Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: EMPEROR OF THORNS by Mark Lawrence

Emperor of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #3)Best read slowly to savour the poignant vehemence of each sentence.

The Hundred converge for Congression, an event that will unite or further imbalance the broken empire. With whispers of the Dead King making his presence known, the quest to rule above all is blood laden and not without sacrifice. For King Jorg Ancrath blood and sacrifice is at his very core. Relishing in violence and resonating in the nightmares of men, his actions are marred with the stain of the unholy – none more evident than in this latest book, the conclusion to the Broken Empire trilogy, EMPEROR OF THORNS by Mark Lawrence.

As with the previous instalment, KING OF THORNS, author Mark Lawrence splits the narrative between present day and a block of time prior (in this case 5yrs). The earlier sequences do more than provide background to Jorgs plight but also give rationale and justification for the events that take place in the present, notably the Congression.

There are loads of great ideas in the Broken Empire trilogy but for me, the highlight of the three books has got to be the end to EMPEROR OF THORNS. I won’t spoil it despite wanting to write at great length as to how impressive it was.

Fantasy readers, even the most casual thereof will find something to enjoy, be it Jorgs violent and bloody path to becoming Emperor, the notion of ghostly echoes of civilisations past, trolls, dead things walking or the nod towards medieval times.

THE EMPEROR OF THORNS is a stunningly good conclusion to the trilogy and provides a glimpse at The Red Queen of which the next fantasy series involves – The Red Queens War.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Weekly Pull List Feature [3]

This week in comics we see an end to the mini event from Valiant that is Shadowman: End Times with issue #3 (of 3) (more to come on that in a later blog post when I review the arc) and get taken to the outer reaches of space in the latest title to cross over with Valiants' epic event ARMOR HUNTERS in X-O Manowar #26; fans of Star Wars will LOVE this issue - writer Robert Venditti continues to raise the bar with this series. X-O #26 shines a light on the origins of the Armor Hunters while also giving readers insight into a couple of very interesting characters in Primary Reebo and Malgam.

Shadowman: End Times #3 (of 3) written by Peter Milligan, art by Valentine De Landro

The curse of the shadow loa is a terrible cross to bear…and Jack Boniface is about to be crushed by it.

As an army of voodoo invisibles makes war on Shadowman, the tortured spirit inside Jack will begin to consume his soul – and force a final confrontation with his greatest enemy, Master Darque…once and for all.

X-O Manowar #26 written by Robert Venditti, art by Diego Bernard

Abducted from his own time by a vicious alien race, the courageous Visigoth warrior known as Aric of Dacia spent years in slavery among the stars before escaping with his captors’ most feared weapon – the X-O Manowar armor. Now, stranded in the modern day, the world’s most primitive man also just happens to wield its most powerful weapon. But what is the X-O Manowar armor? And who before Aric of Dacia dared to wield its incalculable power? The ARMOR HUNTERS hold the key to the armor’s untold history and – one way or another – they’ll crush anything that dares threaten their secret. (I should note, that cover art looks fantastic in print).

Pull List Preview: Forthcoming Comics

Today I thought I'd  take a look at some of forthcoming comics due out in the second half of this year. Just like my taste in novels,  my comic reading is all about diversity and, more importantly,  great art that complements the authors vision which really makes this medium such an enjoyable change of pace from the longer form of fiction.
Already this year has produced some great new reads in Red City #1 (from Image) and Rai (from Valiant) - both futuristic and off world (Rai is set in the year 4001 in a floating Japan, while Red City is a noir tale spun in outer space with Mars central to proceedings).
Looking ahead, there's loads to get excited about for comic fans, but for me this handfull of up new books has me most excited:
July 2014: ROBOCOP #1 written by Joshua Williamson, art by Carlos Magno (Boom Studios)
The RoboCop Saga Continues in New Boom! Studios Ongoing Comic Series
Dive into the hard world of Old Detroit with RoboCop and his partner, Anne Lewis, following the events of the original film (1987). A deadly and charismatic criminal, Killian, is released from jail. He went into the slammer before RoboCop hit the streets, and now he wants to take out the biggest cop in the city. When OCP wants to take guns off the street, Killian sess it as his opportunity to take on the forer Alex Murphy.
July: SPREAD #1 written by Justin Jordan, art by Kyle Straham (Image Comics)
Ten years ago, humanity dug too deep and unleashed something ancient that couldn’t be controlled. Something that couldn’t be stopped, twisting everything it touched into more of itself. The Spread. Humanity was nearly destroyed before finding a way to slow the Spread to a crawl. Now, deep inside the quarantined zone, one man has found what might be the key to stopping it forever: a baby girl. And if he can save her, he might save the world.
September 2014: EX-CON #1 written by Duane Swierczynski, art by Keith Burns (Dynamite)
Ex-Con #1 begins in 1985 with L.A. con artist Cody Pomeray, who had a gift for looking inside a mark's soul with just a glance. But one fateful night, he targeted the wrong man -- and was sentenced to the most savage prison in California. Pomeray would have been beaten to death on his first day if not for the intervention of Barnaby Creed, the most powerful crime lord in the Southland. Now it is 1989 and Pomeray's out on parole, robbed of his special ability and tasked with doing Creed "a little favor." He has no idea he's just stepped into a long con, and this time, *he's* the mark!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR KITE by Douglas Lindsay

