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?

Straight on Till Morning – Liz Braswell [Books]

straight on till morningAnyone who has been following this blog for a while knows of my love for the Twisted Tales series, by Disney. There are currently three authors involved – Liz Braswell, Elizabeth Lim, and Jen Calonita. These books involve taking the stories we know and love, and adding a single twist that can affect everything. So far, there have been books based on Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Mulan (my favourite), Snow White, Frozen, and now Peter Pan.

While Reflection remains my favourite of the series, Straight on Till Morning has without a doubt nabbed the second place spot. In this version, Wendy doesn’t go to Neverland with Peter Pan. Instead, she is left behind to grow up, taking care of the house and her brothers, forced to watch them attend school while she can do nothing but learn to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Everyone around her dismisses her stories of Peter Pan as rubbish childish fantasies, and if it wasn’t for the strange shadow she keeps in the old nursery, Wendy might believe them.

Desperate not to be sent to Ireland by her parents, Wendy makes a deal with Captain Hook: she will give him Peter’s shadow, in exchange for passage to Neverland.

This is a book about stories and their power, about facing the responsibilities of growing up and realising it doesn’t always mean putting everything childish away, but accepting there are bigger things in the world to take note of than just what’s happening in your own house.

The focus once Wendy gets to Neverland is not on Peter, but on Wendy and Tinkerbell, and the friendship between the pair. They don’t start on good terms, but soon grow fond of one another, working together to find Peter and save Neverland. One aspect done well is how Wendy is aged up. While Peter remains his boyish self, never growing up after all, Wendy is sixteen in this story, facing more of the pressures of adulthood, and able to view Neverland and its dangers with more mature eyes.

The setting might be familiar, but with Hook planning something big, it’s hard not to feel the tension as Wendy goes from place to place, trying to rally the people of Neverland. As the story progresses, Wendy’s understanding deepens, and she begins to question whether never growing up is a good idea after all.

I really enjoyed this book, and I loved the focus on Wendy and Tinkerbell over Peter and the Lost Boys. There’s a strong message here, reinforced when Tinkerbell gets a little jealous of Wendy, as she is prone to doing. But the pair work really well together, and it was great seeing them get this chance to shine.

Braswell is fantastic at deepening these characters we already love, and presenting them in different situations that allow their strengths to really come to light. She’s done it with many of the previous Twisted Tales books, and this is no exception.

One thing about this series: if you’re looking to dip your toe in, you don’t have to read them in order. I’ve read every one so far, and some I’ve loved more than others, but responses on all of them are varied, which is great. Each book offers something different. And with each book the authors produce, they seem to get that much better. Braswell was the first involved in Twisted Tales, and she continues to produce fantastic stories. I would definitely recommend picking up Straight on Till Morning, whether you’ve read the rest of the Twisted Tales series or not.

Twisted Tales: Let It Go – Jen Calonita

twisted 4The Twisted Tales series are stories about films and characters we know and love from Disney films, but putting one twist into the story that either changes everything, gives something additional in the middle, or extends the story beyond the familiar endings. I wrote about the series as a whole here, and purposefully held onto reading Let It Go so I could read it while on my Disney trip last week. I started it on the coach on the way to the airport, didn’t actually finish it until this week. Turned out, I was way too tired while travelling to read, and by the time we got back to the hotel in the evening, I was too exhausted to spend more than a small amount of time reading about this alternative version of Anna and Elsa’s story.

Anyway, this was an ideal book to take away, and the bits I did read, I enjoyed, though not as much as the others in the series. But a big charm of this series is that everyone has a different favourite. It’s handled by three different authors, with three different writing styles, and it ensures every book feels unique.

With Let It Go, (which, as far as I can tell, is Conceal, Don’t Feel in the US) I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed some of the others. I like when the story is turned completely on its head, presenting new scenes and putting the characters in different, new settings. To me, this one felt like too close to the source material, scenes rehashed from the film and put into the written word. But this aspect of it is something other readers might thoroughly enjoy.

When we join Anna and Elsa in Let It Go, it’s to find that neither know of the other. Elsa lives as princess with her parents, while Anna lives in a small village overlooking the city. Both feel something is missing in their lives, but neither quite knows what it is. As the story unfolds, we discover that when they were taken to the trolls, after Elsa hit Anna with her magic, Elsa interrupted the spell, causing a curse that means they cannot be near each other. To protect them, the trolls cast a spell to ensure they forgot one another, and the kingdom forgot there was another princess.

