Catch-Up Quickies 25

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, despite a somewhat disturbing number of hospitalisations so far this year, I am soldiering on with it!

Title:  Murder Outside the Lines
Author:  Krista Davis
Publisher:  Kensington Books

Blurb:  With Halloween just around the corner, the fall colors in Georgetown are brilliant. As manager of the Color Me Read bookstore, coloring book creator Florrie Fox has arranged for psychic author Hilda Rattenhorst to read from Spooktacular Ghost Stories. But the celebrity medium arrives for the event in hysterics, insisting she just saw a bare foot sticking out of a rolled-up carpet in a nearby alley. Is someone trying to sweep murder under the rug? Florrie calls in her policeman beau, Sergeant Eric Jonquille, but the carpet corpse has disappeared without a trace.
Then in the middle of her reading, Hilda chillingly declares that she feels the killer’s presence in the store. Is this a publicity stunt or a genuine psychic episode? It seems there’s no happy medium. When a local bibliophile is soon discovered missing, a strange mystery begins to unroll. Now it’s up to Florrie and Jonquille to expose a killer’s true colors . . .

Review: This is the third book in this series, but my first, and despite the plot standing alone perfectly well, I think I would have been better reading books one and two first, as there are so many characters here and I suspect many of them were established in earlier books as there isn’t a lot of background for many of them.

I love the twist on the trend for bookshop sleuths, that Florrie’s shop sells adult colouring books and that the cover of each physical book can be coloured by the reader! I also love that as Florrie investigates the suspicious and nefarious events in the story, she takes the time to draw the clues, victims and suspects, capturing her thoughts in picture form rather than in lists or a mind-map.

There is a lot going on in this cosy mystery plot – ghosts, missing children (and a snake), various attacks and murders, and a historical ghost/love story – so I felt a little bit lost at points, and I will openly confess that I was absolutely certain I knew who the murderer was AND where the missing snake was at least, and then I turned out to be wrong on all counts! As I read so many mystery stories, I was pretty impressed to be so thoroughly red-herringed, but a little disappointed too… I was quite attached to my theories!

Overall, this felt like a really promising cosy mystery set-up but I think I missed out by not having more background to the setting and characters, and coming at the whole community ‘cold’. So I would definitely recommend starting from the start, and suggest that this is a good choice for some cosy Halloween mystery reading.

Purchase Link: Murder Outside the Lines on Amazon

Title:  Eight – Fantastical Tales from Here, There & Everywhere
Author:  Poornima Manco
Publisher:  Books Go Social

Blurb:  What if… anything was possible?

What really lurks beneath the humdrum and the mundane, the ubiquitous and the familiar?

And what if you came face to face with it?

Enter a world where goddesses descend to earth, magical creatures materialise out of thin air, ghosts mean well, and limbs have minds of their own. In a series of tales that explore the fantastical and the surreal, the lives of ordinary people are upturned by bizarre incidents and mysterious happenings.

Are you ready to take a walk on the wild side?

Review: The title and subtitle tell you exactly what to expect here!

The book contains eight short stories, set in Argentina, Germany, France, Egypt, South Korea, Hong Kong, India and the USA. All of the stories contain elements of mythology, fable or the paranormal and all are superbly written; beautifully evocative of the different settings, cultures and character profiles they are presenting.

My personal favourites were the more overtly magical stories – Mari and her dancing leg in ‘The Butterfly Effect’, Ottilie and Minou with their Café L’amour in ‘The Invisible Suitcase’, and the Diwali take on a classic festive tale in ‘Lala Lakshmi’.

Some of the other stories were a little too slow-paced for me (‘New Year, New You’), or left me wanting more details than we were given (‘Osterhose’ and ‘A Thank You Would Be Nice’).

This is a diverse collection of uncanny stories, giving a fascinating taste of eight different locations, eight different mythologies; ideal for a quick easy read for lovers of the mystical and otherworldly.

Purchase Link: Eight – Fantastical Tales from Here, There & Everywhere on Amazon

Title:  The Christmas Murder Game
Author:  Alexandra Benedict
Publisher:  Bonnier Books UK, Zaffre

Blurb:  Twelve clues.
Twelve keys.
Twelve days of Christmas.
But who will survive until Twelfth Night?

Lily Armitage never intended to return to Endgame House – the grand family home where her mother died twenty-one Christmases ago. Until she receives a letter from her aunt, asking her to return to take part in an annual tradition: the Christmas Game. The challenge? Solve twelve clues, to find twelve keys. The prize? The deeds to the manor house.

Lily has no desire to win the house. But her aunt makes one more promise: The clues will also reveal who really killed Lily’s mother all those years ago.

So, for the twelve days of Christmas, Lily must stay at Endgame House with her estranged cousins and unravel the riddles that hold the key not just to the family home, but to its darkest secrets. However, it soon becomes clear that her cousins all have their own reasons for wanting to win the house – and not all of them are playing fair.

As a snowstorm cuts them off from the village, the game turns deadly. Soon Lily realises that she is no longer fighting for an inheritance, but for her life.

