I love anything otherworldly, spooky, and supernatural. I live for Halloween and all things witchy all year round. When I heard about a collection of wicked witchcraft being brought to us by Rachel Autumn Deering, Christopher Golden, and Titan books at the beginning of my favourite month, I mean come on! And did I mention it’s gorgeous? Because it is. So beautiful.
Hex Life has tales of witch burning, of witches house – there’s one in every town, I bet you remember yours – and the widows who live there, momma’s who will do anything in their power for their children, tales of help to good to be true, of new gods and old religions. Each story as captioned bewitching as the last.
A beautiful blend of worlds and characters you know, Kelly Armstrong’s Otherworld, Rachel Caine’s Morganville, and Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter Hellchaser, come together with new realms and realities to enchant you.
This has been one of my favourite reads this year. I gobbled each story up like a lost kid finding a gingerbread house in the woods.
Within these pages you’ll find myriad approaches to Alice, from horror to historical, taking us from the nightmarish reaches of the imagination to tales that will shock, surprise and tug on the heart-strings.
So it’s time now to go down the rabbit hole, or through the looking-glass or … But no, wait. By picking up this book and starting to read it you’re already there, can’t you see?
Wonderland, an anthology
I love a retelling. And Alice has been a story that catches the imagination of so many of us. There’s the fantastic wonderland realm, all the characters and adventures Alice encounters. One of the most fascinating things for me is that everyone finds a different twist, or moment, or character to draw from.
Wonderland is a collection of 19 Alice inspired short stories and poems. Ranging from historical to wild west to Japanese folklore to sci-fi, there is an Alice for everyone in this book. It was an absolute delight to experience each new Wonderland, every one becoming my a new favourite.
So grab your best teacup and be careful what you eat in Wonderland…
The real estate agent, with his waxy hair and perm-smile, keeps stopping to listen, waving his hand, saying, “That’s just the house settling.”
New house owners Julie and James weren’t electing the move to be an easy one. A relocation from city to countryside prompted by James’ penchant for gambling – his inability to keep his impulses in check – is, in actuality, quick and seamless. Both find themselves relieved to leave behind their old haunts and habits as they settle into a quiet life in their new house between the lake and the woods.
But their new house has other plans.
The architecture becomes unrecognisable, decaying before their eyes. Stains contract and explained, mapping themselves onto Julie’s body in the form of bruises; mould taints the water that James pours from the sink. As the couple search for the source of their mutual torment, they become mired in the history of their peculiar neighbours and the mysterious previous residents of the house.
The Grip Of It, Jac Jemc
The Grip Of It starts with James and Julie looking for a new home, an escape from the city, and the chance to put their problems behind them.
But like all new homes, there are things to get used to. Strange noises, that could be the house settling. Weird mould in the water, could be from old pipes. Growing damp, maybe the real estate agent want completely honest with them.
Growing bruises, mysterious rooms, old journals, ok maybe that’s not normal.
The stress of James’ gambling and the new house are enough to put strain on any relationship. Add in the oddities and the secrets of this house and it will keep you up all night. As the chapters alternate between both Julie and James, the suspense builds, each discovering new mysteries and eerie events that they hide. Can their marriage survive the haunting of their home, and more importantly, can they?
Jac Jemc and information about books and events can be found here, twitter, Facebook and instagram. The Grip of It is available via Titan Books as of September 3rd.
Katie Manning was a beloved child star until her mid-teens when her manager attacked and permanently scarred her face, effectively ending her career and sending her on a path of all-too-familiar post-Hollywood self-destruction.
Now twenty-seven, Katie wants a better answer to those click bait “Where Are They Now?” articles that float around online. An answer she hopes to find when her brother’s to-good-to-be-true fiancée invites her to a wellness retreat upstate. Together with Katie’s two best friends – one struggling with crippling debt and family obligations, one running away from a failed job and relationship – Katie will try to find the inner peace promised at the tranquil retreat. But finding oneself just might drudge up more memories than Katie is prepared to deal with.
Each woman has come to the retreat for different reasons. Each has her secrets to hide, and at the end of the weekend, nay one will live.
The last girl standing.
