Category Archives: Reviews

Festivus Book Pimping: Dark Edges by Catherine Lee

Next in the Festivus of the Pimping of Books we’re going to hit some crime. Death and drugs and deception, oh my!  Catherine Lee is an Aussie crime writer, and her Cooper & Quinn Dark Series is really starting to gain some well-deserved traction. Combining murder mystery and police procedural, and set in the heart of Sydney, I was hooked from the first book.

Lee’s narrative is sharp, and the crimes she ‒ or rather Detectives Cooper and Quinn ‒ tackle, could almost be ripped straight from the headlines. That’s the thing with Lee’s books, the crimes committed (and investigated) mirror the society we live in, and while not a didactic narrative on the world’s state-of-play, it does make you think.

Dark Edges is the fifth novel in the series (there are two novellas), and the twists and turns in this story don’t let up. Just when you think you have a handle on it… bam! But that’s what I like in a crime/mystery novel – you discover as the detectives do. And Lee seems to be ramping up the tension and odds with each book.

Dark-Edges

Here’s the back-cover blurb for Dark Edges:

A football player in the prime of his life is found dead from an apparent drug overdose. Was it an accident, suicide, or something more sinister?
Detective Charlie Cooper is struggling just to keep awake after some upheaval on the home front. But life is busy for everyone, and Cooper is intrigued from the start with this baffling case. Jimmy Dallas was a rising star with everything to live for – would he really have stuck a needle in his arm the week before the biggest match of his career?
Joel Maguire, for one, does not believe his best mate would have knowingly injected himself with anything. Reeling from the shock loss, and dealing with some issues of his own, the Rangers’ star player struggles to put one foot in front of the other, let alone play finals football.
Australian rugby league takes centre stage in the fifth book of Catherine Lee’s page-turning Dark Series. Strap yourself in as Cooper and Quinn tackle the controversial issue of drugs in sport.

Each of the book works as a standalone, so you don’t necessarily need to read them all, but with over-arching character development for both of the detectives, and some secondary characters popping up now and then throughout the other books… well, BOOKS! Who doesn’t love to read books?

I can’t recommend this series enough. Cooper and Quinn are well-developed, well-rounded characters, each with their own flaws and quirks. Having the setting pretty much in my own backyard is a such a welcome change to the generic US-based books that flood the market.

Recommended for those who love crime, murder mystery, police procedural, stabby-stabby, shooty-shooty (yeah, that sounded way better in my head). Look, just buy the book… hell, buy the whole series.

Available in all formats.

Festivus Book Pimping: Primordial by David Wood and Alan Baxter

All right, who wants monsters? And here I’m talking monsters-of-the-deep variety. You do? Excellent! Well, have I the pimp for you! Book pimp, I mean, not… moving on. So, this monster thing I was talking about before you all fell into the gutter, is of the ancient ilk. Primordial, in fact (see what I did there?). And it’s of the big bitey kind.

Primordial by David Wood and Alan Baxter is a ‘creature feature’ novel with the search for a monster purportedly living in a Finnish lake. The book follows Australian marine biologist Sam Ashton, who take on the job of scientific sceptic for billionaire-come-batshit-crazy-dude, Ellis Holloway. Along for the ride is a documentary team, led by Joanne Slater; Holloway’s bodyguard, and a local fisherman. On shore, (yes, they get to shore), is local historian Old Mo, who keeps the legend of Lake Kaarme alive.

This book contains myths and legends, nods to Hollow Earth, Jurassic Park, and a little bit of Jaws thrown in to get the pulse racing in those underwater scenes (swim faster, you fools!).  There’s a lot going on in this story, and the authors take the readers on quite the ride… swim… boat… (shut up). There’s horror, suspense, some gore, a little bit of bow-chicka-wow-wow, but this is a slick novel that will have your pulse racing.

Back-cover blurb below:

Sometimes, the legends are true. When eccentric billionaire, Ellis Holloway, hires renegade marine biologist, Sam Aston, to investigate the legend of a monster in a remote Finnish lake, Aston envisions an easy paycheck and a chance to clear his gambling debts. But he gets much more. There is something terrible living beneath the dark waters of Lake Kaarme and it is hungry. As the death toll mounts, Aston faces superstitious locals, a power-hungry police chief, and a benefactor’s descent into madness as he races to find the legendary beast of the lake.

Primordial-full

(Killer cover by the uber-talented Dean Samed of Neostock.)

Buy this book for someone you love, or don’t love, or like a lot or just a wee bit. Look, this is an excellent read with a tight plot, excellent characters, and a monster that will make you wet your pants*. You can’t go wrong.

