Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: LEAVE ME ALONE by Murong

Leave Me Alone: A Novel of ChengduFrom the back of the book:
Three years after graduation, Cheng Zhong works in a dead-end job as a sales manager for a motor oil company. He remains friends with two former classmates from his university days; Li Lang, who has quit his job and become rich gambling the stock market; and Bighead Wang, who is the head of the local police station.

All have put aside the lofty dreams of their youth in their scramble to strike it rich in the newly capitalist China; 'We lost our minds in the struggle to be first; lost our way because we were crazy for cash.' Despite their aspirations, the trio's lives are mired in drinking, drugs, and whoring, and beset by boredom, disillusion and gambling debts.

My Review:
A contemporary Chinese noir, LEAVE ME ALONE had all the hallmarks of a great book yet it fell short on a number of levels. I'm not sure if something was lost in translation or if the author was a little lose with the writing as the style was jumpy, often switching gears from urbane poetic to grade school in a matter of sentences.

The story of a slowly depreciating young man living a life of deceit and sin who has little sense of self despite the at times overbearing narrative attempting to illustrate the opposite is a constant draw back and contrary to what the novel was to deliver rather than complimentary - in my view.

The lead character starts with a good job, professional prospects, a close knit circle of friends and a loving wife - by the end of LEAVE ME ALONE all this things are little more than words in the wind.

The premise is definitely something I like reading and could be vaguely compared to a Jason Starr white collar noir (without the murder) yet there was always this limitation to the expanses LEAVE ME ALONE could reach.

Monday, September 15, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey. In order to get some consistency to my posting I thought I’d jump on board this great idea. As a self-proclaimed bookaholic, I love talking about my books and finding out what others are reading. Having been a long time reader of multiple blogs where the ‘It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?’ post is prevalent, I thought it a natural progression I’d add to the mix.

This week I'm only listing the one book and it's a good one!

Aurora: MeridianAURORA: MERIDIAN by Amanda Bridgeman (the recently released third book in the Aurora sci-fi series)

Their hardest battle will be fighting the enemy within ...

Captain Saul Harris has found himself at a crossroads. Haunted by dreams of the dead, he fights to keep his soldiers safe as events spiral out of his control. But has his search for the truth led him to discover there is more to this mission of chasing Sharley than meets the eye?

Meanwhile, Corporal Carrie Welles seeks revenge. Consumed with demons from her past two missions, she goes rogue in the hope that her actions will end all the pain and suffering the Aurora team has endured. But will facing the enemy free them all from Sharley's cruel grasp, or has she condemned herself to a suicide mission?

As the mystery of Sharley and UNFASP unfolds and lives hang in the balance, Harris and Carrie are forced to search deep inside themselves, and what they find will shock them.

You can read my reviews of the previous books in the series below:

AURORA: DARWIN (book #1) by Amanda Bridgeman

- AURORA: PEGASUS (book #2) by Amanda Bridgeman  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review: SKINJOB by Bruce McCabe

SkinjobSet in the presumably not too distant future, SKINJOB centres around a terrorist event in which an adult manufacturer of robotic sex dolls (lifelike for the purpose of adult entertainment and little much else) sees one of its establishments blown up, killing the patrons and staff inside. With little to go on, the police search video footage via some highly sophisticated 'big brother' CCTV imagery to track the culprit.

I really liked the idea behind author Brue McCabe's SKINJOB; the political and religious ramifications/differing viewpoints, boiling pot discussion over right and wrong, moral and just etc. yet I felt this was somewhat overshadowed by the omnipresent cat and mouse mystery behind the person or persons responsible for the bombing.

Perhaps what got me offside was the fact I'd guessed early on who was responsible and then had to read a number of chase sequences, political grandstanding and police work that didn't feel like it always contributed to the steady flow of the story.

As far as the two lead characters go, I thought FBI Agent Madsen was well rounded and a decent enough prototype protagonist; one up against the bad guys and comrades alike. While San Francisco cop/surveillance expert Shari was just shy of being the secondary lead I had hoped for, despite the promising start she felt a little more real than the dolls of DreamCon.

SKINJOB shows a lot of promise and I hope Bruce McCabe ventures into this interesting landscape again. I got the feeling this book was just touching the surface of the religious factions in this future day setting and the power they're to wield over Government.

