Trigger Warning: Short Fictions& Disturbances by Neil Gaiman- Review

Better to have flamed in the darkness, to have inspired others, to have lived, than to have sat in the darkness, cursing the people who borrowed, but did not return, your candle.’

This will be my first review of a short story collection here on the blog and it makes me happy that it is a Neil Gaiman collection. My first Neil Gaiman book bought with my own money was Smoke and Mirrors and with the announcement of the ultimate collection of Neil Gaiman short stories being published in the next year I felt it was time to read the others again.

Trigger Warning collects a series of tales that include a previously unpublished American Gods novella, Black Dog, a story of a cave that rewards gold at a price, a Doctor Who story following the Doctor and Amy Pond and a tale of 2 colliding fairy tales with a Queen saving a princess. The title itself, discussed by Gaiman in the opening, describes the use of trigger warning sin modern internet usage and how we should or should not have them on books and stories.

So this is going to be a bit of a smaller, more rambling review due to the fact it is a short story collection and it is my first time reviewing one properly. So obviously with collections and anthologies you are going to get stories you liked and those you did not. This book overall I must say had a quite a varied selection of tales that were all mostly enjoyable, bordering the strange gap between horror and fantasy.

One such tale I really enjoyed was ‘Orange’ which from my first read of the book that I never finished in 2016 was one that I remembered very vividly. The story follows a girl making a report of her sister who was very fond of fake tan and the ridiculous level it escalated to. As someone who grew up with a sister who wears fake tan while I utterly HATE the stuff, I found it very entertaining.

Other stories see the return of characters we would know from Gaiman’s other work and figures of popular culture, such as the previously mentioned Doctor, Sherlock Holmes and Shadow Moon. It was so good to read another story set after American Gods and following Shadow. I do love finding out what he is up to. However the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Case of Death and Honey’ I thought was a bit too long for a Holmes story and it wasn’t really all that interesting come the ending either.

Despite the longer tales feeling like they padded the book slightly, I still enjoyed them most of all particularly The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains. Published as a standalone illustrated work, I hadn’t actually read it until this book but it is definitely a stand out tale of vengeance and pain in the Scottish Highlands. I also want Peter Dinklage to play the lead.

As always I warn people, I am a massive Neil Gaiman fan and I will always be biased towards his work but as much as a I enjoyed this volume of short stories I do think it is one of the weaker collections he has released. It is still a great collection of tales but I have preferred others more.

If this review rambles a lot, I do apologise a since I have never reviewed s short story collection before but will be doing far more of in the future. Did you read this?What’s your favourite tale? Do tell me so we can fan-girl over them.

★★★★/5

Sunday Shorts: 3 Mini Reviews (08.12.19)

Good evening all and welcome back to Sunday Shorts! I’ve decided to try and run this section of the blog bi weekly and see how I get on. This week I have another novella, short story and a graphic novel for you all. And before you ask, yes. Neil Gaiman is in this one too.

In the wake of his infant daughter’s tragic death, Steve Brannigan is struggling to keep himself together. Estranged from his wife, who refuses to be inside the house where the unthinkable happened, and unable to work, he seeks solace in an endless parade of old sitcoms and a bottle of bourbon.
Until one night he hears a sound from his daughter’s old room, a room now stripped bare of anything that identified it as hers…except for her security blanket, affectionately known as Blanky.
Blanky, old and frayed, with its antiquated patchwork of badly sewn rabbits with black button eyes, who appear to be staring at the viewer…Blanky, purchased from a strange old man at an antique stall selling “BABY CLOSE” at a discount.
The presence of Blanky in his dead daughter’s room heralds nothing short of an unspeakable nightmare that threatens to take away what little light remains in Steve’s shattered world.
Because his daughter loved Blanky so much, he buried her with it.
  • Title: Blanky
  • Author: Kealan Patrick Burke
  • Genre: Contemporary horror

    After reading Sour Candy for the last round of Sunday Shorts I thought this would be the best follow up to reading Kealan Patrick Burke. Unfortunately this was a bit meh for me and it was a slog to finish. One aspect of the book is the discussion of grief and particularly the death of an infant. I do think that was handled very well but the story itself was not as good as I expected and the plot lacked in places. I still intend to read more of Burke’s work but this one was not for me.

