Ashes Cricket by Big Ant Studios – Xbox One, PS4 & PC

Fresh, or perhaps not so fresh, on the heels of Don Bradman Cricket and Don Bradman Cricket 17, Big Ant studios are set to release the latest cricket game on November 16th, 2017.

Nathan Lyon Fielding for Australia

Ashes Cricket is the officially licensed video game of cricket’s greatest rivalry. Bringing all the fast-paced action, big hits and skill that you see in the greatest cricket competition on earth, in both a more realistic and authentic way than ever before, you’ll be able to bathe your team in glory in the men’s and women’s 2017/2018 Ashes tours.

Courtesy of Big Ant’s unique photogrammetry technology, Ashes Cricket presents official photorealistic likenesses for all of the Australian and English men’s and women’s teams – it will make you feel like you’re right there at the live game.

Star Test players have been fully motion-captured and you can choose your own batting or bowling style to make your game your own. Big Ant’s most detailed and refined cricket engine to date allows for true 360-degree batting. No two players will play the game the same way!

Other features of the most in-depth and realistic cricket game to date include:

• A deep career mode that offers the ability to play as a star or start as a junior and play club cricket until reaching international level.
• Fully customise your play experience. Create players, teams and even umpires in the Cricket Academy and upload it on the online community.
• All the officially licensed stadiums featured in the 2017/18 Ashes tour.
• Want to create your own dream competition? Create your own stadiums and logos to enhance your playing experience. Make this your personal cricket game.
• Online play – play with or against players in the most competitive online cricket game yet!

The game will be available to play on XBOX One, Playstation 4 and PC formats.

The House on Cold Hill by Peter James – Book Review

The House on Cold Hill

Moving from the heart of Brighton and Hove to the Sussex countryside is a big undertaking for Ollie and Caro Harcourt and their twelve-year-old daughter Jade. But when they view Cold Hill House – a huge, dilapidated Georgian mansion – Ollie is filled with excitement. Despite the financial strain of the move, he has dreamed of living in the country since he was a child, and he sees Cold Hill House as a paradise for his animal-loving daughter, the perfect base for his web-design business and a terrific long-term investment. Caro is less certain, and Jade is grumpy about being separated from her friends.

Within days of moving in, it becomes apparent that the Harcourt family aren’t the only residents of the house. A friend of Jade’s is the first to see the spectral woman, standing behind her as the girls talk on FaceTime. Then there are more sightings, as well as increasingly disturbing occurrences in the house. As the haunting becomes more malevolent and the house itself begins to turn on the Harcourts, the terrified family discover Cold Hill House’s dark history, and the horrible truth of what it could mean for them . . .

There’s not really much you can say about Peter James that hasn’t already been said. A terrific author who never seems to put a foot wrong, time after time he publishes a novel that is both engaging and fascinating to read. This time around he dispenses of Roy Grace’s services, heaven knows why because I for one would like to see Grace tackle a ghost! A standalone, The House on Cold Hill will have you shivering from the outset until a bone shaking finale.

I don’t get the chance to read ghost stories all that often, I did as a kid and loved them, but when I had the opportunity to read this title I jumped at the chance, it wasn’t the only time I’d jump while reading! The House on Cold Hill, although set in modern times, has a distinctly old fashioned style to it. I couldn’t help but think, despite the inclusion of computers and mobile phones, that I had been transported back to the old days of no electricity, no running water and reading by candlelight – no idea why, it just had that feel about it for me.

The first few chapters serve to set the story, lay a solid foundation – despite the possibility of subsidence!! – and introduce the characters to the reader but once all this has been achieved there’s no holding back and the story moves along at a rapid pace. Ollie is without question the star of the show and he proves to be a great protagonist. Worried about making a huge financial mistake in moving lock, stock and barrel to the country he’s prepared to ignore the warning signs and the fact that the small problems that immediately start to surface are in fact just the tip of the iceberg.

