DisneyWar – James B. Stewart

disneywarAh Disney. A world of magic and wonder and pure happiness. For most people, anyway. This book, as implied by the title, isn’t about the joy of Disney, but instead the business side, boardroom dealings and back stabbings. I love Disney. A lot. To the point I had a run of Disney themed blog posts back in November, when I was off in Disneyland Paris for my 30th birthday. I was hoping for a glimpse into the inner workings of Disney itself, and yes, I was attracted by that title. But this is less a Disney cultural history that I was hoping for, and more a biography of former Disney CEO, Michael Eisner.

I listened to the audiobook for this, using my first ever Audible credit, and it took me months to actually work through it. Partly because I got distracted by the fantastic Into the Drowning Deep,and partly because I found a lot of aspects of this to be incredibly boring.

The narration was good. Patrick Laylor does manage to bring a lot of this to life, and with his inclusion I forgot sometimes I wasn’t listening to the actual author. The best moments were made even better by his narration, especially the opening, talking about the author working for a day at a Disney park. It was actually my favourite part of the book. There’s also a bit about the history of Disney, how Walt and his brother Roy formed the company, and the treatment of Roy Disney Jr when he started.

I actually kind of wished the book itself had been more focused on Roy. Instead, much of the book is about Eisner, his personal history, how he drove the company forward, his lack of give when it came to anyone. It does do a good, balanced job of presenting Eisner, but sometimes it feels a lot like the author is trying really hard to add an extra ‘good layer’ to him.

Eisner feels ruthless and sometimes, downright cruel. Over-ambitious, and focused so much on the bottom line, the actual core of Disney is missed. Prior to this, my main knowledge of Disney history came from the fantastic Waking Sleeping Beauty, which takes a look at Disney leading up to the renaissance at the end of the 80s and start of the 90s. So DisneyWar added a lot to my knowledge in some aspects, but mainly made me feel like for a long time, Disney was run by a bunch of bickering children.

The news broke recently current though exiting executive chairman Bob iger – who from DisneyWar was another person treated poorly by Eisner – and chief executive Bob Chapek, among others, are either forgoing their salaries or taking pay cuts due to the current crisis. And yes, these people get paid an incredibly, ridiculously high amount, the likes of which I will probably never see, but after listening to this audiobook, I couldn’t help but wonder, would Eisner have done the same, in this situation?

I feel like he would have, but he would have been pressed into doing so, likely wouldn’t have forgone his whole salary, and would have moaned to anyone listening about it.

Maybe it’s harsh, to judge someone I really don’t know, but Eisner tried so hard to be Walt Disney, while seeming to miss the magic of Disney itself. And the book delves pretty deep into his life, even explaining how he judged others for basically not having grown up in money (like he had) and not being educated to his highly educated standard.

He just sounded like an all round not nice guy.

Perhaps that had some impact on my ‘enjoyment’ of the book. In some ways it was good to get a look into the dirty side of Disney, and to see more of the business in that way, but for the most part I found the thing incredibly dull, with names shooting by so fast it was hard to keep track of who was who.

I think this is one more for people interested in business, in boardrooms and the like, than people interested in Disney.

And on that, if anyone does have some more Disney-focused recommendations for me, I would absolutely love to hear them.

Black Mountains: The Recollections of a South Wales Miner – David Barnes [Books]

black mountainsI have a current WIP which needs research, mostly research into mining, specifically in the Welsh Valleys, preferably around the end of the 19th Century into the start of the 20th. Which is the main reason I picked up this book, hoping it would shed a little light on miners, their way of life, and how the mines operated.

This provided some of that, and a lot more to boot.

The title is perhaps a little misleading. There is much more to Alf Gordon’s story than being a miner. The book is written as a conversation between Alf and his grandson, with questions providing section headings. The book takes the reader on a journey from Alf’s childhood, growing up in poverty, yet close to wealth as he was born and lived on a Lord’s estate.

This book is a really interesting look at Welsh life at this time, told in a conversational, casual way that really does make it feel like you’re having a conversation with Alf. The guy lead an interesting life, becoming a miner and avoiding one of the worst mining disasters of that period, then becoming a solider and joining the fight in World War One, surviving the Battle of the Somme.

