Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: CASTAWAYS by Brian Keene

Publisher Audio Realms
Length 7hrs
Format audiobook
Published 2010
Series standalone
My Copy borrowed from the library

My Review
Castaways is about a group of reality TV contestants hidden away on a secluded and supposedly uninhabited island battling it out among themselves to be the sole survivor for the chance to take away a million dollars in prize money. Being a Brian Keene book things are bound to go wrong and before too long the contestants are battling for survival in the truest sense. Having to deal with a massive storm, a homicidal contestant and then inbred cannibals makes for one terrifying and goose bump-inducing  survival horror. 

The book is obviously formulaic, borrowing heavily from the themes popularized in the reality TV show Survivor and common horror elements.

Readers familiar with horror fiction author Jack Ketchum will draw some comparisons with his cannibalistic survival horror Off Season, however, this is more from the gory way in which the characters come to an end, and the shared survival horror aspect; each story has a desperate theme and Ketchum's characters are much better defined. The only compliant I had with Castaways way the character dialogue and number of contestants, it was hard to really care about any of them (1 or 2 aside that is). I think with a shallower character pool this book could've great. 

The audiobook was narrated by Maynard McKillen who did a good job at giving the characters their own voice and providing a real sense of urgency to the book, particularly in the later stages. 

3.5 / 5 stars.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Review: DARK REVELATIONS by Anthony E. Zuilker & Duane Swierczynski

Publisher Penguin
Length 340 pages
Format paperback
Published 2011
Series Level 26 #3
My Copy I bought it

My Review
With each book in the Level 26 series since Dark Origins (#1), the polish seems to wear off. Each subsequent installment feels more rushed and less plausible than it's predecessor. In Dark Revelations, series protagonist Steve Dark, famous for his uncanny ability to hunt down the worlds worst serial killers and bring them to justice or wipe them off the face of the earth somehow manages to piece together answers to each twisted puzzle seemingly out of thin air and has his new team (the cheesy-named Global Alliance) traversing the globe to thwart the killers evil plan. There's no depth to the storytelling with a mere glossing over of detail and little more than a passing thought given to character development. The book reads like it was made for a high octane crime episode of some sort rather than a novel.

I didn't watch all the cut scenes online but those I did, particularly the last one, added something a little extra to the story - which was much needed.     

Whilst I like to look for the positives in books I read, aside from a couple of interesting characters who read like cardboard cutouts with potential, there was little to keep me interested other than finding out Labyrinth's identity, which in the end, too, felt kinda cheesy.  

If you've read Dark Origins and Dark Prophecy chances are you're going to want to give this one a shot, having read it, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. 

Dark Revelations is an average read at best. 2/5 stars. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bookish Thoughts: Why I Like To Reread

Despite having some 144 books sitting in my tbr shelves (number according to books I'm yet to read on Goodreads, I'm sure that number is actually higher, gulp) I like to go back to books I've previously read for many reasons;
  • to have that 'feel good read' feeling after reading a particularly dull book, or
  • in readiness for the next book in a series, or
  • to see if the book still has the same impact (or non-impact as it were) as it did in years gone by
Surprisingly some of my recent rereads have changed the way I feel about them, in two cases in particular - completely. Why is this? 

For one, I think generally enjoying a book comes from the point in time you're actually reading it. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is an excellent example of this; years ago I couldn't stomach the book and gave it a dnf, fast forward a couple years later to 2014 and I gave it 5 stars. The same can be said for The Devil, book 8 in the Jack Taylor series by Ken Bruen. I really disliked the direction this book took, moving away from the noir soaked PI themed story into the semi-supernatural when I first read it in 2011, yet when I read it again as part of rereading the entire series I actually liked the added element - go figure. 

Timing makes a big difference, be it the maturity of the reader, exposure to broader sub genres, or the willingness to embrace something different, there are a myriad of ways a book you hated came become loved and vice versa. Of course there are some books which will always be favs and those that just suck, even after going back in hopes of having them connect with you the second time round. 

