HelenEdith's Blog

The minutiae of my life, plus website updates and book reviews

Archive for November, 2008

Book Review: Elizabeth Moon – Command Decision

Posted by HelenEdith on November 30, 2008

(Book four of Vatta’s War)

This book is as much about Rafe Dunbarger as it is about Kylara Vatta. Rafe has appeared in the earlier books, but takes a central role in this one, as he returns to his home planet, Nexus II, in disguise, to find out why his father hasn’t checked in with him lately. What he finds is that his family have been kidnapped and that his father’s right hand man and natural successor as chief of the ISC communications business has gone bad and is gradually eliminating Rafe’s family.

This all ties into the continuing story of the war that Kylara Vatta is fighting against space pirates, as ISC are the providers of the ansibles whose malfunctioning have given the pirates such an edge in their mission of capture and pillage.

Ky gets into hot water when she visits a system to resupply and on leaving, she is attacked by the inhabitants who have set up a nice little line in selling supplies and then capturing them back again to sell all over again to the next visitor. Without a working ansible, they’ve been getting away with it, too!

Ky is made of sterner suff than the last ship to be attacked in this way and she repels the boarders and leaves the system, along with a refugee ship which she escorts to a system of their choice.

The Ky and her fleet set out for an empty system to practise manoeuvres, but when they sent a scout on ahead to report, Ky’s old allies McKenzie are there. Ky decides to go anyway, and when she arrives, she finds that the pirates are there, too, and they’re attacking McKenzie. Ky and her fleet wade in and temporarily defeat the pirates, but McKenzie are waiting for a relief convoy and Ky won’t leave them until the relief arrives.

Meanwhile, one of Ky’s other ships, Bassoon, approaches the inoperative ansible in the system and repairs it. This triggers ISC’s business protection measures which strip the data from Bassoon‘s beacon and send it back to Nexus II, where Rafe has assumed control of ISC. However, he has a lot of bad apples to clear out of the barrel and his Enforcement department launch a fleet to punish Bassoon for messing with ISC’s property.

Rafe has his own means of warning Ky that this fleet is on its way. Ky and her fleet won’t leave McKenzie alone, so Ky stays. The ISC fleet duly arrive, and so do more pirates, as finally, does the McKenzie relief fleet. There’s a pretty big shoot-up!

When the space dust has settled, Ky goes back to the McKenzie home system and is offered a place with McKenzie. She seriously considers it, but gets a better offer right at the end of the book.

I suspect that Victory Conditions, the next part of this series, may well be the final book in the series. With Rafe at ISC cleaning out traitors and ansibles being repaired at long last, I think it’s only a matter of time before there’s a decisive battle and the pirates get their marching orders.

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Book Review: Phil Rickman – The Remains of an Altar

Posted by HelenEdith on November 29, 2008

(A Merrily Watkins Mystery)

This is not the first Merrily Watkins mystery, but it’s the first one I picked up, and turned out to be an excellent choice. The story stands up in its own right and the fact that it is preceded by seven other novels did not detract from the reading, although having met Merrily Watkins, I may well now go back and read some of those other books.

This book starts with a fatal car crash in a fictional village in the Malvern Hills where the road is turning into something of an accident black spot. Some of the locals are saying that the road is haunted by a man on a bicycle and the services of Merrily Watkins, a woman priest with duties of deliverance, who investigates such odd bumps in the night is called in.

She finds an interesting collection of villagers, including an Elgar obsessed musician who rehearses a choir in the local church, and wants to put on Dream of Gerontius. Several villagers claim to have seen the ghostly man on his bicycle, and while some want him gone, others say that he is Sir Edward Elgar and he should be allowed to continue riding Mr Phoebus, because you mustn’t take Elgar out of the Malvern Hills.

The local priest is an ex-SAS man with a few secrets of his own, and Merrily doesn’t think he’s telling her everything he knows. In fact, when a local drug dealer turns up murdered up in the hills, you have to wonder what his involvement is. He would certainly have the skills!

