Reviews

John Dies at the End by David Wong. Book review

22/07/2011

John Dies at the End by David Wong. Titan Books '7.99

Reviewed by Jim McLeod

This novel was first published online as a web serial, then later in trade paperback format, which became notorious for the prices it was commanding online.  It has now been picked up by Titan Books, and it also is in the process of being adapted into a film. 

So how does the book hold up?  Truthfully I did not enjoy this book, it starts out well, with a good mix of humour and horror, but suddenly it gets way too smart for itself.  I can understand why certain people like this sort of novel, personally the author should have spent more time developing a coherent plot, rather than trying to throw everything and anything into the mix. It's a pity as there is some good writing on offer, pity it gets drowned in a sea of penis jokes and schoolboy humour.

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Greyglass by Tanith Lee. Book review

22/07/2011

Greyglass by Tanith Lee. Immanion Press '10.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

This is a strange little book (just 190 pages). It begins with a visit to Susan's creepy Grandmother's creepy house ' the vegetable house because it seems to grow rooms, and is surrounded by a mass of verdant plant life. Ergo, it's going to be a supernatural story ' oh, good! But as one reads the book, and as Susan grows from child to young woman to adult, it seems to abandon the paranormal'

Susan's mother, Anne, meets a man called Wizz, runs off to the USA with him, and then rarely sees her daughter ' just a few flying visits back to the UK. When we first meet Wizz he comes across as a dodgy character. A bit of a wide boy.

As Susan grows she goes to college, meets men, has sex, moves home several times, and eventually ends up living in a flat next to Crissie, a prostitute. With each change in her life it seems as if the story veers off at an unexpected angle. And just when I thought, despite the subtle hints Tanith Lee drops into the narrative, the supernatural element was just wistful thinking, was absent'

Ms Lee ties up most of the loose ends just about perfectly. (Most, because this book does leave tantalising elements dangling ' characters disappearing from Susan's life; resolving her mother's problems')

I have to say, Greyglass is a quirky read. Tanith Lee seems to plays with syntax, repeating phrases, leaving half-finished thoughts. I am sure this is all deliberate, to mirror Susan's disjointed life. Once you get into the swing, it's a fast and enjoyable read (yes, okay, with a nice supernatural d'nouement). Recommended.

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Book review

22/07/2011

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Quirk Books, $12.95

Reviewed by Matthew Johns

The first of many classic works of fiction reworked to include a horror/fantasy element, this book combines Jane Austen's classic tale of the five Bennet sisters with tales of zombie mayhem in quiet English villages.

In this reimagining, the Bennet sisters are highly skilled fighters, trained in unarmed and armed combat helping to protect their village from the plague of zombies that has stricken England for years. They encounter many familiar faces, including the legendary Mr Darcy, who is a zombie killer of much esteem in this version of Austen's England. Even surrounded by zombies, blood and guts, Mrs Bennet still tries hard to marry her daughters off to any potential (non-zombified) suitor ' whether neighbour, soldier or cousin. One by one, three of the Bennet sisters find, lose and regain their loves while still managing to fight off the plague of undead.

Reading the novel, it is clearly still Jane Austen's original text in many places, and her co-author has worked hard to merge his additions into her work. The additions mostly blend well into the original narrative, and definitely add another level of enjoyment to the novel. The usual Austen themes of strong women, social prejudices and loves found, lost and regained still resound clearly throughout the book, despite all the zombie fighting.

The girls' back story is well written without being too obviously inserted, and the woodcut style illustrations throughout the book serve as an amusing accompaniment to an excellent novel. According to sources, we will soon see a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie, so I eagerly await that and the prequel novel Dawn of the Dreadfuls.

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Family Portrait by Graham Masterton. Book review

22/07/2011

Family Portrait  by Graham Masterton, Hammer '7.99

Reviewed by Jim McLeod

First the body of a young girl was found in Europe with all of her skin expertly teased away from her body whilst she was still alive. Very soon a second corpse is discovered in New England, and a third corpse shortly after that. Can a mysterious painting really be implicated in these deaths, and if so just what is the terrible family secret that the painting hides?

