writing

Attempts at Authoring: Oh no, that book sounds just like mine!

I’ve just sent off the latest round of edits on my MS to a few beta readers, and I thought it might be quite cool to add some posts about my own writing journey to this blog. Here I’m going to attempt to address some woes and struggles I’ve faced during my time as an aspiring author.

I’m nowhere near published yet (haven’t even got an agent) but from what I’ve heard and seen by talking and listening to authors online, everybody hits the same roadblocks while working on their novel, whether they’re a novice or have multiple books published.

So here’s a problem that’s plagued me over the years – I know it’s not exclusive to me, because one of my writing buddies and close friends has also had this worry in the past. It’s not something I see talked about too often, and this post is going to be my attempt to not only calm myself down, but hopefully put some others’ minds at ease too.

So. The problem.

There I was, working hard (okay, procrastinating) on edits of my YA contemporary fantasy novel, which I’ve been working on since I was 14. Yes, ten years. Yes, I know I’m slow. NO, I’M NOT FINISHED YET. And then, one day I scrolled down on my Twitter feed to see a tweet gushing about a soon-to-be-published book.

Nothing new in the book world! There are books announced pretty much every week. But there was a difference this time. As my vacant gaze passed over the tweet, I felt my blood run cold.

The plot synopsis sounded extremely familiar. In fact, it sounded…just like the MS I was working on.

I freaked out immediately. With a little more detective work, it turned out it wasn’t exactly the same premise, but that didn’t reassure me much. But there were enough similarities to make me panic, and the worst part – the main character had the same name as my protagonist.

Oh, so what, you might say. Just change the name!

Yeah, no. I actually did change the character’s name already – it used to be kind of silly, and after various comments on it I changed it to something more common. But I get attached to names, so that was an arduous decision, and I spent plenty of time researching and considering other names for her. I settled on the current name partly because it was a common name that I hadn’t actually heard for a YA protagonist before, and it was also Hebrew (my MC is of Jewish heritage and there’s other Jewish stuff in the book, so this was intentional).

The other stuff? Well. It was queer, and had a mystery plot that sounded veeeeeery similar to mine. I panicked. I had a contemporary fantasy story about a queer teenage witch investigating a mystery. This contemporary fantasy book was also about a queer teenage witch – with the same name – investigating a similar mystery. I flipped OUT.

Just going to mention, I never thought for a second that my ideas had been stolen. I’m not calling anyone a plagiarist! I never even posted my stuff online, and I don’t know this author at all. I’m just drawing attention to the fact that sometimes this happens – you’ve been working on a book for years, and then you find one (maybe it’s been published for a while, maybe it’s not out yet) that seems a bit TOO similar. And you immediately start freaking out because you’re not as original as you thought, and everyone’s going to think you copied this person, and maybe you should just stop writing altogether because everything you think of has already been done and they did it better so WHY SHOULD YOU EVEN TRY?

And, breathe.

I went screaming to my friends. And after they’d calmed down my hysterics, they pointed out a few key things:

  1. The world-building is likely incredibly different. From what we could pick up from the blurb (and what was later confirmed by an extract I read), the way we approach magic, and how it effects society, is completely different.
  2. The author is American. I’m British. That might not seem like much, but there are lots of books that don’t cross the Atlantic. There’s no UK deal confirmed as of yet, and even if there was, the tone and voice is likely to differ a lot. I’ve also tried to tie it in quite closely with British society and current events, so…it’s not going to be the same as a book set in modern America. While the two countries have a lot in common, they’re not the same – there are some pretty big cultural and social differences that are sure to pop up in writing, especially as they’re both set in the modern world.
  3. A major element of my book is the inclusion of a species that doesn’t appear in the US book. They’re literally one of the biggest parts of the novel. That totally flew over my head when freaking out about this other book. Another good reason to stay calm! That’s a huge difference right there.
  4. So they’re both queer books by queer writers. GOOD. I am not gonna deny other people the chance for more f/f fiction just because one book sounds a bit like mine. From what I’ve read, it looks like the romance plots are really different anyway, which is even better – more variety in queer rep! Yay!
  5. The fact that this book sold, and is being published, is actually a great sign for me. It can be a comp title when I query. It’s a sign that agents and publishers may actually LIKE what I’ve written. The book’s not even out until the middle of next year and I want to be querying before it comes out – so it’s not like I’ve missed the boat.

