Shades of Magic, Volume 1: The Steel Prince – V.E. Schwab [Books]

shades of magic steel princeI’ve mentioned it before, but I really am such a huge Schwab fan. I’m slowly making my way through her books, and have so far not been disappointed by a single one. The Shades of Magic series is definitely one of the best fantasy series’ I’ve read in a long time, and the ending of the second book made me so grateful I had the third to hand, to read instantly after.

The trilogy itself is very visual. It’s one thing I always love about Schwab’s work – she creates amazing locations and worlds and settings without it ever feeling like the description is weighing things down. In Shades of Magic, there is a clear picture created of the various Londons, which is probably why it was a good thing this graphic novel is set away from that.

Yet the raw visual power present in the books is here, too, brought to life by absolutely stunning art. This is a world where people have various magical abilities, and the effect of that on the page is amazing.

The young prince Maxim Maresh is sent away from London, to a brutal, violent port town in order to learn how to be a military leader. But there, Maxim faces more than he expected, when a pirate queen arrives and forces the town to bend to her every whim.

This graphic novel does a great job of reintroducing a couple of characters from the original series, who served more as background characters in Shades of Magic but take over as key players here. Maxim becomes more of an interesting character, as his backstory is revealed, and I’m really glad the decision was made to focus on him for the graphic novel, as I think his journey to becoming king is really interesting.

Here he is headstrong and perhaps a touch arrogant, much like his son, Rhy, who we meet in Shades of Magic. This is just a first volume, and it sets up the rest of the series really well, allowing us to get an idea of Maxim, what he can do, and the people around him.

As with all Schwab books, the characters are vivid and interesting. The storyline is intriguing and contains the sort of action that was done excellently in Shades of Magic. There’s plenty going on here. And the artwork is, again, stunning. This is definitely one to pick up if you read and enjoyed Shades of Magic, and I can’t wait until I can eventually get my hands on volume 2.

The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 1 [Books]

twilight zoneCan you tell I am absolutely loving Audible?

I try to mix up what I get, and so far I’ve tried non-fiction, full cast, fiction single person narration, and now The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas. Having grown up in the UK, The Twilight Zone wasn’t something I had access to. Not long after we first got together, I got the first ever series on DVD for me and my boyfriend, and we’ve been very slowly making our way through them.

As such, I have never actually heard the radio series before, and was excited to dive in. All except one of these stories were completely new to me, with Long Live Walter Jameson being the one I knew, as it is in the first series of the television show.

The stories contained in this volume are Night Call, Long Live Walter Jameson, The Lateness of the Hour, The 30-Fathom Grave, The Man in the Bottle, and Night of the Meek. Just like in the TV show, the characters range from the likeable and sympathetic, to the kind you’re not sure about and are off-put by. Others fall in the middle, keeping the listener on their toes regarding the characters until, perhaps, the final revelation.

Night Call is a creepy yet ultimately sweet story, focusing on an elderly woman who receives strange calls, though the people around her try to dismiss them as accidents, she knows they are something more.  Long Live Walter Jameson is about a history teacher who talks about the past as if he actually lived it. Even though I’d seen this play out in the TV series and therefore knew the twist, it was really interesting to revisit this in audio, when the clues have to be presented more carefully without the reliance on sight.

The Lateness of the Hour doesn’t have the most hard to spot twist – none of these really do – but the story is entertaining and engaging, and it’s hard not to feel for the characters presented here. It’s a story about a young woman growing up and growing curious, and the father who wishes to keep her at his side. Similarly, The 30-Fathom Grave has an ending in some ways easy to see, but it’s the little extra bits that make it worthwhile. It’s about a naval destroyer picking up signals from a ship that sunk twenty years before, and this one is honestly creepy.

The Man in the Bottle shows just how tricky genies can be, focusing on a kindly yet impoverished pawnbroker who is sometimes perhaps a bit too generous. When he gets four wishes, he tries to ensure they are carried out exactly as he wants, but even that isn’t enough. There was a lot going on in this one, and I found myself quickly wrapped up in the story, trying to work out what the next wish would be and how exactly it would go wrong.

