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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in alobear's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, February 19th, 2017
11:35 am
Thursday, February 16th, 2017
9:05 pm
Mieville Moments
The category for February in the Wordy Birds reading challenge was a book with animals in it. Three Moments of an Explosion is a short story collection by China Mieville, and several of the stories feature animals, so I hope that counts!

Some of the stories I loved, some I hated, and some I didn’t understand at all, which is about par for the course with my response to Mieville’s writing. Several of his books are among my all-time favourites, whereas there are others I didn’t get on with at all, so I suppose a short story collection was likely to be quite literally a mixed bag.

Interestingly, the stories that featured animals were the ones I liked least.

‘Sacken’ tells of a couple who go on holiday and accidentally disturb the restless spirit of a woman who was drowned in a sack with various animals. I think it was a cat, a dog and a snake, though I didn’t want to revisit the story to check. It’s horribly creepy, and has really stayed with me, and not in a good way.

‘After The Festival’ is about three people who are possessed by the heads of animals that they wear as part of a weird street festival. Enough said.

‘Estate’ depicts the hunting of flaming stags, their antlers set alight before they are released into the streets of cities around the world to be tracked down by young malcontents. It’s pretty graphic in places, and very unpleasant.

My favourite of the stories was ‘Dreaded Outcome’, which doesn’t have any animals in it at all, but tells the tale of a therapist who identifies people she feels are obstacles to her patients’ recovery - and assassinates them.

Many of the stories were quite nebulous - an intriguing premise explored up to a point, but not really explained or resolved. This generally doesn’t bother me in fiction as, done well, it can create quite a powerful impact and leave you both satisfied and unsatisfied in a way that kind of works. Overall, the collection felt like a series of brief windows into China Mieville’s mind, which is a weird and quite disturbing, but also fascinating, place.
Sunday, February 12th, 2017
6:06 pm
Double Shakespeare and Victorian Dragons
Many thanks to Corone for providing tickets to the current double bill of Shakespeare comedies at the Haymarket. A friend and I had two lovely consecutive Friday nights out at the theatre as a result.

First up was Love's Labours Lost, a play I'm not very familiar with, having only come across it from the 2000 Alicia Silverstone/Nathan Lane film version (there are lots of other famous people in it, but weirdly those are the only two I remembered before looking it up).

Anyway, the Haymarket production was great fun, and it was a very enjoyable experience. The set was amazing, featuring the frontage of a castle, complete with two turrets, and a moving platform that provided several different interiors. There were lots of lovely comedic touches in the interpretation, with various aspects of the staging and movement of the cast adding a great deal to the overall tone. As one would expect from Shakespeare, there was some great linguistic humour as well, though I thought the Nine Worthies show went on a bit too long. I loved the 1910s period setting and costumes, and I thought the cast was generally very good. But the teddy bear absolutely stole the show! He was used to great effect in one particular scene, and I exclaimed just as loudly as his owner when one of the other characters threatened to drop him off the castle roof. The ending of the play was a bit downbeat for a comedy, but it did allow for a very nice lead-in to the next week's production, which featured the same cast in a very similar setting.

That production was Much Ado About Nothing, one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, and definitely the one I know best, having seen many differed stage versions (and having watched the Kenneth Branagh film version too many times to count). That was perhaps a slight disadvantage in this case, since I was always comparing this version to others I've seen, but it was generally very well done. I had two issues with it, though. One was that the teddy bear didn't make an appearance, since he was my favourite character from the previous show. The other was the interpretation of Dogberry. He's one of the few of Shakespeare's clowns that I actually find funny, and I usually have no problem laughing at him, as he is generally presented as pompous and self-important, and is rendered comical by his misplaced desire to impress his compatriots and betters via his speech. However, in this production, he was presented as palsied and cognitively impaired, which made him rather a pitiable figure, and rendered the audience's mirth at his expense quite uncomfortable. Still, overall, I enjoyed the production, and thought the cast did a very good job.


