Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Pick Up A Pulp [31]: THE SOFT CENTRE by James Hadley Chase

Originally Published in 1964 (my edition, 1974), The Soft Centre could arguably be relevant among modern day popular mysteries, albeit with a slight slant towards the sleazier side of fiction. At its core, the premise is pure murder mystery; the mutilated body of a murdered prostitute is found in a hotel room during the same period of time in which Chris Burnett, a wealthy heir-apparent to a prosperous business, goes missing, only to be found without any memory of the past 24hrs. 

Shady bookmakers, questionable intentions, a private eye on the take, and a prime suspect without his mind make for the perfect proverbial boiling pot of a pulp.

The Soft Centre switches gears along with its characters to enhance the story; there isn't one thread which dictates proceedings nor one character at the deadly soft centre. One of the few books I've had the pleasure of reading where the point of view is equally spread among victim, suspect, and ancillary players.  

My rating: 5/5, I enjoyed this pulp from start to finish. I'll be sure to read more James Hadley Chase in the near future.  

Friday, January 26, 2018

Review: RIDING SHOTGUN AND OTHER AMERICAN CRUELTIES by Andy Rausch

Publisher Crime Wave Press
Length 205 pages
Format ebook
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

Riding Shotgun and Other American Cruelties is a collection of 3 crime novellas. The writing is reminiscent of Elmore Leonard with characters as good as any by Joe R Lansdale. Each story comprises colorful characters thrown into deadly situations, sometimes of their own accord, others' not so much.

Easy-Peezy
Return to the golden age of American bank robbing where criminals gained instant and lasting celebrity on the back of Robin Hood-esq thievery. Easy-Peezy takes place in the 1930's and focuses on a group of old timers, former bank robbers, who want to relive the glory days. While in their 70's, each still has the thirst for the dollar and is willing to shed blood to get it, however its the notoriety and fame which drive this gang. From the opening stanza to the bullet riddled ending, this novella never takes it foot of the peddle. 

Riding Shotgun
A popular crime author is turned into a mass murderer on the hunt to save his kidnapped daughter. Riding Shotgun oozes noir. From the outset you know that Hollywood feel-good ending isn't going to eventuate. A perfect balance of plot, dialogue, character development and pitch black humor. Well written start to heart breaking finish.

$crilla
Showcasing diversity in crime, $crilla, the third and final novel, is again, completely different from the others in the collection yet just as violent, entertaining and re-read worthy. Music studio gangsters, mobsters, and a private eye fight it out in a proverbial storm of bullets as the head of a record label goes missing. I can't speak highly enough of the characters here, each reads 'real' and is complimentary to the well defined murderous plot. 

My rating: 5/5, this book is excellent and will appeal to readers of noir who like their fiction with a healthy dose of dark humor to balance out the bloodshed. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Review: STRANGE WEATHER by Joe Hill

Publisher Orion
Length 14hrs 34mins
Format audiobook
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it


Strange Weather is a collection of 4 novellas all linked by strange weather events (hence the title), however each story couldn't be more different:

Snapshot
This was narrated by Will Wheaton, the same guy who narrated Ready Player One and his performance was excellent. Snapshot got off to a great start, but I found the time-hops detracted from the strangely surreal abilities of the mysterious Polaroid Camera which took the memories of people one picture at a time. The antagonist didn't last the journey either which was a bit of a let down, I would've preferred the story focus on the adolescent kid who encounters the creepy guy with the camera. All an in, not a bad way to start the collection but not the strongest.

Loaded

Wow. What a great story, if this is what Joe Hill can do with crime fiction then I sure as hell hope he puts his mind to writing more. Loaded is brutal, quick (despite being the longer of the novellas in the collection), character driven, and a damn fine read (or listen as is the case here). 

Aloft 
What a cool concept. Aloft sees a young man who is afraid of heights take to the skies to attempt parachuting, one to impress a woman, and two, to hopefully cure his phobia. It doesn't turn out well. At all. The plane experiences a malfunction and the thrill-seekers are forced to jump early, only to have their downward plunge earthward stopped short. By a cloud, with mass - from there it's surreal territory all the way. Fun and inventive.   

