The Novel Art of Murder – VM Burns

novel art of murder cover

“‘What the blazes do you mean I didn’t get the part?'”

Sam Washington’s life has been a bit of a rollercoaster since we first met her in The Plot is Murder, and then again in Read Herring Hunt. Her small town is in danger of turning into the new Cabot Cove (from Murder She Wrote) with yet another mysterious death, and another person close to Sam accused of murder! This time, she has just a week to save her Nana Jo from the Big House, after a rival takes her lead role in the local am-dram play…

Cosy mysteries are my snuggle up for a bit of fluff reads, and I adore books about books. Bonus with this series is Sam’s own efforts at writing a mystery – alas, these are rather the low point of the whole affair. They pad things out nicely, allow for a change of pace, and explain well Sam’s leaps of intuition over the real cases, but they also serve to make the rest of the book look great in comparison. Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie but falling quite far short, especially in dialect, and the whole sub-mystery is tied up in a sudden revelation from nowhere.

Aside from that, the book also allows Sam’s life to continue to grow as has been building in the series. Everything – aside from the murder! – is running rather wonderfully, and that too is a nice counterbalance to the ‘oh no, another death!’.

This leans heavily into the ‘cosy’, with very little in the way of peril despite a few sobbing fits from some of our leading ladies. I still love the elderly band of sleuths helping Sam, although the teenagers are all a little too nice and helpful to be realistic 😉

I like this series, but it’s probably going to remain ‘okay’ rather than ‘great’. And I’m fine with that. This one is a little better than the preceding volume, and I’d still happily reach for the next installment.

NetGalley eARC: 256 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 3
Read from 12th-16th December 2018

My rating: 6/10

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

The Crimes of Grindelwald poster

I wasn’t particularly impressed with 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It was nice to step back into the world of Hogwart’s trained witches and wizards, it looked great, but… meh. The story felt too unfinished, and I could sense a lot of nods to proper Potter-heads that I wasn’t ‘getting’, and that was rather annoying.

The second instalment suffers from the same flaws and then some. It still looks gorgeous, and as a switch-the-brain-off bit of entertainment, it’s not half bad. But it suffers majorly from middle film syndrome, meaning I was mentally scrabbling to remember anything about the first (rather forgettable, in too many ways) film, and no more satisfied about the story being told.

It gets worse: apparently those ‘in the know’ about Potter lore are quite upset about some plot points that change history mentioned in other books. As less of a fan I just got utterly confused between things I half thought I might have heard about, and turned out I was on the wrong track. Confused much?

Taken aside from the massive background of story, though, it is possible to just sit back and try to enjoy this for what it is – and it is a visual spectacular. But, maybe don’t expect much from the characters. Especially the female characters. Coming from a female writer, I was particularly irate at the male-dominated nature of this movie. Every single female character exists to serve a male story line, or to be a love interest. Every damn one. There’s already much ranting about Nagini – yes, the snake from HP – both in terms of gender and ethnicity, but as well she’s just a red herring. There’s no reason for it to be a HP character, and not just a random new person. Of course, it might all tie up three to six films down the line, but…! And that’s before I mention the awful arc for Leta Lestrange. Or the way the Goldstein sisters are used to further plot rather against the characters created in film one. Argh!

To be fair, Jude Law does a good Dumbledore junior, but even his motivations have been played about with rather to the detriment of the character.

So… looks great, has some entertainment value, but overall didn’t feel very well thought-out or finished in any way. And I’ll still go see the next one, sigh.

Released: 16th November 2018
Viewed: 23rd November 2018
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

The Predator (2018)

predator poster

It’s been over 30 years since Arnie first encountered the Predator in the jungle, would you believe? I’m not as huge a fan as some, but director Shane Black (who coincidentally was also the Pred’s first victim in the original!) clearly is, and this movie does a great job at following on with great nods back.

When army sniper Quinn McKenna sees an alien ship land, those in the know would rather send him to the looney bin than risk word getting out. Too late, he’s already sent some evidence home, much to the delight of his Asperger’s-suffering young son. Looking for revenge for his slaughtered team, Quinn gathers the other inmates and goes after the creature, with the help of a biologist called in to explain the strange discovery in the beast’s DNA…

This was a whole lot more fun than it had any real right to be, I think. The nostalgia vibe is strong, adding to the laughs, and it never takes itself too seriously. For daft B-movie gore, this ticks a lot of boxes. However, it does get a bit too frenetic and when the violence comes from the humans rather than the aliens then it feels a bit off at times.

I’m surprised at the number of familiar faces in the cast, too, including Thomas Jane (The Expanse), Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck, Handmaid’s Tale), and Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), none of whom have particularly meaty roles but hopefully were having a lot of fun!

Also, the ‘blood splatter’ was rather effective in 4DX… o_O

Released: 12th September 2018
Viewed: 14th September 2018
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6/10

Beren and Luthien – JRR Tolkien

beren and luthien cover

“In a letter of my father’s written on the 16th of July 1964 he said: ‘The germ of my attempt to write legends of my own to fit my private languages was the tragic tale of the hapless Kullervo in the Finnish Kalevala.’

It’s practically sacrilege as a fantasy fan to be less than fawning of Tolkien, but to be honest this book was extremely hard-going for me. I’m not a fan of epic poetry, which forms the large part of this book.

On the plus side, there is something definitely fascinating about seeing how a great writer drafted and re-used bits of idea in later version of a story. I’m not aware of any writer quite like Tolkien, for creating a huge back story, for living with it for decades, and drawing on this rich source in so many ways.

