Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review: THE TESTAMENTS by Margaret Atwood

While the book and series have provided readers/viewers with a lot of information about the fictitious closed-off society of Gilead, there is still so much to explore/exploit in this well crafted and scary dystopian setting brought to life in The Handmaids Tale.  

The shock and awe moments which made the first book so memorable aren't as prevalent here, but the characters and their dangerous plights are plentiful, more than make up for the macabre nature of its predecessor.

Aunt Lydia and two reliable narrators (well, they seem reliable) from within and outside the walls of Gilead recount the horrors, truths, lies, and perception of aunts, handmaids, pearl girls, wedlock, slavery, and all things Gilead as seen through the eyes of experience and the viewing of propaganda. The three form the testament's trinity; scholars of history analysed through symposiums conducted decades into the future. 

I enjoyed the deeper look behind Gilead's wall of hushed secretary where the heinous is no happenstance and totalitarian reins supreme. 4/5 stars.  

The audiobook is narrated by a cast which includes Ann Dowd, the actress who plays the formidable Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale TV series. All of narrators do a fantastic job at capturing the suspense and heightening the fear and overwhelming sense of urgency attached to the book, making it feel more cinematic and dramatic (if that's actually possible).   

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [57]: THE BLACK LACE HANGOVER by Carter Brown

Readers of this blog and of my reviews on Goodreads know I enjoy the overtly cheesy pulps of yesterday, with Carter Brown, the extra cheesy cheese on top of the heap. The Black Lace Hangover (published 1966 by Horwitz) features my favorite character created by the Aussie pulp hack, in Danny Boyd, the debonair private eye with 'the' profile. 

In this installment (each book in the series can be read independently of one another), Boyd finds himself nursing a killer hangover, only it's not just his head which feels like murder! Enter Lucia, a luscious trespasser who brings more curves to Danny's life than her extravagant body displays thanks to a murdered 'uncle' and a complex crime caper involving the mob, kidnapping, killing, and double crosses aplenty. 

These kind of books are hit or miss and in the early stages, The Black Lace Hangover seemed like it was tracking in the direction of the latter, however, I was pleasantly surprised when this seemingly shallow plot deep dived into darker depths. Boyd's investigation/part in the scheme of things evolved into something much more complex than promised by synopsis which not only kept true to the whodunit theme but also kept me second guessing who the villains were. As an added bonus (semi-spoiler alert), Boyd's' secretary, a fiery and highly competent redhead, Fran, makes an appearance in Velda*-like fashion to aide Boyd in solving the case.

Overall, The Black Lace Hangover is a pretty good pulp, loaded with all the requisite stereotypical elements and aided by an ever evolving plot which makes this one of the more 'meaty' Danny Boyd books.  

I rate this a solid 4/5 stars. 

*Velda is Mike Hammers' secretary in the long running hardboiled P.I series by Mickey Spillane and more recently, Max Allan Collins.     

Monday, December 2, 2019

Pick of the Month [November 2019]

My stack of physical reads in November

November was a great month for horror (though to be honest, pretty much every month this year has been a good month for horror for me) with Dust Devils by my favorite new-to-me horror author of 2019, Jonathan Janz (not pictured above as it was a library book which I had to return before I could take a picture of my November stack) and The Institute (not strictly a horror but near-enough) by Stephen King jointly taking out my pick of the month for November.

Of the 12 books I read or listened to, 0 were ebooks which continues the recent trend of devoting my reading time between the pages of physical books. There's been no real rhyme nor reason behind this. I just naturally gravitate towards physical books. This year in particular, I've been reading much more paperback horror and pulp than years gone by which is a likely contributing factor to the e-ink snub of recent months. 

Year to date I'm sitting at 146/150 books read for my 2019 Goodreads Challenge so baring any major events during December, it looks like another year of achieving my reading goals (number-wise that is, my Mount TBR Challenge is just terrible...). I'll write more on those challenges in a later blog post. 

