Author: Meg Fleming

Hello! I'm Meg Fleming, a soon-to-be graduate of the University of Winchester, where I study Creative Writing. As I take my first real steps into the writing and publishing industry, I'm going to use this site to follow the journey and the writing that follows. I will mainly be posting excerpts of what I'm writing at any given time, usually fantasy both traditional and urban, with a splash of magic realism, crime, and drama! Mingled, of course, with some blog posts about approaching publishers with aims of being published. I hope it's a helpful record of all the steps involved in getting work out there to any and all readers! Contact me at meg.fleming90@gmail.com

Fresher’s Week is Almost Here – So Learn How to Survive It!

Whoo, where have I been? Fighting dragons? Saving princesses? Jail in Mexico? We may never know.

What we do know is that the new University semesters are about to start! So we’ve building up a collection this week of advice for those of you just beginning in your university, and it’s my turn to tell you how to deal with your first week or two.

Let’s begin at the natural starting point – moving in. Everyone is reluctant to leave home, even when you’re super-eager for something new. It’s a radical change, and that is just plain scary. But you want to move in as early as you can and get unpacked, or you’re going to find yourself working around a bunch of other people moving in at the same time! Busy move-in days are very high-stress and do little to put you into that comfort-zone that you want to find as soon as possible in your new surroundings. When you are unpacking, keep the door of your room open; it’s an invitation for people to look in, to know you’re there and to come meet you, the easiest way to start to talking to your new flatmates. Otherwise, make sure you do introduce yourself to them! You’re going to be living with these people for at least a year, so get to know them, make them feel welcome and they’ll do the same for you.

Unpacking fairly quickly can be another point of stress if you worry too much over it, but it also gets you settled into a place that you want to make feel like home. So get your books and your knick-knacks and posters out and on display, and make your room start to feel like yours.

Now, some things that you’re going to want to get:

  • Medicines! Paracetamol and Ibuprofen are your friend. Get some cold and flu meds, too. Fresher’s Flu does exist and it will find you.

  • Vitamins. With lots of students packed together in one place, colds and stuff are going to spread pretty quickly. To build up your immune system, stock up on any vitamins you lack, or multivitamins if you want a well-rounded intake. They’re also helpful in regards to giving you what a usually less-than-healthy student diet will lack.

  • Earplugs are something to consider, as you never know what your neighbours next door, above or below you are going to be like when it comes to TV, music or even stomping around at 4am. Make sure that alarm is loud enough to get through them though!

Now onto the freshers’ fairs. All Unis will have them to help welcome their new students, and they’re a fantastic way to meet people and get acclimatised to what’s going on around you. Attend as many events as you can, experience all those new things. When it comes to joining clubs and societies, just sign right up to any that even remotely catch your interest – sure, you may not attend them or keep an interest for very long, but the thing is, you are never again going to get the chance to partake in these events and hobbies as cheaply and regularly as you can now. Try everything! It’s a fresh start, after all.

Grab a timetable of everything going on and make plans with your flatmates or people you’ve met already from checking out events. Remember, the fair’s events aren’t just for you as an individual; they’re also great for bonding with others, and they also usually take place all around the campus so you’ll get to know the layout pretty quickly (speaking of which, check out your campus library before you buy any of your books on your reading list, as sometimes they’re already there for you to check out for free, or even to buy second-hand). Most importantly, if you’re a freeloader like myself, get all that free stuff! Keychains, cards, vouchers, lanyards, books, posters – there is so damn much on offer to you. Snag it. Snag it all.

You’ll probably want to do some exploring outside of your campus and the fresher fairs, too. So buddy-up, and get out there. Go on a bar crawl, one or two drinks per pub. Check out the places to eat, and the best take-outs. Find a great burger joint, because sometimes you just need a really good cheeseburger (or veggieburger) and there’s only so much McDonald’s a person can stand, y’know?

When it comes to shopping standards, I’d say dump ’em. Find the nearest Aldi, the cheapest places. They food there cooks just as well as anywhere else. Also try to get an idea of bus routes and prices if you want to do some exploring further afield, and check out the taxi services too. Sometimes the university has specially recommended ones.

Absolutely the most important thing, aside from having fun, is to stay safe. Don’t wander off into places you aren’t familiar with alone, and stick to groups of at least three if you are wandering. Drink as responsibly as a student can be expected to. Don’t ruin the fun with things that can easily be avoided with a little sense.

And finally, it’s okay to be homesick. It’s okay to cry and be scared, because everyone is in that same position. Phone your parents and friends, keep in contact with home, never feel that you’re alone.

