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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Review: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Horrorstor_final_300dpiAnyone who’s ever worked retail knows that creepy feeling when the store is closed at night. A space just a few hours ago teeming with people all of a sudden empty. Lights are off and shadows dare you to cross them, the slightest sound amplified, the hairs on the back of your neck standing up as you head for the door telling yourself not to look behind you.

Horrorstör takes the haunted house concept and transfers it to retail, injecting (and ejecting) new blood into what’s fast becoming a tired and stale genre. A group of employees are asked to spend the night in the store to investigate strange happenings. As the night unfolds they discover this is one night shift that may never end.

Horrorstör has a lot going for it. Part satire, part social commentary, part pant-wettingly scary horror, it’s got a lot to say but thankfully doesn’t do so at the expense of the scares. We get a fascinating insight into the psychology behind retail as well as the downright bullshit involved in corporate interaction and treatment of employees. We’ve all been there at some stage and lot like Ricky Gervais did with The Office, using those familar mundane events and classic characters we quickly become invested in this story, the beauty of it being that is gets us comfortable on our minimalistic chairs before scaring the living bejeesus out of us. While proceedings are initially lighthearted, things quickly take a turn for the worst and Horrorstör lives up to it’s name, becoming a horrifying and unsettling experience, blending the best in horror imagery with an equally terrifying narrative reminiscent of familiar sources like The House On Haunted Hill, Scream, The Shining and Silent Hill.

Unashamedly fashioned on retail behemoth Ikea’s catalogue (in this story it’s a lesser quality knock-off called Orsk) the book is beautifully designed and peppered with useful maps, employee tips, valuable insight into Orsk operational practices and even some forms you may want to fill out at some stage. Throughout the story we constantly see references to the pretentious furniture names like Kjerring wardrobes, Brooka glassware, and Liripip sofa beds as well as references to modern pop culture, trends and technology that are now redefining how modern horror is evolving.

As a package, Horrorstör works on every level. It’s a fun, hilarious, flat-packed frightfest that dares to think outside the Låda.

Published by Quirk Books

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Book Review: Nick And Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage

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Image courtesy of Quirk Books

Middle-graders rejoice! Authors Steve Hockensmith and “Science Bob” Pflugfelder are back with another instalment in the increasingly enjoyable Nick and Tesla series.
Our intrepid siblings are back for more scientific shenanigans aimed at 9-12 year-olds, this time on the trail of a valuable stolen comic book.
Still living precariously with their eccentric Uncle Newt, and still none the wiser as to the whereabouts of their parents, Nick and Tesla are enlisted by their friend Silas to find a comic book stolen from his father’s store which would have kept them out of debt, and the store from closing.

Meanwhile, Uncle Newt has become enamoured with fellow scientist Hiroko Sakurai who now owns the Wonder Hut, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of supplies for inventors.

As usual the pair employ their know-how to help find and retrieve the stolen item and once again we are treated to more DIY science projects, this time mostly following the robotic theme of this second book in the series. The experiments, while slightly more complicated than those in the first book, are well-illustrated, easy to follow and most parts can be sourced in the home either from old computers or even old broken toys. Grown-ups will need to help out with assembly as there is some soldering required but it’s a good way of including the parents in the adventure.

The authors have settled in nicely to the world of Nick and Tesla and Half Moon Bay, this being a much more confident effort than its predecessor. Existing characters are further developed, with headstrong Tesla taking the lead, and new characters introduced along the way. The action is fast-paced and the writing funny and punchy and while the story structure deliberately incorporates many of the clichés of classic children’s literature,  it generally does so with a nod and a wink and it’s own sense of style and attitude.

A highly entertaining addition to an innovative series.

Eamon Ambrose

 

10,000th Blog Hit – Giveaway Time!!

A milestone has been passed in my blogging endeavours – 10,000 hits so far!

A HUGE thank you to everyone who has read any part of this blog so far.

I’d also like to thank some of the wonderful authors who have helped and encouraged and given feedback on the reviews, especially Hugh Howey, Michael Bunker, Matthew Mather, Patrice Fitzgerald, Jason Gurley, Forbes West, Susan May, Ransom Riggs, and Ben H. Winters and Eric Smith from Quirk Books just to name a few. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your work and interacting with you online. It’s been a lot of fun.

As a little thank you, I decided to run a giveaway. The problem I have with a lot of giveaways is that they tend to leave people out. I live in Ireland and mailing books to the U.S. is pretty expensive (the last 2 winners I had were from the U.S. – the postage cost more than the books!), but a huge portion of my readers are in the U.S., so I came up with what I hope is the best solution.

I’m going to run not one, but two giveaways – one for this side of the pond in Europe and one for U.S./ Canadian readers.

For Europe the prizes are:

Now celebrating its 5th anniversary,  the complete Pride And Prejudice And Zombies trilogy from Quirk Books

Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, Dreadfully Ever After and Dawn Of The Dreadfuls.

Plus A copy of the brilliant Princesses Behaving Badly

And for the folks in the U.S. and Canada, two of my favourite writers Hugh Howey and Michael Bunker have very kindly offered to post a signed copy of their novels Sand and Wick to the winner.

I’m going to run both starting tonight until midnight GMT on Saturday

Europe contest here:
Contest Closed

And U.S./ Canada here:
Contest Closed

Book Review: Hollow City (Miss Peregrine Book #2) by Ransom Riggs

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One of the books that helped me rekindle my love of reading was Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. Initially intrigued by the cover which had gone viral, I found both the premise and the concept fresh and exciting and coupled with Doogie Horner’s amazing book design, it was not only one of the best written but best designed books in its genre in many years.

