This is why I have been away…

Standard

sjhigbee:

As my grandchildren have fallen completely for the loomband craze, I knew they would be blown away at these awesome examples of loom specialiness. And I’m equally impressed by Rutilly using them to help keep her depression at bay…

Originally posted on RuTilly's:

keepcarmrainbowloom

Yes the Loom craze has reached me here in Norfolk England. It has taken over my life but with a gladness as I have been struggling with my depression lately and have fallen behind with my reviews and posts and well just about everything except this crazy new addiction to making things out of loom bands. So at least in all the turmoil of my mind and feelings I am still doing something productive, even if it is just making bracelets and the like.

So here I am with this short post and just about as much as I can manage to write at the moment. To share with you my troubles and reason for not posting but also to share with you some of the things I have been making out of looms. I hope you enjoy them and I will do my best to try and make some more…

View original 115 more words

Review of Silver – Book 1 of the Silver series by Rhiannon Held

Standard

With my customary lack of organisation, I read the second book, Tarnished earlier this year – read my review hereSilver. Immediately I was struck by the strong characterisation and immediacy that Held managed to evoke with her werewolf society. This sub-genre has some strong authors who set the benchmark for newer arrivals – the likes of Kelley Armstrong, Patricia Briggs and Gail Carriger leave a long shadow. Does Rhiannon Held’s debut trilogy hit the mark?

The girl is running. She’s alone, a werewolf without a pack, a shape-changer who cannot change, an intruder in Roanoke’s territory. It’s Andrew Dare’s job to catch her, expel her, or kill her. He’s the enforcer, after all, in charge of security. But when he catches her at last, he finds someone he wants to protect, not kill. A tortured stranger who needs him… and who warns of a threat to all the packs of North America.

So there’s the blurb – Tor gets a gold star from me for a thoroughly good example of how to tease the reader without lurching into spoiler territory, other publishers please note…

Held pushes the envelope with her characters, particularly Silver. She has long conversations with Death and laments that the Lady has left her, right at the start of the book when we don’t know all that much about her. She doesn’t seem to be much more than a very damaged, mentally compromised stray from Andrew Dare’s viewpoint, either. At first…

The narrative arc is very well paced – the story grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. Even though I’d already read the second book, so had some idea of how the plotline progressed. Held kept events moving on, but still managed to give her characters time to develop so that we got to know their strengths and vulnerabilities and above, care about them. I’m a simple soul and although I can cope with protagonists who are revoltingly repellent, given the choice, I’d far rather read about someone who I have bonded with emotionally. Held gave me two strong, reasonably complex characters – one with an interestingly dark backstory that was revealed only in hints and allusions. I enjoyed the fact that Held didn’t see the need to tell her readers everything about the world or her characters right at the start of the story – or even at the end. This is the beginning of a trilogy, after all.

If you are feeling a tad jaded at the plethora of werewolf tales, give this particular series a go – it is different and thoroughly enjoyable. You may even find yourself reading the whole book in one greedy gulp, like me…
9/10

Review: Spikebreaker

Standard
Review: Spikebreaker

sjhigbee:

This review of ‘Spikebreaker’ by Gareth Lewis has piqued my interest – so I thought I’d share it with you, too…

Originally posted on Planetary Defense Command:

Royal CrownRoyal CrownRoyal CrownRoyal Crown

Four Royal Crowns
(4 out of 4 rating)

Spikebreaker is a story about a police unit which partners regular officers with telepaths. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it; I’m a sucker for anything which combines sci-fi and cops, but I wasn’t so sure about the psychic angle. After reading, I was impressed enough to check whether there were any sequels (there are none yet).

The Spoiler Dragon
MINOR SPOILERS BELOW – ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK

One of the things I enjoyed most about this story was its pacing/timing. There were several times when I was running through options in the back of my mind, wondering who could be behind things or what their motive might be, and then (bam!) a new attack would blindside me. The tension ratcheted up with each attack, painting a good picture of a desperate situation; I was reminded of how I felt when I was in…

View original 258 more words

Review of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Standard

This book was lent to me by one of my students with a strong recommendation – and she mentioned there was a slight fantasy spin on it, which piqued my interest. It’s ideal summer reading as a foil to the heatwave we’re experiencing right now…

the snow childAlaska, the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding – is she what she seems?