I do like the idea presented here, by Tolkien’s son, that his father’s myths grew and changed in the telling, just as myths do in the real world. So, Beren is sometimes a man, sometimes an elf, and the tale is subtly different for it.

The story told here – in a few formats, and surrounded by a few supporting tales – is that of Beren falling for the Elven maid, Luthien, and agreeing to her father’s supposedly-impossible challenge to bring back a Silmarillion stone before he can court her.

If you’re a huge Tolkien fan you’ll probably get a lot more out of this. For those of us with a passing interest but no deep, scholarly attention, then this is a bit tough going, I reckon.

Paperback: 288 pages
First published: 2017
Series: Middle Earth
Read from 18th July – 25th August 2018

My rating: 6/10

The Darkest Minds (2018)

darkest minds poster

A mysterious plague wipes out most of the juvenile population, but those who are left develop powers. Colour-coded from super-intelligent green up to deadly reds, the remaining youngsters are rounded up and put into camps – well, the greens, blues, and yellows, that is. Reds and oranges… not so much. Knowing her life is at stake, Ruby uses the power she still doesn’t understand to make everyone think she’s a green.

Six years pass (and, I mean – come on!!) and Ruby’s subterfuge can no longer go undiscovered. On the run, she meets up with other ‘rebel’ kids, seeking the promised haven where young people can live together and free.

But with bounty hunters, the army, and the mysterious League all out to get them, can the quartet – a blue, a gold, a green, and Ruby’s orange – make it to nirvana? And… what then?

I had never heard of the book this was adapted from, but while it was reasonably well made and entertaining enough, I must confess I found it all a bit of a rehash of every other YA adaptation I think I’ve seen, from Hunger Games to Maze Runner. Which isn’t an *awful* sin, but it’s not particularly exciting, either.

I thought the cast were a strong-ish point (although criminal underuse of some interesting background actors, such as Bradley Whitford and Gwendoline Christie) the premise so-so, and some of the plot holes were atrocious – if you were a fan of the book you’d fill these in with a lot of pre-knowledge, but going in cold it was just a bit clunky at times. Oh, your power has done this – but, at no point do you ever try to see if the power could undo it? I mean, just give it a go??

And big word of warning: this is the first in a trilogy. We get to a bit of a turning point by the end of the movie, but it’s clear that more is required to finish the story. Once that would have just meant ‘wait ’til next year’, but after the whole Divergent thing, I don’t suppose it’s now sure that we will get to see the next part. Meh.

Overall: it’s completely watchable, definitely going to please fans of the books/genre, but nothing stand-out for me.

Released: 10th August 2018
Viewed: 10th August 2018
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10 – not that bad, but just meh

Shelved Under Murder – Victoria Gilbert

shelved under murder cover

“One thing every librarian learns is that people rarely ask the question they actually want answered.”

Several months have passed since small-town librarian Amy Webber was caught up in the events of A Murder for the Books. Usual warning: if you read on, mention of events in book 2 might spoil some of book 1!

Taylorsford is preparing itself for the annual Heritage Festival, an arts and crafts spectacular. Art becomes the theme for the book, as the discovery of a dead artist seems to tie in with forgery rings and organised crime. Could it be that Amy’s late uncle, himself a struggling artist, might have been more connected to these events than anyone would wish?!

I’ve heard cosy mysteries like this described as ‘palate cleansers’ (or should that be ‘palette’, given the topic? ;)) and this is indeed just that. Light and easy to read, nothing too taxing on the brain, this was a sweet little romance with added murder. Urm…! 😉

I thought the story felt a little more assured than the previous book, or perhaps it was just that less setting up was required. We’re assumed to know who the main cast are, from the first book. Of course, this does mean that new players stand out like sore thumbs, and it was pretty obvious who was going to turn out to be the bad guys. The bigger mystery elements are more reveals about the main characters’ pasts, rather than the more obvious crime of the day.

Still, it served its purpose.  I like that this series is a little less ‘fluffy’ than some cosy mysteries, but it’s still a bit heavy on the romance for my tastes. There’s also the merest hint of something supernatural, which I’m not sure about: I think the author needs to commit to including/explaining some of it, or leave it out. Ymmv, as they say!

NetGalley eARC: ~327 pages / 28 chapters
First published: July 2018
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 2
Read from 5th-9th July 2018

My rating: 6/10

84K – Claire North

84k cover

“At the beginning and ending of all things…”

In the future, not too far from now, everything has a price. Crimes are paid for in cold hard cash. Caught shoplifting? Six grand might keep you out of jail. Murder? Well, that depends on the ‘value’ of the life you took. Just don’t commit fraud against the Company – there’s no paying for that.

Theo Miller knows the value of every crime, every life. That’s what he does. Until one day a face from his past disrupts his life of quiet despair. Forced to do what the rest of the country so desperately avoids – to really look at the state of society – Theo is about to make a final entry on his balance sheet.

I have mixed feelings about Claire North’s work. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August wowed me, for instance, whereas The End of The Day was a bit… hmm. This was unfortunately a bit more towards the latter, for me, with an intriguing ‘what if’ going on but the dystopia was a bit of a downer and the lit-fic style (unfinished sentences, half-thoughts) really started to irk. I got to the end still unsure how some of the switching timelines related, too.

I wouldn’t say ‘don’t read this’ – but, I think I’m not the best audience for it, at least not right now. I felt like I slogged my way through this a little, despite the fact that the writing was, as ever, very good. My biggest interest, however, was trying to figure out the inspiration: perhaps, The Handmaid’s Tale, but with the poor being treated as disposable resource rather than women – as I said, not exactly cheery.

Hardback: 452 pages / 83 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 9th-23rd June 2018

My rating: 6.5/10