The Cat of the Baskervilles – Vicki Delany

cat of the baskervilles cover

“The footsteps of a gigantic hound!”

I’m still enjoying my occasional dips into cosy mysteries set in bookshops or libraries, and it was nice to be able to nab a copy of the third installment of this series, from NetGalley. We first met Gemma Doyle – no relation to author Sir Arthur however much her own uncle Arthur would like to claim – in Elementary, She Read and then Body on Baker Street. Londoner Gemma has moved to the picturesque seaside town of Cape Cod, North America, following the break up of her marriage. She now runs a Sherlock Holmes-themed bookstore, with her best friend Jayne managing the coffee shop next door. She’s got a tangled past with the local police force, as her powers of deduction rival those of the great detective himself – unfortunately making it look like she might have just a little too much information about various crimes.

In this third installment, Gemma’s determined not to get involved in yet another mystery – but of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story unless she does! So when a once-famous actor arrives to play Holmes in an amateur production of Hound of the Baskervilles, the in-fighting of the theatre crowd stirs up something quite deadly…

This was a very quick and easy read, and enjoyable enough, but perhaps not quite as good as the first two in the series. I did think for a little while that the plot from the previous book was being recycled, but things are changed up ‘enough’. I wasn’t entirely sure I was okay with Gemma’s meddling being borderline criminal, right enough! There is a bit of progress on the personal lives side of the stories, but this is kept to background material rather than overwhelming the main plot and mystery.

Book four is due out in the autumn, and I think I’m glad about that – while at the same time hoping the author isn’t rushing too many of these out at the expense of quality.

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 3
Read from 11th-14th February 2018

My rating: 6/10


The Death Cure (2018)

death cure poster

The story that began with The Maze Runner (2014) reaches its conclusion with the delayed (after an on-set accident) final part of the trilogy. Can Thomas finally escape from WCKD’s attentions? Can a cure for the deadly Flare virus be found before the whole world is turned into zombies? Can I remember much of anything about the previous movies, or in fact the books they are based on?

To be honest, I went to see this for lack of better options, and an excuse to try out the new 4DX screen at my local cinema – that’s the one where the seats throw you about, air puffs at your ears every time a bullet is shot, and the occasional weird scent is wafted at you. Hmm. Okay, it did add a certain something to the whole experience, but striping away that novelty, the film underneath was just a bit… so-so.

I was desperately unimpressed with the middle installment of the trilogy, The Scorch Trials (2015), so there was no way I was going to rewatch it for the plot reminder – although I possibly could have done with it. Still, there’s not vast amounts that you can’t pick up – Brenda must have been bitten at some point, for instance, and Minho captured. Thus we begin with a reasonably action-packed rescue scene. Get used to it: the original movie was about escape, the second all about running away from various things, and now we have the rescuing everyone repeatedly.

It’s not a bad movie. It’s not great, either, although it is an improvement on the previous film. The acting is reasonable, it’s been made well enough and has some interesting and effective visuals. Ultimately, though, I think the story underneath just isn’t as strong as it thinks it is.

Released: 26th January 2018
Viewed: 27th January 2018
Running time: 142 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

The Plot is Murder – VM Burns

the plot is murder cover

“‘Victor Carlston, don’t you think it’s wicked to sit here enjoying yourself while your dearest relative lies at death’s door?'”

I like to change pace with my reading, and so after the rather dark The Chalk Man it was time for sometime a bit more fluffy – step forward first in a new cosy mystery series, set in a bookshop, of course 🙂

Samantha Washington is a young(ish) widow, and uses the insurance money plus sale of her now too-big home to fund the dream she and her beloved husband shared: opening a mystery book store. She’s giving up teaching to run the store and also pursue her own dream of writing a mystery book – the bulk of which we get to read interspersed through the ‘real’ mystery, which begins when Sam’s much-loathed realtor is found dead in her new back yard.

I guessed the ‘twist’ very early on, but this is still a charming enough read. I did like the supporting cast of octogenarians, Sam’s grandmother and her friends, who are a spritely lot largely responsible for the sleuthing that takes place. It’s nice to see older characters in general, really, although they are balanced with a few teenagers, too.