The book is overall easy to read. The most distracting thing about it was the amount of names, but they’re mostly easy to follow, and certain aspects feel skimmed over, but that’s understandable considering how much this book actually covered.

I think this is a really good look at someone’s life, written in a way that makes it easy to follow and doesn’t feel dry. It’s easy to hear Alf’s voice, and it gives the sense you could be sitting at a fireside, with a whiskey, having a chat with the guy. It also covers a very interesting period, when mining was changing to become safer, and gives good insight into the sort of lives people lived at the start of the last century.

If you have an interest in history, I highly recommend this book. It was an enjoyable read, providing a lot of information for more research and some extra stuff outside of it, too.

Esme’s Gift – Elizabeth Foster [Books]

esmes giftLong-time readers of this blog might remember my review for Esme’s Wish, a wonderfully charming book about a young girl who finds herself in a new world, and discovers her mother spent much of her own time there before her disappearance.

The adventure continues in Esme’s Gift. Here, we originally see Esme returning home, joyfully anticipating being reunited with her father, only to discover he is an absolute mess, struggling to cope with her missing status. But even when she returns, it isn’t the reunion she hoped for. Her father doesn’t believe her, so Esme returns to the wonderful world and her friends.

This book sees Emse exploring more of the magical world, gaining understanding over her gift, and even attending school alongside Daniel and Lillian.

The school set up will be familiar to those who have read any other magic schooling books, though with another differences to still make it feel fresh. And the school feels more like Xavier’s School from X-Men than Hogwarts, with kids displaying a variety of different powers and trying to learn to control them. There’s the stuck-up girl who verges on bullying, a mysterious boy who Esme doesn’t quite trust, and various other characters who prove to be allies to the main trio.

And as for the trio itself, it’s refreshing, as it was in the first installment, to see a trio made up of two girls and a boy, rather than two boys and a girl. And there’s no love triangle here, no forced romance. There’s hints of it, but nothing tips over and it’s actually kind of refreshing. Instead, the focus is on growing friendship, their adventures, and how they’re navigating being teenagers with extraordinary powers. Abilities. Gifts! In this world, they are gifts, hence the title of the book.

The interactions between different characters are well done, the revelations provide some good moments of making the reader really question things, and Esme’s travels, seeking out ingredients for a rare elixir, give plenty of tense moments as well as the opportunity to learn even more about this world.

The worldbuilding in this book is wonderful, as it was in the first, and it really makes the setting come alive, feeling fresh and different. The growing friendships between characters, the new dangers they face and the additional cast really make this a wonderful addition to this series, and I eagerly await the third book!

 

Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties – Tony Knighton [Books]

happy houtHappy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties is a collection of short crime fiction by author Tony Knighton, with the title story being the first and longest, verging almost towards novella length.

This could just be a personal preference, but I struggled to get through the collection. I found the writing to be dry, and there was barely a likeable character to be found in the whole lot. It’s a sparse style, which might fit better with fans of noir, but for the most part, the stories read as a list of events that happened, rather than an actual story.

This is especially true of the title story, which felt like the same thing happening, again and again, in slightly different locations. Not to mention the women in this collection are so flat, with so little agency it really did feel like I’d gone back to the height of noir.

There was one story that really stood out – one that slipped more into sci-fi, set in a world where oxygen is a precious commodity, and rain must be avoided. It’s the one story where we actually root for the main character, and with the focus on him and his son, it was hard not to get attached.

For the most part, however, the stark style and flat characters really didn’t gel with me. I like characters I can root for, in some way, characters I can actually connect with, even if they’re not the best of people.

This book didn’t hit that note for me, but I can definitely see how others might enjoy this style and sense of bleakness.

Poison – Sarah Pinborough [Books]

poisonPoison is a slightly darker, twisted version of the Snow White story, adding in a little adult content and ensuring things aren’t as clear-cut as the story we’re used to. I won’t do my usual synopsis style introduction here, because I’d be surprised if anyone doesn’t know the story of Snow White, but I will say some of the additions Pinborough has made here are really interesting.

