Book Reviews

Anyone who follows me on here and on Twitter might be aware I, not that long ago, started reviewing for Dead Head Reviews. The focus on there is horror, but I review a variety of genres here on my blog, too.

More and more recently, I have been contacted directly by publishers and authors with requests to review their work. For me, that is so exciting, and I love having the opportunity to help promote new and indie authors. I’ve also started taking part in blog tours!

Because of this, I have now added a Review Policy to this website, with my contact details for any authors, publishers etc who might be interested in me reviewing one of their books.

It basically outlines the ideal information for requesting reviews, but importantly also has my new review e-mail address, so if you’re trying to promote a book, please feel free to get in touch, either on Twitter (@elleturpitt) or via my new e-mail, elleturpittreviews@gmail.com.

 

Blogtober Day Thirteen: Review – Under My Hat Anthology

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Day One: Spooky TBR    /   Day Two: October Releases    /   Day Three: Bookish Autumn Bucket List    /   Day Four: Perfect Cosy Reading Nook    /   Day Five: Top 5 Disney Villains    /   Day Six: Strong Woman Horror Trope    /   Day Seven: Reading Snacks    /   Day Eight: 5 Autumn Reads    /   Day Nine: Vampires and Werewolves    /   Day Ten: Spooky TBR Update    /   Day Eleven: Witches    /   Day Twelve: Books I Should Have Read

Challenge List – Anniek’s Library 

Under My Hat is an anthology, featuring some of the best known voices in fantasy fiction. The stories are all based off the idea of witches, some with the traditional ideas we know but with a slight twist, others with more varied, unrecognisable characters, and each one a delight to read.

There are elements of fantasy and horror in here, but most lean away from horror, focusing on other aspects of witchcraft. The first (Stray Magic) is a really sweet, endearing story about a dog separated from her master. There’s a story about a young woman who has recently joined a wiccan coven, and is searching for her belief. A tale about a cursed girl takes an interesting twist when her dead grandmother is bought back to life to protect her. And a young man in a forest comes across a woman who seems to be half cat, half human.

The anthology is well written, really well put together, and none of the stories blur into the other. Each has its own voice, and its own unique charm, carrying you from one tale to the next and making the book as a whole quite difficult to put down.

Overall, this is a really strong, interesting collection of stories, one that’s perfect for spooky season, and one that takes what could be seen as a stock character, and adds layers upon layers to it, without making the witches completely unrecognisable.

blogtober

Rose – Rami Ungar – Book Tour

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Welcome to my stop for the Rose book tour, the horror fantasy novel by Rami Ungar, and thanks so much for the invite from Blackthorn Book Tours. See my review below for this gripping novel.

About the Book

Rose wakes in a strange greenhouse, with no idea how she got there, her memories missing, and her body transformed. As she struggles to discover what happened to her, she finds she now has buds sprouting from her, her skin is green, and she has somehow gained roots, requiring her to settle in soil every so often to feed off the nutrients.

Enter Paris, claiming to be her boyfriend, who explains Rose was involved in an accident the night before, and he found a way to bring her back. She’s in his greenhouse, and Paris tells her how completely in love they are, and how he’s going to protect her – she has nothing to worry about.

My Review

The reader is drawn into the situation, gripped by the events happening to Rose, and Ungar does an excellent job of ensuring the reader never quite knows what to think, leading them through twisted corridors and constantly second-guessing everything.

The majority of the novel is set in just Paris’ apartment and his greenhouse, but Ungar does great things with the space, making the reader feel as penned in as Rose, but never losing them with the containment. And when the novel moves, it really moves, dragging the reader along with the characters, increasing the pace and tension with every step.

It’s hard not to feel for Rose, trapped as she is and unable to interact with anyone, as her memories slowly start to come back. And it’s hard to get a handle on Paris, the impression being that perhaps in their previous life together, he wasn’t that great of a boyfriend.

The twists and turns in the novel feel natural rather than jarring, and the tension is kept high throughout, without feeling like its all just too much. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and definitely recommend it to any horror/fantasy fans.

