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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Just Finished Listening To… Norse Mythology BBC Radio 4 Full Cast Dramatisation by Neil Gaiman!

 I have just listened to the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. I do have the book and was hoping to find the actual audiobook of the original, but it wasn’t on Apple or even Kindle, for some reason, and it’s constantly out from my library, so I bought this instead, and I have to say, it’s very good, especially for the amazing cast. 

Neil Gaiman himself does his usual cameo role, in this case a radio announcer talking about the weather. It starts with a mysterious woman who calls herself Njordsdottir -presumably the goddess Freya - visiting a hospital and talking to a sick child, Magnus. She ends up as the storyteller, telling him the Norse myths, which are acted out as a play. 

The role of the Teller -  Njordsdottir - is played by the wonderful Diana Rigg, but she is not the only one listeners might have heard before. We hear Derek Jacobi’s distinctive voice as Odin and goodness, he is Odin! I’ve been a fan of this actor since I, Claudius and Brother Cadfael. Natalie Dormer, whom you have probably seen as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors or as Margaery Tyrrel in Game Of Thrones plays the goddess Freya. The adorable Colin Morgan, Newt Pulsifer in the radio play of Good Omens and Merlin in the TV series of the same name, is Loki. Colin Morgan’s voice is delightful as always. 

If you do want to hear the audiobook for free, I have come across it on YouTube, read by the author. There is another audiobook of it read by Tom Hiddleston, though to be honest, I prefer the one read by Neil Gaiman. He is a fabulous reader who does most of his own audiobooks. Tom Hiddleston has a beautiful speaking voice, but his performance of this one is rather dull, I’m afraid. I have no idea why. He is a fine Shakespearean actor, as well as wonderful in the role for which he is best known, Loki, but really, he might as well be reading the phone book in this. 

The radio play, though, is well worth a listen. I got my copy on Apple Books for a very reasonable A$12.99. If you are on Audible it’s free with the trial.

Or perhaps your library has a copy! 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Just Finished Reading…Murder In Williamstown by Kerry Greenwood. Sydney: Allen And Unwin, 2022


This is the twenty-second Phryne Fisher novel by Melbourne author Kerry Greenwood, set in Melbourne in the 1920s.

The year is 1929, the place Melbourne. Private detective Phryne Fisher has received some abusive cards in her letterbox. Her two adopted daughters Jane and Ruth are doing the 1929 version of work experience at the Blind Institute, where there is something fishy going on with the accounts, but it isn’t the book-keeper who is at fault. And a dead body has washed up on Williamstown beach while Phryne is taking an evening walk with her university academic friend Jeoffrey. The victim is Chinese, but Phryne’s lover, Lin Chung, has asked her to stay out of the matter, and also not to look for his missing sister in law. There is another murder late in the book. 

All will be explained by the end of the novel; meanwhile, you’d think that Phryne won’t have much to do, but she delegates the initial investigation to her three adopted children, Ruth, Jane and Tinker. 

Tinker begins with a paper round that enables him to find the letter-dropper. Jane, the maths whiz, works out how much money is missing and who might be involved. Ruth helps, asking questions, both at the Institute and a party the girls attend. Phryne uses all the information to work out who the culprits are. 

A small event early in the novel, involving a broken clay pipe found in the Williamstown Botanical Gardens, proves more important than it might seem.

Kerry Greenwood takes great joy in giving detailed descriptions of food and clothes, as always. Phryne’s cook, Mrs Butler, loves a challenge in her work. This book is no different in that respect. Jane and Ruth, invited to a schoolmate’s party, are growing up and need new dresses, made for them by a dressmaker(not Madame Fleuri, Phryne’s usual dressmaker). People eat and drink, both at home and at the three parties in the book and the food and drink are described in loving detail.

Each Fisher novel has a theme, whether it’s a place or a community. This time, it’s the seaside Melbourne suburb of Williamstown and the Chinese community. Williamstown is one of the nicer Western suburbs of Melbourne now, but was a working port in the 1920s. There is still a ferry going there, though nowadays it’s really a tourist thing.

There are characters from other novels who appear in this one, and Jeoffrey was a character in a short story, “The Hours Of Juana The Mad”. Characters who have been in the series from the beginning, such as Bert and Cec, Phryne’s communist wharfie friends, only appear briefly, as does her lover, Lin Chung, who is only on the phone until finally appearing near the end. Bert and Cec aren’t involved with solving the mystery this time, and weren’t helping much in the last novel, Death In Daylesford, either. (They did find a dead body in that one, but didn’t help solve the mystery.)

