Thursday, 24 January 2019

Book Review: The Selection (Sapient Salvation #1) by Jayne Faith

The Selection (Sapient Salvation #1) by Jayne Faith is the first book to surprise me this year. I won't lie... when I downloaded it, I fully expected it to be a half-assed rip-off of Kiera Cass's The Selection. While there are similarities (even the covers have similar feels), Jayne Faith's The Selection is a darker, more enjoyable read (with less sniveling.)

The story follows Maya who, like the other occupants of Earthenfell, labors to serve her alien overlords. The overlords protect Earthenfell from the constant barrage of attacks from other aliens who want to claim the planet in exchange for a tiny sacrifice: twice a year, sixteen young people are chosen to compete for the chance to serve the Callistan, Lord Toric. The sacrifices can be either male or female, with the winners from each sex becoming Lord Toric's servant or concubine, respectively.

And the losers? You do not want to be a loser...

Maya and Lord Toric have an instant connection, despite the fact that he's not allowed to marry her and she was a last minute sacrifice for her clan when the sacrifice they had trained died unexpectedly on Selection Day.

The story switches from Maya's point-of-view to Lord Toric's every few chapters which, because it's written in 1st person, can be a little awkward. Things get really interesting the first time we get a peek inside Lord Toric's mind because we learn that he has some... unusual sexual preferences.

Wait. Aliens, a life-or-death competition, and a little kink?

Count me in!

The thing that sets The Selection apart is its maturity. Although Maya is (groan) a virgin, she's not completely sexually inexperienced, and doesn't moon over the guy who screwed her over (by, well, screwing everyone else.) She just gets on with things, which makes her an extremely likeable character.

Lord Toric's borther, Sir Jeric, is manipulative while his brother's lover (and person in charge of the competition), Akantha, is straight-up spiteful. It's pretty obvious where their hatred comes from but I'm a little worried that it might be a little over-the-top as the series goes on. We'll have to see. Because, yes, I went in search of the second book straight away - something I rarely do. It usually bothers me when there are so many books in a series but this time, at least, I'm glad there's more.

The Selection is a sexy, smart, engaging, sci-fi dystopia that's absolutely worth a read for fans of YA and NA literature. It's free on Amazon Kindle, too, so there's no reason not to give it a try right now!

Movie Review: Selfie from Hell (2018)

"Selfie from Hell" was a 2015 short horror film that won all kinds of awards - and deservedly so. It scared the pants off me the first time I watched it. (And, uh, just now when I re-watched it.) As a short, "Selfie from Hell" is extremely effective. As a full-length movie? Not so much.

Selfie from Hell (2018) stars Alyson Walker as Hannah, a... well, I don't know we ever learn exactly what she does except that she works from home on her computer all day but doesn't appear to know anything about the Dark Web. My husband catches a computer virus every time he thinks about turning the damned thing on and he knows what the Dark Web is so... come on.

The short's Meelah Adams also makes an appearance in the film as Hannah's cousin, Julia, though she spends most of the film unconscious. Or... possibly dead. It's really not clear.

That's the biggest problem with Selfie from Hell; it sets up a bunch of situations it just doesn't bother to resolve or explore. For instance, Hannah has a major freak-out when she searches the internet and learns her cousin is dead. Her cousin, Julia... who's upstairs in her spare room. Ooh, clever idea. You've got me. I want to know where this goes... Oh, right. Nowhere. That's the first and last time it's mentioned.

So frustrating.

I want to make a joke here about the plot of Selfie from Hell being holier than the Vatican but I feel like it's not even worth my time.

With the success of the short, a lot of horror fans - myself included - had high hopes for the full-length version. I doubt I'm alone in being disappointed. Although the jumps are well-placed, the score tries to force a sense of urgency the action just can't live up to.

And don't even get me started on the not-so-surprise "twist" at the end.

While Selfie from Hell doesn't live up to its potential, it isn't a complete waste of time. Although the character development seems to have been abandoned at an early stage (What's up with the pseudo-romance?), the acting is decent. The lighting is also atmospheric, which makes watching it alone in the dark nervy. But, let's face it, Selfie from Hell is no Lights Out.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The Annual Critters Readers' Poll is OPEN!

The Annual Critters Readers' Poll has come around again. Last year, I landed a spot in the top ten for three categories: Best Author, Best Anthology, and Best Horror Short Story. 2017 was a pretty crazy publishing year for me!

Although 2018 was a bit slower on that part due to some pretty gnarly mental health issues, I have another chance at tackling those top ten lists. Of course, I do need your help to do that!

