Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: WAR MASTER'S GATE by Adrian Tchaikovsky

War Master's Gate (Shadows of the Apt, #9)The 9th installment in the Shadows of the Apt series continues the momentum of the previous books. While it didn't pack the same punch as DRAGONFLY FALLING and THE SCARAB PATH (my two favourite books in the series) it did have a number of shock and awe moments that I didn't see coming, despite being a long-time series reader.

Tchaikovsky thrusts the plentiful cast into all out war spanning multiple fronts with varied forms of conflict. There's magic, traditional warefare (both on land and in the skies) and face to face combat. There are casualties, and for readers of THE AIR WAR (book #8), some of those 'second generation' Collegium characters may not be around as long as first thought.

Che and Seda, the beetle and the wasp Empress find themselves in the forests of Etheryon and Nethyon in search of a powerful magic seemingly guarded/owned by the mysterious Argastos, a War Master of sorts who holds a supernatural-like grip on their respective quests. Accompanied by their faithful band of warriors, both are faced with bloodshed, heartache and a doom far greater than any wasp-Lowland conflict could result in.

While Stenwold continues to fight valiantly against the might of the wasp empire as they march towards Collegium, Sarn (Ant city state), and Princep Salma. Aided by the force of the Spiderlands, General Tynan and his Second Army are ruthless in their mission to expand upon the empires influence and boundary. However, the alliance with Mycella and her spiders is far from strong with deception a possibility throughout proceedings.

As usual there is a lot going on in these books which at times made it hard to take in all the crucial events/character exchanges. However, I found that by reading large chunks at a time, the story read seamlessly and I was able to retain much more than reading in small bursts.

WAR MASTER'S GATE sets the scene for the next installment perfectly (THE SEAL OF THE WORM). Without giving anything away, the series look set to head in a completely different direction - given the ramifications of WAR MASTER'S GATE, I'm interested to see how Tchaikovsky brings his wounded and segregated characters back to the battlefield.

A great and epic read - as usual. Shadows of the Apt is my all time favourite fantasy series.

Review: A PLAGUE OF CROWS (Thomas Hutton #2) by Douglas Lindsay

A Plague Of Crows (Thomas Hutton #2)The second police procedural in the DS Thomas Hutton series pits the complex and downtrodden lawman against a brutal serial killer with a penchant for public violence in the most macabre fashion.

Hutton, living as a recluse in the woods following a mandatory leave of absence from the force is brought back into the modern world where he's reinstated to capture a killer who's sadistic nature is like nothing the police have seen. The victims taken to a secluded woodland area, are cemented in place, tied to a chair, and the tops of their skull removed, leaving exposed brain matter for the circling crows. More horrific - the victims are forced to watch one another as the hungry birds land and devour their gruesome meal. As the slowly dying cant feel their life being taken away bite by bite, the onlookers and fellow victims watch in horror. This story is not for the fainthearted.

In THE UNBURIED DEAD (book #1) we were introduced to Hutton's womanizing ways and uncompromising investigative prowess, and this instalment is no different despite the added characterisation and backstory applied to Hutton. His time in Bosnia is fleshed out with the events a major factor on his current day self. This added another level of depth to a series that is reminiscent of McBain's 87th precinct (in terms of characters and varied plots).

Like the Barney Thomson books, author Douglas Lindsay ensures there is a healthy dose of humour to balance out the serious nature of the disturbing killings. I was at once cringing at the horror of the murders and then laughing from Hutton's interactions with the finer sex. It takes a talented author to pull off such a seamless switch of gears and Douglas Lindsay is just that.

I'm looking forward to reading more entertaining cases featuring Thomas Hutton. As for A PLAGUE OF CROWS, it's an essential read for those who are familiar with the character from the first book and fans of the Barney Thomson series.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Browsing the Bookstore [1]

Trunk MusicI love secondhand bookstores. There's something about browsing those worn and well loved spines on rickety shelving that hits the spot. The thrill of the hunt, the quest for a hidden treasure. Despite reading for many years now, the experience is always the same.

