Emily Knight I Am… – A Review

I don’t know if I’ve ever reviewed a YA novel for this blog before. Not that I’ve specifically excluded them, but …

*shrugs*

Well, now I am. And it’s a wonderful one to start with: Emily Knight I Am… by A. Bello.

I met her in September of last year at the Triskele Literary Festival in London. She was fun and energetic, and her work was so impressive. She was also a finalist for the Great British Entrepreneurship Award in 2016. For more on that and the press she’s started, you can read my interview with her on the Graveyard Shift Sisters website.

When she asked if I would review Emily Knight, I was flattered. Her book has a brand-new cover, more vibrant than the last in my humble opinion.

Emily knight

 

Emily Knight is a troubled thirteen year-old girl, who takes her frustration out on the world around her. She fights, she steals, and is unrepentant when caught. She doesn’t need to steal, she’s from one of the wealthiest, most well-known families around. The paparazzi have captured many of her thefts on camera.

But Emily is crying out for attention. Her father hasn’t been home in years, instead he’s searching the planet for her long-lost brother, Lox. Both Emily’s father and brother are famous fighters, with the ability to fly, breathe underwater, command fire. While Emily is struggling to control her power. Surrounded by wealth and privilege, she’s still unhappy.

When Emily gets the chance to go to the Osaki Training School, where her father and brother attended, she’s nervous. She wants to learn, but is worried the other students (and teachers) will expect more from her and she won’t be able to deliver. She’s Thomas Knight’s daughter, after all.

Soon, what everyone else thinks doesn’t matter as an evil older than she is resurfaces, and Emily will have to use her intelligence and cunning to protect everything and everyone she loves.

Emily Knight I Am… is a page-turner, full of magic and dojo-style fights, perfect for any reader that loves to watch an imperfect character grow into a hero.

It’s rare for me to read about a character of color from a wealthy, famous family who is tested and challenged to become something more than she started to be. The teachers as well as the students in the Osaki Training School are of diverse backgrounds, both racially and socio-economically, which makes it feel like a real specialist school. The lessons are fascinating, and I was amazed to find out that there is real danger of injury and pain for the students.

The second book in the series Emily Knight I Am…Awakened will be launched here in the UK on September 28th at Waterstone’s Islington 6:30-8:00pm. If you can’t make it, grab a copy of Bello’s Emily Knight I Am… on Amazon US or Amazon UK.

Emily Knight 2 book launch invite

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And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe: A Review

I love short stories.

I love beautiful, touching horror.

So it stands to reason that I love Gwendolyn Kiste’s work.

I’ve been reading her short stories in various publications for a while now, and I always get this little thrum of anticipation when I see her name as byline. Now, JournalStone has published a full collection of her stories and it is what you need to escape. To delve into another world and lose yourself… just for a while.

One of the things I enjoy about the collection is that it’s horror that’s decidedly pro-woman and girl. In these stories, we have voices and take action — we drive the story forward in these dark and lingering tales.

Head on over to The Horror Review to read the full review of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe.

Ane her smile

Graveyard Shift Sister: Rebecca R. Pierce

I’ve noticed a trend with my recent posts: there haven’t been many.

Usually, I’m pretty consistent with posting to this blog, but lately, I’ve been focusing on writing. Which is a good thing in the long run, but my contact with the outside world is suffering.

Time to catch up. I’ll be making a flurry of posts to bring the blog back up to date, then going forward…

Well, I’d better not make that promise.

I’ll just leave you with the link to my review and interview with the wonderful Rebecca R. Pierce on Graveyard Shift Sisters. While GSS’s tag line is: Purging the Black female horror fan from the margins, we celebrate the work of all women of color who love horror.

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FIYAH Lit Mag Issue #1: A Review

I was breathless to read the first issue of Fiyah Lit Mag, but I forced myself to wait until I finished reading my current book. That was not easy, I promise you. I’ve felt this was needed for a long time.

Finally, I opened it. I’d kept myself away from reading other reviews of the mag, although I knew it to be astounding because I’ve seen the first seven words of Tweets about its stunning portrayals of POCs in speculative fiction worlds.

I’m with those Tweeters. Believe. But first, that cover:

fiyah_rebirthcover_300-e1483059557683

“Rebirth” is the theme of the first of what I hope will be many issues of this mag. And each author has wound it seamlessly into the story only they can tell. It reads like they all sat around a table, clutching their caffeinated beverage of choice, and brainstormed how to make readers stare at the page in fascination. Which authors? The ToC is below:

Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber — by Malon Edwards

Police Magic — by Brent Lambert

Revival — by Wendi Dunlap

The Shade Caller — by Davaun Sanders

We Have Ended — by V.H. Galloway

Chesirah — by L.D. Lewis

 

Edward’s “Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber” is set in a futuristic world of robotics and impermanent death.

