Shadow Captain – Alastair Reynolds

Shadow Captain cover

“‘Tell me what you think you saw.'”

Following on immediately from the events in Revenger, usual warning that even mentioning characters that made it to the sequel can be a kind of spoiler. And my opening lines are definitely book 1 spoilers…!

Okay with that? Then read on!

Having won and renamed The Revenger, the Ness sisters are free of Bosa Sennen – or, are they? Did Adrana’s time being groomed as her successor leave its mark or did Arafura’s rescue come in time? And what of Fura – she had to change to beat the galaxy’s biggest evil, does that leave an even bigger mark? The two have clearly grown up – it’s tough to remember they’re supposed to be 18-ish, even more to remember Adrana is the elder – and their objectives have changed. Not wholly through choice, though, as escaping the shadow of Bosa is harder than they thought…

I’d reread Revenger in preparation for this, and as such it came as a bit of a surprise to find the first person narrative switching from Fura to Adrana. In fact, I found it so hard to switch mental gears, that I put the book down and read something else first!

It is clear from the story why the viewpoint had to change, but it takes a while to feel not-weird. Whether that was my brain adjusting, or the writing developing a more distinctive tone – not sure.

It also helps immensely when the action gets going, and by the time the crew land on-world the descriptions of the decaying, corrupt place were spot on.

Overall, there are enough mysteries to keep you guessing – with a few more explanations for some of the world-building, like the genesis of the Congregation (they did *what* to Earth, Mars, et al?!) – but none more so than wondering about the motivations of the characters.

Still, as enjoyable as this was, for me it doesn’t live up to Alastair Reynolds’ other work. The difference is writing for (I believe) more a YA audience, and something in the tone just didn’t work as well for me. I will look out for the third volume of the trilogy, though, as I’m intrigued enough to see where the Ness sisters end their story…!

Hardback: 488 pages / 25 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Revenger book 2
Read from 1st September – 10th October 2019

My rating: 7/10

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Last Pen Standing – Vivian Conroy

last pen standing cover

“Even though the sign of her destination was already in sight, calling out a warm welcome to Tundish, Montana, “the town with a heart of gold,” Delta Douglas couldn’t resist the temptation to stop her car, reach for the sketchbook in the passenger seat, and draw the orange and gold trees covering a mountain flank all the way to where the snow-peaked top began.”

My foray into the cosy mystery genre has so far centred around books set in bookshops or libraries. This new series is set in the world of craft supplies and notebooks, another topic that appeals to me greatly.

Delta Douglas has been lucky enough to come into enough money to leave her stressful graphic design job in the city and pursue her dream: to own a stationery shop. But her move to a picturesque tourist town quickly goes from glitter to murder. Worse, her best friend and business partner is implicated in the case. Can Delta enlist the help of the ‘Paper Posse’ crafting group, find the real murderer, and save her friend – or will poking her nose into the crime put her in more danger?

This book ticks all the boxes for a cosy mystery: dream job, move to a small town, helpful locals, possible love-interest, hobbies, cake, and dogs. It’s also well written, with plenty of mystery to keep me guessing. The big reveal doesn’t quite pack a (craft) punch, but that’s as expected from the genre, I think.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing voice, the story and descriptions, and will definitely be looking out for the sequel. I’m also feeling quite inspired on the crafty front – bonus! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 18 chapters
First published: September 2019
Series: Stationery Shop Mystery book 1
Read from 21st-10th September 2019

My rating: 7/10

Lost and Found – Orson Scott Card

lost and found cover

“Ezekiel Blast liked to walk to school alone.”

Ezekiel Bliss has an unusual ‘gift’: he is aware of lost objects around him, and has an urge to return them to their owners. Sounds useful, right? But who wants a stranger approaching them with a muddy scrunchie? And if someone approaches you with a valuable, lost item, how else could they have known it was yours unless they’d been the one to take it, right?

Shunned and mistrustful, Ezekiel plods through life as best he can, until the day a girl decides she’s going to walk to school with him. Soon they pair are caught up in a kidnapping case, and part of a research group looking into ‘micropowers’ – things like Ezekiel’s finding ability.

