Monday, 14 January 2019

More book reviews for January, 2019

Books 6, 7, and 8 of 2019 includes two awesome novels and, unfortunately, one not quite so.

As previously mentioned, Graham Masterton is one of those authors who sometimes can be a little bit hit and miss. Unfortunately, The Sleepless is an example of the latter.

The Sleepless is one of those rare Masterton books I had not encountered before, so when I saw it in a local honesty library (where you can either exchange books or alternatively simply pick one up for a small donation), I decided bravely to give it a go.

Unfortunately I just couldn’t get on with it.

Following a promotion to the position of senior judge, one man and his family are involved in a helicopter crash en-route to his accepting his appointment. Somehow, by some sort of miracle, the man and his family all manage to survive the crash, but as they approached by a mysterious stranger they soon begin wishing they’d died on impact.

When a former Insurance investigator suffering from PSTD is called back to his previous job to investigate the crash, after being made an offer he simply cannot refuse, he encounters a mystery he becomes determined to solve.
But at what cost?

Unfortunately this book simply wasn’t for me. I found it hard to connect with the characters and despite a very grisly opening scene featuring the rather ironically named ‘Jaws of Life’ - ironic because of the way in which they are here out to use - I really just couldn’t get on with this book. Within only a few chapters, I found myself ‘skimming’ pages and one look at how many pages I had left (for it is not a small book) was enough to convince me not to continue.

Fans of this Blog will know that I don’t like giving up on books but at the same time, I have long  reached that point in my life where I am no longer willing to endure something I’m really not enjoying and  unfortunately I’m afraid this was just one of those books I just couldn’t get on with.

Sorry Graham if you’re reading this...

Thankfully, Elevation by Stephen King was a much quicker and more enjoyable read. More of a novella than a full novel, it returns us to King’s Castle Rock, the home of such works as Cujo , The Dead Zone,  and Needful Things and on the surface is the story of a man apparently losing weight whilst on the outside remaining exactly the same.

But it is also much more than that and in the spirit of stories like The Green Mile, ends up being just as much about tolerance as it is anything else.

I really enjoyed this and thought it a nice little read and a good return to form for King. It also features a sneak peek at Gwendy’s Button Box, and this is another of his that I must pick up at some point..,

Finally, we reach Thomas.S. Flower’s Island of the Flesh eaters.

 A playful homage to the ‘Video nasties’ of the eighties, The book looks and reads almost like a new imagining of the classic Zombie movie, Zombie Flesh-eaters - with one scene early on playing out almost exactly like it does in the movie! 

Despite this though, and despite the book being more than a little predictable if you have seen the afore mentioned movie, Island of the Flesh-eaters is a highly enjoyable read as one young boy and a local reporter search for the boys missing sister on a holiday island resort,  in a plot that could also be accused of borrowing heavily from the console game, Dead Island.

If all this makes the book sound highly derivative, then that’s because it is, but that’s not to say that the book isn’t good, because again, it is - it’s very well written and that is enough to almost make you forgive the author for borrowing so heavily from other source material. 

I found the characters well written and easy to like, and this was a short, sharp read that doesn’t pull many punches.

Would I read something else by this author? That’s a question I often ask myself when reviewing a new book and here, the answer is a solid and resounding, yes. I would love to see what this author can do with more original material, and from this example he is certainly one to watch.

If you’re looking for something to really get your teeth into (pun intended) then this book probably isn’t for you. If however, you’re looking for something short and sweet that you don’t have to think too much about, then this probably IS for you. 

It’s a good, solid read despite its over-reliance on familiar tropes and definitely one of the better Zombie books out there and something I would have no problem reading again.

A great little tribute to the eighties, 4 stars out of 5 - losing a star  simply because  I felt like it played out a little too closely to Fulci’s classic zombie movie for my liking despite being very well done. 

Welcome to the jungle, baby...

A review of Matt Shaw’s The Island...