You can’t help but feel empathy with the family and how they put up with the problems is beyond me! They really do endure a lot but their hardship serves to entertain the reader! I know it’s a cruel world isn’t it! As long as it’s not happening to us, suck it up!!

A chilling read, I loved the way the story unfolded and how the ghostly activities increased as it became clear the Harcourt family wouldn’t be giving up without a fight. Characters come and go, some a little more gruesome than others, but the story continues to progress and flow well. Haunting in parts, there were a couple of points in the book that really freaked me out, the author has a knack for this genre.

So there we have it, not going to spoil it for anyone and give away any clues but the ending is very well done and just about right but if ever there was a book that had an alternative ending chapter then this is one! Now there’s a thought! Has that ever been done?

Bravo Mr James

Published by Macmillan ISBN-10:1447255909 ISBN-13:978-1447255901

  • ISBN-10:1447255909
  • ISBN-10:1447255909
  • ISBN-13:978-1447255901

Zwift, indoor cycling and the Mayan Jungle Route!

Zwift HQ have delivered the promised update and it does not disappoint. Three new routes have been created namely:

  • Big Loop (42.8km, 26.6 Miles & 663m Elevation)
  • Jungle Circuit (19.9km, 12.3 Miles & 200m Elevation)
  • Road to Ruins (30.1km, 18.7 Miles & 276m Elevation)

I’ve only had chance to try the Jungle Circuit so far but it’s a wonderful ride and very challenging! If you’re working out in the gym, at home or on a direct trainer in the garage, make sure the fans are on! You encounter a steady climb for a few kilometers before you enter the new stretch of road but it’s well worth the wait! So who can ride the new Mayan Jungle roads? You have to be level 10 or over to ride on your own or ride with a friend who just happens to be level 10 or as part of a group. If you are level 10 then you’ll see the Jungle Gate in green, for anyone else it’s red and not available.

Riding the Mayan Jungle Experience!

Intrepid Shane Miller has ridden the route and has published a great video, it’s well worth a view. He talks throughout his ride and gives us his first impressions on the new expansion. Over to you Shane:

 So if you’ve ever wanted to cycle through rolling terrain and some quick high speed decents then this may just be for you! One thing I should add that the new roads are also available to level 10 runners – so Ride On or Jog On – the choice is yours!
Cycling the Mayan Jungle Route
Cycling the Mayan Jungle Route
To access the Mayan Jungle Expansion, head to the wind farm in Watopia Island and cross the bridge toward the Epic KOM route. The entrance is southwest of the Spruce Goose, the new base of the Epic KOM.
 
Riding the Mayan Jungle Experience!

Equipment used:

  • iPad Pro 2
  • Wattbike Pro
  • 8 Jelly Beans!

Sycamore Row by John Grisham – Thoughts

For almost a quarter of a century, John Grisham’s A Time to Kill has captivated readers with its raw exploration of race, retribution, and justice. Now, its hero, Jake Brigance, returns to the courtroom in a dramatic showdown as Ford County again confronts its tortured history. Filled with the intrigue, suspense and plot twists that are the hallmarks of the world’s favourite storyteller, SYCAMORE ROW is the thrilling story of the elusive search for justice in a small American town.

Reading the first fifty pages of Sycamore Row I experienced two very different emotions. Firstly, and I can’t remember this happening before, I couldn’t help but grin as I lost myself in every page, in fact I wasn’t aware I was grinning until I heard my mobile ringing and looked away from the book – smiling! The second emotion was anger. Not of Grisham’s writing, his narrative or style, but Seth’s distant family. Racist, obnoxious, opinionated and just plain vile – you can’t help but feel for Lettie the black housekeeper, a housekeeper tasked with looking after the house and an ailing Seth Hubbard for the last three years. Upon his death and his family’s arrival Lettie is cast aside like a mess on a shoe, left to fend for her family and unemployed.

