Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire – GM Nair

duckett and dyer cover

“So this is how it ends…”

Michael Duckett is a bit of a no-hoper whose sad life is about to be injected with terrifying levels of excitement. First his not-quite girlfriend goes missing – not the first disappearing act of late – and then increasingly strange things happen to him and best friend, Stephanie Dyer, a lazy lay-about with some odd ideas about the world.

But… when there are thunderstorms causing people to disappear, and ads in the paper for ‘Duckett & Dyer’ that neither set up – who’s to say what’s odd or not?

This book was… infuriating. Because I loved the story, and the wacky sense of humour, but wanted to slap the editor who didn’t tighten up a LOT on the writing style. Argh!!

So I started off feeling quite sniffy about this book. I thought, “poor man’s Dirk Gently fan-fic”. The acknowledgement of the cliche in the dectective being called ‘Rex Calhoun’, hard drinker, etc etc, didn’t stop it being gratingly un-ironic.¬†But as the story unfolds, the weird and funny Douglas Adams-esque-ness is one of the strong points, and what I loved most. I sort of saw where the story was going early on, but it’s just such fun getting there…

Alas, what’s less fun is the language. It all feels like it’s trying too hard, and really could have done with some hefty editing. The characters tell us their feelings a bit too often, their interactions often a bit false. The number of adjectives and persistence in providing detail that wasn’t needed made this one to occasionally skim rather than read word by word. Otherwise it gets a bit much – which is a shame, because this *could* have been really really good, instead of just fun but far from perfect.

That said, it ends with a “Duckett and Dyer will return in…” which I rather do fancy picking up if/when it happens! ūüôā

NetGalley eARC: 300 pages / 32 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 1st-10th June 2019

My rating: 7/10 – bonus points for fun, although it’s far from great

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Aladdin (2019)

aladdin poster

I’m far from convinced about this plan to turn all the Disney cartoons into live-action movies.¬†Beauty and the Beast (2017)¬†sort of summed things up for me: not as good as the original, why did you bother? I ran screaming at the thought of sitting through¬†Dumbo (2019), and the trailer for Lion King (2019) looks like a car crash, quite frankly.¬†And yet,¬†Aladdin (1992) is one of my favs from the House of Mouse, and so triumph or disaster, I was curious to see what they had done to it.

So, you know the story. Street rat and petty thief falls for the princess and winds up being used as a pawn by the evil vizier. But, instead of handing over the magic lamp he’s been tasked to steal, Aladdin ends up with a genie granting him three wishes. Can he improve his life, win the princess, yadda yadda yadda?

There are a few minor deviations in this new version. Princess Jasmine gets a new song and a 21st Century update, now trying to convince her father that a girl can be a ruler, not just a wife. I approve! It also felt very well done, imo, quite organically woven into the script and not just a tacked-on moment of ‘girl power’ (I’m looking at you,¬†Endgame!).

The other big change that hits you the most is the loss of the wonderful Robin Williams as the genie. I can’t imagine anyone being brave enough to step into those shoes – but then, if it was going to be anyone, Will Smith makes a lot of sense. He’s been derided quite harshly for the role, but – perhaps going in with such low expectations – I actually think he manages pretty well. Still, it’s a little jarring mixing the genie we know with the Fresh Prince persona slipping through, and then a sweet if odd choice of adding in a crush on the princess’s handmaiden. Hmm.

Otherwise, it feels like the aim was to match the cartoon as closely as possible, and this might have been a flaw. The rooftop chase parkour looks like CGI not gone entirely right, and a few other scenes too end up looking cartoonish – and not in a good way, often running at a slightly odd speed or just looking juddery.

So… I dunno. It wasn’t awful, even while it wasn’t great. I was entertained enough but would rather watch the original. On the other hand, it was far more successful than e.g. B&tB, and more than I expected. I’m glad I quenched my curiosity, I’m mildly impressed that they translated as much of the animation as they did, and if nothing else,¬†Friend Like Me¬†and¬†Prince Ali are fab songs – and Will Smith does them well.

Released: 22nd May 2019
Viewed: 8th June 2019
Running time: 128 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 6.5/10

The 5-Minute Recharge – Lynne Everatt, Addie Greco-Sanchez

five minute recharge cover

“It all begins with you.”

Subtitled, “31 Proven Strategies to Refresh, Reset and Become the Boss of Your Day,” The 5-Minute Recharge is a series of hints and tips for improving your mental health and overall well-being. As with any such self-help book, what you get out of it will be highly personal to you, but there is a wide range of topics presented in a straightforward, friendly manner, and I would think something to click with everyone.

