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

Review: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson

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. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: LITTLE DEATHS by Emma Flint

Publisher Hachette
Length 10hrs 10mins
Format audiobook
Published 2017
Series Standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Set in 1965, Little Deaths takes the reader on a gut wrenching and disturbing ride of crime as a young, over enthusiastic (and obsessive, boarding on creepy) reporter becomes enthralled in a kidnap case which evolves into the murder of two young children; their mother, the attractive and flirtatious Ruth Malone the key suspect. 

There is little mystery as the book opens with Ruth in prison, we don't know what for at this point and even when the murder conviction is handed down much latter, the impact is not lessened by having already known the outcome. As Emma Flint develops Ruth and Pete's story throughout the book, I couldn't help but hope the reporter would turn over some evidence or find a stone left un-turned which unearthed a new character key to the crime; this is a sure sign of good writing. 

Despite my praise and overall feeling of sanctification having read Little Deaths, some of the interviews between Pete and bit-characters did cause the story to meander a little. I get that this added some realism; not every interview conducted by a reporter leads to startling revelations, but perhaps a slightly shorter route would've been more beneficial, it's a slight criticism though. 

Narrated by Lauren Fortgang (who also narrated the excellent, Megan Abbott's You Will Know Me (2016)) and Graham Halstead (who primarily narrates the story from Pete, the reporters perspective), Little Deaths gets a boost to an already interesting and engaging story-line by virtue of a great audio performance. Whilst initially jarring, the switch in narrative perspective was well planned and executed.  

Little Deaths is a very good read with a superb ending. For readers of crime fiction, it offers a nice splash of diversity to the genre in the way the story is told. I recommend picking up the audio edition.

5 / 5 stars. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Review: THE GIRL WHO WAS TAKEN by Charlie Donlea

Publisher Bantam
Length 340 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series Standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
Megan McDonald's escape from her kidnapper resulted in a sensational rise to celebrity both unwanted, and, in her eyes, unwarranted. She's penned a book, appeared on TV and is seen as  a beacon of hope to other victims. Escape is possible, even probable under the right circumstances... 

After spending two terrifying weeks trapped in a bunker fearing for her life, Megan is still captive in many ways. Her sheriff father couldn't protect her at the time and dotes on her to the point of suffocation while her mother won't leave her alone even for a minute. But what about the other girl who went missing? The media wants a happy ending to Megan's ordeal, focusing on the sunshine and rainbow outcome of her escape while neglecting the darker story of a missing teen, now gone for over a year. For forensic pathologist, Livia Cutty, the other girl is never far from her mind, Nicole Cutty went missing at the same time as Megan, presumably from the same location. Her story is yet to be told. 

The Girl Who Was Taken is one hell of book. It's fast paced, full of suspense and has a twist that hit this reader like a freight-train, wow, I'm usually pretty good at picking 'who done it' when it comes to mysteries but I was completely taken aback by how this book panned out. The writing is slick and the characters well defined and easily readable. Livia Cutty is character I could easily more of, think of her as a younger version of Kay Scarpetta; a hit series waiting to happen in my opinion. 

One of the best books of 2017 without a doubt. 

5 / 5 stars.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review: UNIVERSAL HARVESTER by John Darnielle

Publisher Scribe
Length 224 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series Standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
I went into this book thinking it was a creepy horror story which was to evoke feelings of nostalgia for the 90's video store, hiring movie after movie on vhs, watching through a semi fuzzed picture on a not flat tv screen, the story interrupted with ghoulish frames of the macabre as the lead character discover a ghastly crime or supernatural element, thrusting them into an interesting and dangerous story. I sort of got that for the first third, if not a little more, of the book before things changed. 

Universal Harvester is well written but I think it lacks a clear description, the cover synopsis and advance reader material is misleading. While the above mentioned horror and love for the days of vhs is there initially, the book evolves through different characters and time hops many years back and forth almost making the plotting feel a little disjointed - this is in large part as the reader doesn't quite know why the book takes the direction it takes - it makes sense at the end but is a deterrent to continue reading whilst it happens.

I couldn't read the first third of this book quick enough; it was creepy, dark, and Jeremy, the video store clerk, was interesting with a back-story full of tragedy and a story-line that seemed to be going places. Then the script flipped and the book took a strange turn and the initial enjoyment of the first portion of the book died out.

2 / 5 stars. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Review: RAIN DOGS by Adrian McKinty

Publisher Blackstone Audio
Length 10hrs 22mins
Format audiobook
Published 2016
Series Sean Duffy #5
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Gun Street Girl was my favorite Sean Duffy book (#4 in the series) so naturally I was interested to see how the next installment held up, and, true to form, Rain Dogs is a great follow-up (or listen, thanks to Gerard Doyle).