Rain
Rain has more emphasis on character with a slight sojourn feel similar to Swan Song (linked by the apocalyptic event and various wandering crazy people). The concept is straight forward weirdness; deadly crystal rain hails down on Boulder, Colorado instantly killing many people and injuring others. The story explores themes of social prejudice, terrorism, and the good in people. A crafty way to end the thematically linked stories of the collection. 


My rating: 4/5 stars. I loved the fact each story was narrated by a different person which resulted in a distinct 'feel' to each novella. Loaded is by far the pick of the bunch for me. Recommended.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Pick Up A Pulp [30]: THE GIRL FROM OUTER SPACE by Carter Brown

About the book:
If Rick Holman's idea of a chaperone to keep The Girl from Outer Space in strict orbit was some flat-chested, middle-aged relic of the past, he was about a million light years off! 

For Kathy Frick, chaperone, was a pagan-looking blonde - anything but flat-chested, and with the most sensual upper lip Rick had ever seen. 

Kathy was girl of many talents, none of which included chaperoning. Naturally, she flubbed the job she was hired for. Naturally, The Girl from Outer Space got away. And naturally, Rick Holman has a helluva new challenge on his hands!

My review:
First published in 1966, this Rick Holman mystery is a lot of fun to read and is one of the better books written by pulp author Carter Brown (pseudonym  of the prolific Alan Yates). 

The private eye to the stars, Rick Holman, has his hands full with a missing starlet who has disappeared shortly after signing a major studio contract. As with any Carter Brown book, nothing is simple and the case of the missing starlet (sounds like a Perry Mason novel) quickly escalates into a globe totting sojourn which Holman barely survives.


Bullets, broads, deceit and death echo from the pages in one of the more deeper stories in the Holman cannon.


From the stock standard P.I for hire opening to the great unveil, the formulaic mystery follows the tried and true narrative of dime-store pulps yet deviates from the stereotypical with an evolving plot that is sure to keep readers guessing. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. Right up there with The Scarlet Flush (1963) and So, What Killed The Vampire (1966) as my favorite Carter Brown books. 

You can read my review of The Scarlet Flush by clicking on the link below:


Pick Up A Pulp [14]: The Scarlet Flush by Carter Brown



Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review: THE PHOTOGRAPHER by Craig Robertson

Publisher Simon & Schuster
Length 400 pages
Format ebook
Published 2018
Series Tony Winter #7
My Copy Provided by the publisher


A poignant police procedural with an unsavory crime at its core; The Photographer is creepy from the get-go. 

When a self made tech company owner's home is raided, a collection of photographs is discovered hidden in a floor cavity containing snapshots of women in public who are clearly unaware of their picture having being taken. Some of these women, it is later discovered had been the victim of a vicious assault and rape - the perpetrator, however, was unidentifiable at the time. 

Through police work and investigative journalism, the perpetrator's ties to freedom begin to fray, while Narey's personal life comes under threat from online bullying which raises questions over her families safety such is the profile of the case. 

Despite being book #7 in the Narey and Winters series, The Photographer reads perfectly well as a standalone. I haven't read any of the earlier books and didn't feel 'lost' at all. 

My rating: 3/5, largely formulaic, readers know what they're getting into with The Photographer. The courtroom and case technicalities combined with legal tricks and journalistic schemes are hallmarks of this genre and all are well written, plotted and fit the tone of the narrative perfectly.   

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review: RELICS by Tim Lebbon

Publisher Titan
Length 384 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series Standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


Mythical creatures had once existed, and there was a trade in their remains. 

Some of the creatures still existed, and they were hunted and killed for profit.

Fusing together horror and fairy tale, Relics takes the reader deep beneath the modern world veneer and into the shadows hidden on the peripheral of normalcy. What lurks in the outer and under, is real, hidden in bedtime stories for too long, an ambitious few of the once worldly creatures want to ascend and rein supreme, replicating their presence from the 'time before'. Not all of these creatures, collectively known as 'Kin' are ready to coexist in the modern world which makes for some interesting and violent conflict throughout the spellbinding pages of the book.


