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.

Gordlock

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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What I'm ReadingFandom - my life as a fan



Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Japan Candy Box - Spring Fever

Japan Candy Box

I reviewed one of these back in November 2015, not long after the service started, and it was loads of fun! I recently won another box so Marianna and I had a go at reviewing it together. I was glad to see it's less of a 'mystery tour' today: a leaflet is included with some basic info about the candy, which means people can google the brand name if they need more detail.

Japan Candy Box Spring Fever

I gave Marianna free reign and let her pick which order she wanted to try things in. So we started with Kyoshin Green Apple Mochi, a chewy rice cake. Marianna loved these, even if they did get a bit stuck in her teeth, and after all the sweets were tested she went back and ate them all! After that we tried Kasugai Konpeito - these are super sugary hard candy. They reminded me of sugar mice, if they came in little tiny portions, and were definitely my favourite of the sweets.

Japan Candy Box May 2018

Next up was the Yaokin Umaibo Chicken Curry; i.e. a chicken curry flavoured corn stick. Marianna claimed this for her own and ate the whole thing. She turned her nose up at the Koikeya Spicy Fries after trying one though, so I ate them myself. They were very similar to Rib N Saucy Nik Naks in taste and texture. Masuya Onigiri Senbei - soy sauce flavoured rice crackers - got another thumb down from Marianna, but I quite liked them.

Japan Candy Box Spring Fever 2018

It was back to sweets then. The Nobel Plum Sour Candy was too hard for Marianna to bite into, but she did try the Pine Ichigo Milk Candy. It tasted like strawberry milkshake. The Fujiya Anpanman Egg Boro Biscuits were another hit, but couldn't hold a candle to the Sanrio Strawberry Filled Marshmallows. They lasted all of about 30 seconds!

Lastly, we the Tomato Glico Pretz. They're like the savoury version of Pocky and were really tasty. Marianna was less convinced by them though...

Japan Candy Box Glico Pretz

Have you tried any of these? What did you think of them?





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Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Barry Island

Barry Island

Yesterday we all went on a day trip to Barry Island! Naturally the day before and the day after were basking hot summer days, but Tuesday was a little more bracing... We arrived about 10:45am and needed a cup of tea and a bacon butty just to warm up.

After that we went on the beach for a while, and I took Marianna to paddle in the sea. It was freezing! On the plus side, when we got out it seemed a whole lot warmer by comparison. We went in the arcades for a bit, and then onto the pleasure park. Mum, Hannah and I went on the Waltzers and, as the ride was empty except for us, the guy just kept spinning and spinning us. My balance was completely shot by the time we finally got off.

Marianna went on a few of the kiddies' rides and accumulated yet another doll for her collection. After that we all piled into Finnegans for lunch, then had a look around the gift shops before catching the train home. It was a really lovely day. So lovely I went to bed about 7:30pm and slept through until morning!

Barry Island Beach


Barry Island Pleasure Park
Barry Island Carousel




Monday, 4 June 2018

Sneak Magazine - 2004

Letter to Sneak magazine 2004

I've been having a massive clear out this week and came across an old issue of Sneak magazine from November 2004. I'd kept it because it represented the one and only time I wrote a letter in to a teen magazine.

That summer Dragostea Din Tei (Ma Ya Hi / Numa Numa) had been a smash hit across Europe and I was desperate for anything I could get on the Moldavian band behind the song, O-Zone. I downloaded all their songs on LimeWire - remember that? - and did postal swaps with girls in Russia and Romania for pictures and posters. I even read all the badly translated fanfic I found on their fan forum.


What I really wanted was some coverage in a homegrown magazine that I could just pick up on the newstand. I wanted every teen girl's favourite weekly Sneak to print me a poster. So, I decided I was going to write in and, in hope of my letter attracting their attention, doodled over a brightly coloured envelope for maximum impact.

This ended up also being my first experience with a tough editor. The letter they printed bore little to no resemblance to anything I had actually written and, worst of all, they didn't even mention O-Zone!

(Or Dan Balan. I'd have settled for a picture of Dan Balan.)

Dan Balan

It did win star letter though. But did I get the promised Sneak goody bag? Did I ****

A total washout all around, I think you'll agree!

Still, enjoy a few scanned pages to help you relive 2004... Across town Anthony would have loved this issue; not only was there a poster of Ben McKenzie to pull out and keep, there was also an O.C. wordsearch. (One day I will tire of mocking Anthony's unironic love for and annual rewatching of The O.C. That day is not today.)

Sneak CoverBen McKenzie
Sneak Magazine 2004
Sneak Magazine 2004





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In the Press


Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
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