Sunday, January 27, 2019

and the scariest cover award goes to...

I've been reading a lot of horror lately largely thanks to the excellent non fiction book by Grady Hendrix, Paperbacks from Hell which has opened my eyes to the wonderfully macabre. 

However, it's another non fiction horror book I want to talk about today, Zombies: A Cultural History by Roger Luckhurst (published 2015). This is one hell of a book. Forget the rot shambling walking dead of pop culture, this book takes readers back to where it all began... the Zombi in Haiti, one born of voodoo and near death plantation workers. 

Zombi (yes I've dropped the 'e' deliberately) is the pre-Americanized name associated with the shambling, shuffling dead; scuffing feat on the pavement and leaving blood smears wherever they go.

Before they were herd, before they were legion, 'they' were one; a sole person suffering between life and death, commonly associated with other monsters of the night such as vampires and to a lesser extent, mummies. There's even a picture in this book of a single 'real life zombi' - spoiler alert, whilst thought to be legitimate at the time (1938), this zombi is just a person, albeit, a person in very poor health (for those interested, her name is Felicia-Felix-Mentor).  

The cultural history is a little complex at times with social economical threads being pulled, capitalism, and politics weaved into the author's narrative but it all works - if you're patient and read slowly. Consume the book, don't be consumer by it. 

Interestingly the herd or swarm mentality of the zombi didn't grace the pages of fiction or reels of film until post WWII. Other interesting factoids include the rise of medicine in correlation to the zombie (yes, I switched to the modern spelling here), and some insightful take-away's from George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). 

Overall, Zombies: A Cultural History is a great read. Whilst I can't give it 5/5 stars (partly due to over-referencing World War Z in the later stages of the book) it's a solid 4/5 and a must read for fans of the zombie pop culture who want to know more about where this blood/meat thirsty phenomenon came from. 

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

A coven devoted to Satan and blood sacrifice has been targeting petite women in New York city to satisfy the Dark Lords eternal craving. 

The attractive victim's dismembered heads soon draw the attention of the police (thankfully) but not until their number reaches 5.

It takes adventurer and professional paranormal detective, Phillip St. George, to piece together the puzzle, infiltrate the coven, seduce the alluring beautiful Sister Sorrow and put an end to the latest bloody chapter plaguing the unsuspecting populace. 

The third (or second, depending on which paperback edition you're reading) Satan Sleuth novel by pulp hack Michael Avallone (who is known to have in-excess of 19 known author aliases) is a one sitting read which can best be coined as junk food for the brain. The plot, whilst interesting, is predictable (due to St. George's inhuman abilities; strength, intellect, and looks) and boarders on being cringe-worthy but you expect that with these kind of books.

My rating: 2/5 stars.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Review: HEAD ON by John Scalzi

Publisher Audible Studios
Length 7hrs 36mins
Format audiobooks
Narrator Wil Wheaton
Published 2018
Series Lock In #2
My Copy I bought it


My Review
The second book in the futuristic sci-fi police procedural series by John Scalzi, Head On, builds on the thematic foundations laid out in the earlier book (Lock In) by introducing professional sports into the post Haden's syndrome world where sufferers are locked in to their bodies but are able to live a mobile and semi-normal life by using humanoid robotics technologies called threeps to get around; this all made possible by technology which transposes the locked in persons brain waves into a threep or integrator via a neural network.

The professional sport of Hilketa is a threep only sport in which a team of combatants violently attack the other team with the goal being to decapitate the head of a member of the other team and score a goal with it. Whilst the book is heavily centered around this sport, it's not the single plot device, rather, the untimely death of one of the Hilketa stars in front of a live audience, closely followed by the apparent suicide of a senior office official drives the direction of the story. 

This is where Agents Shane (a Hayden) and Vann (angry FBI agent) come in.

Head On follows a largely standard formula of investigation with the agents progressively expanding the list of suspects, uncovering corruption and cover-ups, and ultimately taking down the bad guy(s). The characters are extremely well written and the humorous anecdotes makes for an entertaining read (or listen as was the case for me). 

My rating: 4/5 stars. I hope John Scalzi continues to write books set in this futuristic world as I need more Shane and Vann stories in my life.   

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Review: WE SOLD OUR SOULS by Grady Hendrix

Publisher Quirk Books
Length 337 pages
Format ebook
Published 2018
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review
Heavy metal meets horror infused mayhem as pop culture collides with the b-side of life in Grady Henrix's We Sold Our Souls; a story about a 90's metal band turned supernatural scare fest. 

