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      Something Wicked This Way Comes...   10/09/2019

      The Autumn Supporter Giveaway!       Welcome to the very first of the seasonal BCF supporter giveaways! This month also marks one year since I took on the forum, so I want to say an extra huge thank you to all of you for keeping this place going. I have a little bit more to say about that later but, for now, let's get to the giveaway!     The Autumn Giveaway winner will be getting two Penguin Little Black Classics, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe and To Be Read At Dusk by Charles Dickens. Both of these little books contain three atmospheric short stories, perfect for autumnal evenings. The winner will also get Mary Shelley tea (a lavender and vanilla black tea) from Rosie Lea Tea's Literary Tea Collection (https://www.rosieleatea.co.uk/collections/literary-tea-collection) and a chocolate skull, to really get that spooky atmosphere .   and...   A special treat for a special month. The winner will choose one of the following recent paperback releases from the independent bookshop Big Green Bookshop:       The Wych Elm by Tana French A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan Melmoth by Sarah Perry The Familiars by Stacey Halls  The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White   The winner will be chosen via the usual random selection process in one week. Patreon supporters are entered automatically. If you aren't a patreon supporter but you'd like to join in with this giveaway, you can support here: https://www.patreon.com/bookclubforum.   I really hope you're all going to like this introduction to the seasonal giveaways. It's been a lot of fun to put together. Other chocolate skulls may have been harmed during the selection process…     
Raven

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TTSS is a brilliant read - I rated it a 'favourite' at 6 stars.  Even though I'd seen the series, and the film, a while before, I was gripped.  Good as the dramatisations were, the book was better than both!

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21 hours ago, Hayley said:

Thanks for the link :). I think I might start with Call for the Dead, in that case. I’d like to see more about Smiley as a character.

 

It's a good book, as is A Murder of Quality.  Between these two books and Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, however, le Carré reworked Smiley's time line, so you might notice some discrepancies. 

 

18 hours ago, willoyd said:

TTSS is a brilliant read - I rated it a 'favourite' at 6 stars.  Even though I'd seen the series, and the film, a while before, I was gripped.  Good as the dramatisations were, the book was better than both!

 

I watched the Gary Oldman film last Sunday, and whilst good, it didn't live up to the book.  I don't think Oldman was quite the right person to play Smiley, but he did a decent enough job (Cumberbatch definitely wasn't right for Peter Guillam…).

 

I think my Dad has a copy of the BBC Alec Guinness version on DVD.  Might have to borrow it sometime!

 

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On 26/09/2019 at 6:53 PM, Raven said:

I watched the Gary Oldman film last Sunday, and whilst good, it didn't live up to the book.  I don't think Oldman was quite the right person to play Smiley, but he did a decent enough job (Cumberbatch definitely wasn't right for Peter Guillam…).

 

I think my Dad has a copy of the BBC Alec Guinness version on DVD.  Might have to borrow it sometime!

 

 

I'd agree with you on Oldman.  I thought Guinness was nigh on perfect.

Edited by willoyd

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47 minutes ago, willoyd said:

 

I'd agree with you on Oldman.  I thought Guinness was nigh on perfect.

 

I've not seen him act the role, but from the pictures I've seen of the series he does look more the part. 

 

Oldman is a little too... trim?

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On 28/09/2019 at 1:20 AM, Raven said:

Oldman is a little too... trim?

 

Exactly - both in terms of his relationship to others (personal life), and physically.  Intellectually, Smiley is very precise!

Edited by willoyd

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On 30/09/2019 at 12:15 PM, willoyd said:

 

Exactly - both in terms of his relationship to others (personal life), and physically.  Intellectually, Smiley is very precise!

 

Borrowed and watched the BBC version from my Dad over the weekend and although it has dated (in terms of the way it was filmed) it still holds up very well and I enjoyed it more than the film version.

 

Also thumbed through the first few pages of An Honourable Schoolboy in Waterstones at the weekend.  Getting very tempted to give that a go.

 

Finished reading the next Philip Marlowe novel in the series last week; The Little Sister - very good!

 

Getting a little despondent that I only have two more Marlowe novels to read...

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one-damned-thing.jpg.5a7771ce7a1b92bfd09b5ea173ae26a1.jpg

 

Just One Damned Thing After Another
By Jodi Taylor
 
Madeleine "Max" Maxwell is a history graduate, who is invited by her old teacher and mentor to apply for a position at St Mary's Institute of Historical Research, which might sound like a rather dull and pedestrian academic institution full of stuffy old research fellows, but guess what? It's not! It's a front for a group of time travellers who spend their days witnessing key historical events, confirming what actually happened and sometimes often dying in the process.  Before long Max is thrown into the fray, bringing her own special brand of chaos to proceedings…
 
Many years ago now I used to write a character in a collaborative Star Trek story.  None of us were great writers, it was just a bit of fun, but every now and again someone would join the group with what we termed an Uber character; someone who was multi-skilled and bordered on being omniscient. When characters like this popped up they killed the story, because they would resolve every situation themselves and continually place their character at the centre of events.
 
