Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: THE LONE CHILD by Anna George

Publisher Penguin Random House
Length 272 pages
Format softcover
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
Neve is a new mum on a sabbatical of sorts, living in semi-isolation along the Victorian Mornington Peninsula, the 30-something single finds herself adjusting to life with a newborn without any support from her ex or family, battling sleep deprivation, and having to deal with her father's poor business decisions which rubbed many of the locals the wrong way - he's on another continent avoiding the conflict, though this element of the story is largely glossed over in favor of Neve and the predicament she finds herself. In addition to this new period of adjustment, Neve has to content with a mysterious and dangerously malnourished young child seemingly forgotten about by her family or having run away into Neve's warm motherly embrace. 

The book primarily focuses on Neve and 'Jessie' as she's named by Neve as their relationship grows and Neve's motherly instincts strengthen to the point of unlawfulness; should Neve alert the authorities to 'Jessie' or should she keep her and care for her; a ready-made older sister for baby Cliff? This indecisiveness is interesting and well articulated as the rationale line of thought blurs with each new chapter.

On the flip side there's 'Jessie's' biological mother, a hard-luck skittish young woman who cleans for a living and couch surfs with her two children. When her eldest goes missing she leaves her youngest in their broken down car in the Mornington Peninsula in search of her. Her maternal instincts are questionable at times and her decision making is rash and made with snap judgment - the character provides a distinct contrast with Neve's well-to-do manner.

I really enjoyed The Lone Child; it's an interesting character study with an undercurrent of suspense and omnipotent threat of impending doom that kept me turning the pages.

My rating: 5/5 stars.  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Recent Reads Round-up (a little bit of this, a little bit of that...)

I've been casting my reader net far and wide this year to enjoy not only different genres a bite at a time but also different mediums (audiobooks, ebooks, graphic novels, the ever lovable paperbacks etc.) and this batch of books encapsulates a little bit of this.

Book: Villain by Kosaku Yoshinda
Publisher Harvill Secker
Length 293
Format softcover
Published 2009
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Villain, a Japanese crime novel by renowned author Kosaku Yoshida, but came away pleasantly surprised and satisfied. Despite a slow start, Villain evolved into an interesting contemporary crime novel which encapsulated all aspects of the crime by giving page time to the victim, their family, outsiders, suspects, and the murderer themselves. Interestingly enough, the police investigation and the procedural aspects commonly associated with crime fiction are minimally described in the book – in a good way, allowing the characters and their own stories to take hold. 

My rating: 3.5/5 stars

Book: XO Manowar: Solider by Matt Kindt
Publisher Valiant 
Length 65 pages
Format graphic novel
Published 2017
Series XO Manowar (1-3)
My Copy I bought it

My Review

The re-imaging of Valiant’s premier character into an off-world solider conscripted to fight in a war he’s got limited historical context of is a sound move that pays off big time. Not only does a new world allow for the creation of new characters and stories but it gives the alien armor wearing superhero a fresh start with a definitive sci-fi kick; pitting XO against unknown foes and establishing a whole new life for the character without the hang-ups of his earlier earth and space escapades in the connected comics universe. I wouldn't call this a soft-reboot, rather a new direction which looks sure to pay dividends for long-time and new readers of the series (previously written by Robert Venditti). Additionally, the art is superb and complements the storytelling to provide an atmospheric bloodthirsty tale. 

My rating: 5/5 stars

Book: Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Publisher Buzzy Multimedia
Length 8hrs 1min
Format audiobook
Published 2009
Series The Dresden Files #1
My Copy borrowed from the library 

My Review
Harry Dresden is a refreshingly atypical private investigator; a wizard who doesn’t take himself too seriously. In Storm Front, Harry’s dismal job prospects get a boost with two cases thrown his way in quick succession.  The first takes him to a brutal murder scene courtesy of the Chicago P.D where a man and woman have been killed in the act of sex – their hearts seeming to explode from inside their bodies. The second is a little more subdued; a missing husband, having walked out on wife for no apparent reason. The wife, concerned for her husband’s safety contacts Harry hoping he can find some answers.   

Harry is a character who is easy to like. He's funny, good at his job, and down to earth - Jim Butcher has steered clear of the sometimes seedy and pensive P.I in favor of this approach which complements the tone if this book perfectly. Whilst the supporting cast is relatively stock-standard; a cop and a journalist, the magical element adds a vampire madam and a mystical gatekeeper of sorts, and perhaps best of all, is a spirit bound to a skull - each is well written and adds a little something in their own way. 

The linear plot made it easy to concentrate on the story with little by way of deviation, it's a kind of fast food for the mind, easily consumable and a quick read (or listen). I'll definitely check out more books in the series.  

My rating: 3.5/5 stars

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE by Stieg Larsson

Publisher Quercus
Length 569 pages
Format softcover
Published 2009
Series Millennium #2
My Copy I bought it

My Review
The Girl Who Played With Fire (an apt title if ever there was one, Lisbeth certainly plays with fire in this one, albeit retrospectively) reads more like a traditional crime novel, as apposed to its predecessor, this isn't a bad thing but it does make for repetitive reading at times as a result of the three pronged approach to a triple homicide investigation. 

