Saturday, November 25, 2017

Review: LEIA, PRINCESS OF ALDERAAN by Claudia Gray

Publisher Hardie Grant Egmont
Length 409 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series Star Wars
My Copy I bought it

Claudia Gray is hands down the best author to pen stories of our favorite galactic princess. In Bloodline (published 2016) Leia is more scoundrel than prim and proper royalty; a take charge field-like operative who isn't afraid to risk it all for the greater good. In Leia, Princess of Alderaan, we see the origin of these traits while showcasing her penchant for politics.

At 16, Leia is still learning though is more wise than most, her persona a perfect graft of that young woman in A New Hope albeit less battle-hardened.

Tarkin continues to have pivotal roles in the new cannon books (even his cameos feel significant such is his persona) and his role here is a continuation of that. 

As with Rogue One (2016 book/film), Leia, Princess of Alderaan enhances A New Hope, in particular that famous Tarkin/Leia interaction and the destruction of Alderaan. These two have a history spanning back to this books early foray into the universe of politics through the Apprentice Legislature of which Leia is a member and Tarkin a mentor-type. With each new canon book the Star Wars lore gets a bump; there's even a couple of nice throwaway lines about Saw Gerrera's militia (Catalyst, Rogue One) as Easter eggs which strengthen the continuity bonds.  

Politics and the early formation of the Rebel Alliance along with Leia's journey to becoming a leader among her peers are key elements to this book. This is also the most I've read of Breha Organa, Leia's adoptive mother who seems like a very strong character and pivotal piece in the conflicts to come.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars, a good origin story of one of the most popular characters in the Star Wars universe. 

You can read my review of Bloodline by clicking the link below: 

Review: BLOODLINE by Claudia Gray

Friday, November 24, 2017

Review: ARTEMIS by Andy Weir

Publisher Audible Studios
Length 8hrs 59mins
Format audiobook
Published 2017
Series Standalone
My Copy I bought it

This was excellent. Loved the setting, the anti-hero in Jazz Bashara, the plot, the narration by Rosario Dawson; basically everything about the book. 

Set on the Moon, the frontier-like city of Artemis is home to a few thousand people. The city has reached its peak capacity and there is no potential for growth given infrastructure and commodities are in short supply/demand - tourist trade aside. When an opportunity too good to be true arises which could make Jazz a millionaire still thinks about it...for a nanosecond before signing up. The drawback? The get-rich-quick-scheme involves the sabotage of company Sanchez Aluminium - who happen to play a part in supplying Artemis with oxygen.

What could possibly go wrong? 

A lot. 

Jazz isn't the typical hero, she is, after all, trying to bankrupt a company for her personal gain and that of a wealthy friend of hers, yet she has loads of endearing qualities and is a likable and feisty character perfectly portrayed by narrator Rosario Dawson. 

The ensemble cast are well written and each comes with their own backstory and unique perspective of life on the moon, but it's Jazz who takes center stage as one of the more memorable characters I've read in a while - one I hope to read more of.

I've not read Andy Weir's other popular sci-fi, The Martian, but if Artemis is anything to go by, I'll have to give it a try. 

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review: BORNE by Jeff VanderMeer

Publisher Fourth Estate
Length 336 pages
Format hardcover
Published 2017
Series Standalone
My Copy I bought it

I wasn't sure I was going to like Borne early on. The setting is clearly post extension level event (ELE) and the characters; two scavengers who live off odd and difficult-to-imagine biotech / hybrid organic/man-made food gave little away by means of personality or purpose (other than to eat enough to make it through to the next day). 

Then there's the huge flying bear described as being three stories tall that roams the skies and decimates the landscape when it lands by the name of Mord - a creation of an elusive though often referenced 'Company' which is hard to imagine and harder swallow with any degree of plausibility. 

Lastly, there's Borne. He/she/it is something altogether different and highly imaginative; I'm thinking a blob-like entity but more colorful and personable. Borne doesn't do a lot early on. 

So with that opening I wasn't sure if I was into the book. But this is Jeff VanderMeer and his books haven't let me down previously so I read on - and I'm glad I did as this is one heck of a read that really pulls on the readers heartstrings and slowly evolves into something completely different from what I was expecting. 

