A Dangle A Day – Angela Porter

a dangle a day cover

“A dangle is a beautiful string of charms you can use to decorate all kinds of things, including alphabets, shapes, borders, illustrations, quotations, and anything else you can think of.”

I got into zentangling a while back – sort of doodling with rules – and I’ve been meaning to get back into it for ages. I’ve also taking to Bullet Journalling in a big way, finding it a fab mix of my needs to be organised and a bit creative. So when I spotted A Dangle A Day on NetGalley, it looked just my thing – and I was right!

The first section is on lettering. This has always appealed to me, and there are plenty of step-by-step examples – one for each letter and number, each in a different kind of style to mix and match – which will be very handy when I’m stuck for inspiration.

The second section is on seasons. Doodles and ‘dangles’ can look quite simple, but coming up with ideas is half the battle. The author took that work out of the equation for me, providing dozens of examples of just the kinds of seasonally-appropriate little doodles I was after, be that holly or bells for Christmas, hearts and flowers, or more abstract designs, plus colour schemes that match the seasons.

The actual ‘dangle’ part of the title refers to stringing doodles together in streamer-like chains, and while I wasn’t too sure about that part to begin with, the description of using them as BuJo section breaks was a lightbulb moment. They were also perfect for decorating my Christmas card envelopes.

Dangles and zentangling and doodling are lovely, relaxing and just ‘nice’ activities that I recommend wholeheartedly, and this book is a fantastic resource for inspiration. There are sections after each example for you to have your own go, if you have the physical book, but even if not – get the pens out, and have a play about. It’s great for the soul 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 147 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Finished reading: 9th February 2019

My rating: 9/10

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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

How to Train Your Dragon 3 poster

The How to Train Your Dragon series has possibly my favourite animated character ever in Toothless the Dragon. His half-dog/cat type behaviour backed up by y’know, fire breathing, is just adorable. The humour in the rest of the set up, from Hiccup the very non-Viking-y brainiac chief’s son, the often dozy dragon riders with all their amusing foibles, not to mention an absolutely fab vocal cast, all make these films very worth watching, whatever your age.

With a third instalment, largely I tend to just hope it won’t tarnish the memory. I wasn’t expecting this to possibly be the best movie of the three!

One strength is how well the story continues with events, rather than just being A.N. Other adventure. We’ve seen Hiccup and Toothless meeting for the first time, we’ve followed the Vikings go from dragon-haters to dragon riders. And we’ve seen Hiccup grow up a little, not least as the mantle of chief is thrust upon him.

It makes sense, from the previous two stories, to open with Berk now a dragon haven but also drawing all the wrong kind of attention from those who still haven’t embraced the new human-dragon partnership model. And so the adventure here starts very logically, with Hiccup looking for a way to protect his new friends – even if that means chasing the impossible trying to find a mythical Hidden World.

I absolutely loved this film, even more than expected. I thought a bit of cute would suit a Friday night, but instead I was deeply moved at some parts, laughed out loud at others, and was overall impressed with the action. This is a fantastic animation, and a nigh-on perfect ending to the trilogy.

Toothless is still very much my favourite 🙂

Released: 1st February 2019
Viewed: 1st February 2019
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 9/10

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

Hogfather cover

“Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.”

It’s safe to say that the Discworld series are some of my most beloved books, ever. And so, when asked to run a reading challenge over December, it made sense to reach for the Christmassy Hogfather.

If you’re new to Discworld, this is often given as a possible starting point – the first couple of books written, Colour of Magic and Light Fantastic, are ones to go back to rather than start with, as the series hadn’t quite reached it’s stride. There are several ‘streams’ in the series, including the Watch books, the Witches books, and the Death books. The latter are probably my favourite, so I tend to suggest Mort as the best start. However, if you’re jumping in here – and that works, too – then just know that Mort and Reaper Man will give some background to this.

So… it’s almost Hogswatch on the Disc, but this year the Hogfather is suspiciously… bony. It’s less “Ho ho ho” and altogether HO HO HO. What would cause Death to step in to deliver presents across the world? And, quite frankly, how will the world cope with an Anthropomorphic Personification who takes everything a bit more literally than the rest of us?

There are a lot of elements crammed in to this book. Toothfairies, verruca gnomes plaguing Unseen University, Death of Rats, assassins, and Hex, the thinking machine, all make an appearance and add to the plot. We mainly follow Susan Sto Helit, Death’s granddaughter, although she’s working as a governess and would quite frankly rather be done with all of that nonsense.

The thing I love about Pratchett’s writing is that underneath all the fantasy, the humour pokes a sharp stick of fun at very real world issues. And, 22 years on, the satire is still highly relevant. But beyond this, there’s also a very profound message about the human condition. You get to read on whatever level you like, of course, but this is far from dumb, silly fantasy.

Hardback: 285 pages
First published: 1996
Series: Discworld book 20 / Death book 4
Read from 27th November – 11th December 2018

My rating: 9/10

First Man (2018)

first man poster

First Man is a biopic of astronaut, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), detailing his time with NASA and becoming the first human to walk on another planetary body. It’s at once a deeply personal story, and yet captures one of the most monumental human achievements of all time.

There was nothing easy about the ‘space race’. Hurling oneself out of Earth’s atmosphere, at the speeds required to escape gravity, would be terrifying enough at any time, but limited to 1950s/60s technology it becomes an exercise in ambition over common sense, it seems! Certainly, the American programme is fraught with accidents, often deadly, and the movie uses those to ramp up the tension levels and really pull on the audience’s emotions.

