Fi50 Reminder and Double Dip Review

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fi50

It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

button_when-one-door-shuts

Good luck!


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I don’t know about you but I’m all chocolated out after Easter, so I’ll be opting for a savoury snack to accompany my musings about one middle grade sci-fi comedy novel and one YA coming of age tale.  Grab your snack and let’s nosh on!

First up we have The Broken Bridge by Phillip Pullman which we received from PanMacmillan Australia for review.  This is a re-release of the novel which was first published in 1994 and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At 16, Ginny finds that her love of painting connects her to the artistic Haitian mother she never knew and eases the isolation she feels as the only mixed-race teen in her Welsh village. When she learns she has a half-brother by her father’s first marriage, her world is shattered. Ginny embarks on a quest for the truth that will allow her to claim her artistic heritage–and face her father.

the broken bridge

Dip into it for…

…a solid family drama with authentic characters and believable problems.  Ginny is a resilient young woman with a strong desire to be an artist like her mother was, but is plagued by the usual stressors and angst that most teens fall victim to at sometime or other during adolescence.  She has the added problem of trying to catch hold of a solid identity as a girl with a Welsh father and Haitian mother while living in an almost all-white village.  The secrets hinted at in the blurb are revealed slowly and by about a third of the way through the book I began to share Ginny’s bewilderment about what on major hidden aspect she might find out about her past next.  The pacing is well done, allowing the reader to get a grasp on Ginny, her friends and the general feel of her hometown before throwing in the confusion of multiple family secrets.  Kudos to Pullman also for creating a social worker character who is actually human, rather than overbearing, cold-hearted and disconnected or patronising.

Don’t dip if…

…you want simple resolutions to easily-solved problems.  Every story has two sides here, even that of the villainous Joe Chicago.

Overall Dip Factor

This is an engaging coming of age story that paints family breakdown, death and abuse in a believable light without resorting to gratuitous teen melodrama.  By the end of the book the reader can appreciate how Ginny has matured in her outlook despite not having all the answers about how she will present herself in the world.  I enjoyed this book for its authentic portrayal of a young person carving out a place for herself in her family and in the world.

Next we have How to Outsmart a Billion Robot Bees, the second in the Genius Factor books featuring Nate and Delphine, by Paul Tobin.  We received our copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review and we will be submitting this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 in the category of a book with a red spine and the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 AND my Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge in the category of something you’d take on a hunt.  I reckon a billion robot bees would be pretty handy.  You can check on my progress for all the challenges I’m undertaking this year here.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s Friday the 13th again, and for sixth grade genius Nate Bannister, that means doing three more not-so-smart things to keep life interesting. But he has bigger problems than his own experiments. His nemesis, the Red Death Tea Society, is threatening to unleash a swarm of angry bees on the city of Polt if Nate doesn’t join their ranks. But then a new group of people with murky intentions shows up — the League of Ostracized Fellows — and they want Nate as their own, too. To top it off, he’s convinced there’s a spy in his very own school.

Nate must once again team up with his new, resourceful, friend Delphine to save the day. They’ll need the help of Nate’s crazy gadgets, such as his talking car Betsy and super-powered pets Bosper the Scottish terrier and Sir William the gull, if they hope to see another Friday the 13th. Because they might be battling more than just sting-happy bees and villains with a penchant for tea this time around.

Dip into it for… billion robot bees

…silliness, wild inventions and bee stings in sensitive places.  I do enjoy the quirky tone and dry yet silly humour that Tobin has created in these books.  There is a certain imagery conjured up by his writing that is truly giggleworthy.  Nate and Delphine are also a fun pair and the introduction of Melville – a friendly robot bee adopted by Delphine – adds to the action in this installment.  Bosper, Nate’s genetically modified talking dog stole the show for me in this book however – something about his manner of speaking just cracked me up every time.  The plot of this one seemed a lot more straightforward than in the first book despite the inclusion of the socially awkward League of Ostracised Fellows and everybody, including the jealous Betsy the car, had a role to play in saving Polt from bee-mageddon: The Sting-en-ing.