★★★/5

In this standalone short story by N. K. Jemisin, author of The Fifth Season, the winner of this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novel, New York City is about to go through a few changes. Like all great metropolises before it, when a city gets big enough, old enough, it must be born; but there are ancient enemies who cannot tolerate new life. Thus New York will live or die by the efforts of a reluctant midwife…and how well he can learn to sing the city’s mighty song
  • Title: The City Born Great
  • Author: N.K Jemisin
  • Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

    This was a nice story and a bit of a different work than what I’m used to from Jemisin. This is set in a modern day as opposed to a further future that we saw in her Broken Earth trilogy for example and it is wonderful. For such a short work there is a great discussion of homelessness ,racism and police brutality towards black men. This is the shorter work that has beget Jemisin’s new novel due out in 2020, The City We Became and I can’t wait to see how she continues it.

★★★★/5

THE SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS is a comics adaptation of Gaiman’s original prose novella by the same name illustrated by Yoshitako Amano. This graphic novel was illustrated by the legendary P. Craig Russell. A humble young monk and a magical, shape-changing fox find themselves romantically drawn together. As their love blooms, the fox learns of a devilish plot by a group of demons and a Japanese emperor to steal the monk’s life. With the aid of Morpheus, the fox must use all of her cunning and creative thinking to foil this evil scheme and save the man that she loves.
  • Title: The Sandman: The Dream Hunters
  • Authors: Neil Gaiman, P.Craig Russell
  • Genre: Graphic novel, fantasy, horror

    This is an obvious fact by now that The Sandman is my favourite series of all times in terms of comics and this one is the latest I have read in order to have the entire universe read and covered this year. This story, will hurt you. I cried like I did when I read The Kindly Ones and this story isn’t even about Dream. This story focuses on the characters that Morpheus just happens to find in his realm and as usual, what his duties really entail which we all know is making tough decisions.

★★★★★/5

That’s it this week for Sunday Shorts! Maybe next time I may have a few more works since I plan on introducing single issue comics to this too and I have a MASSIVE comics TBR at the moment. Tell me some of the shorter things you have read recently! I’d love to hear what I could read next.

Something Wicked this Way Comes- Ray Bradbury Review

‘Because, sometimes good has weapons and evil none. Sometimes tricks fail. Sometimes people can’t be picked off, led to dead falls. No divide and conquer tonight.’

This is a long overdue read for me. I’ve been dying to get back to my reading of the works of Ray Bradbury. I’ve been slowly getting into his work and I was highly impressed with this particular book. This was also the first book in a while that I just randomly picked up and read on the basis it was interesting. I also was on a long bus journey.

On an October night, the week before Halloween, the carnival arrives. Welcome to Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show! A place of outlandish people, rides and a charismatic ring master who seems to know the darkest desire of anyones heart. For in the town of Green Town, there are two boys who answer the call to the carnival. For Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade, the carnival will show them many wonders and what the price is for the wishes within their hearts.

Now I thought Stephen King was the master of small town dramas, adolescent stories and the idea of the evil that killed the neighborhood. It is very clear where he learned this from. This book is wonderfully crafted and truly does manage to explore the horrors of adulthood while examining the wants of every young teen to be older and able to do as they wish.

We don’t generally see much of Green Town. We generally spend a good chunk of the book running through the town trying to keep up with Jim and Will as they run in every and any direction. The world within the carnival is hard not to be emmersed in, between the sound of calliope music, the churn and clunk of the carousel, the smell of sweat as people perform for so many. And under it all, like any circus or carnival, there is a sense of unease that something about this is not quite right.

There is such an anxiety woven into each character and is presented in a way that you can’t not feel it with the characters. Will is worried that he will lose Jim, somehow along the way as he grows up. Jim is scared and desperate to explore the activities and fancies experienced by adults alone, dying to rush towards his inevitable manhood. Will’s father Charles, his pining for his own youth and for Will’s approval. This all coupled with the villanous Mr Dark, the Illustrated Man lurking around every corner leaves for some very genuinely uneasy moments .

There is a constant sense of both dread and melancholy around this town when the carnival first shows up and it really doesn’t let up until the final pages. There is an underlying feeling that something is about to go very wrong and noone but us the readers know and we cannot warn the 2 boys.

The structure of the plot is very much balanced between both sides, the ‘good’ side of the town (Will and his father), the ‘bad’ who have arrived in town (Mr. Dark mainly) and there is to a certain point an unknowing to who will triumph in the end since anything could tip the scales (Jim and his temptation to go to the carnival, the lightning rod salesman etc). That to me was probably one of the best hooks within the plot to keep the reader engaged.