You’re going to be fine.

giphy1

– Meg

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And Now For Something Completely Different

Okay, so do you how when you’re in school/uni/work and you always know the day because of it, then you get some time off and you have absolutely no clue about the date or day or anything? Well that happened to me. I only realised I’d missed last Monday because a friend asked me where my review was, and I looked at her and replied, “What? It’s only Sunday. It’s not due until tomorrow!” and she said, “Uhh, Meg. It’s Wednesday.” and that is how I apparently lost a few days somewhere. This week’s post is late just because I slept far too much yesterday. No excuses.

Aaaanyway… instead of a review or a rant this week, I’m throwing up something a little different. Anyone who has read our ‘about’ page will know all of use here at Picklepants are Creative Writing students, so I thought I’d cater a little bit to fellow writers this week, or to those of you who want to know a bit more about the process. In amongst my many hundreds of Internet bookmarks for gaming things, books, movies, TV shows etc., I have plenty of writing resources scattered around, and they’ve all been great helps to me at different points. So I’m going to list some of them here in the hopes that they’ll be as useful and interesting to you lovelies!

 

General Tips and Tricks, Advice and Guides

For All Your Nefarious Plotting Needs (Disclaimer: Probably not so great for world-domination plots)

Get Some Character in that Character

Use Your Words, Friend

Some Other Stuff!

 

Phew! And that’s only some of them. I hope it’s a helpful collection, or interesting at least. If you guys have any more suggestions or tips of your own, just mention and link them in the comments below and I’ll throw ’em up here. Happy Writing!

– Meg

‘Grave Witch’ by Kalayna Price, Review

Grave Witch by Kalayna Price

“Grave witch Alex Craft can speak to the dead, but that doesn’t mean she likes what they have to say.

As a private investigator and consultant for the police, Alex Craft has seen a lot of dark magic. But even though she’s on good terms with Death himself—who happens to look fantastic in a pair of jeans—nothing has prepared her for her latest case. Alex is investigating a high profile murder when she’s attacked by the ‘shade’ she’s raising, which should be impossible. To top off her day, someone makes a serious attempt on her life, but Death saves her. Guess he likes having her around…

To solve this case Alex will have to team up with tough homicide detective Falin Andrews. Falin seems to be hiding something—though it’s certainly not his dislike of Alex—but Alex knows she needs his help to navigate the tangled webs of mortal and paranormal politics, and to track down a killer wielding a magic so malevolent, it may cost Alex her life…and her soul.”

Now, computer troubles put me down for the count last Monday, so let me make it up by throwing a doozy of a book at you guys.  Grave Witch has quickly become one of my favourite books, and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a series new to me and fell head over tail in love. Maybe four or five years ago? Yikes.

Grave Witch is full to the brim with everything I love in an Urban Fantasy novel. Magic, mayhem, mystery, miscellaneous beasties of assorted size and teeth-number… it’s got it all. But it’s also wonderfully different and fresh, an awesome new take on a lot of familiar old concepts in the genre, including witches, branches of magical ability, Faerie courts and even folded spaces, which you don’t hear much of in stories but may be one of my favourite concepts – a space of any size that has always existed but just hasn’t been detectable or even spatially present until a catalyst makes it ‘unfold’. Nekros City, the setting of the novel, is one such space and is the hub of weird things in America. Magic is absolutely everywhere in this world – even the most mundane of mundanes use hair straightening tricks, and quick cleaning spells, and complexion charms. The Fae own a bar, witches set up market in the centre of the city, a kelpie lives in the river… it’s fantastic. Well, not the kelpie. She’ll eat you dead. But still! And don’t forget that vaguely prophetic gargoyle living in the garden, who you never see move, but definitely changes location and whose name is Fred.

Urban Fantasy is really brought to the extreme here, with magic more believably integrated into ‘our’ world than I would have thought possible. The descriptions of the riots and violence after the Fae made themselves known and witches came out of the broom closet gave me chills, and there are even powerful political parties within the world against ‘non-humans’. Some of the bigotry demonstrated harkens back to real life in a way that definitely drives the point home.

The Fae and witches and their dynamics in this novel’s world are just great. Their different uses of magic are fascinating, and I loved hearing about all the specific abilities witches alone can have (these witches being ‘wyrd witches’, often powerful in their ability, but paying a steep price in using them – and if they don’t use their magic, it seeps out of them in dangerous ways!). With folks such as grave witches around, those very rare magic users who can raise shades from corpses, see ghosts and even peer into the terrifying, decaying land of the dead, we see into a deeper world. Though it’s really only hinted at, the things that live in the wastes of the land of the dead sound way scary. Definitely not somewhere you want to be trapped if you’re a ghost reluctant to move on to whatever’s next.

