Thursday 27 July 2017

Review on Broken Branches

There is a curse in Ian Perkin's family. A curse that goes back over a century. After Ian's uncle and brother die in tragic ways, Ian decides to research his family tree in an attempt to see how far back the curse goes, and prove to his wife that it exists. Ian's obsession with the curse causes him to neglect his job and family, leaving him alone in the house after his wife takes their son away to live with her mother. Alone in the house, Ian starts to experience things he can't explain. What is the shadow lurking in his peripheral vision? Who is the small boy who comes to visit him once it gets dark? Will Ian be able to stop the curse from coming for his family, or is it already too late?

Sometimes you come across those books that you think you aren't going to enjoy before you even open them. It could be the cover or the blurb that just doesn't quite grab your attention, but there's just something about the book that makes you go into it with low expectations. This was my initial reaction to Broken Branches. Although Hideaway Fall have been lovely, and I adored the blogger pack I received from them, I wasn't really looking forward to receiving their first publication. When I started the book rather reluctantly almost a month after receiving it, I thought my first impression had been right. Apart from wanting to know more about what happened to Ian's brother, I wasn't really interested in Ian's mundane family life, and almost decided to give up a couple of chapters in. But then something changed. A change in tense to explain Ian's past, and from that point I was hooked! I needed to know more about this curse, what really happened to Uncle Stephen and what drove Stuart to commit suicide. I realised my first impression had been wrong, and I ended up not wanting to put the book down!

So more about the book itself. It follows Ian, a seemingly average man who works from home, has a nice house and lives with his wife, Rachel, and their small son, Harry. However, something a little more sinister lies beneath the surface, a family curse that goes back generations. I found the origin of the curse to be both sad and creepy, and it made me wonder if there really was a curse, or if the deaths in the family were just unfortunate coincidences. The story is told from two different timelines, one being told from the present, and the other from Ian's childhood. I found this to be initially confusing, as it took me a while to realise what was going on, and although the chapters usually alternated between what tense we were in, sometimes they broke this pattern, leading me to believe it was being told from Ian's childhood when it was actually from the present. I felt as if this could have easily been resolved by adding the date at the start of each chapter. I do realise some authors dislike doing this, as it dates their work, but I felt as if it wouldn't be a huge problem with this book, as we get a sense of it being in the modern world from the technology available. Although I did enjoy both timelines, I preferred reading about Ian's childhood, as I loved learning about what had happened to his family, and the reason why he stopped talking to them.

I felt sorry for Ian, as it was obvious that Stuart was the preferred child. Whereas on Stuart's sixteenth birthday he was told he would inherit the farm, Ian's birthday was ignored. I felt as if the only family member who treated him with kindness was his mother, and it was sad how Ian felt as if he didn't belong in his hometown anymore.

Parts of the story were told in a horror story type fashion, which I loved, and found to be quite creepy, particularly when Ian was in an empty house. I adored the imagery that went into creating a creepy and uneasy atmosphere, and I particularly loved how the tree was personified to make it seem more sinister.

Something that I thought worked brilliantly was how we were given frequent but subtle hints that something wasn't quite right with Ian's mental state, such as how he was obsessed with his family tree to the point that he neglected his job, and didn't even seem to care when he got fired. Although we get most of the story from Ian's point of view, I loved that we got to see Ian through Rachel's eyes. Ian is estranged from his family, but it is obvious that the deaths of his family members have caused a huge amount of stress and grief for him. We all deal with such raw emotions in different ways, and Ian's way is to throw himself into trying to prove that a family curse is real. Along with feeling sorry for Ian, I also felt sorry for Rachel. It was obvious that she just wanted to help her husband, but it was all becoming a little too much for her. The fact that she didn't believe in the curse at all showed just how bad Ian's current mental state was.

There are a few upsetting themes that I thought I would just quickly mention, including implied murder, depression, suicide, grief, and the deaths of children. There are a couple of death scenes that I found to be quite gruesome and shocking, with one being particularly heartbreaking, so either avoid this book or read with caution if you think any of these themes will cause you distress.

So the ending, oh my god. Obviously I don't want to spoil anything, but that was the plot twist to end all plot twists! It was completely shocking and unexpected, and gave us a little confirmation as to if supernatural occurrences were actually happening, or if it was all in Ian's head. I felt as if Ian's grief and depression were shown in a realistic way, and how sometimes we repress memories due to a high level of trauma.