Here Masterton, gives us his riff on the Picture of Dorian Gray. And as you would expect from a Masterton novel, this is one hell of a read. Masterton is often lumped in with the trash horror of the early 80's. Which is extremely unfair: he has a real talent for writing excellent horror novels, and Family Portrait is another fine example of such a well-written book. Highly recommended.

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Miss Peregrine�s Home for Peculiar Children. Book review

17/07/2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Quirkbooks, $17.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

 The production values on this book are excellent, with its red cloth hard covers with gold lettering and stitched inner using good quality paper. It has lavish illustrations, mostly old photographs but with the occasional line drawing.

When Grandpa Portman dies Jacob catches a glimpse of the monster that killed him, and realises that the crazy stories Grandpa told may not be that crazy. When Jacob is left some odd photos (used in the book) he persuades his father to take him from Florida to North Wales on a holiday to find what the photos could mean.

As the title suggests this is about a home for peculiar children which appears to be a 'Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters' with a dose of Hogwarts. There is a hint of Lovecraft and a suggestion of Alan Garner in the way that Jacob uncovers his family legacy bound inextricably with legends of the past. An older reader (especially the British ones) may find the portrayal of Wales and the Welsh somewhat odd, and the oddly elastic age of Jacob from young child requiring Dad's permission to go out alone to teenage lad in love, a little irritating. But this is a YA book (up to 15 years) and for that audience will be a good exciting read with bags of intrigue and a cliff-hanger ending that bodes fair for at least a second volume.

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Captives by Barbara Galler-Smith And Josh Langston. Book review

17/07/2011

Captives by Barbara Galler-Smith And Josh Langston. Edge Publishing (2011) $14.95

Reviewed by Craig Knight

Captives is a tale of betrayal, hardship and vengeance. Set in the days of the Roman Empire, the story portrays the lives of two druids as they face threats both from within their own ranks and from the oppression of the Romans.

Captives requires a little perseverance. The story opens with a barrage of characters introduced in such rapid succession it's difficult to keep up. The narrative itself suffers from a similar problem as events happen so quickly and with such little attention, it threatens to destroy the believability of the plot. Have a little patience, however and the story finds its feet. As soon as the story adopts its style of two alternating plot strands, everything takes off. The first strand portrays the plight of Master Druid Mallec and the second the suffering of enslaved Driad Rhonwen. These two plot strands are ultimately united at the book's mid-point in a very satisfying and unexpected way. There's a lot to deal with in the second half but it is done so well, there's not a chance to lose interest.

The story has its mix of villains, from the devious Driad Deidre to the much more effective Roman slaver Scotus. Easily stealing the scene for most brutal character, Scotus is sadistic and cruel, creating a fitting antagonist to the main characters.

Captives can be forgiven its initial stumble as it delivers a rich and atmospheric story with well-written and distinct characters. Stick with it, it's definitely worth it.

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River Marked by Patricia Briggs. Book review

17/07/2011

River Marked by Patricia Briggs. Orbit (2011) '7.99

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

There's a rule about picking up a novel that's partway through a series: don't. Unless the writer's really good, you'll end up baffled, confused and (probably) irritated. Sure enough, by page four of this latest Urban Fantasy about coyote shapeshifter Mercy Thompson, I was hopelessly lost. Briggs just throws it at you, mercilessly: names, what they did, who they're doing, when they did it'

It might help if the characters had some form of individuality ' but not one of them leaves the page; all have the same voice. And most of the time all they seem to be doing is telling each other facts they should already know (like one vampire telling another vampire what vampires can and can't do. Well, duh!). And yes we have vampires, and werewolves (and werecoyotes) ' like a TV series of True Blood re-written for the Cartoon Network.

And there's also something killing people in the local river'

There's a blurb on the back cover claiming this is Urban Fantasy at its very best. In which case I'd say there's a similar rule about picking up an Urban Fantasy novel.