Bradbury’s writing is breathtaking in places and this comes as no shock to me. The way he can conduct a mood like he does relies totally on his descriptive writing. There are many sentences that have stuck with me but this one really has;

“So in sum, what are we? We are the creatures that know and know too much. That leaves us with such a burden again we have a choice, to laugh or cry. No other animal does either. We do, depending on the season and the need.”

I don’t have much else to say about this outside of what has already been said but just that I am so glad I finally read this. It definitely lives up to the hype and is well worth reading since it is not too long and isn’t one of Bradbury’s more fantastical works so its a good place to start.

★★★★★/5

Blog Tour: Those Who Came Before by J.H Moncrieff

Good evening internet and welcome to my stop on the Random Things Tours blog tour for Those Who Came Before by J.H Moncrieff!

An idyllic weekend camping trip is cut short when Reese Wallace’s friends
are brutally murdered. As the group’s only survivor, Reese is the prime
suspect,and his story doesn’t make much sense. A disembodied voice
warning him to leave the campground the night before? A strange,
blackened tree that gave him an electric shock when he cut it down for
firewood?
Detective Greyeyes isn’t having any of it—until she hears the voice herself
and finds an arrowhead at the crime scene—an arrowhead she can’t get rid
of. Troubling visions of a doomed Native American tribe who once called
the campground home,and rumors of cursed land and a mythical beast
plague the strangest murdercase she’s ever been a part of.
People are dying at Strong Lake, and the worst is yet to come

I am LIVING for all these wonderful new horror books. First off I want to say, this book always had me double guessing, not always in a good way but, still it kept me on my toes during while following the plot. The second thing I want to say, I am relieved to have finally read a horror book where the Native American perspective is “cursed burial ground white people build houses on”.

This story is not waiting to hold your hand, it kicks off right away with the massacre happening in the first few pages and the mystery then unfolds from there. The plot is definitely a quicker paced book, I read the majority of it in one sitting but I did find the ending kind of ran at me a little bit. There is also a switch from first to third person between both Reece and Maria which jarred me a bit. Outside of that, this book was a wonderful mix of police procedural and horror story of a violent and brutal past the Native’s have experienced.

Maria Greyeyes functions as our main anchor in both of these worlds, being half Native herself and being the main detective on the case. She is my favourite character of the story by far and as she experiences visions of the Mescenaki Nation we are experiencing first hand her own confrontation of her peoples history as well as ours. Reece Wallace unfortunately for me was eclipsed by the enigmatic Chief Kinew whenever he was on the page.

This is a subtle, well written horror story with a strong root in reality, both historically and in modern day. The horror itself does to tend to lean more towards gore and body horror but the true horror is having to face on the page what true struggles the Native American people experience still to this day. Police brutality, alcoholism, sexual and institutional abuse are just some of the topics covered in the book and are presented very graphically. Moncrieff is definitely not allowing the reader to look away and ignore these very relevant issues that are an everyday problem that we as a white audience, would usually try to ignore.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, especially the topics it discussed and I enjoyed the ending despite the little pacing issues I discovered. If anyone is curious as to the relationship that the Irish and the Native people of America share to this day I do beg you to click here and read for yourself.

★★★★/5

About the author:

J.H. Moncrieff J.H. Moncrieff’s City of Ghosts won the 2018 Kindle Book Review Award for best Horror/Suspense. Reviewers have described her work as early Gillian Flynn with a little Ray Bradbury and Stephen King thrown in for good measure. She won Harlequin’s search for “the next Gillian Flynn” in 2016. Her first published novella, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, was featured in Samhain’s Childhood Fears collection and stayed on its horror bestsellers list for over a year.
When not writing, she loves exploring the world’s most haunted places, advocating for animal rights, and summoning her inner ninja in muay thai class.

Thank you as always to Anne and Flame Tree Press for sending me a free copy of this book to review in my own words and thank you also for reading!

Blog Tour: The Influence by Ramsey Campbell

Today I’m kicking off the RandomThingsTour blog tour for The Influence by Ramsey Campbell.

‘The wall felt chill and gritty, yet it made her think of softened flesh. She recoiled before she had time to gasp, but the sensations clung to her, swarmed through her.’

