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.

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.

We Hunt The Flame – Hafsah Faizal [Books]

we hunt the flameZafira is The Hunter. Disguised as a man, she enters the dark, dangerous, cursed forest, to feed her people. If she is exposed, it will all be for nothing, her actions rejected no matter what good they have gone. Nasir is The Prince of Death. The heir to the throne, and an assassin, killing by order of the sultan.

Zafira is tasked with a quest: to go to a cursed island, and restore magic to the land. Nasir is issued with an order: to kill the Hunter, and steal whatever is required to restore magic.

We Hunt the Flame is the debut novel for author Hafsah Faizal. This is something I’ve said about other novels before, but it also applies to this one – it doesn’t feel like a debut. The worldbuilding is tight and we’re introduced to this land in a really fluid way. Everything feels natural, rather than events stopping to explain to the reader exactly what one thing or the other is.

Faizal skillfully weaves together this world and characters, making them feel completely and utterly part of one another. And the relationships built up between the various characters, whether it’s the relationship between the two protagonists or between them and the ‘side characters’, are an absolute delight to read.

The danger hangs over the heads of the characters throughout their journey, and Faizal effectively increases the tension and mystery with every page, keeping the reader absolutely hooked. I found myself completely caught up in the characters’ quests, eager to see how they would cope with the next obstacle thrown in their way.

There are familiar tropes buried within these pages, but given a fresh breath of life at Faizal’s skillful hand. The characters and this world are fun to read, the events that transpire are absolutely gripping, and I can already see this being one of my top books read this year.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume Two – Alan Moore [Books]

league vol 2It took me a long time to get around to reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and now I’m two volumes in I feel deeply invested in this mash of classic genre characters. For those who aren’t aware, the first volume introduces us to the core group of characters, pulled from works like Dracula, The Invisible Man, and Jekyll & Hyde.

If you’ve seen the 2003 film, you might have some idea of the characters encountered, but honestly from what I can remember of that film, it’s really not a great adaptation. If you want something a touch closer to the tone, style, and characterisation found within the graphic novel, Penny Dreadful is a much better choice.

The group is made up of Mina Murray, Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin, and Henry Jekyll. Other characters from classic genre fiction are pulled in to serve various purposes, and the second volume follows the core characters as they battle against an invasion force from Mars.

This volume feels a bit darker than the first. From the moment we meet Griffin in the first volume, we know he’s a POS, a fact which is emphasised and really comes to play in this volume. From what I can remember of the first, the plot mainly revolves around gathering the League, and a plot against London. In this volume, the threat feels larger.

Not only that, but we get to see more of the characters, good and bad sides, as they are separated in order to find a way to end the war. Mina isn’t perhaps as formidable and powerful as she feels in the first volume, but the events that transpire almost push her to breaking point – and, fair warning, there are some graphic scenes regarding this. Not to mention each character feels as if their death is waiting, very close with the Martians seemingly unstoppable attacks.

This feels like a fitting sequel to the first volume, and pushes the events along nicely, leaving the reader with the sense of time passing as the century comes to a close.

There was one element I wasn’t too fussed on. At the end of the first volume is a story, giving the reader an idea of what Quartermain had been up to, prior to the events of the graphic novel. It was entertaining and interesting. At the back of this volume is a sort of traveller’s guide to interesting places around the world, mixed in with some glimpses as to what the League members might have got up to, both before and after the events in both volume one and volume two.

And it dragged. There are some interesting nods there to other classical works – such as a group going down a rabbit hole after a young girl disappeared, only to reappear sprouting nonsense about a strange land. The guide is worldwide, but it felt like it was too much information relayed in a really dry way.

The best parts of the guide were, without a doubt, the moments we dropped back in with Murray and Quartermain. Where we got to witness what happened to them after leaving London, and I suspect these were designed to plant the seed for the next volume in the series.

Overall, I think if you’re already read and enjoyed Volume One, Volume Two is worth picking up. It adds to the characters, and it has some brilliant references to other works that’ll make readers smile, as well as the interesting take on War of the Worlds.

 

 

 

Happy Writing – Jenny Alexander [Books]

happy writingI’m a big fan of most (writing) books. I enjoy reading them, I enjoy taking notes on them, and I enjoy glancing back over those notes. A lot of times, these books spark off new ideas, or help me find a way forward on a particularly tricky aspect I’ve come up against. They’ve given me tips not just on writing, but editing too. I think, in many ways, studying these sort of books has definitely helped me become a better writer, and if I think it’s beneficial, I often recommend some to other writers when I give feedback through my beta-reading service.

Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many, or because I’ve been writing for so long, but I didn’t really feel this book added much to the whole conversation.

