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. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Review: HOLE IN THE WORLD by Brian Keene

Publisher Apex Book Company
Length 276 pages
Format ebook
Published 2019
Series Lost Level #3
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review

Hole in the World in the third book in the Lost Level Series which pits displaced humans from a swath of multiverses into a land out of time, a unique place which doesn't confirm to any period or time-stream; aliens are as much at home as dinosaurs and giant futuristic robots.   

In the previous books (The Lost Level, and Return to the Lost Level) we followed the escapades of men's adventure magazine hero Aaron Pace as he 1), establishes himself in the Lost Level, 2) sojourns across the dangerous landscape in search of a loved one, and 3) kicks the a$$ of any comic-book creature which comes his way. Cool stuff. 

Hole in the World transports the reader, much like the characters of the book, into a time before Aaron Pace's current adventure, where the sheen of this mystical place isn't yet tarnished by the blood of battles fought and haunted by the ghosts of characters passed. It's a prequel of sorts which adds to the continuity and compliments the other two books.

The action is pretty intense at times with some truly memorable moments; for instance, how the wheelchair Aaron stumbled across made its way to the Lost Level, and a *spoiler alert* cameo of a character featured in the other books. 

Despite the larger cast of characters this time 'round, there's enough depth and backstory to make you feel each trial and tribulation; when a character succumbs to a bloody fate, the wounds cut deep. It's because of this great characterization, the absence of Aaron Pace isn't missed as much as he could have been. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. If you've read the previous books, I strongly suggest picking this one up, heck, even if you haven't read them, grab this one anyway.  

Monday, August 12, 2019

Pick of the Month [July 2019]

My July physical reads stack

I read 13 books in July, most of which were horror with some crime and sci-fi thrown in for diversity.

My pick of the month for July goes to Chop Shop by Andrew Post, published by Flame Tree Press. If you're into hard hitting dark crime fiction which has a touch of humor then this is for you. Reader beware, its defiantly not one for the squeamish. 

I also Returned to the Lost Level to continue my love affair with this excellent horror/sci-fi/fantasy/adventure series from Brian Keene and Apex Books. As previously mentioned in my reviews, these are a geeks delight. 

Other highlights include a quartet of vampire novels inspired by books featured in Paperbacks from Hell, The Need by Helen Phillips which was a real surprise packet and the strange and wonderful Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (the audiobook was a tad hard to follow at times, I'll have to give the print edition a try). 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Paperbacks from Hell! Vampire Edition

Readers of this blog and those who follow me on Goodreads and Twitter will know how much I love the incredibly awesome Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix, therefore it comes as no surprise that I'm dedicating another blog post to some of the books featured in that penultimate horror collectors guide of sorts. 

This time 'round I'm taking a look at some vampire themed novels, one of which is widely known thanks to a certain movie staring Brad Pitt, whereas the others, not so much (at least to this reader anyway). I'm also including a couple of books not featured in Paperbacks from Hell which still fit the theme, 1. they have vampires , 2. were published in the 80's by TOR Horror (who are responsible for loads of cheesy b-grade horrors), and 3. cheesy cool covers! 

The House of Caine by Ken Eulo (mass market paperback, published 1988 by TOR Horror)

This book features a nasty hive of bloodsuckers who wreak havoc on a town community. Spreading fear by stealth, these creatures of the night delicately pick and choose their prey, preferring to remain out of sight to keep the gravy (blood) train following year after year. Having these creatures on the peripheral allows the author to focus on story and character and while this won't suit everyone, it does add to the suspense and real-world feel of the book. 

There are some nice scenes but this feels largely like a daytime movie. The threat of horror is omnipresent yet it doesn't really come to fruition to satisfy that scare craving you want from 80's mass market horror books. As for the vampires themselves, Ken Eulo prefers to leave his creatures of the night in the dark, shadows with a hint of realism to put just enough fear into his non-bloodsucking characters.

Overall, The House of Caine is enjoyable and easy to read. However, it just wasn't dark enough to quench my thirst for blood.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Black Ambrosia by Elizabeth Engstrom (mass market paperback, published 1988 by TOR Horror)

A different kind of vampire novel which substitutes outright blood and gore for implied and subtle horror; leaving the acts of violence to the readers imagination and ultimately making the book more scarier. 

The gentle slant towards horror at the beginning of the book holds the remainder in good stead as Angelina, the unassuming vampire slowly builds and comes to accept her lust for  blood. The transformation from a helpless child to hardened killer is executed perfectly with the end result nothing short of breathtaking.

One of the more enjoyable aspects to Black Ambrosia is the fact that this is a lone wolf (vampire) story. Angelina doesn't have like-minded nightmarish ghouls to hang out with so the book and story is all about her; her struggle, her travels, her desire for a sense of place. 

Despite starting off in young adult territory, there are some seriously dark moments in this book which fans of horror and darker fiction in general will enjoy. 

My rating: 4/5 stars. 

Side Note - Black Ambrosia is set for a reprint from Valancourt Books as part of their Paperbacks from Hell series. 

Interview with the Vampire by Ann Rice (mass market paperback, published 1994 by Warner Books (originally published 1976)

Perhaps the most well known story of the gothic romantic vampire. The sophisticated, wealthy, and attractive rendition of the creature of the night is at the forefront of Ann Rice's original (and somewhat tedious and wordy) vampire novel which adopts an interesting method in telling what is a decent and dangerous tale of Louis, a newly 'born' vampire, set predominantly in New Orleans and later, Europe.

Using an interview as the primary method to deliver a wordy yet engrossing story, the interviewer (an inexperienced and naive reporter - at least that's how he seemed to me) and interviewee (Louis, the vampire) slowly paint a picture of pure darkness complete with taboos, violence, and a hint of madness.

While the story and premise are solid enough, the delivery drove me to distraction; some sequences are far too wordy, consuming copious amounts of print to barely progress the story. I largely skimmed the second half of the book and enjoyed it more for doing so. 

My rating: 4/5 stars. 

Side Note - I've not seen the movie to comment on which is better or how accurate the adaptation compared to the source material. 

Blood Hunt by Lee Killough (mass market paperback, published 1987 by TOR Horror)

True to the title, Blood Hunt, features Garreth Mikaelian, a police officer turned vampire on the hunt for the timeless beauty of the night who sunk her fangs deep into his throat in search of companionship to end her dark and isolated eternal solitude. 

For Mikaelian, the endless dark holds no allure nor does the womanly pleasures of the seductress who turned him. With any semblance of normalcy gone, he turns his sights on a blood thirsty quest for vengeance in search of the solitude which had evaded him in his previously life as a middle grade police officer. 

More crime fiction than horror, Blood Hunt, really is a police procedural with supernatural elements (vampires) thrown in. Largely on the peripheral, the bloodsuckers play a supporting role that isn't essential to the story proper. You could easily substitute the vampire element for a criminal on the run being pursued by a rouge cop and get the same result. 

The book was 'ok', there's nothing new from ether crime nor horror and the story did meander a little during Mikaelian's road trip/blood hunt, however, I generally found myself turning the pages fast enough to see how everything played out. 

My rating: 3/5 stars. 

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