Monday, May 25, 2015

REVIEW: Peter Benchley - Jaws


Title: Jaws
Author: Peter Benchley
Publisher: Fawcett
Purchase from: Amazon 

Review by: John Milton

If you’ve not seen the movie, then you’ll undoubtedly at least have heard of it! However, have you read the book?

‘Is it horror?’ Despite the protestations of one of my dearest friends, “What’s scary about a big fish?” I would respectfully submit to you that yes, ‘Jaws’ is in fact a horror. If you are of the opinion that a masked man stalking teenagers in smalltown America, picking them off one by one is horror; then a man-eating shark preying on unsuspecting bathers off the coast of smalltown America is no different.

For me, if there was a physical embodiment of fear, it’s a shark. This is an absolutely primal fear of an animal whose basic design has not evolved or changed in millions of years. Sharks are effectively living fossils, an apex predator so perfectly acclimated to its ecosystem that they have survived for millions of years at the top of their food chain. So yes, ‘Jaws’ is a horror novel.

Released in 1974, ‘Jaws’ hit the bestseller lists and stayed there for nearly a whole year.

The author (Peter Benchley) drew his inspiration for this novel from a number of real-life incidents, most notably the 1964 landing of a 2000kg Great White Shark caught off the coast of New York state and the infamous Jersey Shore attacks of 1916.

As stated previously, ‘Jaws’ is the story of a small American coastal town, reliant on summer tourist trade that is preyed upon by a man-eating Great White Shark; and the subsequent hunting of said shark by the town’s police chief, an Ichthyologist and the local seasoned shark hunter. Many will already be familiar with the Spielberg film adaptation but I would suggest to you all that the novel is by far the superior of the two.

‘Jaws’ the novel provides far greater depth to the characters involved with the backstory to Ellen Brodie and the Chief’s marriage, the Mayor’s shady dealings and other aspects that I choose not to reveal to those who are not familiar with the book. As opposed to the film, the book offers significantly different relationship dynamics for the lead protagonists and a palpable feeling of tension on board the boat that viewers of the film will already be familiar with. Overall, there is a generally darker tone throughout the book and an ending that is poles apart from the distinctly showbiz finale of the movie.

This is one of my shorter reviews but I fail to see the point in a book review that simply gives the whole plot of a novel away, effectively ruining it for any potential reader!

In my opinion, ‘Jaws’ is an incredibly satisfying read that easily drew me into the world created by Benchley. My only warning with this book would be to save it for dry land; this is not a book you want to be reading on the beach!

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Price of Admission

Publishing is a tough game and getting harder every passing day. In our ever-changing world of publishing most successful authors have more than mere talent; they have drive.

When authors come to me looking for a publisher sometimes their drive is easy to see. Other times it’s impossible to see, because––quite frankly––it doesn’t exist.

You wrote a book. Congratulations. That’s the ante, the price of admission… not the endgame.

Authors write.

Publishers publish.

Sounds simple enough. But when authors want to work with a publisher they must understand that they must WORK WITH THE PUBLISHER. Not have the publisher do all the work while they sit back and watch it happen.

Most successful authors are doing the things they need to do: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, conventions, giveaway––anything and everything that helps sell the book.

There’s no business in art. But once you want to sell your art, there’s no art in business. It comes down to selling.

Selling the book.

Selling the author.

Selling the brand.

Selling for today and selling for tomorrow.

Signing an author is a gamble for any publisher. But signing an author that has a track record of poor sales and minimal interest in gaining sales… that’s not a gamble. That’s suicide.

If you’re an author that wanted to WORK WITH a publisher, but then decided to avoid the actual work, shame on you. The publishing industry already has too many pompous, conceited, pretentious egomaniacs. You shouldn’t have wasted your publisher’s time, money and effort.

If you’re an author, doing what you can to help sell your book, your brand, yourself… then good for you. Whether your work sells or not, understand that you’re not part of the problem; you’re part of the solution. And the publishing industry needs more people like you.  

