April 2020 Reading Wrap Up – Part One [Books]

April 2020 1JanuaryFebruaryMarch Part 1March Part 2

I am not doing great at getting these up in a timely way. Ah well. April was another month in which I finished a lot of books, which means this is going to be another two parter. April also saw me complete my 2020 Reading Goal, which was set at 50. I’ve now increased it to 75. And it seems May is a bit of a reading slump month for me. So far I’ve finished 5 books this month, which is still good for me but I doubt it’ll exceed the 18 I read in April.

Doctor Who, The Tenth Doctor Adventures, Volume 1

doctor who tenth doctor adventures

My Review

2020 is the year I started listening to audiobooks. After a rocky start with DisneyWar, I’ve found myself enjoying them a lot, especially full cast productions. The Tenth Doctor Adventures contains three stories starring my favourite doctor and Donna, who though not my favourite of the companions, is still one I really like. This audio production was absolutely great to listen to, and I look forward to checking out more in the future.

Dead Daughters – Tim Meyer

dead daughters

My Review

Poltergeist Press are an absolutely fantastic indie horror publisher, putting out great books. Dead Daughters was slightly more thriller than horror for me, but I still really enjoyed this one. It’s got an intriguing premise and interesting characters able to carry the reader through. Definitley worth checking out.

Cirque Des Freaks and Other Tales of Horror – Julián López

cirquwMy Review

I had really high hopes for this one, and unfortunately it didn’t match up. I go into more detail in my review, but these felt more like doomed love stories than actual horror. Not to mention the plot for one story is ripped straight out of the horror film Waxwork. If you’re looking for LGBTQ+ horror anthologies, I recommend Black Rainbow instead.

The Devil’s City – Sara Tantlinger & Matt Corley

the devil's city

Review coming soon on Dead Head Reviews

Talking to friends who have read this, The Devil’s City works much better as a companion to the game currently in production, rather than as a standalone novella. I didn’t really get on with it, but I can see the appeal for others. For me, it moved too fast and didn’t feel like it had enough space to breathe, but many horror lovers have throughly enjoyed it.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard – J.K. Rowling

tales of beedleMy Review

I gave this a listen on Audible as it was a freebie. I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if it hadn’t been free anyway, but I was still glad I didn’t spend money/credits on it. The narration is great, with some fantastic actors involved, but parts of the book smack of self-righteousness. I read this originally at university, but returning to it now, I really wasn’t fussed.

Vicious – V.E. Schwab

vicious

My Review

I really liked this. Of course I did, it’s a Schwab novel, and I know I’m always getting interesting characters, intriguing plots and wonderful settings with Schwab’s books. Vicious asks what it really means to be a hero or a villain, and who actually decides who is who. If you’ve not checked this out, I cannot urge you enough to do so.

The Corpse Garden – S.H. Cooper

the corpse garden

My Review

I will shout this from the rooftops: S.H. Cooper is a bloody fantastic writer. Her short stories are excellent at combining heartbreak with horror, and reinforce an idea I will bang on and on about until someone tells me to shut up – horror is at its best when it is about love. If you haven’t checked out any of Cooper’s work, why not? For horror fans, there’s her two short story collections and the novella, The Festering Ones. If horror isn’t your thing or you also love YA Fantasy, go read The Knight’s Daughter.

Ghostland – Duncan Ralston

ghostland

My Review

Unfortunately I wasn’t really fussed on this one, and I absolutely love stories with multiple ghosts focused around an interesting setting. But this just read a bit superficial to me. There was no real character development, the book didn’t know if it wanted to be YA or Adult, and there wasn’t anything really new to it. It felt much like Jurassic Park with Ghosts. Which is an awesome premise, just not pulled off very well here.

Beauty – Sarah Pinborough

beauty

My Review

I already really miss this series. After reading all three, I can safely say this is a fantastic, interesting take on fairy tales, giving them modern twists while creating a new fantasy world around them. I really enjoyed all three books, but they definitely got better with each one. And I got through all three really quickly. This is a trilogy definitely worth checking out.

So there we have the first 9 books I read in April. Part Two coming as soon as possible!

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.

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. 

March 2020 Reading Wrap Up – Part One [Books]

March 2020 1

January Wrap UpFebruary Wrap Up

I read 16 books in March. It was a very strange month – GP advised me to remain isolated for 2 weeks, which meant I missed the last two weeks of my workplace being open. There was then a gap where they didn’t know if we’d be able to work from home or not, and they decided from April 1st we would. So my reading time from March has disappeared. I doubt April’s wrap up will be a two-parter, but this one will have to be.

A Touch of Death – Rebecca Crunden

a touch of death

My Review

Crunden’s novel is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale set in a world ravaged by disease, where the rich are protected and the poor are stepped on, where one wrong step can result in someone being tortured or put to death. When the two main characters pick up a strange disease, the fear of infection ensures those in power won’t just let them escape. They run, searching for safety and, if possible, a cure. A fantastic story, I really enjoyed reading this one, though I am a little glad I finished it at the start of March instead of a bit later.

Generation X – Scott Lobdell

generation xMy Review

Generation X is essentially a X-Men graphic novel, but focusing on a new generation of heroes. It was an enjoyable, fun read, and I really enjoyed it, despite having very little knowledge of most of these characters. But it’s well worth a look.

