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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Final reading and viewing for 2012

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Reading

 4Dec P The Water Horse by Julia Gregson** Well written and well researched but thoroughly grim and depressing. After the death of her mother, Catherine, a Welsh farmer’s daughter, leaves home, and her drover sweetheart, to join Florence Nightingale’s nurses in the Crimea. There is romance in Catherine’s future, but it is so overshadowed with the horrors of war and army hospitals that I was unable to read the book from start to finish without rests to read magazines and fanfic for light relief. I’m sure the war sections were very realistic but they were, of course, gruesome. I wanted to know what happened but was very glad to reach the end. Probably my least favourite book of the year.

14Dec E A Season for the Dead by David Hewson****. Gruesome but intelligent and absorbing crime story set in Rome. The murders involve senior churchmen and the city’s churches in the hunt for a serial killer. There is tension between the state police and the diplomatic immunity provided by the Vatican. The young policeman at the centre of the case is apparently to figure in a series and I might look out for more.

21Dec E My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday**. Ms Friday collected information about women’s sexual fantasies and wove them into a book interspersed with her own opinions on the subject. There is also an afterword by a psychiatrist. He and the author both claim that the book will allow women to admit to having sexual fantasies. I think this argument makes the entire project seem very old fashioned, and yet it’s possible that this was one of the works that led to some more liberal thought. The author does not claim to have a complete record of the subject; her collection is limited by the people who responded to her advertisements and talks. One criticism of the book is that it is a kind of porn and at first I was tempted to agree but then realised that if it was, it was very inefficient. I could certainly have done without so many long descriptions of fantasies, but mainly because they were boring. I think my major finding was that other people’s sexual fantasies are not a turn-on. Even if they are shared, there are bound to be details that change them and decrease their power. What was really interesting was the extent to which people indulge in fantasy, their motivations, and the stimuli for the different types of fantasy in the first place. An fascinating concept but I had to force myself to finish the book.

I have apparently read so little this month! That’s not the whole truth but I haven’t read many novels. I have been distracted by all the online ficlets that I mentioned in my post on novels and shorter writing. I ought perhaps to give particular mention to Josh Lanyon’s codas. Every other day he gave his blog followers a coda or short glimpse of Christmas for a pair of characters from one of his novels or novellas. It was a lovely idea, and the codas were very satisfying, linked to the main story and giving an extra ‘ending’. There has also been an Advent Calendar of fanfic recommendations on one of the communities I belong to on Live Journal, and to my surprise, almost half were stories I had not read before. As a result of all this, my usual reading habits suffered!

132 books in a year – about 11 per month, so around 3 a week. But I probably doubled that with fanfic reading, a lot of which is novel length.

Viewing

6Dec Magic Mike** The film was billed as a story of a young man shown the ‘ropes’ as a male stripper by an expert. I expected – well, I’m not sure, but probably sexy moves and perhaps some comedy. Something like The Full Monty. The dance routines were incredible, but the plot was quite dark, and the filming was dark, too, with a lot of the action taking place seen through windows, curtains, etc. and in sepia-style colours. I found a lot of the dialogue hard to follow – the southern American accents plus a lot of dialect and idiom didn’t come across well for an English viewer. Disappointing.

14Dec Snow White and the Huntsman*** Very beautiful and quite dark, as befits the underlying story. However, the main characters were insufficiently developed and there were minor plotholes in the retelling. I was faintly disappointed, having looked forward to this for some time.

19Dec The Hobbit***** For once, we went to the cinema. The computer graphics really do need ‘space’ and although we have a DVD projector we felt a need to see the film on a bigger screen and as soon as it came out. The only possible criticism is the slowness of the way the plot develops. Of course, Jackson made Lord of the Rings in three films from three long volumes, and has now decided to make three films from the comparatively short one volume book of The Hobbit so the pace was bound to be different. It was very well done, though at time he took liberties with the story for cinematic effect. He has chosen to insert things from The Silmarillion to explain things – it wouldn’t have worked in the book but perhaps it was needed for a film. Some of the family thought it improved in the second half; I was satisfied right from the opening scenes. The hobbit hole is perfect! We supported our local independent cinema and now need to see the film again in 3D!

20Dec Eyes Wide Open**** This story about two very religious Jewish men in Jerusalem who desire each other and question their sexuality is absorbing and ultimately (inevitably?) sad. The underlying themes of homophobia and the question of sin within a religious context are interestingly presented but I think the main fascination of the film was the detail about daily life in Jerusalem in an Orthodox neighbourhood. I have been to Jerusalem and recognised some aspects of it but found the glimpses ‘behind the scenes’ illuminating. It was also, for me, something new to watch a film (subtitled, of course) in Hebrew.