I have to confess I was concerned this would be one of those books long on literary descriptions and agonised self-examination at the expense of plot and action. But I needn’t have worried. The main protagonist is Mabel, and as the story unfurls, it is far grittier than it first seems. The descriptions of Alaska are wonderful – but this isn’t some soft-focused, tender evocation of a lost wilderness, although that is part of the package. However, it also is a grinding struggle for survival in an environment that takes no prisoners – those living there cannot afford any squeamishness and need to be physically and mentally tough.

Mabel nearly buckles during their second winter, while Jack is bowed by the weight of trying to establish his smallholding when past his physical prime. And then, one snowy night they build a small girl snowman after Mabel reads the Russian tale – and in the morning find that the mittens and hat they’d decorated it with are gone. And a pale-haired child is wearing them…

Is this some fantastic fairy tale come true? Ivey takes some time to answer that question – in the meantime, the child’s appearance in their lives changes Jack and Mabel, as does their growing relationship with their nearest neighbours. It took a couple of chapters, but once I became used to the pacing and relaxed into Ivey’s polished, straightforward prose, this book grabbed me and wouldn’t let go until the last chapter – which was a bittersweet shock.

It’s one of those books where you are left to make up your mind as to exactly what happened – which left me with a lump in my throat… It certainly isn’t a book I’m going to forget in a hurry and if you like unusual, unsentimental books that give a pitch perfect evocation of time and place, then track this down. It is beautiful, engrossing and left me with a complicated range of feelings that I only normally experience when watching my grandchildren play.
9/10

Thoughtful Thursdays

Standard

sjhigbee:

Yes… it’s hot. But brains should be able to spark in the sunshine. Here’s a scenario, courtesy of Lizzy Baldwin, to keep those grey cells ticking over!

Originally posted on mylittlebookblog:

20140619-141750-51470636.jpg
Good Morning Little Bloggers, it is once again Thursday. Quick confession to make here, I cannot believe how quickly the time is going. Two and a half weeks into my internship and although I’m finding it a little difficult I am really enjoying it. However, it has stopped me from being able to not only read but review as much as I would ultimately like to. However these posts are so brilliant as I get to read all the comments and really feel involved when I am away for a while. Today’s question revolves around a dinner party. Let me first set the scene; a beautifully set table, white bone china is placed perfectly in the centre of each beautifully woven place-mat, whilst a crisp white napkin lays folded by the glistening silver cutlery. The table is set for four places, each chair placed delicately around the circular table for…

View original 73 more words

Film review of Star Man

Standard

I dipped my toe into the past when I sat down to watch a re-run of this 1984 offering which I recalled blew me away when I first watched it. This American romantic science fiction film, directed by John Carpenter, tells the story of an alien who has come to Earth in response to the invitation found on the gold phonograph record installed on the Voyager 2 space probe. Problem is that his space ship is shot down and he finds he is being pursued by legions of police and a rather grim Robert Phaelen as Major Bell, whose single aim is to neutralise any threat from the visiting alien.

star man1Of course dear Jeff Bridges isn’t remotely threatening – in fact as he first emerges from his ship, he is nothing but a bunch of lights (think the eco-bulb version of the opening credits to Close Encounters of the Third Kind…). The first house he floats through belongs to recently bereaved Jenny Hayden, played by Karen Allen – using the cine film running and a lock of her dead husband’s hair, the light show morphs into Scott Hayden. So a lot of the film’s success hinges on whether Bridges’ characterisation is convincing as an alien inhabiting a human body. The answer has to be overwhelmingly yes. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for the performance and in my humble opinion, the fact he didn’t receive it means that he was robbed. Yep – I know that F. Murray Abraham was great as Salieri in Amadeus, but I still think the snob factor presided. Can’t have some old sci-fi film scooping the award, when it’s up against a biopic about Mozart, can we?

