Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, writer, and possessed by cats

Tag: review

Houdini and Doyle – review

Earlier this week when I was setting up the DVR schedule for the family, I noticed a “new” show on Fox. Now, I’ll admit up front that I don’t watch much network TV and even less from Fox. But the title of the show, Houdini & Doyle, intrigued me enough to read the description and then to set the DVR to record. Last night, we sat down and watched the first episode.

The basic set-up is simple. In 1901 London, the Metropolitan police find themselves investigating certain cases that aren’t quite your run-of-the-mill crimes. Is there are real supernatural element to them or what? The police are stumped, so they call in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who most definitely do NOT want to write another Holmes mystery, and Harry Houdini. Doyle believes in the supernatural and Houdini does not. In fact, when brought in on the mystery of the murder of a nun, Houdini bets Doyle that he proves there is no supernatural element at all.

To round out our investigative team is Constable Adelaide Stratton. Our first glimpse of her finds her deep in the basement of the station, typing away. When she is brought to the chief constable’s office to be briefed, Houdini looks at her and dismisses her as “the help” — oh, he doesn’t say so outright, but he asks her to bring him a cup of tea. When the introductions are made, he is surprised to learn she is a “real” constable. This is the first of several encounters between Houdini and Stratton where Houdini proves himself to be an “ugly American”, crass enough to show he thinks women beneath men. Still, that is softened a bit in a scene where he is giving his mother a birthday party and his love for her softens him.

The mystery itself is entertaining. A young nun finds the first murder victim and sees what she thinks is the ghost of a young woman who, we are to learn, died as a result of ill-treatment of others there. While Houdini tries to find a mundane explanation for what happened — he leans toward robbery — Doyle looks at the supernatural, including visiting a medium (and we quickly learn this is not a new behavior for Doyle). Stratton sort of walks a thin line between them. She wants to prove herself to be as worthy as any man. Unfortunately, being female in a man’s world, that is a difficult road to hoe — as shown at the end of the episode when her supervisor tells her that he assumes she must be sleeping with Houdini since Houdini told him how well she had done on the assignment. Because of that, he would keep an eye on her and, as soon as he had proof, not only get her booted out of the constabulary but he would make sure she never found work as a copper again.

Overall, the episode was enjoyable but nothing earth shattering. The banter between Doyle and Houdini grinds at times. Doyle is a bit boring and stodgy with hints of something else, as in when he talks about the supernatural or when he goes to the medium. Those scenes give us more of his background, more of who he is, than anything else in this first episode.

Houdini is more than a bit of an ass. Cocky, condescending and more. Yes, he’s a talented magician or illusionist but there is no give to him, or at least not that we see until at least halfway through the episode. In some ways, he is the pesky little brother you wish big brother (Doyle) would beat into a pulp. Worse, the chemistry between the two didn’t really start to gel until the last third of the episode.

As for how the two main male characters deal with Stratton, Houdini basically dismisses her. Part of that, we begin to see later in the episode, is just him. He can’t admit someone might have been better than he at something, even if his life depends on it. An example of this occurs in the second half of the episode when Stratton saves Doyle and Houdini from drowning after they had been locked in to a flooding area. Houdini had been trying to pick the padlock and failing. Time was running out and along came Stratton to save them. When she points out that she did save his life a little later, Houdini’s response is to quip something along the lines of “my dear lady, I have been escaping water traps six times a week for years.” The dismissal is clear — but, by then, the viewer is starting to get that maybe, hopefully, it is more bravado than anything else. If not, Houdini is going to drive viewers away.

There is more connection between Stratton and Doyle. Not romantic and not sexual tension, at least not yet, but some understanding. That keeps her from becoming just the political and social mouthpiece for the show — although we do get a few quick speeches from her about women’s rights, etc.

The mystery is pretty good, although I figured it out before the reveal. The explanation of the “supernatural” element, which turned out to be mundane, was a bit of a stretch. Not because of how plausible or implausible it might be but because there was no real groundwork laid for it.

What will have me tuning in for the next episode was the very last scene of the show — was it groundwork for a change in opinion for Houdini or was it the foreshadowing of another mystery? Inquiring minds want to know.