Now that I’ve finished Sycamore Row I can categorically say that those emotions never went away. They would bubble and fester, they weren’t always present but it was as if they were stuck in limbo, waiting to emerge just like a pocket of air escaping water throughout the entire story. You never quite knew where the bubble would burst but you knew it would at some point.

This is without doubt the best legal thriller I’ve read this year, hands down the best. Set at a terrific pace this multi layered story evolves and evolves and just when you think it can’t go anywhere, that the end is in nigh, the book suddenly branches off in a fresh direction, a new perspective, and Grisham introduces a new witness or a different focus to the investigation. This really is clever and sharp witted stuff!

Characterisation is key to any book and it was so satisfying for me to find out what happens to Jake Brigance and his family following the trial of Carl Lee Hailey. Three years down the line he’s still dining out on the plaudits and fame from the case – even if the money and rewards aren’t as forthcoming – and finds himself stuck in a rut doing the same old cases day in day out. Our protagonist had hoped to have moved on to bigger and better things but alas his loss is our literary gain.

John Grisham has brought together an eclectic mix of old and new characters. They all play their part in a legal thriller that is both entertaining and evocative. Even the nasty characters are enjoyable; they all help to add depth and colour to the book but Jake, Ozzie and Lucien carry the book as far as I’m concerned.

I enjoyed where the book takes the reader and where it ends and hopefully in a few years’ time we’ll be allowed to revisit Ford County and experience life in Reuben Atlee’s courtroom once again through the eyes of Jake Brigance. With sharp dialogue, atmospheric narrative and a sagacious storyline, Sycamore Row is one not to be missed. Highly recommended.

So Cold The River by Michael Koryta – Thoughts

So Cold The River by Michael Koryta

A man in a bowler hat, a haunting violin and a bottle of curious sulphuric tasting water. Did I mention water? Whatever you do, don’t drink the water. I repeat; don’t drink the water!

I’ve just re-read this classic book and can’t believe it has been seven years since I first read the book – my introduction to Michael Koryta – and it still ranks as one of my best ever reads.

So Cold The River by Michael Koryta is a hypnotic and hauntingly chilly tale following one man’s attempt to chronicle a family’s childhood history in West Baden, Indiana. It’s very hard to categorize into one genre as so many themes are utilized in this 528 huge page turner. Horror, thriller, Crime and supernatural forces are all present in a stunning story of murder, greed and deceit.

Eric Shaw, a has-been cinematographer formerly of Los Angeles and now Chicago, has resorted to making small videos for funerals at the bequest of grieving families. Shaw is approached by Alyssa Bradford at the end of her sister’s funeral and offers him a job to investigate/document her father in law’s (Campbell Bradford) family, long since forgotten.

The video is to be a celebration of his life, one she wants completed before he dies so that the family as a whole can enjoy with him. Shaw accepts not only the $20,000 offer but an ancient blue bottle of Pluto mineral water.

The bottle had never been opened and belongs to Campbell Bradford, the 95 year old multi-millionaire who lies dying in a lonely hospital room. Although hidden away, and until this point had never left Bradford’s side, Alyssa Bradford sensed its importance. The blue bottle sparks a chain of events that would lead to a destructive and devastating conclusion.

Shaw, estranged from his wife Claire, makes his way to the adjoined Midwest towns of West Baden and French Lick armed with a camera and the curious, foul tasting bottle of Pluto Water. Shortly before he embarked on the drive to Indiana Eric gave in to the temptation and opened the bottle and took a sip of the mysterious water. He became violently ill and the die had been cast.

Despite being a monster of a book, the pace is rather interesting. It isn’t a quick read for obvious reasons but I found that as the story developed so did the pace, hand in hand with the water’s stranglehold and intensity. I’m not sure if Koryta meant this to happen but this is how I saw the book evolving. Very clever and the flow is just right, I finished the book in three reasonable sessions.

