The Darkest Minds (2018)

darkest minds poster

A mysterious plague wipes out most of the juvenile population, but those who are left develop powers. Colour-coded from super-intelligent green up to deadly reds, the remaining youngsters are rounded up and put into camps – well, the greens, blues, and yellows, that is. Reds and oranges… not so much. Knowing her life is at stake, Ruby uses the power she still doesn’t understand to make everyone think she’s a green.

Six years pass (and, I mean – come on!!) and Ruby’s subterfuge can no longer go undiscovered. On the run, she meets up with other ‘rebel’ kids, seeking the promised haven where young people can live together and free.

But with bounty hunters, the army, and the mysterious League all out to get them, can the quartet – a blue, a gold, a green, and Ruby’s orange – make it to nirvana? And… what then?

I had never heard of the book this was adapted from, but while it was reasonably well made and entertaining enough, I must confess I found it all a bit of a rehash of every other YA adaptation I think I’ve seen, from Hunger Games to Maze Runner. Which isn’t an *awful* sin, but it’s not particularly exciting, either.

I thought the cast were a strong-ish point (although criminal underuse of some interesting background actors, such as Bradley Whitford and Gwendoline Christie) the premise so-so, and some of the plot holes were atrocious – if you were a fan of the book you’d fill these in with a lot of pre-knowledge, but going in cold it was just a bit clunky at times. Oh, your power has done this – but, at no point do you ever try to see if the power could undo it? I mean, just give it a go??

And big word of warning: this is the first in a trilogy. We get to a bit of a turning point by the end of the movie, but it’s clear that more is required to finish the story. Once that would have just meant ‘wait ’til next year’, but after the whole Divergent thing, I don’t suppose it’s now sure that we will get to see the next part. Meh.

Overall: it’s completely watchable, definitely going to please fans of the books/genre, but nothing stand-out for me.

Released: 10th August 2018
Viewed: 10th August 2018
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10 – not that bad, but just meh

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

mission impossible 6 poster

The sixth installment in the Mission: Impossible movie franchise sees Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and crew (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg) once again facing a world-threatening situation. This time, however, the CIA have sent in a ‘minder’, in the form of a mustachioed Henry Cavill (this being the reason behind the truly awful de-facial hair CGI in Justice League), who has instructions to terminate Hunt should he turn rogue. Which seems highly sensible if you’ve seen any of the previous movies.

I do enjoy the grand spectacle of these movies, and you could never suggest they’re anything less than well-made and sufficiently budgeted for some spectacular action sequences.

However… something about this just didn’t click in quite the same way as the previous installments. I’m not quite sure what it was – almost, perhaps, the little hints of seriousness overwhelming some of the daft fun I was after? I also found it all over-long – 2½ hours, really? – most of which wasn’t necessary for the plot, slight and nothing too novel as that was.

That said, I still enjoyed the whole thing ‘enough’. You can’t fault the effort and work that goes into making these, and it’s doing its best to have a bit of heart and not just be a mindless action movie.

Released: 25th July 2018
Viewed: 31st July 2018
Running time: 147 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Random Acts of Senseless Violence – Jack Womack

random acts of senseless violence cover

“Mama says mine is a night mind.”

Set in the near future, this 1993 book feels all too close to predicting some time in the next few years from 2018: society has collapsed, gangs and riots abound, the line between haves and have-nots slimmer than ever.

Given a diary for her twelfth birthday, Lola Hart undergoes a shocking transformation over the few months of the book’s narrative. The slide from middle class to life-threatening poverty is shockingly realistic: from being paid late to one bill you can’t pay, to any issue becoming a total catastrophe.

Lola’s diary entries go from complaining about her little sister and gossiping about her school friends, to her slow ostracization as those ‘friends’ react to the whiff of poverty about the family. She makes new friends, and the author is very clever in changing Lola’s style of speech slowly, until by the end it’s only as understandable as it is because the reader has had a slow introduction to the slang.

I could see this book cropping up on school syllabuses, if the violence and sexual content weren’t too shocking. It’s the kind of text that begs to be dissected, picked apart to uncover every nuance. At the same time the dystopia is chillingly plausible: riots in the street, city suburbs turning into no-go areas, brutal crackdown from on high, and through it all just hopelessness of ever being able to improve one’s situation.

So, yeah. Not a chipper read, but powerfully done.

Paperback: 256 pages
First published: 1993
Series: Dryco book 1
Read from 17th-25th July 2018

My rating: 8/10

Summerland – Hannu Rajaniemi

summerland cover

“Rachel White flung the cab door open, tossed the driver a banknote and dived into the rain.”

England, 1938. The war is over, but not the way our reality had it. In this version of events, death is no longer a closed door. Instead, we can see through the windows to ‘Summerland’, send messages, maybe work out ways to have visitors once in a while…

The real-world branch of the British intelligence services is now known as the Winter Court. Even in these hallowed halls it’s not the best time to be a woman, as Mrs Rachel White knows well. When one of her missions goes awry, her gender is used against her and she finds herself in the typing pool. But a highly trained, accomplished spy treated so poorly is surely ripe pickings for the other side to turn…

I’ve been meaning to read some of Hannu Rajaniemi’s work for ages now – I’ve got his Quantum Thief trilogy on my shelves (well, in boxes right now, as I’m moving!), and in fact I know some of his colleagues at Edinburgh Uni. So when this stand-alone title popped up on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance!

And if I’m being honest, I was just a tad disappointed. The world-building is excellent with lots of cool ideas about how the ‘afterlife’ might be and how it could interact with our reality. There are also some intriguing hints of how this kind of revelation would affect people’s minds, and of course how history diverts along with the discoveries, using real historical figures alongside the fiction. The fairly standard, Le Carre-esque Cold War spy thriller is lifted with those hints of the fantastical.

