Movies of 2017: Nerve

A high school senior finds herself immersed in an online game of truth or dare, where her every move starts to become manipulated by an anonymous community of “watchers.”

Nerve (2016). Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan and starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade. Featuring a cameo by everyone’s favourite vlogger, Casey Niestat.

A paltry 6.6 stars on IMDb, Nerve clocks in at a very healthy 1 hour 36 minutes long – which, as we all know, is nigh-on the perfect length for a movie at a shade under 100 minutes.

Venus “Vee” Delmonico is a high school student desperate to leave home, but ends up embroiled in ‘Nerve’, an online game where the Watchers dare the Players to do more and more dangerous things.

Nerve is a fast-paced, gloriously neon-soaked joyride through New York by night. Emma Roberts and Dave Franco have a definite chemistry and are fun to watch. It’s a thriller with a technological edge, but one which has a certain plausibility and feels like the writers actually know how social media works. People will say and do a lot of things hidden behind the anonymity of a phone screen, and people will do a lot more to become famous on the internet.

Great fun, even if it does falter slightly in the final act where a bit of moralising comes to play. It’s a minor niggle though, and worth going along for the ride. 96 minutes well spent.

James Bond: Hammerhead

James Bond is assigned to hunt down and eliminate Kraken, a radical anti-capitalist who has targeted Britain’s newly-upgraded nuclear arsenal. But all is not as it seems. Hidden forces are plotting to rebuild the faded glory of the once-mighty British Empire, and retake by force what was consigned to history. 007 is a cog in their deadly machine – but is he an agent of change, or an agent of the status quo? Loyalties will be broken, allegiances challenged. But in an ever-changing world, there’s one man you can rely on: Bond. James Bond.

Hammerhead collects the six-issue mini-series by Andy Diggle, illustrated by Luca Casalanguida.

I think this may well be the first graphic novel I’ve ever reviewed. I’ve read a few, but this is definitely the first Bond.

I’m a huge Bond fan, both the books and movies, so it was interesting to see how well it translated to this format. I have to say I was impressed – we’ve got a very authentic-feeling Bond story, plenty of action and nice one-liners thrown in, an implausibily-named villian and some evil shenanigans, with a smattering of globe trotting .

The action comes thick and fast from the start and there’s nary a pause for breath as Bond follows the trail of ubervillain Kraken and a cunning plan involving stolen nukes.

So far, so Bond. It’s glorious fun spotting where the story is going to go. The villian’s motivations are delightfully sinister, if a bit random – I’m not *entirely* sure that our Kraken really thought things through here, but it’s a minor niggle.

Will definitely be looking out for more of these in future. And I’ve realised that I’ve missed the Warren Ellis/Jason Masters Bond books, so I’ll be off to check those out.

James Bond (the reviews) will return…

Many thanks to Dynamite Entertainment and NetGalley for the review copy.

The Man Who Loved Islands – David F. Ross

In the early 80s, Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller were inseparable; childhood friends and fledgling business associates. Now, both are depressed and lonely, and they haven’t spoken to each other in more than 10 years. A bizarre opportunity to honor the memory of someone close to both of them presents itself, if only they can forgive and forget. With the help of the deluded Max Mojo and the faithful Hamish May, can they pull off the impossible, and reunite the legendary Ayrshire band, The Miraculous Vespas, for a one-off Music Festival—The Big Bang—on a remote, uninhabited Scottish island?

Regular readers of the blog will be well aware of my fondness for Mr Ross and his books – The Last Days of Disco was my first experience of a blog tour (and what a way to start!) and The Rise & Fall of The Miraculous Vespas followed last year, raising the bar once more.

A year later (more or less) and we’re back again with The Man Who Loved Islands, rounding out the trilogy in fine style. I adored the first two books for both their amazing sense of place and time.  Book three continues with this, taking us on a journey through the later 80 and from Ibiza to Shanghai, bringing us up to the present day and back full circle to Scotland as Max, Bobby, Hammy and Joey come together one last time for one final, glorious outing.

