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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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The Silver PigsEver since I heard one of the Falco books dramatized on Radio4's Book of the Week, I've wanted to get round to reading one of Linsey Davis's stories about Marcus Didius Falco, the Roman 'informer' – a detective in all but name. What better place to start than the first book, from 1989? Falco is a fabulous character, impoverished, but clever. He's thirty years old with an interfering mother and a recently deceased military brother (Didius Festus) who was the family's shining star. Falco knows he'll never measure up to his brother, so he goes his own way, living in a sixth floor apartment over Lenia's laundry and taking a variety of 'informing' jobs. This book kicks off when Falco rescues sixteen year old Sosia who was kidnapped from her uncle's house (Senator Decimus Camillus). This starts Falco on a track that takes him from Rome to British silver mines (working under cover and almost dying from the conditions). There's stolen silver, kidnapping, treachery and violence… and the senator's daughter, the acerbic Helena Justinia. Has Marcus met his match?
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Terminal AllianceThe apocalypse (a mutated plague) turned all humans into mindless savages, but the Krakau found a cure. A hundred years later, those cured humans are allowed into space on Krakau ships, acting in menial roles. They are prized for their toughness, their ability to thrive on basic rations, and their hard work. They get the jobs that no one else wants. Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos is a Lieutenant in charge of shipboard hygiene and sanitation. When a bio attack wipes out the command crew and turns the shipboard humans feral again, Mops and her crew are wearing containment suits so they are the only ones not affected. They go from being janitors and plumbers to having to fly the ship and outwit the aliens, and in doing so learn the secret that the Krakau didn't want them to know.

It's quirky and intriguing. Highly recommended.
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Girl with Make Believe HusbandJulia Quinn is always a reliable read. Though the premised for this is a bit bonkers it largely worked for me. Celie Harcourt abandons England with barely a penny to her name, and goes tearing off to the Americas when she finds out that her brother, Thomas, has been injured. When she gets to New York she finds that Thomas is unaccountably missing, but his best friend, Edward Rokesby is badly injures and in need of care. In order to get access she tells the authorities that she's Edward's wife, and since he's insensible she gets away with it. When he comes to, he's conveniently lost his memory and so she fools him, too. That's the point at which I was screaming for her to do the sensible thing and tell him, but no, she continues to fool him as well - until she doesn't. Even though I had a few quibbles, it was an enjoyable read.
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How to Marry a marquisThe second Agents of the Crown book features James Sidwell, Marquis of Riverdale, whose spying has been curtailed because a French spy has exposed his identity. So while he has nothing much to do he's called down to his aunt's estate to help her identify a blackmailer. While in disguise as the new estate manager he meets Elizabeth Hotchkiss, companion to his aunt, well-bred but penniless.

Elizabeth has just stumbled on a book in her employer's library called 'How to Marry a Marquis.' Since marriage to someone wealthy seems to be the only way she can support her younger siblings, she gets trapped into trying out the edicts in the book – trying them on the only available male, James, who is, of course, a marquis in disguise.

Bits of this read like a French farce. There are inevitable misunderstandings, but the ending was never in doubt. It's fun and frothy.
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To Catch an HeiressI usually try to blog the books I read one at a time, but I've been busy, so I'm playing catchup. It's only when I make a list that I realise how many Julia Quinn books I've read this year. No excuses. She writes engagingly frothy regency romances, and when I'm deep into writing, I need something to switch off with.

With six weeks to go before her twenty-first birthday and freedom to control her own money, Caroline Trent is running away from an unwanted marriage when she's captured by dashing Blake Ravenscroft, who mistakes her for a French spy, Carlotta de Leon. She only needs a place to hide for six weeks, so, believing that she can come clean at any time, she plays along. There's a lot of quirky comedy in this book, which is good because the plot is frankly ridiculous. Blake and Caroline are engaging characters, however and James Sidwell, Marquis of Riverdale is an excellent secondary character.
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To Sir Phillip With LoveI've enjoyed all of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books. Eloise is one of the middle siblings of eight. When she begins a correspondence with the widower of a distant cousin, she never thinks it will develop into a relaitionship. At twenty-eight she feel she might be a confirmed spinster, but that's only because she's turned down sixc proposals already, determined to have a love-match or nothing at all.

