Review

Book Review: Dark Fantasy Stories

Dark Fantasy Stories (Illustrated) by S.S. WolffA huge thanks to Hidden Gems for providing me with the opportunity to read this anthology!

I haven’t read a huge amount of anthologies but am becoming increasingly fond of them. I like having a collection of similar but unique stories all in one place. I was under the impression that these would be quite creepy/scary stories, but they were only slightly ‘dark’ in my opinion. They all had fantasy elements, as the title would suggest, and were all rather good.

Of course, as it’s an anthology, I’m not really reviewing the individual authors’ writing. Instead, I’m going to focus on the editing and the selection of the stories included. The chouces are definitely quite unique, all fantasy tales with supernatural elements. There were some that I especially enjoyed, and some I was not quite so fond of. Overall, I think there was a pretty good range of stories.

As for the editing, I did notice some strange mistakes. There was misplaced punctuation, for example, and I saw a few letters replaced by ‘lookalikes’ – such as replaced by rn. As the copy I own is a review copy, it is possible that the mistakes I noticed were edited out in the final publication, though.

It was a rather short book, which can be seen as both a good and bad thing. 3.5 stars.

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Book Review: Paper Bag Mask

A huge thanks to Hidden Gems for providing me with a copy of this book in return for my review!

This book is about a prank. Kind of. Not really. It’s complicated.

AP student Redmond Fairweather steals the whomper.

Ok, so the ‘whomper’ is this little wooden sword his AP History teacher, Mr. Street, uses as a prop in class. There’s nothing particularly special about it – the origin is different every time Mr. Street is asked about it – but he seems strangely fond of it. And when Redmond sees Mr. Street handing a suspicious little bag full of powder to a student, he decides that Mr. Street deserves a little pain.

And then Redmond, Alice and Deep (his two best (and only) friends) are making a ransom video, wearing paper bags over their heads to disguise their identity.

He didn’t plan it. He actually meant to give it back almost immediately, but then the exremely popular (and hot) Elodia Cruz confronts him about it, telling him he must not return the whomper. It turns out that Redmond isn’t the only one getting weird vibes from his teacher – there are rumours of past interactions with students, not to mention how his current wife was originally a student where Mr. Street was working as a TA.

Bit by bit, Elodia and Red (as Elodia calls him now) gather a team, including members of the school’s most popular band. Red and Alice start dating, Deep is clearly falling for the singer of the band, and Elodia is shocked at how much she realises she likes Red. It’s all very, very exciting.

Then the plan escalates. They decide to steal the giant whomper (a paper-mache debut to the original built by a past class, measuring about ten whole feet). And then, naturally, there’s another ransom video. And finally, Red tells Elodia what he saw happen between Mr. Street and Jasmine (the girl who received the bag of drugs, who also happens to be Elodia’s best friend). Linked with the rumours of the ‘White Whale’, a teacher distributing drugs through a network of students, the gang decide to out Mr. Street. Publicly.

They post all the videos online, including a final one where they destroy the whomper for good, and out Mr. Street as the White Whale. It becomes really quite messy. There are police involved, Alice and Red’s relationship is on the line, and they’re even interviewed on national television. Red thinks this is it, he’s finally been seen, he’s liked by the other students. And then it gets worse. And worse. And worse.

This was a super enjoyable book! It was set in high school (I think the students are around 17, so that’s the equivalent to Sixth Form here in the UK), so it was aimed at a slightly older audience than a lot of other YA books. It had a great sense of humour throughout, and an informal, ‘chatty’ kind of vibe. But there was a lot of more important stuff, deeper topics like drugs and even abuse being broached. And of course, there was the typical kid-messing-up-big-time followed by kid-finding-his-true-self aspect that pretty much all coming of age novels have.

I did notice a few tiny mistakes with grammar, simple typos and such, as well as a few instances where double punctuation has been used. This may have been purposeful, to give that whole teen voice, but I thought it just looked incorrect/immature/unprofessional.

Overall, I really did like this. I found myself feeling genuinely embarrassed on Redmond’s behalf, and although I could see where he was going so wrong at times, I couldn’t help but read on and see what happened. 4.5 stars!

