Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Leo Hunt's Thrilling 'Eight Rivers of Shadow' ★★★★★

8 Rivers of Shadow by Leo Hunt

It's been fifteen months since I read Leo Hunt's Thirteen Days of Midnight, easily the most exciting supernatural novel of 2015. In the meantime I stalked Leo on Twitter, hanging on to every word he uttered about the release of the sequel. That day finally came in July but like a squirrel with a nut, I decided in my infinite wisdom to hoard the book away until I could devour it in one sitting.

Fast forward to now. I'm on vacation and I have indeed finished it in one setting and the reason I'm relaying this dull tale is because I'm rendered speechless. I had high hopes for Eight Rivers of Shadow and Leo Hunt has exceeded them in every possible way.

It's difficult to review a sequel without spoiling the first instalment so please proceed with caution if you've not read Thirteen Days of Midnight (but please also rush out and make sure you buy, borrow or steal it immediately).  (And I do mean steal it from your best friend, not download it from illegal sources).

Eight Rivers of Shadow begins about 5 months after the events in Thirteen Days of Midnight. Luke has banished his Host to Hell, struck a deal with the devil and, contrary to his assurances that he destroyed it, buried the Book of Eight in the garden. He and Elza are still together and Ham is still his untrustworthy and cowardly bloodhound.

Thinking he has put his days of Necromancy behind him, Luke has an episode at school which his classmates describe in a viral video as "Boy Gets Possessed at School" but which is closer to the Book of Eight running riot through his brain and threatening to supernova.

Ever on the outskirts of school society since he first inherited the Host, Luke barely has time to register Ash, a strange new exchange student at the school, before things start to go terribly wrong. Again.

Before he can stop himself, he becomes embroiled in the affairs of the new student, a powerful sorceress in her own right. He promises to assist her in resurrecting her comatose sister, so injured by Luke's own father, and in return, she promises to save Luke from the damaging effects of the Book of Eight.

8 Rivers of Shadow - Leo HuntWith promises and betrayal, compromises and loss, Eight Rivers of Shadow is very difficult indeed to put down. Not that you’d want to. What appealed to me most about the book was the original and fascinating accounts of magic, a healthy dose of ghosts and scares, a fantastically imaginative journey through the land of the dead topped off with great characters and an addictive story. 

Luke Manchett also happens to be one of my favourite protagonists of all times, second only perhaps to Gena Showalter’s Aden Stone from her Intertwined series. Although, if Leo Hunt actually finishes his series, unlike Gena, then Luke Manchett will definitely become my favourite.

Luke is a great character and great narrator even when you know he has made an error of judgement. Added that he is now comfortable with being an outcast and as sorry as it sounds, he is also confident of the love that exists in his life which is often his only saving factor.

Readers cannot help but adore Ham, Luke’s cowardly hound and it is wonderful to see him with an even bigger role to play in the story.

I give Eight Rivers of Shadow by Leo Hunt a superb five out of five stars and would highly recommend it to fans of supernatural young adult fiction, fantasy and science fiction.

5 Stars


Friday, 14 October 2016

Music: The Faint return with 'Capsule 1999 - 2016' ★★★★★


There is a way we refer to The Faint in my household. My other-half likes to refer to it as that ‘really heavy band that you dragged me to see at Scala once’ and I refer to it as the same in order to keep the sanity. The strange thing is that The Faint can in no way be classed as heavy. Lying somewhere at the crossroads of rock and dance music, The Faint have a dance-punk sound that was made more popular in the UK by bands such as New Young Pony Club and Shitdisco. What they are, when you see them live, is loud and ever so slightly eccentric.

Shortly after that fateful night at the Scala in 2008 and following the release of their album Fasciination, The Faint disbanded, leaving fans braying for more new material. They did return in 2014 with Doom Abuse which really was heavy and had less of the tongue-in-cheek humour of previous albums but other than the re-release of the deluxe edition of Danse Macabre in 2012, it has been silence until 2016.

coverHailing from Omaha, Nebraska, The Faint are Todd Fink on vocals and keyboards, Jacob Thiele on keyboards and backup vocals, Dapose on guitars and Clark Baechle on drums and percussion. Fans of the band and lovers of indie electronic music will no doubt be delighted to know that not only are the band touring again but they’ve also released a brand new album.

Sort of.

CAPSULE: 1999-2016 features sixteen of The Faint’s best tracks from Blank-Wave Arcade (1999), Danse Macabre (2001), Wet From Birth (2004), Fasciinatiion (2008) and Doom Abuse (2014) and I do mean the best. “Posed to Death”, “The Conductor”, “Agenda Suicide”, “ I Disappear” and “Mirror Error” feature in a collection of synthesiser-drenched, guitar-laden dance floor killers.

