Monday, 27 April 2015

Doctor Who Books Read and Heard, Part 17!

This post: treats from the eras of the 1st, 2nd,4th , 5th, 6th,7th and 8th Doctors. 
A note on order.  Target Originals are not read in order of publication (which was all over the place), but in order of each Doctor, and each Doctor is read in order of their stories broadcast on TV.  However, I jump about in terms of which Doctor I read at any given time.  The Virgin New Adventures for Sylvester will be read in order; as will the BBC 8th Doctor series (as though they had been on TV, see?  I’m trying to get an arc flavour).  The BBC Past Doctors series and the Virgin Missing Adventures are simply read in terms of which one I fancy next, as they are stand alone adventures slotting in-between the TV ones.
Oh, and in case you forgot, I’ve taken to recording which books I read that are actual paper copies, and which are Kindle or other electronic.  I’m being social historical for my own benefit. I want to see how long it is before I just plug books straight into my brain, how many years before I’m a reading cyborg.

As always with these rambly reviews: OFTEN LARGE SPOILERS ON ALL BOOKS IMMINENT!!!!

1.    Doctor Who: And The Enemy Of The World, by Ian Marter (Target Original)
(2nd Dr.  This is a funny one, because of course it was only recently released on DVD after many years lost, so we’ve all repeatedly watched it quite recently.  And it has a very strong subsidiary cast: Astrid, Bruce, Kent, Fariah, Benik – all stand out and are properly different people [unlike my recent complaint in The Ice Warriors of everyone sounding more or less the same: angry early 1960s white male].  This has carried through to the book.  I particularly got a strong sense of Fariah, Astrid and Bruce – the latter moreso toward the end.  This helps an otherwise preposterous story no end.

The one thing that is sorely missing in the book, is the extremely strong screen presence of Troughton when he is being Salamander.  There was a huge physicality to him – I practically smelled his ruthless maleness and roughness when he was on screen [quite a triumph for Troughton making the two so different].  This does not, I feel, translate to the book.  You do get a sense of his ruthlessness from his speech and what he does, but the strong sense of presence just wasn’t conveyed and is a shame, because this performance, as well as the strong support cast, is what carries this story.

Some of the longer speeches from the underground people have been cut or removed here, which in one sense did enable the story to flow on a lot more cleanly [because there was a large amount of cringey Hampstead AmDram speechifying going on from a certain young man under the ground, in particular]…but in another, it stops the reader coming to feel they know the underground people as much as those above ground.  So that’s a problem.  Maybe there were word count issues?

Anyway, I think this is a good story and I enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed watching, slightly differently.  I noticed here, a slight lackage of Jamie and Victoria that I did not so much note while watching.  Different things coming to the fore.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
2.   Doctor Who: Cat’s Cradle, Witchmark, by Andrew Hunt (Virgin New Adventures)
(7th Dr. I am very pleased that this initial section of the New Adventures is coming to an end.  The Timewyrm and Cat’s Cradle themes seem to have simply tripped up the authors involved, who have had to crowbar the necessary ideas into each novel, with no real linkage and each theme doing very little for each story.  As of the next book, they will be standalone – which is fine, as each book is long enough as if it were a serial of its own anyway.  Good.

Sorry to say I didn’t enjoy this.  And can you imagine it – BlackberryJuniper NOT enjoying a book with unicorns in?  Centaurs?  Trolls?  Other myth and fantasy type creatures?  It started off well, the adventure beginning on Earth and then tracking to a mythical land of Tir Na Nog-like qualities.  Garbled versions of mythical creatures with different names are there.  I trotted along happily with this for a while then started to get bored, because the plot wasn’t really going anywhere and I wasn’t feeling identified with the characters.  Ace is showing her younger self, alarmingly – and not in reaction to this fantasy land of childhood; there is no explanation given for her sudden reversion almost as far back as her Dragonfire self.  As if the harrowing story that she was just in [Cat’s Cradle – Warhead, Andrew Cartmel’s hard hard story of degraded people] hadn’t occurred.  Or a couple of the one’s previous, where she had some harsh and life-changing experiences.  People really should pay attention to character development and continuity.  Especially when playing fast and loose with a character as good as Ace, whom I like very much.  The Doctor is his usual self, but just not getting to do a lot, other than leave Ace behind, and yet accumulate another companion for his leg of the journey instead [the incongruously named Bathsheba, Bats for short; much the same as a unicorn of similar name elsewhere in the story].

One of the oddest things about this story is the American Werewolf in London obvious steal.  The two backpackers David and Jack have a massively similar conversation and way of relating, syntax etc, and are almost walking across the moors when we first meet them.  They too are menaced, though later encounter a burned and tortured centaur, rather than becoming the victims of a werewolf.  Gradually through the story they start to serve their own purpose, though I’m not really clear what they added to the book – but I really want to know if the author realised he was nicking David and Jack from American Werewolf, almost whole???  Very odd.  Didn’t read as a homage because didn’t fit with the rest of the plot. 

