Blog Tour: We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk

Good evening fellow readers, and welcome to my stop and the beginning of the Random Things Tours blog tour for We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk!

When a troubled psychiatrist loses funding to perform clinical trials on an experimental cure for schizophrenia, he begins testing it on his asylum’s criminally insane, triggering a series of side effects that opens the mind of his hospital’s most dangerous patient, setting his inner demons free.

So this did not go the way I thought it was going to go. This book on the surface is sold as closed circle narrative where through the fault of the people who care for the mentally ill, they are locked in with the patients. I was thinking Arkham Asylum meets that awesome scene in Watchmen. What we get is an examination of the treatment of mental illness and the horrors of living with trauma

We encounter many characters through differing points of view varying from the staff of Sugar Hill and the patients. Alex, our main protagonist, is not a likable man. Alex has discovered a possible medication that can help those suffering from Schizophrenia return to their former selves. He is however in chronic debt, is corrupt to his very core and a bad husband. Trust me. You don’t wanna marry this guy.

The same can be said about the rest of the characters and this felt very intentional. I’ve said it in the past that I do love a flawed, morally grey character but I think what resonated with me the most was that characters like Alex are very real. There are people working in mental health services who are just as morally corrupt as him. But there is also another conversation that is happening in this book.

The other staff of Sugar Hill are all dealing with their own traumas while working with the mentally ill people who reside there. They are all awful but they all need help. Eli, the head of the facility battles his own PTSD and channels his own bias towards not using medication to treat mental illness into the patients treatment. Angela, a gifted young social worker within the walls of Sugar Hill throws herself into binge drinking and one night stands that she can barely remember every other night to forget what she hears and sees.

The book is a bit slower than I am used to with horror books, especially since I was expecting a totally different story. There is a purposeful build up to the conclusion as we learn what is taking over Sugar Hill. But in the end there is an important discussion to be had here. The use of medication in treatment, the attitude towards people with mental health within society and most importantly the trauma we all carry everyday.

Thank you to both Anne and Flame Tree Press for sending me a copy of We Are Monsters in exchange for review!

★★★/5

Brian Kirk is an author of dark thrillers and psychological suspense. His debut novel, We Are Monsters, was released in July 2015 and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award®for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. His short fiction has been published in many notable magazines and anthologies. Most recently, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories and Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders, where his work appears alongside multiple New York Times bestselling authors,and received an
honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year compilation. During the day, Brian works as a freelance marketing and creative consultant. His experience working on large, integrated advertising campaigns for international companies has helped him build an effective author platform, and makes him a strong marketing ally for his publishing partners. In addition, Brian has an eye for emerging media trends and an ability to integrate storytelling into new technologies and platforms.


Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin

The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow.’

I am a die hard Le Guin fan for over a year now. Starting my experience of reading her works with ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, I very quickly fell in love and this is now one of my favourite books of all time. I have only read Le Guin’s science fiction and this is my first read of her fantasy epic Earthsea.

‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ begins the story of both Earthsea and Ged who is the greatest sorcerer of Earthsea. Known as Sparrowhawk during his youth, we meet Ged as he grows from boy, to made apprentice to wizard. Along the way we watch him as he learns to confront his own mistakes and learns truly what balance means as bot ha made and a young man.

I LOVED this so much. I read it on my commute mostly and honestly was annoyed when I had to get off the bus and actually go to work (RUDE). I was aware going into this, despite my love of Le Guin’s writing that this was a classic fantasy with a male lead and my have all the tropes that I am sick of. Nope. Not. At. ALL.

For a start, I can picture Earthsea as a place so perfectly in my head. It’s always a huge indicator of my enjoyment of a world built by an author when I can see, smell and hear the world within the first few pages. This is the same distinct feeling I get from some of my favourites like Discworld, Hogwarts and Tortall. I get the distinct impression that this world as a structure mattered so much more to Le Guin as she began writing first. And apparently, this is correct as she began by drawing the map before she wrote the book.

Something else that never gets talked about definitely due to white washung within the publishing industry is that Ged, Sparrowhawk, the main protagonist, is not white. Neither is most of the wide cast of characters we encounter on his journey across Earthsea. This is another thing Le Guin spoke about at length and what prevented her from allowing illustrated versions of the books happening.

Ged is honestly one of my new favourite characters in fantasy. He is incredibly developed throughout this book. He learns so much and he still makes huge mistakes. He is flawed but in the end is a very kind and caring soul with a strong moral compass. He values those around him very dearly while also growing with the knowledge that people are at the end of the day entitled to be both good and bad at the same time.