This is a book of three parts – we follow the rise and rise of Bobby Cassidy and his ever-faithful sidekick Hamish as they take over the Ibiza music scene. Joey (now Joseph) has become an architect, adrift in the corporate world of Shanghai. A message from Hammy brings Joey back to see his old friend and, when one thing leads to another, hijinks ensue.

And what glorious hijinks they are. Max Mojo and the boys decide to put on a gig and reunite the Miraculous Vespas for one last, epic gig the like of which the world has never seen…

I loved seeing how Bobby and Hammy took on the Ibiza club scene. Growing up around the same era as the books were set gave it something extra for me, though I was never into the club scene, the musical references are, as ever, perfect. Fascinating to see them grow up from the young, vibrant guys in the first books into middle age – still gloriously foul-mouthed (this book is probably not for the prudish!), and with a fine line in bickering.

Heartbreaking, poignant, and ferociously funny, it’s a perfect ending to a fabulous trilogy. If you’ve not come across the Vespas, the Heatwave Disco boys

If you’ve not come across the Vespas, the Heatwave Disco boys or the incomparable Max Mojo, then get yourself all three Disco Days books, a nice wee dram (or maybe a bottle) of something and settle down for a musical journey through the years.

You’re in for quite a ride.

Book 18 of 2017 The Man Who Loved Islands by David F. Ross, finished last night with a wee dram of @copperdogwhisky. Highly recommended, both!

Enormous thanks to Karen at Orenda Books (@OrendaBooks) for the review copy, to David F. Ross (@dfr) for taking us on one last journey back to Ayrshire (and to @CopperDog for the splendid whisky!)

Opinions are, as ever, entirely my own.

The blog tour continues tomorrow!

Dog Fight – Michael J. Malone

Dog Fight - Michael J. Malone

Kenny O’Neill, a villain with a conscience, returns in a hard-hitting thriller of exploitation, corruption and criminal gangs. When Kenny’s cousin, Ian, comes to the aid of a fellow ex-squaddie in a heap of trouble, he gets caught up in the vicious underground fight scene, where callous criminals prey on the vulnerable, damaged and homeless. With Ian in too deep to escape, Kenny has no option other than to infiltrate the gang for the sake of his family. Kenny is an experienced MMA fighter, as tough as they come, but has he found himself in the one fight he can never win?

Dog Fight is gritty and brutal, a vicious story of illegal fight clubs and the ex-servicemen who are forced to fight for their lives against a backdrop of PTSD and abandonment by the state.

The characters are fantastic, portrayed warts and all. The action is intense and pulls no punches (sorry) as we’re drawn into Kenny’s world as his cousin Ian gets caught up in the shady world of underground fight clubs. There’s a real sense of menace running through the pages. Not everyone is going to get out of this in one piece, and some aren’t going to get out at all.

There are some brutal scenes in the book, it’s not for the squeamish, but it’s a worthwhile read. The plotting and characterisation is top-notch, with a nice layer of dark humour in the dialogue running throughout.

Thanks to Contraband for the review copy, and to Gordon (@grabthisbook) for organising the blog tour. Dog Fight by Michael J. Malone is out now in paperback and ebook.

The Cutaway – Q&A with Christina Kovacs

book cover - The Cutaway - Christina Kovac

It begins with someone else’s story. The story of a woman who leaves a busy restaurant and disappears completely into the chilly spring night. Evelyn Carney is missing – but where did she go? Who was she meeting? And why did she take a weapon with her when she went?

When brilliant TV producer Virginia Knightley finds Evelyn’s missing person report on her desk, she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened that night. But her pursuit of the truth draws her deep into the power struggles and lies of Washington DC’s elite – to face old demons and new enemies.

The new thriller by debut author Christina Kovac is set in the world of rolling news, a world that Christina knows well as she worked in TV journalism for many years in Washington DC. And today Christina is here for a Q&A!

Tell me about a typical day at the office when you worked in TV news?