**Don’t read this paragraph if you don’t want to know the end of the book.**The solution to why this strange land exists, why it’s sun has vanished and why the inhabitants are falling into desperation and depravity is very pat and old once given – which I didn’t actually mind at all, as it fitted and was neat [it’s an experimental planet, populated with archetypes from Earth’s myths, to see how they work out, by a race of sociopath experimenters – a bit like lots of Rani’s, except slightly more helpful at the end when the experimenter agrees to give more fuel to the planet’s sun, so the planet may continue…].

I was excited at the idea of Scotland Yard having a Paranormal Department – oooo, I thought, maybe we can have a slightly X-Files-y, or Omega Factor-y element to some upcoming stories by the same author [or Talamasca, or Legacy element – you get my drift].  But then the only representative of this organisation, which was pretty much one man anyway [don’t think Mulder stuck in the basement, as that was a little bit cool, and this man is not at all cool], is rather gluttonous, inept, behind the plot and generally uninteresting.  Which was disappointing.

So…this was not very good, for me.  I have read other more glowing reviews, so know it hit the spot for some people.  Such is life.  On to the next one…ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.   Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars, by Terrance Dicks (Target original)
(4th Dr. I have very little to say about this one!  I love it on TV, I am one of the many who subscribe to the idea this is one of Tom Baker’s – and indeed Who’s – finest stories.  I love the gothic atmosphere, I love the mix up of scifi and fantasy; I love the dynamic between Sarah Jane and Tom here.  I love the extended outside filming and the lovely countryside – I am a big fan of stories containing lots of views of trees and grass from the 70s. 

This book was one of Terrance Dick’s better ones, in that he managed to keep hold of the atmosphere of a story not scripted by himself and different to one he would have done.  He kept the feel of the dialogue, the relationship between the brothers, the scaredness of the poacher, the strange mania of the Egyptian.  The whole overblown feeling of the entire story was preserved.  So it remained a very good read, just as it’s a very good watch.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
4.   Doctor Who: The Romans, by Donald Cotton (Target Original)
(1st Dr.  MAKES FACE OF ANNOYANCE.  I was not warned [due to my usual policy of not reading any other reviews before I write my own ramble, lest I pick up other ideas by accident], about this book.  I was not warned about the Carry On Up The Romans aspect.  The TV story is lighthearted and quite funny, but this treatment of it in the book?? 

I like the epistolary style, that’s always a nice touch in a book as you get so much direct speech and verbal mannerisms etc – I am the person who read the 1000s of pages of unabridged version of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa and really really liked it [and didn’t think it needed editing, amazingly]…but this…?  Ok, it was a bit funny, but it made the Doctor seem like nothing but a deluded pompous old fool.  It made Ian seem like an even more pompous and incredibly boring young fool.  Vicki seemed oddly perky and incongruous.  Barbara was resourceful as ever but simply a sidenote.  The other secondary characters were nothing but farce outlines. 

If I had been in the mood for this, it would have been fine – I love the actual Carry On films, despite their MASSIVE sexism [my inner feminist is more tolerant some days than others; some days she talks about history and things being of their time; other days she is just affronted by things and discouragedly fed up]; after all, I grew up with them…But I wasn’t expecting that deviation – taking Doctor Who into that world [and the Carry On universe *is* a universe, make no mistake, just as Who is].  Funny thing is, a Doctor Who-Carry On hybrid could almost work…

But for me, in this book, it didn’t.  It was like the ever remembered and ill-fated day Stanley proudly found me a porn tribute version of Charmed [my favourite go to prog to fix life in all the world].  I wasn’t amused AT ALL.  I was Really Incandescently Cross [and yeah, I did watch it – the dialogue was alarmingly accurate for round about Season 2, freaky; but it seriously had no plot].  Thus, I leave you here with my harsh and humourless judgement: an abomination, this book.  I hear the Myth Makers is likewise ruined.  Ah well, spose I’ll live through it.  Or read it on a day when I feel Carry On-ish and humorous.  ACTUAL – RUBBISH – BOOK.)
5.   Doctor Who: Placebo Effect, by Gary Russell (BBC 8th Doctor Adventures)
(8th Dr.  This was an odd one. It was the Foamasi vs. The Wirrn, with lots of other races too, before the galactic version of the Olympics, in the future.  Meshed up with a Church of The Way Forward, looking for a Goddess; and a human woman marrying an Ice Warrior [which is a main plot moving subplot].

I couldn’t decide if I was really enjoying its impeccably described and set Micawber’s World scenes, complete with vast amounts of subsidiary characters [that I did not get mixed up, so well written] all with quirks and relevance.  Or whether I was finding it beside the point.  The point seemed to be The Wirrn invasion, but it took so long to play out and was overshadowed by the Foamasi characterisation – loved the voice synthesiser idea, especially the butler who sounded like Sir John Gielgud. 

I’m starting to get the impression with Gary Russell’s books, of what I was saying about lots of the earlier entries in the book series: that of a huge amount of ideas, all tossed together to make story salad.  Sometimes it works better than others.  In this case, the subsidiary characters were running the show, as they were funny and resourceful and involved in much intrigue – Russell seems to like his Who characters much larger than life: Green Fingers, the Duchess of Auckland, Reverend Lukas etc.  There was a particularly well written and marvellous section where the Reverend discusses evolution [the contentious ideas of micro and macro evolution] very eloquently with Sam.  I had to read it through a couple of times to follow it all, and it was the most involved I got during the whole book.