I found there were so many notable quotes in this book aswell. There is a whole discussion between Ged and his mentor, Ogion, that I quote at the start of my review. The discussion that there is light and dark in all of us. There is this strong lesson that we are incredibly flawed beings (whether magically gifted or not) and we need to embrace that side of ourselves and we will in turn become more powerful. Ged is not like other fantasy protagonists in that he had to work to become this legendary wizard, he had to take journeys, perilous pilgrimages and risks to get where he is. He also has to learn to embrace that side of himself to learn these things.

The plot is not one we have not seen before, magical wizard travelling alone and taking on tasks. It’s even the basic plot of The Witcher TV series (which I did love). Yet, in the hands of Le Guin and her ability to craft such warm, tender stories with rich expansive worlds, it’s a story of vulnerability. It’s a story of learning to reclaim the power within with rich diverse characters that is more relevant today than ever. It is actually a story for teens so it is technically one of the YA books that came before the eruption of the YA genre if that interests you.

I’ll be very quickly continuing this series out of both a need to know what happens to Ged as well as my intention to read the rest of the Le Guin books I own (it’s a lot okay?). I would honestly recommend this to anyone who loves classic fantasy or wants to ease their way into Le Guin’s bibliography. Do tell me if you have read this, if not then please do! Happy reading all!

★★★★★/5

Blog Tour: A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone

Good evening all and welcome to my stop on Random Things Tours blog tour for A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone!

The Skelfs are a well-known Edinburgh family, proprietors of a long-established funeral-home business, and private investigators. When patriarch Jim dies, it ’s left to his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah to take charge of both businesses, kicking off an unexpected series of events. Dorothy discovers mysterious payments to another women, suggesting that Jim wasn’t the husband she thought he was. Hannah’s best friend Mel has vanished from university, and the simple adultery case that Jenny takes on leads to something stranger and far darker than any of them could have imagined.
As the women struggle to come to terms with their grief, and the demands of the business threaten to overwhelm them, secrets from the past emerge, which change everything…

I have a deep fascination with the death industry. I regularly watch Ask A Mortician on YouTube, I have also read her books about the subject and one of my dreams is to visit the catacombs in Paris. Like my previous review, this is more of an assurance of my sanity and serves as background for what elements I liked from this book.

This book was fascinating and very engaging. One concern of the book is very much routed in the processes of handling the dead and arranging for the treatment of them. The other is routed in the lives of these 3 different generations of the Skelf women. We spend time with all three as they struggle and process their various traumas.

Our changing perspectives between Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah allows a view into each of their lives. There is a focus on the evil of men and the change of climate in the modern day attitude towards women. Johnstone has a fantastic ability to not only write realistic female characters but also allows them to be flawed, almost unlikable. This is something I do actually look for actively in my own reading of all books and this book is the best example I have seen of it outside of SFF.

We have Dorothy, a new widow with a funeral business to run also has to cope with her forever longing to return to her youth in Pismo Beach, CA, while also grappling with the possibility her husband was hiding his own sins. Jenny, mother to Hannah, is a bitter, middle aged divorcee who is struggling with life in general and her own feeling towards men overall. And of course we have Hannah, a queer physics student who is determined to discover the story behind her friend’s disappearance but has to try an maintain her own mental wellness through all the chaos.

The characters were the true bonus for me. I feel like we get a captivating glance at the lives of these three women and how they interact with each other. The death of Jim Skelf truly opens up many wormholes for them all. We see them argue with each other, they all do questionable things but in the end they are the standout of A Dark Matter.

The plot at first had me wondering where it was going to go. There are so many events that pop up within the greater events of the plot and I was wondering how and if they would all be answered. Luckily, they were and in a spectacular fashion. The ending dawned on me seconds before the big reveal happen but that did nothing to prevent my shock and glee at getting such a satisfactory conclusion.

Overall this was a true revelation for me, scattered with some wonderful insights into the death industry and a portrait of a family trying to handle the mess a sudden death will leave. This is a condensed, clever story with a very plain discussion of misogyny over time.

I want to thank Orenda Books and Anne of Random Things Tours for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

★★★★★/5

Doug Johnstone is the author of ten novels, most recently Breakers (2018), which has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. Several of his books have been bestsellers and award winners, and his work has been praised by the likes of Val McDermid, Irvine Welsh and Ian Rankin. He’s taught creative writing and been writer
in residence at various institutions – including a funeral home – and has been an arts journalist for twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.

Review: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

‘ There’s really no honor in proving that you can carry the entire load on your own shoulders. And…it’s lonely .’

I had the pleasure of seeing Amanda Palmer live in my city at the end of October as part of her ‘There Will Be No Intermisson’ tour. It was honestly one of the most interesting and rewarding shows I have ever been to. I’m not much of a music gig person with my own anxiety but this was honestly wonderful. The next step was obviously reading her book.