SKINJOB is a good thriller that could've been a really good sci-fi.

Top-5: Must Read Valiant - Greatest Hits Vol.2

This series of blog posts is a top 5 topical 'best-of' list for all things bookish - be it true crime, fiction, novels to novella etc. - pretty much whatever topic I want to post about on a given day. The aim being to reintroduce myself with some old favourites (books/authors) and also take a look at some books/genres I'm yet to read much of. This is a more casual series of posts as there is no defined scheduled unlike my regular Friday Finds and Monday Reads, feel free to join in and post your top-5 all things bookish and provide a link in the comments.

Today I'm listing my top 5 comics that I'd like to see collected in a trade paperback edition from the ever expanding library of characters/titles from Valiant. 

Valiant are making some great comics and have recently announced via twitter that a second collection could be in the works combining a selection of their best and most engaging comics since the original Must Read Valiant trade was published (which is brilliant).

This got me thinking about what comics I'd like to see collected in trade paperback. My choices below have the new reader in mind, so I'm looking at new arcs or ends of arc/moments that change the broader Valiant U which would act as a good jumping on point for readers not familiar with the characters.

In order:

1. UNITY #5 (written by Matt Kindt, art by Cafu)

From the solicitation:
Coming off of the earth-shattering repercussions of their first mission, Ninjak is leading the newly formed Unity team right back into the trenches to face the Valiant Universe's next colossal threat – the enigmatic Dr. Silk and his high-tech terror cell: WEBNET! With the fate of untold millions on the line, can this team of cutthroat heroes uncover Silk's endgame – and his connection to Ninjak's shadowy past? Move over, Harada – Matt Kindt and Valiant's next superstar artist, CAFU (Action Comics), are about to bring the world's next A-level enemy down on Unity with the force of a hundred hydrogen bombs.

Introduces a history to the concept of a united team of super powered heroes spanning back decades if not longer. Also marks the return of perennial bad guy Dr. Silk who looks to be more than a one arc nemesis for Unity and the broader Valiant U. A great jumping on point before ARMOR HUNTERS.

2. BLOODSHOT AND H.A.R.D. CORPS #23 (written by Duffy Boudreau, art by Al Barrionuevo)

From the solicitation:
The six men and women of H.A.R.D. Corps are all that stand between Bloodshot and everything he’s ever wanted – the total destruction of Project Rising Spirit. The clock is ticking down to zero, the stakes are life-or-death…and no one in this fight has anything left to lose.

The end of the uneasy alliance that was Bloodshot and Project Rising Spirit sets the tone for a new status quo for Bloodshot while also providing a glimpse at a future incarnation of the HARD Corps. I really liked the writing and hope we get to see more from Boudreau on Bloodshot at some stage in 2015 when the character (fingers crossed) returns to his own title post THE VALIANT.

3. HARBINGER #23 (written by Josh Dysart, art by Clayton Henry)

From the solicitation:
Dead. Means. Dead.

That short, sharp solicitation really says it all. The Renegades are changed forever following Dysart's HARBINGER #23. Dysart consistently produces quality writing on this series and this issue is one of the finer examples.

4. SHADOWMAN: END TIMES #3 (written by Peter Milligan, art by Valentine De Landro)

From the solicitation:
The curse of the shadow loa is a terrible cross to bear…and Jack Boniface is about to be crushed by it.

As an army of voodoo invisibles makes war on Shadowman, the tortured spirit inside Jack will begin to consume his soul – and force a final confrontation with his greatest enemy, Master Darque…once and for all.

Much like BLOODSHOT AND H.A.R.D. CORPS #23, this issue sets the tone for the troubled and constantly conflicted hero known as Shadowman following an alliance with the darker side of the Valiant U. I can't wait to see how this new direction for the character plays out and hope we get to see a SHADOWMAN vol.2 #1 in 2015.