Finally, Night of the Meek rounds off the volume with a story about Christmas, Santa and Christmas miracles. This was a sweet, heartwarming story about a department store Santa who just doesn’t have it in him to spread Christmas cheer, until he discovers a sack of presents which seems to contain exactly what people want most for Christmas. This was a good story to end the volume, really nicely showing how the smallest of gifts can go a long way, and how important hope is.

I really enjoyed listening to these radio dramas, and it was a great way to get a different type of storytelling from The Twilight Zone, with all the elements of an audio production done really well. Without a doubt I’ll be listening to Volume Two at some point in the future.

Beauty – Sarah Pinborough [Books]

beauty

Tales From The Kingdoms Reviews: Poison Charm

If you previously read my reviews for Poison and Charm, you might notice I actually read the three books in this series quite close together. Almost as soon as I finished Poison, I ordered the next two, mainly because I was instantly gripped with the urge to read more.

Beauty is the final installment in the series, and it’s ended up being my favourite of the three. I do however have a complaint now I’ve read all three: I really, really want more.

In these books, Pinborough has not only given us fantastic retellings of traditional fairy tales, but created a new fantasy world for these people to inhabit. The novels read like they could almost be companions to Once Upon A Time, and it works really bloody well.

Beauty focuses on the prince we originally met in Poison, and revisited in Charm. In both previous books, there is mention of an adventure he took, though it remains clouded in mystery. The reader might get some hint and clue about said adventure, and work out it possibly involved Sleeping Beauty herself, but it’s never clear. This book explores that adventure, when the prince and huntsman set out looking for a forgotten kingdom, and both gain more than they expected.

As with the first two books, we meet familiar fairy tale characters who come with a bit of a twist. Little Red Riding Hood lives with her grandma, in a cottage surrounded by wild wolves, and is drawn to the strange thorny wall near their home. From the other side comes a howl that speaks to something deep within her.

We discover more about the huntsman, and his life prior to travelling with the prince. The character of the prince is deepened, and to a point, he becomes that bit more sympathetic. Though his actions in Poison are inexcusable, Beauty offers good reasons why he acted like he did.

And as for the title character herself…

The whole plot revolves around her and her history, the union between her parents, the love everyone in the kingdom has for her. And like with other characters, Pinborough does something wonderfully clever with the beloved princess. Even Rumpelstiltskin appears, as an advisor to the former king, and the man who betrayed Beauty.

Pinborough beautifully weaves these different stories together, giving the reader plenty of twists to truly shock them. Even though we sort of know what happens to the prince and huntsman, the writing is engaging enough the how and why become so much more important.

This is a series easy to read and sink into, and proved a perfect escape for the current strange times. Beauty, for me, was really the strongest of the three, and a fantastic ending to the trilogy. As I said at the beginning, however, I just wish there were more of these to enjoy.

Harrow Lake – Kat Ellis [WriteReads Ultimate Blog Tour]

LJ-Rilhz

Goodreads Summary

Welcome to Harrow Lake.

Someone’s expecting you.

Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker – she thinks nothing can scare her.

But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot. The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map – and then there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.

And there’s someone – or something – stalking her every move.

The more Lola discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her . . .

Review

Firstly, the characters. Well, the main character. I found Lola Nox to be interesting and engaging right from the start. A girl with a rich, famous father trying to keep her out of the spotlight, who seems to crave some sort of attention. She writes out her secrets, and hides them, something she was told to do by her mother.

Lola is clearly still suffering from her mother’s disappearance. Years before, her mother left her and her father, and since then, Nolan Nox has been very controlling over Lola’s life, which she puts down to his fear of losing her, too.  I cannot imagine how difficult it is for a character like Lola, who has to deal with her mother abandoning her as a child, then being sent to live with her grandmother – if temporarily – while her father is in hospital.

Lola’s conflicted feelings – about both her parents – come through really well. She wants to be with her dad, wants to be there to see he’s okay, but can’t even get through to him, and she’s dimly aware he’s done a lot to hold her back. She views her visit to Harrow Lake as an opportunity to get to know both her parents better, but she resists wearing her mother’s old clothes, instead picking out the costumes of the character she played in Nolan’s most popular film, filmed at Harrow Lake.