Other reading highlights for November include the 80's horror, Lyrica by Thomas F. Monteloene, and the crime novella set in the Cormac Reilly universe (however Cormac doesn't feature all that much in this one), The Sisters by Dervla McTiernan which was offered recently as a free Audible Audio book to subscribers of the monthly service. 

Until next month, happy reading!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Review: DUST DEVILS by Jonathan Janz

Dust Devils is a western with strong horror themes, an engaging cast of characters, and a tight linear plot which keeps the pages ticking over in rapid pulse pounding fashion. 

The protagonist and accidental hero, Cody, is a man wronged by the sins of his wife who is forced unwillingly into a world of violence, pain and the preternatural amid a backdrop of a dust covered wasteland inhabited by dangers previously confined to nightmares.  

I love the idea of a travelling troupe of nasties visiting isolated townships and reaping havoc, leaving nothing but death and despair in their wake...yeah that's a little morbid but I do like my horror most macabre and that's the sort of meal Janz dishes up here; a heady blend of vampire and cannibalism, scorched meat, and wet thick blood tapped straight from the vein.

My verdict: 5/5 stars. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Review: THE INSTITUTE by Stephen King

Gifted kids in turmoil held to ransom by a secret organisation under the guise of serving their country; a sacrifice for the greater good, isn't an exactly original or mind-bending inconceivable concept. Yet, Stephen Kings' latest tome manages to feel fresh, exciting, and new. This despite the flurry of fiction surrounding Stranger Things and the secret experiments carried out on kids from that franchise (see Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond).

Like most books I've read by Stephen King, it's the characters, not necessarily the plot which reign supreme and that's true with the Institute (though the plot is pretty great too). Luke Ellis is a great character who is instantly likable. Whilst gifted with semi-super powers and a ridiculously high intellect, King writes him in a way which is down to earth, making him more kid-like as apposed to the standard hero/savior. The ensemble cast, notably Avery, compliment Luke and make for a nice ying to the evil Institute yang.

I wouldn't classify this book as horror, however there are definitely horror elements, particularly in 'Back-Half' (read the book, you'll understand). Much like Sleeping Beauties (co-authored with son Owen), King distances himself somewhat from the genre he's best known, focusing on character and story first, creepy stuff second.

The verdict? If you're one of Stephen Kings Constant Readers chances are you've already read this, or will soon read it , if you're on the fence; fence sit no more, The Institute is great.        

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [56]: FLAME by Kenneth Roberts

I'm not really sure where to start with this one. When you read pulps you know there's a 50/50 chance at best of hitting a winner or something remotely resembling a decent book - comes with the territory and I accept that (check out some of the books featured in this series of blog posts). Cheesy dialogue, non-existent plotting, unbelievable cookie cutter characters; these are all part and parcel of the mass produced paperback pulps. Flame, however, is something different. 

Using the above mentioned deficiencies as a baseline, Flame easily falls below...it's that bad. 

With a story seeped in sex (mostly non-consensual), racism, and indiscernible colloquialisms, it's a hard read all round. The dialogue really slows the story, not that there's much actually happening between sexual encounters of the most explicit and deranged kind (I'll refrain from providing details, the world's a better place with this largely left unknown to masses), I had to re-read multiple passage of dialogue to get the gist of the conversation - which in the end didn't really add all that much value to the story (I wont dare use the word 'plot' as there wasn't one) be honest. 

The opening stanza showed potential but it was false advertising; an Amazon-like warrior in the midst of performing an ancient ritual is brutally cut down by a band of slavers hell bent on pillaging the isolated African tribe. Flame, despite her best attempts to fight off the invaders is captured, from that point forward the story takes to a weird form of erotica.   

The verdict? don't pick up this pulp.    

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Paperback From Hell! LYRICA by Thomas F. Monteleone

Oh man, I love the 80's! 80's mass market paperback horror to be more specific! 

