Sunday, September 19, 2021

Off the Bookshelf: ROMAN HOLIDAY and THE BATTERSEA BARRICADES

 

Audiobooks, Audible Originals

Narrated by Zara Ramm

The Chronicles of St. Mary's

Roman Holiday follows Dr. Max and her team as they go to investigate Julius Caesar, his wife Calpurnia and his mistress, Cleopatra, just a few short weeks before the Ides of March.

We see more of the utter lunatic brilliance of Max's team as they campaign to get the assignment, as well as how they deal with Roman social structures and political pressures, and the utter lunacy of a man who wants to rule the world bringing his Egyptian mistress to his wife's home and expecting his wife to be a good hostess. Max and her team are only there to "observe," but somehow they are there when someone makes an assassination attempt ... but they're not sure who the target is.

Of course, the strangers in town are fingered for the job, and they have to run for their lives. And that's only the first half of the story. Great fun, as I've come to expect from Jodi Taylor and her very proper and yet eccentric team of time traveling historians.

The Battersea Barricades gives a glimpse into an event in recent history -- at least, from the perspective of near-future England and the occupants of St. Mary's. Max only meant to drop off a schedule, but ended up being invited to drink wine and listen to reminiscences about the civil uprising several decades before. Three very prim and proper ladies who are the backbone of St. Mary's get together on the anniversary of the Battersea Barricades to salute those who died ... and they get to talking, revealing frightening and funny moments in the struggle of would-be rebels to get to London to participate in a rebellion. Only they keep getting lost. 

Delicious, funny, thought-provoking, with that lovely dry British wit. Do yourself a favor and indulge.


Friday, September 17, 2021

New release sample: RETURN OF THE LIVING PROOF

 

The next day was a half-day, a paper delivery day, so I agreed to pick up Pete after lunch and go down to the Pi office with him to sign the contract. If I didn't find anything weird about it. On the way there, I suggested that he consider getting a part-time job as an assistant circulation manager, overseeing the delivery boys and girls, since he didn't mind getting up really early. He just gave me a withering look. Ah, for the good old days when he considered everything I said as pure wisdom. Well, maybe not everything. The kid paid attention better when he still had a clear memory of being thrown off that balcony over the river in England, and me leaping off after him and flying us both to safety.

The corner beyond the Neighborlee Schools property was in that nebulous area between farms and park land, a section of road that ended up being the long way around no matter what the destination was. That contributed to hardly anyone using it. Hence the business-killing dearth of traffic. The last business in there had been a flower market, and from the state of the building, it looked like it had been closed for ten years, not three.

"How long have they been renovating this place?" I had to ask, pausing just a few seconds longer than necessary at the flashing yellow light in front of the schools parking lot entrance. There was no traffic coming from any direction, so I didn't really need to do more than coast to a near-stop and then make my turn. I came to a full stop anyway, and studied the building sitting kitty-corner so it turned the parking lot into a triangle. That had to be awkward maneuvering. Maybe that contributed to the deaths of the previous businesses.

"Maybe two weeks?" Pete shrugged. Then he frowned and blinked and shook his head.

"What?" I didn't like the hint of a dazed look in his eyes.

"Didn't really notice before …" Another shrug. "They're working on the inside, first."

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

New release sample: RETURN OF THE LIVING PROOF

 

 "You could be the target again." He shrugged.

"Why wouldn't Cerb -- okay, why wouldn't Maurice tell me that's what Cerb was doing? What's different about now than last year?"

"Yeah, that's a consideration. Whatever was sneaking around, Cerb let them know they aren't getting in, they aren't doing anything." Harry scrubbed his face with his palms and let out a groan louder than Cerb had been. "Go back to sleep."

"Physician, heal thyself."

He stuck his tongue out at me and stepped into his apartment. A moment later the little light over the door turned off. I sat for a few moments longer, looking out over my yard, trying to hear or feel if anything was out of place. Then it occurred to me that the nightlight over the stove was bright enough to outline me in the doorway. Enough to make me a target.

Not a good feeling to have sitting on the threshold of my own house. I said a few silent prayers as I backed up and closed the door and made sure it was locked. When I turned to go down the hall, Cerb was sitting in the hallway, right by the little nightlight.