The Author

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Rami Ungar knew he wanted to be a writer from the age of five, when he first became exposed to the world of Harry Potter and wanted to create imaginative worlds like Harry’s. As a tween, he fell in love with the works of Anne Rice and Stephen King and, as he was getting too old to sneak up on people and shout “Boo!’ (not that that ever stopped him), he decided to merge his two loves and become a horror writer.

Today, Rami lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio. He’s self-published three novels and one collection of short stories, and his stories have appeared in other publications here and there. Rose, his first novel with Castrum Press, will be released June 21st, 2019.

When he’s not writing your nightmares or coming up with those, he’s enjoying anything from the latest horror novel or movie to anime and manga to ballet, collecting anything that catches his fancy, and giving you the impression he may not be entirely human.

Don’t Forget
You can read my previous reviews about Rose on Goodreads and on Dead Head Reviews
Make sure to check out the other stops on the tour, too.
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Hi, How Can I Help You?

There have been a couple things I’ve being doing recently, which could be of help to some writers.

Firstly, prior to publication.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big advocate of getting feedback on writing. I’ve written a post about it in the past, which can be found here, and I have a page on the website all about finding readers for your work. Feedback is crucial to a writer – without it, not only will you not improve, but your work is unlikely to find publication – a beta/proofreader/editor will help identify typos, awkward phrases, plot inconsistencies etc. Every piece of fiction goes through some sort of editing, but if a slush reader sees a story – whether it’s short or long fiction – littered with typos, they’re not going to bother reading it, no matter how good the actual plot and characters are.

So yes, get feedback. How intensive the feedback is, and what you need in particular, are answers only you know. I give a variety of ways of getting it on the page mentioned previously, but it is a service I offer through Fiverr. I pride myself on being fast, honest, and encouraging, giving detailed critique regarding whatever story I’m working on. I have almost 30 five star reviews at this point, a number of repeat customers, and some of the authors I’ve worked with are currently self-publishing their work, have had short stories published, or are working towards querying. You can find out more details through Fiverr or contact me on Twitter (@elleturpitt). If you’re on a budget, just let me know, as I am able to do custom orders, as well.

And, secondly – reviews.

I started this blog to both promote my own work and writing, and others. I’ve done a number of reviews on here, and glancing over them, it’s easy to see how varied my tastes are. But I’ve recently started specifically reviewing horror for Dead Head Reviewswhere I’ve reviewed collections, anthologies, and a couple of novels, as well as my favourite podcast, Calling DarknessIf you are a horror fan, definitely check it out.

These reviews also go up on Goodreads. Though not all my reviews on Unwrapping Words are on there as well, if you want me to review your (non-horror) book for this blog, I’d put the review on Goodreads as well. If you’d like to contact me about reviewing your book, whatever genre, and whether it’s an anthology you’re featured in, your own short story collection, or a novella/novel, again, just DM me on Twitter. Let me know the genre, so I know if it’s for Dead Head or this blog.

Both the service & reviews have allowed me to read some absolutely excellent fiction, and discover new authors – and honestly, especially with the Fiverr service, championing these authors is something I really like doing, helping spread the word about their work and seeing them grow as writers. So why not contact me, and let me do the same for you?

Dangerous Women – Edited by George R.R Martin & Gardner Dozois [Books]

dangerous womenI always find it exciting, to open up a new anthology. To discover what stories wait inside, whether it’s a genre-specific anthology covering different themes, or a themed anthology covering different genres. Dangerous Women falls into the latter camp, with stories here ranging from fantasy to sci-fi to horror to historical.

And they’re good, though with the authors involved, you’d kind of expect that. Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice & Fire fans will enjoy Martin’s novella, a glimpse into the history of Westeros – one which, honestly, feels like it adds to Dany’s story in the TV series. Maybe they should have gone into this one a bit more, before the last few episodes.

ANYWAY!