Meanwhile, back at Merrily’s vicarage, her daughter Jane is getting into trouble all of her own, and with Merrily up at Wychehill on deliverance business, Jane’s activities are going largely unmonitored. Jane manages to get herself into a lot of bother with the governors of the school she attends, as Jane is on a mission to show that a field which is about to be developed actually contains an ancient track and should be preserved, but the school governors are friendly with people on the local council who in turn are friendly with the developers!

Things get quite interesting with murder happening up in Wychehill and protestors in Merrily’s home village.

The two threads of the story never quite merge into one, but Rickman manages to solve the murders at Wychehill and get Jane out of her jam in Ledwardine.

Some of the places in the book are fictional, but many exist, and the picture which is painted of Elgar in the course of the book is one which introduced me to facets of Elgar that I’m sure are available in his biographical details, but had never really come to life for me before.

I will be looking out for more from Phil Rickman.

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Website Update: Chislehurst Rotary Fireworks 2008

Posted by HelenEdith on November 9, 2008

It was that time of the year again: Guy Fawke’s Night. The Chislehurst Rotary Club put on their local fireworks display on Saturday 8th November this year, and we managed to take it in without getting too wet.

We’d hoped to go to the Knockholt display last weekend, but the rain was tipping down on Saturday night and we elected to stay home, even though we had bought tickets. We considered going to the Hop Farm last Sunday, but that was a huge display and probably would have been very crowded, so we gave that a miss. Then I made noises about going to a free display in Swanley, but Stephen wasn’t sure where we’d park, so we didn’t do that either. That left last night as our final chance to see some organised fireworks for Bonfire Night and we spent the past several days anxiously watching the weather forecast. Even yesterday, we were glued to the forecast, particularly as there were two bands of rain crossing the UK with a dry place in between. Fortunately, that window in the weather coincided with the display.

I’ve written lots more about it on my website, and you can view it here: Helen Stephenson’s Chislehurst Rotary Fireworks Pictures, 8th November 2008

Here are a few of the pictures you will find there:

The guy atop the bonfire, with the cloudy sky reflecting the many sodium vapour lights in the locality

Once the bonfire was lit, the guy was surrounded by the flames which were shortly to consume him

Some of the fireworks



The only funfair ride I managed to photograph before the rain came down

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Book Review: Amanda Quick – The Paid Companion

Posted by HelenEdith on November 8, 2008

Amanda Quick, a.k.a. Jayne Ann Krentz, writes an enjoyable Regency romance with plenty of skullduggery thrown in to make it more than just a “boy meets girl” story.

This book starts with a prologue for Arthur, The Earl of St. Merryn; and a separate prologue Miss Elenora Lodge. Arthur’s prologue describes the night when his fiancée elopes with another man and he observes that selecting a wife might be more successful if he went about it the same way as he would select a paid companion; while Elenora’s prologue describes the day when her deceased step-father’s creditors evict her from her home with the help of a Bow Street Runner called Mr. Hitchins.

Things move on and Elenora travels to London and finds employment as a paid companion with a rather eccentric lady, but with her employment coming to an end, she has returned to the employment agency who found her the post. She isn’t having much success with the posts they send her to interview for, and arrives back at the agency ready to have it out with them just when Arthur is at the agency looking for a paid companion. He doesn’t tell the agency, but he wants the paid companion to act as his fiancée while he goes about finding out who has murdered his uncle. He needs a fiancée or society’s mamas will be thrusting their daughters under his nose and he won’t have time to go about his murder enquiry.

The agency aren’t very pleased with Elenora, who isn’t as meek as your run-of-the-mill companion, and try to show her the door, but Arthur is impressed by her spirit and decides that she’s just the woman for the job he has in mind. He has already installed a widowed relative in his house to lend propriety to the situation and Elenora moves in.

Elenora locks horns fairly soon with the butler, who is quite a crooked character. She also takes Society by storm, clad in a new wardrobe provided by the discreetly close-lipped dressmaker of her previous employer.

Meanwhile, Arthur pursues his enquiries, only to discover that this uncle’s death isn’t the only recent suspicious death. He and Elenora continue on the trail of the killer. They also fall in love. There’s quite an entertaining passage about a blue garter as a result of that!

This is the sort of book where you expect everything to come out right in the end, and indeed it does, with the killer being unmasked and Arthur and Elenora turning their fictional engagement into a real marriage.

