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. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Review: BOXED by Richard Anderson

Publisher Scribe
Length 275 pages
Format paperback
Published 2019
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review
Richard Anderson is fast becoming one of the best crime fiction writers to take on the Aussie Outback and conquer it with cleverly crafted tales about hard working average Joe's (or Dave's, as is the case here) who find themselves involved in situations they've only seen on the television during prime time viewing; murder, mayhem, mobsters, and... accidental heroes. 

Dave Martin is a farmer struggling to overcome the breakdown of his marriage following the untimely and accidental death of his teenage son. The farm is on the steady decline and his drink is on the steep incline, the only thing he has to look forward to is the mail delivery. However, it's this one highlight in his week that introduces him to lowlifes and dangers not typically seen outside the big city.

Boxed is a lot of fun; the characters are great and distinctly Australian, while the place-setting envelopes the reader in a unique rural Australian farming community, complete with cattle, dust, utes, and local firemen. I loved the unassuming hero angle and found myself eagerly turning the pages hoping for light at the end of the darkness for Dave. 

My rating: 4/5 stars. 

You can read my thoughts on Richard Anderson's other novel I reviewed last year, Retribution by clicking on the link below:


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Review: VULTURES by Chuck Wendig

Publisher Saga Press
Length 416 pages
Format paperback
Published 2019
Series Miriam Black #6
My Copy I bought it


My Review
"Everyone dies around me". Her very presence is like a taste of slow poison. She's radioactive; a walking, talking, singing, dancing slice of Chernobyl.

Chuck Wendig sure knows how to mess with his readers emotions. The conclusion of the Miriam Black series is satisfying and loaded with tantalizingly tasty twists, especially as the curtain closes on Miriam Blacks' continually dark chapter.


The Trespasser, Gabby, Louis/Not-Louis, Wren, Miriam's curse; it all comes to a close here as Miriam confronts her arch nemesis (sounds a little superhero like but this is much too macabre for Marvel). Along for the ride is on-again, off-again lover Gabby and some suits from the FBI who just can't let go of Miriam as they continue the push to recruit her to help them crack cases - but Miriam's more Suicide Squad than Shield so things aren't exactly going to be easy for the Feds. 

Readers familiar with the series will welcome to continued nod towards continuity with characters once again appearing/being referenced from previous books. I really picked up on this in The Raptor & The Wren and it was great to see it here again. The overall series plotting is pretty tight and Chuck Wendig does a great job at making everything flow seamlessly from one book to the next. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. Great series with a fitting ending. I know it's unlikely but I'd love to see this character (and some of the bit players) in some form fiction post Vultures. 

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Review: PET SEMATARY by Stephen King

Publisher Hodden & Stoughton
Length 15hrs 41mins
Format audiobook
Published 2018 (originally published 1983)
Series standalone 
My Copy I bought it


My Review

Spooky, suspenseful, and brutally emotional, Pet Sematary is classic Stephen King.

I won't recap the plot outline as many readers will already be familiar with the concept of this book (and revised film), hey, the title kind of gives it away anyway, but will say that this book is more than just a scare-fest with the stock standard horror elements.

There's a deeper darkness lurking within the pages of Pet Sematary which casts a swollen storm cloud over the reader throughout; an omnipresent force leading to consistent apprehension, knowing full well something is coming, some turn about to break bad, but feverishly reading anyway.

One of the things that really impressed me with Pet Sematary is the subtle and slow build. Stephen Kind is known for horror infused tomes but I particularly liked the way this story evolved. The characters were key and that's where King focused the bulk of the book. Plot and gore were secondary, and that's fine by me. 

My rating: 3/5 stats. The rating sounds low, even to me writing this, but I think it's a true reflection of how the book connected with me. I loved the concept and slow build but would've relished some more action.     

Review: SECOND LIVES BY P.D. Cacek

Publisher Flame Tree Press
Length 253 pages
Format ebook
Published 2019
Series Standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review
Second Lives takes the reader down an emotional and heart-wrenching journey through 8 characters, all of which have dedicated chapters written about them, detailing key events in their lives as well as their eventual deaths, and for some, reincarnation.

