Traitor to the Throne – Alwyn Hamilton

traitor-to-the-throne

“Once, in the desert kingdom of Miraji, there was a young prince who wanted his father’s throne.”

I hadn’t been desperately impressed with the first book in this trilogy, Rebel of the Sands, feeling it could have been much better with a bit more adventure and a bit less slush. Thankfully, this middle instalment is everything I’d hoped that first volume could be: high on adventure and danger and magic!

*sort of spoiler warning: this book is a sequel, so merely the mention of characters who appear could give away info of events in the previous volume*

The better part of a year has passed since the events of book 1. In fact, rather a lot has happened in that time, including separating a few of the main characters, wins and losses for the rebellion, and some life-threatening injuries. I think this is the first thing that improves this book for me: the idea that the story has continued between the books adds a certain richness. Likewise, the characters have had months of familiarity and changing relationships, giving everything a much more interesting mood than the we’ve-just-met limitations of the opening.

This slice of the story also changes the pace quite dramatically, largely taking place inside the palace (which, as a result, is much more fully-formed than most locations in book 1), as Amani finds herself imprisoned within the Sultan’s harem. Stripped of her powers, she’s still shackled with the inability to lie. Can she keep her – and the rebellion’s – biggest secrets, while she tries to survive both the interests of both the Sultan, his heir, and the less than friendly power system in the women’s quarters? As she’s forced to spend more time with the desert’s ruler, doubts start to rise about the rebellion she’s struggling to get back to. What exactly is the Sultan’s plan – and could it be not quite what everyone thought?

I was really pleased with the new direction of this trilogy, and felt the various elements – plot, characterisation, tension – all worked much better. I have huge hopes now for the final slice of the trilogy – and a whole year to wait, argh!!

NetGalley eARC: 528 pages / 51 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: Rebel of the Sands book 2
Read from 6th-14th February 2017

My rating: 8/10

Trolls (2016)

trolls

I had zero interest in seeing this movie when it came out. The troll doll things that I remember from my childhood (and indeed, several generations seem to remember from their childhoods! o_O) had no appeal for me then or now, so a movie about them wasn’t even on my radar.

Until, that is, one of my friends adopted this as her go-to happy movie: by the wonders of a cinema pass, she must have seen it about a dozen times to combat rubbish days at work. And when the next opportunity arose, I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) is everything you’d expect a troll to be – urm, that is to say, one of the happy ‘good luck’ trolls, not in the sense of under-the-bridge… oh, you know what I mean! Poppy is all about singing, dancing, parties, and hugs. She’s so resolutely upbeat that it’s a wonder she doesn’t squeee herself to death.

However, when things go a little wrong at the 20th anniversary party of the trolls’ escape from the evil, joyless Bergen – who think their only chance for happiness lies in eating trolls – Poppy finds that her talent for scrapbooking may not be the best skill for a rescue mission o_O

While the story line is pretty average – rescue mission, learning to find the happiness inside yourself, etc etc – I ended up really liking some of the animation style here. There are scenes made to look like they’ve been crafted out of felt, or knitted, and just look gorgeous. Even the spiders – urgh! – are done to look super-cute.

As an adult (yes, despite some of my viewing choices!) it’s the little moments that are going to make or break a movie like this for me, and indeed they are done well. Little touches of humour and cynicism for the grown ups cut through the saccharine just about enough.

The music is also a major factor here, and it’s resolutely upbeat and bouncy – I can see why this was my buddy’s go-to happy film. And yes, I came out with a smile on my face – can’t say fairer than that, really!

Released: 21st October 2016
Viewed: 11th February 2017
Running time: 92 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 6.5/10

BladeRunner 3: Replicant Night – KW Jeter

replicant-night

“Wake up…”

I think the best thing I can say about this book is that it’s very worthwhile to read something a bit rubbish once in a while to make the good stuff look good! o_O

Not having been too impressed with the previous volume, Edge of Human, I had hoped that a second sequel (to the movie, Blade Runner, rather than the source book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) would move further away from the film and have a more interesting plot. Which it almost does, but not before we land slap bang in the middle of the movie – literally, as Deckard advises on a dramatisation of his hunt for the missing (5? 6? ;)) replicants. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but there are a lot of references to visuals in the movie that seem like trying-too-hard in-‘jokes’ for a book. Yes, Mr Writer, we’ve seen it too, thank you very much.

