Monthly Archives: July 2014

Review of the film The Time Traveler’s Wife


Released in the summer of 2009, The Time Traveler’s Wife is based on Audrey Niffenegger’s bestselling book of the same name, which I felt was an interesting, nuanced examination of a much hackneyed subject. There was a lot of anticipation around the film, given Brad Pitt’s involvement as one of the producers – especially after the postponement of the original release date back in 2008.

time traveler's wifeThe Time Traveler’s Wife follows the fortunes of Clare, (played by Rachel McAdams) and Henry (Eric Bana) after they meet in a library. However, this is far from being an everyday romance. Henry has a genetic condition causing him to travel in time – which makes it sound far more sedate and orderly than it turns out to be… Whenever he is stressed or upset, poor Henry is yanked out of his life and deposited elsewhere, minus his clothes. And that initial meeting in the library isn’t your average girl meets boy and falls in love, either. As their eyes meet, Clare lights up in delighted recognition – it turns out that she’s known Henry since she was a little girl as he regularly turned up in the meadow behind her house all through her life during his time-travelling episodes… Loving Henry comes at a very high price, however. They never know exactly when Henry will disappear – or reappear. And then there’s the unpleasant fact that Clare has never seen him any older than his early 40’s…

Throughout the film, Bana and McAdams both give solid performances and as the story winds to its climax, there are moments of real emotion. The fading palmprint of Henry’s hand on the window, near the end, is powerful and moving. However I did feel the script didn’t really give these two very capable actors a chance to really dig deep. Somehow the dialogue managed to slide over the surface of the huge subjects tackled in the film and the book. The odd touches of humour were effective, and I did wonder whether the screenwriter was hankering to turn this into a classic romantic comedy. He certainly did a real makeover on Henry, who isn’t nearly raggedly fraught enough as he finds himself continually sliding into another timeline, away from the family he loves. The supporting cast all do an excellent job and I particularly enjoyed Fiona Reid’s splendid portrayal of Clare’s tactless mother, while Ron Livingstone’s performance as Gomez is entirely satisfactory, given the limited scope of the role.

The cinematography is accomplished, with a deft use of lighting to underline the increasing sense of crisis, with the film’s settingstime traveler's wife.2 staying very true to the book. In fact, I was surprised at just how faithful the film was to the fragmented storyline – and here, for me, lies a major problem. I found myself continually recalling scenes from the book that underscored a particular emotion or issue touched on in the film. Like the book, the film skips between different timelines. However, unlike the book, we do not have the benefit of the strong narrative voice to steer us through, while the few grey hairs Bana displays to give us a clue as to which Henry we are watching are not a sufficiently strong visual prompt. I didn’t get confused, but I have a hunch that is because I’d already read the book. I believe that a voiceover a la Benjamin Button by either Henry or Clare would have given the viewer a much better sense of the timeline and a sharper feel for the characters.

While we get the odd nod to one of the issues raised by the book – ‘I never had a choice!’ McAdams yells as an infuriated Clare – the film seems too intent on conveying a classic Hollywood ‘love conquers all’ message. Whereas the book was far more interestingly ambivalent, particularly at the end.

All in all, while The Time Traveler’s Wife certainly doesn’t deserve the panning it has had from certain directions, neither is it the real masterpiece it could have been. The limited emotional range of the screenplay and reliance on old Hollywood clichés ultimately sold the actors and the audience short.



This is a lot longer and more detailed than my normal reblogs (or blogs) but this is an outstanding article with loads of detailed research on a fascinating subject…

Kone, Krusos, Kronos

A Wisdom Tale

“We lay veils upon their hearts lest they understand it…”

Qur’an (17:46)

Many years ago in my youth when I meet my Spiritual Teacher, I heard someone ask him what were his favorite movies, to my surprise he said:

“I love those movies, about Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba, The thief of Bagdad, and that type of movies.”

I was floored, an avid movie fan at the time I couldn’t figure out a man of his Spiritual realization would care for such cheese B movies made on the fifties, and sixties, with second rate actors like Steve Reeves, and other perhaps more memorable, like Douglas Fairbanks earlier and many others, since Hollywood love for the exotic, an adventures has been a cash cow, and every so many years they bring to the screen the tales of the Arabian Nights in a new form, with little, or any artistic relevance, .

