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Saturday, December 7, 2019

My Thought's On. . .

The War Within
Twenty years have passed since the events recorded in Seventh Decimate. Prince – Now King – Bifalt of Belleger is now married to Queen Estie of Amika, forging an uneasy alliance in order that the two nations can work together for a war they can ill afford to fight. Alas, the Last Repository – the greatest library of arcane knowledge in existence – has to be protected at all coasts. Or so the Magisters say.
At this stage, the enemy is still unknown. However, that enemy must be great indeed if the protectors of the Repository fear their coming. So, despite the fragile peace, Belleger and Amika work hard in preparation. Existing defenses are expanded; new ones built and fortified; old alliances strengthened as best they can. Even so, a damaging rift still exists: that between Bifalt and Estie, one that might be exploited if the missionary priests of the Great God Rile have anything to do with it.
How do they fare when the enemy arrives at last, revealing a command of the decimates unlike anything seen before?
Only time will tell, but in true Stephen Donaldson style, every step of the way will be described in graphic detail, revealing a depth of narrative and skill that will involve you from the moment you turn the first page. Outstanding work from the master of speculative fiction.

Friday, November 22, 2019

This Week's Review Of. . .

We Are the Dead
For longer than most people can remember, the Shulka – Jia’s invincible master warriors – have kept their nation safe from the ever-present threat represented by the Egril, a savage race they know hardly anything about.
Then one day, the unthinkable happens. The unbeatable are swept aside like chaff, and an invading army the likes of which is impossible to count, sweeps into Jia, wreaking havoc and destroying everything in its path.
Our story follows the lives of some of the refugees as they set out to make their mark and reclaim their land. Some are soldiers; others resistance fighters; most are normal folk doing what they must to survive. All are united in their hatred of a brutal, despicable foe that looks on them as nothing but chattel to serve their purposes and die.
This is no fairy tale. It’s a lesson in endurance and doing what you must to survive until the next day.
I had absolutely no problem immersing myself within the pages of this book. It’s excellent stuff. Riveting. Engrossing. Compelling . . . and a wonderful introduction to what I’m sure will be an epic series.
Bravo to Mike Shackle – if you continue writing adventures like this; you’ve got yourself a lifelong fan.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

My Review of. . .

Black City Dragon
In Black City Dragon, the Gatekeeper needs to show his mettle as never before when the puppet master behind a sixteen hundred year-old deception shows their face at last. The thing is, this adversary seems more intent on claiming Nick’s reincarnated lover – Claryce – than him.
That begs the question, why? What is it about Claryce and her connection to the Dacian Draco that’s holds the key to life and death, and ultimately, which reality will survive the coming upheaval?
Perhaps history has got it wrong, and our man isn’t so saintly after all.
Find out in this concluding book of the Black City trilogy that sees megalomaniacs square off against tyrants; humans against feirie; cops against gangsters, and of course, mutant monstrosities against legends made flesh.
This is one of the best blends of historical and mythological fantasy you’ll find. Treat yourself. You won’t regret it.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

My Reaction To. . .

Vita Nostra
When I first began to read this story, I must admit, I had difficulty adjusting to its style and some of the phraseology used. But, remembering this is a translation from another language, (Russian), I persisted. And I’m glad I did, for what started off as a dissonant, tongue-tripping slog smoothed out into a magic carpet ride of an intellectual adventure.
Vita Nostra – Latin for Our Life – tells the story of Sasha Samokhina, a teenage girl living at home with her mother, who stands at a crossroads. She must soon decide her future. Does she go off to university as everyone expects to become a tiny cog in part of the big machine that is society, or should she strive for something better?
It’s as she ponders that conundrum that she meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov. A man who knows more than he’s letting on, and someone who seems able to compel her to carry out ridiculous tasks as a way of measuring her character.
Whatever that special something is, Sasha has it, and she is offered the opportunity of attending an obscure place of learning nobody seems to have heard of: The Institute of Special Technology.
Sasha accepts that placement against her mother’s wishes, and discovers to her cost how different the institute is.
I’m never one to give away the plot, so all I’ll say is . . .
What follows is a deeply intimate and skilful exposition that deals with – dependent upon your viewpoint and character – some of the major hurdles/stepping stones in life: the nature of reality; the influence of philosophy; the true magic of mysticism; the power of faith – and how all these factors combined can lead to a metamorphosis of self beyond our wildest dreams.
Far from tripping over my hypothetical tongue, I ended up skating through a thought provoking – if disquieting – tale, one that should appeal to the chrysalis in all of us.

