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.

Charm – Sarah Pinborough [Book Review]

charmAs soon as I finished Sarah Pinborough’s PoisonI knew I needed the next two books in the series in my life as soon as possible. I am a complete sucker for fairy tale retellings, and although the first book wasn’t amazing enough to blow my mind (I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads), it got me invested in this world enough I wanted more.

Charm is a retelling of Cinderella, and in it we find the usual trappings of the familiar tale; there’s Cinders nasty step-mother and her two ugly (though more plain here) stepsisters, a handsome prince, Buttons the servant, and a mouse. As with Poison though, the beauty lies in the finer details and how, exactly, Pinborough twists the tale.

In this, Cinderella isn’t just a sweet, downtrodden girl. Her father is alive, and her stepmother isn’t necessarily abusive towards Cinders, but more neglectful, focusing on her daughters and trying to enable them to have the sort of life she gave up. One of the sisters is already married by the time the story starts, to an Earl, and through them the stepmother and remaining sister get invitations to the balls held at the castle.

This book is a continuation of the first one, so spoilers following for Poison.

In the Snow White retelling, Snow married the prince, but between the wedding and their happily ever after, he used the piece of apple – ground up into her drink – to poison her again, and make her the beautiful, silent wife he had originally wished for.

Many of the elements laid out in Poison are returned to here. The mouse has a familiar-to-readers scar, which gives some very er, entertaining if creepy moments when Cinderella interacts with the mouse. We see the return of the queen, and discover Cinderella’s beloved prince is hiding a dark secret of some sort.

I really like the way Pinborough plays with the characters, how the women involved have more agency, and the focus really is more on them than the prince sweeping in to save the day. We see an actual relationship between Cinderella and her sister, we delve more into her stepmother’s past, and we get a more solid understanding behind the motivations of the characters.

‘Evil’ characters become more sympathetic, and ‘good’ characters are shown to have shades of grey, instead of existing purely as wonderful beacons of light. Cinderella herself is a selfish child, so desperate to leave her family she ignores what is right in front of her.

As with Poison, Pinborough presents the original fairy tale with intriguing twists and added elements, creating a whole new fantasy world with effective worldbuilding and morally grey characters, rather than the pure good vs evil we’re used to in these stories. It makes for an intriguing, entertaining read, and I can’t wait to get started on Beauty, the final book of the series.

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.