Welcome to my Blogger page, thank you for visiting. This is where I will share my reviews of books, movies and other things I enjoy. If you would like to see my ramblings, fanfiction and other general posts, please visit my Livejournal: beren_writes. Visit my pages to learn about me and my books.
Top set of links above are external links, second set are pages local to the blog.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E - Fun, Fun, Fun! - #FanFridays 3

Welcome to FanFridays 3 where I'm allowed to get my geek on :). Today I have a film review for you: The Man From UNCLE. I do hope you enjoy it. SPOILER FREE

The Man From U.N.C.L.E - Fun, Fun, Fun

Wittegen Press
$3.29 | £2.19
Amazon | Other
Rating: 12A
Henry Cavill ... Solo
Armie Hammer ... Illya
Alicia Vikander ... Gaby
Elizabeth Debicki ... Victoria
Luca Calvani ... Alexander
Sylvester Groth ... Uncle Rudi
Hugh Grant ... Waverly

Summary: Napoleon Solo, top agent of the CIA and Illya Kuryakin, top agent of the KGB are brought together to track down a missing nuclear scientist and the process he has perfected for refining Uranium quickly and easily. Along with his estranged daughter, Gabby, they must infiltrate a neo-Nazi organisation to retrieve the man in question and his process.

So I am a fan of the original series The Man From UNCLE and The Return of the Man from UNCLE (I think I saw the latter first and am totally an Illya girl), so I was not sure what to make of the new movie. As shown by The Avengers (Steed and Peel that is), not all formats translate to the big screen, but I had seen good things on Tumblr so decided to go see for myself.

I am so glad I went to watch this film.

This is an incredibly entertaining movie and I enjoyed every second of it. It could do with some more diversity in the cast, but never-the-less, it's very engaging.

I love the trope where the two leads really dislike each other, but have to work together anyway and this is totally the angle Ritchie goes for. Solo and Illya always seemed to get on in the series (at least what I have seen of it), but the first time we see them in the movie they're trying to kill each other in a very serious manner. They don't like each other, they don't trust each other and they deliberately try and push each other's buttons. It's awesome!

Of course they have to go for some sexual tension between the female lead Gabby (Alicia Vikander) and one of the male leads as seems to be required by so many movies, but personally I was sitting there going 'Oh kiss already' every time Solo (Henry Cavill) and Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) were on screen together. I'm sure Gabby could cope with both of them ;). I mean, just look at them:

The plot is a typical, scientist has been taken by baddies and is building bad things, we must get him back, spy plot, but that's the point - if it had been any more complex it would have been wrong. It is the perfect, simply laid out, old fasioned Bond type idea with moments when its tongue is firmly stuck in its cheek.

Wittegen Press
$6.79 | £5.69
Amazon | Other
I'm still an Illya girl, just so you know :). The cast does beautifully. Did they deliberately pick an Illya as far away from David McCallum as they could get while still being blond? Armie is superb as the KGB agent with anger issues and I love how they have changed his character from the original. The original Illya always seemed so very calm and impossible to flat, the new Illya is very different and yet still as adorable.

Cavill is really good as Solo as well. I have to admit I never really liked the original Napoleon Solo very much, there were too many times I wanted to smack him. I still want to smack this one at certain moments, but really liked him too. He's just the right amount of smooth, cocksure and put together.

Alicia Vikander is superb as Gabby. She comes across as totally out of her depth at times and yet still competent and capable. She is definitely not the damsel in this film. She also looks stunning in coveralls or couture, which is hard to do :).

What is utterly awesome is the ultimate baddie is a woman and she is fantastic. Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) is everything a spy movie villain in the 60s should be: sophisticated, calm and cool, ruthless and something of a sexual predator. Actually Servalan from Blake's 7 comes to mind as the same kind of character well done.

This film is also incredibly funny. It's the kind of humour Ritchie is famous for; a little black in places and occasionally downright wrong, but very, very infectious. There was one scene, which I shall not spoil, where half the cinema were laughing and the other half looked at us askance - it was hilarious, I promise, but it also very black humour.

At times it is very touching as well. The film has depth in places that I was not expecting.

There was only one bit that was incredibly annoying and that was near the climax. They decided to do split screen, comic book style action for a little bit (thank god not for too long) and it just felt like being thrown out of the film for a minute of so. It made everything remote and I don't think it worked. It was clear an homage that did not belong.

Wittegen Press
$2.99 | £1.99
Amazon | Other
The film is a 12A so there was no gore, but it is not a plot that shies away from killing people. I always find it strange that just because they don't show blood and heads exploding it's okay to allow kids to see people dying left right and centre. I'm old school when on TV the goodies from the A-Team weren't actually allowed to hit anyone with their bullets :).

The action is good, the effects are superb and there is a nice balance between plot and explosions to keep everyone happy.

This is definitely a movie worth seeing, I enjoyed it immensely. I could quite easily go back and watch it again right now and I only saw it on Wednesday evening. This film has content for the action lovers, for those who like plot, for those who like well developed female characters and for the slashers as well. It almost ticks all the boxes. Go see this, it's fun.

Are you a Man from UNCLE fan? Have you seen the movie or are thinking of seeing it? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Are you a Napoleon or Illya or Gabby fan?

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Reviews - Can't Live Without Them - #WriterlyWednesdays 5

Wittegen Press
$3.29 | £2.19
Amazon | Other
I do have another lovely author who has completed an interview, but I am saving her for next week, so today for Writerly Wednesdays 5 you are saddled with me prattling on again :). However, before we get into today's post I would just like you to point at yesterdays Tips Tuesdays 4 because it's writerly too and might be of use (Checklist for Creating the eBook from your Beautifully Edited Novel).

Now onto my chosen subject today: reviews.