Vince, one of the main characters in the first installment of the Relics trilogy, procures ancient and rare artifacts for the wealthy but soon turns his back on the trade when he's tasked with killing a mythical creature by his employer. Rather than contributing to the Kin's extinction, he saves her, Lilou - a nymph who is irresistible to man and woman alike, and from their his life above the surface is thrown under the currents of the mythical, as a whole new world of monsters, beasts, pixies and fairies opens up. 

Relics is a great start to a new urban fantasy/horror trilogy from author Tim Lebbon. The novel quickly introduces a band of exciting and interesting characters while still managing to make them all have a place within this and the broader story. I can't wait to see what happens in the next installment due for publication some time this year (2018).

My rating: 4/5. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review: THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW by A.J. Finn

Publisher Harper Collins
Length 375 pages
Format ebook
Published 2018
Series Standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


Anna Fox suffers from Agoraphobia, a condition which essentially means she can't leave the confines of her home without suffering a sever panic attack or dose of anxiety. The traumatic event which crippled Anna is a mystery that slowly unravels in spectacular fashion as the novel progresses. To pass time, she watches (spies on) her neighbors, often making up stories to accompany their comings and goings, between this, online chess, and watching black and white film noir, she spends her time online counselling her fellow sufferers on message boards/forums. It's a unique existence she's managed to eek out from the ashes of her former life and one that's largely kept her sane. Until she witnesses a murder across the street. 

The Woman in the Window is subtle suspense with ever lurking danger omnipresent; it's a case of reading and waiting for the sand to run out. Anna's life on the surface is normal within context, however the picture soon looks fractured; the pieces don't fit the puzzle. When the murder and her own personal trauma collide, the result is plotting perfected.

Anna for her part is an interesting character who has flaws but is still endearing. Author A.J. Finn makes her pop off the page and read 'real'. Her home, integral to the story, reads as a character in its own right and provides the reader a well defined imagery of Anna's world and those that frequent it - invited and un alike. 

My rating: 4/5 stars. This is a great book for those who enjoy character centric novels and has the added bonus of paying homage to classic film noir. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Top 10 Reads of 2017


1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (sci-fi)

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. 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. 


2. The Force by Don Winslow (crime)

Denny as a character is flawed and exceptionally well written; author Don Winslow goes to great lengths to give Denny a story that's deep and tragic - from his formative police years through to his failed marriage, to the unmistakable bond he shares with his fellow officers - there's a richness to his story which makes The Force all the more better. 


3. Spoils of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky (fantasy)

Short stories set predominately in the Commonweal during the Empire's occupation in the 12 year war containing a vast array of characters, some new, some favorites, some obscure yet all equally engaging and fun to read. As vast as the characters in this series are, so are their stories. Author Adrian Tchaikovsky writes diverse stories that take his characters on many interesting journeys distinct in their own right but complementary to the series proper.



4. Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson (sci-fi)

This book breathes new life into Phasma, a character who had little more than a bit part on The Force Awakens. This is both a good and a bad thing. Now that Phasma has become a bonafide character in the Star Wars cannon, what role she is set to play in The Last Jedi is very important; given the momentum generated in this book to build her up as a ruthless career soldier with high ambitions and the Marvel comic (of which I’ve not read) it’s obvious there are plans to break the ‘Stormtrooper as cannon fodder’ typecast and have her develop into an important figure in the First Order along with Kylo Ren, Snoke and Armitage Hux.


5. October is the Coldest Month by Christoffer Carlsson (crime)

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.


6. Darktown by Thomas Mullen (crime)

If you're looking for a historical crime fiction book packed full of interesting characters, a great plot, and thought provoking sub themes, look no further than Darktown by Thomas Mullen , the first book in what I hope turns out to be a long running series set in Atlanta during the early days of desegregation in the police force. 