Here are my 4 (out of the 48 books I've read so far) rereads of 2017 with more to come I'm sure: 

1st read: 2011, rating 2.5 stars // 2nd read: 2017, 4.5 stars

1st read: 2014, rating 5 stars // 2nd read: 2017, 4 stars

1st read: 2009, rating 2 stars // 2nd read: 2017, 2 stars

1st read: 2011, rating 5 stars // 2nd read: 2017, 5 stars

Monday, April 17, 2017

Pick Up A Pulp [17]: THE AMBER EFFECT by Richard S Prather

Book number 40 in the Shell Scott private eye series sees the happy go lucky PI gifted Miss Nude California, well, nude, on his doorstep begging for help. Once he collects himself, Shell gets to business asking the why's and what for's and he doesn't like what he hears.

Someone had tried to rape / murder the young women in her hotel room only to die suddenly after laying eyes on her naked body. The deceased, later identified as Buddy Brett, a local hoodlum had suspicious ties to a scientist being strong armed to patent new technology he neither discovered or played a part in developing. 

Shell Scott's case is at once cheesy and unnecessarily complicated by virtue of a scientific angle which neither pays off or adds depth to an already floundering plot. The story meanders from one intelligible interrogation to the next until a linkage between the frequently nude Miss Nude and the patented scientific technology is discovered. 

Largely let down by drab dialogue, The Amber Effect, however, was just plain boring. This is one of the few pulps I actually struggled to take away anything positive from. How this series got to 40 books is beyond me. 

I like reading pulps but there was just too much that didn't work for me to recommend reading further into Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott PI series. 

1/5 stars. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Recent Reads Roundup

Book: Mr Clarinet by Nick Stone
Publisher Penguin 
Length 560 pages
Format paperback
Published 2006
Series Max Mingus #1

My Copy I bought it

Mr Clarinet is a book that takes time to get going and even then, the story is very much a slow burn as the author focuses in detail on firmly establishing the place-setting and building an atmosphere as apposed to progressing a missing persons investigation. For the most part this tactic works with Haiti a character in itself. Nick Stone paints a picture of poverty and injustice that few authors would have the stomach to muster while still making it all feel relevant to the Max Mingus investigation into the kidnapping of Charlie Carver some 2 years prior. Max himself is a deep and complex character, this book picks up with Max leaving prison after serving a sentence for murder from an earlier case, it's interesting to see a PI at the end of his career working a last case rather than just staring out or being somewhere in the middle. Personally I liked this approach, it made Max more real and really helped to define his character. Mr Clarinet also has a touch of black magic and voodoo thrown in to keep things interesting. This is a great start to the series and I am looking forward to reading the next book, King of Swords (currently in my tbr pile) which takes the reader back in time to a case which left a long lasting impression on Max. 3.5 stars.  

Book: The Turnaround by George Pelecanos
Publisher Hachette Audio 
Length 5hrs 48mins
Format audiobook
Published 2008
Series standalone

My Copy borrowed from the library

The Turnaround isn't so much about crime, rather the lasting effects that crime has on the lives of those directly impacted by split decisions of provoked violence. Told in two distinctive time frames; the first centering on a racial encounter which led to the murder of a young man, the second centering on those same men as adults many years later with children of their own. The Turnaround is about redemption, remorse, and hurt. It's also about hope. This is a character driven story that does feel like a slow-burn at times but it's worth it. I listened to the abridged audio version narrated by Dion Graham who was a perfect match for these characters. 4/5 stars. 

Book: The Devil by Ken Bruen
Publisher Transworld 
Length 288 pages
Format paperback
Published 2010
Series  Jack Taylor #8
My Copy I bought it

'I look to you like a guy who does happy?' If a line could sum up Ken Bruen's masterful creation more accurately, I'd like to see it. Jack is back and not much has changed in his vice dependent life. Adding to his ever growing list of failures, rejections, beat downs and misrepresentations is a refused ticket to America. His fresh start thwart before it even begun. Naturally it's smooth sailing down hill with the breeze at his back straight to hell courtesy of the devil himself. While not necessarily investigating a crime this time round, Jack's latest does accumulate a high number of murders while providing further insight into Jack Taylor's inner circle of friends/enemies. For the first time, Bruen adds a hint of the supernatural to a Jack Taylor novel. The Devil is Jack Taylor doing as Jack Taylor does with something a little different - you'll either like it or lump it, I liked it a lot.

