Saturday, 18 January 2020

Sarah Rees Brennan's Wonderful 'Daughter of Chaos', Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2 on Audiobook ★★★★★

Daughter of Chaos | Chilling Adventures of Sabrina | Superior Young Adult Fiction

While the rest of the world was looking forward to the festive season, all I cared about last December was the Boxing Day release of Daughter of Chaos, the second in Sarah Rees Brennan's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina novelisations. I'm coming to this book with a whole lot of love.

How much love is too much?

Warning: the word love is used thirteen times in the paragraphs below and I didn't even bother to try use synonyms. Proceed with caution.

I've loved the whole Riverdale / Greendale universe since I was a teenager so it was no surprise that I loved Riverdale and was in love with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina before it even came out. I especially love Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina and Ross Lynch as Harvey and the whole dark, rich, colourful, delightful show.

I was delighted to discover Season of the Witch, the first of Sarah Rees Brennan's CAOS novelisations and I absolutely love her writing. I listened to this first book on audiobook and I really loved Jesse Vilinsky and Nicol Zanzarella's narration.

This is going to go one of two ways, both of them extreme and I'm happy to say it's extreme love. I loved Daughter of Chaos and while the rest of my world will be looking forward to my birthday on 5 May, all I care about is that Path of Night, the third book in the series, will be released that day. My friends and family better not throw me a surprise party! (I'm kidding! They love me disappearing into audiobooks during social gatherings!)

Daughter of Chaos | Chilling Adventures of Sabrina | Superior Young Adult Fiction In Daughter of Chaos, Harvey and Sabrina have broken up and Sabrina is trying to navigate the murky halls of the Academy of Unseen Arts. But something is amiss in Greendale and it appears to be a much greater threat than a simple bad luck demon conjured by Sabrina. It takes a coven to dismiss a supernatural enemy and this time Sabrina will need every single one of her friends.

How do I love thee, Sabrina? Let me count the ways...

There was so much to love in this story and like Season of the Witch, it was delightful and wholesome in parts, but decidedly darker in others. Without divulging spoilers for those who may not have seen The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina part 2 yet, I will say that I loved Theo's origin story and the beginnings of his identity acceptance; I loved the Harvey and Nick Scratch bromance; I loved that Prudence was humanised in a way we don't see on the show; and finally, I loved the friendship between Roz, Susie and Harvey and how they realise they can still continue once Harvey and Sabrina break up.

It will surprise absolutely no one that I give Daughter of Chaos a superb five out of five stars and especially recommend the audiobook as narrated by Jesse Vilinsky and Nicol Zanzarella. If you've ever loved Sabrina or Archie, magic or fantasy, young adult or fun fiction, then give this one a chance.

★★★★★

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Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Horror Film Review: Lost Gully Road (2017) ★★☆☆☆

Lost Gully Road (2017) | Adele Perovic is Lucy | Horror Film Review

You can tell the characters in horror films aren't fans of the genre; no horror fan in their right mind would, for example, go stay alone in a cabin in the woods with no access to the outside world, especially if you and your sister are up to no good. But alas, our clueless victims don't have our foresight. No television, phone or radio reception? No problem! Just drink red wine and nibble cheese crackers and only vaguely wonder about the dense mass of demonic possession growing in the corner of the room.

In Lost Gully Road, Lucy (Adele Perovic, Total Control) and her sister Cassie are pulling off a con and it involves Lucy staying alone in an isolated house in the woods while her sister ties up loose ends and escapes her suspicious boyfriend. But what of the items that move around the house when Lucy's not looking, the strange noises and that accumulating mass of darkness in the corner? What of Lucy's mental illness, the over-familiar shopkeeper and the nosy housekeeper? And what about the rapist who once lived and died in the house? Well... nothing, as it happens.

Lost Gully Road (2017) | Adele Perovic is Lucy | Horror Film Review With Lost Gully Road, we're promised a "highly anticipated" slow-burn Australian thriller in the tradition of The Babadook and Lake Mungo but the problem is that these are powerful horror films that explore grief, depression and loss whereas Lost Gully Road isn't about anything.

None of the multiple story threads are explored, followed up or resolved in any way, which is disappointing because they seemed interesting; it appears as if the director threw a pile of topics up in the air and hoped one would stick.

The special effects of an unknown force attacking Lucy are laughable, primarily so because at no point does Lucy appear bruised, cut or hurt in any way (except for the scene where her hand was trapped in the door). It occurred to me as I heard yet another audible whoosh and thump that the film relied far too much on sound to signify scares and action rather than show anything of substance.

