book reviews, spoiler free

Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales

Book Review

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Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales

Rating: XXXX

Published March 3rd 2020 by Titan Books

“Proposition. Bargain. Offer. Deal. Chance of a lifetime, et Cetera. Slightly Faustian, but still good. Well, good’s a slippery concept, but compared to most of these arrangements, I’m offering you a golden ticket.”

Fairy tales take a weird twist in this anthology compiling stories from an all-star cast of fantasy writers, including stories from Neil Gaiman, Charlie Jane Anders and Alison Littlewood.

Here in this book you’ll find unique twists on the fairy tale conceit of the curse, from the more traditional to the modern – giving us brand new mythologies as well as new approaches to well-loved fables. Some might shock you, some might make you laugh, but they will all impress you with their originality

If there’s one thing I love more than Fairy Tales it’s curses and I was so excited to hear that Titan books were publishing an anthology full of dark Fairy Tales and curses! As with my other anthology reviews, I took notes as I read and have a bit to say about each one.

Castle Cursed by Jane Yolen – XXXXX
I wasn’t expecting a poem but it was a perfect start to this cursed anthology.

As Red as Blood as White as Snow by Christina Henry – XXXXX
A Perfectly Christina Henry style tale with a very different version of Snow White.

Troll Bridge by Neil Gaiman – XXX
Well Written and with a great twist but didn’t really do it for me personally.

At That Age by Catarina Ward – XXX
Super creepy and weird but interesting concept.

Listen by Jen Williams – XXXXX
A beautiful and well-told tale with a satisfying ending.

Henry and the Snake Wood Box by M.R Carey – XXXXX
An absolute masterpiece. I loved this immensely, my favourite story out of all of them.

Skin by James Brogden – X
Trigger warning: Body horror and self-harm. Reading this was incredibly hard and I had to stop reading the book for a couple of days.

Faith and Fred by Maura McHugh. – XXXXX
Interesting, well written and intriguing but also simple. Great cliffhanger style ending.

The Black Fairy’s Curse by Karren Jay Fowler. – X
Confusing and didn’t make much sense to me.

Wendy, Darling by Christopher Golden. – XXXXX
Trigger warning: Mention of infant murder. Absolutely chilling and a turn I didn’t expect it to take! Dark.

Fairy Werewolf vs Vampire Zombie by Charlie Jane Andres. – XXXX
Okay so this was a weird one but I did really like the way it was written and reminds me of all the Mary Janice Davidson books I used to read. Was a bit over the top ridiculous at times.

Look inside by Michael Marshall Smith. – XX
This read a little disjointed and had an unreliable narrator. It felt like it was cut a little too short although I liked the premise. It also creeped me out the most out of all the others so far.

Little red by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple. – XX
Major trigger warning for self-harm and sexual abuse. I almost didn’t finish this one. It’s written well but felt a little disjointed and the subject matter made feel very uncomfortable.

New Wine by Angela Slatter. – XXXXX
I’m not sure how this one fit in with the cursed theme but I really loved it, it was intriguing and kept me guessing the whole time.

Haza and Ghani by Lilith Saintcrow. – X
Didn’t enjoy this one, it’s wasn’t very clear and felt like it missed a lot and was lacking. I ended up skimming over the end.

Hated by Christopher Fowler. – XX
This would have been a much higher rating but there was just something that rubbed me the wrong way, not to mention the unnecessarily repeated mention of race and a racial slur.

The Merrie Dancers by Alison Littlewood. – XXX
A good tale but I found the narrator very unlikeable.

Again by Lebbon. – XXXX
Brilliant story! I definitely could have read more. I wasn’t sure about the ending but overall the whole thing was great.

The Girl from Hell by Margo Lanagan. – X
Did not enjoy, very disjointed. I didn’t find it particularly interesting or making a lot of sense to me.

Castle waking by Jane Yolen. – XXXX
I prefer the first one but this was still good, I loved that the book is opened and closed with linked poems.