Book Review: Two Skies Before Night

A huge thanks to Hidden Gems for providing me with a copy of this book in return for my review.

At first I thought this was a detective novel, but I soon realised that it was far more sci-fi than I anticipated. This combination of science fiction and detective elements was really unique and honestly, I loved it.

Initially, Detective Lang is working on a double murder case. It seemed quite simple at first, if a bit strange what with all the bizarre descriptions of characters. It got a bit confusing when Lang began commenting on the ‘undersky’ and people from ‘Above’ and ‘Below’, but I soon figured it out. All these different elements made a thoroughly intriguing story, and things I didn’t think were important at first turned out to hold quite a deal of significance.

The Powers were really interesting. The few that were described were so strange, and I loved them. The few times these Powers interected with citizens of the City were strange, too, and I was really intrigued to see what the Powers actually did. They were like gods, feared but almost worshipped by everyone. I would have liked to find out a bit more about them – perhaps there will be a sequel that will reveal more.

There are a lot of intertwining details, which I always appreciate. It was definitely a unique story, with a lot of exciting moments and unexpected discoveries.

One issue I had with this book was that there were a few mistakes, misplaced commas and so on. The copy I received was a review copy, so I can’t be sure whether these mistakes are in the final publication, but I thought I should point them out just in case.

Overall, this was a really interesting book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Mr Doubler Begins Again

I loved Mr Doubler right from the start. He’s a potato farmer. He loves potatoes, his whole life revolves around potatoes. He may be lonely and old, but he has his potatoes to focus on. He’s content.

But when Doubler’s cleaner and friend is taken seriously ill, he realises just how lonely he really is. His children aren’t there for him, not really. He hasn’t even left Mirth Farm for twenty years. Miraculously, though, Mrs Millwood’s absence pushes Mr Doubler to make changes and new friends.

This book was almost like a coming-of-age novel, except for a slightly older character. Mr Doubler essentially builds his life anew, making new friends and even serving as the catalyst for other wonderful budding friendships. And while Doubler has been in a dark place after the loss of his wife, he actually finds a way to accept it and move on.

Doubler was a really loveable character, if a bit awkward and arrogant at times. He very much reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant in terms of his lack of social etiquette. It was truly amazing to watch him find himself, and I seriously respected him for confronting his son, Julian. Though Doubler hasn’t had much to do with his children for a while, he does still keep in contact. But Julian’s sudden show of apparent affection throws Doubler off. With the help of his friends, Mr Doubler realises – and more importantly, accepts – that his son isn’t actually a very nice person, and his only motivation is financial. Doubler also manages to reconnect with his daughter, and accept that his wife’s absence was not his fault, though Julian disagrees.

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The ending was so sweet, too! It wasn’t overly happy – there’s still a shadow over the characters, a possibility of further loss – but it still made me smile. It was really lovely to just see Doubler so content and comfortable in his life at last.

The only criticism I have is that there were a few typos and such, but as I read an ARC and not the final publication, I’m not too worried about it.

Overall, this was a really lovely book. It sounds boring – an old guy who grows potatoes? – but it was full of some really important things. 4.5 stars.

Book Review: Fearless (Eye of the Beholder #2)

I may have done it again. I read a sequel without reading the rest of the series. I am so sorry. I really need to be more careful!

I was given the opportunity to review this thanks to Edelweiss+, so a huge thanks to them and the publisher/author for providing me with it.

This begins with an intro note from the narrator, Grace, which immediately set the scene perfectly. It was actually really convincing, and definitely a strong start to the novel.

It was immediately clear that I was in the dark due to not reading the previous book. However, I think the most impoprtant things were recapped in enough detail that I was still able to follow and enjoy this book. There were still references I didn’t get, though, which is a shame. I wish I had read the other book.

I’m not going to discuss the plot. What I will say is that it seemed incredibly plausible. I was taking some sociology exams while I read this, one of which contained questions on the topic of religion. This book tied into that perfectly. The future described was so realistic, and the details about secularisation and such were spot on. It was a bit too similar to my sociology books at some points, as in it almost felt like an assignment to read at times. That was only at times, though, when the political system of the rebel group was being outlined, for example.

