Monday, 27 February 2017

2017 Reading, Part One

The first six books of the year have made it past my discerning gaze. Let's take a look...

I've read a few of Terry Pratchett's books in the Discworld series that are based around the City Watch and I saw this one going free on a charity stall in one of the craft fairs that Fran and Gill do in the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. I snapped it up and the next day donated in return the first ten books from the Robert Jordan series The Wheel of Time. I'd read and enjoyed the series a couple of times but as with all long-running serials it had got very sprawling in concept and there were too many characters to keep track of and I had decided I wasn't putting myself through it again.

Anyway, this is an excellent addition to the City Watch series-within-a-series as Watch Commander Sam Vines finds himself tricked and sent back through time, to arrive at the death scene of the man who had taught him all he knew and his nervous and untrained younger self pointing a crossbow at his head... Enough of the spoilers! The cover, by the way, is based on the famous painting Night Watch painted in 1642 by Rembrandt and displayed in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The Deathlands series contains a lot of books! The official James Axler website lists 125 books in the series but unlike other long-running series, this kept a tight group of main characters and they interacted with new characters in a different location for each book. Published by Arrow Books, these are not the easiest of books to come across in the UK. I've got a few and have read more but all have either come from libraries or been bought second-hand. This is the first book in the chronology of the series, but was written some thirteen years or so after the first to be written. The series centres around Ryan Cawdor and his band of travellers in a dangerous dystopian future set 100 years after a nuclear holocaust. Wherever they travel they face a society disintegrated into territories ruled by violent barons, mistrustful of strangers and covetous of the possessions of the travellers. Weapons, food and petrol are all commodities for which men would kill. Mutated creatures - none of which have been made more timid or small - present other threats to the band. With some futuristic technology thrown in here and there and even a bit of time travel the books are good entertainment.

James Axler never actually existed. It is a pen name and the books have been written by a number of authors, drawing on a huge database of facts and histories of the environment and the main characters.

And back to our friend Matthew Bartholomew, the 13th century scholar-physician at Cambridge University. His is never a quiet life and so it continues in the fifteenth of his adventures. When the College Treasurer dies it becomes apparent that money has been paid for goods which have not been received. Meanwhile a pregnant woman visiting Matt's sister dies from an overdose of pennyroyal, a substance beneficial for some ailments but known to induce miscarriages. Matt discovers his own stock of the drug has been stolen. He also discovers that the missing money was paid to the husband of the pregnant lady and he, Brother Michael and some students set out on a journey, becoming embroiled in plots and counter-plots and finding themselves hunted by killers.

Blimey! Time for some light relief! Tom Holt takes us to Fairyland where time doesn't work in quite the same way when the elves remove all the boring bits from your memory. A bit embarrassing if you think you are still 15 and insist on being taken back to your school only to find an unknown headmaster demanding to know what the 30-something you is doing in one of his classrooms...

Whoa! Hang on... Terry Pratchett again? Well, although I usually try to vary my reading within these groups of six books, this time I found myself in the local library whilst Miss Franny was looking for stories of young put-upon women triumphing against outrageous cads and they had this. One of my uncles has been telling me for ages that this was a great book and I should read it, so it came home with me. Then I realised that I wasn't going to get through another two books and still have time to read this in the three weeks before it was due back. So... Anyway, it is excellent. I'd seen and loved the TV two-parter but the book (as books always do) contains far more.

And to finish let's go way back to the days of American gangsters and private eyes with Mickey Spillane's hero Mike Hammer. I, The Jury was the first Mike Hammer book and it's a cracker of a read. Fast-paced, exciting, full of cold killers, hot guns and even hotter women. This was the first of three books in an omnibus I got from a bargain book shop ages ago. I'll bet it's not ages until I get round to the second book!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Film Review, March 1979 Issue

It's a while since we had a virtual visit to the cinema so follow me now into the dark...

For those of you with long memories, I've been delving into my collection of Film Review magazines ranging from 1977 to 1980. We are now reaching March 1979. The Deer Hunter is the big feature film on the front cover and we'll take a further look at that and the film version of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as we leaf through the magazine.

There's a trip to the jewellers on the inside front cover, for those who like to use their local cinema as a place to get to know someone a little better!