In this new series of blog posts I'll share my recent acquisitions from my trips to secondhand bookstores (brick and mortar/online). As fun as it is to read/review, I also get a kick out of sharing my newest shelf additions. So without further delay, below is my latest batch:

I've got almost every book by George Pelecanos but for some reason or another, hadn't picked up the Nick Stefanos trilogy. Given Nick (or his son) makes cameos in a number Pelecanos titles I've read (DC Quartet, Derek Strange series), this was a must buy. I was lucky enough to find each of the books in the editions I want (I do love a nice looking cover).

A Firing Offense Nick's Trip Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go

I've just started re-reading the Harry Bosch books by Michael Connelly, unfortunately I've only got the first couple so need to get my hands on the remaining book. TRUNK MUSIC (book #5) was next on my list.

Last was THE ROSARY GIRLS (2005) by Richard Montanari. This is the first book in a crime series featuring Philadelphia detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano. I first heard of this with the recent publication of THE STOLEN ONES (2013) (book #7) which sounded great:

Destroyed by fire years ago, the infamous Philadelphia State Hospital was known as the warehouse for the criminally insane. But one man, Luther, never left.

Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano are called to a bizarre murder scene, but it's just the beginning of a trail of evil that leads back to the hospital and the horrific nightmares that it still contains.

The Rosary Girls (Jessica Balzano & Kevin Byrne, #1)Hook-line-sinker - I don't like jumping into books mid-series so tracked down where it all started with THE ROSARY GIRLS (book #1), which in itself sounds like a decent read:

Jessica and Kevin are called to the scene of the murder of a parochial school student. The dead girl, clasping a rosary, has been mutilated in a way that shocks even the hardened medical examiner. And when a second teen's body is discovered and a task force is formed, Jessica is determined to make sure that she stays on the case. And if that means going the extra mile and risking her own life and sanity by immersing herself in the dark, dangerous mind of a serial killer, that's what she'll do to close the case of the Rosary Girls.

As can be seen, I was in the mood to bolster my crime collection - this trip to the bookstore satisfied that need.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pick Up A Pulp [3]: Carter Brown TBR

Carter Brown has got to be the most prolific pulp hack to ever pound the type writer in Australia. His stories, while formulaic continue to provide with me with endless enjoyment (also helps that there's loads of books to track down). With protagonists ranging  from the PI (Danny Boyd, Rick Holman), cop (Al Wheeler), and TV gag writer Larry Baker amongst others, the stories are a mix of sex, violence, mystery, and police procedural all wrapped in a pure pulp bundle.

Taking a different path today with this series of Pick Up A Pulp blog posts (the first two featured reviews for CAMPUS TRAMP by Lawrence Block and THE BRAT by Gil Brewer respectively) I thought I'd take a look at some of the colourful vintage covers sitting in my Carter Brown tbr pile.

What initially attracted me to these books was the covers and that the author was an aussie (although most stories take place in the U.S.A) which provided all the incentive I needed to hunt for these rare-ish books (for half decent quality ones that is).

The above pic shows books for Carter Brown's Al Wheeler series in THE HAMMER OF THOR,TARGET FOR THEIR DARK DESIRE, and THE DUMDUM MURDER, a couple of books featuring PI Rick Holman in THE WIND-UP DOLE, and LONG TIME NO LEOLA. Female PI Mavis Seidlitz also features in this tbr round-up with NONE BUT THE LETHAL HEART and SEIDLITZ AND THE SUPER-SPY.

While Carter Brown published a heap of books, some in lengthy 'series', the reading order isn't paramount to the experience with most working perfectly well as a self contained standalones.

The next Pick Up A Pulp post will feature one of my favourite Carter Brown books set in Queensland, Australia, the Danny Boyd mystery LOVER, DON'T COME BACK! (first edition, 1962).

Review: FIDELITY by Thomas Perry

FidelityPhil Kramer, a private detective with his own agency is gunned down at night on an abandoned street. There are no witnesses, his investigators don't know what case he was working on, and his wife is in the dark.