It depended on where I was working, but my days were often like Virginia Knightly’s workday. Before I went into the office, I’d read the newspapers and websites and peek at the cable news. At the office, I’d read into the stories we were working on and call around to sources. Hunting for news, I’d call it. There were editorial meetings where stories were pitched. Sometimes I’d run out to grab an interview. Other times, I’d spend weeks on a special project, like election coverage or a crime story. It was always busy.

Washington is like its own closed little world to those of us on the outside – which books or films are the best way in?

This is only my opinion, but if you’d like a good explainer for how the United States government became the mess it currently is, read DARK MONEY by Jane Mayer. It’s non-fiction.
If you want to forget what a mess it is, watch Scandal. So sexy, but not even close to realistic, and you’ll need that after you read Jane Mayer.

Who are your writing heroes and heroines?

I read A Room of One’s Own when I was in college. It struck me as a good manual for women who want to do anything creative. It still does. I named my protagonist after Ms. Woolf.

Who do you think tells the best stories about contemporary America?

The sands beneath us are still shifting, so it’s hard to say right now. All we know is that everything has changed. Whoever captures the sense of being utterly lost, of no longer knowing who you are as a country or even what your country wants to be, whoever tells that story has got contemporary America. I say this with great love for my country, and tears in my eyes.

We were all hooked on podcast Serial and Netflix’ Making a Murderer. What do you think about the dramatic retelling of true crimes in a way that sets them up as entertainment?

Making a Murderer was so great, because you never knew who was telling the truth—which is how it is. You get to be the armchair detective in an investigation where everyone lies—or bends the truth. And the stakes are so high. Life and death, freedom or incarceration, innocence and guilt and the social stigma that comes with being accused, and don’t forget—the murdered girl who deserves justice.

Do you think people in power often get away with the abuse of the vulnerable?

Yes. They will often do what they can get away with. It’s up to the media to throw a light on abuse. That’s why we need a strong Fourth Estate—and whistle blowers.

How do you think books especially fiction coming out of the Trump era will differ from those that preceded it?

We’ll have to see. It’s only been two months! Doesn’t it feel like years? I do know it was much easier to write good prose under “No Drama Obama,” as we called him.

Who are your favourite literary heroines?

When I was a girl, I loved the MM Kaye female protagonists. They were adventurous and smart and carried me along with them to foreign lands—England, Zanzibar, India! Scarlett O’Hara got me through my parent’s divorce. Recently, I loved Tana French’s Antoinette Conway. She didn’t need to be loved. She just needed to do her job—and that made her lovable, to me.

 

Thanks Christina!

You can find Christina on twitter @christina_kovac and THE CUTAWAY is out now in hardback and ebook and is published by Serpent’s Tail (@serpentstail).

Get a copy at:

 

book cover - The Cutaway - Christina Kovac

When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.

Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.

Faithless – Kjell Ola Dall

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl. Faithless is being published by Orenda Books in paperback on 15 April 2017.

Oslo detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich are back and this time, it’s personal… When the body of a woman turns up in a dumpster, scalded and wrapped in plastic, Inspector Frank Frølich is shocked to discover that he knows her and their recent meetings may hold the clue to her murder. As he ponders the tragic events surrounding her death, Frølich’s colleague Gunnarstranda investigates a disturbingly similar cold case involving the murder of a young girl in northern Norway and Frølich is forced to look into his own past to find the answers – and the killer – before he strikes again.

Faithless is the fifth in Kjell Ola Dahl’s series of books featuring his detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich. I’ve not read any of the others, but Faithless can (and indeed was!) easily read as a standalone. They’re quite the pair, our detectives. Inspector Frølich is investigating the murder of a woman who was engaged to a childhood friend – a friend he hasn’t seen for the past 20 years. Meanwhile Gunnarstranda is looking into the disappearance of a university student. Then there’s the cold case (is there any other sort in Norway?) which bears striking similarities…

Faithless is classic Nordic Noir. The pace of the investigation is slow and steady, with clues being turned over gradually as the story progresses. Don Bartlett has done a fine job here of translating – as he did with Gunnar Staalesen’s We Shall Inherit the Wind, and if you’re a fan of Gunnar’s work, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. The writing is punchy and the sentences short – something which took me a little while to get into the rhythm of, but soon settled into and patience was well rewarded.

