Slay My Love – Lee Colgin [Book Review]

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He couldn’t possibly be this lonely forever

It’s been a while since I read something that could be classed as Paranormal Romance, and Slay My Love was a great way to dip my toes back into the genre.

The new vampire in town is different than any the hunters have seen before, and Franklin is sent to investigate, on behalf of The Scourge. Gianni, a born vampire, realises he’s being followed, and rather than attack the hunter, he talks to him. So begins an unlikely friendship between enemies, forming the basis for a smouldering attraction between the two.

A lot of the paranormal stuff I’ve read in the past, even stuff that focuses on vampires, tended to introduce other creatures into the mix, especially werewolves/shifters and the like. Having the focus on just vampires in Slay My Love works really well, keeping the reader focused on these two characters. And they are great characters to read about, the duel POV used to good effect.

Although we get glimpses into both character’s heads, the tension is effective, some information held back, the writing cutting away from one character when it feels like we’re about to learn something we maybe shouldn’t. The writing itself ensures the reader never feels cheated by this, but more that we really are listening to two men, each with their own agenda, each battling their own inner demons as well as external ones, and each lying not just to each other, but to themselves.

The relationship between the two developed really well, and had me really hoping they would overcome any obstacles and remain together, despite the problems standing in their way. Gianni and Franklin were really enjoyable characters to read about, and their voices carried the story very well.

Colgin creates characters who are intriguing, broken, and lonely, and who manage to find comfort in each other, despite their differences. The story flowed well, the tension worked to keep me reading, and the action involved was gripping. Overall, if you’re a fan of paranormal romance, I really do recommend Slay My Love.

 

Children of Virtue and Vengeance – Tomi Adeyemi [Book Review]

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The second in the Legacy of Orïsha series, Children of Virtue and Vengeance continues the story of Zélie and Amari, who, together, have brought magic back to Orïsha. Although the maji have regained their powers, nobles with magical ancestry now find themselves able to use magic as well, presenting even more dangers for the two young women.

The maji are still hunted, but can now fight back. And Zélie knows the best chance her people have of a safe, peaceful future is with Amari on the throne. But getting her there will be difficult, especially when both find themselves hunted by the remaining nobility.

I really liked Children of Blood and Bone, the first in this series, but Children of Virtue and Vengeance shows how much Adeyemi has already improved as a writer, even in the short time between the release of her debut and the sequel.

The writing is stronger, and in some ways, even the characters feel more realised. THe multi-POV worked that little bit better in this book, as Zélie and Amari no longer have a single goal uniting them. Throughout, a distance grows between them, and though both want to close it, neither seems able to do so.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I liked the wider scope of it, the introduction of more maji and information about them, about how they worked together before The Raid and how their history unfolded. I liked the different relationships that emerged through this, and the way both Zélie and Amari are portrayed. Neither are the same as when we first met them, and it’s clear how recent events have affected them both, as well as the events contained in the novel.

The ending packs a strong punch too, leaving the reader desperately eager for the next installment to find out what happens next.

There is a lot more I’d like to say about this, but I feel saying much more risks introducing spoilers into this post, and this book is one that definitely has some nice surprises you don’t want spoiled.

If you liked Children of Blood and Bone, definitely check out this continuation. I cannot wait for book #3.

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

the testamentsThe Testaments is the sequel to Atwood’s outstanding novel. The Handmaid’s Tale, and takes us further into Gilead, allowing us to see more of the messed up, dystopian world ruled by the Sons of Jacob.

While The Handmaid’s Tale was told through one POV (Offred), The Testaments is told through three – Aunt Lydia, who expands on the treatment of women in the early days of the regime, Agnes Jemima, a young girl growing up in Gilead, and Daisy, a teenager in Canada.

Aunt Lydia’s sections read most like The Handmaid’s Tale, as she records her diary and hides it from prying eyes, giving the reader an insight into the function of the Aunts, and how they came to be in their position.