It's a pity because the allure of independent horror films is in what they manage to achieve on the tiniest of budgets but Lost Gully Road was very disappointing and a waste of Adele Perovic's talent.

Lost Gully Road (2017) | Adele Perovic is Lucy | Horror Film Review

I give Lost Gully Road a generous two out of five stars - one for Adele Perovic's acting in the absence of a script or plot, half because the con plot line might have been interesting were it resolved and half for the use of vivid colours and the Red Riding Hood allusion.

★★☆☆☆

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Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Murderously Dark : A Serial Killer's Guide to Life ★★★★★

A Serial Killer's Guide to Life | Poppy Roe is Val Stone | Horror Film Review

Oh, oh, oh! I'm notorious for not having a sense of humour; as a general rule, if people are raving about how hilarious something is, I'm just not going to get it. Which begs the question of why I even try but I live in hope that I'll discover that elusive gem which will appeal to my particular brand of humour. British, independent, suitably irreverent and very dark, A Serial Killer's Guide to Life might just be the one.

Laurence Olivier Award winner Katie Brayben is Lou Farnt, a self-help addict determined to make something of herself and become the person she's always wanted to be. She wants to escape her despicable mother and leave her dead-end town where everybody is equally awful.

A Serial Killer's Guide to Life | Poster | Horror Film ReviewEverything starts to come together when she meets life coach Val Stone (Poppy Roe). Lou is dazzled by Val's confidence and sophistication and jumps at the chance to go on a road trip in search of inner serenity with her new heroine. The only problem is, Val is slightly unhinged and there might just be a serial killer in their midst. Then again, is it really murder if it's justified? I've never seen a more deserving set of victims get what's coming to them.

A Serial Killer's Guide to Life made me giggle like a girl. It definitely has enough blood and gore to qualify as a horror but most importantly, it's a lot of fun and it's got an absolutely killer twist at the end. It reminded me of a funnier Thelma and Louise with far less Brad Pitt but sufficient snark so that you don't feel his absence too acutely.

Written and directed by Staten Cousins-Roe, A Serial Killer's Guide to Life was created thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign and filmed on a tiny budget of £30,000. This is surprising because nothing about this film screamed low budget at all; it's pretty flawless.

My favourite part of the film was Laurence Love Greed's score, especially "The Killing Montage" which had me rushing for Shazam. I was absolutely thrilled to discover that they'll be releasing the full score on 20 January which you can pre-order on Apple Music.

A Serial Killer's Guide to Life | Poppy Roe is Val Stone and Katie Brayben is Lou Farnt | Horror Film Review

With excellent acting from Katie Brayben and Poppy Roe, murderously dark comedy and that killer twist, I give A Serial Killer's Guide to Life a superb five out of five stars. I'd recommend to fans of independent British horror and predict this will become a cult classic. In fact, I might just shelve it next to my favourite cult British comedy-horror, Bloodbath at the House of Death.

★★★★★

A Serial Killer's Guide to Life will be available on iTunes / Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video and all other UK, US and Canadian digital platforms from 13th January 2020.

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Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Horror Film Review: Stalked (2019) ★★★★☆

Rebecca Rogers in Stalked | Horror Film Review

There can be no greater horror; a new mum steps away from her newborn baby for just a moment to buy her medicine when suddenly she is abducted. Knowing that she needs to get back to her sick child and that time is running out, her trials are just beginning when she finds herself locked in an abandoned warehouse with an unseen terror and other abducted girls.

Directed and written by Justin Edgar, Stalked is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that scared the crap out of me on more than one occasion. It's one thing to have jumps and scares on screen but there is something about a threat that you can't see that pushed me over the limit. In fact, I was heavily triggered by memories of Barbara Hershey's The Entity which pretty much ruined my day as a nine-year-old child. (Don't go judging my parents, I was a very determined and resourceful horror fan, even then).

Rebecca Rogers is Sam, increasingly desperate mum and former Royal Marine Commando. While she can't see her captors nor understand their motives, they might just have picked the wrong woman to mess with. Rebecca Rogers's performance is flawless - my mind was blown by the choreography in the fight scenes where Sam is fighting her unseen assailant and Rogers is therefore getting thrown about by something that clearly isn't there. It was pretty impressive.

Rebecca Rogers in Stalked | Horror Film Review

Violent and often gory, Stalked manages to steer away from the classic horror trope of fetishising female victims by virtue of Sam's incredible form and military training. She might find herself in circumstances against her will but she's not going down without doing some serious damage first.