Phil's wife utilises the private investigators at her disposal in an attempt to solve her husbands murder but as she digs into Phil's past she uncovers truths about her marriage she was ill prepared for.

The thing I most admired about FIDELITY was author Thomas Perry's ability to connect with the reader through his varied and equally deep characters. The chapters switch point of view from Emily (Phil's wife) to contract killer Hobart, to Theodore Forrest a wealthy businessman with his fare share of perversions. Each of the core group of characters brought a different sense of perspective to the plot and were completely believable.

As far as the plot itself goes, its linear yet as Emily's investigation unfolds the back story delves deeper into Phil's persona, his relationship with the agency and marriage.

Overall, FIDELITY is an enjoyable and well executed piece of crime fiction of the quality I've come to expect from Thomas Perry (having previously read STRIP and NIGHTLIFE).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review: THE TOBACCO-STAINED SKY (anthology)

The Tobacco-Stained SkyReading THE TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT by Andrez Bergen is a prerequisite prior to re-entering the post apocalyptic world where the city of Melbourne, Australia is the last inhabitable place on earth. The stories that comprise THE TOBACCO-STAINED SKY expand upon this unique and colourful environment while breathing new life into some of the shady and devilishly dangerous inhabitants.


Within the stories of THE TOBACCO-STAINED SKY therein lies Deviants, Seekers, The Dome, milk, Floyd Maquina, and other such familiars depicted against an inner city backdrop that really encompasses all the nooks and crannies of a city that's become it's own world.

The narrative is kept fresh by diversifying the stories and adding a splash of comic book inspired storytelling. Everything about this collection oozes the familiar while bringing something new and exciting to what already is considered a deep and satisfying fictional landscape.

The list of contributors is pretty impressive. Andrez Bergen chimes in with a few stories, Julie Morrigan's 'Sancity' revisits the time when Wolram E. Deaps died , Jay Slayton-Joslin delves into the rare and highly valuable milk commodity in 'The Great Milko of the People', Josh Stalling's 'Dream Juice' is one of the best in which the horror of a nurses station and the hope of freedom is both realized and washed away, as is 'The Holy Church of the Scalpel' by Liam Jose - a story that plays on physical enhancement and misguided beauty in a world that has moved on. 'Plan E' by Gordon Highland pits unlicensed health professional trying to do good in a place where kindness is considered a weakness, while Chad Eagleton's 'Blood on the Milky Way' picks up where THE TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT left off, as the first prose story, it really set the tone for the rest of the anthology.

I could go on and on about the remaining stories as pretty much all are of high quality and do a great job of recreating the unique world Andrez Bergen originally created. But best to go out and read it yourself.

I read this on my kindle but I wish I had done so on a physical copy. The artwork complimented the stories to perfection and there is loads of re-read value - especially if Andrez Bergen revisits this setting with a follow-up to THE TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT.

THE TOBACCO-STAINED SKY is a must read for fans of THE TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT. While I think new readers could get the gist of what the stories are trying to achieve, it's best to know where it all started.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review: A DAY AND A NIGHT AND A DAY by Glen Duncan

A Day And A Night And A DayThree distinct plot threads diversified by time are entwined at the height of torture. Augustus Rose is a terrorist - his interrogator, Harper, a master of the brutal art of inflicting pain for purpose. Together they form an unlikely bond as the questions flow thick and slow mimicking Augustus' steadily dripping blood on the floor of the interrogation room.

A DAY AND A NIGHT AND A DAY is a complex read that's confronting, emotional, and devilishly smart.

Author Glen Duncan is renowned for his diverse delivery of fiction. Delving deep into the delicate fabric of the human psyche, Duncan crafts a story that's all encompassing and engrossing. Augustus is depicted as a likable yet flawed character with redeemable qualities despite his predicament and sufferance for his actions. He's not meant to be the victim yet he comes across as one.

The style of A DAY AND A NIGHT AND A DAY isn't for everyone. In order to fully appreciate this book you need to take the time to digest the impact of each plot thread and notion of truth. The ending is a fruitful reward for perseverance.