Borne is a deeply driven character story that uses a post ELE setting to its advantage; not only as a means to introduce weird creatures but also to convey a struggle that has the reader rooting for the leading characters. There's great character development and some real emotion written into the interactions between Rachel and Borne which often set the plot spiraling in another direction. 

My rating: 5/5 stars - I highly recommend reading Borne, it's one of my best finds of 2017. 

You can read my reviews of the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer by clicking on the below links:

Review: ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer (book 1)

Review: AUTHORITY by Jeff VanderMeer (book 2)

Review: ACCEPTANCE by Jeff VanderMeer (book 3)

Books I'm Looking Forward To Reading in 2018 [Part 1]

Sure, 2017 still has a month and some change left but I'm already looking forward to what promises to be an exciting slate of novels scheduled to be published in 2018. Here's some that have come across my radar for next year:

The Extremist by Nadia Dalbuono (January, Scribe) - The fourth Leone Scamarcio novel. 

Normandy Gold by Megan Abbott (January, Titan Comics) - I've been waiting for this since the days of the Vertigo Crime graphic novels. It took a while but the book finally found a home with publisher Titan Comics. Can't wait. 

Redemption Point by Candice Fox (February, Penguin Random House) - I loved Crimson Lake

Help I Am Being Held Prisoner by Donald Westlake (February, Hard Case Crime) - Another Westalke book gets the reprint treatment by Hard Case Crime. 

The Line Becomes A River by Francisco Cantu (February, Penguin Random House) - A memoir from a Mexican-American US Border Patrol guard. I've always been fascinated by these tales and look forward to reading more about this dangerous border posting. 

Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz (February, Penguin Random House) - Orphan X was my new series find of 2017 and this third installment looks just as promising as the earlier books in the series in Orphan X and The Nowhere Man. 

The Last Stand by Mickey Spillane (March, Hard Case Crime) - billed as the last complete novel by Mickey Spillane. 

Side By Side: A Novel of Bonnie Parker by Jenni L. Walsh (June, Forge) - Becoming Bonnie was great. I'll be getting the audiobook edition (finger crossed Susan Bennett narrates once again). 

Felix Culpa by Jeremy Gavron (June, Scribe) - I like to take a chance on a book or two (usually many more) that's a little outside my already eclectic tastes and this is one. You had me at the blurb:

In Felix Culpa, Jeremy Gavron has conjured up a work of extraordinary literary alchemy: a detective novel made out of phrases and sentences from a hundred other books. It follows a writer on the trail of a dead boy recently released from prison. But in searching for the boy's story, will be lose his own?  

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (July, Pan MacMillan) - a new Megan Abbott book? I don't even need to read the blurb. Instant pre-order. The recent book You Will Know Me was great by the way. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Publisher Titan
Length 508 pages
Format softcover
Published 2016
Series Shades of Magic #2
My Copy I bought it

The second book in the Shades of Magic series sees Red London fall back into a pattern of normalcy following the dark and deadly evens of the preceding book, where the effects of black magic turned the city upside down and nearly severed the ties that bind Kell to the royal family. Interestingly enough, those same binds now link Kell and Rhy with their bond stronger than ever.  

The element games is a tournament designed to bring the most gifted magicians from all over the world together as a means of showcasing their prowess for the 5 elements as well as serving as a political tool to maintain peace throughout the three powerful territories. Through this tournament we gain greater insight into the world beyond Red London and the varying degrees of magic the attendees are able to wield. 

I particularly liked the introduction of three new characters which look set to have a greater impact in the next book given how this book panned out. Ojka, Alucard and a dark and menacing character from Black London complimented the original cast in Kell, Rhy, Lila and Holland. 

While A Gathering of Shadows isn't as action packed as A Darker Shade of Magic nor does it pack the same inter-dimensional travel punch as the preceding volume it does set the stage for a very interesting installment in A Conjuring of Light while also giving characters like Rhy and Lila time to grow and develop into important figures in Kell's life. 

My rating: 5/5 - this is a great take on magic that has all the elements of being a great series.  

You can read my review of the first book, A Darker Shade of Magic by clinking on the link below:

Review: A DARKER SHARD OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Publisher Scribe Publications
Length 384 pages
Format softcover
Published 2017
Series Kopp Sisters #3
My Copy provided by the publisher

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions is a cozy historical crime fiction (think cozy mystery without the mystery).

