Bound – Mark Lawrence

bound cover

“‘So what, Nona Grey, is X?'”

This short story takes place between the events of Grey Sister and Holy Sister in the Book of the Ancestor trilogy. You don’t need to read it to enjoy the main series. Indeed, you’d need to be quite the fan to get this, as it’s quite costly for its brevity – I would have baulked totally if the rest of the series hadn’t come to me as review copies.

The aftermath of the events at the end of the former book aren’t described until flashbacks in book 3, but we pick up with the novices back in Sweet Mercy convent. Someone is poisoning the younger members of the Sis nobility, and Sister Kettle is determined to find out who. Who better than Ara to go undercover, back in the society role she left behind?

There’s nothing to dislike about this story. It deepens the bond between Nona and Ara that we’ve seen along the way, and explains a little more about ring fighter Regol’s place in the ongoing story.

That said, it’s a bit of an outtake in my opinion. You don’t need to read it for the rest of the series – and, that in itself detracts from the tale. Still, one for fans, and I am definitely that!

kindle: 49 pages
First published: 2018
Series: Book of the Ancestor book 2.5 (of 3)
Read from 17th-18th April 2019

My rating: 7/10

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Grey Sister – Mark Lawrence

grey sister cover

“The dissolution of any monastery or convent is not something to be lightly undertaken.”

Red Sister was one of my favourite fantasy novels in years, so much so that when the final installment (Holy Sister) fell into my little paws I didn’t hesitate to go back for a reread before this middle installment.

Following the events from that first book, the surviving novices and sisters have returned to the convent of Sweet Mercy. But politics abound in the Empire, and Nona Grey has to face not only the trials of Mystic classes, but the hatred of a wealthy lord, the schemings of an emperor’s sister, and the horror of the Inquisition.

One of the things I loved about the first book was the world building, and the hints that things were more than they seem. Where are the four races from? Who are the Missing? We get a little more information about the shiphearts and the Arks here, but no real answers. More questions, of course! Foremost of those would be: who the heck is this Keot? The author even pre-warns us before starting the story that we’re not meant to know who he is, he has just ‘appeared’ since the first volume.

We also seem to have jumped forward a fair bit of time which felt a little jarring. Given the amount that happens in book 1, especially at the ending, it doesn’t feel right that the span from then to ‘now’ was so quiet – Keot aside. And to skip over all of his introduction… argh!

Some of the characters have changed, too, in ways that might have made more sense if the passage of time wasn’t so truncated. Kettle, for instance, is almost more friend than teacher now, which doesn’t not make sense, but still.

But, that all soon falls by the wayside as we are once again caught up in the politics and scheming of a world that is slowly being consumed by ice. Nona’s self-discover has led to much great confidence and some new fighting techniques, and if that at times felt a little Logan-esque to me the action still stays high and the intrigue abounds.

Of course there is an element of middle book syndrome, with most things already explored to an extent but no resolution. Still, book three is in my hands and started, so I won’t complain too much! It’s still very well written, intriguing fantasy, and I cannot wait to see where it’s going to end.

NetGalley eARC: 417 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Book of the Ancestor book 2
Read from 26th March – 15th April 2019

My rating: 8.5/10

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

thor 2 poster

Ah, don’t say I’m not good to you… this isn’t the worst chapter of the MCU, but it’s certainly not a high point. I’ve put off watching it so long I have 9 days and 13 movies left in my rewatch ‘Road to Endgame’. Well. Let’s see what we can do!

At the end of the first Thor (2011) (spoiler warning!) Thor and Jane Foster are separated by the destruction of the Bifrost. We pick up with both pining for the other. We also pick up Loki’s story, as the end of Avengers (2012) sees him returned to Asgard in chains.

But first, we get a little history and a voice over, about the Dark Elves and their desire to use an ancient, all-powerful substance called the Aether. Stopped by Bor, Odin’s father, the Aether is too powerful to destroy and is buried somewhere it will never be found… well…!

On the plus side, this movie gives us those ongoing stories, and a lot of very lovely visuals – including more of Asgard – and another of those Infinity Stones backstories (there is mention of stones, even if this one is a liquid-like substance). However, in also giving us more of fan-fav Loki (who apparently wasn’t meant to be in this movie, at least not so much) it dilutes the use of the new enemy, the Dark Elves, led by a very awkward-looking Chris Eccleston, so fresh from regenerating the entire series of Dr Who. Loki and his story are very good and very well done, but the film suffers majorly from the meh of the new race and its powerful weapon.

That said, as with so much of this series, it does benefit from being seen as part of the bigger whole, especially the character development of Thor and Loki, and even Odin. We get glimmers of humour that made Ragnarok (2017) my probably-favourite of the MCU when it’s allowed to come to the fore.

Able to view it like that it’s not as bad as all that, even though it was a bit disappointing at the time. In hindsight, though, there are a lot of little moments that will echo in future movies, so I’m glad of the rewatch.