I've learnt that sometimes my first impression of a book is completely wrong, as I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. It deals with grief, loss and depression in a real and flawless way, with an added bonus of supernatural elements. If, like me, Broken Branches isn't the type of book you would normally enjoy, then I would urge you to give it a go, as you might just be surprised!

Broken Branches is now available to purchase!

  | Amazon Book Depository

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Review on The Waking Land

When Elanna is five years old, she is kidnapped by King Antoine, an enemy of her father, and taken to live with him in Eren. Elanna grows up to love Antoine like a father, and is soon taught to see her own people as the enemy. However, fourteen years after Elanna was taken, King Antoine is murdered, and Elanna becomes the prime suspect. Elanna is forced to flee Eren, and return to the parents who never tried to rescue her. After discovering she is the Caveadear, a powerful sorceress who can control the land, Elanna must decide where her loyalties lie, and whether she'll show mercy, or seek revenge.

So as I've probably mentioned multiple times, fantasy is my all time favourite genre. After managing to tear my eyes away from the gorgeous cover for long enough to actually read the synopsis, I knew I had to read this one! It follows Elanna, a sorceress who has been kidnapped by the King. The book starts with a map, yes a map! I always get excited over seeing a map at the start of the book, as it always means that the protagonist is going to be going on some sort of epic adventure. After staring at the map for at least ten minutes, I was happy to discover that the book started with a prologue instead of going into back story later down the line. I feel that being in the heart of the story rather than a character telling a long winded back story is always more effective at getting the point across, and doesn't bore the reader. It immediately made me interested in Elanna's story, and wanting to find out what was going to happen to her.

Although the book started out in a promising way, I felt as if it progressed a little too slowly, and I did find it to be a little boring at times. There was a lot of travelling after the initial escape from Eren, which felt quite slow and tedious. It took me quite a while to get into the book because of this, and I was often only reading for ten minutes at a time before getting bored. I did however start to enjoy the book more once we started to learn more about Elanna's abilities. Although I have seen powers similar to Elanna's in other YA books, I loved that there was lore behind who she was, and I loved learning about Wildegarde and her ancestors. I also loved how she slowly learnt the extent of her powers. I particularly adored her powers towards the end of the book, as the walking trees reminded me of the Ent's from Lord of the Rings.

I was a little disappointed in the characters themselves, as I felt as if most of them lacked personality, and the fact that most of them appeared sporadically didn't do much to help me gain some sort of emotional attachment to them. Although the protagonist is rarely my favourite character in fantasy books, I think Elanna was my favourite simply because she was one of the few characters with a past, and I felt sorry for her for what she had to endure. With the exception of Rhia, I found the rest of the female characters dull. I did initially like Victoire, Elanna's best friend, but like some of the other characters, she disappeared for half of the book, and I'd lost interest in her by the time she returned. Although I did love the reveal of who Sophy really was, I again found her quite dull as a character.

I did like a couple of the male characters, particularly Finn. I loved the reveal of who he really was, and also his friendship with Jahan. I thought Finn was a sweet character, and he seemed one of the more realistic characters, as he had flaws such as running away from danger rather than laying down his life. Although I loved Jahan as a character, I found his relationship with Elanna a little uncomfortable. I knew from the moment he was introduced that he would be the love interest, and I found the romance between him and Elanna to be too cheesy and instalovey, with Elanna pretty much instantly being attracted to him. I found the whole wedding the land plot particularly weird, and didn't quite understand how that actually worked. One thing that I thought was unnecessary was the rumour than Jahan was in a romantic relationship with the prince who he had saved. As this turned out to be untrue, it felt a little as if it was queer baiting, and I felt as if this was the wrong way to go about making Elanna jealous, and believing Jahan was already taken. Aside from the romance, I thought Jahan was an interesting character, and I wanted to learn more about his past and the extent of his powers. I also want to briefly mention The Butcher, one of the main villains in the book. I loved how he was initially seen as a ruthless villain who was not above torturing people, but throughout the book we were given little hints that he wasn't as bad as he seemed. I loved that it was impossible to tell which side he would take, and I was quietly rooting for him to do the right thing and help Elanna.