However, I never really clicked with any of the characters somehow, and I think that left me a little less engaged with the book that I would have liked. Rachel was meant to be the key character, she was likable enough and wasn’t putting up with being treated like a 1930s housewife, but… hmm. It possibly didn’t help that half the time we followed someone on the other side of the spy game, and he came across as something of an over-privileged school boy toff of the kind I cannot stand.

I’m still very much looking forward to backtracking to Quantum Thief – the writing here was good – and despite my so-so feelings on this one I’d certainly want a look if more of this world appears on the page.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 24 chapters
First published: June 2018
Series: none
Read from 12th June – 14th July 2018

My rating: 7/10 – well-written, intriguing concept, but I didn’t quite click with it all

Skyscraper (2018)

skyscraper poster

If you’re after a big, daft, summer blockbuster, I guess you’re not going to get much bigger than the titular building in this movie, The Pearl. Two hundred-plus stories, half retail with private accomodation at the top, actual parkland in the middle (!): all the owner of the world’s new tallest building needs is the final sign off on the security and safety aspects.

Step forward Dwayne Johnson’s security expert, Will Sawyer, brought in by an ex-colleague. Pathos is layered on with the backstory of a hostage situation gone wrong, leaving both men scarred and The Rock missing a leg. Actually, contentious as this was, I thought it was pretty cool letting the big action hero have a disability. Although the actor in question is not disabled, the character gets the girl/family after his accident, and is still totally kick-ass through this movie. So, step in the right direction?

Otherwise, there’s not a great deal to this movie, which ends up being Towering Inferno meets Die Hard. There’s some daft fun, a lot of dizzying visuals, and some blatant disregard for the laws of physics.

I suppose I could mention that I was also vaguely impressed that the ‘damsel in distress’ (aka Mrs Sawyer, Neve Campbell) gets to have her own kick-ass moments, against expectation.

Still, my favourite part of the whole thing was the brief visual of the semi-vertical park space inside this enormous building. Doesn’t quite say much about the rest of it 😉

Overall: big, mindless, summer blockbuster fun. Does exactly what it says on the tin.

Released: 12th July 2018
Viewed: 20th July 2018
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5.5/10

Incredibles 2 (2018)

incredibles 2 poster

Fourteen years after the first movie – beloved by many, although I was just “Yeah, that was fun” (and as such am a bit hazy on the details!) – the Parr family are back. Even more in hiding than the first film, things are not going so well for them, until a billionaire tycoon throws his money behind a scheme to bring Supers back into legality. The only thing is, he wants Elastigirl aka mom Helen to be the face of the campaign, leaving Mr Incredible aka dad Bob, literally holding the baby.

The gender-switch roles is probably what brings this movie into reasonable modern times, and it’s pretty funny to watch Bob struggle and pretty ace to see the mother rekindling her sense of worth outside that role. From a cartoon. However, the real joy – for me, at least – was the scenes of baby Jack-Jack finally finding his powers, as teased in the post-credit scene from the original movie.

I also think Edna Mode is one of my all-time favourite animated characters, so was a little disappointed that she’s in this so briefly – with some fabulous scenes with Jack-Jack, though, so all is forgiven 🙂 Likewise, the Samuel L Jackson voiced Frozone could have been in it more for my liking.

Since the release of The Incredibles back in 2004, there has been an absolute explosion of superheroes at the cinema, in live action format. So, does Incredibles 2 still have a place? Well, yes: it was a lot of fun, and makes some relevant points without trying too hard. That said, there’s nothing desperately new or fresh about the story line, which doesn’t stray too far from the original overall. It must be impossible to come up with novel ideas for superpowers these days, too.

Overall this is a decent movie with plenty of fun to be had. The kids can love it, the grown ups can too, and it both stands alone and makes for a sequel that was actually worth making. Recommended.

Released: 13th July 2018
Viewed: 13th July 2018
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

Shelved Under Murder – Victoria Gilbert

shelved under murder cover

“One thing every librarian learns is that people rarely ask the question they actually want answered.”

Several months have passed since small-town librarian Amy Webber was caught up in the events of A Murder for the Books. Usual warning: if you read on, mention of events in book 2 might spoil some of book 1!

Taylorsford is preparing itself for the annual Heritage Festival, an arts and crafts spectacular. Art becomes the theme for the book, as the discovery of a dead artist seems to tie in with forgery rings and organised crime. Could it be that Amy’s late uncle, himself a struggling artist, might have been more connected to these events than anyone would wish?!

I’ve heard cosy mysteries like this described as ‘palate cleansers’ (or should that be ‘palette’, given the topic? ;)) and this is indeed just that. Light and easy to read, nothing too taxing on the brain, this was a sweet little romance with added murder. Urm…! 😉

I thought the story felt a little more assured than the previous book, or perhaps it was just that less setting up was required. We’re assumed to know who the main cast are, from the first book. Of course, this does mean that new players stand out like sore thumbs, and it was pretty obvious who was going to turn out to be the bad guys. The bigger mystery elements are more reveals about the main characters’ pasts, rather than the more obvious crime of the day.

Still, it served its purpose.  I like that this series is a little less ‘fluffy’ than some cosy mysteries, but it’s still a bit heavy on the romance for my tastes. There’s also the merest hint of something supernatural, which I’m not sure about: I think the author needs to commit to including/explaining some of it, or leave it out. Ymmv, as they say!

NetGalley eARC: ~327 pages / 28 chapters
First published: July 2018
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 2
Read from 5th-9th July 2018

My rating: 6/10