Past Due for Murder – Victoria Gilbert

past due for murder cover

“It’s amazing how much easier it is for people to learn something when you turn lessons into stories.”

A Murder for the Books introduced us to Amy Webber, small town librarian caught up in a murder mystery which it turns out her research skills and logical mind are well-suited to solving. The second instalment, Shelved Under Murder, allowed both the character and the story confidence to grow, and with the third in the series I think we’ve really hit stride.

As Amy’s small town gears up to boost tourism by reintroducing the historical May Day festival, a local folklore expert’s tales of young women disappearing on the eve of May Day seems also to be revisiting the town. But as some go missing, other old faces are making unwelcome reappearances in Amy’s (love) life…

As ever, I’m less keen on the romance element that tends to accompany cosy mysteries, but actually the lack of generally fluffiness about this series helps the relationship aspect not feel too saccharine. I am still annoyed with the otherwise rational and logical character tending to fly off the emotional handle where her men are involved, but otherwise, fair ’nuff.

I can tend to be a little sniffy about cosy mysteries in my reviewing, but I actually really enjoyed this. It was a nice light and easy read, with enough going on to hold my attention and make me look forward to curling up with the book when I could. The pace does dip a little in the middle, but almost as soon as I was finding it a little ‘meh’, I hit the start of the revelations and couldn’t put the book down despite the late hour!

Looking forward to more from Amy – even if it requires a bit of her love-life along the way 😉

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 3
Read from 28th – 31st January 2019

My rating: 7/10

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Glass (2019)

glass poster

Back in 2000, M Night Shyamalan followed the huge hit that was Sixth Sense (1999) with a very understated ‘superhero’ film called Unbreakable. I vaguely recall not being very impressed at the time, although I would like to revisit it now. Then, I think it was just too slow and moody and perhaps a little bit odd for what I was expecting.

Fast forward to 2016, and I was much less critical of Split – a strange tale of multiple personality disorder that might have been more than it seemed. And, as a stinger, it was revealed at the end (not a spoiler, don’t worry!) that this was the same universe as Unbreakable… and, that we could expect a third instalment, bringing together Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), David Dunn (Bruce Willis), and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) aka Mr Glass.

The premise from the first movie – David being asked to believe he has superpowers – is picked up well, with a psychiatrist suggesting that everything is actually a delusion and can be explained rationally. But as Mr Glass plots, and the Beast returns, figuring out what’s real is the least of their problems…

I wasn’t sure how much to expect from this movie, to be honest, having had mixed views on the first two. In fact, the friend who was a huge fan of Unbreakable was a bit disappointed with this, whereas I was pleasantly surprised.

The plot is a bit so-so – a little stretching on plausibility of actions at times – but the performances are excellent. Bruce Willis only has to frown moodily through most of it, but Sam Jackson is chillingly cool, and James McAvoy is outstanding with his dozen or so personalities, switching rapidly at times and making each entirely recognisable and different. I wasn’t too impressed with the surrounding cast, but they were sufficient.

Overall, then, it wasn’t a bad way to bring the trilogy to a close, but nor did it have anything like the impact that it perhaps would have liked. It was… serviceable. Damned with faint praise, perhaps, but there ya go.

Released: 18th January 2019
Viewed: 18th January 2019
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

The Favourite (2018)

favourite poster

It’s the early 18th Century, and Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) deals with poor health and amuses herself as best she can, while close friend, Lady Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weiss), dictates governing policy on her behalf. The relationship between the two is more than friendship, but not always kind. When Sarah’s impoverished cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), comes to court begging for a job, there’s a space for her to show kindness to the poor Queen, and gain affection – to the detriment of Sarah’s position.

Thus we have a movie about rivalries and politics, wars of many kinds, double dealing and back stabbing – and, of course, rabbits. Wait, what?!

To say this is a strange movie is understating things. It’s purposefully a mix of period and modern anachronisms – some subtle, such as costuming, and others just downright bizarre, like a dance scene that looks like a spoof of Strictly Come Dancing, regency style. What?!

Undeniably, the performances are excellent. Olivia Coleman in particular is just fantastic. However, it’s not an easy film to watch. The music only adds to this: often discordant to the point of painful, doing a great job of setting an uncomfortable tone, but not particularly pleasant to sit through.

And so, while I’d be very happy to see this win a ton of awards, I can’t offer it a higher rating. While ‘good’, it wasn’t exactly enjoyable and not something I really want to see again – especially with such a ‘wait, what?!’ ending.

Released: 1st January 2019
Viewed: 11th January 2019
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Empire of Sand – Tasha Suri

Empire of Sand cover

“Mehr woke up to a soft voice calling her name.”

Mehr is a pampered if illegitimate governor’s daughter, a virtual prisoner by dint of her gender in the culture she lives in, and a hated reminder of father’s first love and thus enemy of her stepmother. She is also a half-caste, and the half that comes from her mother is not blood that is seen favourably in the Empire. The stories say that the Amrithi are descended from the desert spirits, the Daiva, and hold power in their blood. And it seems as if the immortal head of the Empire’s religion might be taking notice of those like Mehr…

Much as I enjoyed this book, I think perhaps the desert setting and South Asian-inspired fantasy has been a bit too prevalent in my reading of late (although still not as cliched as the Tolkien-esque fantasy of the past half-century, natch!), as I did spend part of this book feeling like I’d read it before. Which is a shame, because otherwise it’s pretty good.