The twist is good, and in some places executed really well, bringing forward the sense of sisterly love that made the film feel so fresh in the first place. The main thing I disliked, as stated above, was the way scenes from the film felt repeated. Dialogue is lifted almost word for word, song lyrics feel forced in, and scenes take place exactly as they do in the film, just in a different way.

Much of the novel feels forced towards the same point as the film, leaving the twists to be clearly visible and marked, and meaning the last part just felt like rehash. It feels like more could have been done with it, really.

Saying that, however, Calonita does have a fantastic way with words. The descriptions – of the city, the village, the icy mountains and the valley where the trolls live – are brilliant, and she has a clear, deep understanding of the characters. Despite the situation they’re in, they feel like the characters we know from the films, and they react how you’d expect them to react. The love elements are handled really well, emphasising the sisterly love but also allowing more time for relationships to develop, to show why Hans is actually present, and why Kristoff is willing to run off with Anna, in search of someone he’s never met. The threads of the story are woven well, and although this wasn’t my favourite of the series, I did enjoy it, and if you’re a fan of Frozen, it’s definitely worth  checking out.

(As a side note, the two women I work with who also read this series absolutely loved the book, much more than I did! Like I said, it’s one thing I really love about the series as a whole – the varied reactions to each book.)

Twisted Tales Books

Twisted TalesWelcome to day three of my Disney blog themed posts, during which I will be in both Disneyland AND Walt Disney Studios. Exciting times. I am also now officially thirty, which is odd cause in my head I’m still somewhere in my early 20s. Today I’m going to talk about one of my favourite book series, and don’t forget you can enter my Twitter giveaway to win any Disney themed book of your choice – details at the end!

Twisted Tales

Twisted Tales are a series of books, written by three different authors. Each book tackles twisted 1a Disney film, inserting a twist into the story we know and love – A Whole New World asks ‘What if Aladdin never found the lamp?’ Reflection – ‘What if Mulan had to travel to the underworld?’ Mirror, Mirror – ‘What if the Evil Queen poisoned the prince?’ etc. There are currently seven books in the series, with two more coming out soon.

This is probably my current favourite book series, and it’s introduced me to three fantastic authors. Each book is skillfully twisted 2written and thought out, with the characters we love, yet giving them just enough changes to make the story feel fresh and exciting. And so far, the choices for stories has been really good, with a focus mainly on the princesses, but exploring a couple of others as well.

The only released one I haven’t yet read (at the time of writing) is Conceal, Don’t Feel/Let It Go (it seems to have a different title everywhere I look), which is focused on Frozen. I’ve been saving it for my Disney trip, so perhaps by the time you read this, I might have read it. Either way, look out for my review!

twisted 3The three authors are Liz Braswell, Elizabeth Lim, and Jen Calonita. Each have their own distinctive writing style, yet still feel like they match the stories really well. And it’s clear from the writing and characters how much love they have for these tales – Elizabeth Lim recently released Spin the Dawn (my review is here), a Mulan retelling, which is definitely worth checking out. Not to mention Reflection is currently my favourite of this series.

But this is the kind of series where everyone has their own favourite,. There are three of us in work who get every book, as soon as it comes out, and we each prefer different ones. Overall, the series has proved imaginative, with interesting storiestwisted 7 about the characters and adding further depths to these worlds.

In some, the book is set in the middle of the film, either changing the outcome of the rest of the story – as in A Whole New World – or giving more weight to middle-scenes, the book taking place in a contained moment which feels like it could fit easily into the classic animated film, such as Reflection. In others, the twist comes right at the very end of the film, giving us a chance to see what happens to the heroes if they don’t actually win, as in Part of Your World, which explores what happens to the kingdoms under and above the sea, if Ursula actually won.

twisted 5If you are a Disney fan, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. With talented authors telling fantastic stories, this series really does add a lot to classic animated films, and I can’t wait to see what comes out next, after Elizabeth Lim tackle’s Cinderella and Liz Braswell takes on Peter Pan.

 

The Series, In Order

A Whole New World – Liz Braswell – What if Aladdin never found the lamp?

Once Upon a Dream – Liz Braswell – What if the sleeping beauty never woke up?

As Old as Time – Liz Braswell – What if Belle’s mother cursed the beast?

Reflection – Elizabeth Lim – What if Mulan had to travel to the underworld?

Part of Your World – Liz Braswell – What if Ariel had never defeated Ursula?

Mirror, Mirror – Jen Calonita – What if the Evil Queen poisoned the prince?