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Watch by Robert J Sawyer. Book review

17/07/2011

Watch by Robert J Sawyer. Gollancz (2011) '7.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

The problem with writing the kind of near future SF that Sawyer specialises in is that we catch up with it quickly, as he found with a previous novel Flashforward.

This is essentially a young adult novel and the sequel to Wake. In the first book, sixteen year-old Caitlin Decter received an implant that allowed her to see for the first time. This also gives her a direct, visual contact with the internet, leading her to make contact with an emerging intelligence that she names Webmind. At the start of Watch she tells her parents. As hers is a family of geeks and mathematicians they have no problem in accepting this new presence in their lives. Not so the American organisation, WATCH, whose main job is to look for terrorist traffic and monitor other countries' communications. They want to find out where Webmind is situated, how it is constructed and, if necessary, how to kill it ' another story of the little people against the big bad government.

Over the week or so of this narrative arc, Caitlin and her mother spend a lot of their waking time teaching Webmind the niceties of polite society, a task they are well suited to as Caitlin's father is autistic. Nevertheless, Caitlin still has time to acquire a boyfriend, Matt, another maths nerd.

There are many elements that make this a typical teenage read but also some aspects that would make an adult wonder if they had been added to extend the scope of the novel. For example one plot strand involves a chimp-bonobo hybrid, Hobo, who has been taught to communicate via sign language. There are also several passages of discussion between the characters that seem unlikely, even between intelligent teenagers. Not one of Sawyer's better efforts.

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Jeanette by Joe Simpson Walker. Book review

17/07/2011

Jeanette by Joe Simpson Walker. Chomu Press (July 2011) '13.00

Reviewed by John Howard

I didn't know what to expect with Joe Simpson Walker's new novel Jeanette. Walker is described as a writer 'interested in bizarre psychology ' obsessions, compulsions, phobias, taboos, etc ' and in the conventions of genre fiction.' I haven't read any of his other novels, but Jeanette certainly does seem to tick all these particular boxes.

Jeanette Hesketh is a troubled teenager living in respectable suburbia with her father and beloved dog. Her mother has run away with a television repairman (a vanished species and a nice period touch). Jeanette's closest friend is Mark, the attractive young man from next door; Miss Thaine, one of her teachers, is also a confidante (or thinks she is).

Of course, nothing is what it seems. Just about everyone has a secret, if not more than one. Respectable suburbia is anything but. Jeanette and Mark's relationship is nothing less than sado-masochistic. Jeanette's desire and willingness to let the dangerously charismatic Mark humiliate and dominate her and his desire and ability to do so forms the basis for events that, inevitably, spin out of control.

Jeanette is set in the early 1960s, its themes grounded in 'a time when fetishism, bondage, masochism, transvestism and homosexuality are still condemned as perversions.' But there isn't much of a sense of the past; and there are many who would echo those condemnations half a century later (which is now). Jeanette shines a fitful light onto its chosen themes, and succeeds in doing so in a non-sensational way. The compulsions of the characters are narrated in a pedestrian style that is the opposite of the subject matter. Nothing is gratuitous; everything holds together for a reason. But reading Jeanette was more of an exercise in duty than any sort of pleasure. Maybe that was the point?

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Mirror by Graham Masterton. Book review

17/07/2011

Mirror by Graham Masterton. Hammer (July 2011), '7.99

Reviewed by Jim McLeod

What if a mirror really does trap a man's Soul? For those who know the genre, you know it's not a good idea to buy a mirror that once belonged to, and hung in, the house of a tragically murdered child star of the 1930's. You know it's not going to turn out for the best. When Martin Williams does just that, he soon holds in his hand a portal to a dark and hellish world.

In this novel, Graham Masterton spins his version of Alice Through the Looking Glass. And what a novel this is. He has crammed the book with great characters and great ideas. One of things I love about Masterton's early books was the taking of a well known rhyme, fairy tale or old wives tale, and how he would spin a new take on it. To this day I still don't like looking on mirrors, and if one breaks I have to bury it the garden and walk seven times anticlockwise around it.

A chilling book written by a truly talented author. 

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