But as Lola explores the town, she starts to uncover something else, something dark and dangerous. From a new friend she learns the story of ‘Mr Jitters’, an entity believed to be haunting the town. She explores the old fairground, where she discovers a mural from the film, her mother’s image destroyed.  Lola is determined to find out exactly what is going on, driving her to some places she perhaps shouldn’t go.

Harrow Lake is YA Horror at its finest. There are trappings of YA – growing friendships, a possible love interest, a young woman trying to really find her place in the world – executed really well, alongside some wonderfully creepy horror moments. Mr Jitters is a terrifying entity. Lola’s discoveries deepen the town’s mysteries, and everything about Harrow Lake, including the people, is designed to put – and keep – the reader on edge.

As the mystery deepens, the number of unanswered questions increases, and Ellis really keeps the reader engaged without giving too much away, or making it feel like there is too much going on. It’s easy to see the town through Lola’s eyes, easy to follow her around and really picture the locations Ellis delves into. And it’s easy to connect with Lola, to really identify with her and want to see her emerge from this.

Throughout, Lola is confused and uncertain, trying to make sense of what different people want from her. and what she wants from life. Does her father want her home, or in Harrow Lake? Does her grandmother want her to replace her own missing daughter, and does the cute boy actually want to help Lola, or does he have other motivations?

Basically, I really enjoyed this book. It had some great, creepy horror moments, a fantastic cast of characters, and a thrilling, engaging plot that’ll definitely keep readers on their toes. It’s fast-paced without getting confusing, and I can easily imagine this being a really good gateway book to get teenager readers into horror.

harrow lake

The Author

Kat Ellis lives in North Wales with her husband and their two cats. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time watching every horror movie under the sun and exploring the picturesque views and creepy ruins of the Welsh countryside.

 

Tiger Queen – Annie Sullivan [Books]

tiger queenTo rule Achra, Kateri – the king’s daughter and only child – must defeat her suitors to prove her right to rule. Gaining the crown means she can fulfil her promise to her dead mother to protect her people. Achra suffers with a long drought and frequent windstorms, made worse by the Desert Boys who come into the city to steal water from the people. When she finds out who her last suitor is, Kateri faces a choice – remain and be defeated, losing her chance to rule, or escape into the desert, seeking help from the last person she ever thought she’d speak to.

Tiger Queen is a YA Fantasy, set in the desert and in a corrupt, broken city where the rich have all the luxuries they need and the poor are forced to abandon their third children after the king brings in a two children rule.

I really enjoyed this book.

Yes, it’s got familiar tropes, yes it’s a touch predictable, but honestly? Sometimes that is exactly what you need. And those elements (I think) can work well in YA, when the target audience might not have come across the same things as many times as, say, an adult reader like myself.

I liked Kateri as a character. She starts off sheltered and naive, with her world painted in black and white. She fully believes the king is doing what is best for the people, and the Desert Boys are evil. Kateri doesn’t question it, not until she escapes into the desert and actually meets the Desert Boys, realising they are, in fact, simply children trying to get by.

The Desert Boys were fun to read about, a mixture of Lost Boy’s and Robin Hood’s Merry Men, all eager to prove themselves. And I really liked the scenes between Kateri and their leader, Cion – there were really good moments here, ones which just made me smile.

Kateri is determined, and keen to do right by her people. She’s not a character given to moping, and she is willing to step aside if she thinks it’s the right thing to do.

There were, however, some things which I didn’t like as much.

I feel there could have been deeper relationships between Kateri and some of the other women presented in the story. For the most part, the women here are just shown as caretakers, from Cion’s aunt, to an elderly lady looking after abandoned babies. Kateri’s maid, at the start of the story, could have been a good source for this, but it feels like a missed opportunity. I also think there could have been ‘Desert Boys’ who were maybe Desert Girls instead – this is a fantasy world, and given the situation, its doubtful every girl in the city would be content with things, especially when male children are favoured and there is a strict two children rule.