Hollow City picks up where Miss Peregrine’s left off, with Jacob Portman and his peculiar friends barely escaping the island of Cairnholm, with Miss Peregrine incapacitated and constantly hunted by the wights and their grisly minions, the hollows.

Journeying across a Britain ravaged by World War II, the children stumble across news of a cure for Miss Peregrine, now trapped permanently in her bird form and with time running out for their protector, head for London, the Peculiar capital of the world.

With the introductions out of the way in book one, Riggs now has the time and scope to offer a  much bigger story than he was previously, while also expanding on the characters and building on the mythology of the Peculiars. The pace has picked up significantly and while the original felt a little static at times, the opposite is the case here. There is rarely a lull as the children stumble their way in and out of danger in a much more linear fashion and although they have no idea of what will happen once they reach their goal, they continue to push forward faced with the truth that there is no going back.  Tension is expertly created throughout, building to several life-threatening crescendos, its opus being  a brilliantly devious twist at the conclusion.

It’s also a story about conflict, both internal and external with Jacob worried about the impact of his disappearance on his parents and his relationship with Emma, and the other peculiars torn between their sometimes misguided loyalties and doing the right thing when faced with adversity and the threat of death. What’s interesting about Riggs’ Peculiars is that they’re not treated as superheroes and they don’t act like them either. Each has distinct flaws and regardless of their age (some being hundreds of years old) at times they can still act like the petulant children they once were, largely due to being under the over-protective wing of Miss Peregrine for so long.

Once again the story is brilliantly enhanced by the eerie vintage photography, most real and collected by Riggs over the years (as was the case with book one.) The big difference here is that with Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, much of the story seemed driven and written around the photography. I don’t get that impression with Hollow City. It’s much more it’s own story and uses the images sparingly and to great effect in parts, while also building on the plot built around the ones used in book one and once again, this concept never feels gimmicky at any stage of the proceedings.

It’s a brilliant expansion of an inventive novel and although a darker and more grown-up affair which, to an old geezer like myself sometimes feels restricted by the Y.A. audience it’s aimed at,  it’s a perfect companion to the original and one that will not only delight, excite and intrigue fans,  but leave them with an uncomfortable (but hopefully curable!) case of the Heebie-jeebies.

Eamon Ambrose

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Book Review: The Geek’s Guide To Dating by Eric Smith

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Before I start I’ve got to make a confession: I haven’t dated anyone in 25 years as I am that rare breed of geek that managed somehow to attract and maintain the interest of a human female at an early age, which is why I’m currently trying to write this post with three kids running around my feet filling my house with glee while simultaneously attempting to destroy it.

Having to date again would terrify me beyond belief, but things are a lot different now than they were 25 years ago. Geek culture has advanced toward being a pop culture phenomenon and technology has advanced beyond anything I could have comprehended when I was a teenager. Fear not, lonesome geeks, there is hope – and it’s name is Eric Smith.

The Geek’s Guide To Dating is a beautifully designed and practical real world instruction manual for both the uninitiated first-timer and the more experienced (yet probably still unsuccessful) of our ilk on a quest for anything even resembling romance.

Absolutely teeming with beautiful 8-bit graphics and geek culture references from the more popular T.V. shows and movies and games to more hardcore comic references and even boardgames no-one is left out. Smith cleverly uses these references to obliterate the long existing preconceptions of how women should look and behave (sorry guys Manic Pixie Dream Girl doesn’t exist and you will most likely never date Number 6 from Battlestar Galactica) while firmly implanting an essential need for respect and understanding of the opposite sex.

Referring to the reader as “Player One” from the start, Smith first invites you to select your character and proceeds to advise on how to meet someone in the real world before switching to the more comfortable online social media options, providing invaluable tips, how-to’s and do’s and don’ts on getting to that elusive first date.

Moving on to preparing for an actual date, “Ready, Player One” rightly recommends avoiding the cliched clothing options and opts mainly for the more practical approach although there is a section for the more adventurous including “How To Emulate The Best-Dressed Guys In The Geek Canon”, be it Han Solo (rogueish but classy), Mal Reynolds (suspenders optional) or Neo (you too can transform from Mr. Anderson to The One).

So, suited and booted it’s time for the first date scenario . This chapter initally offers advice from an unlikely source in “By Your Command: A Cylon’s Guide To Dating” which is more useful than you might think, before moving on to a First Date Simulation and hopefully beyond with useful troubleshooting guides and a bonus Boss Level for advanced dating such as moving in together or meeting your newfound love’s family for the first time.

Of course it may not all go to plan. You may at some stage find yourself rejected, dumped or dating outside your species but fear not, there is plenty of sound advice on how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, buy a Firefly class spaceship and roam the galaxy looking for adventure and fiscally attractive opportunities. But there’s always hope.

Although it is largely aimed at the male, female geeks need not despair either, with a practical guide on how to adapt the book to their own needs and at the very least it provides a valuable insight into what makes us tick for those who may be interested in dating someone a little outside their comfort zone.

Always enjoyable, often hilarious and never condescending, The Geeks’ Guide To Dating is the perfect antithesis of the old-fashioned pick-up manual often seen lurking in the back of comic book small ads, the major difference being – this one could actually work.

Published by Quirk Books

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