Firsty, and this is similar to other Snow White retellings, we get more depth to the queen. Here, however, the whole story has more worldbuilding involved, creating a fantasy world rather than just having a generic fairy tale setting. This is a world where kingdoms are at war with one another, and we see the impact on the people left behind. We understand the queen’s marriage, we see the reasons she dislikes Snow, we, in general, feel more sympathy for her.

The worldbuilding plays a bigger part here than you’d expect, too. The various wars impact the kingdom, including the dwarves, and play into the prince’s character, too. We see more of the dwarves, get to understand some of the politics of this world, and far from being a damsel in distress, Snow shows herself to be more down to earth, carefree and kind, as well as strong-willed.

And rather than Snow simply stumbling upon the dwarves when she is forced away from her home, she grows up with them. They are her friends, and she turns to them in her time of need, trusting them to protect and keep her safe.

The differences between the fairy tale and this version are what make this really interesting. It reads as a more fully-fleshed fantasy story, rather than a fairy tale retelling. Although key elements remain the same, there are additions and links to other fairy tales, reminding me a little of Once Upon a Time, one of my favourite TV shows (until the last season. Let’s not talk about that).

There are references here to Hansel & Gretel, to Aladdin, and even Cinderella, through a pair of enchanted slippers. This isn’t just Snow White’s world; this is a deeply, well thought out place where all the fairy tale characters live, and interact.

The Huntsman stumbles into the situation, not really knowing what he’s getting himself involved in when he meets the queen. The Prince falls in love with an idealised version of the sleeping princess, and his whole character was a fantastic twist on fairy tale princes in general, and the habit of putting people – especially women – on pedestals, demanding they be something they’re not.

And the ending – the last third of the book – is where the contrasts really come out, where things twist and turn to give us something different from the original fairytale. There isn’t really a happy ending here, but it’s one that leaves the reader wanting more, and considering there are two more books in this series, that’s definitely not a bad thing.

Into the Drowning Deep – Mira Grant [Books]

into the drowning deepI’m still relatively new to audiobooks. During February, I tried to only start books written by women. I picked up Into the Drowning Deep as I was looking specifically for horror titles, and this seemed a good choice on Audible.

I was not wrong.

Into the Drowning Deep tells the story of a group of scientists, searching for mermaids. Prior to the events of this book, another ship had searched for the same, mysterious creatures, only for the ship to disappear along with everyone on board. All that remains is footage of what looks like a mermaid, attacking those involved.

Victoria Stewart’s sister was on board the ship, and she searches for some way to make sense of what happened. When she’s approached and offered a chance to join the new voyage, she takes the chance.

Christine Lakin, the narrator for this, did an absolutely fantastic job. Audiobooks are not something I’m used to, but Lakin really did well to bring every character to life in the dialogue.

The atmosphere builds up really well, and it becomes easy to imagine the main setting of the novel, the huge cruise ship full of scientists and models-dressed-as-security. The real nature of the company behind both ventures is clear, but the individual characters all have their own motives and desires, threaded throughout the story and driving them forward.

Whether it’s searching for answers, validating their life’s work, or just being part of something amazing, each character is fully realised, drawing the reader in and allowing them to understand even the most minor characters.

The book really shines in the second half. Like most good horror, after we’ve met the characters and formed a relationship with them, the fun really begins, and Grant doesn’t hold back, teasing us with her use of tension and buildup of suspense.

I’m really glad I listened to the audiobook for this one, as Lakin really adds that extra punch to the story, and was easy to get absolutely lost in the story. If you’re looking for creepy, sea-based horror – with an interesting, diverse cast of characters – this is definitely one to check out.

Generation X – Scott Lobdell [Graphic Novels]

generation xWhen it comes to graphic novels, I have a tendency to pick up random ones at cons or second-hand ones in bookshops, depending where I am. Often they’re related in some way to characters I already know in certain franchises, or there’s at least some link, something that draws me to them, if I don’t pick up something unseen for a bargain, anyway.

This was one of those random purchases, picked up thanks to a longstanding love of X-Men, ensuring if I spot any sort of X-Men graphic novel on the cheap, I won’t waste a second before I purchase it.