Which brings me to the soul collectors. Damn, these guys are awesome. The collectors are this story’s iteration of what we might call ‘grim reapers’ and their job, yep you guessed it, is to take the souls of the dead to wherever the hell they go. Operating through magic all their on, they’re beings utterly shrouded in mystery, invisible and impossible to sense by any other than the dead – and powerful grave witches. And anti-social and governed by rules unknowable to mere mortals as they may be, that doesn’t stop one soul collector from being our heroine’s oldest, closest friend. Hey, if you met the only living person who could touch you and through that make you capable of eating pizza and drinking coffee, you’d hang around too! And it was definitely interesting to find out that Death is a snarky, sassy babe.

Alex Craft is everything I adore in UF heroine. She’s tough and weird and funny, never a self-righteous prude, not too judgemental to others for their life choices (as long as people aren’t being disembowelled because of them, of course). Very much not arrogant, but has plenty of self-confidence and she’s damn well going to make sure haters know it. She is far from perfect with her abandonment issues, her quick-decisions, recklessness and often her blindness – both metaphorical and literal, at times. She is her own person, reluctant to lean on anyone, but so very grateful to those who add support anyway. Death, of course (wow, that’s weird to say) supports her where he can, and she even has a new partner in solving-crime-but-also-kind-of-committing-crime-because-why-the-hell-not, Falin Andrews, mysterious detective who may or may not be human and who may definitely be an ass. A useful ass, but the point stands. I have to say, he has yet to win me over completely. I enjoy his scenes, and I don’t dislike him. But I don’t exactly want to swaddle him up in a bundle of blankets and protect him, which is the symbol of truly beloved characters, as we all know.

The prose itself is wonderful. It’s never too pretentious, but beautifully descriptive and rich, as well as great in conveying emotions. It’s the type of writing that just flows off the page and paints a fabulously dynamic picture in your imagination. Grave Witch is just full of engaging writing that kept me glued to the book and left me dying for more.

The book builds itself up with action and development to an intense climax, filled with great revelations.

Although, if I’m honest here, some of these revelations were a little predictable. But it personally didn’t take the fun out of the story, nor out of watching Alex discover things in her own time. I could seriously read everything about this character and her life, she’s that much fun.

The story was generally steady-to-fast paced, but it did slow in a couple of places, and I did catch myself skimming when I hit them, though it didn’t exactly take a heroic measure of patience to keep going – the book drags you in quite well.

4.5/5 Stars, Very few complaints, all in all, and I am excited for an Urban Fantasy series in a way I have so missed!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Goodreads

Kalayna Price

– Meg

Penny Dreadful, Review

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Penny Dreadful is horror series, freshly finished its first season, from Showtime, taking classic horror stories and characters from old favourites such as DraculaFrankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray and placing fascinating new twists layered over plot-points to create a unique and engaging story. In it, African explorer Sir Malcom Murray hunts relentlessly for his kidnapped daughter, Mina Murray (or Harker, seeing as she was recently married) with the aid of Vanessa Ives and Sembene, later enlisting the help of Ethan Chandler and Dr. Victor Frankenstein. But they find a lot more than just vampires in their search. Something old and evil haunts Vanessa, posing links to both the vampires, and Christian and Egyptian mythology both, even as some unknown horror stalks the streets of London, leaving carnage in its wake.

The premise instantly intrigues me, and does not disappoint. Penny Dreadful is fantastically dark, expertly weaving psychological and classical horror together to leave me absorbed and definitely creeped out.

While the plot is fun enough, it is the compelling characters that drive the story for me personally, and both the re-written and original characters drag you screaming eagerly into their world.

I particularly love Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), the darkly mysterious woman with a past tying her to Mina Harker, and something evil stalking her even as it seems to lie within her. The wit and drama she delivers are flawless, and her harsher scenes in ‘Seance’ and ‘Possession’ left me genuinely disturbed, difficult even for me to watch, and I revel in good horror!

Sir Malcom (Timothy Dalton) intrigued, but frustrated me. He has his secretiveness, and his ulterior motives, such that when they come to the light, leave you feeling less than warm and fuzzy toward him. But his tenacity is admirable and he admittedly has his redeeming moments.

Ethan (Josh Hartnett), our American sharpshooter with serious Daddy-issues, is a strange one. His own emotional moments had me tearing up myself on occasion, while certain points of his intensity had me very suspicious – that is, until it finally clicked. If you watch very closely, you’ll figure out fairly quickly what’s going on with Ethan and his secrets, and if not, it’s a wonderfully grim revelation that has me very excited for his story-lines in the future.

Brona Croft (Billie Piper), savvy but sickly Irish prostitute, was another that had me in tears. Though she is slowly and painfully dying of consumption as she struggles to make enough money just to eat, she falls for Ethan, and him for her, it would seem. I felt as helpless as he did, knowing there was no help for her – but her story is far from over.

Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway). Well, I bet you know where this is going! Some time after his disastrous first creation was brought to life, we see him feverishly trying to again pierce the veils between life and death (a very big theme of Penny Dreadful as a whole), and his past coming back to haunt him. I love Victor’s characterisation; he is naive, but dark, young, but with horrors in his eyes. He is an easily lovable character, even as he is a total walking disaster.

Speaking of walking disasters… Dorian Gray’s (Reeve Carney) story is well known to us all, and he certainly lives up to it in this incarnation of his character. He is free, pleasure-seeking, has an obsession with portraits, and seduces or sleeps with anything with hip-gyrating capabilities, but I cannot dislike him. It’s his vices that seem to make him, and I actually find myself cheering him on a bit, just to see how far he can go before things inevitably come crashing down around him. And it seems Vanessa may be a large part of that crashing. Sadly, his portrait has not yet been seen from the front, so we can only guess at how much he has eroded his soul, but his actions within the series and his overall character suggests that it’s probably a hell of a lot.

One of the show’s greatest virtues, outside of these characters, is its sincerity. It takes no joy in outsmarting viewers, or even taking itself too seriously. It is what it is, and doesn’t dance around that.

I’ll admit that the first two episodes may leave you a little confused as to what the heck is going on, which is often a pet peeve of mine. I don’t always enjoy shows that make me work for it. But stick with it – things do come together, and it is very much worth it when they do. And yes, some of it’s pulpy shock-factor can be a little over the top.

Despite this, its silliness adds to its charm for me, and makes the weird ride that much more fun!

Here’s to the next season being as successfully creepy, fun, dark and sexy as the first! And to finding out what’s up with that mysterious Sembene (Danny Sapani)??

4.5/5 Stars! Only 8 episodes long this season, but so very worth the watch!

– Meg

How to Train your Dragon 2, Review

I’m back, baby! I can only apologise for my long absence from Mondays here at Picklepants. Family issues, travel, illness… life just happens. But, hey, I return triumphant! I saved the village, I slayed the dragon – or, I at least saw a really good movie about dragons.

You have the heart of a chief. And the soul of a dragon.

Everyone got hot!

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a long-awaited sequel from Dreamworks after the brilliance of the first film. In this follow-up feature, we yet again find Hiccup on the run from what’s expected of him. To avoid giving an answer to his father, Stoick, about becoming the next chief of Berk, he’s off flying around the surrounding uncharted lands, mapping them out with his dragon, Toothless, until a group of dragon trappers and a mysterious Dragon Rider show up and he finds himself about to be thrown into the middle of a war to keep the peace.

This film is beyond exciting, and not just because I and so many others have been waiting for it for so long. The story is enthralling, the characters are endearing, and the pace never lets up, although I admit it did, uh, ‘hiccup’, in a few places. Heh heh. Geddit?

Ahem. Anyway. The movie definitely evokes a lot of emotion – I laughed, I cried, I got really, really mad! It’s a real rollercoaster this time around.

I quite enjoyed the idea of charting all the unmapped territories around Berk and finding new breeds of dragon. It sure is a better arrangement than making war on or with dragons, right? And it allowed for a really great flight sequence in which Hiccup tests his own flying suit.

Valka is a wonderful character. She’s beautiful, fun, awesome and a bit weird. You definitely see where Hiccup gets it from. However, though I understand her reasons, I still think it was extremely cruel for her to stay away without a word to anyone for twenty years. But hey, I live for flawed characters, we all know that.

Astrid and the other rider gang and their dragons got their shining moments, too, but I felt that Astrid at least had less to do in this film. She was still a strong, inspiring figure throughout, however, and her lesson about the loyalty of dragons gave me chills.

The villain of the film, Drago – original name, no? – was actually pretty effective. He was borderline insane and totally evil in this subdued, quiet, but undoubtedly threatening way. I think I almost felt sympathy for the guy at one point, but that was dashed quickly by how awful a person he was.

Eret the dragon trapper was certainly an interesting addition to the cast, and I look forward to his role in the next instalment!

One thing I particularly liked, at the risk of getting too political over a children’s film, was Ruffnut’s attitude and behaviour. She’s utterly open and free about her sexuality, who she wants, who she doesn’t, and she feels no need to make excuses or have excuses made for her. It’s a fair bit of comic relief, but it’s also never commented on or villainised just because she’s a girl – and that is highly unusual in any film, let alone a kid’s movie. Go Dreamworks!

The animation itself was astounding. Absolutely gorgeous in every way. I caught myself swooning more than once over bloody rocks and ice textures! The flight sequences are perfect and different for every dragon. The characters move like actual people. And look out for that scene where Valka dances over the wings of the dragons – it’s heart-stopping.