Into the Drowning Deep – Mira Grant (Narrated by Christine Lakin)

into the drowning deepMy Review

I’m relatively new to audiobooks, but I’m a longtime listener of podcasts, so it wasn’t that hard to start listening to these. That said, the other audiobook I finished in March I didn’t find to be that great. Into the Drowning Deep, on the other hand, is a brilliant sea-based horror, and the narration for this was fantastic. It proved to be completely and utterly engaging. Definitely worth checking out.

The Corruption of Alston House – John Quick

alston houseMy Review

If you’re interested in horror, you definitely need to be paying attention to Silver Shamrock. These publishers are consistently putting out fantastic horror novels, ranging from haunted house tales like Alston House, to more thriller based stories, to tales about creepy cults. Alston House is a really good story about a woman who moves into the place after a divorce. She’s looking to start a new life, and like many haunted house stories, she finds she gets more than she bargained for. Quick really created an intriguing, gripping tale here, and it’s well worth a read.

The Fourth Whore – E.V. Knight

the fourth whoreMy Review

With a title like The Fourth Whore, you know this book has something to say. And damn, it did not disappoint. This is E.V. Knight’s debut novel, and it is powerful. It’s a gory, violent, feminist tale, tackling the story of Lilith through the eyes of a young woman struggling to make something of her life. We’re currently only in April, and I can already see this as one of my top books of 2020.

Poison – Sarah Pinborough

poisonMy Review

Poison is a retelling of the story of Snow White, and Pinborough masterfully takes the original story, sprinkles elements from other fairy tales, and creates something that feels new and fresh. I’m currently on the third book of the series, and honestly, these books get better with every installment. I’m going to be sad when I finish Beauty, the third and final book.

Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties – Tony Knighton

happy houtMy Review

This was a collection of crime/noir stories I wasn’t really fussed on, but it would be impossible to love every book I read. There was one standout from this book I really liked, a story with more of a sci-fi bent.

Shallow Waters, Volume 1 – Edited by Joe Mynhardt

shallow waters vol 1My Review

Shallow Waters is a series of flash fiction anthologies from Crystal Lake Publishing, and the books contain some brilliant stories. Volume 1 was a great, interesting read, and if you like horror flash fiction, I definitely recommend picking this one up.

So there we have the 8 books for Part 1! Have you read any of these? Any books you read in March you really enjoyed? Look out for part 2, coming soon.

Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie, Audible Original Drama [Books]

peter panI have to admit, it’s been a fairly long while since I actually read Peter Pan. When this popped up for free on Audible, I snatched it up, I’m finding I really like full cast audiobooks, and I was excited for this version of the story.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really find it that great.

Some of the changes made felt a bit odd. I can understand updating the story a touch, but not if it doesn’t actually affect anything. In this production, the Darling children still live in London, but they live in World War 2 era London, with bombs dropping and their father off to war. To calm them, their mother tells stories, and their favourite is when she got lost in Kensington Gardens and met Peter Pan. In this flashback, she introduces herself as “Mary Darling” to the tree she befriends.

Which is odd, right? Like…as listeners, we’re not hearing her tell the story, we are hearing the actual events. But she has the same surname as the man she eventually marries? It’s a really small thing but it stood out to me.

And as for updating it, I don’t know why they did. The actual characters are the same, and Neverland is very much the same place people will be familiar with from previous versions. Tinkerbell is still a mean spirited fairy, nasty to Wendy. Wendy is a total drip throughout, and over and over again it’s emphasised how ‘girls are weird’ because both Tink and Wendy become overly possessive of Peter. This is clear when we get more of the Lost Girls.

This was an update I could appreciate – understandably, some aspects of the story do need to be updated, especially when it comes to Tiger Lily. And when her and the Lost Girls were mentioned, I got excited. But they’re barely in it, and only mentioned in counterpoint to Wendy, how she is motherly and perfect, and they are not.

Honestly, I know this is aimed at kids, but it still feels like it’s sending the wrong message. For every step they take to avoid problematic content, they rope in something else that undermines the attempts. The female characters exist for the male characters. The women are jealous and nasty to one another, with their main goal being to look after the boys. Even the Lost Girls, in their brief appearance, are shown to be not as effective as the Lost Boys.

A note on the voice acting. The actual acting was really good. There are very talented people involved in this production, across the board, and it’s a shame the writing just wasn’t up to par.

I would suggest picking up the Twisted Tales Straight on Till Morning instead, a story which keeps the core of these characters, but gives them more depth than can be found in this production.

Esme’s Gift – Elizabeth Foster [Books]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

A Touch of Death – Rebecca Crunden [Books]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 2020 Reading Wrap Up [Books]

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

Happy Writing – Jenny Alexander

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

My Review

The Cult Called Freedom House – Stephanie Evelyn

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

Review Coming Soon on Dead Head Reviews

Bottled – Stephanie Ellis

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

Review Coming Soon on Dead Head Reviews

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

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

My Review

We Hunt the Flame – Hafsah Faizal

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

My Review

Straight on Till Morning – Liz Braswell

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

My Review

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

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