Urban Enemies- various

urban enemies cover

“Villains have all the fun – everyone knows that – and this anthology takes you on a wild ride through the dark side!”

The idea of this collection really appealed to me: a series of short stories set in ‘famous’ worlds, but giving the author a chance to explore the baddie’s point of view. I thought it’d be a good chance to explore some series that I haven’t yet tried, as well as a few that were familiar but from a very different angle.

Alas, it didn’t quite work out for me – as the very long gap in my reading probably shows! There’s nothing at all wrong with these stories, the writing is all very well done. However, not being familiar with most of the worlds being (re)visited here, I struggled to get in to many of the stories. They probably work very well if you’ve a familiarity with the series already, but the new-to-me and unusual viewpoints weren’t a great place to start.

The one series I am very au fait with would be the Dresden Files, but alas (again) this story didn’t do much for me. I know the characters, but the tale just didn’t grab me. I’d expected more, I think, as quite often the villains are if not the most then certainly often highly intriguing characters, but I just didn’t find myself hooked.

On the other hand, there were a few that worked despite my lack of prior knowledge. Seanan McGuire is an author I’ve been hearing great things about for a while, and her contribution here – paranormal creatures that look human but can make people do anything they want – did exactly what I expected this collection to do: made me want to reach for the main series.

Overall, there’s nothing bad about this anthology, and I’m a bit disappointed it didn’t click more with me. On the other hand, there are definitely some intriguing ideas here, including a pocket dimension that looks like a film back-lot, and a (I assume) fallen angel turned monster with a pretty good explanation even in such a short tale. If you’re familiar with any of the ‘worlds’ already then the alternate viewpoint could well be even more interesting.

The authors/series here are: Jim Butcher/Dresden Files, Kelley Armstrong/Cainsville, Seanan McGuire/October Daye, Kevin Hearn/The Iron Druid Chronicles, Jonathan Maberry/Joe Ledger, Lilith Saintcrow/Jill Kismet, Carrie Vaughn/Kitty Norville, Joseph Nassise/Templar Chronicles, Domino Finn/Black Magic Outlaw, Steven Savile/Glasstown, Caitlin Kittredge/Hellhound Chronicles, Jeffrey Somers/Ustari Cycle, Sam Witt/Pitchfork County, Craig Schaefer/Daniel Faust, Jon F Merz/Lawson Vampire, Faith Hunter/Jane Yellowrock, Diana Pharoah Francis/Horngate Witches.

NetGalley eARC: 448 pages / 17 stories
First published: 2017
Series: short stories from various SFF series
Read from 5th July 2017 – 12th June 2019 (put it down in the middle, for a loooong stretch!)

My rating: 6/10

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Are You Afraid of the Dark Rum? – Sam Slaughter

are you afraid of the dark rum cover

“Nostalgia often evokes good feelings. Cocktails often evoke good feelings. That’s what this book aims to do.”

If there’s one thing better than a good cocktail, it’s a good themed cocktail. And I might be more of an 80s child than 90s, but I was up for some nostalgia and cool drink sipping. I really, really wanted to like this book, in other words – alas, it’s left me a bit meh.

I do like the concept, and I think the drink names and sense of humour that runs through the book are a lot of fun. The obligatory ‘tools and basic instructions’, plus a brief word on different types of spirit and liqueur at the start, and ‘syrups’ at the end, both read clearly and well.

However, the drinks themselves… well, hmm. I think there a half-handful that I could have made now without going and buying a new ingredient or three – and my cocktail cupboard is not sparse, by any means. I had to look up several of the liqueurs mentioned, never having heard of such things before. Cherry heering? Oh, cherry brandy will be fine! Fernet branca, dolin rouge, ancho reyes… oh dear!

I also found the specificity to be annoying, despite the foreword that these were ‘just recommendations’. Nope: give me the basic recipe, and say “And my preference is…”. Otherwise I, the reader, have to do a ton of work to figure out what’s a decent alternative to e.g. “Glen Moray Chardonnay Cask Finish Scotch Whisky.” I mean, really??

Overall, I’m a bit disappointed. I had images of a fun theme party, or at least a few new cocktails to try out. As it is, I’m tempted by a few but largely underawed.

NetGalley eARC: 132 pages
First published: 4th June 2019
Series: none
Read from 19th May – 2nd June 2019

My rating: 5/10

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

Outer Order Inner Calm – Gretchen Rubin

outer order cover

I’ve been a fan of Gretchen Rubin since The Happiness Diary, and so her take on the current mania for decluttering – something I’m in need of doing rather a lot of post-move! – was always going to intrigue me.

There’s no overt backlash against The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Marie Kondo (indeed, the book is mentioned near the end), rather this is a gentle “Some things work for some people, but what you want is what will make YOU happy.” This is unsurprising: her last book was The Four Tendencies, all about different personality types reacting to things very differently.

