Monday, 30 July 2018

Book Reviews for July 2018

What I'm Reading

Morgan's Magic MoonMorgan's Magic Moon by Christopher Parry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fiction, 2016. A sweet wholesome story that flows easily and really lends itself to young readers following along. Check out my full review post HERE.

Man-Eater: The Life and Legend of an American CannibalMan-Eater: The Life and Legend of an American Cannibal by Harold Schechter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2015. I found this one a bit of a slog. It's a very - perhaps overly - detailed account of the trials of and mythos surrounding 'Alferd' Packer, possible multiple murderer and certain cannibal.

The Golden and Ghoulish Age of the Gibbet in BritainThe Golden and Ghoulish Age of the Gibbet in Britain by Sarah Tarlow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2015. Fascinating subject and written in a very accessible manner.

Wicked Children: Murderous Tales from HistoryWicked Children: Murderous Tales from History by Karen Maitland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2016. Interesting but very short essay on 'wicked children', followed by excerpts of research and writing from Maitland's novel.

Inside Broadmoor: Secrets of the Criminally Insane - Revealed by the Chief AttendantInside Broadmoor: Secrets of the Criminally Insane - Revealed by the Chief Attendant by Kim Forester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2016. Fascinating insight into the Broadmoor of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, built around recently rediscovered contemporary diaries and documents.

Memphis Vice, 1863: Sex for Sale and the Scandal that Rocked a Civil War CityMemphis Vice, 1863: Sex for Sale and the Scandal that Rocked a Civil War City by Tobin T Buhk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2016. Interesting case studies of vice prosecutions in civil war era Memphis.

KrayologyKrayology by John Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2016. Well written and balanced account of the rise and fall of the Krays. Bennett approached the task as a historian, and the neutral academic approach to the available sources makes for a very detailed and non-sensationalist book.

The Havant Boy Ripper: The Murder of Percy Knight SearleThe Havant Boy Ripper: The Murder of Percy Knight Searle by David Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2018. Impressively researched and well written account of the 1888 murder of 8-year-old Percy Searle - and the subsequent murder trial of Robert Husband, aged just 11.

Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of MenHell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men by Harold Schechter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2018. This was the first I'd heard of Belle Gunness, but I felt this was a well researched and comprehensive introduction to the case and the rumours surrounding it. I was especially impressed with the attractive way it was laid out for Kindle.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2004. Really enjoyable interweaving of two events - the Chicago world's fair and the series of murders committed by the infamous H. H. Holmes. Although I picked it up for the true crime element, it was the story of the fair which really captured my imagination.

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Saturday, 28 July 2018

What I'm Listening To In July

What I'm Listening To

My Top Ten tracks of the month!

Don't Play Nice - Verbalicious (2005)

Verbalicious, later going by Verse, Natalia Kills and then Teddy Sinclair, was best known at the time of this release for starring in the Jasper Carrott sitcom All About Me. I distinctly remember going out and buying trainers and knee high socks on the back of how cool I thought Natalia looked in this vid! The song peaked at #11 in the UK - her highest UK chart position to date and probably ever, given that her career kind of crashed and burned after being kicked off the judging panel of X-Factor New Zealand for bullying a contestant.

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together - Taylor Swift (2012)

100% Marianna approved. Swifty peaked at #4 in the UK with this one back in 2012. For more Taylor Swift fun, check out THIS CLIP of Brit boyband Union J explaining to their junior member that Swifty's bearding doesn't involve facial hair... xD

The Model - Kraftwerk (1982)

I've been really into robot stuff this month and in the world of music it doesn't get much more robotic than Kraftwerk. Das Model was originally released in German in 1978, then an English translation was chosen as the B-side for 1981's 'Computer Love': it proved so popular EMI re-issued the single and it hit #1 in February '82. I like the original but the awkward - robotic - translation of the English version adds another element that just turns it into an instant classic.

What Are You Waiting For? - Nickelback (2014)

I've never understood the internet's hatred of Nickelback - if you're looking for inoffensive background noise it really doesn't come much better! What Are You Waiting For? may not have charted in the UK but YouTube keeps rotating onto it and I've had no real objection.

Sunset Jesus - Avicii (2015)

I love this track from the late Avicii's second album, Stories. I've played it way too much this month!

Underpass - John Foxx (1980)

Some more electro-pop! Underpass was Foxx's first solo release after leaving Ultravox, and went on to peak at #31 in the UK chart. I love how dark and menacing it sounds - it really does capture that creepy feeling of walking alone through an underpass at night...