Rain Dogs is the perfect, though more complex take on the popular locked-room mystery sub crime genre. A female reporter is found dead of a supposed suicide in the courtyard of Carrickfergus Castle, having jumped from atop the castle. However, once Duffy, Lawson, and Crabby investigate, suspicion soon turns to the more sinister theory; murder. Her shoes are on the wrong foot, she has a well known fear of heights, and she had head injury not sustained from the fall. As with many of the cases Duffy investigates, leads take him abroad and have his theories tested rightly and wrongly. Crossing international borders adds a political element that give the case a deeper and more complex feel as Duff and co wade their way through bureaucracy hurdles and withheld evidence. 

One of the staples of the Sean Duffy series is the broader side of the key characters away from the core plot. Rain Dogs, whilst centered around the death of a young female reporter is just as much about Duff himself; his latest failed relationship, his encounter with Muhammad Ali in the early pages of the book, and his ever growing bond with his fellow police. Lawson's, the 'up and comer' added page time is a bonus, with his general naivety and police smarts on display. 

I really enjoyed Rain Dogs, this series feels like it's going from strength to strength. The latest book, Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly has recently been made available on Audible and I'm looking forward to finding out what author Adrian McKinity has to throw at Duffy in the latest go-round. 

5 / 5 stars. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Review: SOMETHING FOR NOTHING by Andy Muir

Publisher Affirm Press
Length 299 pages
Format softcover
Published 2017
Series Lachie Munro #1
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Set in the beach-side town of Newcastle, Something for Nothing is a colorful and darkly humorous crime tale about an unassuming criminal, Lachie Munro who seems to be a beacon for trouble. He poaches abalone when he's not painting houses or throwing back a couple of beers with his mate, and co-poacher, Dave to earn a living. However, a chance encounter with a torso and a wad of heroin brings with it danger and the potential for a payoff too big to ignore. 

Loaded with Australian colloquialisms and encompassing a true Aussie feel, Something for Nothing is a must read for readers of Australian crime fiction. Offering a lighter side to the dark drug trade, author Andy Muir infuses some naivety and nice-guy characteristics into his protagonist making the whole turn of events become plausibly accidental and without menace.

This is the first book to feature painter turned amateur drug dealer Lachie Munro with the author alluding to a return. I'm not sure what is in store for Lachie next but if it's half as fun as Something for Nothing I'll be sure to jump straight on it.

4 / 5 stars. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Re-read: TWISTED CITY by Jason Starr

Publisher No Exit Press
Length 319 pages
Format mass market paperback
Published 2004
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Jason Starr is perhaps the best writer of modern white collar noir I've come across. His stories are laced with an undercurrent of vehemence that steams from normalcy ever so delicately nurtured to noir. TWISTED CITY (published 2004) is everything I'd come to expect from a Jason Starr and then some. Early on Starr plants the seeds that something is a little off about the character lead in David Miller, a journalist for a financial magazine who is still mourning the death of his sister some time ago.

This dark and almost obsessive compulsion to seek his sister in the eyes of his prospective partners or casual hook-ups is creepy and, well, twisted (hence the title) yet the reader can go along with it - clearly Miller is a victim of long lasting grief bordering depression. Scratch the surface and it goes much deeper.

As with any good book, there are multiple plot threads interlocked with one another that drives the narrative. In TWISTED CITY David Miller is the center of a murder investigation, and victim of blackmail while being stuck in a seemingly abusive relationship with a highly unstable young woman - naturally things don't end all that well for David.

I first read this book in 2014 and loved rereading it; the characters still read fresh and the accidental murders still have the same impact as the first time around. 

TWISTED CITY is a fun, easy read that offers everything you'd expect from a Jason Starr book; dark humor, easy violence, smooth storytelling, and messed up characters. 

4 / 5 stars. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: THIS SAVAGE SONG by V.E. Schwab

Publisher Titan
Length 407 pages
Format paperback
Published 2016
Series Monsters of Verity #1
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
The first book in the Monsters of Verity series sets the scene for a dark and blood thirsty horror-fantasy tale that is sure to capture readers of Jonathan Maberry to Charlaine Harris. Despite opening with a distinct young adult feel, This Savage Song quickly develops into something more dark and dangerous. Sure the protagonists are high school age and a fair amount of the book is set in their high school but it’s what happens when the bell rings that brings the horrors.

The monsters of Verity are literally monsters; a twist on the vampiric, zombie, and demonic with a twist of avenging angel. It’s an interesting mix that forms an equally interesting dynamic. With a city divided in two, a civil war simmering beneath a facade of peace, the monsters lurk in wait. Harker and Flynn – leaders of the respective sides of the city have their own means for taming / eradicating the monsters but their ultimate goals come under fire when their respective sides heir-apparents unite for survival.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from This Savage Song and was glad a dipped my toes in before falling head first into a completely immersing tale. 

Bring on book 2! 

5/5 stars.