I loved that Elanna was torn between Eren and Caeris, as she had a history of living in both. It was interesting to see that Elanna seemed to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, as although she was kidnapped and kept against her will, she soon sees her kidnapper as a fatherly figure. Elanna acted as a bridge between Eren and Caeris, and I loved how she slowly realised how everything she had been taught about Caeris was a lie, and how she helped both sides to co-exist by showing them how corrupt their Queen was. Although the action picked up towards the end of the book, I felt as if they won their cause far too easily. I loved that they won with little bloodshed, but it also felt a little like an anti climax with everyone deciding to surrender. I felt as if a little resistance would have made it more exciting, and would have given Elanna a bit more of a challenge.

There were several instances where the book completely confused me, particular in the first half. There were so many locations to keep track of, and I was constantly referring back to the map to find out where the characters were. I felt as if the map could have done with being extended slightly, as there were a few places mentioned that weren't actually on the map. I was also confused over some of the characters, particularly those who were mentioned several times, but who we never got to meet. I spent a good few chapters thinking that Finn was the prince who Jahan had saved, only later figuring out that Jahan's prince was a completely different character who we never got to meet. I also felt there were too many background characters who I easily lost track of.

I'm still a little torn about how I feel about this book, which will probably show in my rating. There were certain things that I loved, such as waking the ancestors and the trees and learning about Elanna's abilities, but I think the confusion over what was happening ruined it a little for me. As the world has been established now, I am wondering if I would enjoy the second book more, as hopefully there would be less info dumping. I am interested in the book enough to want to continue reading the series, but unfortunately it wasn't my favourite fantasy YA read.

The Waking Land is now available to purchase!

  | Amazon Book Depository

Tuesday 11 July 2017

Review on Strange Medicine

“Weird and wonderful stories for all that ails you.”

This book of eight short stories focuses on the strange, the weird, and occasionally the scary. From an invisible mime, to a man with no brain, there is something in this book for whatever ails you.

So short stories aren't usually my thing, and I find them difficult to review. Although my reviews don't necessarily follow a structure, I always discuss the characters, their motives and their personality. However, with short stories, this is almost impossible to do. Short stories serve the purpose of telling us a single line of narrative, with no subplots, no romantic ventures unless necessary to the plot, and little character development and world building. The stories in Strange Medicine are there to shock you, to make you feel uncomfortable and to overall weird you out. I adore anything out of the ordinary, and I felt as if a few of these stories had a bit of a Welcome to Nightvale vibe. I loved that non of the stories were interconnected, letting you read them in any order. I also loved that they were all different lengths, as a couple of times I had a limited time in which I could read, meaning I would choose to read one of the shorter ones, whereas once I was relaxed in bed for the night, I would choose the longer ones. The book is also short enough to read in one sitting, at just 141 pages.

I always feel as if I'm in danger of spoiling the stories when I try to share my opinions on the stories themselves, but I'm going to try to mention my favourites without being too spoilery. I adored Flock, the first story in the book. It is about a man called Anthony Tobias Bradshaw, who continues to go to work every day despite the business no longer existing. I loved that the story kept repeating his full name, and kept giving us little hints that something wasn't right, along with creating a sense of unease. I felt as if this story could easily have been a Welcome to Nightvale storyline, as it was based around a man completing tasks he thought were completely normal, while the other characters and the reader thought he was strange. I loved that his actions became progressively stranger, right up until the bizarre twist at the end.

Another story that I loved was the last one in the book, Shish. I think I probably loved this one so much as it reminded me of one of my favourite anime's, Parayste the maxim, but instead of having a hand being possessed by an alien, this story was about a young girl who finds a fish growing out of her shoulder. Although this story was probably the silliest, I also found it the creepiest, particularly the ending. Having multiple fishy heads looking at me would not be my idea of fun! I also adored Brain, a story about a professor who, after having a CT scan, discovers that he has no brain.

Although I adored most of these stories, there were a couple that were so weird that I didn't fully understand what was going on. I preferred the longer stories, as the extremely short ones, such as The Spy, made little sense to me. I'm not sure if it was just me who found some of the stories confusing and totally missing the point, or if other readers would feel the same.

I overall really enjoyed these stories! They are perfect for anyone who enjoys reading, but doesn't have the time for novels. Each story is short enough to read in about 15 minutes or less, so they're perfect for reading on the commute to work, or during your lunch break. I definitely prescribe this book for anyone who loves reading anything out of the ordinary!