I've not read anything like A DAY AND A NIGHT AND A DAY and doubt I will again. It's this unique storytelling that avid readers crave and Duncan delivers.

Review: GANGLAND NORTH SOUTH & WEST by James Morton and Susanna Lobez

Gangland North, South & WestI'm not familiar with the previous installments in the Gangland series, hence I had no preconceptions of what to expect style and content-wise going into this book. As a result, I was somewhat surprised to read the broad spanning accounts across a century or more of crimes committed in Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory were condensed into 190 pages.

Drug running, people trafficking, mafia allegations, hit men, prostitution, mass murder, serial killings, bank robbing, gold theft, biker warfare - every element of criminal activity is touched upon, accounted and glossed over. While interesting, the brief nature left me wanting more. That said, there is a lot to mull over in this book and the authors should be commended on their effort to encapsulate so much criminal diversity into a one stop quick reference guide of sorts.

It was interesting to read that not much has changed over the course of a century in terms of the types of crime committed and the manner by which the criminals themselves undertake their unlawful activity. Of particular interest to me was the notion of my hometown (Adelaide) being dubbed the 'city of corpses' as opposed to the more well known and less evil moniker 'city of churches. It was a real eye opener that's for sure. As of publication, Adelaide had the highest number of shootouts in the country for the 2013 calendar year with 18 as of March.

GANGLAND NORTH SOUTH & WEST works best as a gateway book into the historic criminal underworld of the more unassuming Australian states. The factoids wet my appetite for more and I'll be chasing down some of the titles mentioned in the comprehensive selected bibliography.

Review: THE BEAST WITHIN by James Daniels (Dead Man #7)

The Beast Within (The Dead Man, #7)Continuing my recent spate of horror/supernatural reads, I turned my attention back to the Dead Man series of novellas - this time round, it's the seventh instalment, THE BEAST WITHIN by James Daniels.

Matt Cahill, on the hunt for the author of a book which may provide a vital link into his reanimation finds himself deep in the Northern Michigan woods amongst a cult-like stronghold who's leader is under siege. The leader, just so happens to be the books author. A chance encounter with his wife at a supermarket sees Cahill fighting alongside ex-military personal to save this odd visionary from death in order to learn more about the omnipresent Mr. Dark.

THE BEAST WITHIN Reads like a men's magazine adventure pulp with a supernatural twist.

Cahill is cast as a commando of sorts, taking down soldiers with ease and rescuing the inhabitants of the compound with little regard for his own safety.

The action is high octane and more akin to blockbuster action than supernatural drama of pervious instalments. The nature of the episodic novellas is more prevalent here with the plot coming together as a once off read - knowledge of what came before isn't essential but will provide context to Cahill's plight.

THE BEAST WITHIN surprised me. I didn't expect the type of story author James Daniels concocted for the series - and that's a good thing.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: THE CYPRESS HOUSE by Michael Koryta

The Cypress HouseA kind of supernatural noir mixed with an original pulp style that somehow oozes Stephen King at the height of his craft. In a nutshell, THE CYPRESS HOUSE by Michael Koryta is a genre defying piece of fiction that could easily have been passed off as a Stephen King novel - a complement and testament to Koryta's ability. The supernatural blend seamlessly into the world of 1930's American crime.

There's a rural feel and distinct sense of isolation throughout THE CYPRESS HOUSE. Arlen Wagner can sense imminent death amongst people he comes in direct contact with - a gift and a curse at the same time. His father had the same ability, one that additionally allowed him to speak to the dead - something which Arlen struggled to come to terms with throughout his life.

Led by a series of events courtesy of Arlen's ability, he, and 19yr old Paul Brickhill find themselves stranded at the isolated Cypress House, a boarding house on the Gulf Coast, just as a powerful storm hits, the wind kicking up long kept secrets as dangerous as the rising tide and flying debris.

Rebbecca Cady, a beautiful women with a brother in jail and a murdered father is both strong willed and struggling to maintain control of the criminal situation she so finds herself. The arrival of Arlen and Paul, while unexpected provides a glimmer of hope, a way to potentially sever the ties that hold her to the corrupt and mobbed-up lawmen of Corridor County.