Prepare for some real emotional pain coming your way, too. Remember that one moment of tragic intensity from the first film, with Hiccup’s near-death? Yeah. It’s got nothing on the sequel.

Speaking of that, let’s get political again! Hiccup and Toothless are of course our heroes of the series, and it’s just amazing how they’re shown to work almost flawlessly together to be stronger, better, and never let their respective disabilities hinder them. Do you know how refreshing it is to finally get a film starring disabled characters finding strength in their disabilities? That it never stops them being who they want and need to be, and that their lives aren’t dictated and ruled by their disabilities? It’s beyond rare in film, and again, it’s a kid’s animated feature! Beautifully done.

Now, I did have a couple of problems with the film. Despite the diversity, we still have no non-white or non-straight characters. And do not preach historical accuracy at me. If you can have Scottish/American/English-speaking Vikings who ride dragons, you can have characters that aren’t straight and white, too. Instead of being true to history, let’s be true to people instead, okay? I mean, what are these films about if not overcoming prejudices?

I did adore the film, don’t get me wrong! But I was also left feeling as if it lacked some of the innocent charm of the first film. Perhaps because the characters are growing up, too. It has been five years since Hiccup and Toothless first met. The sequel had a new charm all on it’s own, yes, and I loved it. But I think there was something I just… missed. Boy, growing up is hard.

All in all, a fantastic film, and a definite must see for all ages!

4/5 stars! The soundtrack is beautiful, too, guys!

– Meg

‘Skin Game’ by Jim Butcher, REVIEW

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If I haven’t mentioned this before, I am a huge fan of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. It is easily one of my favourite book series’ and is still going strong upon the release of it’s fourteenth book. You’ll be hardpressed to find other long-running series’ holding up so well.

At midnight last night, Skin Game, book fourteen, was released and I’ve already completely devoured it. And it was mind-blowing!

After a very, very goddamn rough few years, in which Harry Dresden has actually died, Harry has had a year break away from magical beasties and bullies trying to literally eat his face, even as a parasite has grown within his head and risks bursting out of his skull any day now. But hey, small victories, right?

I wasn’t too sure what I was expecting from this book, but as the last few have been heavy and extreme and have put Harry through a lot of shit, I think I assumed that it would  be a kind of fast, funny and cool sort-of filler book for introspection on Harry’s life and experiences and a break in the increasing trajectory and pace of the series.

Boy, was I wrong.

Harry’s new boss, good old Queen Mab of the Winter Court of Faerie, needs to settle a debt. And of course, she uses her new Knight to do that. This would turn out horribly for Harry anyway, because it’s Harry and because it’s Mab, but it just so happens that the debt collector is Nicodemus Archleone, host to a Fallen angel, old enemy of Harry’s, and all-around murdering psychopath.

And the job he wants doing?

Yeah, breaking into the vault of Hades, Lord of the Underworld.

A lot happened in this book.

It was still hilariously funny, of course, and had me snorting and giggling out loud more than a few times. Of course, it also had me lapsing into tears a few times, though I think I did so more out of happiness than actual pain and sadness for once. Very unusual for a Dresden book, let me tell you. The book as a whole is beyond intense and I genuinely feared for the lives of some characters several times – cue panicked animal noises from myself – because of the very frightening circumstances they found themselves in, in quick succession. The pace never let up and the action and adventure was constant. I was never bored or felt myself skimming words, which I would rarely ever do in a Dresden book in any case, but the intensity of the story kept me utterly enthralled throughout and I’ve successfully bitten my nails to stumps. Despite that, Skin Game is an oddly uplifting book! Upon finishing it, I felt good about Harry’s choices, his losses and his victories. His ‘lost’ talk with Michael brought back a wonderful return of the ‘old’ Harry. He still has his scars and his past to battle through and carry with him, but there was something lighter about him and the return of something he lost through the hell of his recent years. Though I felt frightened,too, for what’s to come, because this is Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden we’re talking about here. I mean, come on.

A few things I very much enjoyed:

We get to see Subconscious Harry! Yay! The visual incarnation of Harry’s inner-self is a total dick, complete with all black outfit and goatee, but I really love that guy and his frank sass. Along with this, we get some serious insight into the parasite that Harry’s been harbouring. Talk about your bundle of joy, eesh! But I am way excited for what’s to come in regards to the ‘parasite’ after the end of Skin Game.

I was so glad to see the Carpenters made a great comeback, too. I adore that family, and Charity’s attitude to life is everything I hope to gain. What a badass. Molly shows up, too, more awesome than ever and seemingly recovering from her own hellish experiences. However, Harry hasn’t seen her in the year since she gained the mantle of Winter Lady, and there are some… changes. And worries. Molly is my baby and any possible harm to her character makes me want to curl up and cry. So just a warning on that. Still, she was awesome as all heck when we did see her in action, even if she didn’t get much.