Other than that, this was a really enjoyable, action packed read, well written and tightly paced. If you enjoy YA Fantasy with a focus on romance, I suggest checking out Tiger Queen. 

Vicious – V.E. Schwab [Books]

viciousIt’s been just over a year now since I started reading books by V.E Schwab, and every single one has been absolute gold. I’m slowly building up my collection and working my way through her novels. So far, I’ve read the Shades of Magic trilogy, The Near Witch, and City of Ghosts, as well as the Steel Prince graphic novel more recently. Even this small selection of Schwab’s books shows her ability to write in different genres and settings.

Vicious is the story of Victor and Eli, two young men, roommates who embark on a journey to discover if they can induce superpowers in one another. But their success comes at a price. Victor ends up in prison, while Eli establishes himself as a hero, setting out to eradicate other superpowered humans.

The most interesting thing for me in Vicious is how Schwab challenges the notions of what makes a hero, and what makes a villain. For the reader, it’s clear who we are rooting for, but in another story, the tables would be turned, with the reader/viewer rooting for the typical All American Hero, and eagerly awaiting the villain’s downfall. To everyone else, Eli is a protector, just looking out for people and ensuring they are safe.

The themes here are those that have run through stories of superpowered humans since they first graced the pages of comic books. Essentially, the question here – who watches the Watchmen? But Schwab brings her own talent to these themes, giving us characters we completely care about, with their own individual quirks and concerns. She presents us with a plot that is intriguing and gripping, spending part of the novel switching back and forth between Victor and Eli’s college days, and the present, as the two men come closer to seeing each other once again.

Schwab handles prose masterfully, conveying a lot – themes, character, plot – in a way that is easy to read, flows really well, and keeps the reader utterly gripped. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Vicious, and it introduced a set of characters I would be all too keen to follow in further books. Hopefully I’ll get to read Vengeful someday soon.

 

The Tales of Beedle the Bard – J.K Rowling [Books]

tales of beedleI originally read this book many years ago, shortly after its release, when a friend leant it to me in university. I remember finishing it in one sitting, and sort of enjoying it, but not enough that I ever really sought it out to read again. When this popped up as a free read on Audible, I thought I’d dip my toe into the Wizarding World again.

I’m going to preface this now with saying – I love the Wizarding World. I love Harry Potter, and Hogwarts will always have a special place in my heart. I do not, however, support JKR. Her attitude on Twitter has made it clear the kind of person she really is, and that person is not someone I admire.

Let me start with the voice acting for this audiobook. It is fantastic. The actors are the same actors involved in the film franchise, and they are absolutely fantastic. Jude Law provides narration as Dumbledore. Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, Jason Isaacs and Bonnie Wright are just some of the names familiar to HP fans involved in this project. Each narrator really brings the stories to life, giving them an extra something that maybe wouldn’t be present if I was reading this book rather than listening to an audiobook.

The stories themselves are okay. They’re basically fairy tales, but as if they were told by witches and wizards, rather than just about those characters. Much is made of the fact Beedle wrote nice things about Muggles, and the characters often help each other rather than witches and wizards keeping themselves separate. It’s about helping the community, being tolerant of one another and, er, hey, maybe certain authors should go back and read their own books. Just saying.

So the stories are sort of okay. But this audiobook isn’t just the actual tales being told in here, it also contains the ‘notes’ from Professor Albus Dumbledore, read by Jude Law.

The main thing I disliked about this was in those notes. They just come across really, really smug, and not because Jude Law is reading them, or because it’s ‘Dumbledore’. They constantly feel like JKR patting herself on the back for such ‘forward thinking’, constantly admiring herself for how different these are to ‘Muggle’ fairy tales, when there’s nothing here to really make them stand out, except that they are part of the Wizarding World.

The actors involved really made this worth listening to, but unfortunately the actual content falls flat. I’m honestly glad this was available for free – would not have wanted to spend money or even my Audible credit on it.

