Thursday, June 29, 2017

Review: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS by Michael Robotham

Publisher Hachette Australia
Length 448 pages
Format ebook
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review
The Secrets She Keeps is a departure from the traditional psychological crime novels Michael Robotham is better known for (the Joseph O’Loughlin series). There’s no real investigative angle into a crime as such – this book is all about the characters (not to say his other books aren’t by the way but there seems to be a considerable effort here to make the main characters shine); two in particular; Meg, a soon to be mother of three expecting her ‘oops baby’ and Agatha, a 30-something single who works at a supermarket. 

Meg and Agatha are from different walks of life, seemingly worlds apart; Meg is well-off, has a happy family with all the trimmings, Agatha is lonesome and just making ends meet. While the distance between the two is easily distinguishable, there's a layer of grime beneath the glossy veneer which inevitably brings the two women together.

The pacing is deliberately slow, steadily drip feeding the reader subtle and at times not so subtle hints that something isn't quite right in the Meg and Agatha dynamic, before too long there's a twist or two and that's when things really start to get interesting.

The Secrets She Keeps is a great read that that me hooked all the way through. By the end of the book I really felt like I knew these characters and felt for their respective situations. Michael Robotham also does a fantastic job at writing from the female perspective - that mother-child bond is omnipresent throughout the novel and highlighted by some terrific writing.

My rating: 5 / 5 stars - I can't recommend this book enough.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Review: NEW POMPEII by Daniel Godfrey

Publisher Titan
Length 459 pages
Format paperback
Published 2016
Series New Pompeii #1
My Copy provided by the published


My Review
Set sometime in the near future, man has conquered time travel – though with some limitations. An evil corporation has monopolised the technology and is using if for their own nefarious purposes; purposes that become clear as the novel progresses. Somehow they have managed to recreate New Pompeii, along with the actual residents of the city. On the surface, this looks to be the perfect set-up for study and exploitation in a theme-park/zoo kind of way, until people start going missing and then appearing in different timelines.

New Pompeii is a great idea that serves as an introduction to a broader tapestry of storytelling which is both a good and a bad thing. Good, as it means there’s at least another book on the way (Empire of Time), but bad because it comes off as merely setting the stage; the book didn’t read as a complete story, or even a complete story arc for that matter, ending in a quasi-cliff hanger that left me scratching my head. 

The book sucks you in and delivers a story vastly different to what I was expecting. Despite my grumblings I’ll be picking up Empire of Time.


My rating: 4 / 5 stars. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Review: THE SEVEN BLADES OF MASTER DARQUE by Matt Kindt

Publisher Valiant
Length 160 pages
Format trade
Published 2017
Series Savage (collects issues #22-27)
My Copy I bought it (individual issues)


My Review
The sixth volume of Ninjak from Valiant comics brings together the core group of characters introduced in the beginning of the series; the Shadow Seven, and pits them against a well known foe within the Valiant Comics Universe - Master Darque. Book-ending the title arc is a silent standalone issue in which Ninjak fights through a nameless and disposable contingent of ninja monks, cleaving a path to Roku, and the final issue of the current run, which gives readers a glimpse of the future direction of the Ninjak series as Ninjak is once again hired by MI6 to undertake a covert mission - this time, to retrieve a scientist responsible for manufacturing breakthrough technology which blends humans and animals - making near perfect weapons; its a story well suited to this title and really hypes the new series starting late 2017, Ninja-K. 

Readers not familiar with the current iteration of Ninjak are advised to read up on the previous volumes before delving in here as The Seven Blades of Master Darque relies heavily (#27 aside) on the reader being familiar with the events which have led Ninjak, Roku and co. down this path.

The Seven Blades of Master Darque is a fanboy's dream. Not only does it take into account continuity elements from the title but contributes to the broader Valiant comics tapestry by referencing the Book of Death and the earlier Shadowman run. This felt like a well rounded conclusion to the series while also ensuring the sustainability of some key characters moving forward. 

The artwork is what I've come to expect from Valiant; exceptional and complimentary to Kindt's writing. The silent issue alone is worth the price of admission while the inks and colors of the splash pages for Master Darque are perfect; crossing that line of fantastical and reality without missing a beat. 

As a longtime reader of this series, I enjoyed the hell out of this book, be it reading the issues individually or as a collection; it provides closure to the current series while transitioning towards the next iteration; a must have for readers of Valiant and fans of good graphic novels. 

My rating: 4.5 / 5 stars.    