In contrast, Agnes’ and Daisy’s chapters read much more like a YA novel, presented as ‘witness statements’ as the girls reveal how they came to be in their current situations. The chapters switch back and forth, painting deeper pictures of what growing up in Gilead is like, and how the rest of the world views the situation.

One thing that struck me when I read The Handmaid’s Tale last year was how, after all this time, it’s still so scaringly relevant. With The Testaments, Atwood doesn’t shy away from current issues. Countries are too scared to step in and deal with Gilead, preferring to watch from afar as Gilead puts out its own propaganda, meant, at times, to make places like Canada feel better about doing nothing. Fleeing refugees are dealt with poorly, with some people resenting their presence. And children protest against Gilead, while others raised there see no wrong in the way they are brought up.

The contrast between the two girls works really well, especially when we get glimpses of Agnes’ school life, and her best friends. Gilead is very much a patriarchal (in the strongest sense) and classist society, Agnes’ classmates treatment of her affected by how many Marthas she has, by the fact her father gets a handmaid, and so on. Although things do not sit quite right with her, she accepts them, only acting to change things once she receives permission.

In contrast, Daisy is strong-willed and stubborn, keen to make her voice heard, though at most times she comes across as apathetic, almost like a mask to conceal what she actually feels.

The characters in The Testaments feel as real and vivid as Offred, from Aunt Lydia’s recollections of how Gilead started, to the words of the two girls who have never known a world without Gilead. Despite her sheltered upbringing, Agnes does have empathy for people around her. Lydia quietly works to maintain her place, and Daisy searches for answers once it becomes clear her parents haven’t always told her the truth.

At times, it becomes easy to dislike some of the characters, but questions are raised regarding whether you would take the same course of action, or do something differently. Whether it is worth risking your life for the innocents around you, or risk the life of people you love for the greater good.

The Testaments isn’t as good as The Handmaid’s Tale, and it is, in many ways, an easier read, feeling a little bit more removed, more with a dystopian YA feel than The Handmaid’s Tale, but it is still powerful in its own way, and still carries the threat of Gilead, showing how easy it would be for a regime such as that to take over, and for many to ignore the suffering happening right before their eyes.

Season of Wonder – Edited by Paula Guran

season of wonderSeason of Wonder is a winter holiday themed anthology, bringing together fantasy and science fiction stories centred around the darkest months. Christmas isn’t the only holiday contained in these stories, but it is the most prominent. Still, as a whole, I think this is a great festive read.

The stories vary enough to give a little something for everyone, with a mixture of science fiction, fantasy, and even some horror elements thrown in. There’s robots caring for the last man on Earth, a post-apocalypse society ruled by religion, a young boy who stands against an evil elf, a young woman who gets caught in the battle between the Holly and Oak king, a woman on a distant planet introduces the inhabitants to Christmas, and a story of mental health, a woman who believes in magic, told through the eyes of her best friend.

The absolute stand out story for me was The Christmas Witch, a story which uses horror and fantasy to do one of my favourite things those genres are capable of; drawing parallels to very real situations, and reflecting issues often faced, especially by younger people. In this story, a young girl grieves the death of her mother, and lashes out in her own way, but the adults all seem to turn a blind eye. Her father tries to help, but not in the best way, and no one actually listens to her. It’s a fantastic read, and one hard to forget.

Pal Of Mine was also particularly good, one of those stories where the fantastical element is in doubt, right until the very end. It was wonderfully written, and very bittersweet.

Home for Christmas is a very sweet story, about a young woman who can talk to objects. It’s wonderfully written, draws you right in with the MC and her unusual ability, and shows how even small acts of kindness can have a lasting impact.

Others I particularly enjoyed, and would have liked to have read more about their worlds, were The Night Things Changed and The Nutcracker Coup. Both wonderful tales with fantastic world building, especially for short stories.