This week, I also finished listening to A Natural History of Dragons, the first in the Lady Trent Memoirs series by Marie Brennan. It's narrated by a lady from an alternate-Victorian history, who has made a career of studying dragons, and relates her adventures from the vantage-point of several decades in the future. This book charts her childhood, adolescence, marriage and first overseas voyage, and is tremendous fun. In fact, not even the inclusion of my most hated pet peeve in fiction, right at the end, could significantly dent my enjoyment of the book as a whole, and I will most definitely be carrying on with the rest of the series. The narrator was also extremely good, which always helps, and I very much look forward to having her relate more of Lady Trent's adventures to me in the near future.
Tuesday, February 7th, 2017
9:09 am
Sunday, January 29th, 2017
1:03 pm
Sable and Crystal
My latest audiobook was A Study in Sable, Book 11 in Mercedes' Lackey's Elemental Masters series. This one was a slight departure in that it featured characters from another author's work - namely Sherlock Holmes and John and Mary Watson. The other main characters were Nan and Sarah, who have been in several of the other books in the series, so it was a lot of fun to revisit them and see them interacting with Holmes and Watson. The book cast Dr Watson as an elemental mage, who used his powers to solve the more esoteric cases that Holmes wouldn't take on, and the dynamic between them was amusing, since Holmes refused to believe that magic was real. The plot was rather fractured, and felt a bit episodic to begin with, but it came together towards the end, and there was a real team effort from the two girls, Holmes and both the Watsons. Overall, it was very entertaining, though pretty light and rather silly.


The best entertainment of last week, though, was our trip to the Crystal Maze. There were seven of us, and our team was called The Enemy's Gate is Down, an Ender's Game reference, which our maze master got and really appreciated. He was Aberdeen Angus, and he really threw himself into his role as our guide and time-keeper. He gave us a few hints here and there, kept our energy up, and proved an entertaining and friendly presence in the maze. We elected David as our team captain, and he did a very good job of selecting game types and team members to undertake them.

Our opening salvo in the Industrial Zone was a rather dismal failure, netting us no crystals. Luckily, Andy was the only one to get locked in (after an unfortunate encounter with some bells on a rope web) and he managed to puzzle his own way out, so we weren't forced to leave him behind. David also got locked in during our time in the Futuristic Zone, attempting to work his way through some quite impossible lasers, and we did relinquish a crystal to get him out.

However, every team member contributed to getting at least one crystal, and Simon was declared man of the match of getting three, one for every game he tried! So, we went into the dome with nine crystals and 45 seconds on the clock. The dome was a lot of fun, and I quickly discovered that the best way to get golden tickets was to stand near the fans and then collect them from my t-shirt.

The whole thing was tremendous fun, and I would urge everyone to go and play, if they get the opportunity.
Sunday, January 22nd, 2017
3:40 pm
Magic and Mystery, Determination and Despair
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is my tenth fantastic reading experience in a row, so I’m definitely on a roll!

It tells the story of a mysterious magical circus, which serves as the battleground for a years-long competition between two rival magicians. But it’s so much more than that.

I found the book instantly engaging. The narrative is interspersed with passages in the second person, which allow the reader to feel as if they are really inside the circus, and also chart the reader’s progress through the book itself. I also liked the slow build of the main storyline, which initially isn’t connected to the circus at all, and takes a long time to become clear.

The interweaving of the two different timelines is masterfully done, building a real sense of momentum towards the point when they finally converge. In the meantime, the wonderful array of characters, and the complexities of their interactions and significance, provide a rich and fascinating tapestry of experience. I quickly became invested in them all, regardless of their likeability or moral compass. In fact, all the characters are very well rounded and believable, with both good and bad qualities. It’s a long while before a clear antagonist can be identified, and my sympathies and support fell on both sides of the mysterious central conflict for most of the book.

The narrative demonstrates very deliberate and very effective use of the passive voice, which is a tricky thing to get right, and generally frowned upon. However, it’s clear that every instance here is precisely chosen for a particular purpose, which it executes perfectly.

I sometimes get impatient with books that contain a lot of mystery and suspense, wanting to skim just to find out what’s going to happen or what’s actually going on. In this case, whilst I found the mysteries highly engaging, I enjoyed the journey of the story so much that I didn’t want to rush it at all.