It wouldn’t have helped the film if Karen Allen’s performance hadn’t matched Bridges – and fortunately she plays the part perfectly. The real chemistry between them is too often missing in many modern, glossy big-budget productions. It was also interesting to note that the acting was on a smaller scale than we often see these days, going back to the more nuanced sophisticated style of the star man21940’s character-led films I still love watching.

So did this thirty-year-old film live up to my memory of it? After having to lie down in a darkened room to recover from the fact that it was thirty years ago when I first watched it – the answer is – yes. Even the soundtrack, often the aspect in 1980’s films that really graunches, works well, particularly at the admittedly really weepy and sentimental ending… But the acting throughout is exceptional and although there are special effects, they didn’t go all out for those – just as well, seeing how quickly they date. This film is principally about the characters and their progression. It is still floating around the various channels on TV and if you enjoy a spot of science fiction, give it a go. It’s worth it just for Bridges’ masterclass in how to act like an alien without any make-up.
9/10

Review of The Humans by Matt Haig

Standard

Anything written by Haig is worth picking up – read my review of The Radleys here, and The Last Family in England here. So when I came across The Humans, it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it up and take it home…

After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where he is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, Professor Andrew Martin is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confuse him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog. Who is he really? And what could make someone change their mind about the human race…?

the humansThis is where Star Man meets 3rd Rock From the Sun – only in book form. And while there are touches of humour, Haig-style, there is also heartache, too. Professor Andrew Martin isn’t a nice man – and the highly evolved alien revolted about all things human, yet still landed with the job of carrying out a secret and extremely important mission inhabiting his skin has to pick his way through Andrew’s dysfunctional relationships with his family. There are moments of humour – I loved the phone call with his mother and many of the conversations with his angry sixteen-year-old son, Gulliver. Mind you, I’d be fed up if my parents lumbered me with such a name – small wonder he gets bullied at school…

Amongst the general mayhem surrounding the alien’s mission, his constant surprise about human behaviour and the resultant, often humorous misunderstandings, there are some edged, pertinent observations on what exactly being human entails. This being Haig, they never tip into anything too pompous – but do make thought-provoking reading. Although Haig never loses sight of the fact that the primary function of a novel is to tell a story – and keeps the narrative tension pinging all the way through so that I sat down and read this book from cover to cover in one greedy gulp. It is one that I am going to return to, however. Haig manages to pack a great deal into a relatively slim volume by his spare, economical writing style that nevertheless can have me grinning like a loon on one page, and near to tears on the following page… It’s a neat trick to be able to pull off – and one very few writers can regularly achieve.

Any niggles? Well, the spell in America lost the vividness and punch I’ve come to associate with Haig’s prose – and that might well be the point – that he is so devastated, everything has melted into blandness. But it seemed a shame the prose had to follow suit. However, it is a relatively short interval in a remarkable book that pulls off a virtuoso performance rivalling Jeff Bridge’s outstanding performance as Scott Hayden in Star Man. Even if your taste doesn’t generally run to science fiction, give The Humans a go.
10/10

Death At The Priory – James Ruddick

Standard

sjhigbee:

I’m a sucker for Victorian whodunits – but here is a review of a real life puzzle…

Originally posted on Cleopatra Loves Books:

True Crime (historical) 4*'s

True Crime (historical)
4*’s

Poison was a familiar murder weapon in Victorian England with many a tale abounding of arsenic used to gain a fortune, do away with a rival or an inconvenient spouse.

In this book James Ruddick believes he has uncovered the real truth of the perpetrator of Charles Bravo’s death by poison in 1876. Charles Bravo was a rich man who suffered an agonising death spread over three days. Poison was the culprit and the inquest into his death lasted a lengthy five weeks with journalists sending stories to all corners of England’s vast empire, but no-one was ever convicted of his murder, the problem was there were just too many suspects.

