Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: SLEEPING BEAUTIES by Stephen King & Owen King

Publisher Hodder & Stoughton
Length 736 pages
Format softcover
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

This tome is big on characters but slow moving on plot. As a constant reader, I knew there would be a heap of backstory and character development in Sleeping Beauties, a fact made up front in the softcover edition which immediately shows some 3 pages at the beginning of the book listing the characters and their primary setting in the story. Don't let this deter you, I found the volume of characters, while daunting at first, to be manageable, with each memorable in their own way and each (for the most part) contributing to the broader story. 

The basis of the book is a simple 'what if' scenario come true; what if males were left to their own devices in a world devoid of females? One day women the world over went to sleep and didn't wake, rather falling into a deep slumber with a silky cocoon forming over their bodies. Nobody but a mysterious woman who ends up in a prison seems to know anything about the phenomena - the result is madness with law enforcement resembling a gang of unbridled bullies and the inhabitants of the small town where the book is set turning murderous without cause. 

As with any Stephen King book (and in this instance, Owen King too) there's an element of strangeness to it - that's where the fantastical really kicks in - equally enjoyable as the town loosing-the-plot aspect. 

Despite its size, Sleeping Beauties reads quite quick, at no point did I feel I was slogging through pages despite the plot seeming to plod along, in fact it was the opposite, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!

My rating: 4/5 stars. Perhaps cutting back on a couple characters would've helped with the flow but it's a minor gripe really. I dug this book. 

Review: DRAGON TEETH by Michael Crichton

Not what I was expecting. Dragon Teeth is a western with some dinosaur discovery and bone chasing thrown in to fatten up the plot; this is by no means a bad thing, but something just didn't gel with me. It was as if two books converged into one with the Western aspect dominating what could've been an interesting story relegated to a bit part. 

A times, Dragon Teeth read as a piece of non-fiction with loads of historical context written in such a way that it threatened to override the fiction. I recommend reading big chucks at a time rather than bite size sittings here and there as the story tends to flow better when consumed in few sittings.

The book follows Yale student William Johnson as he traverses the wild west in search of dinosaur bones while avoiding the arrows of Indians and the hidden agendas of his fellow travelers, and for the most part, his sojourn is entertaining, however William aside, none of the supporting characters seemed to have enough development to make them memorable.

Don't get me wrong, Dragon Teeth isn't a bad book, I'm happy I read it but I was hoping for more given Crishton's other books were of such a high standard.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Pick Up A Pulp [27]: BLONDE ON THE ROCKS by Carter Brown

Rick Holman is a Hollywood private eye with an eye for dames and danger. In Blonde On The Rocks, the lone-wolf crusader is hired by black-listed starlet Della August to find out why she's be hexed by the film industry, and as a side dish, to look into the circumstances surrounding her partners apparent suicide - its the film angle that matters more for Della which naturally rubs Rick the wrong way, that, and the fishy tale she's been feeding him - something doesn't add up and it's up to Rick to do the math.

Unlike most Carter Brown mysteries with series-established protagonists (Danny Boyd, Al Wheeler etc.), this Rick Holman mystery has a strong sense of continuity with preceding volumes, and while it does read well as a standalone, there are some characters who would've read better with having context of the earlier books. I've read a few Holman mysteries but couldn't place some of the characters who pop up here in there; namely police officers and film bit-players.

Blonde On The Rocks is pretty much what you'd expect from a pulp published in the 1960's (1963 to be exact); dames to die for, a protagonist to root for, a mystery to sink your teeth into, and a list of suspects each with something to gain from Della's partners death. Set amid the glamour and glitz of Hollywood, this book makes for entertaining reading; sex sells and the Rick Holman mystery cashes in.

My rating: 3.5/5 - nothing unexpected but a damn fun piece of pulp. 

If you liked this, you may want to check out one of my favorite pulps, The Scarlet Flush. Click on the link to read the review.

Pick up a Pulp [14]: The Scarlet Flush by Carter Brown

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review: VAMPIRELLA VOL 2: A MURDER OF CROWS by Eric Trautmann

Publisher Dynamite

Length 120 pages
Format Trade
Published 2012
Series Vampirella (2011)
My Copy I bought it

While not as meaty as the first volume, Crown of Worms, A Murder of Crows continues the action orientated theme of the series, this time pitting Vampirella against a trio of avian horrors hell bent on destroying her.