“Police Magic” shows us boys on a quest to find a way to end a dark magic taking over the world.

“The Shade Caller” and “We Have Ended” have alternate reality versions of Africa, but hold true to the storytelling traditions and lore.

In “Revival” you think you know what’s going to happen, but the story will take you of guard.

“Chesirah” gives us a strong female protagonist and the lengths she will go to for freedom, surprising even herself.

Each author’s voice is distinct, yet they all call out from within the African diaspora. Premises of freedom, expression, love, and sacrifice abound, dancing equally as well with tech implants as they do with magical creatures. Issue #1 sings, it shouts, it resonates with who we are and what we strive to be. It is the voice of Black spec fic.

It doesn’t shy away from where we’ve been, but its head is turned toward the future, feeling the wind coming off the sea of change on its scalp. And y’all know that feels good.

So pick up a copy of Fiyah Lit Mag, Issue #1. Read these stories of where Black Speculative Fiction is and where it’s going. You’ll want to come along for the ride.

Chalcedony: A Review

Chalcedony is Book Two in Constance Burris’ Everleaf series. (Psst: The series starts with Book Zero, Black Beauty, in case you’re thinking about picking it up. And I recommend you do. Just look at that cover. )

I am so happy to read about characters of color in a fantasy setting. Although Book One: Coal takes place mostly in the fae realm, Chalcedony includes both the fae and human worlds almost equally. Understandable as a main part of the plot revolves around the barrier between the worlds and if it’s being guarded well enough.

Chalcedony is a queenling in the fairy world—she won’t become a true queen until she has children. She’s wild and undisciplined and headstrong, which makes her an interesting character. I have my bias about Chalcedony from things that occurred in Coal, but Burris is able to make the reader’s allegiances waver from one character to another with great skill.

Chalcedony

Even so, a good portion of the story is still about Coal, which is a good thing. Reading about his growth as a character and his physical changes brought a heavy dose of classic fairy tale to the story. I’m also engaged with seeing his increased confidence as he moves through the human world, gaining allies, and an enemy or two.

Also, I enjoyed seeing characters from Black Beauty brought into the tale, providing some moments that lean more towards the horror genre, which I found exciting.

While Chalcedony is marked as a YA book, and Everleaf as a YA series, there are enough themes of betrayal, environmental concerns, and class and culture divides to keep adult readers hooked. I look forward to reading Book Three, where I hope to see some of the plot tendrils Burris has left dangling weaved into the story.

Dracula Arisen: A Review

I’m going to call Perry Lake a scholar of Dracula. While there are many who could, say give you details of a myriad of movies involving the blood-imbibing character, Lake is able to give you a deep draught of history with it.

Dracula Arisen is that draught.

This book is compilation of thirteen short stories, which make the connection between Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, one of the first Gothic stories to feature blood drinkers and Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula. Lake has most certainly read and loved and been inspired by both pieces of literature.

But it doesn’t end there. He has researched the available information on Vlad the Impaler and several other characters to create a strong and vivid sense of place for this tale. One of Lake’s strengths lies in being able to capture the epic journey of an immortal creature and keep the sense of the mores of the time, which can be markedly different to our own. Inviting a vampire hunter and his son to a party where all of the other guests are vamps, for example.

Drac arisen

Arisen is meticulously researched and it is evident Lake has a love for the iconic character and his origins. The book chronicles Vlad’s parents dancing with the devil, to the dark shadow surrounding his birth, to his rise to power via his violent battles and the subsequent torture of prisoners. (Yes, how he got the moniker “The Impaler” is described in detail.) After his death, Vlad is revived by a mad doctor whose intent is to keep him as a servant. But soon, Vlad frees himself to journey toward the image of Dracula most of have today.

In many places, I didn’t know what was fact and what was fiction. Which is a credit to Lake. Since the book is so flush with history, it got a bit too informative for me in places, at times reading almost like a textbook. As such, it was a good idea to have the book presented in short story format to allow for large passages of time and the inclusion of a rather sturdy number of supporting characters.

Arisen is a strong—extremely strong—work of historical fiction. There were times I felt engrossed in the story. Occasionally, however, I got a bit bogged down in what felt like information transfer as opposed to storytelling, which can happen if you aren’t as “into” a historical figure or a time period as the author.