The album also features three brand new tracks. “Young & Realistic” is a catchy, emotional track of the like that we haven’t seen since The Faint’s earlier albums. It definitely has that play on repeat quality. When the video was released in May 2016, it had the fans begging for a whole album just like this.

“Skylab1979” is an edgy, retro-space track that reminded me of the Jetsons and the golden era of space travel.

If I loved “Young & Realistic” (and I did), then I barely have words for the final track “ESP”. The track has a nostalgic feel, rounding off the time capsule through The Faint’s discography. This is a track that reaches back to the birth of electronic music in the 1970s and embraces a genre of cutting edge, futuristic music. It definitely has me wondering why The Faint are holding back; if they have tracks like this in them, why are they feeding them to us in bits?

Do I recommend CAPSULE: 1999-2016? Absolutely. This collection has been perfectly curated, offering fans the best of The Faint’s music since 1999 and will appeal to lovers of indie electronic music and fans who have loved their previous tracks.

But what if you already own all the albums? If you’re a long time fan of the band and have a carnal need to complete your collection (guilty), then yes, pre-order the CD. If you already own absolutely everything they’ve ever released (also guilty), you might just want to buy the three new tracks on digital download which is already available.

I give CAPSULE: 1999-2016 a superb five out of five stars and would highly recommend it to both collectors and fans.

5 Stars

This article first appeared on Blogcritics.org.


Monday, 10 October 2016

Horror Film Review: Observance (2015) ★★★★★


Grief is sticky, a black mass that writhes inside you and feeds on itself, creating a monster that threatens to consume you from within. It is devastation and sleepless nights and nightmares when you eventually succumb to exhaustion and pass out. Grief is bargaining and what ifs and denial. It is when you think you're going mad and then simply wish that you were. 

If grief could be caught on celluloid and examined before an audience, it would look a lot like Joseph Sims-Dennett's Observance. Filmed over eleven days with a budget of $10,000 in the oppressive heat of a Sydney summer, Observance is the epitome of a psychological thriller and delves into the very real horrors of a grieving mind. 


Private investigator Parker (Lindsay Farris) has recently returned to work following the death of his son. Overwhelmed by hospital bills, he accepts a seemingly simple assignment to observe a woman. He sets up in an abandoned apartment across the way from her but soon realises that something is very wrong with the scenario. 

The more he begins to question the assignment and the safety of the woman, the higher his employer ups his tariff to sweeten the deal to carry on. 


But that is the least of his problems. There is a lurking evil within the apartment, spreading like a virus and threatening to consume Parker. As the underlying horror begins to manifest in increasingly physical assaults on Parker's body, we see him decline into a world of sleeplessness and anguish. 

As claustrophobic a horror film as they come, not all of what we see on screen was acting. In a special featurette stars Lindsay Farris and Stephanie King discuss the challenge of working in oppressive Sydney heat and the increasingly uneasy feeling that permeated the apartment during filming. There were also long days and nights of filming, with cast and crew sleeping on site and barely scraping by on two hours of sleep a night. 

The result is an utterly convincing performance by both stars, to the extent that their terror is almost palpable. 

Joseph Sims-Dennett has an incredible eye for detail and this is evident in the newspapered walls of Parker's apartment contrasted with the light and flow of Tenneal's apartment. When things begin to fester and rot in Parker's apartment, it is everywhere. In his body, souring the milk, seeping down the walls and under his bed. It is the monster in the shed and the demons within him. 


Mostly it lies within Lindsay Farris. Here is an actor who can tell an entire story in his facial expressions and we see it in his fear in Tenneal's apartment, in his growing horror in his own apartment, and in the devastating moments upon waking and realising that his child is still dead. 

This level of detail does not feel low budget but it is entirely because Sims-Dennett did not have an arsenal of cheap gimmicks at his disposal that this film works. 

Of course, it's entirely possible that Observance is not about grief at all or the loss of a child but without that explanation there are no resolutions in Observance. The climax is shocking and unexpected and the ending abrupt with only a brief glimmer as to what happens afterwards. 


With the sweeping cinematography of ocean scenes and crashing waves, the constant reminder of Parker's loss and the very real feeling that Parker is on a precipice it seems a very plausible explanation. Then again, perhaps this is the kind of film that inspires to view to form their own conclusions?

