Monday, December 31, 2018

Best Books of 2018 [Published in 2018]

With 2018 coming to a close, it's time to post one of my 'best of' lists for books published in 2018. Of the 169 books I read in 2018, 62 of those were published in 2018 (I think that's a new world record for me). Spread across a variety of genres and mediums, the list resembles an eclectic mix. 

My Top 10 Reads of 2017

The rules: Well, there really isn't one except, to qualify, I had to have rated the book 5 stars on Goodreads (of the 2018 published book crop, this meant I had 26 books to choose from). 

This Years Best Crime Fiction and True Crime (so far) Published in 2018

Without further delay here's the creme de la creme (in no particular order):

Sydney Noir, edited by John Dale (Brio Books) - a collection of short stories set in Australia, part of the Akashic Noir series. 

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (Orbit)a great dystopian Sci-Fi that blends sci-fi with tech-fi to create a scarily plausible future

Believe Me by J.P. Delaney (Quercus) - a complex and addictive crime thriller. 

Punishment by Scott J. Holliday (Thomas & Mercer) - a futuristic blend of tech-fi and crime. 

Darkest Web by Eileen Ormsby (Allen & Unwin) - the topical nature of the non-fiction peak-behind-the-curtain account of dark web warriors is not for the squeamish.

Unnatural by Mirka Andolfo (Image Comics)a fun and wholly entertaining light erotica with fantastical elements.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (Little Brown)a tension-filled novel that threatens to boil at any moment.

Don't Believe It by Charlie Donlea (Bantam) a perfect fit for true crime documentary and podcast buffs; the novel has all the hallmarks of an addictive TV show playing out in real time.

I'll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara (Harper) - the most gripping and suspenseful true crime book I've read in a long time. 

Retribution by Richard Anderson (Scribe)a blue-blooded rural crime novel which envelopes the reader in a dust encrusted film of Australia's outback dirt.

The Cyclist by Anthony Neil Smith (Bastei Entertainment) - an entertaining modern day honey-trap.

Fugitive Red by Jason Starr (Oceanview) a unique blue-collar domestic noir - with a twist. 

The Upper Hand by Johnny Shaw (Thomas & Mercer)both lighthearted and loaded with emotional depth, this is a genuinely great all-round read. 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Review: CHILDREN OF THE NAMELESS by Brandon Sanderson

Publisher Wizards of the Coast
Length 124  pages
Format ebook
Published 2018
Series Magic the Gathering
My Copy available online as a free ebook

My Review
Gothic horror infused fantasy, accessible to both readers familiar with the characters and planes (Avacyn and Innistrad feature respectively) of Magic the Gathering and those new to the table-top gaming lore.

Introducing new characters (those not previously featured in Magic the Gather lore in card/other formats), Tacenda and Davriel gives author Brandon Sanderson an established but new playground to explore and expand upon and he does it in a captivating and entertaining way.

Using the shorter length prose of a novella ensures each chapter progresses the story, be it character development, backstory, or pure action (of which there is plenty).

My rating: 5/5 stars. This was the first time I'd read anything by Brandon Sanderson and it certainty won't be the last.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Review: THE SYNDICATE by Guy Bolton

Publisher Bolinda Audio
Length 12hrs 56mins
Format audiobook
Published 2018
Series The Pictures #2
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Budgsy Seagal's murder, mobsters, hollywood, and crime, in fine fiction.

Jonathan Craine, the former Hollywood movie 'fixer' returns in the follow-up to The Pictures to face off against FBI agents, mobsters, and greedy casino owners.

Set some 8 years after the events of the preceding novel, Craine has set up shop on a rural property in California with his son. The peace and tranquility is soon spoiled when a gun toting mobster flies in and crashes Craine's life.

Force to do the mob's bidding, Craine must find Bugsy Siegel's killer before his own son joins the mobster in death. 

The Syndicate is fast-paced, violent, and full of action. A worthy successor to The Pictures.

There's a lot of facts intertwined in this clever fiction which readers familiar with the era will appreciate. 

