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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A Simple Favour (2018)

A Simple Favour poster

Single mom Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) has a seemingly perfect life: bubbling with energy, running half the school committees, and host of her own cookery vlog. But one day she meets fellow mom Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) and finds a new level of ‘perfect’. Which woman has it better? Perhaps their growing friendship – however odd Emily seems – might have improved things for both women, until the day that Emily disappears.

I absolutely loved this movie, despite a few inconsistencies in tone. The beginning and end are definitely black comedy, but in the middle things just get a fair bit darker and less fun. There are twists I did and didn’t seem coming, but through it all I was completely engrossed.

There was something here that made me think, too. The two ‘perfect’ lives are of course anything but, and the slow reveal of secrets is very well done. That said, it’s easy to see why Stephanie finds Emily so inspiring – I, too, was eyeing up Blake Lively’s wardrobe and music tastes and overall chicness, and thinking ‘wow’. Ironically, on-screen hubby isn’t quite up to Ryan Reynolds standards, but amusingly enough her tipple of choice is Aviation Gin…  😉

This is one to see without spoilers, but definitely one to see, I reckon. Like the character’s lives it’s not quite perfect, but it’s a cleverly done thriller with eye candy to spare.

Released: 20th September 2018
Viewed: 23rd September 2018
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

mission impossible 6 poster

The sixth installment in the Mission: Impossible movie franchise sees Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and crew (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg) once again facing a world-threatening situation. This time, however, the CIA have sent in a ‘minder’, in the form of a mustachioed Henry Cavill (this being the reason behind the truly awful de-facial hair CGI in Justice League), who has instructions to terminate Hunt should he turn rogue. Which seems highly sensible if you’ve seen any of the previous movies.

I do enjoy the grand spectacle of these movies, and you could never suggest they’re anything less than well-made and sufficiently budgeted for some spectacular action sequences.

However… something about this just didn’t click in quite the same way as the previous installments. I’m not quite sure what it was – almost, perhaps, the little hints of seriousness overwhelming some of the daft fun I was after? I also found it all over-long – 2½ hours, really? – most of which wasn’t necessary for the plot, slight and nothing too novel as that was.

That said, I still enjoyed the whole thing ‘enough’. You can’t fault the effort and work that goes into making these, and it’s doing its best to have a bit of heart and not just be a mindless action movie.

Released: 25th July 2018
Viewed: 31st July 2018
Running time: 147 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Summerland – Hannu Rajaniemi

summerland cover

“Rachel White flung the cab door open, tossed the driver a banknote and dived into the rain.”

England, 1938. The war is over, but not the way our reality had it. In this version of events, death is no longer a closed door. Instead, we can see through the windows to ‘Summerland’, send messages, maybe work out ways to have visitors once in a while…

The real-world branch of the British intelligence services is now known as the Winter Court. Even in these hallowed halls it’s not the best time to be a woman, as Mrs Rachel White knows well. When one of her missions goes awry, her gender is used against her and she finds herself in the typing pool. But a highly trained, accomplished spy treated so poorly is surely ripe pickings for the other side to turn…

I’ve been meaning to read some of Hannu Rajaniemi’s work for ages now – I’ve got his Quantum Thief trilogy on my shelves (well, in boxes right now, as I’m moving!), and in fact I know some of his colleagues at Edinburgh Uni. So when this stand-alone title popped up on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance!

And if I’m being honest, I was just a tad disappointed. The world-building is excellent with lots of cool ideas about how the ‘afterlife’ might be and how it could interact with our reality. There are also some intriguing hints of how this kind of revelation would affect people’s minds, and of course how history diverts along with the discoveries, using real historical figures alongside the fiction. The fairly standard, Le Carre-esque Cold War spy thriller is lifted with those hints of the fantastical.

However, I never really clicked with any of the characters somehow, and I think that left me a little less engaged with the book that I would have liked. Rachel was meant to be the key character, she was likable enough and wasn’t putting up with being treated like a 1930s housewife, but… hmm. It possibly didn’t help that half the time we followed someone on the other side of the spy game, and he came across as something of an over-privileged school boy toff of the kind I cannot stand.

I’m still very much looking forward to backtracking to Quantum Thief – the writing here was good – and despite my so-so feelings on this one I’d certainly want a look if more of this world appears on the page.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 24 chapters
First published: June 2018
Series: none
Read from 12th June – 14th July 2018

My rating: 7/10 – well-written, intriguing concept, but I didn’t quite click with it all

Bonfire – Krysten Ritter

Bonfire cover

“My last year of high school, when Kaycee Mitchell and her friends got sick, my father had a bunch of theories.”

Barrens is a small town revitalised by the big company at its heart. Optimal provides not just employment, but scholarships, grants, and donations until it’s woven through the entire town like ivy. Or, like a cancer: perhaps literally, if the pending lawsuit against the company’s pollution is proven true.