Don’t dip if…

…you are after fast-paced action.  The one quarrel I have with these stories is that the quirky humour, when added to the action sequences, slows down the pace of the story interminably.  My edition clocked in at 340ish pages and by about halfway I was ready for the resolution to start coming into play.  While the humour is a massively important part of these books, the constant banter does really slow things down when it feels like things should be speeding up.

Overall Dip Factor

I can’t remember why I didn’t finish the first book in this series, but I think it was something to do with the pacing and a lag in the middle.  This book does suffer from the same ailment in my opinion, but I got a lot further along in this story before I really felt the lag, compared to the first book.  Nate and Delphine are so likable and the style of humour so enjoyable that I would still pick up a third in the series, but I would be hoping that the story overall would move a bit quicker.

Right, I’m ready for chocolate again after that.  Have you read either of these books?  Do you like a bit of silly, quirky comedy?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

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Fi50 Reminder and TBR Friday!

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fi50

It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

button_a-marriage-of-convenience-1

Good luck!


TBR Friday

And now it’s time for TBR Friday!  Today’s book is Time Travelling with a Hamster, a middle grade contemporary sci fi by Ross Welford.  This one was not on my original list, but I’ve just received Welford’s second book, What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible, for review, so I thought it was high time I knocked this one over. Let’s kick off with the blurb from Goodreads:

 

“My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty nine and again four years later when he was twelve.

The first time had nothing to do with me. The second time definitely did, but I would never even have been there if it hadn’t been for his ‘time machine’…”

When Al Chaudhury discovers his late dad’s time machine, he finds that going back to the 1980s requires daring and imagination. It also requires lies, theft, burglary, and setting his school on fire. All without losing his pet hamster, Alan Shearer…

time-travelling-with-a-hamster

Ten Second Synopsis:

On his twelfth birthday, Al Chaudhury receives a letter from his late father that offers him the secret of time travel and the chance to change the event that caused his father’s death. Life is never that simple and Al soon finds himself up to his hairline in twisted timelines.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Just short of a year.

Acquired:

I bought this one from an online shop -either Book Depository or Booktopia – shortly after it was released because I HAD to have it and wasn’t lucky enough to score a review copy.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Not sure really.  Like I said, I HAD to have it so it’s a mystery as to why I haven’t read it yet.  Possibly it was the thrill of the chase that I was really after.

Best Bits:

  • For those who don’t enjoy a lot of technical sciency information, this story focuses more on the relationships in Al’s life rather than the whys and wherefores of how time travel works.  There is a bit of technical info in order to shut down any loopholes, but the story isn’t overwhelmed by it.
  • This felt like a bit of a mix between Christopher Edge’s The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and Mike Revell’s Stonebird, with the nerdy, science-y originality of the former and the serious issues-based subplot of the latter.  Considering I enjoyed both of those books, it stands to reason that I enjoyed TTWAH as well – especially since it seems to combine the best of both of those books into one memorable package.
  • Al and his dad’s side of the family are Indian (from Punjab), while Al inherits his webbed digits (syndactyly) from his mother’s side, so there is a bit of diversity all round here.
  • Al, his father and grandfather all seem quite authentic as characters in all the timestreams in which they appear, which makes for some genuinely engaging reading throughout and a plot that isn’t dumbed down in any way simply because the book is aimed at younger readers.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • There’s a bit of threatened animal cruelty in two parts.  It never eventuates, but for some people I know this is a deal breaker.
  • The first half of the book wasn’t as fast-paced as the second half.  Before Al has really figured out the time machine, parts of the plot drag a little, but the ending (and especially Alan Shearer’s role in it) is worth the wait.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yep.  It’s a solid middle grade growing up story with a fascinating time travel twist.

Where to now for this tome?

To the permanent shelf.