Sir Phillip Crane feels that a twenty eight year old spinster might be desperate enough to marry him. He's not looking for a love match. He needs a mother for his two unruly children and that's about it. He's clueless, of course, but it's not all lighthearted froth. Phillip's first marriage was a nightmare. His wife's illness has left him traumatised. He's dumbfounded when the spinster who turns up on his doorstep is not a drab. Eloise's practical good sense saves the day and as their relationship develops you really want to root for them.

The other Bridgertons turn up, of course, and there's plenty of humour.
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The Lost Duke of WyndhamWhen a dashing soldier-turned-highwayman stops the carriage carrying the dowager Duchess of Wyndham and her paid companion, Grace, there are two revelations. The dowager recognises highwayman Jack Audley as her grandson and Grace recognises that she's not immune to Jack's charms. But the problem is that if Jack is truly who the dowager thinks he is, he's the rightful Duke of Wyndham and will displace Thomas, the current duke. And Grace might fall in love with a charming rogue, but she knows she's not high-born enough for a duke.

I really enjoyed this book, but haven't been able to bring myself to read the second book in this series because it's the same story from a different viewpoint. Reading other reviews it seems that the version most readers prefer is the first oine they read, so I'll stick at this. Always happy to read other Julia Quinn books, however, despite the occasional Americanisms that don't quite fit.
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Burn BrightWerewolf Charles has been left in charge of the misfit pack of werewolves while the Marrok (the boss of werewolves in North America) is out of the country. Charles is his father's enforcer and Anna, an omega wolf who is a peace bringer, is his mate and partner. The Marrok looks after the broken and marginally sane/insane, old wolves and the worst of these are the wildlings who live - well - out in the wild, I suppose. When there's an emergency call from one of the wildlings, Charles and Anna hurry out there in time to prevent a kidnapping, but not to prevent death.

There's a traitor in the pack and we get some insights into some of the wolf-characters we've met before, particularly Leah, the Marrok's mate, and a bit of disturbing retconning about Bran himself.

Not my favourite Alpha & Omega novel, but still a good read.

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The Marquis and ILady Charlotte Carpenter is abducted by thugs and held in an inn in retribution for her brother-in-law putting an evil brothel owner out of business. She almost mnanages her own escape, but is helped by a dashing gentleman and unfortunately seen with him by an inveterate gossip. i.e. she's been 'compromised' according to the customs of the day, by Constantine, marquis of Kenilworth. Con  agrees that the only solution is marriage, but Charlotte isn't sure. He keeps a mistress for goodness sake and Charlotte is deeply into campaigning on behalf of sex-workers (or unfortunates as she might call them). Can she change Con's view of the world where virtue is a negotiable commodity, and can the Worthingtons finally put an end to the evil 'madame' who has appeared as the villain in a couple of books in the series?
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What Kings Ate and Wizards DrankA book about fantasy worldbuilding for writers. Some useful tips, especially for beginners. It's heavily into food and food history from a fantasy preoccupation with stew to provisioning an army. Recommended
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I almost didn't read this because of the cover. I'm getting really fed up with decapitated male torsos. Set in 1776. Juliet Paige, an American storekeeper's daughter, is left pregnant after he fiancée, Charles De Montfort, younger brother of Lucien, the current Duke is killed at the battle of Concord. On her way to the De Montfort home, Juliet (and her child) are in a coach that is held up by robbers. The younger brother (the wild one) Gareth De Montfort comes to the rescue, which starts the book down the path to an inevitable romantic conclusion, and the story of how the wild one is tamed. A light read.
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Beside the SeasideNon Fic