The topics are arranged around the headings “Get charged up:”

  • about having enough time
  • by connecting
  • body and mind
  • by feeding the good wolf
  • by pausing to reflect

Each ‘recharge’ has a bit of info, a ‘homework’ assignment, and a list of further reading – I did skip over some of those a bit, but much better presented as they are, with a bit of blurb, than a list of references at the end which I would completely have ignored.

The first section on time probably felt most relevant to me, and while the first tip on making your bed did nothing for me at all, the rest were all thought-provoking and sensible, such as taking breaks to recharge and setting up supporting habits that improve life but don’t take up time/will-power/mental energy. Other sections covered the disconnect between mind and body, positive thinking, and the wonderfully titled “What Would George Clooney Do?” (spoiler: it’s about pretending to ask a ‘wise’ figure for advice).

Overall, it’s a decent dip into the genre, with nothing completely groundbreaking. The exercises are perhaps a bit mixed. If they were easy to do, I don’t know that they’d be of as much value, and yet they’re presented as if they’re simple 2-minute things. If I could magic up my ‘purpose’ that quickly…!! Still, I appreciated the lack of preaching in the tone, and the advice all seems very sensible and well thought-out.

“Wellbeing is, above all, a game of connections.”

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 5 sections
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 22nd April – 20th May 2019

My rating: 7/10

One Word Kill – Mark Lawrence

one word kill cover

“When Dr Parsons finally ran out of alternatives and reached the word ‘cancer’, he moved past it so quickly I almost thought I’d imagined it.”

Having recently fallen in love with Mark Lawrence’s fantasy series,¬†Book of the Ancestor,¬†I jumped at the chance to get this sci-fi offering, billed as¬†Stranger Things meets¬†Ready Player One. It ended up living up to neither for me, but still a decent read.

Nick Hayes may be a mathematical genius at 15, but he’s as unprepared as anyone to be told he has leukaemia. As he starts chemotherapy, he distracts himself with his D&D sessions with his friends, including a newcomer to the group: their first girl, Mia. But he still has to put up with the psychotic school bully, and a strangely familiar man who might be stalking him…

Teenagers with cancer, in the 80s no less, turns out to be a bit of a trigger for me. I was kinda happy that the author got a few bits wrong (contrary to popular imagery, chemo often leaves its victims bloated from steroids, not concentration-camp skinny). As the book goes on and Nick’s story involves more than just hospitals and life expectancy odds it was easier to cope with this bit of the story, but possibly for the first time I feel like offering a warning to other readers.

That aside, I wouldn’t suggest this story hits the heights of either of the ‘meets’ titles. The 1980s nostalgia is fairly light – mentions of using phone boxes and a few tech oldies aside, I’m not sure I would have noticed the ‘period’ setting much, which was ever so slightly disappointing. The characters are fine, but the teenage-ness of it all did little for me. I was put in mind a bit of Neil Gaiman’s¬†Interworld; it all felt a bit for-younger-readers.

Plot-wise it’s difficult to say much without spoilers, but the group of teens end up on a quest that doesn’t feel a million miles from their board games.

Overall, I enjoyed this but it’s not grabbing me anywhere near as much as¬†Red Sister. Still, sequel already started, and I’m curious to see where the story could go.

NetGalley eARC: 201 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Impossible Times book 1 (of 3)
Read from 5th-8th May 2019

My rating: 7.5/10

Tolkien (2019)

tolkien poster

It seems crazy that there hasn’t been a biopic of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, almost certainly the most famous fantasy author of the 20th Century (if not all time, but only because these young folk have no sense of history ;)). Then again, his life wasn’t the most gripping of sagas – his ‘jam’ (as those young people say) largely involving making up languages. Kudos to the writers here for coming up with a way to blend history, poetic license, and a bit of raw imagination to come up with a movie I rather enjoyed.

What I really loved was the attempt to portray inspiration, the way ideas meld from a half-dozen different sources. Cleverly, the film jumps back and forth through time, showing us Tolkien’s early life, orphaned young, falling in love with a fellow orphan; school days; and experiences n the trenches. Fans of¬†Lord of the Rings have long known that those experiences of war fed directly into the book. But here we also get suggestions of where the magical concepts may have come from, and impressively those moments aren’t just jammed down the viewer’s throat: no, there’s a subtlety, that again mirrors how I think of ideas formulating.

The other aspect that comes across well is how the long process of getting all those elements to gel can be. That’s still probably downplayed a bit, but glad it isn’t all “boom” and the story lands fully fledged. Much ūüėČ

Away from writerly themes, the film mixes romance and its period setting. I’m a big fan of the latter, and all of those dusty schooldays at Oxford bits appealed to me somehow. The romance is handled well enough, as is the sense of comradeship that is at the core of it all.

I can understand that non-Tolkien fans might be less gripped by this, but it’s lovely to see biopics of writers – and who, really, can claim quite the impact of JRR? I’m sure he didn’t actually see dragons rising through the smoke on a battlefield, but as poetic images go, it fits perfectly.