Obviously, I’m submitting this one for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017, as well as for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017.  You can  check out my progress toward all my reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Past and Future War

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I’ve been diving into the graphic novels with gusto so far this year and today I have two eye-pleasing tomes that deal with the spectre of past and future conflict.  One is realistic in tone, while the other pits three young mages against a world in which futuristic machines have resulted in the downfall of humanity.  We received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley for review.

The Lighthouse by Paco Roca

From Goodreads:

Francisco, a wounded, despairing sixteen-year-old Republican guard in the Spanish Civil War, is trying to flee to freedom by crossing the French border. In his escape, he encounters an old remote lighthouse, far from the warring factions. He is granted shelter by Telmo, the aging operator of the lighthouse. As Francisco recuperates, Telmo’s tales of epic adventurers who sailed the lost seas and discovered worlds unknown reignite the spark of life in the young soldier.

the-lighthouse

The underlying dark themes of war and violence are reflected in the monochromatic art in The Lighthouse.  The story opens on the escape attempt of Francisco, a young soldier who is offered sanctuary by elderly but cheerful Telmo, the keeper of a lighthouse.  As Francisco learns more about the lighthouse and its workings, and assists Telmo in building a boat from the flotsam that washes up on the beach, he begins to heal from his experiences and question his commitment to his cause.  When events take an unexpected turn for Francisco later in the story, he is forced to take his fate into his own hands and decide what kind of life he wants to lead.

The Lighthouse deals with the sort of choices that, when made, define a life.  Telmo has made his choices in life and is content to keep the lighthouse in order in anticipation for the day when the government will send a new bulb to restore the lighthouse to full function.  Francisco, who was previously unwavering in his commitment to his ideals, begins to think for himself under Telmo’s fanciful guidance.

This is not an overly long read, but it certainly packs a punch and will generate discussion about loyalties to duty and to self, and the sacrifices that individuals make to attain their goals.  This would be an interesting inclusion in a secondary or university course focusing on ethics.

The Castoffs V.1: Mage Against the Machine by M.K. Reed, Brian Smith & Molly Ostertag

From Goodreads:

It’s Mage against the Machine! Magic vs technology in Roar’s newest graphic novel. When three apprentice mages are sent to help a neighboring guild, they reignite a decades-old war with a robot army that has destroyed the world.

the-castoffs

This opening volume of The Castoffs seems like it will be a welcome addition to the collection of graphic novels being released that feature strong female protagonists and characters from diverse backgrounds.  The story opens on a historical battle between mages and “surrogates” – machines that were created to assist humanity but have caused chaos and carnage.  Our three protagonists, Charris, Ursa and Thrinh, are from a later period in history, when the use of technology has been largely abandoned and mages are free – mostly – to use their skills.  The three young women are chosen to fulfill what seems to be a simple delivery job, but on arriving at their destination it becomes apparent that there is much more afoot than the trivial errand on which they were sent.

Cue the discovery of a resurgence of surrogate use and the difficult decisions that follow: do the girls attempt to put down the uprising alone or return to the Guild for help?  Can the three get along for long enough to obtain a result?  And what skills are some of the girls hiding and why?

After a start that didn’t exactly draw me in, I warmed to the characters and became absorbed in the intrigue unfolding before them.  The bickering between the girls was by turns amusing and irritating, but by the end of the book most of that had been put aside in favour of interesting reveals and kick-ass magic skills.  I think this will greatly appeal to readers of graphic novels aimed at the YA market, as well as those who just love a good story featuring magic versus technology.  The diverse female protagonists will also be a drawcard for those specifically seeking out wide representation in their reads.

Overall, this was a promising, action-packed start to the series and I am interested to see where some of the cliffhanger plot points go from here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Mega Supersized” Edition…

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Well, I said that this week would be devoted to catching up on books that have been awaiting their time in the spotlight and today I am starting to make good on that promise.  I have no less than six books for you to round up today, covering everything from picture book to adult fiction to historical non-fiction to short stories.  We received all of the following books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  I suggest you let your eye rove over the herd and lasso the ones you find most appealing.  Let’s ride in!

