Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review: RETURN TO THE LOST LEVEL by Brian Keene

Publisher Apex Book Company
Length 207 pages
Format ebook
Published 2018
Series Lost Level #2
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review

The return is just as good as the arrival. 

As with The Lost Level, author Brian Keene has me once again geeking out over the fantastical creatures and dangerous plant life which inhabit this fanboy's delight; an extravagant form of escapism for the escape-driven enthusiast. 

The dangers of The Lost Level are well documented, thanks to the journal-like method used in the original book, yet the element of surprise never fails as action/accidental hero Aaron Pace and co face off against some truly menacing foes. There's one particular scene in which Aaron is forced to fend off a pterodactyl at feeding time which really sticks out thanks to the sheer brutality and edge-of-your-seat action. Then there's the hunt through the Lost Level's ominously dangerous jungle towards the home of the snake-men Anunnaki...wow, I wont' spoil it but man, this book begs to be read.

There's a distinct sci-fi/fantasy/adventure pulp-ish feel to these books which makes them all the more readable; nothing is ever truly what it seems (a triceratops as a pet anyone?) and any element of comic-book imagery could materialise at any moment - and it does for a little extra gravy on top.

My rating: 5/5 stars. As you can tell, I love these books. 

Order a copy online from the publishers website or Amazon, you won't regret it. 

You can read more about Brian Keene HERE

You may also like:

The Lost Level by Brain Keene, the first book to feature our hero Aaron Pace. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Review: DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN by Adam Christopher

Publisher Century
Length 432 pages
Format softcover
Published 2019
Series Stranger Things
My Copy I bought it


My Review

Darkness on the Edge of Town provides some insight into Jim Hopper's life as a New York City detective working homicide before he ended up as chief of police in Hawkins. The storytelling method uses a throwback technique (Christmas eve, Hopper and El sitting around as he recounts a case in 1977) which readers will either like or not; unfortunately it didn't work for me, with the method coming across as little more than a gimmick to link this book to the series proper - otherwise reading as a non-licensed cult/crime fiction story  (unless I missed something major in the book - entirely possible). 

I've always found Hopper an intriguing character with a lot of potential for further exploration and development, particularly from a noir or hard-boiled perspective - and while the second official Stranger Things novel goes some ways to achieving that, it leans heavy towards a more mainstream crime focus with hints of the other worldly thrown in in an attempt to tie it with Netflix series. 

As a crime fiction book, there are some really nice things going on in Darkness on the Edge of Town; the idea of a citywide black-out and a crazed cult engaged in battle in the darkness against a range of wild gangs is pretty cool, as is learning of Hopper's former partner and glimpse into his life post Vietnam. However, none of it felt deep enough to hold the story; when I hit page 300, it felt like things were really just starting to get going, then in 100-odd pages we're done; this is one of the few occasions I can say I would've liked an extra 100+ pages to flesh out the plot elements and provide added depth to the story.

My rating: 3/5 stars. The cover is cool. The book is just okay. 

You may also like:

Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond (the first Stranger Things novel)


World's Turned Upside Down (non-fiction serious companion)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Oh, The Horror! - For Your Ears [1]

This is the first post in a series of blog posts I plan to periodically revisit where I recommend some of the more scarier horror audiobooks I've listened to recently. 

Horror, as a genre, is incredibly diverse and my selections for this inaugural post reflect that with a creature-feature in The Nest, a teen slasher in The Last Final Girl, and a ghost story in Cold Moon Over Babylon. 

Without further preamble - here's the horror for your ears! 


The Nest (written by Gregory A. Douglas, read by Matt Godfrey)

Set on an isolated island with a small community, The Nest follows the speedy evolution of a subspecies of cockroaches, leveraging off other well known insect characteristics such as the hive mind of ants, and the workers/soldier classes of termites. Without spoiling, there's some further evolutionary goodies which the author throws in the up the horror ante but I'll leave that surprise for other readers. 

Naturally, these advanced cockroaches venture out of their nest to wreak havoc on the islands inhabitants, essentially making this somewhat of a survival horror with scientific elements spattering throughout for plausibility. 


The steady stream of blood, scenes of overtly graphic gore, and surprisingly good level of character development, make The Nest one of the better horror novels from the saturated 80's mass-market.

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

The Last Final Girl (written by Stephen Graham Jones, read by Eric G. Dove)

The Last Final Girl is a teen slasher with some saucy satire. The book oozes sexuality and is brimming with brutality; all the teenage women are attractive, while the the antagonist is pure typecast teen horror movie. 

Sure there's not a lot of depth but that's not what you pay for - load up the pop corn and don't answer the phone at night. 