22Dec The Mystery of Edwin Drood**** A BBC period drama that adapts and completes the Dickens story. Extremely well acted. The switch from Dickens to BBC was seamless! One strange aspect of the film was that although most scenes were shot in apparently normal locations, and not a studio, there were no ‘extras’, no people around other than the cast.

23Dec Loving Miss Hatto***** An extremely well acted and filmed BBC drama scripted by Victoria Wood. It tells the true story of a classical music hoax and of the love story behind it. I didn’t intend to watch it but was hooked from the first scene.

24Dec The Snowman and the Snowdog*** Sweet but unmemorable ‘sequel’ to The Snowman. It lacked the novelty of the original and the soundtrack wasn’t anywhere near as exquisite. I have since watched a documentary about the way it was made, and that was intriguing.

24Dec In Bruges* I was talked into watching this (over two nights) on the understanding that it was a dark comedy with a good ending. Nothing could be further from the truth and it was not something I would have chosen to watch on Christmas Eve. Tense, violent, and sad. Extremely well acted but I don’t that makes up for the drawbacks.

25Dec Room on the Broom*** Another children’s film based on the story by the author of The Gruffalo. Beautifully produced but perhaps without quite the endearing quirkiness of The Gruffalo.

25Dec The Snowmen: The Doctor Who Christmas Special.**** I suspect a lot of future snowmen will have evil features so perhaps it’s a good job it was raining here over Christmas. The doctor gained a new companion who is a bit of a mystery. The episode was slightly unsatisfying as we have no way of solving the mystery until the new season starts, which isn’t immediately. Presumably it’s meant to hook the audience into watching the new season, though surely that can’t be necessary.

27Dec The Birds** I honestly thought I’d seen this Hitchcock ‘classic’ but it turns out I hadn’t – just clips – and of course I was familiar with the Daphne du Maurier story it’s based on. That made quite an impact when I first read it. I wasn’t impressed by the film – too glossy and unreal, too long-drawn-out, etc. The way actresses in films of that era kept their hair and make-up intact provokes giggles rather than admiration.

28Dec Restless*** A BBC spy drama – a three hour film shown over two nights. Much better than The Birds in terms of acting and direction but it had numerous plotholes and some huge continuity errors.

29Dec Men in Black III**** I still think the first film in the series was the best but the sequels are very enjoyable. Perhaps it’s the lack of novelty that makes them less, somehow. Once you’ve seen the underground offices full of aliens, you’ve seen them, after all. I love Will Smith, and I liked the way the plot linked itself to the original moon launch, way back in the month I got married – I could really relate to all those people watching on their televisions! And the villain was quite original. Not five star, but still very good.

30Dec Moon** A sci-fi film that BBC billed as Film of the Day. Very long-drawn-out story about workers on the moon discovering that they are clones. They didn’t exactly have to spend much on sets or cast. Boring!

Early December viewing was pretty sparse then things came thick and fast over Christmas! I won’t be watching any films on New Year’s Eve so that’s it for 2012.

This has been an interesting exercise but I think next year I will only review things that you need to know about, because they are either extremely good or extremely bad. I might add fanfic to the mix. I will also try to review in more depth though I will, I promise, avoid my pet hate – plot spoilers within a review. However I organise my reviews, there won’t be a monthly post.

Meanwhile, Happy New Year!

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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in reviews

 

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Novels versus shorter writing.

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I’ve been musing about the differences between novels and shorter fiction – novellas, short stories, ficlets, flashfic and drabbles (and all variations on these). I’ve played with all these kinds of writing and I’ve chosen to read all of them, too. But I think I have to say my real preference is for the novel, whether to read or to write. Taking Nanowrimo’s definition as a yardstick I’m talking about fiction that is over fifty thousand words long. This is an arbitrary measurement, dictated by print publishing, but it allows us to use a common description.

Characters can be allowed to develop at their own pace in a novel. This is satisfying for a reader who learns about a character slowly, with lots of twists and turns of plot and personality. It is also satisfying for the writer who can hold back secrets, allow for events to influence development and look at the reactions of a character to all kinds of happenings. The plot, too, can take time to unfold, and can contain sub-plots and underlying themes that could never be fully explored in a shorter work. This is even more true of a linked series of novels, where there is the pleasure of remembering past incidents and building up a whole detailed history.

