Sunday, 21 February 2016

Book review - Upon Waking - J.R Park

This is the first book that I've read from this author, and I can tell you for nothing that it was one hell of a read. From the offset, we have about a third of the book laying the foundations for a couple of the characters, before really hitting the main body of the story. When I say hitting, that is a total understatement. It grabs you around the throat, spits in your face and drags you almost unwillingly into it's sordid content.

I had already read a couple of write ups from some reviewers on this book, (reviews work you know) so followed their advice and prepared myself both mentally and physically.. (cup of tea at the ready) So was I sufficiently prepared? Kind of...

Although I knew that it was going to be an extreme piece of fiction, there are parts that I don't think anyone can really be fully prepared for. It took me just over an hour to read it, an enthralling, nail biting, adrenaline and terror filled hour.

When Gary Brown's son; Henry goes missing, he approaches a private investigator, Kathryn, an ex-police offer to try to locate him. Through her contacts, she manages to trace his last known mobile phone signal to a quiet street, where she stumbles upon the main character in this story - Cassandra Brown. A woman that is seemingly living a normal, quiet life in a middle class, suburban neighbourhood.

Cassie is an extremely large, powerful woman, with an immaculately clean house; it seems that she has quite an obsession for cleaning. The aspect of the story shifts, as other characters find themselves waking up in various rooms around her house. This is dealt with in the form of each of their aspects being played out as an independent chapter. A relatively simple concept in itself, until the story begins to unfold, and the madness really begins.

I'm going to leave it there with the description to save any spoilers. What I will add, is that this book really manages to catch the reader off guard. You get the first impression of Cassie as a normal woman living a normal life, you sense that something isn't quite as it seems, (its the horror genre) however you can't put your finger on what until things start to.. happen.

When they do begin to happen, expect absolutely horrific scenes, that even the most hardened of readers will find shocking. I mean really, its absolutely intense and handled in a way that you actually find yourself willing for these poor people. Yes its gratuitous, but its also befitting to the story. It kind of ambles along at a steady pace, but then we get hit with another brutal moment without any prior notification. However, it's all addressed and justified by the creation of Cassie. She is a truly despicable person, totally devoid of remorse or empathy. Her actions are totally self centred, sadistic and psychotic, she's not a person that you would like to meet, yet the truly terrifying part is that it's feasible that you actually could.

The book is well written, there are no confusing plot lines or unnecessary twists. Its a short, severe tale that may leave you like you have been hit around the head by a professional boxer. Yes, there are extreme scenes, two in particular will be enough to make a man's eyes water, but this is horror, and they're written well enough to shock without being gore porn.

I've gotta admit, I really enjoyed it. Once I picked it up, I didn't put it down. It was depraved, and in some people's eyes, wrong, but I love that in a book. 

Again, a warning that this book isn't for everyone, please be aware that there are parts that can shock. If you are fine with that, prepare yourself for one hell of a powerful read.

My rating 5/5

I will be reading more work from this author.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Book review - Wind-up Toy - David owain Hughes

For this twisted little tale we are transported to the Welsh seaside town of Porthcawl, where we follow the story of Simone; a man with many stories to tell, and the story of Toni; a young lady at university studying to become a teacher. 

Toni also works as a volunteer at a local Samaritan centre as a call centre operator. One evening whilst working, she receives a phonecall from Simone. A man who begins to explain the details from his very unsavoury upbringing.

Simone is a man that since his childhood, has had a special relationship with his crew - his krull gang. Led by his second in command; Mr Tickles. He would argue that they are his troops, some may argue that they are toys. This is the first instance of feeling that there is something unsettling about this individual. 

The timeline shifts back to when Simone was young (the first of many) where we get the intricate details of a young boy raised by a single mother, following his father returning to Italy after being forced out by his wife. I won't lie, there are parts of this that really make for some awkward reading, but persist, it is all laying the foundation for the overall build up of the character.

Finishing the call, Simone is relieved to have dumped some of the weight from his shoulders and decides to head into town to the funfair, where he enjoys reminiscing on some of the better parts of his life. Here, he bumps into two teenagers; Sara and Michelle who find him attractive, plus he's able to provide the under age girls with alcohol. He talks the girl's into a private party on the beach....

