Thursday, 6 April 2017

Fallen Angel by Matthew Blakstad

Sean is a computer genius, Jon is an artistic 'man of the moment' and together they are in more than a bit of bother.

Told in flashback between the mid 1990s and the 2000 Dot Com Crash this E-novella is good fun (if a little 'tech confusing' at times). It is 'book zero' in Blakstad's Martingale Cycle and I've had my eye on 'book 1', Sockpuppet, since it came out last year and Fallen Angel has just pushed it further up my tbr pile.

Matthew Blakstad is certainly one to keep an eye on

4/5 stars

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Thoughts on Adrian Albert Mole

So, this week (April 2nd 2017 to be precise) sees what would have been the 50th birthday of one of my favourite fictional characters - Adrian Albert Mole, Diarist Extraordinaire and voice of a generation.

I've been a fan of the Mole diaries since they first came out in 1982. Maybe the fact that I was only 6 weeks older than the fictional Mole made him seem more believable, I don't know, but there was certainly something there that 'clicked'. With each subsequent volume I would be eagerly waiting to see what our 'hero'  would be up to this time around, what scrapes he would get into and even now, all these years later on, if I need something to cheer me up a little the Mole diaries are often my first port of call.

The life of Adrian Mole was never easy (but that would have been boring) . Right from the beginning his family was an awkward, tangled mess .His mother left for Sheffield with their neighbour early in the first book, his dad took up with Doreen 'Stick Insect' Slater then his mother came back, Doreen was dropped and the family was back together - but not for long. Trying to keep track of the family relationships should have been difficult but Sue Townsend, somehow, made it all quite easy.

Mole was very much the social commentator, always seeming to have something to say or advice to offer on the events of the day. He wasn't always right and his advice, although well meant, was often wide of the mark but, bless him, he tried. With his letter writing, poetry writing, play and novel writing (unpublished) he sees himself as an intellectual but isn't as sharp as he thinks he is (entry Monday January 18th 1982 - 'School. First day of term. Loads of GCE homework. I will never cope. I am an intellectual but at the same time I am not very clever).

As time went on he did eventually get published (an offal cookbook) but the things he worked on his whole life still remain unpublished. I guess if Sue Townsend was still with us he may have tried the self publishing route but would have got himself in the usual kerfuffle.

And that brings me to the end of Mole.

I remember quite clearly when I heard the news that Sue Townsend had passed. I was, as you would expect saddened by the news but also remember thinking 'Adrian Mole is dead' too. And, for some reason, that hit harder. No more Adrian Mole diaries.

I heard later on that Sue Townsend had been early on in the process of a new volume before she passed on but that it would now never see the light of day. I would have given anything for those pages and it gave me an idea that has sat in my head ever since...

Picture the scene... Glenn, Adrian's son is going through some boxes in his dad's room and comes across one filled with diaries. The last one is short, finishing abruptly. As he reads a tear drops from his eye. After the last entry he goes to the next date and starts to write...

'My name is Glenn Bott-Mole, son of Adrian Mole. My dad passed on last night (details?). He was a good man. These are his diaries of a life lived...'

That would have been the forward which would have been followed by the final entries. The rest would have been 'Memories of Adrian Albert Mole' by other major characters from the series, written by fans/comedy writers. Any proceeds would go to charity of the Townsend Estate's choosing.

Thank you Adrian Mole for a lifetime of chuckles. You were only a fictional character but I think of you as a friend.



Thursday, 30 March 2017

Warm, Dark Places Are Best by Mike Duke




Times are not good for Carl and Jessica. He's already on disability payment and finances are 'stretched' at best. When they move into a new, cockroach infested apartment block they are surprised to find the only roach free apartment is theirs. When they find out why they may just wish for roaches...

Warm, Dark Places is an unsettling, at times grotesque and totally squeamish story that reminded me of the stuff Shaun Hutson used to write. The nasty just keeps on coming and, yeah, I could guess what was coming but it didn't make things any easier when it did.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this. It's nice to read something that will make your skin crawl every now and again.

