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.

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.

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.

January 2020 Wrap Up [Books]

January 2020 Reading Wrap-Up

This wasn’t something I did month by month last year, mainly because I was only reading a few books a month. But I managed to start the year by reading nine books in one month, so I thought a wrap up would be a good idea! And I know this is fairly late, but hopefully I can get ones up earlier throughout the year.

Sangre: The Wrong Side of Tomorrow – Carlos Colon

received_2714049208646313I read this as part of a blog tour, hence why the review isn’t yet up. But it is a book I definitely enjoyed, with interesting takes on the vampire mythos. The story is told in two strands – the MC’s past, entwined with his present, as he tries to avoid the attention of the authorities after a few too many murders. It’s a good book, and I can’t wait for you to see the blog tour in May!

Yuri – Steve Stred

yuriMy Review

Yuri is a short, tightly packed read. It was really enjoyable, had me absolutely gripped, and is definitely worth checking out. Stred creates a really interesting world here, and I’m really looking forward to checking out more by this author.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance – Tomi Adeyemi

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My Review

I was really looking forward to this, after having thoroughly enjoyed Children of Blood and Bone. I maybe didn’t enjoy this installment as much as the first, but I still liked it and am now eagerly awaiting the third book in the series.

Slay My Love – Lee Colgin

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My Review

This book reminded me of my love for paranormal romance, and for vampires. And the vampires presented here are fairly different from those in Sangre, so it was great to get the different genres and different views of them. I’ve always loved vampires, and I absolutely devoured Slay My Love.

Devil’s Creek – Todd Keisling

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Review Coming Soon on Dead Head Reviews

This is a fantastic release from publisher Silver Shamrock, and if you’re not paying attention to them yet you really should be. They are seriously putting out some amazing horror into the world, and I’m always thrilled to get one of their releases. Devil’s Creek was no exception, an intriguing, gripping story based around a cult and the children of cult leader Jacob Masters. Keep an eye out for this one.

Will Haunt You – Brian Kirk

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Review Coming Soon on Dead Head Reviews

I was kind of in two minds about this, but in the end it was an enjoyable book to read, and fairly twisted. If you like books that are a little off the rails, definitely worth checking this one out. And keep an eye out on Dead Head for my review, too!

The Roo – Alan Baxter

the roo

Review Coming Soon on Dead Head Reviews

Tell me what’s not to love about a demented kangaroo terrorising an Australian outback town? Baxter did an absolutely fantastic job with this, and just look at that cover! It’s a really engrossing novella, hard to put down, and if you like any sort of creature features, I cannot recommend this one enough.

A Heart So Fierce and Broken – Brigid Kemmerer

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My Review

This was another book I was really looking forward to, having absolutely loved A Curse So Dark and LonelyAgain however, it didn’t quite live up to the first book in the series. Grey and his new love interest just weren’t as gripping as Harper and Rhen, and I think I preferred the more limited view of Grey we got in the first book. But Kemmerer’s writing is absolutely fantastic all the same, and I’ll still be reading the third book when it comes out.

Magic Unleashed – Devri Walls

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This is another blog tour book, so keep an eye out for the blog tour with some amazing bloggers coming in March. This book was really enjoyable, combining so many different elements I thoroughly love. I’m really excited for the review to come out, and hopefully a few more people will pick this up on the back of the blog tour!

So there we have it, the wrap up for January 2020. Any books you read in the first month of this year you really enjoyed? Any of these you’ve picked up and liked? And yeah, hopefully I can get the February wrap up out much quicker!

Follow Him: Craig Stewart – Blackthorn Blog Tour

BLACKTHORN BOOK TOURS PRESENTS (1) (2).pngFirstly, thank you very much to Blackthorn for inviting me onto this book tour, and providing a free ebook of Follow Him. Today is my stop on the tour, and you should definitely check out the other bloggers to see what they’ve said about this novel, too.

Blurb

True love doesn’t die – it devours. Just outside the sleepy town of Dreury, a mysterious cult known as The Shared Heart has planted its stakes. Its followers are numerous. More join every day. Those who are lost and suffering seem to be drawn to it; a home for the broken. When Jacob finds himself in need of such a home, he abandons his dead name and gives himself over to the will of The Great Collector. However, love refuses to let Jacob go so easily; his ex-fiancé, Nina, kidnaps him in the hopes that he can be deprogrammed. As she attempts to return Jacob to the life they once had, a terrible fear creeps in: what if there isn’t enough of her Jacob left? When The Great Collector learns of his missing follower, the true nature of The Shared Heart is unleashed. Nina discovers what Jacob already knows: that hidden behind the warm songs and soaring bonfires is a terrifying and ancient secret; one that lives and breathes and hungers. And it’s coming for them.

Review

Follow Him is a dark, twisted novel with the sort of imagery that would be hard to shake off in a hurry. It’s told through different perspectives, mainly focusing on Jacob and Nina, a young couple, who have very contrasting views about The Shared Heart. After a slight breakdown of their relationship, Jacob seeks comfort in the cult and falls completely for what he’s told. Nina, desperate to locate her missing boyfriend, tracks him down, kidnaps him and takes him back home, where she discovers just how far she’s willing to go to keep him from the clutches of The Great Collector and The First.

