52Books: The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry

Last year saw the debut of Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series with the outstanding techno-thriller Patient Zero. This was one of my favorite books of 2009 as Maberry introduced readers to a mash-up of fast action thriller, hard science hooks and global terrorism all culminating in Joe Ledger kicking some serious zombie terrorist butt.

The Dragon Factory throws Joe Ledger and Department of Military Sciences (DMS) back into fray again, and this time the trouble isn’t only external. In a coerced move the Vice President, President Pro Tem, sends the NSA after DMS to lock them down and gain access to their super computer MindReader.

This is externally motivated by a pair celebrity geneticist, the nearly perfect Jakoby Twins. Their goal is to mine genetic research from competing companies and labs to fill in gaps in their own research, developing designer creatures.

The attack on Joe Ledger and DMS and the attempted acquisition of information by the Jakoby Twins become confluent to the larger plot dealing with Cyrus Jakoby, father of the famed Jakoby Twins, who in bent on continuing the work of the Nazi scientist Josef Mengele and the purification of the human race.

Cloning, genetic manipulation, genocide, para-military hit squads and all the Joe Ledger you can handle culminate in the final confrontation at the Jakoby Twin’s The Dragon Factory.

The Dragon Factory is a solid follow up to Patient Zero, with great adrenaline pumped action and a reminder that Science is scary but no match for Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Science.

Fans of the book may have something to be excited about. ABC has put a fast track development on Department Zero based on Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series. Read more about it over at Deadline.

Learn more about Jonathan Maberry and his work over at his Big, Scary Blog.

For the jumbled masses keeping track. I read The Dragon Factory the week of March 8, 2010 and started writing this review (at least a version of it) March 15, 2010.  As an aside, not taking away from the well written book, I wasn’t happy at the end. With a certain event.

52Books: Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski

Mickey Wade is an out of work journalist, formerly of the alt-weekly Philadelphia City Press, who is forced by economic times to move into his grandfather’s, who he wants little to do with, apartment in Frankfort, his old childhood neighborhood and now a seedier and dilapidated part of town. Mickey, named after Jagger, not the Mouse, literally only has dollars to his name and no prospects of work. The only bright spot in his life is Meghan, whom he likes but thinks only hangs around him because he’s a charity case.

It can’t get any worse? Right?

If you’ve ever read anything by Philly crime writer Duane Swierczynski, bad isn’t bad enough, there’s always room for worse. And fortunately for the reader Mickey hasn’t hit the bottom yet.

Expiration Date, Swierczynski’s latest, is in my opinion the writer’s best work in a limited bibliography. Unlike his prior books, Expiration Date focuses less on the gritty front story of crime and hard knocks, and slips the reader into an intriguing story where down and out Mickey Wade has a chance to change the worst event in his life. The murder of his father.

The catalyst for Expiration Date is a bottle of old, seemingly safe, Tylenol that Mickey finds in a locked bathroom cabinet. Locked for good reason. When he takes a handful he is transported back to the year he’s born. There are caveats, dangers, and Mickey must figure them out or he could die in the present. Through the discovery we learn more about Mickey and the perils of playing with time. Can Mickey change the one life altering event of his life and come out alive in the end?

Expiration Date, like Swierczynski’s previous books, is a thrill ride, racing all the way to the end. Yet somehow it slows down just enough to enjoy the little things.

Since I’m 20 books into my 52 Books and only 10 or so books behind on reading, this review and future one’s aren’t going to fall in order. I read Expiration Date in the second week of April, my 15th book of the year.

To learn more about Duane Swierczynski, check out his Secret Dead Blog. I hear he write some mean comics too.

52Books: Needle: A Magazine Of Noir – Spring Edition 2010

I’ve got a backlog of reviews, I know. I’m current on top my weekly reading but that sure hasn’t translated over to reviews. Though I’ve got other books in the queue to review I thought I’d start back with a review of what I had read this last week, Needle: A Magazine of Noir edited by Steven Weddle.

Whoa there! I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’m cheating because this is a magazine? In name, technically it is. But it reads and feels like an anthology. An anthology of the best short crime fiction I’ve read. Granted there aren’t a lot of venues dedicated to crime, especially the gritty kind. At least not ones that show case the stories alone. Most are set along side more magazine like elements such as reviews, articles and inteviews. Needle is unencumbered by such. No ads either.

See why I’m treating it like a book? You know the duck analogy, right? Well, there you go.

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52Books: Symptoms of a Broken Heart by Cory Cramer

I received an email a couple weeks ago from writer Cory Cramer asking if I’d be interested in reviewing his novella Symptoms of a Broken Heart. He asked nicely, so how could I say no?

Cory gave me a brief overview, but I really didn’t know what to expect when I got it in the mail a few days later. It was a thin book, a mere 45 pages of story. Definitely skirting the line between short story and novella, though to tell you the truth I’m not sure what those criteria are. Despite being a short read, I set it to the side as I was reading SLEEPLESS at the time.

I found myself a few mornings later picking it up and flipping through the short book. I had a half an hour before taking off to work, so I began Symptoms of a Broken Heart.

