Sunday, April 30, 2017

Recent Reads Round-Up (Non-Crime)

Taking a break from crime fiction to read some speculative fiction is a great way to keep my genre of choice fresh. While not completely breaking away from crime, with each of the below having some criminal elements, it was nice to try out something different, including reading a book by an author I've not read before (despite having 4 books written by him in my tbr).

Book: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
Publisher Century
Length 427 pages
Format softcover
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review
I loved the original Thrawn trilogy in the now non-canonical Star Wars extended universe and was wrapped to read in late 2016 that a new Thrawn book was to be published this year set in the Disney Canon. Thrawn reads as an origin story of the alien super tactician Thrawn as he sneaks his way into the Empire steadily building a reputation as one of the most important strategic thinkers in the Empire, wining battle after battle and showing compassion and modesty along the way. Of course, his rising star burns some of the Empire's more ambitious members but Thrawn handles everything with a grace only his character could muster. 

There are battles and action scenes but these are secondary to Thrawn himself, author Timothy Zahn knows this character back to front and writes him in a way that is a joy to read, action aside, this book is all about firmly implanting Thrawn in the modern day Star Wars continuity. 

5/5 stars - You could easily read this book as part of the current canon or as a prelude to the Thrawn trilogy. 

Book: Harbinger Renegade: The Judgement of Solomon written by Rafer Roberts
Publisher Valiant
Length  144 pages
Format trade paperback
Published 2017
Series Harbinger Renegades Vol.1
My Copy I bought it

My Review
The return of Harbinger hit all the right notes; re-establishing the Renegades, maintaining the continuity of the earlier Harbinger run written by Joshua Dysart, introducing a new and menacing villain in Solomon, and making Psiots at the front and center of the Valiant Comics Universe. This return to form sees Solomon manipulate matters to re-establish the Renegades for his as yet undisclosed purposes. Like Harada before him, Solomon (a former protege of Harada from a long time ago) actively seeks out Psiots yet to be activated (not many humans with dormant super powers survive the activation process) in hopes of helping them reach their full potential. As a result he's got a motley crew of super powered teens at his back, somewhat unruly but willing to do his bidding. 

Rafer Roberts writes these character very well and teases just enough to keep the reader coming back for me. Collecting Harbinger Renegade #1-#4, The Judgment of Solomon feels meaty. There's a long going on issue to issue while seeding plot points for the next installment (due to start monthly in July). 

This book is about two things really - reuniting the Renegades and establishing a new bad guy on the block; it does both beautifully. 

A note on the art: Derick Robertson and Juan Jose Ryp are a perfect fit and really capture the emotion of the characters and provide a deeply well crafted visual landscape for Rafer Roberts's characters to traverse. 

5/5 stars - bring on 'Massacre' (the next collected volume).  

Book: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
Publisher Orion
Length 451 pages
Format hardcover
Published 2012
Series standalone / First Law book #6
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Red Country is one part fantasy, one part western and all parts good storytelling. The book largely follows a group (or Fellowship) of characters as they traverse a dangerous country in search of missing children, killers and gold among other reasons. 

Each character is well defined with their own unique voice and accompanying back-story (or enough story to make them read 'real'). There are so many sub plots, had a lesser writer penned the book I could easily see this bloody quest going off track but Abercrombie is such a good writer that everything feels organic and true to the broader story arc. 

One thing that did surprise me was the humorous aspect to the book, characters such as Shy, Temple, and Cosca all had me laughing with their witty dialogue - a nice contrast to the richly violent world these characters inhabited. Additionally, Red Country is chock full of memorable quotes, much like the Shadows of the Apt fantasy series by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Abercrombie goes that extra mile to enhance an already good story. 

5/5 stars. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: CASTAWAYS by Brian Keene

Publisher Audio Realms
Length 7hrs
Format audiobook
Published 2010
Series standalone
My Copy borrowed from the library

My Review
Castaways is about a group of reality TV contestants hidden away on a secluded and supposedly uninhabited island battling it out among themselves to be the sole survivor for the chance to take away a million dollars in prize money. Being a Brian Keene book things are bound to go wrong and before too long the contestants are battling for survival in the truest sense. Having to deal with a massive storm, a homicidal contestant and then inbred cannibals makes for one terrifying and goose bump-inducing  survival horror. 

The book is obviously formulaic, borrowing heavily from the themes popularized in the reality TV show Survivor and common horror elements.

Readers familiar with horror fiction author Jack Ketchum will draw some comparisons with his cannibalistic survival horror Off Season, however, this is more from the gory way in which the characters come to an end, and the shared survival horror aspect; each story has a desperate theme and Ketchum's characters are much better defined. The only compliant I had with Castaways way the character dialogue and number of contestants, it was hard to really care about any of them (1 or 2 aside that is). I think with a shallower character pool this book could've great. 

