Saturday, December 30, 2023

Review: Poplyphemus by Zachary Ashford

by Zachary Ashford
Release Date: November 14, 2023
2023 DarkLit Press
Ebook Edition; 328 Pages
ISBN: 978-1998851126
Audiobook: B0CL7Z7FRV
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from author / DarkLit Press

3 / 5 Stars

When lead vocalist of Polyphemus Stephen Oaks’s near-fatal on-stage overdose leaves them under pressure from their label, the band’s remaining members must find a new vocalist, pick up the pieces and forge on without him.

Unfortunately, he’s fresh from rehab and desperate to reunite with his old band, In fact, he’s so desperate that he’ll bargain with dark forces and sacrifice everything – and anyone!

After the final encore is played and the house lights come down, there is no telling who will remain or who they’ll be in allegiance to. For Polyphemus, obsession costs far more than mere murder.
My Thoughts
Polyphemus is one of those novels that had a lot of things going for it in terms of horror elements: rock music, deals with the devil, drug issues, relationship problems, a cool playlist, and so on. And while I really enjoyed the way the author intertwined the rock elements with the story, I did think it took way too long for the plot to get going. To be honest, it felt a lot more like a novel about musicians who were having difficulties with their careers, family, and life, with them drinking, doing drugs, and jamming rather than a horror novel.   

First of all, the main characters were your stereotypical portrayals of musicians and it made me think  the author did this deliberately. Except for Spiros, most of them cared little for others and concentrated solely on their music and the contract that was causing them huge problems. I disliked Nathan the most for the way he treated a woman who was looking for help, and while he was trying to make amends towards the end, it was little too late.  When I did reflect on the men's attitudes and their behaviours and the way they were written though, it did seem as though the author was satirizing a lot of elements to showcase stereotypes and their annoying exploits made a lot more sense in that light.  I love satire, but I'm not sure a lot of people get it when it's used in novels, but the author definitely exaggerates a lot of actions in this story to highlight problematic choices and behaviours. 

The author does spend way too much time developing the personal lives of the individual characters which slows down the narrative. I do wish he had invested as much into the female characters however, as they were wither nagging or making stupid decisions. And I couldn't, for the life of me, understand where the relationship between Oaks and India developed from whatever to an actual relationship. The use of the trope of sympathetic woman begging for her love to be saved only to make stupid decisions on his behalf drives me crazy.  

The plot itself took a long time to get going because the author spent too long developing the relationships between the characters. The story had a lot of potential, and there were some great nuggets throughout. When the chaos struck though, it struck well, and I really enjoyed those parts of the book. And I'm still not sure what I think of the ending; I liked it, but I think I wanted more.

Polyphemus is one of those books you can still enjoy even if you are not a heavy metal enthusiast. I am more of a classic rock girlie, but I still listened to the music list provided (and enjoyed it). I do think the author was trying to satirize the rock world and exaggerate the elements and stereotypes within, but it didn't quite work the way it was intended due to a plot that took too long to get moving and characters that were not relatable.  Overall, the overall concept was cool, and although it missed its mark with me, I would recommend it to others, especially to those who like a slower burn and not as much blood-letting.


Thursday, December 28, 2023

Review: Unfamiliar Territory by R. Lindsay Carter

by R. Lindsay Carter
Release Date: April 23, 2022
2022 Rock and Flower Press (Independent)
EBook Edition; 323 Pages
ISBN: 978-8985907209
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from author

4 / 5 Stars

Cressida Curtain has a business to run. She spends her time catching bad guys and turning them in for bounties. After all, she’s a natural born hunter.

She also isn’t exactly human. That’s her secret to keep, because her very existence is the only thing holding a great evil at bay. It’s a legacy that’s been passed down through the generations, and Cressida is the latest in line.