The stories are all vastly different from one another, ensuring any fan of genre fiction will find something they enjoy in its pages. From a post-apocalyptic society where women are either mothers or nurses, to a strange forest where shades haunt the trees and kill anyone who doesn’t follow the rules, to a Russian pilot determined to kill. These women are strong and formidable, and make for compelling characters.

There was only one story in here I wasn’t really fussed on, a shame because I’ve read other stories by the same author and enjoyed them. The noir tale had a female character who, rather than feeling like her own fully fleshed, individual woman, felt more like she’d been ripped straight from the ‘femme fatale cliche’ cookie cutter. It was a tale that in an anthology titled ‘Dangerous Woman’, felt a bit jarring.

Other than that, the stories in here are really good, and it’s a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Would definitely recommend this one, especially to fans of SFF & horror.

2019: What I’ve Read So Far

2019 books .pngSo,  we are well over halfway through 2019, and I thought I’d take a moment to look back at the books I’ve read so far this year. Currently, I’ve had a really good year when it comes to reading. I’ve read the second books for two authors I absolutely love (Elizabeth Lim and Angie Thomas), I read books by VE Schwab for the first time (City of Ghosts and the Shades of Magic series), and the debut novel from the very talented Elizabeth Macneal, who I also had the pleasure of meeting. Oh! And I meet VE Schwab, too. I started the year with 0 signed books, and now have 7. So far, so good. Out of the 38 books I’ve read, I’ve given 21 5-stars on Goodreads, 6 have had 4-stars and 3, and only 1 each for 2-star and 1-star books. Basically, I’ve read some really good books so far.

I’ve picked out one book from each month so far (January – July), and below you’ll find short reviews of the book, along with links to the full review, if there is one.

January

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The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

*****

After the death of her mother, Eleanor is at a loss. She answers an invitation to go the mysterious Hill House, and there she meets Dr Montague, Luke, and Theodora. The doctor searches for evidence of paranormal activity at the house. Luke is set to inherit the ugly building, and Theodora, like Eleanor, has attended out of curiosity. As events unfold, Eleanor struggles with external and internal forces, trying to find her place in the world.

With Hill House, Jackson creates an eerie atmosphere, masterfully painting an image of an uneasy house, but leaving it up to the reader to decide what is actually happening. Questions multiple throughout the novel, leaving us to wonder if there really is an entity targeting Eleanor, or if it is some manifestation of her own psyche. Jackson handles the genre really well, using the tropes to great effect, while making it completely her own.

February

Hex – Thomas Olde Heuvelt

*****

Another horror, but this one is much less subtle than Hill House. In Hex, we meet the hexresidents of Black Spring, a town with a very unique problem. A witch walks their streets, a woman with sewn-shut eyes and mouth, a woman who has been dead for hundreds of years. The elders use modern technology to track the witch, ensure tourists don’t come across her, and that their people are safe. But the town’s teenagers aren’t happy with the arrangement, or thier forced isolation.

Another 5 stars from me. I really enjoyed this. No character is clearly evil or clearly good, all are a mixture, depending on their circumstances, and the characters felt very real to me, trying to deal with this supernatural event and get on with their lives as best as possible. Hex does something all my favourite horror novels do – shows real reactions to extraordinary events, even when those reactions aren’t exactly morally right. I can’t wait for Heuvelt’s next English-translated novel.

a darker shadeMarch

Shades of Magic – A Darker Shade of Magic & A Gathering of Shadows

*****

Yeah, I know, I’m including two books here. But that’s because I read this trilogy one after another – A Conjuring of Light just slipped into April, so I’m focusing on these two instead. I did mean to write a review for the trilogy, but everytime I did it was hard to avoid spoilers.

In ADSOM, we meet Kell, one of the last Antari, users of magic that allow them to travel between worlds. Kell lives in Red London, but travels to White and Grey London delivering messages between royalty. He also smuggles items, and when a woman begs him to take a black stone from her, he does, setting off a chain of events that quickly spirals out of his control.