From here on in, the story takes a direct split between the two main characters of Toni and Simone. Introducing new people such as Stu; the good looking, friendly co-worker of Toni who she strikes up a casual relationship with, and Chaos; a hard hitting dominatrix who sees Simone in their relationship as her slave.

As things begin to unfold, Toni finds herself continually looking forward to her interaction over the phone with Simone, initially finding her curiosity spiked by his character, and eventually becoming almost to the point of obsession. 

I'm going to leave my description of the content there. I don't want to give too much away on the overall story. It's a speckled timeline of events, that if you don't pay close attention to, you could lose something essential from the plot. 

I'll warn you, this book won't be for everyone. Some of the grimy, broken characters that the author brings to the fold are truly despicable. He offers up some of the most messed up people that you will ever find, yet the read is compelling and justified in every case with some weird and wonderful back stories and fantastic character development.

There is a very high content of graphic sex and violence throughout this book. Thats what makes extreme horror, surely? The way that the author handles this is gratuitous and in your face, yet still believable. The most messed up of situations could be happening on your own doorstep. 

For me, it took a while for the overall story to settle down and find its own flow, but once it does, its excused because every single aspect is an integral part of the plot. Its complex, yet simple in the same manner.

In summary, I found it a really good book. It's not what I expected at all. Utterly disturbing at times, yet still interlaced with many, many moments of funny dialogue. There is a little but of everything, sex, lies, betrayal, revenge, you name it, it's in there somewhere.

For me, a great read, very unexpected, and I felt like I needed to scrub myself down with wire wool after reading certain scenes. But that's the point, that's the way it is fully intended.

If you're easily offended or squeamish, I would recommend leaving this one well alone. If you like something thats going to get your extreme juices flowing. Get it now.

For me 5/5. This is only the second thing that I have read from this author, he's a wrong un, but in the right way.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Book review - Extreme Horror - Matt Shaw

For Matt Shaw's latest, and potentially last black cover book, he brings us Extreme Horror. If his final intention was that the black books were going to go out with a bang. Boy, did he hit the mark.

The story follows the life and sordid interests of a man named Adam; a wannabe film maker. Adam is obsessed with the dark characters portrayed in horror movies such as Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Kreuger. The latter, he believes should be re-cast as Nicholas Cage, due to an unfortunate meeting that he had once with the actor; Robert Englund. This really is art imitating life, and the first of many moments of satire that are scattered thoroughly throughout the book.

Adam finds himself desperate to make his mark as a film maker, sending off screenplay after screenplay and being ignored, whilst scorned by his parents that a movie maker isn't a real career prospect. As time moved on, he decided upon making his own brand of horror movies; where the content is torture, played out whilst being filmed and the actors (victims) are actually killed. His intention; to send the DVD's out to a local news station, or eventually find a way of uploading them to the internet himself to instil his legacy.

His fascination with the darker side of humanity, heavily influenced by movie characters such as Norman Bates, Buffalo Bill and real life American body snatcher and serial killer - Ed Gein. Adam finds himself a new pen pal with a real life serial killer, currently serving time in prison; Art. A murderer that was made famous when his crimes were portrayed in a book written by two well known writers; Matt Shaw and Michael Bray. This is the first clever nod of Shaw referring to his own work throughout the story. Look out for other references of Don't read, and Peter Jenkins with his infamous Birds Eye ready meals.

As the madness moves forward, Adam becomes obsessed with becoming the most prolific serial killer within the UK. Scenes are interlaced within the main story, that have actually been written in the format of screenplays:

The Lawnmower Man.
My Life.
Super 8 (inches)
From the Cutting Room Floor.
Melting Away.
Necessary Changes.
Mouth of Madness.
Indecent Proposal.
Something Inside.
A Special Place in Hell.

These scenes are the parts of the story where the extreme horror is expertly crafted. Expect an obligatory sex scene with a difference, and various scenarios  of torture that feature anything from a vice, acid, a chainsaw, scissors, pliers, a blowtorch, and even a car. If you can think of it, its likely to have been covered. In addition, there are least two scenes that are difficult to stomach, even for the most hardened of reader, and you definitely will not want to read whilst eating.