The Retreat, Sherri Smith
Thrillers are definitely one of my favourite genres, and Sherri Smith gives us not one, but four deeply layered and troubled women, all hiding secrets. The dynamic of Katie and her practically perfect future sister in law Ellie is fraught and dysfunctional, filled with dislike and distrust. Katie’s college friends Ariel and Carmen have an equally complicated relationship with Katie with varying degrees of emotional and financial dependancy. The vastly different lives and upbringings of each of these women create an intriguing mix of personalities.
Once they arrive at the retreat, we meet a fantastic array of characters. A couple who are camp regulars, a video game designer, a recent divorcée, a paramedic with PTSD, the famous Dr Dave, and his wife Naomi.
As the days progress, the therapy and activities intensify from picking vegetable to a ceremony with a special tea to help you find the real you. But that’s not the only thing that comes out in the climax of this tale.
The Retreat doesn’t just look at the consequences of your actions, but also dark pasts, old trauma, and repressed memories. Told by Katie, Ellie, Ariel, and Carmen, each secret that is revealed makes you want more, each new action leaves you hungry for the consequences, and most importantly you just want to know who is the last girl standing.
The Retreat is available to read right now, via Titan Books. Sherri Smith can be found here, on twitter, Facebook, and on instagram, where you can keep up with all the book news and events.
Today is my stop on the Only Ashes Remain blog tour. I have been looking forward to this since I received Not Even Bones for Christmas. And let me tell you it does not disappoint.
But first a recap. Not Even Bones is Rebecca Schaeffer’s debut novel and Book 1 in the Market of Monsters series. A series which sees the world as it is experienced by monsters, villains and the morally grey. The main character Nita dissects the bodies of the unnaturals that her mother hunts and kills to sell on the black market. It’s a life of order that she doesn’t question until the body her mother brings back is very alive. Nita defies her mother and releases their captive, only to have him betray her. Finding herself the caged specimen on the black market, Nita begins to question her morals and lifestyle.
After escaping her kidnappers and destroying the black market where she was held captive, all Nita wants is to find a way to live her life without looking over her shoulder. But with a video of her ability to self-heal all over the dark web, Nita knows she’s still a prime target on the black market. There’s only one way to keep herself safe. Nita must make herself so feared that no one would ever dare come after her again. And the best way to start building her reputation? Take her revenge on Fabricio, the boy who sold Nita to her kidnappers. But killing Fabricio is harder than Nita thought it would be, even with Kovit by her side. Now caught in a game of kill or be killed, Nita will do whatever it takes to win.
Only Ashes Remain is a killer sequel. Starting with Nita coming face to face with the root of all her current problems Fabricio.
She took a deep breath. She was in the middle of the INHUP headquarters in Botogá. There was an agent standing right beside her. This was not the time to commit murder.
Nita upon meeting Fabricio
When INHUP transfer Nita to Toronto, she reconnects with Kovit.
Nita had never imagined herself having friends, but if she had, they wouldn’t have been psychopaths who worked as mafia torturers.
Nita on her friendship with Kovit
While Nita makes plans to free herself from the cross hairs of the black market, and to kill Fabricio, Kovit uses his Family connections to find somewhere to stay. Making Nita’s circle of monsters a little bigger and more dangerous.
“Fine.” She frowned. “But do we have any assurance he won’t drag us underwater and eat our rotting corpses?”
Nita to Kovit
The problems that Nita and Kovit face in their time in Canada escalate as both their troubled worlds collide leaving them to face difficult choices. Nita is driven by vengeance and the desire to escape the life she feels her mother forced onto her. Kovit too wishes to escape a life he didn’t choose with the Family and to find his own family, the sister he hasn’t seen since he was 10 years old.
Not Even Bones was Nita’s story, Only Ashes Remain is where Kovit’s past comes to light. Seeing them both grow and learn more about themselves as they find their boundaries and how they fit together had me hooked and hungry for more. The only thing I hated was getting to the end and knowing I’ll be hanging there until book 3!
Rebecca Schaeffer was born and raised in the Canadian prairies. Her itchy feet took her far from home when she turned eighteen, and she hasn’t returned for more than a few months here or there since. You can find her sitting in a cafe on the other side of the world, writing about villains, antiheroes and morally ambiguous characters. Her debut , Not Even Bones, is about a girl who dissects and sells monsters on the internet. Not Even Bones received a starred review from Booklist, was shortlisted for the Sunburst Award for Speculative Fiction, as well as the Cybilis awards. The sequel, Only Ashes Remain, comes out September 2019.