Everytime I think I’ve listed the ones I really liked, more pop into my head. Okay, last one, I swear. Newsletter, the final story in the anthology, is another great read – it’s witty and engaging and had me laughing out loud at the last line. And it’s a really interesting way of telling the story, combined with an uncertainty at the end, leaving the reader with multiple questions, and no answers except for whatever they decide in their head.

I really do recommend this collection. It has interesting portrayals of Christmas and the various aspects associated with the holiday, with more than one take on Santa Claus and the legend of. It was an enjoyable, fun, sometimes downright dark collection, with stories to both warm your heart on these cold winter evenings, and make you snuggle under the covers, glad you’re safe in your bed.

Tabitha Sparks and the Door to Everywhere – Jae El Foster [Audiobook Review]

tabitha sparksI don’t really listen to audiobooks, but I was approached very kindly by Kathleen Powell, the narrator for Tabitha Sparks and the Door to Everywhere, and asked if I would be interested in reviewing the audiobook. I decided I would give it a go.

Blurb

Intelligent, kind Tabitha Sparks has a wonderful life, with loving parents, a kind tutor, and an unusual connection to nature. But one day, when returning from her favourite place, she finds her parents and house completely gone, without a trace. Child Services take Tabitha to live with her last living relative, Aunt Demonia. In a cold, lifeless house, Tabitha discovers something wonderful, something which could lead her to her parents – the Door to Everywhere. But someone else is looking for the door, too, and Tabitha must stop him before it’s too late.

Book Review

Tabitha Sparks and the Door to Everywhere is a delightful children’s book, with plenty of creepy characters, mysterious happenings, and adventure to keep children and adults entertained. Tabitha is an endearing child, one it’s hard not to like almost instantly, curious and intelligent and keen to explore the immediate world around her home. She looks to adults for guidance and help, but often comes up against brick walls, with those who are supposed to help her turning out to be either useless or downright cruel. But she does find other adults, who really are looking out for her best interests, or at the least, help her in small ways.

Then there is Lapis, Tabitha’s feline friend, named after the protective stone. Lapis is a really fun character, supporting Tabitha through her trials and assisting where he can, although as he is a cat, he spends more time jumping into Tabitha’s arms than anything else!

My only real gripe with this book, and perhaps it’s because it’s audiobook I picked up on it more, was that there were a lot of adverbs. Notably, ‘curiously’ is repeated fairly often, and it got a little annoying at times.

Other than that, however, this is a really sweet story about friendship and kindness and doing the right thing, and a young girl searching for her parents. The different worlds we’re introduced to are intriguing and imaginative, and sure to entertain readers, old and young, with the different inhabitants and worlds Tabitha accesses.

Audiobook

I’ve only listened to one audiobook before, and that was Camilla, in Podcast format, so I listened to it between other podcasts, in ten and twenty-minute snippets. With Tabitha Sparks, I basically listened to it when I would usually listen to podcasts. And it was great! It felt like reading while at work, an ability to do other things while also being entertained by an audiobook. Although I understood why people listened to audiobooks before, I can definitely see the appeal more now.

There’s just something wonderful in falling into a different world through someone else’s voice, and the narrator Kathleen Powell does a fantastic job with Tabitha Sparks, hitting the right notes and affecting slightly different voices for each character. She has an absolutely charming style, one that really conveys the wonder and fear Tabitha goes through in the novel. It was a pure delight to listen to, and really made me feel like a little kid, gathering around for storytime.

Overall, I found this to be a fantastic, lovely book with a brilliant narrator really able to bring the story to life. I can only imagine the joy children would get out of reading this, or listening to the audiobook! It is definitely one worth checking out.

Audible

Goodreads

Amazon: UK   /    US

Kathleen Powell’s Website

A Curse So Dark and Lonely – Brigid Kemmerer [Review]

a curse so darkI read this book immediately after The Queen of Nothing, hoping it would fill the hole left by Holly Black’s fantastic end to an amazing trilogy. And it did…but after finishing it, that hole now feels twice as big. Luckily, this series is still ongoing, and the sequel is out in January, so seems like I read it at the right time.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely  is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with a slight modern twist. Prince Rhen is cursed to repeat the same season, over and over, transforming into a beast at the end and slaughtering everyone in his path, unless he can find a girl to fall in love with him. By the time we meet him, he barely knows of anything happening outside his cursed castle, and the only person left at his side is the commander of his Royal Guard, Grey.