I enjoyed THE CYPRESS HOUSE. It was vastly different from the PI novels I'd previously read by Koryta in TONIGHT I SAID GOODBYE and SORROWS ANTHEM and reminded me of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. The supernatural element was there, however I would've loved to have seen more of that within the Cypress House as apposed to Arlen's plan to foil a drug run and commit murder. That said, there was a lot to like about THE CYPRESS HOUSE and I'll certainly be tracking down more of Koryta's supernatural/horror novels.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: SEED by Ania Ahlborn

SeedJack Winter, a father of two girls (aged 6 and 10), husband, and sometime musician is seemingly living the American dream. However, he's haunted by a reoccurring nightmare that's all too real - one that's birthed in blood and lives on terror.

The dark side of Jack had left him without a family at a young age. Somehow he overcame adversity to grow into a loving father and doting husband. A car crash turns the Winter family's life upside down - the car, along with their peaceful existence is written off. A horror summoned from the depths of despair once again shrouds Jack's life in a shadow of murder and bloodletting.

Charlie, the younger of the two girls starts to change following the accident. Her once quiet and typical 6yr old demeanor turns sullen, moody, and borderline abusive. Her actions out of character, more in line with the supernatural than innocent playfulness with 10yr old Abby, the easy victim.

Author Ahia Ahlborn instills a sense of the dramatic amongst the demonic. The constant struggle for Jack to hold his family together and save their lives is a direct result of the terrifying horror seeping into the life blood of Charlie and escaping via a course of violent and bloody acts against her family.

Bumps in the night, poltergeist-like activity, and bone chilling sequences make for a great read. I'll definitely be looking for more books by Ania Ahlborn.

Review: DOCTOR SLEEP (Shining #2) by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)In DOCTOR SLEEP there are mournful echoes of THE SHINING without the full embodied horror of the original instalment. Stephen King updates the original theme while simultaneously introducing a new menace - The True Knot, a group of people who live off the 'steam', a unique substance only children with the shining have. Dan Torrance, having lived through the horrors of the Overlook in his childhood now faces a new threat in adulthood. One that has far reaching ramifications for not only him, but many children gifted with the curse.

The Overlook is very much a part of Dan's life, from his terror stricken time at the hotel as a child through to his adulthood, the horrors of the hotel haunt and disturb him. Having established coping mechanisms, he's able to lock away the ghastly spirits that continued to plague him and move on with his life - one that's dangerously close to resembling his alcoholic and abusive (though loving) father.

The opening of DOCTOR SLEEP blew me away. Stephen King went to great lengths to establish the continuity while building upon THE SHINING. However, what looked to be a direct follow-up soon evolved into it's own story. That's not a bad thing. DOCTOR SLEEP is it's own kind of horror supported by a familiar protagonist and a devilish new cast. The True Knot aside, Dan's friendship with Abra Stone - a child with a gift stronger than Dan's adds another element to an already well rounded story.

The constant in DOCTOR SLEEP for me, is evolution: Dan's ability/powers expand to aide those on their death bed at the hospice he works towards the afterlife, the shining itself grows within Abra from an ability to move objects to being able to mentally transport herself from one person to the next, The True Knot - a long standing group of people who avoid death and the ageing process by sucking the life out of children with the shining become the new threat to Dan and those closest to him. There's a lot to distinguish DOCTOR SLEEP from THE SHINING yet the original still resonates throughout the latest installment.

I re-read THE SHINING prior to delving into DOCTOR SLEEP and I highly recommend this as familiarity with the characters is paramount to enjoying the cameos and linkages between the events at the Overlook and the membership of The True Knot. The only gripe I have with DOCTOR SLEEP is that it doesn't capture the same atmospheric horror of THE SHINING, that said, this is a different story and can be excused as such.

DOCTOR SLEEP reaffirms Stephen's Kings place as the master of horror.

- My review of THE SHINING can be found HERE.
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