A Murder for the Books – Victoria Gilbert

A Murder for the Books cover

“Anyone who claims there are no stupid questions has never worked in a public library.”

Having fled an embarrassing end to a terrible romance, Amy Webber is now director of the library in the small, old town where her aunt lives. Still, it’s far too soon to deal with the flirting from a hunky new neighbour as she sets about helping him research some of the town’s past. Murder and poison and disappearances make for juicy history – but not so happy times when the past starts to seep into the present.

I requested this book from NetGalley because I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my ‘cosy mystery’ reads, set in libraries or bookshops. This one, however, was perhaps a little less cosy and actually quite dark on the murder mystery side – nothing too awful – but with a hefty dose of chick-lit romance. Throw in a shiver of the supernatural and it was all rather intriguing.

While I wasn’t exactly enthralled with the romance aspects – just not my genre – I did enjoy the descriptions of the historic town and its dark past events. There are plenty of characters to throw red herrings in the mix, before an okay-if-not-brilliant denouement of the present mystery ties in nicely with the cold case.

Overall, this was a nice enough read. I’m not entirely sure where the series could go next, but the writing style was strong enough to make me consider finding out.

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 12th December 2017
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 1
Read from 4th-11th December 2017

My rating: 6/10

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Justice League (2017)

Justice League cover

Following on from events in Batman vs Superman, which itself requires you to have seen Man of Steel to make much sense, Justice League is DC’s attempt to ‘do an Avengers‘. I was left feeling a bit: poor old DC – always late to the party, and never quite hitting the mark.

In fairness, this is possibly the second best of the recent DC output (Wonder Woman, of course, taking the top spot!) – but, it’s hard not to add ‘not that that’s saying much’. MoS was far too downbeat, BvS was just a bit muddled, and Suicide Squad, while a lot of fun, was 90% intro with very little in the way of real story.

One of the main problems here is that half the cast are new characters – unlike Avengers, where we’d already had all of the solo movies and introductions out of the way. Origin movies are prone to being a bit ‘meh’, so having to deal with three ‘new’ characters here – Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg – does nothing great for the plot or the more established trio of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

I really liked Ezra Miller in the Flash role here. He’s got an endearing awkwardness that really adds to the humour of the piece. Cyborg was the opposite: he’s all dark and moody and not a character I knew anything about going in to help with finding him likeable. And as for Aquaman – aka Arthur Curry, seriously?! – well, unless you count the eye-candy of Jason Momoa taking his shirt off (zero complaints on that! 😉 ) then the character is just a bit pointless here. He does get one of the funniest lines, right enough, but still…

Then, of course, there’s the slight mismatch of two big directors having worked on this. I’m not as sure it’s as bad as some folk have suggested – the ‘everyone gets two intros’ wasn’t quite so obvious – but it can’t have helped.

On the plus side, there’s a lot more humour here that DC usually manages – I’m thinking that’d be the Joss Whedon influence – and those moments absolutely lift the movie from dull to at least a bit of fun. However, it’s nowhere near enough to make up for a very dull villain, rather meh plotline, and overall just nothing that packs enough of a punch.

I don’t regret seeing this – it’s not that awful – but in terms of hope for the DC Extended Universe, it just didn’t deliver anywhere near enough. Thank Asgardians there isn’t too long to wait for Infinity War! o_O

Released: 17th November 2017
Viewed: 6th December 2017
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

The End of the Day – Claire North

the end of the day cover

“At the end, he sat in the hotel room and counted out the pills.”

Sooner or later, Death visits everyone. Before that, they meet Charlie.

So goes the intriguing tagline for The End of the Day, the latest book by the author of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and The Sudden Appearance of Hope, both of which I enjoyed a great deal. This is a little bit of a departure from her style to date, I would say, and if I’m honest it didn’t appeal quite as much to me. It is a very well-written, very very thought-provoking book, but a shade too ‘literary fiction’ for my tastes, perhaps.