On the cusp of making it big, Durt Wurk, a popular bar band finally looks set to land a gig with a record label. However, there's a caveat which founding member Kris, isn't willing to sign off on - her soul and her sound; the identity of the band, re-branded, its core to be commercialized. Wealth isn't worth loosing a sense of self and soon enough, Kris and her band members (sans Terry, the lead singer) are on a path to destruction as a blackness engulfs the group with the Blind King, the only one who can give them sight...for the right price.  

In a classic tale of victory snatched from the jaws of defeat embodied by supernatural tropes and some down right nightmarish creations, We Sold Our Souls is a homage to the metal scene and 80's horror which engulfs the reader in a story thick with interesting characters and equally interesting concepts. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. We Sold Our Souls is a damn cool book, perfect for horror geeks and ghouls and heavy metal tragics alike.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Review: THE FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST by Claire North

Publisher Orbit
Length 405 pages
Format softcover
Published 2014
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review
Harry August is a kalachakra; a person cursed or gifted depending on your point of view, to be born again over and over and over. He retains his memories from each of his previously lives yet his place of birth, family, and social status remain the same. The only thing he can change, is how soon he's able to ditch the homestead for a more promising life with those like him (he learns of others over the course of his many lives). 

The premise of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is intriguing and ingenious. Time-travel, quantum physics, alternate histories, and the notion that parallel universes exists are nothing new in speculative fiction, yet the way these elements combine to form a single cohesive narrative makes you think of what could be, or has been, or will be - the need to suspend belief is left at the door as you step in.

Nothing in this book screams 'too out there'. It's all scarily plausible, such is the quality of writing and the believable characters and circumstances they find themselves in. The back and forth between timelines and different character iterations within those timelines could've ended up messy and too complicated yet, somehow, it all just works.

My rating: 5/5 stars. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a great read. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Books I'm Looking Forward To Reading in 2019

With a new year comes a fresh batch of books on the publishing horizon - and, despite having a decent sized tbr (read my Mt. TBR Challenge here) I know I'm going to crack the spine of these upcoming releases I can't wait to read in 2019. 

As always, the list (like my blog) isn't genre-specific, so if you're after just upcoming crime fiction for instance, I suggest checking out the excellent list of 2019's new books by Crime Fiction Lover

The Rap Sheet's Early Rivals for Our Reading Attention is also a great resource for new books due for publication in the early part of 2019. 

In no particular order:

The Border by Don Winslow (February)  
The much anticipated third (and final) Art Keller book which started with The Power of the Dog, and was followed The Cartel

For over forty years, Art Keller has been on the front lines of America’s longest conflict: The War On Drugs. His obsession to defeat the world’s most powerful, wealthy, and lethal kingpin—the godfather of the Sinaloa Cartel, Ad├ín Barrera—has left him bloody and scarred, cost him people he loves, even taken a piece of his soul.

Now Keller is elevated to the highest ranks of the DEA, only to find that in destroying one monster he has created thirty more that are wreaking even more chaos and suffering in his beloved Mexico. But not just there.


Wanderers by Chuck Wendig (July)
Basically anything Chuck Wendig writes, I read. Wanderers looks great.

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and are sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

For on their journey, they will discover an America convulsed with terror and violence, where this apocalyptic epidemic proves less dangerous than the fear of it. As the rest of society collapses all around them–and an ultraviolent militia threatens to exterminate them–the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. 


Ravinca by Greg Weisman (April)
In December I read a novella by Brandon Sanderson called Children of the Nameless; a gothic horror set in the seemingly endless fantastical universe that is the tabletop card game, Magic the Gathering, and with Ravinca I looking forward to reading more. 

Planeswalkers, powerful mages from many disparate realities, must unite against the elder dragon Nicol Bolas, who has claimed dominion over Ravnica and is perilously close to completing the spell that will grant him godhood. Now, as dozens of Planeswalkers fight alongside the Gatewatch—led by Chandra Nalaar, Jace Beleren, and Gideon Jura—against Bolas and his relentless army of Eternals, nothing less than the fate of the multiverse is at stake. 

A Bloody Business by Dylan Struzan (April)
I love reading about prohibition era USA in the roarer twenties and events which followed the bloody aftermath on gangland Chicago. Last year I read Get Capone by Jonathon Eig, The Girls of Murder City by Douglas Perry, Chicago Assassin by Richard J. Shmelter, and Eliot Ness: The Rise and Fall of an American Hero by Douglas Perry. A Bloody Business is a must-have. 