This is a fascinating portrait of the time as well as being a real life murder mystery. Ruddick begins by detailing the facts as they were presented to the inquest; scandalous evidence that included adultery…

View original 196 more words

Review of Steelheart – Book 1 of The Reckoner series by Brandon Sanderson

Standard

By a curious coincidence, I read and reviewed another superhero book only a couple of weeks ago – see my review of Turbulence here. This novel is quite different, however…

steelheartTen years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of Man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule Man you must crush his will. Nobody fights the Epics… nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them. And David wants in. He wants Steelheart – the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning – and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience. He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

So there you have it, the blurb. And if you think it sounds chockfull of action, you’d be absolutely right. This book starts with a bang and doesn’t let up until the very last page. I really enjoyed this offering – it certainly presents a different spin on the whole sub-genre. Told in first person by a non-Epic human who is driven by the desire to be revenged for the death of his father, it is a story of what has happened to humankind since Epics started ruling the world. David has been obsessively studying the Epics and listing their strengths and weaknesses in readiness for moving against them. His character is the lynchpin of the story as we see the situation filtered through his perception – it was a smart move to start the action when David is a small child as we instantly feel more protective towards children and that opening scene demonstrates only too clearly just how grimly ruthless Steelheart is – and what lengths he’ll take to ensure his rule is absolute.

Not that there is any coherent rule throughout most of the country. So many flock to Newcago because although it is grim and in constant darkness, at least there is power and running water. Sanderson is an excellent worldbuilder and this gritted existence unfurls in amongst the action and adds to the tension pinging off the page. But being Sanderson, as well as providing excellent action and plenty of adventure, he also raises some pertinent issues along the way. If a tyrant provides a measure of protection and stability, does that consideration mean that rebels shouldn’t target him? After all, if they prevail a lot of innocent people will die… If that happens, doesn’t that put the rebels in the same amoral pit where the tyrant is residing?

As we are plunged straight into the action, without a lot of exposition, the readers gradually learn more about the Epics throughout the story, as well as the nature of the Reckoners, the desperate group trying to wrest some kind of control back from the Epics on behalf of a crushed humanity. The string of surprises and continual action had me reading late into the night to discover exactly what would happen – a couple of deaths early on in the story demonstrated that Sanderson wasn’t afraid to kill major characters, which certainly kept me attentive. And the climax was brilliant – a set piece where the stakes couldn’t be higher, with a number of unexpected twists thrown in for good measure. Overall, a thoroughly satisfying, entertaining read and I cannot wait to read the sequel, Firefight.
9/10

Film Review of How To Train Your Dragon 2

Standard

It’s always fun having the grandchildren to stay – and taking them to see a film is one of the treats I enjoy. So long as they enjoy the experience, too…

how to train your dragon 2When Hiccup and Toothless discover an ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the centre of a battle to protect the peace. This film is set five years after the first hit, How To Train Your Dragon, with many of the characters who featured in that film returning. Hiccup is now on the edge adulthood and his father, Stoick, is keen for him to start taking on some of the day to day responsibilities necessary for running Berk. But Hiccup is absorbed in mapping the world as it unfolds beneath him and Toothless, as they continue winging their way through the skies, skimming the sea.

In common with many modern cartoons, the special effects – particularly the flying scenes are beautiful, as well as exciting. However, unlike the dreadful Planes, this film actually has a strong storyline and characters we care about, so manages not to fall into the trap of merely producing a series of arresting skyscapes and a few set pieces. It doesn’t hurt that the franchise is based on the very successful series books of the same name by Cressida Cowell – see my review of the book How To Train Your Dragon here. While the storyline and the characters don’t follow the same path as those of the twelve-book series, there are sufficient similarities that the films can utilise some of the strong main characters Cowell has created.

Hiccup and his relationship with Toothless is central to this film – if we aren’t convinced their bond is crucial to both of them, thenhiccup & toothless the second half of the storyline simply won’t work. And it does… The touches of humour stopped it being too treacly – and the subsequent action then left me a bit poleaxed… Whatever I’d been expecting – it hadn’t been that.

SPOILER ALERT – So… was it a really enjoyable day out? Well, I loved the film and so did Frankie – but Oscar hated it. And if the children in your life have any issues around the loss of a father, I’d think twice before taking them to see it. While the quality of the film is excellent – I wouldn’t have taken the children to see it if I’d been aware of the whole story and who dies near the end.
9/10