There were definitely a few hit and miss stories in this anthology for me, most of the ones I didn’t like were due to personal preference more than the quality of the actual content so there are definitely some here that I think others that would enjoy that weren’t personally for me. It’s definitely worth checking out if you enjoy the darker side of fairy tales and the curses within.

 

book reviews, Comics

Star Wars: Age of Resistance – Villains

comicbookreview

44777456._SY475_Star Wars: Age of Resistance – Villains by Tom Taylor

Rating (overall):

Published December 3rd 2019 by Marvel Comics

“You are in my command. You are another gun I hold. If your aim isn’t true. If you falter. Then you are no longer a gun. No longer worthy to be in my hand,”

This is the Age of Star Wars – an epic series of adventures that unites your favorite characters from all three trilogies! Now it’s the First Order’s turn to take center stage. As Captain Phasma leads an attack on the iron planet Demir, a young Stormtrooper looks to follow in Phasma’s footsteps. But will she have the heart to follow the merciless ways of the First Order captain? General Hux has always been looked down upon, but when a sabotaged shuttle crash-lands on an unknown planet it will be up to Hux to save Kylo Ren! Plus: Tales of Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke!

COLLECTING: STAR WARS: AGE OF RESISTANCE – CAPTAIN PHASMA 1, STAR WARS: AGE OF RESISTANCE – GENERAL HUX 1, STAR WARS: AGE OF RESISTANCE – KYLO REN 1, STAR WARS: AGE OF RESISTANCE – SUPREME LEADER SNOKE 1.

In the desperate lead up to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker releasing last year I went a bit crazy buying Star Wars books and brought three of the newly released trade paperbacks from the Age of collection. I brought Age of Resistance – Villains and Age of Resistance – Heroes which are both set in the sequel era and Age of Republic – Heroes, set in the prequel era. There are two volumes, each entitled Heroes or Villains, set in each of the three main Star Wars eras and I would definitely like to get around to reading them all at some point but for now, I just picked the ones I found most interesting. I started with Age of Resistance – Villains as I have three issues of The Rise of Kylo Ren to read yet and figured they could be my next read after this. Although I’ve given an overall rating for this collection I will also give an individual mini-review and rating for each story/collected issue, much like I have done in the past for anthology reviews.

Star Wars: Age of Resistance – Captain Phasma. XXXXX
As someone who read and adored the novel Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson and loved getting to know the woman behind the mask and armour, this was a really fun read. Short, yet perfectly illustrates the core of Phasma’s personality and ultimate ‘flaw’ I loved it.

Star Wars: Age of Resistance – General Hux. XXXXX
A brilliant look into the past and mind of General Armitage Hux, I knew a little bit of his background, mainly from Phasma and a few mentions here and there in other media but this laid things out plain and simple, the transition from page 2 to 3 felt almost cinematic and was done extremely well. I think we really see how Armitage works and it’s deliciously villainous. Another great short story. (Minor spoiler, Hux calls Kylo Ren, Ben and I’m honestly here for that).

Star Wars: Age of Resistance – Supreme Leader Snoke. XXXX 
Another good read but I felt this one was more focused on and told us more about Kylo Ren instead of Snoke which I suppose fits with his whole mysterious persona but I’m still pretty salty about the whole Snoke thing. It does gives us a look into some of the training methods Snoke used when training Ren and a ‘cameo’ of sorts that I hadn’t been suspecting.

Star Wars: Age of Resistance – Kylo Ren. XXXXX
The essay piece after the Kylo Ren comic sums this up perfectly “Ben Solo – Part Skywalker, Part Vader, All Solo.” There are some brilliant side by side comparison panels between events in the present and in the past like I particularly enjoyed but my favourite moment is the one where I couldn’t help but smile and think to myself “if there was ever any doubt that Ben is Han Solo’s son it’s now been obliterated.”

After the four issues with each of their essay pieces that follow (I loved these and I’m so glad they were included in this bind up) we are treated to the variant cover art for each of the issues which a nice touch but also some WIP pages for a fair bit of the comics, I especially liked any that involved the “scale guy” and a look at the breakdown that goes into planning each panel.