"Is it gone? Was it dangerous? Or just something being nosy?"

He thumped his tail against the wall a few times, then went to the guestroom door and nudged it open with his nose and went back in with Loralee. I muffled a chuckle. What sort of etiquette made him use the door when he was indoors, but when he was outdoors he didn't need to use a door?

I went back to bed and had a talk with God about all sorts of unanswered questions and the problem of not knowing the right questions, to help us figure out what was going on.


Sunday, September 12, 2021

At the Movies: FREE GUY

 

A funny thing happened on the way to seeing FREE GUY.

I used an app on my phone to get tickets to the theater -- hey, I saved the processing fee, plus this movie was totally free through reward points. So, I thought, "You know, I've been working hard, I earned a break, this looks like one of those silly movies you just relax and laugh at all the way through."

And it was, for the most part.

But anyway, getting back to the app ... when we got to the theater, they scanned the QR code on my phone and told us which theater door to go in. So we did. But after 25 minutes of commercials (!!!!!!) the movie started ... it was NOT a light, slightly brainless comedy about video games coming to life (with some very adult innuendo delivered as totally brainless lines by Ryan Reynolds who is getting pretty good at the tactless, brainless, goofball hero role).

We saw the first ten minutes of the new Samuel Jackson movie, PROTEGE. And I'm thinking, "Okay, when do I get up and find out how we walked in the wrong door? And how much of our movie have we missed already?"

The movie glitched several times -- going totally blank and silent for a few seconds, then starting up again -- then suddenly showing the studio logo for a different studio and movie. And then FREE GUY started. So it wasn't my mistake. Whew!

Anyway ... yeah, I saw FREE GUY a couple weeks ago (this review is being written about 3 weeks before it shows up. I only post book and movie reviews on Sundays), and it was fun. It was silly. It was a little crude in places that it just didn't need to be. It was brainless, lighthearted fun ... and it made you think a few times, which was surprising. Essentially two brilliant computer programmers design this game program where the NPCs (non-player characters) learn and grow as they interact with the gamers and each other. But of course, just like in TRON however many decades ago (I think I was in college -- I'll have to go check with my dinosaur) the genius program was not just stolen, but hidden away and illegally used as the basis for a game focused on total gratuitous meaningless violence. Oh, joy...

Anyway, Guy is our NPC hero, and he's happy-go-lucky despite his violent world, but not entirely. He's looking for the girl of his dreams, and when he sees her, he starts going beyond his programming. And when he takes the sunglasses off a character/player (because the sunglass people are the ones with the power, the ones earning points and winning things and having fun), suddenly he's growing and learning and changing his world.

Until the evil game designer and the computer programmers he robbed have their destined battle, and Guy's world might be wiped right off the servers.

Look for the cameo appearances by Alex Trebek and Captain America/Chris Evans!

Friday, September 10, 2021

New release sample: RETURN OF THE LIVING PROOF

 That night, Loralee woke up crying. I had the awful feeling she was sick, or maybe going into premature labor. Before I could get from my bed to my wheelchair, Cerb let out a howl that almost made me feel sorry for whoever had enraged him. Then he walked right through the wall from the guest room to my bedroom. He gave me a look that told me he was in defensive mode, then he leaped through my bedroom wall to go outside.

He stopped after that first howl, otherwise I might have had some irate neighbors to deal with. Harry got outside and was walking around the garage apartment and the rest of the yard by the time I got in my chair and to the door. He came up the ramp at the same time Cerb went back to the guestroom by going straight through the wall.

"Anything?" I asked, and backed up so Harry could come inside.

He stayed outside and shook his head. His forehead wrinkled up and his mouth twisted in a crooked grin, and I was pretty sure that shake wasn't a no, so much as it was admitting he wasn't quite sure what was going on.

"Could have sworn I saw something, but it scurried away before I could get close." He snorted. "Before Cerb could get to it. Something small. I'd say rabbits or groundhogs or something. We don't have skunks, do we?"

"Hope not."

"Yeah, well, there was a smell, but it wasn't skunk." He rubbed his nose. "It's gone now."

"Something worried Cerb."