A couple writing a thesis and book respectively which exposes powerful people across political and police professions of their involvement in illegal sex trafficking and using/abusing underage prostitutes are found dead, the murder weapon seemingly discarded nearby with Lisbeth's prints all over it. Shortly after the macabre discovery, there's another murder, Lisbeth's guardian and former abuser is found gunned down. Three murders all linked to Lisbeth; the police have their chief suspect. However, head of Millennium, Mikael Blomkvist knows Lisbeth is innocent and sets out to complete the work of the murdered couple, hoping to find evidence along the way which will clear Lisbeth's name and bring her out from hiding. 

Author Stieg Larsson explores Lisbeth's childhood and teen years prior to the earlier novel which provided a greater insight into a very unique and interesting character. The past events link to the current day setting beautifully, giving the story more depth than it had on face value. The book also takes into account what transpired in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for added plot devises and context to the murder investigations - this was well written and provided a nice sense of continuity to the Millennium series. 

My rating: 4/5 stars. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review: A MAN OF SHADOWS by Jeff Noon

Publisher Angry Robot
Length 384 pages
Format ebook
Published 2017
Series John Nyquist #1
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
A Man of Shadows is a surreal detective book which blends popular elements of the fantastical and private-eye genres to form a uniquely stylized story about a missing woman and the contrasting cityscapes of Dayzone and Nocturna of which she ventures. There's a lot of imagination infused in the dime-store detective facade that brings complexities conceived through clever concepts and well thought-out plot devices which make A Man of Shadows a joy to read.

Rather than go into full 'review mode' I thought I'd highlight the pros and cons of this book. This is something I'll likely do with other surreal detective books, given I love the genre and generally dig the added fantastically elements.

- Nocturna and Dayzone are atmospheric cityscapes which add another dimension to the story.
- The characters are well defined and, as a commonly used term on my blog 'read real' 
- Nyquist is an interesting protagonist who conforms to all the lone wolf stereotypes commonly associated with a private detective. 
- The idea that people can purchase a timezone that best suits them and that they can change this when they please is great. 
- High reread value. 

- The story got a little weird and off track in the 'dusk' (the mysterious landscape between Nocturna and Dayzone). 
-  The family drama aspect detracted from Nyquist and changed the feel of the book.

My rating: 3.5 / 5, could be a 4 and might end up that way as time passes. This is a book full of interesting concepts that will resonate with the reader long after the last page is turned. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Pick Up A Pulp [20]: DON'T CRY FOR ME by William Campbell Gault

Originally published in 1952 and later by Prologue Books in 2012 (I'm sure there's a bunch of editions in between) Don't Cry for Me by William Campbell Gault is a murder mystery that doesn't really feel like a murder mystery. 

The story focuses on Pete Worden, a former high school (or maybe college - it's not overly clear which) football star who spends his time doing a whole lot of nothing. Being a bum for a living makes being respectable a challenge, and there's only so long you can bask in the glory days of semi-pro football. It's only when Ellen, Pete's steady girlfriend, starts probing him about his plans for the future, specially plans for getting a job, that Pete peaks out from the curtain of long time unemployment and childish apprehension and squints at the real world laid bare before him. What does Pete see? An underworld heavy with an eye for 'talent' and a desire to bring Pete and the lovely Ellen under his wing.

A chance encounter with a rough type at one of Nicks parties results in Pete slugging the guy and making out with a pocket full of gambled-earned cash. Suddenly his long term prospects look on the up, until the rough guy ends up in Pete's apartment with a knife in his neck.     

Don't Cry for Me didn't start well, got better in the middle and then drifted into delirium in the later stages before finishing up ok. That's really all there is to this book - it's not bad, nor is it particularly good - it's an ok, average pulp that has a couple of nice scenes and well written characters marred by a plot that felt like is lost its way a little at times. 

There are better pulps out there but if you've got this one sitting around it's worth a read.

My rating: 2.5/5 stars 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: PURGATORY by Ken Bruen

Publisher Transworld Books
Length 348 pages
Format paperback
Published 2013
Series Jack Taylor #10
My Copy I bought it

My Review
I usually read the Jack Taylor books as soon as they are published but for some reason Purgatory slipped through. Now I'm finally getting around to it as part of rereading the series and it was well worth the wait.

Purgatory feels like a tipping point in the Jack Taylor series, one which looks set to transition the tainted yet endearing protagonist from one phase of his life to another darker phase - which is saying something given Jack sure hasn't had it easy to this point.

The focus is on a mysterious vigilante working under the name C33 who tries court Jack and Stewart into joining their murderous past time to rid criminals and underworld types from the street.

