Mini Reviews (and a Reading Woe): The Shadows by Alex North & Red Heir by Lisa Henry

How does one…read a book?

If anyone has suggestions, please feel free to mail out a note to my brain detailing step-by-step instructions, as the poor thing has clearly forgotten. Which, turns out, is a bit of an inconvenience when you’re trying to run a book blog.

It’s not that I don’t have the time – quite the opposite, really. It’s not that I don’t have a good selection of books to read, or that I’m not excited to get to them – because I have and I do. It’s just that I open a book, read the first couple of chapters, and then think, “Oh look, squirrel!” and proceed to chase the squirrel instead. And in this case the squirrel is a text message or a cute YouTube video or a dark blotch on my ceiling that I swear is a spider. I feel like, at this point, if I were stuck in a 10 ft x 10 ft room with nothing but the clothes on my back, some water, and a Kindle on my lap, I would still manage to find an excuse to NOT read.

Sigh. It’s a maddening puzzle, my friends. But one I’m determined to crack this month. There are so many incredible-sounding books coming out in the next couple of months, and I do not want to miss them.

In the meantime, here are a few mini reviews that I’ve been procrastinating on!

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Title:
The Shadows
Author:
Alex North
Publisher:
Celadon Books

Genre(s): Mystery, Thriller
Subject(s)/Themes(s): Childhood, Dreams
Representation: N/A

Release Date: July 7th, 2020
Page Count: 326 (hardback)

Rating: 7.0/10

addtogoodreads-script_26_orig

You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile–always on the outside of the group. Some part of you suspected he might be capable of doing something awful. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree did just that, committing a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet–and inspired more than one copycat.

Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree–and his victim–were Paul’s friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and suffering from dementia, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home.

It’s not long before things start to go wrong. Paul learns that Detective Amanda Beck is investigating another copycat that has struck in the nearby town of Featherbank. His mother is distressed, insistent that there’s something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.

It wasn’t just the murder.

It was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again…

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The Shadows is less of a thriller-horror than what the blurb suggests, and a more reflective story of a man who returns home to reconcile with a traumatic past. It’s got the tone of rifling through a box of old photographs, with all the tension and melancholia that accompanies it, which I absolutely vibe with – sad trips into the fictional past are my jam – but it wasn’t quite the skin-crawling experience I was hoping for.

It is, however, still a solid atmosphere-driven tale and, in a weird way, there’s this magical lustre to it. Maybe it’s just that my brain has a tendency to categorize all stories involving dreams as fantasy-adjacent, but this feels like it exists in that grey narrative space between reality and not-quite. It’s in the way that the characters long for things they know they can’t have, and long for them hard enough to stitch their own world, their own stories, into existence. And I love it when stories do that – grounded in the real world but still dangling a thread of “But what if?”

Aside from the main character, the rest of the cast kind of fade into the background. I understand why the author chose to alternate Paul’s chapters with Amanda’s. His narration is so entrenched in old memories and biases, and the detective offers a more outside-in look into everything with better objectivity (the thriller/mystery aspect definitely becomes sharper with her chapters). But I couldn’t help but feel that she’s mostly there to serve as a mirror for all the strangeness that’s going on, and not so much as a fleshed-out character. A narrative device, really, albeit an effective one.

Creepy handprints on the cover notwithstanding, I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone looking for a high-octane horror story. It’s the quiet exploration of childhood traumas and our compartmentalization of them that truly shines throughout.

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review


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Title:
Red Heir
Author:
Lisa Henry and Sarah Honey
Publisher:
Self-published

Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance
Subject(s)/Themes(s): Fake royal, Road trip
Representation: Gay MC and side characters

Release Date: July 28th, 2020
Page Count: 234 (ebook)

Rating: 5.0/10

addtogoodreads-script_26_orig

Imprisoned pickpocket Loth isn’t sure why a bunch of idiots just broke into his cell claiming they’re here to rescue the lost prince of Aguillon, and he doesn’t really care. They’re looking for a redheaded prince, and he’s more than happy to play along if it means freedom. Then his cranky cellmate Grub complicates things by claiming to be the prince as well.

Now they’re fleeing across the country and Loth’s stuck sharing a horse and a bedroll with Grub while imitating royalty, eating eel porridge, and dodging swamp monsters and bandits.

Along the way, Loth discovers that there’s more to Grub than meets the eye. Under the dirt and bad attitude, Grub’s not completely awful. He might even be attractive. In fact, Loth has a terrible suspicion that he’s developing feelings, and he’s not sure what to do about that. He’d probably have more luck figuring it out if people would just stop trying to kill them.

Still, at least they’ve got a dragon, right?

