My Top 10 Scifi / Horror Books For 2014

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It’s been a busy year! I reckon I’ve gotten through around 35 books this year so it’ll be hard to whittle it down to a top 10. I’ve noticed a lot of the lists about this year are very safe and samey so I’m shaking it up a bit. Also unlike most of the other lists around I’m including self-published titles, of which there have been some outstanding examples this year. Sincere thanks to all the authors and publishers who have supported me this year!

1. Eleanor by Jason Gurley

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I absolutely loved this one. Highly original and thought-provoking. Jason has since bagged a publishing deal with Crown so expect this book to be everywhere next year, albeit in a revised edition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Sand by Hugh Howey

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Hugh pulled out all the stops with this tense post-apocalyptic actioner. It’s a riveting read from start to finish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. World Of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

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Ben’s iconic detective Henry Palace unravels the final pieces of the puzzle as asteroid Maia hurtles ever closer to earth. He really couldn’t have finished this trilogy any better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The Martian by Andy Weir

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A huge success this year, this originally self-published scifi thriller features a quick-thinking wisecracking astronaut stranded on Mars. You will never clench your buttocks more. Think of it as Gravity with a little Ferris Bueller thrown in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

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This beautifully designed and innovative take on the haunted house theme transferred to retail was a blast. Think House On Haunted Hill-meets-Ikea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

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This supernatural crime thriller was a gem strengthened by Beukes unique style and unflinching attitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. The Fourth Sage by Stefan Bolz

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My YA pick for this year, this is a no-nonsense dystopian epic which should definitely NOT be split into two movies to bore the pants off the general public.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

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A thoroughly enjoyable sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, expect to see a lot of this series next year as the Tim Burton movie is released (hopefully not starring Johnny Depp as Miss Peregrine)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells

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A huge hit on Amazon this year, Fluency is a brilliant fusion of classic and modern scifi and paves the way for what should be a very entertaining series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. The Other Of One  (Book One) by Brian G. Burke

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My middle-grade/early teen pick for this year. I’ve been raving about this one for a while but it deserves a shot. An epic fantasy tale with an Irish twist to rival anything else that’s been released in this genre this year with a lot of heart, plenty of action, humour and scares to keep 11-15 year-olds (and many adults!) interested. Looking forward to book two next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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World Of Trouble (The Last Policeman Book III) by Ben H. Winters

WorldOfTrouble_FinalI feel for authors writing the final part of a trilogy. It must be hell. You’ve put all that work in, ensnared all those readers, built up their expectations. They’re expecting something big. You don’t want to mess up.

It helps of course, when you’ve already got one of the most interesting and endearing detectives since Sherlock Holmes to play around with. Enter Henry “Hank” Palace, for the final instalment in Ben H. Winters’ brilliant The Last Policeman series.

Picking up directly where he left off in Countdown City, Henry leaves the comfort of the safe house created by his former colleagues to solve one last mystery – this disappearance of his sister Nico. Accompanied by his trusty Bichon Frisé Houdini and the not-so-trusty-yet-resourceful Cortez, Hank once again takes to the road, his compulsion to investigate driving him ever forward.

With only days left, we start to see a different Hank Palace than we’re used to, his flaws starting to show, the pressure finally getting to him, desperation and frustration seeping through his calm exterior as he tries to navigate and negotiate his way through ever-changing terrain to find his sister before it’s too late.

As lines blur, we see Palace’s methods become more and more unorthodox and his interactions with others becoming more selfish, his sense of duty still compelling him to help those he meets along the way, yet often leaving them behind to fend for themselves once he has done so. For all his imperfections though, Hank Palace remains eminently likeable, and we are given some extra insight into his background which helps us to understand his frame of mind a little better.

World Of Trouble does a beautiful job of finishing the series. Unapologetic in its sense of urgency, it retains the interest and atmosphere of the first two books while ramping up the pace until the gripping and wonderful conclusion, when time almost seems to slow down as Winters does justice to what is one of the most satisfying and entertaining characters to grace a page in many years. Winters’ prose is beautifully descriptive and evokes genuine melancholy as we join Hank in watching the world collapse around him and there are some brilliantly poignant scenes but even with all this going on we still take an interest in his investigation and wonder at his often ingenious deductions.
The Last Policeman series has been one of my favourite trilogies in recent years and World Of Trouble ends it perfectly. An amazing accomplishment.

 

Eamo The Geek’s Christmas Book Guide!

My guide of the best books for that geek in your life this Christmas. Sincere thanks and gratitude to all the publishers and authors who have provided me with review materials this year and I look forward to working with you all in 2014.

Hugh Howey’s Wool Trilogy (Random House)

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Hugh Howey’s Wool is a riveting experience from start to finish. I had the honour of being one of the first people to read and review the final chapter, Dust this year and it did not disappoint. Finely crafted characters inhabit an intricately-built post-apocalyptic world with more twists and turns than an Irish country road. To read it is to love it.