In 1919, the National Prohibition Act was passed, making it illegal across America to produce, distribute, or sell liquor. With this act, the U.S. Congress also created organized crime as we know it. Italian, Jewish, and Irish mobs sprang up to supply the suddenly illegal commodity to the millions of people still eager to drink it. Men like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, Dutch Schultz and Bugsy Siegel, Al Capone in Chicago and Nucky Johnson in Atlantic City, waged a brutal war for power in the streets and on the waterfronts. But if you think you already know this story…think again, since you’ve never seen it through the eyes of one the mobsters who lived it.


This Storm by James Ellory (May)
Unlike a lot of blogs/book reviews I follow, I really liked Perfidia despite the hefty page count. A must-read historical crime novel by one of my go-to authors.

New Year's Eve 1941, war has been declared and the Japanese internment is in full swing. Los Angeles is gripped by war fever and racial hatred. Sergeant Dudley Smith of the Los Angeles Police Department is now Army Captain Smith and a budding war profiteer. He's shacked up with Claire De Haven in Baja, Mexico, and spends his time sniffing out fifth column elements and hunting down a missing Japanese Naval Attache. Hideo Ashida is cashing LAPD paychecks and working in the crime lab, but he knows he can't avoid internment forever. Newly arrived Navy Lieutenant Joan Conville winds up in jail accused of vehicular homicide, but Captain William H. Parker squashes the charges and puts her on Ashida's team. Elmer Jackson, who is assigned to the alien squad and to bodyguard Ashida, begins to develop an obsession with Kay Lake, the unconsummated object of Captain Parker's desire. Now, Conville and Ashida become obsessed with finding the identity of a body discovered in a mudslide. It's a murder victim linked to an unsolved gold heist from '31, and they want the gold. And things really heat up when two detectives are found murdered in a notorious dope fiend hang-out.

Shades of Magic Volume 1: The Steele Prince by V.E. Schwab (March)
Set in the same fantastical world as the Shades of Magic trilogy ( comprising A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, A Conjuring of Light) , the prequel graphic novel adds some extra depth to an already meaty cast of characters and magic infused lore. 

Delve into the thrilling, epic tale of the young and arrogant prince Maxim Maresh, long before he became the king of Red London and adoptive father to Kell, the lead of A Darker Shade of Magic! 

The youthful Maresh is sent to a violent and unmanageable port city on the Blood Coast of Verose, on strict orders from his father, King Nokil Maresh, to cut his military teeth in this lawless landscape. 

There, he encounters an unruly band of soldiers, a lawless landscape, and the intoxicatingly deadly presence of the newly returned pirate queen, Arisa... 

Collects Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince #1-4.



Star Wars: Queen's Shadow by E.K. Johnston (May)
Ahsoka by E.K Johnston was a lot of fun and I'm interested to see what the author does with Queen Amidala, who, to this point in the new Disney Cannon of fiction hasn't been explored much outside of the films. 

When Padme Naberrie, "Queen Amidala" of Naboo, steps down from her royal position, she is asked by the newly-elected queen to become Naboo's next representative in the Galactic Senate. Padme is unsure about taking on the new role, but ultimately cannot refuse the opportunity to serve her people. 

Together with her loyal handmaidens, Padme leaves her idyllic home for the glistening capital world of Coruscant, where she must learn to navigate the treacherous waters of politics and forge a new identity beyond the queen's shadow...


The Secret Runners of New York by Matthew Reilly (March)
I've been a big fan of Matthew Reilly's books for as long as I can remember and find myself always eagerly anticipating his new Jack West Jr. or Scarecrow novel - whilst The Secret Runners isn't part of either series, it looks great. 

When Skye Rogers and her twin brother Red move to Manhattan, rumors of a coming global apocalypse are building. But this does not stop the young elite of New York from partying without a care.

And then suddenly Skye is invited to join an exclusive gang known as the Secret Runners of New York. But this is no ordinary clique - they have access to an underground portal that can transport them into the future. And what Skye discovers in the future is horrifying: the rumors about the coming apocalypse are true . . .

As society crumbles and Skye and Red race to figure out how to use their knowledge to survive the impending annihilation, they soon discover that the chaotic end of the world is a fine time for revenge.



Gone by Midnight by Candice Fox (January) 
The Crimson Lake crime fiction series featuring an odd coupling of interesting characters as private investigators set in Queensland, Australia is fast becoming my favorite Aussie series. Both Crimson Lake and Redemption Point were excellent reads and Gone by Midnight looks set to continue the trend.

Ex-cop Ted Conkaffey is slowing rebuilding his life in Crimson Lake, and getting to know his three-year-old daughter, Lillian. But when he and his PI partner Amanda take on the case of a boy who seems to have literally disappeared into thin air, his job once again threatens everything . . .