My favourite aspect of the book, though, is the presentation and exploration of fandom. The dedicated fans of the circus are described with a great deal of affection, and their attitudes, behaviour and interactions are very accurate in terms of my own experience of such things. One of the characters encounters them towards the end of the novel, and his time with them reminded me incredibly strongly of occasions when I’ve gone alone to fan conventions and been adopted by wonderful people with a sense of instant belonging and community. So, it was refreshing and very enjoyable to find that represented so beautifully in a novel.

I got increasingly concerned about how the story might end, but I was very satisfied with all aspects of its conclusion, and I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy. If anything, it reminded me superficially and tonally of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, though it is also very much its own, very wonderful beast.


Yesterday, I also went to see Jackie, which turned out to be just as good as I had been led to believe. It was smaller in scope than I had expected, dealing with only the week immediately after the Kennedy assassination, but also greater in exploration of theme. It was rather like a pair of mirrors set opposite one another, and creating infinite reflections. On the surface, it was about performance versus reality, and purported to reveal the truth behind how Jackie presented both herself and her husband in the aftermath of his death. But, of course, the presentation of that ‘truth’ was itself a performance within the film, and the film-makers presumably made deliberate decisions about what to include and what to leave out, in order to create the message they were aiming for.

Natalie Portman was amazing, in a film that was largely made up of extreme close-ups, and I can’t now recall if there was actually a scene she wasn’t in - if there was, it wasn’t many. She gave a very complex portrayal of a woman dealing with extreme circumstances while under the microscope of the world’s gaze. And it was an impressive, and multi-layered performance - showing both strength and weakness, hope and despair, determination and collapse.

I also thought the structure was clever and well executed. The narrative was very fractured, jumping about in rapid succession between different time periods. This emphasised the trauma experienced by the protagonist very effectively, as well as reflecting all the various memories and thoughts that were jumbled up in her mind. It was a very intimate film, and not always comfortable viewing, but I'm glad I went.
Monday, January 16th, 2017
4:07 pm
It made me laugh, it made me cry...
It's been a varied couple of weeks for entertainment, but largely excellent.

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So, a whole range of emotions, reactions and experiences to start off the year - long may it continue!
Saturday, January 7th, 2017
6:34 pm
First reviews of 2017 - a mixed bag
Lots of fun stuff to report already in 2017! It doesn't look like my plan to do fewer things is working out so far...

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Monday, January 2nd, 2017
2:23 pm
Total Review Stats for 2016
 
There have been plenty of bad things about 2016 in both a global and a personal sense - however, it has also been an amazing year for me in terms of my writing, and I've had a lot of fun with family and friends, as well as consuming a great deal of awesome media.
 
Film & TV:
Positive – 33 (83%)
Negative – 7 (17%)
 
Books:
Positive – 24 (89%)
Negative – 3 (11%)
 
Live Entertainment:
Positive – 24 (92%)
Negative – 2 (8%)
 
Audiobooks:
Positive – 25 (81%)
Negative – 6 (19%)
 
Games:
Positive – 6 (75%)
Negative – 2 (25%)
 
Reviews total for first half of 2016:
Positive – 112 (85%)
Negative – 20 (15%)
 
Strongly positive overall, as per usual, though more negative audiobook reviews than I remember having before.  I tend to listen to series on audiobook, and a couple are suffering from diminishing returns at the moment, so perhaps I need some new material.  I'm glad my number of physical books read picked up a bit towards the end of the year - I think I was subscribed to too many magazines this year and lost a lot of reading time to those.
2:10 pm
253 - one of my favourite books of 2016
253 by Geoff Ryman was recommend to me by a couple of people I met at NAWG Fest back in September.  It tells the stories of 252 passengers (plus driver) on a fictional Bakerloo tube train, travelling between Waterloo and Elephant & Castle one morning in January 1995.  This was the first thing that took me by surprise, as I'd never heard of this book before and had assumed it was only a couple of years old.  It's not a spoiler to say that the driver falls asleep and the train goes through the barriers at Elephant & Castle, since this is revealed right at the start.  While the crash adds tension to the rest of the book, though, it's really the exploration of all the different people on the train that provides the interest in the book.

Each passenger has a page of the novel, which contains 253 words about them - their outward appearance, brief background, and a couple of paragraphs about what they are thinking or doing on the train.  Described liked that, the book sounds as if it would be interminably dull - however, I found it so absorbing that I read it in two days, during a New Year house party!