This Is How We Do - Katy Perry (2013)

Katy Perry has been Marianna's favourite this month - probably because all of her videos are carefully constructed to be addictively appealing to kids and pester power - but as it's a step up from constant repeats of 'Shake It Off' I'll take it! This Is How We Do peaked at #33 in the UK and is my personal favourite of Perry's back catalogue.

Freaky Friday - Lil Dicky ft. Chris Brown (2018)

Freaky Friday is one of my favourite films - the Jodie Foster version, obvs - because I am a total sucker for body swap and general life swap stories. So this track just cracks me up every time I hear it; the first time I heard it I didn't even realize it was a serious release or that Brown was actually involved because, well, who would? (And because, let's face it, the reality of bodyswapping with a convicted domestic abuser is probably somewhat less glamorous...)

Frozen - Madonna (1998)

I was so obsessed with this song back in the day! Frozen hit the top spot in the UK, along with top ten positions across much of the western world, and remains one of my all time favourite Madonna tracks. There was a really cool fic based on it written for this year's Multifandom Drabble Exchange which hooked me right back in.

Gimme Ma Grammy - Katy Brand as Coldplay (2009)

My spoof track of the month is Katy Brand's take on Coldplay's smash hit Viva La Vida.

When I sing this song
You know its earnest, dull and long
And is there anything worse to hear
Than a popstar who's sincere?
So I sing this song as the band plays blandly on
But I'm singing it from the heart
like I'm a serious bloke and this is serious art.

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Friday, 20 July 2018

Morgan's Magic Moon

Morgan's Magic Moon

Our new favourite bedtime story this month is 'Morgan's Magic Moon' by Christopher Parry. It is the super cute story of a little girl who searches high and low for the missing moon, all with the help of her faithful dog Cwtch - a Welsh word for which there is no literal translation, but is basically a cuddly, snuggly kind of a hug.

Morgan's Magic Moon by Christopher Parry

I absolutely love the stylized illustrations and the bright colour palette used by Jordan Brown. I am notoriously picky about the artwork in children's books - quietly swapping out books for editions with subjectively better illustrations is practically a fulltime hobby these days! - so that's no faint praise.

Marianna tells me the pictures are beautiful because Morgan has red hair just like her. Who am I to argue? :)

The whole book is beautifully laid out, and the text is clear and easy for little fingers to follow.

Morgan's Magic Moon Children's Story Book

What really makes this a firm favourite however is the story itself.

So many children's books fall down over awkward rhyme. Even some of the biggest names in the business have problems with sentences which don't quite flow, or inadvertent tongue twisters that have you stumbling over your words. No such problem here! It's a small thing, I know, but a nice even rhythm is an important thing when it comes to a bedtime story.

In conclusion: this is a sweet wholesome story that flows easily and really lends itself to young readers following along.

Marianna and Morgan's Magic Moon

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Saturday, 30 June 2018

Book Reviews for June 2018

What I'm Reading

City of Monsters (Gotham)City of Monsters by Jason Starr
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Fiction, 2018. I really wanted to enjoy this but it just wasn't as strong as the first installment. I felt the balance between showing and telling was a little too skewed to the latter, and my good will gave up completely about the time Harvey forgot the name of the partner he had to watch burned to death before his eyes... You can read my full spoiler laden review of this one HERE.

Do You Believe in Groovicorns?Do You Believe in Groovicorns? by Make Believe Ideas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fiction, 2018. Super cute rhyming book with reversible sequins on each page. My three-year-old daughter is a big fan!

The Abbey Court Murder (Inspector Furnival, #1)The Abbey Court Murder by Annie Haynes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fiction, 1923. The writing style is rather florid and flowery, but the murder mystery is enjoyable enough.

The Charing Cross MysteryThe Charing Cross Mystery by J.S. Fletcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fiction, 1922. When a retired police inspector dies suddenly on a train, it sets in motion a whole tangle of intrigue and mystery... I really enjoyed this one, and all its twists and turns.

The Kang-He VaseThe Kang-He Vase by J.S. Fletcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fiction, 1926. Ben is recovering from illness when his life is turned upside down by the appearance of his no good Uncle Joseph Krevin. The mystery is a little thin on the ground in this one - it reads more like a boy's adventure story than anything - but, still, enjoyable enough as these things go.