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Review of Blood of Tyrants – Book 8 in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik


I have enjoyed this unusual alternate history series for two reasons – firstly, I’m a sucker for dragons and secondly, Novik’s handling of the main characters has been imaginative and skilful. She has managed to provide Termeraire and Laurence with a variety of challenges and different landscapes as they have roved across the planet trying to survive, or halt Napoleon’s ambition. See my review of Victory of Eagles here, my review of Tongues of Serpents here and my review of Crucible of Gold here.

Shipwrecked in Japan, along with no memory, Laurence quickly draws attention and becomes untangled (sic) in political intrigues blood of tyrantsthat could not only prove deadly to him, but also destroy England’s position in the Far East. Old enmities and suspicions have turned the region into a powder keg, and Temeraire’s search for his captain may unwittingly ignite the gunpowder, providing new enemies for Britain just when they most desperately need friends. Napoleon has turned on his former ally, Emperor Alexander, and is leading an army of unimaginable size to the gates of Moscow.

And there you have most of the back cover blurb – complete with spelling blooper… Shame on the editor who let that through – if traditional publishers cannot even provide a faultless cover, they are thoroughly letting down their authors. However, in fairness, I don’t recall seeing any mistakes within the reasonably long book. But then I was seriously engrossed in the story…

This is, for my money, one of the best instalments in this long-running series for a long time – and as you’ll see from my reviews, this isn’t to say that any of the books have been bad. But I loved the opening, which immediately took us away from the familiar scenario. And while Laurence and Temeraire have been separated in the past, Laurence’s amnesia takes him back in time to before he met and bonded with Temeraire – so the crisis in their relationship is that Laurence isn’t even aware of what he has lost. As ever, Novik’s restrained 19th century feel in her prose still managed to depict all the emotional undercurrents which means that I really care about the protagonists and remain hooked by the storyline.

I love Temeraire, anyhow – the impulsive, hot-headed nature of the dragons always comes across very clearly. But if you haven’t read this series before – don’t begin at this point, go back to the first book Temeraire – while Novik is far too skilful to keep any stray readers adrift for long, there is so much enjoyable, riveting backstory you are denying yourself if you plunge in that this point in the narrative arc. However, while listening to Temeraire squabbling with Iskierka may lull you into a sense of their charming contrariness – seeing how the Russian ferals behave also provides an insight into why the Russian military treat their dragons with such savagery. It comes from fear…

This book tips into the beginning of one of the most remarkable and terrible times in history – Napoleon’s foray into Russia. This dragon-added version is no less gripping – and those of you who may have some knowledge of the historical facts will appreciate Novik’s exhaustive research and clever weaving of fact with fiction that has been the hallmark of this series. As for me – I was bitterly disappointed when the book came to the end, which is always a symptom of a really good read – and very much looking forward to the next slice of Laurence and Temeraire’s adventures. If you haven’t come across this series, I highly recommend it.

Reave (Reave #1) by C. Miller


This review from Hannah caught my eye as I’ve been considering adding Reave to my teetering pile of To Be Read…



Fantasy, Romance


How far would you go to be free—to make your own choices without being subjected to punishment for doing what you felt was right? Could you kill for it?

After being abandoned by her father as a child, Aster spent ten years of her life as a servant for the leader’s House in the broken city of New Bethel. She’d known, even as a child, that the cities of her world were corrupt places with human monsters—assassins—running rampant between their high walls.

Thinking everything will remain the same as it always has there, Aster is startled to discover that one day . . . the cycle breaks. As a young new leader takes a strange and—at times—horrifying interest in her, will she be capable of discovering the reasons behind his actions and orders?

In a world where nothing is as it seems and all things…

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Review of The Spirit Rebellion – Book 2 of the Eli Monpress series by Rachel Aaron


Rachel Aaron also writes as Rachel Bach and is author of the thoroughly enjoyable science fiction Paradox series – read my review of Fortune’s Pawn here and my review of Heaven’s Queen here. So would I like her fantasy anti-hero Eli Monpress?