Because of the subsidiary character focus, the Doctor and Sam are involved, but…not irrelevant, but they don’t feel particularly pivotal, even though the Doctor does make some leaps of deduction.  I didn’t feel he was as lovingly done as in the other books of this particular series so far.  The whole thing felt light: a bon-bon of this series, rather than, umm…a gobstopper?  Ok, I’ll stop this unfortunate comparison in its tracks.  Readable, fun, some great ideas, not as involving as I’d like.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
6.   Doctor Who: Project Twilight, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright (Big Finish Monthly Audio Releases,no. 23)
(The 7th Dr and Evelyn.  This was a surprisingly non sensational and thoughtful look at vampires, and the Doctor’s inherent prejudice and suspicion of them and their motives.  He turns out to be partially wrong, which swings the plot, and is nicely done and worked up to.  The character of Amelia and her wonderfully hissy voice, played by actress Holly de Jong, is the stand out character for me in this one.  The pretend gangster Reggie was a good character too – silly but believable.  Cassie was a lovely noble creation, left in the wilderness at the end, to save her and others from harm.

This one felt like it had a slow start, but it picked up considerably as it went along.  It had one of those endings where the baddies survive, secretly at the last minute – suggesting a sequel.  Wait and see, I guess.  ON DOWNLOAD.)
7.   Doctor Who: The Eye of the Scorpion, by Ian McLaughlin (Big Finish Monthly Audio Releases, no.24)
(5th Dr and Peri.  Set in Egypt, 1400 BC.  Thebes.  The story centres around them arriving and seeing a female pharaoh about to be enthroned, except that history shows there never was one…so what’s happening?

The first thing to note here was a really lovely sound palette, very evocative, not intrusive, and highly atmospheric.  And equally fitting incidental music.  It stood out in its loveliness, whilst blending perfectly with its subject matter and backdrop.

Second is the nicely done character of the female non-Pharoah, Erimem.  Not annoying as she could have been played, not precocious, but simply a bit before her time and intelligent, curious…ripe to come away on some travels [which she does].  Her character is expounded nicely through episode 2, where Peter Davison is absent due to poisoning [bit of a hark back to the Hartnell/Troughton eras].  I thought I would find that irritating, but Peri and Erimem made such a nice combination together, off investigating mysterious deaths etc, that I didn’t really notice his absence and was fine with it.  Peri seemed very mature in this story, very happy to be travelling, and a lot more sure of herself than she often came across on TV, even at her happiest with Davison.

This is a very nice historical, very busy with many details: a parasitical hive mind creature [you can’t really go wrong with those], something fancy with a “telepathic inhibitor”, a plot to make an alternative Pharaoh involving a murder and a coup…which the Dr sorts at the last possible moment, after exposing Peri as an unintentional spy!  It’s all go and it was very enjoyable.  The historicals seem to work particularly well on radio/CD. 

Note: One of my brill friends has just pointed out to me there WAS a female Pharaoh, and at that period roughly -, the blurb was wrong! 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Overthinking Harlequin, Part 2!

So.  Here is the second part of another no doubt long and endless occasional series, the Romance Reviews Ridiculously Overthought! Welcome to my overflowing box of old romance books, dated anywhere between late 80s to the late noughties…This selection mostly from the noughties.

I would say these were a guilty pleasure, since they are so far from reality in plot and characterization; but oddly, they have a sort of archetypal appeal – not just the long suffering or feisty heroine, with her no doubt sexy and supportive hero…but there are ideals in these very Establishment stories of communication.  How the Battle of the Sexes died, through the power of honest and open communication.  How most of the problems in the world could be made better by an honest admission of mistakes, or spitefulness; through attempts to make amends.  There’s an honest belief in change of personality in these stories.  So whilst on the one hand, they really do put forward an endless stereotype of the man-woman-let’s breed family model, and the idea of family as everything (which can get so oddly tribal and destructive when overdone), they also put forward an ideal, separated from those other ‘values’, of Hope.  Hope in people’s characters, hope for a better world based on co-operation, and the idea that if we are all kind and try to support one another, sometimes very tactfully and from a distance, the world can be a better place.

For that last, and for all the jumbled up ideals and despite the ‘traditional value’ stuff you find in this stories, I still read them.  Especially when stressed, there is absolutely nothing like KNOWING that your chosen characters WILL overcome their many trials, be they inward of despair or anger, or outward, of seemingly insurmountable circumstances.  Their connection with each other, their desire to help and to build new things, positive things, will overcome.  There – see, I’m overthinking already.

And…I really do seem to be a total sucker for a very overblown book cover…this one here is quite mild.  I seemed to have read a rather subdued lot of covers this time round...

1.    Operation Bassinet, by Joyce Sullivan (Silhouette Intrigue, 2003)
(I would never call it a bassinet.  Now we’ve got that out of the way.  Must be a cultural thing.  I’m not usually a fan of ridiculous plot lines like babies switched at birth, but [a], this one was well written, and [b] Stanley called my attention to a U.S. news story yesterday where exactly that had been just uncovered to have happened a few years ago in a perfectly normal suburban hospital somewhere I forget, but not malicious, just human error.  So it’s one of those reality is stranger than fiction stories.