Functioning as both memoir and mantra to the creative, Palmer expands on the subjects of her TEDTalk of the same title. Palmer discusses how through her experiences of being a living statue, a musician, forming the Dresden Dolls and eventually funding her solo career using a Kickstarter campaign on a historical scale. Interwoven with stories of her vulnerable moments, her approach to her fans and relationships Palmer assures us that you too can ask or help.

This is my second ever non fiction review on the blog and it I am aiming to increase the amount I read this year hopefully to something similar to what I used to read in the past. I read this book on audio since I was reading it while working over the holidays. I feel the timing of my reading of this was what made me love it so much since I recently changed job and was suffering from anxiety issues from the stress of my older one.

The audio copy of this book is narrated by Palmer herself and there is a PDF accompaniment with photos and lyrics that come with it. Also, the audio book is interspersed with actual songs by Palmer. Two of my favourites are actually on the book and made it a far more immersive experience.

Palmer is a wonderful writer with such a distinct voice, outside of her narration. We get to hear her advice to readers that it is okay to not be okay and there is nothing wrong with asking for help for anything. In fact she does discuss her own confrontation with her insecurities with asking for assistance, in her romantic life, her career and right down to asking her fans to give her a place to stay. And yes, Neil Gaiman is mentioned a lot in the book. He is her husband after all.

I have my own anxiety and this book did honestly help me understand the aspects of it I was having struggles it while I read it. Palmer felt like an eccentric aunt in my ear that was assuring me that I wasn’t alone, that help is there. I can ask. It’s okay. People I love will see me.

Seriously consider reading this if you are an artist of any kind or just, like me, a curious fan that wanted more context on some of Palmer’s work. The audio version is my preffered version that does have a bit more content to it, especially if you like Palmer’s music. Do consider checking it out and don’t forget; you can ask for help.

★★★★.5/5

Blog Tour:The Home by Sarah Stovell

Good evening readers and welcome to my stop on the Random Things Tours Blog tour for The Home by Sarah Stovell!

When the body of pregnant, fifteen-year-old Hope Lacey is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away. As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge. A dark and devastating psychological thriller, The Home is also a heartbreaking and insightful portrayal of the underbelly of society, where children learn what they live … if they are allowed to live at all.

I grew up surrounded by crime books. We grew up surrounded by the books of Patricia Cornwell, Martina Cole and many others. I’m telling you this is so that you won’t be alarmed when I tell you that reading this book was like going home (unintended pun, I swear).

The Home is an utter revelation and a true gift to the crime genre. One of these things I like to do going into any crime/thriller books is a total unknowing about the plot and go straight into the story. I did that again with this story and it truly benefited the entire reading experience. What followed was a constantly twisting plot that is dark beyond belief while being a very relevant discussion on issues that are very prevalent today.

We get the perspective of 3 characters as the plot unfurls and the background of each characters is revealed. What Stovell has crafted is 3 very disctinct voices that want you to trust each and every one of them and listen to their side of the story. Don’t trust a single one.

I was honestly taken aback by some of the revelation’s about Hope’s tragic background as the plot moves along. Hope is such a tragic character but has this unusual dichotomy of victim and heroine within this plot. She is obviously completely powerless to the life that she has been dealt especially for the abuse that she sustains that results in her arrival at the Home. But it is her sheer will not give in and let those people have power over, her love for the others she surrounds herself with particularly her love for Annie, that honestly casts her as the true heroine of the story.

Stovell is not even trying to hide her criticisms within this tragic story. The foster care system in the UK is not something I am very familiar with but the criticisms online are unavoidable. The foster care system in Ireland however is very much in need of a makeover with 6,000 children currently in the system. What both Annie and Hope have been through is utterly terrifying. Lara’s experience in particular is what has stuck with me, the trauma of which has left her non verbal.

The tightly woven plot alongside deeply flawed characters that balance tragic with courageous leads to a conclusion that is both satisfying and raw. This is a story that will stay with you long after you put this book down but I honestly would recommend to anyone who is looking to read more crime. You won’t be disappointed.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and ate it up as anytime it wasn’t in my hand I was genuinely scared for both Hope and Annie. Thank you to both Anne and Orenda book for the copy of this book in exchange for a review. Happy reading folks!

★★★★/5

About the Author:

Sarah Stovell was born in 1977 and spent most of her life in the Home Counties before a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel made her realise she was a northerner at heart. She now lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children and is a lecturer in
Creative Writing at Lincoln University. Her debut psychological thriller, Exquisite, was called ‘the book of the summer’ by Sunday Times.

‘The Home’ will be published on the 6th of February 2020.

Review: Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

‘That is a truth I feel deep in my bones. Bones that plead for me to turn around, that I don’t belong here,that this place has no love for a child of Dinetah. But I do my best to ignore the cold dread that warns me to turn back.’

Good evening fellow readers. I feel this is a very interesting way to bookend the reading year. The first book I read in 2019 was Trail of Lightning and the last book I have now read in 2019 is the sequel., Storm of Locusts. And honestly, this is one of the best series I have read this year.

