The Sword Saint – CF Iggulden

sword saint cover

“The boy crouched on a ledge, resting his chin on his knees, eyes bright as he watched the old priest pass below.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series, Darien and Shiang, although felt that there was so much more to be explained about all the wondrous things: the powerful stones held by the ruling families of Darien, the few individuals with special abilities, and how the geography might or might not fit with our world as their history. Alas, the series closes out with few answers – and yet it’s still one hell of a ride!

The second book threw me a little, switching cities and focus (at least to begin with), so one of the things I loved here was seeing all those threads from the first and second books pulled together. Truly, this trilogy is meant to be read as a whole, not individual chapters.

We’re back in Darien for the finale, and a new neighbouring king looking to make a trade deal – or, is that really what’s going on? As names start to feel familiar from the prologue, we’re left to wonder just what was being guarded by a priest.

There are a few victories and a few heartbreaking defeats as we follow our band of misfits one last time. It might have been nice to learn more about all the ideas, but perhaps it’s all best shrouded in mystery as we enjoy the series’ final battles.

Start with Darien – but do start!

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 26 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Empire of Salt book 3 (of 3)
Read from 31st July – 8th August 2019

My rating: 9/10

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Rocketman (2019)

rocketman poster

I’m not particularly a fan of Elton John, so this might not have been the most obvious choice of movies for me. Indeed, if you are a fan then the movie experience probably held a lot less surprise, but I got to learn about Reggie Dwight the child prodigy (able to play something on the piano when he’s literally just heard it – wow! And, so jealous!), the problems behind the rise to super stardom, and the unexpected marriage…!

The basic story isn’t too dissimilar to Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), with humble beginnings leading to stardom set against a host of personal problems. However, the rest is very different. Rocketman takes a more fantastical approach, with moments of outright musical – as in, big spontaneous song and dance routines in the street – as well as dream-like moments that conjure some of the drugged-out highs (and lows). It also has a huge plus in that Elton John is still alive and was quite happy to have a ‘warts and all’ approach. “I’ve been a c*** since 1974” he/the character says at one point, and the movie doesn’t try to shy away from showing some of that. Drugs, sex addiction, shopping binges, bulimia – the movie makes the musicality and professional success seem oh so easy, but everything else very much not.

Large praise has to go to Taron Egerton in the lead role. Amazingly, he’s doing his own singing – and he isn’t half bad at all! He also manages to do enough to convey an impression of Elton without focusing too much on that to the detriment of the acting. All in all, he absolutely makes this movie work.

There’s not much else to say. The music is excellent, the story involving, and the approach intriguing. Fan of the man or not so much, this is a really great movie biopic. Recommended.

Released: 22nd May 2019
Viewed: 7th June 2019
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

guardians of the galaxy poster

You’d think by the 10th movie in the MCU I’d’ve learned to trust them. But this was yet another brave-or-stupid move I was so wary of: welcome to ‘Marvel Cosmic’, where we leave behind the thin veneer of ‘reality’ and plunge headlong into a galaxy of talking racoons, walking trees, and aliens with brightly hued skin tones.

On the day his mother dies, Peter Quill is picked up by alien Ravagers, miscreants who loot across the galaxy. However, the tone of the piece is yet to be revealed. We catch up with Peter – aka Star-Lord – 20-odd years later, as he lands on a desolated planet. Where he proceeds to put on headphones, filling the cinema with a tap-along 70s classic, and we watch in disbelieving amusement as he dances along, kicking alien reptiles out of the way and even uses one as a fake microphone. What?!

Knowing nothing about the comics or the characters going in to this – and I had won early preview tickets, so there was no word of mouth either – this one just utterly surprised and delighted me. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and the laughs come thick and fast. There’s still a bucket load of action, and omg but it all looks so spectacular. It even manages to pull on a few heartstrings.

It’s also both a completely different feel from the MCU to date, but important in that overreaching mythology that’s only growing as the series progresses. It’s here that we get the first real explanation of the Infinity Stones, after Thor 2‘s post-credit scene confirmed that both the Aether and Tesseract are two of those. We see more of Thanos after his few previous cameos, so this, I feel, is where the whole Infinity Arc is really getting going, and where so much is set up for Infinity War and Endgame.

But most of all it’s just fun. Drax’s inability to understand metaphors. The snark of Rocket – so so good when we all thought a talking, CGI racoon was never going to work. And a walking tree creature with a three word vocabulary? Melted the heart, utterly.

I’ve heard someone suggest the Avengers are the Beatles, and the Guardians more the Stones (no pun intended?) – but they’re as much the Monkees, tbh. And with the soundtrack kicking ass, this movie just rocks 🙂

Released: 31st July 2014
Viewed: 24th July 2014 (prize!) / 18th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10 – pure joy, and so unexpected at the time – and completely rewatchable again and again!

Daisy Jones and the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

daisy jones cover

“This book is an attempt to piece together a clear portrait of how the renowned 1970s rock band Daisy Jones & The Six rose to fame – as well as what led to their abrupt and infamous split while on tour in Chicago on July 12, 1979.”

Where to start with this review? How about how much it caught my imagination, how keen I was to curl up with the intertwined interviews of various band members, to find out just why Daisy Jones & the Six broke up after the most amazing show of their sell-out tour?

The interview-reportage style is oddly catchy – I thought it would be annoying after a while, but it’s handled perfectly. We switch back and forth between (labelled) character’s answers to off-book questions, rearranged by some unnamed interviewer to tell a cohesive story. The story of a fledgling band and a gifted but damaged singer. Their highs and lows, fame and fortune and booze and drugs, and of course, their relationships.

I absolutely loved the juxtaposition of answers from ‘different’ interviews. How two people could say the exact opposite about the same event. The reminder that even the most amazing or devastating events in one person’s life can be a “they seemed fine” to another.

Through it all is the story of the making of an album – an amazing, seminal, sadly fictitious album. It’s like getting a behind the curtain peek into the creative process, in a way I haven’t seen done so well before. Love love loved it!

If I’m knocking one mark off it’s for the ending – which is great, don’t get me wrong, but very much made me realise this book was a journey not a destination, and about people and love more than I usually go for. Still, what a ride! Recommended.

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 3rd-9th March 2019

My rating: 9/10

Book Love – Debbie Tung

book love cover

“Books can take you to magical places.”

How to review 130-odd pages of sweet cartoon drawings, on the subject of being a true bibliophile? Urm, it’s really good! Can I share a picture? Yes, as this is a review, that seems to be allowed (plus, you can find plenty online if you need another few panels to persuade).

cartoon strip "What're you thinking about? How life is so short and there's just not enough time. To do all the things you always wanted to do? To read all the books I always wanted to read.

Simple drawings, many truisms about being a book lover. There is nothing not to love about this book. It’s cute more than funny – although some of the bookish situations are so true to (my) life that they did make me laugh – but that’s more than fine. This is a huge warm cosy blanket of a book that says “I’m a bookdragon, too, let’s bond over our love of books.” Not crime novels or fantasy books, but the sheer pleasure of reading.

NetGalley eARC: 137 pages
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read: 17th-26th February 2019

My rating: 9/10

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

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