Charlie is an affable, entirely normal young Englishman, who goes to a job interview to be the Harbinger of Death. His role is to precede the Grim Reaper, sometimes as a warning, sometimes as a courtesy. Death comes for ideologies and status quos as much as any individual, and Charlie soon learns that he is there to honour the living and also witness the passing of things.

And… that’s kind of it, plot-wise. Big concepts die. There is a LOT of political statementing, albeit done without much judgement (thankfully), but still. Some things do happen to Charlie, but I confess I was rather left by the end thinking, “And…?” As I said – literary fiction, where plot is not really the point. Hmm.

Still, as a thought-provoking exercise about society, about humankind, about perception, and of course about death – it’s definitely got a lot to offer. I was genuinely moved at several points. I read it in huge galloping gulps. I won’t not recommend it – but it does come with caveats: know what you’re getting in to.

Paperback: 432 pages / 110 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 27th November – 6th December 2017

My rating: 7/10

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword cover

“‘Considering the circumstances, you could use another lieutenant.'”

Usual vague spoilerish warning: this is the second in a series, so even mentioning a character from this book might serve as a small spoiler for events in the previous installment. But hey – Ancillary Justice is marvellous, so stop reading this and go read that first! 🙂

Following on from events at the end of Ancillary Justice, Breq finds herself in a very odd position. Whose orders is she ‘supposed’ to obey? Who is pulling the strings – of herself, or anyone else around her? Which side is ‘right’ – if any, of course?

Being given command of a ship, Mercy of Kalr, is a blessing and a curse. It’s a little closer to her old self, but always with that ‘not quite the same’ dagger to the heart. No one quite knows what to make of her, either, as she arrives in Athoek Station still trying to win over her own crew, with a very personal mission in the face of galactic mayhem, and ready to take on any perceived injustice in the isolated system. War may be raging further afield, but here things are cut off and proceeding as normal. But can Breq leave ‘normal’ alone, when it seems so very corrupt?

Following the brilliance of the opening volume of this trilogy, introducing a universe with a default female pronoun to challenge our little brains, and a character trapped in a single human body after millennia as a ship’s AI, Ancillary Sword is perhaps unsurprisingly a little less loved. The main complaint is that the scope of the story is quite a lot smaller. It’s a much more personal tale, in a rather constrained space given the scope of the whole.

I have mixed feelings about all of this. On the one hand, I was still hugely impressed reading the book, still loved the writing and the world building. But on reflection, it is harder to give it quite as high as mark, as the events are just a little less impressive and a little more… preachy?

For, Breq is apparently on a mission, even if she doesn’t entirely mean to be. There is a touch of self-indulgence from the author, I think, in setting up a character with just enough power to stomp all over every injustice she sees, and of course her logical ex-computer brain sees everything so black and white. Indeed, all the situations are rather written as black and white, so…!

This is still one of the best books I have read this year, so it’s pretty churlish to pick too many holes. I think expectations after the first book were very hard to meet. However, while not quite hitting those highs, I did still very much enjoy reading this and am about to pick up the final book of the series. And waaaa at it being the final book, tbh!!

Paperback: 356 pages / 21 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: Imperial Radch book 2 (of 3)
Read from 20th-26th November 2017

My rating: 8.5/10

A Bad Mom’s Christmas (2017)

Bad Moms 2 poster

Bad Moms was one of those daft comedies that ended up having a little more heart and substance than I’d expected, and actually ended up rather enjoying. I still knew that this holiday-set sequel wasn’t going to be a ‘good’ movie, but it was the daft fun I was looking for.

Amy (Mila Kunis) is doing well after the events of the first movie, with a hot boyfriend, good relationship with her kids, and best friends Kiki and Carla agreeing with her that Christmas is far too much pressure on moms and therefore should be taken at their own pace.

