A Scandal in Scarlet – Vicki Delany

a scandal in scarlet cover

“I love owning a dog.”

Of all the book-related cosy mysteries that have become my go-to ‘palette cleanse’, easy-read choice, this series is almost certainly my favourite. Gemma Doyle is smarter than me, but I relate to her logical way of looking at the world, and both her love-life and dog ownership are thankfully kept as just a backing piece to the stories of murder and books.

The Scarlet of the title refers to a historical museum, popular with school parties and tourists in Gemma’s peaceful (well…!) little town. When a fire destroys a large part of it, local residents rally round to help raise funds for the restoration. But as Gemma soon learns, the volunteer board isn’t all sweetness and light behind the scenes…

There are a few over the top, unbelievable moments here – Gemma disguising herself to poke around asking questions, for instance – but they are played with tongue in cheek humour that does lift the slightly darker elements, from murders to adultery, and downright pantomime-ly unpleasant fellow shop owners. The author does perhaps over-do telling us about all the “dark red – scarlet” clothing etc that highlights the museum and book name, but not too irritating!

The crime element is played out very well, with plenty of twists and red herrings. More than most cosy mysteries, this really is the main thrust of the narrative. The background of location, bookstore, cake and friendship is lovely, but unlike other series I’ve tried, we’re not mainly following the romance woes, or getting minutiae of the ins and outs of pet ownership…!

Hit all the right buttons. Excellent example of the genre!

NetGalley eARC: 296 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 4
Read from 19th-26th May 2019

My rating: 8/10 – excellent example of the cosy mystery genre ๐Ÿ™‚

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Snowpiercer (2013)

snowpiercer poster

A disastrous attempt to fix global warming sees the planet plunged into an ice age. Humanity’s only survivors are the passengers of a world-circling train, a ‘luxury liner’ affair built by a train-obsessed rich industrialist.

Seventeen years later and the wonder of engineering might still be in full working order, but society on board is anything but. There’s nothing subtle about the class warfare, with the elite living it up towards the nose while the tail section is a malnourished underclass of slave-like workers. Revolts have failed before, but perhaps this time…

Usually I try to leave the personal stories out of my reviewing, mostly, but this movie looms large in my radar. It was shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2014, practically on my doorstep, and I very nearly managed my first festival film ๐Ÿ™‚ However, I reasoned that I’d save a ton of cash if I waited ’til the general release – only for a big argument with the distributor see this never again shown, legally, on UK soil. Argh!! So, imagine my delight when it turned up on Netflix…

Of course, with such a build up (see The Great Wall, far less anticipated, massively not worth the wait) I was half-expecting this to be a huge disappointment. But hurrah, I rather enjoyed it! It’s a bit bonkers, a lot unbelievable, but well told, looks great, and acted very well.

The whole thing does come across as very allegorical, with zero subtlety on the class system commentary. And yet, it’s still got a bit of punch.

Story-wise, it’s deceptively simple, with the rear-train workers making an attempt to take over the engine at the front, led by Chris Evans and John Hurt, assisted by the likes of Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and Ewen Bremner. Life is so awful for them, there’s no surprise in this. As inย High-Rise (2016), the excesses of the ‘upper’ classes is mercilessly ridiculed and ridiculous, so it’s not hard to forgive the awful violence.

But, without spoiling anything, not everything may be exactly as it seems, and the last act has a few reveals that give a whole other view…

I’m glad I saw this. It’s not perfect by any means, but it was a bit different, a lot interesting, and overall worth a couple of hours for fans of dystopian futures and low-key sci-fi without the splashy space stuff.

Released: 22nd June 2014 (EIFF)
Viewed: 27th May 2019
Running time: 126 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

Limited Wish – Mark Lawrence

limited wish cover

“I never expected to die in a punt chase.”

Following on fromย One Word Killย (so if you haven’t read that go and avoid any people-who-survived type spoilers!!), Nick Hayes, 16-year-old mathematics genius, now knows that he has about 25 years to invent time travel before coming back to meet himself last month. So, he decides it’s time to stop pretending to be ‘normal’ and accept early admission to a posh University filled with upper class nobs, where he can try to dumb down his explanations to his new maths professor. He also has to try to reclaim the girl that he was trying to save in the first book, but who is understandably a little freaked out by all the ‘destiny’ with their relationship.

Much as I enjoyed OWK, it didn’t quite hit all the buttons I would have hoped for. Still, I was looking forward to this sequel to see where the story would go. And I was not disappointed! In fact, LW is the story getting much more into its stride, and as a result I enjoyed it even more.