I'm always thrilled when horror films manage to squeeze in a plot along with good acting and decent scares and while simple, the plot in Stalked is disturbingly plausible. Although, I have to admit, I never did figure out what the 'game' was meant to be, what with Sam refusing to lay down and acquiesce.

There was something about the factory in which most of the film takes place that continued to play on my mind after viewing. Remote and claustrophobic, its chains, hooks, parts and tools provided many a chance for jump scares and despite the vastness of the space, somehow managed to feel claustrophobic.

Rebecca Rogers in Stalked | Horror Film Review

And just when you think you've got it all figured out, there is quite a twist at the end. Very nicely executed.

Stalked (2019) starring Rebecca Rogers | Poster

I thoroughly enjoyed Stalked and give it an excellent four out of five stars. I recommend to fans of abduction horrors with a strong female lead.

★★★★☆

Stalked featured in the official selection for Frightfest Film Festival 2019 and its star Rebecca Rogers was nominated for the Screen Rising Genre Star Award.

It is out on iTunes and the following VOD platforms: Sky Store | Virgin Media | Apple TV | Google Play | Amazon | YouTube

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Saturday, 28 December 2019

A Year of Superior Young Adult Books: My Top Ten of 2019

Superior Young Adult Fiction | Addicted to Media | Top Ten Books of 2019

Some time ago, disenchanted with the state of YA, I embarked on a quest to discover superior young adult fiction: fantastic, diverse, original, heartbreaking, uplifting, powerful, moving, inspiring books. 2019 has been a fantastic year for superior young adult fiction and these are the books that really moved me. I have numbered each of the books because while one shouldn't have favourites, I did want to highlight how superb those at the top of the list were.

10. How to Make Friends With the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow

How to Make Friends With the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow | Superior Young Adult FictionKathleen Glasgow's devastating novel about grief stopped me in my tracks. On a day that begins with an argument about a dance and ends with the death of her mother, Tiger Tolliver finds herself in the dark without a safety net. As she is shifted from foster home to foster home, Tiger's journey leads her through a web of addiction and pain as she discovers the meaning of family.

Full review: Devastating and Powerful: Kathleen Glasgow's How to Make Friends With the Dark

9. Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay | Superior Young Adult FictionThis devastating and powerful coming-of-age novel is set against the backdrop of Philippine President Duterte's war against drugs. High school senior Jay Reguero is looking forward to a summer of video games before taking up his place at University of Michigan. That all ends when his cousin Jun is murdered in Manila and Jay travels to the Philippines to discover the truth behind Jun's death. With themes touching on poverty, slums, addiction, drug use, extrajudicial killings, guilt and redemption, Patron Saints of Nothing is a powerful and devastating story.

Full review: Randy Ribay's Devastating Patron Saints of Nothing

8. 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons

100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons | Superior Young Adult FictionPure and uplifting, 100 Days of Sunlight is a wonderful young adult debut by Abbie Emmons about getting back up again after life has knocked you down. When sixteen-year-old Tessa Dickinson is involved in a terrible car accident, she temporarily loses her eyesight. Despondent and isolated from her life as an online poet, Tessa takes an instant dislike to Weston Ludovico, the boy hired by her grandparents to help transcribe her poems. What Tessa can't see is Weston's secret and an indomitable spirit that will change her world.

Full review: Abbie Emmons's Wonderfully Uplifting 100 Days of Sunlight

7. The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys | Superior Young Adult FictionSet in Franco's Spain 15 years after the Spanish Civil War, The Fountains of Silence tells the story of forbidden love and stolen babies in an authoritarian state. I read and loved Ruta Sepetys's Salt to the Sea and this epic story of life in Madrid during the 1970s firmed her position as my favourite historical fiction author. In fact, I was so impressed by this novel that I've decided to concentrate far more on historical YA fiction in 2020; I loved that one book could teach me so much about a part of history that I'd formerly known little about.

Full review: Powerful and Moving : The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

6. A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by Charlie Fletcher

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by Charlie Fletcher | Superior Young Adult FictionOne of the most exciting things to happen to me in 2019 was winning a copy of Charlie Fletcher's speculative masterpiece A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World. Griz has grown up in an empty world, not the result of some grand cataclysmic event but simply a world where people stopped being able to reproduce. When a stranger steals the family dog, Griz embarks on a journey to the ends of the world to track them down. Featuring a trek across a barely recognisable Britain, this book has one of the best twists I've ever encountered.