I was so incredibly excited when I was given the chance to read and review Marie Brennan’s Turning Darkness Into Light by Titan Books. I’m a huge fan of the Lady Trent series from both fantasy and throughly researched realism points. The world building is phenomenal, the characters are fantastic, and there are dragons! When there was an opportunity to be part of the blog tour and do a Q&A, I was absolutely on board.
Not only did I get to ask Marie about Lady Trent and Audrey, RPG campaigns, research, and smallpox scabs. I actually went to the release day signing event for Turning Darkness Into Light at Forbidden Planet and hear a short story letter exchange between Lady Isabella and Benjamin Talbot called From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review (A Lady Trent Story) performed to perfection in character voice.
Lady Trent was quite the pioneer. Between her parents and grandparents Audrey has a lot to live up to, although the expectation comes from outside the family. Aside from being strong, intelligent, independent women, how do the two compare?
They’re both headstrong, of course but Audrey is cockier. She grew up with the assumption that she could get away with things, and that if she got into trouble her family would bail her out — neither of which were true for Isabella. But at the same time, Audrey is in some ways less sure of herself, because she has this yardstick everybody else is holding her up to . . . and she holds herself up to it as well. Plus there’s an experience in her past that badly undercut her confidence, as much as she tries to pretend otherwise.
I am fascinated by world building and how different influences and viewpoints create such contrasting imagery. If Lady Trent and Audrey could study the dragons and historic civilisations of any world, where would they go?
Anywhere they could get to!
It’s a flip answer, but it’s also true; they’ve both got a rampaging case of intellectual curiosity. I suspect Isabella would be fascinated to go into Naomi Novik’s version of our history, because it’s so much like her own, but the dragons there are intelligent. (Even if she would undoubtedly find some diplomatic faux pas to commit with them.) For Audrey, because her interest is more on the archaeological and linguistic end of things, she would need a place with ancient legends and the like. She would be wildly out of place in Middle-Earth, but Tolkien’s attention to detail on such matters would make her as happy as a clam.
The Spotify playlists are fantastic scene setters. What music do you imagine Audrey would work to?
I’m so delighted people are listening to those! And it makes me feel a little guilty that I didn’t put together a full soundtrack for this novel, the way I’ve done with most of my previous ones. In large part that was because I don’t have a very big reservoir of the appropriate music; what I listened to while writing this novel was in the vague direction of swing, big band, and jazz, but I only have a little of that kind of thing. I wanted music with a 1920s feel, though, to help break me out of the Victorian mold of the Memoirs. I can absolutely see Audrey turning on the wireless and bobbing her head along to some swing as she works out a particularly knotty bit of text.
New Worlds (a Patreon project with compilations for years one and two available) is an amazing project and unbelievable resource for writers. I am a huge research nerd and will fall merrily into any obscure rabbit hole. Previously you spoke about 1491 and the Incan Mummy Problem. What has been the weirdest discovery in your reading or research?
I have to pick just one? Let’s go with two, and I apologize that they’re both a little bit gross.
The first is that China was practicing a form of immunization against smallpox centuries before Europe was, by taking smallpox scabs, drying them out, grinding them to a powder, and then snorting them. Which doesn’t sound appetizing — but when the alternative is getting smallpox . . . I think I’d take the scabs.
The other has to do with the way Japan was almost completely closed to outsiders during the Tokugawa Era. Because of this, they had adapt to working with limited resources, which meant that most of the very limited arable land they have was devoted to farming, not livestock. But without livestock, they didn’t have animal manure to fertilize the fields; they had to use human waste instead (taking measures to minimize the risk of pathogens). So Tokugawa-period Japanese cities were quite sanitary, because urine and fecal matter were valuable resources; shopkeepers and the like owned the right to collect it in barrels, and when barges came into the cities loaded with crates of food, they went out again loaded with barrels of waste. Except that after a while the exchange rate broke down . . . because the waste was becoming more valuable per cubic foot than the food. In fact, it was so valuable that there started being a problem with people stealing it.
So there you go. Snorting scabs and stealing crap. The world is so, so full of weird things.