Even so, I would recommend reading Dracula Arisen as Lake is able to create a sense of place and time for the reader that many authors struggle to craft. This book is a mastery of the epic form, which many writers shy away from due to the massive amounts of time, research, and the events that must be covered. The book is meticulously and cleverly written, powered by fact and events and doesn’t linger too long on emoting.

I rarely read what I consider to be plot-driven novels, so I had to approach this read differently, taking it in smaller bites instead of devouring it in a few sittings. But I’m glad I did as I found myself appreciating the scope of the book and Lake’s pinpoint accuracy in delivering it.

Gutted: A Review

I was excited to read this upcoming release from Crystal Lake Publishing, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories. I was also fortunate to get an advanced reading copy of the anthology. Crystal Lake is making quite a name for itself in the horror and dark fiction categories since their opening in 2012.

This year Crystal Lake walked away with two Bram Stoker Awards at Stoker Con in Las Vegas, one for Mercedes Murdock Yardley’s Little Dead Red and Alessandro Manzetti’s Eden Underground. One of the authors in Gutted, Paul Tremblay, also won a Bram Stoker Award at the event, and received a shout out from horror giant Stephen King on Twitter.

King isn’t the only giant around these parts. Gutted also features stories by Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, and Ramsey Campbell. Gutted also has its share of stunning interior artwork for each story and a stunning cover that speak directly to what you’ll find between these pages—withered loveliness faced with brutal decay.

Stephanie M. Wytovich’s prose poem “The Morning After Was Filled With Bone” set the tone of beauty in the grotesque, followed by one of the strongest stories in the collection, Picking Splinters from a Sex Slave by Brian Kirk. Kirk’s portrayal of a father desperate to help his daughter is at once alarming and moving, leaving you with a lingering disquiet.

Neil Gaiman’s story presents us with the problem in one of C.S. Lewis’ most well-known book series, leaving me with an image of the lion and the witch that I will never forget.

Mercedes M. Yardley’s “Water Thy Bones” shows the strong connection to the theme of this anthology and to Wytovich’s prose poem with its theme of the beauty, the clean purity of bone, prominent under paper-thin skin. It also echoes true love, acceptance of self and of a becoming that is painful, but essential. The story’s ending felt reverent, enduring and I got a freakish sensation that this was a truly beautiful ending.

Gutted

The next story is Paul Tremblay’s Choose Your Own Adventure style story, “Arrival”. I loved the CYOA books as a kid and Tremblay’s version doesn’t disappoint. Each decision the reader is presented with takes you to a different part of the house that the protagonist will explore. Once inside each room, hidden among description and a touch of character’s history is a ghost of a puzzle piece. I recommend visiting each room and not trying to opt out and leave the house.

“Changes” by Damien Angelica Walters portrays the tragedy that can befall a relationship when neither party wants to share their pain with the other. In this case, the relationship is between mother and daughter. Each character’s point of view is expressed with empathy and reading it, I knew if one of them had been a bit braver—a bit more open—the story could have ended differently. The real fear here is of rejection by someone you love when all others have already done so. It’s fear of reprimand and the determination to maintain a strong façade in front of everyone. Walters’ story was horrific, and all too probable.

If I had not read the Table of Contents first, I would not have guessed that “Coming to Grief” was a Clive Barker tale. It wasn’t the story you typically see transformed to film, rather upon rereading, it reminded me of “Human Remains”, one of the stories in Barker’s Books of Blood Volume Three.

I was drawn in by Kevin Lucia’s “When We All Meet at the Ofrenda” as it was full of familiar imagery and folklore. What is an ofrenda? It’s the objects put on a ritual altar, typically used in Dia de los Muertos celebrations. The protagonist, I felt for him too, being separated from his love. But not for long…

“Hey, Little Sister” by Maria Alexander caught my attention as well. To make things up to his beloved sister, a man gives into a bout of needful revenge. Afterward, he has to make an afterlife-ending choice.

I reached out to the owner of Crystal Lake Publishing, Joe Mynhardt and asked how he managed to get the likes of Gaiman and Barker in his anthology. He said that it was thanks to the editors of Gutted who had a contact with someone close to Barker. (Lucky!) And well, they reached out to Gaiman’s agent and asked.

All of the stories in this anthology have a beauty, whether it is in language or tone or in finessing a hard-hitting theme to disarm the reader. It’s worth picking up this collection.

You can buy Gutted beginning June 24th from Crystal Lake Publishing.