Because Symptoms is so short, I can’t really give you much more than the overview that Cory gave me.

The story is about two sisters, Lisa and Susan, who attend a Werewolf Party down in Louisiana. Lisa is the wild child, buxom and beautiful, and Susan is lankier and conservative. Susan is getting married and wants to have one last hoorah before finishing college and settling down into married life. The next morning, however, Susan is mysteriously dead.

Symptoms is all about the twist ending which Cramer starts seeding on the very first page. The twist is one of two things I can really appreciate in Symptoms. The second is the handling of the lycanthropy via dermal transmogrification or totem tattoos that is revealed during the Werewolf Party. I hadn’t seen that before, at least in the way depicted by Cramer.

It was a good read with a satisfying twist.

I will warn that those a little shy of overt sexual acts might be turned off by two key scenes in Symptoms. While utilizing sex as a plot device isn’t really part of my bag of tricks the use of it in Cory Cramer’s story is essential not only in building the character of Lisa but to play out the final twist.

Learn more about Cory Cramer at his website: http://www.corycramer.com

I just finished Jonathan Maberry’s The Dragon Factory, the follow up to Patient Zero. Review will be coming soon.

In the midst of reading Warren Ellis’ Crooked Little Vein.

Look for an audio review of Joe Hill’s Horns later this week on James Melzer’s Unleashed Podcast.

52Books: Horns by Joe Hill

One of the most anticipated books for my 52Books reading list is Joe Hill’s Horns. I had previously read his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, and his debut novel Heart-Shaped Box. It was that novel that made me a fan, regardless of his pedigree, of the writer, Joe Hill.

Over two years passed and no word on what the next book would be, if there would be a next book. Maybe I wasn’t looking in the right circles, but in mid-2009 I saw a tweet of his next book and with little else than a title I was excited for a new book.

Almost three years later, Joe Hill’s Horns is in my hands and I’m nervous to read the book. So I crack the spine, hoping Hill’s words are as good as I remember.

Ignatius “Ig” Perrish wakes up with a helluva hang-over. His head is hurting something bad, only he soon discovers that it wasn’t from binging the night before. Ig has grown horns pushing painfully outward stretching the skin of his receding scalp.

Ig soon discovers that the horns aren’t the only change. People are compelled to tell him their darkest desires, asking permission to follow through with the impulses. Also if  he touches a person he becomes privy to their worst deeds. This discovery starts the book off on a dark comedy rift, as we discover the animosity the town has for the bedeviled Ig.

A year ago, Ig was the primary suspect in the rape and murder of his girlfriend, Merrin Williams, but when evidence was lost the case against him was dropped. Most everyone believes Ig was guilty, that his famous trumpeter father or TV personalty brother, Terry Perrish, had paid off the right people. Now with horns, silenced thoughts, even from his parents, come to light. When his brother, Terry, makes a damning confession, the story takes a darker turn.

Ig wants to get revenge and retribution, desires redemption, but most of all wants to get back what he lost, and every way he approaches it he damned if does and damned if he don’t.

Horns is many things through out the book and Joe Hill seamlessly navigates you through every aspect from comedy, horror and mystery. At it’s core though, Horns is a love story carried out through loss, memories, sadness and hatred.

Joe Hill takes us a lot of places in a short span, jumping between the present and the past, between perspectives Ig and other casts, between the gray areas of good and evil. As it says on the cover, … the devil is in the details …

I intended to post this last week, but well it didn’t happen. Look for an audio review of Horns later this week in James Melzer’s podcast, Unleashed.

Still a bit behind the 52 mark, but I’m reading as much as I can. Current racing to the end of Jonathan Maberry’s The Dragon Factory and will soon be diving into Warren Ellis’ Crooked Little Vein.

Learn more about Joe Hill at his website: http://www.joehillfiction.com

52Books: Sleepless by Charlie Huston

Read this book. Get a copy of Charlie Huston’s Sleepless and just read it.

I don’t have a long history with Charlie Huston. Before six month ago, I didn’t even know he was a writer. Had I still been an avid $200 a month comic junkie, I’m sure I would have come across the name well before now. But those days are gone.

How I discovered him isn’t important. I just know what I like. I like Charlie Huston. The man’s name even has a swagger that elicits thoughts of his preferred genre, Crime. Almost as if he’s a man in the know.

Read this book.

Sleepless is set in the now, a world so much like our own, I fear Huston might have a thumb on our future. Alter the timelines and choices made ever so slightly, I can believe the present as depicted in Sleepless, as lived by rookie LAPD officer Parker Haas.

In Parker’s world, one in ten are dying from prion based disease called Sleepless (SLP). Similar to Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI), SLP prevents the infected from restorative REM sleep and the disease is 100% fatal. No cure exists, but there is a limited and government regulated drug called Dreamer that alleviates the symptoms reducing the suffering as SLP progresses to it’s final conclusion.