The audiobook was narrated by Maynard McKillen who did a good job at giving the characters their own voice and providing a real sense of urgency to the book, particularly in the later stages. 

3.5 / 5 stars.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Review: DARK REVELATIONS by Anthony E. Zuilker & Duane Swierczynski

Publisher Penguin
Length 340 pages
Format paperback
Published 2011
Series Level 26 #3
My Copy I bought it

My Review
With each book in the Level 26 series since Dark Origins (#1), the polish seems to wear off. Each subsequent installment feels more rushed and less plausible than it's predecessor. In Dark Revelations, series protagonist Steve Dark, famous for his uncanny ability to hunt down the worlds worst serial killers and bring them to justice or wipe them off the face of the earth somehow manages to piece together answers to each twisted puzzle seemingly out of thin air and has his new team (the cheesy-named Global Alliance) traversing the globe to thwart the killers evil plan. There's no depth to the storytelling with a mere glossing over of detail and little more than a passing thought given to character development. The book reads like it was made for a high octane crime episode of some sort rather than a novel.

I didn't watch all the cut scenes online but those I did, particularly the last one, added something a little extra to the story - which was much needed.     

Whilst I like to look for the positives in books I read, aside from a couple of interesting characters who read like cardboard cutouts with potential, there was little to keep me interested other than finding out Labyrinth's identity, which in the end, too, felt kinda cheesy.  

If you've read Dark Origins and Dark Prophecy chances are you're going to want to give this one a shot, having read it, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. 

Dark Revelations is an average read at best. 2/5 stars. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bookish Thoughts: Why I Like To Reread

Despite having some 144 books sitting in my tbr shelves (number according to books I'm yet to read on Goodreads, I'm sure that number is actually higher, gulp) I like to go back to books I've previously read for many reasons;
  • to have that 'feel good read' feeling after reading a particularly dull book, or
  • in readiness for the next book in a series, or
  • to see if the book still has the same impact (or non-impact as it were) as it did in years gone by
Surprisingly some of my recent rereads have changed the way I feel about them, in two cases in particular - completely. Why is this? 

For one, I think generally enjoying a book comes from the point in time you're actually reading it. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is an excellent example of this; years ago I couldn't stomach the book and gave it a dnf, fast forward a couple years later to 2014 and I gave it 5 stars. The same can be said for The Devil, book 8 in the Jack Taylor series by Ken Bruen. I really disliked the direction this book took, moving away from the noir soaked PI themed story into the semi-supernatural when I first read it in 2011, yet when I read it again as part of rereading the entire series I actually liked the added element - go figure. 

Timing makes a big difference, be it the maturity of the reader, exposure to broader sub genres, or the willingness to embrace something different, there are a myriad of ways a book you hated came become loved and vice versa. Of course there are some books which will always be favs and those that just suck, even after going back in hopes of having them connect with you the second time round. 

Here are my 4 (out of the 48 books I've read so far) rereads of 2017 with more to come I'm sure: 

1st read: 2011, rating 2.5 stars // 2nd read: 2017, 4.5 stars

1st read: 2014, rating 5 stars // 2nd read: 2017, 4 stars

1st read: 2009, rating 2 stars // 2nd read: 2017, 2 stars

1st read: 2011, rating 5 stars // 2nd read: 2017, 5 stars

Monday, April 17, 2017

Pick Up A Pulp [17]: THE AMBER EFFECT by Richard S Prather

Book number 40 in the Shell Scott private eye series sees the happy go lucky PI gifted Miss Nude California, well, nude, on his doorstep begging for help. Once he collects himself, Shell gets to business asking the why's and what for's and he doesn't like what he hears.

Someone had tried to rape / murder the young women in her hotel room only to die suddenly after laying eyes on her naked body. The deceased, later identified as Buddy Brett, a local hoodlum had suspicious ties to a scientist being strong armed to patent new technology he neither discovered or played a part in developing. 

Shell Scott's case is at once cheesy and unnecessarily complicated by virtue of a scientific angle which neither pays off or adds depth to an already floundering plot. The story meanders from one intelligible interrogation to the next until a linkage between the frequently nude Miss Nude and the patented scientific technology is discovered. 

Largely let down by drab dialogue, The Amber Effect, however, was just plain boring. This is one of the few pulps I actually struggled to take away anything positive from. How this series got to 40 books is beyond me. 

I like reading pulps but there was just too much that didn't work for me to recommend reading further into Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott PI series. 