I thought about this a lot about that whilst reading this book because, to me, Max is the very definition of an Uber character.
 
Now I know first-person writing is from the point of view of the character telling the story, but that doesn't mean that character has to do everything, but in this case Max pretty well does (to the point where she saves the Institute not once, but twice from financial ruin!  It doesn’t make you marvel at her character’s resourcefulness, it just makes you wonder how incompetent the people in charge are in the first place!).  Also, knowing this is a series of books, I would have expected the character to gradually rise through the ranks of the Institute over a number of stories, but no, she’s pretty much running the place by the end of book one (I found this deeply unsatisfying because the character had done very little to earn the levels of trust and respect her seniors and peers started showing in her – unless you count just being likeable and surviving as skills, I suppose…).
 
The bottom line, for me, is that this is a very poorly written book and going back to the fan-fiction reference above, that it was this feels like.
 
There are some positives; Taylor does a reasonable job of world building – St. Mary’s feels like a functioning place, although they probably need to wind back on the partying – and her action scenes are well paced with plenty in them to keep the reader enthralled.
 
On the minus side, there are several sections of the book where things just grind to a halt, bogged down in pages of tedious description (I found myself shouting at my Kindle more than once to just get on with it!).  The plotting also seems to take direction from the book’s title but the biggest problem for me is the characters. 
 
There are just too many cliché characters in this book; the reserved and authoritarian Boss (who isn’t actually all that reserved or authoritarian); his stern, spinsterish secretary that everyone lives in fear of; the Luddite security guards… (I could go on, but I won’t). In some ways though, they are the lucky ones - the villains don’t even get to be clichés; one is just there and another is just a bitch! (that’s it, that’s all the character is!).  To call them cardboard would be generous as that would infer they at least had some depth…  There are also far too many characters.  At the beginning of the story they are introduced and leave so quickly it makes your head spin, and then, when you do start to make sense of the cast, Taylor doesn’t help things when she starts changing the way she refers to various individuals (one character is referred to in three different ways – names and titles – in just a few pages).
 
And yet, having said all that, I can kind of see why these books have got so many fans.  It is an undemanding read, there is humour and Max herself isn’t without some appeal.
 
Perhaps reading it off the back of le Carré and Chandler was my mistake but overall, this has to be one of the worst written books I have read in a long time, and it isn’t one I can recommend.
 

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17 minutes ago, Raven said:

 this has to be one of the worst written books I have read in a long time, and it isn’t one I can recommend.

 

I'm really surprised that you hated this so much, I was honestly expecting you to say that you liked it! I did actually like the book, I've read the first three, but, saying that, I do know what you mean. The characters are ridiculous, but I felt like they were meant to be sort of caricature, an overly exaggerated version of a normal business that's actually not normal at all. Sometimes though they're quite annoying, I even found Max to be quite annoying at times (probably because, as you said, she just jumps into every situation and solves it). Everything, the plot included, feels like absolute madness, but I just took that to be the point. I like a bit of madness sometimes anyway :lol:. On the other hand... without any spoilers from the next two books, there were a couple of times (in the third book particularly) where Taylor seems to break her own rules about time travel, and that made everything feel a bit pointless to me and made it seem like the series wasn't well planned. In comparison to something like Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next, which is absolute madness, but intricately planned and very well written madness, The Chronicles of St. Mary's does seem a little bit sloppy. Still quite fun though. I liked finding out where they were going to end up next.

 

Intrigued about your Star Trek story. It reminds me of the 'continue the story' thread we had on here, what every happened to that?

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3 hours ago, Hayley said:

I'm really surprised that you hated this so much, I was honestly expecting you to say that you liked it! I did actually like the book, I've read the first three, but, saying that, I do know what you mean. The characters are ridiculous, but I felt like they were meant to be sort of caricature, an overly exaggerated version of a normal business that's actually not normal at all. Sometimes though they're quite annoying, I even found Max to be quite annoying at times (probably because, as you said, she just jumps into every situation and solves it). Everything, the plot included, feels like absolute madness, but I just took that to be the point. I like a bit of madness sometimes anyway :lol:. On the other hand... without any spoilers from the next two books, there were a couple of times (in the third book particularly) where Taylor seems to break her own rules about time travel, and that made everything feel a bit pointless to me and made it seem like the series wasn't well planned. In comparison to something like Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next, which is absolute madness, but intricately planned and very well written madness, The Chronicles of St. Mary's does seem a little bit sloppy. Still quite fun though. I liked finding out where they were going to end up next.

 

Intrigued about your Star Trek story. It reminds me of the 'continue the story' thread we had on here, what every happened to that?

