Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Horror Film Review: The Queen of Black Magic (2019) ★★★★★

The mark of a great film is when you swear fealty to the director, knowing that you will forevermore be a fan and follower of their work. I felt that way about Joko Anwar's Impetigore and was absolutely thrilled when I heard about his involvement in The Queen of Black Magic.

A Shudder Original, The Queen of Black Magic (original title Ratu Ilmu Hitam) is based on the classic 1981 Indonesian horror of the same name and was brought to life by two of Indonesia's modern masters of horror: director Kimo Stamboel and writer Joko Anwar.

The Queen of the Damned | Horror Film Review

In modern day Indonesia, a family forego their usual vacation in Bali and head instead to the orphanage where their father Hanif (Ario Bayu, Impetigore) grew up along with his friends Jefri (Miller Khan) and Anton (Tanta Ginting). The man who raised them is dying and the men want to pay their respects. Soon Hanif, Jefri, Anton and their families will learn that the sins of the past will not remain buried and that someone wants them dead.

The Queen of Black Magic is breathtaking. There is so much story crammed into this film that the various threads tumbled around in my head for days afterwards; it shouldn't have worked but it did. Stamboel and Anwar managed to carefully craft together a complex supernatural horror with devastating references to childhood abandonment and abuse; in the hands of lesser filmmakers, this film might have collapsed under the weight of its themes but The Queen of Black Magic triumphed.

The Queen of the Damned | Horror Film Review

Horror isn't always monsters and gore, sometimes it is crafted from memories and pain. The Queen of Black Magic captured perfectly the horror of returning to an orphanage, illustrating the visceral, almost palpable feeling of desperation, despair and sadness, the trauma of being left behind and the fear of never escaping. It is a sad, heavy feeling, especially going back and realising you've been running on empty ever since, trying to escape those humble beginnings.

Deeper than that, The Queen of Black Magic tackles the devastating impacts of childhood sexual abuse, the children who are forced to be complicit in those events and the life sentence cast on the victims.

At no point do the filmmakers attempt to shy away from the weight of these themes. Instead they look to horror to paint a lurid visual picture of these events.

The Queen of the Damned | Horror Film ReviewThe Queen of Black Magic is a bug horror. I have a real-world phobia of cockroaches and Parktown prawns (think giant, blood-red king crickets), so I usually find it difficult to enjoy bug horror. Not here. This was some of the best bug horror I've ever seen, authentically produced and very creepy. Sure, I was cringing like hell and watching between my fingers but it was very well done and absolutely necessary in the telling of the tale.

It is also about voodoo and black magic. I won't give anything away, but that climax was terrifying, reminiscent of Dante's Inferno as hell rains down on earth. It could have gone any way really and I'm dying to discuss those scenes with others who've seen the film.

The Queen of Black Magic is a creepy, scary horror that blends bugs, voodoo and the horrors of childhood trauma to deliver a powerful and unexpected ending. The performances are superb across the cast, especially in the host of young actors. I give it a superb five out of five stars and recommend it to fans of Train to Busan and Satan's Slaves. I am definitely a fan of Joko Anwar now, and of Kimo Stamboel too.

★★★★★

A Shudder original, The Queen of Black Magic releases 28 January 2021 on Shudder US, Shudder UK, Shudder Canada and Shudder ANZ.

The Queen of the Damned | Horror Film Review

The Queen of Black Magic Trailer

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Saturday, 23 January 2021

Five YA Audiobook Releases I Can't Wait For in February 2021

I can’t believe we’re almost at the end of January. I'm writing from my home in sunny Kent and it's beginning to look like lockdown will be with us until at least mid-February, if not Easter. One of the things that is keeping me sane at the moment is long walks in the marshes near my house with just me, the creek and an audiobook for company. So without further ado, here are the 5 YA audiobooks I’m most looking forward to in February 2021.


The Library of the DEad by T. L. Huchu

Narrated by:Tinashe Warikandwa
Series: Edinburgh Nights, Book 1
Length: 9 hrs  
Release date: 02-02-21   
Publisher: Tor

Summary
When ghosts talk, she will listen....

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghost talker - and she now speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children - leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honour-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.

They had me at the word ‘ghost’. This sounds very much like Victoria Schwab’s City of Ghosts (it’s even set in Edinburgh) and this is a definite listen for me. The author also just happens to have my favourite Zimbabwean name: Tendai.