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A dwarf, an elf, a human, and an orc crash into a prison where two redheads await. One of them is the lost prince, you see, and these unlikely band of rescuers are determined to snatch him away to safety and earn all the glory. A case of mistaken identity, however, lands the wrong guy as the prince and his cellmate as his grumpy tagalong. Cue adventure.

This was….okay, in every sense of the word. It’s a simple story; it doesn’t do anything particularly new or exciting with the imposter royal trope, the worldbuilding is sparse, and the side characters are cute and provide some extra banter. In terms of queer fantasy adventures, it’s nowhere near the kind of funny that Lightning Struck Heart is, but it definitely has its witty moments.

I was just rather bored with it. I mean, the book knows what it’s about – it’s not meant to be a sprawling fantasy epic – but everything from the characters to the relationship to the plot felt surface-level and derivative compared to other stories that tackle this premise in a more interesting way. It plays safe and doesn’t attempt to be anything it’s not, but damn, I sure wish it’d at least tried.

But if you’re looking for quick and light-hearted fantasy that you want to squeeze inbetween heavier reads, or you just really love red-haired protagonists, then this might be one for you.

Thank you to Gay Romance Reviews and the authors for providing the review copy

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20 thoughts on “Mini Reviews (and a Reading Woe): The Shadows by Alex North & Red Heir by Lisa Henry

  1. debjani6ghosh says:

    Loved both the reviews. Despite The Shadows not being a high-octane horror story, I’ll still give it a chance. As for Red Heir, I think I’ll pass. Hope the squirrel doesn’t bother you much in the future. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jennifertarheelreader says:

    I hope you find your reading mojo this month, my dear friend! I think reading CAN take a lot of concentration. Some of the genres you love most take the most concentration with detailed world building? Maybe mix it up a little if you have any other preferences and I see a thriller here so you are probably already trying this. I loved these mini review and I love seeing you. Any time. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery says:

    It looks like you are finding yourself in a reading slump: it happens to everybody, and it will pass sooner than you think. Usually a “change of pace”, like a different genre or some time dedicated to a tv series proves very helpful in getting out of that slump 🙂

    Like

  4. Ola G says:

    Great reviews, Kathy! Oh, that woeful reading slump! Maybe it’s just a matter of finding the right book? Or, to be more precise, the right squirrel in the book? 😀 Anyway, I’m pretty sure it will get better – fingers crossed for August!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. dianthaa says:

    I am fully with you on the reading focus. This is weird but what seemed to kick me out of it was my Hugos mini-readathon, over one weekend I read a bunch of short fiction and the first 2-3 chapters of … 16 books, so by the time I was done there were so many of them that I wanted to keep reading that mojo was temporarily back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Oooh yeah, I can totally see how that could work. It’s like feeding your brain little samples of food to get hooked on lol. I’ve kinda gained momentum this week and I think it helps to not think too hard about what I’m going to read next and just reach for the closest book. I still get distracted by youtube videos, but hey, at least I’m making progress 😆

      Liked by 1 person

      • dianthaa says:

        Hope your momentum lasts!
        I’ve been reading a lot at night this week due to insomnia … which … I guess you win some you lose some?

        Like

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Well I managed to finish multiple (multiple!!!) books so far this week, and without the help of black magic, so I guess the crown is still yours 😂❤ I think the trick for me is to uh, not actually think about the book I’m going to read and just blindly reach for one book after another. This week, anyway. Who knows what next week will bring.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gerry@TheBookNookUK says:

        Hurrah! Slump is unslumped (even if temporary). Good, I want that crown, titles and all the land. I just opt for the ‘roll for it’ approach too. I’ve tricked my brain into accepting the ‘alphabet’ approach because I’m forcing it into a process it clearly needs!

        Like

  6. waytoofantasy says:

    I was slumpy last month myself, mostly due to anxiety. My advice? Just…sometimes you just have to wait it out. Hope you can get past it soon! (Oh, btw, one of the other r/fantasy mods has shared your bingo there and people are seeming to love it!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Oh my gosh Lisa, I read ZERO books last week and somehow I’ve finished 3 books this week so far and I’m close to finishing my 4th?? What is happening. I probably fell asleep at my desk too hard and crashed into a fever dream.

      And yeah, Dia asked if she could post on the reddit and I figured it wouldn’t hurt lol. Glad to hear people are liking it!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • waytoofantasy says:

        That was me last month! I went from a week of zero books to a week of 3 or 4 books to a week of zero books to a week of 3 or 4 books and now I’ve been mostly steady again but it’s been so weird. I hope that your own reading remains steady from here on out!

        Like

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