At the end of the day, we have to remember not to get too snobby about our writing. We are not the first people to come up with certain ideas, and even if we have similar plots, or characters, or settings, they’re likely going to manifest a lot differently than we might think.

One of my favourite examples:

A young boy leaves his home to learn and train to use his power alongside others like him. He’s the Chosen One, part of a prophecy that has been in place since before he was born, and he is the key to ending the war between good and evil. He grows up, falling in love with a girl and losing people in the process, he’s got a knack for flying, and his mentor is a wise, older man with a beard who also has these special powers. He eventually defeats the Big Bad villain with the power of love.

(And the main theme is scored by John Williams.)

Harry Potter, right?

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*Blasts Hedwig’s Theme*

Or…Anakin Skywalker?

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Look, the Jedi are basically space wizards. The Force is magic. Change my mind.

No-one is going around accusing J.K. Rowling of ripping off George Lucas, or vice versa. But this is what happens when we condense stories down to their basics, or pick and choose bits of them. You could probably write summaries for Harry Potter and Star Wars that are both entirely accurate but sound completely different from each other! I’m pretty sure I’ve also seen a version of the above that could be applied to Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker rather than Anakin, so there’s another reason why we all need to CALM DOWN. (I picked Anakin because I’m pretty adamant that the original 6 episodes of the Star Wars saga are HIS story rather than Luke’s, but whatever).

But this is what I try to remind myself of when I run into a blurb or announcement of another book that sounds a bit similar to mine. Hell, I knew from the start that it wasn’t original – I basically took my favourite bits of Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, made them gayer and put them in a blender – so why am I shocked now that someone else has had a similar idea? And the more I read about it, the more differences I see.

And ultimately…I don’t think readers will care that much. I want to write a book that is queer and magical and funny and heart-wrenching, and there are readers looking for that too. So some of my future readers may have read this other book first – so what? Isn’t that good? I am happy that there’s more f/f fantasy coming, because I wrote a book I wanted to read and couldn’t find. I’m happy to see more queer girls in fantasy books, because I needed those when I was 16 and confused about my sexuality and just wanted to retreat into magical worlds. I think that honesty and authenticity will come through in my writing – I made it very personal to me, and nobody can take that away, no matter how similar their story is, because it’s mine. I wrote about my experience and understanding of my bisexuality. I wrote about my life growing up in the south of England as a teenage girl going through an awkward phase and struggling with exams while the world got scarier. I wrote the diversity that I saw around me, I wrote the feelings I had for boys and girls, I wrote the friendships that meant the world to me, I wrote the magic that I wished I had in my life.

And if that’s how you approach your writing, then you can’t lose that originality. Only you can write your story. Even if your plot sounds a little like someone else’s, it’s going to have your stamp all over it. If you go out trying to copy someone deliberately, then don’t be shocked when it sounds just like their work. Make it yours. It sounds like a bad cliche, but write from the heart, and you’ll find the pieces all fit together in their own way, even if individually they sound like something that’s been done a million times before.

It’s realising this that is what has kept me going for the past few months, and I’m glad of it – I’ve sent it to betas and already have had some amazing feedback that’s reminded me of why I started writing it in the first place. And if the author of this other book is anything like me, she’s poured herself into her book too.

So if you see a blurb that makes you panic, just take a step back. Breathe. Make a list of the differences and remember that even if you have similar ingredients, you’ve likely got completely different and unique cakes. And never forget why you started writing that story in the first place.

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reviews

[Review] The Willow By Your Side – Peter Haynes

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram– 4/5 (Great!)

