Friday, September 27, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [52]: SNATCHED and SAFEKEEPING by Gregory McDonlad

Published in 2017 by Hard Case Crime as a two-for-one, Snatched (originally published as Who Took Tony Rinaldi) and Safekeeping are kidnap capers with interesting and well developed characters who find themselves in compromising and unpleasant situation. 

Form the synopsis, Snatched reads like a thriller laden with politics, lies, and deceit and whist there are lies and deceit aplenty the political angle was played down to the extend it was more background noise than prominent plot piece which allowed for the kidnap and events proceeding it to take center stage.  

8yr old Tony Rinaldi, son of a prominent political figure is kidnapped by criminals who can only be described as blundering and semi-professional insofar as their plans are complicated by the comedic nature of their enterprise and penchant for self destructive behavior. It's like the blind leading the blind with no braille; this makes for some light heartened moments in what could've been a dark slice of crime fiction. 

The short punchy chapters didn't skimp on detail and progressed the story at just the right pace, all the way through to the entertaining (though a tad drawn out) cat and mouse finale. 

Safekeeping unfortunately didn't live up to expectations and was very nearly a DNF. I'm not sure the premise worked; a heady mix of satire and comedy blended with heartache, death, and a homeless orphan. It's a confusing concoction that doesn't mix. 

8yr old Robby is pulled from his sleeping quarters at the boarding school he attends in England to hear his family has been killed following the bombing of their house; innocent victims of WWII. He's promptly shipped off to America to live with his 'uncle'; a man who turns out to be of no relation (nor has he a single parental bone in his body), a journalist, and well known in criminal circles. This 'uncle' irresponsibly sends Robby off on his own to find a school in New York because all young children 'know where to find a school'. Robby is kidnapped shortly after getting lost and the story just goes downhill from there. 

If you're reading this two-for-one, I strongly suggest putting the book down after Snatched, Safekeeping just isn't worth it. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Review: THE WAREHOUSE by Rob Hart

Publisher Bantam (Penguin Random House Australia)
Length 358 pages
Format paperback
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

In a scarily plausible near future, brick and mortar stores have crumbled to the overwhelming weight of online shopping, with Cloud (a fictionalised futuristic take on today’s Amazon) catering to every conceivable consumer need. Productivity and efficiency are crucial to keeping costs down and profits high; as means to maximise the output of the workforce, each employee of Cloud lives onsite and takes Cloud owned transport to their designated ‘section’ (packaging, food prep, security, tech etc.) where they work 7 days a week undertaking highly repetitive tasks.

Each employee has a star rating, has their movements tracked, and output measured; it’s a police state with a semi-voluntary slant; employees actually want to work at Cloud. The reason? Cities are overpopulated, jobs are scarce, and much of the plant seems uninhabitable. However, two characters (and recent Cloud recruits), Paxton and Zinnia arrive at a Cloud ‘city’ with ulterior motives; revenge, and destruction.

The Warehouse is an addictive and all-consuming read which transports the reader to a future world not too far removed from what we already know. Big brother doesn’t watch, he tracks and monitors – everything from health, task assignment, to toilet breaks; its creepy and claustrophobic. 

There’s an omnipresent threat element hanging over Cloud which builds as the story progresses with both Paxton and Zinnia key cogs in the machine. Not only are the characters and setting well written, so too are the more mysterious plot devices. I know the term ‘page-turner’ is overused but it’s warranted here.

My rating: 5/5 stars. Highly recommend.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Review: THE EDGE by Tim Lebbon

Publisher Titan
Length 333 pages
Format paperback
Published 2019
Series Relics #3
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
The third book in the Relics trilogy provides a satisfying conclusion to the Ascent story-line while leaving the Fold ajar for future stories. 

The Edge follows a slightly different path to the previous books (Relics, The Folded Land) in that it focuses on two locations for the vast majority of the story; the Fold (the mysterious land of the kin controlled by the murderous and mad fairy, Grace) and a long dead town of Longford, recently revealed to the world following the receding of longtime flood waters (the place of a grisly mass murder and cover-up some 40 years ago of its inhabitants, both human and kin). 

It's within this muddy graveyard of death and despair that creatures return to the fold (nice play on words there eh?), existing where they should never draw breath. Their minds maddened, their hunger intense. It's the perfect platform for horror fiction further exemplified by the just-as-scary element of mythological creatures walking the face of the earth. For Bone, the lone survivor of the decades old tragedy, returning to Longford sees his dreams and nightmares converge, caught up in a cataclysmic battle of good verses evil.

I'm a big fan of the Relics books and ate this one up like Grace sampling her kin for sport. The mythology and expanse of creatures grows, the characters become more invested, and the stories more shockingly brutal. Fingers crossed we've not seen the last the the kin.    

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

Visit Tim Lebbon's website HERE for more info about the author and some of his other equally entertaining books (like The Silence for instance). 

Visit the publisher website, Titan Books, HERE for more info about this series and other cool books. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Review: THE OPERATORS by Barry Heard

Publisher Scribe
Length 264 pages
Format softcover
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

The Operators could've been an entertaining yarn had it not been for the excessive filler content which stagnated the story. 