We meet a number of colourful characters along the way and Josiah Bradford, the only living descendant of the millionaire in Indiana is one of them. An evil brute of a man, he appears to have a chip on his shoulder, a chip that grows rapidly after coming into physical contact with Eric. Koryta tells his story well and whenever Josiah is centre stage it’s as if the book takes on a whole new dark persona.

A story of Yin and Yang, light and shade, good and evil – the book is an engaging, icy page turner in every sense. This is Koryta’s first book to be published in the UK and certainly won’t be his last, not on this form I suspect.

Don’t drink the water! You have been warned!

Gunpowder BBC One – Episode 1 – Thoughts & Cast

Gunpowder’s first episode, shown on BBC One on Saturday 21st October, 2017, leaves nothing to the imagination, nothing at all. In some of the most brutal and graphic scenes I’ve ever witnessed on british television, Gunpowder promises to push the boundaries and promote a high degree of storytelling and drama. Within the first quarter of an hour, not long after the watershed we see a woman stripped naked and crushed to death and a young Priest hung, drawn and quartered in a bloody and yet utterly compelling scene. It’s impossible to look away but the executions only serve to solidify how savage and bloodthirsty 17th Century Britain was.

Tom Cullen as Guy Fawkes

England, 1603. Elizabeth I is dead and King James of Scotland has taken the throne. With the country at war with Catholic Spain, English Catholics are persecuted and priests caught saying Mass are punished with death. Several attempts have already been made on the new King’s life. All so far have failed. But deep in the heart of the Warwickshire countryside a new plot is brewing. A plot that will become legend, and leave a mark on the country that will still be felt over 400 years later.

Harington as Robert Catesby

We learn early on in the episode the terrifying persecution of the Catholics and the lengths of those tasked with hunting down the Catholic sympathisers would stoop. Shaun Dooley, who plays Sir William Wade gives an outstanding role and for me the actor of the episode. Determined to find his pray he is ruthless but it’s his sinister mannerisms and sheer arrogance that come to the fore. He’s not a man to be messed with and although he shows a touching side to his personality at the gallows – albeit briefly – he carries out his duty with a unwavering ruthlessness.

Kit Harington and Liv Tyler share the execution scene as horrified bystanders

Some have questioned if the drama is too gory for British television but for me, the BBC got it spot on. In Gunpowder they have given us a violent yet classy drama, a true reflection of the times and believe you me, there’s more to come in episodes two and three!

Gunpowder – all three episodes – is now available to watch on the iPlayer.

Gunpowder Cast – Episode 1

Robert Catesby Kit Harington
Father Henry Garnet Peter Mullan
Anne Vaux Liv Tyler
Lord Robert Cecil Mark Gatiss
Sir William Wade Shaun Dooley
Thomas Wintour Edward Holcroft
Guy Fawkes Tom Cullen
Father John Gerard Robert Emms
Thomas Percy Daniel West
Jack Wright Luke Neal
Thomas Bates Luke Broughton
Digby Philip Hill-Pearson
Slater Richard Glover
King James I Derek Riddell
Sir Philip Herbert Hugh Alexander
Lord Northumberland David Bamber
Lord Howard Simon Kunz
Constable of Castille Pedro Casablanc
De Tassis Andy Lucas
Lady Dorothy Sian Webber
Father Daniel Thom Ashley
Young Robert Tom Sweet
Lady Dorothy’s Servant Eleanor Inglis
Captain William Turner Fergus O’Donnell
George Farwell Josh Moran
Jailer #1 Murray Taylor
Jailer #2 William Fox
Sir William Stanley Robert Gwilym
Wade’s Underling Scott Berry
Elizabeth Catesby Beatrice Comins
Susan Whinniard Kate Wood
Kennan Ewart James Walters
Monteagle Sean Rigby
Alford Andrew Jarvis
Bald Drinker Karl Haynes
Hawksworth Kevin Eldon
Anne Hudson Shelley Draper
Strangled Madrid Woman Yolanda Calzado Gill
Football Dad Sean Croke
Mary Sparrow Vivienne Sloan
Court Clerk Richard Hand
Merchant Peter Rylands
Protestant Priest Gordon Mounsey
Executive Producer Ollie Madden
Executive Producer Ronan Bennett
Executive Producer Daniel West
Executive Producer Kit Harington
Writer Ronan Bennett
Producer Laurie Borg
Director J Blakeson
Production Company Kudos Film & Television Company