Released: 30th October 2013
Viewed: 9th November 2013 / 16th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Hellboy (2019)

hellboy poster

When the Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), first tried to usher in an Age of Monsters, it was King Arthur (yes, that King Arthur, as the voice over tells us!) and Merlin who stopped her. Unable to end her unnatural life, they settle for dismembering her and sending the caskets of her pieces (arms, head, etc) to be buried at the four corners of the world.

Rescued as a spawnling at the end of World War II and raised by Professor Broom (Ian McShane), Hellboy (David Harbour) is about to have his ‘teenage’ angst moment, wondering why he helps the humans kill the ‘monsters’, when he himself is so obviously part of the latter group. And of course, a sorcerous little voices isn’t shy of pushing that thought into his head…

This is a reboot of the Hellboy series, following two films starring Ron Perlman in the titular role. He was so good, even if the movies were a bit mixed, it was a tricky prospect thinking of anyone else stepping into those boots. In fact, I’d say David Harbour (previously the sheriff in Stranger Things) is one of the best things about this adaptation, capturing the look, the snark, the entire attitude.

Alas, reviews were not promising going in to this – but it does help having low expectations. It’s not actually bad, just a bit overly-busy and slightly odd in tone. It is, however, very comic-book-esque, which fits rather well with the source. I think that sways how people find the whole thing.

Still, it was far from perfect. It loses points from me because it rehashes the story I’ve already seen. I was going to say the fantasy-leanings were a bit fresher, but no, we’ve had faeries and goblins and that kind of thing in both of the previous attempts. Ho-hum.

Harbour was good, but the rest of the cast did very little for me except hurt my ears with atrocious, plummy and fake English accents. Why?! Although of course it’s tough not to like Ian McShane being very himself. His voice-over at the beginning is a high point, detailing daft fantasy things with a lot of swearing and a very non-fantastically sensibility (“They were call the dark ages for a f-‘ing good reason”).

Ah yes, the swearing. This is a 15 and they do seem to be going to town on the blood splatter and cursing to try and make the most of it. There were a few points that did make me wonder just how awful you’d have to get for an 18 rating.

So… yeah, and no. It wasn’t awful, by any stretch. I was plenty entertained. But I couldn’t say it was a good movie, or even the best they could have made. Disappointing? A little. But no regrets on having seen it.

Released: 11th April 2019
Viewed: 14th April 2019
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

John Wick 2 (2017)

john wick 2 poster

I was quite late to the party with John Wick, skipping seeing this sequel in the cinema as I still hadn’t seen the first part (released in 2014) by then. On paper, it’s got little enough to make it stand out: retired hitman goes after the gang that killed his (spoiler?), delivering a couple of hours of brutally efficient violence. However, word of mouth did wonders, spawning not just this but a second sequel due out next month. Time to catch up!

Following the events of the first movie, John Wick (Keanu Reeves), is once again trying to hang up his guns. He has a new puppy and everything! But Italian crime lord, Santino D’Antonio, takes the events of the previous film as a sign that Wick is out of retirement and therefore due to make good on a years-old debt. When saying no turns out not to be an option, Wick is set a nigh-impossible task. Failure is not an option – but success isn’t going to be a walk in the part either.

If you liked the first movie then chances are this one is going to hit the same buttons. Reeves is excellent as the taciturn ‘Bogeyman’ of assassins, kicking ass and not bothering to take names. He’s an actor that’s had a lot of stick over the years, but his quiet style suits this very well.

If you’re looking for more than just raw action, there is a little bit more hinted at about the ‘rules’ and who enforces them, such as no business on the Continental property, or why a blood debt can’t be turned down. At first I wasn’t sure this didn’t just feel like added hokum, but actually it builds the plot well and is clearly where part 3 is headed.

It’s not going to win Oscars, but it does what it does as well as you could want, I guess!

Released: 17th February 2017
Viewed: 7th April 2019
Running time: 122 minutes
Rated: 15/18 (cut and uncut versions)

My rating: 7/10

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle – Emily & Amelia Nagoski

burnout cover

“This is a book for any woman who has felt overwhelmed and exhausted by everything she had to do, and yet still worried she was not doing ‘enough’.”

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say this book has made me a better person (maybe a bit?) but I do think it’s made me a better feminist. I am so guilty of proudly feeling that I can ‘play with the boys’ at their own game, swearing and telling bawdy jokes, that being faced with a book about stressors faced by women, and how we marginalise ourselves, was something of an eye opener.

I shouldn’t feel so happy about someone pointing out how much more stress there is in my life than I knew about, but actually, the sense of relief, the nodding along – yes! Yes, it does stress me that (insert ton of stuff here). And that it isn’t acknowledged, and that I’m ‘delusional’ or hormonal or whatever if I try to point it out. There’s a whole chapter called ‘the Game is Rigged’ which summed up so much of what I feel, but hadn’t articulated. The underlying premise that boys are taught to be human ‘beings’, and girls more often expected to be human ‘givers’ – wow.

That said, the book is not just a long rant. It points out that we’re all holding on to a lot of stress without realising it, and that’s just never going to end well.

