Catch-Up Quickies 36

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) 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… New Year, new start, so let’s do this!

Title:  The Forest
Author:  Michaelbrent Collings
Publisher:  Written Insomnia Press

Blurb:  Three kids went in.
Now, twenty years later, the two survivors are going back…

For Tricia and Alex, the idea is simple: find and rescue their friend, Sam, from his insane mother.

But when they enter the forest, they discover that their idea is anything but simple. Because this forest isn’t like any other.

In this forest, a silver mist cloaks the truth. In this forest, a simple trip of a few miles can turn into a nightmare.

In this forest, the monsters are real.

Twenty years later, Tricia and Alex remember nothing of what happened that day they lost their friend. They know only that three kids went in, but only two came out.

Now, they are going back. To find their lost memories. To discover what happened to Sam that day.

To encounter fear itself.

The forest, as Alex and Tricia will discover, is a place where madness reigns. A place where a simple path becomes an ordeal. A place where the past comes to life, and the future is anything but certain.

Because the dead don’t stay dead… in The Forest.

Review: Bit of a mindbender, this one!

At first it seems like a straightforward horror story – a couple return to face the scene of a childhood trauma, to put their nightmares to rest, only to find that those nightmares are alive (or not) and still out to get them. There was the potential for the story to go in a paranormal direction (the forest is haunted by spirits or monsters, or both) or a more human-monster direction (there is a serial killer or two lurking in the forest, indulging in their gruesome hobbies). But this is Michaelbrent Collings, so the story actually went in a completely unexpected third direction with a mixture of all of the above, plus some sneaky sci-fi and lots of the surreal.

The whole story turns into very much a nightmarish confusion of dream logic, delusion and deception, but with a solid thread of plot twisting throughout to hold it all together. Not only is the horror haunting, but the mystery of the forest and Sam’s disappearance is genuinely mysterious. I did work out some of what was going on ahead of the big reveal, but plenty was still a complete surprise to me, and some aspects I couldn’t have ever guessed at.

My only real criticism is that the book began to feel a little long for the story it contained, with lots of running and screaming, running and screaming, and nearly every scene repeated in order to be shown from the dual perspectives of the two main characters, Alex and Tricia. I completely understand why the author did this, as it is relevant to the plot, but it did become a little wearying to read so much repetition and had the effect of desensitising me to some of the content.

To sum this book up, I would go with: difficult, different and – if you’re into darkly surreal horror – definitely worth a read!

Purchase Link: The Forest on Amazon

Title:  The Contest
Author:  Nora Katzir
Publisher:  Independently published

Blurb:  Rachel’s husband is a cheater, and her friends have the perfect solution: kill John without getting caught.

They were referring to a hypothetical contest, of course. It wouldn’t necessarily solve Rachel’s problem, but it might ease her pain.

Entries to the contest, start pouring in from friends, customers at their favorite eatery and complete strangers.

When John dies in a suspicious car accident, the police investigate the wife, the mistress, and a rival for yet another lover.

One of the three is arrested for the crime, but did the police get it wrong?

Review: The hook here really intrigued me: a cheating husband dies in suspicious circumstances and nearly everyone around has been plotting his demise as part of a game to cheer up his betrayed wife.

The story is mostly told from the point of view of Rachel (said betrayed wife), with some later chapters from her friend Amy’s point of view, as the action starts to heat up.

It didn’t take long for me to realise that John’s murder and the question of whodunnit was really only a secondary storyline in the book, as the main focus and heart of the story is the relationships and friendships between the four women, and the very different ways each woman deals with the problems and emotional issues she faces.

Honestly, I had no idea who killed John until it was spelled out to me – I pretty much suspected everyone and didn’t blame any of them!

Not so much of a murder mystery, I would say this is more of a drama about social bonds and female solidarity. It is great for a light-hearted, easy read with a bit of emotional depth.

Purchase Link: The Contest on Amazon

Title:  Wolfish
Author:  Matt Ward
Publisher:  Myrmani Press

Blurb:  His impossible hybrid rebellion crushed the immortal government. But then, his wife died, and his unborn son, both at the hands of his all-powerful father.

Now a cripple, Raek must rise once more to fulfill his wife’s dying wish: to unify the splintered species of humanity… Even the cyborgs and fallen immortals push for war, revenge, and the absolute decimation of the once subservient hybrids.

Unimaginable destruction amidst a veneer of peace, until a mysterious figure from Raek’s past emerges once more.

Overnight, Raek’s world is obliterated. Politics, power, betrayal… a new world order? There’s a war coming for humanity’s future, one with murder, massacre, and intrigue. An awful game, yet all that stands between tyranny and total destruction is a seventeen-year-old wolfish warrior with built-in blasters, and a dying promise he dare not break.

Welcome to 2097, the beginning of the end, or of something much greater. Only time will tell.

Wolfish is the second in the Wolfish YA dystopian series that features broken immortality, post-apocalyptic political intrigue, and impending genetic war. If you like dark sci-fi technothrillers, fast-paced adventure, and surprising science fiction, are a fan of Divergent, Red Rising, or the Hunger Games, or love dystopian teen classics like the Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World and Ender’s Game, you’ll love this explosive speculative fiction thriller.