These characters are not the same X-Men fans of the cartoons or films will be familiar with. There’s no Jean Grey, Wolverine or even Professor X on these pages. However, Jubilee is a familiar face, and though I haven’t read the X-Men storyline leading up to Generation X, it was still easy to dip in and follow what’s happening.

This volume introduces the new characters fairly seamlessly, with their various arrivals to Xavier’s School, including one interrupted by a dark, dangerous presence at the airport. The gang, of course, tackle this threat head on, but it takes more than fighting spirit for their next adventure.

Although these are introductory comics, they work really well, keeping the plot and action moving forward as we get to know each character. Small tidbits are revealed, and it makes a great starting point for the series.

It’s a shame this iteration of the X-Men has been overlooked, as there are some interesting powers at play here and possibly rich characters who could have been more fully explored. If I come across the next volume in the series, I’ll definitely check it out, but as with many of these random graphic novels, it doesn’t seem that easy to come by, or to work out what actually is the next volume.

For me though, this was definitely a fun and interesting read, and it was enjoyable to read about different characters in this familiar setting.

 

A Touch of Death – Rebecca Crunden [Books]

a touch of deathCatherine is content in the world she lives in. The daughter of the King’s Hangman, she lives in comfort and safety, oblivious to the real dangers lurking outside her home. She is in love with Thom, but when his brother Nate returns one night, Catherine finds herself accompanying him on a short overnight journey which ends in disaster.

Discovering they are both infected, Catherine and Nate face two options: stay and face whatever awaits them in the hands of the king’s men, or flee.

A Touch of Death is a different take on the dystopian subgenre, with this world so far removed from ours it’s hard to really pinpoint it as our world, but with plenty of hints to show how we could get from this point to there. It’s a world ravaged by disease and pollution, where those in power care more about clinging onto that power than protecting anyone around them.

There are aspects in here familiar to those who have read dystopian novels before – corrupt government, unhappy population ruled by fear, a decaying world – but Crunden really uses these to her advantage, and her characters sparkle with life.

The story is gripping, taking the reader on an adventure across this strange world, leaving them trying to work out who to trust as much as Catherine and Nate do. And through it all, we’re left wondering how things will end, whether the pair will be saved by any miracles.

Crunden has created a dystopia that feels different to those I’ve read before, one where the dangers aren’t as obvious as they first seem, while using some familiar elements to show the stark contrast in those who have grown up with privilege, and those who haven’t.

This was a really interesting dystopian book, tackling a variety of themes and having, at its centre, really engaging characters who change and progress throughout the novel. For me, this is a strong recommendation if you’re looking for something a little different.

February 2020 Reading Wrap Up [Books]

February 2020 Reading Wrap UpAs with my January Wrap Up, I’m a little behind with this. Since the start of the year, I feel like I’ve been playing a little catch-up with reviews. But I’ve had a bit more time this week, so I’m able to get this up now, and hopefully start really catching up with reviews for books I’ve read in March so far.

Happy Writing – Jenny Alexander

happy writingA book about working through the various blocks that might be stopping you from writing, I found this book to be a little simplistic for me. It might, however, be excellent for those starting to write, or who haven’t put time into studying the craft previously.

My Review

The Cult Called Freedom House – Stephanie Evelyn

cult called freedom houseI’d heard great things about this book, so when it appeared as an ebook on Amazon for free, I grabbed it. It was, however, a bit of a disappointment for me. It was too fast-paced, rushing from one scene to the next, and the actual appeal of the cult wasn’t clear to me. See, I can see how some people could enjoy this first installment in the Sophia Rey series, and it hasn’t put me off checking out the next one.

Review Coming Soon on Dead Head Reviews

Bottled – Stephanie Ellis

bottledBottled is a really interesting take on the haunted house subgenre, and follows the main character as he tries to spend a single night in his deceased grandfather’s home, the setting for his childhood abuse. Definitely one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Review Coming Soon on Dead Head Reviews

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume Two – Alan Moore, Kevil O’Neill

league vol 2The second volume for Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen takes on War of the Worlds, with a familiar cast of characters back to lead the charge. I enjoyed this one, except for the novel inserted at the back, and if you’ve read and enjoyed the first volume, I can’t think of a reason not to continue with it.