Wattbike ATOM – Hands on

A few weeks ago Wattbike kindly sent over the new Wattbike ATOM for me to test for a few days and although I was still setting up the home gym, converting the garage, I managed to move a few things around and create enough space to accommodate the bike.

Wattbike ATOM

Indoor cycling has developed a great deal over the last couple of years, especially with the popularity of Zwift (and other third party software such as Trainer Road, Sufferfest) going from strength to strength – more on Zwift in future posts but it’s an incredible piece of software that truly encourages hard work and sweat! Nothing like watching your very own avatar ride up to another cyclist and benefit from the draft!

Wattbike ATOM

My first impressions were incredibly positive, it’s a lovely bit of kit and although not a finished model (number 26 I think) it looks sharp and aerodynamic! When I first saw it, my first thoughts were I hope this is good – I want one! It looks a lot sexier than the Pro or Trainer models.

Setting up the bike is simple and anyone used to cycling indoors will know individual measurements, seat angles, height and such and get to it. Adjustments are made by the supplied Allen keys. You may also need to change the pedals, they come with basic key pedals so buying clipless pedals is a must.

Connecting the iPad (you have to supply your own iPad/Tablet/Phone) with the bike is straightforward and following two rides on the first morning, one with Zwift and the other with the wattbike app. The connection worked well, seamless in fact however I did feel as if there were a couple of niggles with it a) it took a lot more effort to get the same wattage I have been getting with the Pro or Trainer b) there is a slight delay in gear shifting and c) I found the resistance slightly strange in that there was more when I didn’t expect it i.e. 0% and when reaching the top of a gradient the resistance grew for a couple of seconds before tailing off. This was using the Zwift application.

Wattbike ATOM

Connections with the bike itself and heart rate monitor are very easy.

Given the small issues I had with the bike and Zwift I thought I’d try it out using the updated Wattbike App – I tried Winnats Pass to see how that was and to see the resistance! I wish I hadn’t! As a rookie, and I mean rookie, I struggled! I managed it in 12 minutes but it was tough going. The app starts on gear 6/22 and I quickly found once the gradient kicked in I’d have to knock it down – ended up at 1/22 (shows how bad I am I guess!) but it appeared more responsive to me. The resistance was tough, I think it went up to 17 or 18% but I might have missed it if it did go higher! I stopped twice!

Feeling a little more confidence from a more responsive connection I did a few more generic rides (just ride) and it definitely felt better and more tuned with the official app than Zwift but this I’m sure is down to the Zwift software. The one thing friends have commented on when they’ve been around is how damn sexy the bike is! It’s very aero looking and definitely has a smaller profile than the original bikes so if space is a consideration then this may suit your needs over the Pro. It’s very sturdy and didn’t move when I went from side to side either in the saddle or standing up doing the Winnats pass climb.

Although I’ve mentioned the gearing above one thing that I’d like to see in third party software is an indication of what gear you are in. When using the Pro or Trainer this isn’t as important because the gearing is visual but with the ATOM, apart from when using the Wattbike App, there’s no way you can tell an given the delay in response time from shifting the gears you can quite easily think the instruction hasn’t made it through and you end up with too high or too low a gear on anything but the inbuilt app. I’m hoping this is something Wattbike and third party software developers like Sufferfest, Trainer Road and Zwift will sort out sooner rather than later.

