Catch-Up Quickies 7

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 have been scrunching 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 and so far, so good…!

Title: The Sanatorium
Author:  Sarah Pearse
Publisher:  Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Bantam Press

Blurb:  ‘At first glance they’re magnificent, yet the more she looks, the more she realizes how sinister the mountains appear: raw, jagged spikes. It’s not hard to imagine, she thinks, looking out; this place somehow consuming someone, swallowing them whole.’

An imposing, isolated hotel, high up in the Swiss Alps, is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But she’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when she receives an invitation out of the blue to celebrate her estranged brother’s recent engagement, she has no choice but to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge. Though it’s beautiful, something about the hotel, recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium, makes her nervous – as does her brother, Isaac.

And when they wake the following morning to discover his fiancée Laure has vanished without a trace, Elin’s unease grows. With the storm cutting off access to and from the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

But no-one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they’re all in . . .

Review: I love the setting here and was initially reminded of both old YA horror books like the Point Horror series, and newer crime thrillers like Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party or The Guest List – a group of different individuals, all with their own problems and secrets trapped in an isolated location and then forced to deal with the fact that one of them must be a murderer.

Unfortunately, after those surface similarities, this book fell sort of the those previous reads in terms of both plot and characters.

The main character, Elin, is difficult to empathise with as – due to her understandable emotional issues and PTSD, she is both manic and detached, and even her inner monologue feels unreliable. In keeping other characters at arm’s length, she inadvertently keeps the reader at a distance too. Similarly, the main relationships in the story seemed to lack chemistry and believability, making it difficult to invest in them.

Considering the high levels of torture and gore, I found the ending twists a little disappointing as the motive/s didn’t feel sufficient or current enough to justify the levels of violence and murder and, again, without being able to buy into the story the ending fell flat right at the climax.

All the right ingredients are here for an excellent crime thriller, but I think those elements just didn’t quite come together for me to create a compelling whole.

Purchase Link: The Sanatorium on Amazon

Title: A Caller’s Game
Author:  J.D. Barker
Publisher:  Hampton Creek Press

Blurb:  “I’m going to offer you a choice.”

Controversial satellite radio talk show host, Jordan Briggs, has clawed her way to the top of the broadcast world. She doesn’t hold back, doesn’t spare feelings, and has no trouble sharing what’s on her mind. Her rigorous pursuit of success has come at a price, though. Her marriage is in ruins, she hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, and she’s distanced herself from all those close to her. If not for her young daughter, Charlotte, her personal life would be in complete shambles.

When a subdued man calls into the show and asks to play a game, she sees it as nothing more than a way to kick-start the morning, breathe life into the beginnings of drive-time for her listeners. Against her producer’s advice, she agrees, and unwittingly opens a door to the past.

Live on the air with an audience of millions, what starts out as a game quickly turns deadly—events long thought buried resurface and Jordan Briggs is forced to reconcile with one simple fact—All decisions have consequences.

DIE HARD meets TALK RADIO in this heart-pounding, relentlessly fast-paced thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Fourth Monkey—master of suspense, J.D. Barker.

Review: This is a case of the blurb perfectly describing what you get in the book: ‘DIE HARD meets TALK RADIO’.

A Caller’s Game is a gripping thriller that is stuffed so full of explosions, chase scenes, shoot-outs and so on that the characters (and reader) barely get chance to draw a breath!

You could add the film ‘Speed’ to the description too, as the main characters – Jordan and Cole – have to divide and conquer with Cole as the John McClane-style action-hero, while Jordan has to follow the instructions and ‘play the game’, under duress.

There is a running theme of thoughtless impulses and throwaway words/actions having potentially far-reaching and severe consequences, which really had me overanalysing my behaviour towards others for quite a while afterwards, and thanking my luck that I chose to be an inoffensive bookblogger instead of a controversial ‘shock jock’. Hopefully my harsher reviews won’t come back to haunt me!

There are multiple climactic points throughout the novel… so many, in fact, that the final ‘climax’ ended up being a little anticlimactic in comparison. But maybe I was just a bit actioned out at that point. Did I mention there is A LOT of action? I could see this making an amazing action film and think fans of such films would love this book.

Purchase Link: A Caller’s Game on Amazon

Title: Mort the Meek and the Raven’s Revenge
Author:  Rachel Delahaye
Publisher:  Little Tiger Group, Stripes Publishing

Blurb:  The first in a wickedly funny new series about an aspiring pacifist in a brutal kingdom!

On Brutalia violence is a way of life. Ravenous ravens circle overhead, monstrous grot bears cause chaos and the streets are bulging with brawls. But Mort isn’t like the other islanders – he’s determined to live peacefully. His struggle is made even tougher when the cruel queen appoints Mort as Royal Executioner. No one has challenged the royals and lived to tell the tale. Can Mort keep his head and outwit the queen?

Perfect for fans of the HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON series, FROSTHEART and THE NOTHING TO SEE HERE HOTEL. With artwork by George Ermos.

Review: This is a brilliant middle-grade read, for youngsters who like a bit of (non-graphic, cartoonish) violence and a lot of laughs!