I liked the way the heroine was both humorous [At the beginning, anyway, before everything went wrong], and spunky, whilst still being as worried sick as I would be in this situation.  She was a believable character in a soap opera scenario. The hero kept trying to be very professional, because getting too involved emotionally with a child kidnap case before had, he believed, contributed to the death of both child and the child’s grandmother that reminded him of his own family.  So he is torn through most of the story, and in a way that isn’t annoying and contrived, but nuanced.  You believe in him too.

Enjoyable book – I will seek out more by this author.  I liked her characters [half the battle done], and the story was pacey.  It also obviously had elements of previous stories in it, as it was part of a miniseries [‘Collingwood Heirs’], but whilst the recaps were a little intrusive, that’s probably unavoidable, and well handled.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
2.   Under Lock and Key, by Sylvie Kurtz (Silhouette Intrigue, 2003)
Amusingly both this book, and Operation Bassinet, which I was reading simultaneously, both had ‘baddies’ in called Sable – so I was in a perpetual state of expecting Stephanie Beacham to start fist fighting with an absent Joan Collins in a shiny very shoulder-padded dress, while diamonds fell off them.  Neither Sable in either story was quite that bad.  In Operation Bassinet she was ruthless, but at base, ok; in this story, she nearly committed murder – but for love of her child, so we almost forgive her – even if she did almost kill the heroine, whom we agree right from the start, has already Gone Through Quite Enough, Thankyou.

The funny thing about this story was the mad set-up.  An English medieval castle transported to Texas and plopped there, with a billionaire woman living in it as a hermit, because she is disfigured by burns.  The townspeople think she is a witch, and stand outside her castle singing hymns and preaching.  There’s a goat sacrifice blamed on her.  A reporter comes to save her from a threat signalled by menacing letters accompanied by chess pieces.  It’s like several late night B movies all mushed up together. 

I did have slight trouble with the melodrama elements to begin with, but the tale itself was told quite calmly, which did save it from its madly larger than life characters.  I liked the way the hero spent most of this story feeling very guilty about a facet of his own personality that he imagined had gotten his previous fiancé killed; so that he kept wanting to drink himself into oblivion.  But he fought it, and didn’t.  I ended up liking and cheering on Melissa, and eventually even the spoiled Tia; and I liked Grace and Tyler from the start.  This book really felt stuffed full of incongruous elements [the horse-riding; the alchemy], but they were just about made to work – for which: kudos to the writer.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.   Summer at Willow Lake, by Susan Wiggs (Mira, 2006)
To begin with I was a bit confused by the chopping and changing of time frames and the large amount of characters being introduced, but I did have one very long reading session one morning when I got stuck in a coffee shop [hell itself, I can tell you – nothing to do but drink soymilk latte and read – tsk!], and after that I felt in the swing of things entirely, and quite hooked on…everybody.

This is the most American of settings, a children’s holiday camp.  Of course, I am culturally out of this loop entirely, except for being aware there really should be both a small and large Jason Voorhees tramping about capsizing people in their kayaks, and chopping people with machetes.  Because those are among my favourite films.  Or, a Cropsie cutting people up with shears on a life raft…

Once I got over the absence of those things, I appreciated the double edged sword that Susan Wiggs allowed camp to be.  I always imagined it would have been yet another place where I would have been bullied – since there seems to be SO MUCH emphasis on group activities and sports – two things I do not excel at, at all.  She allowed some of her characters [in flashback], to be miserable at camp.  I liked that.  They didn’t stay miserable, and they grew over seasons, as the flashbacks changed in timeframe depending on who we were following; plus some cast members hadn’t been there when the camp was open and were only present for the latter day sections of the book, when it’s being staged and primped for a large wedding anniversary.  But she didn’t idealise it too much.  She DID make it sound a very desirable experience if it was done well, and an experience the like of which you wouldn’t get elsewhere – which was painted calmly and beautifully.  I felt pulled in.

The characters were great in this book.  I really went for the hero Connor, and heroine Lolly/Olivia, both of whom had a lovely and understandable amount of personal growth over their 15 year time frame.  I loved Daisy Bellamy [who has her own book later, I understand]; I loved the dreadlocked brother of Connor and his mad jumping – I loved the way Daisy inspired him to lead a bigger life and have more hopes for himself [rather Coach Carter, her effect on him].  I loved Mariska and Olivia’s father, their delicate storyline of reunited relations. 
There was an awful lot going on in this book, but it was handled well in that each episode got its own breathing space and didn’t feel hurried or glossed.  So you had time to get into each character.  I have already got hold of the next two in the series. I can see this one box of books is going to spawn devil’s children as I try to finish incomplete series’ etc!  Oh dear…ACTUAL BOOK.)
4.   A Hero of Her Own, by Carla Cassidy (Silhouette Romantic Suspense, 2009)
(This is the sort of romance that makes me stop reading romances. Actually, there are two sorts that do that.  There’s the ‘her hair was like honey, golden  tresses’ cliché type thing. This was not one of those.  Then there are those that have really promising plots but chicken out of doing them properly. Like there’s a killer on the loose at the end, a silly killer I find annoying, and then the hero comes in and neutralises everything by saying, ’its ok, I tied him to a tree outside, it’s all over’, and you think…’oh, that’s it then’. 

