Just Draw Fineliner Art – Liam Carver

just draw fineliner art cover

Incredible illustrations crafted with fineliner pens.

I’d love to be more artistic and am always drawn to art books. However, they can often be more daunting than inspirational, either through fantastic skill or ‘complicated’ and/or expensive materials. Fineliner pens, however, are something I already own. I might still feel a little daunted about the skills on display, but that’s aspirational 😉

That said, the art here does cover the ‘wow, never in a million years’ through to ‘hmm, maybe with a bit of practice’ – which is perfect 🙂 Huge plus: it all starts with a ‘visual index’ – thumbnails of all the images from the book, making it really easy to find specific drawings, as well as just being quite the ‘wow’ page seeing all the talent on display from 34 different artists.

Each picture in the main section gets a double spread, and is accompanied by a brief description, highlighting a particular technique used in that drawing, and a ‘tip’ to encourage you to try it yourself. To be honest, I found the descriptions a little odd sometimes, as if the author had written them after looking at the piece, rather than getting information from the artist. Certainly, the discussion on his own work sounds a lot deeper and more confident – perhaps only to be expected.

The book ends with the almost obligatory section on materials, plus a list of further resources. It’s not surprising to see a link to Jake Parker’s Inktober website: the whole book feels strongly linked to the whole Inktober challenge. So if you are feeling inspired to pick up a fineliner, perhaps you’d also like to join this year’s online challenges 🙂

Overall: visually lovely, with a range of useful tips. One to dip in and out of for inspiration.

NetGalley eARC: 210 pages
First published: 3rd March 2020
Series: none
Read from: 2nd February – 1st March 2020

My rating: 7/10

Legion (season 2)

legion s2 poster

In its first season, Legion established itself as ‘a bit weird’ (!). However, right from the word go, season two is just… bizarre. We finally see the interior of Division 3, and alongside strange design and twisty architecture, we find it’s run by a man with a basket on his head, who communicates via a trio of identical, mustachioed young women. Yes, women. And buckle up, gang, ‘cos that’s just the opening five minutes…

I absolutely adored series 1 and its fresh take on the superhero/comic genre. David Haller goes from troubled inmate of a mental institution to possibly the most powerful mutant on the planet, and it’s a heady ride. Series 2 kicks off with a bit of a blip – suddenly everyone seems to know that the Shadow King is Amahl Farouk, and who that is – and a relatively straightforward quest for David, Syd, and the rest of the Summerland gang, plus their new allies, to track down Farouk’s body before he does.

However, the whole series is anything but straightforward. Perhaps the plot is too simple, perhaps the writers/directors just wanted to flex their imaginations. Thus we get some absolutely bizarre episodes even by the standards of a show as ‘out there’ as this. Some are spectacular – e.g. one episode explores all the different ways David’s life could have played out, another takes us groundhog day-like through Syd’s past – and even when they fall short of that there’s still a lot to be enjoyed. On the other hand, your patience might be a little strained by the weirdness and random meandering away from the point, whatever it is.

I think this is why it took me a second attempt to get through this series, as much as I love the show as a whole. It was worth it, though: everything leads up to a denouement that the story is far from over, and anything could happen in (the final) series 3…!

First broadcast: April 2018
Series: 2 (of 3)
Episodes: 11 @ ~49 mins each

My rating: 7.5/10

Bound for Murder – Victoria Gilbert

bound for murder cover

“There are two times in a woman’s life when complete strangers think it’s appropriate to offer unsolicited advice – when she’s obviously pregnant, and when they discover she’s planning a wedding.”

When bones are uncovered on her friend’s grandparents’ farm, Librarian Amy Webber is about to be caught up in another murder mystery. Perhaps the hippy commune they ran in the 1960s wasn’t all peace and love…

Amy’s life is going pretty well. We first met her back in A Murder for the Books, and this is the fourth book in the series. She’s pretty incapable of not poking her nose into a mystery, but then, this time ’round it’s to help best friend, Sunny, who’s campaign to be elected town mayor can only be damaged by the scandal surrounding her grandparents.

The mystery element is built well, with various suspects as well as the suspense of who’s bones have been discovered – and who is behind the attempts to scare Amy off the investigation.

Being a cosy mystery, this is as much about the characters’ lives, and so we have continuing wedding plans, relationship issues, and family dramas to contend with.