Last Post: The Final Word from Our First World War SoldiersLast Post: The Final Word from Our First World War Soldiers by Max Arthur
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Non-Fiction, 2007. Transcripts from interviews with the last living British veterans of WW1. Very moving, as well as a fascinating record of social history.

The Safety PinThe Safety Pin by J.S. Fletcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fiction, 1924. When a man's body is found just outside the home of Southernstowe's Lady Mayor, a dark tale of murder, intrigue and blackmail unfolds. Enjoyable page turner of a mystery with a couple of unexpected small twists.

The Talleyrand MaximThe Talleyrand Maxim by J.S. Fletcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fiction, 1919. Really enjoyable page-turner of a murder mystery.

The Borough TreasurerThe Borough Treasurer by J.S. Fletcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fiction, 1921. Enjoyable classic murder mystery.

The Paradise MysteryThe Paradise Mystery by J.S. Fletcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fiction, 1921. Fletcher doing what he does best - hidden identities, mysterious secrets, grasping characters you love to hate...

The Chestermarke InstinctThe Chestermarke Instinct by J.S. Fletcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fiction, 1918. This one was quite dark for Fletcher - money lenders, kidnap, torture - as well as the usual array of characters with the 'whip hand'. It was a fun page turner of a murder mystery all the same though the ending, as usual, felt a little rushed.

The Herapath PropertyThe Herapath Property by J.S. Fletcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fiction, 1921. When Herapath, MP and wealthy property magnate is found dead in his office, it's a question of whether this is a case of murder or suicide. I particularly enjoyed this one for the focus on how the press worked with the police to flush out a few of the suspects - and, for once, I didn't guess the blackmail worthy secret from the outset!

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Thursday, 28 June 2018

What I'm Listening To In June

What I'm Listening To

My Top Ten tracks of the month!

Love How It Hurts - Scouting For Girls (2011)

Scouting for Girls, their debut album, came out over ten years ago now. Man, I feel old! I love all their stuff but this one just pips the others to the post as my favourite. It peaked at #17 and was one of the last of their singles to chart.

Salt Sweat Sugar - Jimmy Eat World (2001)

Nostalgia central! Bleed American remains the only album I have ever gone out and bought solely on the strength of a written magazine review. It was well worth taking that pocket money risk though and Jimmy Eat World went on to do pretty well in the UK during the early 2000s.

Life Is a Highway - Rascal Flatts (2006)

Rascal Flatts covered this 1992 track by Tom Cochrane for Disney Pixar's Cars soundtrack. Marianna has wanted a YouTube rotation of Disney songs this month and this is definitely one of the better offerings!

Nancy Mulligan - Ed Sheeran (2017)

One of my favourite Ed Sheeran tracks, Nancy Mulligan peaked at #13 on the UK singles chart in 2017 and #3 in Ireland. This vid has Open Champion Irish Dancer, Hannah Redlich, entertaining some re-enactment WW2 troops.

Girls Lie Too - Terri Clark (1970)

More country with Terri Clark; this one topped the US country chart back in 2004 and starred Shaun Silva as Captain Jack Sparrow in the video.

My House - Dr Syntax ft. Tom Caruana (2012)

The song for everyone who has ever lived in shared digs! Dr. Syntax is a UK rapper from rural North Oxfordshire, renowned for his clever lyrics and commentary on middle class problems...

Das Geht Boom - Harris & Ford ft. Lisah (2013)

I love Austrian dance duo Harris & Ford because cheesy Eurodance is always where it's at for me. This one spent eight weeks in the Austrian singles chart in summer 2013, peaking at #25. Anthony's most hated of their tracks is Tick Tack (Boom Bang) (2014) so I've made sure to play that a few times this month too...

Hamma! - Culcha Candela (2007)

Speaking of cheese, it don't get much better than Culcha Candela's break through hit. It reached the top spot on the German chart, in addition to #3 in Austria and #13 in Switzerland. In German, generally speaking, something is the hammer (der Hammer) if it's really good. So the song is just a guy telling a girl that she's the best. Especially in that outfit.

Wildes Ding - Culcha Candela (2011)

This was one of my favourite getting ready to go out songs back in the day. Now it's the background track to doing some laundry... Ah, adulthood.

House Trained Dog - Lenny Henry & Gina Yashere (2005)

Spoof of Snoop Dogg's 2004 mega hit Drop It Like It's Hot for the second series of The Lenny Henry Show.