The Critters Readers' Poll is exactly that, chosen by readers. That means you! So, if you could pop over to the poll and cast your vote, that'd be great. (If you could cast your vote for me, that'd be better. 😉)

Here are the categories I'm in the running for:

Best Author:
Best Anthology (The Second Corona Book of Horror Stories/Blood & Ashes):
Horror Short Story (Halloween Night):

The Annual Critters Readers' Poll closes in just one week so be sure to gets those votes in quickly. If you do (or have) vote(d), thanks very much! Oh, and don't forget to check out the other categories if you have time. There are some pretty great authors, artists, publishers, and editors there.

Thanks again!

Monday, 7 January 2019

The Best Horror Movies of 2018

As we were looking for something to watch this morning, Jay and I got to talking about our favourite horror movies of last year. Well, specifically we were wondering how movies like A Quiet Place seem to make everyone's best-of lists when it was such a steaming pile of shite... but close enough.

I got to thinking about what my favourite horror movie of last year would be. Turns out, it's impossible for me to pick just one. I can, however, pick a handful. So... let's do that.

The Best Horror Movies of 2018:

The “What the Fuck Did  I Just Watch?!”: The Cleanse
If you haven't seen The Cleanse, now is the perfect time. It's about this down-on-his-luck guy (Johnny Galecki) who goes to a retreat to turn his life around. It starts awkward and weird and gets... well, a whole lot weirder.

Yeah... I'm not sure weird is a weird enough word.

The retreat run by Anjelica Huston's Lily forces clients to face their demons by literally puking up them up. And then, you know, killing them - which would probably have worked out a lot better for everyone if their demons weren't so damned adorable!
The Horror/Thriller: Bad Samaritan
I'll be honest, I skipped over Bad Samaritan at least a dozen times before I finally watched it. I just didn't expect it to be my thing. I'm not really into moody dramas. (Strange, I know, right?) I'm totally into this nasty, fucked up revenge piece, though.

And DAYUM, David Tennant is one BAMF.  
The Dark Dystopia: The Domestics
At first glance, The Domestics is just Mad Max Lite but there are themes of home, safety, love, and family that give it depth that some dysoptians try to use as tools but fail to ever fully develop. It's a dystopia - but not JUST a dystopia. The Domestics certainly does have its share of brutality and gore. It doesn't, however, linger unnecessarily on those things - which makes me happy since, as you know, I'm a big wuss when it comes to viscera.

Eww, viscera.

Oh! And there are even cannibals. Because no apocalypse is complete without a few cannibals.
The Religious Spine-Tingler: The Devil’s Doorway
I love me some religious horror. Don't know why that is but it's probably something I need to take up with my therapist... Anyway, The Nun seemed like a sure bet for this spot, right, because The Freaking Nun! The Devil's Doorway steals it for me, though, because I expected The Nun to be awesome (and it was.) I wasn't expecting anything at all from The Devil's Doorway, which made an already great movie even better.

The trouble with religious horror is there are all these rules and tropes already built into the religions filmmakers have to work around... or work with. A good religious horror, like The Devil's Doorway, can take those things you've seen a million times and use them to set up the big scares, rather than relying on them to BE the big scares. The Devil's Doorway even throws in a little found-footage action (which I not-so-secretly love.)
The Trippy Mind Fuck: The Endless
I watched The Endless around about the time all the crazy cryptic-ness started with twenty one pilots over the release of their new album so it’s safe to say my mind was already pretty spun-out. Now that I think about it, adding the crazy topsy-turvy ride of The Endless to that mix might not have been  a brilliant idea...

This one gets into your head and settles down for the long-haul. It's totally non-linear, which should make it confusing but The Endless does actually fit together perfectly. Eventually.
The Wicker Man’s Child: Apostle
Where Paganism and Christianity meet in a blood-soaked stew of hypocrisy!

Too often, you watch a trailer like the one for Apostle and get all excited, only to be disappointed when you realize the trailer either shows all the best bits or is nothing like the rest of the movie. With Apostle, you won't be disappointed on either count.

Apostle is basically what would have happened if The Wicker Man had a kid who just wanted to be as good as Daddy but grew up to be a fucking psycho. So... you know, what The Wicker Tree should have been.
The Action/Horror: The Meg
Hello, Jaws? Welcome to 2018.

I'm not even going to pretend The Meg is anything other than a modern Jaws, with a bigger shark and buffer hero. That's EXACTLY what it is - and isn't it fun?!

I don't really get why the world at large seems to hate The Meg because it's got good jumps, good graphics, good actors, and good action. Yes, it's mindless, but it's also fun to look at (and I've known people who've gotten by on a lot less than that.)
The Insane Bloodbath: Mayhem
Because everyone who has ever worked in an office has felt the desire to rage-out on their co-workers. Right?


Mayhem is slick, funny, fast-paced, and so (SO) messed up. Or was that messy?

Yeah... both.

If, after you watch and love Mayhem, check out Office Uprising, its cheesier younger brother.
The Classic Ghost Story: Winchester
There’s nothing I love more than a ghost story - especially if it can make me jump, which this one does. If it also includes the world-class acting of Helen Mirren, ever better!