Reviews - Can't Live Without Them

I read a good article today from The Masquerade Crew (My favorite kind of book reviewer - Don't be a narrow-minded reviewer) about reviews that got me thinking about them too.

For an Author reviews can be amazingly uplifting or totally soul destroying and occasionally somewhere in between. 
I have seen it said that you should never read reviews about your own work, but I know very few who can resist. Sometimes there are good reviews, sometimes there are bad reviews, sometimes there are middling reviews and sometimes there are reviews that just make you go 'huh?!' (and yes, sometimes the exclamation mark is necessary).

There is only one hard and fast rule I believe all authors should stick to when dealing with reviews:
Never respond to them.
A review may make your blood boil, you may disagree completely with what the reviewer has said, but do not give into the temptation to respond. No matter the outcome, you will come off looking worse than if you said nothing.

If it is an abusive review, contact the site where it is hosted and take it up with them in private if you have to, but it probably isn't worth the effort. Even bad reviews can get you readers because if it is an unfounded, nasty review, readers can usually tell.

I have a revenge review on one of my books and I could probably get it taken down, since it is obvious that someone just posted it out of spite and has never read the book, but I haven't done so and I did not respond to it. There was no point. Arguing with a reviewer tends to make both look silly. All you have to do is take Anne Rice as an example. When she went off on one on Amazon because reviewers dared dislike one of her books she made herself look ridiculous.

Bad reviews happen even to great books because not everyone likes the same thing. Take a breath, move on and be done with it.

I know, a few bad words hurt more than any praise can lift you up. Just remember:
A review is only an OPINION.

Wittegen Press
$2.99 | £1.99
Amazon | Other
As I have mentioned before, I come from a fanfic background and that was an absolutely wonderful place because reviewers would comment and tell me what they liked as well as telling me how I could improve. Every time I was given advice I had to bite my tongue and calm down before I realised they were right :) and it was so very useful. Constructive criticism can be painful, but it is also very, very good for you. Learning to tell the difference between what is good advice and what is just a point of view is the key.

In the modern era of book sales it is impossible to live without reviews. Reviews literally sell books. Hence I will leave you with one request. If you read a book and you like it, please consider taking a few minutes to review it; it means so much to the author.

Thank you for reading.

Do you review books? How do you go about it? If you're an author, do you read your reviews or avoid them like the plague?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Checklist for Creating the eBook from your Beautifully Edited Novel - #TipsTuesdays 4

I write, format and sell eBooks, so I thought for #TipsTuesdays 4 I would pass on a few words of wisdom, since I just discovered Amazon now have a free Kindle book to tell you how to format eBooks for them.

Tips Tuesdays, is a weekly blog feature where I impart tips on anything that crosses my mind :). There will be recipes, book/film/TV recs (not full reviews, those are for another day), things I discovered by accident, links to websites, basically anything and everything that might be useful.

Checklist for Creating the eBooks from your Beautifully Edited Novel

So you have a manuscript of your hard crafted, beautifully edited novel, but now you need to get it out there for everyone to see and buy. These are the things I try to remember to go through once the writing part is finished.
Wittegen Press
$0.99 | £0.99
Amazon | Other
  1. Think of a title that connects with the genre of your book, but isn't too generic
    Titles are hard, but they are important, especially with the growing eBook market. I still have one book that I'm going to re-Title for the second time because I don't think it's quite right yet and isn't grabbing readers (no matter how many books you've published, sometimes you miss). With famous authors their books sell no matter the titles, for those of us trying to make names for ourselves the title needs to sell the book.
  2. Create, buy or beg for a decent cover
    A cover is very important for a book. At a glance it should give the reader a big hint as to what kind of book they are looking at and entice them in.

    If you have no experience with graphics I would strongly suggest either:
    • hiring someone to make a cover - there are plenty of graphic artists out there willing to create you a cover for a reasonable fee (check with other indie authors to see who they recommend).
    • beg a friend who is good with graphics to do the cover for you.

    There are many things to take into consideration when creating a cover, which is a post all by itself, hence the advice above. A cover that looks like it was put together in Microsoft Paint circa 1990 will not win you customers.

    Also remember that different eBook sites recommend different cover ratios and sizes, so make sure to check before you upload. Smashwords requirements | Amazon Requirements
  3. Download these two FREE eBooks:
    These two books tell you the best ways to format your Word documents to upload them to the two platforms. Both are very useful even if you are not using their specific site.
  4. Create a New Document
    Do not edit your finished manuscript file. This file is your content master and should be kept safe, untouched and backed up. There are two very good reasons not to use this file for your eBook creation:
    1. You do not want to lose any of your novel because you accidentally deleted it from the master and don't have it anywhere else.
    2. Word documents gather more eccentric additions the longer they are around and sometimes you can't see them. Starting from a new document will save you hassle later.
  5. Copy everything from your manuscript file and paste it into a plain text editing package.
    The following three are good FREE examples:
    1. Notepad (comes with Windows - I use this a lot because it is quick easy and basic)
    2. Textpad
    3. PSPad editor (I also have this one in case I actually want to edit things easily - it's very good for editing HTML later)
  6. Copy everything from the text editor and paste it into your new word document
    This will remove hidden special characters and all formatting so you are staring fresh.
  7. Follow one of the Style Guides you downloaded in section 2 to format your manuscript
    I kid you not - they are both very well laid out and explain a great deal. The Amazon Building You Book For Kindle is a bit more basic in some ways as far as front content goes, but it does give you a starting point. I would suggest looking in the front of other books to see what works best.