My rating: 5/5. I can't wait to see where author Guy Bolton takes Craine and co. next. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Review: THE NIGHT I DIED by Max Allan Collins

Publisher Titan Comics
Length 112 pages
Format Trade
Published 2018
Series Mike Hammer (#1-4)
My Copy I bought it

My Review

"She was a beautiful blonde and she was in trouble. Usually, that's all I need to know. When your name is Mike Hammer, certain things are expected of you."

Tricked into meeting a client in the proverbial lions den of mafia land, Mike Hammer's long overdue return to the graphic novel medium sees the perennial private eye come face to face with death - the long one. 

Whilst Hammer has been portrayed in comics and newspaper strips previously, the Titan Comics / Hard Case Crime collaboration freshens up the hard man for the modern day audience and the results are largely positive.

In trademark Hammer fashion, the PI falls for a damsel in distress (in this case, Helen Venn), while his secretary with extras, Vera, becomes embedded in the story both as a victim and heroine. The linear nature of the story makes for an easy and entertaining read.  

The trade paperback collection also features two short stories entitled Trouble... Come And Get It, and Killer's Turn which, whilst not featuring Mike Hammer, are a nice addition for long time Spillane readers. 

My rating: 4/5 stars. Not as hard edged as some of the prose novels yet still captures that tried and true Mike Hammer feel. I hope we see more of the perennial PI in this medium. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Pick of the Month [November 2018]

I read 12 books in November to take my 2018 tally to a whopping 159. Of those, I rated 5, 5 stars which is a pretty decent strike-rate with the best of a very good bunch being Vengeful by V.E. Schwab, the action packed superhero showdown sequel to 2013's Vicious. 

Read the review of Vengeful (published 2018 by Titan Books) here

I also read Vicious this month which, no surprises gets the 5 star treatment too. Read the review on Goodreads here. 

Jason Starr and Joe Ide's new books also got my tick of approval with both of Wrecked (the third book in the awesome IQ series) and Fugitive Red (a creepy standalone crime novel) being my top crime reads for the month, check out the reviews below:

Fugitive Red by Jason Starr (Oceanview)

Wrecked by Joe Ide (Orion Publishing)

My other 5 star read was the new graphic novel by Mirka Andolfo, Unnatural, published by Image Comics which collects the first 4 issues of the fantasy series. This was such a great read and could end up being one of my favorite graphic novels for 2018. 

Other highlights, in no particular order, include:

Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings - the inspiration for the TV series Killing Eve

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly - the second Rene Ballard book, this time featuring a heavy Bosch influence

The Three Secret Cities by Matthew Reilly - the latest globetrotting Jest West Jr. adventure thriller

Monday, December 3, 2018

Review: THE THREE SECRET CITIES by Matthew Reilly

Publisher MacMillan Australia
Length 464 pages
Format hardback
Published 2018
Series Jack West Jr. #5
My Copy I bought it

My Review

Despite the hefty page count, Matthew Reilly's books are super quick reads loaded with pure adrenaline - and the latest installment in the Jack West Jr. series is no different. 

Whereas the previous book, The Four Legendary Kingdoms focused primarily on a single location, Hades, The Three Secret Cities marks a return to West's globetrotting adventures as he and his loyal friends attempt to save the world once more from certain doom. 

By completing a complex set of ancient puzzles across multiple continents, the returning adventure-based action theme prominent in previous books proves to be a winner yet again. 

My rating: 4/5, sure some of the action sequences felt a little repetitive at times and Jack West Jr. seems to have superhuman healing and fighting abilities but that's part of the fun with these books. They're well researched and loaded with manic action to provide a great form of escapism. I can't wait for The Two something something

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Review: VENGEFUL BY V.E. Schwab

Publisher Titan
Length 575 pages
Format paperback
Published 2018
Series Villains #2
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

Eli Ever has the power to regenerate; he doesn't die and he doesn't age. Victor Vale has the power to hurt, to turn people into living puppets he can bend to his will - at least physically. The two resume hostilities in an wholly entertaining and enthralling story.

