Greenglass House – Kate Milford

Greenglass House cover

“There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smugglers’ town.”

It’s the first day of the Christmas holidays, and Milo already has his homework out of the way so he can enjoy the festivities with his parents. Then, disaster: the usually quiet season for their family-run hotel is disturbed by not just one unexpected guest, but an increasing parade of odd and shifty characters. It seems obvious that they’re all looking for something – probably the same thing – but what on earth could be hidden in the home Milo’s lived in all his life?

After reluctantly teaming up with the housekeeper’s youngest daughter, Meddie, the pair set out to discover the secrets of Greenglass House. After all, it was once owned by a famous smuggler…

I am so, so glad I took up the recommendation to read this book – and to read it instantly, not do my usual of adding it to the insane reading pile – as it is quite possibly the best thing I’ve read in ages! Fair warning: it’s a ‘middle grade’ book, so the main character is about eleven, but think Narnia or Sabriel – by which I mean, the themes are still a little dark at times, and the language is totally not ‘dumbed down’, despite the suitable-for-younger readers status. It’s also hugely suitable for older readers, who are open to having a little magic in their lives 🙂

There is an absolute magic in this story, in the way it swept me up and stirred up memories of childhood adventures – or at least, the ones I imagined, whereas Milo and Meddie get to have the reality of familiar surroundings becoming so much more exciting. The plot is a perfect mix of mystery and adventure and a little of the supernatural. It’s also got a huge amount of heart, not least from the background detail of Milo’s adoptive status. Overall, it’s just lovely!

Not only was I utterly in the mood for that, but reading this actually reminded me of why I want to write: to capture the excitement and enthusiasm for stories, for adventures. I can’t give that anything less than full marks!

Do yourself a favour: at time of writing this is still on sale in the Kindle store, under ÂŁ2. It’s an absolutely perfect, slightly cosy but still exciting book to snuggle up with and particularly appropriate for the Christmas season. Go go go!! 🙂

Kindle: 384 pages / 15 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: Greenglass House book 1 (of 2 so far)
Read from 11th-15th October 2017

My rating: 10/10

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Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

BladeRunner 2049 poster

I’m finding this such a hard movie to review, I can barely imagine how difficult it must have been to make! The original Blade Runner (1982) has become one of the cornerstones of science fiction cinema. The look, the noir-ish feel, the music – all iconic. So, first rule of sequel: don’t destroy that kind of legacy!

And – phew! – BR2049 doesn’t. In fact, it does a lot of things very right. However… I dunno, perhaps my expectations were set too high, but while I thoroughly admire what they’ve done here, I’m giving it a lower mark (still 8/10!) than I thought I would.

First off the good stuff: it looks fantastic. I means, the world is a bit grubby and not-nice, and yet the visuals are still mindblowing. Cinematography Oscar, surely – and given the man responsible is Roger Deakins more than overdue, too!

The cast were all really great, too. I’ve never wholly understood the massive appeal of Ryan Gosling, but his slightly blank approach here works very well for the character. It’s his movie: Harrison Ford doesn’t show up until well through the extended running time, and to be honest it would have been great if they could have left that as a surprise.

Ah, yes: avoiding spoilers! This is definitely one of those movies where going in as un-informed as possible is a plus, which only adds to the difficulties in reviewing! So, no plot details from me, just the vague: Blade Runner Ryan Gosling is sent on a mission that might have a far bigger consequence than anyone could know. Along the way he has to deal with Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the new owner of what was the Tyrell Company, who has his own agenda and one of the new, ‘obedient’ replicants, Luv (Syvia Hoeks), to push it.

So why didn’t this hit quite as many buttons for me as I’d hoped? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest – quite frankly, it should have. Perhaps the plot wasn’t as surprising as it was for others, given that a few threads of it have appeared (and not desperately well handled, tbh) in the KW Jeter ‘sequel’ books? I suspect it might be more to do with the ten million different versions of the original movie – with rather different views on a certain Big Issue – leaving this one with a slight dilemma on which to follow. And while many reviewers are praising the way this, too, leaves that ambiguity, I actually felt that only one version actually makes sense – given a few lines, and the overall plot – and it’s not the one I was a fan of. Ho-hum.