I’ll start by saying this: Lost and Found has nothing in common with OSC’s most famous work, Ender’s Game. The sci-fi element is as low-key as the micropowers being used and investigated, with the plot being centred more around the group – Ezekiel, Beth, FBI Agent Shank, and Mr Bliss – being pulled into the search for a missing child. However, the story is probably more about relationships and loss, and navigating life when you’re a bit too different.

I didn’t really know what to expect, and overall I wasn’t entirely blown away by the mystery or world-building – micropowers are interesting, but they aren’t really explained or deeply explored beyond being the central plot device. But I was sucked into the story almost from the get-go, mainly by the dialogue-driven character interactions. I liked that the grown ups are pulled into the quest, it’s not just the kids. And those kids are smart and self-deprecating, very not-annoying!

Overall, a decent read – nothing earth-shattering, but held my interest despite feeling vaguely familiar, either plot-wise or maybe just in tone – I couldn’t put my finger on it. But while I’m not branding it a ‘must-read’, it won’t disappoint if you do find yourself picking it up.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 21 chapters
First published: 10th September 2019
Series: none
Read from 27th-31st August 2019

My rating: 7/10

Mythologica – Stephen P Kershaw

An Encyclopedia of Gods, Monsters and Mortals from Ancient Greece.

“Myths are important. Greek myths are much more than children’s stories… They might, or might not, be true, but this doesn’t take away their power. They are traditional tales that are incredibly important to the people who tell them. But they are also free-flowing, adaptable, and very good for us to think about. They help us to understand the world.”

I absolutely adore Greek mythology, so even though this is marketed as a kids’ book, it still caught my eye. And how would it not – have you seen the artwork!?

mythologica_argosThe modern, abstract style is beyond eye-catching. It’s not something I’d associate with a book for children, but hey – what do I know? I loved it myself, although I did wonder if some – like the picture of Argos covered in eyes would perhaps be a little scary for younger kids.

I don’t think this is for too young an audience, to be honest, although that’s more to do with the myths than the language. The latter is fairly dumbed-down – I was particularly unimpressed with Athena being “totally awesome in battle” *eye roll* – but you might struggle to explain why Zeus married his sister, for instance.

The text was a bit of a let down after the art, with the briefest of bios on fifty various characters from the Greek pantheon and myths. Each gets just one page, meaning they are often quite ‘busy’. There’s perhaps an overdose of different fonts used trying to separate out various snippets of text, but again, perhaps this would be ‘exciting’ to a childish eye?

But, back to that artwork. It’s so refreshing, so challenging from any other Greek myth artwork I’ve seen. I’m feeling very inspired – and I’d grab a ‘coffee table book’ version of this for that alone!

NetGalley eARC: 112 pages
First published: 3rd September 2019
Series: none
Finished reading: 1st September 2019

My rating: 7/10

Hobbs and Shaw (2019)

hobbs and shaw poster

The characters of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) have been spun-out of their bit-parts in the Fast and Furious franchise to butt heads in their own movie. F&F is big, flashy, daft fun – H&S is dafter and even more fun!

They might hate each other – see previous movies – but when a genetically engineered super-virus is stolen from a Mission: Impossible plot – I mean, from an armoured truck (ahem!) – Hobbs and Shaw are brought together (by the most unexpected cameo role!) to recover the virus and save Shaw’s sister. It won’t be that easy, though, not with Shaw’s ex-military compatriot, Brixton (Idris Elba), aiming for the virus himself – and that’s after his bullet-riddled body (courtesy of Shaw, natch) has had some serious cybernetic upgrades…!

I went into this expecting loud and flashy and daft and fun and I can confirm I got a full house of ticks on those fronts. It’s not high art or going to trouble the awards shows, but sometimes that’s exactly what you want.

The biggest draw is of course seeing the two leads facing off – and that brings a lot of fun and giggles. However, the movie is probably at least half an hour too long, and when the playing-for-laughs is shoved aside for out-and-out action, laid on as thick as the ‘message(s)’ (importance of family, in keeping with the F&F franchise , old ways over tech, the power of working together, blah blah), I turned off a bit and let the generic action movie stuff roll past.

Still, you can’t really complain about an action movie having too much action! Kudos to letting the woman, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), kick just as much ass as the boys. Idris makes a delicious baddy, although (as ever!) his character peters out a bit towards the end and could have done with more… something.