Continuing with my dark and twisted journey into the devilish depths of retro horror, I recently finished reading a 'gem' I'd previously discovered wasting away in a back corner of a dusty secondhand bookstore, Lyrica by Thomas F. Monteleone (the same Thomas F. Moneteleone of Night Train fame). 

Published in 1987, the story holds up remarkably well, this despite the need for the reader to suspend their grip on reality, especially when the title character effortlessly inserts herself into the lives of Mozart and a host of other prominent historical figures only to greedily consume their genius for her own form of self preservation. After all, a beauty beyond measure's gotta keep herself in prime condition otherwise she's gonna turn into a serpent-like creature once a month. Without those killer looks she's just a serpent who, well, kills... 

The modern-day (circa 1980's) story line is pretty good in all honesty; there's mystery, a hint of intrigue, an omnipresent sense of danger, plenty of steamy sex, and, do I dare say, romance? Yeah, there's a little before Lyrica absorbs her partners' life force, sorry, 'genius' in a brutal coupling reminiscent of the female spiders who eat their mate. 

This book is quite a departure from The Night Train, but then again, horror as a genre is incredibly diverse so it's no real surprise that the author would mix things up a little in the spooky stakes here.

I'd rate Lyrica 3.5 (out of 5) stars. Well worth grabbing a copy if you find one in a secondhand bookstore. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Pick of the Month [October 2019]

Halloween month is over and whilst Australia doesn't celebrate the event anywhere near as much as our friends in the USA, it is a great time of the year to focus on some spooky and frightening fiction. So it comes as no surprise that my pick of the month is a Halloween-themed read which, while not exactly horror, does bring the chill factor in its own right:

Blood Sugar by Daniel Kraus (published 2019 by Hardcase Crime / Titan Books)

From the opening stanza, I knew this wasn't going to be any ordinary Halloween book; seeped in slang, the story set among squalor, Blood Sugar is at once creative and all consuming. The story is a heartfelt one hidden behind a veil of malicious intent and a twisted form of vengeance. I read this in 2 sittings (would've been one but I fell asleep after a late night reading session), I simply couldn't put it down - one of my top reads of 2019.

Some other reading highlights for October include a couple of paperbacks from hell in Pin by Andrew Neiderman and Hobgoblin by John Coyne - both 80's horror which bring something a little different to the table. I recommend both. Pin was close to taking out my pick of the month. 

October was one of the more varied months for my reading choices; pulp, horror, sci-fi, and crime fiction were all represented which made for some good, and not-so-good reading. Another notable standout was the excellent sci-fi, Delta-V by Daniel Suarez - a space nerds' wet dream. 

I tallied 11 books for the month of October, slightly down on the previous months but around the mark to achieve my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge of 150

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Paperback From Hell! PIN by Andrew Neiderman

Pin is a psychological horror from the decade of decadent depravity - the 1980's; the decade which spawned many of the 'great' paperback horrors sought after on the secondhand market today. 

Shout out again goes to Grady Hendrix and the book I just won't stop gushing about; Paperbacks from Hell, because, without this bible of retro horror, I would've never have stumbled upon the captivating and creepy novel, Pin written by Andrew Neiderman. 

Pin explores (exploits?) a skewed sibling dynamic seeped in sex, seclusion, and secrecy. Following the untimely death of their parents, Ursula and Leon close the curtains on the outside world and wrap themselves in the comfort of their large home and larger inheritance. Outsiders are frowned upon, unless they're not human... That's where Pin, a plastic body, once their father's (who happened to be a doctor) visual aide in his practice, now, a permanent resident and family member/lover...yeah let that sink in...

Jealousy, possessiveness and a deep longing to want and be wanted are the core themes prominent throughout Pin, yet it's the plastic man himself who steals the show - his 'being' somewhat questionable throughout ... Is he actually real or just real in the minds of the grieving siblings?   

