey that's the thing. Mission accomplished with the help of a sack full of kittens, a mysterious waif and an evil brothel-keeper.
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Duke's HolidayI'm not quite sure why this popped up in my Amazon library, but I got suckered into reading it on my Kindle app.

Montford, a stuffy self-righteous prig of a duke, who is undoubtedly OCD, discovers that a longstanding thorn in his side, Honeywell, has died. Not only that, but he died a year ago and yet the estate that he managed (belonging to Montford) has continued to function and send in accounts. Anxious to find out what's happening he takes himself off to Yorkshire to find the castle and the brewery being managed by Honeywell's daughter, Astrid, oldest of four sisters.

Somewhat unconventional, Astrid drives him nuts, but this is a romance, so the ultimate destination isn't in doubt, it's just the journey that amuses us along the way. And it is amusing. Astrid is ridiculously harebrained. The Duke is unbearably inflexible. but she gradually breaks down his defences (and he hers) and they both begin to thaw out.

There's a pig (male) called Petunia, a foot-and-ale race, a kidnapping, a bucketful of sexual tension, and a whole cast of characters, none of which seems entirely sane. The villain of the piece doesn't get the comeuppance he deserves, which ia a bit of a loose end, but everything else wraps up more-or-less neatly.

The Duke's two friends Sherbook and Marlowe are each the subject of the other two books in the trilogy.
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The Oddling PrinceWhen I opened up this book I was delighted by the lyrical quality of the prose, then about five chapters in it began to annoy me, but I pushed through that to find a very strange tale, somewhat medievaloid. By the time I got to the end I really liked it. It certainly didn't go in the direction I expected. It's a book about unintended consequences, love and loyalty, and the darkness of the human soul. It's very fairy-tale like in feel.

Set in ancient Scotland, the king of Caledon lies on his deathbed, cursed by a ring that he can't remove. His life is saved by a mysterious fey stranger, Albaric, to whom the young prince Aric (age 17) is immediately drawn. It turns out that Albaric is also the king's son from a time-out-of-time spent in the Fey world as a captive lover of the fae queen. The king can't accept this forgotten time and will not accept Albaric. Aric and Albaric bond and from then on we see the king's descent into darkness, directed against not only Albaric, but against those he loves.

Aric is an honest and noble character, trying to balance his (deteriorating) relationship with his father and his loyalty towards Albaric. Part way through we meet Marissa, the daughter of an enemy who becomes Aric's intended, though she's actually a hostage for her father's good behaviour. She's a great character and although she doesn't get a lot of page-time, she makes the most of it.

There is an unexpected (magical) resolution which I didn't see coming, but which fitted the story perfectly.

I guess this is YA, but it crosses boundaries.

(This E-ARC is from netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

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GuernseyA sweet film with a mystery and a romance. In the aftermath of World War Two a successful writer, Juliet Ashton (Lily James), visits Guernsey, which is still reeling from the effects of having been occupied by Germans. She's there to write about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society for an article she's committed to, but on meeting the society's members she realises there's a mystery that no one is willing to talk about. She's corresponded with farmer Dawsey Adams (Michael Huisman) who turns out to be not what she expected at all. Juliet nibbles away at the mystery (what happened to Elizabeth McKenna?) until all is revealed. In the meantime she and Dawsey develop a relationship, which is somewhat unfortunate, since Juliet is engaged to (pushy) American Mark Reynolds. It's probably no great spoiler if I say it all works out in the end (after all, it's that sort of film). It's not just Farmer Dawsey who draws Juliet in,  the rest of the cast is very engaging, too. Kudos to Penelope Wilton and Tom Courtenay for their excellent contribution.
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RevolutionI haven't read the whole six book set of Peter Ackroyd's History of England. I read the first and wanted to skip ahead to this one because it covers the period I'm writing about in my Rowankind novels, that is, the Napoleonic wars. This is a well written account, probably greatly simplified, but with enough information for my purposes. Peter Ackroyd's writing is smooth and delightfully readable and delivered just the right amount of information. It's definitely 'popular' rather than 'academic'. Highly recommended if you have a general interest in English history.
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Infinity War2nd May

Much anticipated, Avengers - Infinity War delivered (in lumps).

Without spoilers, there are two things you need to know before you see it. Firstly, it's not the end of the story, but you'll have to wait until next year to find out how it continues. And secondly, it's worth sitting through the incredibly long credits because there's an Easter Egg right at the end which gives a clue to what's coming next.

So, how does a movie maker take the main characters from across the Marvel franchise and bring them all together in one movie? The answer is, carefully. Guardians of the Galaxy, plus Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther, Spider Man, Black Widow, Vision, Doctor Strange and The Hulk (or mostly Bruce Banner). And of course we get super-villain Thanos from Guardians. There was also a lovely vignette from Peter Dinklage.

No spoilers, but this movie could be a game-changer for the marvel Universe. I'm looking forward to 2019 to see how certain issues are resolved.

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A Wrinkle in Time18th April

Oh dear, what a badly miscast movie. The young leads were OK (Storm Reid, Levi Miller and Deric McCabe) but, oh dear, Oprah Winfrey as Mrs Which was so over the top, she met herself coming back. I think it's down to the costume design. In a previous review I praised the costume and set design for Black Panther. The costumes for Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit were just about as far in the opposite direction as it's possible to get.

Chris Pine as the missing dad in need of rescue kinda dialled it in. There really wan't much to be done with a turgid script. Even Gugu Mbatha-Raw had no opportunity to shine.