Every passenger is brilliantly introduced and described, so as to get the reader really invested in what might happen to them later.  I loved every single description, and found myself cheering inwardly every time someone got off at Waterloo or Lambeth North, knowing they had then escaped doom.  The connections between the various passengers are really well drawn, whether they knew each other before getting on the train or not, and some of those connections don't become apparent until quite late on.  The intricacies of how it all fits together are amazing.

I did have suspend quite a lot of disbelief to accept the idea of a rush hour tube train only containing as many passengers as there are seats (even back in 1995, I would imagine this would have been very unlikely), and some of the weirder aspects (William Blake, Anne Frank) didn't quite work for me, but overall I absolutely loved this book.  The end sections were much briefer and more nebulous than I was expected, but this didn't matter as the ultimate fate of the train was very much not the point.  Masterful storytelling and a very original format - plus the fake adverts scattered throughout were hilarious, both in and of themselves and for how the internet was viewed back in the mid 1990s.

2:00 pm
Games ahoy!
Of course, New Year involved discovering new games:

Viticulture
This struck me as kind of a cross between Fresco and Village.  It's a worker placement game, where you have to plant red and white grapes in your available fields, harvest them, crush them into different types of wine, and get points by fulfilling wine orders from your cellars.  There are plenty of options of things to do - building structures to aid your production, entertaining visitors to your vineyard for various benefits, training new workers to increase your team, etc.  I really enjoyed it - even though I didn't pick up any white grapes at all, until right at the end when my fields were already full, so the types of wine orders I could fill were a bit restricted.

Galaxy Trucker Missions:
This is an expansion I got for Christmas, introducing various characters, types of cargo and flight instructions from the digital version into the tabletop version of the game.  It turned out to be much more varied and fun than I was expecting, as the pack of mission cards had different variations to those in the digital game, so there were new and interesting things to do.  Adding extra heavy, radioactive, explosive and fragile cargo to the tabletop game makes things quite tricky, but very entertaining, and shipbuilding is made even more complicated by the alien artifacts.  We particularly enjoyed a mission where we gained points for losing components from our ships (made for better stories at the bar afterwards!), which required building the ships badly enough that lots would be lost, but not so badly that we were forced to give up on the flight.

Pandemic Contagion:
This is a competitive variation of Pandemic where you play the diseases and the goal is to wipe out a certain number of cities and gain more points than your opponents by having the most contagion in each city when it falls.  It was quite fun, though I did very badly indeed and was about twenty points behind at the end.  It was all about making the most of event opportunities, while balancing picking up and spending cards to do the various actions.  I didn't feel like I had enough time to get the hang of it in one play, so it might be worth trying again another time.

Friday, December 30th, 2016
10:46 am
Of course there are more reviews!
Another book mentioned in my Bibliotherapy session, but not part of the official prescription was Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, edited by Leah Price.  It's a lovely little hardback book in landscape format, taking the form of interviews with writers about their relationship with books, accompanied by photographs of their home libraries.  I'd heard of less than half the writers (Alison Bechdel, Stephen Pinker, Philip Pullman, Lev Grossman) but it was still interesting to read all the different answers to questions about storing, reading, buying, disposing of, marking up, and lending books.  I always like seeing how other people store their books, too, so the photographs were also engaging.  I believe there are others in this series, focusing on different professions, so I may well look up a few more.

Thursday, December 29th, 2016
11:36 am
Last reviews of 2016!
Passengers somehow turned out to be completely different to what I was expecting and also really good.  Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence were both excellent in quite difficult parts, the story was very much a slow build but all the more effective for it, and the film raised some very interesting questions about moral relativism.  There are plenty of things I could criticise about the characterisation, plotting and other aspects, but I was gripped throughout, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, so I think on the whole the film stood up to scrutiny very well.  There were some lovely touches, some amazing CGI, some rather tense bits, and a very well developed relationship that went through multiple ups and downs.  So, overall, recommended.