Pre-order The Library of the Dead


The Project by Courtney Summers

Narrated by: Emily Shaffer, Therese Plummer
Length: 9 hrs and 52 mins
Release date: 02-02-21
Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Summary

From Courtney Summers, the New York Times best-selling author of the 2019 Edgar Award Winner and breakout hit, Sadie, comes a sensational follow-up - another pulls-no-punches thriller about an aspiring young journalist determined to save her sister from a cult.

I love Courtney Summers and her previous book Sadie was my Book of the Year in 2019. To say I’m excited for this one is an understatement.

Pre-order The Project


Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

Narrated by: Andrew Eiden, Jennifer Jill Araya
Length: 10 hrs and 3 mins
Release date: 09-02-21
Publisher: HarperAudio

Summary

An explosive new novel by the author of the National Book Award-winning Challenger Deep and the New York Times best-selling Arc of a Scythe series, about the limited ways we see our world - and how a jolt out of the ordinary can upend the universe.

I have an embarrassing and heart-breaking confession to make: I haven’t yet read any of Neal Shusterman’s books, despite knowing that I really should. I tried to read Dry in March 2020 but those familiar with the story might understand why that wasn’t the best timing. Hopefully his latest release will be a game changer for me (sorry, not sorry).

Pre-order Game Changer


We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire by Joy McCullough

Narrated by: Frankie Corzo
Length: 7 hrs
Release date: 09-02-21
Publisher: Listening Library

Summary

From the author of the acclaimed Blood Water Paint, a new contemporary YA novel in prose and verse about a girl struggling with guilt and a desire for revenge after her sister's rapist escapes with no prison time.

This one looks really powerful and I'll make an early prediction that this could be up for Printz Award consideration.

Pre-order We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire


The Iron Raven by Julie Kagawa

Narrated by: Josh Hurley
Length: 16 hrs
Release date: 09-02-21
Publisher: HQ Young Adult

Summary

‘You may have heard of me….'

Robin Goodfellow. Puck. Prankster, joker, raven, fool...King Oberon’s right-hand jester from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The legends are many, but the truth will now be known as never before, as Puck finally tells his own story and faces a threat unlike any before. A threat that brings him face-to-face with a new enemy...himself.

I love Julie Kagawa and have read all seven previous Iron Fey books plus accompanying novellas. I was also missing the Iron Fey series so much that I had begun consuming them again on audiobook last year. I can’t begin to express how excited I was to note that a brand new book is out in the Iron Fey universe, part of a planned trilogy based on Puck’s adventures.

Pre-order The Iron Raven


Click on any of the audiobook covers or links above to go straight to Amazon to pre-order. These are affiliate links and I will earn a small commission from your purchase at no extra cost to you.

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Thursday, 14 January 2021

Horror Film Review: Hunted (2020) ★★★☆☆

This year came with no promises, so I'm preparing to bunker down with an endless supply of horror films. My first for 2021 is also my first from French director Vincent Paronnaud, Shudder original Hunted.

Hunted begins in a bar in Belgium where French contractor Eve is trying to have a good time, despite the uninvited attention of certain men in the bar. Her knight-in-shining-armour turns wicked wolf and suddenly Eve finds herself lost in a forest in a life-or-death battle for survival.

Lucie Debay is Eve | Hunted (2020) | Horror Film Review

Two maniac killers. The woods. Eve.

Hunted is a gory retelling of the classic Little Red Riding Hood story with onscreen violence and off-screen sexual assault. It is also the story of wolves and what one woman will do to survive and get her revenge.

Ariel Worthalter | Hunted (2020) | Horror Film Review

Belgian actress Lucie Debay (The Confession) shines as Eve, our intrepid survivor. Ariel Worthalter (Girl) is the absolutely psychopathic, unhinged wolf and Ciaran O'Brien (Misfits) is his feckless accomplice. It's a testament to Worthalter and O'Brien's performances that I detested them so much, not everyone can play such a convincing antagonist.

When the focus isn't on the wolf and his sick film hobby, Hunted is a beautiful film to watch. I loved the forest setting juxtaposed against the modern, soulless houses that Eve builds. The forest, with its perils and frozen rivers, made for a very atmospheric setting, disturbed by ample use of the colour red.