Then there's Jack's interesting love/hate working relationship with a sly billionaire named Reardon who hires Jack to find out who's leaking trade secrets to his competitors. Jack not only gets handed a bundle of cash for his troubles but is also introduced to a femme fatale in Kelly, a take-charge character who has Jack falling for her in jig time; she's Reardon's assistant and plays a large part in Purgatory; one of the freshest new characters to enter the series in a while. 

Purgatory has a number of jaw dropping scenes adding fuel to a series full of jaw dropping moments. Long time readers of Jack Taylor won't forget this book in a long time.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pick of the Month [June 2017]

A little late but here's my pick of month for June 2017 blog post - and what an awesome reading month it was! I read 17 books (my most since January, in which I also read 17 books) but it's not all about getting notches under my belt, I'd rather read quality over quantity any day, luckily I read (or listened to) a heap of good books making this month the toughest month to pick. 

It was very hard to separate a number of books so I'm rolling with both Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which I listened to, and Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente. Both of these books got me at just the right time and I enjoyed the hell out of them. 

I read Ten Dead Comedians after finishing a disturbing (and very well written) true crime The Spider and the Fly by Claudia Rowe and was in need of something more lighthearted and fun. Fred Van Lente did a great job with this book and I highly recommend it for readers who are in need of something a little different and less macabre in their crime fiction (don't worry, there's still a decent amount of murder and mystery going on here). You can read my review HERE on Goodreads.

I was late to party in reading (listening to) Ready Player One but had heard so many good things about it, thankfully the book lived up to, and then surpassed my expectations. A great read that will no doubt end up in my 'top 10 list' at years' end. You can read the review HERE.

Other books I rated 5 stars in June in no particular order:

A couple of rereads also featured
  • Headstone by Ken Bruen - the 9th book in the Jack Taylor series, gets better with each read
  • Welcome to the Bayou by Victor Gischler (graphic novel) - I love what Gischler does here when given the keys to the Punisher castle. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Review: OCTOBER IS THE COLDEST MONTH by Christoffer Carlsson

Publisher Scribe
Length 192 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
I've got a feeling this book could be one of the sleeper hits of the year, particularly for those readers who enjoy dark rural settings and tainted yet endearing characters. 

October is the Coldest Month has a rural noir feel akin to Daniel Woodrell; it's not quite Winter's Bone or Tomato Red in terms of plotting but it is deep in character and atmosphere.

The focus is on 16 year old Vega, a school kid street smart in a country way who unwillingly becomes an accessory to murder. When the police come knocking on her mother's door in search of Vega's older brother Jakob, she knows her secret is out and it's only a matter of time before her family is torn apart for a second time; the first being the death of her father. 

October is the Coldest Month is a quick read that will resonate with the reader long after the last page is turned. Vega is a character I just want to read more of, along with backstory snippets of past conflict over land and the illegal making of moonshine, these's a whole lot more to this book that begs for a second volume. 

My rating: 5/5 stars 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review: READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline

Publisher Random House Audiobooks
Length 15hrs 40mins
Format audiobook
Published 2012
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Ready Player One envelopes the reader in a warm and comfy haze of 1980’s nostalgia, complete with pop culture references through a detailed exploration of early generation home gaming consoles, TV shows, movies and fashion. 

Set some 60 years after the 80’s, Ready Player One focuses on a lonesome young man named Wade Watts - an avid gamer who lives inside the Oasis (a massive multi-player online game) more than he does the real world, as he embarks on a hunt for an elusive egg hidden by the games developer before he died. 

This isn't some simple side-mission to kill time, finding the egg will bring fame and fortune to the lucky treasure hunter - in both the real world as well as online. Hindering Wade's chances of being the first to discover the egg is an evil corporation of cookie-cutter gamers known as the Sixers; a conglomerate of generic gamers with no personality or unique avatar - they are the public minions of corporate evil. 

Ready Player One is a nerd boy (or girls) dream. Even readers who don't 'get' all the nerdy references will still get a sense of time and place, and how these 80's relics play a huge part in the overall story and Wade's race to be top of the leader-board. 

I loved everything about it - the plotting, characters, pacing, narration - all of it. 

My rating: 5/5 stars 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Midyear Best of Crime Fiction [Published 2017]

2017 has already provided some memorable crime fiction reads. This year, more than others, I've been reading a lot of the newer books (this despite my TBR continuing to overflow) which feels refreshing; I can talk about the hot new book just on or about to be on the shelves with fellow readers rather than playing catch-up (though there's a fair amount of this going on still - such is the life of an avid reader). In no particular order below is my list of the best of a very good bunch with some honorable mentions thrown in:

Little Deaths by Emma Flint (published January) - review HERE

The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea (published April) - review HERE

Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love (published March) - review HERE

Crimson Lake by Candice Fox (published January) - review HERE

Marlborough Man by Alan Carter (published June) - review HERE

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham (to be published in July)  - review HERE

Honorable mentions:

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith (published Feb) - review HERE

The Girl in Kellers Way by Megan Goldin (published May) - review HERE

Something For Nothing by Andy Muir (published Feb) - review HERE

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