Magic for Beginners is a collection of short stories by Kelly Link.  I bought it because she was an author mentioned by my bibliotherapist, though not part of the official prescription.  The stories are very weird, and very little is actually explained in any of them, but they all transported me to an interesting place, where I was very happy to spend time.  Some were a bit unpleasant, and some were more bizarre than others, but they were generally very immersive, and it didn't bother me that they had no rationale.  I was quite content for these worlds to be as they were, living by their own strange rules, and I felt quite privileged to be able to glimpse them and wonder at them.  I particularly enjoyed the first story in the collection, which was about a magic handbag that contained an entire world of its own, which ran on different time.  The only thing that jarred with me was the seemingly arbitrary changes between past and present tense, but this was presumably more calculated than I could fathom, and didn't detract enough from the narratives to be a real problem.


The Incarnations by Susan Barker was another book mentioned by my bibliotherapist that didn't make it onto the official recommended list, but I bought it anyway because it sounded interesting - and it was.  I read it in five days over Christmas and was enthralled throughout.  It tells the story of a Beijing taxi driver, Wang, who receives letters from someone claiming to have shared his past lives.  The book moves between the present-day struggles of Wang (his relationships with his father, his stepmother, his wife and his daughter are all complex and explored in detail) and the letter writer's descriptions of their lives in various parts of China's rich history.  The past lives are all brutal and full of violence and betrayal, and the way in which they eventually tie into Wang's present and own personal history are intricate and surprising.  There's a lot of unpleasantness in this book, and I didn't feel particularly connected to any of the characters, but it kept me coming back at every opportunity to read more.  It also employed two writing aspects that my own writing is often criticised for - telling rather than showing, and overuse of the passive voice.  I noticed them because my mind has been trained to, but they didn't strike me as faults in this particular book, which has been widely praised.  So, I'm not sure what to make of that.  I think it was the richness of the storytelling, and the unfamiliarity of the lives described that engaged my interest so completely - I certainly found the storytelling impressive and the subject compelling.


Two new games played over Christmas:

Sushi Go - a fun, quick card game where you have to collect different combinations of sushi, whilst passing the hands of cards around to the other players.  It's definitely more strategic with two, but perhaps more fun with five.  A good time-filler.

Istanbul - this is a worker placement game with an interesting twist.  The board tiles can be reconfigured to make it easier or more difficult to move around.  You also have a limited number of minions and you have to leave one behind or pick one up at each stop in order to use the action on the tile.  So, it's important to keep track of where your minions are and how quickly you can collect them back up again.  I found the game appealed to my style of gameplay - it was very difficult to plan ahead as the other players would likely get in the way, so it was useful to be able to change plans at a moment's notice when it came to your turn.  There were many different ways to obtain the resources to win the game, so the options of where to go each turn were numerous, and the reconfiguration of the tiles allows for endless re-playing.  We played five times in the course of three days, which suggests that everyone really enjoyed it!  I did worse on each play, but still had fun, which is another sign of a good game.

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016
12:20 pm
Bibliotherapy
I recently signed up for a Bibliotherapy session at The School of Life.  This involved me completing a very in-depth and fascinating questionnaire all about my reading habits and relationship to books, then attending an hour-long session which comprised further discussion of my reading experience and preferences.  I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process, and would definitely recommend it.

The result was a 'prescription' of six suggested books to broaden my reading and introduce me to potential new authors to try.

I have now finished two of the recommended volumes to date, and very much enjoyed both of them:

The Power by Naomi Alderman tells of a world where fifteen-year-old girls discover they can electrocute people at will, using a strange gland under their collarbones.  New girl babies begin to be born with the power, and the teenagers can pass it along to older women.  So, before long, it's a global phenomenon, which seriously alters the power dynamic between men and women.

I identified several flaws in the writing.  There was an awful lot of exposition, telling the reader of events rather than showing them (though I've never been an advocate of the idea that everything in a book should be shown and not told, so this didn't bother me that much).  The chronology was complex and the switching between tenses felt rather muddled in places, similarly with the point of view at times.  I felt that some of the characters bordered on cliche, and the swearing (though realistic) got a bit much for me by the end.

However, all that aside, I was completely gripped by the story throughout, and found it difficult to put the book down - one of the marks of a good book for me is that it nearly makes me miss my stop on the train, and this did that.  The narrative was powerfully written and very compelling.  I thought the predictions of what would happen in these circumstances were very credible - particularly in relation to the use of the internet.  There were initially four main protagonists, and the chapters alternated between their stories - all were deeply flawed and yet sympathetic to varying degrees, showing a masterful level of depth.  I also found some of the perspectives very interesting - the two teenage girls were less compelling, at least to start with, as their origins were very familiar from other stories like this.  However, the female politician and the male journalist certainly kept me interested, and I liked the way their stories developed very much.