7. The Dry by Jane Harper (crime)

he Dry is a highly entertaining crime thriller set in rural Victoria, Australia where the harsh landscape isn't the only thing threatening to burn amid the heat and horrors of Kiewarra. Protagonist Aaron Falk is a Melbourne based police officer returned to his hometown for the funeral of a childhood friend. What looks to be an open and shut case soon turns speculative when the suicide/homicide investigation yields questionable results, namely mismatched bullets and lack of motive.


8. The Nowhere Man by Greg Hurwitz (thriller)

The Nowhere Man sees Evan kidnapped and held at a mysterious location. His captures are a mix of eccentric and professional killers, led by Dex – a mute brimming with menace and murderous intent, and Rene Cassaroy – a wealthy and somewhat deranged eccentric whose life goal is the pursuit of eternal youth. So, how did Evan end up in this predicament? He bought a katana off the internet, the purchase tracked by Rene as part of a broader scheme to kidnap the wealthy and sell them back their lives at great cost. In Evan, Rene got more than he had bargained for.


9. Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky (sci-fi)

Dogs of War was not the book I was expecting to read - in a good way. I've long been a fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky, his Shadows of the Apt epic fantasy series is great and I really enjoyed his fantasy/adventure novel Spiderlight. In Dogs of War, Tchaikovsky turns his talents towards sci-fi with genetically engineered bioforms - animals enhanced by weaponised technology and given the smarts to communicate with humans on near like-for-like levels.   



10. Artemis by Andy Weir (sci-fi)

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. 


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Review: DOGS OF WAR by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Publisher Head of Zeus
Length 262 pages
Format ebook
Published 2017
Series Standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher



Dogs of War was not the book I was expecting to read - in a good way. I've long been a fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky, his Shadows of the Apt epic fantasy series is great and I really enjoyed his fantasy/adventure novel Spiderlight. In Dogs of War, Tchaikovsky turns his talents towards sci-fi with genetically engineered bioforms - animals enhanced by weaponised technology and given the smarts to communicate with humans on near like-for-like levels.   

The protagonist is Rex, a genetically enhanced dog who carries out deadly missions as instructed by his master. Along with his team of bioforms which includes bees, a bear, and a reptile named Dragon, Rex is subjected to brutal combat on near-suicide missions, fighting in a war he knows nothing about. Intelligent is his own right, it takes Honey, the enhanced bear, to release Rex and co from the confines of their masters' pull strings for him to see a world beyond violence, a world where bioforms can be more than weapons.


I loved the way these characters evolved from combat team to individuals with their own goals, each with a unique voice to go along with their unique physical attributes and all with a surprising amount of character depth.

Dogs of War isn't all about combat; it's a novel which takes war and broadens the concept to include peacetime ramifications of this new frontier technology through sociopolitical commentary which in turn gives the characters and theme a 360 feel delivered through a multi POV narrative.

My rating: 5/5 stars.In short, this book is great, read it.   

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2018 Reading Goals

1. Read more from my TBR pile

I signed up to the Mount TBR Challenge and, rather than attempt to climb this mountain entirely, I've singled out some 36 books which have been sitting on the shelf for too long. 


2. Read 120 books

In 2017 I read 182 (surpassing my previous record of 181 in 2012). This year I plan to read 10 books per month as I'll be focusing more on non-fiction and the larger tomes in my TBR pile.


3. Read more non-fiction

I've got a bunch of non-fiction books sitting on my psychical shelves, kindle, and audible app that I want to read plus a few books that are due to be published later in the year which I've got my eye on. 

Some non-fiction books I plan to read include: 


4. Use the library more

I've already started taking advantage of the audiobooks available from my library. This year I plan to be more selective with my purchases and will only buy books that I really want (there's still a lot of these) so, library here I come for those books I want to read but not necessarily own. 

5. Touched upon this in no.4 - Be more selective with my purchases

I want to limit those impulse purchases irrespective of price - buying a book doesn't buy the time to read it. Part of this also includes cutting books from my Goodreads and Book Depository Wishlists. Not sure how I will go with this one...

6. Don't be afraid to DNF

I rarely DNF a book but when I do it's a good feeling, like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I love reading and hate it when I get into a funk because of a bad book. Previously I've persevered, not this year. Life's too short for a bad book.