Both awesome AND gruesome, The Island is everything you might expect from uk horror author, Matt Shaw and then more so.
In what can only be described as a clever parody of the popular Bear Grylls show, The Island sees several ordinary people dropped onto a remote desert island to test their mettle and see just how long they can survive against all odds.

But what starts out as just another reality tv show soon takes a turn for the worse when one of their number is accidentally killed...

Seeking aid, as the contestants realise their only contact with the outside world appears to have been cut off, any former intention between the survivors to work together quickly begins to break down as the producers manipulate events from behind the scenes.

In this game, there can be only ONE winner and in this show, it’s every man (or woman) for themselves.

Once again, Shaw has excelled himself with yet another grisly tale.
The ending of this book teases his next offering and I for one simply cannot wait to see what this authors sick mind can come up with next.

A very confident and well deserved five stars out of five!

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

First reviews of the year...

It’s the start of a new year and already, 7 days in, I’ve already read 4 books - the first of which that I’m reviewing is a classic piece of horror from acclaimed bestselling author, Graham Masterton.

Graham Masterton is one of those authors who, I find, can sometimes be a little bit hit and miss (for example, I’m not really a fan of his recent Katie Maguire series that has seen him reinvent himself as a crime writer) but he has had an illustrious career spanning several decades and during that time, he has certainly produced more hits than misses.

Thankfully, The Hymn is right up there with some of his best work.

When restaurateur, Lloyd Denman’s fiancee commits suicide through self-immolation, he soon discovers he may not have known 
her quite as well as he thought. For one thing, despite her telling him both her parents were dead, Cecila’s mother and father are both very much alive. 

And not only that, it soon also becomes apparent that she might just have been involved in some kind of cult.

When a bus-load of people dies in a similar fire, Lloyd begins to investigate and what he discovers is that everything is all tied up with a missing score by none other than the composer, Wagner himself. A score that Cecilia recently came into possession of...

This is an intriguing and interesting book with a plot that twists and turns, weaves and winds right up until its inevitable climax. If I had  any criticism, it is that I kind of had an idea where all this was going long before I reached the end, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment and this was certainly a good example of this author’s work for anyone who might not have read him before.

A strong 3 1/2 out of 5.

Next up are the first two books in the Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry.

As stated in my earlier review of Book 3, I had previously read Patient Zero before but having enjoyed The King of Plagues so much, decided to give it a revisit.

I actually enjoyed this book much more second time round, and can only conclude I must have been having a bad day when I originally read it before.

Joe Ledger is a cop working on a big case when he is recruited for a secret anti-terrorist division because of his particular brand of specialist skills. Someone has invented what seems to be the ultimate bio-weapon, a virus capable of resurrecting the dead, and before long Ledger finds himself racing against time to track down those people responsible.

The Dragon Factory is the second book in the series, and takes place a couple of months later. Ledge is now well established in the DMS, the secret government organisation he now works for, but pretty soon finds himself on the wrong side of the law when he and the rest of his team fall foul of the NSA.

Quickly though, as it soon turns out, all of this is nothing more than a distraction to keep the attention of the DMS occupied and whilst they are distracted, a secret organisation, long thought destroyed, meanwhile is busy plotting the next stage in a nefarious master plan several decades in the making.

Once more, Ledger and his team find themselves racing against the clock, but this time around the stakes have never been higher...

The Dragon Factory is actually my least favourite of the Ledger books so far, though whether or not that is because I have over-saturated myself with the series over the last couple of weeks remains to be seen. I mean don’t get me wrong, this was still a gripping and enjoyable read, but I just thought Patient Zero and The King of Plagues were better. 

Patient Zero then gets a full 5/5 stars, whilst The Dragon Factory only gets 4.

Finally, for my last review, comes Fat Free Nation by newcomer horror author, Naomi Downing. 

In the very near future, being overweight has become a crime. Those found guilty of breaking the law are either sent to ‘Fat camps’ - basically glorified concentration camps - or in the worst cases, summarily executed.