If anything, that need to constantly try to pull on the heartstrings is my only complaint about the movie. We’re shown a lot of Armstrong’s personal life, and in doing so it slants the whole achievement to being connected to the death of his daughter. Wouldn’t it be enough just for its own sake?

That said, the story is incredible and the performances are amazing. One complaint I heard was a dislike of how cold and distant Armstrong is portrayed – although, his living children have reportedly said this is the best representation they’ve seen on screen of their father. Personally, I found the personality very relatable: I do think men of that era would be cold rather than show emotions, and Neil was very much an engineer and physicist, given to logic thought.

I do with the climatic events were allowed to be a little more wow. The film makers have gone for downplaying this absolutely remarkable thing, and given how in awe I am of the reality, the movie didn’t quite capture that for me.

Still. Wow. And the film’s not half bad either 😉

Released: 12th October 2018
Viewed: 9th November 2018
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10

Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds – Brandon Sanderson

legion cover

“My name is Stephen Leeds, and I am perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad.”

Many Lives… gathers the three Legion novellas together in one volume. I received the first of these, Legion, from NetGalley, and it worked: I was hooked, and had to go grab the full book and remaining two stories.

The first installment impressed me with the level of backstory that was revealed and/or hinted at in a very compact form, while still telling a very interesting story – that of a camera that can take pictures of the past.

The second novella, Skin Deep, sees Stephen aka Legion, the man with many ‘aspects’ giving him expertise in anything he needs, approached to find a missing corpse. Twist? The dead man was a scientist working on using human DNA to encode data, like the world’s biggest and most ‘handy’ computer storage drive. Again, this is a fairly short story, but feels much much longer, just with the amount that is crammed in.

The final installment, Lies of the Beholder, gives the keen reader (ie me!) a little more of a personal slant. Aspects ‘die’, Stephen is in crisis, and we might even get to find out a little more about the mysterious Sandra…!

The novella form works brilliantly for these stories. Each is a fairly slim case for Stephen, but the hints and teasers about the man’s life and amazing brain are keeping you hooked as much as the plot. Brandon Sanderson’s preface talks about his idea of “Psychology-as-superpower”, which is absolutely fascinating.

Thoroughly enjoyed this, and I hope there might be more Legion stories to come.

HB: 340 pages / 45 chapters over 3 novellas
First published: 2018
Series: Legion books 1-3 omnibus
Read from 22nd-10th October 2018

My rating: 9/10

A Star Is Born (2018)

a star is born poster

There are films that no one should ever, EVER attempt to remake (ahem Princess Bride ahem) and then there are movies on their fifth version and (apparently) stronger than ever. Having only seen this latest version, I’ll take someone’s word for it – because this is a very strong movie, remake or not.

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a successful singer/guitarist, but fame has brought issues. Tormented by tinnitus, he’s increasingly drunk and/or high. By chance he stumbles across Ally (Lady Gaga), who is all talent and little confidence. The pair are drawn to each other, and the movie charts her rise, his fall, and the tumultuous relationship between them as their positions switch.

I was utterly impressed by this movie. I went in relatively blind, and not expecting much – I’m not a fan of romances, or real life type dramas, and this offered plenty of both. But, oy, does it do them well.

I’m not a huge fan of Lady Gaga, and she was the weak point for me – not always, but just occasionally she can’t hide her talent and confidence when she’s playing a shy little thing. Still, her voice is amazing. And to be fair, Bradley Cooper holds his own – that was a surprise and a half! It doesn’t overshadow the amazing job he does acting, though, which was also something of a surprise given he more or less started as the ‘pretty one’ from the Hangover franchise.

Reader, I confess I sniffled rather a lot through this. The music is great, but the story is heartbreaking. Take tissues, but do see it.

Released: 5th October 2018
Viewed: 13th October 2018
Running time: 136 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

nine perfect strangers cover

“‘I’m fine,’ said the woman. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me.'”

Big Little Lies was some of the best television I saw last year, and when I backtracked to the book I could see why Reese Witherspoon had been so inspired to adapt (and, imo, slightly improve) it. So it was a no-brainer to request author Liane Moriarty’s new book, Nine Perfect Strangers, when it appeared on NetGalley.

Tranquillum is a health resort which promises to improve your life, changing it for the better in just ten days. Too good to be true? It’s alluring enough for a group of strangers to each head there, hoping to fix their marriages, their careers, or just themselves. At first the spa treatments and meditation, fasting and tai chi, are all par for the course. But Tranquillum’s owner, Masha, has some dark secrets in her own past…

Chapters switch points of view between the different guests, Masha and a few members of staff, giving different layers of insight into events that brought everyone together and add to their reasons for signing up for a ‘transformation’. Background is layered through the ongoing story, adding mini ‘reveals’ to rather more mundane mysteries that are every day – if not entirely ordinary – lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed Nine Perfect Strangers (although argument on the title, as they aren’t all strangers – there’s a couple and a family ;)). The mystery wasn’t quite what I’d guessed, but also didn’t surprise me too much – to be honest, it wasn’t quite as thrilling or shocking as I expected. In lesser hands that probably would have ruined the book for me, but the strength here is bigger than just the plot line. The characters are well-sketched – you don’t get too much time with any of them, considering – really drawing you in to their lives, their woes, and the reasons for them being here. In fact, almost 10% of the book is the ‘after’, which you’d think would be padding, but by this point I really wanted to know what happened to everyone.

So, perhaps not quite what I was expecting but thoroughly engrossing. I even quite fancy a spa/meditation/wellness retreat myself – although, probably not one like this 😉 Also looking forward to the movie or TV adaptation that looks to be in the works!

NetGalley eARC: 432 pages / 76 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 29th September –  5th October 2018

My rating: 9/10