Parker, aside from being a rookie cop, is also a young husband and father, who’s wife suffers with SLP and suspects his daughter might as well. It is Parker’s job to work undercover as a drug dealer and ferret out a potential Dreamer black market. Because Parker is dedicated to the ideals of his job, when he finds a tangible link to what appears to be a gang slaying and is told to back down, proceeds with diligence regardless of the consequences.

Read the book.

Sleepless is told from multiple POV using Parker’s perspective told in first (a journal) and third person, as well as that of an aging hitman, Jasper, who becomes intertwined with Parker’s story.

This stand out novel by Charlie Huston is an engaging police procedural within a terrifying plausible science-fiction wrapper.

If you haven’t already made plans, go get the book and read it.

I’ve fallen behind my book a week target, so sometime this month I’ll double up a week with my 52 Reviews.

Currently reading Horns by Joe Hill. After that will either be Jonathan Maberry’s Dragon Factory or another Charlie Huston, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death.

Learn more about Charlie Huston at his website: http://www.pulpnoir.com

52Books: 7th Son: Descent by J.C. Hutchins

I bought 7th Son: Descent by J.C. Hutchins in early November and since then we’ve been playing a little shell game. Much like Good Omens, which I bought in ’91 or ’92, I managed to set it down and misplace it, only to find it again and start the cycle over.

Thankfully this little game of cat and mouse with Descent won’t be played out for nearly a couple decades. I managed to anchor on and keep the book at my side until I finished this last week. (I really should find Good Omens again)

Like Good Omens part of the precarious cycle is born out of a familiarity with Descent. Not because I’ve read the first 50 pages nearly a hundred times, but because I’ve heard it all before, at least the beginning of the 7th Son saga.

7th Son: Descent began life, at least to the public eye, as a podcast serialized and performed by the author, J.C. Hutchins. And I’ve heard the first words oh so many times over and over.

“The President of the United States is dead. He was murdered in the morning sunlight by a four year old boy.”

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52Books: Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski

It’s bad enough to work a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, but to be called in to a special meeting of key personnel on a Saturday really sucks. It can’t get much worse, but for Jamie DeBroux, a PR copy man, husband and new father, it’s going to be the worst day of his life.

Set in Philadelphia, Duane Swierczynski’s Severance Package hits you over the head in the first chapter by killing Paul Lewis, a non-essential character to events of the book, though essential to the underlying character of Molly Lewis. Then you are shuffled through the cast of characters who work for Murphy Knox & Associates, a front company for the hybrid intelligence agency CI-6. It’s a bit confusing as we are raced through the roster, but quickly comes together once the meeting convenes.

Murphy Knox & Associates is being liquidated and unfortunately in the world of CI-6 that means the employees, agents and civilians, are to be terminated.

Literally.

Jamie DeBroux can’t believe it when David Murphy, their boss, announces that they must all die and there is no escape from the building. But when co-worker Stuart drinks the deadly mimosa at David’s suggestion, Jamie clearly understands this is no joke.

Swierczynski then proceeds to take our PR protagonist through an ultra violent ride with the help of his “office wife” Molly Lewis as his fellow co-workers are taken out one-by-one. With violence cranked up to 11, Jamie DeBroux’s only desire is to survive, escape the building and get back home with his wife and child.

Severance Package is hi-octane fiction that burns hot and fast. I could easily see it adapted into a movie by Guy Ritchie or the likes.

I enjoyed Duane Swierczynski‘s book well enough that I picked up The Blonde and pre-ordered Expiration Date.

Next up is J.C. Hutchins7th Son: Decent.

52Books: The First Rule by Robert Crais

Three years ago, 2007, I read Robert CraisThe Watchman, featuring Elvis Cole sidekick Joe Pike. Up to then, my experience with the character Elvis Cole or writer Crais had been relatively recent and limited to a handful of books. Just enough background to know that Joe Pike was Cole’s partner. A silent partner who did the job that was necessary and had no qualms about taking it to the limit.

I like Elvis Cole, a quick lipped sharp as a tack detective, but until The Watchman I had little feeling for Joe Pike, the enforcer, the muscle. That book would change that, jumping Pike to being one of my favorite fictional tough guys.

When I found out a few months ago that a new Joe Pike novel was coming out – I couldn’t wait to get The First Rule.

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52Books: The Pack: Winter Kill by Mike Oliveri

It’s very rare that I read a book in one day. As much as I like to read, I just can’t block out that much time in a day to read. 50 pages is a good day for me. There are always exceptions.

My Amazon order arrived at my office just before lunch. It contained Mike Oliveri’s The Pack: Winter Kill and I stuck it in my pocket on the way out the door. Eating alone that day, I sidled down at my favorite cafe, Capital Roasters, with a hot Cuban, unsweet Ice Tea and the book.

Munching away at the delectable pulled pork and ham sandwich, I bit into the first chapter of The Pack: Winter Kill. By the time I had finished my sandwich and started in on chips, I had devoured 40 pages. I finished it up that evening in 15 and 30 minute bites. Consumed and Satisfied.

The Pack: Winter Kill is a page turner with fast action, succinct dialogue and short chapters. Mike Oliveri races you through the book and you clamber to turn the pages fast enough.

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