The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

Rabbit Back Literature Society cover

“The reader was at first surprised, then shocked, as the criminal Raskolnikov was abruptly slain in the middle of the street, right before her eyes.”

Rabbit Back is a small town with a large literary heritage. World-famous children’s author, Laura White, is not only from the town but once set up the tituar Literature Society: nine young children taught how to be successful authors.

Decades later, and an observant eye might notice that the nine – all successful – seem to avoid each other. It might also notice the strange behaviour of all the local dogs, running away and congregating in packs of strays. There have been strange things afoot for years in this town, but the combination of the announcement that there will finally be a tenth Society member, and the mysterious disappearance of a resident, is set to rock the whole town.

And as the new member discovers The Game, and the books with text that mutates overnight, we delve deeper into the mysteries of Rabbit Back and the Literature Society…

Views on this book seem really mixed, with no shortage of 5 or 1 star reviews. I fall firmly into the former category: I loved this book! The mix of mystery and the supernatural, the latter fully supported by twisted human psychology, was just perfect to keep me glued to the pages. I do like fantasy fiction, which perhaps helped on some of the stranger elements of the story. I’m also less than easily shocked, which definitely helped with the scenes of mild torture and/or some sexual content. I suspect the mix is enough to put different people off for differing reasons, though.

However, if you are willing to brave all those factors, I thoroughly recommend this. The mix of human and magical, past and present, mysteries completely set my imagination alight, and I was more than sorry to see this one end.

Paperback: 344 pages / 39 chapters
First published: 2006 (2013 for English translation)
Series: none
Read from 8th-13th December 2017

My rating: 9/10

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The Last Jedi (2017)

Last Jedi poster

Phew – I can relax, no one can ‘get’ me with spoilers for the Biggest Movie Event of the Year (TM) now that I’ve seen it! I’ll provide none of my own, don’t worry.

I’ve always felt I was just the wrong age to be a huge Star Wars fan, and while I’m a huge (wannabe) geek I’ve always had that feeling that I’m just not into it enough to appreciate all the hype. I missed out on the original trilogy largely, I was less than enthused by the prequel trio, and while I rather enjoyed 2015’s The Force Awakens (aka episode 7) it felt more like a rehash of the original – yes, it was fun and I liked it but… it was missing something, some spark of originality or soul, perhaps?

I was a little surprised, then, when The Last Jedi side-swiped me into being the film that is finally making me geek out a LOT over this whole franchise! 🙂

Without mentioning specifics, this has a lot going for it: a more original storyline, lots of character development all ’round, cute critters in the form of porgs, some familiar faces, some new blood adding positively to the film. I laughed more than I expected – there are some genuinely funny moments, and it’s a huge boost to see a juggernaut like this not taking itself too seriously. And of course it looks spectacular, and is just chock-full of adventure and action and everything that makes Star Wars Star Wars!

It’s not perfect. I was a little puzzled by some of the plot threads, which were perhaps a little bit… pointless, dare I say? There were a few moments of “Why didn’t you just do that in the first place?!?!” and other slight logic flaws. The things that were maybe waiting for an explanation that either didn’t happen, or just were a bit underwhelming.

And then there are the visuals that make all of that just melt away. The eye candy is everywhere, from background details to fantastic wildlife: crystal foxes and the soon-to-be-ubiquitous porgs. The use of the colour red is particularly ‘wow’, from Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room to the planet where the very ground seems to bleed.

I had thought going in that 2.5 hours was going to feel like a long movie, but it really didn’t. I was genuinely swept up in the fun of the adventure, and the sense that there is a lot more story still to come. Finally, I think, I might be starting to understand a bit about the huge appeal of this universe!

Released: 14th December 2017
Viewed: 16th December 2017
Running time: 152 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10

Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy cover

“One moment asleep.”

And so we come to the closing of the wonderful Ancillary trilogy, some of the most impressively engaging sci-fi I’ve read this year. As ever, if you don’t want even a hint of what might have gone before, I’d suggest not reading a review of the third installment 😉

Book one, Ancillary Justiceintroduced us to Breq, a ship’s AI mind now trapped in a single ‘ancillary’ body. The second chapter, Ancillary Sword, saw Breq more or less avoiding the galactic war raging as she (and, must mention, everyone is a ‘she’, male or female – still adds to the otherworldly feel, even as I get used to it!) takes command of a warship and goes about setting right the wrongs she perceives in the civilisation at Athoek Station.

Mercy was criticised somewhat for taking the story down very small after such a grand opening, but here we see the larger picture come crashing in to the smaller stage – and it works very well, more so for having had that time to connect on an intimate scale.

It’s a lot to ask for this book to wrap up a galactic tyrant at war with herself, a civilisation being forced to abandon old prejudices, and a handful of broken soldiers serving under the command of an even more broken AI. And yet, it delivers: I’d say with satisfying resolutions all ’round, even while giving that sense of a much, much wider story continuing on.

I’m kind of sad to say goodbye to these characters – but can’t wait to visit another part of the universe in Provenance.

Paperback: 328 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: Radch book 3
Read from 3rd-10th December 2017

My rating: 9/10

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

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