Released: 3rd May 2019
Viewed: 3rd May 2019
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Avengers: The Age of Ultron (2015)

age of ultron poster

One question that was frequently asked after the first¬†Avengers movie was “why is this character fighting alone? Where are the other Avengers?” Here, we kick off with just that: the gang back together, kicking Hydra butt.

There’s little love for this middle-est of movies, but I enjoyed it fine at the time and more than that now. Now, it’s clear to see what this movie sets up for the future: Wakanda, vibranium, Ulysses Klaue? Ah,¬†Black Panther.¬†Thanos and the Infinity Stones and Gauntlet =¬†Infinity War / Endgame. How Hulk ends up in Ragnorok.¬†And the bickering between team members is going to walk us straight to¬†Civil War.

But, we still need a movie now, and while this serves well as a bridging between Avengers and future outings, it still has plenty of character development and action.

I’d argue, as ever, Tony Stark is at the heart of this. He’s still traumatised from going through the wormhole in New York, and when new character Scarlet Witch shows him his worst fear – and ooh, is that scene going to be important come Endgame?! – his reactions are both too much, but understandable. Attempting to create a future that does away with the need for the Avengers, his creation, Ultron (wonderfully voiced by James Spader), goes a bit Skynet, seeing the ultimate goal of peace needing a bit of destruction first. Oops.

We also get to see Steve Rogers accepting that ‘the man who went into the ice’ isn’t necessarily who he is now. There is a brief mention of the ‘quest’ from the end of¬†Winter Soldier, making it feel like we’ve not forgotten everyone’s in the middle of something, although events are now more pressing elsewhere.

Perhaps the lack of love for this stems from how tied in it is to everything else. You kind of need to have seen¬†Winter Soldier to understand why SHIELD is in disarray, and the Avengers are now a thing by themselves. The character stuff only makes as much sense when you’ve followed their stories so far.

Of course, not everything is spot on. Personally, I only ‘got’ the whole Nat/Bruce thing when she explicitly explains her interest. And I still hate hate hate the way she talks about being unable to have children and being a ‘monster’ for it – huge misstep in tone. Other revelations are a bit cliched, and there are several scenes that really needed a lot more time to make sense (e.g. Thor’s vision) but which were trimmed for an already over-long movie.

Still. I do love the series, and this is a core slice of that. We also get great scenes like everyone trying to lift Mjolnir (‘mew mew’ forever!) during a party, and a baddie I really like, actually ūüėČ

Released: 23rd April 2015
Viewed: 22nd April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Preludes and Nocturnes – Neil Gaiman

preludes and nocturnes cover

Graphic novels should, it feels, appeal to me a whole lot more than they do. As it is, I read so fast the artwork tends to get lost, and it’s tough to make myself slow down enough to savour it. It works, then, to go back for rereads – like this, of a series that I rather adore.

I love Neil Gaiman’s work anyway, but never more so than with his tales of the Endless: Death, Dream, Desire, et al. The first collected volume is wholly centred on Morpheus, the ‘Sandman’, the King of Dreams.

We start when a cult’s ritual to summon and bind Death (Dream’s big sister) goes awry, and it’s the dreamlord who ends up trapped in a bubble for decades. Meanwhile more than one world starts to fall apart. Fair enough to assume Morpheus will escape, but can he fix everything his absence has caused in the worlds?

And so we set off on an extremely dark and bloody tale that takes our hero to hell and worse. There’s no shortage of cameos, tying this into the wider DC universe: from Arkham Asylum and a few familiar inmates, to a certain John Constantine, and a character that would go on to spawn (pun intended) further comics and a whole TV series: Lucifer Morningstar (looking not very much like Tom Ellis, and a great deal like David Bowie, as it happens…!).

Talking of looks, the artwork… to be honest, doesn’t do a great deal for me here. It’s fine, but it’s not as special as my brain remembers or I think the series deserves. It does improve, but at this point in both the series and the decade, it’s all just a bit so-so.

The story, however, is where it’s at. Gaiman also draws heavily from myth, from Cain and Abel to the Fates, and much more. It makes a lot of sense that Dream is so key to story telling, and all stories are part of it. I love the interplay, the different strands, the way all these realities clash and combine.

Much as I adore the overreaching story (in 11 volumes or so) I’d have to agree with the author in his afterword that these opening chapters are him finding his feet. It’s only towards the end that I really felt we were starting to settle into the characters.

But, the best is very definitely still ahead, so well worth dipping a toe into the beginnings…!

Trade Paperback: 240 pages / 8 sections
First published: 1989
Series: Sandman book 1
Read from 31st March – 6th April 2019

My rating: 7/10 – and so much more love for the rest of the series