Wed, Read and Dead – VM Burns

wed read and dead cover

“‘If you don’t get your fanny out of that dressing room in the next thirty seconds, I’ll come in and drag you out.'”

Sam Washington runs a mystery bookstore with help from her grandmother, Nana Jo, her twin nephews, and Dawson, the student she took in several books ago (the series starts with The Plot is Murder). In the latest volume she’s also preparing to be a bridesmaid at her mother’s wedding – at least, that is, until a body shows up!

True to the series, one of their friends/family is top of the list of suspicions – and Sam and the ‘Silver Sleuths’ must solve the crime quickly enough to keep that person out of jail and the wedding from being ruined.

I largely enjoyed this book. It doesn’t vary vastly from the previous three, with regular breaks to read bits of Sam’s own ‘period English’ mystery. These provide a bit of a break, a comparison that makes the rest of the book look better (sorry, Sam!), but most importantly a way for Sam’s subconscious to start solving the real-life mystery.

However, as the ‘who why and how dunnit’ elements start to be revealed, it all felt very familiar. I don’t pay enough attention to my cosy reads to pinpoint it exactly, but I could’ve sworn the same plot had been used elsewhere.

Still, I think what I like most about it all is how nice the group is, supportive of each other, making this a lovely as well as non-taxing kind of a read. There are times for that!

NetGalley eARC: 272 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Mystery Bookshop book x4
Read from 16th-23rd April 2019

My rating: 5/10 – not bad, but I felt like I’d read the mystery before which was odd

Advertisements

Avengers: The Age of Ultron (2015)

age of ultron poster

One question that was frequently asked after the first Avengers movie was “why is this character fighting alone? Where are the other Avengers?” Here, we kick off with just that: the gang back together, kicking Hydra butt.

There’s little love for this middle-est of movies, but I enjoyed it fine at the time and more than that now. Now, it’s clear to see what this movie sets up for the future: Wakanda, vibranium, Ulysses Klaue? Ah, Black PantherThanos and the Infinity Stones and Gauntlet = Infinity War / Endgame. How Hulk ends up in RagnorokAnd the bickering between team members is going to walk us straight to Civil War.

But, we still need a movie now, and while this serves well as a bridging between Avengers and future outings, it still has plenty of character development and action.

I’d argue, as ever, Tony Stark is at the heart of this. He’s still traumatised from going through the wormhole in New York, and when new character Scarlet Witch shows him his worst fear – and ooh, is that scene going to be important come Endgame?! – his reactions are both too much, but understandable. Attempting to create a future that does away with the need for the Avengers, his creation, Ultron (wonderfully voiced by James Spader), goes a bit Skynet, seeing the ultimate goal of peace needing a bit of destruction first. Oops.

We also get to see Steve Rogers accepting that ‘the man who went into the ice’ isn’t necessarily who he is now. There is a brief mention of the ‘quest’ from the end of Winter Soldier, making it feel like we’ve not forgotten everyone’s in the middle of something, although events are now more pressing elsewhere.

Perhaps the lack of love for this stems from how tied in it is to everything else. You kind of need to have seen Winter Soldier to understand why SHIELD is in disarray, and the Avengers are now a thing by themselves. The character stuff only makes as much sense when you’ve followed their stories so far.

Of course, not everything is spot on. Personally, I only ‘got’ the whole Nat/Bruce thing when she explicitly explains her interest. And I still hate hate hate the way she talks about being unable to have children and being a ‘monster’ for it – huge misstep in tone. Other revelations are a bit cliched, and there are several scenes that really needed a lot more time to make sense (e.g. Thor’s vision) but which were trimmed for an already over-long movie.

Still. I do love the series, and this is a core slice of that. We also get great scenes like everyone trying to lift Mjolnir (‘mew mew’ forever!) during a party, and a baddie I really like, actually 😉

Released: 23rd April 2015
Viewed: 22nd April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Tiny Leaps Big Changes – Gregg Clunis

tiny leaps big changes cover

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”

Reading this straight off the back of Burnout really flagged to me the different approaches self-help books can take. Burnout felt supportive, wanting you to have a happier life, helping you tackle some of life’s obstacles to achieve that. This, on the other hand, felt like it was castigating you for being such a lazy loser, and if you really wanted something you can have it simply by applying yourself enough.

I have serious concerns about the advice in the book. The example given is Dave, a dad who wants to make more money so that his daughter can (eventually) go to college without a big debt hanging over her. So he puts in extra hours and stresses himself out and argues with his family because he’s exhausted. But oh, he’d be a horrible person if he let himself slack – how could he look his daughter in the eye if she had to take out loans for college?