Speaking of the Carpenters, Maggie’s appearance was surprising and yet not, because it was so long overdue, but suddenly Harry turned around and was faced with her, just there, and he couldn’t run from his daughter anymore. And I could not be more thrilled about how that turned out. You go, Harry. And you go, Mouse! Mouse, Harry’s Tibetan Mastiff-like magical, mystical Foo dog was as brilliant as ever. I would give so much for my own Mouse, let me tell you.

Weirdly, I enjoyed Nicodemus’s role in this book. He’s as awful and horridly evil as ever, a true villain in every way, but weirdly enjoyable as one. He got no sympathy from me whatsoever, but I can’t wait to see his next appearance in the series. And to see his butt get kicked all over again, hopefully!  Though I have to admit, the Genoskwa terrified me a bit.

The many confrontations Harry found himself in the middle of (or starting, dammit Harry) started to show to what extent he’s beginning to exert control over the Winter in him. He pulled back the violent instincts a lot easier this time around, and seemed prepared for it. And Harry Dresden? Prepared for things? That’s character growth right there.

And if anyone is wondering about an appearance by the Lord of the Underworld himself, seeing as his vault is the target of the heist, then I’ll say yes. We get a little personal time with Hades himself, but I’ll say no more on that. It’s too cool to spoil.

I will say that I missed a few things, namely Thomas. He’s always a great character and I missed his snark and own brand of drama. Similarly, I also wished we’d seen more of Molly and Bob, though what little we did see was a promise of great things to come, I think. I do wonder what will happen with Bob now, what with Butters, his current boss, having this whole new position? Hmm…

The Outsiders and the Nemesis, too, were something I could’ve done with hearing more about, after that huge conflict Harry had with them previously. But a few certain things in Skin Game definitely promised more to do with them, and Mab’s war with them was referenced.

And the questions I was left with about that ‘parasite’! I will not be over that until the next book, which cannot come fast enough. I see many re-reads in the near and far future. Bravo, Mr. Butcher. Bravo!

5 / 5 Stars, easily!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Jim Butcher

– Meg

 

Throwin’ Out a Quickie

Just a Quickpickle post from me today, sadly, as I’m only halfway through the book I want to review and am currently ass-deep in preparations for London MCM Expo this weekend, which is going to rock!

I’ll be posting next week, though it will be on Tuesday rather than my regular Monday, and it could be about Expo or about this lovely new book I’m buried in. Who knows? (Hint: It’s me. I know.)

For now, here’s the synposis of a great Urban Fantasy book to go get your hands on. It’s funny, clever, heralds both noir and Westerns with a healthy side of Hellions and angels, and is a fantastically gritty and dark opening to the series:

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadry

Life sucks, and then you die. Or, if you’re James Stark, you spend eleven years in Hell as a hitman before finally escaping, only to land back in the hell-on-earth that is Los Angeles. 

Now Stark’s back, and ready for revenge. And absolution, and maybe even love. But when his first stop saddles him with an abusive talking head, Stark discovers that the road to absolution and revenge is much longer than you’d expect, and both Heaven and Hell have their own ideas for his future. 

Resurrection sucks. Saving the world is worse. 

Darkly twisted, irreverent, and completely hilarious, Sandman Slim is the breakthrough novel by an acclaimed author

 

– Meg

Mirror Sight, by Kristen Britain, REVIEW

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I’ve reviewed the first book of this series, Green Rider, before, and now I’m skipping right on ahead to the newly released fifth book, Mirror Sight, which I have been desperately waiting for since early 2011 after a horrifying cliffhanger ending from Ms. Britain.

In Blackveil, the previous book, we left Karigan G’Ladheon, seasoned Green Rider, fresh from a confrontation with Mornhavon. She’d denied him literally astronomical power and the fallout left her blasted through the layers of the world, trapped in a sealed stone coffin who knows where, injured, her air supply dwindling and supposedly no help forthcoming. Imagine waiting three and a half years for that to be resolved!

Thankfully, here we are picking right up where we left off. You know, our beloved Karigan about to die horribly and all that. She of course survives – where would we be without the heroine of the story? – and finds herself almost 200 years in the future where magic no longer seems to exist and an empire has all but erased Sacoridia and everything she knows and loves. Though this sounds pretty flaky for a high fantasy series, trust me, trust the writer, and don’t fret; Britain has integrated time travel shenanigans into the series before, and she continues to carry it on marvellously.

The previous few novels have explored the POVs of other various characters, which was fascinating, fun and important, but I have to admit that it was great getting back to Karigan more in this book, with just enough outside POV to spice it up and keep the other plot threads moving along. Despite this, I still rather missed hearing from a few well-loved characters as the book progressed.