In terms of the writing style, this was very easy to read. I was a bit irritated by the running gag of the sweary-grandmother constantly having coughing fits, and also thought that the MC’s two dogs are given distracting lines of focus when totally unnecessary. Minor things overall, though.

The book-within-the-book device is a nice touch, but to be honest the writing of these parts isn’t particularly strong – probably as it’s ‘supposed’ to be, in terms of the story, but I did find the American-writing-British-toffs a little… hmm.

Overall, this served its purpose and I was genuinely looking forward to curling up with it over a few evenings. That’s a pretty good recommendation for ‘fluff’ 😉

NetGalley eARC: 256 pages / 25 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 1
Read from 9th-10th January 2018

My rating: 6/10

Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

pitch perfect 3 poster

Three years after graduating from Barden University, the former Bellas – the all-female, champion acapella group – are finding the real world less than perfect. Realising how exciting the prospect of a reunion is, they get themselves on a USO tour to entertain US troops abroad (although we’re talking Spain, Italy, and France, for some reason – I’d expected, y’know, warzones?). And just because there HAS to be a competition (a bit of an in-joke in the movie), the headlining DJ Khaled will be picking his favourite from the tour performers to open for his own act.

But can the Bellas compete against actual bands with actual instruments? Will Aubrey ever get her dad to a performance? What about Fat Amy’s dad and his shady past (not to mention very dodgy accent!)?

The reviews for PP3 were less than glowing, but I love the original movie – it’s one of my go-to feel-good movies. The sequel was a bit missable, imo, and I found the new ‘Legacy’ character annoying (also an in-joke on screen here), so my own expectations for part 3 were pretty low.

Thankfully, I was proved wrong: this is a lot of daft fun! There’s a slightly different vibe going on as the group have grown up – okay, still 90% singing, but instead of romance and struggling to find jobs, we get a ‘success at college isn’t life success’ message – just before the stakes are turned up to involve kidnapping, armed combat, and explosions! 🙂

So yes, very silly, but I really enjoyed it. I think it’s better than the middle instalment, if not quite hitting the sheer joy of the original. There’s also a bit of a finality to the tone here, which adds an unexpected tiny dash of poignancy – or, it’s just out and out slapstick, take your pick! 🙂

Released: 20th December 2017
Viewed: 13th January 2018
Running time: 93 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

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

Newton’s Cannon – Greg Keyes

newton's cannon cover

“Humphrey wiped the sweat from his forehead and paused briefly in his working of the bellows.”

There are some rather random books on my shelves, and as I’m trying to get rid of some of them I’m more likely to pick one up and give it a go – with the full expectation that if it hasn’t grabbed me after a chapter or two, it really should just go in the charity box. Much to my surprise, I found myself sticking with this one.

This is an alternate history, where Isaac Newton’s discovery of ‘Philosopher’s Mercury’ has brought alchemy into the field of science, rather than magic. It allows for inventions such as the ‘schreiber’, a device which can copy the text written on its twin, regardless of the distance between them, and with perfect secrecy – until, that is, an inventive young lad by the name of Ben Franklin (!) starts to experiment and picks up messages he should never have been able to read.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Sun King of France has discovered immortality. As his continued life plunges his court and country into chaos and war, a young woman finds herself caught up in dark plots. The two story threads are told in alternating chapters, with mysteries growing on each side of the Channel. Who is the mysterious man chasing Ben? Who was on the other end of the schreiber, writing those strange formulae? Who is pulling Adrienne’s strings, as she is manoevered into horrible situations?

I was pleasantly surprised by this book, enjoying it far more than I expected. The story plugs along at good speed, introducing enough mystery to keep me intrigued.

However, it finishes on more than a little of a cliffhanger, and perhaps by that point the twists and turns had started to lose my interest a little. Certainly, upon discovering that the series wasn’t carried by my library it was easy enough to decide not to continue rather than paying full price for a so-so series.

So: not as bad as I thought it was going to be, but not enough to make me read on through the rest of the series.

Paperback: 368 pages / 44 chapters
First published: 1998
Series: Age of Unreason book 1 of 4
Read from 28th October – 18th November 2017

My rating: 6/10