The Taking of Annie Thorne – CJ Tudor

taking of annie thorne cover

“Even before stepping into the cottage, Gary knows that this is bad.”

Joe Thorne is back in his childhood town. Nothing’s changed; everything’s different – mainly Joe. As his lies – his resume, his gambling habit, his very reasons for being back – start to unravel, slowly, through the course of the novel, we start to find out about all the dark things that happened in Joe’s past. What he and his friends found in the abandoned mines. What happened to his little sister…

The Chalk Man was a standout read for me last year before (where is time going?!). TToAT is similar enough to appeal to fans of that book, using a similar flashback structure, but not slavishly following the same pattern. We still have the dark past, the childhood horrors. This time I’m reminded not of IT and The Body, but other works of Stephen King: Desperation and Pet Semetary. And yet, these are not copies or pastiches, so mentioning those inspirations isn’t giving away as much of the story as you might think.

Joe is not the most likeable of characters, and yet he is. The gambling and drinking problems add a very dark element – in a way, even more so than the ‘horrors of the pit’. That, I think, is where CJ Tudor’s work appeals to me a little more (these days) than King’s: the psychological horror rather than the supernatural, the deeper look into a person’s thoughts.

I’m going to say the book is creepy rather than out and out horror, but there are tinges of both. I am absolutely going to use the word ‘unputdownable’ – after a Saturday morning read in bed, I was disappointed not to be able to go back to the book later that evening, but also utterly unwilling to creep myself out before sleep! So I ended up reading the last 40% (!) on Sunday morning, in one go!

The ending is satisfactory rather than outstanding, but the entire story is well crafted and well written, and well worth the read.

NetGalley eARC: 352 pages / 38 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 5th-10th February 2019

My rating: 8/10

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The Consuming Fire – John Scalzi

consuming fire cover

“Years later Lenson Ornill would reflect on the irony that his time as a religious man would be bracketed by a single and particular word.”

The Collapsing Empire was one of my favourite NetGalley finds – so much fun to read, and introducing me to an author I immediately wished to read more from. The story was intriguing, too: in the far future, humanity has spread throughout the stars by means of wormhole-like ‘flow’ paths between planets and habitats that would otherwise take months, years, or longer to travel between. Long cut off from Earth after the collapse of that particular flow, it seems as if other, depended-upon trade routes are also starting to disappear.

Following on from that, we once again join Emperox Grayland II now dealing with what could be the biggest upcoming disaster in any Emperox’s rule. First hurdle: convincing anyone else that the threat is real. Meanwhile, power struggles between ruling houses continue, taking more deadly and downright nasty twists. And on the end of a newly-opened flow, it could be that a long-cut off scion of humanity may not have been destroyed when their link to civilisation was…

I didn’t find CF quite as much fun as CE, but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read. Lady Kiva is a bit more reigned in this time, although still a lot of fun. Cardenia is coming into her own. However, the scale of the story takes precedence over characterisation a little. There’s also a bit of ‘middle-book’ syndrome, in that this needs both the preceding and – omg, I have to wait HOW long!?! – sequel.

Still, a very recommended book/series. Even if one bit just made me think ‘Brexit in space’ – argh!! 😉

Kindle: 336 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: The Interdependency book 2
Read from 5th November 2018 – 4th February 2019 (due to receiving excerpt ARC of first few chapters and had to wait to get my hands on the rest, not because I wasn’t enjoying it!)

My rating: 8/10

Iron Man (2008)

iron man poster

I don’t often go back and review older movies, but with the upcoming release of Avengers: Endgame (squeeeee!) it seemed like an excellent excuse time for a rewatch of my beloved Marvel movies. And, since many of them predate this blog by a number of years, it’s also a good excuse to see how well they hold up.

It’s hard to imagine a time now when the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) wasn’t the juggernaut that it is today: 20 films already released and box office gold, another three due this year and oh yeah, possibly the most anticipated movie of the year with the aforementioned A:E.