The unique script storytelling methodology contributes to the distinctly b-grade feel which makes the Scream/I Know What You Did Last Summer-like spoof all the more alluring for fans of the slasher sub genre. 

And that ending...formulaic but fun! 

My rating: 4/5 stars.  

Cold Moon Over Babylon (written by Michael McDowell, read by Scott Brick) 

Cold Moon Over Babylon is a moody and evocative murder mystery with supernal elements that hits all the right chords for horror enthusiasts.  

The small town setting fits the intimate nature of the story with nobody discounted as a suspect; motives a-plenty for a murder most macabe. 

Yet the best parts lay at the bottom of a river run wild with horrors too dark to be seen in the light. The result? A scarily good gory ghost story which punctures the depths of despairs and puts a strangle hold on the reader. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Review: THE NEED by Helen Phillips

Publisher Penguin / Viking Books
Length 261 pages
Format softcover
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review

Imagine being in two places at once; as a parent of young children, I can appreciate the appeal, however, this suspense filled surreal fiction centered around domestic family life flips the script on that notion to deliver a truly engrossing tale where nothing is quite as it seems. 

Comprising elements of sci-fi and horror, drama, The Need has a little something for everyone. Primarily centered around Molly and her two young children, the story is complimented by a series of strange happenings at a local dig-site where Molly works; a number of odd artifacts are unearthed and before long the site becomes a popular draw-card for the tourist industry. Unfortunately for Molly, the increase in attention spawns an unimaginable horror. 

The Need is pitch perfect for parents; that inbuilt primal desire to protect your children at all costs is exploited in devastatingly good fashion. The story is sure to pull at parent's heartstrings from the opening pages and throughout as it steadily evolves into something completely unexpected yet scarily satisfying. 

My rating:4/5 stars. 

The Need is scheduled to be published 16 July 2019. Read more about this book and others from the publishers website

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Pick of the Month [June 2019]

(June 2019 stack)

I read 11 books in June with just under half of those being from my genre of choice (for 2019 at least), horror! (and a higher proportion being ebook/audio than usual hence the lesser impressive stack compared to last months monument). 

It's not surprising then that The Nest by Gregory A. Douglas (first published in 1980) is my pick for June's reading. I first stumbled across this thanks to the excellent Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix and later by Valancourt Books who released it in print, digital, and audio formats in 2019. Simply put, this book was creepy - and, in rare air, holds-up very well nearly 40 years since its original publication. 


Keeping with the horror theme, Resurrection Dreams by one of my newest favorite horror horrors, Richard Laymon, was another page turning book of terror with some truly creepy characters and well executed plot. Both books I've read by Richard Laymon have been top-notch; there's a few more waiting in my tbr pile I'll get to soon.


Other highlights include the newly published In The Scrape by James Newman and Mark Steensland,  an engaging novella which drew me in with it's well defined characters and heartfelt domestic struggle involving two young brothers forced to live in an adult world driven by violence and blanketed in despair. Thanks to Silver Shamrock Publishing for sending me a copy for review! 


The Lost Level by Brian Keene (published 2014) is a delicious blend of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi; pure, unadulterated escapism for adults. I'm new to this series, having only discovered it this year and have the sequel lined up for this month. 

Lastly, I can't forget to mention my latest entry into my Pick up a Pulp series of blog posts, this one features Red-Headed Sinners by Jonathan Craig (published 1962) and it's a winner!

Happy reading.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Review: THE NEST by Gregory A. Douglas

Publisher Valancourt Books
Length 9hrs 59mins
Format audio
Published 1980 (audio - 2019)
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it


My Review

Well, that was creepy. 

The Nest is for cockroaches as Arachnophobia is for spiders. Damn near sure to induce entomophobia, this 1980's creature feature horror brought back to life thanks to Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hell and Valancourt Books is a spine tingling, disturbingly good piece of fiction which, thanks to the authors extensive research, reads scarily plausible - yep, even with these menacing cockroaches reaching the size of 8 inches in the book, somehow this feels like it could happen, making the story that little bit more horrifying.

Set on an isolated island with a small community, The Nest follows the speedy evolution of a subspecies of cockroaches, leveraging off other well known insect characteristics such as the hive mind of ants, and the workers/soldier classes of termites. Without spoiling, there's some further evolutionary goodies which the author throws in the up the horror ante but I'll leave that surprise for other readers. 

Naturally, these advanced cockroaches venture out of their nest to wreak havoc on the islands inhabitants, essentially making this somewhat of a survival horror with scientific elements spattering throughout for plausibility. 