Pin is a 'must-read' paperback from hell. I greedily ate up every word and was left feeling satisfied after consuming the final ounce of perversion. I rate Pin a solid 4 (out of 5) stars.    

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Surreal Detective

I love a good detective story, especially those with hard-nosed protagonists, dangerous dames, and a plot pulled from the foxed pages of pulps. Think Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer or Carter Brown's Al Wheeler.

However, today's blog post focuses on something a little different...the surreal detective. Books set in far away places or the past where normalcy is the extraordinary. Robots walk (or have walked) the earth in the 1960's, paranormal activity is common place, and killing is a business shared by both organic and artificial intelligence. 

Some of my favorite books fall into the surreal sub genre of detective/crime fiction. The Collector series by Chris F Holm sees Sam Thornton tasked with collecting souls of the damned, naturally this isn't as straight forward as watching, baiting, and waiting. Especially when some of the souls aren't exactly damned...when questions get asked, all hell breaks loose... Starting with Dead Harvest, this three-book series is a heady mix of urban fantasy and noir - ah, just what the doctor ordered. 

I was fortunate enough to interview Chris on way back in 2014. You can read the full interview HERE

In Empire City, a town bursting at the seams with weird and wonderful science, a robot detective with nerves and a chassis of steel makes ends meet as a tough hardboiled detective. Mack Megaton was the first surreal detective character I read and I instantly wanted more. Sadly, author A. Lee Martinez penned the one novel featuring the robot, The Automatic Detective. I can't recommend this book enough. 

Having just finished re-reading Killing is my Business by Adam Christopher, I couldn't leave this 1960's robot hitman series off the list. Starting with Made to Kill, the last robotic detective off the production line, Ray heads up the Electromatic Detective Agency, an agency which dabbles in murder more than finding missing people - unless said missing persons were scheduled for elimination that is. The 4 book series is a lighter look at a dark side of surreal crime fiction with Ray instantly likable and down to earth.   

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Review: BLOOD SUGAR by Daniel Kraus

Publisher Titan
Length 221 pages
Format paperback
Published 2019
Series Standalone
My Copy I brought it

My Review
From the start you know this isn't going to be any ordinary book; seeped in slang, the story set among squalor, Blood Sugar is at once creative and consuming. It absorbs the reader in a heartfelt story hiding behind the curtains of  malicious intent and a twisted form of vengeance.  

The narrative is insightful innocence spoken through a veil of ignorance that's all too real and scary as hell - more as a result of the plot's initial intent as apposed to the outcome.

While misleading, the cover is true to the book; make no mistake Halloween is the centerpiece but you won't find witches, monsters, or ghosts here. Just four down-on-their-luck characters who bond to form an unconventional family unit.

I loved every page.The unique style and over indulgent use of ebonics provided the characters with a voice that's honest and full complimentary to the story's place-setting; a perfect fit for the tone of the book. I give this a solid 5 stars. Blood Sugar will no doubt be on my 'Best of 2019' list come years end. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [55]: SHANGHAI FLAME by A.S. Fleischman

Published in 1951, Shanghai Flame by A.S. Fleischman is a book I'd never heard of but had to have, in part due to that delicious pulp cover and my need to snap up as many Gold Medal books as possible. This one was a lucky dollar pick-up at a rural bookstore and, early on, seemed to have a lot of promise; back alley noir with a twist of hardboiled fiction thrown in to put some hair on your chest. 

Unfortunately, the gripping opening stanza wasn't a sign of things to come with the story largely tapering off from a pulp perspective; this despite the stock-standard wanton woman (or women) and male chauvinist with a whole lot to hide and more to gain; a wrong man front with little in the back. 

The plot revolves around a journalist, Alex Cloud, on a mission to find the love of his life (a women called Flame), also a journalist who currently resides in Shanghai. Cloud, seemingly known to everyone he encounters in the city steadily tracks down Flame but finds himself in a world of pain, thanks in large part to 1) having in his possession a list of Communist spies, 2) the fact he's a notorious ladies man and said Flame isn't keen on rekindling their relationship, and lastly 3) well, lots of people want him dead...for you know, reasons....