    Keep it simple - eBook formats are becoming more and more complex, but if you don't need it, I would suggest you don't try and put it in. Novels do not require complex formatting, which makes life much easier for you - do not over complicate it. The simpler the layout, the more likely it will be compatible with all eReaders, new and old.
  8. Wittegen Press
    Amazon | Other
  9. Keep everything organised
    I can't stress how important this is, because it is so easy to lose things, or become confused. I have a standard directory structure for every book:
    • Main Directory - master .docx files
    • Sub Directories -
      • for Amazon (Word document(s) and the filtered HTML specified in the style guide)
      • for Smashwords (Word document(s))
      • for Google (ePub - we'll get to that in a minute)
      • from Amazon (download files from Amazon after KDP conversion - I'll explain in a moment)
      • from Smashwords (all converted files from Smashwords - I'll explain in a moment)

    You don't have to use the same layout as me, but if you are creating books for more than one platform, it really does help to keep them in separate, well labelled directories so you never get confused. I also always number my files, so the first one is filename_v1 and if I re-edit later to re-upload I copy the previous version, up the version number (e.g. filename_v2) and edit that. If you have version control software and know how to use it, it can do this for you - I don't have that on my PC.
  10. Write a good blurb
    The cover will catch a reader's eye, the blurb will make them check out the book. THIS IS REALLY HARD.

    There are whole books written on how to write a good blurb for your book - I suggest asking Google to recommend some sites that talk about it and going through several of them (many say the same thing, but in slightly different ways) and getting it clear in your mind before you start. This is an example that was first when I asked Google: The dos and don'ts of writing a blurb for your novel.

    Sorry I can't be more specific, but, things change so fast and asking Google and checking what people think right at this moment it always a good idea.
  11. Come up with a subtitle for your book that slams home the genre
    I've seen it said in some places that novels should not have subtitles - but they can be very useful on Amazon and other eBook sites. On Amazon especially they help to give extra visibility to your book. If you are going to use the subtitle on the book at Smashwords you must make sure the subtitle is on the cover or they will not accept it. So far Amazon don't care if it's on your cover or not, but it never hurts to make sure.
  12. Think about your back of book content
    The end of your novel is not necessarily the end of your book. The back of the book can be used for several things:
    • Telling the reader a bit about you, the author, with links to find you on social media (don't make this too long - think inside of jacket content on hard back books)
    • Advertising other books you have written
    • Offering incentives to review the book/join your mailing list
    • etc.

     Don't let your readers get away from you ;)
  13. Wittegen Press
    $0.99 | £0.99
    Amazon | Other
  14. Decide on your book price
    There is a lot of debate about what is a good price for an eBook and different places will tell you different things. I use the following, but it is a good idea to do your research for your own genre:
    • $2.99 - $3.29 for a novel/ longer anthology (at Amazon this gives a much better return because you get 70% of the income for the book, which starts at $2.99)
    • $1.99 for a novella/short anthology
    • $0.99 for novelettes/short stories (you only get 35% for these at Amazon, but they often sell well - starting a series with a cheaper short story can attract new readers)
  15. If using Amazon KDP - upload to their server (https://kdp.amazon.com/)
    This is a good page of help information to start with: Enter Book Information
    When you have uploaded your cover and your manuscript file you are offered three options at the bottom of the page before the save and continue button:
    • Download Book Preview File
    • Download HTML
    • Download Previewer (Windows | Mac)
    If it is your first time using KDP or a new Kindle came out recently, download the previewer.

    Every time you upload a book, always download the Book Preview File and the HTML - both are very useful. If you forget and hit publish, you have to wait until the book has gone live before you can get at them again.
  16. Check your book using the Online Previewer
    Go through your book checking all the chapter links and  make sure your formatting has converted correctly. Especially look for anywhere you have not simply used standard text.
    Mistakes happen and sometimes the conversion cocks up for no obvious reason - checking your book will save you embarrassment later.
  17. Check your book offline using the Previewer you downloaded
    The downloadable previewer will allow you to check your book in different versions of Kindle - if you have checked it properly in the Online Previewer then this shouldn't take too long, but it's always good to check.
  18. Finish the publishing steps on the next page of KDP, inputing price etc.
    Ignore this next section if you are not using Smashwords
  19. If using Smashwords upload your book at the Publish page (http://www.smashwords.com/upload)
    Once it has converted, download all versions of the book from the book page (you will be shown a link when you have uploaded you book) just in case you might need them later. ePub is the most important one.
  20. Check the ePub version of the book using some ePub reading software
    I use Bluefire Reader to do this.
    The most important part to check as far as Smashwords are concerned is the "Contents", which ePubs offer as a separate menu, because if your Word file has not converted properly this will not show up correctly.

    Also check for conversion/formatting errors as you did with Amazon.
  21. Pray you didn't miss anything and the book will go straight to the Premium catalogue on Smashwords and be sent to all the other eBook companies.
    If you are using Google and need an ePub file, check back next week to see what I think is the easiest way to create one.
So, there you have it, all the things I try to remember when creating a new eBook for Amazon and Smashwords. This is by no means everything you need to think about, but this is what I always make sure to do.

Do you have any questions? Please feel free to ask - if I know the answer I will be happy to reply.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Selfishness - The Route to Unhappiness - #ThinkyThursdays 2

Welcome to Thinky Thursdays 2. This is the day I just muse on a topic that happens to be in my brain and today I have chosen selfishness.

Selfishness - The Route to Unhappiness

I abhor inherently selfish people. This is not to say we are not all selfish in some way or another, it's the way we are designed :), I'm talking about the people who seem to go through life thinking only of themselves and not caring how their actions affect others. There are big things, like bankers and politicians, but today I'm considering more of smaller, more personal instances.

These thoughts actually stemmed from reading a headline in the local paper the other day about how the authorities are clamping down on people who use a disabled spot without having a blue badge. They are finally fining people for it. It really, really annoys me to see perfectly able bodied people using disabled spots just because they can't be bothered to walk a few metres more to the door of the shop.