Time travel has always been one of my favourite plots in speculative fiction, and I very much like how it’s handled here. The characters feel a lot more grown up, too, despite the passing of mere months. And with different expectations after book one, the gentle nods towards the ‘period’ (hey – I lived through it, it’s not exactly the Victorian age!!) made me smile rather than being disappointingly light. There is a great deal of amusement, I thought, from the mention of modern band names and how nonsensical they would be in the 1980s – Lady Gaga? Red Hot Chilli Peppers? Fnarf.

I also loved the way the D&D game reflects the events in real life for the kids, without being overly forced. This takes a while to show up, as in the first book, but is a nice little touch.

Recommended, and bring on the third installment already!

NetGalley eARC: 222 pages / 21 chapters
First published: 28th May 2019
Series: Impossible Times book 2
Read from 11th-19th May 2019

My rating: 8/10

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

john wick 3 poster

Si vis pacem, para bellum

Against all expectations, a dark little movie of revenge and ultra-violence threw Keanu Reeves to the top of the movie charts, and spawned two sequels. I was late to the party, and still somewhat unsure what exactly had captured so much public imagination here. Fun? Sure. Brutal? Oh, indeed. Beloved? Wow.

There are indeed a few things done very very well here. The stories are un-convoluted, by which I don’t mean braindead, just unburdened with superfluous crud. There’s exactly enough motivation, without straining audience patience with another missing girlfriend/child/car or whatever. As the series has progressed, we are being given glimpses of something less straightforward, something apparently quite huge under the surface, but the filmmakers don’t waste time explaining everything. No, they go with shots of some marvellously retro telephone exchange where the underworld is kept in check by a series of Amy Winehouse-esque, tattooed gals and guys. Do I understand it? Not so much, but I don’t care – it’s just part of the fun!

Secondly, the action. It’s brutal but almost cartoonish, without being comedic (although often funny, in a dark way) and (more or less) believable. Anything is a weapon, if you know how to use it. And the set design plays so well to that – I won’t spoil it, but one scene just cracked me up, so perfectly positioned and played, even as I had to look away from bursting eyeballs. Ew. Kudos for the huge glass office, too: that looked amazing.

Following directly from the events of John Wick 2, this one is a bit more fun and a lot more batshit crazy. The backstory starts to expand again, and the series has done well enough to attract famous faces such as Anjelica Houston, Halle Berry, and randomly, Jerome Flynn. The humour – my fellow audience in the cinema was laughing out loud fairly frequently – does that rare job of straddling the line between ridiculous (I’m looking at you, Mark Dacascos!) but not parody, and balances the extreme violence somewhat.

Keanu Reeves has gotten more than his fair share of stick over the years, but he is genuinely excellent (urm, no pun intended!) here. Overwhelmed by grief, turned on by former associates, and very very good at doing something he doesn’t really care for any more. Things have progressed quite naturally in this story, and boy are they getting out of hand…!

Released: 15th May 2019
Viewed: 17th May 2019
Running time: 130 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8.5/10

Best Movie Year Ever – Brian Raftery

best movie year ever cover

“It was New Year’s Eve, and on a private beach resort in Mexico, a handful of couples had gathered to celebrate the end of the century.”

It’s weird when you start being old enough to have lived through periods that now attract a great deal of nostalgia, but the turning of a century is a pretty big deal. In this book, the author attempts to convey a sense of what was going on in the world at that time, and how that impacted the movies that were made.

To be honest, I’m not sure he’s convinced me that 1999 was indeed the ‘best movie year ever’, but it was pretty dang impressive. American Beauty won the Oscars (and the afterword does acknowledge the cringe factor of that and other things, in light of recent scandals), Star Wars got a very long-awaited new chapter, and the world was introduced to bullet time and the Matrix.

It’s fair to say 1999, perhaps inspired by the once-in-a-lifetime feel of the date and the world on the brink of change – possible catastrophic, with the Y2K bug fears – produced more than its fair share of ‘weird’ or groundbreaking movies. Or perhaps the real thing is that such films were embraced by audiences and have survived to critical acclaim.

Themes of the year included a resurgence in teen movies (10 Things I hate About You, American Pie, Cruel Intentions, Election), a bit of nostalgia for the past (Talented Mr Ripley, The Mummy, Man on the Moon, etc), and questioning reality, either directly or the ‘is this it’ feeling, with movies such as The Matrix, Fight Club, Sixth Sense, Being John Malkovich, and the Blair Witch Project. The latter played with reality directly, pushing itself as ‘true events’ and keeping the not-dead actors away from the press to save the secret.