I’m hoping to be able to read Star Wars: Age of Resistance – Heroes before the novelisation comes out in a couple of weeks to set the mood as it where. I also feel a rewatch of the films coming on too! Have you read any of the Star Wars comics or books? I used to read the comics religiously as a child so reading the newer ones now feels a little like coming home. Have a good week and I’ll see you back here Thursday for the first of this months book tags!

book reviews, spoiler free, Uncategorized

Heartstopper Vol 3

Six for Sunday

43449920._SY475_Heartstopper Volume Three by Alice Oseman

Rating: XXXXX

Published February 6th 2019 by Hodder Children’s Books

“There’s this idea that if you’re not straight, you HAVE to tell all your family and friends immediately like you owe it to them. But you don’t. You don’t have to do anything until you’re ready.”

In this volume, we’ll see the Heartstopper gang go on a school trip to Paris! Not only are Nick and Charlie navigating a new city, but also telling more people about their relationship AND learning more about the challenges each other are facing in private…

Meanwhile, Tao and Elle will face their feelings for each other, Tara and Darcy share more about their relationship origin story, and the teachers supervising the trip seem… rather close…?

If you haven’t already checked out volumes one and two of Heartstopper yet what is wrong with you?! This gorgeous, brilliant graphic novel By Alice Oseman centres around Nick and Charlie, previously featured in one of Alice’s ‘written’ novels, Solitare; whose main character Tori is Charlies older sister. Oseman later released an ebook story about Nick and Charlie set a year after the events of Solitare and begun thinking about the backstory behind their relationship prior to Solitare but no matter how she tried she just couldn’t get their story on the page the way she wanted; it occurred to her that maybe it was because their story didn’t fit into a conventional novel format and instead on September 1st 2016, created the Heartstopper comic Tumblr page and uploaded the first eleven pages of Nick and Charlies story. The comic gained immense popularity which would only continue to grow when she released a bound physical edition of volume one, first via Kickstarter and then after it was picked up by a publisher, Hodder.

I adored the first two volumes, (you can check out my spoiler-free review for volume one here or volume two here) and was so happy to have made it to the London release of volume three to hear Alice speak about her this brilliant series and get my copy signed.

If like me, you enjoyed the first two volumes you are in for a treat as volume three is largely more of the same, which for any other book would possibly be a negative point but if you read Heartstopper this is probably what you’re here for. Nick and Charlie being beyond adorable, beautiful and heartfelt moments and the sweetest, cutest flirting I have ever witnessed. We get to know more about Nick and Charlie’s friends which I really enjoyed, I love that they’re each so distinct and memorable; hearing their stories gave me such joy along with seeing more of their personalities come to the surface.

Volume three is the biggest volume so far and there’s so much great stuff packed in without making it overwhelming. I’m always happy to have a good amount of Heartstopper to get through so this was an absolute bonus, it did mean, however, that due to real-life time constraints and things this is the first one I’ve not been able to read in one sitting. Volume three isn’t just physically larger though, the story itself is broadened as we see the characters out of their typical settings and there are some heavy emotional moments and serious issues addressed (trigger warning for self-harm and eating disorders).

Heartstopper Volume Three is another absolute gem with a fantastic, sweet and funny story, a perfect continuation of the series and a big warm fuzzy hug for your soul and it’s out now!

 

 

 

book reviews, q&a, spoiler free

The Unspoken Name

Book Review

45046552The Unspoken Name by A.K Larkwood

Rating: XXXXX

Published February 20th by Tor Books

“Nothing in this world has earned the power to frighten you Csorwe…You have looked your foretold death in the face and turned from it in defiance. Nothing in this world or any other deserves your fear.”

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honoured title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

I was lured in by a pretty cover and I stayed for the orc assassin. Usually, I have a good long paragraph at the beginning of my reviews explaining how and why I chose this particular book to review but it’s really that simple and I’m so glad I let my fickle mood reading self, pick this book because folks, it’s a doozy.