Packed with puns, jokes, wordplay and witty asides that break the fourth wall, Mort’s adventure as he attempts to challenge and change Brutalia’s brutal regime is both humorous and very cleverly conceived and written.

There are some grisly details, involving organs, entrails and eyeballs, which had my two (8 and 5) gleefully chorusing “Eeeeeeewwww!” and “Groooooss!” with great relish, and the raven conversations at the start of every chapter were a particular highlight for all of us.

Mort’s character shows good values, against a lot of opposition and peer/societal pressure, and also displays some excellent problem-solving skills in dire situations.

We can’t wait to return to Brutalia for another instalment… er, although, none of us ACTUALLY want to go there!

Purchase Link: Mort the Meek and the Raven’s Revenge on Amazon

Title: Honeycomb
Author:  Joanne M. Harris
Publisher:  Gallery Books, Gallery / Saga Press

Blurb:  A lushly illustrated set of dark, captivating fairy tales from the bestselling author of The Gospel of Loki with illustrator Charles Vess (Stardust).

The beauty of stories; you never know where they will take you. Full of dreams and nightmares, Honeycomb is an entrancing mosaic novel of original fairy tales from bestselling author Joanne M. Harris and legendary artist Charles Vess in a collaboration that’s been years in the making. The toymaker who wants to create the perfect wife; the princess whose heart is won by words, not actions; the tiny dog whose confidence far outweighs his size; and the sinister Lacewing King who rules over the Silken Folk. These are just a few of the weird and wonderful creatures who populate Joanne Harris’s first collection of fairy tales.

Dark, gripping, and brilliantly imaginative, these magical tales will soon have you in their thrall in a uniquely illustrative edition.

The tales are beautifully illustrated by renowned illustrator Charles Vess (Stardust, Sandman, The Books of Earthsea).

Review: Haunting. Breath-taking. Spellbinding. I’m struggling to find the words to do justice to this beautiful volume (inside and out), so please bear with me!

Honeycomb is a series of very short stories, held together by the worldbuilding wax of the Silken Folk’s world (as opposed to the clumsy oversized world of us Sightless Folk) to form an intricate wider pattern full of stories within stories and insects, lots of insects, especially bees.

I utterly refuse to believe that these stories haven’t always been out there – familiar, classic folktales handed down through the generations to warn us of the perils of accepting gifts from beautiful strangers, or wandering alone in the dark – and yet there is something completely fresh, strange… almost alien… about the world Joanne Harris has created here and the characters that populate it.

Certain characters reoccur – the Lacewing King, the Harlequin, the Spider Queen, the Barefoot Princess – as do certain settings, like the farm. Other stories are as individual and fleeting as dewdrops on spiderwebs. Each is so, so perfectly imagined and expressed.

Within and throughout, you will find love and kindness, cruelty and spite, sacrifice, revenge and redemption. I could go with the obvious simile and say this book is as sweet as honey, but also carries a few stings, which would be true, but doesn’t really do it justice.

This book is exquisitely written and imagined, and I am still captured by emanations from its world now, months after first reading it. I have never looked at insects, or fairytales, in the same way since.

Purchase Link: Honeycomb on Amazon

Title: Mirrorland
Author:  Carole Johnstone
Publisher:  HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, The Borough Press

Blurb:  One twin ran. The other vanished. Neither escaped…

Cat’s twin sister El has disappeared. But there’s one thing Cat is sure of: her sister isn’t dead. She would have felt it. She would have known.

To find her sister, Cat must return to their dark, crumbling childhood home and confront the horrors that wait there. Because it’s all coming back to Cat now: all the things she has buried, all the secrets she’s been running from.

The closer Cat comes to the truth, the closer to danger she is. Some things are better left in the past…

Review: This is a clever, dark psychological thriller about twins and trauma, secrets and lies, manipulation and imagination.

Split between the ‘now’ of Cat searching her childhood home for clues to her twin sister El’s disappearance, and the memories of that childhood, with hours spent playing in Mirrorland with the witches, clowns, pirates and fairies, and the boy next door, Ross, it becomes clear very early on that Cat is an unreliable narrator. Stories weave through the memories and the treasure hunt Cat is desperately trying to decode clues to, and the reader is drawn into the confusion about where imagination ends and reality begins.

I was reminded of tales like Rebecca or The Shawshank Redememption in places, but this book has far more twists and turns, until Cat and the reader are united in not knowing who or what to trust.

With plenty of action, suspense and mystery to go along with the psychological mind-games, this is an edge-of-your-seat read, with more faces than a funhouse hall of mirrors, that will keep you guessing right up to the final page.

Purchase Link: Mirrorland on Amazon

An interesting batch here, with three mystery-thrillers, a middle-grade adventure and a book of thematically linked short fairy-stories. I enjoyed all five (some more than others, obviously!), and so very much enjoyed revisiting them here with you today.

My next batch of quickies is more of a random one: a fictional memoir, a sci-fi thriller, a travel memoir, a poetry book and the third book in a swords-and-sorcery fantasy series. I can’t wait to share them with you soon!


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