Release Date: 25 November 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Unsung Stories (UK)
Genre: Adult fiction, historical, fantasy

How I read it: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Get it at Amazon UK:  The Willow By Your Side

The woods. Dreams and portents. Youth. Magic runs through all of them. But in the aftermath of war a young boy is twisted and tested trying to hold his family together.

As his sister recovers from a terrible assault by her father, she teaches him about the magic in the land, the tombs of ancient kings and the wishing lake, about the treacherous Red Cap and the places deep in the woods where the adults don’t go.

But when she disappears, the balance fails. Parents divided by their pain and all eyes in the village turn to the father, a man who brought his own nightmares back from the war. They search the woods, pushing deeper into the strange spaces where myths grow with the trees. But only the boy knows the secret paths they took, and the way to the lake where wishes come true.

THE WILLOW BY YOUR SIDE is a very intriguing, twisting novel – one I think I’d usually pass over, but when Unsung Stories offered me a copy and I had a better read of the blurb, I found myself interested by it. I don’t read a lot of adult fiction (though I’m trying to expand my reach beyond YA!) and this was a great step out of my comfort zone – I really enjoyed this one. I love my British folklore and there was plenty of that flowing through the veins of this novel.

It’s an odd book in terms of genre – it’s historical, and kind of fantasy? There’s bits of fantasy and bits of horror and bits of literary, surreal weirdness, and it fits together in this delightful, dark, eerie way. There’s folklore and myth in the blood of this story but it’s always hazy – is it real, or just happening in the mind of a distressed, emotional young boy? Is he really being chased by a Red Cap – or is it a manifestation of the darkness in his mind? Are those real soldiers in the woods, or are they figments of his imagination? It’s never really clear, but it ultimately doesn’t really matter. Whether they’re real or not, this is still a dark, twisted story with effectively drawn mystery and a broken family at its centre.

Our unnamed protagonist is a young boy, the only son of a former WWI soldier and his wife – he has an older sister, whose clash with their traumatised, violent father kicks off the plot of the book. The sister is attacked by their father in what seems like a fit of post-traumatic rage, and a few days later, she vanishes. The bulk of the book revolves around the boy trying to get to the lake – a secret place he believes his sister has gone to – although he has some surprising, and deadly, obstacles to overcome to get there.

One thing I took away from this book was just how effective the use of setting was – I felt like I’d been plunged into dank, soggy, post-WW1 Britain, following the footsteps of the boy as he searched for his sister across farmland and in the dark woods. It’s incredibly atmospheric, lending to the feeling that I was reading a dark yet oddly charming folktale. Despite being lavish in description and heavy on the atmosphere, it’s not a difficult read in any sense – the narration is oddly yet perfectly caught between a young boy and an old, wise storyteller. Sometimes I feel that some authors get so caught up trying to be mysterious and surreal that the story becomes utterly incomprehensible and I end up feeling like I didn’t ‘get’ it, but this didn’t happen for me here – it took a little while for some parts of the book to sink in, but I felt satisfied when they did.

Another element I thought was particularly effective was how the family was depicted – the boy’s father is an especially complex character. Even from the start we’re perplexed by how to view him – he’s clearly damaged from his war experiences, yet he seriously hurts his daughter. Over the course of the book his role becomes even more muddied – is he really loving and caring as his son sees him? Or is he a villain that hurts his daughter and may be the reason for her disappearance? Is he both? Is he neither? Even by the end of the story, with all the facts out in the open, I still felt conflicted about how to see him – something that made him feel incredibly real.

The novel ends with a heart-wrenching twist that paints the whole book in a brand new light – and reveals a saddening truth that rocked my understanding of the familial relationships in the story. It expertly balances a twisted, folklore-inspired adventure with the trials of a fractured family, and I couldn’t help but be sucked in. Definitely an excellent pick for this cold British winter…

reviews

[Review] A Curse So Dark and Lonely – Brigid Kemmerer

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram– 5/5 (Loved it!)