This Christmas is to die for . . . Let the game begin

Review: This is a fantastic premise for a murder mystery – the main character is isolated with her family for the festive season and has to solve a riddle every day while they are picked off one-by-one. I love the idea of the in-story and ex-story puzzles throughout, and all of the word games – so clever! And yet, the book just didn’t work for me, unfortunately.

Firstly, the language felt far too overwritten. This was obviously to fit in said word games and puzzles, plus an insistence into hammering Christmas references into every metaphor, simile or descriptive passage. It was fun at first, but quickly became exhausting and intrusive to the reading experience.

Then there were the characters. Main character Lily is mainly presented through flashbacks to her childhood trauma, so it is understandable that her present self is a little flat in affect, but the other characters also lack depth. The best and most obvious example of this is that family members are being murdered all around them, and yet they continue to make jokes and solve puzzles as the bodies pile up and it becomes clear there is a murderer among them. There is just no real emotional reaction to make the stakes feel real or the danger feel present.

And, to this reader at least, the whole motive felt unconvincing, as it wasn’t obvious why anyone would want the house particularly. But even if they desperately do, Lily makes it clear on arrival that she doesn’t (at least, until provoked, anyway), so why not just let her have it and then quietly hand it over to whoever want it more, and save all the fuss and bloodshed?!

I’m quite sad, because I really wanted to love this book, and did enjoy some aspects of it, but found it just got too much with the jarring, crow-barred imagery and strangely emotionless characters. I think this is a brilliant concept which must have been incredibly difficult to execute, and unfortunately, that difficulty carries through to the reading of it as well.

Purchase Link: The Christmas Murder Game on Amazon

Title:  Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
Author:  M. R. James
Publisher:  Poisoned Pen Press

Blurb:  Dive into this collection of exquisite, classic horror stories—just make sure to have the lights on and the doors locked!

First published in 1904, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary contains eight tales of supernatural horror by genre master M.R. James. Highly regarded as a masterwork of horror, this collection is a must-have for fans of the frightful.

The stories in this collection include: “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book,” “Lost Hearts,” “The Mezzotint,” “The Ash-Tree.” “Number 13,” “Count Magnus,” “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” and “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas.”

Review: This collection of eight good old-fashioned literary ghost stories each follow a similar format – a scholar, researcher, or other professorial gentleman faces some form of paranormal peril, be it ghost, ghoul or demon/demonic curse.

The tone of the stories is scholarly and somewhat ‘unexcited’, as one would expect from a tale recounted from the point of view of a dry and dusty academic, but the content and clever writing combine to cast a subtle spell over the reader, causing them to haunt you long after reading. I still see a certain ‘linen face’ in my nightmares!

Belying the stiff surface tone, the whole book is permeated with a dry, wry wit, with quips about golfing, necessary omissions, and other sly winks to tip the reader that while the narrators may be somewhat humourless, the author certainly is not.

I can definitely recommend this tome for perusing as the day draws to a close, by a crackling fire, with a fine brandy and in good, sensible company… perhaps at your gentleman’s club or similar establishment.

Purchase Link: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary on Amazon

Title:  Reprieve
Author:  James Han Mattson
Publisher:  Bloomsbury Publishing

Blurb:  Most people didn’t make it to Cell Six, he said. Most called out the safe word – reprieve – after the first Cell. It was that intense. 

When Bryan, Jaidee, Victor and Jane team up to compete at a full-contact escape room, it seems simple. Hold your nerve through six terrifying challenges; collect all the red envelopes; win a huge cash prize. 

But the real horror is unfolding outside of the game, in a series of deceits and misunderstandings fuelled by obsession and prejudice. And by the end of the night, one of the contestants will be dead.

Review: The blurb and cover suggest this book is a horror, or at least a jump-scare thriller. It isn’t. But it’s still a good read. What it actually is, is a careful and thoughtful social commentary novel, which forms the flesh over the mere bones of a horror/thriller concept.

I have never heard of a full-contact escape room and the name alone was enough to horrify me, never mind the gory reality of sliding about in the dark, drenched in lashings of fake blood, and being actually touched by actors made up as horror film monsters. We are introduced to the basic set-up, and then the story is told through a mixture of courtroom testimony and flashback-style accounts of how the main characters ended up running the ‘Reprieve’ gauntlet and how it all went wrong.

The plot sets up this gripping mystery/drama, which then unfurls slowly as the author explores notions of ‘otherhood’ and ‘outsiderness’, incorporating racism, sexism and homophobia, as the characters struggle to understand and communicate with each other, resulting in the terrible missteps that lead them to Quigley House and, eventually, to tragedy.

In fact, this would have been a 5-star read for me, if not for the ending, which felt a little flat and unsatisfying after such a careful and intricate build-up.

Definitely not for those looking for jump-scares, gore or fast-paced thrills, but an entertaining and interesting read for those who find their horror in how people treat each other.

Purchase Link: Reprieve on Amazon

Lots of murder here – some Halloween-themed, some festive, some old and some new. And one book of short fairytales from around the world… just to mix it up a bit!

Hopefully you will find something to scare, entertain or intrigue you? Do let me know in the comments.

Happy reading and keep shining, until next time! 🙂


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