The opening stanza hinted at this being a thriller but that soon dried up as man-bags, facebook, and a trip to Indonesia to see a rare flower bloom took over. The pacing and excessively polite dialogue and overwhelming respect towards strangers, mates, and, to a certain extent, criminals was annoying and read like the author was more concerned with offending someone as opposed to telling a dangerous kidnap and recover story. 

Additionally, too often the author delved deep into character backstory (including bit players) which, when it came to the crunch, didn't actually add anything meaningful to Wally Flannagan's predicament. The same can be said for the passages about communication during wartime's on the front; whilst insightful, there was just too many pages devoted to it which hindered, more than it helped. 

Despite my obvious misgivings about The Operators, I did enjoy some moments, notably the kidnapping scene and some passages describing the elaborate kidnap caper and the high powered criminal enterprise behind it. 

I'm sure there are readers who will lap up the slower pace but it just wasn't for me.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Review: CRICKET HUNTERS by Jeremy Helper

Publisher Silver Shamrock Publishing
Length 271 pages
Format ebook
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

With hints of horror and undertones of the supernatural, Cricket Hunters leads readers down a dark and scary path of violence, lost innocence and misguided valor.  

The story is split into two parts; focusing on a close-knit group of teens (collectively known as the 'Cricket Hunters') in the late 1990's and later as adults in the early 2010's. In both timelines, the characters face some strange and disturbing happenings, with the later period exhibiting more subdue horror than the earlier, though the conclusion to that portion of the plot is no less impactful.  

There's a semi-Stranger Things vibe from the 1990'a portion of the book despite it reading more as a coming of age story; the threat of horror (or something horrible) was omnipresent and exciting while the 2010's portion read more like a mystery with ghostly overtones thrown in for good measure. 

The characters and clever conclusion are real highlights of book providing a real punch to the overall plot. As a guy who reads a lot, I didn't see the ending coming until it slapped me in the face. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

Cricket Hunters is due to be published 1 September 2019 by Silver Shamrock Publishing. Head over to their website to find out more about this book and other upcoming titles. 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Paperbacks From Hell!!!

Paperbacks from Hell has a lot to answer for. Not only is the book excellent but it also kicked off my latest book buying obsession - paperback horror, specifically those gruesome and downright horrible (but oh so delicious) mass market editions of the 1970's and 1980's. 

The covers are cheesy with a splash of sleaze and are often better than the books themselves. But hey, readers don't collect these things for the content. No. It's the aesthetics and the hope that one of those books may actually turn out okay. That was my thoughts anyway. Happy to say, I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of recent reads that I managed to pick up cheap from a rural secondhand bookstore. 

One, The Omen, comes as no surprise really. I also picked up the sequel, Omen II and have heard mixed reviews, but for The Omen itself, I rated it 5 stars; a classic horror which everyone should read. It's better than the film in my opinion. 

Blood Worm was another fun gory romp into the world of giant blood worms and killer beetles as they terrorized London. Not up to the quality of The Omen, it was still a fun form of escapism. While Mantis by K.W Jeter is tense psychological horror derived from madness and a warped sense of reality, thanks to a schizophrenic subtext and an unreliable narrator - one of the finds of the bunch. 

Not all of these gory books are great or particularly noteworthy but that doesn't make collecting them any less desirable. Take The Longest Night by J.N. Williamson for example, cool cover, cool concept but crappy book (The Tupla by the same author is much, much better). Disembodied by Robert W. Walker falls into the same category; cool concept with a crappy execution but a coveted cover. 

Yet all is not lost! In addition to the aforementioned, Blood Worm and The Omen, Night Tran by Thomas F. Monteleone is a very good book, one, that somehow crams everything horror into one mass market paperback from ghosts to monsters and everything in-between.  

Simple and plain, Paperbacks from Hell is a must-own for fans of horror fiction, and purveyors of cool covers. Stacked with information and witty write-up of obscure works - some best left in dusty old book bins, others proverbial diamonds in the rough, there's something here for everyone. Come inside, who knows how your life will change once you step back into the real world... 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Review: THE GIRL IN RED by Christina Henry

Publisher Titan Books
Length 363 pages
Format paperback
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

Christina Henry has a knack for re-imagining popular fairy-tales and children's stories into darker reincarnations for adults. 

The Girl In Red is the latest book to get the horror treatment and it doesn't fail to deliver on the creepy scale. Think Little Red Riding Hood set in a dystopian world bursting at the seems with danger and suspense torn straight form the pages of The Walking Dead with visual cues from Alien - yeah, it's that kind of creepy good.

The survival horror theme works perfectly, thanks to a plot centered around a unique and kick-a$$ protagonist in Red; a young woman with plenty of smarts and a heart as big as her personality. She's an endearing character you can't help but root for. 

The journey towards peace and protection at grandma's house is a turbulent one with a mixture of horrors sure to raise goosebumps. There's also some nice shock-horror movements movie buffs will appreciate.

My rating: 5/5 stars. The Girl In Red is a fun, fast paced read with interesting characters and an equality interesting place-setting. Fingers crossed for more  in this setting.