Conceal, Don’t Feel/Let It Go – Jen Calonita – What if Anna and Elsa never knew each other?

Upcoming

So This Is Love? – Elizabeth Lim – What if Cinderella never tried on the glass slipper?

Straight on Till Morning – Liz Braswell – What if Wendy first travelled to Neverland with Captain Hook?

twisted 6twisted 4

 

 

 

 

 

Giveaway

I am currently hosting a Disney book themed giveaway on Twitter. Just follow that link, make sure you’re following me on there, and retweet. You could, if you so wanted, pick any of the fantastic Twisted Tales books, or Elizabeth Lim’s Spin the Dawn. Good luck!

Possible Giveaway For November

Disney Book Giveaway

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will be aware of this, but thought I’d mention it on the blog too, and look, you get a not-great graphic to go along with it!

So basically, I currently have 88 blog followers (love you all!). I am turning 30 on November 12th, at which point I will be in Disneyland, Paris and yes, I am very, very excited for the trip. Got my countdown at my desk in work AND my ears to wear in the park!

Where does the giveaway come into this, then?

Well, if I hit 100 followers before my birthday, I’m going to do a Disney themed book Twitter giveaway. It’ll be up to £15, international if Book Depository ships to you. And by Disney, I’m also including Star Wars and Marvel. Which yes, could mean graphic novels, too! And I’m also going to say the book can be a fairy tale retelling, so even if you’re not a Disney fan, there should be something for you, too. Though personally, I am a huge fan of the Twisted Tales series, and if you haven’t tried it yet, it comes highly recommended from me.

So spread the word – help me reach 100 followers in the next three weeks. As soon as I hit 100, I’ll post the giveaway. If that happens soon, I’ll pick the winners once I’ve returned from holiday, so the 15th November. If it doesn’t happen until early November, I’ll extend it a little.

Twisted Tales: Mirror, Mirror – Jen Calonita [Books]

mirror mirrorTwisted Tales is a series of books presenting different twists on various well-known Disney stories, and Mirror, Mirror is the sixth in the series, following on from novels about Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Mulan. Five of the previous novels were written by Liz Braswell, with Reflection, the Mulan story, written by Elizabeth Lim.

Both authors are tough acts to follow, bringing fresh new perspectives on beloved classics. With this being the second book penned by a different author, I think Disney are taking a great approach, rather than just leaving it all down to one writer.

The combination of different authors, plus taking different characters, means a vast difference in the books, and I think from what I’ve seen online and conversations IRL, various people have different favourites from the series. I see this as a really good thing – people are responding in different ways to the same series, and I feel it’s working well for Twisted Tales.

However, I do think Mirror, Mirror might be the weakest book of the series (so far). This, despite the fact Jen Calonita is clearly a talented writer, and I would definitely pick up mirror mirror2one of her other books. So, the writing is good, the characters actually read really well, but the plot itself is a little weak.

One of the things I like most about previous books in the series is the fact the twist actually changes everything for the characters. It forms the crux of the plot, and prevents the characters reaching the happily ever after point we know from the films. In some instances, by the end things are right with the world and we know the characters are going to continue as they would from the films, but they are still changed from their animated counterparts.

The difference with Mirror, Mirror is that the twist – printed plainly on the cover – doesn’t actually affect much of the story. Instead, the changes made don’t feel like they fit into the world of Snow White, and it doesn’t make sense why these changes happen in the context of the animated film. If this was just a retelling, it would work well, but as it is, it doesn’t have the same feel as the previous books.

Sections of the book just simply take us through what happens in the film, but do allow us – as books do – to get deeper into the head of Snow White, as well as the Evil Queen, named Ingrid in the novel. The Ingrid chapters are where the book really comes alive, as we see her transform into the sort of woman who can order a child’s killing.

The plot, in places, feels rushed, and especially the ending. But despite this, the characters themselves give off that feel of real, living breathing people. Snow White is definitely a far cry from the passive princess in the film, given a stronger, more prominent role, as she realises what her people have been through. We also get a better idea of why she cleans so much. The prince, as well – Henri – is more of a character, rather than just the guy who rides in and out. We see the relationship between them blossom, and can feel why they fall for each other. Those aspects of the book work really well.

Overall, although I did have a few niggles with the book, and although it maybe wasn’t up to the same standard as previous books in this series, I did enjoy it. And the additions to the characters worked nicely, giving more depth to Snow White, the prince, the Evil Queen, and even the dwarves. I would definitely recommend this, and although it might not have been my favourite in the series, it’s bound to be someone else’s.