There is some good advice to be had in these pages, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed by the presentation. It’s not a narrative, just a collection of snippets and quotes that I felt like I’d read most of it already on her blog. And while the advice is perfectly fine, indeed very good in some instances, the brevity and style just made me feel like this was a low-effort money spinner, which was unexpected.

I’m not sure what else I wanted from the topic. It’s actually good that the subject matter isn’t drawn out just to make a bigger book. And yet… I dunno. Perhaps if anything had felt like more of a useful tip rather than a random musing on organisation?

As a collection of tips and a few motivational quotes, it’s fine. In terms of actually being inspired to go declutter – meh.

Hardback: 208 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 24th-30th March 2019

My rating: 6/10

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

hulk poster

I thought I was going to skip this – everyone’s least favourite Marvel installment – in my rewatch of ’em all in prep for Endgame. But… meh. It was on the telly.

I say everyone’s least favourite, and the box office figures back that up. But I also think there’s an element of confusing it a little with the earlier Hulk (2003) which was also not-great. Marvel got the rights back and did a little better with this – in other words, it’s not actually as bad as I half-remembered!

IH does follow on from the earlier movie, surprisingly, giving a potted flashback history (with the new cast) during the opening credits. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is now in hiding in South America, trying to find a cure for what ails him. But the military, led by General Ross (William Hurt, who reprises this role in later MCU movies), are determined to capture Banner – and the ‘weapon’ he transforms in to.

In an attempt to track him down, another soldier signs up for some ‘Super Soldier’ experimentation. I actually liked Blonsky’s (Tim Roth) motivation (and the fact that a scrawny little British scrapper gets cast here!), which isn’t always the case with the baddies in superhero movies. He’s getting old and his body is letting him down, and what else is a life-long fighter going to do with himself? So of course he’s game for regaining youthful strength. He sees power, and he wants.

Banner, on the other hand, just wants to be normal. I think Mark Ruffalo is my favourite of the three actors to have portrayed the Hulk recently, but I think all three (including Eric Bana) did quite well. Norton brings an intensity to the role, and is pretty great at the torment and desperation. Apparently the desire was to go back more towards the feel of the 1970s TV show, which I think they succeed at – although whether it was a good idea, I’m not sure. Certainly, the Hulk has never grabbed my interest as a character. All shouty rage and smashing? Yawn. I will finally warm to the character a little in future movies, but for now that joyful Marvel humour is largely missing, aside from a small translation issue in the famous “You won’t like me when I’m… hungry?”

Don’t regret the rewatch, and it was better than expected, but it’ll probably languish in the box for another long span.

Released: 13th June 2008
Viewed: 14th March 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

How I Motivated Myself to Succeed – Shelley Wilson

how i motivated myself to succeed cover

Shelley Wilson previously wrote a book called How I Changed My Life in a Year, in which she set herself 52 challenges and did what it says on the cover. With this new book she tries to look behind the challenges and cover some of the methods she used to make those changes – so, rather than a memoir that may have had some self-help value, this one sets out to be self-help from the get-go.

I’ve not read the first book, which maybe would have helped, although this is meant to be readable as a standalone. And the advice in it is pretty good. The tone is also quite accessible, with a few stories in the ilk of “I’m not perfect, I have such difficulties too, but look – if I can do it so can you” which are fine.

And yet… I dunno. I’d hoped a couple of days thinking about this book would help me formulate my review, but instead I find very little from the read has stuck in my brain other than the author’s obsession with vision boards. I know as I as reading it I nodded a few times, thinking, yup that’d be useful, very sensible (planning, self-care, etc), but… obviously not inspiring enough for me to actually have started with any of the advice!

So. Nice. Good, practical advice. Wouldn’t not recommend, but didn’t quite click for me.

NetGalley eARC: 193 pages / 13 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 2nd February – 6th March 2019

My rating: 6/10

Flip the Single Switch – Bonny Albo

flip the single switch cover

I requested this book from NetGalley on something of a whim, thinking it was vaguely appropriate with Valentine’s day approaching, and hey – who knows, right? 😉

I’m almost certainly not the target audience for this. Yes, I’m single, but pretty happy to be so, for the time being at least. I think this was aimed more at people who aren’t happy alone but who have been choosing disappointing possible mates. I’m not sure the advice works well for those of us more likely to be accused of being too picky (hah).

Interestingly, I think some of the process could be quite valid for other situations in life. If I take a step back and look at this as a book about building confidence and breaking bad habits in general, there are useful little nuggets. However, the focus on dating and particularly the last chapter (sit in a coffee shop and filter out anyone who looks appealing; your soulmate is in the leftovers? Hmm) left me a little more baffled.

On the plus side, this is kept nicely short so very little unnecessary waffle. If you are trying to break a bad dating habit, this might just work. Personally, I’m thinking of seeing if I can apply some of the techniques to snacking, vegging in front of the laptop, or generally boosting my life confidence.

NetGalley eARC: 50 pages / 6 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 14th-17th February 2019

My rating: 6/10