As usual, Kristen Britain’s writing was brilliant, a great blend of intensity, drama, action and hilarity come together to make Karigan’s story shine. The description of so many new and amazing, if terrifying, things within her world was something I eagerly ate up, particularly the steampunk-ish elements of the magic-and-otherwise-powered technologies of this awful future in which Karigan has found herself. As a reader, the more you see of this future, the more you whole-heartedly agree with her urgent need to get the hell back to her own time and prevent it from coming to pass.

Although I adored this book, as I always will with anything Britain creates, I was left yearning for more. And not just because of the three year wait between books! Many questions were left unanswered, even un-attended to, from previous books. Though I totaly understand this, seeing as the heroine has been tossed into the far future by a death god who is up to – well, only he knows what. Still, I was hoping to hear more about Alton, Estral’s loss of her magical and evidently extremely important voice, the other Green Riders, their history, about what that awful Grandmother and her crew are up to in Blackveil Forest, about King Zachary, and about Amberhill, especially after his last chapter in the book in which he woke up them.

But, for anyone who has read Blackveil and was as interested in Yolandhe the Sea Witch as myself, boy are you in for a treat towards the end of Mirror Sight. It’s not morally right or pretty, what she does, but new personal idol? Hell, yeah. Talk about girl power.

Overall, I was blown away by this book, and I’m already sitting around pining for the next instalment.

The romantic choices were surprising, but enjoyed (if painfully), the ending was beautifully painful as is becoming the norm for Britain, the foreshadowing throughout the book had me shaking in fear but clueless as to where it would lead up until the moment it happened (‘Mirror sight’ – you’re not bloody kidding!), and the story was a fantastic adventure, even if it started of a teensy bit slow and had the vague feel of a ‘filler’ novel, though I by no means believe it unnecessary to the series as a whole. It is more that it has added a whole new urgency to it.

[4.5 / 5]

Please go read this series!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Kristen Britain

P.S. Look at the breathtaking full image of the US cover art by Donato Giancola and check out his website and gallery!

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– Meg

Dreams of Gods and Monsters, REVIEW

 Whoo, well, here we are, after two weeks of nothing from me. But things pile up and work happens and we sadly have to deal with that. But now, here’s my promised review of Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor!

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It’s the final instalment of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, and boy is it a doozy. What began as a tale of an art student leading a secret second life as an errand girl for monsters has blown up into a realm-crossing war between angels and chimaera, the two inhabitants of the world ‘next door’ to Earth, Eretz. Yes, we know that’s Hebrew for ‘Earth’. The irony was not lost.

In the two previous books we’ve seen love, loss, death, war, betrayal, and back to love, only for the cycle to repeat.

Karou, after a vicious attack from the Wolf, leader of the waning numbers of the chimaera rebellion still left alive, has orchestrated an explosive betrayal and taken control of the rebellion, none of whom but a trusted few are any the wiser of which. Now she has to stop them from carrying on this futile war and inevitably destroying themselves out of a need for revenge that would prove pointless once they’re all dead. Never mind keeping her and Akiva’s respective rebel armies from tearing at each other’s throats, even as they attempt to ally themselves against the greater threat that Jael poses. We’ve heard nothing but how much chimaera and Seraphs loathe each other, and it was nail-biting, to say the least, watching them attempt to survive together.

What I love most about this series, aside from it’s fresh take on angels and fantasy, is the characters, and they do not disappoint in Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Every single character has a very distinct and unique personality that shines through in their actions. No matter how despicable they may be, I still find myself completely engulfed in the passages featuring the villains, because they are just wrote so well. This series definitely has some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever seen, made all the better when they interact among themselves.

I am always unsure what exact genre the trilogy is, my opinion hovering somewhere between YA paranormal romance and fantasy, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters certainly leaned more towards the latter in the final arc, but whatever it is, it’s done very well. I never quite favour one world over the other, desperate to know how Earth is faring in the wake of the Seraph invasion, even as I long to learn more about Eretz and how the war is progressing. At the same time, I’ve found myself heavily invested in the romances blossoming – and crumbling – throughout the books. Zuzana and Mik are the constants, never doubting one another, together through everything, and willing to sacrifice anything, even their fragile, human, mortal lives, to help Karou and Eretz. They kept me sane through the twists and turns, particularly when it comes to Karou and Akiva. Finally, finally, these two begin to see that they aren’t the monsters they thought themselves to be, and that they may deserve forgiveness, and even each other. But things are never easy for these two and while they’re beginning to reconcile with themselves and each other, there’s much going on behind the scenes, as it were, that may yet tear them apart again and forever.