I ain't got time to listen to a phat tune,
She'll be back soon so I better vacuum,
Then clean the kids' room with a new broom,
Oh my God, it's all doom and gloom!
She's my woman and I gotta have her lovin'
So I'm sticking my kids' supper in the microwave oven.

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What I'm Listening To

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Labour Branch Report - June 2018

June 2018 Labour Branch Report

My June 2018 councillor report for Pontnewydd Labour Branch - you can also read the PDF HERE.

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Politics and Opinion

Sunday, 10 June 2018

This Week - 10th June 2018

Wer rastet, der rostet - he who rests, rusts.
Life This Week

It's been a pretty busy week, all told. I've finally managed to get all the junk cleared from the house, and I've been working throughout the week on the back garden. There is about two meters at the bottom still thick with nettles, but the rest has been done. Hopefully by the end of next week I'll be moving on to the front garden.

I had a doctor's appointment on Monday about my back to confirm I hadn't done anything serious. It's been a lot better this week anyway, and only really hurts when I'm getting up. On Wednesday I had Resources & Business overview and scrutiny committee then, when Anthony was out at Community Council (and the pub...) in the evening, I moved a bunch of bookcases about downstairs. I was very pleased I managed to do it singlehandedly!

On Tuesday I went to Barry Island with Marianna and my family. It was really good fun - we even went on the fair!

We had a meeting of the Northville Underpass steering group on Thursday. It was the one thing I most wanted done way back when I first campaigned for election in 2012, and now movement is finally within sight... After that I went up to the Civic Centre for the first regular meeting of the local Labour Campaign Forum.

Friday saw Dave and I talking with the groundskeeper at Pontnewydd Park. Since the council gave up up on park upkeep beyond the bare minimum parts of it have fallen into disrepair, especially the tennis courts. Terry had some photos of the park in the 1980s when it was beautifully maintained and in constant use. We're going to try and get some volunteers together to start recapturing some of that former glory.

Yesterday was Cwmbran Big Event, so we went to help out on the Labour and Cwmbran Community Council stalls. It was a gorgeous day and we had a good time, even if my feet were killing by the time we got home. We decided to follow the healthy living theme and walk there and back, but obviously it's too far for Marianna so we dug out her pushchair. She has not grown any lighter since last time I had to push her...

Today we're just spending the day at my parents', with Marianna rewatching her favourite Disney films for the 5000th time.

Photo of the Week

On the Blog

I reviewed the spring fever Japan Candy Box, Jason Starr's new novel 'Gotham: City of Monsters', and wrote about the first letter I ever had printed in a magazine.

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This Week - Weekly Overviews

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Cwmbran Big Event

Cwmbran Big Event Labour Stall

We had a great time out at the Cwmbran Big Event today! We were helping out on the Torfaen Labour Party stall, encouraging the cause of healthy eating by distributing sweets and biscuits... :)

Cwmbran Congress Theatre

There were lots of different stalls, a dog show, entertainment, and more going on. After we had a look around, and bought a very cool Pixie Princess crown, we went back to the Labour tent - and then had a go at the colouring competition at the Cwmbran Community Council stall next door.

Cwmbran Big Event - Cwmbran Community Council

The proximity worked out really well as I needed to be at the one and Anthony, as CCC vice-chair, needed to be at the other. We stayed until about 3:15pm then walked back... Marianna sat in her pushchair and complained about the comfort of her ride the whole way. The cheek!

Cwmbran Big Event

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Out and About in Torfaen

Friday, 8 June 2018

Gotham: City of Monsters

Gotham: City of Monsters

* This review contains spoilers *

Gotham: City of Monsters - Jason Starr
Titan Books - May 2018 - 320 Pages - Kindle & Paperback
☆ Amazon Link.

Following on from Starr's prequel to the show, Dawn of Darkness, this new novel fills in the gaps between season two and season three of Gotham. It follows Jim during his time as a bounty hunter, tracking a monster couple who go by the names of 'Nip' and 'Tuck'. Meanwhile we get to see how Harvey deals with the promotion to Captain, as well as snippets of what Fish, Selina, Bruce and Alfred are up to.

I haven't seen much interest in this release from the transformative side of Gotham fandom, but as the focus is on Jim - one of the least popular characters - and contains nary a mention of either Oswald or Nygma, it's not that surprising. Still, I enjoyed Dawn of Darkness and was really looking forward to this instalment.