Back in 2008, however, Marvel was not exactly swamped with success or cash. They made a relative pittance licensing their comic book properties such as X-Men and Spider-Man to other film studios. The real money would be in making their own. It was a gamble and a half – if their first attempt failed, they’d probably go bust, never mind getting a second chance. So, which world-famous superhero would they bring to the big screen? Iron Man!

*tumbleweed*

Hah, yes: back in 2008 no one had ever heard of ‘Iron Man’ (well, the comic book fans, but much as I love the MCU I was never one of those). I can’t imagine how the pre-production conversions went, from ‘who’ on the character, to ‘you must be kidding – you want to cast a former drug addict and convict as a superhero in a kids movie?!’

And there’s one thing I think worked so well: Marvel was *not* making movies for kids. We had plenty of those, doing so-so business, but some bright spark twigged that adults – many of whom had grown up with these characters – might not want to sit through more teen angst dressed up as burgeoning superpowers (Spider-Man). More, how about we buck the trend for dark, troubled superheros (Batman) or literal god-like aliens desperately trying to hide their real identity (Superman) and go with a ‘real’ person, albeit a billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, Tony Stark?

It worked – duh – and on a repeat viewing it *still* works. I remember sitting in the cinema blown away with how different this movie was from the Batmans and Supermans I’d grown up with. It was taking itself seriously, but it was chock-full of humour (Dummy the fire extinguishing robot had me in stitches). Robert Downey Jr just *was* Tony Stark – still is! – perfectly suave yet damaged, and omg was he actually *happy* to figure out how to be a superhero? Yup – you could see the glee in his first flight, getting to swat bad guys, and that announcement: “I am Iron Man.”

Iron Man was a joy of a movie, and I still loved it this time ’round – not my second or even fourth viewing, I’m sure 😉 It’s not perfect – what is? – but it is very watchable, and quite frankly hasn’t dated at all. Are we sure this was 11 years ago?! o_O

For kicking off a beloved franchise – although Marvel stumbled a bit with the next few *cough* Hulk *cough* – I was always going to be fond of this. To remind myself that it’s still a very fun, watchable movie is even better.

Released: 2nd May 2008
Viewed: 8th February 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 126 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

“Perhaps, if you intend to visit other planets, we should improve the exosystems.” (Jarvis to Tony Stark during the first Iron Man suit test run)

The Labyrinth Index – Charles Stross

labyrinth index cover

“As I cross the courtyard to the execution shed I pass a tangle of bloody feathers.”

Reading the latest few Laundry Files books in quick succession has worked really well, as they form an ongoing story leading us to the state we find ourselves at the start of The Labyrinth Index – look away now if you’re not up to date, and mention of events in book 9 are going to spoil any of 1-8 for you!

Still here? Grand 🙂 So, having signed a deal with the lesser of two dark horrors, Britain is now under New Management. And His Highness has decided priority one is to deal with the puzzling amnesia that seems to be affecting the US when it comes to their… urm.. presid… wait, what was I saying?!

After most of the early books were told from the point of view of Bob Howard, I admit I didn’t take too well to the change. The author’s first attempt at writing from a female view, Mo’s, felt a bit off to me. Switching to Alex in the previous book, The Delirium Brief, worked better, but I was concerned that going back to female with Mhairi might throw up similar issues. Thankfully not: Mhairi is spiky and no-nonsense, and even the ‘inner thoughts’ portion of her journal (for, all the Laundry Files books are technically journals…!) isn’t too whiny.

Story-wise, the shift to the US for this mission gives the book a little more self-contained feel, despite the ongoing story. It’s still not a good place to start – go back and get all the interesting back stories! A lot of the cast is used in brief, support-only roles, so it’s nice to know who they are rather than just a collection of random faces.

Overall, this is Laundry on fair form. Looking forward to the next book, and finding out how all of these end-of-times events play out!