Vengeful picks up where Viscous left off, so if you've not read that book, you'll be a little lost here. 

Continuing to build upon the superhero mythos introduced in the previous installment, Vengeful expands on the extra-ordinary characters (EO's) to give the book an added layer of depth. One character in particular, June, a shape-shifter, is perhaps one of the best characters in the book. I love the way V.E. Schwab is able to introduce a new character while also providing significant backstory that doesn't detract from the core plot. 

Spanning multiple timelines yet maintaining a cohesive narrative, Vengeful is well plotted and wholly addictive. I hope we see a lot more books set in this interesting and diverse fictional landscape, V.E. Schwab has so deftly crafted. 

My rating: 5/5 stars

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Review: UNNATURAL by Mirka Andolfo

Publisher Image
Length 112 pages
Format trade
Published 2018
Series Unnatural (#1-4)
My Copy I bought it

My Review

Unnatural echoes sentiments of Black Mirror with elements of real-world totalitarian plausibility exemplified through birth and mating control, as well as overtaxing those few who dare to be different, stretching the populace into poverty. 

While this all consuming and thought provoking story draws comparison to current day events and spotlights the strength of diversity, it's a fun and wholly entertaining light erotica with fantastical elements which steadily build each chapter into an epic crescendo of violence and the other-worldly. 

The protagonist, Leslie Blair, is a pig girl, who dreams of a wolf-man lover; something forbidden in this animalistic world where its citizens are made to procreate with 'their kind', if not on their own accord, then at the hands of a Government controlled match-making service called Real Love, a subsidiary of the Reproduction Program Office. 

Unsure as to why she's constantly at the mercy of these 'unnatural' dreams, Leslie confines in her roommate, Trish for support, seeking method to the madness.

What follows neither of the young women sees coming - and certainty not this reader.

My rating: 5/5 stars. Unnatural is a great read complimented by some stunning art. Over the course of the 4-issue volume, the graphic novel establishes a new world, concept, characters, and a heartbreaking backstory while setting up the next installment. I can't wait to read volume 2.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Review: DARK SACRED NIGHT by Michael Connelly

Publisher Orion Publishing Group Limited
Length 10hrs 39mins
Format audiobook

Titus Welliver, Christine Lakin
Published 2018
Series Harry Bosch #21 / Renee Ballard #2)
My Copy I bought it

My Review

More Bosch than Ballard, Dark Sacred Night teams up Michael Connelly's longtime protagonist with his latest to create a well balanced and entertaining police procedural bathed in the darkness of LA's nighttime underworld.

Bosch has a case which haunts him; the murder of an underage prostitute he's never been able to solve. The case eats away at him. Every day he's reminded of his failure, in part due to the dead prostitutes mother who shares his personal residence - their relationship purely platonic.

Ballard, perennial member of the 'late show' aka the night shift in LA's police department, catches cases only to throw them to other detectives when the sun comes up. There's a decent smattering of small time cases for her wade through in Dark Sacred Night but it's when her world and Bosch's collide, do things get really interesting. 

I enjoyed Dark Sacred Night. Personally, I was hoping for some more Ballard-based books; the character does well to hold her own without the need for a heavy hitter to push the book into 'best-selling territory' but Connolly makes the duo work; their chemistry is natural and the multi-POV methodology fits seamless into the narrative (this made more apparent with the changing narrators in the audio version).

My rating: 4/5 stars. Dark Sacred Night has a decent plot at its core complimented by enjoyable supplementary cases the two protagonists find themselves entangled. Bonus points for reading perfectly well as a standalone in its own right. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Review: WRECKED by Joe Ide

Publisher Orion Publishing Group Limited
Length 10hrs 52mins
Format audiobook

Narrator Sullivan JonesPublished 2018
Series IQ #3
My Copy I bought it

My Review

Isaiah Quintabe (aka IQ) can be likened to a modern day Sherlock Holmes, such is his superior intellect and heightened powers of deduction which are comparable to the renowned PI of early crime fiction. While his sidekick, Dodson isn't quite Sherlock's Watson, he's a great character and a perfect fit for IQ; both in his ability to help (and at times hinder) an investigation while also providing a humorous outlet for the often dire situations the duo find themselves in. 