I enjoyed it, as always, though I must confess that I like the earlier books better. Each one of the novels has had two or three threads, but usually the threads are more or less woven together or at least not too far apart. In this one, two of the mysteries are over by about halfway through the novel. I found myself shrugging and saying, “So what? Do I really care who has been stealing from the Blind Institute?” I think these small mysteries are just to give the children something to do and they really can’t be involved in the murder part of the story. 

There are a few oddities too. We know Phryne was in France during the Great War, working with the battlefield women’s ambulance(Murder In Montparnasse), and it’s even mentioned late in the novel, but she also mentions being in London during the war, something she couldn’t have done if you accept the premises of the other novels. But there were some huge plot holes in Murder In Montparnasse and I still found that very enjoyable. You just have to suspend disbelief when reading this series, something I am happy to do - anything by Kerry Greenwood is great fun.

This novel is available from all the usual sites, including Book Depository and Amazon.

Monday, November 07, 2022

In Which I Go To The Opera!


Poster for Melbourne production- fair use

Last Wednesday I went to see Opera Australia in Phantom Of The Opera. It was the first time since I saw it in the 1990s. Back then, I was sitting at the front, and had the fascinating experience of seeing into the wings, where the stage hands were hauling the boat across the stage! This time I sat near the back, so was able to enjoy whatever illusion there was.

 I know there are those who sneer at this sort of popular stuff, but it’s popular because a lot of people enjoy it. What’s wrong with that? I enjoy classic opera, but let’s face it, the stories tend to be pretty silly. Not all, but many. Anna Russell had a lot of fun with describing those operas in her shows - and she loved them too, she just understood that they could be silly. If you are interested, there is a lot of her material on YouTube, including a video of her famous twenty minute Ring Cycle. It’s hilarious! 

This opera - and it is an opera, not what we think of as a musical - is based on a novel by Gaston Leroux. The Paris Opera house is “haunted” by a crazed musical genius who has a maimed face and is obsessed with Christine, a beautiful young soprano, who thinks he is the “Angel of music” she read about in a book as a child. He teaches her singing. But the soprano has a boyfriend, which could be a problem…

I do have a copy of the book somewhere, beautifully illustrated. 

There are quite a few film versions, including one I vaguely recall had Nelson Eddy, with the “Phantom” played by Claude Rains(1943). There was a film version with Herbert Lom as a very sympathetic Phantom. The baddie has stolen his opera, Joan Of Arc, and he became disfigured in a fire, trying to get it back. When she hears his sad story, she gives him a hug and lets him continue to teach her the role.

I had such a wonderful evening at the theatre! The music is glorious, and I ended up buying some merchandise. I resisted the jewellery and the mugs and t shirts and bought the program and a CD of the opera. I rarely buy programs these days, with nowhere to put them, but it was a special occasion, and I can play the music when I feel like it.

The only thing was, I had a hard time trying not to think of Terry Pratchett’s send up, Maskerade, in which his two witches, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, go to the big city to sort out the problem of a book Nanny wrote, which has become a bestseller, but the publishers haven’t paid her.  It’s a cookbook with recipes which are all about “goings on”(Nanny thoroughly enjoyed sex in her time and regrets nothing). While there, they are in search of a young woman, Agnes, whom they want to be their third witch but who has become a member of the Ankh Morpork opera chorus. And yes, the Opera House has its own “opera ghost”, who makes demands and who has a fascination with a girl called Christine, but Christine is dim-witted, can’t sing and only got into the chorus because the new owner owes her father money. Agnes has a powerful, glorious voice, but is fat, so nobody wants her in leading roles. The opera ghost accidentally teaches her instead of Christine, so she is asked to sing for Christine when the opera ghost demands Christine be given lead roles. 

The novel makes references to the Michael Crawford version of Phantom, only the Crawford character, Walter Plinge, is Crawford’s klutzy Frank Spencer, from comedy Some Mothers Do ’Ave’Em

I tried not to giggle! Still, I ended up buying the Pratchett novel in ebook. I’m rereading it already.