There is quite a lot of repetition here. I suppose some of the ‘real life’ turned to fiction is merited, but then it just keeps happening, constant little dropped references to “oh that bit that only real fans like me would remember”, and it gets really grating, really fast.

Which is a shame, as by the halfway point, there is a really quite fascinating new story line introduced, which had me glued to a large chunk of the book wanting to know what was going on. Alas, I’d have to suggest that the whole thing is handled less than well, and what could have been vastly interesting is turned into another superficial layer on the same-old that we’ve had more than enough of already.

The last book in the series has, like this one, been on my shelf for over a decade, so morbid curiosity will get me to the end, I’m sure. I’m not offering any recommendation, however.

Paperback: 309 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 1996
Series: BladeRunner book 3 (of 4)
Read from 3rd-10th January 2017

My rating: 4/10

Sing (2016)

sing

Life is rarely what you wanted it to be. Mothers with no time left for themselves after looking after kids and husband, young men being pulled into the family life of crime, those with big talent but tiny confidence – to any of these, and more, the faint glimmer of a dream provided by a singing contest is enough to at the very least shake up the routine.

There have to be a dozen or more singing and ‘talent’ shows on TV in any given week, I’m sure, so a movie about just such a competition seems inevitable. But is it a yes or a no for Sing?

All in all, this is just a ‘nice’ movie. I was actually a little impressed and pleased at the lack of cynicism – I had sort of expected the theatre boss running the competition (a koala voiced by Matthew McConaughey) to be a bit of a schemer, for instance, but by making him a dreamer, too, it makes the whole movie that bit sweeter.

The range of characters and their reasons for wanting the escape of fame add a little substance to an otherwise slim concept. Not that there’s a great deal of depth here, and the gaps are simply filled with singing – well, duh! That may or may not appeal – this isn’t one of those movies where the adults get a different layer to appreciate while the kiddies are enjoying the dancing elephant.

Still, it was an enjoyable enough bit of fluff for a Saturday afternoon, and I’m 80% sure you won’t end up wanting to claw your (glass) eyeballs out 😉

Released: 27th January 2017 (UK)
Viewed: 11th February 2017
Running time: 108 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 6/10

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

t2-trainspotting

Twenty years ago, a little movie about the most unlikely of subjects – an Edinburgh youth with an on/off heroin addiction – become something of a cultural phenomenon for Scotland. In preparation for viewing the sequel, I rewatched the original and was amazed at just how iconic 90% of the scenes had become and still remain.

That two decade wait is a genius move for this follow up, with the aging of the characters playing a huge role in the story. Renton’s been living clean – and hiding out – in Amsterdam since the events at the end of ‘T1’, but when events send him home to Edinburgh it’s not long before his old friends – Spud, Sickboy, and Begbie – are once again turning his life upside down.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this movie as much as I did. Although I was glad for the rewatch of the original – there are flashbacks and references that do benefit from a familiarity – it’s not an easy watch. The sequel, however, really has moved on twenty years. Sure, there’s still some drug-taking, sex, a lot of violence, and the dialogue is surely 90% swearing 😉 but there’s just so much more depth to this story. As one of my equally-impressed colleagues put it, you don’t often get to see a (serious) “coming-of-middle-age” tale.

So T2 becomes about these men facing middle age, their lives not what they’d hoped. Heroin might be (more or less) behind them, but as the new – and quite brilliant – “Choose Life” speech shows, the world has only changed so much and not all for the best. Throw in some revenge story lines, the attempt to reforge friendships and find… not purpose, but just something to do – through all of this, the character studies are done brilliantly and yet subtly. I came out feeling this movie had twice the content of the 2-hour running time, which is absolutely not something I was expecting – nor the bits where I was almost crying with laughter!

Of course, chuck in the extra layer of seeing my hometown on screen – including my bus stop, yay! – in the same cinema as the premier was held, of seeing twenty years pass not just for the characters but also in my own life… your mileage may vary, but I was wowed.