In Grey London, we are introduced to Lila Bard, a young thief who dreams of being a pirate queen. Initially, Lila steals the stone from Kell, but soon joins him as they attempta gathering of shadows to stop the magic spreading. The second book widens the scope of the world, as the elemental games approach and Kell finds himself roped into competing. Unknowingly to him, Lila has also found a way to compete, alongside her captain, Alucard, the former lover of Red London’s Prince Rhy.

The writing is beautiful, the settings are vivid, and the plot feels like travelling down a river on a kayak. Sometimes calm, allowing you look around and absorb everything, sometimes throwing you into rapids and occasionally throwing you off a waterfall, leaving you to hope you don’t hit the water head first. The characters are fully realised, enjoyable to hang out with, and drag you fully into rooting for them. If you haven’t read this series yet, I highly suggest you do.

April

On The Come Up – Angie Thomas

*****

on the come upIf you haven’t read either of Angie Thomas’ novels yet, I suggest you get them. Like, now. I was blown away by The Hate U Give, and I was majorly impressed by On the Come Up. If I had a tenth of Thomas’ writing talent, I’d be a happy woman.

On The Come Up follows Bri, a young woman scraping by, trying to look out for her family while all around her, people – including her aunt – are getting involved in gangs. Bri has a talent, the ability to rap, and it could be her ticket out of Garden Heights. Like The Hate U GiveOn The Come Up is about voice, and place, and racism. It tackles the issues young black teenagers face, the way society tries to keep them down, and how they combat it. Like her debut, Thomas gives us a strong, courageous young woman who needs to find her voice, and needs to decide how she’s going to use it. These books are amazing, and should be required reading for everyone.

May

The Queen of the Tearling – Erika Johansen

**

The first book on this particular list I wasn’t really impressed by.queen of the tearling

Kelsea is the heir to the Tearling throne, and on her 19th birthday, soldiers arrive to escort her to the castle so she can take her crown. There’s a lot of travelling, a lot of talk, a lot of…not much really happening.

For the most part, I found this book really frustrating, badly written in some parts, and quite forced in others. The world-building is weak, with implications this is perhaps another planet, maybe? I don’t know. But if that’s the case, apparently the only people they bothered to bring were white. So it’s the future, because there’s references to LOTR and HP and the like, but it’s got the technological advancements of medieval period. It was just an odd read for me, one I struggled with. Read my full review for, err, full Elle-rant mode.

June

The Wicker King – K. Ancrum

****

wicker kingNow, this book, I loved. I got through it in about a day. The Wicker King is the story of two young men, finding their place in the world, and working out if that place involves each other. On the face of it, the novel seems like it could be any coming-of-age fantasy YA, but this goes deeper. I loved the style, the characters, the constant questioning of what was real and what wasn’t, and the formatting. The book combines prose with snippets of letters, mix tape listings, notes, etc. There’s something to discover in all of them, and it’s worth spending a bit of extra time studying them and the way things are written, rather than skipping ahead. The book combines various factors really skillfully, and I was so glad I got to read this.I will definitely be picking up Ancrum’s other books in the future, and I am super excited for her Peter Pan retelling. (Not to mention I got to read her King Arthur short story and was blown away. So yeah. Check out her books!)

July

Spin The Dawn – Elizabeth Lim

*****

I cannot shut up about this book. And it’s my most recent review, so I’m not going recap everything here. But basically, Maia wants to be a master tailor, but, boo, sexism! Master spin the dawntailors can’t be women, because, well, they’d clearly be better at it than the men, like Maia is. She disguises herself as her brother to go to the palace, where a competition is held to find the new Imperial Tailor. Maia faces complications, jealous competitors, and the mysterious enchanter Edan in the palace.

This book is absolutely freaking beautiful. Including the cover. It’s amazing! And the writing? I couldn’t stop grinning throughout. It’s an enjoyable story, with great characters and plenty of twists, and at no point does it feel like it’s moving slowly. It just draws you along, dragging you completely and utterly into Maia’s world. There is nothing not to love about this book.

So there we are. A few of my reads for the year so far. I might do another one later in the year, maybe purposefully mix it up a bit more, but right now it’s hard. I’ve read a lot of great books.