Seven Endless Forests – April Genevieve Tucholke [Books]

seven endlessSeven Endless Forests is advertised as a retelling of the King Arthur legend. After the deaths of her mother and lover, Torvi’s sister Morgunn is kidnapped by a wolf-priest called Uther. Torvi unites with a druid and a group called the Butcher Bards in order to track down her sister and rescue her, as well as seeking out a mystical sword buried within a tree. Whoever pulls the sword will inherit the jarldom.

This is less a retelling of the Arthur legend, and more inspired by. The main links come through some of the names (Morgunn, Uther) and the idea of a sword buried in part of nature (in this instance, a tree instead of a stone). To a point, it works, but don’t pick this up expecting an actual Arthurian retelling. (And one place is randomly referred to as Avalon at points)

This had the potential to be a really good book. There are some lovely ideas wrapped up in here, and the way the relationships are established is lovely to read, with the sort of closeness and affection among all the characters that sometimes isn’t touched upon in books. The problem is it doesn’t feel like we’re given enough time with the characters to actually get to know them. We’re told a lot about them, but we’re not really shown much. And for the most part, it feels like a lot was skimmed over when it came to the characters. One of the Bards has a sad past, but it’s almost forced out of him in such a way and told in so few lines it felt uncomfortable.

There’s a piece of advice often told to fantasy writers; know everything about your world, but don’t let the reader know everything about your world. Worldbuilding, when done well, can completely and utterly transport you into the novel. Unfortunately, in Seven Endless Forests there was way too much. Every single location, every single mention of a random place, or thing, or potion or whatever had a legend behind it. It got really tedious, with a character butting in on every page to say “Oh, there’s a story…” and another one going, “Yes, I know that one…” And proceeding to tell it. Even if it’s apparently a common story all the characters know?

These tales felt too distracting, taking the reader away from the actual plot. And the plot was hidden among a lot of faff. It felt like playing a video game, maybe Skyrim, and spending so long on sidequests you forget what’s part of the main storyline and what isn’t.

The other problem with the book, something which made it very difficult to slog through, was the formatting. I’m relatively new to ARCs in general, and I’m assuming these issues will be cleared up prior to publication, but because of the formatting it was hard to see which errors might lie with formatting, or editing, neither of which would really be the author’s fault. Still, I had to go back a fair few times to check who was speaking or what was happening.

The writer has clear talent, but the story felt a little all over the place and, at times, hard to follow. There were too many characters coming in and out, and some parts felt rushed to get to the next point, with the story veering off into this or that legend and losing the main thread at others.

I would definitely give Tucholke another chance, but in this instance, Seven Endless Forests just wasn’t for me.

Thank you to publishers Simon & Schuster for providing this arc via NetGalley.

Doctor Who – The Tenth Doctor Adventures, Volume 1 [Books]

doctor who tenth doctor adventuresI’ll preface this by saying I am absolutely loving Audible. Not only am I able to access awesome audiobooks through it, but I really enjoy the podcasts too. And I was so excited to test out some of the Doctor Who content on there. I’ve heard a lot about the Big Finish productions, and the full voice casted dramas are proving to be excellent.

Donna isn’t one of my favourite companions (admittedly, Rose and Clara are –  I think I have a thing for companions travelling with multiple doctors), but Catherine Tate is brilliant, Doctor Number 10 is my favourite Doctor, and this volume of adventures was a lot of fun to listen to.

Technophobia sees the pair travelling to a future London, going to the London Museum of Technology. But people are acting strange, and it soon becomes clear they’re scared of the everyday machinery around them.

Time Reaver sees Donna and the Doctor on a spaceport where anything goes. But there are those who are trying to install some sense of order, and they soon discover there’s an illegal weapon on the streets, one which kills its victims in a drawn-out, agonising process.

Death and the Queen sees Donna planning a literal fairytale wedding, in what looks like a fairytale kingdom. Excited by the idea of getting married, she ignores the signs that something isn’t quite right, and like a fairytale princess, gets caught up in something much larger than herself.

These three stories all have three vastly different locations, and it really made me miss the way the new doctors used to actually explore the universe, rather than everything taking place on Earth. Or…”This is a new planet! Wait…no, it’s Earth.”