Being For The Benefit Of Mr KiteDouglas Lindsay is well known for his humorous accidental barber shop serial killer series featuring the likable Barney Thomson.  In his latest novel Lindsay delves deep into the surreal while also providing a little something for Beatles fans.
The main character,  James Kite, manager of a local Starbucks coffee shop gets a shock when he is called out of the blue by someone from the US wanting to ship his movie script The Jigsaw Man around with hopes of attracting top Hollywood talent to star in the filming. Initially based on a real life jigsaw man (a coffee shop patron/owner at an old haunt, The Stand Alone, who sat and pieced together jigsaw puzzles day in day out - Kite does admit the script leaves a lot to be desired) the script long thought dead and buried all of a sudden has some life in it.
When Kite's plane crashes leaving no survivors he awakes to a couple of hard and disturbing realities; one in an integration room being questioned by two hardened agents, the other in his 'happy place' a holiday getaway frequented by his family when on vacation.
At this juncture I was really enjoying the book then it became all about the Beatles and conspiracy theories about the fifth member, the likeness of Kite's name and that of his previous inner circle of friends and their connection to the artwork that spawned the creative process for a Beatles song, along with the elusive and multi being Jigsaw man (that aspect was actually a real positive - I really liked where Lindsay took this character). Not to say the book lost me at this point but it didn't interest me as much as the earlier set-up. Perhaps had I been a bigger fan of the Beatles I might've taken to it more, but my expectations were not quite met based upon the utterly captivating opening.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: ORIGIN (Wolf Creek 1) by Greg McLean and Aaron Sterns

Origin (Wolf Creek, #1)As an Aussie reader with noir my genre of choice, I've long been craving an outback noir full of dusty murderous open spaces and locals who could shake your hand as easily as they could take your life. In ORIGIN, the first of the Wolf Creek prequel novels by authors Sterns and McLean I get just that, and then some.
Jackaroo Mick Taylor, who later appears on the big screen in the feature film as a more seasoned killer in WOLF CREEK, one of the best Australian horror movies made, gets his taste for blood through an all too easy penchant for murder while on a remote Western Australia sheep station.  Its here he also assumes a vigilante role, hunting down his peers and inadvertently helping the police in the process.
This could've easily conformed to the stereotypical horror and followed the blood stained trail blazed by the movie,  yet the authors took Mick down a deep and darker path than his older big screen counter part and set him loose amongst others of his ilk and drunken big city traveling business men.
Despite there being a high degree of violence and explicit sex, (Mick's love interest is a pretty well written and complex character in her own right), ORIGIN provides a surprising amount of depth to the core character, documenting the events that slowly turned his heart black and honed his skill for hunt into what they ultimately become.
There are some nice head nods to Wolf Creek too which, as a fan of the feature film, was a nice easter egg.
I couldn't read this fast enough and will delve deep into the second of the prequel novels in the not too distant future.
Australia,  this is the penultimate outback noir novel.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weekly Pull List Feature [2]

This weeks pull list is all about Valiant and two major events which look to shape the valiant inverse for a while to come. HARBINGER #24 written by Joshua Dysart with art by the exceptional Kharis Evans is one of the best books I've read to date. Following on from Flamingo's death in #23, I wasn't sure how this book would top it. Yet, in typical Dysart fashion it does. The other book is UNITY #8 written by one of my favorite comic writers in Matt Kindt with art by Stephen Segovia. It's the first official tie-in with the ARMOR HUNTERS title wide event and adds a little something to ARMOR HUNTERS #1 (featured in last weeks pull list post). I loved the battle between Quartz and Unity team members Ninjak and Eternal Warrior. Billed as being epic and game changing,  the ARMOR HUNTERS event is meeting expectations early on.