Some broader plot elements are starting to take shape here as the series plants seeds for the long haul. Hints are dropped about Vampirella’s mysterious agent, the person/organisation who assigns her missions while also further exploring the sci-fi elements and other worldly connections Vampirella has. Personally I would’ve liked to see more emphasis on pulply horror, luckily the last issue in this collection caters to that niche with Sofia taking part in an exorcism.

Overall this is an ok second arc made better by the semi-standalone issue rounding out the book. 3/5 stars.   

You can read my review of the first volume by clinking the link below:

Review: Vampirella Vol.1 - Crown of Worms

Review: WRAITH by Joe Hill

Publisher IDW
Length 174 pages
Format Comixology
Published 2014
Series Wraith (#1-7)
My Copy I bought it

Readers of NOS4A2 will be familiar with Christmasland and other concepts written into Joe Hill's terrifying graphic novel, The Wraith which features Charlie Manx, a character ripped from the punchlines of nightmares who takes lost children to a mythical place where happiness is always and death is a suggestion not a promise.

The story follows a band of escaped criminals to their eventual destination where death and misery await. Manx is well written but its the children that steal the show for me - drawn to scare and written to haunt; a great addition to the horror genre. 

The first and seventh single issues in the collection are nice bookends that provide context and character to the story. While these may put some readers off given the more literary tone of them, I thought they worked quite well.

It's been some time since I read NOS4A2 (3 years in fact) but that didn't detract in anyway from enjoying this book. Read it as a standalone or as a companion piece to the novel, either/or work well. 

My rating: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Review: ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card

Publisher Macmillan Audio
Length 11hrs 57mins
Format audiobook
Published 2002 (audio edition) 
Series The Ender Quintet #1
My Copy borrowed from the library

Ender Wiggin is a child genius; recruited into a military organisation he is trained, tested to his limits, tortured, and eventually assumes a commanding post in mankind's fight against an alien race. While a hard pill to swallow at times (after all Ender is just six years old for the better part of the book), Ender's Game reads remarkably well; it's well written, Ender especially, but the thing that really won me over was how the author made Ender's rise plausible, that the reader could suspend belief enough to actually believe a child could lead Earth against an invasion. 

I listened to the audio edition which had multiple narrators. Ender's brother and sister's narrators fit the tone of siblings perfectly, while Peter and Valentine are young they are still older than Ender, yet the narrator behind Ender's portion of the book sounded too old and just didn't sync with the six year old voice the book tried to deliver. That aside, Ender's Game is very enjoyable and I'll certainly be tracking more books set in this sci-fi universe, starting with Ender's Shadow.

My rating: 3.5/5, I suspect the print book would've garnered a higher rating here but as I'm reviewing the audio, this is where the book sits with me. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Review: HER by Garry Disher

Publisher Hachette Australia
Length 209 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy borrowed from the library

Her is an atmospheric and enveloping timepiece of early 1900’s Australia where isolation and deprivation are all, and trinkets and compliments are commodities unheard of for the youth central to this story.

I've not read many books that have had such a lasting effect as the characters, Lily in particular, has on me. Sold to the man commonly referred to as the ’Scrap Man’ as a child, Lily knows nothing but the harshness of his hand and word alike. Living on an farm, somewhat segregated from the greater population, Lily, Big Girl, Wife and Scrap Man carve out a living by making goods of questionable quality and selling them to unsuspecting buys in various towns throughout Victoria.

This is a dark and unnerving book at times that has a broader message of family and resilience that isn't fully realized until after the book is finished.

Her is full of complex and lyrical prose and is a joy to read.  

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

Review: OUR DARK DUET by V. E. Schwab

Publisher Titan
Length 470 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series Monsters of Verity #2
My Copy provided by the publisher

Do not read this book until you've read This Savage Song, the first book in the Monsters of Verity series.

Our Dark Duet closely follows the events of the preceding book with Kate Harker in a Prosperity, a city yet to be overcome by the hoard of monsters who've ruined her hometown Verity, and August now a well established leader of the Flynn Task Force, both hunting down monsters and risking their lives in separate cities. 

Building upon the horrors of This Savage Song, Our Dark Duet introduces another kind of menace in the night; a dark shadow with the ability to turn humans on one another, a Chaos Eater that thrives on violence. 