Synopsis: Queenie is the ageing matriarch of the Faraday family,and even death can’t break her hold over her eleven-year-old granddaughter Rowan. She’s buried with a locket that contains a lock of Rowan’s hair and by the time anyone sees what effect the ghostly influence on Rowan is having, it may be too late for her.

This was one creepy read. I have never read any of Ramsey Campbell’s work prior to this and I’m very intrigued now. The writing is haunting while managing to create a disctinct atmosphere that makes me feel like I’ve actually been to Wales.

As mentioned, the book moves between Wales and Liverpool but the most distinct locations are the Wales and the house the novel takes place in. Queenie is such a bitter malevolent person that her spirit has infected the house. I’m referring to when she is alive by the way. The house is riddled with damp and rot with barely functioning electricity. I honestly hated every second of being in it, it reminded me of a mildewy house left to die while still having someone live there.

I am still in awe of the atmosphere that Campbell has created. When we are in Wales during the course of the novel its described so well I felt like I was there. Especially when Campbell is describing the damp weather and the rain that seems to cling to everything. There are so many creepy moments that take place in the dark in drizzly, wet conditions during the winter months and that is the weather at the moment in Ireland so it felt very real.

Queenie is a prime example of how age and time are nothing against the sheer iron will of someone who refuses to be triumphed by anything or anyone. In this case it’s literal death. I think everyone knows a woman who would remind them of Queenie, I know I did while reading and honestly put me in the same position of Rowan. I felt a very personal connection to what Rowan was going through with trying to figure out where she fit between her parents, her aunt Hermione and Queenie. I was very like Rowan at her age so I felt very protective of her during the whole book.

Something I felt that was an indication of the strength of Campbell’s writing was if the haunting was taken away, I would still find this book very creepy. Between the atmosphere, the unsettling house and just the sheer tension within this family I would still be very unsettled reading this.

Outside of the supernatural, Campbell brings up some very scary real life things that also add to the dread. There is a relative who is a paedophile , moments of claustrophobia and children with terminal ilnesses. Campbell manages to hold up a mirror to our society so we can see the true dangers out there for children. Legacy is a big theme in this novel and its influence (see what I did there?).

I highly recommend this book to any horror fans. This book was originally published in 1989 and won several awards back when it was first published and now has been adapted for Netflix in Spanish.

★★★★/5

About the Auhor:

Ramsey Campbell was born in Liverpool in 1946 and still lives on Merseyside. The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes him as “Britain’s most respected living horror
writer”. He has been given more awards than any other writer in the field, including the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association, the Living Legend Award of the International Horror
Guild and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Thank you once again to Anne and Flame Tree Press for this fantastic opportunity and for sending me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Sequels I Need to Read this Year

I think the thing that we readers can all mostly agree that we forget to do or leave slip a lot are sequels to books we have read. Sequels can be either the most daunting or the most exciting thing to read. I have been both people, where I ran to the book shop the night after I finished a book (looking at you Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children and Red Rising) or have not touched the next book despite loving the first.

I managed to narrow the list down to the following but trust me it is larger;

  • The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera: The sequel to one of my favourite books of 2018, The Tiger’s Daughter, I ordered this 2 days after publication. The last book in the trilogy has since been published and I haven’t even read this. I devoured The Tiger’s Daughter in 3 sittings and have yet to read this. I’m not sure if it’s fear of the next step for these characters or I’ll be disappointed in the outcome.
  • The Invasion by Peadar Ó’Guilín: I have no doubt I will love this since I loved the first book so very much but this boils down to more of a time issue than a fear of what awaits me. Don’t get me wrong, I am scared, but not for the quality of the writing or story but of the fact these Sidhe are literally coming back. I have owned this since a big snow storm we had last year and will definitely read before the year ends.
  • The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan: I hope to review the first book in this world, The Gracekeepers, hopefully someday on this blog but I want to get to this first. This is the sequel to a literary fantasy that has a very atmospheric setting, selkies, mermaids and water based people who look after the dead and I’m fairly sure it’s also a prequel. This is perfect for November reading so this is high on the list.
  • Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse: I read the first book in this Hugo nominated series in January and holy shit did I become obsessed. Native American culture, monster hunting gals who take no shit and a Mad Max style world that has the old God’s coming back? Fuck. Yes. The book ends on a mild cliffhanger but I honestly was intending to read this before World Con but Roanhorse had to cancel last minute which changed by priorities a bit. This is a fast paced world so hopefully I can book end the year with this.
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: I feel like this book needs no introduction considering the win it gained but I have kept this next to my bed since I collected my pre order and I have not picked it up once. I’m hoping to get to it this year since it is a a sequel of a definitive classic and an author I do love but who knows, I am saying that for all of these.