 

I'll reply to this at greater length later, but the Amazon pages for these books all start with a 'If you like Ben Aaronovitch & Jasper Fforde, you'll love this!' comment, and I just don't think that is true. 

 

I've not read any Fforde, but the Rivers of London books are much better plotted and written than this was, and are a much better example of how to write a first person story. 

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19 hours ago, Raven said:

 

I'll reply to this at greater length later, but the Amazon pages for these books all start with a 'If you like Ben Aaronovitch & Jasper Fforde, you'll love this!' comment, and I just don't think that is true. 

 

I've not read any Fforde, but the Rivers of London books are much better plotted and written than this was, and are a much better example of how to write a first person story. 

I think the similarity with Fforde is really down to the fact that he also uses time travel (although it's not the main point of the books) and it's also got a funny side. I really can't even think of one similarity to Ben Aaronovitch though... where did they get that from!?

I would recommend trying Fforde though, especially the Thursday Next books. They're very cleverly plotted, and genuinely funny. Plus Thursday is a much more likeable character than Max, in my opinion. 

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I've read two of this series and really enjoyed them, although the almost frenetic paced action left me feeling exhausted, rather like watching an impossibly action packed movie.

 

On ‎20‎/‎10‎/‎2019 at 6:18 AM, Raven said:
 
Many years ago now I used to write a character in a collaborative Star Trek story.  None of us were great writers, it was just a bit of fun, but every now and again someone would join the group with what we termed an Uber character; someone who was multi-skilled and bordered on being omniscient. When characters like this popped up they killed the story, because they would resolve every situation themselves and continually place their character at the centre of events.

 

I'm sure you were very good at this Raven and what a pity someone spoiled it for you all. Someone who wanted to win at all costs and missed the who;e point of the game.

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I'll split this reply into two halves...

 

On 19/10/2019 at 7:04 PM, Hayley said:

I'm really surprised that you hated this so much, I was honestly expecting you to say that you liked it! I did actually like the book, I've read the first three, but, saying that, I do know what you mean. The characters are ridiculous, but I felt like they were meant to be sort of caricature, an overly exaggerated version of a normal business that's actually not normal at all. Sometimes though they're quite annoying, I even found Max to be quite annoying at times (probably because, as you said, she just jumps into every situation and solves it). Everything, the plot included, feels like absolute madness, but I just took that to be the point. I like a bit of madness sometimes anyway :lol:. On the other hand... without any spoilers from the next two books, there were a couple of times (in the third book particularly) where Taylor seems to break her own rules about time travel, and that made everything feel a bit pointless to me and made it seem like the series wasn't well planned. In comparison to something like Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next, which is absolute madness, but intricately planned and very well written madness, The Chronicles of St. Mary's does seem a little bit sloppy. Still quite fun though. I liked finding out where they were going to end up next.

 

I wouldn't say I hated the book, but I certainly wasn't taken with large parts of it. 

 

I don't have a problem with books, TV series, films etc. that have been written to be a bit of a romp, but I still want something that has an internal logic that it follows (even if that logic is daft!) and believable characters (which this did not).  There were several points where I just didn't buy what a character did, or the logic of how the world was working, and that is why the book failed for me.

 

There is a good idea here, and in the hands of a better writer this could have been a very good story, but to my mind it just has too may flaws.

 

On 21/10/2019 at 2:25 AM, poppy said:

I've read two of this series and really enjoyed them, although the almost frenetic paced action left me feeling exhausted, rather like watching an impossibly action packed movie.

 

I'm surprised at that comment (and you're far from alone in saying it, I have read several reviews saying the same thing) because as I said, I found the book ground to a halt on several occasions (I think part of my frustration with those parts of the book was that I could see where it was going and I just wanted it over with!) 

 

Quote

Intrigued about your Star Trek story. It reminds me of the 'continue the story' thread we had on here, what every happened to that?

 

Quote

I'm sure you were very good at this Raven and what a pity someone spoiled it for you all. Someone who wanted to win at all costs and missed the who;e point of the game.

 

The Star Trek story was what was termed a Play by E-Mail (or PbEM) game.

 

Players wrote bios for one (or sometimes more) characters - mine was the Chief Engineer on the longest running game I played in - and then posted first-person logs from that characters point of view (both official and personal logs) to move a story forward (both in terms of the main plot and in terms of their characters own development).  Players would write their own stuff, or collaborate with other players, and then upload what they had written to a website that would then e-mail a copy to everyone playing (it could be annoying if you had spent an hour or two writing something only for someone else to post something contradictory just before you did!). I played on various different games for a couple of years, but finding good ones proved to be more and more difficult and as they went on a lot of them built up so much of their own history, that went far beyond what was shown on screen, that there was no practical way to catch up.  

 

With regard to the Uber characters, they rarely killed a game permanently; they were usually taken to one side and had a quiet word with, or - in some more extreme cases - removed from the game altogether.

 

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