Will and Jenna live on the streets, but are picked up by a patrol and sent to one of these camps so that they can lose weight and become healthy contributors to society. But once inside, the twin siblings soon find that all the stories they have heard about these camps are all true, and they will need to use every ounce of their wits just to stay alive.

With the recent introduction here in the UK of the so-called ‘sugar tax’, and the government’s apparent obsession with what they are calling an ‘obesity epidemic’, Naomi here has created a very scary and believable future. Would things ever go this far? One would like to think not, but then before the Second World War, who might of thought places such as concentration camps would ever exist?  

This is an interesting and very clever read that is certainly topical right at this moment, but if I had a couple of criticisms, it would be that we never get a clear picture of how such a future really came to pass and the end resolution is a little too neat but all that said, Naomi certainly looks like she might be an author to look out for in the future. 

Certainly I enjoyed this and thought it a highly original and unique concept, and Naomi is a very easy author to read. If  you’re looking for something a little different and thought-provoking, this would be a good book to pick up and it will be interesting to see 
what Naomi comes up with next. 

A very pleasant and well deserved 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Last reviews of 2018 part 2

Zombie Diaries Homecoming Year: The Mavis Saga is the first in a series of teen zombie novels and another book recently I had the pleasure of reading.

Mavis is just your average, ordinary teenage girl with all the usuals teenage hopes, dreams, worries, and aspirations until one day she drinks dirty water from a tap.
Suddenly she finds herself becoming seemingly obsessed with food - to the point where even her close family and friends begin to smell like food - and soon, she starts to develop an insatiable appetite she just can’t seem to satisfy.
The more she eats, the more she seems to need - and as the days and weeks progress, things go from bad to worse, especially when even her new boyfriend begins to smell like meat.
Something is very wrong with Mavis and the worst thing?
Slowly she can feel herself starting to lose all control...

This was an interesting book and a very different spin on the whole Zombie genre. If you have read my review of the movie, Contracted, in an earlier post then you will know where this story is going - but being what I assume is a teen-read, this book is a whole less gory and gross-out than that particular movie even if it follows a similar theme.

Did I enjoy it enough to read more in the series? I’m unsure as I didn’t exactly feel like I fitted the target audience and kept feeling this book was more aimed at teenage girls, themselves going through physical changes and no doubt feeling a bit like Mavis herself does at times - hopefully without the craving for flesh.

Was it a good read though? Definitely yes, and the author did a good job of keeping me reading right up until the inevitable end even though I’d called it long before I got there.

Certainly I’m interested enough to want to know where Mavis goes from here, so will probably pick up the next book at some point.

For now though, this book gets a solid 3/5 stars, even if it wasn’t entirely for me.


Much better is Jonathan Mberry’s The King of Plagues.

I first read Patient Zero, the first Joe ledger, book a couple of years ago at my brother-in-law’s recommendation and though I enjoyed it, thought it was only okay and no more. Then I read the short story, Rot and Ruin by the same author in an anthology I’d picked up and was suitably impressed.
I became determined to give the author another go, but it took me until a few days ago to actually get round to it.

King of Plagues is actually the third Joe Ledger book and is set just after a recent personal loss. Ledger is taking some time out from his full-time job at the Department of Military Science when tragedy strikes in the form of a terrorist attack on the world famous Royal London hospital, leaving it no more than a pile of smoking rubble at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.
Ledger is asked to assist the investigation, but soon discovers it is just the first phase in a series of new terror attacks by a sinister syndicate, supposed to replicate the mythical Ten Plagues of Egypt.

When Ledger himself is attacked, it soon becomes apparent that there are enemies everywhere and  no-one can be trusted, not even those supposedly on the same side. And as the attacks continue to escalate, it quickly becomes clear - time is rapidly running out and for the D.M.S as well as the rest of the world, the clock is ticking...