Observance is without a doubt the best horror film I've seen this year. For surrealism and symbolism,  it reminds me of my favourite horror films Open Grave and The Cutting Room


I give Observance a superb five out of five stars and recommend it to fans of subtle, metaphoric horror, full of symbolism. Observance is available on Blu-ray, DVD and on demand in the UK and US now.

5 Stars


Saturday, 8 October 2016

Why Do Adults Read Young Adult Books?

Why Do Adults Read Young Adult Books

It is a question that has been doing the rounds for years. Why do adults read young adult books? Before you can even begin to ponder that question, perhaps it is more relevant to ask what makes a ‘young adult’ book? To begin with, let us agree that ‘young adult’ is actually not a genre and young adult books can belong to several genres including horror, fantasy / science fiction or historical fiction.

Perhaps it is would be correct to say that young adult books are those which are marketed at the young adult age group, roughly between 12 and 18 years of age? One look at the special adult editions of the Harry Potter books or the white editions of the Twilight books puts that theory to rest – they were clearly marketed to adults.

The most accurate answer then is that young adult books feature teenage protagonists and are primarily aimed at young adult readers. The books certainly appeal to readers outside of that age range too, both younger readers and adults, but why do adults like them so?

Many people say it is because they are shorter, simpler and less dark than adult books but one only has to read the incredibly dark Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the ridiculously long Breaking Dawn or Garth Nix’s complex Old Kingdom series to know that is not the case.

I think it has to do with magic, escapism, imagination, pop culture and accolades.


Before the explosion of Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, it seemed that your only options if you wanted to read young adult fiction were high school dramas full of backstabbing and politics. There was certainly no magic and no appeal to the older market.

But then something incredible happened. Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer arrived on TV, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Northern Lights were released, Goosebumps and Vampire Diaries gained in popularity and suddenly we were living in a world of magic, sorcery and supernatural forces beyond our wildest imaginations. When you look at what was happening in the real world, is it any surprise adults began to turn to books aimed at the young adult market?


Which brings me neatly to my next point. Whether they were promising a brave new world or a very scary future, young adult novels have embraced other worlds, dimensions and timelines in a way that adult novels seems to attempt in a much more clumsy manner. Sure, an entire library of Urban Fantasy novels attempt to do the same thing but they are so busy explaining to adults why they can’t necessarily believe what their grown up brains, logic and experience are telling them that their execution is less than smooth.

In children's and young adult books, these worlds just are. Another world in the back of your cupboard? A knife that can cut between worlds? An entire world of magic and wizardry? Of course it’s possible.

(As a side note, perhaps that is why I loved The Southern Vampire Mysteries so much. They did the same thing).

Imagination and Inventiveness

I’m one of those rare people who loves my job and is happy to let people thing that being an accountant is boring but let’s face it, if I used imagination and inventiveness in my daily life, I’d land up in jail. This is where young adult books step in. I’ve read many books where the protagonist is a wizard or sorcerer but each time the author has come up with a vastly different idea of how that magic happens. Luke Manchett (from Leo Hunt’s Thirteen Days of Midnight) and Sabriel (from Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series) are both necromancers who travel to the realm of the dead but their abilities and those worlds are completely different.

Young adult books stimulate the imagination, put us in the shoes of the protagonists and take us on adventures beyond our wildest imaginations. And that is just in the first chapter.

The Warner Bros Studio Tour, London

Pop Culture

Sure, books are the superior medium, the thinking person’s source of entertainment but who doesn’t like the big screen, bright lights or the occasional night in on the sofa? The allure of young adult books is that they have permeated every corner of pop culture and it is not just teens who are being drawn in. Whether it is sipping Butter Beer at the Warner Brother Studio Tour or watching the latest Maze Runner film, adults are just as likely to be there as children and teens. My personal favourite is when young adult series come to the small screen and I’m especially excited to see Daniel Handler’s A Series of Unfortunate Events which is coming to Netflix on January 17, 2017. If you’re unfamiliar with Daniel and his alter-ego Lemony Snicket, think very dry, extremely outlandish and altogether strange.


The final reason has to do with awards and accolades. Despite what you might think about young adult books, there is some gripping, important and award-winning material being released, the type of books that might change your life and will certainly change your outlook. This year was the year I discover the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and I have read books that dealt with racism in the Deep South, poverty and persecution in Mexico, school shootings, mental illness and the Operation Hannibal evacuation during the Second World War.

What they lacked in magic and escapism, they made up for in superb storytelling and the introduction of themes and scenarios that I barely knew about before reading these books. Which just goes to show that there is something for everybody in the world of young adult fiction.

What do you think? Do you read young adult fiction and if so, what are your reasons for doing so?

© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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