Despite being the third book in the series, Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessionals reads well as a standalone. The main characters come with baggage but there's enough backstory included in the present day setting that the reader doesn't feel lost with what's happened in the previous books. 

Constance is an interesting character and the author ensures she gets page time not only in relation to the passages involving the crimes but also in her personal setting, notably when her daughter runs away to join a stage show and the ensuing hunt to track her down. I did like the somewhat humorous aspect to this side show.    

Set in 1916, the book provides insight into the laws of the time which seem ridiculous by modern standards, in particular two cases of young women who are charged for waywardness, incorrigibility and moral depravity. Whilst not much happens in this space from a crime perspective, the book delivers on character and charm. 

My rating: 2.5/5, it was ok. I found the book more interesting than entertaining but that's more to do my reading tastes rather than the book itself. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mike Hammer - Double Feature Pt. 1 Black Alley

Publisher Dutton
Length 234 pages
Format hardcover
Published 1996
Series Mike Hammer #13
My Copy I bought it

"You almost went down the black alley. Nobody comes back from there."

Black Alley is a hard book to rate on its own merits. In the opening pages we're introduced to a near dead Mike Hammer as he slowly recovers from multiple gunshot wounds. The cause and effect alludes to the reader having some prior knowledge of an ambiguous mob related shootout in which Mike took out the son of a prominent mob boss whilst also being laden with led himself. Through a foggy drug induced haze (thanks to Mike's drunken doctor), we also learn Mike is privy to a generational transition in the underworld which resulted in mob bosses dying in suspicious circumstances allowing the more ruthless and money hungry sons to take the helm. It feels like the reader is going into a story midway through.

Note - I've not read The Killing Man, book #12 in the Mike Hammer series (published 1989) so that book may provide some context to the mob shootout, I've bumped that book up the tbr pile (much like I did with Black Alley after reading King of the Weeds). 

The other thing that makes Black Alley hard to gauge as a standalone read is the fact that it reads better by virtue of having read King of the Weeds, the sequel co-authored with Max Allan Collins and published in 2014. It's almost as if these two books were intended to be a single volume and, had they been, I think the story would've read more complete. 

Black Alley does have a lot of things going for it. For one, the relationship between Mike and Velda is so heavily embedded in the plot the book almost reads as romance yet it's one of the more endearing qualities of the series and I'm glad this aspect to the long running series is given ample page time here. I've always liked Mike and Velda as a couple, and whilst they aren't married here, they're very much together with Mike the near perfect gentleman. 

Then there's the murder angle, a former mob gardener and war buddy of Mike's is killed; his death bed confession leads Mike down a rabbit warren to track down some 89 billion dollars worth of hidden mob cash - this in addition to Mike's personal vendetta to make the killers pay with blood for taking out his friend; it's Hammer true to form.

My rating: 3/5 stars. I recommend reading Black Alley and then following it up with King of the Weeds. 

Mike Hammer - Double Feature Pt. 2 King Of The Weeds

Publisher Titan
Length 320 pages
Format paperback
Published 2014
Series Mike Hammer #19
My Copy I bought it

Ageing Mike Hammer, more mellow but every bit as deadly survives an early assassination attempt on his life in the opening pages of King of the Weeds, a posthumously published Spillane book (and co-written by Max Allan Collins) which is the intended direct sequel to Black Alley (published 1996). 

The ties to Black Alley are evident but the authors do a great job in bringing the reader up to speed, however, I recommend reading Black Alley then King of the Weeds as there is a heap of good Hammer stuff mentioned/alluded to from the preceding volume - I didn't read Black Alley first but wish I had (fortunately I own a nice h/cover and have bumped Black Alley up the tbr pile). That said, King of the Weeds stands up fine in its own right as a self contained Hammer story. 

There are a few plot elements running parallel to one another here; the reason behind the assassination attempt and Hammers quest to find out who hired the hit, the case of a man seemingly wrongly convicted of multiple murders decades ago who has spent the better part of this life in jail, soon to be released following a death bed confession out of the blue, and lastly the hidden wealth of the mafia amounting to some 89 billion dollars - of which only Hammer and Velda know the location. 

