Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: SUNGRAZER by Jay Posey

Publisher Angry Robot
Length 448 pages
Format ebook
Published 2017
Series Outriders #2
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
In the future, mankind has colonized Mars and conquered the stars. Artificial intelligence is at its highest point of evolution and death is a mere concept rather than a certainty.

A secret black ops unit known as the Outriders is put into action to recover a gone-rogue autonomous weaponize spaceship. Last known coordinates place it in the vicinity of Mars - with tension already on high between Mars and Earth, having the autonomous ship in control of the wrong hands could spark a war between the two planets. The stakes are high for this crack team of specialists. 

This is the second book in the Outriders series by Jay Posey yet it's new reader friendly. The only thing I really missed out on having not read book one was the group dynamics but that's easy enough to pick up. There are a couple of scenes that reference earlier assignments and one in particular which looks to have a big influence on the teams command yet the author packs enough backstory to make it work. 

Sungrazer has a semi military science fiction feel to it, however, the espionage angle is what worked best for me. I love the cloak and dagger and there's a healthy dose of it here, particularly on Mars which fits into the plot nicely. 

Overall Sungrazer is an enjoyable read that suffers from long sequences of seemingly inconsequential dialogue and chapters that pay too much attention to the teams downtime which made it feel like the book was treading water in patches. Despite the pitfalls, fans of series like The Expanse should eat this up, as well as those already familiar with the series. 

3/5 stars.  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Review: THE GIRL IN KELLERS WAY by Megan Goldin

Publisher Michael Joseph
Length 218 pages
Format softcover
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
Megan Goldin's debut novel The Girl In Kellers Way reads like she's been publishing crime fiction for years. The plot is tightly woven around well developed characters as interesting as the hidden motives and dangerous liaisons they pursue. Short, punchy chapters alternating between key characters keeps the story fresh and provides a nice yin/yang dynamic between the thin blue line of policing, and the everyday civilian. 

This slice of domestic noir with a physiological suspense twist is written from two perspectives; Mel, a homicide detective, and Julie, a stay at home mum married to a man still grieving for his first wife who was tragically murdered. The ties that bind them is the discovery of a body in Kellers Way along a stretch of forest where Julie takes her regular morning run. 

On the surface, the facade of normalcy cracks with each passing chapter as Julie's perfect life slowly resembles anything but. While Mel's diligence and knack for good old fashioned policing (aided by an unusual plus one tag along throughout the later stages of the investigation) leads the reader down a dark and often glossed over part of suburbia where violence and murder reign supreme. I devoured The Girl In Killers Way in two sittings and hope to read more of these characters sometime soon.    

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Pick Up A Pulp [18]: THE PASSIONATE PAGAN by Carter Brown

When Danny Boyd turns down a gun for hire job, he sees opportunity in being said targets body guard; shield the intended vic rather than puncture him with bullets. Should be an easy score, after all, he knows where the contract is coming from and the timeline for the execution. What Boyd didn't bank on was arriving at the targets hotel only to find him laying in a pool of blood and a couple of bruisers all too ready to share their penchant for violence.

The Passionate Pagan once again pits the PI with the 'profile' against a dame with a body to kill for - along with a motive to murder. Only this time, it's a rare occasion of Boyd taking on a case without a client - yet throwing his every inch of skill coupled with dumb luck to catch the killer - and it's not who you think.   

One of the things I like about the Carter brown pulp mysteries is their tendency to stray from the formulaic. Sure each book is loaded with cheap and cheesy pulp prose and questionable plotting but they are each different and it's that variety which keeps me coming back for more. 

In The Passionate Pagan, Boyd is not only hired for a hit (which he obviously declines) but is involved in a kidnapping of sorts (along with Laka Tong, the dame who wanted him to murder an associate), outright murder, and is responsible for taking down a drug smuggling ring. A lot happens yet the pieces to the puzzle don't quite fit as nicely as I would've hoped. There's a fair amount of convenience and easy-outs in the book which, with a little tweaking here and there could've been resolved, unfortunately it's those elements which really hamper the reading experience. 

2/5 stars.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: MARLBOROUGH MAN by Alan Carter

Publisher Fremantle Press
Length 297 pages
Format softcover
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
The Marlborough Man is a tale of two distinct stories linked by events surrounding protagonist Nick Chester, a once undercover cop from England now residing in New Zealand under a form of witness protection. Nick’s the senior ranking officer in the two officer Havelock police force. He’s got a wife and child, and lives on a farm surrounded by picturesque scenery. The Havelock crime element is minimal, generally consisting of bar scuffles, graffiti and the odd theft. That all changes when Nick’s past comes back to haunt him, bringing along with it a dark tide of unrelated criminal activity to his small town posting.

