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

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

Colony – Rob Grant

“Eddie O’Hare considers himself to be the unluckiest man in the entire cosmos. And, bluntly, he’s got a damned fine point.”

After a computer error gets Eddie onto the radar of some unpleasant hit men, he’s more than keen to take the opportunity to swap places with a bloke who quite looks like him but is about to spend the rest of his life jetting off into space. Mankind is off to colonise the stars, you see, but it will take generations of onboard pioneers to make it.

Which is fine: Eddie’s lifespan is about to be measured in floors, vertically, if you get my drift, so just about anything is preferable.

Of course, he’s got absolutely no idea who he’s trying to pretend to be, and as it turns out the package is not exactly as sold. Finding out he’s a bit of a nasty, unliked sod is only the first of Eddie’s misidentification problems…

There’s a lot of fun and things to like here, at least in the beginning. Eddie’s bad luck is indeed atrocious, and he manages to get into worse and worse scrapes through misheard conversations, not understanding who he’s pretending to be, or knowing a thing about the mission he’s signed up for. The first hundred or so pages are a fun little farce.

However, part three opens some nine generations on – in a 5-generation journey, so quite the feat – when Eddie is awoken from a kind of stasis (did I mention this was penned by one of the Red Dwarf writers?) to discover all sorts of things didn’t go to plan. Luckily – well…! – the population of the ship has forgotten how to read, giving Eddie a priest-like power to decipher the strange hieroglyphs, like “Exit”, “Airlock”, and the like. He’s also able to see the effects of the first-generation policies, such as family-inherited careers – leading to a religious fanatic of a science officer, the least holy priest ever, and a teenage captain who gets to name the planet they might just be about to fly into, “Thrrrrp”. And that’s the polite one 😉

Things do start getting more than a little ridiculous from this point, but what’s been a fun read is hugely let down by a rather abrupt and unsatisfying ending. I’m not sure if the author didn’t know where the story was going, or if he’d just hit either his wordcount or his deadline, and scurried to wrap things up. Either way, disappointing.

Hardback: 290 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2000
Series: none
Read from 8th-10th June 2017

My rating: 5.5/10 – disappointing ending, but before that it’s very easy to read if very daft

Wild Things – Christopher Golden

“Alone in the dark.”

I’m in the process of trying to slim down my book collection, and as part of that there’s a goal to finish off series I want to get rid of. This is one of those series. It’s not awful – I’ve made through all four books (albeit over several years!) – but it’s also nothing particularly special, tbh. Damn my habit of buying a whole series before reading the first book, eh?!

Prowlers is pretty much a werewolf series. Two young, Bostonian, Irish pub-owning siblings and their friends discover that shapeshifters are living among us. When a group of said ‘prowlers’ decide they want to reclaim the glory days of being at the top of the food chain, the friends end up battling the nasties. That’s pretty much the synopsis for all four volumes, btw!

There is an ongoing story arc completed through the four, which is kind of nice, along with the battle-per-book. However, I just didn’t connect much with the characters or the writing; I suspect that it’s aimed at more of a teenage audience, as there’s limits on the gore and no sex that I can recall, despite the young-adult romance subplot.

Overall: acceptable beach-reading fluff, if you like your sunshine to contain a little darkness. And now I can dispose of another four books from my shelf. Woo!

Paperback: 311 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2002
Series: Prowlers book 4 (of 4)
Read from 18th May – 5th June 2017

My rating: 5/10

Baywatch (2017)

Head lifeguard, Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson), takes an instant dislike to cocky newcomer, Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced former Olympic champion who thinks his gold medals will let him walk onto the lifeguard team. The two continue to butt heads in rather a fun way as the team starts to investigate a series of possibly drug-related deaths in the bay.

There’s not a great deal to say about this movie, to be honest, other than it’s very very daft and – if you’re in the right frame of mind – quite a lot of fun. Gross out, beyond silly, micky-taking fun.

The highlights for me were the confrontations between the two leads. Mitch never refers to Matt by name, going through a series of appropriately daft and demeaning nicknames, from ‘Bieber’ to ‘High School Musical’ (which, of course, Zac Efron starred in). If that sounds like a slight thing to be the highlight you’re absolutely spot on!

The plot and even more so the subplots (loser recruit getting a chance to show having a heart in the right place is more important than, y’know, actually being able to do your job or anything; corrupt government officials; unlikely and/or predictable hook ups) are well-worn and clearly not the point. The characters are… not exactly well-rounded? But on the other hand, the nods towards the original series are vaguely fun, taking the mickey but not descending into out-and-out spoof.