In Wrecked, the third IQ novel, author Joe Ide dumb downs IQ a little which casts the urban sleuth in a new light; showcasing his insecurities and vulnerabilities, which ultimately transforms the character into something more real-world. His struggles and failures are gains for the reader and the supporting cast who pay a more pivotal role in the plot (this being Dodson, Gloria, and the bad guys). 

Wrecked reads perfectly well as standalone but is much better with the added context of the previous novels in IQ and Righteous.  

My rating: 5/5 stars. This series continues to grow from strength to strength. Highly recommended. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Review: FUGITIVE RED by Jason Starr

Publisher Oceanview
Length 304 pages
Format softcover
Published 2018
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review

There's just something about a Jason Starr novel that separates his writing from the rest. Be it the personal narrative surrounding his characters, the easily plausible accidental murder of his killers, or the intense family centered dynamic - all of it jells just right to form a unique blue-collar domestic noir - with a twist. 

Fugitive Red is perhaps one of the best yet.

Jack Harper is a struggling New York real estate agent, married to Maria, a successful corporate worker. Their son Jonah is the glue which keeps them together.

When Jack shows an apartment to a former band buddy, his thoughts of a bountiful commission give way to the lure of infidelity. Jack's onetime friend plants the seed of escaping the daily marriage grind by indulging in internet hookups - specifically, hookups for unhappily married people. 

The first time is the last time for Jack as his life spirals out of control after finding the woman going by the internet handle 'Fugitive Red' naked and very dead at their designated meet-up spot. 

Prime suspect, deadbeat husband, homeless, and attempted kidnapper are just some of the labels he dons during the course of the novel - but nothing is worse than the twist which turns everything on its head. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Review: THE FADE OUT (ACT ONE) by Ed Brubaker and Scott Phillips

Publisher Image Comics
Length 120 pages
Format single issue
Published 2015
Series The Fade Out #1-4
My Copy I bought it

My Review

It was always little things that unlocked the blackout doors. Details... the lipstick makes him remember a smile. The smile leads to a voice...then a face. And that's how Charlie realized whose house he'd woken up in...right before he found her lying dead on the living room floor.

Bars, blackouts, limelight and lowlifes. The Fade Out is A-grade noir set in the Hollywood's golden era of film, where stars shone their brightest and studio cover-ups were commonplace - it was a time where murder was more hindrance than heinous . 

When screenwriter Charlie Parish stumbled upon starlet Valeria Sommers lifeless body less than twenty feet from where he was sleeping off 'the night before' in a bathtub, his first thought was to cover his tracks, his second thought, was the studio, the third - panic, for last night was drowned out in a watery wall of booze.

What follows is a murder mystery, a studio cover-up to make Sommers' untimely death a suicide, and the introduction of a bunch of seedy bit players all with something to gain by ignoring the murder.    

The only thing holding The Fade Out (Act One) back is the incomplete ending. Rather than tying loose ends, the story progressively evolves as the fictitious Hollywood branches out into new character side stories - each interesting enough but given this arc ran for 4 issues, the core plot element is largely left unresolved. 

A brief note on the art: Fantastic, moody, perfectly captures the essence of noir soaked Hollywood. 

My rating: 4/5 stars. As mentioned early, The Fade Out (Act One) lacks a conclusion and fails to deliver a single cohesive and self contained story, rather, continuing to build an elaborate and intrinsically linked cast of characters with backstories as dark as the back-alleys they deal. I loved this story arc, but think it would've been better with an extra issue or two, conceptually - 5/5.   

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Review: CHICAGO ASSASSIN by Richard J Shmelter

Publisher Cumberland House Publishing
Length 282 pages
Format Hardcover
Published 2008
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review

Prohibition-era Chicago was a dangerous and violent place in the 1920's in which immortalized iconic villains and heroes such as Al Capone, Elliot Ness, Frank Nitti, Johnny Torrio, Jack McGurn, Beulah Annan, and hard hitting crime reporter Maurine Watkins forged their way into the hearts and minds of people world-wide decades later. 