Criminals UK
If you’re in desperate need of a breath of televisual fresh air, I’d recommend Criminal UK. This is the first of four anthologies from different countries throughout Europe set almost entirely within a police interview room.
And that’s it!
The crimes in question have already been committed, so there’s no bloodthirsty violence, madcap escape attempts or high-speed pursuits. Neither do you get huge budgets, explosive sets, continent-hopping or intricate action scenes to play with.
Everything takes place within that interview room – or the observation lounge on the other side of a two-way mirror – and the intricacies you do see revolve around the mental agility of the police team dedicated to seeing justice done.
In some respects, Criminal UK reminded me of a stage play, as it’s the skills of the actors that immerses you in the psychology of the procedures involved in obtaining a confession – or in some cases – revealing the truth of what actually took place.
Superb stuff. And compelling too, as its quality TV like this that highlights the power of the human narrative. If you do it right, you don’t need high-octane special effects and state-of-the-art weapons. The minds of a detective and a desperate suspect will do. Each lining up their pieces on the chessboard of the interview; each one hoping their strategy is the one that prevails.
Try it. I guarantee it will leave a lasting impression.

Friday, October 25, 2019

My Thoughts On. . .

The Book of Flora
Time marches on. One hundred and forty-four years have now passed for our heroines following in the footsteps of the Unnamed midwife. Flora is growing old and content at Bambrich island, a place she felt was safe enough to settle and live out her days.
But to get there?
Ah, it’s been a long, long journey. We discover what happened to Nowhere; to Jeff City; to Ommun and many other settlements like them who tried to rebuild a part of themselves in the aftermath of a devastating plague, only to fall to an army the likes of which hasn’t existed since the end of the old world.
And why is it marching?
Now that’s another story, bringing a fitting end to the Midwife chronicles.
The thing that struck me about this series is that, sometimes, the end of an era brings changes we don’t expect. Strange and frightening changes. But wondrous nonetheless.
That’s how the author, Meg Elison rounds her story off. Life finds a way . . . if we only let it.

Our story revolves around fourteen year old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a boy abandoned by his mother when he was a little boy, and someone who has been brought up in one foster home after another ever since. The reason? He constantly runs away, having never given up searching for his mom.
Given one last chance, Billy is placed in a “family” home with foster parents who have successfully raised a wackily weird host of other children. Just the right fit you might think.
Yes and no.
Billy is adamant he’s not going to cave in and feel like he belongs. But when he stands up to bullies at school who target his foster-brother, Freddie – who walks with a brace – Billy is summoned to appear before a dying master magician who is looking for a champion to take on the mantle of his power.
The thing is, Billy knows he’s not a champion. That seems to make an impression on the wizard who transfers his power into him with the magic word – Shazam!
Whenever he says that word, Billy becomes the champion he could be. A towering, muscle-rippling hero who is super strong, agile and fast, and can fly and shoot lightning bolts from his fingertips.
The twist? He may look like a grown man, but he’s still a fourteen year old boy inside.
And therein resides the recipe for a fast paced and I must say, charmingly funny film that is way better than I thought it would be. The balance between slapstick and action; childlike glee and menacing terror is just right. Probably because Billy’s back-story of the continued search for his mother is a credible thread holding everything together.
That vulnerability, the insecurities and stigma that come with being abandoned leak over into his development from loner school kid into a real life hero who has to learn by trial and error exactly what his abilities allow him to do. Of course, Freddie’s there to help him, and the two mess about as teenagers would do, just as much as actually applying themselves to testing Billy/Shazam’s limits.
It's great fun, engaging and downright entertaining. And it never seems to go too far. When has the learning curve of grow up ever been so magical?

Friday, October 18, 2019

This Week's Reviews

Black City Demon
Having barely escaped with his life after helping defeat an attempted coup in the land of Feirie, you’d be forgiven for thinking Nick Medea might seize the opportunity to take a well-earned break.
Oh, if only being the Guardian of the Gate between realms was ever that easy.
Not only is it necessary for Nick to increase his efforts – balancing the investigation of paranormal events during the upheaval caused by a gang warfare laced prohibition, against warding off repeated incursions from the Wyld – but, it seems, he also has to contend with a full-on attack from an incubuslike creature founded on the mortal plane that’s set its sights on subverting all life on both sides of the Gate.
Who could this illusive monster be? Why is it so determined to strike at supposedly undefeatable foes? And how do these events tie into a horrific spate of murders committed more than thirty years previously?
One thing’s for sure, life’s never dull for Nick and the gang who once again get caught in the middle of a titanic battle that threatens the very fabric of reality.
Hold onto your hats. This is urban fantasy at its best, where fact, fiction and dark humor are plausibly woven together in a way that’ll guarantee you’ll want to take a second look at those shadows lurking in the corner.
Superb stuff, and tremendously good fun!

