A Dog’s Purpose (2017)

As soon as I saw the trailer for this, I knew exactly what would happen if I watched it – and I was right! I needed pretty much a whole box of tissues, as I’m an absolute sap for dogs, and a movie with half the purpose being the damn dog dying – repeatedly! – was never going to go dried-eyed.

Which isn’t really a complaint! A Dog’s Purpose is a wonderfully sweet little movie, told with a voice-over from a dog questioning his purpose through a handful of lives. He seems quite bemused at finding himself a puppy again and again, but the narration isn’t allowed to stray too far from a canine perspective. So, for instance, he thinks his people kissing must be a search for food hidden in the mouth, and the donkey is re-labelled ‘horse dog’. Sure, it can be a little cliched, but it fits.

Despite stints as a police alsatian and over-fed corgi, the initial and main part of the story is as much about owner Ethan’s life in a small town in the 1960s, growing up, and how hopes and dreams ebb and flow. I liked that there is a sense of each successive life revealing a little more of the ‘big picture’ to the pup, and – as the trailer very nearly spoils – how that circles back to the beginning again.

To be honest it’s sweet and familiar rather than particularly meaningful, and what depth there is is more than a little well-worn. But if you manage not to shed a tear over the course of the movie then – well, you must be a cat person – and hiss to that 😉

PS I wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding this movie, but as far as I can read it was a claim that the dogs had been mistreated in the water scene and was proven false.

Released: 5th May 2017
Viewed: 10th May 2017
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: PG – the small child at the end of my row seemed entirely fine; it was just me crying like a baby!

My rating: 7/10

Their Finest (2016)

The Second World War was a time of enormous social change, not least because – as one character in the film puts it – women and old men get opportunities they wouldn’t normally, since all the young men are off fighting and dying.

One such opportunity arrives for Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) when she’s recruited to write ‘slop’ – i.e. women’s dialogue – in the Ministry of Information’s propaganda films. She’s soon working as part of a scriptwriting team to write an “authentic and optimistic” movie to inspire the beleaguered nation to continue to support the war effort – and, perhaps, persuade the Americans to join in to what they’ve been viewing as a European issue.

As the movie-within-the-movie progresses, we get to watch often prickly relationships develop into friendships, all against a very un-cosy backdrop of the realities of the ongoing war. Far from the sweet and gentle movie I was expecting, people do die, or see their lives buried in rubble, or just cower in the tube tunnels as the air raids go on night after night. And yet, still, people get on and the movie goes on, and overall there is hope.

Based on a novel with the much better and more illuminating title, Their Finest Hour and a Half, this is worth a watch for romantics and realists, and those who will – like me – smile the broadest at the scenes of how a ‘real life’ event is taken apart and put back together to tell a story more ‘worth telling’.

Released: 21st April 2017
Viewed: 25th April 2017
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 12A with a surprising (although not exactly gratuitous) amount of swearing, and some quite dark and potentially upsetting deaths

My rating: 7.5/10

Children of Thorns, Children of Water – Aliette de Bodard

“It was a large, magnificent room with intricate patterns of ivy branches on the tiles, and a large mirror above a marble fireplace, the mantlepiece crammed with curios from delicate silver bowls to Chinese blue-and-white porcelain figures: a clear statement of casual power, to leave so many riches where everyone could grab them.”

It would make sense to have read House of Shattered Wings, the first book in the Dominion of the Fallen series, before requesting this between-first-and-second-book short from NetGalley. But, I’d read the opening of the original, liked the premise, but been a little put off by the reviews, so what better way of giving the writing style and story elements a chance?

I love the premise here: in a futuristic yet olde-worlde Paris (huzzah for slightly different locations than the ‘norm’), the survivors of a war in Heaven are divided into Houses vying for power over the shattered city. Scavengers ‘loot’ the bodies of Fallen Angels – literally, as in, stripping the flesh off of fingers, to mine for magic. Ick.

Without wanting to give too much away – you might be more inclined to read things in the proper order, after all! – Children of Thorns shows two applicants to one of the great Houses, masquerading as ‘houseless’ ones to infiltrate a rival power. The application process is perhaps a little unusual, but when strange magical eddies start to swirl, the test becomes more global…

I can see how this would lead into the next book, The House of Binding Thorns. Indeed, this was released as a bonus for pre-ordering the second installment, and was previously not available in any other way.

I was reasonably impressed. There’s a darkness here, and also enough of a difference from most fantasy-type fiction to pique my interest. I’m fully planning on allowing my to-read list to groan some more, and start back at the beginning!

NetGalley eARC: ~34 pages
First published: April 2017
Series: Dominion of the Fallen book 1.5
Read from 13th-15th April 2017

My rating: 7.5/10

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

A bookish young woman is captured by an enchanted prince. Only love can break the spell that transformed him into a beast – and his servants into various household objects. A tale as old as time, the song says – and sure enough, here we’ve got a pretty straight retelling of the 1991 Disney animation, although this time with real actors.

To be honest, while I do think this was a good updating – a few story elements are brushed up a little, and Belle is a bit more feisty – and I’m aware of quite a few people really loving it, if anything I was just a tad disappointed. Then again, I wasn’t quite the right age to totally adore the original either, so maybe that’s a factor.

The first issue I had is the cast. Emma Watson isn’t a favourite of mine anyway, and I’m not the only one who found her surprisingly wooden in this. So many times the expression on her face was disgust instead of fear, or fear instead something more complex. And while she has a sweet enough singing voice, it really lacks any oomph necessary for this role, and the technical shenanigans to get ’round that become a little too obvious.

It doesn’t help that her co-star is a CGI monstrosity, and I don’t mean that in a particularly good way. With modern tech, I think I’ve just come to expect something… better. Likewise with the supporting cast, all voiced well enough by the likes of Sir Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, and Ewan McGregor, but I just felt the CGI lacked a bit of charm at times, or just couldn’t sit entirely comfortably in a ‘live’ setting.