The steady stream of blood, scenes of overtly graphic gore, and surprisingly good level of character development, make The Nest one of the better horror novels from the saturated 80's mass-market. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Review: IN THE SCRAPE BY James Newman and Mark Steensland

Publisher Silver Shamrock Publishing
Length 108 pages
Format ebook
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review

In The Scrape is a fast paced novella easily consumable in a single sitting. The story is engaging and draws the reader in with it's well defined characters and heartfelt domestic struggle involving two young brothers forced to live in an adult world driven by violence and blanketed in despair. 

Jacob and Matthew live with the knowledge that their absentee mother didn't want them and their father doesn't care for them. Then there's the group of bullies at school who torment the two, leaving mouths bloody and self-esteem scared. Life isn't great. The only way out is to run away with little more than shirts on their backs and a bag of golden age comic books to sell. Of course it's easier to plan than to do, which the brothers soon learn...

In The Scrape is a story of persistence, resilience, and unexpected twists. Anchored by domestic drama, the themes will hit home with fathers/mothers who can't help but feel for the brothers struggle.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

- - - - -

In The Scrape is due to be published 1 July 2019 by Silver Shamrock Publishing. Head over to their website to find out more about this book and other upcoming titles. 

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Review: THE LOST LEVEL by Brian Keene

Publisher Apex Book Company
Length 186 pages
Format ebook
Published 2015
Series The Lost Level #1
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review

Adventure, horror, and science fiction in a lost land devoid of time and unique in it's flora and fauna. 

The Lost Level reads like an ode to the iconic comic hero Sheena and men's adventure mags, Brian Keene's pulp-tastic tale set in a unique place-setting is a nerd's delight - I mean, how could it not be? There's a freaking T-Rex battling a giant killer robot in an high octane earth-shattering epic battle scene. Add a touch of Alien (greys), a dash of X-Men (think Beast), and a harrowing hint of the occult and The Lost Level quickly becomes something special.

The story follows occult enthusiast Aaron Pace as he attempts, and then succeeds in opening a doorway to other dimensions. Able to step back in time, to the future, to alternate realities and back to present day Earth, Aaron eventually walks through a one way door leading him straight into the fabled lost level. It's here author Brian Keene delves into his bag of tricks to cleverly craft a tale loaded with adventure, intrigue, danger, and a hint of romance. 

The Lost Level is fun, pure, unadulterated escapism for adults. I highly recommend picking up a copy and getting lost in the madness that awaits.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.  

Find out more about The Lost Level and where to buy a copy from the Apex Book Company webiste

Also, check out Brain Keene's website for more information about the author and his other, equally awesome books. 

I'll be posting a review of the follow-up, Return to the Lost Level soon!


Friday, June 21, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [51]: RED-HEADED SINNERS by Jonathan Craig

Red-Headed Sinners, on the surface, is meant to be a psychological crime drama, spruced with all the period pulp staples - and it delivers - for the most part. What's missing is the element of surprise, complexity, and deep character engagement despite some marred attempts. 

The plot follows a damaged and dangerous police officer with murderous tendencies towards women with red hair due to an incident which occurred in his youth in which a red-haired woman was prominently featured. 

As the struggle to suppress the murderous urge intensifies, the thin blue line between law and unlawful becomes blurred - to the point of being irrelevant. With lust taking over, the plot boils over into a murder frenzy with seemingly no way out. Any character with red hair is a certain target - for the reader, the only devil is the detail in which the author crafts each characters end. 

Personally, I enjoyed this pulp, first published in 1962 and brought to life again in 2013. The story holds up well despite the passing time yet it doesn't quite deliver everything I wanted; namely some element of suspense or mystery; characters pop up, die, and then it's on to the next one. Whilst this is fine, it does become tedious by the fourth victim.

I'd rate this pulp a solid 4 stars despite my misgivings. Red-Headed Sinners is an easy and enjoyable well written book which puts it a touch above most pulps published around the same period I've previously read. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Review: MY PET SERIAL KILLER by Michael J. Seidlinger

Publisher Fangoria
Length 464 pages
Format paperback
Published 2018
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it 


My Review

"She winks at him. There's a killer on every corner, even if they don't know inside if they have what it takes. She'll show them how."

My Pet Serial Killer is unlike any novel I've read before. Flipping the script on the traditional method of storytelling, the book really throws the reader in at the deep end. Concentrate or capitulate. 

Alternating between sequences of pure violence, pick-up schemes, study, and filmography, My Pet Serial Killer maintains a consistent rapid fire pace in which the reader never quite knows what to expect next.   