I haven’t read a lot of big or high fantasy in a good while, mainly because they tend to be chunky books and I’ve found it really hard to slog through larger books lately and when this turned up I panicked that I’d made a mistake. At over 450 pages it’s not huge but it was large enough to intimidate me a little. Within 100 pages I don’t know why I worried and by the end, I wanted to go back to the beginning and read the whole thing again or even better read the next book immediately (can I have the next one yet? Please. I’m desperate). The pacing was a little slow by the end of the first third but not terribly slow and by the time I was just over halfway through I was ravenously turning pages. I’m someone who procrastinates over the last 100 pages of a book but I’m honestly shocked I managed to accomplish anything else when I still had some of this book to read because it absolutely hooked me in and that last third is crazy. I kept turning to my husband to tell him “There aren’t enough pages left.”

One great thing about The Unspoken name is that although it really feels like high fantasy, to begin with, it has such a great mix of genres swirled in, we have some science fiction and space opera elements even. The world that Larkwood has created is rich, stunning and at breathtaking; the image of all these worlds connected to each other, some thriving and full of life, while others are dying and decaying, is just hauntingly beautiful. The way magic works too, as a warlock player in dungeons and dragons I felt was particularly interesting and alongside the world-building, all of the information is just introduced and explained in such a natural organic way throughout the story.

Pretty much all of the characters in this book are a hot mess, in the best way. There is no one main antagonist and almost every character is a beautiful shade of morally grey in some way or another and honestly, I am absolutely here for it. I love characters that aren’t black and white and don’t tend to fall fully towards particularly ‘good’ or ‘evil’ which I’ve seen a lot of in the high fantasy I’ve read previously which made this book even more of a breath of fresh air. I love the messed up relationship between Csowre and Tal (No hard feelings) and I really hope we get more of that in the next book.

The Unspoken Name is out now and I cannot recommend it enough, especially if you’ve had enough of your garden variety fantasy books! Thank you once again to Tor Books and the ever fantastic Jamie-Lee for sending me this early copy for review. When can I get my hands on the next one?

 

 

book reviews, spoiler free

Harley in the Sky

Book Review

38326343._SY475_Harley In The Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Rating: XXXX

Published March 10th by Ink Road Books

“I love the circus. I love the mystery, and the wonder, and the way every act transports my soul into another dimension. I love the way it makes me feel as if the world is in reverse and upsidedown all at once – like there’s starlight beneath my feet and the ocean above my head, and every impossible dream can come true with a single whisper.”

Harley Milano has dreamed of being a trapeze artist for as long as she can remember. With parents who run a famous circus in Las Vegas, she spends almost every night in the big top watching their lead aerialist perform, wishing with all her soul that she could be up there herself one day.

After a huge fight with her parents, who continue to insist she go to school instead, Harley leaves home, betrays her family and joins the rival travelling circus Maison du Mystère. There, she is thrust into a world that is both brutal and beautiful, where she learns the value of hard work, passion and collaboration. But at the same time, Harley must come to terms with the truth of her family and her past—and reckon with the sacrifices she made and the people she hurt in order to follow her dreams. 

As you may have seen from when I posted the cover reveal for Harley and a Book Tag (have a go yourself and you could be in with a chance to win a set of art cards from the book!) a few weeks back I was lucky enough to be a part of the Street Team for Akemi’s newest book and had the chance to read it early. I adored Starfish and Summer Bird Blue and I was so pleased to be given this chance, although I’m not primarily a contemporary reader Akemi’s books just seem to have this spark and this energy to them and she’s become an insta-buy author for me.

First of all, I haven’t been to a circus for years but the moment we see both of the circuses in this book through Harley’s eyes I find myself filled with the wonder and magic of it all that Akemi has captured so incredibly well. She really manages to anchor you into Harley’s point of view which I think is vitally important for a character who makes rash and sometimes hard to understand choices but put in her mindset it’s much easier to rationalise the seemingly irrational thoughts. Harley is, at times a difficult character but as a teen who often tried to run away (thankfully with much less success)  and who to this day still makes decisions based too heavily on strong, fleeting emotions I feel like I got her and that a lot of us possibly used to be her to some extent.