Afterthought

I checked out the 'nasties' on google while reading this and they do actually exist... sweet dreams 😉

Monday, 27 March 2017

The Legion of Regrettable Super Villains by Jon Morris

It is a fact of life that every Superhero needs a Supervillain, or preferably a whole host of them, in order to keep them in the business of, well, being a Superhero. It is no good being a mild mannered reporter, reclusive millionaire etc by day and Guardian of Justice by night if you don't have a Machiavellian schemer to pit your wits against. Unfortunately, for every Joker, Lex Luthor, Magneto and Green Goblin in the history of Comic Books there is also the lesser known Supervillain, a Captain Black Bunny, a Doctor Cesspool...the list goes on.

These other, lesser known Supervillains may have gone forever unnoticed and forgotten if it weren't for Job Morris and the folks at Quirk. What they have produced here is a glorious tribute to the lesser known criminal geniuses and hero-botherers from 1938 to the modern era. The book is split into 3 sections, The Golden Age, The Silver Age and The Modern Age and each gives, on average 2 pages to each of the selected Supervillains, one page of text and one example of comic strip or a comic cover. You get a brief history of the character, where and when they appeared, who they were pitted against*.

It is easy to see why these failed to become household names as most are laughable, fairly incompetent or just plain rubbish but this book does them a service by celebrating their general rubbishness.

As always with Quirk this is a beautifully put together volume and something all fans of the genre should look at. It is more of a 'dipping into' book than a straight read but you may well find yourself reading just one more page as you lose yourself in the inept machinations of The League of Regrettable Supervillains.

Very entertaining reference book and well deserving of 5/5 stars.

*Such Superheroes as 'Power Nelson, The Future-Man', ' The Wizard and Roy the Super-Boy' and 'Granny Gumshoe' - I know, I've never heard of most of these either but I'm guessing they could be found in the companion volume to this, The League of Regrettable Superheroes (Quirk 2015, same author).

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Nigel: My family and other dogs - pre review thoughts

It is not often that I read biographies and even rarer that I read ones that heavily feature animals. The last was probably Marley and Me, and that absolutely wrecked me.

With 'Nigel' though, I feel I am on fairly safe ground. I know he's had injury problems by I also know he has recovered so I know this will have a happy ending. How do I know this? For those who don't know him, Nigel is the star of Gardeners' World* (BBC2 Friday's) where he is ably assisted by his friend and owner Monty Don. That 1/2 an hour on a Friday evening is pure tv gold, watching Nigel poddle along in the background as MD advises viewers on all things gardeny. And that's what drew me to this book. Seeing the way Nigel and MD interact together you know that here is a devoted pair. I'm already a few chapters in and already the mutual love between man and man's best friend is obvious.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to enjoy this (and hopefully the tears will be few and far between).

*although we rarely refer to it as Gardeners' World, it's usually "Nigel's on at 8"

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

C21st Gods by David Tallerman

If I'm being honest I don't usually bother with comics and graphic novels just because they go by so fast. This one has the name of David Tallerman on the cover so I decided to give it a go - and I am glad I did.

While investigating a series of gruesome murders discovers links to The Old Ones. Things are bad now and they aren't going to get better any time soon.

As you would expect from this kind of story a lot is owed to H P Lovecraft, the father of the Cthulhu Mythos so if you know HPL you know what to expect here. This is dark and gruesome stuff and Anthony Summey's art does a really good job of bringing the story to graphic life on the page.

The only complaint I have is that, as I said earlier, it is over too soon and I want the next volume NOW! (So I guess that's a good thing really).

Certainly worth a look as, for something so short it got me hooked straight away.

4.5/5*

Friday, 10 March 2017

The Hammer and The Goat by Peter Newman

This short story is set during the timeline of Peter Newman's debut novel ' The Vagrant' so before you read this you really ought to read that. The story works as a backstory to one of the novel's characters, The Hammer Who Walks, with The Goat...well, The Goat is just being The Goat really. If you've read The Vagrant you'll know what to expect I guess.

What this tale did for me, more than anything else, is remind me what a bloomin' good author Mr Newman is. The Vagrant had a lead character who doesn't speak, The Hammer and The Goat has a lead who mainly speaks in single syllable words but the power of Newman's storytelling is such that the speech (or lack of) makes the characters even more alive and believable.

If you haven't read this author before, you really ought to give him a try... and get ready to meet the coolest, most scene stealingest goat in fantasy fiction

5*

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames


I'll be honest, I've had my eye on this ever since I clapped eyes on the cover a few months ago... and I'm pleased to say it didn't disappoint.