Release Date: 29 January 2019 (US + UK)
Publisher: Bloomsbury (US + UK)
Genre: Young adult, fantasy

How I read it: I received a free copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Get it at Amazon UK:  A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

This was a pleasantly surprising read. YA retellings of fairytales seem to be evergreen – we see so many of them popping up every year – and one fairytale that remains incredibly popular for adaptation is Beauty and the Beast. I’ve already reviewed one on this blog – THE BEAST’S HEART – which was sadly quite underwhelming, but A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY made me excited about this story again!

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Tale as old as time, indeed.

A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY manages to be familiar and fresh at the same time, combining traditional fantasy tropes with a modern heroine. I’ve never read a YA novel where the main character has cerebral palsy, and I’ve not even heard of one that has a MC with the condition and is fantasy! The narration is shared between Harper, a girl from modern-day Washington DC, and Rhen, the prince of a kingdom called Emberfall. Their worlds usually never interact, but one day Harper is stolen away to Emberfall as the latest in a long line of girls in an attempt to break a curse…

The story is quite familiar. A girl is trapped in the castle with a prince who is cursed and is running out of time, and the only hope for him is if she falls in love with him. But there are differences here to most versions of the tale – Prince Rhen is gorgeous, and seems very much human. And Harper isn’t the only girl who has been trapped in the castle with him.

It’s hard to write a convincing version of Beauty and the Beast without veering into Stockholm syndrome territory, but Kemmerer manages it excellently – there’s a delicious slow-burn romance that is built on trust and understanding and empathy. As a reader, I felt there was a bit of a spanner in the works in the form of Grey, who is Rhen’s closest (and only!) companion and guard, who is the one that brought Harper to Emberfall in the first place – he’s basically my favourite kind of male character in fantasy YA. Stoic and stern, but with a soft heart.

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*Swoon*

This made it a teeeeeeeny bit harder to root for Rhen/Harper because I actually really shipped Grey/Harper as well. He’s the one to first connect and bond with her while Rhen can’t work out how to approach her, and he’s the only Emberfall citizen we see at all in our world – the clashing of Emberfall/Washington DC cultures is hilarious.

I loved how this was very much a high fantasy YA novel but also featured stuff I love about contemporary YA – Harper’s family is very poor and her brother has been reduced to carrying on their father’s shady deals in order to earn money, putting their whole family in danger. The whole time Harper is in Emberfall, she can’t forget her brother and sick mother back at home in DC, and she’s scared that her brother’s deal may have gone south. This is the source of a lot of tension between her and Rhen – she blames him for having stolen her from a family that needs her.

Another little embellishment on the tale is the role of Lilith, the enchantress that cursed Rhen in the first place. Rather than being briefly mentioned as the source of the curse, she’s actually there pretty constantly throughout the story – she can’t interfere while Rhen tries to break the curse, but she can sure as hell make life uncomfortable for him by taunting and jeering at him. Her reason for cursing him is different to the original story – and I think it’s a good change that makes her feel a bit more three-dimensional (and works well as backstory for Rhen too).

Besides the female protagonist having a disability, there’s also some gay rep in the form of Harper’s brother and his boyfriend – I was so glad that they weren’t just backdrop to Harper’s story but actually became very involved in the plot in the second half of the book.

The book is supposed to be able to be read as a standalone, but the last chapter made me hope that there will be a sequel – otherwise I’m not satisfied with how a certain character’s story was left!

For fans of: A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES by Sarah J. Maas, SEA WITCH by Sarah Henning, ASH PRINCESS by Laura Sebastian

reviews

[Review] The Lantern’s Ember – Colleen Houck

Image result for the lanterns ember

Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 2/5 (It’s OK)

Release Date: 11 September 2018 (USA + UK)
Publisher: Delacorte Press (USA), Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Genre: Young adult, fantasy

How I read it: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Get it at Amazon UK:  The Lantern’s Ember

Welcome to a world where nightmarish creatures reign supreme.

Five hundred years ago, Jack made a deal with the devil. It’s difficult for him to remember much about his mortal days. So, he focuses on fulfilling his sentence as a Lantern—one of the watchmen who guard the portals to the Otherworld, a realm crawling with every nightmarish creature imaginable. Jack has spent centuries jumping from town to town, ensuring that nary a mortal—or not-so-mortal—soul slips past him. That is, until he meets beautiful Ember O’Dare.