A history of Yorkshire's coastal towns, Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington and Filey etc., and how they became popular seaside resorts. There's interesting stuff for both the historian and the casual reader, but for my purposes it wasn't as useful as 'The Georgian Seaside' by Louise Allen.
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FoundationA remarkably readable popular history, not too deep and academic, but a quick reminder from 15,000 years ago (the Neolithic), through Roman rule, the Dark Ages (Angles, Saxons, Jutes) and the medieval to 1509, the death of Henry VII. This is the first in a six volume set, easily digestible and informative.
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The first in what appears to be a long series of mysteries set in Regerncy England featuring Captain Gabriel Lacey, recently returned from the Napoleoinic Wars with a badly healed knee, a bad case of melancholia, and a huge grudge against his former mentor and commanding officer. Lacey is a gentleman but he's broke. What comes in from the army (his half-pay) is barely enough to keep him. He lives in a squalid room in a narrow street off Covent Garden and though he gets to move in tonnish circles thanks to being favoured by society favourite Grenville, he's also friends with a couple of prostitutes who are neighbours, and with Louisa, the respectable wife of the aforementioned commanding officer, now also out of the army. When Lacey stumbles across a small riot in Hanover Square he gets involed in trying to right an injustice for the Thornton family whose daughter and maidservant have disappeared in suspicious circumstances. It leads to uncovering sordid goings on as Lacey digs for the truth and, if not a completely happy ending, there is a satisfying resolution. Lacy is an odd character, very up and down as you might expect from someone suffering from depression and probably a dollop of PTSD as well. He has a sense of honour that he can't really afford to indulge. I couldn't decide whether I liked him or whether I wanted to slap him senseless for being a stiff prig, and an idiot on occasions. What investigator in his right mind goes (without backup) to the home of the person who he considers to be the chief suspect, and right in front of the suspect's thug, trots out his speculative accusations? The historical background is well drawn and seems pretty accurate as far as I can work out.
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The PostAn American political thriller  directed and produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. It stars Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee. It's set  just before Watergate, when the Pentagon Papers are leaked exposing three decades of government lies about the Viet Nam War, involving four presidents. Graham is notable as being the first female owner/publisher of a major  American newspaper, and Bradlee as the tenacious Washington Post's editor. Though set in 1971 it addresses not only the actual scandle, but the battle for the freedom of the press involving both the New York Times and the Washington Post, themes still very much relevant today. Streep underplays Graham beautifully as she finds her courage. Hanks is a delight as the tough but consciencious editor.
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When Sir Harry Valentine moves in next door to the Bevelstokes, Olivia is intrigued by local gossip (that he murdered his fiancée) and sets out to spy on him--exceptionally ineptly, causing initial friction between them. (Let's be honest, they hate each other.) Harry knows a bit about spying, having joined the Hussars with his dashing cousin, Sebastian, survived the Peninsular Campaign, and moved on to working for the War Office. True, it's the boring part of the War Office since he's mostly translating Russian documents (thanks to his grandmother he speaks the language fluently) but he rather enjoys the quiet life. However when he gets instructions to spy on a Russian prince who has shown a marked interest in Miss Bevelstoke, things get interesting. Julia Quinn has given us an interesting hero with an intriguing family backstory which has given him the odd hangup. There's a plot (besides the romance) which works well and a terrific proposal scene. The secondary characters, particularly cousin Seb, are particularly well drawn. This is the followup to The Secret Diaries of Miranda Cheever. Julia Quinn is always worth reading. There's witty dialogue, a lot of humour, high excitement and the obligatory sex scene (which she writes well). It's light, frothy and very engaging.
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It's no good, I'm a sucker for Heyer's regency romances. The Marquis of Alverstoke is rich, influential, thoroughly spoiled and bored by almost everyone he meets… until Frederica Merriville, a very distant relative, applies to him for help in launching her beautiful younger sister into Regency society. He only agrees in order to give his annoying, pushy, sister a set down, but finds that whatever Frederica is, she's not boring. Gradually drawn into the chaotic Merriville family (which also includes two irrepressible boys) Alverstoke learns his lessons and the ending is as you might expect. It's not the ending (which was flagged up from very early on in the book) but it's how the characters get there that's the delight. I really liked this one. Alverstoke was never completely irredeemable, and Frederica had a huge dollop of commonsense.
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This is a mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. It's a blazing debut, well worth your time. The Smoke Eaters fight dragons and dragon-fires with high-tech gadgets in a post-collapse 22nd century America. It's a bleak future vision. Firefighter captain Cole Brannigan is pressed to take up service with the Smoke Eaters after 30 years in the fire service because they discover that he can breathe dragon smoke without choking on it. He'd been planning his retirement with his wife, but now his future looks very different. Dragons emerge from below, destroying neighbourhoods and eating the population. They've destroyed the infrastructure, made travel by road too dangerous to contemplate, and turned the USA into a collection of autonomous, isolated city states. And then there are the wraiths, ghosts of the consumed who manifest electrically and attract dragons like I attract mosquitos in summer. Brannigan goes from being a seasoned firefighter to a Smoke Eater rookie as he has to learn the job all over again, but he brings with him thirty years of firefighting experience, a stubborn attitude and a deep hatred for the mayor who seems to be intent on sacking public servants and replacing them with droids and drones. Brannigan is a great character. Strong on attitude but weak of bladder. How nice to have a sixty year old hero who gets the job done out of sheer cussedness and commonsense. The author is a firefighter and it shows in the detail and the knowledge – and very probably the attitude. Loved it. NOTE: I had this as a pre-release review copy from Netgalley.