In Chicago Assassin, author Richard J Scmelter switches gears from the popular prohibition narrative involving Al Capone and to a lesser extent Elliot Ness, to focus on one of Capone's top hitmen in 'Machine Gun' Jack McGurn, recounting his violent upbringing which saw him loose two fathers to gangsters only for himself to embark on a life of crime behind the bang of a handgun (McGurn didn't tote a machine gun - this was used by the press as a headline grab to sell papers). 

Comprising episodic-like vinaigrette’s of murder capital USA during the prohibition era, Chicago Assassin, whilst not as deep as other prohibition books I've read, provides an interesting and well researched look at some of the characters who made the era what it was, including the pitch perfect pulp headline 'the Blonde Alibi', Lousie Rolfe, McGurns longtime partner. 

My rating: 4/5 stars. I've read Chicago Assassin twice now and highly recommend it for readers who are looking to learn more of this violent period in American history which goes beyond Al Capone. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Review: BLACKFISH CITY by Sam J. Miller

Publisher Orbit
Length 328 pages
Format softcover
Published 2018
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review

"Qaanaaq is an eight-armed asterisk. East of Greenland, north of Iceland. Built by an unruly alignment of Thai-Chinese-Swedish corporations and government entities, part of the second wave of grid city construction, learning from the spectacular failure of several early efforts. Almost a million people call it home, though many are migrant workers who spend much of their time on boats harvesting glacier for freshwater ice...or working Russian petroleum rigs in the far Arctic." 

Qaanaaq, the dystopian floating city is beautifully articulated, a living-breathing organism as distinctive and unique as the characters who inhabit it and those who flock to it in search of refuge from gangs, pirates, politics and other dangerous syndicates. 

To be honest, the characters and their stories were secondary to what author Sam J. Miller chose to write about, such was the addictive need to learn more about this strange, cold, yet futuristic and scarily plausible place.  

That said, I loved the myth surrounding the arrival of the woman riding an orca with a polar bear, caged, at her side and the increasing intrigue as the narrative of her unfurled. 
"People would say she came to Qaanaaq in a skiff towed by a killer whale harnessed to the front like a horse...At her feet, in heaps, were the kind of weird weapons and machines that refugee-camp ingenuity had been producing."
But the story wasn't just about the strange new comer, with 5 characters sharing page time with dedicated chapters, their occupations ranging from professional fighter, underworld boss, courier, unemployed rich kid, and political adviser. The multi POV added depth and enhanced the context and concept of Blackfish City.

My rating: 5/5 stars. Blackfish City a great dystopian Sci-Fi that blends sci-fi with tech-fi to create a scarily plausible future. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Review: HEAVEN SENT by Alan Carter

Publisher Fremantle Press
Length 322 pages
Format softcover
Published 2018
Series Cato Kwong #4
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

'The world is mired in lies, chaos and darkness, mate.'...'You're a bringer of truth, order and light.'

'Not any more, I've had enough.'

The fourth book in the Cato Kwong crime series goes beyond the thin blue line of crime fiction and delves deep into the personal lives of its characters to provide not only a well written police procedural, but a book that humanizes the darker elements unlawful acts have on those who serve and protect as well as their loved ones.

Immediately the thing that sticks out about Heaven Sent is the connection the author has with the characters who traverse the streets of Fremantle, Western Australia, on either side of the law; Kwong is complex and not without his flaws. He's instantly likable and a well defined character, his actions often to the detriment of his family but the betterment of the Fremantle public. While, the elusive murderer who taunts police in a macabre game of cat and mouse is omnipresent, growing more dramatic and menacing with each chapter.

The place-setting and pacing are on point, with each murder adding a notch of intensity to Kwong's plight; take down the serial killer who targets the homeless and taunts the police.

Throw in an interesting journalistic angle and some beefy side plots and Heaven Sent becomes one meaty read that doesn't disappoint.  