Despite not being one of the better pulps, there are still some pretty memorable moments, most occurring in the first couple of chapters which are worth the price of admission alone, even if the rest of the book doesn't stack up. 

I rate this a solid 2 stars (out of 5). If you see Shanghai Flame in a used bookstore and pulps (or collecting Gold Medal books) is your thing, grab a copy, if not, give it a miss. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [54]: THE WIND-UP DOLL by Carter Brown

The Wind-up Doll pits Carter Brown's resident Hollywood fixer against a conglomerate of mobsters, shysters, movie stars, and greedy mothers as he delves into the past of a singer who has his sights set on a young and upcoming movie starlet. 

Hired by the starlet's studio bosses to check out the singer,Holman gets a whole lot more than he bargained for; expecting mystery, he soon becomes embroiled in murder!  

The case, if it can be called that, is one of the more sloppy ones written by Carter Brown; usually his pulps have a distinct style and voice which mirrors his protagonists (Holman - the Hollywood fixer, Al Wheeler - the hardboiled cop, Danny Body - the debonair private eye, Mavis Seidlitz - the dizzy blonde bombshell who moonlights as a private eye, etc.) but The Wind-up Doll lacks any real identity. Holman is equal parts Boyd, Wheeler, and Seidlitz which doesn't make this read like the standard Holman story. 

As with many other Carter Brown pulps, the dialogue can be hit or miss and this one is largely miss. Holman reads like a child out for candy and frequently throws tantrums when he doesn't get what he wants (in this case, said candy happens to be the prominent bust of a blonde beauty). 

Despite the obvious flaws, The Wind-up Doll is an 'OK' read. Clocking in at the standard 127/8 pages it's a quick form of escapism, which, if you know what you're getting into, can be some fun humorous time-off from other forms of literature. I give this 2 (out of 5) stars. 

My edition: second edition, published by Horwitz Publications, 1965. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [53]: CAMP BLOOD by John Slater

Camp Blood is a wartime pulp set in the jungles of Timor where a troop of Aussie fighters are pinned down by a Japanese contingent, hellbent on eliminating the Australians in order to strengthen their hold on the jungle and its surrounds. 

I'm not one for reading wartime fiction but took a chance mostly due to the delicious pulp cover and I wasn't disappointed. Camp Blood reads more like a men's adventure story rather than a classic war novel; largely centered around 'Big Ben', an Aussie soldier who gets separated from his comrades during a heated battle only to find his way into the waiting arms of a Eurasian beauty who'd been hiding in a hut with her father deep in the jungle.  

From there things get pretty interesting when the couple are captured and by the Japanese and sent to the notorious Camp Blood for interrogation. 

While light on description, the implied torture of the couple at the hands of the vicious bad guys adds a dark element to the narrative and exemplifies the good verses evil tone of the book. 

I'd given Camp Blood a solid 3 (out of 5) stars. Published by renowned Australian pulp published, Horwitz Publishers in 1963, the story holds up pretty well and is just the thing to spice up your pulp collection. I'll be on the look out for more John Slater books in the secondhand bookstores. 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [52]: SNATCHED and SAFEKEEPING by Gregory McDonlad

Published in 2017 by Hard Case Crime as a two-for-one, Snatched (originally published as Who Took Tony Rinaldi) and Safekeeping are kidnap capers with interesting and well developed characters who find themselves in compromising and unpleasant situation. 

Form the synopsis, Snatched reads like a thriller laden with politics, lies, and deceit and whist there are lies and deceit aplenty the political angle was played down to the extend it was more background noise than prominent plot piece which allowed for the kidnap and events proceeding it to take center stage.  