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What a mess of a movie. The plot meanders and doesn't really go anywhere and even Matt Damon in his 'everyman' role can't quite lend it authenticity. The world's resources are finite but when a scientist discovers that humans (and animals) can be shrunk to a tiny fraction of their original size he thinks the problem is solved. All humanity has to do is shrink itself and the resources will go round a lot easier.  But, of course, this is (with one exception) voluntary and only a fraction of the population undergoes the process - and they are relegated to special cities built to accommodate them. Since they don't appear to have any industry I'm not sure where all the teeny-tiny washing mashines and teeny-tiny vacuum cleaners come from, but - hey - let's not get picky. Matt Damon's character is supposed to be shrunk with his wife, but when he wakes up, a mere five inches tall, she hasn't kept her part of the bargain. The rest of this is a meander through his pointless life, a messy divorce and eventually a love story as he meets someone very unlikely and gradually gets sucked into her life. Kudos to Hong Chau for her role as Damon's love interest, a Vietnamese refugee, made small as a punishment for dissidence.

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Prompted by Ursula LeGuin's passing I decided to re-read that much loved book for (probably) the first time in thirty years. It wasn't quite like reading it for the first time because I knew how Ged's struggle against the shadow would end, but I had forgotten a lot of the Journey and how the shadow came to be created in the first place. I first read this in my early twenties and took it as I found it – a great adventure filled with magic. Reading it again I realised how clever the worldbuilding is. Every inch of Earthsea lives. It's a tribute to Ms LeGuin that even when not on the page, you know that the characters are still living their lives. It's a rainbow world. Ged his red-brown. His friend Vetch is black brown. It begins with the boy who is to become Sparrowhawk/Ged (true names hold power and are never revealed except to the best of friends) who leaves his village on Gont to become a wizard's apprentice, and from there he travels to Roke to a serious school for wizards (as unlike Hogwarts as any school could be). Ged is a fabulous character, fully rounded with strengths and flaws. Trying to run before he can walk, he makes a mistake and eventually has to deal with it in his own way. It's a book about balance, responsibility and friendship. He starts out as a “wild, a thriving weed, a tall, quick boy, loud and proud and full of temper,” and grows not only in talent but in wisdom, too. If you haven't read it, read it. If you haven't read it recently, it's worth another look.
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If, like me, you thought La La Land was an insipid piece of fluff with no plot to speak of and unmemorable tunes, the Greatest Showman might restore your faith in Hollywood musicals. It's the Barnum story again, completely reimagined and with a set of great new songs. The cinematography is lush and the cast of characters (from Tom Thumb to the Bearded Lady) is larger-than-life while remaining sympathetic.