I would like to make one proviso to this. If the car has a blue badge then they have a right to park there. I don't care if a person might look completely able bodied - don't judge them on what you think you see. There are some disabilities that are invisible and if they have the badge they need it. 

I'm talking about the people who have no badge and just park there anyway.

The big space, close to the shop might make it a little bit easier for you, a little quicker, but to a disabled person that can mean the difference between even getting out of the car or not. The spaces are wide for very good reasons. The distance can also make the difference between a little pain and a lot. It might seem insignificant to an able bodied person, but 100 yards can be an incredibly long way for someone in pain.

Other examples of selfishness that drive me batty include:
  • queue jumping, 
  • pushing past someone to get to something, 
  • allowing doors to smack into the person behind, 
  • parking badly for no reason other than you can't be bothered and blocking other people, 
  • taking both of the last items on the shelf when someone else is reaching for the second one, 
  • nipping in to the parking space when someone is clearly trying to reverse into it,
  • eating a whole packet of sweets without offering a single one round
I could go on. These may seem like very small things and we're all guilty of similar instances occasionally, but it's when life becomes full of these things that I think they become a problem.

Wittegen Press
$3.29 | £2.46
Amazon | Other
In my experience, people who are entirely self-centred and selfish in their lives are not overly happy.

When life is all 'me me me me' it seems to me it must be incredibly stressful. It is impossible to be totally happy and fulfilled within yourself at all times. You don't always get what you want. Life is not always sunshine and roses. Those who think of others have something else to take joy in, to be comforted by. We are gregarious animals, we pick up happiness from others, but if we are only focused on ourselves we miss out on this.

Making others happy can make us happy too. I'll never forget talking to a friend who said one Christmas she was bored and sad because she was on her own, so she went to the local soup kitchen to volunteer and it was the best Christmas she had had since she was a child. Helping others helped her.

I think most people are good at heart. You only have to look at the pay-it-forward schemes that thrive in some places and the work of aid agencies, but so much of the media seems to scream take-take-take.

We all need to be selfish at times, it's healthy, but when that overflows into carelessness towards others I think a line is crossed. That way lies loneliness and unhappiness. I'm always amazed by how good it feels to see the person smile where I just paused so they could get past the errant trolley in the supermarket . It didn't cost me most than a couple of seconds and yet gave back so much. That has to be better than the person rushing through, cutting people off just to save themselves a minute at the checkout, right?

What acts of petty selfishness drive you potty? How do you enjoy making others' lives better?

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Pete Alexander - Author Interview - #WriterlyWednesdays 4

Today I am pleased to welcome fellow author Pete Alexander to my blog. He has been kind enough to answer a few questions for an author interview about himself and his upcoming book Tortured Souls.

Pete Alexander - Author Interview

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I've lived in Calilifornia, USA most of my life. I've traveled extensively throughout North America and hope someday to travel the rest of the world. The first thing I wrote was when I was 8. It was a screenplay for a musical based off of Michael Jackson's Off the Wall album. I had a bad experience in grade school later that same year. I wrote a puppet show for my class and my teacher mocked me in front of the class. She said that the show hadn't made any sense and was childish. I'm sure this was true. I was 8. I didn't start writing again until I was in my early twenties when I wrote several songs. In 1998, I wrote the song that you will find at the start of chapter 2 in Tortured Souls. I was enraged at the way I had been treated by someone and felt that writing it out was a better alternative than acting on my feelings.

I had my first paying job when I was 10. Since then I've worked at a nursery (plants not children), I've worked new home construction, Worked in a grocery store, as a waiter/bartender. I've been a bookkeeper/ tax preparer, sold cars, sold life insurance, been a delivery driver and cleaned up crime scenes. I've been involved with real estate investing. In 2010, I began studying to be a nurse and was accepted into a registered nursing program at Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

In 2014, I realized I had a story to tell. The story became TS.

Tell us about your book(s).

TS is my first novel. To be honest, if I had known how much work it would take to bring it to fruition, I don't know that I would have started on it. But it has been a labour of love. I am now able to disappear into another world. A world of my creation. As I have written TS, I have realized that Samantha Franklin, Junior (Richard Evans), and all of the other characters have much more to tell than just the one story found in TS. Over the last year I have the outline for a total of 6 books in the Samantha Franklin Series. I cannot begin to describe how exciting that is.

What started you writing?

I had a driving need to tell a story.  The concept grabbed hold of me and would not let go.

What inspired you to start writing in your favourite genre?

I had the initial idea that became the plot for TS after some dental work that had gone awry. I had 3 teeth that had to be pulled. Those teeth had fused themselves to my jawbone. In trying to get the teeth out, my dentist broke my jawbone. All of this was done without anesthesia. The idea began as a question: What if a serial killer killed his victims in a way that it maximized their pain as he slowly took their life?

At first I tried to push the concept away, but it consumed my life. I could not stop thinking in terms of "What if?" Writing became my release. It helped me heal from the trauma of the experience.

Do you have a favourite character from your book(s)?

Samantha Franklin. Why? She's intelligent and fearless. She's analytical and will look at a situation and attempt to find meaning and answers by thinking outside of the box. She's relentless. Yet at the same time, she's flawed. Not to the point of self-destruction, but flawed none the less. And to quote a great author, the late Sir Terry Pratchett, "You can't argue with none the less."

What's easier for you, action, or dialogue, or description?

Dialogue, by far is the easiest for me. When I'm writing a scene with dialogue, the characters have their conversation in front of me, in my mind. I just write down what I see and hear.

What is the hardest part of a book to write, beginning, middle or end?