There were several problems with this book; the chickening out of plot developments was one. The heroine was the other main one. She was supposed to be a psychologist [working on a ranch with troubled children] but she seemed to have no understanding of herself at all and seemed very quick to decide the hero was the enemy stalking her, on ridiculously flimsy circumstantial evidence.  She reasoned like a paranoid teenager. It’s one thing to be able for others and stupid with your own problems - we’ve all been there, but she showed no psychological understanding at all.  The only psychological insight shown at all in the novel was the repeated assertion that one of the troubled children she worked with ‘is afraid to be happy unless it be taken away’, which is the sort of pop psychology we can all come out with.  It made me feel that the writer had done no research into being a child psychologist at all; had just decided it sounded cool as a job and hoped she could wing it.  I didn’t buy the heroine as a psychologist at any point.  If this had been one of the older SuperRomances for example, they would have played this better. You would have had character building episodes where you see the heroine in therapy sessions with at least one if not two of the children, or in interaction with them showing her kindness and skill.  You wouldn’t just be told she was a psychologist and then given no evidence of her ability to work anything out at all.  Then again, those books had a longer word count, so more room to manoeuvre.

The last real problem was the constant reference to the other books in what is a long reaching series with several mini-series offshoots – the Colton Family is quite a long running series.  The references to other couples who had got together in previous books and the quick summing up of their plots shows how overboard some of these books can be - we had a baby stealing ring busted by one man, whose woman  had her baby stolen by them…I cannot imagine having a romance while my baby was kidnapped [excepting Operation Bassinet, apparently].  I would be in pieces and probably tearful, hostile and rather psycho. It seemed unbelievable.  And there were several scenarios - the heroines own mother, an overwrought tale of madness and 20 years’ worth of identity switching etc.

The thing is, romances CAN get away with quite a lot of ridiculously melodramatic plotting - but you have to be able to carry it off (think Sunflower, in the last posting: perfect example, perfectly done)!  All these references to past ridiculousness, whilst involved in a present ridiculous plot annoyed me.  I just couldn’t believe in it.

However, I have liked MANY other books by this author in the past, so I blame this one on heavy writing schedule. I see she had another one out the very next month – I have no idea how many she writes in a year, but she seems to be a churner; I can’t expect them all to be brilliant.  So this one got through the net.  There was a scene in this book that I did love, and was just the thing that romances can do very well indeed: the hero and heroine went with all the children on a picnic day out, riding to pastures far away, and then sitting, watching the children playing and eating, till all were tired and they rode gently back again: it was just a lovely day out and I got a feel for the space and the skies overhead and the children laughing.  If this book had had more scenes like this – where I feel the surroundings, the milieu, I might have found the plot of rest of the book more believable.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
5.   Devil Takes a Bride, by Gaelen Foley (2004)
(This was a quite wonderful historical.  It had so much more period depth and background scenery than your average Regency romance, which simply whisks you around Almacks and speaks in stilted English.  Yes, I know, some are masterpieces [earlier Mary Jo Putney for example, some Julia Quinn, off the top of my head], but there are so many, as the Americans are so obsessed with this limited timeframe in their historical romances, that it’s hard to shine out as anything different or moreso.  This series Gaelen Foley has written will I think manage it. 

The story itself was incredibly in depth, a revenge story where the hero gets very dark indeed, and is only saved by the calm kindness of understanding…and also actually enacting some of that revenge; which was thoroughly well earned, since he imagines his entire family was killed in a fire set by villains.  The fact that one of them was saved is good, but the villains of the piece did burn down a whole building, killing over 40 people, to ensure crimes against one went unnoticed.  The villains too were given way more depth than is usual in these pieces.  I ended up knowing at least three of the notorious Horse and Chariot Club much better than I could have done, and I had a real feel for some of the others.  This romance painted such a denser picture than usual, and did not skimp over any of the action, but patiently told every quiver of the story, no rush.  Very nicely done indeed. 

And I felt like I learned to ride a coach and four, which is handy, should I be pursued by any archaic villains in future.  I liked this one so much, I immediately started on one of her earlier ones in the same series, from the tantalising references to one of the characters in this one.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
6.   Lady of Desire, by Gaelen Foley (2003)
This was a good story, mainly because the character of Billy Blade, aka Earl of Rackford, really jumps off the page and follows you about.  He was one of those characters you can thoroughly immerse yourself in: beaten and treated badly as a boy by his father, he runs away to the city, and ends up a sort of lord of thieves, in his own way trying to carve an area of justice and safety in otherwise hellish eighteenth-century streets.  After he meets the heroine, he ends up having to acknowledge his past and become Rackford again.  The only thing that makes that bearable for him is Jacinda, the Lady of the title.  He only goes back to the Ton to save his street friends and allies from hanging after they are betrayed.  The thing with Billy/Rackford, is that despite terribly harsh treatment, he is alive with a strong sense of moral justice, and its not just about revenge – simply a need to forge reliable and loyal ties based on trust and integrity, then to try and even societies scales by any means necessary, for your patch of the world.  It occurs to me writing that, that there’s almost something of the superhero about this Earl: and yes, you see him having hand to hand combat, jumping over rooves in the darkness; he is a tattooed enigma, in many ways.  You want to be Lady Jacinda, gaining his trust.  He is a really nicely written character.  I especially liked that even when made to go back to Society, he kept his leftish leanings, his desire to protect and include the poorest and most vulnerable and joined the Radical party, instead of the more middle of the road and staid Whig Party.  The politics in this book were lovely – Jacinda was a libertarian for herself, but a conservative without thinking about it when it came to societal matters; whereas Billy/Rackford stood up for all, and especially the downtrodden.  He despised inequality and tried to do good with what was suddenly a massive fortune.  My kind of hero!