Todd Lockwood’s artwork for both the memoirs and turning darkness into light is beautiful, it instantly calls to mind the lithographs displayed at the Natural History museum. Would you ever consider a Lady Trent Guide to Dragons?
I would love to do one! People should instead be asking my publishers whether they’d consider it. 🙂 Side note: absolutely make sure you do this. I want this and a film/tv series that starts with the older Lady Trent sat at a desk writing and then goes into the action in the style of Granny Wendy’s story in Hook.
Do you have any favourite folklore or mythology tales? And if you could, which one would you do a retelling of?
I’ve actually done retellings of quite a few, or at least stories that riff on the sources in some fashion. I wouldn’t necessarily say those are my favorites, because what sparks a story isn’t how much I love a folktale or song; it’s whether I can find some angle or gap that gives me a way to do something new with it. One I do love, though, is the Scottish border ballad “Tam Lin” — I’ve got a retelling of that one that I’m trying to sell right now, though it’s unfortunately quite long, which limits the number of markets that will even let me send it to them.
As an RPG player, what was the most memorable campaign you’ve played or the most fun to write?
Aw, man — the first half of that is asking me to play favorites among my GMs!
I’ve honestly had so many great experiences of different kinds that choosing between them is a bit like apples and oranges. Several of the most memorable have worked their way into my fiction in one fashion or another; my novelette “False Colours” is based (with permission) on the most ridiculously serendipitous sequence of events that has ever occurred for me in a game, while the Varekai novellas grew out of a character I played for about four years in a Changeling LARP, and the Onyx Court series has its roots in the historical context for the first tabletop campaign I ever ran. And that’s only scratching the surface.
Can you tell us what’s next for Audrey or what you are working on now?
Audrey’s done for now; Turning Darkness Into Light is a standalone novel that resolves her personal arc. But since I thought I was done with Lady Trent’s world in general after the Memoirs, and then accidentally tripped and wrote another novel, I won’t rule it out entirely!
As for current projects, I have a novella connected to the Legend of the Five Rings game called The Eternal Knot coming out this fall, probably in September. And last year my friend Alyc Helms and I wrote an epic fantasy novel together, which we have just sold to Orbit Books; that’s the first book of the Rook and Rose trilogy, and we’ll be publishing it next year under the joint pen name of M.A. Carrick.
From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review (A Lady Trent Story) can be read at tor.com where it was first published, or as part of an ebook collection called Maps to Nowhere. Marie Brennan has also recently published a short for Uncanny magazine called On the Impurity of Dragons, written in the point of view of Lady Trent’s son
Be sure to check out my fellow tour guides blogs and see what they are up to.
Made of dust and bone and imagination, Irréelle fears she’s not quite real. Only the finest magical thread tethers her to life – and to Miss Vesper. But for all her efforts to please her cruel creator, the thread is unravelling. Irréelle is forgetful as she gathers bone dust. She is slow returning from the dark passages beneath the cemetery. Worst of all, she is unmindful of her crooked bones
When Irréelle makes one final, unforgivable mistake by destroying a frightful creature just brought to life, Miss Vesper threatens to imagine her away once and for all. Defying her creator for the very first time, Irréelle flees to the underside of the graveyard and embarks on an adventure to unearth the mysterious magic that breathes bones to life, even if it means she will return to dust and be no more
The Bone Garden
Heather Kassner’s debut The Bone Garden is utterly magical, beautiful and just deliciously dark and mysterious middle grade adventure.
Irrélle is the imperfect creation who wants to be loved and to be real. Miss Vesper is the cruel and demanding mistress who created her. With each task she is reprimanded for failing, each clumsy mistake, your heart breaks for Irréelle. In her quest to please Miss Vesper, she uncovers more than she expects and it makes her grow in ways she could never have imagined.
I throughly enjoyed The Bone Garden, as did Tiny Satan who has now re homed it to his own bookshelf where it feels right at home with Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Coraline. Heather Kassner has us hungry for more and it will come next year in the form of The Forest of Stars.
The Bone Garden was released in UK paperback on July 23rd and August 6th in US hardcover and is available in bookshops now. The US hardcover has illustrations by Matt Sanders both on the cover and inside. Julia Lloyd is responsible for the darker more gothic UK cover.