Hardback: 354 pages / 11 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: The Laundry Files book 9
Read from 7th-27th January 2019

My rating: 8/10

You Are Not Your Thoughts – Frances Trussell

you are not your thoughts cover

“There’s a quiet revolution going on, people everywhere are beginning to wake up from the daydream of their thoughts.”

I’ve been meditating, to a certain extent, for several years now, but there’s always space for another refresher on some of the whys and wherefores. Step forward You Are Not Your Thoughts.

I don’t think there was anything ‘new’ for me in this book, but it was very well put together, reminding me why I meditate and some of the different approaches I could think about revisiting (my practice has probably fallen into a rut). For newcomers to mindfulness and meditation, everything is laid out very straightforwardly to get you started, and the quick introduction to different forms will let you figure out if one type of meditation suits you better.

I loved the tone of the writing. Mindfulness books can so often either go towards total ‘mystical’ airy-fairy-ness, or try too hard to go the other way and end up being almost insultingly dumbed down in a chatty, pop-culture “Oh, it’s just so cool, yah?”. YANYT straddles the line perfectly, leaning a little towards the more spiritual but in a very accessible, down to earth fashion.

This is definitely one of the better meditation books I’ve read. I used my bus journey home from work to read it, slowly, and I can genuinely tell you that I’ve never found traffic jams so relaxing!

NetGalley eARC: 105 pages
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 20th December – 20th January 2018

My rating: 8/10

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

into the spider verse poster

Spider-Man has never been my favourite super hero. In fact, it’s probably telling that I own all the Marvel movies except Homecoming. I dunno, maybe it’s the teenage thing, or my lack of love for arachnids, or – probably – that we’ve heard the same story again and again and again: poor Uncle Ben, with great power, yadda yadda.

One of the smartest moves this new movie makes is poking gentle fun at this repetition of the origin story. It also has a fabulous animation style that harks back to the comic books source, and looks amazing. Add in a ton of action, plenty of humour (Peter Porker?!), and plenty of emotion in the story line, and by jove this is the best Spider-Man movie ever! 🙂

When Wilson Fisk – aka the Kingpin – builds a dimensional portal, he plans to bring his dead family through. Of course, things don’t go to plan and instead we end up with multiple Spider-People. From Peter B Parker, a washed-up, older Spider-Man, to Spider-Gwen, a black and white retro Spider-Man Noir (voiced by Nicholas Cage)… and that pig. And an anime version! My only vague confusion was that we start out in a universe with two Spider-Men: Peter Parker, and the newcomer, Miles Margoles. Miles has issues in his life, sure, but he’s more interesting and less whiny than previous origin-story incarnations, and I liked him as the main character.

Most of all, though, I loved the animation style. It takes a moment to realise that the blurry backgrounds are aping the comic books, but it’s a nicely fresh thing to see on the big screen. It also matches the multi-dimensional madness that the story lands up in.

I might be converted to not being so meh about Spider-Man!

Released: 12th December 2018
Viewed: 28th December 2018
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8.5/10

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

ralph breaks the internet poster

Several years have passed since the events of Wreck It Ralph (2012), and the title character is happy in his routine of working in his game and hanging out in the Tapper bar room with his best friend, Vanellope. She, however, is finding the repetition a little stifling – so when the arcade gets wifi, the chance of an adventure in the internet is a welcome adventure. What could possibly go wrong?!

I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel – possibly more than the original. The story follows well, but what really lifted it for me was the pop culture nods, from social media to Disney’s greatest. The scenes in the Disney online experience tickled me immensely – from the Princesses as seen in the trailer, to Stormtrooper guards, and omg Groot…! 🙂

The actual story, about clingy friendships and learning to let go, is more than adequate as an underpinning to the real fun of seeing Ralph join in with meme culture. Recommended slice of family fun.

Released: 30th November 2018
Viewed: 21st December 2018
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10