Crimson Lake is where bad people come to disappear - and where eight-year-old boys vanish into thin air . . .



Out of the Dark by Greg Hurwitz (January)
The fourth full length novel in the action packed Orphan X series. I really enjoyed Orphan X, The Nowhere Man, and Hell Bent and am sure Out of the Dark will pack just as much punch as those that came before it. A thrill-junkies must-read. 

Someone at the very highest level of government has been trying to eliminate every trace of the Orphan Program by killing all the remaining Orphans and their trainers. After Evan's mentor and the only father he ever knew was killed, he decided to strike back. His target is the man who started the program and who is now the most heavily guarded person in the world: the President of the United States.

But President Bennett knows that Orphan X is after him and, using weapons of his own, he's decided to counter-attack. Bennett activates the one man who has the skills and experience to track down and take out Orphan X―the first recruit of the program, Orphan A.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [47]: ALICE DIES TWICE by Ben Grant

Private Investigator, Marty Cole is hired by a family lawyer named Hamilton, and newly widowed Helene Mark to track down Helene's wayward step-daughter Alice who had taken to performing in seedy strip joints and night clubs along the USA/Mexico border. 

With Alice's estranged father having recently passed away from a heart complication, the young and promiscuous performer stood to inherit a handsome sum - if Cole could find her that was.

Strangely Helene didn't have any photographs of Alice so identifying the young woman would come down to a description and a likeness to the deceased father. Not much for Cole to go on. Yet, the pulp published in 1975 opens with Cole having successfully tracked down Alice only for her to die a violent death in a hotel room on the night prior to her appointment with Hamilton and stepmother Helene. 

Murder most macabre leads Cole down the proverbial rabbit hole and into a very real deadly game of cat and mouse as he tries to put the pieces of a shattered puzzle together. 

Never shying away from the strengths of pulp, there's plenty of sex, wanton women, and hard men brawling, maiming, and killing each other, along with the obligatory twist which turns the story on its head and leaves everyone reeling - reader included. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. Alice Dies Twice is a solid read from start to finish; one I think would sit perfectly in the Hard Case Crime line. Cole is an interesting, albeit stock standard PI while Angela, his secretary, is his sexy sidekick with some smarts and get-up-and-go of her own. 

I was unable to find anything more about the author nor if there are any more books floating around featuring Marty Cole - I sure hope there is... 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2019 New Years Bookish Resolutions


Welcome to 2019! Last year was a great year reading-wise for me in which I managed to get through 169 books which included an incredible 62 books published in 2018. 

Best Books I Read Published in 2018

Last year I posted my reading goals for 2018 which was a slight departure from my annual bookish resolutions posts but this year I decided to return to the theme. 

2019 Bookish Resolutions:

1. Read more from my TBR pile
For the second year running I signed up to the Mount TBR Challenge. This was a great way to reduce the ever expanding TBR and I made a conscious decision to actively read books from my 2018 list. Despite not getting through them all (out of the 36 I picked for the challenge) I'm keen to give this another shot as well as get that TBR down to a more realistic amount (currently the pile sits at over 200 books).

2. Don't be afraid to DNF more 
Whilst the majority of my reads from 2018 were enjoyable, there were a handful I should've DNF'd. Life's too short to waste on a dud book so I plan on being more ruthless this year. 

3. Don't be scared of the tomes
As of writing this blog post I'm reading the excellent Fire and Blood by George R.R. Martin; a massive 700+ tome which is well worth devoting hours to, however, over the years I've tended to shy away from these bigger books in favor of more slimmed down books. This year I'm planning on reading a bunch of tomes from my tbr. 



4. Read for the moment
Reminds me of that Eminem song, 'Sing for the Moment' but this is all about reading what interests me at any given time, rather than reading from a schedule or feeling like I should read book x because it's a review book or because everyone is talking about it. Keep calm, and read where the mood takes you. 

5. Oh, the horror! 
Paperbacks from Hell! by Grady Hendrix has a lot to answer for, having kick-started my latest bookish obsession; paperback horror, I plan to read more horror in 2019; a genre I've generally neglected despite generally enjoying a scare. 



6. Be more active on my blog
In my early days of blogging I'd post numerous book rants/reviews/watch-lists/regular weekly and monthly-themed posts, however, life just gets in the way sometimes and I found myself just posting reviews for the sake of posting reviews (Goodreads is my main platform for this). This year I'm going to get back into blogging and really enjoy the whole reading/writing scene which made me fall in love with books and book bloggers in the first place.