So that is my list of dreaded sequels that I hope to read this year, mind you I will probably prioritise a few of them over others. Do you have a sequel you are avoiding? Join me in my procrastination! Seriously, I’m lonely over here.

Book Chat: Changing Reading Tastes with Adult and YA Books

Good evening everyone. So to begin right away I feel like I should give a bit of background to explain why I chose to write this post. By the way before I do get started, I do still read certain YA books. I’m not throwing shade or criticising the genre, this is just a discussion of changing reading tastes.

I have always been a huge reader. I have always tended to read more sci fi and fantasy (SFF) but do also read a lot of comics, horror, literary fiction and non fiction. I even once read a slew of books on the Tudors (another day). However when I got my first paying job in college I started to obviously buy more books. The ratio of these tended to be 70:30 YA to adult.

I like everyone else, read all the vampire titles that flooded the market post Twilight. I then dipped my toes into the dystopian books that were post Hunger Games (and hated most of it after reading Ray Bradbury’s ‘Faranheit 451’). I did my time, we all did.

I had continued reading at this ratio and I didn’t notice any changes until last year, so about February 2018. I did two things, I bought a copy of ‘The Belles’ by Dhonelle Clayton and I started reading the first book in the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, ‘Shadow and Bone’.

Since I finished Shadow and Bone I’ll talk about that one first. One of the first things that I really didn’t love about this book is the emphasis on the romance and the characterisation. The book spends a good amount of time dissecting Alina’s feelings towards Mal. I have found that more recent YA fantasies do have more emphasis on romance which isn’t one of my favourite plot devices. But I had read YA with a strong romance before, why now had this changed?

I also mentioned the characters were another issue I discovered. Now I haven’t actually continued the series so I don’t know if this changes but I found Alina’s character to be very weak as well as Mal. Both are very one dimensional, especially Alina with an emphasis on her low self esteem. Characters like that are always good to see especially in the YA bracket but I felt the way it was portrayed through Alina came aross as whiny and selfish.

I have very few criticisms with The Belles just that the writing and characters again were not really for me. I have tried 3 times to read this book and each time I can’t get past the first few chapters. The difference I noted in the writing style is very hard to put into words but I knew right away this was definitely a YA book. This is when I definitely knew that my tastes had changed.

Another thing I saw my opinion changing about was YA series and how they played out. One such series I loved was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I legitmately inhale read the first book and was fully obsessed with the series to the point I bought the next book the following day. The second book in the series as pictured above was much slower than the first and in my opinion didn’t deliver on the suspense of the first. Granted, it was now revealed who was the antagonist, the twist revealed etc but I still think that the series continued to lag after that.

I found this to be something I noticed in other YA series as well. Now I see it in adult series too, second book syndrome is alive and well (talking about you Red Rising) but there is a distinct thread through many of the YA SFF series I have read having an issue maintaining momentum over a series. I’m currently making my way through Tamora Pierce’s works of Tortall and the publication timeline of these runs from the 1980’s to now. The most recent book being published in 2018. These books were YA before the term was even coined and used but I find that the content of these books, as well as books such as Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, have a better pace and a writing pace that is more to my tastes.

That is to say, I have not stopped reading YA, or buying it. A good chunk of the books on my TBR are YA. Some examples include Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan and Aurora Rising by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman among so many more. I think it’s honestly the best thing I have learned about my reading tastes in years and its refreshing to know I can recognise this and grow as a reader.

I am now reading a ration of what is approximately 85:15, adult to YA. There was no book that drastically changed my opinion. I haven’t read all the hyped books such as A Court of Thorns and Roses or Simon vs the Homo-sapiens agenda either. This happened as a subtle change over a year or so. I honestly see nothing wrong with it since I think our reading tastes change over time naturally and to see this happen organically makes me think I could change my mind again and go back to reading mostly YA.

Do you think your reading tastes have changed over the years? If so what made you realise it had changed? I’d love to discuss this with you guys, thank you for reading.