I can understand wanting a bit of a break. If you want something a bit shorter by him, the Greg Mandel SF detective series is reasonably good, although lacking the epic scope of most of his books. I really liked Great North Road, which is a standalone SF novel (although admittedly a really long one), I thought it was a good combination of mystery and exploration-of-the-unknown SF and without as much padding as most of his space opera.
I saw the new Hunger Games film a couple of days ago. I think anyone has seen the 3 films so far will probably have a decent idea of whether they'd like it or not before they saw it. I think I'd probably agree with your 'liked it, didn't love it' summary. It's a very faithful adaptation of the second half of the last book and for the most part I think it works well. I think the film (and the previous one) probably do a better job at showing a bit of the wider context of the rebellion than the book did. There is a lengthy bit where it turns into an action movie which is a bit incongruous where the past 3 hours of the franchise have been stubbornly refusing to act like a blockbuster, there's one scene in particular where Katniss seems to be auditioning for the role of replacement Hawkeye in the next Avengers movie. Aside from a couple of overly melodramatic lines I thought they did the ending well.
While I'm not a huge fan of the ending of the trilogy (it felt a bit too neat the way everything worked out and some of the secondary plotlines has disappointing endings), I agree it isn't a deus ex machina when the eventual solution was introduced as far back as the first book. Hamilton does tend to have a bit of a problem with meandering plotlines, which can get frustrating especially since he's written enough short fiction to show that he's capable of being concise if he wants to be. On the other hand, few authors can do space opera on such an epic scale as he does.
I'm not sure that she necessarily wanted to die, but I think maybe she wasn't valuing her life as much as she might have done normally. I think potentially she might also have been seeking out the excitement and adrenaline rush of all the adventures as a distraction from mourning Danny.
They seem to have pretty much ignored the multiple-Claras plotline since it was first brought up, although it was a neat idea it didn't really make much sense. I suppose there is the potential for that to change, it might make some sense for The Doctor in his grief to try seeking out some of the other Claras. I think this would depend on how you define 'companion'. In recent years we've seen the on-screen deaths of Captain Jack, River and Danny Pink who have all travelled with The Doctor, River in particular has travelled with him a lot even if we don't see most of them.
I agree that I think England seem likely to struggle in South Africa. Their best hope would be that Anderson and Broad can bowl the South Africans out cheaply enough that it hides England's fragile batting (that's basically what happened in the Ashes). I think recalling Compton seems like an overdue move, while he didn't exactly set the work alight in his first stint in the Test side I thought he probably did better than any of the other openers who followed him. I think your idea of having Compton at 3 seems good (IIRC it's his county position despite opening in Tests before), it looks likely Hales will open and I think he'll inevitably be a bit hit-and-miss. I'm not too surprised about Rashid being omitted, they're not likely to need a second spinner in South Africa, although I'm a bit surprised at the unlikely renaissance in Patel's Test career.
Hi Zoe, I think I might be interested in that. It's been a long time since I've watched the Race of Champions on TV (I don't know if they even still televise it?) but I remember it being entertaining to see the F1 drivers in a less serious environment. I think it's relatively easy to get from Cambridge to Kings Cross to Stratford.
I watched the first episode of Sky's new TV series, The Last Panthers. It was a technically well-made show but so far I'm not finding the plot to be all that compelling and the characters mostly aren't that interesting, at least not yet. It's got a good cast but I'm not sure they're being given much to do so far.
I think the idea of the Doctor losing does have potential as a conclusion for a story, but the problem in this case is that we never see the effects of that loss (of course, this will change if they do make a sequel) so there's no emotional impact to it and it's quickly forgotten about.
I watched Boyhood, which I thought was very good. Going into I wasn't sure if there would be enough of a plot to sustain my interest, but while there wasn't really a conventional plot I did think it managed to be compelling. Occasionally some of the time jumps in the narrative felt a bit jarring but I think the character development felt consistent throughout. I thought they had some good choices of what music from the relevant year to include in the soundtrack.
I thought the found footage aspect worked pretty well but the monsters were a bit rubbish and the episode overall felt a bit underwhelming. Probably a good thing this concept wasn't used for a two-parter. ETA - the Sandman song got annoying very quickly.
I voted for Guns of the Dawn in the first round for fantasy as a write-in but there's nothing in the semi-final that I've read so haven't voted there. I voted for Ancillary Mercy in the Science Fiction category.