The Devil was a reread and interestingly enough I rated it significantly higher this time round time giving the book 4.5 stars whereas last time I thought it was middle of the road at 2.5 stars (back in 2011). 

Book: Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky
Publisher Hodder and Stoughton
Length 368 pages
Format softcover
Published 2011
Series Low Town #1
My Copy I bought it

I should have loved this book and I'm disappointed that it left a sour taste in my mouth. The Straight Razor Cure had all the ingredients catering towards my fiendish-like obsession with noir/darker crime fiction mixed with an equally dark fantasy setting; drug dealings, missing persons, criminal gangs, police corruption, sorcery, skulduggery, and an urban setting backdrop not for the fainthearted. So why didn't it work? I found ex lawman Warden two dimensional with his rise in the criminal underworld somewhat shallow and unfounded, while the back-story into the war felt out of place with the plot (there was linkage but it just didn't work for me). Perhaps my biggest compliant in the fact it read like a second or third book in a series rather than book 1; there was just too many ideas floating around here and too much story to cram in that I lost my way in some passages.  2/5 stars. 

Friday, April 7, 2017


Publisher Quercus
Length 538 pages
Format paperback
Published 2008
Series Millennium #1
My Copy I bought it

My Review
2017 seems to be the year for catching up on locked room mystery reads for me. Earlier I read (listened) to Adrian McKinty's Rain Dogs and Laura Lippman's To The Power of Three and now have finally, after having spent many, many years on my tbr shelf read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. While not a traditional locked room mystery (rather an island) the hallmarks are there in the core murder/mystery. 

I think my apprehension in delving into this was a) page count, b) I'd heard it took a long time for the plot to get interesting, and c) I don't tend to read popular fiction all that much (or didn't at least when this came out). I was pleasantly surprised by this book and will be reading the follow-up in the not too distant future.

Despite lengthily periods where not much happens, I kept wanting to read the book. The characters were interesting and there was a little bit of Casual Vacancy about it with the gossiping and secretive backstabbing nature of the Vanger relatives. 

For all the talk of Lisbeth, I didn't find her role to be as paramount the to story as I had previously envisioned. Sure she's a key cog in the Millennium Trilogy machine but this book is mostly Mikael's story, the journalist and part owner of Millennium.  

I won't rehash the plot, there's really no need to but I will say, for those readers which haven't read the book or who have DNF'd after getting lost in the financial jargon of the opening stanza, be patient, the payoff is worth it. 

4 / 5 stars.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Pick of the Month [March 2017]

I read 10 books in March and while my output dropped by 2 books from last month, the quality did not. Half the books I read I rated 5 stars and I even managed to sneak in a reread too which is always nice. I love to reread my books but don't do it nearly as much as I'd like to (thanks to an ever growing tbr pile). 

The pick for March was actually the last book I finished reading for the month, the newly published The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy from the publisher unexpectedly and the book completely blew me away with a twist I couldn't predict. I can see this book ending up on my end of year 'best of' list. 

Read the review HERE.

Other books I rated 5 starts, in no particular order:

  • Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty - an inventive and character driven locked room mystery. As with the other books in the Sean Duffy series I listened to the audio edition, narrator Gerard Doyle is oh so good. 
  • This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab - a young adult fantasy/horror about monsters, demons-like creatures, and something resembling zombies. The follow-up is scheduled to be published mid year and I can't wait. I was pleasantly surprised by this book.
  • Fellside by M. R. Carey - set predominantly in a women's prison, this book is a vastly different read to The Girl With All The Gifts but is equally as engaging. A must for horror fans.
  • Influx by Daniel Suarez - I wrote down a list of 7 books from my tbr pile at the beginning of the year that I wanted to read and Influx was one of those. Not sure why it sat on the shelf for so long but I was very happy that I finally got around to reading it. Their heir to the tech-fi throne.