Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore – Matthew Sullivan

“Lydia heard the distant flap of paper wings as the first book fell from its shelf.”

Mystery set in a bookshop? Well, that’s me sold already! Small warning, though, that this is not a cosy mystery à la Elementary, She Read, but a fair bit darker. However, it’s firmly in the ‘mystery’ and not ‘thriller’ category, so nothing trying to make you jump – perfect!

We start off with the suicide of a regular patron – a ‘bookfrog’ (heh, it was meant to be reviewed here, wasn’t it!? 🙂 ) – of the titular bookstore. When Lydia finds the body, she also finds a 20-year-old photo of her tenth birthday party in his pocket. How? Why? And then another photo – a newspaper snap of her coming out of the bookstore alongside the stretcher – suddenly brings a rush of her long-avoided past to sweep her back up.

While most of the story follows the current interlacing mysteries, we get plenty of flashback chapters, taking us back to a time just after that first photo was taken, when Lydia lives through a huge trauma – no spoilers! – that is still impacting on her life today. Old friends, estranged parents – it seems like everyone is coming out of the woodwork, and Lydia will no longer be able to put her past behind her.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, including the slightly darker tone. Lydia is a very well-written character, with just the right amount of fear and courage, and believable responses to things that (have) happen(ed). The other characters are kept more secondary, but not 2-dimensional, keeping the focus on the plot’s twists and turns. Okay, so the final denouement perhaps relies on a few too many coincidences, but for the main they are woven very organically into the story and kept me guessing the whole way.

I think, with this book, I’ve come to realise that I really like the mystery genre. I’ve dabbled in the past with more ‘thrillers’, but am rarely in the mood for that kind of ‘Danger! Danger!’ approach. MatBIB kept me mentally intrigued, without having to reach into the disturbing territory. More like this, please!

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 27 chapters plus epilogue
First published: August 2017
Series: none
Read from 5th-9th July 2017

My rating: 8/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

We’ve had a couple of takes on the Spider-Man movies – first Toby Maguire, then Andrew Garfield – and then last year’s Captain America: Civil War introduced us to Tom Holland’s version, as the rights between Sony and Marvel got a bit (more?) less complicated and the web-slinger was allowed to join the Avengers.

Well, not quite join. In Homecoming, Peter Parker returns from helping Tony Stark aka Iron Man keen to get the call for another mission. However, Tony rightfully sees a 15 year old school kid as having no place out fighting real bad guys (as opposed to stopping misguided good guys!) and instead sets Peter the task of first mastering being a ‘friendly neighbourhood spider’. Of course, teenagers always think they know best…

Spider-Man has never been my favourite hero (and not just because I’m an arachnophobe!), and while I reasonably enjoyed the previous movie versions I wasn’t turned into that big a fan. However, I *am* a huge fan of the Marvel MCU (yes, including the bit where you have to see ALL the movies! 😉 ) so seeing where they could take the character was always going to be intriguing.

And so, yes, we get something that is much closer to being an Avengers movie – good. But we also have a John Hughes-influenced highschool story going on, which is… less good. Fine, but, well, y’know. I’m old now, okay?! 😉 And suddenly it makes a bit more sense why I was never the biggest fan of the character.

I did like the pick of Vulture (no, I’d never heard of him before either!) as the baddie: a working class guy bitter at the rich guys having all the luck and power, using salvaged alien technology to steal more. So, no radiation or experiments or innate superpowers. It’s actually quite a clever reflection of Tony Stark, one set either side of Spider-Man. And the character, played by Michael Keaton (surely something in there about Birdman, referencing Batman…!), gets both a hint of pantomime baddy but also a surprising underlying set of morals. One of the better villains, if a little less flashy.

I was very pleased that we skipped the whole origin story again – this Peter has been putting on the mask for quite a while before Stark finds him – but there’s still a feeling of setting things up a bit here (there’s a whole ‘thing’ near the end that you should google for after seeing the movie – it went right over my head, tbh) while at the same time expecting you to know a bit about the character already.

So overall we end up with a perfectly reasonable installment in one ongoing franchise, if a slightly less satisfying set up of a new branch of it, and actually no you probably don’t need to have seen many/any of the others. There are a few clips of the big Civil War fight to let you know that happened, but Spidey didn’t get so involved that it really matters too much. And while I’m not a huge fan of teenage crushes and school woes and all that, it was appropriate to the character, and nice to see him being played by an actual (just!) teenager instead of a 30-year-old 😉

Released: 5th July 2017
Viewed: 7th July 2017
Running time: 133 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

A Gathering of Ravens – Scott Oden

“The storm howled out of the west like the terrible voice of God, shouting down the heretics who doubted the coming Apocalypse.”