This book as a lot going on, which in typical Hammer fashion, all eventually forge together in a hail of bullets. 

My rating: 3.5/5 - I like the way Hammer is portrayed here; he's still as dangerous as ever but age is creeping up on him, he's a step behind his former self and that is integrated into the story in a clever way. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Pulp Fan Achievement Unlocked: Blurbed on the new Carter Brown

Readers of this blog know I am a big fan of the Aussie pulps by Carter Brown (aka Alan Yates) so naturally I was over the moon to read that Stark House was going to reprint the first three Al Wheeler stories in a single volume - to quote Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor, I pre-ordered in 'jig time'. What I wasn't expecting to see when my order arrived in the post was a blurb on the back cover quoting one of my Carter Browns from this blog (when it was titled 'Just A Guy That Likes To Read)! 

See the circle on the imagine on the right, that's from this blog. The one on the left is the new cover to the Stark House collected volume. 

This book looks great and captures the reader's attention from the opening:

"Lieutenant!" The phone crackled with his emotions "I've just found a body."
"Well, go and loose it again," I snarled. "I don't want it."

Sounds a little like a Mike Hammer novel and you'd be right!

The introduction to the Stark House Press collection providers readers with a brief insight into the man who made Carter Brown a household name, for a more detailed look at the life of Alan Yates, check out his autobiography Ready When You Are CB...however, this collection is as good a place to start as any. 

Fingers crossed for reprints of the Danny Boyd books by Carter Brown - the debonair private detective has a little something that doesn't reach the pages of the Al Wheeler books. 

You can read some of my Carter Brown reviews by clicking on the below links. 

Review: The Cold Dark Hours by A.G. Yates (his rare non-pulp book)

Pick Up A Pulp [27]: Blonde On The Rocks by Carter Brown (a Rick Holman mystery)

Review: Target For Their Dark Desire (Al Wheeler series)

Pick Up A PULP [11]: The Hammer of Thor by Carter Brown (Al Wheeler series)

Pick Up A Pulp [18]: The Passionate Pagan by Carter Brown (Danny Boyd mysteries)

Pick Up A Pulp [14]: The Scarlet Flush (standalone)

Review: Lover, Don't Come Back! by Carter Brown (Danny Boyd mysteries)

Review: So, What Killed The Vampire (standalone)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Reread Review: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E Schwab

Publisher Titan
Length 384 pages
Format paperback
Published 2015
Series Shades of Magic #1
My Copy provided by the publisher

A Darker Shade of Magic is an inter-dimensional traveler story that, to an extent, captures the essence of China Mieville's The City and The City and is written in a style not dissimilar to Brent Weeks' the Night Angel Trilogy; fast paced and easily consumable.

The core fantastical element is the use of multiple London's which can be accessed by a scant few who have the ability to travel between these alternate cities, each with varying degrees of magic - Grey London for instance has very little to no magic whilst Black London, on the other end of the spectrum, is all but consumed by magic. The few who are able to travel to and fro are known as Antari, a dying breed of magicians. In A Darker Shade of Magic we're introduced to Kell, the protagonist and Holland, the antagonist (of sorts), each from different London's (Kell - Red, Hollan - White) and each equally powerful in the dying arts. The two make for an interesting dynamic and have a ying and yang presence throughout the book. 

The evil magic of black London is an omnipresent threat that, with the help of a couple of ruthless power-hungry royals from White London looks to break the pattern of peace and establish a new world order across the color spectrum.   

Reading the book for a second time I was surprised at how violent some passages were, however, the shocking brutality of Antari on Antari and White London rulers on peasants wasn't without warrant and did convey the intentions and personas of the wielders of violence well and within context of the broader plot. 

The characters (Holland, Kell, Lila) are as multidimensional as the London's they traverse with each London having as a unique feel to it that separates them from their namesake be it the language, inhabitants mannerisms or easy / rare use of magic. 

The atmospheric London's are a place the author makes the reader want to visit over and over again. Where danger lurks so do interesting and limitless surreal stories. A Darker Shade of Magic provides a mere glimpse into the potential of these interesting places and I, for one, can't wait to get lost in that magic once more. 