As the story starts we meet our lead hero, Clay 'Slowhand' Cooper, former member of the titular Kings of the Wyld, the most feared and famous mercenary band of their time. That time is in the past though and he is now making his living as part of the Town Guard and spending the evenings with his wife and daughter. Retirement from The Kings is suiting Clay just fine... until the day he comes home to find Gabe, The Kings old gang leader on his doorstep, looking all the worse for wear and wanting to ask a favour.

As it turns out Gabe's daughter has taken up the role of mercenary, set up her own 'band' and ended up in a city under siege at the other end of land. Gabe is going to try and rescue her but he can't do it alone. He wants to reform The Kings of the Wyld for one last mission.*

It's time to get the band back together!

What follows from here is one of the craziest adventures it's been my pleasure to read in a long while. The world here is huge and populated with a vast array of races and creatures. The laughs come quick and often but it is not just a comedy novel, more an adventure with comedic elements.


The 'Kings' themselves (one of whom actually IS a king now) are a good fun bunch to spend time with, so much so that the nearly 500 pages flew past way too quickly. I'll be honest, I didn't want it to end.

How best to describe this book? I'd probably say Dungeons and Dragons meets Spinal Tap - and I guess that tells you all you need to know. The next time The Band reforms I promise you one thing - I'll be in the front row.

An excellent debut and a name to keep an eye out for in the future 5/5 stars

*Let's be honest though, this book is so damned good there's no way this will be the last mission.

Monday, 27 February 2017

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholas - A Review

So, this is what I have been dipping into for the last few weeks. The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen (subtitled 'Awesome Female Characters From Comic Book History') is one of those books that is exactly what the title says it is. What we have here is a decade by decade look at female comic book characters from the 1930's (with the likes of 'Sally the Sleuth' and 'Torchy Brown') right up to the present ('Deathface Ginny', 'Maika Halfwolf') with each decade getting a 'Hero Of The Decade', which gets, understandably, slightly more coverage.

To look at some of these 'comic heroines' you can't help but cringe at how bad some of them seem (Angel O'Day - A martial-arts trained detective who solves crime with her gorilla partner, being a prime example) but there are a lot that would be worth looking up at the next comic fair. There is, especially in the earlier decades a fair number of 'feisty female detectives' and 'heroine nurses' but these soon give way to more superhero types as time moves on.

Each Superwoman entry is accompanied by an illustration or comic panel (although, this being a preview copy, not all are available in my edition) which gives you an idea of the quality of artwork through the decades (and yes, a lot of them seem to be "how many curves can we give our heroine" and aimed as much at the titillation of male readers as anything).

I will admit that I didn't know of a lot of these Superwomen but I guess I can put that down to marketing and me not being 'target audience' I guess. I do. however, feel that this book has given me a better idea of the role of these heroes in the history of comics.

In short then, an interesting and informative look at the role of Superwomen in comic books, a very nicely put together volume and a must for those with an interest in the genre. More a book for dipping into than a cover to cover read but certainly one I am proud to have on my shelf.

4.5/5*

Publication date May 2nd, 2017


Friday, 24 February 2017

Review Copies In The Post Today

 First up was this set of collectable cards that accompany the book (which is quite wonderful and be reviewed on here soon) from Quirk Books.
 Next through the letterbox was 'Hunger Makes The Wolf' from Angry Robot Books (which looks a whole lot of fun 😁)
And then came this pair from Gollancz - Sharp Ends is a collection of shorts from The World of the First Law and The Hatching is horror with spiders - what's not to love 😁

All will be reviewed on here in good time.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams - A Review

In the beginning was The Copper Cat, and it was good...very, very good. So good I wondered how Jen Williams could possibly improve on it.

And then The Ninth Rain landed on my doormat and my question was answered.

A new story, with new characters, in a new world and it is all good. There is history in this tale and it feels real.

There is a race of people, the Eborans, a kind of elf/vampire people who were the world's defenders until a disease depleted their numbers. The 'old enemy' is coming back though and who will save the day now?