The cast of characters, Harley included, is a wonderfully diverse mix of cultural backgrounds and full of colourful personalities who are hard not to get immediately attached to, I particularly loved Dexi and Vixen! I found Vas an interesting character and thought he played mysterious stranger well, with all of the information about his past and motives coming out in a way that wasn’t exactly hidden but forthcoming due to Vas purely being a private person which was a nice touch.

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Although for me the characters really make this book the plot is still an enjoyable one and although a little predictable at times, especially the romance I still enjoyed it immensely and although there are certainly some wonderful and painful moments I found it a much lighter read than Starfish and Summer Bird Blue making this a bit of a comfort read for me, especially the around the middle of the story. Don’t let my words fool you though, there are still definitely some tough moments (trigger warnings include depression, mood swings, heart attack and references to suicidal ideation).

One of my random, favourite things about this book that didn’t fail to make me smile every time was the sheer amount of “nerdy” references. ‘Nerd’ culture is, I think, more popular than ever at the moment which is brilliant but other than the occasional mention of Harry Potter I haven’t seen it reflected in many books (this may be because of my habit of not reading a lot of contemporary) and it was very enjoyable, it also seems me and Akemi have a lot of the same taste in fandoms!

Harley in the Sky is out March 10th (in just three weeks) so make sure to get your pre-orders in and get ready to visit the Circus with Harley!

 

book reviews, Comics, spoiler free

NPC Tea Issues 6&7

comicbookreview

 

NPC Tea – Issues Six and Seven written and illustrated by Sarah Milman

Rating: XXXXX

Published: 2018 and 2019 by Sarah Milman

“I don’t want to be calm. I want to be angry. I want to be furious.”

A world identical to our own – identical that is, apart from all the orcs, elves and magic… A love letter to Final Fantasy and Lord of the Rings, NPC Tea is about Cardiff’s least popular tea shop, Y Ddraig, run by a perfectionist elf and a laid-back fire summon.

NPC Tea follows an ex-fire summon, an elf and a magicless human as they attempt to save a failing tea shop in modern-day Cardiff. Soon they find out that a lack of customers and caddies upon caddies of rotting tea are the least of their worries when a type of banned magic rears it’s ugly head and threatens to destroy the entire city. Bryn, Oz and Hannah must unite if they are to save their business – and ultimately the city itself.

An 8 issue series, NPC Tea escalates from a slice of life comedy into an epic fantasy, twisting typical RPG and fantasy stereotypes into a modern-day setting. It’s about what happens when there are no more dungeons to crawl when magic needs to be organized, and when orcs, elves and men try to live peacefully side by side – a balance that’s harshly tested when an entire city is threatened with destruction…

Some of you might remember that back in December 2018 I posted a review for issues 1 through 5 of NPC Tea, a beautiful, fun comic by writer and illustrator Sarah Milman. I had initially thought to review issues 6 through 8 together after issue eight releases later this year but with the events of issues 6 and 7 as well as the Kickstarter campaign for issue 8 going live I thought it would be a good time to review these two together and urge you to get on board with the series ready for the final issue! I’ll keep this spoiler-free for the entire series as much as possible for those of you who may have not have read the others yet! You can order issues 1-7 via Sarah’s Etsy store here right now if you want to catch up asap or if you back the Kickstarter you can choose to receive all of the single issues (with an exclusive slipcase to keep them all together neatly) OR a hardback bindup of all of them! Not forgetting Sarah also has a Patreon where at the $1 tier you can read up to issue 6 digitally right away!

I stumbled upon Sarah and at MCM Comic-Con in London a few years ago and was absolutely hooked on the art and the plot!  I’ve always loved worlds where high fantasy and contemporary can mix with a nice dollop of magic stirred in and NPC Tea is all that and more! These books capture that perfect balance where this is still fantasy but set in a modern world. I have remained hooked on this series ever since and I’m super nervous and excited about the final (possibly for good) issue coming very soon!