There's a framing structure to the book, in which it's presented as a speculative historical text, written several thousand years after the events described, in a world where women have dominated for centuries.  That, and the calculated reversal of mistreatment between the genders, made a none-too-subtle, but still effective point about societal inequality.  The one thing I would say about the gender representation, though, is that it was very black and white - very much men vs women, without really any acknowledgement of other gender identities.

As a thriller, it was very successful, as a prediction of an impossible future equally so.  As a feminist statement, it perhaps wielded a bit of a sledgehammer, but the strength of its message is probably at least partially the point.  A very good read, with some interesting things to say.


Next up was Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel - a graphic novel and memoir about her childhood and particularly her relationship with her father. It used the graphic format very well to heighten the emotional impact through a combination of quite simplistic pictures and generally very sophisticated text.  It's multiple literary references appealed to me, and were used very cleverly to make observations about the characters.  It's a desperately sad story of a daughter's resentment towards her father, coupled with her desire to find connection with him, even after his death.  A lot of the revelations are stated very matter-of-factly, which might have made the narrative feel remote.  On the contrary, though, to me, this made it all the more impactful.  The author's analysis of herself and her father is very self-aware, and she criticises herself as much as she does him.  It's a brutally honest depiction of a dysfunctional family, and very powerful for it.


I probably picked to start with the two books from my 'prescription' that are closest to the kind of thing I normally read.  I've actually been meaning to try some of Naomi Alderman's fiction, since she wrote Zombies Run!, which I love.  So, I'm very much looking forward to branching out with the other books on the list, to find something a bit more challenging, but hopefully just as good!


Tuesday, December 20th, 2016
10:06 pm
Cherub: Mad Dogs
Mad Dogs is the eighth Cherub book by Robert Muchamore. I wasn't that keen on the last one I listened to, and this one wasn't much better. I appear to have hit the point of diminishing returns with this series. There was more of a mission this time than in the last book, though only in the second half. To begin with, James was helping out with training the younger recruits, and this didn't seem to connect to him infiltrating a drug dealer's gang later in the book, so it all felt rather disjointed. There were some good moments, though the peripheral characters I particularly like weren't in it much, and the ultimate show-down wasn't that interesting. I shall persevere for a bit, since it was still quite fun overall, and they're very short, so it's not that much of a time investment if the next one doesn't turn out to be any better.
6:04 pm
Rogue One - must just be me...
Yesterday, for the third time in my life, I walked out of a film at the cinema, part way through.

I thought I'd gone into Rogue One with a completely open mind, willing to find it entertaining, even though I'm not that interested in Star Wars.

In the first 40 minutes, I found the plot hackneyed, the characters entirely unengaging, the specifics of the plot tedious, and the indiscriminate killing frankly oppressive.

I had plenty of other things I'd rather be doing with my time, so I left, read in the lobby until the film was finished and my ride home was available.

I also read several reviews of Rogue One - and the internet seems to wholly disagree with me.

Maybe, it was something to do with the fact that my head felt like it was wrapped in cotton wool, and I was finding it difficult to breathe (I'm on holiday, so of course I immediately got ill). Maybe I wasn't in as good a mood as I'd thought. I don't know - but, last night at least, Rogue One did absolutely nothing for me whatsoever.

Your mileage may vary, and very probably will!
Sunday, December 18th, 2016
9:46 pm
Tuesday, December 6th, 2016
4:57 pm
What's in a name?
I recently watched the first seasons of both Victoria and The Crown.  I enjoyed both, and was interested by the many surface similarities in the stories - young girl unexpectedly becomes queen, experiences difficulties in gaining the respect of politicians, restrictions on daily life, and challenges in marriage to a man who wants to be more than just a figurehead.  However, the tone of the two shows is very different, and their respective titles explain a great deal about the differing approach.