One of the Eborans has left his city before the illness gets to him and he has teamed up with eccentric explorer and female Indiana Jones type Lady Vincenza ('Vintage' to her friends) to investigate Behemoths, mysterious artefacts left behind from previous invasions. The 'magic' side of the equation comes from Noon, a Fell-Witch, who can produce a magical fire. Unfortunately, Fell-Witches are despised so much they are hunted down and imprisoned in The Winnowry, from where non ever escape (except Noon, obviously, who flees on the back of a giant bat - I know, right, A Giant Bat!! How cool is that?!!).

Between the three of them they may be the only answer to the coming invasion.

As a novel The Ninth Rain is quite huge in scope. Both the world and the characters seem bigger than in The Copper Cat series and this only goes to show just how much Jen is growing as an author with every book she writes. Where she really stands out though, for me, is that she seems to put thought behind why things happen, it's never 'just because', so here are two examples.

In the Copper Cat series one of the main characters, Sebastian, was kicked out of the knighthood after being found to be having a relationship with a fellow knight. It is clear from the outset Sebastian is gay but when you consider that he joined the knights as a young boy and basically grew up in a male only environment it's not really that surprising. He doesn't come across as a 'token' figure.

The same thing happens in The Ninth Rain. Tormalin, the Eboran, as I've mentioned before is a kind of elf/vampire hybrid. His people live a long, long time (well, until the illness strikes). Now, Tor is by all accounts, a fine looking, hunky chap and one hell of a lover. You might think 'yeah, yeah, sexy vampire blah, blah, blah' but you'd be wrong, and it all comes down to the author putting in 'the reason'. And the reason is this - The Eborans are so long lived they dedicate a certain amount of their time (in Tor's case many years) studying the art of love making at The House of the Long Night. With this their transaction of awesome sex in exchange for blood makes a lot of sense.

It would be an understatement for me to say The Ninth Rain is a good book. It is better than anything Jen Williams has written before (and The Copper Cat books are among my favourites of all time). I cannot recommend this highly enough so go get yourself a copy and join Vintage, Tor and Noon in this exceptionally good adventure.

7/5 stars (my blog, my rules 😉)

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Hekla's Children by James Brogden - A Review

Ten or so years ago four children disappeared while on a school outing. Only one returned. The teacher responsible for their safety, Nathan Brookes, although a suspect, was never charged with anything. Nobody knows what happened to the three other children.

Fast forward to the present day and Brookes is now working at an adventure centre in Wales and is convinced he has seen the three missing children. At the same time a body is discovered at the same spot where they vanished. It is dated at been 'Bronze Age' but...there are anomalies. To top things off the one child who returned shows up again with a simple message, "PUT HIM BACK"

I expected I would enjoy this novel as soon as I heard about it. One of the comparisons for it was Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood, which has long been a favourite of mine and I can happily agree with that. The feel of the 'ancient menace' coupled with the drifting between present and past makes for an atmospheric and unsettling read but a good one at that. As Horror Fiction goes this is a step up from James Herbert and Shaun Hutson and the Holdstock angle makes this book a bit special.

If there was one thing that didn't sit right for me it was later in the book when a main character who has crossed over to the other realm of 'Un' suddenly makes a 'lifestyle choice' with little more thought than 'oh well, let's give it a go'. For me that didn't sit right but that is only a small niggle and doesn't spoil an excellent read.

The realm of Un itself I found to be really interesting, a place where time between different areas of the land passes at different speeds, where you can find that returning to a place after a few days you can find that years have passed.

I have done my best not to drop spoilers here so a good bit of what I could have said I have left out for now - maybe another post when other folks have read it too.

For now though, enough to say an excellent read and an author I will be looking out for in the future

4.3/5*

Thursday, 9 February 2017

More new books in the mail today

 First up in the mail today was this pair of Space Opera door stoppers. The author got in touch to ask if I would review them and, looking at them I'm rather glad I said yes.
And then there was this from Titan Books, 'combining the surrealist horror of Joe Hill's Horns with the mythical fantasy of Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood' - I mean, seriously, how can you go wrong with that.

Both books have excellent cover rec's from authors I trust so it goes without saying I am looking forward to all three.

Monday, 6 February 2017

New books in the post today


Two books in the mail today from two of my favourite authors of recent years. Both are starting new series in fresh new worlds and both will be reviewed on here in the near future.
All I will say for now is that if you haven't read either of these authors before then I highly recommend you do now.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Graham Masterton and Me - A Reflection (of sorts)

Many moons ago (I was still at school so I'm guessing it would have been around 1982/3) a friend of mine offered to lend me some of his brothers books. I'd read a bit of horror before, mainly James Herbert and Shaun Hutson but he gave me a book by an author I'd never heard of before. That author was Graham Masterton and the book was The Manitou. I can safely say that The Manitou was the first book that I found really scary and it got me hooked on the works of Graham Masterton .