The scene at the end where he makes peace with his father was very quietly and kindly done – the pattern of abuse and beatings being shown up, and what it meant to both the father and the son, exposed.  This is what romances do so well, highlight and clarify patterns of this sort, and how to break them, or at least to shed light upon them.  This wasn’t quite so wracking or harrowing as the last Foley, but the hero more than made up for the slightly quieter plot, and the fact that the book felt like it had 2 distinct halves – in that the first half was Blade in the rookeries as a thief; the second was him back at ‘home’ with the Ton.  I preferred the first half, but then, I would – having read so many historicals, there are only so many escapades at Almacks you can read before you feel you really have done it all before.  The first half of this novel managed in many ways, to tread ground not gone over so many times before, and to do so in a new way.  Impressed.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
7.   Brave Heart, by Brittany Young (Silhouette Special Edition, part of the Celebration 1000 series, 1995)
(Hmmmm, the thorny subject of Native Americans and romances.  Is it exploitative to have these as a sub genre, like Middle Eastern sheikhs [I’ve never been able to read any of those, they seemed too stupid to me; but never say never]??  I am not sure.  My ‘position’ on Native Americans, from never having been to America or met a Native American, so you get that I know I am not best informed; is that I read Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee once and I never got over it.  Terribly sad awful experiences.  So I come from there, in my head.

I actually personally, love this sub-genre.  And there has rarely been one as well written as this one.  The feeling of the reservation, the feeling of the utter difference in cultures and priorities is both explained and shown.  I got a marvellous feel for our hero, Daniel Blackhawk and his tribe of Woodland Indians [I had no idea there were Woodland Indians; or if I did know, I forgot].  His uncle Gray Cloud, the wolf that follows the heroine Rory about, the spaces and look of the Wisconsin land – I felt I got to know it all.  The heroine started off in my opinion as totally on the wrong side of everything and almost unlikeably unsympathetic, even as I could see where she was coming from [she was on the side of drilling the reservation land for copper and damn the inhabitants].  She got to know where her ecological bread was buttered as the story progressed.  And she became a defender of the people instead of an enemy. 

Chillingly, sadly, right after I finished reading this, I read a news article where exactly this [same story, different metal] has just happened in the States, except that of course, being real life, the government won and it appears the land will be drilled and damn the inhabitants…This is why fiction is better sometimes…And why we should all protest more.

Anyway, getting off that sad note – I really enjoyed this, Brittany Young has a lovely effortless style that’s clear and easy to read, uncluttered, but wonderfully descriptive.  I will look for more by her…ACTUAL BOOK.)

Monday, 6 April 2015

Fry and I Have a Film Watching Marathon

So I visited with Fry again recently; and is is our wont, we settled down with a vast amount of junk food, and pulled marathon 20 hour TV watching sessions, liberally sprinkled with philosophy discussions, character discussions, and discussions about how we would have made the film/TV series differently.  Last time but one was all film, which is rare, but for your delectation, here is most of what we watched, in a 3 day period with very little sleep and a lot of talking.  And pizza.