Overall, I’d give the show a “B”. It has a great premise but has not lived up to its potential yet. If it doesn’t start picking up next week, it will be like most shows on network TV: watched once or twice and discarded as a waste of time.

We’ll see.

Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

I don’t often take part in beta tests for games. One reason is I don’t usually have time. Another is I hate opening my laptop up to software that hasn’t been fully tested yet. But when I had the opportunity to take part in the closed beta test for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4, I jumped. Then I prayed I would be one of those lucky enough to be chosen. I was and I’ve spent several hours since then playing the opening sequences of the game as well as some optional missions.

All I can say is if the final game is as much fun as the beta test version, it is going to be a blast.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game, this is the follow-up to Mirror’s Edge, one of the best games I’ve ever played. Considering this game is so very different from most everything else I play, that’s saying a great deal.

Short version, the game takes place in a quasi-dystopian future (funny how so many games take that approach — not). The main character, Faith, is a runner. Runners take to the rooftops and are the parkour heroes of the future. Mirror’s Edge was more a game of tactics and evasion than a run and shoot. I know a number of folks who played the game without ever using a gun and who prided themselves on trying to find ways through missions without engaging the enemy. And, no, this is most definitely not a stealth game.

Mirror’s Edge also had the advantage of having been written by Rhianna Pratchett. The follow-up, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4 does not include Pratchett. In fact, much of the original team is gone. That could be problematic. Other games that have had such major shifts in personnel from one game to another have suffered. For the little bit we saw in the beta test, this one does not. Of course, I say that with reservation since the beta only lets us see a couple of missions.

So, what do I think about Catalyst? I loved it. The controls — and I was playing on PC — were intuitive and easy to get the hang of. I liked the fact that the tutorial wasn’t all at the beginning and staged as such. There was some character interaction and then “training”. Even after that, you received another mission which included some more training as well as completing a mission in the process.

Yes there were glitches. This was a beta test after all. The voice to video synching often reminded me of a badly — very badly — dubbed Japanese science fiction movie. The mouths would move and the subtitles would appear and then the voice would sound. Load screen sometimes froze or it felt like they did because it took forever to move from one to another. But it was nothing compared to some finished games I’ve played and hated.

This is a beautiful game. I wanted to spend time I don’t have just exploring the city. The fact that you can go off-track is something I enjoyed and I look forward to being able to do it in the finished product.

My recommendation is simple. If you enjoyed Mirror’s Edge, you need to check out Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4. If you like games that let you use figure out the best way to get from Point A to Point B, this is your game. If you want to use your wits to avoid the enemy or if you want to confront the enemy, you can do it with Catalyst.

I don’t know about you, but I will be pre-ordering the game and waiting anxiously to be able to play the full game.

Awesome review

Cedar Sanderson, one of my cohorts over at Mad Genius Club, published a review of Slay Bells Ring yesterday on her blog. I always hold my breath when Cedar, or anyone else for that matter, reviews my work. Like most writers, I am my own worst critic. The means I halfway expect an honest reviewer — which Cedar is — to see all the faults I do, even if many of those faults are in my head. So, when she posts a favorable review, I want to do a happy dance.

Anyway, here’s her review. For other reviews, as well as posts about writing, art and food, be sure to check out her blog.

Review: Slay Bells Ring

So this is a Christmas book, sort of, and it’s chick-lit, sort of. Or at least that’s what you might think when you first picked it up. Sure, it’s set at Christmas time. But why not read about the festive season year round? And sure, the main character is a woman. But that’s where you’d be wrong to dismiss this book. It’s a fun murder mystery with characters who will win you over if you take the time to sit down and read this one.

Juliana Grissom is a lawyer who left her small-town background and never looked back. It wasn’t that there was trouble in her past, no, it was that her family was back there and they all wanted her to come home and fit into the pre-determined fate they wanted her to fulfill. But when she gets the call that her air-head mother has been accused of murdering the one man Juliana knows her mother hates, she doesn’t have a choice. She’s got to go home again, even if it means losing her big-city job, taking up the inheritance she didn’t suspect, and worst of all… interrogating her mother about her sex life.