The only cast member I did wholly like was Luke Evans as Gaston – he looked made for the role, and has quite the set of lungs on him! Of course, when you’re left only really liking the baddie of the piece… urm…! o_O

Which is a lot of complaining for a movie I’m about to rate 7/10, and to be honest it wasn’t all that bad – just, as I said, a little disappointing for me. On the plus side, it looks lovely, and the filmmakers took the wise choice to add to the familiar songs, rather than start over, so there was a lot of toe tapping smiles. If the story felt a little bloated in the expansion for me, I’ll bow out gracefully as not exactly being the target audience – new, or nostalgia-led.

If you do enjoy this, you might be pleased to know that live-action remakes are being talked about for all sorts of other Disney classics, including Aladdin, Dumbo, and The Lion King! (you can read more on Cineworld‘s blog).

Released: 17th March
Viewed: 25th March 2017
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 7/10

All Our Wrong Todays – Elan Mastai

“So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have.”

Tom Barren lives in a 2016 that looks a lot like 1950s sci-fi predicted it would. Following the invention of unlimited free energy in the 1960s, his timeline is full of everyday wonders – and yet Tom is miserable, useless and out of place. When a series of mistakes end up with him travelling back in time, Tom proves his worth yet again by fouling up the world’s biggest invention – and boomerangs back to 2016, but not the one he knows.

Can Tom fix the timeline and get back home? Can he survive in our version of 2016, with pollution and wars and all the bad stuff? But, what about the good stuff he finds – like, a sister never born in his timeline, or a love of his life?

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I do like time travel and alternate reality stories, and this one has quite the intriguing premise for those. On the other, it takes almost half the book to really get going on those things, and prior to that we get a lot of whining from the narrator about how useless he is, etc etc. Which is why I put the book down and went and read something else.

However, I am glad I came back to it, as the good bit of the story is very definitely the second half. Suddenly, we have proper action and ‘oh no!’ moments and the need to find out what will happen next – and, of course, time travel conundrums a-plenty.

It’s tough to suggest slogging through the first half, but there are plenty of reviewers who didn’t seem to mind so much. It is, I’ll confess, quite a relief to have a flawed, very human lead character. For the ideas, the imagination, and the wanting to know what happens – yeah, glad I stuck with it!

NetGalley eARC: 393 pages / 137 chapters
First published: February 2017
Series: none
Read from 3rd February – 24th March 2017

My rating: 7/10

The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith

“Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill.”

This is one of those books that I sort of meant to read somewhere along the way, and never quite got around to – huge thanks to NetGalley, therefore, for the eARC and chance to rectify that!

My awareness of this series actually comes from the TV adaptation done back in 2009 (who let that be so long ago?! o_O) which I enjoyed: it was ‘nice’ and sweet and a lovely glimpse of a culture vastly different to my own.

The source book isn’t so very different, and a vague remembering of the plot lines only added to the sense of coziness. There is something lovely about snuggling under the duvet on a cold Scottish evening (and, of course, the author is based locally, but has lived in Botswana) reading about the vastness of the Kalahari.

I’m wary of the idea of taking this as too true to life – I’m sure the realities are a little less sugar-coated, despite the mentions of scorpions, snakes, and witch doctors. But, in a world such as the one we find ourselves in right now, I’ll take cosy and comforting – especially one that lets me ‘travel’ as far as this.

Looking forward to picking up the sequels – and there are many! – with far less delay!

NetGalley eARC: ~235 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 1998
Series: No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency book 1 (of 17, currently)
Read from 2nd-8th March 2017

My rating: 7/10

Elementary, She Read – Vicki Delany

“The Great Detective eyed me. I eyed him back. ‘Don’t give me any of your cheek, you.'”

I’m a sucker for books about books, or set in book shops. I’m also quite fond of Sherlock Holmes, especially the newer versions, so there was a lot to catch my eye with this one.

Gemma Doyle – probably distantly related to the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, according to her own uncle Arthur – left England after the breakup of her marriage, and now owns and runs a Sherlock Holmes-themed store in a small tourist town in Cape Cod, North America. When she discovers what looks to be a rare original magazine containing the first Holmes story, hidden on a shelf in her shop, her instincts tell her something is clearly afoot.

Her own sleuthing abilities quickly help her track down the magazine’s owner – alas, a little bit dead. Unless there’s a hugely improbable coincidence going on, Gemma deducts that the two events are likely connected. However, her attempts to figure out what might be going on bring her into the focus of the police – and Gemma is soon the prime suspect in not one but several crimes!

I found this a sweet, light little tale. The mystery is well handled, overall, and suitably, urm, mysterious (!), but to be honest the ‘nice’ tone is probably the strongest element. Small town life, great friends, owning a bookstore, eating leftover scones from the tearoom every day – it’s all very lovely. Just, y’know, with added dead people o_O

The characters – supporting in particular – do tend a little toward the one-dimensional (harridan neighbouring shop owner, for instance). As the main character, Gemma is a bit harder to critique. On the one hand, there is a large amount of hinted-at backstory, which provides an interesting depth, but on the other it’s odd that she is so completely unaware of being a female Sherlock Holmes. In fact, that’s sort of the point of the book: female sleuth with incredible powers of deduction, and a best friend with the initials JW.

Overall, I liked – I was in the mood for something candyfloss light, and this pretty much fit the bill. I’d happily peruse some of the next volumes if/when they happen, but don’t go looking for the next thrilling page-gripper.

NetGalley eARC: ~320 pages / 21 chapters
First published: March 2017
Series: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 1
Read from 18-20th February 2017

My rating: 7/10