Ten years ago, Abby Williams escaped from Barrens, and from high school bullies. Coming back to find evidence against Optimal, she soon finds herself unable to stop investigating the mystery of her teenage years, when several of her classmates faked illnesses – or, did they?

There was something dark and claustrophobic to this story, which rather appealed in the same vein as The Chalk Man: something that drew not just the character but also me back to teenage years and a love of creepy atmospheric reads, albeit mystery here rather than horror. And, of course, a hefty dose of curiosity about an actor turning their hand to writing – hmm!

Actually, I think Ms Ritter has done well here, although it is kind of hard not to visualise Jessica Jones as the cynical, damaged lead character. She’s written her next role, if she so wishes, I’m sure.

Overall, the story is pretty good, if not the most original in the world ever. There are a few attempts at twists and turns which sort of almost work, although get perhaps just a little muddy as the story gets to the end. And, while I rather enjoyed the journey, the destination (ie ending) could have been a little stronger, imo. Still, a pretty darn good debut and cautiously recommended for thriller fans.

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 44 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 13th November 2017 – 28th March 2018 (after putting it down after the first 10% and getting very distracted…!)

My rating: 7/10

The Chalk Man – CJ Tudor

chalk man cover

“The girl’s head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves.”

Short version: It, without the demonic clown.

Eddie Adams thinks his past is tightly locked up in his head. But as childhood friends and old memories start to come out of the woodwork, is it finally time to face up to the past? Because in 1986, five pre-teen friends have their idyllic summer holiday shattered first by a horrific accident, and then the discovery of a dead body. But the chalk stick figures – they were just a game. Who, then, has sent each of them a letter 30 years later, with just that single stick figure drawing?

There was something in the description of this that called to me, despite the fact that I rarely read dark thrillers these days. But, oh, this spoke to the teenage me who adored Stephen King books – and it really is somewhere between Stand By Me (aka The Body) and It – although as I say, without those supernatural elements. They aren’t missed: this is a gripping enough mystery without bringing in anything other worldly.

The chapters alternate between 1986 and 2016, and both strands follow Eddie as his life goes from perfect childhood to tinged with terror and darkness. It’s very well done: both plotlines are equally intriguing, adding to the other, so the flip back and forth never left me wishing for the other segment. I did prefer the earlier segments, though, as the mood that’s conjured is just brilliantly evocative of those 1980s childhood summers that some of us remember (albeit with less, y’know, dead things!), and some have grown to love from watching Stranger Things.

I did think I’d guessed the ‘whodunnit’ early on, only for the whole thing to swerve in an unexpected direction – hurrah! Still, as the mysteries start to be unravelled at the end, there were just a few bits that seemed perhaps a little too coincidental, so I’m knocking a mark of for that.

Otherwise, though, I gobbled this in just two days – it really was that gripping! Absolutely recommended.

NetGalley eARC: 342 pages
First published: January 11th 2018
Series: none
Read from 6th-7th January 2018

My rating: 9/10

Geostorm (2017)

geostorm poster

Geostorm starts with the kind of cutesy, hopeful voice over that instantly made me fear I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. Truth is, I avoided this movie for most of its release run, expecting awfulness. I’m pleased to report it was far from the worst thing I’ve ever seen – but, still in no way shape or form a good movie! Knowing that, relax and enjoy the spectacle.

So… in 2019 (that voiceover helpfully informs us), the scale of destruction caused by global warming-related extreme weather is such that all the nations of Earth band together to do something about it. Enter the highly unlikely casting of Gerry Butler as a top scientist, who leads a team in creating ‘Dutch Boy’ (after the tale of the one who stuck his finger in a… urm… dam, and saved the town from flooding), a system of satellites that can interfere in weather patterns before they become catastrophic. Of course no one would ever attempt to use that kind of power for evil, right?! o_O

What follows is every disaster movie trope you’ve ever seen before, plus every someone-high-up-is-behind-the-sabotage ‘thriller’, and a pretty cringeworthy rehash of every estranged-family-thrown-back-together stuff. Overly bright teenage offspring are on hand to give ‘meaning’ to saving the planet (!) and to sob pitifully for your heart string tugging needs. Cute animals are imperiled by tornados! Lots of scantily-clad beach people are frozen to icicles!!!

If I’m not being clear, this is daftness turned up to, oooh, about eight and a half? If, however, you manage to actually see any of the movie between bouts of eye-rolling, then the visual candy is quite nice. I did love the new and improved ISS – space geek that I am – and the balance tipped in favour of ‘space stuff’ over too much CGI natural disaster footage.

To say there’s absolutely nothing original about this is putting it mildly. If I had paid for the experience, I might be feeling ripped off. However, a quiet afternoon’s excuse for leaving my brain switched off, it really wasn’t as dreadful as I feared – which is about as high praise as I can manage. Still, in terms of meeting expectations, it was into the positive. Go figure!

Released: 20th October 2017
Viewed: 9th November 2017
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10