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pick Up A Pulp [19]: DOLLS AND DUES by Orrie Hitt

Dolls and Dues is somewhat of an oddity for these posts. Sure, Orrie Hitt wrote a number of sleaze pulps but this one sits outside of that genre, more a general fiction novel than a traditional pulp (despite the gorgeous original cover). 

The story follows Paul Jackson, an insurance salesman turned union boss. His rise through the ranks is a quick one, his fall equally so. Throughout the novel we see Paul gradually grate on the nerves of his women and that of the businessmen he's trying to extort perks from on behalf of his members. We see his trials and tribulations and the all expectant crash landing.

That's really all there is to it. There's a not a lot of depth here and that's ok; the story ticks along at a nice pace and Paul isn't quite a cardboard cutout character (though close)  with just enough surface value to swing a sense for his character; self absorbed and ambitious. 

The cover blurb is misleading, making Dolls and Dues read like an oversexed romp;
...everywhere in his vicious world of the fast buck and faster dames he sought the love his wife denied him. He picked it up from tramps and debutramps, from trollops, even from nice girls.
While there is an element of this in the book, its by no means the be all end all of the story. 

Overall, I liked the change of pace. Not what I was expecting but its a quick and easy read that allows you to switch off and not take books too seriously for a while.

My rating: 3 / 5 stars. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Review: SAVAGE by B. Clay Moore

Publisher Valiant
Length 128 pages
Format trade
Published 2017
Series Savage (collects issues #1-4)
My Copy I bought it


My Review
Savage takes readers of Valiant comics back to the Far, Far Away in a new story that brings back fond memories for long time readers of a certain dinosaur hunter called Turok. That said, dinosaur hunting aside, Savage is its own book and is no way related to Turok - in fact, Savage provides the third largest shared comic book superhero universe with a whole new corner to tell stories - linked and alongside the broader continuity. 

Savage Volume 1 is more than an origin story. It's a new direction for a little known and less explored corner of the Valiant universe; the Far, Far Away, and the world of dinosaur hunting. While that brief description might in itself not seem all that interesting, the publisher has a way of getting the right creative team on the right book, which results in intelligent, far-fetched yet 'real readable' stories. This could be a world outside your window book such is the ease of plausibility in the way Savage is written. 

The Sauvage family, minus a son and daughter left home, crash land on a remote and isolated island. Before too the family realize they are not alone and that things on this strange picturesque piece of paradise aren't what they seem. 

The action is plentiful, complimented by some great visuals courtesy of Clayton Henry and Lewis Larosa (Larosa's work is simply mind blowing) which really captures the dangerous day to day struggle a young Savage endures. There's also a healthy dose of mystery; things that don't add up - like why is there a tribe of humans on the island and how did they form given their immediate distrust of strangers, how does this link in with the broader Valiant universe, and what is going to happen after that last page (spoiler not included).

There's so much potential for this character, I just hope we don't have to wait too long to see where the story goes. 

My rating: 3/5

My rationale: I would've loved to have given this book 5 and it could've been but it was a super quick read that didn't have a lot of depth, sure the story ticked along nicely but if it were an issue two or longer, the extra padding would've bumped up the rating. Still enjoyed it very much and highly recommend it. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: DESPERATION ROAD by Michael Farris Smith

Publisher No Exit Press
Length 285 pages
Format softcover
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review
A character study set among a backdrop of rural noir well worthy of comparisons to renowned genre writer Daniel Woodrell. A cruel twist of fate unites two wayward souls long gone their separate ways; Russell fresh out of prison for murder, and Maben, a homeless and downtrodden woman with a young child walking a path to nowhere. The two meet at gunpoint, and strangely enough, things get better for the both of them. 

Desperation Road has an impressive amount of character depth which could've easily eclipsed the need for a plot, yet author Michael Farris Smith manages to juggle the core plot and side threads perfectly, making each end loop with the next to form a cohesive narrative that reads so well you'll think you're part of the story. 

The shocking murder of a police officer on a lonesome dirt road in the middle of nowhere is the catalyst which brings the characters together, Maben, trying to escape a threat worse than death, and Russell, out driving enjoying the freedom that being a civilian rewards. The ways these two gel is a pleasure to read as is the twist linking their fates.

Moody and thought provoking, Desperation Road is a must read for fans of the rural noir. 