5. RAI #1 (written by Matt Kindt, art by Clayton Crain)

From the solicitation:
The year is 4001 A.D. – led by the artificial intelligence called “Father,” the island nation of Japan has expanded out of the Pacific and into geosynchronous orbit with the ravaged Earth below. With billions to feed and protect, it has fallen to one solitary guardian to enforce the law of Father’s empire – the mysterious folk hero known as Rai. They say he can appear out of nowhere. They say he is a spirit…the ghost of Japan. But when the first murder in a thousand years threatens to topple Father’s benevolent reign, Rai will be forced to confront the true face of a nation transformed…and his own long-lost humanity…

This far reaching futuristic tale set in the year 4001 is exceptional and perhaps the most fun I've had reading a comic in a long time. The art by Clayton Crain is just phenomenal and should be seen to be believed. As the arc progresses we get to see some linkages with past Valiant heroes to add a broader sense of continuity to RAI despite being set so far into the future which makes it all that much more enjoyable.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Top-5: Stephen King novels

This series of blog posts is a top 5 topical 'best-of' list for all things bookish - be it true crime, fiction, novels to novella etc. - pretty much whatever topic I want to post about on a given day. The aim being to reintroduce myself with some old favourites (books/authors) and also take a look at some books/genres I'm yet to read much of. This is a more casual series of posts as there is no defined scheduled unlike my regular Friday Finds and Monday Reads, feel free to join in and post your top-5 all things bookish and provide a link in the comments.

The first topic in my Top-5 is Stephen King novels. Now, before I get started, I should confess I haven't read  some of his more popular titles in IT, CARRIE, PET SEMATARY, though I've pretty much read everything else, including his latest mainstream crime novel MR MERCEDES (which you find on this list).

Rose Madder1. ROSE MADDER (probably my most read Stephen King book. It's an unorthodox choice but remains my fav book.)

Roused by a single drop of blood, Rosie Daniels wakes up to the chilling realisation that her husband is going to kill her. And she takes flight - with his credit card.

Alone in a strange city, Rosie begins to build a new life: she meets Bill Steiner and she finds an odd junk shop painting, 'Rose Madder', which strangely seems to want her as much as she wants it.

But it's hard for Rosie not to keep looking over her shoulder. Rose-maddened and on the rampage, Norman is a corrupt cop with a dog's instinct for tracking people. And he's getting close. Rosie can feel how close he is getting . . .

The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower, #2)2. THE DRAWING OF THREE (Dark Tower #2, this is where the series really finds its character. Sure Roland was introduced in the GUNSLINGER as was Jake but this is the best entry for character development and showed a broader imagery to the unique fantasy that is the Dark Tower)

While pursuing his quest for the Dark Tower through a world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, Roland, The Last Gunslinger, is drawn through a mysterious door that brings him into contemporary America. Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean, and with the beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherworldly enemies

Cell3. CELL (One of the best zombie books I've read. Like most on the list I've read this multiple times and will likely revisit it again soon.)

Clayton Riddell, an artist from Maine, is almost bouncing up Boylston Street in Boston. He's just landed a comic book deal that might finally enable him to support his family by making art instead of teaching it. He's already picked up a small (but expensive!) gift for his long-suffering wife, and he knows just what he will get for his boy Johnny. Why not a little treat for himself? Clay is feeling good about the future.

That changes in a hurry. The cause of the devastation is a phenomenon that will come to be known as The Pulse, and the delivery method is a cell phone. Everyone's cell phone. Clay and the few desperate survivors who join him suddenly find themselves in the pitch-black night of civilization's darkest age, surrounded by chaos, carnage, and a human horde that has been reduced to its basest nature...and then begins to evolve.

There is really no escaping this nightmare. But for Clay, an arrow points home to Maine, and as he and his fellow refugees make their harrowing journey north they begin to see crude signs confirming their direction. A promise, perhaps. Or a threat...

11.22.634. 11.22.63 (What can I say about this book? I just loved it.)

WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history? WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? WHAT HAPPENS WHEN a young teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, 2011, gets the chance to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting JFK in November 1963 is the premise of the brilliant new novel by STEPHEN KING: 11/22/63, the date that Kennedy was shot - unless . . .

King takes his protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher, on a fascinating journey back to the world of 1958 - from a world in 2011 of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of Elvis and JFK, of Plymouth Fury cars and Lindy Hopping, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake's life - a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

The Stand5. THE STAND (Epic, grand scale King in all his greatness. THE STAND is one of those books that just doesn't date.)

First came the days of the plague…

After the days of the plague came the dreams.

Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil.