Four weeks after the deadly incident at Black Mesa, Maggie is trying to gather the scattered strands of her life while learning how to move on. But things are far from over as the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, goes missing with Kai, a mission with the Thirsty Boys goes horribly wrong and a cult leader has emerged known only as the White Locust. Maggie will be led outside the walls of Dinetah and beyond in order to keep what small family she has left and possibly save the world from ending again.

This was one of the bunch of sequels I was determined to read by the end of 2019 and I am so glad I got to it. This is possibly the best sequel I read all year if not one of the best sequels I have ever read. Roanhorse again displays a unique approach to the Urban Fantasy genre and brings Native culture to the forefront once again.

Without spoiling the first book in the series, Trail of Lightning, this world is already established very well especially for the sprawling journey we take across it. This book expands the world further adding to the world that lives outside Dinetah. Life beyond the wall is just as unpredictable and dangerous, if not more violent than the world of Dinetah.

We see the return of many characters, one of my favourites being the return of the Gods that now freely roam the earth. We do meet those that were present in Trail of Lightning along with some newer, trickier Gods. One particular scene involving one of my favourite tropes, a game between a mortal and a God where the human has to win a game to succeed against the God.

Urban fantasy is not a genre best known for character development but Roanhorse honestly writes the best developed characters I have seen in the past decade. Maggie undergoes such a wonderful change,both processing her feelings as a result of the previous books finale while also trying to learn and grow among her friends. The introduction of Ben, Hastiin’s niece, and her sudden presence in Maggie’s life allows for some very touching moments and a strong emphasis on growth and family in the book.

Ben is a wonderful addition to the story. There is no shortage of strong women in the story for Maggie to bounce off, especially in her more hostile moments. Ben is a young woman that is on top of being openly queer, trying to find her own place within this lawless world. Like Maggie, Ben has clan powers that gift her with being a supernatural tracker but also like Maggie, the clan powers are received as a result of a traumatic experience. There is such a strong mentor/mentee development while also learning the lesson that being hard in a world like Dinetah can sometimes kill you faster.

Honestly this plot never releases you from it’s grasp. Just like the first one the book delivers a high octane plot with a seamless set of characters within a mythology we never really get tot see in SFF. The exposure to Native American culture is something I am very grateful for and actively want to seek out after reading this. Roanhorse has crafted a ruthless world that has been handed back to the Gods and people who lived in it first and in the end, were the only ones who were ready for it.

There are very little details available at the moment for the next sequel in the series but you can be guaranteed that when it is confirmed and released it will move straight to the top of my TBR. I can’t recommend this series enough especially for fans of Buffy. Have you read this series yet? Do tell me if you have. Happy reading!

★★★★★/

My Drunken Book Haul

Good evening readers. So about 2 weeks ago I posted a tweet about some books that had arrived at my door as a result of my buying books online while drinking with my friends. This is not the first time I have done this. I like wine. I also like books.

So some of my daft reading friends and people I interact with on book twitter spoke. And I have delivered their request. Here is some of the books I have hauled under the influence.

  • The Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones: I am going to remedy this shortly but I have to go on record and admit I have never ready any of Diana Wynne Jones’s work. This caught my eye before because there is a joke among American Gods readers of the similarities between this and Gaiman’s novel. Gaiman and Wynne-Jones have joked about this in the past also. I put it on my wish list and I believe that cocktails triggered this one.
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: I have been dying to read this book since it first came out but for some reason put it on the long finger. The same cocktails that triggered me to purchase The Eight Days of Luke included this book. It has a very high position on my TBR currently. So now I finally have it and have drunk Hedwig to thank.
  • Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson: This was more of an at home impulse since I had just finished reading Hopkinson’s brilliant Brown Girl in the Ring. I usually cozy up with a glass of wine while reading a book so it’s no surprise that after falling in love with Hopkinson’s debut, I bought her other popular book.
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo: I bought this after a night out with one of my best friends who has similar taste in books with me and we argued over the Man Booker Prize and BBC’s recent treatment of Bernadine Evaristo, one of the winners. In annoyance at BBC and after one too many Jamesons, I bought this online at 3 o clock in the morning. I will be reading this shortly, having read the joint winner just before the end of 2019.
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: Okay this book is a long term favourite of mine but I realised one day years ago that I only had my old, treasured paperback copy that was battered. I made a note in my mind to buy a hardback copy. Then I met one of my best friends for ‘one or two’ and the book arrived a week later. I think this may have been the drunken book purchase that started them all.

There you all have it. My embarrassing habit of buying books after enjoying alcohol and how I have ended up with these particular books. Upon writing this I have 2 more on the way as a result of New Years drinks with my family. I hope that you’re all happy. Happy reading to you all!