I don't remember the exact scene that gave me the chills but I remember the night itself well. My mum and dad had gone out for the evening, my sister was out at a friend's and it was just me and our dog, Clover, in the house. I sat in the corner in the rocking chair with just the standard lamp to illuminate the pages and read...and read...and read. I was totally wrapped up in the story until some little noise made me jump, made the dog jump and I looked up! The rest of the room was pitch dark and...was that something over there in the corner, just on the edge of sight? (It wasn't, obviously, but for that few, brief moments it could well have been). No horror author had bothered me like that before - and I enjoyed the scare.

From then on I tried to get hold of any Masterton novels I could. They were creepy, gory, scary tales in the main but also clever at times. I loved the Night Warriors series, featuring a bunch of heroes that fought demons and evil in the world of dreams. I eagerly awaited the next in the Manitou series - and they never disappointed. The one off stories (of which there were many) often delved into the demons and spirits of history, not the 'same old, same old' that a lot of horror writers of the time seemed to be churning out.

Skip ahead a few years and 'younger' Andy was in hospital for day surgery to fix a broken nose. Obviously I had to take a book with me to pass the time until the op and it just happened that there was a new paperback available by...you guessed it Graham Masterton. That book was 'The Devils of D-Day'. I finished it in that one day and I don't know if the pre surgery meds had anything to do with it (they probably did) but that remains to this day the most visual of his novels for me, the one that feels more like I lived the story than read it.

With Masterton I felt like it was an above average chance that the next novel would be more late nights and a certain pause before turning the lights off. Not all were brilliant but for the most part they were just what this horror fan needed.

A lot of the earlier books are now harder to get hold of but thankfully his publisher, Head of Zeus, are making a whole bunch of GM's earlier novels available including 'The Heirloom' (featuring what can only be described as a haunted/possessed chair), 'Ritual', 'Black Angel', 'Prey' and The Sphinx (which I've been wanting to re-read for as long as I can remember). These will be available from 1st June 2017 and I, for one, am certainly looking forward to revisiting them.

So, I guess I've been reading Masterton for 34 years or more now and I like to think that his brand of horror, demons from history and folklore, has influenced the path my reading has followed as far as the horror branch has gone.

Thank you Mr. Masterton, and long may your story telling continue

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough's - A Review

Behind Her Eyes has had a marketing campaign behind it revolving around 'That Ending' so I went into it determined to guess how it would turn out.

I failed.

Miserably.

The story in itself is told in two voices, Louise, a secretary (for David, among others) and Adele (David's wife). They are both, in their own ways, in love with David. It is clear from the off that something, indeed possibly many things, are not right between David and Adele but as Louise gets closer to both it becomes increasingly difficult to work out who is right and wrong, what actually happened in the past.

And then...THAT ENDING!

I was determined I would not get caught up in the hype but...BLOODY HELL!!
I certainly never saw that coming. Sarah Pinborough's delivers a twist out of the blue but then adds another, and that takes some doing.

This was one hell of a ride but well worth the journey price.

Book of the year? Quite possible 5/5*

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Time Of Death by Mark Billingham

Time Of Death is the 13th novel to feature the detective Tom Thorne and, to be honest (and this is only my opinion) it may be time to retire him for a while.

The story here is overlong and revolves around child abduction and murder in the hometown of Thorne's partner Helen. There are old secrets to be revealed, a murder to solve, a possible abduction to solve, the to-be-expected race against time but for all this, for me, it dragged. The clues were there for all to see, even so far as that the murderer/abductor might as well gone round with a t shirt on that said "IT WAS ME".

Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a terrible book - just not as good as I have come to expect from Mr. Billingham. Short chapters from different view points made for a speedy read but the thing for me, I guess, is that I just didn't get on with Thorne this time round. It felt like he's got a little bit too full of his own self importance.

I don't doubt I will be reading more of Mr. Billingham's books in the future I just won't be waiting for them quite as eagerly as in the past

3/5 stars