And the beauty – and horror – in this book lies in discovery. In the discovery of what, exactly, The Great Collector has been doing to the cult members. In finding out why Jacob really left, and the slow revelations scattered throughout the book.

The gore is really amped up towards the end, as the Harvest approaches and the plans of The Shared Heart start to be revealed. This is not a novel for the faint of heart, with uncomfortable moments scattered throughout the book, and scenes that might just turn a reader’s stomach.

Characters

I don’t always have a section dedicated to characters in a review, but I wanted to have one here, because I feel it’s important. The two main characters of the novel are Jacob and Nina, and both conceal things from the reader and those around them. Nothing that feels forced when revealed, but information that deepens our understanding of both of them.

For Nina, we begin to understand her desperation in getting her boyfriend back, her close relationship with her brother, her fears about what is and isn’t out there, and it all combines to form a strong woman who may not always act in the best way, but who definitely has us, as readers, rooting for her, as she’s lured towards The Shared Heart but constantly pushes herself away from the cliffedge.

Jacob, on the other hand…

I started off rooting for Jacob, not necessarily wanting him to achieve what he wanted, but wanting to see him, in some way, succeed, anyway. That changed – Jacob is not the hero of the story, and by the mid-way point, I was almost wishing for his death. He’s just not a good guy, at all, as much as he pretends otherwise. He’s selfish, and cruel, even before he joined The Shared Heart.

But the way these two characters are put together, then apart, then opposite each other, it works really well, and carried me throughout the novel.

All in all, Follow Him is a twisted, creepy, gory novel, with plenty of tense and stomach-twisting moments, with a fantastic ending. Definitely gets a recommendation from me.

follow him

Author

Craig Stewart is a Canadian author and filmmaker who learned how to count from the rhyme, “One, two Freddy’s coming for you.” He’s a creator and connoisseur of everything horror; never afraid to delve into the dark. His first novel, Worship Me, received the New Apple Literary Award of Excellence for horror in 2018. He has also written and directed several short films that have enjoyed screenings across North America. He currently wanders dark hallways in Toronto, Canada.

Find out more about Blackthorn Book Tours 

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.

Women in Horror Month

DHR_DeadHead_WIHM_InstaSCREAMQUEEN

February marks Women in Horror month, when the Horror Community raise up the voices of women in horror, celebrating everything they stand for, whether it’s the characters we remember kicking ass, the creators working behind the scenes, the women writers who create dark, twisted stories that drag you deeply in.

This is the first year I’ve actively participated in Women in Horror Month. I’ve always tried to pay attention to it, noting books others were reading, adding them to my ever growing wishlist. But this year, things are different.

See, in 2019, I became a contributor for Dead Head Reviews, and more recently became a copy editor for them, too. A few months back, I asked Patrick if we planning anything for Women in Horror. At that point, we decided we definitely should do something, and a small spark of an idea has flared into a full raging fire.

Throughout February, Dead Head will be featuring articles, reviews, interviews and stories, all focusing on and/or created by Women in Horror. As copy editor, I’ve had the great pleasure of reading many of these, and I can tell you, they are bloody fantastic. I also put together a ‘Love Letter to Horror’ article, featuring the Dead Head Ladies, and personally, I am so proud of how it’s turned out.

There are so many reasons why Women in Horror month is important. Women have long been creators and consumers of horror, yet historically have been overlooked in these roles. Horror is a constant presence in our lives, even in the media aimed at little girls. If you don’t think there are some dark as hell moments in Disney, you haven’t been paying close enough attention.

As we grow older, women from all walks of life face horror, in one form or another, in their every day lives. What woman doesn’t know the fear of walking down a street after sundown, and hearing footsteps behind them? Or the fear in a crowded bar, when a man starts talking to them and sometimes follows them back to their table, or outside, or are even waiting at the toilet door when they emerge. (Yes, that happened to me!)

Is it any wonder that even when they’re not creating Horror, women are often the focus?

Being a woman is dangerous. Danger and fear and horror are all part of it, and that’s without going deeper into the statistics and realities.

One thing, above all others, stands out to me as I read the articles appearing on Dead Head next month.  Women may live their lives in fear, but they take that, grabbing hold of the horror inflicted upon them, and they use it. They – we – turn it into a strength. The darkest parts of our lives are used to create amazing horror. The worst things we can imagine are brought to life, and through horror we find acceptance, and strength, and power.

Every single man I personally know in the horror community has been nothing but supportive regarding Women in Horror Month. Everyone – man and woman – has really come together, determined to make this month successful for all of us.

And I dare you to get through February without your TBR growing.

So, this February, check out Dead Head Reviews and the other horror sites. Read the articles and interviews and reviews, and read some work by amazing women in horror. Join us for the ride, cause I guarantee, it’s going to be a bloody good one.

DHR_WomenInHorrorMonth_FINALADJUSTMENTGraphics by the amazing, super talented @ImaginariumCS.

Dead Head Reviews

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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.

 

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.