A vicious queen Seraph and her magi are hunting Akiva after the massive release of power he demonstrated in the previous book, determined to put an end to the threat he poses that could destroy everything these near-mythical angels of the Far Isles have fought for over the millennia. Scarab, the queen in question, is young, but hard and brutal. Even so, she is sympathetic. Though they vowed never to get involved with the Empire’s wars and path of destruction, she actually saves the lives of our rebel armies. She sees the value in warriors fighting against something they could not hope to defeat, yet fighting with hope anyway. It’s time for her and her people to do the same.

It is Scarab’s arrival into the story that truly turns it on its head. Suddenly, much of Karou and Akiva’s troubles of the past seem horrifically insignificant in the larger scheme of things. I’m not going to spoil it and reveal this revelation, but I will tell you to go back in the series, and pay very close attention to Razgut, to the tales of their species origins that Madrigal and Akiva tell one another, and to the title of this particular book. It rocked my world almost as much as it did Karou, Akiva and everyone else’s. Then you’ll realise the full horror of the bruises spreading across the sky, and why the creatures of Eretz should never have crossed onto Earth or any new universe.

I had to put the book down for almost a full day, and nothing can stop me reading when I love something this much.

Unfortunately, I worry that it might just be too big. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the plot twist, and the history behind it. A lot of things suddenly made a lot more sense, and made the rest of the series that much more poignant. But in the end I was left feeling almost as if Daughter of Smoke and Bone had been something of a prequel series. The plotlines that had emerged from book one and grew and twisted in book two were certainly resolved, which is far better than some series’ ever managed, but book three perhaps introduced something far too big and brilliant to just be left unresolved. I mean, read this entire series and tell me; can you believe we were worrying over Karou’s douchey ex-boyfriend in the first book when all along this has been hanging over them?! I mean, jeez.

Though I was left feeling like I had an unfinished series in my hands, I do understand the intention behind it. To paraphrase, “this was not a happy end, but a happy middle,” and it makes sense in that context. They’ve fought past most of their prejudices and bloody history, and now all of Eretz is ready to fight against the new – but very, very old – enemy, finally. Many YA series end in a sort of ‘happily ever after’ state, making me roll my eyes, because they’re still so young, and still have the rest of their lives. Where’s that happy ever after? This series manages to escape that trope, showing readers that their lives and loves are just beginning, even after so much strife.

I’m now just desperate to know what happens next in a trilogy that is over! Here’s hoping for a spin-off, or a sequel series, anything to give the closure so many readers now need. Though I’d rather Karou and Akiva be left alone for a while. They deserve some hard-won peace after their very long-lived, very rocky beginning.

But gods above and below, that was one hell of a beginning.

4/5 Stars. Kept me on my toes constantly!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Laini Taylor

– Meg

 

A Quickpickle on More Books!

Just a Quickie from me today, I’m afraid, even though it’s late AGAIN. Gimme a break, I’m sick.

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Recently I became invested in a new book trilogy, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The first book goes by the same name, the second is Days of Blood and Starlight, and the third and final is Dreams of Gods and Monsters. I don’t want to give much away as I plan to fully review Dreams of Gods and Monsters next Monday, but this series has pulled me in like no other has for many years. We see two worlds throughout the books, earth and our nearest ‘neighbour’ in the next universe over, inhabited by the seemingly monstrous chimaera, a race made up of many tribes of people who are all mixtures of different animals – we see centaur chimaera, sphinxes, griffins, mostly human appearances with mixes of beast aspects such as gazelle, rams, wolves, even snakes! The chimaera and their variety is amazing.
Then there are the other inhabitants of that world, the ones who enslave and are at war with the chimaera. I know that dozens of books claim that their angels are ‘special’ and unique in recent years, but these angels, the Seraph, truly are in my eyes. They’re vicious, domineering, destructive and as we see more of them we realise how similar many of them are to the chimaera. Suddenly, somewhere around mid-book two, I realised I didn’t see them as this great enemy to destroy anymore, for all their atrocities against the chimaera. Likewise, some of the chimaera were too caught up in their war to even see the right choices any more, and have become the evil they were fighting to destroy.
At the centre of this war, we have Karou, a human girl raised by the chimaera Brimstone, a secretive monster who gives out magical wishes in exchange for teeth. She has only ever seen Brimstone’s ‘shop’ in the other world, and has grown up on earth feeling somewhat lost as the chimaera’s errand girl – there’s a particularly amusing scene in book one where we see Karou dragging elephant tusks across Paris.
And at her side, across the battlefield, and at times worlds away, is Akiva, an angel soldier seeking revenge for a lost love and trying to leave behind the dreams of a new world he and his lover once hand. Something that becomes near-impossible when he meets the mysterious errand girl who wished her hair blue.
Anyway, I’ll be reviewing the final book next week, so be sure to check back then!

– Meg