On a practical level, the opening chapter talks us through the difference between stressors – like the jerk in the BMW on the drive home, or the late request for a report at work – and stress. Often we deal with or at least move away from the stressor but we’re not actually dealing with the stress. The authors talk about ‘completing the cycle’ – letting our primitive brain acknowledge that we’re now safe. I want to reread this part already: I’m getting ‘dance around the living room’, but think there are other subtleties to pick up on here.

The rest of the book covers a lot of familiar ground with a fresh eye. The ‘Bikini Industrial Complex’, for instance, questions why we allow ourselves to be *so* obsessed with looks (even over health). There is some interesting discussion about the falseness of the fat/unhealthy message – did you know that it’s worse for your health to be slightly underweight than quite a bit overweight? Mind blown.

The only bit I didn’t really like was the whole ‘smash the patriarchy’. Not that I disagree (especially the way it’s described here – definitely not ‘anti man’ in any way, just pointing out how, yup – the game is rigged!) but just that I felt weary even thinking about it. Is life not hard enough without me having to be so proactive on this, too?! o_O

I’m hardly scratching the surface of just how much YES there was for me in this book. I said it’s almost certainly made me a better feminist – for myself and for others. But as it points out, if I’m nodding along with this for me, it’s an excellent way to see how much more the game is rigged if you’re not just female, but of colour, or not CIS/hetero-normative, or ‘able’ in the way that’s taken for granted. I hope I’ll do better for all of these categories now, not just stand up for myself more as a woman.

All of which is fine, but am I less stressed? It did help, really. I’ve spent my life pushing back on the role society seems to want for me – and yes, in little ways that includes ‘smashing the patriarchy’ (it is not, for instance, my role in life to get out of a man’s way on a pavement. I’m not talking politeness, just standing up to that inbred sense of entitlement that no one ever seems to realise they own. I don’t automatically tidy in the office any more, either, even when it’s my default). To get a bit of a ‘yes, that’s right’ was something of a relief. The caveman brain stress stuff makes a lot of sense, too. I have a ways to go, and I do think I’ll be rereading this before too long.

Recommended for women everywhere – and any man who has the balls to accept that the playing field is not, in fact, as level as we’d all like to think.

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 8 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 11th-26th March 2019

My rating: 9/10

Iron Man 3 (2013)

iron man 3 poster

Following the events in The Avengers (2012)Tony Stark is battling with anxiety and possibly PTSD. He’s seen terrible things, almost died, and is left struggling to find his sense of balance again. It makes sense that he goes too far with the bravado, announcing his address (as if it wouldn’t be available online for minimal digging, really!) to the new terrorist threat on the block – but then, what is one man, even one as terrifying as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), compared with an entire fleet of alien invaders?

Iron Man both started the current MCU and in many ways is (made) the spine of the whole thing, I feel. Certainly the character has had more screen time over the whole run: almost 5 hours in total, compared to less than 3½ for next-highest, Captain America (as of 2017, at any rate). Tony Stark’s story is possibly the most rounded, most delved into. He’s suffered trauma that turned him from a playboy weapons manufacturer into a self-sacrificing superhero (Iron Man 2008), then lost the plot almost entirely (Iron Man 2 – possibly not working so well because the big traumas happen far more in IM1 or Av1), before figuring out how to grow as a human being and a hero (Avengers).

So, what’s next? The same question is being asked at this point of the MCU. We’ve finished Phase 1 with the big team up – now what?

Now we once more start with Tony Stark, facing his demons. One of the plot threads of the movie is his past coming back to haunt him, in the form of fellow scientists he didn’t treat so well back in the day. He then gets to refind himself, by going all the way back to basics. Worth remembering that he created Iron Man out of spare parts in a cave.

IM3 wasn’t overly well received at time of release, not least because of the way the Mandarin character is treated. Not being familiar with the comics, I actually rather enjoyed some of the lighter moments, but apparently the long-term fans were a little irked. The tone shifts a little, too, being rather obviously a Shane Black (director) movie: from the Christmas setting, to the voice over (given a perfect nod in the now ubiquitous mid-credit scene) – this is practically Kiss Kiss Bang Bang vol 2 with added Arc reactors!

It also perhaps feels a little odd to have had the aliens and the big team up, and then to go back to a solo hero dealing with very earthly scenarios. But that’s not the point, I reckon: the entire Infinity run (Iron Man through to Endgame – getting close now!) is also the story of Tony Stark, and this movie is entirely Tony Stark dealing with his demons and once again having to figure out who he is. That’s both its strength and weakness, and whether you as a viewer are up for that will colour how you see the movie.

Personally? I think it works a lot better than IM2, but it’s still a little on the forgettable side in the whole run – except, perhaps, for that ‘twist’ that angered so many. Oops! 😉 But it’s part of the strongest, most-developed thread in the MCU to date. There are other important steps in Stark’s tale coming in Ultron and Civil War, and – I’d put money on it – undoubted ahead in Endgame, too.

Released: 25th April 2013
Viewed: 25th April 2013 / 4th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 130 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10