Life as a bounty hunter is never dull. And hers is about to get a lot more interesting.
My Thoughts
Unfamiliar Territory is the first book in The Familiar's Legacy series and I enjoyed it very much. I went into it not knowing very much about it, not having even read the blurb, so I was pleasantly surprised by the plot and by the characters. I am a huge fan of epic, dark fantasy, but I am starting to really enjoy the lighter fantasy fares such as this one and am intrigued by the growth of cozy fantasy which is definitely where this book lies.  
Cressida was a fun character to follow and I definitely loved learning more about her. There was a surprise little twist about her character that I wasn't expecting, one that I won't share as it should be discovered by the reader, but so much fun. She has this ability to connect with animals and I love how she shows absolute respect for all of them which makes her relationship with Grimm even more delightful. I don't know what to call Grimm, but he's a type of fantastical dog who can do these amazing things and is capable of understanding humans on a super-elevated level.  The relationship between Grimm and Cressida was fun to uncover and theirs is definitely an equal partnership.  The secondary characters did not have much depth to them, but while I feel like I haven't untangled all of their motivations and learned enough about them, there are still more books in this series which gives ample time for the author to develop these characters further.  
While the plot itself wasn't unique and could be somewhat predictable, the world-building was great and I liked learning about the little bit of politics that was revealed. Because it focused more on Cressica's world and her bounty-hunting world, I am still somewhat sketchy on the actual political structure that exists and how she fits into it all.  That being said, the story was quite interesting and there were a few unexpected surprises that I wasn't expecting which made it fun to read.  All of the elements were there: curses, magic, mayhem, betrayal, supernatural beings, and so much more. I tend to like stories about prophecies and curses, so maybe I was a little biased going into this.  

Unfamiliar Territory is an easy-reading fantasy story that would appear to readers who are looking for something lighter, but still has that fantastical element to it. Although the story was a lot of fun, it did make use of coincidences to move the story along, one of those things that did make me roll my eyes a couple of times. However, the story was fun and engaging, and I really liked the main character. It definitely aims more towards the cozy rather than the complex, so I recommend it for those who are looking for something fun to read without the 'epic' in their stories. 


Saturday, December 23, 2023

Review: Light in the Shadows by Georgia C. Leigh

by Georgia C. Leigh
Release Date: January 10, 2023
2023 Georgia Leigh
Kindle Edition; 546 Pages
ISBN: 978-1958971017
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from author

4 / 5 Stars

Sheltered eighteen-year-old Haven arrives at the Academy to learn what it means to be seraphim. But when she discovers an ancient magic within, she loses the glimpse of friendship she longs for and is thrown back into isolation. Her magic also awakens a dark shadow in her world, and catalyzes those who seek to control her, to bind her and use her for her power. 
Ryker, a world walker and a demon hunter, is the only one powerful enough to contain her magic. And he knows what it is like to be wanted for someone else’s gains. Ryker’s brutal methods may give her the chance to understand her gift and control it, but they are running out of time. 
My Thoughts
Light in the Shadows is the first book in the Shadows and Light saga, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  Because this the beginning of a five book arc, this one serves to introduce some of the characters, the world, and the political system. It was a bit of a slower burn than I expected, but I enjoyed learning about the lives of the characters, how they fit in into the political systems being developed, and the relationships that were being built. 
While most of the book occurred over a three-year period where the MC Haven was attending the academy to learn about her magic and what it means to be a seraphim, there were enough scenes away from it that gave you a glimpse of the actual world.  At first, due to the prologue, I thought there would be overlap with Earth, but that actually didn't happen and this was something I really enjoyed.  I like stories about academies and how young people are trained, and I really liked the setup and how relationships were forged, how you learned to really care for those in your unit, trust they had your back at all times, and worked together at all moments of the day.   Naturally, there was going to be personal angst as well, that is to be expected when you live in such close quarters with people for such a long time.