(I adore the Thirteenth Doctor. I’d just like to see a bit more done with her than just having her constantly on Earth)

These audio adventures really capture what made the RTD Era of Doctor Who so great, and why the revival was such a success. The relationship between Tennant and Tate – and therefore the Doctor and Donna – works so well, and even without seeing the settings, the sounds behind the dialogue really bring these vastly different places fully to life.

This is a fantastic production, with excellent voice acting. Death and the Queen I particularly enjoyed, with its rich, vivid, fairytale setting and intriguing side-characters. Though the same can really be said for all three stories. In each one, Donna is really given some brilliant moments to shine, whether it’s trying to stop a runaway being hurt, guiding a young woman through a dangerous situation, or acting as queen to a kingdom, it reminded me why she is such a fan favourite.

Honestly, if you like Doctor Who, I really do recommend this audiobook, and I will definitely be checking out other adventures available at some point in the future.

March 2020 Reading Wrap Up – Part Two [Books]

March 2020 2JanuaryFebruary / March Part 1

Here we have part 2 for my long March reading wrap up, a month in which I read 16 books. So here are the last 8 I read in that strange, strange month. I thought April would be a lot less, but checking what I’ve read so far about halfway through the month, I’m currently on 11. So maybe I’ll be hitting my 50 books 2020 goal a lot sooner than expected.

Esme’s Gift – Elizabeth Foster

esmes giftMy Review

This is proving to be an absolutely delightful series. The first book set up the world and characters, and it was a joy to dip back into it and explore it more. It’s a lot of fun to read, and puts the characters in enough danger to keep readers completely engrossed.

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

black mountainsMy Review

This was a really interesting book about a Welsh man’s life at the start of the Twentieth Century. Easy to follow, with some fascinating snippets of his life during that time, it’s told a very conversational tone, which made it that much more enjoyable.

Shallow Waters, Volume 3 – Edited by Joe Mynhardt

shallow waters vol 3My Review

This is a fantastic series of horror flash fiction, put out by Crystal Lake Publishing. The fifth is due for release soon, so it’s a great time to pick up the first four and check them out.

Ghost Mine – Hunter Shea

ghost mineReview coming soon on Dead Head Reviews

This was the second Hunter Shea novel I’ve read (the first being the absolutely amazing Creature) and this one didn’t disappoint. I’m not normally one for literature Westerns, but Shea really does something different with the settings and characters, and this book pushed him, for me, from ‘author I like’ to ‘one of my favourites’. I really hope I get to read Slash some point soon, as I’ve heard fantastic things about it.

DisneyWar – James B. Stewart, Narrated by Patrick Laylor

disneywarMy Review

This is a book for people interested in the world of business, not a book for Disney fans. It’s interesting in some parts, but a lot of the boardroom politics got frustrating at points. It felt like listening to a rundown of bickering children. I can see why people would be interested, and it covers turning points in one of the world’s biggest companies. The narration from Laylor also stops it being absolutely boring, but it wasn’t something I particuarly enjoyed.

Charm – Sarah Pinborough
charm

My Review

This is a series I have absolutely fallen in love with, and now I’m upset because I’ve actually finished the third book and there is no more. Charm takes the tale of Cinderella in a really interesting direction, and I love the way Pinborough tells the original story with her own personal twists. My review for the third book Beauty will hopefully come up soon.

Harrow Lake – Kat Ellis

harrow lakeReview Coming Soon

I am so excited to share this review with you. Harrow Lake is an absolutely fantastic YA Horror, and Ellis is clearly a very talented writer. Keep an eye out for it – I’m on a blog tour for this one, so don’t forget to check out my review and the other blogs who will be participating, too.

Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie (Audible Original Drama)

peter panMy Review

The last book I finished in March. I actually finished listening to this on the last day in March, so that was good. It’s a drama version of Peter Pan, and for me it just didn’t hit the mark. There are changes made to the original story, but those changes don’t really affect anything, and the female characters are badly written. The performances, however, were absolutely fantastic.

So there we have it! My March wrap up. And now I have a lot of reviews to write up for April before we get April’s wrap up sometime in May. Look out for reviews coming up on some great books, both here and on Dead Head Reviews.