My rating: 5/5 - I enjoyed this book the first time reading it but found it even better the second time round. The characters are well developed and the fictional landscape atmospheric and interesting. I'm particularly interested in White London which looks to be a great mixture of danger and the unknown given it's history, relationship with Red London and proximity to Black London. 

As per my earlier blog post this month, I plan on reading book 2, A Gathering of Shadows soon which looks great. 

Link: What I'm Reading This Month

Pick of the Month [October 2017]

October was a great month and perhaps my most varied reading month of the year thus far. I also knocked over a heap of graphic novels (7 in total) which was great and I also read the new brick of a book by Stephen King and Owen King, Sleeping Beauties. All in all I read/listened-to 21 books, 2 more than September. 

Rather than picking 1 book, which tends to be a hard thing for me to do with these posts, I'm going with 3 this month; best audiobook, best graphic novel, best paper book. 

Best paper book - SoHo Sins by Richard Vine 

Best audiobook - Armada by Ernest Cline

Best graphic novel - Rapture by Matt Kindt

Notable mentions to:

Friday, November 3, 2017

Review: THE GOD WAVE by Patrick Hemstreet

Publisher Harper Voyager
Length 384 pages
Format softcover
Published 2016
Series The God Wave Trilogy #1
My Copy I bought it

The God Wave is a perfect storm of tech-fi infused with plausible reality. Author Patrick Hemstreet, a neuroengineer has crafted a dynamic and thought provoking tech thriller that, true to the blurb, captures the imagination and possibilities of Limitless and bumps it up a notch or two into X-Men territory by giving his characters superhuman abilities straight from the pages of superhero comics. It reads so damn real it's scary. 

Neuroscientist Chuck Brenton and MIT Professor Matt Streegman make a scientific breakthrough when they uncover the untapped potential of the God Wave (or Alpha Wave), a heightened brainwave that allows humans to control inanimate objects and move them by thought. 

Naturally the military catch wind of this tech and want a piece of it. Matt and Chuck (who's reluctant to get into bed with anyone wanting to weaponize the tech and is eventually convinced by Matt) are happy to seize the dollars for the betterment of their fledgling company but have no idea what's in store for them and their 'alphas' once they start questioning the black ops Government agency about their intentions and the unwanted surveillance the team is put under.

I couldn't read this book quick enough and loved the way it evolved from a tech-fi into thriller into superhero-like territory with seamless ease. My only gripe is that the book didn't quite read as a complete story given the title is the first in a trilogy, I expect the threads to be picked up in book 2, The God Peak (published August 2017) which is on my to-buy list.

My rating: 4/5 stars. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Review: BLADE RUNNER by Philip K. Dick

Publisher Random House Audio
Length 9hrs and 12mins
Format audiobook
Published 2007 (audio edition)
Series standalone
My Copy borrowed from the library

In post nuclear fallout, Earth is a harsh and dangerous place almost devoid of all life bar mankind (though the effects of radiation sickness are alluded so mankind didn't exactly survive unscathed). Mars has been populated (to what extent, we're not sure) and humanoid androids are near indistinguishable from their flesh and blood counterparts.   

Narrated by Scott Brick, Blade Runner tells the tale of a bounty hunter and his task of tracking down and retiring a band of androids. It's a quick read that isn't big on traditional science fiction elements such as futuristic cityscapes and gadgets but is big on entertainment and character. John Isidor and Rachel Rosen were notable characters. 

I loved this book and Scott Brick was an excellent narrator. 

My rating: 4.5/5, with all the hype surrounding the new Blade Runner, I highly recommend checking out this book.   

What I'm Reading This November (or at least plan to)

There's a bunch of good stuff sitting on my shelves unread, unfortunately there's not enough time to get to them all - for the first time this year I thought I'd attempt to plan my reading to get to those neglected books, as usual my selection is an eclectic mix: 

The current reads:

The planned reads:

I'll also thrown in a pulp or two (still deciding which) and a mainstream new-ish crime fiction. 

Of the above, A Darker Shade of Magic will be a re-read. As I've now got all the books in the trilogy I want to reacquaint myself with the setting before heading into book 2, A Gathering of Shadows which is also listed here, the others are all books (bar Artemis which is an Audible pre-order) which have had enough time on the shelf. 

Happy reading. 
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