Slay Bells is a fun, fluffy read with a zany mustery that will go in directions you don’t expect. It’s got heart-warming moments, and a bit of romance, but mostly it’s about family, and coming home again, whether you want to or not. Ellie Ferguson, the penname of Amanda Green, delivers the goods if you enjoy cozy mysteries with a side of wit and wisdom. You might not like them, but they are family, and when the chips are down, they are the ones you can rely on.

Review — Goodnight Stars

I’ve written before about how my love for Science Fiction began. I was young, late elementary to early junior high, and staying at my grandmother’s house in Ardmore, OK (also known as the armpit of the world, at least to a kid with no mode of transportation other than her feet and who was much too far from the library). My grandmother wasn’t much of a reader, something that still amazes me because my dad and most of his siblings were voracious readers.

Anyway, I’d read the dozen or so books my grandmother had and went searching for something to do. Like any self-respecting — and bored — kid, I started poking around in closets and dark corners. Off the kitchen was a bedroom with a closet that had a door that was almost as tall as the room was high. Being an old pier and beam house, and being in need of a lot of tender loving care, the door had warped. Now, that made it a challenge. I pulled and leveraged and finally got the door open and found a treasure trove of books, records, magazines and more.

I don’t know how many hours I spent just going through the books. I found things like early editions of If and other SF/F magazines. That was all it took. My love of Science Fiction was born.

All of that is a roundabout way of saying my first love in SF was short stories. Somewhere along the way, I wandered away from them. Too many I’ve looked at over the last few years have been heavy on message and short of plot or characters I can care about. Not so with the Hugo nominated short story Goodnight Stars by Annie Bellet. (You can download a copy of the story here. It will also be included in the Hugo packet.)

end is nowGoodnight Stars, from The End is Now (The Apocalypse Triptych Book 2) (Volume 2), is a lot of ways reminds me of the short stories that used to pull me in and hold me through to the end. Without spoiling anything, at least no big spoilers, this is the story of three friends trying to survive in a world that has changed practically overnight. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an end-of-the-world story where hope isn’t an option. Quite the contrary, hope and determination, friendship and family are themes that run through the story.

But don’t get me wrong. It is also a story that makes you think. Not only did I find myself wondering what I would do — and where I would go — if the Earth was suddenly struck by a cataclysm that threatened life as I knew it but I also wondered what I would do in certain specific situations.

Ms. Bellet has spun a tale that grabbed me and held me throughout the story. I found myself cheering for the lead, Lucita “Lucy” Goodwin. Lucy hates the name Lucita and, like numerous girls in middle school and high school, did whatever it took to look and act like the “blondes”. Growing up with curly red hair at a time when all the cool girls had long, stringy dark hair, I could identify with wanting to blend in. I could also identify with the conflict she’d had with her mother and how, now that she faces the loss of her mother and possibly her father, she wishes she had said and done things differently.

But most of all, I appreciated the fact that, while Lucy didn’t need a guy to rescue her, she also didn’t instantly turn into some superhero. When she had to act to protect those close to her, she did so. But it wasn’t without second thoughts or regrets later. She is scared and brave, suspicious and trusting, loving and distrustful, all at the right times. She is, in other words, human.

My only complaint about this short story is that I liked the characters, and especially Lucy, so much that I want more. I want to know more about them and about how they fare after the story ends. That, to me, is what makes the story successful.

Well done, Ms. Bellet.

I highly recommend this story.

Review of Duty from Ashes

(I don’t usually do this but this review by Cedar Sanderson of Duty from Ashes has me smiling this morning. Second books in a series are always hard — at least for me. You have to keep the action going, making sure you pick up the threads from the first book but you can’t finish the story line because there is another book planned. That means you push the threads forward, maybe adding another one or two. Any way, here is Cedar’s review.)

Review: Duty from Ashes

duty from ashesI had been looking forward to this book, had pre-ordered it as soon as I could, and then on the day it downloaded to my Kindle I was too busy to be able to read it. I did manage to find time over Thanksgiving Break to take it in, and was rewarded for my time.