Doctor Sleep – Stephen King (Hodder &  Staughton)
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There was much kerfuffle in the Stephen King fan camp when he announced this sequel to The Shining. Happily he’s proved the naysayers wrong with Doctor Sleep. We meet up once again Danny Torrance, the young protagonist from The Shining as he copes with his past through adulthood and uncovers a new supernatural threat. King is back on form with a masterful story, as nostalgic as it is terrifying.


Wick Omnibus – Michael Bunker & Chris Awalt  (Amazon)

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Chronicling the downfall of the United States following an all-out attack, Wick is a brilliantly clever story initially following the journey of one man and later expanding into a sprawling epic as he accidentally discovers a terrible secret that will change his life (and everyone else’s) forever.

The Shining Girls  –  Lauren Beukes (Harper Collins)
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Lauren Beukes’ time-travelling serial killer is one of the most chilling creations in this genre for many years. Coupled with an equally fiendish storyline, The Shining Girls is a stunning example of how to catch a reader by the scruff of the neck and drag them kicking and screaming through a horrific gruesome rollercoaster and still have them coming out smiling at the end. Not for the queasy.

Nighthawks At The Mission  – Forbes West (Amazon)

nighthawksAnother diamond in the self-publishing rough, Nighthawks At The Mission is a cleverly conceived sci-fi satire of Y.A. fiction following the mostly downhill fortunes of a wayward teenager relocating to another planet where everything is not as it seems. It’s an oddball, but a great one!

The Last Policeman / Countdown City –  Ben H. Winters(Quirk Books)

policeman_final_72 CountdownCityA slick, witty pre-apocalyptic whodunit with a lot of heart, The Last Policeman introduces us to one of the most interesting protagonists in many years in rookie detective Hank Palace as we follow his adventures through a society crumbling under the threat of almost certain destruction. Unmissable.

Princesses Behaving Badly – Linda Rodriguez-McRobbie (Quirk Books)

princess_final_300Linda Rodriguez-McRobbie’s wonderful book of true tales spills the historical beans on the outrageous exploits of princesses throughout history. Not a happy ending in sight, it’s a rip-roaring subversive eye-opener that will leave you shocked, yet strangely educated!

100 Ghosts  – Doogie Horner (Quirk Books)

ghosts_final_72Doogie Horner’s hilarious depictions of ghosts using variations on the classic “sheet” ghost is one of the funniest books I’ve seen this year. Essential for any geeky coffee table!

The Geeks’ Guide To Dating – Eric Smith (Quirk Books)

geek_FINAL_72dpiEric Smith’s indispensable guide to romance in the digital age is brimming with practical advice, pop culture references and gorgeous 8-bit graphics and will steer even the most clueless of nerds in the right direction.

Nick & Tesla’s High Voltage Danger Lab – “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith. (Quirk Books)

High-voltage-final72Science fun for middle schoolers with the intrepid brother and sister team Nick and Tesla using their genius to solve a mystery using practical science experiments that the reader can recreate. Electrifying fun from “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith.

The Tiny Book Of Tiny Stories  – Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Harper Collins)

all_book_covers_altThis series from actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is based on contributions to his online collaborative production company hitRECord.org and is compiled from art and tiny stories of just a few lines submitted to the site. The concept works wonderfully and you’ll be amazed at how much of a story a few lines can tell and how moving they can be.

Book Review: Countdown City (The Last Policeman Book II) by Ben H. Winters

wpid-countdown_final_72_0.jpgBen H. Winters’ Edgar Award-winning The Last Policeman was one of the standout SF surprises of last year. A clever, witty, intelligent pre-apocalyptic mystery with a lot of heart and a fine hero in it’s eminently likeable protagonist, Henry Palace.

But there is still a story to be told. While Henry had solved his former case, he now faces forced retirement from the Concord Police Department due to the ever-worsening breakdown in society as asteroid Maia hurtles ever closer to Earth and the need for crime solving has been replaced with the need for maintaining even the most basic order.

However Henry’s a detective. That’s what he does, and continues to do. A request from his former babysitter Martha to find her missing husband Brett Cavatone sends him off on another adventure, this time on two wheels (his police-issue vehicle has been replaced with a bicycle, along with a trailer to carry Houdini, his newfound Bichon Frise from book one.)

Not unlike Henry’s former case, a disappearance of this type is not uncommon these days, with those not opting for suicide going “bucket list” or finding themselves with various religions. Nevertheless, he is convinced that something is amiss as Martha claims his disappearance is totally uncharacteristic and he has disappeared while on an errand for her father, one of the few restaurant owners left in Concord. As the investigation progresses we see Hank come in contact again with his rebellious sister Nico, who’s association with a mysterious group may be linked to Brett’s disappearance.