Released: 27th January 2017
Viewed: 10th February 2017
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 9/10

Indite: a notebook crafted for writers – Adam Simone, Helen Savore

indite

I love notebooks. I mean – LOVE notebooks. I have a huge stash and best intentions to use some before I buy any more, but that would go out of the window in a heartbeat for a physical copy of Indite.

The word means ‘write or compose’, in case you’re wondering, which is exactly what this book is for: custom made for writers, this “notebook with a purpose” is intended to be a “work in progress guide and historical record for your work’s progress”.

It’s split into three sections: craft, scratch, and productivity.

‘Craft’ is about building the foundations of your novel (if it’s a novel you’re planning; I’ll assume!), the plot and characters and so forth. You’re prompted to write your ‘Big Idea’ (a few examples are given, e.g. “a self-aware dog”), ‘Pitch’ (one sentence – go!), and explore your ‘what’ – what is the unknown you’re exploring in your story? What kind of structure and/or device are you using – here’s some blank space to ‘brainstorm’.

At first I thought putting these upfront was a little too soon – especially for the pitch – but the end of the section does have sections for query, hook, basic info etc – so actually I see why the split. You might prefer to fill these sections in later, but actually it’s really useful to have an idea – and written down, not just in your head – of what you intend the story to be. Referring back to this when you get a bit lost in the ‘saggy middle’ is invaluable! Besides, you can always change it later, right?!

Next comes several blank form pages for character sheets and ‘interview’ prompts, and settings sheets – all excellent things to think about, and have as a reference for later. There’s also a blank graph to ‘visualise momentum’ – i.e. plot narrative flow against pacing, looking for anyplace your story drags. To be honest, I felt this page needed a lot more explanation – it’s nice to have it there, but I would have to go look up how to make use out of it.

The middle section (‘Scratch’) is largely a collection of blank pages, several lined and then several dotted. A few of these have prompts, e.g. “Your character opens a door and…”, “Write a story in 100 words or less including these four words…”, “Draw a map that would be relevant to your character”, etc.

The final ‘Productivity’ section includes some writing session logs, space for a to-do list, and asks you to answer some important questions, e.g.: why are you working on this project? What parts of your craft do you want to improve? I really like this: it’s not just plotting or examining your characters, it’s about YOU, the writer, too. I have a feeling reading the answers to these would be highly motivational once the initial shiny glamour has worn off, and the going gets tougher.

I was initially a bit cynical about this book, given it’s 90% white space, really. I’d also have to suggest that it really doesn’t work so well in eBook/electronic format. However, even just reading through (rather than filling it in), I completely came around to the idea of having this kind of log for a writing project. It asks some really great questions, reminds you of several important areas to consider for a project, and generally just felt kind of exciting – a blank map to be filled out, as you start on your writer’s journey!

Very glad I got to have a look, thanks to NetGalley, and looking forward to getting my hands on a physical copy.

NetGalley eARC: ~206 pages
First published: 2017 (expected in May)
Series: Notebooks with a Purpose (www.atomandink.com)
Read from 3rd-10th February 2017

My rating: 8/10

Slow Bullets – Alastair Reynolds

slow-bullets

“My mother had a fondness for poetry.”

During the closing stages of a great war, Scur is captured by a sadistic enemy and left for dead. As she’s the narrator of this short sci-fi tale, obviously that doesn’t go exactly to plan, but when she wakes up it’s not exactly where she might have expected…

This is a relatively short piece, really an extended short story. As such, there’s a limited amount of background or layers to the plot, and rather it’s a simple story told with plenty of room for the reader to fill in some mental gaps.

As a whole, this works well – Reynolds is a great writer, after all. It really only slips for me at the end, which is a rather too-sweeping set of generalisations, which could really spawn a half-dozen further books!

Overall, though, it’s a well-written, rather intriguing slice of sci-fi, if a little heavy on the moralising about war and religion, and how and what we remember – plenty to get your brain going, given the slightness of the volume!

There’s no tie-in to any of the Revelation Space or other work, as far as I’m aware. Short and very readable, if you’ve not tried any of the previous work this isn’t a dreadful place to start, but it really won’t give you the full picture of how good the author can be.

NetGalley eARC: 192 pages
First published: February 2017 (in the UK; 2015 elsewhere)
Series: none
Read from 1st-5th February 2017

My rating: 7/10