After trying to find a woman among his own people, Rhen turns to Grey, and Grey is granted the ability – from the same enchantress who cursed them – to cross to the ‘other side’ at the start of every season.

Mistakes and errors lead Grey to taking Harper from Washington, DC to Emberfall. Harper doesn’t want to be there, she doesn’t want to deal with princes and guards and enchanted instruments – she wants to know her brother and her mother are safe, with her brother working for a loan shark to pay off their father’s debts, and her mother suffering from cancer.

I was completely and utterly gripped by the story, right from the very first page. The world painted is vivid, though it is dark and dangerous there are spots of warmth to be found, even with an eerie, empty castle. The characters are complex and interesting, each with their own issues to work through and trying to cope with the situations they find themselves in.

To me, Harper felt like a really strong character, one determined to do the right thing, even at risk to herself, and as she maneuvers through this world, learning about politics and royalty and other things she’s never had to think about before, she shows herself to be kind and endearing, considerate and strong-willed, and those aspects combined endear her to everyone around her.

There’s a very slight almost love triangle, but it never really grows into anything. There’s the potential of feelings between Harper and Grey, but that aspect is more played on when it comes to Rhen, watching them interact and seeing something deeper than what’s happening before him.

The aspect of Rhen being a beast some of the time, and the beast never being the same twice, was one I really liked – it added tension and uncertainty, as there was never any way to plan for what could happen.

I also really liked the interactions between him and Harper. Although she is kidnapped and forced to remain in Emberfall, so much of what happens between her and Rhen is about trust. There’s no insta-love here, but two wounded, defensive people trying to work around one another, approaching each other slowly and carefully, each as like as the other to take simple words or gestures the wrong way.

Although it is a retelling, there is little too predictable about the book, and it brings together elements of the fairytale well, while also mixing things up so nothing here feels overly familiar or overdone.

I really enjoyed the slow burn aspect to their relationship, and loved the way it unfolded. Overall, this is a really strong novel, one I could barely put down, and definitely worth checking out if you haven’t done so already.

 

The Devil’s Apprentice: Kenneth B. Anderson – Write Reads Blog Tour

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Welcome to my stop on the Write Reads blog tour for dark YA Fantasy The Devil’s Apprentice. This book is the first volume in The Great Devil War series, drawing the reader into this vivid reimagining of hell.

Review

Philip is a very good boy; he always does his homework ahead of time, is polite to adults, and can’t tell a lie at all. Yet he finds himself in Hell, where he discovers Lucifer is dying, and requires an heir. Philip might be the wrong boy for the job, but with no other choice, Lucifer trains him, working to shape Philip into a devil ready to take over the throne.

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The Devil’s Apprentice is an imaginative take on Hell and The Devil, introducing sympathetic demonic beings and a young boy caught in a dark plot against Lucifer. But more than that, the novel shows how easy it is to fall to temptation, the ways in which our emotions can blind us, how even the smallest acts of kindness can have far-reaching effects, and elements of cruelty can cause consequences. Philip’s arc is interesting and engaging, drawing the reader effectively along. He starts off as almost insufferably sweet, a boy who for all his goodness has no friends. But in Hell, he learns about who he is and what he could be, and how sometimes, it’s not completely evil to tell a lie.

The characters are multi-layered and engaging, and Philip is surrounded by an interesting cast, including Lucifax, the Devil’s cat, love interest Satina, enemy Aziel and a Hagrid-like gatekeeper at the entrance to Hell.