For the leads – well, the Rock is the Rock, and the Stath is the Stath. Not much more to say! Oh, apart from a couple of unexpected cameos – not quite as funny as they thought, but still amusing. Although watch out: when a familiar face starts talking during the mid-credits scene, there are some big Game of Thrones (!) finale spoilers!

There’s no subtlety here: you know from the genre if you’re likely to like it a lot, or not even slightly. I’d say it’s more fun than the F&F main movies, more hamming it up for laughs – and I quite liked that.

Released:
Viewed: 3rd August 2019
Running time: 135 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

The Current War (2017)

current war poster

It was the starry cast that attracted me to this, rather than another retelling of the fight between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), which I thought I knew (enough) about. But this isn’t that fight, or rather, Tesla is only a bit-player, and the real ‘war’ is between inventor Edison and industrialist, George Westerhouse (Michael Shannon).

Both men want to bring electricity to widespread use. Edison, inventor of the lightbulb, first pushes his direct current (DC). Westerhouse buys patents from others, and cannot infringe on Edison’s creations, and so uses the more powerful alternating current (AC). However, Edison soon begins a slanging match, claiming AC is deadly – and look, here’s a horse being electrocuted to prove it (!).

The crux will come with the 1983 World Fair in Chicago, with both sides vying to light up the city. Only one can win. But, at what cost?

It seems odd that electricity, so staple a part of modern life, has really only been used as it is for a little over 100 years. It is intriguing seeing the technology’s start, but the film is just as much about the personal issues. Did Westerhouse feel slighted by a socially dismissive Edison? Both men are shown to be highly affected by their wives. Both have egos and a desire to be remembered, or to change the world for the better.

While interesting and enjoyable enough, I wouldn’t say this was the most gripping piece of cinema. The cast – also including Tom Holland, Matthew MacFadyen, Tuppence Middleton, and Katherine Waterston – is indeed fantastic, and it’s nice that the characters are given time to (no pun intended) shine.

It was also interesting that they pitted Edison against an industrialist. I’m not sure Tesla’s part in this isn’t vastly underplayed, right enough, so historically I’m still debating that, but dramatically the juxtaposition was played well. The movie does become about the light and dark (okay, okay, that pun is deliberate!) of each man’s soul, each facing their own principles and each feeling driven to act against those. With the actors involved, it is all done rather well.

However, it *is* kind of slow, and you know what’s going to happen, and… yeah, it was fine. Maybe save it for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Released: 26th July 2019
Viewed: 26th July 2019
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

PS: the movie was made and released at various film festivals in 2017 but due to the involvement of producer Harvey Weinstein, distangling that element saw everything  shelved until the current release schedule.

Murder at the British Museum – Jim Eldridge

murder at the british museum cover

“Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton walked through the high-barred black iron gateway in Great Russell Street that gave entrance to the British Museum, then strode across the wide piazza towards the long row of towering Doric columns that fronted the magnificent building.”

Former Scotland Yard Inspector Daniel Wilson now works as a ‘private enquiry agent’ – private investigator to the rest of us. Along with new partner (which would be a spoiler for book 1, it turns out), historian Abigail Fenton, he’s called in to investigate a murder in – as the title suggests! – the British Museum. Who would have wanted to viciously stab the author of a book about King Arthur?

Set in London not long after the Jack the Ripper investigation, one of the appeals of this book was the period setting. I don’t think it worked quite as well for me as I’d hoped, nor the handling of the female lead. She’s quite kick-ass, and modern, and then does some daft girlie things that had me rolling my eyes a little.

I could imagine the author identifying quite strongly with his lead character, but the rest of the cast can be a little flat. In particular, the Scotland Yard Chief Inspector feels like quite a stereotype. I also found the author’s expansive historical knowledge a little too spelled out at times, with mini-info dumps at regular intervals. Likewise the geography of London is a little too in-depth at times.

And yet, despite these perceived flaws, I still fairly enjoyed the read. The chapters are short and the pace brisk, and the tone is relatively light but not remotely fluffy. I was in the mood for an easy read, and this fit the bill well – so much, that I’ve requested the first installment from the library.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Museum Mysteries book 2
Read from 15th-20th July 2019

My rating: 7/10