Have you read any of these? What books this year stick out in your mind the most? And how is your reading year stacking up so far?

Circe – Madeline Miller [Books]

circeSometimes, you read a book that is so wonderfully and beautifully written, with heaps of description aiding the characters and plot, that it feels like you really are transported to the novel’s location.

Circe is, without a doubt, one of those books.

Circe is the daughter of a Titan and a nymph, but lacks the power of her father and the beauty of her mother. As she grows, however, it becomes clear she has a different kind of power, one which frightens even the powerful Olympian gods. Circe is exiled, and makes her home on a small island. There, she develops her powers as a witch, and pays attention to the people who wash up on her shore, meeting various figures from across Greek mythology.

This book is vivid. We are taken through Circe’s childhood, flashes coming at us in quick succession (as immortals grow quickly), and get to see the world around her, her father’s palace, as well as her grandfather’s, and the area she and her brother claimed as their own, where Circe would meet her first mortal. Everything is completely and utterly through her eyes, allowing us to see what she sees, feel what she feels, in a truly unique perspective. We get fully inside Circe’s head, but are still allowed a reader’s perspective, reading between the lines and perhaps grasping things more than her, or before she is able to.

There are many characters in the book familiar to those with even a passing knowledge of Greek mythology, as well as characters perhaps not as well know, but still rooted in the sources. We get glimpses of heroes unlike the ones we know from myths, seeing them this time through a woman’s eyes, rather than as part of epic poems constructed by men. Perhaps the strongest achievement of the book is through Circe’s emotions. We feel her sadness, her fury, and her happiness, throughout each stage of her life. And each scene is coloured by this, with language used to its fullest.

Overall, Circe is a beautiful retelling of ancient stories, offering a new point of view on familiar tales, and is an excellent read. I will definitely need to get hold of Song of Achilles, and will be picking up any of Miller’s future novels.

 

Spin The Dawn – Elizabeth Lim [Books]

spin the dawnFirstly, look at that cover. It is absolutely stunning, and I spent ages just looking at both before and after reading Spin The Dawn.

This novel is the story of Maia, a young woman who wants to become the best tailor in the land. However, standing in the way is the fact she is a woman, and so is left to simply ‘help’ her father – despite doing most of the work – while her brothers go off to war. But when her father’s presence is requested at the palace, to compete in the search for an Imperial Tailor, Maia disguises herself as a man, takes her brother’s name, and goes in his place.

Reflection, the Mulan book for Disney’s Twisted Tales, was written by Elizabeth Lim, and as it is my favourite of the series, I had extraordinarily high hopes for Spin The Dawn. These hopes weren’t just met – they were exceeded, far beyond anything I expected.

Maia is a strong, young woman, willing to do anything for her family, but keen to achieve her own goals as well. She’s determined, ambitious, and resourceful, and though she starts a little naive when she arrives at the palace, she soon proves herself among the other tailors. As if Maia herself wasn’t enough to draw the reader in, from the moment she arrives at the palace, the mystery and intrigue surrounding the competition, the other tailors, the Emperor and his bride-to-be all work to keep the reader engaged throughout the first half of the novel.

And then there’s Edan. The court enchanter, Edan keeps a particular eye on Maia, and perhaps doesn’t fully believe her disguise. She is determined to avoid him, but keeps finding herself in his path.

Spin The Dawn is a romantic fantasy, combining various elements to create a rich, beautiful, and enthralling tale, one that proves absolutely impossible to put down. I, for one, cannot wait for the sequel.

GOODREADS

AUTHOR WEBSITE

AMAZON UK AMAZON US / BOOK DEPOSITORY

 

Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds – Gwenda Bond [Books]

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Suspicious Minds is the first Stranger Things tie-in novel, and as such, I was really excited to read it. I love the Netflix series, adore the characters, and was eager to find out more about the Stranger Things universe, prior to the events of the TV show. Especially as this novel focuses on Terry, Eleven’s mother.

And boy, was I disappointed.