My Review

We Hunt the Flame – Hafsah Faizal

we hunt the flameIf you haven’t yet checked out this YA Fantasy, the debut novel from Hafsah Faizal, you really should change that. It’s a fantastic book with utterly engaging characters and a setting most readers won’t be used to. I cannot wait for the second installment in the series.

My Review

Straight on Till Morning – Liz Braswell

straight on till morningThe latest in the Twisted Tales series, Straight on Till Morning follows Wendy at age 16, when she gets fed up of waiting for Peter and arranges her own passage to Neverland. This has quickly become my second favourite of the series (Reflection, the Mulan story, still tops the list for me) and it’s a fantastic tale, sprinkling in some good messages about stories, growing up, and women looking for their place in a male-dominated world. Definitely recommend this one.

My Review

I only managed to read six books this month, but any I started during February were all written by women, which I’m quite happy with. This post will be coming out after the reviews for We Hunt the Flame and Straight on Till Morning have been posted, but I’m writing it on 15/03/20, and so far in March I’ve already finished four books. Though I expect a lot of people might have higher read counts for this month and next!

How did your February go for reading? How does March compare so far? And how are you doing with those pesky Goodreads goals?

Straight on Till Morning – Liz Braswell [Books]

straight on till morningAnyone who has been following this blog for a while knows of my love for the Twisted Tales series, by Disney. There are currently three authors involved – Liz Braswell, Elizabeth Lim, and Jen Calonita. These books involve taking the stories we know and love, and adding a single twist that can affect everything. So far, there have been books based on Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Mulan (my favourite), Snow White, Frozen, and now Peter Pan.

While Reflection remains my favourite of the series, Straight on Till Morning has without a doubt nabbed the second place spot. In this version, Wendy doesn’t go to Neverland with Peter Pan. Instead, she is left behind to grow up, taking care of the house and her brothers, forced to watch them attend school while she can do nothing but learn to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Everyone around her dismisses her stories of Peter Pan as rubbish childish fantasies, and if it wasn’t for the strange shadow she keeps in the old nursery, Wendy might believe them.

Desperate not to be sent to Ireland by her parents, Wendy makes a deal with Captain Hook: she will give him Peter’s shadow, in exchange for passage to Neverland.

This is a book about stories and their power, about facing the responsibilities of growing up and realising it doesn’t always mean putting everything childish away, but accepting there are bigger things in the world to take note of than just what’s happening in your own house.

The focus once Wendy gets to Neverland is not on Peter, but on Wendy and Tinkerbell, and the friendship between the pair. They don’t start on good terms, but soon grow fond of one another, working together to find Peter and save Neverland. One aspect done well is how Wendy is aged up. While Peter remains his boyish self, never growing up after all, Wendy is sixteen in this story, facing more of the pressures of adulthood, and able to view Neverland and its dangers with more mature eyes.

The setting might be familiar, but with Hook planning something big, it’s hard not to feel the tension as Wendy goes from place to place, trying to rally the people of Neverland. As the story progresses, Wendy’s understanding deepens, and she begins to question whether never growing up is a good idea after all.

I really enjoyed this book, and I loved the focus on Wendy and Tinkerbell over Peter and the Lost Boys. There’s a strong message here, reinforced when Tinkerbell gets a little jealous of Wendy, as she is prone to doing. But the pair work really well together, and it was great seeing them get this chance to shine.

Braswell is fantastic at deepening these characters we already love, and presenting them in different situations that allow their strengths to really come to light. She’s done it with many of the previous Twisted Tales books, and this is no exception.

One thing about this series: if you’re looking to dip your toe in, you don’t have to read them in order. I’ve read every one so far, and some I’ve loved more than others, but responses on all of them are varied, which is great. Each book offers something different. And with each book the authors produce, they seem to get that much better. Braswell was the first involved in Twisted Tales, and she continues to produce fantastic stories. I would definitely recommend picking up Straight on Till Morning, whether you’ve read the rest of the Twisted Tales series or not.