Have you seen the opera or read the novel - either the original or the Pratchett send up of the Lloyd Webber opera? 

Thursday, November 03, 2022

The Power Of The Doctor - oh, wow!

 So, the other night I watched The Power Of The Doctor, Jodie Whittaker’s last episode, in which she regenerated. I have to say I will miss her, to the extent that I am going right back to the beginning and watch the episodes I own.

I have to explain that I have been a fan since William Hartnell, the first Doctor, who was on when I was in primary school. I have loved all of them, but he was my Doctor. 

There is not much in the way of spoilers for this as we already know, through social media and reviews, that her immediate successor is not Ncuti Gatwa but David Tennant. We do have to wait to find out why, though. 

And by the way, you may or may not know that unless you live in the UK, you will no longer be able to watch it on free to air TV but will have to subscribe to Disney+. As it happens, I do subscribe to the House Of Mouse, which has all the Star Wars and Marvel films and TV shows, plus a lot of my favourite films, such as Chariots Of Fire and Ladyhawke, but not everybody does, or can afford it, so I’m not crazy about this. I did hear it may have been about getting bigger budgets, though personally I think they must have a decent budget as it is. No more wobbly sets or monsters with a zipper in their costume. I remember on the DVD extras for The Aztecs(William Hartnell) a memory shared was of hiring art students to paint Aztec pottery. The art budget was about £250. No more of that either. 

Anyway, we all got to see Jodie’s last episode and oh, my, what a story! There must have been quite a budget for it, with all the special effects and the guest actors. Exploding volcanoes. A spaceship battle - right at the beginning and no real connection with the story apart from frilly cybermen and companion Dan deciding he was nearly killed and time to move on.

Interesting that most of the action was done by women. Not only the Doctor, but Yaz finally gets to show what she can do and save the day, the Ruth Doctor, Kate Lethbridge Stewart and two classic era Companions, Ace and Tegan. And all these women kick ass! They don’t just show up for a five minute cameo, they participate in saving the world. Ace even gets out some of her famous Nitro 9 explosive. 

And then we meet Graham, one of this Doctor’s first companions, who turns up in a volcano, of all things, no idea how or even why! By the end of the show he has organised a meeting for ex Doctor’s companions, including the delicious Ian Chesterton(William Russell), on whom I had a huge crush as a child. He only gets one line, surprised to learn that the Doctor is now a woman - actually, Ian, as one of the first Doctor’s first three companions, left before regeneration was a thing at all. He has aged, but still has that beautiful voice I fell in love with as a child.

There were several classic era Doctors, which was nice. David Bradley was back as the first Doctor, but the others were the original actors. 

It was great fun, and who would have expected the Master to dance around to the tune of Rasputin? And was he actually Rasputin or did he take over from Rasputin?  Anyway, I expect we will see the Master again - he seems unkillable, he even came back once after he refused to regenerate. In the Doctor Who movie he came back from ashes, for goodness sake! 

Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, unlike Doctor #12, was calm about regeneration, even sitting on top of the TARDIS with Yaz, eating an ice cream as they gazed out at Earth before dropping Yaz off and flying away to regenerate alone.

This is a story for fans, for people who love the show.

You just have to watch it to fully appreciate what I’m talking about, but it’s well worth the bother. I didn’t watch it till I could watch the episode all at once, a couple of days after it was shown. 


Excuse me, I’m off to get some popcorn and binge on favourite episodes.


Thursday, September 29, 2022

Just Finished Reading…Peepshow by Leigh Readhead. Sydney: Allen And Unwin, 2004.


This is not a newly published book. I bought a copy from the bookseller table at a Sisters In Crime event at my local library the other night. I don’t think it’s in print any more, so the author probably supplied some books from her stash to the bookseller. However, it’s easily available as an ebook on your favourite web sites. 

It’s the first in a series, four so far, which is about Simone Kirsch, aka Vivien Leigh(her work name), a stripper who wants to start her own private detective agency, and has taken a course in this area. In this first novel she is trying to find the killer of a truly nasty man running a strip joint, whose body was found floating off St Kilda beach in the opening scene, because his brother has kidnapped Simone’s best friend Chloe and is threatening to kill her if Simone doesn’t find the murderer within two weeks. She gets a job at a lap dancing joint which was owned by the victim, to see what information she can find before time runs out.

