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 finding job, we get a ‘success at college isn’t life success’ – just before the stakes are turned up to involve kidnapping, armed combat, and explosions! šŸ™‚

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! šŸ™‚

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

My rating: 6.5/10

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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 inĀ Batman vs Superman, which itself requires you to have seenĀ Man of SteelĀ to make much sense,Ā Justice LeagueĀ is DC’s attempt to ‘do anĀ 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,Ā BvS was just a bit muddled, andĀ 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 – unlikeĀ 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! šŸ˜‰ ) 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 UnreasonĀ book 1 of 4
Read from 28th October – 18th November 2017

My rating: 6/10

Doctor Who: Myths and Legends – Richard Dinnick

Doctor Who Myths and Legends cover

“Heroes. Gods. Monsters. Time Lords.”

Amazingly, it’s been over a decade since Doctor Who made a triumphant return to the screen, becoming more popular than ever to the point where the recent sneak peak of the Christmas special, aired during BBC’sĀ Children in Need appeal, caused absolute squeee’ing overload on social media. If you’re finding it too hard to wait the a little over a month to go before the full episode airs on Christmas day, perhaps this book of short stories will fill the gap for you.

Myths and Legends is a collection of fourteen tales, giving a Gallifreyan twist to familiar stories from our own history: the Argonauts escaping from the Cyclops, for instance, or the Wooden Horse of Troy. Despite being a fan of Greek myths, I didn’t find it particularly easy to spot the links at times – the table of contents helpfully lists the inspirational tale –Ā  which… I’m not sure, but is probably a good thing.

To be honest, some of the stories try a little too hard to fit a space-age tale into something written thousands of years ago. The Minotaur’s labyrinth, for instance, is rather shoehorned into a tale about the Racnoss, a spider-species that was featured in the 2006 Christmas special,Ā The Runaway Bride. Now, spiders and mazes are fine together, but here it just seemed rather a daft way to try and get your prey to where you’re about to eat them – hmm.

My other minor ‘hmm’ about this work is that it made me feel like I’m not a big enough geek. I’ve watched Dr Who since… oh, okay, maybe not give away my age ;)… since well before its modern regeneration, but I found myself wondering at times if I just don’t pay enough attention to get some of the winks and nods here. But then, after a few I found myself wondering why there weren’t more tie-ins to the series as shown on screen. With a title like this has, I suppose I expected more… specifics?

Overall, this is a perfectly adequate set of stories, but somehow didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Perhaps it’s the slightly written-for-youngers simplistic style, or simply a flaw in this reader and/or her expectations. Your mileage may vary, as they say, and if you do have a small TARDIS on your premises, chances are you’ll get more out of this than I did.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 14 short stories
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 25th September – 13th November 2017

My rating: 6/10

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

murder on the orient express poster

Famous detective Hercule Poirot has just solved yet another baffling case – the resolution of which we see at the start of this movie – but he feels weary and out of sorts. He’s a little love lorn, as it turns out, but generally just tired of being a famous detective. However, his planned vacation goes a little awry when one of the thirteen other passengers is murdered. Of course Poirot is called upon to use his skills: because they are now trapped on an avalanche-blocked train, high in the mountains, with a murderer.

I have absolutely no recollection of any previous adaptation of this, one of Agatha Christie’s most famous and lauded novels, which I have also failed to read. So, for me this was still quite the mystery, which really added to the experience – something that I’m not sure many viewers would have. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that I did at one time know the ‘whodunnit’, or the story was even less well handled as the who reveal was a little less than the stonking surprise it perhaps should have been.

That’s rather my general view of this movie: given the cast, the obviously generous budget, the pedigree of the material and the opportunity to put on the big screen something that hasn’t really been done for decades – why isn’t this just somehow better?

On the plus side, it looks absolutely gorgeous. The period detail, the scenery, the train itself – all wonderful. And yes, the cast is an amazing list of names to gather in one place: Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz… phew!! And, of course, director, theatre luvvy, and bearer of the most amazing moustache seen on screen this year, Kenneth Branagh.

And… that’s perhaps the problem. Or rather, Branagh himself might be. The movie gives so little time to any of these amazing actors, relegated to bit-parts and almost-cameos, that it’s hard to care as much as I think we should about their characters. Instead, we get a few too many self-indulgent moments with the great detective laughing oddly at Dickens, or sighing over a woman’s photo – trying, perhaps, to add complexity to his character when I’d suggest the detective should be the least well-rounded person in the story, to be honest.

So. Y’know, I’d still say go and see it. It’s lush and lavish, and the sort of thing I do rather wish they’d make more of. Okay, I’m a bit so-so on the idea of the end-of-movie hint at a sequel (it does bookend the story, which also starts with a different case), but I’d probably still go and see it, just for the spectacle. That said, I’m reliably informed that if you have fond memories of David Suchet in the role from back in the 1980s-90s, then this is going compare poorly. You have been warned!

Released: 3rd November 2017
Viewed: 6th November 2017
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

Paper and Fire – Rachel Caine

Paper and Fire cover

“Every day, Jess Brightwell passed the Spartan warrior statue on his way to and from his quarters.”

I’m still utterly in love with the idea of The Great Library: the upswelling of knowledge as the driving and ruling force over the past two millennia, following the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, rather than, say, religion. The dark machinations that came to light through the course of the first book,Ā Ink and Bone, only added to the intrigue and danger.

Alas, something in that amazing mix gets lost through the course of the novel, and very definitely by this one. Instead, we’re plunged rather too much into a series of YA tropes, from the burning love of two teenagers who’ve spent all of five minutes together, to – well, actually, that one was enough to turn me right off.

I’m hoping this is all just a case of middle book syndrome. The various perils go from decent twists to starting to feel a little repetitive for constantly being twists, and I really started to notice little picky things to get annoyed with. For example, the group being stuck together through most of this, there are more times than not where the scene focuses on just two, then suddenly reminds you that the others must all be standing around the edges like mannequins. The YA element means, too, that the teen lead characters far too often seem to outshine and/or half-ignore the few adults about, and again this just jarred a little.

I’ve already got book three lined up, with some trepidation now. I just hope we can go back to the story and more of the magnificent premise, rather than more teenage Romeo and Julietting o_O

Kindle: 368 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: The Great Library book 2
Read from 22nd October – 1st November 2017

My rating: 6/10