HARBINGER #24 (written by Joshua Dysart, art by Khari Evans)


One of the Renegades is dead…but the battle isn’t over yet.
The penultimate issue of the most important Harbinger story ever told is almost here, and the countdown to the “EVERYTHING CHANGES,” mind-shattering spectacular of Harbinger #25 is heading toward you like a freight train.

UNITY #8 (written by Matt Kindt, art by Stephen Segovia)


ARMOR HUNTERS descends on Valiant’s all-star superteam in an all-new story arc from New York Times best-selling writer Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT) and red-hot artist Stephen Segovia (Superior Carnage)!
When an ultra-powerful threat from deep space begins brutalizing Earth, humanity’s first response is – who else? – the fearless team of heroes, soldiers, and short fuses called Unity! Now it’s down to Ninjak, Eternal Warrior and Livewire – plus some special surprise recruits – to lead the assault on the ARMOR HUNTERS’ frontline…even if they die trying!

Review: Resurgere by David Christopher Perez

ResurgereMonsters and madness blur the lines of reality through disillusioned viewpoints as this haunting love story cuts through the cord of normalcy and enters into the unknown.
RESURGERE follows Daniel, an intelligent young man who struggles in social settings. Preferring to crack open a book rather than a can of beer, Daniel seems destined for a life full of loneliness and longing.  That is, until, Melinda arrives via a chem tutorial session.  The two become friends then lovers, then she's abruptly taken away from Daniel.  Her unexpected and unusual death the catalyst for Daniels downward spiral into a dark and dangerous place.
Is it the depths of Daniels mind or something actual that derives the horror from this initially unassuming novel? It's a persistent question throughout that adds an interesting element to a very well written book.
Following Melinda's death Daniel stars to see dead people, however this more than a breakdown of some sort or simple haunting as the dead include those still living in severe state of decay including a future form of his self. Diving deep into drink, Daniel soon finds himself at rock bottom and living with his father in his childhood home when a bomb drops. The monsters he's seen may be real by his fathers own admission.  Its a glimmer of hope speckled in blood.
I really liked RESURGERE.  I thought the blending of romance, crime, horror, and psychological thriller worked well, with the unanswered question as to Daniels state of mind a nice touch.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review: HEIR TO THE EMPIRE by Timothy Zahn

Heir to the Empire (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, #1)Recently I watched the entire Star Wars movie saga for the first time in a while (episodes 1 through 6) and became interested in the expanded universe books. Knowing that this elaborate and painstakingly crafted library of Star Wars fiction had been made largely redundant due to the forthcoming movie I wasn't sure where to start nor was I convinced that the scifi material would be worth a read. My choice in Star Wars fiction certainly exceeded my expectations.
I chose to read HEIR TO THE EMPIRE, the first book in the acclaimed Thrawn trilogy set five years after the events of episode VI. Here,  author Timothy Zahn sets the well known cast at the forefront of yet another conflict, though one not as easily discernable as battling the Emperor and Darth Vader.
The heavy and sometimes overbearing natrue of cut throat politicking that was omnipresent through episodes 1 to 3 is prevalent in HEIR TO THE EMPIRE though not without justification; if anything Leia's involvement and almost forced attachment to a new intergalactic government compliments the plot and provides context to the Rebellion state of play by adding a hint of civil war in the air.
With so many memorable characters killed off in the movies, (core cast aside),  I thought Zahn brought together a complex group of characters that are both unique and entertaining to read. None moreso than the clone Jedi C'baoth, and Rebellion chief adversaries Captain Pallaeon, and General Admiral Thrawn. I also liked the way Solo, despite being a father-to-be with Leia due to have twins, didn't deviate far from his criminal origins. It's this link with his past that ultimately leads to a new Jabba type underworld figure making an appearance alongside the interesting Mara Jade, an assassin with one name on her list: Luke Skywalker.
Despite the formulaic trappings, HEIR TO THE EMPIRE adds another element to the Star Wars saga that fans have, and, will continue to enjoy for a time to come. Additionally, HEIR TO THE EMPIRE works well as a sci-fi in its own right. Next up: book #2, DARK FORCE RISING.

Review: CLOWN FATALE by Victor Gischler

Clown Fatale by Victor GischlerFour deadly sirens are mistaken for undercover assassins when visited by a broker at the circus. Each of the female clowns comes from different walks of life but they all share a common bond; the want of cash and a better life. So when opportunity knocks to knock-off a target for a cool 50k they reluctantly, then relish the opportunity, revelling in a sinfully sexy new killer persona.