8yr old Tony Rinaldi, son of a prominent political figure is kidnapped by criminals who can only be described as blundering and semi-professional insofar as their plans are complicated by the comedic nature of their enterprise and penchant for self destructive behavior. It's like the blind leading the blind with no braille; this makes for some light heartened moments in what could've been a dark slice of crime fiction. 

The short punchy chapters didn't skimp on detail and progressed the story at just the right pace, all the way through to the entertaining (though a tad drawn out) cat and mouse finale. 

Safekeeping unfortunately didn't live up to expectations and was very nearly a DNF. I'm not sure the premise worked; a heady mix of satire and comedy blended with heartache, death, and a homeless orphan. It's a confusing concoction that doesn't mix. 

8yr old Robby is pulled from his sleeping quarters at the boarding school he attends in England to hear his family has been killed following the bombing of their house; innocent victims of WWII. He's promptly shipped off to America to live with his 'uncle'; a man who turns out to be of no relation (nor has he a single parental bone in his body), a journalist, and well known in criminal circles. This 'uncle' irresponsibly sends Robby off on his own to find a school in New York because all young children 'know where to find a school'. Robby is kidnapped shortly after getting lost and the story just goes downhill from there. 

If you're reading this two-for-one, I strongly suggest putting the book down after Snatched, Safekeeping just isn't worth it. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Review: THE WAREHOUSE by Rob Hart

Publisher Bantam (Penguin Random House Australia)
Length 358 pages
Format paperback
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

In a scarily plausible near future, brick and mortar stores have crumbled to the overwhelming weight of online shopping, with Cloud (a fictionalised futuristic take on today’s Amazon) catering to every conceivable consumer need. Productivity and efficiency are crucial to keeping costs down and profits high; as means to maximise the output of the workforce, each employee of Cloud lives onsite and takes Cloud owned transport to their designated ‘section’ (packaging, food prep, security, tech etc.) where they work 7 days a week undertaking highly repetitive tasks.

Each employee has a star rating, has their movements tracked, and output measured; it’s a police state with a semi-voluntary slant; employees actually want to work at Cloud. The reason? Cities are overpopulated, jobs are scarce, and much of the plant seems uninhabitable. However, two characters (and recent Cloud recruits), Paxton and Zinnia arrive at a Cloud ‘city’ with ulterior motives; revenge, and destruction.

The Warehouse is an addictive and all-consuming read which transports the reader to a future world not too far removed from what we already know. Big brother doesn’t watch, he tracks and monitors – everything from health, task assignment, to toilet breaks; its creepy and claustrophobic. 

There’s an omnipresent threat element hanging over Cloud which builds as the story progresses with both Paxton and Zinnia key cogs in the machine. Not only are the characters and setting well written, so too are the more mysterious plot devices. I know the term ‘page-turner’ is overused but it’s warranted here.

My rating: 5/5 stars. Highly recommend.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Review: THE EDGE by Tim Lebbon

Publisher Titan
Length 333 pages
Format paperback
Published 2019
Series Relics #3
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
The third book in the Relics trilogy provides a satisfying conclusion to the Ascent story-line while leaving the Fold ajar for future stories. 

The Edge follows a slightly different path to the previous books (Relics, The Folded Land) in that it focuses on two locations for the vast majority of the story; the Fold (the mysterious land of the kin controlled by the murderous and mad fairy, Grace) and a long dead town of Longford, recently revealed to the world following the receding of longtime flood waters (the place of a grisly mass murder and cover-up some 40 years ago of its inhabitants, both human and kin). 

It's within this muddy graveyard of death and despair that creatures return to the fold (nice play on words there eh?), existing where they should never draw breath. Their minds maddened, their hunger intense. It's the perfect platform for horror fiction further exemplified by the just-as-scary element of mythological creatures walking the face of the earth. For Bone, the lone survivor of the decades old tragedy, returning to Longford sees his dreams and nightmares converge, caught up in a cataclysmic battle of good verses evil.