As a writer I like to immerse myself in whatever I am writing. I emerge later – sometimes hours later – knowing I have been living in a different world which is every bit as real to me as the one where I need to shop or prepare a meal. My favourite books are the ones where I have been able to lose myself in the world the author has created and I would seriously like to provide that kind of alternate universe for my readers. For me, it never seems possible in a shorter story. It takes me time to enter wholly into a fictional universe and until that entry is complete the demands of everyday life tend to summon me back again. So usually, with someone else’s short fiction I can admire, but not love, and in my own, I am always to some extent an outsider telling a story, not submerged in the ‘dream’.

I read very quickly, which is probably a factor in my preferences. A short story is over almost before it has begun and certainly before I have had a chance to fall under its spell. As I always write what I want to read this means my own short works are over too quickly, as well. Of course, stories dictate their own length and some have only one strand, which will last for ten or twenty thousand words and no more. Any attempt to expand the idea will produce repetitious and turgid prose that an editor would rightly cut. This is, incidentally, just as true of longer stories and some huge novels could benefit by being pared down to a slimmer size.

I notice that Writing Magazine lays great emphasis on the short story. Maybe it’s because there are more possible outlets for the beginner to try with submissions; there are magazines galore and calls for entries for competitions and anthologies.  Maybe people feel they can write something short because it will, they think, take less time out of their busy lives. There is also a mistaken perception that short stories are somehow easier than the novel; their lack of length makes them less daunting and more likely to be achieved. One only has to look at ‘classical’ short stories to know this isn’t true, but the idea persists.

I have been made more than normally aware of all this by the amount of ‘advent’ fiction that has come my way this month. Various writers, some I call friends and some I know of and ‘follow’ have been treating their readers to short fiction, sometimes a piece a day, in the run up to Christmas. This is happening in the worlds of original fiction and fan fiction alike. Some of the offerings are very good indeed and it is lovely to have such ‘gifts’ online to open each day. But there is something unsatisfying about a diet of brief glimpses. I was looking at some of my own flashfics, wondering whether to work on one or two to offer here. But I couldn’t really get into any of them again, whereas I was doing a final proof reading of one of my novels and had to be very strict with myself to concentrate on punctuation and spelling and not get carried away by my own story!

I know I feel happy that my own work next year will focus on novel length works. Two (at least) for final editing and formatting, and one (at least) to write. I shall no doubt get happily lost in them, and it seems likely that things like mealtimes and necessary household tasks will suffer!

Some of you, I know, enjoy shorter fiction, and some of you write it for various reasons, including the perfectly good one that it can be an excellent way of breaking the dreaded writer’s block. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in writing

 

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Questions and Answers – a poem

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I wrote this last Christmas in a slash fanfic context but as I didn’t give the characters names it could apply to any couple involved in law enforcement or other dangerous occupations. The voices alternate and it should be fairly clear that one  of the pair is naturally much more reckless than his companion. So you could try guessing which couple I wrote it about.

 Questions and answers.

(a conversation for two voices)

So if I were to say to you, ‘Take care!

Protect that face and body that I call

my own, my world, my universe, my star,’

would you be thoughtful, heed my words of love,

draw back from conflict, take the quiet road,

or would you laugh and disregard my fears?

#

I’d rather take you by your willing hand,

pull you all helter-skelter down the way

of danger, laughing, yes, but smiling, too,

and leavening the peril with a kiss.

I think you’d follow me and soon forget

your fears, your very thoughts, your warning words.

#

I scarce can think. And if I followed you

all thought would soon be lost to me indeed.

Whirling around the planet of my love

I’d come to see the wild raw atmosphere

as usual, familiar, naught to fear;

and caught up in your smile I’d laugh at death.

#

We’d welcome all the winds of danger with

a kiss of friendship and a loving gun.

Together we could make the stars our home,

forget mere mortals with their slow concerns.

We’d run from earthly plots and mundane crimes

towards the splendour of the undying sun.

#

And yet I have to spare a fleeting thought

for those we fight for, those who need our care.

Without that conscience which should underpin

our actions, would our feelings sour and die?

The stars might fail to note the earth’s concerns

but if we did not heed, could we still love?

#

My feelings are as constant as the stars.

Whatever creed or ethic underlies

our deeds I care not, only that you should

be mine, and follow where I lead and be

my constant sun, the light by which I steer

my life; my follower and my final goal.

#

I’ll follow you. I’ll chase you through the heavens,

careless of danger, laughing in your wake,

but if I am your sun then let my rays

shine on this earth and lighten what they see,

then we can watch and smile and kiss and dream

free in our starry skies, safe in our love.

#

Then take my hand, come fly with me and see

what wonders we can find, what legends make.

Let’s kiss and  let our love spill out and down

upon the lesser mortals if you wish.

So long as you are mine I am content

and will go gladly to our destiny.