Winchester is more than just a good ghost story; it’s a biting social commentary about the dangers of firearms wrapped in a creepy, horror wrapper. It’s especially relevant with the endless battle between the NRA and common decency. (No, I’m not even going to pretend to be unbiased on this count. Fuck those fuckers.) Don’t worry, though, the story and acting are both strong enough that it doesn’t feel preachy. It’s a solid horror story that makes you think.
The Blast-From-the-Past: Leprechaun Returns
The big come-back of the year was, of course, Halloween, which was great on so many levels. Leprechaun Returns was similar in that it ignored any sequels and followed immediately after the first Leprechaun movie. And, unlike Halloween, which featured its franchises biggest actor once again in the lead, Warwick Davis did not reprise his role as the title character. So... why is Leprechaun Returns here, instead of Halloween? Pure, schlocky fun, that’s why!

Leprechaun Returns is a perfect continuation of the franchise, with riotous action, nods to the original, returning cast, and plenty of fun, inventive deaths. It’s one of those movies you can completely shut your brain off to watch and that’s why I love it.

That's my list and, yeah, I know there are critics out there spewing that none of their most-loved films got anywhere near this list. You know where those movies are? Here:

The Worst Horror Movies of the Year:
A Quiet Place - ridiculously over-hyped
Hereditary - a complete mess
Annihilation - nonsensical drivel
Ghost Stories - tries too hard to be clever and fails
The Night Eats the World - mind-numbingly dull

I watch a lot of horror movies, no doubt about that. What I don't do a lot is leave the house. 'Cause, you know, PEOPLE. *shudder* That's why there are some big movies still on my to-watch list. Hopefully I'll get to watch them soon and update you all.

Still to Watch: 
The Possession of Hannah Grace
The First Purge
Anna and the Apocalypse

What do you think of my lists? Are they very different from your own? Let me know! (Just don't try to sell me on A Quiet Place. Life's too short.)

Thursday, 3 January 2019

2018: A Year in Books

One of the worst things about dealing with Depression & Anxiety is my inability to focus. It screws with my attention and my memory which every doctor I've ever complained to about it (which is many) has claimed "is symptomatic of the disease."

Great help there, thanks.

So, basically, it's really fucking hard to read because my brain would rather be freaking the hell out than focusing on the words on the page. Not that long ago, I read nearly 100 books a year. In 2018, I struggled to reach 25. As a life-long bibliophile, I can't even tell you how hard that is for me.


But, let's look on the bright side. I did manage to reach my target of 25 books for 2018. I'd like to share them with you now...

5 Stars 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
  The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black
  A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1) by Deborah Harkness
  The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1) by Melissa Albert
  Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad #1) by David Eddings
  Queen of Sorcery (The Belgariad #2) by David Eddings
  Welcome to Night Vale (Welcome to Night Vale #1) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  Bellamy and The Brute (Bellamy and the Brute #1) by Alicia Michaels
  Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff
  Gabriel's Hope (Rhyn Eternal #1) by Lizzy Ford
  The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  The Healer (The Healer #1) by C.J. Anaya
  Light: A National Poetry Day Book by Gaby Morgan (Editor)
  See Me (Simply Supernatural #1) by Susan Hatler
  Starstruck (Starstruck #1) by Brenda Hiatt
  The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema by Michael Vaughn

3 Stars ⭐⭐⭐
  Deep Blue Secret (The Water Keepers #1) by Christie Anderson
  Flight (The Crescent Chronicles #1) by Alyssa Rose Ivy
  The Gender Game (The Gender Game #1) by Bella Forrest
  OMG That's Me!: Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and More... by Dave Mowry
  Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt by John Cooper Clarke

2 Stars ⭐⭐
  Blood Entwines by Caroline Healy
  Open Minds (Mindjack #1) by Susan Kaye Quinn

1 Star ⭐
  Fire in Frost (Crystal Frost #1) by Alicia Rades
  Fledgling (The Shapeshifter Chronicles #1) by Natasha S. Brown
  Forks (Forks #1) by A.E. Davis
  Midnight Rose (Midnight #1) by Dani Hart

My favourite book of the year is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. The world-building and character development were phenomenal. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert just beat Holly Black's The Cruel Prince for second place. (I'm definitely feeling the Fae right now.)

I love to know what your favourite books of 2018 were. I'm also looking for suggestions to add to my reading challenge for this year. What have you got for me?

And, by the way, if you're struggling with mental health problems, don't beat yourself up if you can't enjoy the things you've always enjoyed. Yeah, it's "symptomatic of the disease" and all that, but it's also okay. You can find new things to enjoy. Those old things might just came back too, eventually - even if you never get back up to your 100 books. Just enjoy what you can, when you can. 💛