For me it has been the middle. From the first words I put down I knew how the story would begin, and how it would end. The direction the story took going from point A to B, even I didn't see coming. The characters have taken over.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write and read. Read and write. Read, particularly the genre you wish to write in, but read. Anything. Everything. Write until you can't see straight. Then write some more. Don't worry about getting the wording exactly right. That's what editing is for.

Is there any genre you won't write and why?

Romance novels. Seriously, you do not want me trying to describe a love making scene. It would not be pretty. I like the Star Wars movies, and have been a fan of George Lucas since I was a child. But Episode II, Attack of the Clones? The romantic scenes in that movie, where Anakin and Amidala declare their love for each other were painful to watch. He should have had someone else write those scenes. If I were to try and write a romance novel, it would be worse. Much, much worse.

What is your favourite genre to read and why?

Currently, I'm into murder mystery. I also enjoy horror, sci-fi/fantasy and history.

How do you publish, print, ebook or both?

I plan on releasing the book in both a paperback and e-book format. At this time I'm kicking around the idea of an audiobook, but I haven't decided yet.

Do you have conversations with your characters? 

Yes I do. There's a line in TS, when Samantha is speaking to Junior where she says that we all have something in our pasts that haunts us, something that tortures our souls. When I was developing my characters, they all told me what it was that haunted them. We commiserated. They expressed how they felt about the event. Sam told me about how close she and her sister had been. She told me how she felt not telling her sister immediately about the death of their parents and how she feels now about the fallout between them because of that decision.

Do you have any odd (writing) habits?

Before I start writing, I will usually listen to some music (Blue Oyster Cult-Don't Fear the Reaper, Rolling Stones-Paint It Black, etc.) and play Spider Solitaire or Ma Jong Tiles to get the brain fired up. It has become my pre-writing ritual.

When do you have the most fun writing a book? When you first start? When you are blazing along with the main bulk of the plot? When you are rounding it all up?

I can't say there has been a time during this process that I haven't enjoyed it. Before I started putting the words down, I had to learn who my characters were. What events have shaped them into who they are today? I probably wrote 150 pages of backstory just to find out who they are. When I was writing the main bulk of the book, I got to see how it began to come together, how a hint that I dropped in an earlier chapter that didn't seem to be relevant, how it built on another hint, and then another. Then to see it all come together at the climax, I enjoyed every moment of it.

If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

 A shy extrovert

If you could invite one character from your books to dinner, who would it be?

Darryl Powers

If you could invite one character from someone else's books to dinner, who would it be?

Larry Underwood, The Stand, Stephen King.

Do you ever cast your characters with actors in your head?

Yes. Samantha Franklin would be played by Scarlett Johansson. Junior would be played by a young Benjamin Bratt. Ruben Santiago-Hudson would play Darryl Powers.

If you could let one of your characters meet another famous character, which would you choose and why?

I won't name my character here. If I did, you'd know the end of the story. But I would have that character meet Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs). Different, yet similar personalities.

Do your characters every run away with the plot when you're not looking?

Yes. Frequently.

Are you a dog or a cat person, why? 

I love both cats and dogs equally. At one point we had 12 cats and 3 dogs. Yes, all at the same time. If I got another pet at this point, I would probably get a cat. My life is complicated enough at this point. I wouldn't have the time to give to a dog that it would deserve. I think a cat would be easier for me.

What's your favourite colour, why?

Blue. A deep, regal blue. I've always loved blue.

If you could pick one person from history to have a chat with, who would it be and why?

There are too many fascinating people in history for me to be able to name just one.

Tell us a joke!

A painting contractor gets a job to repaint a church. After they sign the contract he realizes that after the cost of the paint, there's going to very little profit for him. So he decides to thin the paint out a little bit after the first 8 feet. A little further up the wall he thins the paint some more. He continues this process until by the time he reaches the steeple top, there's hardly any paint being applied. When he finishes the building, he climbs back down the ladder. As he looks up at the newly "repainted" church, clouds begin to form over the church and a heavy downpour ensues. After a few minutes, the clouds part, the sun comes through and a voice from heaven is heard that says, "Repaint, and thin no more."

About the Author

Pete Alexander was born in Southern California in 1970. His family moved frequently. He spent equal time growing up in urban Southern California and rural Northern California. He loves to travel, to spend time with his family and friends.

Pete has had several jobs including construction worker, assistant manager of a grocery store and crime scene cleaner.

He began writing at the age of 8, very little of which saw the light of day until recently, when he began writing Tortured Souls. The song that begins chapter 2, Pete wrote in 1998. The band that performs the song was what he intended to name his band.

Pete currently lives in Long Beach, California with his wife and two children. He is currently working on the follow-up Samantha Franklin Novel, Past Sins.

About the Book

Tortured Souls

Meet Veteran Detective Samantha Franklin. She has been called to the home of Blake Covington, Heir of Covington Oil. There, she discovers a murder so shocking, even the Coroner is at a loss for words. Follow her as she trains a new partner while being taunted by a killer who prefers vivisection as a means to kill, all while facing the past events that torture her soul.

(Still under construction)

Monday, 17 August 2015

Zoanoids - Monsters Hidden In Human Skin - #MonsterMondays 15

Welcome to Monster Monday 15. What, I hear you ask, is a Zoanoid? Well read on to find out :).
Monster Mondays posts may be fiction, film reviews, book reviews or me waxing lyrical about a particular monster. Monsters can be paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy or even simply human. So basically, anything monster goes. I also invite anyone who would like to, to join in with their own post. (See end for details).
Zoanoids - Monsters Hidden In Human Skin

So these are Zoanoids, well at least from the movie universe of the particular fandom and they are the Guyver's worst nightmare. The fandom in question is two movies: Mutronics (or The Guyver outside of Europe) and Guyver: Dark Hero. They are based on a Japanese manga series by Yoshiki Takaya called The Guyver, but are an alternative universe to it, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe is to the Marvel comics.