It’s not high art, but it’s a fun palette cleanser – easy to read, well written, albeit a bit on the fluffy side.

NetGalley eARC: 29 chapters
First published: 7th January 2020
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 4
Read from 7th-16th December 2019

My rating: 7/10

The Extremely Busy Woman’s Guide to Self-Care – Suzanne Falter

extremely busy womans guide to self care cover

“Do less, achieve more, and live the life you want.”

Happy 2020! Have you made some New Year resolutions? What if, instead of punishing yourself to spend more time in the gym, or giving up the foods you love, you instead approached life with a mindset of first of all taking care of yourself? What if doing so wasn’t selfish, or self-indulgent? What if you could prioritise being nice to yourself and not only still achieve what you needed to, but actually get far, far more out of life?

As I started reading this book, I felt like a great big ‘yes’ was settling in. It makes so much sense. Life shouldn’t be a constant struggle – and yup, I can see that if I’d just breath and go with the flow, things would be easier, and I could be happier. That’s not to say I’d spend my life meditating while the dishes piled up – but I’ve already had the ‘revelation’ that housework isn’t so bad, as it gets me something I want: a lovely clean living space. I’m still working on the idea that exercise is also a form of self care 😉

I’d love to say that the book continued to inspire me, but to be honest it fell into fairly well-worn paths. Like so many self-help authors, the changes that led to the writing of the book came after a crisis: the death of her daughter. It’s harsh to say, but tbh I’m fed up of the twinge of discomfort I get every time self-help is accompanied by the author’s grief or self-therapy.

Still, there’s a lot to get out of the book. Each chapter comes with exercises to journal about, and obviously you’ll get the most from the process by spending the time to do these properly.

My favourite chapter was near the beginning, “The big illusion about getting stuff done”. This spoke to me: pointing out the crazy treadmill we get ourselves on, pushing to do more more more. Whereas, contrary as it seems when you’re in that headspace, stopping and resting, and breathing, you can get far more done and with far less internal push-back. Like I said, doing the dishes = clean house = happier me. Odd, but true!

The book goes on to cover many good, if not unexpected topics, from setting boundaries, eschewing perfectionism, asking for help, etc. The second section gives all of the self-care areas, including sleep, vacations, love, nutrition and exercise, fun. I did have a little red flag when she started on about adrenal fatigue – as far as I’m aware that’s still not a recognised ‘thing’, and I wasn’t too impressed with the level of authority with which the topic was presented. It’s a reminder that self-help books are 99.9% personal opinion, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

My the last section, about getting more self-care habits into your life, I was slogging a bit as everything became fairly familiar. And again harsh but to be honest: the constant quotes from her dead daughter’s diary felt a bit creepy rather than motivational. Ymmv.

There’s plenty to like in this book, and it’s well enough written, but with just those few bits I wasn’t comfortable with. Still, I absolutely love the message: look after yourself – why wouldn’t you?!

NetGalley eARC: 240 pages / 37 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 13th November – 28th December 2019

My rating: 7/10

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

rise of skywalker poster

Here we are. 42 years since Star Wars (aka Episode 4, A New Hope) hit the big screen and created a cultural phenomenon. Now we finally reach the ‘end’, of the so-called Skywalker saga, at any rate, with Episode 9.

It’s been a rocky path. Few people loved the prequel trilogy, and this final trilogy seemed to enrage the fans. Personally, I rather enjoyed my rewatch of episodes 7 and 8 this week, although I can see why they were disappointing if you were more invested in the universe than I’ve ever managed. And so I went into this fully expecting another slice of entertainment.

Aaand… even I, not a rabid fan, came away just a bit disappointed. Oh, it looks glorious. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is great as a strong, conflicted new Jedi. Kylo Ren has managed to become more interesting than the stroppy teen from Ep7. Poe (Oscar Isaac) gets to smoulder and flirt with everything and anything. And then there’s the cameos, the old familiar faces, some new faces, the pulling together of threads from 8 other movies, the quest to find the thing that’ll let them find the other thing, the psychological stuff, Finn’s sudden Force-ish awareness, battles, morals, sand, space, more sand, and the resurrection of an old enemy.