Blame (Simon Mayo)

blame

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Ant and Mattie are locked in prison due to the crimes of their parents, under the new “heritage crime” laws. Never one to go quietly, Ant discovers a way to maybe break out – but the prison is going into meltdown and before she can escape the whole place might just explode.

Muster up the motivation because…

There is a veritable firestorm of action going on in this YA bit of speculative fiction set in the near future.  Mayo has managed to sneakily incorporate a fantastic amount of philosophical debate about crime and punishment into what is essentially a tension-filled flight of revenge, evasion and emancipation from start to finish.  The book starts with a huge concept – “heritage crime” and the question of how justice can be seen to be done when an individual seemingly evades the letter of the law – and Mayo skilfully explores this through action and character behaviour, held together with an exciting and pacey plot.  As one would expect of a book set in a prison, there is a fair amount of violence and general skulduggery, but the majority of it is appropriate to the telling of the story and not gratuitous.  There are two main sections to the book, the first set inside the prison and the other…well, I won’t spoil it for you, but the change in setting about two thirds of the way through breaks the plot up nicely and allows for a complete change of pace and new and unexpected dangers for our protagonists to face.  I would definitely recommend this one to lovers of grittier YA stories, who are happy to see a melding of young adult and decidedly grown-up worlds in their reading.  This would also make a fantastic class read for upper secondary students, to spark discussion and debate around scapegoating, delayed justice and the treatment of prisoners – especially juveniles.

Brand it with:

British badassery, the sins of the father, foster families

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer (Kate Summerscale)

the wicked boy

Two Sentence Synopsis:

A boy who kills his own mother turns out, after much investigation, to end up living an extraordinary life.

Muster up the motivation because…

If you enjoy painstakingly researched recounts of the lives of extraordinary individuals, you should find something to like here.  Beginning the tale in 1895, in England, Summerscale tells the story of one Robert Coombes, then aged 13, who murders his mother, covers it up and then goes on to have an unexpectedly eventful life, ending up in Australia of all places. I was under the impression that the book would confine itself to the murder and trial of Coombes, but this section makes up only a quarter of the story.  The rest deals with the aftermath of the trial, Coombes stay in Broadmoor prison asylum, his eventual release, his time in the Australian armed forces and most bizarrely of all, his father-son relationship with an ill-treated young neighbour.  To be honest, I found the last two sections of the book, dealing with Coombes’ adult life, far more interesting than the first, which was the reason I picked up the book to begin with, so overall it was a strange and not particularly satisfying reading experience for me.  While the content of the book is quite absorbing, the execution is unnecessarily long winded and the author seems to find joy in going off at arguably interesting but lengthy tangents.  I have heard the same complaints about Summerscale’s earlier works, so I suspect this might just be her particular style of writing.  This one would certainly be of interest to lovers of historical true crime stories but be aware that this is more than just a “murder” book and that the telling leaves out no detail, however tangentially related to the story.

Brand it with:

Tiny evil things, cool story bro, been there, done that, bought the t-shirt

Bigfoot Trails: Pacific Northwest (S.A. Jeffers & Catherine Strauss)

bigfoot trails

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Use the rhymes to aid you in hunting for Bigfoot in the illustrations, while learning some information about the Bigfoot legend along the way.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a fun, fully illustrated Bigfoot adventure that allows the reader to decipher clues as to where Bigfoot might be lurking.  I will admit to being overly excited at the thought of an book that touted itself as an interactive Bigfoot hunting experience and it was these expectations that possibly led to me being a little disappointed with the interactivity of the story.  Essentially, this is a search-and-find style of book, with clues given in the rhyming text as to where to search for Bigfoot in the (admittedly pretty impressive) illustrations.   Some of the rhymes aren’t that flash to be honest, but the illustrator has definitely gone next-level serious on making sure Bigfoot won’t be found after a simple cursory glance at the page.  The book also includes some extra Bigfoot-related things to find at the end of the book (scat, for instance), so readers can extend their searching pleasure by going back through the illustrations to look for things they missed the first time.  Overall, I think kids will probably love this book and find plenty to occupy their time and imagination.