 I think this book fits best into the category of “tart noir”.  There is sex, the mean streets, drinking, smoking, casual use of drugs and much more along those lines. But it’s fun. Simone is a likeable character and the setting is Melbourne, where I live. In fact, it’s set in the part of Melbourne where I live, the seaside suburbs of Elwood and St Kilda, as well as the CBD. Most of the venues are real too, so I had fun following Simone’s travels around town. The Greyhound Hotel, where some of it happens, was pulled down some years ago, but it was within walking distance of my home. There is also the Espy(Esplanade Hotel), a pub and live music venue in St Kilda, where my nephew performed with his band several years ago. 

It’s said you should write about what you know, and apparently the author had some background as a stripper. It doesn’t seem an easy job! 

I read this in a couple of days and have bought the second novel in ebook. 

Well worth a read if you enjoy a bit of whodunnit fun. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Just Finished Reading… False Value by Ben Aaronovitch. Rivers Of London series. Penguin Putnam: New York, 2021

 I have just read False Value and thoroughly enjoyed it, as I have all the Rivers Of London novels. 

Hero Peter Grant, a member of the very small Special Assessment Unit, London’s magical police, has a new - undercover - job at the Serious Cybernetics Corporation(and yes, it is a deliberate reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy). There is a reason why the police want to know what’s going on. It’s connected with Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, who was a mathematical genius and the world’s first computer programmer, and her teacher, mathematician Mary Somerville. In this world, where magic is real and Isaac Newton was a famous mage, there is a physical Mary Engine, instead of just a theory paper. And someone is using it for nasty stuff.

Peter is awaiting the birth of twins with his partner, river goddess Beverley Brook. Interestingly, there isn’t much activity by river gods and goddesses in this novel. They are mentioned, but don’t appear for once, and Bev is too focused on her forthcoming children to get involved.

I would have thought the series would be going downhill by now, but no. Each novel has something new to be enjoyed. 

But you really do have to have read the others to be able to follow this one. It assumes you know who the characters are and what their backgrounds are. Peter, for example, is the son of a woman from Sierra Leone and a (white) jazz musician. Bev is the daughter of Mama Thames, an African woman who arrived in Britain in the 1950s and became a goddess. Nightingale is Peter’s “Governor”, who taught him magic.

If you are a fan, you just need to know that this one is absolutely worth reading. If you haven’t read this series, what are you waiting for?

My copy is in ebook, but your local bookshop or web site will have it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Just Finished Reading - Three Miles Down: A Novel Of First Contact In The Tumultuous 1970s By Harry Turtledove. New York: Tom Doherty, 2022

The year is 1974. The U.S President is Richard Nixon, who is soon to lose his job. Jerry Stieglitz, a young PhD candidate in marine biology, who also writes science fiction, is approached by the CIA to go on a mysterious voyage. At first he is told they want to raise a Soviet submarine which was destroyed a few years ago. 

But there is much more to it than that. There is a reason the Soviet submarine was sunk. That, not the submarine itself, is why they want him along. And it’s something very exciting - as long as he can keep his mouth shut. If he can’t, he is warned he will be dead soon after.

They have found a spaceship, which probably sank the Soviet craft, but so far nobody on the alien ship is responding. 

This seems to be a first contact novel, but it isn’t, really. It takes a long time for the spaceship to be raised, then for it to be examined. Jerry gets to do that along with another crew member. I won’t give you any more details before you read it. 

The first few chapters are a bit slow. There is a lot of discussion, both political and speculation on what’s in the spaceship and whether their own ship will be wrecked like the Soviet one. There is much detailed description of what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We are also told what science fiction books have just come out, and real people, such as SF authors Ben Bova and Jerry Pournelle, are mentioned before actually appearing later in the book. 

But the characters are good and the pace picks up after the spaceship is raised from the bottom of the sea. And there is some thought about whether it’s fair to have the US keeping all this to itself, or whether it should be sharing. 

It’s interesting to read about the era, before mobile phones, before the internet, before the Soviet Union fell(and after first contact, how different will that be?). Harry Turtledove was around at the time, but he is very good with history, even if it’s not the alternative universe for which he is best known. It took me a while to get into it, but I finished the second half in a couple of days. 

The book is available in all your usual good bookshops and websites, including Amazon, Booktopia and Book Depository. I bought mine in ebook on Apple Books.