[MILD SPOILERS AHEAD]

I read this book prior to the release of season 3, and it honestly managed to drain my excitement for the upcoming season. (Luckily, excitement was full-blown shortly into the first episode)

It is so difficult to write a novel. It’s even more difficult when it is a novel based off an existing property, where fans are already going to have their own ideas about events, especially in a prequel book.

The writing wasn’t bad. But the way the events of the novel pan out just really did nothing for me. The characters surrounding Terry felt flat, including her boyfriend, especially her sister, and even the others going into the lab. The doctor is supposed to be the big bad, but he doesn’t feel anywhere near as scary as he did in the series. And Kali…

God, Kali was so badly used in the novel.

There are references literally every page, either to 60s events or, repeatedly, LOTR. I get that LOTR is important to Stranger Things, as much as D&D is, but almost every character in here references, persistently, and it just feels forced. I could have a checklist of 60s events next to me, and have ticked them all off within the first few pages. Moon Landing. Manson Murders. Woodstock. Vietnam. Etc etc etc.

It just got a bit boring. And the ‘Fellowship of the Laboratory’ all come up with different ways to try to stop Dr Brenner, but way too often their schemes come down to

-Use Kali

-Hope she doesn’t tell

And, oops, she’s a kid! A kid who gets punished for lying to Brenner, yet these ‘adults’ put it on her over and over again.

I wanted to find out more about Brenner, and Terry, and the experiments conducted at the lab and maybe some of the other kids involved. Instead, we get very little of that. Just Terry and friends running around like the Scooby Doo gang, peeking behind doors and DETERMINED to bring down the lab. There’s no tension with this, because having seen season one of Stranger Things, we know this doesn’t happen. We know the experiments continue and Brenner takes Terry’s child and Jane becomes Eleven. It’s the same problem many sequels have – trying to build tension from events where we already know the outcome.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

I think, even for diehard Stranger Things fans, it might be worth passing over this book. Nothing gets added to the wider world of the series, and personally, it left me feeling a little cold. Hopefully the other tie-in novels will be better.

The Wicker King – K. Ancrum [Books]

wicker kingReceived this as a gift from my lovely boyfriend, because he heard me raving about The Wicked King  (which he got me for Valentine’s Day) and got confused. But this was on my wishlist, so I still really wanted to read it.

And, you know what? I loved it.

August and Jack have been best friends for years, and remain so, despite their vastly different friendship groups. Jack’s memories aren’t always real, and he relies on August to confirm events, but it soon becomes apparent that Jack is seeing something else, experiencing hallucinations that are now intruding on his day to day life. He enlists August’s help, in order to fulfil the prophecy of The Wicker King, and the two try to prevent Jack’s ‘other world’ from being destroyed. But August is torn, unsure if what Jack is seeing is real or not, only knowing that what they are doing is dangerous.

I read this book in two days.

Even for shorter books, that’s unusual for me. But the book itself was easy to read, flowed really well, with chapters broken by images, letters, notes, or mixtape lists.  They all added in some way to the plot, or gave deeper understandings of the characters. I read this book so quick because it was, in some ways, an absolute joy to read, with the relationship between August and Jack, and the people around them. In others, I was desperate to find out what would happen next, if they would be okay, if something was about to happen to disrupt their world/s.

The book focuses on these two characters, but there’s a lot of people around them, too, fully fleshed, fully realised people who pop in and out of both August and Jack’s lives, including absent adults, and well meaning teens who don’t really know what they’re doing.

The question of whether Jack’s visions are real is present, subtly, throughout, and handled really well. I found myself honestly wondering about them, even when August didn’t, and at some points, I had as much faith in Jack as August did, though I also kept hoping both sought extra help, outside of each other.

Overall, this is a really well written, fast paced book that explores mental health and relationships in an engaging way, drawing you completely into the world Jack and August inhabit. Strongly recommended by me.

Any books you’ve enjoyed recently, that explore similar themes? Or have you read The Wicker King? I’m always happy to see what other people thought!