Brooke Shields at the tender age of 13 has made her film debut in a story that has caused the British Board of Film Censors a slight headache...

British heart throb Ian McShane has been in the south of France, filming Sewers of Gold (er... eeeew!) Here a few of the locals are pleased to meet him. The feeling is probably mutual, he doesn't look too unhappy does he?

In most issues of the magazine we are introduced to a new actress hopeful, about to debut in a film. In this case it's the lovely 23-year-old French actress, Catherine Alric who sadly was unable to find any clothes for a photo. We'll just have to make do... The film was called Dear Inspector. No... me neither...

The Deer Hunter was featured on the front cover and gets a colour two-page spread within the magazine. John Savage's character Steve is forced to play Russian Roulette in a Vietnam prison camp, the harrowing experience having permanent consequences.

"Oh, you must be able to see right through me!" flirts Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) as she interviews Christopher Reeve's Superman.

Jose Ferrer takes over from James Mason to play Captain Nemo, riding the sea turtles on his quest to find Dory. ...oh... wait a minute... Meanwhile some artist paints actor Burgess Meredith but manages to come up with a version of Harrison Ford from 40 years in the future!

Farrah Fawcett-Majors, then enjoying her status of the world's favourite glamorous star, collapses of exhaustion in Acapulco whilst filming her new film Sunburn. Or was that collapses with sunburn whist making Exhaustion? Whatever, she'll be ok after an enforced bed rest.

Not to be outdone, Robert Wagner well, not so much collapses, but falls off a garden swing much to the amusement of Natalie Wood. The rest of the interview was done from the safety of an armchair.

The centre spread for this issue contains three photographs from a film treatment of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Starring The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and Sandy Farina and with lots of famous faces in both featured roles and cameo appearances drawn from both the world of popular music and film. Where else in a single film could you see Aerosmith, Earth Wind and Fire, Helen Reddy, Alice Cooper, Paul Nicholas, Tina Turner, Carol Channing, Barry Humphries, Keith Carradine, Donald Pleasance, George Burns and Frankie Howerd?

We saw Brooke Shields earlier in this issue and she is interviewed over two pages by regular columnist Barbra Paskin, covering both the controversial Pretty Baby in which Brooke's character is auctioned off (hence the Censor's dilemma) and a western, Wanda Nevada in which she plays the title role, co-starring with Peter Fonda.

The antichrist makes a return in Damien - Omen II and creates more death and mayhem for people around him. In a battle to the death between a crow and Elizabeth Shepherd's journalist, I fear the bird is not going to be the loser...

The late David Bowie and Kim Novak dance in a scene from Just a Gigolo set in 1920s Berlin.

As we near the back pages of the magazine we are given a round-up of films "Going The Rounds" i.e. currently on release. Amongst them is The First Great Train Robbery an enjoyable caper movie that is still fun to watch today.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

World War One Era Autograph Book

Yesterday we had a motor up to Hornby, north Lancashire to a book fair that was being held in the Hornby Institute. A lovely place Hornby, I'm going to have to go back in summer with the camera I think! Small village, old buildings, tea rooms, and a bridge over the River Lune at the side of which is a small weir.

Anyway I didn't buy any books but we enjoyed a good rummage round. I didn't come away empty handed though...

This autograph book was lying on one of the stalls and I had a quick flick through it, noting that the vast majority of pages remained untroubled by ink. But of the ones that had been used there was a mix of signatures, old photographs pasted in or shoved between pages, many of them fragments of a group, some poetry, humour and pencil sketches.

This charming little cartoon was on the first page. Signed J.H. it is entitled Mischief. Whether that's the cat's name or just a description of what it's up to I'm not sure!

A group photo gummed onto a page. There's no names or date I'm afraid but leafing through the book shows that dated entries fall between 1915 and 1919. This book was carried through the First World War. Possibly into war, for as we shall see in articles to come, some have a distinctly military flavour.

The facing page has a small photograph and the signature of ... well the bits I can make out... Percy M Knowles(?) Perhaps Lieutenant Colonel(?) or is the second line Pvt CC (or CE)?

A closer and edited version of the photograph of a party enjoying a walk in the woods.

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