Still, with just a little more care, this could have been a lot more fun than just dick jokes. I was in the mood for daft, and since I get into these things for ‘free’ (all-you-can-watch cinema pass) I rather enjoyed. But on your own head be it if you pay the going cinema rates for this bit of butt-fluff, tbh! 😉

Released: 29th May 2017
Viewed: 7th June 2017
Running time: 116 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10 – it’s not a good movie, but it was fun

Alien: Covenant (2017)

The Covenant: a colony ship, heading to a remote planet to allow its cargo of 2000 sleeping colonists to start a new life. When it hits a damaging neutron field, synthetic life form, Walter (Michael Fassbender, once again the only interesting character in the whole piece), wakes the crew to help deal with the disaster. Shaken by tragedy, a mysterious signal leading them towards an even more habitable planet than the one they were aiming for seems like a dream come true. But given this is a sequel to Prometheus (2012) and a prequel to Alien (1979), the audience is more than aware that the dream is far more likely to be a nightmare…

I had low expectations and yet somewhat high hopes for this movie. I thought Prometheus was a horrible mess, confusing in its attempt to come up with some (un)godly backstory to the classic franchise, and executed sloppily from start to finish. Covenant surely couldn’t be any worse, right?!

Well…!! It seems like a lot of attention has been paid to the complaints from last time, so sure, this story is a bit less mystical and vague, and ‘woo’ – we have the classic xenomorphs back (I wasn’t *that* fussed, tbh!). Alas, every single other problem seems to have been ported across wholesale: crew I don’t care about in the slightest, thus making the peril they face less than gripping? Check. Clunky plot holes and/or events that fit the joining up of narratives more than logic? Check. Drippy Ripley-wannabe utterly failing to impress as Sigourney Weaver’s successor? Oh, triple check. Excuse me while I roll my eyes.

Set 10 years after the Prometheus went missing – although while the crew all seem aware of this fact in retrospect, they still all do the “It’s impossible that there’s human life out here!” without a single ‘what if…’ crossing their tiny brains – there is still a bit of a gap to explain what happened between the two. A few flashbacks attempt to bridge this, but I was still left with a sense of “Hmm, is that really likely?!” – even in fiction as wild as this, you still expect people to act like people, unlikely random coincidences to not happen every time, and a whole extra stage in a creature’s lifecycle not just to crop up because the first prequel skipped it but it needs to come back!

But, the bulk of the ‘now’ of the movie should make up for this, and while it’s not dreadful for a slasher-horror gore fest, I loathed the lazy ‘crew bonding’ device of making them all married to someone who gets picked off – so, oooh, we’re going to feel for them! Urm, no. Someone is killed off at the very start, but as we hadn’t even met the character at that point it’s really hard to care, and the hysterical spouse reaction is jarring until we get the explanation. Would the story have been any different if that character had survived? Not much. Yes, it changes the actions of another two characters but it just struck me as the laziest possible way to stimulate those motivations and ‘feels’. I don’t care for the obvious manipulation.

I will allow that this film looks gorgeous – the design has always been a very strong element with even the prequels. And, I will also allow that my own disappointment that this wasn’t better is leading me to be very harsh. But… meh. Something about this whole movie just struck me as reactive and a bit lazy, and overall desperately unsatisfying.

And yes, I will still go see the third planned prequel: I might be being harsh, but Covenant is better than Prometheus, so hope springs eternal! o_O

Released: 12th May 2017
Viewed: 12th May 2017
Running time: 122 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10 – disappointing

Inferno (2016)

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in hospital with no memory of the past few days – indeed, he cannot recall how or why he’s in Italy, never mind why someone might have been shooting at him.

Despite hallucinations and sensory overload from his head wound, it’s not too long before the Professor of symbology is dashing through Florence solving puzzle clues left by a madman – leading to nothing less than a plague that will wipe out half of mankind! Assisted by the lovely genius doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones, soon to be seen in Rogue One), Langdon chases puzzles based around Dante’s inferno – the poet’s defining vision of hell. Unable to remember or figure out who they can trust, can the duo prevent the apocalypse?

Having seen a lot of movies in a short space of time, this was easily the most disappointing. It does that usual thing of being very Big and Flashy, and ultimately hollow and not desperately satisfying. On the other hand, that sounds pretty much right for a Dan Brown adaptation 😉

What is done well:  the opening of the movie has a good stab at portraying the effects of head trauma, and the special effects showing Langdon’s hallucinations of Dante’s hell. These look pretty great on the big screen, although aren’t necessarily used as well as they could have been. Certainly, by the time we get to the end they’ve been shown so often as to have lost much of the drama.

The rest isn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s all a bit ‘meh’ at the end of the day – the kind of movie that helps me see what some of my blockbuster-phobic friends have against this kind of soulless, big screen ‘movie of the week’ spectacle that ultimately manages to be borderline on entertainment only if you switch your brain off. And while I will argue with them massively over superhero movies, this one isn’t really worth the effort.

Overall: if you liked the first two, this one’s probably a little better. Maybe.

Released: 14th October 2016
Viewed: 15th October 2016
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10