Victoria is very much about the human aspects of the young queen.  There's a lot of light and colour, particularly greenery, and the focus is very much on her personal struggle with her new status.  The Crown, on the other hand, is much more about the role than the person.  Elizabeth is quite remote, and everything is desaturated and grey.  The last shot of the last episode of each series makes a particularly good contrast (apologies for spoilers, but only minor ones) - in Victoria, we are left with a joyful picture of family unity, whereas The Crown gives us Elizabeth standing alone, being exhorted to forget her individuality and become Regina.

I have to admit I'm looking forward to future seasons of Victoria, but may not follow The Crown into season two.


Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn was a delight of an audiobook.  It's the fourth in the Elemental Blessings series, and I just love visiting this world.  The plots may be quite predictable, but the immersive nature of the setting, and all the little details of the society always make me eager to go back there.  I love all the characters, as well, so it's great to see so many familiar faces from earlier books in this one.  As always, it tells a very personal story of inter-relationships against a background of political intrigue, and this one really tugged at my heartstrings in places.  Highly enjoyable, and I'm hoping there will be at least one more, as so far the titles and stories have each focused on one of the five elements - and wood/bone is still to come.


Yesterday, I watched Moana, which I understand was originally going to be named Maui.  I'm glad the change was made, because Moana was an appealing and very capable heroine.  She doesn't always know what she's doing, but she tries anyway, making her plucky and admirable.  Maui as a secondary character was much more interesting than I think he would have been as central protagonist - his place in the story allowed him to be quite flawed and thus have both depth, and a well-drawn redemptive arc.  The film didn't enchant me all the way through (though the coconut pirates were awesome and I also loved Maui's independently sentient tattoo), but it kept me interested, and had a lot of good things to say, with beautiful animation providing a compelling backdrop.


Tuesday, November 29th, 2016
2:09 pm
Fantastic Beasts
My anticipation levels for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them fluctuated a lot in the months leading up to its release.  I was initially sceptical, then excited by the awesome-looking trailers, then wary after reading some reviews, but still looking forward to it overall.

I thought it took a little while to really get going - there was nothing to dislike, but it was only in the second two thirds that it really grabbed my imagination and started to fly.  There were many moments of pure magic and wonder, several points that made me laugh quite a bit, a lot of very cute aspects, and also some quite horrific ones.  In particular, I wasn't expecting one plot strand to be quite so sad.

Parts of it felt like filler - entertaining, world-building filler, to be sure - but not necessarily serving the story.  But mostly, it was a joy, and a very welcome couple of hours of enjoyment after a very stressful journey from central London to Finchley.

Eddie Redmayne made a very appealing hero, and was supported by a largely excellent cast.  The creatures were wonderfully realised and I really loved several of them.  There were some great set pieces and lots of lovely smaller touches.  It was also refreshing to see a neuro-atypical protagonist in a story that wasn't actually about him being neuro-atypical, not to mention the fact that the central group of characters were also not ridiculously over-attractive.

So, lots to like, and not a lot to criticise.  I will very happily spend more time in this universe, and am already looking forward to the next instalment.  Even the member of our group who has never read or seen any Harry Potter thought it was good!

Sunday, November 27th, 2016
10:03 pm
The Leaving
Someone I follow on YouTube did a book review of The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, and then I had to read it to find out what the answer to the central mystery was.

It's about a town where six kids go missing aged five - then, eleven years later, five of them turn up again, but can't remember where they've been or what happened to the sixth one.

The book follows three main characters - two of the returned kids, and the sister of the one that's still missing - with each chapter being alternately from their point of view.

It's well constructed, and kept me intrigued and guessing throughout.  The teenage love triangle aspect was a bit tedious (but then I always think that about teenage love triangles - and I guess I'm not exactly their target audience), some of the odd typesetting and formatting choices got a bit wearing after a while, and the whole thing was possibly stretched out just a bit too long.  However, the central mystery was fascinating, several of the characters were engaging, the reactions of the various families to the kids' return were very well portrayed, and I find the final reveal quite interesting.  Other reviews I've read suggest a lot of readers are disappointed by the end, but I thought I was built up well enough that it made sense without being obvious, and certain aspects of it were quite impactful.

So, considering the only reason I read the book was because it was the only way to find out the answer to the mystery, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  Not necessarily one I'd recommend enthusiastically to everyone I meet, but a good solid tale, generally well told.

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