Seventeen, stubborn, and a natural-born witch, Ember feels a strong pull to the Otherworld. Undeterred by Jack’s warnings, she crosses into the forbidden plane with the help of a mysterious and debonair vampire—and the chase through a dazzling, dangerous world is on. Jack must do everything in his power to get Ember back where she belongs before both the earthly and unearthly worlds descend into chaos.

I’ll admit, I was hoping for a dark, spooky story (I mean, look at that cover. It has a SKULL on it). Instead I got a steampunk adventure. I haven’t read any Colleen Houck before and I’m not sure if reading THE LANTERN’S EMBER has made me want to read any more of her work.

This novel felt kind of patchy, like lots of stories cobbled together. It’s basically an entire kitchen sink of Halloween motifs – witches, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, “Lanterns” (one of which, Jack, is the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow fame), Frankenstein’s monster-esque beings, invisible men…considering this is a standalone novel, it felt a bit too big in scope, like the author wanted to detail absolutely everything even if it wasn’t relevant to the story. There were a ton of supernatural beings, AND an entirely new steampunk realm. I found it hard to keep track of the details of the world.

Ember, our protagonist, is our typical YA protagonist. She’s a natural-born witch living in some vague old-timey period (I guessed about 1700s but it’s not particularly clear), and everyone is in love with her. By everyone, I mean three of the male leads. I’m not sure what the point of this was – I understood having a romance thread, but having the other two male characters be in love with her too felt kind of pointless. It didn’t really contribute anything except rub in just how “special” and desirable she was. She doesn’t really do much to make her actually seem desirable – she’s powerful (but that’s a gift she was born with) and most of her plot revolves around her not having paid attention to Jack.

Jack, Ember’s very obviously romantic interest, is a Lantern – a guardian of the portals to the “Otherworld”. He’s supposed to report any witches he comes across on Earth to his superior, but when he comes across the child Ember, he’s struck by her and decides to watch over her instead as she grows up. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find this trope of guys coming across their future love interests as children a bit skeezy. He’s been around for hundreds of years at this point, and he doesn’t age, but it’s still a bit weird to me. If it hadn’t so obviously evolved into a romantic thread, I wouldn’t be so bothered by it – it would have been nice to see it as a sibling-type love instead, maybe. But of course Ember is so special he ends up falling head over heels for her when she’s 17.

Other characters include Finney (Ember’s childhood friend, who seems to have three distinguishing features – red hair, a fondness for tinkering, and unrequited love for Ember). There’s Dev, a vampire who agrees to take Ember to the Otherworld when Jack refuses, and he ends up falling in love with her too. To be fair, there are only two other major women in this story, and one of them is his sister, Delia (by far one of the best characters as she’s a pirate with a broken heart as well as a vampire), so it’s not like he has much choice.

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If you HAVE to make everyone fall in love with the main character, make them actually SEEM desirable.

Another issue I had with this story was the dialogue. Characters frequently discuss things that happened in the past in such an unrealistic fashion that I had to double check I wasn’t reading narration instead of speech. It’s stilted and clunky, and there are a few humorous lines where the effect is dampened because the dialogue around them is so awkward. It’s desperately in need of a harder edit – I found myself rewriting sentences in my head as I was reading.

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I’m trying to edit my own book, don’t make me do yours as well. Unless you’re going to pay me.

