The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

3 Sep

I spent the weekend reading “TheStrange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss.

Mary Jekyll’s mother has just died, leaving her poor. She discovers that her mother has been supporting a young girl, Diana Hyde.

Mary begins a quest, with the help of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, to discover what actually happened to her father, Dr Henry Jekyll, and his association with the Society of Alchemists (I’ve anglicized it. My French isn’t up to it).

Throw in a series of murders in Whitechapel, and the daughters of other society members. such as Moreau and Frankenstein, and you have a marvellous romp of a story.

The book caught my eye when Charles Prepolec was reading it, and he liked it, so I thought I’d give it a go.

I WANT MORE!

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Jack the Ripper: Case Closed

31 Aug

In ‘Jack the Ripper: Case Closed’ by Gyles Brandreth, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle set out to examine the suspects in the Ripper case and solve the crimes once and for all.

The book is narrated in the first person by Arthur Conan Doyle. This was a weird experience for me reading a book where one of my favourite authors is actually a character.

Gyles Brandreth gets right inside the skin of Oscar Wilde. His Wilde is thoroughly believable and syncs well with what we know of Wilde’s actual character.

The ending, not to give away any spoilers, is both satisfying and unsatisfying on a number of levels. I could get behind the idea of the killer, but not the motive. The politics of the situation I could accept quite easily.

A delicious Victorian romp.

Mail Obsession

14 Aug

The best way to describe “Mail Obsession” by Mark Mason is that it is odd.

Mark Mason looked at Britain’s 124 postcodes and decided to visit as many as possible and relay interesting facts about them.

For me the most interesting fact was learning how the postcodes work. This year in London I stayed in a hotel next door to the one I’d stayed in last year. They had different postcodes. I discovered that the first half of the code is the area, the second the property. So quite literally every building in Britain has a different postcode!

Some of the facts were odd, some amusing, some triggered WTF moments.

If you like travel and trivia, this book is for you.

Highly recommended.

Jesus Christ Superstar

6 Aug

I went to see the production of Jesus Christ Superstar that was put on by Jeannie Pratt’s “The Production Company” at the State Theatre in the Melbourne Arts Centre.

I made the mistake of reading a review of it in the Age newspaper before I went where the critic only gave it two and a half stars.  I should know by now that reviews are merely opinions and that the critic in question was not looking for the things I look for in a production of JCS.

The first complaint he had was that the voices of the leads playing Jesus and Judas weren’t strong enough for the roles.  My guess is that he was seated too far away to see that the entire cast was singing unmiked!  I don’t think my ears could have stood it if Rob Mills (Jesus) and Zoy Frangos (Judas) had been throat miked!  The only mic to appear on the stage is the prop one used by Judas in the title song.

The critic (I honestly can’t remember his name, sorry) also complained that the scene in the Temple where Jesus chases out the money lenders and vendors made no sense with the wild costuming.  It made a lot of sense, if you actually read the notes in the free programme provided where director Gale Edwards spoke about Jesus: “Everything he stands for, believed in and taught would be a confrontation to our capitalist system”.  I doubt it’s a coincidence that the costumes in the scene included hookers, Las Vegas style showgirls, gambling, and even Hollywood (as represented by Wonder Woman).  Less obvious was the personification of America, Uncle Sam, lurking on the scaffolding set watching the proceedings.

Paul Hughes was an excellent Caiaphas.  That part is a particular favourite of mine.  His voice is lucious and as ‘This Jesus Must Die’ and ‘Blood Money’ are two of my favourite songs, his glorious vocals made them a highlight.  The odd beard they put on him was a little off putting.  He looked alarmingly like Ming the Merciless.

I found this production very interesting.  The chemistry between Jesus and Judas was very different to other productions I have seen.  There seemed to be an element of homoeroticism involved.  Especially since the kiss of betrayal isn’t a quick peck on the cheek, but a tender kiss on the lips.  It actually added a deeper layer of pain and misery to the role of Judas.

A word about Zoy Frangos’ Judas.  Superb.  His is the first portrayal I have seen where, just before he suicides and is crying out that he’s been used, that I have realised that he is crying to God, not to Jesus!  It’s almost a duplication of Gesthemene, except that it ends in suicide rather than execution.

This production had the clearest portrayal of Jesus and Judas as the two sides of the same coin that I have ever seen.  Rob Mills and Zoy Frangos’ voices blended well together in their duets.  And you needed to be seated close to the stage to see that WTF look that passes between them when Simon Zealotes is handing out weapons.

A special mention of Trevor Ashley’s Herod.  His is the first Herod I have seen that has gone from ridicule to fear.  Towards the end of his song, Herod looks into Jesus’ face and sees something that makes him recoil in fear.  It makes the switch in the song from mockery to shrieking “Get him out of my palace’ make a lot more sense.

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is only on until 13th August.  If you haven’t got a ticket, do yourself a favour and grab one, if there are any left.  It was a full house on Saturday.

I give the production 4 and a half stars on my JCS appreciation scale.