I definitely think this is a good book to consider if you are starting out with writing, or haven’t really spent much time ‘studying’ the craft as such. There are good tips here, and the glimpses into the writer’s own personal journey are interesting to a point, but overall, I didn’t really come out of this feeling like I’d learnt anything new.

The tips in this book are mainly geared towards helping writers get over the things that might block them, giving advice for what to do when one feels stuck at various stages of a project. The tips are good and interesting, but again, they’re very much ones I’ve read/heard before, and I found myself sort of skimming over most of them.

The best parts about this book were, for me, the extracts from writers about their own struggles, including Alexander’s. They added a really nice touch the whole thing, and it definitely helps to remember that no matter what stage of the ladder you’re on, every writer faces similar struggles.

I recommend this if you’re stuck with your writing, if you haven’t really read much about the craft before, or are considering delving into the world of writing and wondering if you should take that leap.

A Heart So Fierce and Broken – Brigid Kemmerer [Book Review]

a heart soThe curse is broken. Harper has remained in Emberfall with her brother Jake and his boyfriend, Noah, and with Rhen. With no sign of Grey, rumours of another heir threatening to break the kingdom apart, added to the fact people believe the alliance with ‘Disi’ is a scam, something must be done.

Grey has killed the enchantress Lilith and returned to Emberfall, but with a secret he is unable to share with Rhen, he goes into hiding, taking on the name ‘Hawk’ and working at a tournament ground, staying as hidden as he possibly can.

Look, I’m going to be honest. I was completely and utterly revved up for this book. I don’t often pre-order books, but I did for this one, cause damn was I keen on returning to Emberfall.

Unfortunately, this is one of those sequels that makes you wish the original was a standalone.

I gave this 4*s on Goodreads because Kemmerer’s writing is, in all fairness, fantastic – it’s vivid and beautiful. And the last third of the book had me hooked, but before that…

Well it took a while to get into this one.

The book starts with Harper, then shifts into two POVs which take over for the novel – Grey and Lia Mara, the eldest daughter of Karis Luran but not the heir, that honour going to her sister, instead. And that’s where I felt like the book let me down first. Karis Luran enters Emberfall with her daughters, keen to marry off her heir to Rhen and forge an alliance with Emberfall.

For a lot of the book, I found Lia Mara to be overly whiny and woe-is-me. She’s not helpless, at all, but every other sentence was about how her sister is stronger and how her sister is going to be queen and how she doesn’t match up to her sister and mother. I think a lot of her, especially in earlier chapters, felt forced, too. Like there were moments that felt less relevant to the plot, and there only so we could have some slight reason to like her.

She had some strong moments, but these were overshadowed by the really annoying ones. And then there is Grey. Although I didn’t fully buy into the idea of a love triangle in A Curse So Dark and Lonely, it was evident here, and felt like there was going to be a bit of a build up between Harper and Grey. But nope, we’re quickly whisked away from Harper almost as soon as we get a tiny glimpse of her.

The romance between Grey and Lia Mara, again, felt a little forced. Grey remains one of my favourite characters, but so much of this book was him – and yep, again – whining. Following motions and never really doing much of anything until he was backed into a corner. I liked the way he did react to certain situations, as it’s clear he’s still very much a guardsman, and once more, a lot of the issues I found in the first half disappeared in the second.

Regarding Rhen and Harper now. In A Curse, I absolutely loved the three characters who formed the focus on the book. Harper was a strong, powerful woman who did not put up with anything untoward from either Grey or Rhen. Rhen was troubled and tortured and desperate to do anything to save his kingdom, and throughout the novel it really felt like he grew as a character.

We get none of that growth in this book, none of Harper’s fierceness. Every time we see her, she’s running to greet one of the men in her life or blushing under Grey’s praise. She basically lets Rhen torture people, she sits back while his kingdom is falling to pieces around him because he’s too stubborn to do really consider any option except kill. There are moments near the start of the book where Grey could have actually spoken to Rhen, but they all decide that nope, dying is the best option so let’s just get this over with!

Okay! Things I liked, because I did like a few things. I liked the relationship between Lia Mara and her sister. I liked the additional characters we meet in this novel, and the way the discord among the populace is shown. We also get to see more magic here, used in much better ways, and it works well.

This book isn’t as good as A Curse So Dark and Lonely, which felt more natural in terms of plot progression, character development and the choices made by the characters. Instead, we have two intelligent characters who go around in circles seeming to make life more difficult for themselves, making it feel like everything they do is in service to the plot rather than the world around them. The writing remains beautiful, and Kemmerer clearly has a way with words, but unfortunately the two main characters we follow in this book have less of an impact than both Harper and Rhen, two characters thrust aside for the sequel, whose presence could have made this book that much stronger.

Slay My Love – Lee Colgin [Book Review]

slay my love.jpg

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.