Whilst the early portion of the book read like a literary short story collection, introducing 8 characters with seemingly no relation nor connection to one another, the pay-off is in the perseverance, because once the you come out of the dark place of death and into the supernatural elements associated with spiritual displacement, things get very interesting. 

By no means for the faint of heart, Second Lives is the epitome of the 'tear-jerker'. 

Choc full of interesting and well defined characters who read as real as the people you know, all with their own unique voice and story to tell, once the characters align, the story really takes shape. 

My rating: 4/5 stars. Not the book I was expecting but a very entertaining read. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

Review: THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT by Graham Masterton

Publisher Leisure
Length 385 pages
Format paperback
Published 1995 (this edition, 2000)
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it


My Review


The House That Jack Built goes beyond the typical haunted house horror formula, sure its pages are seeped in the blood of horror staples (ghost-like figures, sex, violence, cults, the supernatural) but it's the plot on the peripheral which gives this novel it's meaty feel, coupled with characters which are both deep and interesting.

The House That Jack Built captures the readers attention and maintains it in a vice-like grip through to the murderous end. 

The long abandoned, secluded and notorious mansion that is Valhalla is as much as a character as Craig and Effie Bellman, the two unfortunate souls caught in Valhalla's curse. Its carpeted halls, hidden rooms, and shadowy figures glimpsed from the corners of eyes instill an omnipresent sense of dread which kept the hair raised on the back of my neck and the goosebumps on my arms standing at attention.

My rating: 5/5 stars. Tailor-made for haunted house readers who like their horror gory and loaded with interesting characters and equally interesting backstories.  

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A Paperback From Hell! MANTIS by K.W. Jeter

Publisher TOR
Length 281 pages
Format paperback
Published 1987
Series Standalone
My Copy I bought it


My Review
Mantis is not the kind of 1980's horror book you'd expect, certainly not from the synopsis, nor the sample at the beginning of book which invokes horrifying images of a female mantis devouring her mate shortly after copulation. 

Rather, Mantis, is an intense psychological horror derived from madness and a warped sense of reality, thanks to a schizophrenic subtext and an unreliable narrator. 

Michael Turner is a graphic designer of sorts who seems to have over capitalized on his business venture, with clients slowly departing for his competitors and his estranged wife making things difficult with their son, Michael turns to the red-light district for some escapism from the daily grind. 

It's among the street walkers, pimps, and thugs who own the night that he becomes obsessed with a couple of bar hoping regulars; his namesake, Michael (a tough guy with a penchant for killing women), and Rae (a boyish woman on the night who likes to live on the knife edge between life and death). It's this obsession which leads him into oblivion.

I liked Mantis but did find the reading tough going in the earlier stages of the book. It takes some time getting used to the writing style and then to understand that the book's narrator isn't to be relied upon. However, once everything clicked into place, Mantis didn't disappoint.

My rating: 3/5 stars. Mantis won't appeal to everyone, however I enjoyed the different aspect to 1980's horror this book brought. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Review: THE RAPTOR & THE WREN by Chuck Wendig

Publisher Saga Press
Length 274 pages
Format paperback
Published 2018
Series Miriam Black #5
My Copy I bought it


My Review
"You do not forgive.You act. You change fate. You move the world, one degree at a time. One life saved, another taken. Forgiveness is passive - it is taking your hands off the wheel and letting go. But you never take your hands off the wheel."

Mayhem continues to follow Miriam as she contends with a copy cat killer mimicking her murders; however, this is no run-of-the-mill serial killer, each murder is deftly reconstructed in explicit detail, mirroring Miriam's own grisly encounters with the grim reaper. So much so, that Grosky, the FBI Agent from the previous books, takes an interest in the killings and tries to track down Miriam, hoping she can shed some light on the plague of darkness surrounding her. 

The fifth installment in the Miriam Black series is one of the best; Miriam continues to grow as a character, and her adventures continue to be exciting and unpredictable. 

The continuity with the previous books is strong with characters, either those on the peripheral or adversaries or acquaintances being referenced or making an appearance throughout the course of the book. A degree of familiarity with the earlier books is must, unlike some of the other installments in the series, The Raptor & The Wren does not read well as a standalone.

My rating: 5/5 stars. If you're not reading Miriam Black, you're missing out on a great series of books.

You can read my review of Thunderbird, book 4, HERE