Catch-Up Quickies 29

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:  The Whistling
Author:  Rebecca Netley
Publisher:  Penguin Michael Joseph UK, 

Blurb:  Alone in the world, Elspeth Swansome has taken the position of nanny to a family on the remote Scottish island of Skelthsea.

Her charge, Mary, is a strange child. Distracted and secretive, she hasn’t uttered a word since the sudden death of her twin, William – just days after their former nanny disappeared.

With her charge defiantly silent, Elspeth turns to the islanders. But no one will speak of what happened to William.

Just as no one can explain the hypnotic lullabies sung in empty corridors.

Nor the strange dolls that appear in abandoned rooms.

Nor the faint whistling that comes in the night . . .

As winter draws in and passage to the mainland becomes impossible, Elspeth finds herself trapped.

But is this house haunted by the ghosts of the past?


Chilling, twisty and emotionally gripping, The Whistling is an atmospheric page-turner with shades of the classics, yet a unique character of its own. Perfect for fans of Susan Hill and Laura Purcell.

Review: A classic Gothic horror-mystery, The Whistling has a brooding, claustrophobic atmosphere that gave me vibes of both Rebecca and The Woman in Black – there is a creepy house, a suspiciously sullen maid, strange noises and creepy children.

I particularly enjoyed the mystery element of the plot; the author did a good job of offering up plausible alternatives – could Elspeth be the one who is mad or hallucinating? Is this really paranormal activity, or could it be caused by human trickery and spite?

The events and atmosphere are sinister enough to create cold frissons if read at night, and I was as haunted by the eerie Iskar setting as much as by the ghostly apparitions and hints of witchcraft.

Quick and easy to read, and yet well-written and compellingly creepy, this Gothic mystery is ideal for fans of the genre.

Purchase Link: The Whistling on Amazon

Title:  Fledgling
Author:  Lucy Hope
Publisher:  Nosy Crow

Blurb:  A dark, gothic adventure set deep in a Bavarian forest, with owls and magic and a boy who isn’t all that he seems to be…

A cherub is blown into Cassie Engel’s bedroom during a thunderstorm, triggering a series of terrifying events. Cassie must discover if its arrival was an accident or part of something more sinister.

With a self-obsessed opera singer for a mother, a strange taxidermist father, and a best friend who isn’t quite what he seems, Cassie is forced to unearth the secrets of her family’s past. As the dark forces gather around them, can Cassie protect all that she holds dear?

Review: This book starts out as a middle-grade fantasy adventure, but then gets increasingly dark and intense, which made me feel uncertain about its suitability for many of the middle-grade readers I know. It made for a really good adult adventure read though!

The mythology created here around angels, cherubs and Sturmfalken is fascinating and I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get a whole load more detail on these aspects, as they didn’t feel quite fully explained or fleshed out by the end, but instead used as symbols related to death and loss of a loved one.

And Cassie, the main character, has A LOT of loss to deal with in this story, with her grandmother dying, her parents remote and her best friend going through problems of his own. I really loved how the story delved into ideas about acceptance around these huge issues, but felt the emotion was a little bit lacking at times – I would have been an emotional wreck from facing half of what Cassie does!

Still, this is a lovely and gripping story, one that I just couldn’t stop reading. Not only did I devour it whole, but I was haunted afterwards by the magic and mystery of the family house, the family members and the worldbuilding. I wanted to know so much more!

Purchase Link: Fledgling on Amazon

Title:  The Red Monarch
Author:  Bella Ellis
Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton

Blurb:  The Brontë sisters’ first poetry collection has just been published, potentially marking an end to their careers as amateur detectors, when Anne receives a letter from her former pupil Lydia Robinson.

Lydia has eloped with a young actor, Harry Roxby, and following her disinheritance, the couple been living in poverty in London. Harry has become embroiled with a criminal gang and is in terrible danger after allegedly losing something very valuable that he was meant to deliver to their leader. The desperate and heavily pregnant Lydia has a week to return what her husband supposedly stole, or he will be killed. She knows there are few people who she can turn to in this time of need, but the sisters agree to help Lydia, beginning a race against time to save Harry’s life.

In doing so, our intrepid sisters come face to face with a terrifying adversary whom even the toughest of the slum-dwellers are afraid of . . . The Red Monarch.

Review: This is the third book in the series, in which the Brontë sisters investigate various crimes, including theft and murder. In this instalment, they get caught up in a mystery that starts with theft and kidnapping and turns into exposing the nefarious head of the London crime scene, the titular Red Monarch. You don’t really need to have read the first two books in order to read this one, as it stands alone, but you should read them anyway because they’re all pretty good!

I should just add a trigger warning here, that child abuse forms part of the plotline and was absolutely harrowing despite mostly being alluded to, with no graphic details and with great sensitivity.

The focus remains firmly on the main characters – Anne, Emily, Charlotte, and on this occasion, Bramwell – and their emotional bonds with each other, their relationships with others (one falls in love, one takes the lead, one finds a slightly sapphic BFF and one attempts to recover from a disastrous affair), and their different approaches to investigation (cerebral, emotional, adventurous, dramatic).

As with the previous novels, this was an enjoyable mystery read with the added literary element of following the fictional adventures of these real-life characters, and recognising details from history and from their own written works. It is clear that Bella Ellis is very familiar with the lives of the Brontës, has researched well, and has the writing skill to knit fact and fiction together seamlessly.