Another slight discomfort for me was the sheer amount of female nudity and sexualisation. It’s not the film’s fault to have opened in a time where this is such a trigger issue, but still: it feels like every variation of subservient womanhood is portrayed here, from the virtual and porn-esque representations, to the actual prostitute and the unappreciated ‘secretary’-type. It was all just a bit ‘off’, somehow, given the present culture of Hollywood and beyond.

That said, don’t think I didn’t enjoy this because I did. Flaws aside, the visual spectacle alone is worth a watch, and unlike some other recent eye candy, this has a great deal going on underneath that. The main character’s story arc is handled extremely well, the baddies are a delight, and there’s enough left unsaid or unexplained (black out, anyone? Oh, but how perfect to explain the retro-tech!) to add a layer of intrigue and imagination stimulation.

So: 8/10. Excellent, but not perfect, ymmv and all that, but sooo worth seeing on the big screen for the wow-factor.

Released: 5th October 2017
Viewed: 18th October 2017
Running time: 163 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

A Pocketful of Crows – Joanne M Harris

A Pocketful of Crows cover

“The year it turns, and turns, and turns.”

Taking inspiration from The Child Ballads (which I’ll confess I’d never heard of, but turn out to be a collection of traditional ballads collected by Francis Child, rather than songs about children!), A Pocketful of Crows is a lovely, if dark, fairy tale-esque story of the magic of nature, and love, and revenge.

Set over thirteen chapters, one for each month and back to the beginning again, the use of the seasons is really wonderful. We follow a nameless wildling girl, a creature of the forest, who risks her innate magic for the love of a young man from the town. The outcome of this has a real sense of dread and inevitability through the first third or so of the book, with the remainder taken up with consequences.

I really enjoyed this. It’s very immersive for a relatively short book, catching up my emotional response almost from the get-go. My only minor complaints would be the use of the terms ‘folk’ and ‘travelling folk’ for the two kinds of people in the story, which I found a little confusing at first, and the ending just seemed ever so slightly abrupt.

Perhaps another few paragraphs could have lightened the mood a little, as overall it’s quite a dark tale, and I must confess I love the slightly more whimsical nature of T Kingfisher in her fairytale retellings. That’s a personal thing, though, as the cold indifference of nature, or at least its mix of dark and light, is perhaps one of the themes here.

Recommended, particularly for those who enjoy their fairy tales but are perhaps looking for something a little more unique.

NetGalley eARC: 256 pages / 13 chapters
First published: 19th October 2017
Series: none
Read from 28th September – 6th October 2017

My rating: 8/10

Death Overdue – Allison Brook

death overdue cover

“Time to move on.”

I’m getting quite fond of the ‘cosy mystery’ genre, turning to these kinds of titles for easy and uplifting reads. I also love books set in libraries, so this sounded like a win-win.

Carrie Singleton is getting ready to leave her childhood town again and go back to her rootless existence when she’s offered a better role at the library where she’s been temping. One of her first tasks is organising a talk by a former police detective, one who’s now promising to solve the cold case he failed with fifteen years before: the murder of a local mother and library employee. However, it seems that the secret killer might be less than keen to let him have his say…

There’s plenty to enjoy reading this book, but in all honesty I can’t give it a very high rating. It’s a lot more ‘chick-lit’ and romance-based than I would have hoped, which could be fine, but alas that pushes the mystery and paranormal bits not only to lesser importance but to rather rushed and not-great written parts. The opening murder, for instance, seems very clunkily handled: a ‘I know I need this bit, but not quite how to write it’ feeling, which is a real shame.