This was nothing short of a brilliant read that kept me gripped from beginning to end. I read this in two days and quite simply, could not put it down - to the point where I have even gone out and purchased the previous two books in the series so I can catch up before reading more books in the series including Patient Zero, the book I was previously not quite so impressed with.

In many ways, Maberry’s character, Joe Ledger, reminds me here of John Connolly’s own Charlie Parker and there are more than a few similarities to Connolly’s work with a paranormal twist to this tale that is never suitably explained, so if you are a fan of that author I’d certainly give this a go.
Ledger also slightly minds me of F.Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack, and that is no bad thing either.

The bio-terrorism aspects of this book were highly believable and if I were to sum up this book in one word, it would be tense. The action and the drama never lets up, even for a second, and with this book, Maberry has definitely bought himself a new fan and I will definitely, definitely be reading more by him in 2019, there is no question about that.

In fact, I loved this book so much that I am even putting it on my own oft-neglected personal 1001 books and authors list to read before you die.

And you can’t get a better recommendation than that...

5/5 stars and one of the best books I have read all year!!!

Last reviews of 2018...

As another year closes, it’s time to see 2018 out with the last of this year’s reviews, starting with books 3 & 4 of Ed Mcbain’s 87th Precint series.

The Pusher is the third book in this highly popular series of police procedurals and as the novel opens, winter has fallen across the whole of the city, bringing with it yet another mystery for the boys from the ‘87 to solve.

In a semi-abandoned basement, the body of a junkie is found in what very much at first looks like a suicide, but as Detective Steve Carella and his rookie partner, Bert Kling, begin to investigate further, they soon find themselves questioning this verdict.
And as they slowly draw closer to narrowing down their list of suspects, so too does the case suddenly start getting a little too close to home for their boss, Lieutenant Byrnes...

Once again this is yet another cracking little mystery thriller from veteran crime author, Ed McBain and is another fine example of why his books are so highly regarded. One of this author’s strengths with this series was always in his ability to make you care about his characters, and here he manages to pull this off seamlessly with a rare insight into the family life of Lieutenant Byrnes - so often regarded as something of a secondary character as opposed to the Detectives under his command who  much more frequently take centre stage.

Overall I found this book very refreshing, and I absolutely loved the focus on Pete Byrnes for a change - so much so that I have little choice but to award this book another 5/5 stars.

The con man is the 4th book in the series and this time sees Spring arriving in the city, but with it the season brings a whole new breed of criminal in the guise of the con man.

Someone is ripping off the citizens of the city and it is up to the boys from the ‘87 to stop them, but then a body turns up, floating in the river, with a curious tattoo and suddenly Carella and his fellow Detectives find themselves investigating a murder.

Once again, this is another brilliant thriller with plenty of callbacks to earlier books in the series. I love the way the reader is so often not given any more clues than the Detectives themselves -  keeping us guessing along with those actually investigating right up until the final page.

Ed McBain is a brilliant storyteller and so far, every book in this series has not failed to impress and The Con Man is no exception.

Another 5/5 stars.


Regular readers of this Blog will know I am a big fan of fellow author, Roma Gray, and so when I was given a chance to preview the long awaited second book in The Hunted Tribe series of course I jumped at the chance.
Book 2 continues where book 1 left off, with Sean questioning the true motives of his grandma in light of the revelation that she might just be mentally ill and making up everything she has previously told him about The Grishla. Rather than confront her however, Sean decides to continue to humour her, but does take steps to stop her from secretly drugging him with her secret blend of herbs which she believes are helping to protect him.

This book is less of a horror and more of an ongoing mystery.
Once again, it leaves the reader with more questions than answers but nonetheless is a gripping and enthralling read.
Is The Grishla really real?
And if so, what are its true motives?
Not all of these answers will be revealed, but if you enjoyed Book 1 then you will certainly find much to love in Book 2, subtitled Rocket’s Red Glare.

The Tribe 2: Rocket’s Red Glare is due to be available for purchase mid-January and if I was you, I would certainly check it out!!!!