Chosen

1 Aug

“Chosen,” the 4th Alex Verus book by Benedict Jacka is better than the third. It held me as well as the first two did.

In this one, Alex’s past is about to come back and bite him on the arse, big time, and it does so in the form of the Nightstalkers, a group of adepts motivated to take out dark mages because the sister of one was killed by Alex’s former master. Naturally, they don’t believe Alex has changed.

This book was interesting in that it showed how some people are incapable of changing their minds even when the facts are being rubbed into their face.

Alex has grown and changed. He is not the youth who was apprenticed to a dark mage. He is an independent mage who would, frankly, rather just be left alone.

The Light Council appears on the periphery, and with every passing book looks more and more unappealing and unpleasant. One thing this series does is show that the lines between light and dark are not distinct.

Highly recommended.

The Third Nero

19 Jul

“The Third Nero” by Lindsey Davis is set shortly after the events of “The Graveyard of the Hesperides”, Flavia is dealing with the fall out from the wedding and a plot upon the Palantine. As the book’s title suggests, someone is posing as Nero…again. But this one is a little more serious. This one holds a traitor at the heart of Domitian’s bureacracy.

“The Third Nero” fairly bounces along. As per usual some of Flavia Albia’s family make an appearance. In this case her cousins Marcia Didiia, and Marius. Also making an appearance is the exotic dancer/assassin Perella.

A nicely plotted little yarn which is vintage Lindsey Davis.

Highly recommended.

Fated

9 Jul

“Fated” by Benedict Jacka, was recommended to me by Carol on Goodreads, as she knows I love Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series.

In “Fated” Alex Verus is a wizard. A diviner who can see all the threads of the immediate future and work out the best one to use. A relic has been found, and it may contain an artefact of great power. A selection of wizards, all of them not very nice, regardless of their chosen path, all want Alex to figure out how to access it.

So far, so fantasy. Where “Fated” differs is that, unlike a lot of fantasy novels, dark and light are not clearly delinated. In this world there really isn’t much to chose between either side. Most of the wizards are a despicable bunch of outright wankers.

The pace is fast and furious. I sat down to have a look at it to decide if I actually did want to read it, and was hooked by page 3. There’s a nice little Harry Dresden/Jim Butcher joke on page 3 by the way. See if you can spot it.

I like Benedict’s portrayal of Camden, where Alex lives in London. A lot of people view it as all ‘peace, love, and mung beans’. Benedict’s portrayal has a more gritty vibe. More ‘ peace, love, and hand us your wallet and no-one has to get hurt.’.

This is a rare 5 star review from me. And I’ve already reserved book two from my library.

Dunstan

13 Jun

“Dunstan” by Conn Iggulden is a stand alone novel in the autobiographical novel category. The Dunstan in question is Saint Dunstan, builder of both Glastonbury Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral, and spiritual advisor to several early English/Wessex kings.

Iggulden interprets some events from the life of Dunstan in very interesting ways!

His Dunstan is far from a saint – being a bully, a liar, a cheat, and a murderer. Given the time he lived in, this is quite probably more accurate than an hagiography could manage.

A rambunctious romp through Dark Age Britain leaving piles of bodies in its wake.

In a word: Fun.

Highly recommended.

Ravens of Avalon

6 Jun

“Ravens of Avalon” by Diana L. Paxson is based on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Avalon” series and moves into true historical territory with one of the principals of the story being Boudica.

There’s less of Avalon in this one. More on how Avalon became the successor to Mona after the dreadful massacre of the Druids.

The main thrust of the story is the Roman conquest of Britain and the Iceni lead uprising that destroyed three towns and created a legend.

As you would expect with a title like “Ravens of Avalon” The Morrigan plays a large part in the proceedings.

The spiritual aspects are handled well, and there was nothing that felt jarring or out of place. Diana L. Paxon has a good feel for Celtic spirituality.

If you like historical fantasy, I highly recommend this book. It doesn’t have to be read as part of the series. It stands alone quite well.

Golden Prey

31 May

I really wasn’t sure how I was going to like “Golden Prey”, the latest Lucas Davenport novel by John Sandford.  Lucas is now a US Marshal, removed from his support network of Del Capslock, Jenkins, Shrake, and Virgil.

I need not have worried.  Lucas has two excellent new foils in the form of the Marshal services Special Operations Group marshals Bob and Rae.  They give Lucas a run for his money and the three characters gel well together.

Members of a drug cartel are murdered, and one of them’s granddaughter is also killed.  Evidence suggests that one of the Marshal’s most wanted, a guy named Garvin Poole is the killer.  Lucas sents out to hunt him down.

So far, so Sandford.

However, the plot goes spinning almost out of control with cartel killers also on the hunt, including a female torturer known for her creative use of power tools, a lesbian couple who also work for the cartel, and a shoot out at an art gallery.  Way, way, way over the top.  Not just over the top but galloping down the other side!

But, being John Sandford, it all works.  It all comes together in a fast paced, at times outright hilarious, riot of a novel.

This is John Sandford at his very best.  This is the pick of the John Sandford novels over the last five years.

Highly recommended.

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