The interesting plot device invokes reader participation as a voyeur to the characters violence. This method makes for a unique perspective as we follow Claire, a professional chameleon, as she sates her bloodlust vicariously through serial killers under her control. 

Claire doesn't have relationships. She has pets - and we're not talking fluffy cats and timid dogs, we're talking dangerous humans who revel in the demise of others in the most macabre manner they can fashion. As the story progress it becomes apparent Claire isn't as put together as she makes out... 

There's an unreliable narrator theme which poses a constant question about the stability of Claire and the gruesome events which take place in her apartment, at night clubs, on the side of highways, and in prison. The omnipresent instability heightens the reader experience as you never know what level of debauchery (true or imagined) lays in wait on the next pages. 

I thoroughly enjoyed My Pet Serial Killer, in part because of the unique storytelling but more-so due to the complexities of Claire and the horrors she so willingly brought to life.

My rating: 5/5 stars.  

You may also like:

Our Lady of the Inferno by Preston Fassel (also published by Fangoria)

Monday, June 3, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [50]: THE NAKED LIGHT by James Moffatt

When I picked up The Naked Light at a secondhand bookstore, I thought I was getting another title from Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hellthe synopsis leads the reader down a path of horror involving satanic ritual, human sacrifice, and seedy starlets in a perverse Hollywood drug scene.    

A horror novel this is not. 

The Naked Light is pure pulp circa 1970's complete with wanton women, chauvinistic men, and a plot with murder and sex at its core. What's missing is the stereotypical lone wolf private eye who drinks too much and beds too few (for his liking), instead, we're treated to an overtly sexual and highly intellectual Hollywood film studio publicist in Lucy Christian who has taken it upon herself to kinda find out who killed who. 

Which brings me to the killing bit. 

The book opens with a satanic ritual of sorts but it's really an excuse for a bunch of Hollywood stars to dabble in debauchery by virtue of a mass orgy. If anything, the cult angle is tokenistic at best; the means to an end in a half hearted effort to make the reader think there's some otherworldly sinister shenanigans at play. Its here, among the river of bodily fluids and naked mounds that a mass murder takes place.

With Mermaid Pictures loosing some of its most billable stars, Lucy is sent to semi-investigate the deaths of behalf of the studio, but moreso, to spin a cover-up which will posthumously turn one of said seedy starlets into a martyr. Why? So the studio can release pre recorded films starring the dead actors without any major fan backlash due to their questionable hobbies of the flesh. 

Think of every kind of pulp character stalwart and you'll find it here (excluding the private eye). It's as if author James Moffatt swallowed a bunch of sleaze pulps and vomited out a single story which attempted to contain every single element without really mastering any given one. 

Now I know, this review paints the book in a bad light, and, truth be told, I rate it a solid 2.5/5 stars but it's actually not that bad. I like pulps and didn't mind this one. Lucy is a great character and by far the highlight of the book. Had the author focused more on condensing the threads, this could've been much better. 

Other pulps with similar themes include:

Pick Up A Pulp [18]: The Passionate Pagan by Carter Brown 


Pick Up A Pulp [48]: Devil, Devil by Michael Avallone

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Pick of the Month [May 2019]

My May reading stack

I read 16 books in May and am right on target to reach my Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge of 150 books. I will make it clear though; I much prefer quality over quantity, the fact that I'm able to consume so many books in any given month is a bonus :-) 

Once again my selection of books catered to my eclectic tastes, ranging from supernatural/horror by Chuck Wendig in Vultures, to Australian outback crime in Boxed by Richard Anderson


I rated 7 books 5 stars; a pretty a decent strike rate if you ask me but there can only be one pick of the month! (well sometimes I pick two) and this month its the forthcoming horror/sci-fi/noir from Apex Book Company Coil by Ren Warom. What I can say? This book blew me away with its vivid imagery, complex characters, and storytelling depth - it's a book which caters to a wide audience with a slant towards those readers who like their fiction with a double shot of darkness. Brilliant. 


Other highlights include the compulsively crazy, This Body's Not Big Enough for Both of Us by Edgar Cantero which features a private eye unlike any other. An incredibly clever and well written book, I strongly recommend for fans of books like Secret Dead Men by Duane Swierczynski (a personal fav of mine, and a book I actually reread in May), Cold Moon Over Bablon by Michael McDowell - a moody and evocative murder mystery with some serious horror overtones, and the slasher Endless Night by horror stalwart Richard Laymon

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Review: COIL by Ren Warom

Publisher Apex Book Company
Length 330 pages
Format ebook
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review

Line your stomach before delving into the depths of this book; its vivid imagery and gore-infused sequences of delicious madness are not for the squeamish. 