Recommended for lovers of horror, suspense, creature-feature stories, big-bitey things, legendary creatures, cryptozoology.

 

* No pants were soiled in the reading of this book.  

Festivus Book Pimping: Red Queen’s War trilogy by Mark Lawrence

Hear ye! Hear ye! Second in the most Festivus of Book Pimping is Mark Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War trilogy. It was The Wheel of Osheim, the last in the trifecta, I read this year. This book also has the honour of being the first story I read on my kindle (I have the paperback also, because having only two books of a trilogy sitting in my bookcase makes me twitch – it ain’t pretty).

The Red Queen’s War trilogy is the second in Lawrence’s grimdark series – the first being The Broken Empire trilogy, but there’s no need to read that first as while there is a most excellent crossover in the second series, each trilogy stands alone.

Right then, trilogy equals three books: Prince of Fools, The Liar’s Key, and rounding it out is The Wheel of Osheim ­‒ a hell of a tome. Like, doorstop size. Makes sense, there’s a lot to tie up in the final book of a trilogy.

So, what’s this about? I mentioned grimdark earlier, and while there’s always some debate as to what that is, I think the most simple explanation is a story that doesn’t pull punches when it comes the darkest depths of human behaviour. Unapologetic characters who do what they must to survive, to thrive, and let the consequences fall where they may. Redemption? Pfft, spit that from thy mouth!

Don’t ever go into Lawrence’s books looking for a rainbows and unicorns and elves and shit – fantasy this may be, but these worlds are filled with darkness and the dead. It’s really kinda cool. The Red Queen’s War trilogy borrows heavily from the Norse mythos, especially with one of the two main characters: viking Snorri ver Snagason – warrior bard. Snorri holds his own (and then some) with Prince Jalan Kendeth – craven tart. They make quite the pairing. It’s magic that tethers the two together, and ultimately what may tear them, and the world, apart.

the-wheel-of-osheim

I could go on, but here are the back-cover blurbs for each, which are far more succinct than my ramblings above.

Prince of Fools

The Red Queen is old, but the kinds of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other. Her grandson, Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north. In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince names Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the while seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.

The Liar’s Key

The eyes of the mighty are on the North. Loki’s key has been found and lies in the hands of a feckless prince and broken warrior. Winter has locked Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxury of his southern palace. The North may be home to the viking, but he is just as eager to leave. However, even men who hold a key that can open any door must wait for the thaw.

As the ice unlocks its jaws, the Dead King moves to claim what was so nearly his. But there are other players in this game, other hands reaching for Loki’s key. Jalan wants only to return to the wine and women of the south, but Snorri aims to find he very door into death and throw it wide. The warrior will challenge all of Hell, if that’s what it takes to bring his wife and children back to the living world. He has found the key – now all he needs is to find the door.

The Wheel of Osheim

All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan, getting back out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. Loki’s creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jalan’s fortune back in the living world.

Jalan plans t return to his debauched life of wine, women and wagering. Fate, however, has other plans. Larger plans. The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers. In the end, it’s win or die.

Look, I can’t recommend these books enough. I once described Mark Lawrence thusly: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Once you start with the man’s books, you’re so immersed in the story that your idea of half an hour reading before hitting the sack turns into hours that no amount of coffee can fix the next morning (adulting be hard).

If that isn’t a hell of a selling point, I don’t know what is.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, grimdark, stabby-stabby, and dead things – there’s a whole lot of dead things.

 

Festivus Book Pimping: In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson

It’s time! Festivus Book Pimping for 2017 is here! Damn right I’m excited. This is where I get to pimp the books I’ve enjoyed this past year, give you some recommendations, and hopefully have you fine folk make an author very Festivusy (so a word) by buying their book. It’s a win-win! Or… a win-win-win, perhaps.

Kicking the Pimping of the Books of the Fesitvus off is In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson. This book is a novella-length prequel to Madson’s Vengeance Trilogy (pimped here), there are no spoilers for those who have read the trilogy, and you don’t need to have read VT to enjoy this tale. And enjoy it you will.

Madson has a knack for creating characters that are not only well-rounded but also on the grey side. While this book skirts the boundaries of full-on grimdark, it so beautifully dips it toes into the genre that if you’re a fan of stories that blur the lines between light and dark then this tale is definitely one you should pick up.

Set in a pseudo-feudal-Japanese world, the Kisian empire is on the brink of war, held together by fragile threads. Nothing is ever what it seems in Madson’s books, and she doesn’t disappoint here. The language is beautiful, the rituals and ceremonies befitting when gods sit on thrones. The Eastern-flavour of this universe is refreshing, and the setting and imagery comes to life on the pages.