I was a little put off by the themes of women as second class, ‘delicate’ flowers, and even more so by the forced marriage to a complete stranger – however obviously that all turns out. As ever, the teen romance-y type stuff left me pretty cold.

The Daiva also reminded me of too many other things, but in fairness they were well handled. The magic of dance was at least a bit of a different approach, and I genuinely liked the concept of an Empire built on subverting the dreams of gods.

Overall, though, this was an engrossing enough read, just didn’t quite hit the spot with me for reasons not entirely its own fault. Possibly had been over-hyped, too, when in reality I found it a decent, slightly above-average YA offering.

Paperback: 432 pages / 34 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Books of Ambha book 1
Read from 30th December 2018 – 6th January 2019

My rating: 7/10

Aquaman (2018)

aquaman poster

If I say this is one of the best DC movies to date, to be honest that’s not necessarily high praise. Still, it is praise: this was daft fun, if a bit messy.

We’ve met Aquaman aka Arthur Curry (really? Hmm) aka Jason Momoa, in a slightly pointless role in  Justice League (2017). Here he gets centre stage, and we get a little bit of an origin story (mother = Queen of Atlantis, father = human) and a suspiciously Black Panther-reminiscent tale of sibling rivalry, hidden kingdoms, and lots of fighting.

We also get a lot of CGI. Well, duh – I don’t suppose giant seahorse mounts or trained war sharks are easy to find o_O But, there is a loss of something tangible when your sets are underwater green screen, however amazing some of them look, and a loss of dignity and gravatas when your cast are floating around with drifting hair. I think there’s a reason watery movies generally don’t do very well.

Still, Jason Momoa is refreshingly irreverent – a DC character/movie with a sense of humour, whatever next?! He’s thrust into a war to save ‘the surface’ from a ticked-off Atlantian empire, and to be fair I’m not sure they’re that wrong. Hmm.

The supporting cast, from Patrick Wilson (channeling Julian Sands with that hair!) to Amber Heard were all a little poe-faced and stilted for my liking, and to be honest I found it hard to care about any of them. And that is perhaps where DC fail to live up to Marvel’s success. So yes, one of the better DC offerings. Make of that what you will.

Released: 12th December 2018
Viewed: 29th December 2018
Running time: 143 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Campion at Christmas – Margery Allingham

campion at christmas cover

“Sir Leo Pursuivant, the Chief Constable, had been sitting in his comfortable study after a magnificent lunch and talking heavily of the sadness of Christmas while his guest, Mr Campion, most favoured of this large house-party, had been laughing at him gently.”

I’ve always had a soft spot for Campion, after enjoying the tv adaptations when I was younger. Took me a long time to get around to any of the books – starting with The Crime at Black Dudley – and to be honest I’ve still only read a couple. However, a set of four short stories from Margery Allingham, based at Christmas, just sounded lovely!

And, they are quite sweet. Three of the four, On Christmas Day in the Morning, The Man with the Sack, and Word in Season,  involve Albert Campion, two of those solving mini mysteries and the other one a slice of family life with a very very large dollop of whimsy. I enjoyed all of these, picturing Peter Davison in the role, and who doesn’t love dogs with the last one? 🙂

The other story, Happy Christmas, the second in the collection, is a different beast. While clearly about Christmas, it doesn’t feature Campion and to be honest I was left scratching my head a little over what it was all about. Nothing wrong with it, it’s still a sweet little slice of period frippery, just not entirely sure what I was missing. It’s the oldest story, too, published in 1937 compared with the 1960s for the others.

If you’re a fan of Campion, this is a short but lovely little compilation of cosy mystery niceness that conjures images of a more gentile time.

NetGalley eARC: 63 pages / 4 short stories
First published: 2018 (as collection), 1937-1965 (originally in various magazines)
Series: Campion short stories
Read from 16th-17th December 2018

My rating: 7.5/10

The Nightmare Stacks – Charles Stross

nightmare stacks cover

“A vampire is haunting Whitby; it’s traditional.”

If you’ve not read any of the Laundry Files before, this might not be the best place to start. It’s not the worst, either, since we’ve got a new PoV character in Alex Schwartz, but you’ll miss a lot of background. For instance, Alex’s unfortunate infection with V-syndrome, turning him into a PHANG (aka vampire). Or why ‘Mr Howard’ is spoken of in such revered terms, or what put Mo in the hospital. You don’t *need* to know any of that, but it was a fun journey learning all of that information.

If you are up to date, then Nightmare Stacks alludes to events to date while being its own story. Alex is dealing with his vamp- urm, PHANG-ness, the loss of his high-paying City job, and his new government employer seeing fit to twist the knife by sending him back to his home town of Leeds.

Meanwhile, in another dimension, the last bastion of a suspiciously Elfish race is deciding that their only hope is to find another world to conquer as their new home. Guess where looks promising?

I’ve always enjoyed the Laundry Files and the mix of humour and supernatural and mundane. To be honest, I didn’t entirely take to the previous volume (although I said nice things about it at the time), thinking that Mo made a poor lead compared to Bob Howard. Here, I’m still missing Bob, but the omniscient narrator voice wasn’t as irksome.

Story-wise, I found this a mixed bag. I actually got a little bored at points, with the author showing a whole lot of research on tanks and artillery and other zzzz items. The story concept wasn’t at all bad, but the revelation in some of the darker, nastier bits didn’t seem to be as well balanced with humour as I was expecting.

Still. A good read, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the two volumes that have been published since.

Paperback: 385 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Laundry Files book 7
Read from 22nd November – 9th December 2018

My rating: 7.5/10