The personal story fits well alongside the public one

Hugh Jackman must be one of the most versatile actors on the planet. From Logan to Barnum -  from gritty action to stylish set pieces - he always seems to hit the right note, musically and theatrically. Zac Efron has grown up from his High School Musical days, and perfectly balances Jackman as ringmaster-in-training. Michelle Williams remains serene as Mrs Barnum, and special kudos to Keala Settle who plays the Bearded Lady with tremendous verve. There are so many charismatic performances in this movie, it's hard to pick one out as being the best.

This was tremendous fun. A good-hearted musical with memorable songs, terrific set pieces and a genuine feelgood factor.  I might go and see it again!

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This is a re-read of one of my favourite Diana Wynne Jones books. The first time I read it, I'd never been to a science fiction convention. Now I have and there are plenty of familiar things in here.

Rupert Venables is a magid charged with selecting a new magid-in-training after his mentor, Stan dies. Stan (as a ghost) is allowed to help in the selection process. What's a magid? Good question and even having read the book I'm not sure I can tell you succinctly. A magid is a magic user who protects and corrects matters any number of alternate worlds, guided by (sometimes very obliquely) entities 'above' who are supposed to know what's going on in the multiverse and guide it along. Confused? Not surprised, but just go along with it. Rupert is the youngest earth-based magid with only a couple of years' experience. Both his older brothers are magids too, which gives him someone to call on when things get sticky. And they're about to get very sticky very fast. The magids mostly keep magic away from ordinary people and there are 'deep secrets' which are for magids only. Some worlds have more magic than others. Earth is on the negative side. Rupert is designated to look after the Koryfonic Empire which is on the cusp of the magic positive/negative divide, but politically unstable. With the death of the emperor it seems to be open season on his heirs and Rupert is caught up in events there, while at the same time trying to hunt down the potential candidates for the new magid. In the end he hits on a plan to get them to come to him... at a science fiction convention. The only one he tries to keep away is Maree Mallory whom he has already crossed off his list because she's weird and they seem to hate each other on sight. But since the fate lines have all become twisted together, Maree turns up anyway together with her aunt, uncle (a writer) and her cousin, Nick. It all gets very complicated because it turns put that there are other magic users playing with the 'nodes' so the rooms in the hotel are never where they were left. it's a plot that ties events on earth with the problems in the Koryfonic Empire.

There's a lot to like in this book. Rupert is an appealing character, Maree and Nick grow on you, and the twisty plot keeps you on your toes. I didn't notice the first time I read it (I wasn't a writer then) but there's a section where Nick and Maree are on their own doing something extremely perilous while Rupert waits for them to return. They return and the plot continues, but for some reason Ms Jones chooses to tell that segment of the story at the end from Nick's point of view, which seems a bit out of place, though it has a nice little reveal at the end.

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This starts off well. The two main characters, mercenaries, are currently signed on as caravan guards to get to where they are going (to deliver something important). What immediately sets them apart is that one is a Dead Man, the one-time bodyguard of a now-dead caliph who hides his face behind a veil (only revealing his face to someone he's about to kill). The other is a Gage, a metal man created by a now-dead wizard. The Gage used to be a human, but physically there's nothing organic left. The Gage and the Dead Man have formed a good working relationship that has become a friendship.  Mrithuri, the young rajni of the Lotus Kingdom is beset my enemies. The message the two mercenaries carry is supposed to help her. In the meantime, in the kingdom next door, Mrithuri's cousin Sayeh is regent for her young son, and in an even more dangerous predicament as volcanic activity, and an army led by the Boneless and both vying to destroy her kingdom.

This book doesn't quite end on a cliffhanger but it's obvious that the biggest battle is yet to come, but the characters are all in place now and their relationships established. The world-building is rich and detailed with a strong flavour of southern Asia and a completely weird 'day-is-night' vibe going on with the 'cauled sun'

This is in the same world as Ms Bear's Eternal Sky trilogy, but set fifty years later with new characters. I haven't read the previous trilogy and I would say this easily stands alone.

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