I'm a big fan of the Relics books and ate this one up like Grace sampling her kin for sport. The mythology and expanse of creatures grows, the characters become more invested, and the stories more shockingly brutal. Fingers crossed we've not seen the last the the kin.    

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

Visit Tim Lebbon's website HERE for more info about the author and some of his other equally entertaining books (like The Silence for instance). 

Visit the publisher website, Titan Books, HERE for more info about this series and other cool books. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Review: THE OPERATORS by Barry Heard

Publisher Scribe
Length 264 pages
Format softcover
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

The Operators could've been an entertaining yarn had it not been for the excessive filler content which stagnated the story. 

The opening stanza hinted at this being a thriller but that soon dried up as man-bags, facebook, and a trip to Indonesia to see a rare flower bloom took over. The pacing and excessively polite dialogue and overwhelming respect towards strangers, mates, and, to a certain extent, criminals was annoying and read like the author was more concerned with offending someone as opposed to telling a dangerous kidnap and recover story. 

Additionally, too often the author delved deep into character backstory (including bit players) which, when it came to the crunch, didn't actually add anything meaningful to Wally Flannagan's predicament. The same can be said for the passages about communication during wartime's on the front; whilst insightful, there was just too many pages devoted to it which hindered, more than it helped. 

Despite my obvious misgivings about The Operators, I did enjoy some moments, notably the kidnapping scene and some passages describing the elaborate kidnap caper and the high powered criminal enterprise behind it. 

I'm sure there are readers who will lap up the slower pace but it just wasn't for me.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Review: CRICKET HUNTERS by Jeremy Helper

Publisher Silver Shamrock Publishing
Length 271 pages
Format ebook
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

With hints of horror and undertones of the supernatural, Cricket Hunters leads readers down a dark and scary path of violence, lost innocence and misguided valor.  

The story is split into two parts; focusing on a close-knit group of teens (collectively known as the 'Cricket Hunters') in the late 1990's and later as adults in the early 2010's. In both timelines, the characters face some strange and disturbing happenings, with the later period exhibiting more subdue horror than the earlier, though the conclusion to that portion of the plot is no less impactful.  

There's a semi-Stranger Things vibe from the 1990'a portion of the book despite it reading more as a coming of age story; the threat of horror (or something horrible) was omnipresent and exciting while the 2010's portion read more like a mystery with ghostly overtones thrown in for good measure. 

The characters and clever conclusion are real highlights of book providing a real punch to the overall plot. As a guy who reads a lot, I didn't see the ending coming until it slapped me in the face. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

Cricket Hunters is due to be published 1 September 2019 by Silver Shamrock Publishing. Head over to their website to find out more about this book and other upcoming titles. 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Paperbacks From Hell!!!

Paperbacks from Hell has a lot to answer for. Not only is the book excellent but it also kicked off my latest book buying obsession - paperback horror, specifically those gruesome and downright horrible (but oh so delicious) mass market editions of the 1970's and 1980's. 

The covers are cheesy with a splash of sleaze and are often better than the books themselves. But hey, readers don't collect these things for the content. No. It's the aesthetics and the hope that one of those books may actually turn out okay. That was my thoughts anyway. Happy to say, I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of recent reads that I managed to pick up cheap from a rural secondhand bookstore. 

One, The Omen, comes as no surprise really. I also picked up the sequel, Omen II and have heard mixed reviews, but for The Omen itself, I rated it 5 stars; a classic horror which everyone should read. It's better than the film in my opinion. 

Blood Worm was another fun gory romp into the world of giant blood worms and killer beetles as they terrorized London. Not up to the quality of The Omen, it was still a fun form of escapism. While Mantis by K.W Jeter is tense psychological horror derived from madness and a warped sense of reality, thanks to a schizophrenic subtext and an unreliable narrator - one of the finds of the bunch. 

Not all of these gory books are great or particularly noteworthy but that doesn't make collecting them any less desirable. Take The Longest Night by J.N. Williamson for example, cool cover, cool concept but crappy book (The Tupla by the same author is much, much better). Disembodied by Robert W. Walker falls into the same category; cool concept with a crappy execution but a coveted cover. 