Zoanoids are human beings who have been genetically altered by the Chronos Corporation so that they can turn into incredibly strong, mostly blood thirsty monsters at will. All significant employees of Chronos are Zoanoids, even the guys in suits who pretend to be pencil pushers.

In the movies the Guyver, the hero of the piece is Sean Barker, who just happens to find an alien artefact called "The Unit", which bonds with him and makes him the Guyver. It covers him in organic armour and gives him extra strength and speed which allows him to fight the Zoanoids. In Mutronics, Sean is played by Jack Armstrong  and in Guyver: Dark Hero he is played by David Hayter.
Sean 1Sean 2
The Guyver
The Guyver looks like a slick alien robot, almost, with organic touches, but the Zoanoids are much more animalistic.

Mark Hamill is in the first movie as Agent Max Reed and even he isn't spared the deadly touch of Chronos. If they can't convince you of their point of view, they convert you anyway. Here is Max after Chronos have had a go at him.

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I love Zoanoids in the same way I love werewolves, because one minute they are completely human and the next, slathering monsters. I also love the way all the really bad Zoanoids seem to be very proficient in mixed martial arts. Maybe they have to take up a discipline to keep control of the monster inside?

Of course the worst possible possibility is a Guyver Zoanoid - two lots of kick ass in one package. The armour definitely improves the look too. I'm not going to give away how anyone would take on a Guyver Zoanoid, because it would spoil the ending of movie 2, but it's spectacular.

These movies combine two of my favourite things: martial arts films and monster movies, so I have to love them. They are cheesy and the monsters are done with rubber suits, not CGI, but they are so much fun to watch. The Zoanoids are brilliant monsters because some of them appear so civilised until they shed their skin and yet others seem to be barely contained creatures even with their human guises. If you like cheesy sci-fi with some kick ass fight scenes I highly recommend Mutronics and Guyver: Dark Hero with their monstrous Zoanoid baddies.

Do you enjoy adaptations from Japanese manga? Which is your favourite? Have you seen either of the Guyver movies?

Monster Mondays #15 Links 

If you would like to join in, please feel free to make your Monster Monday post and add it to the list.

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Sunday, 16 August 2015

Session for Core - A Really Punishing Workout

So yesterday I had another session with my great personal trainer Steve (InterSEPT Fitness) and he left with the parting words: "Enjoy tomorrow." All I have to say is ow. We were working on core and from my shoulders to my hips I hurt :). However, I also have to say, I really enjoyed the session, even though it was the hardest one yet.

Steve taught me a new circuit and then made me do it all over again a second time. The second time was really hard, but so worth it.

The first section of exercises are for the sides the most, using twisting motions to exercise the muscles.

We started with high to low resistance band pull with straight arms - so it looks like part of a hammer throw, but much slower.
  1. First step is to pass the band around something solid and high.
  2. Stand/sit at an angle to where you have put the band, with you hips not quite at 90 degrees to it. If you are at 90 degrees the bands with get tangled with your body.
  3. Hold both ends/handles of the band in both hands - your arms should be straight and your hands should be above your head.
  4. Pull the bands with straight arms down over your opposite hip in front - make sure you are using your trunk not your hips to twist.
  5. Repeat 10 times, then swap sides and do the same in the opposite direction.
You should really feel this one in the muscles at your sides in the waist area. I can still feel them :).

I did this exercise while sitting down, because it does take stability and sitting down it actually made it easier to make sure I was using my trunk not my hips to do the work.

Now we did the opposite one, low to high resistance band pull with straight arms. You could probably do this sitting down, but it might make attaching the band harder.
  1. Attach the band to something sturdy and low - I used the bottom holes on a Reebox deck, but anything strong and not going to move will do. Be warned, if you are using a bench, you will probably need weights on it to stop it moving.
  2. Stand at an angle to the attachment point that is close but not quite 90 degrees. Steve said it was the first time anyone had ever used a cat scratcher in one of his sessions - we have a sturdy square one and I used it gripped between my lower legs so I could balance and stand to do this one.
  3. Hold both ends/handles of the band with both hands.
  4. Pull from low to high with straight arms using your trunk to turn not your hips.
  5. Repeat 10 times and then swaps sides and do the same again.
The next is actually a very small looking movement, but it is very good for the core.
  1. Kneel down and sit back on your heels. As with the last session - if you have trouble with this position like I do because of an ankle condition, pop a rolled up mat or cushion under your lower legs to make it more comfortable.
  2. Attach the band at a height close to where your hands will be if your arms are at your sides and your elbows are at 90 degrees.
  3. Lock your arms at your sides and your elbows at 90 degrees.
  4. Hold both end of the bands in both hands.
  5. Without moving your arms or your hips, twist and pull the bands. You probably won't be able to twist too far, don't worry, it's not a huge movement.
  6. Repeat 10 times and then swap sides and do the same again.
Now we move to the floor for Russian Twists. I use a ball between my hands rather than a weight to do this unlike the video and you can do this on the floor rather than on a bench if you want to. Repeat the exercise 20 times the first time through the circuit and 10 times the second time through.

Then on to Knee to Elbow sit-ups. Do not worry if you can't get your elbow all the way to your knee when you start like the flexible gentleman in the video, just go as far as you can. Also, if you get too tired and can't do the whole movement, do your best to do all the reps, but drop the elbow part and just cycle your legs. For this I did 20 reps for the first go through the circuit and 10 for the second.

Next we are on to working on the six pack area of muscles. I have to admit I laughed when Steve mentioned a six pack, because I am so far from having one of those that it was hilarious, but it illustrates which muscles are being exercised.