The galling thing was that we had to travel to the Showcase Cinema in Batley to see it because it disappeared from our local cinema in Wakefield in just one week. (Now I know why.) The nice thing was that the cinema has reclining seats which help you to sleep through in comfort.

If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favour and don't.

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Finding your feetOne of those charming British films featuring a galaxy of beautifully aging British thesps let by Imelda Staunton as Sandra, the betrayed wife who runs to her estranged sister, Bif (Celia Imrie) when she has nowhere else to go. Introduced to a variety of unlikely characters including Charlie (Timothy Spall) and Jackie (Joanna Lumley) she gradually begins to unwind and start living again when she joins a dance team..

It's a feelgood movie with a mixture of sadness and joy.

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Black panther21st February.

Black Panther is a gorgeously visual movie, much lauded already by critics for its almost entirely black cast offering a combination of diversity and commercial appeal. Set in the fictional African country of Wakanda, which is high-tech but secluded from the world, this features Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa (Black Panther), now king of Wakanda following his father's death.

His claim to the crown is challenged by Eric Killmonger (Michael B Jordan), an embittered young man who believes Wakanda should use its tech for the benefit of all. So here we have a villain with possibly more noble motives than our heroes, which is an interesting twist. It plays out well in the end.

Kudos to Lupita Nyong'o and Danai Gurira for portraying strong African women (and a special mention for the costume designers. The warrior women were superb).

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The Shape of WaterI'm catching up with my Movies of the Week blog posts. This is from 14th February.

I absolutely adored The Shape of Water.

Set in 1962 in a secret laboratory somewhere in Baltimore this features Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a mute cleaning lady who make friends with and then falls in love with an amphibious captured sea creture, a beautiful monster (Doug Jones).

Elisa's muteness is explained by three parallel scars on the side of her throat and we are left to draw our own conclusions about them.

It's Guillermo del Toro'sblood-curdling fairy tale of forbidden romance is multi-layered. Elisa has a good commannd of sign language, but she's used to not being heard. Her only friends are workmate Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her neighbour, Giles (Richard Jenkins).
The villain of piece is Strickland (Michael Shannon), one-dimensional in his relentless cruelty and the pursuit of the creature when Elisa and Zelda rescue him.

There's excitement and love and an ambiguous ending which you can put your own spin on. If you missed this at the cinema, treat yourself to the DVD when it comes out. Marvellous.


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Marry in hasteI was curious to read this as Jane Aiken Hodge was a writer I read way back in my teens and twenties. I read a lot of recently written historical fiction, mostly Regencies, so I wondered how this would stand up. If you can ignore the bonkers premise… that Camilla Forest, fleeing a bad situation as a governess in a household with a lecherous older son, is picked up on the road (literally) by Lord Leominster when the coach she is waiting for doesn't turn up. Within a couple of hours he's proposed to her, a business arrangement because his fearsome grandmother will disinherit him if he remains single.

Once you've suspended disbelief for that element of the plot, the rest follows quite neatly. Leominster is dispatched to Portugal in the teeth of Napoleon's invasion and Camilla (while gradually falling in love with Leominster) has to navigate war-torn Portugal. In truth, though the characterization is less vivid than it could be and the sex scenes are less steamy that those written by some contemporary historical novel writers, it still stands up reasonably well today as a Gothic Romance. Though there are moments when the tension could be resolved instantly if the two protagonists simply talked to each other.
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The Battersea BarricadesJodie Taylor is a buy-on-sight author for me, so I really enjoyed getting the backstory of Mrs Mack (St Mary's kitchen supremo), Mrs Enderby (wardrobe) and Mrs Shaw (admin) when they manned the Battersea Barricades during an unbelievable three weeks of revolution in Britain and began the downfall of a corrupt government. Oh, ladies, where are you when we need you?
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The Sergeant Major's DaughterI've never read any books by the late Sheila Walsh before, but this was on offer so I gave it a try. Written in 1978, it easily stands up alongside the modern crop of Regency romances, with a strong heroine, though the evil antagonist is a bit two dimensional. Felicity Vale, the daughter of a well-respected sergeant major who has been brought up as an independent army brat, has to rely on her cousin for a roof over her head after her father is killed at Waterloo. The cousin, Amaryllis, is the widow of the younger brother of an earl (Stayne) and felicity's new home turns out to be Stayne's estate. Not wanting charity, she takes on the task of governess to Felicity's (spoilt) son and then – at the Earl's request – opens up a school in the village, thus angering an evil neighbour who wants the peasants kept in their place. Dastardly shenanigens ensue with a fire and peril, but eventually it all ends as expected.
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An Argumentation of HistoriansDoes time travel make this science fiction, or is it pure fantasy? I don't know and I don't care, it's an attention-grabbing read. There's a quick trip to see Henry VIII fall off his horse and a trip to Persepolis, but Clive Ronan is still causing chaos up and down the timelines, so Max and the time police set a trap for him. Well, it seems like a good idea, but when have Max's good ideas ever worked? As a result, Max is dumped in the Medieval period and no one knows where she is. She knows where she is - in St Mary's but about 600 years in the past. She has to learn to live there and to make a new life for herself because she doubts she'll ever get home again. She's desperately missing Leon, but there's someone in 1399 who can offer her protection. She knows Leon would be the first to tell her to find a way to survive, even if that means marrying.

We've known for a while that there was a traitor at St Mary's feeding Ronan information. At last we find out who.

Jodi Taylor is on by buy on sight list, so this is a must-read for me. Highly recommended.

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