Hunted (2020) | Horror Film Review

There was also the fairytale element, more grim than glitter, and a fantastic cameo from Simone Milsdochter as The Huntress. I would definitely like to have seen more of her story explored. In fact, I'd have liked to have seen a different outcome, one where The Huntress played a greater role, where Eve had more agency than luck, and where our antagonists' fortunes were infinitely more unfortunate. That could just be me though, I'm not a great fan of Grindhouse or exploitation horror.

Nevertheless, Hunted was a fun film to kick of the year and I give it an okay three out of five stars.

★★★☆☆

Hunted premieres on Shudder tonight, 14 January 2021.

Hunted 2020 Trailer

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Sunday, 13 December 2020

Unique Gifts for Music Lovers, Writers and Cat People

I've been following Surface Pattern Designer & Illustrator Gail Myerscough on Twitter for some time now. Not only does she have the cutest cat - Pete - I also love her work. So, in the hopes that one of my family spot this post, I'm going to highlight unique ideas from Gail's website that would be perfect for that difficult-to-buy-for music lover, writer or cat person in your life. There is also a handy 10% off voucher at the bottom!

Acknowledge Their Love of Vintage Record Players and Cassettes

Recognise Their Love of Soul With A Pam Print

Personalise A Typewriter Print

Realise That They Love Cats More Than People

Order by 16 December for Christmas delivery and use the code CHRISTMAS10 to get 10% off everything in Gail's online shop.

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Monday, 7 December 2020

Rachel Burge's Creepy Norwegian Horror 'The Twisted Tree' | Book Review ★★★★★

The Twisted Tree has been on my to-read list forever. The exact date you ask? Well that would be 28 July 2019. Specific, I know, but I saw author Rachel Burge speak at YALC in 2019 and her book went straight onto my wish-list along with the other books from British authors on the New Voices of YA Fantasy panel.

The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge | Superior Young Adult Fiction | Book Review

The difficulty is that I have this preconception that fantasy is difficult to read and that the world building is too much for me to handle because I admittedly struggle with comprehension issues that plagued my academic life.

I was wrong.

The Twisted Tree was an absolute pleasure to read and I'm just disappointed that I didn't pick it up sooner. There was so much to love in this short book with ghosts and demons, witches and ancestors, and a healthy dose of Norse mythology.

Oh, and it also featured a skinny, leather-trench-coat-wearing goth boy in it, which just happened to be my exact type at age 15. (Little known fact, I eventually snagged said goth boy from the clutches of my evil best frenemy and we dated for over a year, which is practically a decade in high school).

The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge | Superior Young Adult Fiction | Book Cover Martha is desperate to see her grandmother. Ever since a terrible accident when she lost sight in her left eye, she has been plagued by the feelings and emotions of people that she can gather simply by touching their clothes. Only her grandmother will understand but Martha hasn't heard a word from her in weeks and she lives on the isolated Norwegian island of Skjebne, almost a full day of travelling from London.

Martha takes the perilous journey alone but all is not well when she arrives at Skjebne to find a boy called Stig squatting in her grandmother's home instead of her grandmother.

A winter storm is coming to Skjebne, one that will suck the life out of your lungs and transform the landscape in minutes. Trapped and isolated, Martha and Stig are in for the most terrifying couple of days in their lives as ghosts emerge, horrors are uncovered and Martha comes face to face with her ancestral responsibilities.

The Twisted Tree is a page-turning triumph from the very first page and I'm so pleased that I read it now because I can dive straight into the sequel that was released in September.

For being spooky and thrilling, scary and interesting, I give The Twisted Tree a superb five out of five stars and recommend to lovers of ghost stories and witchy women.

★★★★★

Support local bookshops and buy The Twisted Tree at Bookshop.org. You can also visit the Addicted to Media YA Fiction Bookshop to see my recommendations (note: both these links are affiliate links; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using these links at no extra cost to you).

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Sunday, 29 November 2020

Tiffany D Jackson's 'Monday's Not Coming' | Audiobook Review ★★★☆☆

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson | Audiobook Review | Superior Young Adult Fiction

My first thought on finishing Tiffany D Jackson's Monday's Not Coming was joy, "so glad it's over" to be precise. There are four primary reasons for this, three of which drive my three-star review.

Monday's Not Coming is about two best friends Claudia and Monday, how Monday comes from a severely abusive home and how Claudia is seemingly the only person who cares when Monday doesn't return to school after the summer holidays.