We also see the return of some characters from The Last Policeman as Henry tries to maintain his tenuous relationship with his former colleagues in the C.P.D., they themselves pushed to breaking point as Concord and the world at large deteriorates around them. Things are changing fast and Concord has become a much darker and dangerous place than we remember in The Last Policeman. Fear and paranoia are growing at an exponential rate. Food and water is becoming scarce, orphaned children are roaming the streets. Refugees from Asia (the projected point of Maia’s impact) are attempting to enter by sea, now policed by armed militia attempting to keep the borders closed.

What’s a little unsettling is how the tone of Henry’s matter-of-fact narrative remains the same regardless of what’s happening around him, all the while carefully negotiating his rapidly crumbling surroundings and engaging only those he needs to. You do get the distinct impression that he is trying his best not to let what’s happening change him, but as the story progresses chinks in his armour do start to show. It’s not necessarily a weaker Hank Palace in this book, but he does have to work a lot harder to keep it together. His resources are extremely limited now and he does all he can to hold on to some semblance of his former life, even down to still wearing his suit.

We also get a little more insight to his relationship with his sister Nico. Hank puts aside his disappointment at her past behaviour to ask her help in finding Brett but he loves her and feels the need to protect her regardless of what she’s done although at times in this book it’s Hank that needs protecting more than Nico as she’s a lot tougher and resourceful than her brother gives her credit for.

Although the tone of Countdown City is much darker, Winters paints a picture of a society where even under the most impossible of circumstances a glimmer of hope can still exist among the despair and violence. It’s an astute observation of how quickly such a decline can happen and the lengths people will go to to survive, if only for a short time and it raises many philosophical questions but never preaches. It’s a fine companion to The Last Policeman and just as enjoyable and though we may know the ultimate conclusion of this story, what happens in the meantime is well worth the investment.

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Book Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)

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Asteroid 2011GV, also known as Maia is on a collision course with Earth.

Probability of impact: 100%

What do you do?

Detective Henry Palace goes to work.

Since the announcement of the impending catastrophe the world is changing rapidly. Lawlessness is on the increase, suicides are at an all-time high. Technology is breaking down and no-one cares enough to fix it anymore. Most large corporations have imploded, money is worthless. Certain foods have become valuable commodities and weapons can be worth a small fortune. Many people have turned to drugs or religion, some have gone ‘bucket list’. Concord, New Hampshire Police Department is running at capacity and our newly promoted hero has stumbled upon a suicide case that just doesn’t add up.
But why should he care? It’s now March and by October Maia will seal the fate of him and anyone else left on the planet. As far as his colleagues are concerned a suicide’s a suicide.

That’s the first thing you do learn about Hank Palace: he does care. He’s a good guy, maybe the last of the good guys in this slick, witty pre-apocalyptic whodunit. The joy of this story is that it’s taking place regardless. The end of the world is secondary, right now all Hank wants is to solve a murder because it’s the right thing to do. It’s his job and you as the reader want to see him do it.

Palace may seem like your archetypal murder mystery detective, and in a lot of ways he is. Shades of Marlowe, Deckard even Holmes echo through his character in this self-narrated tale. He’s hugely pragmatic with a typically deadpan sense of humour, but Winters writes him with heart his emotional side showing mainly in exasperation of those around him, particularly his wild younger sister Nico whose husband has disappeared and whose participation here seems to be related to something much bigger that we’ve yet to see. He’s not perfect by any means. He’s no action hero, he doesn’t always get the girl and Bruce Willis won’t be playing him in the movie (at least I hope not).

As expected the narration has a very noir-ish feel, the grim events taking place in a crumbling world with failing technology means more traditional investigative techniques need to be applied which add to the feel of the experience and give it a more authentic slant falling just short of a jazz soundtrack. There are no gadgets, no huge arsenals and even Palace’s possession of a car is seen as somewhat of a luxury.

The story plays out well. As we learn more about the victim’s background other interesting characters come out of the woodwork, (some briefly but effectively) gently guiding Hank through twists and turns, some throwing him off course, some doing their utmost to stop him in his tracks. But he soldiers on. After every setback, every dead end, every beating (of which there are several – his self-defence skills are pretty awful!) Hank picks himself up, dusts himself off and keeps going and it’s this inertia that mirrors mankind’s struggle in the face of certain annihilation.

It’s hard not to like this book. While many Hollywood stereotypes and cliches could easily have emerged here they didn’t. It’s never over-melodramatic and it relies largely on common sense and a good prediction of how the human condition could develop in the face of such an impossible situation. Armageddon aside, it’s still a damn good mystery novel and a promising start to what should be a very interesting trilogy.

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