Yet all is not lost! In addition to the aforementioned, Blood Worm and The Omen, Night Tran by Thomas F. Monteleone is a very good book, one, that somehow crams everything horror into one mass market paperback from ghosts to monsters and everything in-between.  

Simple and plain, Paperbacks from Hell is a must-own for fans of horror fiction, and purveyors of cool covers. Stacked with information and witty write-up of obscure works - some best left in dusty old book bins, others proverbial diamonds in the rough, there's something here for everyone. Come inside, who knows how your life will change once you step back into the real world... 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Review: THE GIRL IN RED by Christina Henry

Publisher Titan Books
Length 363 pages
Format paperback
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

Christina Henry has a knack for re-imagining popular fairy-tales and children's stories into darker reincarnations for adults. 

The Girl In Red is the latest book to get the horror treatment and it doesn't fail to deliver on the creepy scale. Think Little Red Riding Hood set in a dystopian world bursting at the seems with danger and suspense torn straight form the pages of The Walking Dead with visual cues from Alien - yeah, it's that kind of creepy good.

The survival horror theme works perfectly, thanks to a plot centered around a unique and kick-a$$ protagonist in Red; a young woman with plenty of smarts and a heart as big as her personality. She's an endearing character you can't help but root for. 

The journey towards peace and protection at grandma's house is a turbulent one with a mixture of horrors sure to raise goosebumps. There's also some nice shock-horror movements movie buffs will appreciate.

My rating: 5/5 stars. The Girl In Red is a fun, fast paced read with interesting characters and an equality interesting place-setting. Fingers crossed for more  in this setting.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Review: THE CHAIN by Adrian McKinty

Publisher Hachette Australia
Length 10hrs 9mins
Format audiobook
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review

Promoted heavily (at least by the twitter folk I follow anyway) as Jaws for parents, The Chain is every parent's nightmare and certainly fits the 'Jaws for parents' analogy. 

Using a clever take on kidnapping, The Chain turns everyday parents into ruthless criminals who'd do anything to protect their love-ones, in turn, providing the mastermind behind the Chain complete anonymity ultimately rendering law enforcement null and void. From the depths of a mothers despair and out of pure desperation, a reluctant and apprehensive protagonist arises to combat this presumably times-old criminal enterprise; the result is nothing short of breathtaking.

This is the kind of book that hooks you in early and never lets go. The suspense, drama, and tension builds and builds to near boiling point, completely consuming the reader and enveloping them in this plausible underworld of terror.  

My rating: 5/5 stars. I can't say too much about the story because I know I'll accidentally give away spoilers, but suffice to say, The Chain could be the best crime fiction novel of 2019.    

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Review: MASTER OF PAIN by Wrath James White & Kristopher Rufty

Publisher Death's Head Press
Length 226 pages
Format ebook
Published 2019

Series standalone

My Review

Fifty Shades of Grey this is not. 

Master of Pain is a deadly mix of erotic, horror, and to a lesser extent crime fiction which focuses on the beauty in brutality, in-turn providing the reader a glimpse into the world of kink and the darker side of obsession and desire. 

There's a lot of blood; some spilled willingly, some, not so much, so reader beware, the content is not for the faint of heart.  

The book centers around a master who has a thing for murdering his submissives, but only once he's performed unspeakable acts of debauchery, debasing his victims (whilst they go to him willingly, once in the master's web, there's nothing consensual about what transpires) to shadows of their former self.  

The characters are well written and there's some decent backstory to help the reader develop a connection with them (be it master, or sub). Despite not reading erotic fiction, I lapped this one up and was pleasantly surprised by the quasi crime fiction and horror elements. 

My rating: 4.5/5 stars. Thanks to the Brian Keene podcast, The Horror Show for promoting this book, otherwise I would've never heard of it. 
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