Our Dark Duet also introduces The Wardens who play a bit part but leave a last impression while also firmly establishing the lore associated with the three kinds (now four) of monsters set in this interesting fictional landscape. 

I loved every page of this book and hope the author returns to this series. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

You can also read my review of This Savage Song by clicking the link below

Review: This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: VAMPIRELLA VOL 1: CROWN OF WORMS by Eric Trautmann

Publisher Dynamite Entertainment
Format trade
Published 2011
Series Vampirella (2011) (#1-7)
My Copy I bought it
Length 144 pages

I've had limited exposure to Vampirella aside from the odd single issue comic here and there, as a result, I wasn't sure what to expect from the 2011 series iteration by Dynamite. Volume 1 of the series, Crown of Worm, comprises the first 7 issues and is chock full of fight scenes and reads more like an action based story rather than the pulp-horror story the character lends herself to. 

The story picks up Vampirella as a hero well entrenched in her quest for vengeance following the presumed death of her partner Van Helsing as she hunts down her fellow vampires and proceeds to steadily eradicate them. 

There are some interesting and well written characters introduced in this volume as well as Dracula himself but the one who I most enjoyed reading (Vampirella aside) was Sofia, a human in the wrong place at the right time who is quickly established as a faithful sidekick. Issue 7 provides the reader with a greater inside into her character and is a highlight of the story arc. 

The artwork is great and fits the tone of the book very well. The characters are sharp and the backgrounds are detailed. The coloring captures the night-time feel and Vampirella's costume really pops and is an eye catcher, as intended.  

My rating: 3.5/5. I think this iteration of Vampirella is still trying to decide what kind of series it wants to be. There are some horror, action, paranormal, superhero and sci-fi elements all floating around without any taking hold of the story at this stage. I picked this up as part of the recent Humble Bundle offer and wasn't disappointed. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pick Up A Pulp [26]: DEADLY WEAPON by Wade Miller

On face value, Deadly Weapon reads as a typical hardboiled detective novel with a take-charge protagonist who is both a magnet for violence and an attraction for women.

Private detective Walter James is on the hunt for a murderer, seeking revenge for the brutal slaying of his partner. While following a lead he finds himself embroiled in another murder, this time, a ticket-taker at a theater who is knifed without a witness in a packed house. In a confidential sequence of events the two murders become linked with Walter James right in the thick of the action.

The murder mystery at the forefront of the post war era pulp surrounds the ticket-taker and his later discovered involvement in drug trafficking as the investigation steadily ties threads together to form a patch-work of crime far more complex than what was advertised. 

The dialogue is a little dated but you know what you're getting into with pulp era detective books so its excusable and should be enjoyed for what it is. There's also the over-the-top love interest Kevin who falls for Walter James in record time, declaring herself his after a day or two of meeting our slim leading man, but the character plays the part of the breathless damsel in distress to perfection, credit to Wade Miller.

The biggest selling point for Deadly Weapon is the twist which smacks the reader in the face and, to me at least, was completely out of left field - I didn't see it coming and the book is far better read for it.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars, another pulp worth picking up. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: BECOMING BONNIE by Jenni L. Walsh

Publisher Macmillan Audio
Length 12hrs
Format audiobook
Published 2017
Series Bonnie #1
My Copy I bought it

My Review

Becoming Bonnie is not the crime novel you might think, rather, author Jenni L Walsh cleverly blends fact and fiction to depict the rise of this deadly duo in the early 1920’s with both characters finding their feet in the world of crime as well as each other. 

Starting with being seduced by the risky allure of a speak easy through childhood friend Blanch, Bonnie steadily sheds her cocoon of apprehension to embrace the illegal den while expanding her circle of friends to include Buck and later, Clyde – two characters in the book who are both fearsome and likable at the same time. 

Overtime, Bonnie becomes exposed to bullets, brawls, and bloodshed and later ends up in the arms of Clyde. There’s no robbing of banks or shot outs with cops here, Becoming Bonnie is all about Bonnie growing into a household name outlaw with Clyde largely a bit player. I loved it and can’t wait for the follow-up. 