The romance aspect between Ember and Jack is quite nice (if you ignore the weirdness of him having basically invaded her privacy since she was a child – it’s mentioned he’s been in her room several times while invisible, which is…yikes), but I found Dev’s weird obsession with Ember irritating, especially when it’s said that vampires don’t even feel as deeply romantic as humans do, and he’s only known her for about five minutes but he’s suddenly besotted with her for no apparent reason. Finney’s romantic interest in Ember is also a baffling narrative choice – at least he doesn’t force himself on her like Dev does (he accepts he will never have her and says he’ll always be her friend), but I don’t see what the point of that aspect of his character was. He’s the one Jack takes along with him to the Otherworld to help save Ember when she crosses over, and his motivation for coming is that he secretly loves her…but why isn’t friendship enough? They’re supposed to be childhood best friends. His romantic feelings don’t come into play at any other point in the plot, so this was a confusing inclusion to me. Love dodecahedrons are annoying enough when it’s supposed to be a fantasy story, but they should at least have a narrative function. Jack gets mildly jealous of Finney because he’s human and can be there for Ember properly, but couldn’t he just have been jealous anyway? Does Finney NEED to have romantic feelings? If I was an immortal ghost boy in love with a girl, I would still be envious of any of her mortal friends who could be around her properly, whether they were in love with her or not.

Anyway.

I liked aspects of this book (Delia being my favourite character due to her being a BOSS PIRATE VAMPIRE with a heartbreaking past), but it ultimately didn’t click with me, and I’m disappointed – I was admittedly suckered by the cover and the promise of witches and references to Sleepy Hollow (of which there were barely any, besides a throwaway line about Jack once being the Headless Horseman to scare off a warlock named Ichabod). I wasn’t even looking for a scary story, I just wanted something that felt more like dark fantasy YA than middle grade steampunk with too much unnecessary romance.

Side note: Bloody hell, I just looked at some GoodReads reviews for THE TIGER’S CURSE (Houck’s first book) out of interest and had I known the problems with that one, I would have cast THE LANTERN’S EMBER a wide berth. There aren’t any racist stereotypes (that I can identify, anyway) in this book, but that might be because literally everyone is implied to be white. And straight. Yeah, despite there being practically every popular supernatural creature you can think of in this book, there’s no diversity. Not a good look, especially in 2018.

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DO BETTER.

For fans of: CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber, BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

reviews

[Review] Daughter of Light and Shadows – Anna McKerrow

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 4/5 (Great!)

Release Date: 4 October 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Bookouture (UK)
Genre: Adult fiction, fantasy, romance

How I read it: I received a free ARC via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Get it at Amazon UK:  Daughter of Light and Shadows: A gorgeous fantasy page turner of witchcraft and magic

When Faye Morgan casts a wish into the Scottish sea one cold January morning, her call brings her to the attention of the wild and capricious faerie king Finn Beatha. Finn offers Faye an invitation – to follow him into another world or risk the eternal wrath of his people. 

When Faye arrives, it’s to discover that everything in the glittering world of faerie has its price. A single misstep could mean she’s trapped forever – never to see her home again. She must have all her wits about her… but it’s difficult with Finn Beatha – passionate and dangerous – watching her every move. What secrets are hidden behind Finn’s marsh-fire eyes? Why do the faeries of the court whisper behind Faye’s back, and call her by the mysterious title: sidhe-leth? Is there something in her past connecting her to this place… and dare she find out more when every moment draws her further away from her old life – her old world? 

I’m a big fan of Anna’s witchy YA Greenworld trilogy, so was excited to hear she had a new series on the way – a foray into adult fiction, but still featuring plenty of witchiness! I read the revised version of this novel (I know Anna made some changes from the first version that appeared on NetGalley), so this will be a review of the second version.

DAUGHTER OF LIGHT AND SHADOWS follows Faye Morgan, a young woman from a long line of witches, living in Scotland and running a magic shop. She and her friends cast a spell one evening in order to bring true love into their lives, but it becomes a little more complicated then she bargained for when two very different men – the sweet, dorky Rav and the mysterious, alluring Finn – enter her life.

I’m not sure about the Sarah J. Maas comparison – there are fae, and there are some sexy scenes, but that’s about as far as the resemblance goes (I’m not a big fan of ACOTAR so that’s probably for the best!). This novel takes place both in our world and the realm of the fae, with Faye caught between the two – it’s both entirely new and very familiar.