Now I must warn you, the next exercise is really hard - I mean really hard, and doing number 10 of 10 reps was the toughest thing I had done to that point. I was so incredibly happy when I made it. You need a bench or something that is inclined, because the next exercise is inclined sit-ups. For the first try, Steve held my feet down as I did the sit-ups and he allowed me to, what I can only describe as flail, to sit up. As with all exercises, if doing them totally properly is impossible (and trust me, for me it was) a little cheating is okay as you work up to doing it correctly.

For the second time through Steve figured out how to let me do them on my own using our weights machine. I can use two weights on a chain to help with the arm positioning - the idea is not to use the weights to sit up, but to make sure you don't get stuck, so the weight should not be enough to pull you up. Then I tucked my feet under the bar on the machine to give me some leverage.

Next an old favourite, sit-ups on the ball. When I do this I can usually get into a kind of trance, but not in this circuit because my muscles were already tired :). I do 20 of these and I love the ball because it's nice and easy on my back.

After this we moved on the leg lifts with a weight. 
  1. Lie flat on the floor with a dumbbell weight between your feet - I used a 1kg weight.
  2. Lift your straight legs up to shy of vertical. Don't go completely to vertical because then you risk the chance of dropping the weight on you.
  3. Lower your legs back down.
  4. Repeat 10 times - if you can't manage all 10 with the weight then drop the weight and just do the leg lifts without it.
Okay, so I thought the inclined sit-ups were bad, but the next exercise, which is for the lower abdominal muscles, is utter torture. These are hip lifts.
  1. Lie flat on the floor like before.
  2. Lift your legs straight up as if you are doing a leg lift and hold them there.
  3. Now lift your hips off the floor. I kid you not!
Don't worry if you can't actually get off the floor - I think I managed about a millimetre or two at best if I managed it at all. Doing the movement will exercise the muscles and as they get stronger you'll actually be able to lift off the floor.

Finally for the circuit is a barbell exercise. I did it with 2.5kg weights on the bar.
  1. Lie on the weights bench. Make sure your head is supported, the first time I tried, I didn't lie in the right place and it was impossible.
  2. Hold the bar with straight arms directly above you - use a grip where your hands are above your shoulders, not a wide one.
  3. Now lower the bar backwards over your head as far as you can with straight arms. Don't forget to breathe.
  4. Bring the bar back up to directly above you.
  5. Repeat 10 times.
This isn't technically a core exercise because you'll feel it in your arms and your shoulders too, but it will stretch all the abdominal muscles you have been using. This is an exercise to do at the end of a core circuit.

If you're doing a long workout, don't forget to go back and do the whole circuit again, but you can just do one if it's a short workout.

We then did one more exercise, which I nicknamed Tragedy Flat On My Face :).
  1. Lie on the floor on your front.
  2. Hold your arms up near your head with your hands near your temples (this is why the nickname - it looks like the move to Tragedy by Steps ;)).
  3. Lift up your arms and your legs at the same time.
  4. Repeat this 10 times.
This works your back very well.

I also learned a new stretch which is good for stretching out your sides.
  1. Kneel - you can sit on your heels or kneel up for this one.
  2. Keeping one hand at your side and lifting the other over your head, reach down and bend over.
  3. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
  4. Roll out of it - roll forwards and round so you don't reuse the muscles you've just been stretching out.
Other stretches I used after this workout were:
  • Lie on front and push up with arms and hold.
  • Lie on back, keep one shoulder on floor while pulling same side leg over other with knee bent. This is good for glute stretching if you keep your other leg straight, but I have a nerve that catches in one leg if I do, for after a core workout, bending the other leg up as well it okay, because it will still stretch your side muscles.
Steve also told me to do 10 mins on the bike after he was gone. He usually tells his clients to go for a walk, but walking and me don't go together so he suggested the bike. He said it should be no effort, but I needed to keep the motion going. This makes sure that all the fats and fuel released into your blood during the workout is used up rather than going back where it came from.

So there you have it, my latest session with my personal trainer. I really enjoyed it, but, boy can I feel it today :). Rob did a similar work out, although more intense, last weekend and he ached a lot too even though he's been doing the personal trainer thing for over a year. I'm glad I'm not a complete wimp ;).

I really love how good Steve is at helping me adapt normal exercises that I can't do. He proves there is hope for those of us who aren't completely able bodied.

If you have any questions about what I've written, please feel free to ask in comments :).

Friday, 14 August 2015

Top 10 (+1) Reasons Everyone Should Love "Hawk The Slayer" - #FanFridays 2

Welcome to this week's Fan Friday. This post came about because of a conversation my sister and I were having last weekend and laughing about Hawk the Slayer. Hawk was the film that began the 80s craze of fantasy movies and it is utterly awesome. However, please be aware that some of this post is made with my tongue firmly in my cheek ;)

Top 10 Reasons Everyone Should Love Hawk The Slayer

Hawk the Slayer is a low budget, somewhat cheesy fantasy film released in 1980 and it is the epitome of a classic. Everyone should see it at least once and here are my top 10 reasons why everyone should love it like I do.
  1. Awesome Special Effects
    Here we have a film made long before CGI and the special effects are on the interesting side. Think seventies Doctor Who with a bigger budget - the effects are clever, but just a little primitive. As Soph mentioned when we were having our chat, a lot of the effects probably wouldn't be used today, not because they are too down market, but because they are too 'high tech' for a sword and sorcery movie.

    Example one - the glowing spinning hoops the sorceress uses to send Hawk to find his friends. These look like they should be in Star Trek rather than Hawk the Slayer.

     Example two - the glowing flying ping pong balls. They are supposed to be fire bolts, but they're definitely glowing balls :)
  2. Fantastic Dialogue
    I love fantasy movie dialogue because no matter how great some of it is, there are always those moments where exposition is required or something has to be explained and it gets awkward. I'm really not sure why since sci-fi seems to manage it okay when it has to do some of the same things, maybe it's just because there are so many more sci-fi movies than sword and sorcery ones that they don't all fall into the same trap.

