Catch-Up Quickies 2

First a quick explanation!

Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.

In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I plan to scrunch some of my (overdue) NetGalley reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.

That’s the plan anyway; let’s see how it goes…!

Title: Hag: Forgotten Folktales Retold
Author:  Daisy Johnson, Kirsty Logan, Emma Glass, Eimear McBride, Natasha Carthew , Mahsuda Snaith, Naomi Booth, Liv Little, Imogen Hermes Gowar, Irenosen Okojie, Carolyne Larrington (Introduction) 
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group UK, Virago


Here are sisters fighting for the love of the same woman, a pregnant archaeologist unearthing impossible bones and lost children following you home. A panther runs through the forests of England and pixies prey upon violent men.

From the islands of Scotland to the coast of Cornwall, the mountains of Galway to the depths of the Fens, these forgotten folktales howl, cackle and sing their way into the 21st century, wildly reimagined by some of the most exciting women writing in Britain and Ireland today.

Review: Hag is a very varied collection of ten reimagined traditional folk tales. All of the stories are set in and around the UK, but some carry flavours from their author’s cultural experiences and heritage that enrichen the style and content of the stories, and add layers to these stories of female ‘otherness’.

Each story is given either a feminist or a modern-world slant, or both, using the original stories as inspiration, rather than simply reproducing or ‘twisting’ them. Some of the stories are more ambiguous than fairytales generally are, hinting at explanations that are less overtly paranormal influence and more mental illness, grief, or human violence.

Personally I preferred the unambiguously paranormal stories, like the Selkie boy or The Panther’s Tale, to the more realistic and emotionally wrenching tales (I wanted fae intrigue and creepy horror!), but there is a good mixture in here of something for most tastes.

I think it was a brilliant idea to include the original source material stories at the end of the book, as it really gives the reader basis for comparison, and highlights how cleverly the new stories have been re-spun.

Purchase Link: Hag: Forgotten Folktales Retold on Amazon

Title: When the Music Stops
Author: Joe Heap
Publisher: HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction

Blurb: This is the story of Ella.
And Robert.
And of all the things they should have said, but never did.

‘What have you been up to?’
I shrug, ‘Just existing, I guess.’
‘Looks like more than just existing.’
Robert gestures at the baby, the lifeboat, the ocean.
‘All right, not existing. Surviving.’
He laughs, not unkindly. ‘Sounds grim.’
‘It wasn’t so bad, really. But I wish you’d been there.’

Ella has known Robert all her life. Through seven key moments and seven key people their journey intertwines.
From the streets of Glasgow during WW2 to the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll of London in the 60s and beyond, this is a story of love and near misses. Of those who come in to our lives and leave it too soon. And of those who stay with you forever…

Review: This is a poignant story-within-a-story, as we meet Ella in extreme circumstances at the very start, and clearly suffering from a degenerative memory-eroding illness, then travel with her through seven songs (The Child, The Maiden, The Lover, The Rebel, The Matron, The Mother and The Crone), which correspond to seven key moments in her life and seven important people, from childhood to her recent circumstances.

Those flashbacks tell a story of what might have been, but wasn’t, as Ella and Robert meet and part repeatedly to a backdrop of music, memory and a painted guitar.

Reminiscent of stories like Life of Pi or Mitch Albom’s afterlife oeuvre, there are suggestions of unreality to Ella’s journey aboard the boat, Mnemosyne (very clever!), but her journey through her memories is rooted in the small details of realism that anyone might recognise from their own earlier days – the clothing, the food, and above all else, the music.

An incredibly sad exploration of grief and aging, this story is also a testament to strength, love, and living a full life… however long you get.

Purchase Link: When the Music Stops on Amazon

Title: Chaos Drive (now renamed Space Raiders of the Frogopolis, and the Chaos Singularity)
Author: Jamie Brindle
Publisher: BooksGoSocial

Blurb: Worst. Honeymoon. Ever.

Charlotte has just been married. She was expecting some sand, some sea, and perhaps an occasional tricky decision about which cocktail to have next.
So why is she in a crazy parallel universe, trying to fight off an evil and unlikely race of deranged frogs?

Matt has just been married, too. His problems have less to do with frogs, and more to do with the strange and incredibly strong version of Charlotte who seems to have taken the place of his wife.

Both of them just want to get back to their own reality. But when the Universe itself starts trying to expel the deranged knot of confusion which their lives have become, Matt and Charlotte find themselves on the run not just from bloodthirsty frogs, but from reality itself. Why has this happened? What does it have to do with the strangely feline personality who has gone missing? And what the hell is the mysterious Chaos Drive, anyway?

Review: Fans of chaotic, mind-bending comic scifi-fantasy – think Tom Holt’s later works (particularly Falling Sideways), Douglas Adams, Robert Rankin – will find Jamie Brindle’s Storystream a rich new source of surreality.