The characters are well-developed and the plot is nicely twisty, keeping you guessing up to the end. Our detectives rely on good old fashioned police work, getting out and talking to people, pounding the streets and piecing the puzzle together bit by bit. It’s a classic police procedural in that sense, with a nice psychological angle and a fantastic ending.

If I had any criticism (and I really am nitpicking here) it was the sense of place – regular readers will be well aware of my fondness for books which give you a real sense of place and identity of the country. There’s certainly some on show here, but I think I’ve been spoiled by reading so many other fantastic Nordic Noir stories over the past couple of years! It’s a tiny point and definitely a personal thing for me – it shouldn’t put you off!

Thanks as ever go to Karen at Orenda Books (@OrendaBooks) for the review copy, and to Anne Cater (@annecater) for inviting me onto the tour.

Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl is published in the UK by Orenda Books and is available in paperback and ebook. Translated by Don Bartlett.

Returning to the world of fictional characters – guest post by Marianne Delacourt

Delighted to welcome Marianne Delacourt to the blog today. Marianne is the author of the Tara Sharp novels which have been freshly revamped under the Twelfth Planet Press crime imprint Deadlines.

Today Marianne is here to talk about returning to the world of fictional characters. And thus, without further ado, I shall turn you over to Marianne.

Returning to the World of Fictional Characters
Marianne Delacourt

I just love the topic EsspresoCoco chose for this blog post because it’s one of the main reasons that I write at all. When I was about twenty, I was living in a remote community in Western Australia. I took a long time to fit in and for a few years felt quite isolated. Watching the EastEnders kinda got me through. It was then that I realised the power of attraction that familiar characters have over their audience. They give us a place to go – a home.

It’s the reason, I believe, that television is having such a resurgence in popularity, and why movie franchises like The Fast and the Furious can thrive. I would much rather make an emotional investment in characters who I can visit with time and time again than a one-and-done visit.

In the last few years, I’ve sought out long running series in both books and television so that I can hang out with characters/people I know and love. There is so much satisfaction in watching them persevere until they succeed, and huge comfort to be gained from being in their lives.

As the author of fictional series, the same principles apply. Writing several Tara Sharp novels has allowed my cast to grow. I see it pretty much like raising a family. Take Tara Sharp herself… when we meet here she’s a bit of mess, but slowly she pulls herself out of that hole and takes some control of her life, and we get to go along for the ride. Then there’s Cass… she’s a runaway who can barely read or write at the beginning, but Tara’s influence in her life helps her chose another path. Then there’s Tara’s security chief Wal, who at in his middle age falls in love for the first time. And Tara’s crush, Nick Tozzi, who must negotiate the rocky path of a failing marriage.

So, don’t feel sorry for the starving writer in the garret living on apples, they’re having the time of their life, hanging out with people they’ve constructed and worlds they’ve built. To my mind, that’s about as lucky as you can be!

p.s. One Tree Hill FTW!

The third novel in Marianne Delacourt’s series of paranormal crime novels about unorthodox PI Tara Sharp, ‘Too Sharp’, launched this week. The novel is available from all online retailers, including Twelfth Planet Press and Amazon. Readers new to Delacourt’s Tara Sharp series can spark their addiction with ‘Sharp Shooter’, the ebook of which is available for free for a limited time to celebrate the launch.

Too Sharp - Marianne Delacourt

Marianne Delacourt is the alter ego of award-winning, internationally-published Science Fiction writer Marianne de Pierres. Renowned for dark satire in her Science Fiction, Marianne offers lighter, funnier writing under her Delacourt penname. As Delacourt, Marianne is also the author of Young Adult fiction series Night Creatures (Burn Bright, Angel Arias and Shine Light). She is a co-founder of the Vision Writers Group and ROR – wRiters on the Rise, a critiquing group for professional writers. Marianne lives in Brisbane with her husband and two galahs.
You can find more about Marianne’s Tara Sharp novels at tarasharp.com.au, more about Marianne herself at mariannedepierres.com or on twitter @mdepierres