There’s also the usual fluffy genre failing of the heroine’s too-perfect life falling into her lap. First it’s the near-perfect job – okay, that one comes with half an explanation. But then there’s the massively reduced rent on an amazing house, interested dishy men to chose from, family who spoil her endlessly, enemies made good, and heck – we can even squeeze a kitten in here because why not?! I didn’t even wholly like the main character, with her goth look so easily cast aside, murky reasonings for turning sleuth and quite frankly daft ways of stumbling onwards, and not-great treatment of other characters.

Still, it was easy enough to read and keep going with, despite the flaws. Perhaps the next in the series will be able to build on the strengths – an intriguing and helpful library ghost, for instance, or perhaps an explanation as to how this particularly library is so well-funded – and lose some of the fluffier failings.

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 37 chapters
First published: October 2017
Series: A Haunted Library Mystery book 1
Read from 6th-11th October 2017

My rating: 5/10

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice cover

“The body lay naked and facedown, a deathly gray, spatters of blood staining the snow around it.”

I’ve been hearing amazing things about this book and its sequels, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, for quite some time now. Me being me, it takes me a while to get ’round to things – but I’m rather glad I finally did!

Told from a first-person viewpoint, the unique selling point here is that the narrator isn’t exactly human: she’s an ‘ancillary’. It takes a little while before you find out what that means, but that’s okay. In the opening chapter, we meet her as Breq, a “piece of equipment, a part of the ship”, who has somehow gone from being a huge AI with hundreds of avatars and outlets to just one single, human, body.

Initially the story is divided into two separate timelines between alternating chapters. And so we have a ‘now’, with Breq, and at the same time begin to discover the events that have led to the more recent situation as well as the type of culture that has given rise to it all. Alongside that, there are hints of even older events, but as long as you pay a little attention (and if it helps: to whether you’re on an odd or even numbered chapter), it’s not too confusing.

Perhaps a little more confusing – and, deliberately so – is the default to a female pronoun. The AI and the Radch culture have little interest in gender, finding it puzzling how much store other societies place on it. For the modern Earth reader, it’s a purposeful challenge to see how calling everyone ‘she’ and then perhaps revealing them to be male forces us to face up to certain stereotypes. To be honest, I could be irritated at such obvious politics, but it actually works really well in adding to the ‘sci-fi’ strangeness of the story.

The story itself actually never quite reaches the dizzying scale of the world building, in my view, but it was still satisfying while at the same time leaving me more than keen to press on with the sequels. I also think it lends itself very well to future rereads, as there’s layers of depth here – just, wonderful!

Oh, and there are two prequel stories available to read online: Night’s Slow Poison, and She Commands Me and I Obey. Enjoy!

Kindle: 410 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: Imperial Radch book 1 (of 3)
Read from 5th-25th September 2017

My rating: 9/10

The Easy Way to Mindfulness – Allen Carr

Easy Way to Mindfulness cover

What if there was a simple, no-effort way to reduce stress, free yourself from anxiety and depression, and increase your happiness? This book’s not quite promising to magically transform your life into rainbows and unicorns, but it’s not far off!

I actually am a huge believer in the power of mindfulness, and meditation, and have experienced a positive change in my life from years of both. However, I’m by no means an expert so any help is more than welcome. Step forward this ‘Easy Way’ title, from the people who apparently devised the best quit smoking method ever – surely a good credential?

Well, they seem to think so, as the book half-reads as a giant advert for the system and previous books – which I found massively irritating. Even discounting those bits, the examples tend to go back to smokers – which was beyond irrelevant to me, and actually left me struggling as I have no experience to connect to such an addiction. Could I move the example over to, say, tea or chocolate? Not so much – unlike smoking, there isn’t the same black-and-white it’s awful, and quite frankly I don’t really want to give up tea or chocolate (having done both at certain points) so this “every smoker absolutely wants to quit” message is again pushing me away.