Phew o.O

Which is to say that it feels like they threw in everything bar the kitchen sink (although I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in the background somewhere as some kind of easter egg) and managed to make rather a glorious mess.

Oh, it’s not awful. But I hoped for more. Instead it’s trying too hard on pretty much every level. There are fan nods and nostalgia things, some of which work more than others. There are also a raft of new characters and as many new planets as they could squeeze in, but there’s no time for half of it. And with so many threads to tie up, some aren’t really done justice – character development in particular goes out of the window, sometimes clashing with the previous movie(s).

I think my main complaint is that it all feels rather disjointed. Both in-movie, and in-series; I don’t think they’ve picked the right elements to focus on, or brought back things to make for the most satisfying story. And yet, the main stories, for the main characters, those are mostly dealt with. Perhaps it was just always going to be too much, tying together this universe. I highly doubt it’s the last we see of it, right enough.

Released: 19th December 2019
Viewed: 29th December 2019
Running time: 142 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10 – not awful, not amazing, bonus mark for looking amazing

Clone Wars (season 1)

clone wars s1 poster

George Lucas’s prequel trilogy to Star Wars received mixed reviews. Dealing more with politics than space battles, there’s a lot of ‘history’ and story to pack into three movies. With so much left off-screen, there’s ample room for a series or seven to fill in – enter Clone Wars, the animated series set between episodes 2 and 3.

Episode II aka Attack of the Clones shows the events leading up to the Clone Wars. The Galactic Republic, newly endowed with a somewhat mysterious clone army, is battling the droid army of the Separatists. At this point there’s no confusion between good and bad, with the Jedi and the Senate up against Sith Lords such as Count Dooku, and any number of unpleasant dark allies.

There’s a lot to like about this series, especially for those who found the prequel trilogy a bit dull. It’s high on Saturday morning cartoon adventures, complete with a cheesy announcer at the start of each episode, given us a recap of where the overarching story is up to. Not that it matters too much, with each episode being a fairly self-contained mini-mission.

It all very definitely adds to the film series, giving us more time with characters that are perhaps not given quite enough development otherwise. In particular, we get to see Anakin Skywalker as a Jedi hero, glimpses of what we know is ahead but still very much a good guy, albeit impetuous. His relationship with Padme is allowed more space, too, taking away a bit of the creepy factor from the swift presentation of meeting-as-a-child, unwelcome declaration of love, through to sudden marriage.

We also get to see a lot more of Obi-Wan Kenobi, again as a Jedi general in his prime, as well as many other familiar faces, including Mace Windu, Yoda, and Jar Jar Binks. And it’s hugely interesting to see the Clones as individuals, not just the faceless Stormtroopers we’ll become more familiar with.

Each episode is just the right length to tell a sliver of story, and the animation is pretty good, highly stylised but fitting the material. In tone it’s far more like the original trilogy (so, eps 4-6) than the more po-faced 1-3 or dark angst of 7-9 (I assume, haven’t seen the last one yet!), full of joy of just telling pew pew stories across a galaxy full of different species and mechs and all sorts of things more interesting than trade blockades or emo bad guys. Ymmv, but I’m all for the fun 🙂

First broadcast: 2008
Series: 7
Episodes: 22 @ ~23 mins each

My rating: 7.5/10

21 Bridges (2019)

21 bridges poster

When a robbery goes wrong and several cops are left dead, who else would be called in but the cop that kills cop killers? Fresh from an Internal Affairs review board, Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is left in no doubt what is expected of him in this case. Given just a matter of hours to catch the killers, before those ’21 Bridges’ in and out of the island of Manhattan must be reopened, the race is on and tension levels are skyrocketing.

Meanwhile, the robbers are doubting the job they’ve just pulled, or the stumbling blocks to their escape. Davis, too, is questioning if things are quite what they seem.

Mark Kermode described this as a “B-movie with an A-list cast”, and quite frankly I can’t top that. 21 Bridges is a pretty straightforward crime thriller, with even the ‘twist’ signposted practically from the beginning. And yet, it’s well made with an excellent cast, and manages to be perfectly watchable and indeed, quite enjoyable.

Still, there’s nothing too novel here. Production values aside, this could have been made at pretty much any point from the 1970s onward. Grab some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the action – brain not particularly required.

Released: 22nd November 2019
Viewed: 22nd November 2019
Running time: 99 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10