His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms…

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Finds (12 Sept 14)

Friday Finds is a weekly meme hosted by Should Be Reading where you share the book
titles you discovered or heard about during the past week. These can be books you were told about, books you discovered while browsing blogs/bookstores online, or books that you actually purchased. I think this is a great idea and a way to share my enthusiasm of discovering new books.

Mike Hammer: Complex 90COMPLEX 90 by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (#18 in the Mike Hammer series. I love Max Allan Collins writing Mike Hammer since Spillane's passing - he's maintained a seamless link with Spillane's rendition of the character and has brought his own hardboiled style to compliment the PI. I missed this one when it was originally released but have ordered a copy.)

Hammer accompanies a conservative politician to Moscow on a fact-finding mission. Arrested and imprisoned by the KGB on a bogus charge; he quickly escapes, creating an international incident by getting into a fire fight with Russian agents.

On his stateside return, the government is none too happy with Hammer. Russia is insisting upon his return to stand charges, and various government agencies are following him. A question dogs our hero: why him? Why does Russia want him back, and why was he singled out to accompany the senator to Russia in the first place?

The Old School
THE OLD SCHOOL by P.M. Newton (somehow I missed this and the following book - compared recently on Fair Dinkum Crime as Australia's crime fiction answer to THE WIRE I had to add both titles to my 'wishlist'.)

Sydney, 1992. Nhu 'Ned' Kelly is a young detective making her way in what was, until recently, the best police force money could buy. Now ICAC has the infamous Roger Rogerson in the spotlight, and the old ways are out. Ned's sex and background still make her an outsider in the force, but Sydney is changing, expanding, modernising, and so is the Job.

When two bodies are found in the foundations of an old building in Sydney's west, Ned is drawn into the city's past: old rivalries, old secrets and old wrongs. As she works to discover who the bones belong to – and who dumped them there – she begins to uncover secrets that threaten to expose not only the rotten core of the police force, but also the dark mysteries of her own family.

Beams FallingBEAMS FALLING by P.M. Newton (the follow-up to THE OLD SCHOOL)

On the inside, Detective Nhu 'Ned' Kelly is a mess. Stitched up after being shot, her brain's taking even longer to heal than her body. On the outside, though, she's perfect, at least as far as the top brass are concerned. Cabramatta is riding high on the new 'Asian crime wave', a nightmare of heroin, home invasions, and hits of all kinds, and the cops need a way into the world of teenaged dealers and assassins.

They think Ned's Vietnamese heritage is the right fit but nothing in Cabra can be taken at face value. Ned doesn't speak the language and the ra choi – the lawless kids who have 'gone out to play' – are just running rings around her. The next blow could come from anywhere, or anyone. And beyond the headlines and hysteria, Ned is itching to make a play for the kingpin, the person behind it all with the money and the plan and the power.

The Martini Shot: A Novella and StoriesTHE MARTINI SHOT : A NOVELLA AND SHORT STORIES by George Pelecanos (Any book by Pelecanos is an instant buy. This comes out Jan 2015)

George Pelecanos gets inside the minds and hearts of a cast of indelible characters: from the adoptive parents of Spero Lucas trying to expand and redefine their family, to a young boy involved in a drug deal gone bad, to a 1930s immigrant dishwasher facing down a corrupt Pinkerton agent. In the novella, "The Martini Shot," Pelecanos takes readers behind the scenes of a cable TV cop show, where a writer gets caught up in drama more real than anything in a script. Crackling with energy, these stories bring readers to a new understanding of humanity, modern life, and circumstances that stack the deck against people who are just trying to make a decent life for themselves. Gritty, sexy, fast-paced, humane, THE MARTINI SHOT is Pelecanos at his very best.

Wow - this was a great week of discoveries for me and I didn't even list them all! Loads of great books to look forward to.

Happy reading.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Interview: Amy Dale (Author of THE FALL)

Amy Dale was born in Sydney is the Chief Court Reporter for the city's highest selling daily paper, The Daily Telegraph. She reported the Simon Gittany case from his arrest in August 2011. After reporting on every day of the trial and its dramatic verdict, she travelled to Canada to speak with Lisa Harnum's family and friends. She joined the paper as a journalist in 2006 and in that time has reported on sport, police and business. She became the senior court reporter in 2011 and covers the state's most high profile trials and anti-corruption inquires.

Amy was kind enough to stop by the blog to answer some questions about her book THE FALL.