Eli Monpress is brilliant. He’s incorrigible and he’s a thief. He’s also still at large, which drives Miranda Lyonette crazy. Things are about to get exciting for Eli. He’s picked a winner for his latest heist. His target: the Duke of Gaol’s famous ‘thief-proof’ citadel. But when he goes head to head with one of the richest men in the world, will he have met his match?

spirit rebellionI read the first book The Spirit Thief and although I enjoyed it, this sub-genre isn’t my absolute favourite. But knowing that this author is worth reading, I continued with the second book – and suddenly really bonded with the characters. It helps that each one of them is in serious trouble in this book. Both protagonists, Miranda and Eli, are accomplished and powerful, so ensuring they both suffer major reverses that truly threatens them takes some canny plotting.

We also learn more about Joseph and Nico, Eli’s sidekicks in this book and the story encompasses their own character journeys more comprehensively during this book. One of the intriguing aspects that makes it compulsive reading, is while each book takes us on a slice of Eli’s life, there is also a larger story arc involving the likes of the Storm Lord and the Shepherdess. They occasionally turn up and clearly have some sort of interest in the main characters – though we get the strong impression that attracting their interest is invariably a Bad Thing.

The world building is deftly managed, with magical system and environment that hang together without overlong explanations. I love the notion that everything has its own spirit and wizards simply have the ability to communicate with these spirits and can persuade or dominate, depending on whether they are good or bad, while humans are deaf to these spirits. Aaron manages to get some nice touches of humour in many of these interactions, which keeps the books from getting too grittedly earnest, which can be one of the hallmarks of epic fantasy.

The story zips along with plenty of excitement – Aaron is very good at writing fights. We get plenty of action, bloodshed and excitement, along with the character reactions and I was unable to put the book down until I discovered exactly what happened to everyone. The climax was a real achievement – everyone was fully involved, which is far harder to pull off when following a group of characters than Aaron makes it look. She also ties up the storylines threading through the book completely satisfactorily – although thanks to those big powerful characters lurking in the background, we are aware that Eli and Miranda have a slew of adventures waiting for them in the next instalment.

If you enjoy fantasy and appreciate plenty of action and humour, along with an engaging magical system, then track down this series – it’s worth it.

How to Find a Quiet Place to Relax in a Crowded Foreign City


Now we’ve hit the holiday season, Rita’s excellent article gives timely advice on how to really decompress while away…

The Anxious Traveler

Do you often come back from a trip and feel like you need a “vacation to recover from your vacation?”  You’re not alone.

Many people feel this way because they didn’t let themselves decompress at any time while they were away.  Given the greater emotional and physical energy exerted during a trip, it’s easy to feel drained or overstimulated during and after travel.   Finding a tranquil place to relax and regroup during your trip is one of the most obvious ways to prevent mental or emotional burnout — and keep every day of your vacation feeling (almost) like the first day you arrived.

Unfortunately, traditional “quiet” places may turn into anything but if everyone else decides to go there for their own relaxation.  Think of oceanside cafés that get so loud you can’t hear the waves washing up; well-known churches that sound like malls inside; and parks that put you…

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Review of Shattered – Book 7 of the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne


This long-running and established godpunk series is still going strong, with a number of short stories and novellas also adding to the main novels, which is why this sixth novel is regarded as the seventh addition to the series. So has Hearne managed to sustain the quality and chirpy energy that characterised the earlier books? Though if you haven’t yet read any of these books, please don’t start with Shattered as this series is simply too good to dive in and try to pick up the complicated and action-packed backstory – go and track down the first book, Hounded, see my review here. I’ve also reviewed the third book, Hammered here.

For nearly two thousand years, there was only one Druid left walking the earth – Atticus O’Sullivan, whose sharp wit and sharp swordshattered kept him alive when pursued by a pantheon of hostil deities. Now he’s got company. Atticus’s apprentice, Granuaile, is finally a full Druid herself. What’s more, Atticus has defrosted an archdruid long ago frozen in time, a father figure (of sorts) who goes by the name Owen Kennedy. Between busting Atticus’s chops and trying to fathom a cell phone, Owen has some catching up to do. For Atticus, the jury’s still out on whether he’ll be an asset in the battle with Norse god Loki – or merely a pain in the arse. As the trio deals with pestilence-spreading demons and frenzied Fae, they’re hoping that this time… three’s a charm.