As the twisted tale begins to develop, one of Adam's captives; Michelle, labels him nothing but a copycat, shaking his confidence and making him question his motives. He decides to take an alternative direction, and make his final movie a romance, never to be forgotten. He needs Michelle's help, but first he must see to that potty mouth of hers.

So what did I think of it? I liked it. No, in fact, I loved it. It is utterly brutal in places, but unashamedly so. Shaw has obviously gone out of his way to make the reader feel uncomfortable and has pulled it off in abundance. Parts will truly make you consider empying the contents of your stomach, other parts will make you wince. All while Shaw keeps his undertones of humour flowing throughout. In this book, he has really proven that he is the master of the extreme. There are over twenty deaths played out throughout, and Shaw manages to pull it off in a mere 148 pages, without it feeling rushed; impressive? Definitely.

Now, once again, there is a warning on the front cover, and please, please adhere to it, because if you don't, and you're not the type of audience that this book is intended for, it is likely to make you ill, or worse. It won't be for you, and the author doesn't want to offend people unintentionally. Fans of extreme horror - go grab it.

My rating 5/5 - fantastic job.

In addition, look out for a unique brand of perfume, a strange use for a toothbrush, and some stress relievers that will put a smile on your face.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Book review - Stuart Keane - 89

I received an advanced reader copy of Stuart Keane's latest offering; 89, we follow the story of a succesful author; Greg Irving. A man that has made himself succesful at writing by insisting on pushing himself, and by his own integrity. He has three simple rules that he abides by to remain productive;

Write 5000 words per day, minimum, no excuses.
To remain off the internet duting this time.
Always take Sunday's off as a break.

Greg is a man that likes to keep strange hours, preferring the solace that the early morning hours offer to write. He is a also a man addicted to coffee. I had to do a double take at one point at the beginning of this book, as I felt I may have been reading Keane's own memoirs..

The book begins with Greg just finishing up an all night writing shift, after hammering out 15,000 words in order to meet a tight writing deadline. With the work almost complete and ready to go, he makes the mistake of resting his eyes for a moment.

Three hours later, and Greg is awoken by a phone call from his agent; Sean, explaining that there has been a hitch with another author, who is meant to be  attending a convention in Sheffield the following day. Although originally protesting, he finds himself contractually bound to attend.

The only problem is that Greg, doesn't drive, so decides that he will take a National Express bus. Travelling through the night would allow for a quieter journey, allowing for some peace and quiet, a little reading, and maybe a nap.

Booking his tickets, he grabs some food at a restaurant near to the station, and the bus sets off at 10pm to arrive in Sheffield the following morning. A journey that consists of 89 miles of road. Having checked with the driver, only four people have booked for the trip - bliss. Armed with his iPod and Kindle, Gregg finds a good seat, and settles down ready for the long trip ahead.

Everything is going well, until another passenger; Jessica boards the bus, and takes the seat right next to him. From this point inwards, things start to get a little interesting.

The first thing that I will say about this book, is that it's unlike the violent, depraved horror stories that Keane's readers may have become accustomed to reading, and more like the style of his first book; The Customer is Always... However, in 89, he makes the reader feel just as uncomfortable, only in a totally different way.

The writing is typical of Keane; intense, atmospheric, dark and brooding. From the moment that Greg gets onto the bus, you know that something is going to happen, but you are unsure of what, and in which order it is going to be played out.

There are a couple of plot twists that are really quite clever, and work well with the story. Its a psychological thrill thats up there with the best of them. It's a slow burn to begin with, but all good things come to those who wait. 

Right up to the end, you're left guessing, up until the finale where once more, Keane can't resist throwing in just one last aspect for good measure.

There are certain authors, that I could identify their work without being told who it was written by. Stuart Keane is quickly   becoming one of those writers for me, the consistent level of quality and distinction of his work is phenomenal. There is nothing stopping him at the moment. He has proven that he can write shorts that scare the pants off people, he is capable of full length novels ranging from contemporary horror though to urban tales of revenge and heroics, and now comes back with a superbly taut thriller. Fans of writers such as James Patterson or Lee Child will lap this up.

My rating 5/5. A great read.