Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review: THE TESTAMENTS by Margaret Atwood

While the book and series have provided readers/viewers with a lot of information about the fictitious closed-off society of Gilead, there is still so much to explore/exploit in this well crafted and scary dystopian setting brought to life in The Handmaids Tale.  

The shock and awe moments which made the first book so memorable aren't as prevalent here, but the characters and their dangerous plights are plentiful, more than make up for the macabre nature of its predecessor.

Aunt Lydia and two reliable narrators (well, they seem reliable) from within and outside the walls of Gilead recount the horrors, truths, lies, and perception of aunts, handmaids, pearl girls, wedlock, slavery, and all things Gilead as seen through the eyes of experience and the viewing of propaganda. The three form the testament's trinity; scholars of history analysed through symposiums conducted decades into the future. 

I enjoyed the deeper look behind Gilead's wall of hushed secretary where the heinous is no happenstance and totalitarian reins supreme. 4/5 stars.  

The audiobook is narrated by a cast which includes Ann Dowd, the actress who plays the formidable Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale TV series. All of narrators do a fantastic job at capturing the suspense and heightening the fear and overwhelming sense of urgency attached to the book, making it feel more cinematic and dramatic (if that's actually possible).   

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [57]: THE BLACK LACE HANGOVER by Carter Brown

Readers of this blog and of my reviews on Goodreads know I enjoy the overtly cheesy pulps of yesterday, with Carter Brown, the extra cheesy cheese on top of the heap. The Black Lace Hangover (published 1966 by Horwitz) features my favorite character created by the Aussie pulp hack, in Danny Boyd, the debonair private eye with 'the' profile. 

In this installment (each book in the series can be read independently of one another), Boyd finds himself nursing a killer hangover, only it's not just his head which feels like murder! Enter Lucia, a luscious trespasser who brings more curves to Danny's life than her extravagant body displays thanks to a murdered 'uncle' and a complex crime caper involving the mob, kidnapping, killing, and double crosses aplenty. 

These kind of books are hit or miss and in the early stages, The Black Lace Hangover seemed like it was tracking in the direction of the latter, however, I was pleasantly surprised when this seemingly shallow plot deep dived into darker depths. Boyd's investigation/part in the scheme of things evolved into something much more complex than promised by synopsis which not only kept true to the whodunit theme but also kept me second guessing who the villains were. As an added bonus (semi-spoiler alert), Boyd's' secretary, a fiery and highly competent redhead, Fran, makes an appearance in Velda*-like fashion to aide Boyd in solving the case.

Overall, The Black Lace Hangover is a pretty good pulp, loaded with all the requisite stereotypical elements and aided by an ever evolving plot which makes this one of the more 'meaty' Danny Boyd books.  

I rate this a solid 4/5 stars. 

*Velda is Mike Hammers' secretary in the long running hardboiled P.I series by Mickey Spillane and more recently, Max Allan Collins.     

Monday, December 2, 2019

Pick of the Month [November 2019]

My stack of physical reads in November

November was a great month for horror (though to be honest, pretty much every month this year has been a good month for horror for me) with Dust Devils by my favorite new-to-me horror author of 2019, Jonathan Janz (not pictured above as it was a library book which I had to return before I could take a picture of my November stack) and The Institute (not strictly a horror but near-enough) by Stephen King jointly taking out my pick of the month for November.

Of the 12 books I read or listened to, 0 were ebooks which continues the recent trend of devoting my reading time between the pages of physical books. There's been no real rhyme nor reason behind this. I just naturally gravitate towards physical books. This year in particular, I've been reading much more paperback horror and pulp than years gone by which is a likely contributing factor to the e-ink snub of recent months. 

Year to date I'm sitting at 146/150 books read for my 2019 Goodreads Challenge so baring any major events during December, it looks like another year of achieving my reading goals (number-wise that is, my Mount TBR Challenge is just terrible...). I'll write more on those challenges in a later blog post. 

Other reading highlights for November include the 80's horror, Lyrica by Thomas F. Monteloene, and the crime novella set in the Cormac Reilly universe (however Cormac doesn't feature all that much in this one), The Sisters by Dervla McTiernan which was offered recently as a free Audible Audio book to subscribers of the monthly service. 

Until next month, happy reading!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Review: DUST DEVILS by Jonathan Janz

Dust Devils is a western with strong horror themes, an engaging cast of characters, and a tight linear plot which keeps the pages ticking over in rapid pulse pounding fashion. 