It’s amazing to realise that a ploy like that could work, or that UK audiences managed to see The Matrix without massive spoilers, when it opened several months after the US, or that anyone had the joy of the big reveal in the Sixth Sense. The internet was a different, fledgling beast in those days, obviously.

I loved reading about movies, it turns out, and the snippets of back story here were fantastic to a film geek. Stanley Kubrick took the world’s most famous actor (Tom Cruise) out of circulation for almost 2 years – and that impacted huge tranches of the industry. There’s a lot of revealing info about how much the studios like to meddle, and definitely a sense of how disconnected and damaging poorly devised marketing campaigns can be.

And through all this there’s the reminder of what life was like a scant 20 years ago. That a movie like Boys Don’t Cry was *so* shocking, whereas I’d like to think trans rights have come along a great deal, and today we’re more shocked by Lester drooling over a teenager in American Beauty.

Definitely recommended, then, especially for movie buffs (natch!). Be ready for debates about why some movies get whole chapters, and others brief – if any – mention. Austin Powers was released that year, and Dogma, and I could go on.

Now, can we have a series of these books for every other year, too, please?! ๐Ÿ™‚

NetGalley eARC: 416 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 27th April – 9th May 2019

My rating: 8/10

Safely Endangered Comics – Chris McCoy

safely endangered comics cover

I’ve been seeing Chris McCoy’s work around various social media outlets, and I knew it tickled my sometimes warped, usually geeky kind of humour.

comic panels 'stay at home superheroes' e.g. ironing man

I couldn’t detect any particular order to the comics here, just a random collection of mainly single-page, 2-4 panel jokes. Most of them made me smile, one or two made no sense to me, and rather a lot seemed very relevant to my life.

comic strip of priority tasks left to end

The style is simple, but effective. The use of colour makes everything that little bit more fun. One word of warning: this contains pretty mature content, both thematically and swearing. And a lot of geekness ๐Ÿ˜‰

NetGalley eARC: 144 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 26th-28th April 2019

My rating: 8/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)

guardians of the galaxy 2 poster

Unlike most of the MCU, the characters from Guardians of the Galaxy haven’t shown up in the other movies. So, we had to wait three years – or, one day this time ’round ๐Ÿ˜‰ – for our next chance to see them. Was it worth the wait?

(Obviously, spoilers for the first movie just by mentioning e.g. people that survived to be in this one.)

Banded together after the events of GotG1, our ragtag crew are now ‘heroes’ across the quadrant, taking jobs such as the one we (bar a ‘prologue’) open with. But, as the main crew are doing life-threatening battle in the background, the camera instead focuses on the most adorable Baby Groot, dancing away to Mr Blue Sky. Can I just say how much I LOVE this scene?!

Baby Groot is indeed one of the highlights for me, and the film isn’t short of them. But I have to get the squeeing out of the way first ๐Ÿ™‚

Finding out at the end of the first movie that his father was indeed a ‘being of pure light’, as his ill mother told him, Peter is about to discover his daddy. What can possibly go wrong? We also have the sibling dynamics of Nebula and Gamora, everyone caring for little Baby Groot, and a few new faces.

So. GotG2 is a movie about families. The ones we’re born into, the ones we make for ourselves, the people who become family one way or another. That theme runs deep through the piece, holding together an otherwise slightly manic mix of new and dealing with the evolving group dynamic.

I skipped reviewing this when I first saw it, and I think it’s because it’s such a tough movie to do justice to. I gave it a 9 on my first viewing: the ending almost made me cry, so… y’know. From a comedy o.O However, I was struck by how much I’d forgotten: the civilisation of golden snobs, for instance, or all of the Ravager stuff. So, maybe a mark off for not beingย asย memorable, or just putting too much in?

And yet, it does all work. The new characters – including the wonderfully dippy Mantis (although Drax’s attitudes to her are somewhat abusive while being played for laughs, which is a bit off) – fit in well enough without overshadowing the main group’s interactions with each other. The baddies are done well, feeling like quite natural flow of story.

It’s very fun, very well done, and only very slightly not hitting quite the same joie de vivre I felt for the first – much the same as the wonderful soundtrack, which doesn’t quite stick in the head as much. Still, I think I could stand to rewatch this a few more times…!

And did I mention enough: Baby Groot?!?! ๐Ÿ™‚

Released: 28th April 2017
Viewed: 3rd May 2017 / 19th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 136 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10