The last kin of (a version of) Grendel – the monster in Beowulf – is on a mission to wreak vengeance on his brother’s killer. Along the way, he toys with a Norse warrior turned monk and his young apprentice, little knowing the impact one of them will have on both his quest and his unnaturally long life.

As the trail leads from Denmark to Ireland, the reader is treated to ancient myths meeting the rise of Christianity, in a tale of gods, kings and monsters, unlikely alliances, revenge and recreating yourself and the world.

I do wish I’d enjoyed this book more than I did. There’s a lot to be liked about it, including the mix of history and myth and the effort to cast orcs as part of both. However, I must be honest: I found the whole thing just a bit of a slog. Not bad by any means – and I did finish it, after all! – but there was something that just fell flat for me about the whole thing.

The characters, for instance, are either monstrous (well, on purpose!) and therefore unlikeable (mostly), or in my view just a bit… damp. I could not fathom the motivations of at least one main character, and therefore had very little empathy for dangers then encountered. As the story progresses, we switch from unpronounceable Norse names to a long list of old Irish, but as none of these characters are really there for any reason other than to further the plot, it just became an effort to remember who was who.

As for that plot, I found it a little too linear: creature seeks revenge. Other character is dragged along for the ride. Perhaps with something more involved, I would have been too. I did like the historic period – c.1000 AD – and the attempts to show the new ‘Nailed God’ worshippers ousting the old, more pagan ways, but there was either not enough explanation, or just too much reliance on ‘because: faith’, and either way I felt… meh.

Thankfully, I seem to be in the minority on this one, if Goodreads reviews are anything to go by. I could sense the love and passion that had gone into the writing, even before I read the afterword about ‘the story that wouldn’t let go’, and the author’s aims – which were fab to read. But, alas, this one just wasn’t for me.

NetGalley eARC: 400 pages
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 4th June – 5th July 2017

My rating: 5/10 – just didn’t grab me, ymmv

Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft – Mindy Klasky

girls guide to witchcraft cover

“They don’t teach witchcraft in library school.”

Every once in a while I feel the need for some light reading – often while I’m slogging through something heavier – and recently I’ve been more inclined to dabble with genres I would previously had recoiled from in horror: namely, chicklit and paranormal romance. Yeah o_O

GGtW was an Amazon freebie I must have downloaded ages ago, attracted by the mix of magic and libraries. If I have to put up with some soppy girlie stuff along the way, so be it, right?

Jane is a librarian, and a bit of a mouse. I’m sad to say she actually does the whole removes-glasses-gets-haircut-becomes-hot (and fyi you do NOT start wearing contact lenses without weeks of pain!) over the course of the book (hardly a spoiler), but at least it’s through her own volition, more or less.

Viewed in the right frame of mind, it is actually quite nice to see her starting to like herself more and develop some confidence, as she is a bit sad at the start of the book, pining after her ‘Imaginary Boyfriend’ (her words) a year after being dumped by her fiance. She has the cheek to be a bit catty about her best friend’s military-like plan for churning through first dates, especially as bf is in the story mainly to be there every single time for our ‘heroine’.

Talking of, it’s not long before Jane discovers the collection of magic books in her new basement, summons a familiar by mistake, and goes on to have a few magical disasters over the course of the book. First mistake? Casting a love spell…! o_O

It’s hard to be wholly positive about this book, as it is utter fluff, but I confess I did rather enjoy it. It’s very daft, very VERY light reading, and exactly what I was looking for to balance the slog of the other tome I’m currently struggling with. Are there flaws? Of course – and a whole heap of cliches too!

Recommended? Urm, probably not to the tastes of anyone I know – although, I suspect y’all would be keeping this as a guilty secret anyway 😉

Kindle: 432 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2006
Series: Jane Maddison book 1
Read from 25th June – 3rd July 2017

My rating: 6/10

Baby Driver (2017)

Coerced into being the getaway driver for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey) and a revolving set of thieves (including Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal), Baby (Ansel Elgort) dreams of the day his debt is paid off and he can walk away. Oh, if only things were so simple! Unfortunately, Baby is too good to let go – but it’s not long before his yearning to escape starts causing things to go a bit wrong…

There’s not a great deal of plot here, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest. It’s not about the plot – which is absolutely fine and solid – but the style in which it is told. And what style! Imagine the scene from Shawn of the Dead, with the zombies being beaten with pool cues to the beat of Don’t Stop Me Now – but take that ethic and apply it to a whole movie of car chases!

This isn’t a musical, don’t worry, but Baby’s ‘hum in the drum’ tinnitus leads him to listen to music all the time – and so the viewer also gets to hear the songs, cleverly choreographed with the action. Look, too, for an early scene of Baby using his soundtrack to enliven his coffee run, and the background graffiti, etc is tied in with it all.