The relationships in this book were a little inconsistent in my opinion. I thought Grace was really connecting with someone, and then suddenly she was almost falling for her ex again. I don’t know, it just seemed a bit wishy-washy to me.

This was a really clever book, and I did thoroughly enjoy reading it. There were a few things I wasn’t particularly keen on, but nothing that really put me off. 4 stars; I would suggest reading the first novel, Sinless, beforehand though.

Book Review: Rebel Song

First of all, thanks so much to the Hidden Gems ARC programme for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this book!

Rogan Elwood is a teenage orphan who owns a vineyard in Arelanda. He’s pretty normal – his most noteworthy trait is being the son of a rebel martyr, who he is inevitably following in the footsteps of. The Cause, as they call themselves, are deeply unsettled. They want change, and were not disheartened by failed previous attempts at uprising.

And then along comes El. She’s beautiful, and definitely from a family with power (and money). Rogan meets her by chance, but the pair agree to meet again, and again, and again… The couple soon become close, and El decides it’s time for Rogan to know who she really is.

The heir to the throne. Princess Elyra Ballantyne.

They know that continuing their affair is dangerous – almost a certain death sentence – but they can’t stay away. And when things don’t seem like they could get any worse, Elyra discovers Rogan’s link with the rebels working against her family.

There’s a lot of politics and strategy, and no shortage of corrupt individuals in powerful positions. Sometimes there were a few too many characters and details to keep track of, but overall it was a thoroughly intriguing story. I felt genuine hatred for some of the characters, and sadness at the loss of others. I was even quite invested in El and Rogan’s relationship, which is rare for me as I don’t tend to like romance.

Elyra was perhaps a bit too naive and headstrong, but she exhibited fantastic character growth. Rogan was probably my favourite character, though he definitely had his flaws.

My main criticism is the grammar and punctuation throughout this novel. There are a lot of mistakes, and it was a bit frustrating at times. Other than that, I really enjoyed this. The writing was good, and I felt real emotion for the characters. 3.5 stars.

Book Review: The Dollmaker

I’ve read pretty mixed reviews on this, and I must admit that it certainly wasn’t the kind of book I’d normally read. It had a very strange atmosphere to it, almost creepy at times.

Andrew recalls some of his childhood and youth, and his instant love for a doll he saw in a window. I actually felt that there was no sense of time even from the start – it took me a while to figure out how old Andrew was in particular parts of his story, let alone how old he is now. This was probably the root of my main issues with this book; I just couldn’t make sense of the timescale.

The introduction of Bramber’s letters was an interesting aspect, though I soon found similar troubles here: I did not feel the passing of time. I also had trouble keeping up with the characters. Still, the story being outlined was intriguing and quite exciting where Bramber’s past was concerned.

Bramber’s letters are included in-between Andrew’s own story, where he narrates his journey to surprise Bramber with a visit. They had never seen pictures of each other, or even spoken on the phone. It was a risk, but one Andrew felt was worth taking. Throughout this journey, Andrew tells more stories from his youth – several of which are quite – almost disturbingly – sexual.

It is also interspersed with Ewa Chaplin’s Nine Modern Fairytales, which all include a dwarf in some way. These stories were all rather creepy on their own, and Allan regularly refers to aspects from them in her writing.

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I do not want to go into detail recapping the plot. My three main points to convey in this review are: it had a very distinct, strange aura; there seemed to be a distinct lack of time passing; I personally felt no real connection to or interest in any character. I felt very detached from this book when I read it. There were no faults with the writing that I could identify, I just simply didn’t click with it. That being said, I do appreciate the writing itself, and so am giving this book 3 stars.

Book Review: Station Zero (Railhead Trilogy #3)

I did it again. I requested a book that concludes a trilogy I haven’t read. Oops.

Because I didn’t read the previous books in this series I’m afraid my review is probably going to be a bit more critical than if I had read them. The first thing I’m going to say is that I had problems immersing myself in the world set by Reeve, and a lot of the concepts, characters and terms used took a bit of getting used to. For wanting of a better phrase, I “had trouble getting into it”.

I do believe that the best books, whether part of a series or not, can be read as standalone novels. There should be enough detail in a book for any reader to follow and enjoy it without having read the previous books. This was not particularly easy to follow at first, but I did begin to enjoy it after a short while.