1/5 stars. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Recent Reads Roundup

Book: Mr Clarinet by Nick Stone
Publisher Penguin 
Length 560 pages
Format paperback
Published 2006
Series Max Mingus #1

My Copy I bought it

Mr Clarinet is a book that takes time to get going and even then, the story is very much a slow burn as the author focuses in detail on firmly establishing the place-setting and building an atmosphere as apposed to progressing a missing persons investigation. For the most part this tactic works with Haiti a character in itself. Nick Stone paints a picture of poverty and injustice that few authors would have the stomach to muster while still making it all feel relevant to the Max Mingus investigation into the kidnapping of Charlie Carver some 2 years prior. Max himself is a deep and complex character, this book picks up with Max leaving prison after serving a sentence for murder from an earlier case, it's interesting to see a PI at the end of his career working a last case rather than just staring out or being somewhere in the middle. Personally I liked this approach, it made Max more real and really helped to define his character. Mr Clarinet also has a touch of black magic and voodoo thrown in to keep things interesting. This is a great start to the series and I am looking forward to reading the next book, King of Swords (currently in my tbr pile) which takes the reader back in time to a case which left a long lasting impression on Max. 3.5 stars.  

Book: The Turnaround by George Pelecanos
Publisher Hachette Audio 
Length 5hrs 48mins
Format audiobook
Published 2008
Series standalone

My Copy borrowed from the library

The Turnaround isn't so much about crime, rather the lasting effects that crime has on the lives of those directly impacted by split decisions of provoked violence. Told in two distinctive time frames; the first centering on a racial encounter which led to the murder of a young man, the second centering on those same men as adults many years later with children of their own. The Turnaround is about redemption, remorse, and hurt. It's also about hope. This is a character driven story that does feel like a slow-burn at times but it's worth it. I listened to the abridged audio version narrated by Dion Graham who was a perfect match for these characters. 4/5 stars. 

Book: The Devil by Ken Bruen
Publisher Transworld 
Length 288 pages
Format paperback
Published 2010
Series  Jack Taylor #8
My Copy I bought it

'I look to you like a guy who does happy?' If a line could sum up Ken Bruen's masterful creation more accurately, I'd like to see it. Jack is back and not much has changed in his vice dependent life. Adding to his ever growing list of failures, rejections, beat downs and misrepresentations is a refused ticket to America. His fresh start thwart before it even begun. Naturally it's smooth sailing down hill with the breeze at his back straight to hell courtesy of the devil himself. While not necessarily investigating a crime this time round, Jack's latest does accumulate a high number of murders while providing further insight into Jack Taylor's inner circle of friends/enemies. For the first time, Bruen adds a hint of the supernatural to a Jack Taylor novel. The Devil is Jack Taylor doing as Jack Taylor does with something a little different - you'll either like it or lump it, I liked it a lot.

The Devil was a reread and interestingly enough I rated it significantly higher this time round time giving the book 4.5 stars whereas last time I thought it was middle of the road at 2.5 stars (back in 2011). 

Book: Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky
Publisher Hodder and Stoughton
Length 368 pages
Format softcover
Published 2011
Series Low Town #1
My Copy I bought it

I should have loved this book and I'm disappointed that it left a sour taste in my mouth. The Straight Razor Cure had all the ingredients catering towards my fiendish-like obsession with noir/darker crime fiction mixed with an equally dark fantasy setting; drug dealings, missing persons, criminal gangs, police corruption, sorcery, skulduggery, and an urban setting backdrop not for the fainthearted. So why didn't it work? I found ex lawman Warden two dimensional with his rise in the criminal underworld somewhat shallow and unfounded, while the back-story into the war felt out of place with the plot (there was linkage but it just didn't work for me). Perhaps my biggest compliant in the fact it read like a second or third book in a series rather than book 1; there was just too many ideas floating around here and too much story to cram in that I lost my way in some passages.  2/5 stars. 

Friday, April 7, 2017


Publisher Quercus
Length 538 pages
Format paperback
Published 2008
Series Millennium #1
My Copy I bought it

My Review
2017 seems to be the year for catching up on locked room mystery reads for me. Earlier I read (listened) to Adrian McKinty's Rain Dogs and Laura Lippman's To The Power of Three and now have finally, after having spent many, many years on my tbr shelf read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. While not a traditional locked room mystery (rather an island) the hallmarks are there in the core murder/mystery. 

I think my apprehension in delving into this was a) page count, b) I'd heard it took a long time for the plot to get interesting, and c) I don't tend to read popular fiction all that much (or didn't at least when this came out). I was pleasantly surprised by this book and will be reading the follow-up in the not too distant future.

Despite lengthily periods where not much happens, I kept wanting to read the book. The characters were interesting and there was a little bit of Casual Vacancy about it with the gossiping and secretive backstabbing nature of the Vanger relatives. 

For all the talk of Lisbeth, I didn't find her role to be as paramount the to story as I had previously envisioned. Sure she's a key cog in the Millennium Trilogy machine but this book is mostly Mikael's story, the journalist and part owner of Millennium.  