#

Consider me content too, but I must

tell you again I’d rather have that face,

that voice, that body whole and in my arms

than gathering glory in the void of space,

so take me by the hand and lead me on

but listen when I say to you, ‘Take care!’

###

Does anyone know how to persuade WordPress not to put extra line breaks in poems? I’ve tried pasting in plain text.



		
 
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Posted by on December 12, 2012 in poetry

 

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November reading and viewing

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Reading

3Nov Skin Deep by Drew Zachary **** After reading a few books by him I know the author can be trusted to deliver a good story, well told. This is an erotic romance, set in a world where there are magic users. Razi possesses the power of glamour, and, after a childhood made miserable by abuse, is terrified that nobody will ever want the real person behind the magical beauty and glitter. It’s up to Dannan to prove Razi’s fears are groundless. The magic is beautifully described, and the gradual change to a normal relationship is both heart-warming and full of lessons for the reader which are all the better for not being too heavily presented. I would have liked a little more of both worlds, the glamorous and the prosaic, and a little less sex, but the publishers clearly wanted this to sell as erotica and the sex was at least well written.

6Nov Casket of Souls by Lynn Flewelling**** This is the sixth book in the Nightrunner series, and I enjoyed it, but thought it lacked some of the sparkle of its predecessors. The characters are as engaging as ever, and the plot is satisfyingly complex. The world building is detailed and competent. I thought the structure of the story was more prosaic and less exciting than the previous tales; the reader knew what was going on almost before the protagonists did, which reduced the tension. I also found the language at times less well-edited than is normal for this writer. I was engrossed by the story but somehow hope Ms Flewelling turns her attention to new characters for her next novel; I suspect she has, at least temporarily, run out of interesting things to say about Seregil and Alec, and also out of convincing mysteries for them to unravel. The pair still command affection but there seems to be little more to learn about them, and their country has perhaps had its fair share of national and city-wide disasters and triumphs. Whilst the plot hinges, as usual, on magic, the overall magic is waning. However, for anyone who has been following the series, this book is to be recommended. For anyone else, it probably wouldn’t make sense.

 9Nov Gleams of a Remoter World by Fiona Glass*** This is a romance mixed with a ghost story set in Ireland on the coast of Galway where a ruined rectory (next door to an equally ruined church) is haunted by a murder that took place during the first world war. Investigative journalists are sent to cover the story and the results change their lives, bringing an end to their already rocky relationship then creating better futures for everyone. I enjoyed the location and the plot was mysterious enough, but I never really took to the main characters, and the confusing spirit manifestations were never altogether convincing. Well done but perhaps not totally to my taste. When it comes to paranormal tales, as opposed to absolute fantasy, I am hard to please.

13Nov Sidetracked by Henning Mankell*** The third of the Wallander books I bought. Unfortunately I read them in the wrong order and realised who the criminal in this one was before I should have done which rather reduced themystery element. The plots are quite intriguing but I think I shall avoid them in future because the constant short sentences have a staccato effect that I find very irritating.

15Nov Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire***** The sixth volume in the October Daye series. I absolutely adore this beautifully written urban fantasy series with the changeling private detective and all the forays into faerie. I can even forgive the American spelling of the title, because, after all, the author is American and the stories are based in San Francisco. This time, October has to stop an uncontrolled changeling teenager destroying the foundations of the fairy lands.The books need to be read in order otherwise a lot of things woudn’t make sense, but I can thoroughly recommend them to anyone who likes a hefty dose of magic and lots of different fae races mixed with a violent thriller-style plot and a helping of romance.

17Nov Transforming Hades by Drew Zachary*** I was disappointed in this. It’s an erotic romance set against a sci fi background (terraforming planets for human occupation) and the world building and characterisation are up to the author’s usual standards. But the plot is too slight to support the amount of sex and too short to really engage the reader.

21Nov Half Moon Chambers by Harper Fox***** I love this author’s work. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that there were no paranormal elements included. Recently, Harper’s stories have all had hints of ghosts or other beings and whilst I sometimes don’t mind at other times I find it interferes with the narrative. This was a straightforward romance between a cop and a witness, with plenty of police procedure, violence and suspense. When it went ‘live’ Harper asked her fans to take a survey about their e-book reading preferences, e.g. formats, online stores, etc. and I was one of the lucky ones picked at random to get a free copy of one of her books. As I have them all, I’ve been promised the next one!