Blurb:

You will die. Your children will die. The empire will burn,

Empress Li is out of favour at court. Foreign-born and past her prime, she is to be set aside. But she won’t go quietly. With nothing left to lose, Li will do anything to stop Emperor Lan signing a secret alliance that could tear the empire apart. Yet when her life is threatened, old mistakes come back to haunt her and only a three-year-old boy can change the course of history.

With everything at stake, could an innocent child be the best assassin.

Shadows

 

And you can’t go past that cover. This is original artwork created for In Shadows We Fall, and artist John Anthony Di Giovanni has produced a thing of beauty that captures the essence of Empress Li. There’s always something special about covers that contain original artwork, and Madson’s cover is why.

On a Goodreads scale, I give In Shadows We Fall five stars.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, political intrigue, stabby-stabby, killer magic systems.

You can read In Shadows We Fall free if you sign up to Madson’s newsletter (an ebook copy of the story will be sent to you).  You can also purchase ebook and print from the website here, or you can purchase from Amazon or wherever you buy your reading.

Cover art: John Anthony Di Giovanni

Cover design: Shawn King

FESTIVUS BOOK PIMPING COMING SOON

Yes, folks, we’re edging toward that time of year. If you’re like me, the idea of heading into those outside places with those outside people and running the gauntlet of shoppers as I try to find gifts, brings not so much Christmas cheer, but Christmas jeer. Or beer. Yeah, beer would be good.

Aaanywho, for those of you who are readers, or know readers, or love readers, or can’t think of a present for a family member, a friend, a work colleague, or even your drunk Uncle Dave, fear not! From December 1, I will be reviving Festivus Book Pimping. 

As the name suggests, I will be pimping books I’ve read* and those I’ve worked on, and giving a small breakdown of what each entails, and who they’d suit. Be warned, though, if it’s romance you’re after… well, at least you’ll get to see some great covers.

Books are amazing gifts. They ignite the imagination, they can take you to different worlds, and have you live different lives. And as a present, there’s not much better than that. Except kittens. And puppies.**

All right, buckle up mofos, Festivus Book Pimping will be landing soon!

book imagination

* This is not a call out for reviews or ‘read my work!’ ‒ stay classy, people.

** Kittens and puppies are for life, not just Christmas ‒ don’t be that asshat.

Movie Review: Train to Busan

It took me longer than it really should have to get around to seeing Train to Busan, and it wasn’t until I finally sat down to watch it that I realised how big a mistake that wait was. I’m a huge fan of zombie apocalypse films and when the first trailer dropped I was hooked. Then as tends to be the case, life happens, and it fell off my radar.

It wasn’t until a friend posted they’d bought a copy that I hunted it down on cable TV. Train to Busan was everything I hoped it would be and more. It hits all the right marks when it comes to horror, action-thriller, and zombies. It’s a slow burn at the beginning, introducing the main characters, setting up the premise and foreshadowing the virus that will come to destroy South Korea, but it soon kicks up the pace and ramps the tension.

SPOILER ALERT IN ALL ITS SPOILERY-NESS. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK.

Now before I go on, I’ve said before that I’m no movie aficionado – I just know what I like. So it’s on that alone I’m basing my review. Alrighty then, let’s get this show on the road… or tracks…

train-to-busan

Train to Busan follows the story of Seok-woo, a divorced fund manager who works long hours while trying to raise his daughter, Soo-an. For her birthday, she finally convinces him to take her to see her mother in Busan. He doesn’t want to go, but his mother convinces him he must take her (just an aside, the last phonecall between the two is very cool). On the drive to the station, it’s clear some major shit is going down ­‒ ambulances and fire trucks are screaming past ‒ but the pair seem relatively safe. Once on the train, however, and just as the doors are closing, a young woman stumbles into one of the carriages with a bite wound to her leg.

And so begins the journey.

We’re introduced to the rest of the cast – a married couple expecting their first child, a baseball player and his cheerleader love interest, two elderly sisters (brilliantly played), a rich CEO, and the train driver (minor though his role is, hero he remains).

It doesn’t take long for the infection and the attacks to begin, slowly working their way through the carriages. These zombies are hard-core eating machines that move with speed, and in the confines of a train make survival all the more difficult. It soon becomes clear to those on the train that some bad, bad shit is going down outside, although most are unaware of the infection spreading inside, pretty much until it’s too late.