I rather foolishly read this book BEFORE the story called Chaos Born, then spent a large part of that book saying, “Ahhhhh!” in lightbulb tones, so I would suggest you read at least that one first (reading order here). However, this did work as a stand-alone until I read the earlier book, so really, you do you!

The whole basis of the Storystream universe is a world which runs on narrative possibilities, rather than logic or physics, and so anything goes. In this case, we have Matt and Charlotte who find themselves separated on their honeymoon and adventuring with NotCharlotte and NotMatt respectively, as well as their cat, EB, and a whole planet-full of sentient and murderous frogs, including bad-old Head Frog 127 (see my note about previous books for his backstory) and the angry academic, Philip Frogmore (ditto).

What follows is a time-travelling, universe hopping, story-bending space opera, in which the plot can be confusing, but the characters and worldbuilding carry you through [pause to stan EB].

I’m already a big fan of this author’s writing, and will continue to follow the Storystream’s development with interest.

Purchase Link: Chaos Drive on Amazon

Title: The Diabolical Bones
Author: Bella Ellis
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Blurb: It’s Christmas 1845 and Haworth is in the grip of a freezing winter.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë are rather losing interest in detecting until they hear of a shocking discovery: the bones of a child have been found interred within the walls of a local house, Top Withens Hall, home to the scandalous and brutish Bradshaw family.

When the sisters set off to find out more, they are confronted with an increasingly complex and sinister case, which leads them into the dark world of orphanages, and onto the trail of other lost, and likely murdered children. After another local boy goes missing, Charlotte, Emily and Anne vow to find him before it’s too late.

But in order to do so, they must face their most despicable and wicked adversary yet – one that would not hesitate to cause them the gravest of harm . . .

Review: I really enjoyed the first of the Brontë sisters’ investigations, The Vanished Bride, so jumped at the chance to read this next book in the series, and it is just as good.

Gothic tropes, good-humoured common sense, witchcraft and feminism all blend cosily together as Anne, Charlotte and Emily investigate the finding of a child’s bones with dogged determination and their instincts for murder.

Alert readers will easily spot familiar references to wild moors, dark-eyed angry men and other nods to the Brontës’ real-life writings, and enjoy how Bella Ellis brings the literary ladies to life in a new, cosy mystery context.

I did find it a little strange that the story began with the sole remaining sibling, and then was told in flashback style but alternating between the viewpoints of all three sisters. If this was a memory recounted, then how would she know her sister’s thoughts and feelings? It rocked my suspension of disbelief slightly, but didn’t shatter it, and I enjoyed the main storyline enough to make up for my qualm about the framing.

This is a series for lovers of cosy mysteries, Gothic drama and strong heroines alike, and I look forward to the next Brontë investigation.

Purchase Link: The Diabolical Bones on Amazon

Title: Glassheart
Author: Katherine Orton
Publisher: Walker Books

Blurb: An enchanting magical adventure set in the wild moors of Dartmoor – the second middle-grade novel from the bestselling author of Nevertell.

Through the glass, the magic is waiting…

Nona and her uncle travel everywhere together, replacing stained-glass windows in war-torn buildings. When a mysterious commission takes them to the lonely moors of Dartmoor, Nona discovers a wild and powerful magic which threatens everything. Can Nona protect those she loves – even if it means fighting darkness itself?

A beautifully imaginative and rich adventure about determination, courage and the power of love, set in the aftermath of World War Two. Perfect for fans of Abi Elphinstone, Sophie Anderson and Catherine Doyle.

Review: This middle-grade fantasy adventure is exciting and more than a little scary – mirror magic, ‘rattlesticks’, war/Blitz trauma – so definitely not for the faint of heart!

The main character, Nona, lives with her Uncle Antoni (not actually her uncle, but he took her in when she was orphaned in the war), but from the very first page he is acting strangely. With magic and monsters at every turn, Nona has to try to rescue her uncle, herself, and pretty much everyone else along the way.

There is no escaping the tragedy in this story, but the author keeps the action moving instead of getting bogged down in the emotion, and so the focus becomes more about survival, love and hope – the realities of learning to continue living through grief – and the question of whether loss can make monsters of us all.

I didn’t find myself quite connecting with the character, perhaps because we only meet Nona and Antoni after the storyline is already underway, or because it isn’t clear whether some of the paranormal entities can be trusted, and so I found that I wasn’t quite as engaged with the story as I would have liked. That said, I LOVED Castor, and Nona grew on me as the story progressed.

This would be ideal for the older or very brave middle-graders… Minishine (8) would be scared stiff!

Purchase Link: Glassheart on Amazon

Aaaaah! My review list feels lighter already! 🙂


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