- Read my review of the excellent true-crime book, THE FALL, here. Out now!

(Josh) What was it about the Gittany case that made you want to write a book about it?

(Amy) I decided quite early on in the case that I wanted to write a book about it. The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, who I work for, gave the trial very prominent coverage but I still felt there was so much more to be written. The level of public interest in Lisa Harnum’s tragic ending and Simon Gittany’s intense control over their relationship was astronomical. It was so much more than I had ever seen in any criminal trial I had covered previously. Having covered the case against Gittany from the start I thought I was in a good position to go behind the headlines and delve further into the story.

THE FALL goes beyond the courtroom and the crime to expose some of the prolonged torment partners experience as victims of domestic violence – be it physical or emotional. How important was it to lift the lid on Lisa’s turbulent time with Simon prior to and in the events leading to her untimely death?

I felt it was extremely important and one of the most crucial parts to include in the book. I think so many of Lisa’s loved ones hope that if anything is to emerge from the intense coverage of her death it is a greater knowledge of the warning signs of domestic violence.  I wanted the book to paint a picture of Simon and Lisa’s relationship from the very start, to show how he drew her into his world and kept her there until it was too late for her to escape from his clutches. While the trial explored some parts of their relationship in its early stages, obviously it focused mainly on the final few days (and the events which formed a part of the prosecution case). Yet clearly the alarming signs that Lisa may be in danger started to form much earlier than that. For those who loved Lisa, I think they hope her story serves as a cautionary tale for those who may be in a similar situation themselves, or know somebody who is in an abusive relationship.

The Fall: How Simon Gittany killed Lisa HarnumI liked the matter-of-fact retelling of the case. The delivery was without prejudice and allowed the reader to formulate their own opinion without being told which side to pick. As the evidence was complied and the trial progressed, the witness statements and judicial process paved a clearly cut path leading to the guilty verdict. Knowing all that you did prior to writing the book, how important was it as an author to maintain this almost neutral ground throughout the writing process?

This was actually not as difficult for me as I first imagined it would be. I think it’s because I’ve been a court reporter for more than four years, so am very used to remaining neutral in all cases I cover. This can be hard at times, especially the longer you report on a trial and get to know the people involved, but it’s the most important part of my job to provide balanced coverage of what is said in court, and only that. That being said, it was really enjoyable to write in a style that is so different to my everyday reporting structure.

Lisa’s iPhone was critical in providing insight into her troubled relationship as well as showing a strong bond with her mother. Was it always your intention to provide both sides of the iPhone evidence? The good with her mother, the bad with Simon? How do you think this helps to balance Lisa’s character?

I wanted to include every piece of evidence possible in the book. This also meant presenting the defence case, and Simon’s steadfast denial that he essentially kept Lisa his prisoner inside their apartment. As Justice Lucy McCallum said in her verdict, there were periods in the relationship when both Lisa and Simon Gittany placed restrictions on the other’s movements and interactions, and these constraints were willingly accepted by the other. I also felt the text message exchanges showed the difficulties Lisa’s family, especially her mother, faced in trying to get a handle on the struggles in the relationship when they were living so far apart. As a reporter covering the trial, I found the text message exchanges between Lisa and Simon incredibly insightful and occasionally quite heartbreaking. In some of them I really felt you could hear the pain and despair she was feeling in her wish to be completely accepted and understood by him. I found some of Simon’s replies quite telling. In some of the messages you could see she was trying to reach out to him for an affectionate reply, but instead she would be met by a cold and cruel response.

If you could sell THE FALL in one sentence, what would it be?

It goes behind the scenes of one of Australia’s most captivating court cases, and tells the chilling story of a woman betrayed by the person she wanted to trust most of all.

Given the broad exposure to true crime you have, are you thinking of writing any more books?

Absolutely. I have a few ideas presently floating around in my head. Writing The Fall definitely confirmed my love for books, and while the days around deadline were very stressful, and swimming in content like this quite draining, I found the entire process incredibly worthwhile.

I thought, in THE FALL, you showed great promise for writing courtroom thrillers – do you think you’ll try your hand at crime fiction at some stage?

That’s very nice of you to say! I would certainly love to give fiction writing a go in the future. Writing is one of my greatest loves in life, and the part of my job I take the most joy from. I certainly hope there are more writing opportunities on the cards.