Wow. Just… no. How about enjoying life, not being a shitty parent who’s never there, or finding other ways than becoming a monster?

I think my main issue with this book is that the author is in his mid-20s. I am turning into an old grump, but quite frankly I don’t think Clunis has the life experience needed to write a book like this – at least, not for people outside his own age group. He talks dismissively of people who never take risks, are never willing to lose everything to gain something better, and uses the example of Jim Carey’s father from a talk the actor gave once. Urm, right. ‘Cos a sane, responsible parent can afford to take that kind of gamble o.O

There are snippets of good advice, but that can’t mitigate the awful, smug tone, and quite frankly dreadful suggestions at times. Avoid.

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 3rd-17th April 2019

My rating: 3/10

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

winter soldier poster

I’ve said that I think Tony Stark is, in many ways, the ‘main character’ (arc) of the MCU, but running a close second is Steve Rogers aka Captain America. We met him in Phase 1, back in the 1940s, as he transformed from plucky kid to super-serum enhanced soldier. And we saw his shock at waking up in the 21st Century, after decades on ice, both at the end of that first outing, and again in Avengers.

CA:WS starts with Steve throwing himself into a new life as a soldier, albeit a very different kind than he started out as. His disdain for spywork and covert operations is clear. In fact, he seems to be having doubts that he can continue with what he sees as a dishonest occupation. But then a new threat rises: a ghost of an assassin, the mysterious Winter Soldier.

I do like the Captain America trilogy in the MCU, and this is quite possibly the strongest of the three (fitting, as Iron Man’s best is his first, and Thor’s third). Steve’s struggles to fit in give the piece its emotion, especially when you sense he’s just coming ’round to everyone’s urgings to move forward in life – right as the past catches him up.

The CA movies are about wars and spies, fighting and intrigue, and this movie has plenty of both. Cap is joined by Black Widow, Nick Fury, and newcomer Sam Wilson aka Falcon, and all are given their moments to kick ass. There are passing mentions of other Avengers, too, although not so much the events in New York – Iron Man 3 was set heavily against that, while Thor 2 and this seemed to pull away again. That, of course, will change with the next Avengers team up…!

This one is… better than I tend to remember. It feels a little buried in middle-film syndrome, but it’s actually a spot-on action movie with twists and turns that you forget how surprising they might have seemed at the time. It still stands up for repeat viewings, though, mainly for well-choreographed fights and excellent visuals.

Released: 26th March 2014
Viewed: 29th March 2014 / 20th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 136 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Preludes and Nocturnes – Neil Gaiman

preludes and nocturnes cover

Graphic novels should, it feels, appeal to me a whole lot more than they do. As it is, I read so fast the artwork tends to get lost, and it’s tough to make myself slow down enough to savour it. It works, then, to go back for rereads – like this, of a series that I rather adore.

I love Neil Gaiman’s work anyway, but never more so than with his tales of the Endless: Death, Dream, Desire, et al. The first collected volume is wholly centred on Morpheus, the ‘Sandman’, the King of Dreams.

We start when a cult’s ritual to summon and bind Death (Dream’s big sister) goes awry, and it’s the dreamlord who ends up trapped in a bubble for decades. Meanwhile more than one world starts to fall apart. Fair enough to assume Morpheus will escape, but can he fix everything his absence has caused in the worlds?

And so we set off on an extremely dark and bloody tale that takes our hero to hell and worse. There’s no shortage of cameos, tying this into the wider DC universe: from Arkham Asylum and a few familiar inmates, to a certain John Constantine, and a character that would go on to spawn (pun intended) further comics and a whole TV series: Lucifer Morningstar (looking not very much like Tom Ellis, and a great deal like David Bowie, as it happens…!).

Talking of looks, the artwork… to be honest, doesn’t do a great deal for me here. It’s fine, but it’s not as special as my brain remembers or I think the series deserves. It does improve, but at this point in both the series and the decade, it’s all just a bit so-so.

The story, however, is where it’s at. Gaiman also draws heavily from myth, from Cain and Abel to the Fates, and much more. It makes a lot of sense that Dream is so key to story telling, and all stories are part of it. I love the interplay, the different strands, the way all these realities clash and combine.

Much as I adore the overreaching story (in 11 volumes or so) I’d have to agree with the author in his afterword that these opening chapters are him finding his feet. It’s only towards the end that I really felt we were starting to settle into the characters.

But, the best is very definitely still ahead, so well worth dipping a toe into the beginnings…!

