Archive for » March, 2014 «

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: A Review

So I went to see this film at the cinema, as I usually do with Marvel films these days and I had to watch a 3d showing as my cinema didn’t have a good time for the 2d ones.

I want to start by saying that no other universe has been handled quite so well as Marvel handle the Avengers universe. There’s something about seeing these films (and the Agents of Shield tv series) in the order they were made that just builds and builds. Each film feels a little better than the one before. The characters more fleshed out and the universe more rich and complex. Some of that may be that each film requires more of everyone involved, but some of that is the subtleties, the little details that all add up.

The first Captain America film felt very different to the other avengers films. It had a little less humour and dealt with the much darker theme of the second world war. This meant quite a lot of people didn’t like it as much. I assume most of them were expecting the still deep but with a glossy finish style of Iron Man and Thor.

Captain America is a deep character. He deals with some of the fundamental issues of freedom, fear, and what it is to be an honourable soldier and you can see him wrestling with these issues in both films. As such the veneer is a little less shiny, although this sequel is a little more in tune with the sort of feel of the films over all. There was a bit more humour, but still not as much as Thor 2 or the Avengers, and definitely not as much as Iron Man 3.

On top of that the bad guy was a troubled soul. While there have been bad guys in many of the Marvel films that are evidently meant to be hated this wasn’t so clear cut in this story. I don’t want to plot spoil but I found myself not wanting to hate the Winter Soldier, but to hope that somehow he could be saved instead. The character is definitely an interesting one and I hope they revisit him.

Another common occurance in the Marvel films is the concept of how much control should our governments have and the moral obligation of standing up for the right thing even if it risks your own life, and yet again that was a strong theme throughout this film. and once more Marvel handled it well. Captain America, a character seen as deeply patriotic, is the perfect person to ask the right questions.

Finally the side characters were amazing. Scarlett Johanssen as the Black Widow was once again superb, building on her parts in the Iron Man series and the Avengers film. And then there was this new character here (<—) who has one of the coolest pieces of tech I think I’ve ever seen. He can fly! And some of his stunts and fight scenes were epic. He was also a great supporting character for Captain America, providing most of the funny one liners, typical of the Marvel style. Nick Fury’s story arch was also awesome.

In short, I really enjoyed the film. I think Thor 2 is still my favourite of all the Marvel Avenger films so far as Loki was hilarious but this is definitely one of the better ones and well worth seeing, just don’t bother with the 3d unless you have no option and make sure you stay until the very end of the credits as there are two sneaky extras and only one is part way through the credits, with the other being left until the last moment.

Angel of the Sands: Part 1

So this is my usual sharing blog and that’s when I normally give you lovely readers an excerpt from one of my books soon to be released or something like that, but for a while a couple of years ago I ran through an entire novel with you all and it seemed to go down well (you guys like free stuff right?) so I thought I’d do that again, except I also really like those create your own adventure things where every page has an option at the end of it and the reader gets to decide what happens next, so, on that note, I thought that’s exactly what I’d do.

Yup, you read that right. I’m going to write a blog with story in it, in the usual second person narrative style, and then give you the options of what happens next. Readers can comment and vote for the option they want and then I will write the most voted for option two weeks later. So, here goes.

The first thought in your head is how pink the backs of your eyelids are in the bright sunlight, the next is how every inch of your exposed skin feels like someone has set it alight. You wince as you try and open your eyes but they’re crusted shut with gunk, you must have been sleeping a long time. As the sounds of horses snorting reaches your ears you try to move. Hot sand greets the feel of your fingers and you try once more to open your eyes. This time you open them just enough to see a bright blue sky before the pain of the grit forces you to close them again.

Barely seconds later you hear the sound of feet in the sand and a shadow moves over you. You try to pull away from it, not sure if the caster means you harm or not, but your body refuses to work properly, resulting in a feeble scuffle where your hands sink into the burning hot sand either side of you. Instead you try to sit but your head spins and nausea grips at your stomach, deterring you from trying again.