I won't rehash the plot, there's really no need to but I will say, for those readers which haven't read the book or who have DNF'd after getting lost in the financial jargon of the opening stanza, be patient, the payoff is worth it. 

4 / 5 stars.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Pick of the Month [March 2017]

I read 10 books in March and while my output dropped by 2 books from last month, the quality did not. Half the books I read I rated 5 stars and I even managed to sneak in a reread too which is always nice. I love to reread my books but don't do it nearly as much as I'd like to (thanks to an ever growing tbr pile). 

The pick for March was actually the last book I finished reading for the month, the newly published The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy from the publisher unexpectedly and the book completely blew me away with a twist I couldn't predict. I can see this book ending up on my end of year 'best of' list. 

Read the review HERE.

Other books I rated 5 starts, in no particular order:

  • Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty - an inventive and character driven locked room mystery. As with the other books in the Sean Duffy series I listened to the audio edition, narrator Gerard Doyle is oh so good. 
  • This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab - a young adult fantasy/horror about monsters, demons-like creatures, and something resembling zombies. The follow-up is scheduled to be published mid year and I can't wait. I was pleasantly surprised by this book.
  • Fellside by M. R. Carey - set predominantly in a women's prison, this book is a vastly different read to The Girl With All The Gifts but is equally as engaging. A must for horror fans.
  • Influx by Daniel Suarez - I wrote down a list of 7 books from my tbr pile at the beginning of the year that I wanted to read and Influx was one of those. Not sure why it sat on the shelf for so long but I was very happy that I finally got around to reading it. Their heir to the tech-fi throne. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: LITTLE DEATHS by Emma Flint

Publisher Hachette
Length 10hrs 10mins
Format audiobook
Published 2017
Series Standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Set in 1965, Little Deaths takes the reader on a gut wrenching and disturbing ride of crime as a young, over enthusiastic (and obsessive, boarding on creepy) reporter becomes enthralled in a kidnap case which evolves into the murder of two young children; their mother, the attractive and flirtatious Ruth Malone the key suspect. 

There is little mystery as the book opens with Ruth in prison, we don't know what for at this point and even when the murder conviction is handed down much latter, the impact is not lessened by having already known the outcome. As Emma Flint develops Ruth and Pete's story throughout the book, I couldn't help but hope the reporter would turn over some evidence or find a stone left un-turned which unearthed a new character key to the crime; this is a sure sign of good writing. 

Despite my praise and overall feeling of sanctification having read Little Deaths, some of the interviews between Pete and bit-characters did cause the story to meander a little. I get that this added some realism; not every interview conducted by a reporter leads to startling revelations, but perhaps a slightly shorter route would've been more beneficial, it's a slight criticism though. 

Narrated by Lauren Fortgang (who also narrated the excellent, Megan Abbott's You Will Know Me (2016)) and Graham Halstead (who primarily narrates the story from Pete, the reporters perspective), Little Deaths gets a boost to an already interesting and engaging story-line by virtue of a great audio performance. Whilst initially jarring, the switch in narrative perspective was well planned and executed.  

Little Deaths is a very good read with a superb ending. For readers of crime fiction, it offers a nice splash of diversity to the genre in the way the story is told. I recommend picking up the audio edition.

5 / 5 stars. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Review: THE GIRL WHO WAS TAKEN by Charlie Donlea

Publisher Bantam
Length 340 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series Standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
Megan McDonald's escape from her kidnapper resulted in a sensational rise to celebrity both unwanted, and, in her eyes, unwarranted. She's penned a book, appeared on TV and is seen as  a beacon of hope to other victims. Escape is possible, even probable under the right circumstances... 

After spending two terrifying weeks trapped in a bunker fearing for her life, Megan is still captive in many ways. Her sheriff father couldn't protect her at the time and dotes on her to the point of suffocation while her mother won't leave her alone even for a minute. But what about the other girl who went missing? The media wants a happy ending to Megan's ordeal, focusing on the sunshine and rainbow outcome of her escape while neglecting the darker story of a missing teen, now gone for over a year. For forensic pathologist, Livia Cutty, the other girl is never far from her mind, Nicole Cutty went missing at the same time as Megan, presumably from the same location. Her story is yet to be told. 

The Girl Who Was Taken is one hell of book. It's fast paced, full of suspense and has a twist that hit this reader like a freight-train, wow, I'm usually pretty good at picking 'who done it' when it comes to mysteries but I was completely taken aback by how this book panned out. The writing is slick and the characters well defined and easily readable. Livia Cutty is character I could easily read more of, think of her as a younger version of Kay Scarpetta; a hit series waiting to happen in my opinion. 

One of the best books of 2017 without a doubt. 

5 / 5 stars.
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