There are relatively few series that I follow longer than Book 4, because they all tend to get steadily grimmer with each book – for the very good reason that in order to keep readers entertained, the stakes have to continue to be raised. However Hearne has managed to pull off a really clever trick – despite the fact that the Big Bad is definitely closing in, the sparky humour that characterised the earlier books is still very much in evidence. Partly this is because of Atticus’s relationship with his hound, Oberon, who has a thing for sausages and poodles, and partly because Owen’s voice in this particular book just bounces off the page. After being defrosted after two thousand years, he is the ultimate grumpy old git and the friction with his former pupil, who he clearly ruled with the ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ method of training provides an entertaining extra twist of conflict. It was interesting to see his interaction with characters who treat Atticus with caution, or outright hostility and gave us another take on some of the characters who we have only ever regarded previously as potential enemies.

I really enjoyed the three-way first person narrative by the main protagonists. It certainly keeps the plot humming while we swing between them as they face different challenges and dangers. It takes real skill to be able to give each character a different voice, but Hearne pulls it off. As ever, the world is vividly depicted with a host of intriguing, dangerous and capricious gods, goddesses and other supernatural beings – even Jesus makes an appearance.

The other main character is Atticus’s apprentice and in this book, when she is off adventuring in her own right, we also get a slice of her backstory. I really enjoyed her character progression – the fact that she is very environmentally aware and worries about killing in a way that simply doesn’t affect either Atticus or Owen marks her out as more modern. Her story that is the one which has stayed with me – and the dangling plotpoint that leaves her dealing with a major problem means I shall be eagerly waiting for the next book, Staked. Not to mention getting to sample more of fecking Owen Kennedy… This is a series that just goes on getting better.

Review of My Real Children by Jo Walton


This is the latest offering from one of my favourite fantasy authors – would I like it as much as her other work?

The day Mark called, Patricia Cowan’s world split in two.
The phone call.
His question.
Her answer.
A single word.
It is 2015 and Patricia Cowan is very old. ‘Confused today’ read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War – those things are solid in her memory. Then that phone call and… her memory splits in two.

my real childrenThis book is different from anything else that Walton has written – but then books with a storyline like this aren’t exactly crowding the bookshelves. By a spooky coincidence, I’ve recently read and reviewed Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which is the nearest book to My Real Children that I’ve come across – although there are some important differences. Patricia’s life apparently divides at a particular point in her life, when a single event and two decisions cause two different futures to come to pass – so this is more Sliding Doors than Groundhog Day.

There is also a real sense of ambiguity about the whole business – Patricia is suffering from dementia and has been battling with it for some time. So… is this a complex illusion brought about by a damaged brain? At this point, the two alternate lives seem to collide – she gets muddled as to which nursing home she is living in and although she hasn’t yet mixed up the children, she knows it will only be a matter of time. The impact of her different lives doesn’t just affect her family – the world is quite a different place and I found this to be a fascinating consequence. Intriguingly, it wasn’t the life where she was fulfilled and happy that had the best outcome…

This isn’t a doorstop-sized tome, so of necessity – given the span of years that it covers – Walton has had to skim over quite a lot of important events in order to fit it all in. But I didn’t feel that I’d been short-changed in any way. Like Life After Life, there are some bleak, miserable periods and terrible events interspersed with shafts of happiness and examples of human goodness. Unlike Life After Life, the worst of the savagery isn’t always visited upon Patricia. Walton is excellent at summoning up the feel of an era and I was intrigued to note how nostalgia steadily drifts into alternate history, as political events increasingly diverge from our own timeline. Focused as I was on Patricia’s personal story, it took a while for the penny to drop – but when I went back and reread the sections, I was able to appreciate the subtlety Walton employs with occasional mentions of events, before the shock of the major crisis which changes the whole political backdrop forever…

Walton always writes with intelligence and coherence, giving this story an interesting twist at the end arising out of her misery when trapped in her miserable marriage, thus making a remarkable and memorable read even more so. I found it fascinating that Patricia’s greatest contribution was when she was most oppressed – a stark contrast to all those feel-good lifestyle coaching gurus, whose starting point is that in order to fulfil a destiny, we need to be personally fulfilled and happy. If you enjoyed Life After Life, track down My Real Children – it is every bit as engrossing, with a stronger more convincing ending. Walton just goes from strength to strength and this book establishes her as one of the foremost and most interesting writers of her generation in any genre.

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


With my customary lack of organisation, I read the second book, Tarnished earlier this year – read my review here. Immediately I silverwas 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…

Review: Spikebreaker


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

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

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…

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