Which is fine, until the grandmothers arrive in town…

The plot is utterly daft, but there is a lot of joy in seeing Susan Sarandon as the drug-hazed rock chick, and Christine Baranski largely playing the same character she does so well. The humour swings between very fun and very cringeworthy, though, so your mileage will vary hugely depending on how far you find funny. The dry humping in front of the Christmas table was a bit off for me, and the whole sickly sweet stalkerish mom didn’t tickle any funny bones. And, as with the first movie, the constant need to swear got a bit dull – and I sound like a naval cadet half the time, so I’m no prude! Maybe if they’d just varied from the one word every few lines?

Overall, though, this was the Christmas movie I was willing to tolerate at the start of the festivities (although it was out a whole month too early, if you ask me!), and provided enough feel good moments to kick off the season. Not exactly likely to knock Die Hard off the best Christmas movie spot, though 😉

Released: 1st November 2017
Viewed: 30th November 2017
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10

The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater

raven boys cover

“Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.”

Blue is an oddity in her family: a non-psychic amongst clairvoyants. She is surprised, then, to finally see a spirit – a future-ghost, a forewarning of death ahead. Why now? Well, it must be either because he’s her true love – or she’s the one who’ll kill him.

The shade belongs to Gansey, a pupil at the local private school, heir to a vast fortune, and utterly obsessed with finding a mythical king buried on a local leyline and able to grant wishes. And while Gansey may or may not need one of those wishes, one or more of his closest friends might: troubled Ronan, close to being expelled; scholarship student Adam, desperate to escape his abusive father; or sickly Noah, always lurking in the shadows.

When Blue crosses paths with these ‘Raven boys’ (so-called because of the school emblem), her already strange life gets weirder than she could possibly have imagined.

I think one of the reasons I was so wowed by this book was that I hadn’t even really meant to read it – YA, teen angst, forbidden romance? No thanks! But it was selected for a group challenge, the library had an e-copy, oh – why not? And thus, when it turned out to be very well written, full of twists and magic and so many mysteries added in increasing layers – wow indeed!

The only real downside is that this is very much an opener for the four-book series, so there’s a limited number of answers to the many, many puzzles set up along the way. Hand me book 2 immediately!

Kindle: 468 pages / 48 chapters
First published: 2012
Series: The Raven Cycle book 1 of 4
Read from 7th-15th November 2017

My rating: 9/10

Newton’s Cannon – Greg Keyes

newton's cannon cover

“Humphrey wiped the sweat from his forehead and paused briefly in his working of the bellows.”

There are some rather random books on my shelves, and as I’m trying to get rid of some of them I’m more likely to pick one up and give it a go – with the full expectation that if it hasn’t grabbed me after a chapter or two, it really should just go in the charity box. Much to my surprise, I found myself sticking with this one.

This is an alternate history, where Isaac Newton’s discovery of ‘Philosopher’s Mercury’ has brought alchemy into the field of science, rather than magic. It allows for inventions such as the ‘schreiber’, a device which can copy the text written on its twin, regardless of the distance between them, and with perfect secrecy – until, that is, an inventive young lad by the name of Ben Franklin (!) starts to experiment and picks up messages he should never have been able to read.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Sun King of France has discovered immortality. As his continued life plunges his court and country into chaos and war, a young woman finds herself caught up in dark plots. The two story threads are told in alternating chapters, with mysteries growing on each side of the Channel. Who is the mysterious man chasing Ben? Who was on the other end of the schreiber, writing those strange formulae? Who is pulling Adrienne’s strings, as she is manoevered into horrible situations?

I was pleasantly surprised by this book, enjoying it far more than I expected. The story plugs along at good speed, introducing enough mystery to keep me intrigued.

However, it finishes on more than a little of a cliffhanger, and perhaps by that point the twists and turns had started to lose my interest a little. Certainly, upon discovering that the series wasn’t carried by my library it was easy enough to decide not to continue rather than paying full price for a so-so series.

So: not as bad as I thought it was going to be, but not enough to make me read on through the rest of the series.

Paperback: 368 pages / 44 chapters
First published: 1998
Series: Age of Unreason book 1 of 4
Read from 28th October – 18th November 2017

My rating: 6/10