I like Haven's personal development quite a bit. She went from being unsure how to forge relationships to learning how to open up and share her secrets, although I do think there is a lot more to tell. Although I felt there was something important about her, I was surprised when the reveal came as I was not expecting it, but I liked how it just flowed with the story. Ryker's character was not as developed as Haven's simply because he is older, attended the academy decades ago, so it was not necessary to really develop him at this point in time.  I liked learning about his job in the present time and what he was doing, although even that was not really fully told. I am a patient person however, and can wait to find out more.  The secondary characters were not quite as developed as the main ones, but with four books to come, I think we will learn more about them as we go.

The plot was fast-paced, with changing alliances and the start of political intrigue.  The writing style was good and certainly kept me interested. I did think the author had a tendency to give away too much information through the use of multiple POV which affected the overall tension and suspense as you could tell what was going to happen.  While it was not necessarily the POV that was the issue, it was the giving away of information in these scenes that caused the problems so it was incredibly easy to figure things out. I would have liked a bit more guess work on my part as it would have elevated the tension level and left me more surprised than it did.

Light in the Shadows is a great start to the series, and while it did start slow, I actually didn't mind that at all.  The writing style has a way of engaging you despite the fact the multiple POV gives away some important plot points which reduces the overall tension in the story.  Some intriguing relationships and intrigues have begun to sprout so I am interested to see how they will develop and harm our main characters in future books.


Saturday, December 9, 2023

Review: Europea Halls by Alan Shivers

by Alan Shivers
Release Date: October 1st, 2023
2023 Independently Published
Kindle Edition; 174 Pages
ISBN: 979-8857604199
Genre: Fiction / YA / Horror
Source: Review copy from author through Kindle Unlimited

3 / 5 Stars

Welcome to Europea Halls. Only the select few have made it into these prestigious dorms in the capital of the EU, Brussels.

When six best teenage friends get stalked by a serial killer, the campus is on high alert. As the body count piles up, it seems the killer knows a thing or two about slasher movies. Can these girls fight back in time to discover the truth behind the gruesome murders, or will no-one live to tell the tale?
My Thoughts
Europea Halls is a short, fun, somewhat mindless horror romp that will have you turning the pages rather quickly, but came up a bit short on character and story development.  I enjoy reading YA novels, but I was a bit surprised when I learned the age of the characters as they seemed a lot younger due to their behaviours and the way they spoke.  I know that making silly choices is one of the tropes driving a story forwards, especially in horror novels, but I have never been a fan of that technique and wish characters could make better decisions as it would seem more authentic.

First of all, I did love the 80s campy vibe in this book as I enjoy 80s slasher films and I do think the author achieved this in this book.  I stopped taking the story so seriously and just enjoyed the ride, working my way through those 80s vibes set in a modern setting.  Therefore, while a lot of the scenes were not necessarily realistic, they were fun, and I wanted more of them.  And while the scenes involving the deaths were bloody, I don't actually think they were that graphic, especially when you think in terms of Clown in a Cornfield type of graphic, these were pretty tame.  They were however, my favourite parts of the book; but then, I am a horror fiction fan so take that as you wish.  

I did enjoy the characters, but they were rather immature and didn't really take what was happening seriously.  Part of the problem, I think, is while the book moved along rather quickly and was short, that was also its negative as it didn't allow much room for character growth and development, so you didn't really get to know the characters at all.  I don't think I could distinguish any of the girls even now as they all seemed the same.  I will say though, that while it was rather easy to guess one of the twists in this book, the other one did escape me completely, so that was fun.  

Europea Halls was well-written and the ending was satisfying, even if the author left some things to continue in the next book.  While the story moved quickly and was filled with murder and mayhem, I did find it to be weak in certain places, and wasn't thrilled with the killer's motivations.  The characters didn't have a chance to show any growth and development, therefore they didn't really stand out and it was difficult to develop empathy for any of them.  Overall, this was a fun, campy horror, and I definitely think anyone new to the horror genre will enjoy this book.