My rating: 5/5 stars. Despite being the fourth book in the series, Heaven Sent is easily accessible to new readers, that said, I definitely want to check out the earlier books given how much I enjoyed this one. Highly recommend.

- - - - - - - - - -

Related review: 

THE MALBOROUGH MAN by Alan Carter (published 2017, Fremantle Press, standalone crime fiction)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Pick Up A Pulp [46]: CUT ME IN by Ed McBain

Ed McBain is best known for his long running 87th Precinct series, however, some of his best work includes So Nude So Dead (writing as Evan Hunter) and The Gutter and The Grave (writing as Curt Cannon), both pulp era crime reads re-printed as part of the Hard Case Crime stable. 

Originally published in 1954 under the pen-name Hunt Collins, Cut Me In is pure pulp; the protagonist is a masochist, the dames are wanton, and the murders plentiful. Throw in healthy doses of sexual innuendo more akin to pulp pushers like Carter Brown than McBain, and you've got a sleazy murder mystery full of buttery popcorn pulp. 

Josh Blake, a partner in a literary agency arrives in the office expecting to bleed for his clients and make some nice commission for the agency finds his partner, Del, murdered and the safe containing important and contentious contracts wide open. With a deal in the balance and the cops fingering him as a suspect, Blake turns into a semi-sleuth to help catch the killer. 

Cut Me In is a hell of a fun book to read. The plot is simple yet the characters not without their complexities while the pace is pulse pounding. I didn't pick the perp until the last few pages. 

The 2016 Hard Case Crime reprint also includes a novelette by McBain, featuring his under appreciated, PI Matt Cordell titled Now Die In It. Cordell also appears in the aforementioned The Gutter and The Grave. This novelette is a nice taster and teaser which has me wanting more Matt Cordell stories. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

News: Help choose the title of the next Quarry book

In a recent email from Hard Case Crime, editor Charles Ardai is giving readers of the popular hitman series by Max Allan Collins, a chance to name the next title in the long running (and awesome series). 

From the email:

Max Allan Collins is hard at work writing his next Quarry novel for us. In it, Quarry is going to discover that he's been marked for death himself and is the target of a contract assigned to another professional killer. The question is what to call the book.

In case you're wondering, the choices are:

Here are some reviews of my favorites in the series so far:

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review: BELIEVE ME by J.P. Delaney

Publisher Quercus
Length 383 pages
Format softcover
Published 2018
Series Standalone 
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

A complex and addictive crime thriller. 

Believe Me will end up being one of my top crime reads this year (2018). The story is vice-like in its ability to latch onto the readers attention and not let go. 

Claire is a struggling actress from London who is hoping to make it big in the land of opportunities; only, the lights of Broadway don't have that same sparkle and promise as seen from afar and gigs in this profession don't come cheaply. You either sell your talents to those with influence or sell yourself. 

When a unique job offering comes her way, Claire, somewhat reluctantly accepts; she's to pick up men suspected of cheating on their significant others and capture evidence to take back to the suspecting party. It's a modern day honey trap that she quickly excels at. 

It's at this point the story takes a dark and deadly turn following the murder of a client with the police looking at Claire as a suspect. 

Que a complex narrative, head games, and twists aplenty as author JP Delaney plays with the readers mind as easily as a cat does a ball of string. 

My rating: 5/5. I read Believe Me in two sittings - which would've been one had I not started reading it late at night. Just a great, clever piece of crime fiction that has me yearning for more. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

News: Titan Books Announce DC Novels

Not sure how I missed this one, but in late August Titan Books announced a suite of three novels featuring some of the more iconic characters in the DC superhero stable including Joker, Harley Quinn, and of course, the Dark Night himself, Batman. 

The novels will be written by some top notch crime authors including personal favorites, Christa Faust and Garry Phillips, as well as others I'm not so familiar with including Paul Dini, Pat Cadigan, and Greg Cox.

The original series of novels will be adaptations of some of the most popular stories in DC's Batman history including The Killing Joke and The Court of Owls. With the first book, The Killing Joke slated for a September 2018 publication. 

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