So: I’d suggest that this is perhaps a book for people who have or want to quit smoking, drinking, gambling, etc, perhaps even using the Easy Way method, and want to go deeper into the mindful techniques that they’ve already used for that.

I did quite like some of the imagery: head in a box of flies-that-are-your-issues, mindfulness is not trying to squish the flies but rather taking your head out of the box. One chapter (13) in particular resonated with me, about the struggling against things being more stressful than the thing itself; life is change, go with the flow etc etc.

However, while there are little bits and pieces like that throughout the book – and these are handily summarised in a final chapter run through (that could, I suspect, have been the outline for a better stab at the full content) – I felt it could have been much better written, with a lot more flow. Paragraphs don’t always follow from the previous one, but rather jump around a little, and the content of each chapter isn’t necessarily as strongly linked to the title as I would have expected.

It really doesn’t help that every single chapter seems to include heavy advertising for the quit smoking clinics and previous books. This is shoe-horned in regardless of whether it actually fits with the mindfulness concept under discussion, which was hugely off-putting. And then the last 10% of the book is a list of clinics’ contact details and previous books o_O

Overall: it’s got some useful advice buried in the advertising, and I suspect that if you’re already a member of the Easy Way audience this might resonate more with you, but I couldn’t help be disappointed that it wasn’t a little more helpful, a little more on-topic (I am hugely interested in mindfulness, after all!) and a little less advertisement for a product I have no use for.

NetGalley eARC: 197 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 15th October 2017
Series: part of the Easy Way series of self-help books
Read from 3rd-7th October 2017

My rating: 5/10

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Kingsman Golden Circle poster

I thoroughly enjoyed the mad romp that was Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), turning the spy genre (which was particularly over-represented in the cinema for a couple of years) into a much more fun and madcap place. This sequel attempts to take that pace, that irreverence, that sense of out and out fun, and turn it up to eleven. Million!!!!

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) seems to be settling in to his new life nicely, taking over the Galahad title from poor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and all loved up with his Swedish Princess, Tilde (Hanna Alström). But when the world’s biggest and most successful drug dealer ever, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) decides she’s no longer happy hiding in the shadows, her first step is taking out those pesky Kingsmen.

And so, with only Merlin (Mark Strong) to keep him company, Eggsy must turn to the American branch of the private spy world: The Statesmen. Can they help – will they? And, in fact, can they be trusted?

There is a lot of gleeful, romp-worthy, tongue in cheek nonsense going on here which makes Kingsman 2 a heck of a lot of fun. The action sequences are top notch, the way everything pokes fun at Bond is a delight, and then there’s the Bigger Location budget. Bigger Stars budget. Bigger EVERYTHING – yee haa!! – all of which is very obvious on screen.

BUT I think this is possibly the problem. All those big names seem to be practically cameos – I was left a bit confused, as I thought (from the trailers and interviews) that e.g. Channing Tatum was actually in this movie, not just, y’know, in it a little bit. Jeff Bridges’ role is even slighter, and while Halle Berry’s character gets more screentime, it’s a little meh. The actual cameos – Keith Allen and a having-a-fabulous-time-of-it-darling Elton John are a lot of fun, but overall there’s just too many familiar faces with not a great deal to do.

Talking of familiar faces, it’s no secret that Colin Firth manages to reprise his role despite the end of the last movie. I suppose it’s not the most ridiculous come back in cinema history o_O However, while the movie would not have worked without him, the character didn’t quite seem to… fit… somehow? Hmm. Perhaps if there’d been less distraction with all the shiny new Big Names?

Overall, I’m left having really quite enjoyed K2, even at the longer-than-it-should-have-been running time (which, I will admit, allows for quite a rounded story and not just the usual ‘make everything faster’ blur), but at the same time a bit disappointed. Just because you can throw everything and everyone in, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.

Still, would I go see a third installment? Ye hah, darlin’ – lasso it on it over! 🙂

Released: 20th September 2017
Viewed: 2nd October 2017
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10