Strange Medicine is now available to purchase!

  | Amazon Book Depository

Tuesday 4 July 2017

Goodnight, Boy Blog Tour: Get Ahead as an Author - Get a Dog

So today I have a guest post from Nikki Sheehan, author of "Goodnight Boy" on a subject I'm very passionate about, dogs!

 Dogs make the very best muses. I know because I wrote a book about a boy and a dog, with two of my own fur babies constantly by my side. Goodnight, Boy is written to and about a dog, and it explores how, even in the very worst circumstances, a dog will keep you going. Any authors reading this will know that I’m only exaggerating slightly when I say that the badlands of 20,000 words into a first draft is a pretty bad place to find yourself. As is sitting down to the smell of freshly-sent editorial notes.

So here is a rundown of why, if you want to get ahead in publishing, you should most definitely get a dog.

1. Basics
The only indispensable rule I know for writing is that you must have your bum on a seat, and your fingers on the keyboard to produce anything. So, if, as a dog owner, you’re forced to spend more time at home, this is a good start. If you also have a dog keeping your toes warm (as Edith Wharton put it,
‘a heartbeat at my feet’), it really does discourage you from wandering off and doing housework.

2. Distractions
Talking of housework, once you’re a dog owner, I can guarantee you’ll spend less time on housework, redecorating and the general maintenance of what is normally seen as an acceptable standard of hygiene because keeping up with the mess dogs create is pretty much futile. One of my dogs sheds like a dandelion clock mid blow, 24 hours a day. This may sound like a negative, but actually time spent not hoovering can be diverted into words, paragraphs, chapters, and head stroking.

3. Hobbies
Forget hobbies. Writing takes time; for thinking, drafting, editing, and Twitter stalking writers more successful than yourself. So the last thing you need is an interesting pastime, such as badminton or medieval battle enactment. It won’t matter though, because, as a writer you get to experience any number of strange locations and events in your head. And, if you’re ever asked at a publishing party what else you do, just say you have a dog because a dog is a hobby, and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees.

4. Health and fitness
There’s a syndrome, coined by the incomparable author Pip Jones, known as SAAD: Spreading Author Arse Disorder. Sedentary hours make SAAD pretty much inevitable, so you’re going to have to get some exercise in somehow. Dogs like walks even though they don’t have Fitbit buddies to impress. The longer and more frequent the better, and in absolutely any weather (unless they’re like one of mine, who is half cat, and won’t go out if showers are forecast). On walkies your dog will meet up with their mates and you’ll make friends with their owners too (think, park scene in 101

Dalmatians, but, in my experience, less romantic). If you’re lucky, these humans will be the sort who don’t mind you bouncing book ideas off them or moaning about writing. Even if they do, they’re a lot more polite about it than your family are. And when you’re not exploiting the personal generosity of strangers, you get to spend time walking alone listening to music and audio books (consuming other people’s books is part of the job) or just walking in silence, which sometimes allows you hear those really shy, difficult voices that lurk at the back of your brain.

5. Mental health
Being a writer can be wonderful but, contrary to popular belief, it’s probably not the way to
everlasting happiness. Granted, writing can be cathartic at times, but once you’ve catharted you have to live with the fact that other people, thousands of them, will be reading, judging, maybe even hurling across the room in disgust, the product of said catharsis. Fortunately, dogs probably can’t read – though, as the first draft of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was eaten by his dog, Max, you have to wonder. Generally speaking, however, your dog will not mind how bad your first draft is. They equally won’t care about reviews, prizes, foreign rights sales, or if you’re even any good or hopelessly derivative and commercially out of kilter. Dogs are all about here and now. And, as writers, if we can try to be more dog, and concentrate on the process rather than the product, I have a feeling that we’d not only be a lot happier, but better writers too.

6. Love
People worry about being lonely if they work from home, but I never feel alone. I work with fantastic colleagues who can’t talk to me. This means they can’t discuss the project they’re working on, ask

what’s for dinner, or chat about school. They never disagree with me, or storm off to their bedroom, and they don’t judge me when I get in a strop because Scrivener is stupid. (It is - fact). Dogs take tolerance and unconditional love to saintly levels, and like nothing better than to soothe the furrowed brow of the needy writer with a lick, a well-placed head on the lap, or a paw in the hand. They’re philosophers, therapists, personal trainers, and friends. And that’s why authors need dogs.

One last historical note; George Eliot’s publisher sent her a pug as part payment for one of her novels. A practice that, I hope my publisher will agree, should definitely be revived for 2017.