When They See Us
This miniseries is based on the events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the repercussions in the lives of 5 young boys – Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise – and their families when they are arrested, brutalized and subsequently imprisoned for a crime they did not commit.
The true assailant was eventually identified in 2002 after coming forward. DNA and corroborating evidenced proved that person to be the true offender. Alas for the five boys, they had already served lengthy prison sentences and were looked on as pariahs by many in their communities until the state withdrew all charges against them, removed them from the sex offender registry, and awarding them considerable damages
A happy ending, do you think?
Far from it.
What’s particularly powerful about this show is the way it captures the essence of the time. Those boys were innocent. The cops knew it, and yet, they went out of their way to secure a conviction at all costs. Systematic racism. Psychological and physical abuse amounting to torture. Bending – and in many cases, simply breaking – the rules and due process. And don’t forget, we’re talking about boys between 14 and 16 years old. Not only were they innocent, but one, Korey Wise, wasn’t even there in Central Park.
And once they were in the system, it got worse. Parents were unable to visit their sons because they were incarcerated hundreds of miles from home. And in Korey’s case – he couldn’t apply for parole as that would mean admitting to a crime he never committed and accepting he did wrong. A terrible injustice. I don’t mind admitting I was spitting bricks through many parts of the show.
Because that’s the thing.
This wasn’t just a show. “When They See Us” is merely a frank portrayal of the true life discrimination suffered by five boys who last a major part of their young adult lives because of a corrupt and unfair system. No amount of compensation can ever redress the balance.
But people can. The question is: will we?

Saturday, October 12, 2019

My Thought's On. . .

The Girl Who Could Move S**t With Her Mind
They say . . . “First impressions count”.
In this case, that maxim hits the nail on the head. How? As soon as I saw the title of this book, I knew I’d love it. I mean, anyone who uses that as a title for their book has to have a great sense of humor. MY kind of humor.
And I was right.
Teagan Frost is a girl on a mission. Literally. She works for a clandestine government team. A team so secret that they’ll deny any knowledge of her at the drop of a hat if she screws up. Not a good thing when you’re the only person with psychokinetic abilities in the world and a queue of drooling scientists with top security clearance are itching for you to fail so they can dissect you.
When a body turns up at the site of Teagan’s last job, murdered in such a way that it’s obvious someone with paranormal abilities must be involved, plastic fingered gloves point the blame her way and scalpels get sharpened.
Fortunately, she gets twenty-four hours to prove her innocence. But will it be enough? Teagan’s boss wants rid of her. The rest of the team hate her. A squad of black-ops goons think she’s nothing but a freak that needs locking up and experimenting on. And someone’s obviously out to ensure she fails.
Just the recipe for a nice little whodunit. One presented with an aperitif of disaster-in-the-making, with a side salad of action all the way. It’s irreverent, down and dirty, underhand, and guaranteed to please the mischief-maker in all of us.
An insanely imaginative peek into a twisted mind.

The Boys
Continuing the “first impressions count” theme. . . .
I adored this series! There you go. My thoughts in brief, expressed from the heart.
Adapted from the Dynamite comic book series of the same name, The Boys follows the life of Hughie Campbell. A mild-mannered, down-to-earth young man, Hughie is madly in love with the girl of his dreams, Robin . . . up to the moment she’s obliterated by a superhero who literally runs right through her, that is.
Hughie is traumatized, until Billy Butcher crosses his path. Butcher despises all “Supers” and wants to wipe the lot of them out. Even so, he has eyes for one in particular; Homelander, the charismatic leader of the most popular of the super heroes – The Seven, who are sponsored by the mega rich, ultra powerful Vought International corporation.
As the show goes on to reveal, the Seven aren’t all that special. In fact, most are out and out self-serving scumbags who don’t give a toss about the populace at large . . . unless it can improve their ratings, that is.
Butcher knows this, and leads his vigilantes on a desperate crusade to expose the “supers” for what they really are, while fulfilling his own personal vendetta.
What I particularly liked about this series is that it’s a great judge of human nature. If people did somehow become blessed with powers in real life, THIS is what they’d be like. Oh, they’d start off wanting to do good, but with multi-billion dollar corporations and social media gurus plotting their every move, they’d end up emotionally wrecked trash monsters.
A lot of outrageous things happen in the series. (Ass-murder being a prime example) A truly explosive moment, I guarantee. And it’s awesome. Bad behavior. Even worse language. Sexual exploitation.  One of the most timely – tongue-in-cheek- exposes I’ve seen in a long time.
Even better, there’s one hellova twist at the end that sets up series 2 quite nicely, thank you very much. And I for one can’t wait J