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Book Review: Alex Kava – A necessary Evil

Posted by HelenEdith on November 8, 2008

(A Maggie O’Dell Novel)

I haven’t been reading the Maggie O’Dell novels in any particular order, and this one is obviously a sequel to an earlier novel (you only have to read the back cover to realise that) but it did not detract from my enjoyment of it that I hadn’t read the earlier book, as this story is self-contained.

This novel opens with the discovery of a severed head in Washington D.C. – which doesn’t have much to do with Father Keller, Maggie’s old nemesis from that earlier book. Maggie’s friend Gwen is all mixed up with the servered head cases, of which there are several, but Gwen isn’t saying anything.

Then Maggie gets called away to help with the investigation into murdered priests, and this is where Father Keller comes in, as the Sin Eater, who appears to be the priest killer, has got to him, all the way down in his South American hidey-hole. He decides to return to the US to help Maggie catch the Sin Eater before the Sin Eater catches him, and Maggie agrees to work with him as this appears to be her best chance of success.

Eventually the two storylines collide, with a priest being murdered and his head severed. It’s up to Maggie to make the connection between the cases – a connection which she is convinced is not the whole story.

I did enjoy the ending to this book, but I won’t give it away.

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Entry for November 06, 2008 – the 200SX is still sick

Posted by HelenEdith on November 6, 2008

I did some “hospital visiting” today: I went to the dealer and saw my 200SX.

She’s sitting outside Service Reception with a big DO NOT DRIVE card hanging from her mirror.

I removed my Dart Tag from the windscreen and a pair of my previous prescription of glasses from the console box, as I may have need of both before my 200 is better again.

I also picked up a courtesy car, a metallic blue automatic Nissan Micra on this year’s plates. Predictably, I got in and my left foot immediately sought the clutch! The controls on the Micra are in the same places as on my 200 and it is vastly better to drive than the Toyota Yaris I had last time I was without my 200. (On that occasion, the problem was what a Dutch lorry had done to her in a traffic jam.)

It is to be hoped that the intercooler currently on order from Holland will be all that’s needed. It’s hugely expensive, but less so than buying a different car, particularly as I’d never be able to afford another one so nice.

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Book Review: Nora Roberts – Key of Light

Posted by HelenEdith on November 1, 2008

(Book one of the Key Trilogy)

You have to hand it to Nora Roberts: she was first published by Silhouette in 1981, but by the mid 1990s, she was also writing near-future crime fiction as J.D.Robb, while still continuing to write for Silhouette, where she perfected the art of the series with The MacGregors. She turned over a new leaf with the turn of the 21st Century and ceased writing for Silhouette, but put her series skills to good use writing a variety of series published in hardback, some of which I’ve read, and some of which I haven’t. I enjoyed the ghost story from the In the Garden trilogy immensely, but found some of her Irish fantasy a bit heavy going when I picked up the final book in the Circle trilogy out of context.

Key of Light has a supernatural Celtic mythological theme, while also being a romance. The story which will run through all three books in the trilogy is of the half-mortal daughters of a Fairy King and his mortal wife. The daughters have been locked in a glass box by a sorcerer and only mortals are able to find the three keys (after all, this is a trilogy!) which will release them.

In this book, we are introduced to the three mortals who are to attempt to find the magical keys, but this book is particularly about Malory Price, who is the first to have a month to solve an obscure riddle and obtain the first key. The romantic interest is provided by Flynn Hennessy, the local newspaper owner/editor, who also happens to be the step-brother of Dana Steele, the second of the three key-hunting mortals. The third is Zoe McCourt, and the book starts with all three arriving at Warrior’s Peak, a somewhat spooky house, where they are met by Rowena and Pitte, who turn out to be immortals, and who set the key hunts in motion.

I enjoyed this book, although as with the J.D.Robb books, where setting them in the future can add plot twists which wouldn’t be feasible in the present day, when you add magicians and immortals into a plot, you can do all sorts of things that you wouldn’t really be able to do. Nora Roberts is careful not to make the story so much of a fantasy that it’s totally divorced from reality, and I will be back for the next part, Key of Knowledge.

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