There were some really dark moments in the novel, and a couple of times it felt like it was leaning too much into the morality aspects. The exploration of temptation is good, but there was a particular scene I personally felt was a little unnecessary, in terms of the people being punished and what their ‘sin’ was. And some elements of Philip’s character arc, especially towards the end, felt just a little bit rushed.

Overall, however, I did enjoy reading this novel, and would without a doubt continue with the series. It feels fresh and unique, and though it perhaps might not be suitable for the younger end of YA, slightly older teens would probably enjoy reading about the dark, dangerous landscape of Hell and Philip’s journey.

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Blurb

Philip is a good boy, a really good boy, who accidentally gets sent to Hell to become the Devil’s heir. The Devil, Lucifer, is dying and desperately in need of a successor, but there’s been a mistake and Philip is the wrong boy. Philip is terrible at being bad, but Lucifer has no other choice than to begin the difficult task of training him in the ways of evil. Philip gets both friends and enemies in this odd, gloomy underworld—but who can he trust, when he discovers an evil-minded plot against the dark throne?

The Devil’s Apprentice is volume 1 in The Great Devil War-series.

kenneth b andersonThe Author

Kenneth B. Andersen (1976) is an award-winning Danish writer. He has published more than forty books for children and young adults, including both fantasy, horror, and science fiction.

His books have been translated into more than 15 languages and his hit-series about the superhero Antboy has been turned into three movies. A musical adaptation of The Devil’s Apprentice, the first book in The Great Devil War series, opened in the fall 2018 and film rights for the series have been optioned.

Kenneth lives in Copenhagen with his wife, two boys, a dog named Milo, and spiders in the basement.

Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Bookbub

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the tour, too!

the great devil war series

The Queen of Nothing – Holly Black [Review]

queen of nothingPlease note, dear friends, this review will contain spoilers for the first two books in the series, The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King.

In this trilogy, collectively called The Folk of the Air, Holly Black has created a rich, beautiful, dangerous and alluring world, one I could not wait to get back to in The Queen of Nothing.

Introduced to Jude in The Cruel Prince, when we first meet her she is powerless, at the whim of the fae, and trying to forge some sort of protection for herself in a world she calls her home, but where others insist she doesn’t belong. In The Wicked King, we see the development of her relationship with Carden, as she gains control over him and, in essence, rules the land from the shadows.

The Wicked King drew them closer together, resulting in marriage between the pair, before Carden has Jude exiled to the mortal world, until she is pardoned by the crown.

The Queen of Nothing starts there, with Jude scraping by in the mortal world, living with her sister and brother, and doing odd jobs for the fae folk on this side. But her unhappiness is clear, and though she pretends it’s homesickness, her worries revolve around Carden, the throne, and those who would betray him. When Taryn arrives, offering a chance to briefly go back, Jude is all too eager to take it.

Although Jude is essentially the queen, she returns to a world where she is basically powerless, unable to do much except observe and wait. And the world as she knows it has changed, as forces move against Carden and the threat of war builds.

As with the previous books, the book feels much like the fae; beautiful and dangerous, drawing us deeper into this world and giving fans, I think, exactly what they would have wanted from the final book.

To a point, anyway.

It’s hard to go into what I love about this book without spoilers, but I will say there were moments I held it close, glued to the page, entranced by the events unfolding with my heart in my throat. Moments I gasped from joy, moments I gasped from fear. The Jude-Carden scenes are as enthralling as ever, the relationship between the sisters brought tears to my eyes, and the choices Jude faces up the stakes in a way the last in a trilogy should.

The only ‘problem’ I have with this book is that it is the last, and I so desperately miss it already. I miss the anticipation of wondering what’s going to happen next, I miss the interactions between the various characters, the sense that Jude is always skirting on the edge of something dangerous. The Queen of Nothing provides a fantastic, satisfying conclusion to an absolutely brilliant series. The Cruel Prince was the first book of Holly Black’s I read, and I will now be seeking out more, hoping to forever fill the void this trilogy – like others before it – has left in me.

On that note, if you have any recommendations for similar books, I would absolutely love to hear them.