Issue Six
I think this might be my favourite issue so far. There are just so many great moments, of which two are ‘romance’ related and they just fit in so seamlessly, they up the stakes and work so well with the main plot-line. At this point in the story, it’s starting to feel like the beginning of the end in that we begin to find out more about what’s really going on and the final plans are being carried out as the endgame nears. We get more background on the summons and the interactions between them were fantastic. The writing and illustrations have been consistently brilliant throughout the series but the use of colour felt a lot more prominent in this issue and was absolutely gorgeous, I will never get over how much I love the style Sarah has chosen to use for this series. The dialogue too has been ramped up a notch (although the banter in the past few issues has been on point) this mixed with perfectly timed scene cuts made all served to build a brilliant amount of tension throughout the issue, with separate scenes binding together in such a satisfying way that meant it all just came together perfectly. Cait definitely wins MVP for this issue, I loved every scene she was in and her trick with her sword was bad-ass.

Issue Seven 
The penultimate issue! When this issue arrived I was SO hesitant to read it purely because I wasn’t ready for it. I’ve loved this series these past few years and the thought that we were coming to the end was terrifying! I lasted two days before I gave in and then read it three times in one sitting just to make sure I had taken it all in. The same praise issue six received applies here although there are, understandably less ‘romantic’ moments. This is a heavy issue filled with a startling reveal and we get down to lore down. As mentioned about issue six, Sarah once again uses the same fantastic technique of linking separate scenes meaning we get that lore from both sides but without having to repeat it. I did get confused when a certain character popped up as it took me a while to place them which prompted me to reread the entire series thus far (like I needed any more of an excuse) and it seemed I had just forgotten about them but read all together it made much more sense so this is my own fault. If Hannah wasn’t already my favourite character she absolutely would have been after this issue, I love her spirit and she definitely wins MVP for issue seven.

I am in no way emotionally ready for issue eight.

If you enjoyed this or are intrigued by the series then keep your eyes peeled for an interview with creator herself, Sarah Milman coming this Thursday!

 

 

book reviews, spoiler free

The Stars We Steal

Book Review

50867498._SX318_SY475_The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne

Rating: XXXX

Published February 4th 2020 by Titan Books

“My lips tingled from phantom kisses, burned with memories and regrets. I needed to stop thinking about it. Thinking about him.”

Engagement season is in the air. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a faded European spaceship, only has one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from financial ruin?

But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love Elliot returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one that got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now, he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself falling for her first love in a game of love, lies, and past regrets.

So I would have been sold on the premise of the dating competition vibes anyway, especially with ball gowns and tension and the whispers of a Jane Austen Persuasion retelling but you know how to really pull me in? PUT IT ON A SPACESHIP. This was a brilliant blend of genres and gave it what felt like a pretty unique angle that I would absolutely be interested in reading more of. As far as I’m alone this is a standalone novel but I would definitely read more stories in the world created by Alexa.

Usually, I’m put off by books that have heavy romance orientated plots and I did wonder just how much of The Stars We Steal would be perhaps a little sappy for my tastes but I was very happy to be surprised that I adored the entire storyline, romance and all. There is a beautiful amount of pinning, will they/won’t they and that glorious Austen streak of “I hate you but I would also tear everything apart to kiss you. If you like.” The way the whole thing unfolded and the inclusion of some brilliant LGBT characters from across the spectrum.

The plot is a little twisty in places with some betrayals and reveals although not in the direction I had been expecting. I think I predicted that the political side of things would play more of a role than they did but I still enjoyed the pace, which was slower at times but suited the story. Everything else felt pretty much done in the perfect amount, the “sappiness,” the pinning, the intrigue, the bachelor show like setting of the Valg Ball and more. I enjoyed this book immensely and although it did feel a little light I actually really enjoyed that about it. Also, have you SEEN this gorgeous cover?

The Stars We Steal is out TODAY so if Jane Austen meets the Bachelor with a dash of conspiracy and space sounds like your kind of thing, you need to get on this immediately.

Thank you so much to my favourite evil temptress Sarah Mather and Titan Books for sending me an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.