4 / 5 stars. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: SNOTGIRL: GREEN HAIR DON'T CARE by Bryan Lee O'Malley & Leslie Hung

Publisher Image
Length 144 pages
Format trade
Published 2017
Series Snot Girl (collects issues #1-5)
My Copy I bought it


My Review
Lottie is a twenty-something fashion blogger who suffers from severe allergies which, more often than not, leaves her with a runny nose and cold sweats. Whilst this is normal to the inflicted, her sufferance isn't a simple case of the sniffles; it's a disaster, especially in the eyes of the vain. Looking perfect all the time isn't just something Lottie likes to do, it's something she needs to do. Overtly narcissistic and self-centered, Lottie is the perfect picture her instagram projects to her followers. A runny nose makes for a smeared image that she can't and wont tolerate. When the opportunity arises to be part of a drug trial to cure what ales her, Lottie (surprisingly) reluctantly joins up, what she didn't expect was the side effects which, is where the fun beings for the reader.

Snotgirl is a hell of a fun read. The writing is fantastic and the inks and colors match the tone perfectly to project a fun, snappy read that, on the surface feels like it should read shallow - it's anything but. Lottie is likable despite her self centered ways and the support cast does what it needs to do; support Lottie's story.

There are a number of plot threads left unfinished which comes with the territory in the comic medium yet I think the creatures could've done more to bring closure to this arc. Caroline's (aka Coolgirl) story-line is the most intriguing and the most frustrating as it's largely left unresolved. I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what's going on with her. 

Despite some unfinished business, Snotgirl is great. The first 4 issues bring a lot of joy, while the last feels incomplete. I think if there were an extra issue or two in this arc the story would've felt whole and been worthy of a 5 star rating. 

I'm looking forward to reading more of this allergy suffering fashion blogger (who would've thought?), volume two can't come quick enough.

My rating: 4 / 5 stars. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Pick of the Month [May 2017]

I read 15 books in May in what was another great reading month for me. So far 2017 has produced some memorable books which is going to make my end of year list very hard - a good problem to have! 

The pick of the month was Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love. I stumbled upon this book by accident one day web surfing some of my favorite crime fiction blogs. The cover looked great and the story interesting; an inner city urban gang tale with a strong female protagonist. I was sold. 

Read the review of Lola HERE

Coming in a very close second was Malborough Man by Alan Carter; a crime fiction novel set in picturesque New Zealand. This is newly published by Fremantle Press and comes highly recommended from yours truly. 

Read the review of Malborough Man HERE

Other highlights for the month include the following in no particular order:


Review: THE SPIDER AND THE FLY by Claudia Rowe

Publisher Allen & Unwin
Length 273 pages
Format softcover
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it


My Review
I've read true crime books that stray into the world of the author themselves, often detracting from the primary course of the narrative to resemble self centered memoirs rather than the content promised in the blurb. The Spider and the Fly bucks this trend; it's a book about a serial killer AND a journalist whose steady infatuation is as addictive to read as the heinous plight undertaken Kendall Francois. 

A killing spree spanning some four years and change in which 8 Poughkeepsie prostitutes were raped and murdered, for reasons withheld by the murderer provide a glimpse into the macabre madness that rots the heart of the books subject matter. The content is confronting, and disturbing to the uninitiated and the uninhabited alike, I suspect. The depiction of the final resting place of Kendall's victims, his family home (which he shared with a his mother and sister) is the stuff nightmares are made of; walls alive with maggots, a stench of actual death, and an uneasy ignorance by inhabitants that's hard to digest. As the book progresses from investigative journalism to something more I kept hoping to find reason, perhaps it's there, perhaps there is no method to the madness - do yourself a favor and read the book to find out. 

My rating: 5/5

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Review: THE DARK NET by Benjamin Percy

Publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Length 272 pages
Format ebook
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher


My Review
The Dark Net is a mixture of tech-fi and horror that reads like a thriller. The premise; an undercurrent of evil existing in the bowels of the internet (the ‘dark net’) controlled by ancient demons who have long plagued mankind through manipulation and corruption has risen to the surface to watch the world burn. Separately these elements work very well, together – not so much. The book reads as if the author had a bunch of cool ideas he wanted to incorporate into a novel but didn’t have the heart to edit out any. Adding to this soupy mix of horror, gore, and the internet is a piece of cutting edge technology which essentially cures blindness, opening new visual and spiritual worlds for the users – the Mirage. This element in itself, coupled with the tech-fi components would’ve laid the foundation for a solid story.

*SPOILER WARNING*

Oddly it was the ending of the book which saved it for me. Lela, the journalist technophobe evolves into this kick-butt character who in the epilogue, along with her niece Hannah, hunts down demons across the globe in human form with the help of the dark net – albeit a lighter shade of darkness used for good. This kind of story has legs for a sequel; more action orientated with a splash of tech-fi.

The Dark Net is an ‘ok’ read which could’ve been much better had it not come across as suffering an identity crisis.

My rating: 3/5 stars.