Then comes the second chapter and the Serbian Death Squad; the true killers the sexy clown fatales are mistaken for. Midway through this book, author Victor Gischler ramps up the body count while delivering  insight into each fatales predicament. This is a bloodbath but Gischler still makes each of his killer clown crew unique and believable.

As the third chapter gets underway, Gischler provides a brutal demonstration in the escalation of violence. It’s clear, that despite their occupation, these clowns are babes built for carnage not laughs.

Overall, CLOWN FATALE is incredibly violent and completely entertaining. Gischler leaves a small glimmer of hope for further instalments of these killer clowns while closing the door on this story arc.

The art (by Maurizio Rosenzweig) and inks (by Moreno Dinisio) compliment the scrip perfectly and are flawless in delivering a vivid image equally sexual and murderous.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Weekly Pull List Feature [1]

Im intending to post a weekly feature of comics I pick up each week given the list is ever expanding/evolving as I come across a wealth of talented writers and authors in this visually graphic medium. This first post is unique, largely due to this weeks pull list featuring two #1's, RED CITY from Image and the shared universe defining crossover event from Valiant in ARMOR HUNTERS. 
RED CITY #1 (author: Daniel Corey, artist: Mark Dos Santos)
In the wake of a system-wide civil war, hard-nosed interplanetary investigator Cal Talmage is given a simple mission to find a missing ambassador’s daughter in Mars Central, a.k.a. Red City. The routine case quickly complicates as Cal finds himself in the midst of rival alien mobs, street vendettas, and political conspiracies. He struggles with personal demons as he discovers that another war is brewing, and the lives of an entire race hang in the balance.
BLOODSHOT & H.A.R.D CORPS #23 (author: Duffy Boudreau, artist: Al Barrionuevo)
The six men and women of H.A.R.D. Corps are all that stand between Bloodshot and everything he’s ever wanted – the total destruction of Project Rising Spirit. The clock is ticking down to zero, the stakes are life-or-death…and no one in this fight has anything left to lose.
ARMOR HUNTERS #1 (of 4) (author: Robert Venditi, artist: Doug Braithwaite
A relentless and surgical strike team from the farthest reaches of space – sworn to exterminate the X-O Manowar armor and all like it – have finally found their last target. They will hunt. They will trap. They will kill. And they will rid the universe of the X-O Manowar’s incalculable destructive power…even if it means taking the Earth with it.
In the tradition of the universe-shaking HARBINGER WARS, Valiant’s biggest heroes begin the summer’s blockbuster 18-issue crossover event right here in Armor Hunters #1 (of 4) – and then launch the resistance against the world’s first full-scale cosmic threat with new arcs beginning in Unity #8 and X-O Manowar #26 in June; and Armor Hunters: Bloodshot #1 (of 3) and Armor Hunters: Harbinger #1 (of 3) beginning in July!

Catching up on crime: WOLF TICKETS by Ray Banks

Wolf TicketsRay Banks has written some of the most enjoyable noirs laced with dark humor I've had the pleasure of reading and WOLF TICKETS serves up another dose of the good stuff. Sean Farrell gets taken for a ride of deceit and lies when his girlfriend Nora makes out with a nice bundle of cash, teaming up with an underworld heavy weight along the way to track down a hidden payload. Problem is, Farrell may have elaborated a wee bit about his criminal prowess with the stashed bundle more fiction than fact; a ploy to impress the pants off Nora rather than line them with coin.
Teaming up with a former army buddy, Farrell sets out to recover his stolen cash and teach Nora a lesson while he's at it. Unfortunately it turns out Nora was playing both sides with the gangster catching up with her before she's able to make out with Farrells' cash, prematurely ending her quest for wealth; a double dross that costs her last breath.
Ray Banks has a way with words and seems to capture a real humanist feel to this violent laden plot. The comedic undertones excentuate the dual character leads' persona and penchant for easy violence.  As much as I enjoy a dark crime novel, a laugh here and there really balances things out; Ray Banks is one of the best in the business.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Review: GODZILLA (novelisation) by Greg Cox

Godzilla - The Official Movie NovelizationThe novelisation of the latest incarnation of Godzilla provides for exciting and entertaining action packed reading.

Aside from the destructive nature of these forms of fiction, this latest revamp follows a family decimated by larger than life inconvincible monsters; nightmares realised in the form of radioactive sustenance destined to purge Earth’s power source and mankind as a by-product of their size. The lineage of this family holds close ties with the scientific and military occupations which provide justification for their respective contact with Godzilla at large spanning intervals.  Unfortunately, it’s also the cause of death and heartache. Despite this, the Hollywood influence panders to the ‘feel-good’ with hope not entirely blacked out by these mass scale monsters.