I did find the climactic reveal a little bit disappointing, as I had been attempting to uncover the identity of the Red Monarch before the characters and failed to do so, but when they got there first I was a little piqued that there hadn’t been enough clues for the play-along readers… but maybe I just missed them in my enjoyment of the character development and my emotional reactions to the darker plot elements.

Despite that minor quibble, this is another great addition to the Brontë mystery series and I will definitely be looking out for the next one!

Purchase Link: The Red Monarch on Amazon

Title:  Shadow of the Knife
Author:  Richard Ayre
Publisher:  Burning Chair Limited

Blurb:  A genius criminologist haunted by his past. A brilliant detective with everything stacked against him. A mysterious murderer that can’t be stopped.

It has been two years since Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of London. Two years in which the East End slowly returned to normality.

And then the killing starts again.

When Detective Jonas Handy finds himself faced with a terrifying spate of new murders, he has nowhere to turn except Doctor Carter “Jigsaw” Jackson: a man whose knowledge of the criminal brain is unmatched in Victorian London.

The two men find themselves in a desperate race against time to find the murderer before any more people die. A race that will take them from the murky world of the East End to the even more shady world of the Victorian upper classes.

Ripper Street meets Sherlock Holmes in this gripping new thriller from Richard Ayre, author of A Life Eternal.

Review: A blend of fact and fiction, that spins off from the real-life history of the Jack the Ripper murders and pays homage to the detective pairing of Holmes and Watson – there is a lot to live up to her and Richard Ayre delivers!

This doesn’t attempt to retell the tale of the Ripper murders, but instead offers an investigation of some fictional copycat murders, set a couple of years later but in the same location. Holmesian doctor and amateur investigator, ‘Jigsaw’ Jackson, his fascinating manservant Curmudgeon, and police detective Handy join forces to take on both the wannabe Ripper and a corrupt system, as they delve into the realms of prostitution, sex clubs and internal corruption in the police service.

I should warn you that there are some very, very gory details in relation to the murders – the victims are ripped apart and entrails feature extensively – so this will not be the best read for anyone with a weak stomach, and I would recommend reading it on an empty stomach, just to be on the safe side!

I always like to play along with mystery stories and try to beat the fictional detective to the reveal, and I confess that I was successful on this occasion, correctly spotting the ‘bad guys’ pretty early on. This didn’t detract in any way from my enjoyment of the story though, as I continued to follow the two detectives (and my personal favourite, Curmudgeon) in their cat and mouse chase.

The whole novel is drenched in atmosphere. You could feel the grime and soot on your skin as you read, and smell the excrement, rot and smog. It really felt like you were there with the characters, which became quite nerve-wracking as the murders stacked up.

This isn’t really historical fiction, as the characters and plot are all fictional, even though the setting feels realistic. Still, fans of historical fiction are likely to enjoy it, along with fans of gritty, dark crime and those who enjoyed Conan Doyle’s stories but felt them too sanitised and demure.

Purchase Link: Shadow of the Knife on Amazon

Title:  The Chosen Twelve
Author:  James Breakwell
Publisher:  Rebellion, Solaris

Blurb:  The Hunger Games meets Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in this breathless survival thriller.

Lord of the Flies meets Philip K Dick.

There are 22 candidates. There are 12 seats.

The last interstellar colony ship is down to its final batch of humans after the robots in charge unhelpfully deleted the rest. But rebooting a species and training them for the arduous task of colonisation isn’t easy – especially when the planet below is filled with monsters, the humans are more interested in asking questions than learning, and the robots are all programmed to kill each other.

But the fate of humanity rests on creating a new civilization on the planet below, and there are twelve seats on the lander. Will manipulation or loyalty save the day?

Review: I already follow James Breakwell’s musings on parenthood, so know that I like his writing style and humour. Add in the fantastic sci-fi concept here and the high-achieving comparative texts (The Hunger Games, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Lord of the Flies, Philip K. Dick) and picking up this book was a complete no-brainer for me.

Sadly, while I love the idea of this book A LOT, it didn’t quite work for me in practice.

The first two thirds of the book are spent establishing the twenty-two ‘organic’ characters via their antics on the simulation table and their interactions with each other, but most of them feel like single-note sketches (one who like goldfish, one who sings, one who wears shorts, one who wears nail polish and so on). Only six of the twenty-two actually get much character development and then only later on, for most of the story it’s mainly Gamma and Delta that stand out as fully-fleshed-out characters.

Similarly, I felt that the non-organic characters like SCASL and Edubot had so much story potential and yet not enough was made of it – so many unfulfilled opportunities there.

The majority of the ‘Hunger Games/Lord of the Flies’-esque action (involving in-fighting between the organics and them fighting the bots, plus some major decision-making) all happens in the last 20% of the book and so feels quite rushed and packed in. The ending in particular felt rushed, and even unfinished, after such a long build-up. And we were left with unanswered questions: Spenser? The god in the coffee machine? The predecessors? Do the purported table dangers actually exist? It was so unsatisfying not to know all the intriguing details!

As expected, I loved the writing here and the humour, and the worldbuilding ideas and plot ideas are superb. It’s just the character development and the pacing that felt like they needed a little more work to bring it all together.

I’m still hooked on the author’s parenting posts, however, and I would definitely still check out future books because of all the potential obvious here.

Purchase Link: The Chosen Twelve on Amazon

I don’t normally bother much with book covers, but even I noticed that there are some striking and lovely covers in this batch.

And what is between those covers is pretty good too!

Why don’t you check them out for yourselves and let me know what you think…


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