First thing I must mention about this book is that it is exceptionally well written both from plotting and narrative to the well-defined characters - it all works. Marlborough Man feels like a meaty read; there’s a lot to take in as Nick investigates a spate of child murders linked to Havelock’s elite while dealing with a personal vendetta omnipresent yet on the peripheral to what is eventually touted as the Pied Piper case. Author Alan Carter manages to navigate through the darker crime elements of the book by providing momentary light relief with a spattering of humor here and there – be it from Nick’s wife, Nick himself, a couple of Russian assassins, or two unexpected campers on Nicks’ property forming a nice balance to book.

I read Marlborough Man slower than most other books, savoring each word to make sure I took in the atmosphere as the New Zealand backdrop is just as important as the characters themselves. Forming an appreciation of the place-setting goes a long way to understanding Nick and the cast of characters (perhaps not those in England from Nick’s past).

Marlborough Man is a more than a whodunit, it brings with it a baggage bursting with danger and a cast that are instantly relatable. I highly recommend this book – 5 / 5 stars. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: LOLA by Melissa Scrivner Love

Publisher Crown
Length 336 pages
Format hardcover
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy borrowed from the library

My Review
Lola is more than a novel about the inner workings of a small LA based gang, the Crenshaw Six. It’s a story about hardship, determination and ambition. It bucks the trend of male orientated gang leaders by instilling a woman at the head of the table, albeit subliminally at first. Lola is brutal but loaded with heart which comes from taking a different perspective on what it takes to be a leader in the violent streets of LA.

Not for the faint of heart, this gang-centric novel is brimming with violence at every turn. Starting with a deal to embed themselves in the drag trade, the Crenshaw Six are immediately immersed in a world of murder and kidnapping with their leader, the fearless and ambitious Lola front and center. Ending with further bloodshed, Lola maintains a murderous pace throughout bringing with it a fully fleshed plot with realistic and intriguing characters with the promise for more. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Review: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

Publisher Random House
Length 10hrs 26mins
Format audiobook
Published 2011 (originally published 1985)
Series standalone
My Copy borrowed from the library

My Review
Set in a repressive dystopian society, The Handmaid’s Tale provides glimpses into a not so distant future where women serve little purpose other than to breed and be at the beck and call of their Commander. Living inside a gated and guarded community as the world outside succumbs to ongoing war, the inhabitants live a mundane life. There is no fraternising, no freedom, no choice. For every action there is swift instruction and purpose. It’s amid this backdrop, author Margaret Atwood introduces Offred, once a library employee, mother, and wife now serving her masters in a dangerous world. Offred is the narrator of this story and provides a telling account of her experiences in Gilead as well as providing interesting bite size chunks of ‘life before’.

I listened to the audio version narrated by Joanna David who, I don’t think was the right choice, despite putting in a very solid performance. I just pictured Offred as younger than what Joanna’s voice portrayed. More a ‘me’ issue than that of the book.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a good book, one that focuses more on establishing an atmosphere than detailed plot. Whilst it’s slow moving, the pacing allows the reader time to get to know Offred (at least what she wants us to know) and feel like we’re part of her world.

I think this is a book that will require a re-read to fully appreciate it. 3 / 5 stars. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: THE KILLING BAY by Chris Ould

Publisher Titan
Length 462 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series Faroes #2
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
The Faroes is a collection of islands set between Iceland and Norway, the weather is cold and the days short. The islands depend on traditional whale hunts as a means of food and it's embedded in the culture, spanning back hundreds of years. In The Killing Bay, author Chris Ould uses this traditional grind to stage the second Faroes crime novel. Shortly after the grind ends, a young female activist opposed to the whale slaughter is found murdered. Local law enforcement, led by detective Hjalti Hentze with assistance from visiting English detective Jan Reyna dig deep into the events during and after the grind for clues to catch the killer. 

This is a classic whodunit with an ever changing list of prime suspects. Borrowing heavily from the formulaic popular police procedural, The Killing Bay sets itself apart by virtue of providing a unique atmosphere and side story that doesn't add to the murder investigation but does bring an added layer of depth to the characters; the earlier suicide of Reyna's mother on the islands some years back. Reyna's investigation tiptoes along the line of the murder but never fully crosses it, the plot device is a clever way to explore the outer reaches of the island contributing to the geography and making places read familiar when the two separate investigations cross paths location-wise.    

As a second book in a series The Killing Bay reads ok as a standalone. I hadn't read The Blood Strand beforehand but wish I did as there are a number of events from that book which have a direct impact on the characters and their behavior in the follow-up. That said, the author provides enough back-story to make it all work, however I will be reading The Blood Strand sooner rather than later. The series, as far as I was able to gleam has a community feel to it with each police officer playing an active role, making this reader wanting to know more about them. 

I love books that bring more to the story than a plot and characters and The Killing Bay offers that by using a unique place-setting and providing insight into a deeply rooted culture. I found the book thoroughly enjoyable. 

4 / 5. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: TWO DAYS GONE by Randall Silvis

Publisher Sourcebooks Landmark
Length 394 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
Popular author Thomas Huston is accused of brutally murdering his family one bloody night, fleeing the scene and leaving a trail of hurt and incomprehensible saddens in his wake. Sergeant Ryan DeMarco catches the case, and despite being conflicted (he and Huston are acquaintances) hunts Huston with a lone wolf ferocity akin to a Harry Bosch investigation.