Duty from Ashes is a space opera, military-themed, and a sequel. However, it was easy to pick back up and find the threads of the old story arc as well as the new threads. Yes, there are multiple plot threads, but this isn’t a book with Byzantine complexity, you will be able to follow the threads and keep all the characters straight, Schall has done an excellent job of creating and fleshing out unique characters.

I really enjoyed all the effort in this book, and I’m not referring to the author now. The main character, Ashlyn Shaw, is struggling with trust, not only her own of the people who are trying to prove that she really does belong in charge of her new regiment, but the trust of those people in their new commander. She’s not a superhero, and it takes a lot of effort to gain that trust, something I as a reader appreciated. Sometimes it’s fun to see a hero get all befuddled, and then work it through.

One of the subplots in this book rang really true to me, the dealings with the prisoner’s of war. I’ve done a lot of reading about POW camps in WWII, in particular the ones administered by the Japanese, and that feeling of hopeless defiance has been captured nicely by Schall. It makes for a heart-wrenching scene, and I won’t spoiler the whole thing for you.

I think if anything, this book is stronger than the first book; oh, and it ends nicely. You can see the story arc coming for the sequel that Schall tells you is there, but you aren’t figuratively left hanging by your fingernails at cliff’s edge wondering what the hell happens next. Well done.

If I have to compare it to another writer, it would be Weber, but the early Weber, where Honor Harrington is still uncertain, groping her way along, supported by her staff and family. Also, those books were slimmer, and offered more action, more momentum, just as Duty from Ashes does. I stopped reading the Harrington series a while back, when it slipped off into the weeds of massive political info-dumps and ever slower and more convoluted plots. I’m very pleased that this series takes me back to the space opera I most enjoy, character, action, and fun!

Review — Stardogs by Dave Freer

I don’t often do reviews on this blog. The truth is, I’ve been so busy between real life and work that I haven’t had the chance to read for pleasure much over the last year or so. However, last week the wonderful Dave Freer asked if I wanted to read his soon-to-be-released novel Stardogs. Now, imagine me bouncing up and down like a little girl, clapping my hands and squealing in glee. Yep, that was the reaction I had to the offer and I was quick to thank Dave and ask him to send it on.

Stardogs is Dave’s first full-length indie novel. Here’s the description:

Revolution rises! 

The Interstellar Empire of Man was built on the enslavement of the gentle Stardogs, companions and Theta-space transporters of the vanished Denaari Dominion. But the Stardogs that humans found can’t go home to breed, and are slowly dying out. 

As the ruthless Empire collapses from its rotten core outward, an Imperial barge is trapped on top of a dying Stardog when an attempted hijacking and assassination go horribly wrong. Trying to save its human cargo, the Stardog flees to the last place anyone expected – the long-lost Denaari motherworld. 

Crawling from the crash are the Leaguesmen who control the Stardogs’ pilots by fear and force, and plan to assassinate Princess Shari, the criminal Yak gang, who want to kill everyone and take control of a rare Stardog for their own, and an entourage riddled with plots, poisons, and treason. But Shari and her assassin-bodyguard have plans of their own… 

Stranded on the Denaari Motherworld, the castaway survivors will have to cooperate to survive. Some will have to die. 

And some, if they make it to the Stardogs breeding ground, will have to learn what it means to love.

Stardogs is one of those rare books that caught me from the very first page and held my attention throughout. Dave’s wit and sense of humor are integral parts of the story, but often so subtle that you realize pages, or even chapters, later what he did. Then you don’t know whether to laugh aloud or smack yourself on the forehead for missing it.

If you are looking for a book that simply regurgitates the plot of the latest fad, this isn’t it. Nor is it a book that embraces the current cause du jour of either side of the aisle. What it is, is a rollicking fun ride through a universe I wish really did exist with characters I came to love — and hate in some instances. This is a book that will make you smile and that will also make you think without hitting you over the head with any sort of a message other than “read me. You know you want to.”  😉

I guess the best thing I can say about Stardogs is that I will be reading it a second, third and who know how many more times. I’ll also be sending it to my son to read. If you love well-written, well-plotted and just down right fun books, this is one for you.

In other words, hie thee to your nearest bookseller and get your copy. It is out as an e-book now and will soon be available in print.

This is most definitely a must read for every true science fiction fan.

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