Because, and I should probably mention it now as it will only become more relevant as we continue, Jim and Harvey is where my heart is at when it comes to Gotham. (I mean, you can argue that Harvey's behaviour is not meant to be telling us that the guy fell head over heels in love with Jim at some point in season one, and has wanted nothing but to worship the ground he walks on ever since, but I'll have to respectfully disagree with you.) Anything looking at these two and their bromance is very relevant to my interests.


Unfortunately, not even that was enough to salvage this book for me.

The problems, as far as I'm concerned, were threefold:

First up, the balance of showing and telling was too skewed towards the latter. Obviously there needs to be recapping and explanation but, let's face it, at least 99% of people reading this book are fans of the TV show. They know what happened in it and who the main characters are. There just doesn't need to be quite so much exposition.

Secondly, Jim's characterization was off. On the one hand I feel like a hypocrite saying that because, well, as a fanfic writer I've put the poor guy in any number of OOC (out of character) situations. But, on the other, talking it over with other fans on Tumblr reassures me that my criticism is valid. I had some issues with the idea that Jim has 'no qualms about killing these creatures' [Strange's monsters] - especially given his reaction, while under the influence of the Tetch virus, to killing Fish at the end of S3 - but the show zigzags back and fore a lot on Jim's moral compass and attitude towards violence. You could argue either way.

The real kicker for me was the scene in chapter six where Jim meets Clarissa Morgan, manager of a bank which has been robbed with her (coerced) help, at Donny's, one of his favourite diners.

It was unusual for a woman, especially an attractive woman, to be alone in a place like this, in this part of Gotham. While Gordon wasn’t looking for anything romantic - the loss of Lee was too fresh in his mind to even consider it - he’d been spending a lot of time alone lately, and was in the mood for some company. So he went over to where the woman was sitting and showed his warm, dimpled smile that women always seemed to like.

The thing about Jim is that he is forever the chased, not the chaser. All his relationships / hook-ups rely on the other party to put in the leg work and the emotional labour. Lee, Vale, probably Barbara, even Sofia - they all instigated the romance. Harvey, as I pointed out earlier, spends most of his time worrying about Jim, making life easier for Jim, bending over backwards for Jim... Jim can't even say sorry for stabbing him in the back over the Captaincy until Harvey gives in and apologizes for him. He's not the type of guy to go out of his way to make six pages worth of small talk with anyone.

Gotham: Dawn of DarknessDawn of Darkness

Thirdly, and this was the one that really rankled, Starr gets the name of his own protagonist wrong. In Dawn of Darkness Harvey is coming to terms with being assigned a new partner, Amanda Wong. She's a rookie detective, by the book and full of idealism. A female version of Jim, basically. Over the course of the story Harvey goes from scarcely able to stand the sight of her to falling in love.

Sound familiar?

Anyway, Amanda didn't have Jim's inexhaustible luck. She and Harvey were making out in the car, confessing feelings all over the place, when a perp Harvey had turned a blind eye to poured petrol through the window and tried to set them both on fire. Harvey managed to escape and kill the guy in cold blood, but poor Amanda was burned to death.

That's the kind of thing that's going to weigh on a guy's mind. Starr tells us in City of Monsters she's the reason he can't go in for a serious relationship.

'Driving to a crime scene without Jim still felt weird to Bullock. It just felt unnatural to not have his buddy next to him. Yeah, he had worked solo during Gordon's stretch at Blackgate, but Jim had been Bullock's only real partner since Angela, God rest her. She'd had a mouth on her, knew how to dish it out but, yeah, okay, Harvey had loved her.

It took a lot for Harvey to love somebody, and the violent way she'd checked out hadn't made it any easier. Whenever he thought about her it reminded him of why he didn't play the love game to begin with. He had enough pain in his life and didn’t need to bring a woman into the mix. It wasn’t that he was sexist - in fact, it was the total opposite. He loved women, but avoided getting involved with them for their own good, as a freakin’ public service. No woman deserved Harvey Bullock as a partner, for damn sure.'

Except Harvey's forgotten her name - she's now called 'Angela'. (A quick Kindle search tells me Starr used the word 'Amanda' 227 separate times in Dawn of Darkness, by the way.) While he was at it he also excised Scottie Mullen from his memory, the woman who accepted his marriage proposal and tried to convince him not to go back to the precinct (and Jim) at the beginning of season two.

Scottie Mullen
Okay, so the boy scout has that effect on him, but Jim is elsewhere at this point.

That was the deal breaker for me.

I can forgive a lot for some new canon adjacent material for my OTP. But I can't forgive that.

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