Full review: Charlie Fletcher's Superb A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

5. Season of the Witch (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina # 1) by Sarah Rees Brennan

Season of the Witch by Sarah Rees Brennan | Superior Young Adult FictionSo, spoiler alert: I wasn't going to include audiobooks on this list because I have a whole other post planned just for all the amazing audiobooks I listened to this year. Nevertheless, I loved Season of the Witch so much that it absolutely deserves a place on this list. It'll also be on the other list. Taking place just before the events in Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina season 1, Season of the Witch sees Sabrina preparing for her dark baptism and I'll-advisedly putting a love spell on Harvey. Delightfully dark and full of angst, this book made me a firm fan of both author Sarah Rees Brennan and narrator Jesse Vilinsky.

Full review: Sarah Rees Brennan's Delightfully Dark Season of the Witch, Prequel to Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Audiobook

4. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas | Superior Young Adult FictionThis is another book that I consumed on audiobook, expertly narrated by Bahni Turpin. I loved Angie Thomas's debut novel The Hate U Give but I think I possibly adored this one more. Bri is an aspiring young rapper growing up in Garden Heights, hoping to use her talents to rise to the same levels of fame as her late father Lawless. With her mother struggling to make ends meet and her aunt in deep with a local gang, Bri needs this break more than ever; the only problem is that she starts getting all the wrong types of attention in her bid to make a name for herself.

Full review: A Brilliant Follow Up to The Hate U Give: Angie Thomas's On the Come Up on Audiobook

3. A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi | Superior Young Adult FictionThe first book I read in 2019, Tahereh Mafi's superb semi-autobiographical novel about a Muslim teen living in America post-911 took me through every emotion possible. Wise beyond her sixteen years and weary of all the racist, bigoted things people say to her, Shirin is biding her time in high school by putting in her earphones and ignoring the world around her. That's until she meets Ocean in bio class and decides, against her better instincts, to let him in. Warning: this book will break your heart.

Full review: Tahereh Mafi's Superb A Very Large Expanse of Sea

2. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi | Superior Young Adult FictionThis was a truly difficult choice because Akwaeke Emezi's Pet is absolutely spectacular. Set in the near-future in a world that has been rid of monsters, Pet is the story of Jam, a transgender girl with selective mutism, who unleashes a creature of justice and vengeance into the world. For monsters aren't always who you'd expect and something very dark is happening in a home in the town of Lucille. I love this book so much and recommend it to everyone.

Full review: Akwaeke Emezi's Incredible Pet

1. Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie by Courtney Summers | Superior Young Adult FictionSadie tore out my heart and tore it to tiny little bits. This superb young adult novel is about a murdered girl, her missing sister, the police who don't care enough to investigate her disappearance and the radio personality who goes against his better judgement to discover the truth. It was told in chapters alternating between Sadie's story and West McCray's podcast 'The Girls'. While I loved reading this book, I believe the audiobook is especially powerful which means I get to revisit it again soon. With so many great books out there, I only reserve re-reads (and read-to-listens) for my very favourite books. And Sadie is one of my favourite, not just of 2019 but of all time.

Full review: Courtney Summers' Superb Sadie

Honourable Mentions

They didn't quite make the top ten but there are two books that need to be on this list. Hannah Alkaf's excellent debut The Weight of Our Sky looks at the May 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia through the eyes of Melati, a sixteen-year-old music-loving schoolgirl and OCD sufferer (full review). Mindy McGinnis is one of my favourite authors and Heroine is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the opioid crisis in America (full review).

What a list of fantastic YA novels. 2019 was a brilliant year for reading and I can't wait to see what 2020 brings.

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Saturday, 14 December 2019

Akwaeke Emezi's Incredible 'Pet' ★★★★★

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi | Superior Young Adult Fiction | Book Review

I love books that surprise me and challenge my initial assumptions. For some strange reason - I still can't explain it - neither the title nor description nor hardcover edition of Akwaeke Emezi's Pet appealed to me and it horrifies me to imagine how that could have meant the end for this wonderful book and me. Luckily the book was shortlisted for the National Book Awards 2019 Prize for Young Adult Literature and I realised that I very much needed to read it.

The problem I'm facing now is that I'm unsure if my review can do justice to this book. Akwaeke Emezi took so much care to create this world but I'm a mere reader, not a godlike genius with mad writing skills like them and I'm finding it so hard to put my thoughts into something resembling coherence and do this work of art justice.

For it is a work of art.