"Yeah. I was really hoping …" Harry shrugged and started backing down the ramp. He had left his door open and a flickering, bluish light spilled out, meaning he was watching a movie when Cerb raised the alarm.

"Hoping what?"

"That they really are camping here to give them a break from all the woo-woo magical fluctuations at Divine's."

"Why wouldn't they?" 

He muttered something that I was pretty sure was Spanish his parents wouldn't have taught him.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

New release sample: RETURN OF THE LIVING PROOF

 

"I can take my bike or the moped to the office and then ride with the truck carrying the signs and stakes and all that stuff. No problem."

"How close are they?" I tried to remember seeing a sign for Pi Surprise. They hadn't come into the Tattler to buy advertising yet. Which suddenly struck me as a little strange. All their advertising was either in the Plain Dealer, or stuffed into mailboxes. Nothing in the local paper. So how far away was their office?

"They're in that little flower market on the corner down past the schools."

"On the Neighborlee side of the border, or the Allenby side?"

Pete thought a moment, while I held my breath and told myself it was all right, nothing dangerous ever came into Neighborlee from Allenby. Darbyville, yes, but not Allenby.

"Across the street, so I guess Allenby. I saw the help wanted sign just about the time they were putting it up in the window. It's a new office, they moved here from Euclid, so I'll spend the first couple weeks just helping with renovating the office."

"Okay. Sounds good." I told myself I was hungry, it had been a long day at work, and Pete would make a good spy, to figure out if there was something not-quite-ordinary going on with Pi Surprise. Maybe someone was just out to make things difficult for an expanding business, moving those gnomes around.

I knew the place Pete was talking about. The lot held a ramshackle building that had once been a convenience store and then went through at least a dozen transformations all the years I was growing up. It was in a bad location for businesses. The chunk of land set aside for Neighborlee schools sat right on the southern border of town. The building had started out as a gas station, just across the street and over the border in Allenby, nearly hidden by huge clumps of trees on three sides. Over the years, all those businesses that had moved in and moved out had neglected the building and the parking lot. It was generally a bad location for businesses that depended on visibility and traffic driving by to survive. 

Thinking about it, I supposed a business that just used the building for a headquarters and sent its workers out would probably last longer than anything that had tried to set up there in the past. At the very least, Pete would have work for the summer. I couldn't imagine him keeping the job when school started again in the fall.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Off the Bookshelf: THE VERY FIRST DAMNED THING and WHEN A CHILD IS BORN, by Jodi Taylor

 

Audiobooks, Audible Original

Narrated by Jodi Taylor and  Zara Ramm 

The Chronicles of St. Mary's

This is a delicious series of stories, some of them very short, about a time traveling group of historians in a future England. I was lucky enough to be resting my brain in between editing sessions and perusing the free section of Audible and found 2 half-hour pieces. Then I went back for MORE, and found lots more.

The Very First Damned Thing is listed as the long-awaited prequel to the series, detailing just how Dr. Bairstow got the funding for the St. Mary's project, before they even found the location, and how he recruited the leading members of the team. This is a near-future England where civil unrest has shattered the country and toppled the government and the people are still putting things back together.

I'm listing this story first, but it's really the third book I've listened to, so it was fun meeting "for the first time" characters I'd already seen in action in the previous stories. Actually, it might be more fun listening to this after enjoying several others, just because of the "Oh, yeah, so that's where he found them" sensation when people show up.


When a Child is Born was the first story I listened to. Lovely, short introduction to the whole premise of the series. Dr. Maxwell (Max) and her team are sent back in time to witness the coronation of William the Conqueror -- but of course, they never get there. Somehow, although they have the right time and location programmed into their pod, they land far away from the cathedral. They end up interfering in the fate of a peasant family -- because they can't just stand there and let a man bleed to death in the snow, and when they take him home, his wife is giving birth.  Max is the unlucky one who has to report their huge mistake to their leaders. Later, after much research, she learns that once again, the force of History itself intervened, to make sure they were at the right place at the right time, to make sure something further along in time did happen when it needed to happen.

Or at least, that's her theory ...

DO dive in and devour the series. I've listened to four so far, and there are so many more! Great fun.