Something I really enjoyed about this book was how the issue of possessiveness and emotional abuse in relationships was handled. Despite the presence of fae, it’s very realistically done – I could easily see why Faye felt attraction to both Rav and Finn, and felt convinced by her actions. Too often I still see possessive behaviour from men glorified and romanticised in novels (especially when said man is a non-human, as if that excuses it) and I was relieved to find that DAUGHTER OF LIGHT AND SHADOWS does not fall into that trap.

I saw in some other reviews of the earlier version that readers felt that Rav needed more character development – I assume that has been taken into account in this version, because he felt very fleshed out and real to me! He was probably my favourite character, and I really enjoyed getting to delve into his backstory.

It’s not just the romance that causes drama here – there’s dissent in the fae realm, and in Faye’s village there’s disagreement over the building of a statue of James I (notorious for his fear of witches) and the local impact of the music festival that Rav is organising. The fantasy and the contemporary aspects of this book are blended very well, and are helped by the quaint setting of the Scottish village in which it takes place. I’m a sucker for romantic scenes like nighttime walks on the beach and making out on the sand – and there are plenty of those!

This novel is adult fiction, but if you’re a fan of “new adult” or more mature YA – especially if you enjoy fae, love triangles, and modern witchiness – then there’s a lot to appeal here. Perfect for fantasy fans who are looking for a whirlwind romance to sweep them off their feet!

reviews

[Review] The Twisted Tree – Rachel Burge

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 4/5 (Great!)

Release Date: 27 September 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Hot Key Books (UK)
Genre: Young adult, horror, fantasy

How I read it: I bought the Kindle eBook from Amazon.

Get it at Amazon UK: The Twisted Tree

Martha can tell things about a person just by touching their clothes, as if their emotions and memories have been absorbed into the material. It started the day she fell from the tree at her grandma’s cabin and became blind in one eye.

Determined to understand her strange ability, Martha sets off to visit her grandmother, Mormor – only to discover Mormor is dead, a peculiar boy is in her cabin and a terrifying creature is on the loose.

Then the spinning wheel starts creaking, books move around and terror creeps in…

THE TWISTED TREE is, in my opinion, a near-perfect October read. It’s chilling and eerie, filled with dark lore and snowstorms in the frozen, remote wastes of Norway. It twists fantasy and horror together effortlessly, and injects the story with a dash of romance. Very up my street.

Martha, our protagonist, is a great example of a female heroine who isn’t exactly “likable” but is nevertheless intriguing to follow. Left blind and mutilated in one eye by a childhood accident, Martha has run away from England to visit Mormor, her beloved grandmother, who lives in Norway. Only when Martha shows up at the cabin, she’s met by several shocks: Mormor is dead, and there’s a strange boy in her cabin.

The fantasy aspect is present from the opening pages: Martha has the unique ability to “read” people by touching their clothes. Soon she’s drawn into the mystery of a curse that has been a part of her family for generations – Mormor was desperate for the strange tree outside her cabin to keep being watered after she died. But why would she want to keep the tree watered? And what is Martha’s part in this now Mormor is gone?

THE TWISTED TREE draws heavily on Norse mythology and makes good use of its setting. Martha and Stig – the strange Norwegian boy who has been squatting in Mormor’s cabin – are isolated from the outside world by trees and snow and darkness, and it’s apparent that something’s lurking in the shadows outside, and it may all be connected to that mysterious tree…

Martha is a bit of a grump (with good reason) and her narration is consistently bitter and angry throughout the novel – she’s full of self-loathing, hates her appearance thanks to her damaged eye, and is stuck feeling out of place and strange due to her unique clothes-reading ability. Her sour narration is paired well with the cold, atmospheric and creepy plot – she also contrasts well with Stig, who is basically a perky goth boy. Even though it’s understandable why Martha is at first suspicious of him, it’s hard not to be charmed by his awkward dorkiness.

I wasn’t a huge fan of how the romance thread was left – it felt simultaneously rushed and open-ended in the last few pages, but this is a minor quibble about an otherwise very chilling and spooky read. I wasn’t picking this book up hoping for romance, so the fact that I got engrossed in that aspect was a bonus.