Trade Paperback: 240 pages / 8 sections
First published: 1989
Series: Sandman book 1
Read from 31st March – 6th April 2019

My rating: 7/10 – and so much more love for the rest of the series

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)

guardians of the galaxy 2 poster

Unlike most of the MCU, the characters from Guardians of the Galaxy haven’t shown up in the other movies. So, we had to wait three years – or, one day this time ’round 😉 – for our next chance to see them. Was it worth the wait?

(Obviously, spoilers for the first movie just by mentioning e.g. people that survived to be in this one.)

Banded together after the events of GotG1, our ragtag crew are now ‘heroes’ across the quadrant, taking jobs such as the one we (bar a ‘prologue’) open with. But, as the main crew are doing life-threatening battle in the background, the camera instead focuses on the most adorable Baby Groot, dancing away to Mr Blue Sky. Can I just say how much I LOVE this scene?!

Baby Groot is indeed one of the highlights for me, and the film isn’t short of them. But I have to get the squeeing out of the way first 🙂

Finding out at the end of the first movie that his father was indeed a ‘being of pure light’, as his ill mother told him, Peter is about to discover his daddy. What can possibly go wrong? We also have the sibling dynamics of Nebula and Gamora, everyone caring for little Baby Groot, and a few new faces.

So. GotG2 is a movie about families. The ones we’re born into, the ones we make for ourselves, the people who become family one way or another. That theme runs deep through the piece, holding together an otherwise slightly manic mix of new and dealing with the evolving group dynamic.

I skipped reviewing this when I first saw it, and I think it’s because it’s such a tough movie to do justice to. I gave it a 9 on my first viewing: the ending almost made me cry, so… y’know. From a comedy o.O However, I was struck by how much I’d forgotten: the civilisation of golden snobs, for instance, or all of the Ravager stuff. So, maybe a mark off for not being as memorable, or just putting too much in?

And yet, it does all work. The new characters – including the wonderfully dippy Mantis (although Drax’s attitudes to her are somewhat abusive while being played for laughs, which is a bit off) – fit in well enough without overshadowing the main group’s interactions with each other. The baddies are done well, feeling like quite natural flow of story.

It’s very fun, very well done, and only very slightly not hitting quite the same joie de vivre I felt for the first – much the same as the wonderful soundtrack, which doesn’t quite stick in the head as much. Still, I think I could stand to rewatch this a few more times…!

And did I mention enough: Baby Groot?!?! 🙂

Released: 28th April 2017
Viewed: 3rd May 2017 / 19th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 136 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

guardians of the galaxy poster

You’d think by the 10th movie in the MCU I’d’ve learned to trust them. But this was yet another brave-or-stupid move I was so wary of: welcome to ‘Marvel Cosmic’, where we leave behind the thin veneer of ‘reality’ and plunge headlong into a galaxy of talking racoons, walking trees, and aliens with brightly hued skin tones.

On the day his mother dies, Peter Quill is picked up by alien Ravagers, miscreants who loot across the galaxy. However, the tone of the piece is yet to be revealed. We catch up with Peter – aka Star-Lord – 20-odd years later, as he lands on a desolated planet. Where he proceeds to put on headphones, filling the cinema with a tap-along 70s classic, and we watch in disbelieving amusement as he dances along, kicking alien reptiles out of the way and even uses one as a fake microphone. What?!

Knowing nothing about the comics or the characters going in to this – and I had won early preview tickets, so there was no word of mouth either – this one just utterly surprised and delighted me. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and the laughs come thick and fast. There’s still a bucket load of action, and omg but it all looks so spectacular. It even manages to pull on a few heartstrings.

It’s also both a completely different feel from the MCU to date, but important in that overreaching mythology that’s only growing as the series progresses. It’s here that we get the first real explanation of the Infinity Stones, after Thor 2‘s post-credit scene confirmed that both the Aether and Tesseract are two of those. We see more of Thanos after his few previous cameos, so this, I feel, is where the whole Infinity Arc is really getting going, and where so much is set up for Infinity War and Endgame.

But most of all it’s just fun. Drax’s inability to understand metaphors. The snark of Rocket – so so good when we all thought a talking, CGI racoon was never going to work. And a walking tree creature with a three word vocabulary? Melted the heart, utterly.

I’ve heard someone suggest the Avengers are the Beatles, and the Guardians more the Stones (no pun intended?) – but they’re as much the Monkees, tbh. And with the soundtrack kicking ass, this movie just rocks 🙂

Released: 31st July 2014
Viewed: 24th July 2014 (prize!) / 18th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10 – pure joy, and so unexpected at the time – and completely rewatchable again and again!