As this is a conclusion to a trilogy, I really don’t want to give too much away. It begins with Zen Starling sneaking onto an alien train – as this is set in a universe with intergalactic railways. He’s sent a mysterious message, which he believes to be from an entity called Nova. I eventually learned that this was a “Motorik” that Zen fell in love with. She was trapped in the Black Light Zone (which I’m afraid I can’t really explain at all). Anyway, Zen wants to find her. But it turns out that there’s more to the story than just her.

As I can’t give the plot away too much I’m going to have to be really vague with my review. The most notable thing may be how Reeve portrays technology. For example, the trains in this book seem to be conscious. All phenomenons are carefully explained through science, and there is even a theme of discussion over whether Motoriks are people or not. I thought this was really interesting, and definitely a relevant topic to include in a sci-fi novel. There is also the theme of aliens being people, too, rather than being seen as lesser beings.

My favourite characters (if they can be called that) may actually have been the trains. I won’t give anything away, but I seriously admired them!

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The bigger themes in this novel were a bit confusing to me. For example, the Railmaker. I understood what it was (kind of) but I didn’t really get why it was quite so important. And Raven. I had no idea who he was at first – he was obviously introduced in an earlier book, and so the reader was expected to be familiar with him by now.

There were a lot of really interesting, well-developed concepts in this, and I really admired how most things were explained through science and not left to ‘magic’ or some unknown force. I am aware that I would probably have a different opinion if I had read the rest of the series first, so I am very sorry I was unable to do that. As a standalone novel I’d give this 3 stars, but as it is not actually a standalone, I will give it 3.5.

Book Review: The Secret of the Silver Mines (Dylan Maples Adventures #2)

I didn’t know that this was part of a series when I first requested it but luckily it was perfectly fine as a standalone read. It’s a young adult adventure novel, but I definitely got the feeling that it was aimed at younger young adults than myself. The main character is 12-year-old Dylan Maples, so I assume the target audience is around that pre-teen age, too.

Dylan’s father often moves around for his work, which is as a lawyer. They’re now moving to Cobalt, in north Canada. “Hicksville”, as Dylan calls it. It’s only for a few months, but Dylan is dreading leaving his friends behind. Cobalt is bound to be so boring. How will he ever survive?

But of course, Dylan finds adventure in this seemingly sleepy town. As usual, I won’t tell too much of the plot, but I will say that Dylan finds himself in the middle of the law suit his dad is working on.

Dylan makes a friend in Cobalt, too – Wynona. He meets her almost immediately, though they don’t become acquainted until a little later on. Their relationship remains platonic, though it is fairly obvious that there are some deeper emotions.

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Personally, I found this to be quite a young book. It included a huge amount of similes and metaphors and what I’d consider ‘simplistic’ writing. It wasn’t bad, it just felt like it was a bit too young for me to enjoy.

For a younger audience I could see this as being quite interesting, though I found it a little slow at times. 3 stars.

Graphic Novel/Illustrated Memoir Review: A Fire Story

This is similar to The Best We Could Do in that it is both a series of comics and a memoir. It’s the story of the Californian fire, and how it affected Brian Fies and his wife’s lives.

Fies begins by illustrating how the couple awoke on the night of the fire, and how they began to frantically yet methodically pack up their belongings. He details the escape, the bewilderment they felt and the huge sense of loss. Later, he really emphasises how much a person grieves for the loss of their home and belongings. It’s not the value that’s important, it’s the memories.

Throughout the book there are also several other people’s experiences. Some were also in their home at the time of the fire, while others were on holiday abroad, watching the events unfold through social media. All of these accounts had one particular thing in common: they all mention how they did not expect to be gone from their homes forever. They thought they would be able to return soon, and did not plan on leaving everything behind for the final time.

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This was a fantastic book. Fies included little comics illustrating “a day in the life” after the fire, where the little, seemingly insignificant things reminded them of their loss. He also follows up with the process of reconstructing their house – and outlines some of the difficulties they never expected to face.

The art was lovely, with enough detail to clearly illustrate the events. The dialogue was perfect and sounded completely authentic, and expressed the emotions well. 5 stars.