As a horror and fantasy novel, I thought it worked very well. It’s more of a dark fantasy than straight-up horror – there’s the clothes-reading element as well as lots of references and ties to Norse myths and legends. The creepiness builds effectively but the structure of the story feels more like paranormal fantasy YA than horror – nothing wrong with this, of course, especially when there are some pretty spooky scenes (especially those involving the thing that comes from beneath the tree).

The perfect read for snuggling up with this October, especially if you like your creepy stories with a mythological folklore twist…

For fans of: FIR by Sharon Gosling, A SHIVER OF SNOW AND SKY by Lisa Lueddecke

reviews

[Review] Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 4/5 (Great!)

Release Date: 4 October 2018 (USA)
Publisher: Katherine Tegen BooksHarperCollins (USA)
Genre: Young adult, horror, fantasy, LGBT

How I read it: I got a proof copy from Harper360 at YALC.

Get it at Amazon UK:  Sawkill Girls

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: The newbie. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: The pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: The queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives; a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires. Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight…until now.

I pounced on the opportunity to get hold of an ARC of this at YALC. Supernatural horror, murder, mystery, queer girls – it sounded right up my alley. I’m pleased to say I enjoyed it a lot.

SAWKILL GIRLS is a supernatural horror story that takes place in the small island community of Sawkill Rock, and the plot revolves around three girls – Marion, Zoey and Val, who are drawn together by a mystery involving the disappearance of girls on the island – a mystery that spans decades. Zoey, the daughter of an officer investigating the disappearances, is mourning the loss of her friend Thora, who disappeared months before. Marion is the new girl in town, haunted by the death of her father. And Val is one of the most popular girls on the island – and her family harbours a dark secret that she can’t escape.

The novel jumps between the POVs of our three main characters, and also features a perspective from the rock itself – a strange narrative device, but it works. Each character is distinct in personality and background, AND ALL OF THEM ARE QUEER! Zoey is particularly notable to me as she’s asexual, and it’s explicitly portrayed on the page – it actually plays a part in her subplot and informs her character (but doesn’t define her). While I don’t identify as ace, I thought it seemed like positive, well-written representation – I’d be interested to hear thoughts on it from asexual readers.

I’d argue that this book could probably have been a bit shorter, but it doesn’t drag. My favourite POV to read was probably Zoey’s – she’s funny, has a drive to get to the bottom of what happened to her friend Thora, has a complex friendship with her ex-boyfriend Grayson, and her relationship with her dad is sweet but starts to become rockier as she discovers that there’s something important about the case that he’s not telling her. Marion was also interesting to read (and she’s a fat girl who likes girls!!), especially when she begins experiencing a strange sensation dubbed the “bone cry” – her first hint that something isn’t normal about Sawkill. Valerie was probably the hardest for me to connect with as a character – she didn’t feel as well-rounded to me as the other two, but I was intrigued by her story. While she appears to be the posh girl from a wealthy family, she’s the target of Zoey’s suspicions and is trapped by family expectations and a curse going back generations.

I didn’t find this book particularly scary, but it takes a lot to scare me in horror these days (I watch a lot of horror movies and they don’t tend to faze me) and I still enjoyed it as a dark fantasy novel with lots of mystery. I appreciated it was a bit more gruesome and heavy on the body horror compared to a lot of other YA horror – it’s quite visceral in its descriptions of the mysterious “Collector” and the fate of the missing girls. It’s more Buffy than Stephen King – you’ll see why as you read on – but as a dark paranormal mystery, it’s very effective. Legrand’s writing is perfectly suited to this style of story, with her dark, gorgeous descriptions plunging me into the environment of Sawkill Rock and capturing the darkest parts of my imagination.

SAWKILL GIRLS is a twisted, dark take on local legends – with a queer, female cast and atmospheric mystery. It’s the perfect time to curl up with a book like this – the days are getting longer and Halloween is on the horizon, so I’d recommend this for a cold, dark October night.

For fans of: THE CALL by Peadar Ó Guilín, THE DEAD HOUSE by Dawn Kurtagich, THE DARK BENEATH THE ICE by Amelinda Bérubé