1.    Outcast
This was a brilliant horror film: dirty, organic, messy, strange, atmospheric.  Made by the same people who did Wake Wood, and with similar messy themes.  This one concerned a  fairy tale group of people stuck in the middle of a 21st century yukky Glasgow housing estate.  A grim group of fairies, one looking for immortality to be gained only by killing his own son. Wonderfully atmospheric: James Nesbitt stole the film, and the woman playing the boy’s mother was just as good.  Their magical battle was nicely done.  The only false note in the whole thing was the showing of the whole monster the boy becomes at the end, because I felt he had a funny face, with those teeth that curled up.  Also: why did the Laird save the girl and her baby at the end, when he had already tried to allow the original monster to be killed, and it’s very likely that the girl’s baby will also turn out to be a monster??? Watched once by myself and once with Fry – he liked Wake Wood more, but then he did talk through most of this, therefore lost its tight atmosphere.)
2.   Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
With Fry.  Who was the one who made me watch it!  It could have been worse; I don’t feel like I’m crying to get my life back or anything [which is how I thought it would be].  It was very fast paced, had enough explanation of why they are there and are superhero turtles to content me, a total non knower (I missed all the fuss the first time round.  Well, I ignored it).  It also had a very lovely colour palette – managing to be both pale and very vivid, especially with reds, at the same time.  My eyes were happy looking at the colours.  There was one very long action scene toward the end of the film, that had such torturous single point of views from one turtle to the others, drawing you through a slide down a snowy hill, that I almost felt motion sickness watching and trying to keep up with it; it was going almost too fast for my eye.  That was very well done.  Not bad!)
3.   The Babadook
Ah.  Now this is the horror film for all mothers who get no sleep, or nowhere near – anywhere near – enough, with their children, even when they are 5 or 6; as in, they really should be sleeping well and alone by now.  Or they are single mothers struggling alone with said lack of sleep.  Or your child is slightly Damien-ish, or seems that way to you because you’re very tired.  Err…I really identified with this film’s main character, the tired mother.  Essie Davis was quite amazing in the part.  She starts off so patient and quiet; clearly utterly exhausted, but doing her best with what is clearly a difficult child, and with hardly any support and a job to hold down.  She is very kindly.  You can see she resents him – her husband died in a car crash they were all in, and you can see she wishes the husband had lived and the child died, because he has been so incredibly difficult and makes her life about nothing but him.  I really appreciated the honesty of the film about how hard life can be with a difficult child.  How cumulative exhaustion can change and pollute EVERYTHING in your life.  I won’t go into what the Babadook is, but by the end of the film I had a theory on the whole thing: which is that she had a nervous breakdown, and the Babadook is her personification of her own    anger and grief, which is why she can’t get rid of it and has to keep it in the cellar at the end, because you never ARE quite done with anger and grief.  The child’s extremely over active and brilliant imagination – his own way of coping with the grief at the death of his father – acted as an enabler to the mother’s breakdown.  They made the Babadook together.  That’s my idea; it’s not what the film says.  But it could well be what the film implies.  And it has a happy ending, so don’t worry about watching it.  It’s strange and wonderful, as most Australian horrors are – they are a very underrated country in the horror stakes, but they rarely disappoint in my experience – and always do something out of the mainstream.  For horror lovers, I saw many echoes to classic horrors here, not least Suspiria, Poltergeist…you watch and count.  Very enjoyable and emotionally gripping.)
4.   The Equalizer (the film remake)
Oooooo, I really liked this.  Denzel Washington really hit the tone of the watchful completely OCD retired …assassin?  Secret Service agent?  It’s not made clear.  Doesn’t matter.  The man has deadly skills and will use them if he sees a serious moral wrong.  [Other than that he seems to be a sort of informal motivational guru to everyone he knows that he likes.] That was what I actually enjoyed about the film the most – the very clear moral sense, the idea of lines drawn and if stepped over, retribution and an evening out of the scales.  Appealed to   my sense of order, and my rather fatalistic cold Old Testament sense of ‘justice’ that comes over me every now and again!  I liked the way he seemed so casual, and in control, but calm.  Oh, CALM.  I do like calm heroes.  I liked the scene near the end in the B&Q American equivalent, where he sorted out the bad gangsters who so clearly deserved it.  I very much liked the main villain here, who was doing a shade of the Javier Bardem’s in Skyfall – which is very fun to watch.  I liked the moral clarity of this film so much, I may buy it.  It was a very simple film, and in an ever more confusing world, I appreciated the restfulness of that.  And the idea of bad things and people removed and gotten rid of.  Gone, no longer a problem.)
5.   Gone Girl
It’s very good to see Rosamond Pike getting so much more work nowadays,  firstly.  This was a very good film.  It started off with me hating the initial couple: how smugly they performed their relationship for the world to see; how paper thin it was.  I started to wonder if I had selected the right film as I wanted to hit them both for just being so self-satisfied.  Then I noticed he seemed worse than her, and her diary showed she was worried and scared.  But since I have the book of this and haven’t read it yet, but picked up enough in the air to work out that all is not as it seems, I kept expecting her to not in fact be dead.  And lo, she was not.  There was a marvellous scene a bit of the way in, when you find out through a long ranty speech of hers that she has disappeared herself to put the blame on him out of spite and petulance…half of which I agreed with, as I did see her point about how we women tend to change ourselves to fit in with our men, and how cheated you can feel when they make no effort to be moulded and better and more wondrous also…after all you have done!!  [Gasp!] On the other hand, she was also clearly deranged as she was planning on killing herself to show him and make sure he paid the price for her ‘murder’.  Her character was wonderfully wilful and oh so spoilt and manipulative; and when she ends up with a man almost as bad as herself and is almost trapped forever…the way she ruthlessly exploits and gets out of even this tight spot, and manages to spin it so she can get back to her husband…it’s quite a ride to watch.  He realises she isn’t dead and ends up trapped with this control freaky psychopath of a wife.  I couldn’t work out if he deserved it for being such a tool in the first place, or whether that was too much of a torture for anyone…I am still deliberating with my mental jury about that!  VERY good film.  A real thinker, and it just gets more and more interesting.  The subsidiary characters are also very satisfying, the lawyer, the old boyfriend, the sister, and the detectives.  Excellent stuff!)