Coil's plot is wound tight by a dangerously deranged and morally deprived killer lucking deep in the bowels of a densely populated futuristic post apocalyptic cityscape, plucking victims and pulling stings of gang leaders and peace keepers alike. 

It's an imagined future most ferocious where body modification, transmutation, and a mashing of the ideals behind inanimate object and living organisms rein supreme.

Add in some poetic prose and deftly crafted depictions of inner city slum life and this makes for a great read. 

The combination of noir, horror, and sci-fi broaden Coil's appeal but it's the protagonist and antagonist which make this something special; two sides of the same grime and blood crusted coin. Key characters in Stark, Burneo, Nia, and co. all add a little something to the Bone/Rope equation which contributes to the meaty feel of the book. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

Side note - check out that 80's retro horror cover art! I reckon I'll go buy the physical book too. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Review: THIS BODY'S NOT BIG ENOUGH FOR BOTH OF US by Edgar Cantero

Publisher Titan
Length 304 pages
Format paperback
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review

Inventive and interesting, the creation that is the collective character known as A.Z. Kimrean; twins who share the same body but look and function (at least on the outside) as one person, is clever, witty, and adds a little dynamite to what is a devilish noir. 

A stock standard private eye novel, this is not. It's like the combined creative efforts behind Micky Spillane's Hammer books, Duane Swierczynski's Secret Dead Men, and Marc Lecard's Vinnie's Head met up in a bar, got drunk and decided to turn noir naughty and nice and all things sour and spice...um, yeah, you could say this book leaves a lasting impression... 

I love when books grab you by the proverbial from the get-go and that's exactly how This Body's Not Big Enough for Both of Us opens up - with a perfectly executed, slightly disorienting roller-coaster of manic storytelling that left me light headed but craving more like a crack addict. 

Sure, the broader PI plot formula is a tried and tested one but it succeeds in its simplicity, allowing for the characteristics and complexities of A.Z. Kimrean to shine. 

My rating; 5/5 stars. This was my first introduction to author Edgar Cantero, now to check out Meddling Kids

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [49]: Two for One Gil Brewer novels

Publisher Stark House
Length 286 pages
Format paperback
Published 2008
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it


My Review
A DEVIL FOR O'SHAUGNESSY

An okay pulp which lacks any real punch to the plot. 

The reader is dropped knee deep in a con, with Tolbert O'Shaugnessy lured into a desperate game of deception by the lovely Miriam who has murder and money on her mind. With her elderly Grandmother still going strong and steady, the chances of inheriting a cool quarter of a mill any time soon are slim, that is, if Miriam is willing to wait and let nature take its course - which she isn't. Enter Tolbert and a scheme which tests his conviction for the con. 

This was just okay. There are some nice characters and minor complementary story-lines which were fun but overall, the plot was dull and failed to deliver much by way of mystery or entertainment. 

In a desperate pitch to change things up, author Gil Brewer added a dose of the supernatural which, if anything, contributed to the books downfall in my opinion. 

My rating: 2.5/5 stars. 

THE THREE WAY SPLIT

Buried treasure done the pulp way. 

The Three Way Split was a treasure trove of fun, containing a small cast which made a big impact. 

Jack Holland lives on the sea, his work sustains his oceanic lifestyle and his beautiful girlfriend warms his bed at night. He's carved a niche existence which, minor cash flow problems aside, generally keeps him content. However, a visit from his estranged father soon sees Jack wading through deeper waters than he'd imagined, ones where blood mixes with salt water, and dangerous currents threaten to pull him under for a long slept among the fishes. 

The linear plot is breezy and free flowing while the pacing reflects situation; manic. This is a great example of a pitch perfect pulp in holiday mode. 

My rating: 4.5/5 stars. Definitely the better of the two novels in the collection. 

DIG THAT CRAZY CORPSE

Hard boiled PI story complete with all the genre staples. Nothing especially memorable about it but the narrative did have a nice clear flow and the linear plot made for easy reading. I wouldn’t mind reading more of this PI who hints at the unconventional bordering on atypical. 


3/5 stars.

LOVE... AND LUCK


Short sexy noir about a (presumably) promiscuous married woman and her former flame who’s in town to wreck her marriage and boy does he! 


4/5 stars

INDISCRETION 


A sexy housewife who loves to cheat on her husband with strange men. Abused and misused she craves more, her husband unsuspecting all the whole. Erotic noir. 


5/5 stars

Overall this is a solid collection which fans of Gil Brewer and pulp in general will not want to miss. I'd give this collection 4/5 stars.