Brand it with:

Cryptid hide-and-seek, Where’s Weirdo?, future employment opportunities

Untethered: A Magical iPhone Anthology (Janine A.Southard ed)

untethered

Two Sentence Synopsis:

A collection of short stories that speculate on the magical and paranormal properties of the smartphone.

Muster up the motivation because…

If you’ve ever thought that your phone was possessed, or otherwise controlled by nefarious outside sources then this is the anthology for you!  The stories range from servers run by demons to sentient apps to phones that can contact the dead and with twenty stories in the collection, you’re bound to find something to awaken the spark of imagination and have you eyeing your smartphone with more than a little mistrust.  My favourite of the collection was “What You’re Called to Do” by Dale Cameron Lowry, which features an app with a mind of its own and a gender-twist on the “crazy cat lady” theme.  I also particularly enjoyed “Voices From Beyond the iPhone!” which explored the human desire to get in touch with the other side and used a quirky email correspondence format, and “Real Selfies” by John Lasser, a quick dip into the psychological horror genre and a hot potato that no one wants to be left holding.  I love the concept behind this anthology and while some of the stories didn’t really hit the mark, there were enough that I enjoyed to keep me dipping into it.  I’d recommend this one for short story lovers who like their technology bang up to date.

Brand it with:

ShortStories 2.0, Next gen, magic in your pocket

The Mighty Odds (Amy Ignatow)

the mighty odds

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Four students with no social connections between them are involved in a bus accident on the way home from an excursion. When they start to discover some strange new powers after the accident, the four disparate protagonists must work together to figure out the mystery behind their new abilities.

Muster up the motivation because…

This is a worthy addition to the middle grade humour genre with some standout features.  The thing that drew me in to the story first was the silliness of the powers developed by the protagonists – the ability to teleport four inches to the left, for instance and superstrength only in one’s thumbs – but this wry sense of the ridiculous isn’t really brought to the fore until about halfway through the book.  The author spends a lot of time developing the back stories of the protagonists prior to the bus accident in which the kids gain their powers, so by the time the silliness starts, a lot of serious issues – such as the prolonged bullying and exclusion of one of the four – have been highlighted.  There was a sense of authenticity about the characters as children on the verge of adolescence that you don’t always come across in middle grade fiction, particularly humorous stories, and I was surprised, but gratified to find it here.  The book also champions racial diversity, with a mix of racial and cultural backgrounds among the four main characters.   Another quirk of the book is that it is illustrated, with much of Martina’s story told in graphic novel format.  I really enjoy it when authors take risks with formatting and the graphic novel sections, though short, provide a good break in the reasonably heavy text sections.  Reflecting on the reading experience, this reminded me a bit of Louis Sachar’s work, with its focus on middle grade kids with all their brashness and insecurities, as well as the focus on changing one’s mind regarding people about whom one already has firm (generally negative) ideas.  I’d recommend this for confident readers of middle grade who like a bit of realism mixed into fantastical adventures.

Brand it with:

What’s your superpower?, unlikely team mates, beyond first impressions

Mister Memory (Marcus Sedgwick)

mister memory

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Marcel has an incredible gift – he is unable to forget anything that has happened in his life. When he is accused of the murder of his wife and packed off to an asylum while awaiting his capital trial, one detective decides to get to the bottom of this bizarre crime…and the man possibly behind it.