Twisted Tales: Let It Go – Jen Calonita

twisted 4The Twisted Tales series are stories about films and characters we know and love from Disney films, but putting one twist into the story that either changes everything, gives something additional in the middle, or extends the story beyond the familiar endings. I wrote about the series as a whole here, and purposefully held onto reading Let It Go so I could read it while on my Disney trip last week. I started it on the coach on the way to the airport, didn’t actually finish it until this week. Turned out, I was way too tired while travelling to read, and by the time we got back to the hotel in the evening, I was too exhausted to spend more than a small amount of time reading about this alternative version of Anna and Elsa’s story.

Anyway, this was an ideal book to take away, and the bits I did read, I enjoyed, though not as much as the others in the series. But a big charm of this series is that everyone has a different favourite. It’s handled by three different authors, with three different writing styles, and it ensures every book feels unique.

With Let It Go, (which, as far as I can tell, is Conceal, Don’t Feel in the US) I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed some of the others. I like when the story is turned completely on its head, presenting new scenes and putting the characters in different, new settings. To me, this one felt like too close to the source material, scenes rehashed from the film and put into the written word. But this aspect of it is something other readers might thoroughly enjoy.

When we join Anna and Elsa in Let It Go, it’s to find that neither know of the other. Elsa lives as princess with her parents, while Anna lives in a small village overlooking the city. Both feel something is missing in their lives, but neither quite knows what it is. As the story unfolds, we discover that when they were taken to the trolls, after Elsa hit Anna with her magic, Elsa interrupted the spell, causing a curse that means they cannot be near each other. To protect them, the trolls cast a spell to ensure they forgot one another, and the kingdom forgot there was another princess.

The twist is good, and in some places executed really well, bringing forward the sense of sisterly love that made the film feel so fresh in the first place. The main thing I disliked, as stated above, was the way scenes from the film felt repeated. Dialogue is lifted almost word for word, song lyrics feel forced in, and scenes take place exactly as they do in the film, just in a different way.

Much of the novel feels forced towards the same point as the film, leaving the twists to be clearly visible and marked, and meaning the last part just felt like rehash. It feels like more could have been done with it, really.

Saying that, however, Calonita does have a fantastic way with words. The descriptions – of the city, the village, the icy mountains and the valley where the trolls live – are brilliant, and she has a clear, deep understanding of the characters. Despite the situation they’re in, they feel like the characters we know from the films, and they react how you’d expect them to react. The love elements are handled really well, emphasising the sisterly love but also allowing more time for relationships to develop, to show why Hans is actually present, and why Kristoff is willing to run off with Anna, in search of someone he’s never met. The threads of the story are woven well, and although this wasn’t my favourite of the series, I did enjoy it, and if you’re a fan of Frozen, it’s definitely worth  checking out.

(As a side note, the two women I work with who also read this series absolutely loved the book, much more than I did! Like I said, it’s one thing I really love about the series as a whole – the varied reactions to each book.)

Spotlight: Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties – Tony Knighton

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Friends, I’m really excited to read this book. It’s got some fantastic reviews on Goodreads, and seems really interesting. I love short story collections, and this definitely feels right up my street.

The book, by author Tony Knighton, is currently $0.99 on Amazon until Friday, November 22nd, 2019 and can be found here.

You can also check out a video from the book’s author below, which has just added to my eagerness to read this collection.

And check out this video of the author discussing the book – I promise it’s worth a watch!

The Author

Tony Knighton is a Lieutenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department, a twenty-nine year veteran.

He has published short fiction in Static Movement Online and Dark Reveries.

“The Scavengers” was previously published in the anthology Shocklines: Fresh Voices in Terror from Cemetery Dance Publications. “Sunrise” originally appeared in the anthology Equilibrium Overturned from Grey Matter Press.

Books: Happy Hour and other Philadelphia Cruelties, Three Hours Past Midnight.

Amazon Author Page

Book on Goodreads