A note on the audiobook: Becoming Bonnie is narrated by Susan Bennett who gives voice to Bonnie and adds to her tainted innocence in a near perfect performance. For the extra dose of atmosphere I recommend the audio edition. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Pick Up A Pulp [25]: BABY MOLL by John Farris

Former mob enforcer Peter Mallory is lured back to the mob by his former boss who is being targeted by a killer hell bent on revenge. Not only is there an omnipresent threat of an assassination looming over the head of the mob boss, his once powerful empire is crumbling before his eyes. The sharks smell blood in the water and are making moves to take a bigger piece of the illegal pie.

Baby Moll isn't so much about the mob related crime and underworld antics that accompany such illegal endeavors, rather, it’s a story about Peter Mallory and his wanting to rid himself of the life so badly, that he comes out of retirement one last time before transitioning into the straight and narrow.

As with any pulp there’s a couple of dames to die for and this one's also got some that’ll do plenty of killing themselves; their bodies as dangerous as bullets. Peter takes full advantage of the wanton women despite his proclamations of love for his fiancee; the one he left behind to take this last job and ends up on both sides of the equation; equal parts lust and danger. 

Baby Moll is a pretty decent pulp and I'm happy Hard Case Crime published this as part of the imprint. I've now read it twice and enjoyed it equally both times. Opening chapter aside, Baby Moll is near pitch perfect pulp with a sprinkling of quasi PI thrown in for good measure. 

My rating: 4/5 stars - pick up this pulp.       

Friday, October 6, 2017

Pick of the Month [September 2017]

September was a record reading month for 2017, somehow I managed to read/listen to a whopping 19 books! Granted, quite a few of these were a lot shorter than books I typically read so the stats are a little padded. 

Despite getting through so much print, this is the first month where my pick of the bunch has been clear cut and it's yet another audio book, goes to show I'm loving this medium of storytelling this year (being my first year of giving it a try). 

Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson is a must read for fans of the new Star Wars canon of books. It gives the character from The Force Awakens a hardened edge and depth that was lacking from the movie and builds the anticipation for her portrayal in the upcoming movie The Last Jedi. The audio production was cinematic-like in its quality, very happy I took the plunge and bought the audio rather than print edition, I think it added so much more to the atmosphere of the book (which is damn good to being with). 

You can read my review of Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson here.

Other books I read in September which I rated 5 stars on Goodreads are as follows:

Peepland by Christa Faust and Garry Phillips - gritty crime fiction on the Deuce 

Green Hell by Ken Bruen - the 11th book in the Jack Taylor series 

Killer Tease by Danny Hogan - (reread) pulp/crime fiction

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Recent Reads Round-Up: Crime Time!

I've been catching up on some crime fiction which has been sitting in my TBR pile for far too long. The below continues the great trend of 2017 reads in the genre for me.

Shakedown by Charlie Stella - 4/5 stars

Charlie Stella is near the top of the list when it comes to writing colorful characters with great dialogue; as good as Elmore Leonard as you can get. Shakedown is another top notch ride through mafia land, this time featuring a recently released (and reformed?) bookkeeper who is the victim of a shakedown courtesy of the new brass. The book is fast paced and loaded with great moments and memorable characters.   

A Walk Among The Tombstones by Lawrence Block 4/5 stars

While A Walk Among The Tombstones is the tenth book in the Matt Scudder series, this reads perfectly well as a standalone (which is great as I've only dabbled with this series intermittently). The darker side of crime fiction is on display here as Scudder becomes involved in kidnapping case which has left a drug trafficker a widower and another underworld type minus a beloved daughter. Not for the faint of heart, Block writes with a poisoned pen positioning Scudder in the thick of a grisly case which leads to some memorable and pulse pounding moments.  

Soho Sins by Richard Vine 5 stars

Soho Sins is not what I was expecting - in a good way. The art world is full of danger darting behind dark corners ready to pounce on the young and vulnerable; there’s a deceptively deadly undercurrent of menace for the means to accumulate wealth through exploitation and extermination. Narrated through art dealer and property mogul Jackson Wyeth’s viewpoint, Soho Sins showcases something a little different from other books in the Hard Case Crime series which continues to diversity its range of books. There’s a sense that the narrator isn't entirely truthful nor as clear cut as he’s portrayed with some cut scenes of him dabbling in debauchery and thinking impure thoughts of which he should not conjure; it’s a far more involved mystery than the synopsis lets on. 

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