While most of the film takes place on the train, one pit-stop at a purported safe zone doesn’t end well for a lot of the passengers. Numbers are whittled, and characters are separated­‒ Seok-woo from his daughter, husband and pregnant wife, the sisters, and the baseball player and his new girlfriend. They have to fight through a number of zombie-infested carriages to reach their loved ones.

There’s something about horror set on trains that amps up tension – confined spaces, no way to get off, not in control of your destination. The claustrophobic feel of it lends itself well, and here is no different. It also brings out the true nature of the passengers, and what some will do in their quest for survival. Do you try to save who you can? Or, do you sacrifice others for your own survival? We see both sides of this with the remaining characters, and there are some brilliant scenes that showcase the decisions the characters make.

The two elderly sisters’ relationship is one of the most touching. Grouchy and sarcastic with each other, they are the most fun to watch, which makes the death of one (watched in all its gory glory) so traumatic. It’s here we really see the choices made, and the surviving sister understanding the wrongness of kicking uninfected passengers out of a safe carriage, sets things (almost) right.

TraintoBusan_zombie

Sacrifice is the name of the game here, and it’s not until very close to the end that we understand Seok-woo (and his company) are the harbingers of what is happening. There are no happy endings here. There is survival, but at what cost? And it’s that social commentary, woven expertly through the storyline without it being didactic, that gives Train to Busan its heart.

For those of you who balk at foreign-language films because you think subtitles take away from your viewing pleasure, put that aside and watch this movie. I had (and have) no issues with it, and it in no way lessened my appraisal.  Director Yeon Sang-ho delivered a film that entertains and makes you think, it makes you question: what would I do? The zombies are fast and voracious, single-mindedly focussed on “food”, and damn well everywhere. Excellent stuff.

For me, it’s one of the better zombie movies I’ve seen in a very long time, and if you haven’t got around to seeing it, you really should make the effort.

I give it 9 out of 10.

Book Review: The Raven’s Table by Christine Morgan

Collections are a notoriously hard sell in the publishing world, especially if you haven’t got the household name to back you, but sometimes you come across books that turn that notion on its head. Christine Morgan’s The Raven’s Table – Viking Stories is one such collection, with tales and saga-esque poetry set in the Norse world, it’s a feast of Vikings and thralls, gods and goddesses, curses and cults.

In my previous post I reviewed Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology which, despite its glorious cover, felt over-indulgent on the author’s part, and left me feeling… meh. The Raven’s Table does all the things Gaiman’s collection should have but didn’t. With each tale, Christine Morgan drops you into the character(s)’s world without preamble. There’s no over-explaining of the mythos ‒ it just is. It’s this type of storytelling that allows the reader to be fully immersed.

The Raven's Table

The Raven’s Table has eighteen tales and poems within this collection, four of which are originals. Don’t let the ‘reprint’ status give you pause, though, as each story is a vicious delight of blood and gore, war and betrayal, monsters and mayhem. It’s clear from the first story that Morgan knows her mythos, giving the reader insight into the lesser-known aspects of the superstitions and rites of Norse mythology. There’s a depth to each of the tales that creates layers you don’t often see in storytelling, and boy does she nail her imagery.

Morgan takes poetic licence with her narrative, often melding stanzas in the form of storytelling by the characters within her tales, which only reinforces the saga-esque feel of the book. Morgan is the skald who has sat you around the fire, retelling the places she’s been, the things she’s seen, and giving warning to those who dare defy the gods.

Not one story is alike, although Morgan’s narrative-style is the thread that binds.  There are some truly beautiful turns of phrase in the stories, pieces that will transport the reader entirely into the fear of a thrall, the struggle to stare down a Valkyrie, the absolute certainty that monsters are real. When stories start with: ‘Men died screaming.’, you know you’re in for some bloodied fun.

It’s hard to pick a favourite from the collection, but I’ll give the top five of those that have stuck with me now that I’ve finished the book: The Fate Spinners, The Barrow Maid, Njord’s Daughter, With Honey Dripping, and Sven Bloodhair. That was a tough top five to pick, I have to say… so I’ll sneak in At Ragnarok, the Goddesses.

I mentioned earlier that The Raven’s Table did all that Gaiman’s Norse Mythology didn’t, and I stand by that. If you’re wanting to read seriously impressive Viking tales that cover the gamut of the Norse mythos without that didactic feel, then ignore Gaiman’s offering and instead pick up Christine Morgan’s collection – you won’t be disappointed.

Fair warning, for those who don’t like blood and gore and sex in all its forms, this might not be the book for you. For the rest of you – it’s the best collection I’ve read in a long while.

On a Goodreads scale I give it five stars.