The protagonist and accidental hero, Cody, is a man wronged by the sins of his wife who is forced unwillingly into a world of violence, pain and the preternatural amid a backdrop of a dust covered wasteland inhabited by dangers previously confined to nightmares.  

I love the idea of a travelling troupe of nasties visiting isolated townships and reaping havoc, leaving nothing but death and despair in their wake...yeah that's a little morbid but I do like my horror most macabre and that's the sort of meal Janz dishes up here; a heady blend of vampire and cannibalism, scorched meat, and wet thick blood tapped straight from the vein.

My verdict: 5/5 stars. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Review: THE INSTITUTE by Stephen King

Gifted kids in turmoil held to ransom by a secret organisation under the guise of serving their country; a sacrifice for the greater good, isn't an exactly original or mind-bending inconceivable concept. Yet, Stephen Kings' latest tome manages to feel fresh, exciting, and new. This despite the flurry of fiction surrounding Stranger Things and the secret experiments carried out on kids from that franchise (see Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond).

Like most books I've read by Stephen King, it's the characters, not necessarily the plot which reign supreme and that's true with the Institute (though the plot is pretty great too). Luke Ellis is a great character who is instantly likable. Whilst gifted with semi-super powers and a ridiculously high intellect, King writes him in a way which is down to earth, making him more kid-like as apposed to the standard hero/savior. The ensemble cast, notably Avery, compliment Luke and make for a nice ying to the evil Institute yang.

I wouldn't classify this book as horror, however there are definitely horror elements, particularly in 'Back-Half' (read the book, you'll understand). Much like Sleeping Beauties (co-authored with son Owen), King distances himself somewhat from the genre he's best known, focusing on character and story first, creepy stuff second.

The verdict? If you're one of Stephen Kings Constant Readers chances are you've already read this, or will soon read it , if you're on the fence; fence sit no more, The Institute is great.        

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [56]: FLAME by Kenneth Roberts

I'm not really sure where to start with this one. When you read pulps you know there's a 50/50 chance at best of hitting a winner or something remotely resembling a decent book - comes with the territory and I accept that (check out some of the books featured in this series of blog posts). Cheesy dialogue, non-existent plotting, unbelievable cookie cutter characters; these are all part and parcel of the mass produced paperback pulps. Flame, however, is something different. 

Using the above mentioned deficiencies as a baseline, Flame easily falls below...it's that bad. 

With a story seeped in sex (mostly non-consensual), racism, and indiscernible colloquialisms, it's a hard read all round. The dialogue really slows the story, not that there's much actually happening between sexual encounters of the most explicit and deranged kind (I'll refrain from providing details, the world's a better place with this largely left unknown to masses), I had to re-read multiple passage of dialogue to get the gist of the conversation - which in the end didn't really add all that much value to the story (I wont dare use the word 'plot' as there wasn't one) be honest. 

The opening stanza showed potential but it was false advertising; an Amazon-like warrior in the midst of performing an ancient ritual is brutally cut down by a band of slavers hell bent on pillaging the isolated African tribe. Flame, despite her best attempts to fight off the invaders is captured, from that point forward the story takes to a weird form of erotica.   

The verdict? don't pick up this pulp.    

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Paperback From Hell! LYRICA by Thomas F. Monteleone

Oh man, I love the 80's! 80's mass market paperback horror to be more specific! 

Continuing with my dark and twisted journey into the devilish depths of retro horror, I recently finished reading a 'gem' I'd previously discovered wasting away in a back corner of a dusty secondhand bookstore, Lyrica by Thomas F. Monteleone (the same Thomas F. Moneteleone of Night Train fame). 

Published in 1987, the story holds up remarkably well, this despite the need for the reader to suspend their grip on reality, especially when the title character effortlessly inserts herself into the lives of Mozart and a host of other prominent historical figures only to greedily consume their genius for her own form of self preservation. After all, a beauty beyond measure's gotta keep herself in prime condition otherwise she's gonna turn into a serpent-like creature once a month. Without those killer looks she's just a serpent who, well, kills... 

The modern-day (circa 1980's) story line is pretty good in all honesty; there's mystery, a hint of intrigue, an omnipresent sense of danger, plenty of steamy sex, and, do I dare say, romance? Yeah, there's a little before Lyrica absorbs her partners' life force, sorry, 'genius' in a brutal coupling reminiscent of the female spiders who eat their mate. 

This book is quite a departure from The Night Train, but then again, horror as a genre is incredibly diverse so it's no real surprise that the author would mix things up a little in the spooky stakes here.

I'd rate Lyrica 3.5 (out of 5) stars. Well worth grabbing a copy if you find one in a secondhand bookstore.