A man’s voice says something in a language you don’t understand as he kneels beside you.

“You’re safe,” he says in a thick accent, struggling with the s and f sounds. With that, he pushes his arms through the sand underneath you and lifts your body to his bare torso. Knowing your female body would be no match for the effortless strength in him, you don’t struggle. The movement makes your head pound so you lean into him and rest against his shoulder. As you inhale the scent of horse and fresh sweat mingles with spices and coconut. It ought to be unpleasant but you find it strangely comforting.

You feel the sands shift underneath him as he turns and carries you towards the sound of more horses and people. Discussions in hurried whispers follow you, but most are too quiet to make out and the few that are loud enough are spoken with words entirely foreign. After what feels like forever he stops and places you upon soft cushions and fabrics that feel cool to your skin.

“Rest,” he says and withdraws, pulling something over you to shade you from the sun at the same time. Whatever you’re resting on sways gently as someone climbs up beside you. The sweet smell of coconut milk fills the small enclosure. You try once more to open your eyes and see a young woman, tanned a deep brown sitting beside you before your body forces them closed against the pain again.

Moments later you feel her lean forward, making the bed rock gently again, and wipe a damp cloth over your eyes, removing some of the grime and cooling the sun-scorched skin. You sigh with relief as she continues this treatment until you can see again. She then moves on to the rest of your face, neck and bare arms, washing your skin with the blend of water and coconut milk from a bowl cradled in her lap.

While you’re being pampered your thoughts are allowed to wander and you soon feel the memories of the previous two days returning to you. One moment you were in London, walking in the botanical gardens and the next you were in a small oasis in the middle of a desert. Ever since then you had been losing a battle to live. If these people hadn’t come along you’d probably have died, still not knowing how you got here or why.

When she’s finished cleaning you try and sit up to thank her but your head and stomach remind you that they don’t want to. Even if they hadn’t she shakes her head and gently places her hand on your torso to push you backwards. For a moment she stares at you and you stare back, until you give in to her and lie down again. Instantly your head feels better.

From your comfortable position surrounded by silk cushions you watch as she moved to a small opening in the canvas shade and calls out to the rest of the people. After a minute or two she’s handed a bowl with some mashed oat like food within and a wooden cup. She places the bowl near you and comes close to help you lift your head to drink. The water is warm but fresh and soothes the ache in your throat.

It takes you several minutes to drink the liquid at the pace she’ll allow you to have it, but she doesn’t seem to mind the effort. Once you are done she strokes your blonde hair with her fingers to neaten it, an almost envious look in her eyes. Her hair is so dark brown it might as well be black and cut short to frame her face but not get in the way of any tasks.

With her tasks seemingly over she gives you a brief smile, bows in an awkward manner given that she already knelt to fit beside you and backs out of the opening. You get a glimpse of the many horses and people outside before her hands close the gap entirely, leaving you alone with the bowl of food and no utensils to eat it with.

Only a few seconds later the bed you are in sways and wobbles before settling into a gentle rhythmic motion that matches the sounds of movement outside. Whoever they are they’re taking you with them.

What do you do?

Eat the food with your fingers and rest to regain your strength.

Get up and try to make them understand you want some utensils before you will eat.

Get out of the litter and try to get away from the people who’ve taken you.

Comment with the option you want and any questions you might have, although I reserve the right not to answer some things if it spoils potential plot.

This story is entirely free to the reader and will continue to be throughout, but as you might have gathered from the website around this I make my living from writing fiction. This post is over 1000 words long and took me a few hours to write and polish. Although it’s definitely not a must, if you enjoyed this and want to say thank you in a monetary fashion please consider becoming a patron of mine at Patreon (a lot like kickstarter but more of a pledge per episode/installment sort of thing). You can also say thank you by sharing this with friends who might enjoy it or dropping me a message here or through my email address.