Not having seen the film, I can’t comment on the accuracy and true-to-source-material comparison, however, as a book in its own right, author Greg Cox does a great job at crafting a real page turner. There is a real sense of urgency and impending doom as the iconic monster struts its equally iconic unveiling from the depths of the ocean and onto land, shadowing the sun and threatening to turn the world post-apocalyptic.

I really liked the use of distinct acts or stanzas to progress the key plot elements; from the early reveal, subsequent unearthing of the monstrous threat, to the military involvement - all interlocked by the requisite family survival drama. Overall, this novelisation is well worth a look irrespective of the reader having seen the film.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Review: THE BITCH by Les Edgerton

The BitchTHE BITCH largely refers to the three strikes rule of incarnation. Doing two bits previously,  Jake Bishop wants to avoid a third, the bitch, which would effectively end his existence on the outside and possibly his life.

A safe cracking thief extraordinaire, Jake has long moved on from his criminal ways in favour of family life and the dream of owning his own business; a hair salon. When a former cellmate makes contact, pleading for Jake's help before resorting to blackmail, Jakes' peaceful, wholesome existence is shattered; the shards slicing and ending any resistance to the unlawful activities that precluded his current predicament.

Enter diamonds and the promise of a big pay-off - the kind that triggers a life-changing experience and Jake's life is about to be a whole lot more complicated.

There is so much to like about THE BITCH; the family mentality of the apprehensive protagonist, the unfortunate and innocent victims of the greedy, and the unassuming and almost (emphasis on 'almost) justification of easy murder to sustain a goal and fulfill a promise.

Author Les Edgerton has crafted a beautifully written noir that pulls at the heart strings while satisfying the equally opposite feeling for bloodshed paramount to this sub genre of crime fiction.

THE BITCH was my first foray into the dark and twisted world of fiction created by Les Edgerton and it certainly wont be the last.

** A note on the New Pulp Press cover art - I love it when the art of crime novels are relevant to the story. THE BITCH really nails this one. Relevant and effective.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Splattering of crime: Recent crime fiction reads

My taste in crime fiction learns towards the back alley, dark of night, blood smears-on-the-wall, tainted protagonist elements - messed up stories that delight in debauchery,  deliver the devil in detail and leave little hope of a Hollywood feel good outcome. This is no truer expressed than in my most recent crime fiction read, THE FEVER KILL by Tom Piccirilli. 
The Fever KillTom Piccirilli exploits the deepest and most basic of human instinct; survival,  in his noir entrenched tale of blood, easy murder, and heart ache. THE FEVER KILL introduces readers to a calm, calculated and devastatingly violent individual in Crease. A small town victim of circumstance in his youth, and a product of the undercover law enforcement system in adulthood.  Crease is the perfect example of someone who has lost sight of the thin line between good and evil. His cop father was a drunk responsible for the death of a kidnapped child. He lived and died by the bottle.  Crease suffered as a result of this absentee parent and vowed to return home to find out the events that culminated in the young girls death. Only, his return is complicated by the underworld gang he has infiltrated having caught wind of his venture and following him into the dark recesses of his past. In a word - brilliant. One of the best books I've ever read. High praise well deserved.
Bangkok Cowboy (A Mason and Dixie Thriller)Ron McMillan's BANGKOK COWBOY is an entertaining crime thriller driven by enigmatic PI Mason and his lady boy and equally smart sidekick Dixie as they chase down a missing nightclub owner's farang accountant who has disappeared with a hard drive. The contents of which have severe ramifications to many people should they be released to the authorities and broader public. It's a fast paced chase that unlocks the serrated edges of mans desires and debauchery. I liked the elaborate staging and interlocking mysteries the protagonists encounter.  BANGKOK COWBOY is very much a layered novel that unearths revelation upon revelation while still managing to be character centirc. For such an action packed book it was grest to read more of Masons' back story,  expertly entwined into the core narrative as to not detract but enhance the present day setting. More of the same please.
Strip for ViolenceSTRIP FOR VIOLENCE is a multi faceted detective mystery that for some reason doesn't hit the mark. The pint size protagonist, while offering something a little different by virtue of his unassuming facade and skilled martial arts did seem to over compensate in order to don a Hammer like persona where Hal Mason, was really his own character,  one prone to but not defined by violence. The mystery spans multiple compass points from the investigation of a rock thrown through a window, later turning to be a diamond, an inheritance chase down, and murder. All these are linked to form a broader spanning mystery yet the whodunit aspect was viod pretty early on. Ed Lacy has written some really good novels, this is mediocre but still worth a look for a light read.
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