Buy Wolfish today for a breakneck scifi whirlwind… right up to its astonishing conclusion!

Review: Wolfish is the sequel to Cynetic Wolf, and I would recommend you read that book first, as this one picks up right where the previous story ended, with Raek mourning the high personal cost he has paid for the revolution. But the fight for freedom and equality still remains, as Raek must now struggle against those who would reverse the previous power imbalance instead of correcting it.

Cue a novel that is packed with guns, explosions and even a plague or two, but also balanced by an emotional exploration of grief and self-doubt, as Raek struggles with the warring desires to run from his problems or face them bravely.

After two books of genetic mod-based power battles and intrigue, it was a bit startling how quickly everything was suddenly resolved at the end of the story into an abrupt HEA. It felt particularly rushed as the rest of the book was well-paced and balanced.

The worldbuilding in this duology is really interesting and I do feel there was potential here for a longer series exploring the issues between the animal hybrid races and those modded with tech upgrades.

As it stands though, this is a fast-paced pair of technothrillers, full of action and emotion with a positive conclusion.

Purchase Link: Wolfish on Amazon

Title:  Athena’s Child
Author:  Hannah Lynn
Publisher:  Independently published

Blurb:  Daughter. Sister. Priestess. Protector.  

Son. Brother. Demi-God. Hero. 


Gifted and burdened with beauty far beyond that of mere mortals, Medusa seeks sanctuary with the Goddess Athena. But when the lustful gaze of mighty Poseidon falls upon her, even the Temple of Athena cannot protect her.

Young Perseus embarks on a seemingly impossible quest. Equipped with only bravado and determination, his only chance of success lays in the hands of his immortal siblings.

Medusa and Perseus soon become pawns of spiteful and selfish gods. Faced with the repercussions of Athena’s wrath Medusa has no choice but to flee and hide. But can she do so without becoming the monster they say she is?

History tells of conquering heroes. Tales distorted by time. Medusa’s truth has long been lost. Until now. Now it is time to hear her truth.

Revel in this powerful retelling of one of mythologies greatest tales today.

Review: You get three stories in one here, as we follow first Medusa, then Danae, then Perseus through their legendary adventures from Greek mythology.

I got very emotionally invested in Medusa’s story at the beginning (how could Athena be so unreasonable!), but then was startled when we jumped straight from her to Danae’s birth and subsequent imprisonment, then to Perseus as an adult, with no segues between the changes to soften the leaps in time and character.

This disjointedness gave all three accounts a disjointed and ‘unfinished’ feel. While the writing does have more character development and depth than a traditional mythological recount, it doesn’t feel like there is enough to form them into a full, modern historical fiction story. I would have much preferred to simply stay with Medusa’s point of view throughout, for a longer and more satisfyingly complete exploration of her story.

That is not to say I didn’t enjoy what we were given – I did! But every time I fell into the story, I was jostled along to something else and lost the flow again.

I think if you go into this book expecting three separate short stories from Greek mythology then you will thoroughly enjoy it, but if you go in expecting a single cohesive narrative you may be disappointed.

Purchase Link: Athena’s Child on Amazon

Title:  Being Alert!
Author:  Charlie Laidlaw
Publisher:  Independently published

Blurb:  Being Alert! begins in January 2020 as the British prime minister, Winston Spragg, first learns about a new illness that seems to be centred in a city in China that nobody has heard of. Following in a long tradition of British satire, the book populates Downing Street and Whitehall with an inept prime minister presiding over a dysfunctional government as it deals with an existential threat that rapidly becomes a national crisis. Like satires before it, the book uses humour to paint an uncomfortable picture of a government seemingly as concerned about justifying itself as working to protect the country.

Review: Can a book still be considered satire or parody if it is indistinguishable from reality?

Being Alert! is a scathing indictment of the UK government’s handling of the pandemic crisis, that cuts so close to the bone that you can taste the marrow.

Names have obviously been changed, so the chaotic tousle-haired PM is Winston Spragg, and his associates are variously thinly veiled allusions or puns – Raambo, Lovely Rasool, Mick Gore Kevin Kock and so on. But the essentials of their personalities and behaviours are easily recognisable.

‘Derek Goings’ comes off a little better in this story than his real-life counterpart managed, despite the whiff of sulphur around the fictional version, which is pretty damning when you think about it!

Honestly, to anyone unfamiliar with the past few years in the UK, this story would be an utterly unbelievable comedic romp through the corridors of power, an entertaining absurdity. For those of us who have lived through it, it is still painfully funny but feels more truth than fiction.

Purchase Link: Being Alert! on Amazon

Dark sci-fi horror; light mystery; dystopian technothriller; Greek mythology retelling and satire of modern UK politics. No one can ever accuse me of reading too narrow a selection!

Don’t forget to come back and let me know if you find something you enjoy among these shorts – I’m always ready to talk books.

I’ll be back with more quickies soon, but until then: keep shining and read on! 🙂


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