Strays: A Review

This is the first book in the Glaring Chronicles by Matthew Krause and was gifted to me in return for a review.

I want to start by saying that I totally love this cover and the whole cat theme throughout the story. Here’s the blurb:

There are 500 million cats in the world, but some of them are not all that they seem. Part of a secret order called The Glaring, these mysterious changelings move freely among us, sometimes as common cats, sometimes in more human form, marking our movements as we go about our lives.

An ancient evil known as Jackal has waged an eternal war with The Glaring, threatening the human world that it protects for centuries. In order to defeat Jackal, The Glaring must enlist the aid of two unlikely heroes from the human world:

Sarah, a teenage runaway fleeing a life of horrible abuse; and Kyle, an awkward alcoholic misfit who is reluctantly enlisted as her protector.

Sarah doesn’t know it yet, but she possesses a healing light so brilliant that no evil, not even Jackal, can resist it. The only chance the Jackal has to carry out his wicked plans is to keep Sarah in the dark about her power, weakening her spirit until she breaks.

With nothing to protect her but a teenage alcoholic and an army of shape-shifting cats, Jackal’s rise to power seems almost assured.

To be fair that also summarises some of the series I think and this book barely gets into the over all plot. It also has a cliffhanger, so those readers who like to have everything before they get started will want to wait a bit longer perhaps (book 2 is out but there might be more to come). With that said it does still feel like a self contained plot. The characters achieve their main goals, even if there’s definitely more to come and more threads.

The book’s style reminds me very much of Stephen King’s early not too horror genre work. It’s got the sort of otherworldy evil feel to the bad guy and his sort of descriptive violence, which is something I know a lot of people love, even if it’s not something I’m particularly fond of. The idea behind the cats is also awesome and probably what kept me reading (I skipped the gore).

All in all I can’t complain about the book. The few things I didn’t like were because it’s not my genre of choice but I love the premise, love the plot and adored the characters. I highly recommend this series and this writer for those that don’t mind a bit of gore, a dance with the devil, and plenty of tense moments to keep them turning the pages.

Castle Clash: A Distraction

So I often blog about some of the games I’m playing and this is my latest little time waster. It’s an android app which works very well on my tablet.

The game looks a bit like this, although this is a dungeon and not your base. You have heroes and other units that you create in your army barracks/training grounds. The heroes level up based on experience and you can level up the units with money, a bit like age of empires.

You also build up your castle in your own homeland, working out the best positioning of your watch towers, hero bases and resources so you withstand attacks best, of which there are two kinds. The waves of computer generated attacks and also the attacks from other players trying to steal your resources.

There’s also some great dynamics with the heroes and the hero arena where you pit your heroes against the heroes of other players and earn honour badges as well as improve your hero rank. This doesn’t level the heroes up but provides very important honour badges (they’re needed to unlock each set of 20 levels for your heroes). This provides an extra level of strategy because the heroes that are great in the arena aren’t necessarily the best heroes for defence or attacking another players base.

On top of all this there’s the guild side, which does seem to be getting developed at the moment. Players can sort of team up and combine resources (shards specifically) to get benefits, such as 10% extra resources in attacks and can collectively team up on uber heroes of massive levels to gain more honour badges.

I’ve recently created a guild and a few of my friends have teamed up with me and it’s added a lot to the fun. If anyone else would like to join me and bash some monsters with us, my guild is called Ethanar and at this point I’ll accept anyone who wants to join in too (apparently this only works on Android as the Android and Iphone databases aren’t in sync).

Character Spotlight: Mycroft Holmes

This is the first time I’ve tried to use a character created by someone else in something I want to publish. I’ve played around with other characters a bit, like a brief appearance of loki in some Marvel fan fiction I started (And really need to finish), but this is the first time I’ve taken another character and used it as not only a major character in my work but written from their point of view.