What looks to be a straightforward game of cat and mouse evolves to anything but, as Huston's guilt turns questionable as the case unfolds. 

Two Days Gone is the first book to feature Ryan DeMarco, which was surprising as the book reads like a 'second of' in a series. There's a couple of reasons for this; firstly, DeMarco's estranged relationship with his wife, there's a lot of history there - we see her in back-story glimpses as a loving wife cut down by tragedy only to find comfort in the arms of strangers, and DeMarco's stalker like fascination with her, watching her ever conquest from afar. Secondly, there's a character introduced later in the novel in which a past discretion led them to having already met DeMarco, I had assumed there was an early story fleshing out this but there isn't. Then there's DeMarco's demoted position in the police force and playful banter with his superiors leading to a feeling of pre-existing stories having already established how we got to this point in DeMarco's colorful and complex life. 

So what does this mean for the reader? Well, it feels like you're dropped into the middle of things and left to piece together DeMarco's back-story through these little look-in's spattered throughout the book. This is OK, but with the back-story proving to be so interesting the plot of the murder investigation reads secondary. 

Despite the above mentioned, Two Days Gone is a very good read. The characters are well developed and the pacing is perfect. I particularly liked the use of short sharp chapters, providing bite sized pieces of crime fiction which really wet the appetite for more. Even though I thought I knew how the book would end I found myself eagerly reading to see if I was right - I wasn't, which made it all the more enjoyable. 

3.5 / 5.   

Friday, May 5, 2017

Pick of the Month [April 2017]

I read 13 books in April in what was another good reading month for me. For April I wanted to try something different and focused on my ever expanding tbr pile. I deliberately shied away from review books to delve deep into my shelves and read some books which had sat there unattended to for far too long. Of the tbr reads Red Country, the fantasy-western by Joe Abercrombie and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson were the picks of the bunch. I also snuck in a couple of rereads, The Devil by Ken Bruen - which I loved the second time after not liking it much when I first read it years ago, and This is Not a Game (TINAG) by Walter Jon Williams, loved it then, loved it now. I recently ordered Deep State, the follow-up to TINAG and can't wait to read it.  

Continuing the theme of selecting recently finished reads for my pick for month I went with Red Country by Joe Abercrombie. I simply could not put this book down. Despite weighing in at well over 400 pages in small print hardcover I devoured in a couple days. While billed as a fantasy novel there isn't a whole lot of fantastical elements which makes it more of a western/crime centered story more than anything else. I strongly recommend this one. 

Read my review of Red Country here

I'm also selecting Little Deaths by Emma Flint as a joint pick of the month for April. The audio edition was superb and the narrators added a little something extra to what was already a very good crime novel.  

Read my review of Little Deaths here

Other highlights, in no particular order:

  • The Turnaround by George Pelecanos - a multi-generational crime novel about the aftermath of a momentary lapse in judgement and its long term flow on effect for those involved. 
  • Thrawn by Timothy Zahn - a canonical take on the popular character from the defunct Star Wars Extended Universe. 
  • Mr Clarinet by Nick Stone - a complex and deep private detective novel set in Haiti. I've got the other two books in the series waiting to be read. Really liked this one. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Review: ALTERED CARBON by Richard K. Morgan

Publisher Tantor
Length 17hrs 14mins
Format audiobook
Published 2005 (first published 2002)
Series Takeshi Kovacs #1
My Copy borrowed from the library

My Review
I have mixed feelings about this book.  I loved the premise that in the distant future, a person's consciousness can be stored in a stack and downloaded into a new body (or sleeve as is commonly referred to in the book), effectively eliminating a 'true death', yet felt the plot suffered from too many deviations, twists, and turns that did little to add what was, an interesting murder investigation - on the surface at least.

There's no doubt this book has broad appeal blending sci-fi and hardboiled elements - it's what hooked me in but it's way too long and there are too many characters to really get a good grounding on who everyone is and what role they play in the murder investigation. Protagonist Takeshi Kovacs aside, I didn't connect with any of characters in the book, which is a problem when the audio version spans some 17hrs and change.  

Speaking of the audio version, narrator Todd McLaren seemed like a good fit but I did find his dry monotone distracting at times, particularly when switching between description and dialogue. Some of the character voices were off as well which contributed to the confusion.

Overall I really struggled to get a handle on what was going on and I think this is largely attributed to the audio version, in paper it's much easier to go back and re-read a passage whereas in audio, doing the same is difficult. Richard K Morgan also had a tendency to let his character drift off and explore side plots which detracted from the progress of the murder investigation he'd been assigned.

2/5 stars - I will at some stage pick up a print copy to read as I do think the story is much better than a 2 star rating, but the audio edition really failed to hit the right notes with me. 
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