Muster up the motivation because…

As historical murder mysteries go, this one has an intriguing premise.  A man who remembers everything – EVERYTHING – is accused of murdering his wife but may not actually have done it.  It was this premise, as well as the fact that Marcus Sedgwick is the author, that inspired me to have a crack at this one.  Unfortunately, I DNFed at 28%.  For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to care much about Marcel or the faintly ridiculous doctor investigating his case.  I’ve mentioned before that my subconscious seems to take issue with books set in France for reasons I am unable to grasp, and so it was with this book.  There was something about the narrative style that felt particularly ponderous and I never felt like I could get up a good reading rhythm.  Having said that, I have enjoyed books by Sedgwick before, so it may just be that this particular book and I did not click.  If the premise sounds intriguing to you, I would encourage you to give it a whirl and let me know what you think.

Brand it with:

I forget

So there you have six of my latest reads – some winners and some…not so winning – but I encourage you to hunt down and corral any that take your fancy.

Until next time (and another round-up!),

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARC Read-it-if Review: Man Made Boy…

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Afternoon all! Today’s offering is one that, since seeing the fantastic cover art, I had been excitedly anticipating…and then I managed to score an ARC review copy from Allen & Unwin Teen in return for an honest review.  Serendipitous, no? So our thanks to the publishers for making my anticipatory wonderings a reality.

Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron is a coming of age tale with a twist – the twist being that the creature doing the coming-of-age thing is the son of Frankenstein’s monster and his Bride.  The inventively named Boy; stitched-together beastie and thoroughly likeable protagonist, lives with a slew of other “mythical” creatures in a community hiding in plain sight from human society in the form of a theatre group.  Boy also happens to be something of a tech wizard, and after developing a new form of artificial intelligence, accidentally sets in motion events that have the potential to reach cataclysmic proportions for all involved.  Simultaneous to this concerning development, Boy attempts to leave the theatre to make his own way in the world – hence the coming-of-age themes mentioned earlier.

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Read it if:

* you’re a sucker for a good YA/sci fi/modern mythology/coming-of-age/paranormal romance crossover novel

* you’ve ever had stitches (or indeed bolts) in a prominent place, and felt that this may have inhibited your ability to blend seamlessly into polite society

* you are, or have ever entertained the dream of becoming, a mad scientist who creates a sentient, yet fundamentally flawed, creature for your own entertainment and/or personal gain

* you can overlook some minor problems with pacing and plot provided that there is at least one character with a rhyming name.  (…Paging Shaun the Faun…your presence is required…)

As I mentioned, I had really high hopes for this book based on the cover art alone.  Yes, I am that judgemental.  Did this book live up to those expectations? Sort of.

There is much to like in Skovron’s work here.  The characters, although lifted from historical mythical tales and classic literature, are given an overhaul to suit the modern urban setting while retaining their authentic character.  The two (or should that be three?) main teen characters, Boy and Claire/Sophie Hyde/Jekyll, are relatable, charming and flawed in ways that are believable, without being stereotypical.  The world building, in regards to the hidden monster communities, is well done and provides some good launching points to drive the plot forward.

The main problem I have with the book is the technology plotline revolving around the artificial intelligence program that Boy creates and sends out into the world.  I can’t say too much here, as I think it would be too spoilerish, but for me, the parts of the book in which this plotline featured seemed forced and out of place.  I had the overwhelming feeling that Skovron had actually got all the ingredients for TWO great novels – one revolving around a young monster finding his feet in the world, and another, that had no fantasy elements but explored the themes of artifical intelligence and the role and pace of technology in society in a psychological thriller-type story.

Having said that, while the technology aspect of the plot didn’t really work for me, it didn’t diminish the overall appeal of the book to the point where I had to put it down.  For my money, if Skovron can maintain my interest for 300 + pages despite a plotline that grated on every stony, critical and pedantic nerve in my body, I’ll be very interested to see what he can come up with next.  Overall, I think this book will have great appeal to its target audience of older teens for its likeable characters and modern twist on some old favourites.

For those who are faint of heart, let me also flag a warning for language, grand-theft-auto style gratuitous violence and humour related to alien-implemented anal probes.

Until next time,

Bruce

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