I feel a little limited in what I can say, because the first story isn’t out yet and I definitely don’t want to plot spoil, but I’ve added a few twists and taken one or two liberties with the characters, so they aren’t quite exactly how they are in the orginal stories.

Mycroft still works for the government, and pretty much is the government, but I’ve set my story in modern times, despite setting it in the exact same world Conan Doyle did and having it over a hundred years after. Evidently that means I’ve got some explaining to do regarding the characters living that long.

In the original works there isn’t much that’s said about Mycroft, which does give me some scope to elaborate on him. All we really know is that he’s similar to Sherlock, but even smarter. Although he’s also slightly lazy, prefering to get his brother to do most of his leg work for him, if he can. He’s also even less social, but nothing is ever mentioned of any potential relationships. It’s fairly safe to assume he’s never entered into a relationship (Sherlock never did) but as Sherlock likes Irene Adler, there may have once been someone for Mycroft to like and he may well be opposed to liking someone in the future. In the original stories he certainly doesn’t seem to object too much to Watson, implying that he can be won over in time.

This is pretty much where I have begun my story with Mycroft. I’ve assumed he works for the government in whatever capacity the government needs to run and has a finger in everything. He lives alone, but has staff/servants, as well as plenty of money. He dresses well and looks down on those intellectually inferior (pretty much everyone), but can be amused by them and come to see certain people as useful in his life, a bit like his brother. He’s incredibly loyal to his country, partially because he was born when people were very loyal and partly because they country has been shaped by him.

What would Mycroft be like if he fell in love? Well if you want to know that you’ll have to wait for a bit. He’s not going to fall in love easily, that’s for sure.

The Kiss, An Anthology: A Review

So I know I wrote a story for this anthology and have been plugging it a lot recently, but I just finished reading all the other stories. I got to read many of them before they came out but a few slipped past me in the massive outpouring.

There are 29 stories other than my own, The Slave Who’d Never Been Kissed (the last one). And I have to say I gulped down every single one of them. They vary in length and in theme. Some of them very romantic as the title would suggest but others playing on the title with interesting results.

I don’t want to spoil the surprises held in each story but there is a little something for everyone in pretty much every genre that exists. Several also have sequels by the same author for you to continue with if you like what you’ve read so far, making this a great introduction to some fantastic new authors. It really is a privelidge to be part of this anthology.

If you haven’t got a copy yet you can grab it free on Amazon

Helping a Friend and Appreciating the NHS

I have a friend who has just been told he has cancer. This friend lives in the US and therefore doesn’t have NHS health cover and as such he has a bunch of medical bills to pay, bills that really aren’t cheap.

This friend is Brandon Hale. He writes the very awesome Day Soldiers series and has a story along with mine in the Kiss anthology I mentioned recently. He’s an amazing bloke, with a lovely wife, but they’re collectively facing a really tough financial time.

Now most of my readers are in the UK, if any of us or anyone we know gets told the frankly scary news that they have cancer, they have the comfort of knowing the NHS is there for them and they can just move through the system getting all the treatement they need. But Brandon needs some help, so if you have some spare cash and feel moved enough to donate you can do so at the page one of his friends has set up here. He’s also written a blog talking about why he needs money and how his income is affected (he’s a writer who can’t currently write so there’s more than just medical costs associated with this) which you can read here.

Finally if you can’t spare much in the way of money or you’re not comfortable just donating money to someone you don’t know, he has some amazing books. The first of which is free and here. Please grab it, read it and if you like it, buy and read the rest of the series. And if you’re not a reader, let others know about the books who might enjoy them. Every time someone grabs a copy or shares it, it helps Brandon’s income stream stay steady to pay his bills while he’s unable to work. The books are really really good, so you should be reading them.

Thanks for reading this. I don’t like asking people for money but I think it’s important someone’s fight with cancer isn’t made harder just because money is a problem, especially when here in the UK we rarely have to be concerned about it.