It is one of the most ugly, devastating stories I've read, similar in theme and tone to Courtney Summers's Sadie, which I voted as my favourite book of 2019. The storytelling was also slightly similar but whereas Sadie utilised two timelines, Monday's Not Coming uses a very messy and convoluted four storylines. This shouldn't have been a problem but I listened to the novel on audiobook and have to admit that it would have been far better to read in written form to try anchor the various timelines.

I'm a great fan of audiobooks and Imani Parks did an exceptional job of bringing Claudia's voice to life but ultimately ten hours of audio was too long for this novel and I committed the cardinal audiobook-lover's sin of listening to the book at 1.25x speed. I just wanted it to be over.

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson | Audiobook Cover | Superior Young Adult FictionA lengthy audio narration and dark themes wouldn't have impacted my rating but the confusing timelines certainly did. What ultimately moved my rating from four to three stars was a very clumsy PTSD and amnesia twist. It was a twist-too-far to an already complicated story, a twist I felt was unnecessary to the outcome of the novel or the core themes of the novel itself.

I also didn't feel that it was particularly authentic; this is strictly my own experience but I actually did experience partial-amnesia following a bank robbery (20 years ago) and every part of my mind was screaming "it doesn't work like that" as I read this book. What Jackson is describing is a rare fugue state that would likely have required hospitalisation or at the least permanent adult supervision.

Ultimately, I give Monday's Not Coming an okay three out of five stars. What saved this from being a two-star review was Monday's story. Like Sadie, this is a story that will haunt me for some time after I've finished it.

★★★☆☆

Support local bookshops and buy Monday's Not Coming at Bookshop.org. You can also visit the Addicted to Media YA Fiction Bookshop to see my recommendations (note: both these links are affiliate links; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using these links at no extra cost to you).

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Friday, 27 November 2020

New Music Friday: Royal Blood - "Trouble's Coming" (Purple Disco Machine Remix)

Royal Blood | Trouble's Coming | Single Review

I don't discover new music anymore. In Before World, I went to festivals, diligently researching all the new (to me) artists before the day. Concerts were great opportunities too, with support bands or at least some killer tunes from the DJ beforehand. It was even better when I worked in London. Billboards, posters, CDs in-store, my weekly album-a-day playlists to decide what made it to my permanent collection; the sources of new music were endless and I could have easily written annual top-ten album lists if I wasn't perpetually lazy.

Life is different now in every way. I've gone from 90 minute commutes (each way) five years ago to half an hour of total commuting to rolling out of bed and sitting at my desk within ten minutes now. Which means that with the exception of prog-house albums for running to, I've discovered exactly one new (to me) artist in 2020.

It's as dire as it sounds.

That doesn't mean I haven't listened to any alternative or indie music this year, I've just relied on tired old playlists of my favourite tracks when I'm actually a full-album listener at heart. I'm also a big resolution-setter and I usually start resolutions in autumn, not January, so my new resolution is to discover as many new artists as possible, preferably one a week but I'll allow for the occasional love affairs where I play an album on repeat for six weeks.

Royal Blood

My first discovery is Royal Blood who've been around since 2011. I discovered them a couple of weeks ago when they released the Purple Disco Machine Remix of "Trouble's Coming". I immediately liked what I was hearing, it reminded me of the remixes Klaxons used to release and that is a good thing. Klaxons was my favourite band for years and I've never been reminded of them before.

I took a listen to How Did We Get So Dark? (2017). The album gave me a Muse and Kings of Leon vibe. I'm not the biggest Kings of Leon fan strangely enough, strictly hits only, but I knew straight away that this album is a keeper. My favourite tracks are "Lights Out" and "Hook, Line & Sinker" which were released as singles but honestly, this is an album I can listen to whole and I was always a little disappointed when it ended.

Which lead me neatly to their self-titled debut album Royal Blood (2014). This album is brilliant throughout, especially the first three tracks from the explosive opening track "Out of the Black" through "Come on Over" to "Figure It Out".

The best thing is that both albums are short at around 30 minutes, so I've just been listening to both of them over and over.

I'm was hoping that "Trouble's Coming" meant that a new album was on the way and Loudwire confirmed it'll land in Spring 2021. Fabulous news indeed.

I'm very happy with my first discovery. Onwards and upwards to the next one!

"Trouble's Coming Official Video

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