6. The Calling
   (This is one of those films that Susan Sarandon does so well – the   role of this cranky and in pain small town Sheriff was just so made for her face and her expressions, her eyes.  I loved the way she acted her back pain – I have a bad back, so I am all   sympathy.  The amount of subtle switching about she did when she sat down in her chair, and walked slightly too stiffly: so nicely judged.  I also very much liked Ellen Burstyn in this, a very nuanced and subtle performance, as the mother who wishes Susan Sarandon would come back to herself after tragedy, and live and laugh again.  Finally – I did enjoy the madly luminous calm eyes of the religiously motivated killer, Christopher Heyerdahl.  With those eyes and the official Religious Ignorant Beard, he was just perfect as the quiet and softly spoken killer.  The interesting thing about him as a serial killer was that he would not have gone on indefinitely; he was nearly done by the time the film started.  He only needed a certain amount of [willing] victims for his prayer of    resurrection to be complete.  I did also, very much enjoy the way you didn’t know at the end if the prayer had worked,  because the dead body of his brother had …disappeared.  Very nice touch of ambiguity.  The film was filled with quirky understated performances that didn’t yell for attention but were deeply watchable.  Enjoyed.)
7. The Rewrite
   (This wasn’t the best Hugh Grant romcom vehicle I have ever      seen, but it was a perfectly sweet and nice way to spend a couple of hours, and since it also had Marisa Tomei, and the subject of writing, I was quite peaceful with it.  Marisa Tomei never became as hugely successful as I thought she would when I first saw her ages ago, and I don’t know why – much like Mercedes Ruehl [from The Fisher King amongst other things]. Why is that?  She’s a good actress.  Anyway…I liked the way Grant started by thinking that you couldn’t teach writing to anyone, and ended up explaining the basics of a 1st-2nd-3rd act     screenplay to his variously hapless students.  It was a very gentle film, and had some lines in it that really could only have been delivered by Hugh Grant in his voice and with that cute hesitancy and honesty that his Grant persona has.  It was sweet and undemanding, though I did find myself taking a tiny few notes from what he said about screenplays; not that I fancy writing one, moreso that prose has things to learn from     drama and always has.)
8. Hector and the Search for Happiness
   (Much as Hugh Grant was the person to star in that last film, this film was very much a Simon Pegg film.  The way he kept asking people what their idea of personal happiness was, and how they got it and preserved it…the way those lines were delivered were all very Simon Pegg.  Interesting, because I don’t think Simon Pegg has a specific main persona, the way poor Hugh Grant has been made to over the years [when he’s   clearly capable of far more]; but Simon Pegg does have, again, a certain English diffidence mixed with boldness that he does very well on occasion.  This was a suitably quirky film, with a journey around the world to various far flung and dangerous or learned places [e.g. Africa for joy and danger; China’s border’s for the monks and their prayer flags of many colours] to find concepts either useful or contraindicatory for a state of happiness.  He writes and doodles in a little journal his girlfriend [Rosamund Pike again – yay!] has given him, and    compiles a list of short sentences, e.g. ‘no 14. Fear is an       impediment to happiness’.  Indeedy it is, says the often anxiously depressed person.  There were little bits of animation, odd song choices and some very good guest stars in this: Toni Colette pops up, as does Stellen Skarsgard.  Oh and Christopher Plummer.  This is a very quirky thing indeed, this one.  It does the interesting thing near the end, of deciding that happiness is at best, an ability to allow yourself to feel all emotions without fear, just to be in them.  To feel and flow with it, in all the mixed up states, is on the way to  a state of happiness itself.  Hmm.  Novel idea, still considering it.)
9. Coach Carter
   (I liked the message of this film very much: Expect more,   expect better, of yourself. I usually hate films related to sport, as I get very quickly bored with all the sweating and jumping and running about and taking it seriously – it’s not like martial arts after all, which is very pretty and balletic…But I did enjoy this, including the running about and jumping bits.  even did start to think it was a bit balletic and clever.  I   actually wished I could throw a hoop myself, seemed like it might be a satisfying thing to do.  Of course, the main message of the film and the point of it, that to get anywhere properly, you need physical and mental discipline, and to have boundaries, was so nicely done in that scene near the end where he lost the right to have the gym locked up – saying that the players couldn’t play unless they kept their grades up…his idea being, that them being good on the sports field wasn’t the only thing distinguishing them, that if they gave themselves more credit and tried harder, they could be student athletes – both mentally and physically capable; instead of delinquent athletes who are allowed to do whatever they like because they are above the law and only winning matters to the school.  It was brilliant that he lost this argument, and resigned, only to find the students sitting in the gym, studying and refusing to play because they had learned his lesson and agreed with him. [Sniffle.]  Then of course, there’s that speech the most troublesome child gave, in answer to the question Samuel L.         Jackson had been asking him the whole way through – “what’s your deepest fear?”  Here, for your inspiration, is the truly lovely and more sniffling inducing answer:

     “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light,  not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we   unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    Yes! Yes! Yes!  SNIFFLE.  Goes off to write novel.  You know, in a minute.  Great film about troubled youth putting on suits and       getting a life.)
10.        White House Down
Well, really.  This, after Coach Carter?  Seriously!  Sigh.  Ok, this was a very silly film indeed.  It was quite funny in places, containing the line: “Is that President Sawyer?  He’s got a rocket launcher”…ehem.  By the end I was thinking the silliness had gone far too far and I was almost bored.  But Channing Tatum – with a larger neck than in Coach Carter, and more visible eyes, did very well with what there was here [why doesn’t he get more dramatic and less action parts??  Mystery…], and Jamie Foxx was very comedic.  They were a good pairing.  If only the film hadn’t been  quite so silly, it could have been a Die Hard type classic.  And I thought the very similarly themed film with Gerard Butler was a bit silly; but no longer, not after seeing this. Tsk.)