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Review of the 87th Precinct series part 2: The Mugger

Autumn has come to the city, and with it comes a gentleman caller. A mugger, who introduces himself to his victims as ‘Clifford’, begins targeting vulnerable women walking alone late at night, but with each new crime, the violence appears to be increasing until, eventually, tragedy strikes.

Patrolman Bert Kling is still recovering on leave, after being shot leaving a bar in the previous novel, when he is approached by an old friend he hasn’t seen in years. Peter Bell wants him to talk to his sister-in-law as a favour to his wife because they are both worried she is hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Bert does so, and receives a cold shoulder in response, but when her body is found, dead, at the bottom of a cliff,
several days later, soon finds himself compelled to investigate her murder.

With nothing to go on, and with very few leads, it soon appears the two cases are related - but can the boys of the ‘87 track down the mugger before he can strike again?

The Mugger is the second book in the 87th Precinct series and is quite unique in that it is one of the few not to feature Steve Carella who is away on his honeymoon. 

Unlike the previous novel, this one has aged but at the same time, perfectly reflects the time in which it was written. At one point, McBain describes the trouble of trying to identify a potential suspect by only one fingerprint as being as difficult as 
‘trying to unmask a Moslem woman’, and in another instance, just one of many, Detective Havilland uses his fists on a suspect in an interrogation room - rendering the suspect almost comatose despite his claims of innocence, backed up by the fact that not even Havilland himself really believes he has the right man.

This kind of systematic abuse, like I say, may be reflective of the times in which the book was written, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read.

On the other hand, this book does do a good job of introducing so many more classic ‘87 characters for the first time - amongst them, Detectives Hal Willis, Meyer Meyer, and Eileen Burke.

I really enjoyed re-reading this and again, is a fine example of classic McBain in that it sets up a murder and then relies on good old detective work to solve the case.

The fact that it focuses on many of the other characters of the ‘87 instead of relying on Carella to solve the case also makes it stand out and for me, this is another strong 5/5 stars!

A review of the complete 87th Precint series part1

Cop Hater begins, unapologetically, by committing one of the oldest cardinal sins in killing off the very same character the author has just spent time introducing us to in the very first chapter.

Mike Reardon is a cop, but we barely get a chance to know anything about him other than he is a family man, before he is cruelly treated to two bullets to the back of the head by an unknown assailant.

His death occurs in the 87th precinct, and it is this event that first introduces us to the good ol’ boys of the ‘87 that we will go on to know so well over the course of this series - amongst them, Detective Steve Carella, his partner for this adventure, Detective Hank Bush, and of course their boss, Lieutenant Byrnes.

Someone in the city has a grudge against cops and before the week is out, at least one more will end up lying in the morgue. With the clock ticking and time rapidly running out, it soon falls on the boys of the 87th to catch the killer before he, or she, can strike again, but with no clues and nothing to go on how do you track down a killer?

This first book in the 87th Precinct series is a worthy introduction to Ed McBain’s most famous series of novels and even after all these years, is still an absolute pleasure to read. Many of the elements that make this series so great are first introduced here - and there is even a cameo by rookie patrolman, Bert Kling, who, as long- time fans will know - will go on to play a major role in future novels in this series.

At its heart, the book is a murder mystery, a classic Whodunnit, all wrapped up in 
the guise of a police procedural, but it is also much more than that; it also serves not just as an introduction to the city itself in which all of these novels are set, but also to just a few of the main characters themselves who will go on to feature so prominently throughout this series.

I sometimes think the word, ‘timeless’, can often become a little over-used - especially when it comes to good writing - but the use of the word here perfectly describes and encapsulates this novel; one which hasn’t aged a bit in all the time that has elapsed since it was first released.

Reading this again, after so long, brought back so many memories, that I simply can’t wait to revisit the next book in the series. In the meantime though, Cop-hater scores a strong, solid 5/5 stars from me, and all I can say is bring on the next one...