While I enjoyed all of the music and the action and even the simple story a great deal, I felt just a tiny bit ‘meh’ about both the ending and the romance plot line – the latter down to me not liking Lily James much, and finding the character far too drippy. But overall it was still a LOT of fun, and highly recommended!

Released: 28th June 2017
Viewed: 30th June 2017
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death – James Runcie

“Canon Sidney Chambers had never intended to become a detective.”

An unconventional young vicar finds a bit of excitement in an otherwise quiet life by investigating crimes with his police detective best mate. His dog collar gives him a great way to poke about where the police might not be welcome, and generally gets people to open up to him. Set in 1950s Cambridgeshire (Grantchester is an actual village not far from the university city), the prospect of a cosy (urm, I was a bit wrong!) period mystery and if I’m honest a dishy leading man somehow got me watching the TV adaptation rather compulsively. When I ran out of episodes, I turned to the original books.

The first story, The Shadow of Death, is familiar as the opening episode of the TV adaptation – very familiar, in fact, as a pretty straight transfer. The next three are also familiar, but have been given far more drama for the screen, and so can feel a little odd reading them after viewing. And of the last two, I wasn’t entirely surprised the scriptwriters decided to skip them, not least because of the odd tone of the sexualised kidnapping, quite out of place with the rest of this book.

If I’m being even more honest, without the eye-candy of both leading actors and rather lovely period setting (yes, I’d love to cycle down empty country roads with a pet labrador!), the books aren’t quite so appealing. This book is definitely more on the cosy side (apart from a few moments, as above), but also lacks some degree of the drama. The romantic story is also completely changed, and without that there does feel to be something a bit flatter in the writing – Sidney-in-text is so much less driven, more realistic, and a tad less interesting.

I also found the writing style, particularly the dialogue, to be a bit stilted. Perhaps it’s a ‘period’ thing, but the lack of contractions (so, all “I am” not “I’m”, “I do not”, etc etc) feels quite stiff. The extra time spent in a vicar’s head is also less than fascinating, tbh!

I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the second volume – this wasn’t bad at all, but as I say, it turns out the character’s biggest appeal is probably the amount of time he spends (on screen) taking his shirt off 😉

Kindle: 400 pages / 6 stories
First published: 2012
Series: Grantchester Mysteries book 1 of 6
Read from 30th April – 21st June 2017

My rating: 6/10

The Mummy (2017)

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is not a very nice guy, using his role as army reconnaissance as an excuse to loot antiquities from warzones. However, he’s about to get his comeuppance when a mission goes a little awry, and he ends up uncovering the prison-tomb of a cursed Egyptian princess with a dark thirst for power and death.

This new version of The Mummy (with absolutely nothing to do with the Brendan Fraser/Arnold Vosloo version) is the first in an intriguing new ‘Dark Universe’ series, supposedly bringing all those old Universal monster movies back to a new audience. Based on this, though, I’m not going to hold my breath that we’ll see any more of the series…

Because, yes, the reviews were right and this movie is quite a bit of a mess. It’s not unwatchable, in the right frame of mind, but it’s got very little to recommend the effort, tbh.

First off, the plot: it’s not very different from the previous version(s), in that an ancient evil is awoken (through greed, mainly), and starts stalking the person/people responsible in an effort to regain power and facial tissue and generally take over the world or something. Other mummies are raised as minions (not actual Minions, which would be hilarious, just small-m-minions to do all the legwork) whilst the big bad does a Terminator-esque slow march towards folk, whining about something or other before sucking faces off. Does anything else happen? Urm, not so much.

There is that element of ‘shared universe’, which adds a clunky layer of exposition to the movie. Here is a group tackling evil. I think. Something like that. Did I care? Hmm.

And of course, the cast. Cruise is at least trying to break the mold a little, and spends half the movie in a concussed, confused, vaguely drunk kind of a state – urm, okay… At least it’s better than Annabelle Wallis as the brains of the piece, who brings a strangled, mouth-full-of-marbles quality to a truly dreadfully written role. The pair share less chemistry than… than… well, than the rest of the movie, which is entirely chemistry free o_O

On the plus-ish side, Sofia Boutella does reasonably well as the Mummy, particularly with the physical demands, although the character is hardly well rounded. Jake Johnson gets to have a good time as the comic relief buddy, but tonally it’s all just a little off – and that’s half the problem, nothing entirely seems to fit within this movie.

The other half of the problem is the awful dialogue. I shall say no more – and wish the scriptwriters had thought of that!! o_O

So. No, don’t bother. The action levels could be vaguely fun (I do get the impression the rest of the movie was just an excuse for the airplane crash), but just so disappointing and uneven that I’m sure there are many, many better options for your cinema bucks.

Released: 9th June 2017
Viewed: 23rd June 2017
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10 and that might be generous