Nevertheless, I set myself a target of seeking out superior young adult fiction, books that are "fantastic, diverse, original, heartbreaking, uplifting, powerful, moving and inspiring" and Pet absolutely meets every one of those criteria. I'm going to finish this review that has, to date, taken eight weeks to write and I'm going to recommend that absolutely everybody buys this for a teen (or YA lover) in their life.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi | Superior Young Adult Fiction | Book Review Pet features a transgender, selectively mute protagonist who unleashes a creature of justice and vengeance into a world supposedly free of monsters. It turns out that monsters aren't always who you expected them to be.

Jam is one of my favourite characters of all time. She is transgender but Pet is not about that, it's not even about how loving and accepting her parents were when she asserted her gender identity at the age of three. She just is and I love reading about confident, secure and principled characters like this. Jam is the daughter of an African father and islands-descended mother. All she has ever known is the post-struggle life in Lucille but her parents remember the time before.

Akwaeke Emezi has created an incredibly beautiful world. Set sometime in the not-too-distant future, monsters have been rehabilitated and all of the hatred, bigotry and violence in the world has been eradicated. In the small, fictional town of Lucille, America, struggle heroes known as Angels are revered and life is safe and calm.

But then...

Jam's mother has a talent, a way of bringing her art to life but Jam had no way of knowing how literal this talent is. When Jam sneaks into her mother's art studio at night, she unwittingly gives life to a piece of art, releasing a terrifying creature into the world. The creature isn't there for her though, the creature is there to deliver justice in the home of Jam's best friend Redemption. It seems that the monsters had simply gone into hiding.

I remember more wonderful aspects about Pet every time I think about it: the complexity and richness of the characters, the detail with which their lives were described. I loved how Emezi effortlessly writes complex, diverse characters in a way that is part of the character but not the story itself.

This has undoubtedly been the toughest review I've ever tried to write and I unequivocally give Pet a superb five out of five stars. If you love literature and magic, complex, diverse characters and fierce girl protagonists then read Pet.

★★★★★

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Saturday, 7 December 2019

Cynthia Kadohata's A Place to Belong: A Book About Internment and Hiroshima ★★★★☆

A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata | Superior Young Adult Fiction | Book Review

I can't get enough of historical fiction at the moment and am especially interested in how history repeats itself. Take internment camps, something which is topical at the moment. Authors such as Samira Ahmed and Lisa Heathfield have speculated about the logical next steps in internment in the novels Internment and I Am Not A Number.

But we need not look to the future to know what happens next, we already know. Cynthia Kadohata's middle grade book A Place to Belong was longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and takes a historical view of the experience of Japanese-Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

As an historical novel, A Place to Belong is incredibly detailed and educational. The novel covers the internment of Japanese-Americans in camps in America during the Second World War; the coercion of many American-born Japanese to give up their American citizenship and their subsequent deportation to Japan after the war. Arriving in Hiroshima months after Allied forces dropped the atomic bomb, A Place to Belong describes the devastation of the bomb, the countless casualties and the horrific injuries, pain and suffering borne by those who survived the bomb. Finally, A Place to Belong covers the poverty and starvation suffered by many in rural Japan and the injustice of tenant farming to which many rural Japanese were yoked.

Against this backdrop, Kadohata introduces rich and detailed characters. The protagonist Hanako struggles to take care of her brother, fit in at school and find a moral compass in a country desperate to survive. Her grandparents sacrificed so much to help her father survive, only to see him lose everything when he was interned. Despite being desperate, hungry and poor, each of the adults in the story grows as a person and makes heart-rending decisions and sacrifices to ensure the survival of the family. Even Hanako's initial nemesis Kiyoshi benefits from a rich backstory and examination into that which motivates his actions.

A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata | Superior Young Adult Fiction | Book ReviewThe prose in A Place to Belong is very simple and easy to read, which makes it especially suitable to younger readers - the book is aimed at readers 10 and above. Unfortunately, this simplicity may not appeal to older readers and I don't suspect that it will translate to the adult market; indeed, this was why I have knocked off a star in my review.

Nevertheless, I'm glad that I persevered and read A Place to Belong. I was aware of many of the issues described in the novel but even then, I learned so much more, in far greater detail and am far richer for it. This book will be perfect for younger readers and will be a great educational tool to aid teaching and discussions in classrooms.

A Place to Belong was beautifully illustrated throughout by Julia Kuo. The illustrations were lovely and helped to bring many of the descriptions of Japanese dress and culture to life. I would have liked to see more of them!

I give Cynthia Kadohata's A Place to Belong an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to fans of diverse, historical middle grade fiction.

★★★★☆

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© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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