28Nov The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon***** I really like the Lord John Grey novels and novellas by this author but am less keen on the Outlander series for which she is so famous. Time travel in anything other than science fiction really isn’t my ‘thing’ and I find it very hard to suspend disbelief. So I approached this novel cautiously as it contains elements of both series. I was relieved to find that twentieth century Claire was missing from the plot except when her husband, Jamie Fraser, thought about her, and everything was firmly grounded in eighteenth century England and Ireland. The story was complex and fascinating and the writing was brilliant. That’s true of the Outlander books, too, but I’ll stick with John Grey and his military entanglements. Jamie, a Scot captured after Culloden, is a paroled prisoner under the control of John Grey, and is persuaded to help foil a new plot to put Charles Stuart on the throne. He agrees, because he knows (from Claire) that the plot will fail and he wants to spare his friends death and destruction.The growing friendship between the two men is overshadowed by Grey’s position as parole officer and also by his declaration (in an earlier book) that he loves  and desires Jamie. The characters are drawn in such detail that the reader feels they are real acquaintances by the end, but I suspect that a knowledge of the earlier books, at least the John Grey ones, is needed to make sense of some of the events. Highly recommended if you already know the series.

Some excellent reading this month!

Viewing.

5Nov Legend of the Seeker Season 1*** I’d read most of the books and wanted to see what a TV series had made of them. The world building in the books is fantastic and kept me reading, but the films used what looked like the same woods, the same studio villages and the same ‘palaces’ over and over again. The acting is wooden, the fights are badly choreographed, and the plot wanders away from the source material. This was cheap television. Something I disliked about the books was the emphasis on pain, but the worst volume was reduced to one episode. Something I liked about both books and films was the focus on friendship and family. I have season 2 and will probably watch it at some point. I know the series ended when the funding was withdrawn and does not cover all the books but I would be interested to find out how far it gets.I stopped reading the books but I know the show doesn’t get as far as the volumes I read, anyway.

 7Nov The Dictator** This wasn’t as funny as some of Sacha Baron Cohen’s earlier work. It tried too hard and the humour became too heavy handed to make me laugh. The plot concerns a dictator who tries to keep his country from becoming westernised. There are echoes of North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and other states, but Wadiya is not a real place, just a symbol of oppression. During a trip to the US to talk to the UN the dictator meets an American girl and his world view gradually changes. He tells the US that they are the real dictatorship then goes home determined that his country will never fall into western ways. As a satirical concept it works, but as a film it is never great, and occasionally boring.

10Nov Firefly: Serenity.*** LoveFilm sent me Disc One, which had the film on it, and two of the series episodes. I suspect I should have seen some episodes before watching the film, as I never really engaged with the characters. It was quite an exciting sci-fi story with a lovely space ship, and a visit to a planet with echoes of the wild west but I won’t mind much if I never see Disc Two.

11Nov The 10th Kingdom** I really wanted to see this and missed the TV series so was thrilled when a friend gave me her copy of the eight episodes. I was disappointed. I had been lured with tales of fae characters in New York. In fact, after the first episode, most of the action takes place in the nine kingdoms of Fairyland with a father and daughter team from New York expected to save the day. The concept was good but the humour, the horror, and the romance were all heavy handed. The story was based around fairy tales such as Snow White, Red Riding Hood etc. with walk-on parts for nursery rhymes such as Little Bo Peep. I didn’t think it was nearly as good as The Brothers Grimm.

13Nov Inspector Montalbano Season 2**** I really enjoy the Sicilian locations and the glimpses of the Sicilian way of life. The main characters are very pleasing, too. There are flaws. The plots, which I believe are taken from novels, are convoluted and sometimes hard to follow, probably because they are condensed into hour and a half or two hour episodes. Some of the humour is also hard to understand via subtitles. However, I’ve been quite involved in watching the series and will probably watch the next season.

24Nov The Lincoln Lawyer**** A courtroom drama that turns into a thriller with a lot of twists and turns. Competent and engaging.

 25Nov DCI Banks**** TV series. I’ve forgotten which season this was. It’s a police drama series with the main focus on Banks (Stephen Tompkinson) but with a good supporting cast. I love the Yorkshire locations and the attention to detail that makes this show so real and believable. I tried the books it’s based on but was less than impressed by the writing style.

28Nov The Young Victoria***** I was really surprised that I liked this film so much. I wanted to see it because of all the reviews but half expected it to be boring. The acting and direction were superb, and it was a lovely glimpse of Victoria’s youth and marriage. We have such firm views of the queen, coloured by time and hindsight and we forget that she was young once. This is a romantic film but it also shows a great deal about politics and about the relationship between the monarch and government. Highly recommended.

29Nov Secret State***** Four part Brit political thriller highlighting the links between the banks and the petrochemical industry versus the government of the day. Well acted and scripted. Interesting and intelligent.

A mixed bag of viewing this month with a couple of highlights at the end.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2012 in reviews

 

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