    It starts as it means to go on with the longest I'm-dying-but-I-have-to-pass-on-this-knowledge-before-I-go speech ever :). The best bit of it being:

    "Quick, the coldness of death is in my limbs."

    Then there is the way the dialogue is delivered, with EMPHASIS on ALL the IMPORTANT words - Jack Palance as Voltan is especially good at this.
  3. The Whispering Delivery
    Apparently anyone of a magical disposition cannot speak above a whisper, good or evil. 
    I can only assume that if a sorceress or wizard speaks too loudly then their magic will get out of control and destroy something. At least that would explain the correlation.

  4. The Elf from the "William Shatner Spoken Record" School of ActingDon't get me wrong, I love Crow the elf (Ray Charleson), he's awesome, but clearly Charleson was going for other-wordly and hit speaking like William Shatner on his dramatic speaking over music records. I think it's great that in this movie they tried to make species different. It's creative, especially without synthesizers and post production to help, but sometimes it sounds just a little silly :).  I have to admit, I always used to fancy Crow ... okay, I still do, there, I admitted it.
  5. For the Fun of Spot the Actor
    Hawk the Slayer is one of those British productions where you get to play, spot the British actor that shows up in everything made in the UK, be it Annette Crosbie as the Abbess so you'll be wondering where Victor Meldrew is hiding, or Brenard Bresslaw as Gort the Giant so you expect Kenneth Williams to leap out of the shrubbery at any moment.
    If you are familiar with British television of the 80s and 90s and British films like Hammer there probably isn't a face in the cast you won't recognise. It always gives me a warm feeling inside when movies have casts like that. I come over all nostalgic and it makes me smile.

  6. Turkles
    My favourite relationship in the whole film is between Gort the Giant and Baldin the Dwarf. This is a film set up just like any Dungeons and Dragons quest and, of course, that requires the two members of the party who are best of friends and yet antagonists as well. This is Gort and Baldin. Gort is the big, strong, but not so bright giant and Baldin is the quick witted, somewhat unscrupulous dwarf, and really they both have hearts of gold. Baldin cannot get the better of Gort in strength so he does it with wit.

    This gives us one of my favourite scenes, about Turkles. Baldin goes to eat his sweet treat of "The finest sugared Turkles money can buy" and, Gort, of course wants him to share, until Baldin tells him what they are.

    "What is it you call them? ... Lizard's eyeballs." Is delivered with absolute perfect timing. Of course they're just sugared nuts.
  7. The Iconic Music
    Hawk the Slayer is a western wrapped up in a sword and sorcery package and it has the music to go with it. If I go "Dun, nun, nun, nun, nun, nun, naaaaaw," can you all hear The Good the Bad and the Ugly in your head. Hawk has music like that, just a little more on the fantastical side. I love the music from this movie, it has everything; exciting moments, tension building chords and an iconic twiddle every time Hawk takes on a baddie.

  8. The Plot from Every D&D Quest Ever
    This is the original D&D quest movie. You have Hawk, the good brother and Voltan the evil brother.
    Hawk inherits the ancient power from his father because Voltan is a bad, bad guy, as well as winning the girl, which sets them against each other and turns Voltan completely evil. Of course there was a prophecy saying Voltan would turn out to be a bad egg, so he really didn't have much of a chance. I'd feel sorry for him, except he has no redeeming features.

    Voltan does something bad, so Hawk has to help and to do that he needs his friends (who he's clearly been on lots of quests with before, but we never find out what) and you have a human, a dwarf, an elf and a giant all working together to make the world a better place with the help of a mysterious sorceress.

    It really is a classic and I love it.

  9. The Amazing Scenery
    So Hawk the Slayer was filmed in the UK and you can tell :). It uses a lot of British woodland for its settings and a lot of dry ice to make it look a little alien. Unfortunately there's really no dressing up a UK wood on a grey day and making it look anything like a UK wood on a grey day, even if you add dry ice in the pond and a poor lonely python on the tree. It was a nice try though ;).

    I think they must have gone through more dry ice than an A Level Physics teacher on crack.
  10. The "Automatic Weapons"
    It there is one thing that is utterly awesome it's the weapons. Normal bows and crossbows and normal swords just aren't good enough for our party on their quest.

    The instigator of the quest is Ranulf (Morgan Sheppard) and he only has one hand, but that's not going to stop him. Nope, he has a semi-automatic crossbow.

     Then there is Crow, who is a semi-automatic weapon all by himself - he uses a normal bow, but he is supernaturally fast. He can also leap into trees and run with surprising speed.

     Then, last, but not least, there is my favourite - The MindSword. This is Hawk's weapon and the ancient power he inherited. It has a hand on the end of the hilt that opens to grip the last elven mindstone which gives it its power. This is the Jedi weapon of swords and will come to Hawk's hand when he summons it. I loved this sword the first time I saw it and I still do. It only makes it better when you realise that a lot of the summoning scenes were done by throwing the sword at the actor and then just slowing it down.
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+1 There is going to be a sequel! Finally after 35 years they are planning on doing the sequel. The original film didn't do as well as it should have because the distribution company collapsed before it reached America so the sequel was shelved back then, but now it is back on the cards. This is a great article in the Guardian all about it: Hawk the Slayer is back - and he's brought his mindsword.

Someone has kindly put the best bits together on Youtube :)

And here's the real trailer:

I make no excuses, I just love this film and I think everyone else should too. It's fun, it's cheesy and Jack Palance chews the scenery like no one else. This is a classic and I want everyone to watch it.

Have you seen Hawk the Slayer? Did you love it? What is your favourite sword and sorcery film?