Wattbike ATOM
Resistance is automatic on the bike, the gear shifting is manual via the right handle bars with an up and down trigger, simple to use and feels more natural.

The main thing about this bike is that Wattbike are developing it purely for the home market, this isn’t a gym bike and you can’t compare the ATOM with the Pro model but the fact that it comes with a 2 year guarantee from Wattbike should alleviate any fears over workmanship. Would I buy one? Definitely, this is a lovely bit of kit. There is currently a 15 week lead time with the ATOM, an increase over the 6 week lead time a month ago. It’ll be interesting to see if cyclists used to direct drive training will jump over to the ATOM, only time will tell.

Specs:-

Smart trainer control: ANT+ FEC and Bluetooth Smart Control
Gears: 22
Gradient: Range 0–25%
Third Party Connectivity: Via ANT+ FEC/ANT+/Bluetooth Smart Control
Height: Max. 150cm (fully extended tablet holder)
Width: 50cm
Length: 100cm
Weight: 44kg
Feet: Rubber feet
Rollers: Transportation rollers fitted
Cranks: 170mm
Seat: Racing seat fitted as standard
Pedals: Flat pedals with toe cage fitted as standard
Tablet holder: Can accomodate from 70mm–240mm in height
Frame: Aluminium
Handlebar fore/aft adjustability: Range 0–7.5cm
Handlebar height adjustability: Range 53.5cm–76.5cm
Saddle fore/aft adjustability: Range 0–8.8cm
Saddle height adjustability: Range 57cm–83cm
Power range: 0–2000w
Resistance: Magnetic
Power required: Mains adaptor

Don’t forget to take a look at Ray’s hands on experience over at DC Rainmaker.

The ATOM is priced at £1,499 – £1,559 including postage.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo – Book and Movie tie in.

The Snowman by Jo NesboI can promise you one thing; my days of making snowmen are over. No more! Winter isn’t far away and if one of my neighbours decides to build a snowman in our quiet, secluded street, I’m booking the first flight to Barbados and running! I’m not kidding; this is one hell of a creepy crime thriller! – They don’t have snow in Barbados do they?

Psychologically it scared me to death; I guess it had the desired effect!

“We’re going to die” a young lad proclaims in the back of his mother’s car.

Jo Nesbo’s “The Snowman” is without doubt one the best books I’ve ever read, it has everything. A tight storyline; electrifying pace and imaginative prose; all morphing together to produce a magnificent on the edge of your seat Norwegian thriller. You won’t know who to trust!

I read The Snowman a few years ago and thought I’d revisit the book now that Tomas Alfredson’s movie of the same name has hit our screens. Starring Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson I had great expectations.

The Snowman Movie 2017

Soon the first snow will come. And then he will appear again. The Snowman. And when the snow has gone, he will have taken someone else. What you should ask yourself is this; “Who made the snowman”? Who makes snowmen? Who gave birth to the Murris? For the Snowman doesn’t know.

Jonas wakes to a house filled with silence. His father left the night before to catch an overnight flight and when he went to bed he only had his mother and a snowman in the garden for company – A creepy snowman he hadn’t built. He cries out for his mother but when no one answers he walks out into the garden; the snowman is there and so is the pink scarf he gave his mother for Christmas. His mother is missing.

Comparing the book and movie is difficult but think chalk and cheese – they don’t go. The movie is such a disappointment, it went nowhere, lacked any direction or tension. There were no scary points in the film, it didn’t make me jump and even the death scenes lacked any punch. Universal Pictures who distributed the film definitely missed a trick here. They had every chance of building a terrific Harry Hole franchise but with this, arguably the strongest – for me at least – Jo Nesbo book, there’s nowhere to go. Only time will tell if they produce another.

The book on the other hand is magnificent and filled from cover to cover with explosive tension.

My Final Thoughts

Buy the book but leave the movie, it’s not even worth a rental unless you want to see some breathtaking Norwegian landscape and scenery – now that was magnificent!