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Monday, May 18, 2015

REVIEW: Kim Newman - Anno Dracula


Title: Anno Dracula
Author: Kim Newman
Publisher: Titan Books
Purchase from: Amazon 

Review by: John Milton

I initially had my reservations about this book. The cover looked decidedly contrived, on reading the blurb I formed the opinion that I was going to be subjected to a rip-off of ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ and I thought this was going to be a particularly low-brow read.

“It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. His polluted bloodline spreads through London as its citizens increasingly choose to be vampires.

In the grim backstreets of Whitechapel, a killer known as 'Silver Knife' is cutting down vampire girls. The eternally young Genevieve Dieudonne and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club are drawn together as they both hunt the sadistic killer, bringing them ever closer to England's most bloodthirsty ruler yet.”

I don’t think it has ever been more appropriate to use the idiom: “Never judge a book by its cover”.

Set in 1888, this book seamlessly marries up the wonderful fictional worlds of Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and many others, drawing in characters from other vampire tales and notable fiction of the time; as well as factoring in events from history and other factual occurrences. If you can spot all the references to other works, then I would suggest that you are a bigger geek than I am! The author (Kim Newman) helpfully provides an annotation at the end of the novel as a “Who’s Who” for the reader!

‘Anno Dracula’ has as its basis the supposition that Dracula was not defeated by Van Helsing et al. In fact, Dracula goes on to marry the widowed Queen Victoria and becomes Prince Consort. Vampirism is not only rife throughout London but is socially acceptable, desirable to many and becoming more dominant in Victorian society. Vampires throughout the novel include Oscar Wilde, the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid, Elizabeth Bathory, and there are numerous cameos from vampires of fiction such as Lestat and Graf Orlok. There are also star turns from numerous other figures from Victorian stories but I choose not to reveal these for fear of ruining the experience for you.

It is no secret that my first passion was history and was indeed what I had planned to study at university before finding an aptitude for my current profession. Although this work is fiction, it is rich in historical fact also… and twists much of it to its own end. The novel is not strictly speaking steampunk but is set in an alternate Victorian era as it were.

‘Anno Dracula’ introduces us from the start to a character very much based in historical fact: Jack the Ripper. Here, The Ripper is preying on the vampire prostitutes conducting their business in the dingy backstreets of Whitechapel. With Sherlock Holmes interned at a work camp along with notable minds and authors of the time such as Bram Stoker, investigation of the murders falls to Scotland Yard and the powerbrokers at the mysterious Diogenes Club; the latter directing Charles Beauregard to uncover the true identity of Jack the Ripper. From the very beginning of the novel, the identity of The Ripper is known to the reader. However, this does not detract from the feel of the book which is, as stated earlier, rich in both historical fact, and characters from fiction and notable figures from the era, with a plot that develops well as the story progresses. The novel itself reads as a detective story set in the 19th century with a distinct horror element.

Finding fault with this novel is difficult. Newman has obviously spent time researching this thoroughly and his prior preparation and planning has shone through. I have only one true criticism of the book and that is the finale. It felt rushed and over too quickly. Perhaps this is what Newman was aiming for; leading the reader to that point where they were left wanting more. If so, objective complete and I will most definitely be buying the follow up books.

It is quite clear that Newman is keen for this story to be adapted for the big screen and in fact, a script for Anno Dracula has been penned; an excerpt of which was available appended to my copy of the novel. The film rights have been optioned but Newman has stated "I don't know if there's much movement on it...Over the years, I've had a few comics people say they'd be interested and even an occasional game nibble, but no one has ever come up with a solid deal."

If you haven’t guessed, I was thoroughly impressed with this novel. Adhering to factual accuracy as much as is possible in an alternative universe populated by vampires is no mean feat but Kim Newman achieves this and also manages to tell a fantastic story at the same time.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

REVIEW: Adam Baker - Outpost


Title: Outpost
Author: Adam Baker
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Purchase from: Amazon 

Review by: John Milton

Horror books. These things are ten a penny and quality ones (much like their cinematic cousins) are few and far between. So, I am left picking and choosing my way through so much detritus like a shopping trip to TK Maxxx, looking for something I might actually like and eventually I’ll find something...

‘Outpost’ is the debut novel from Adam Baker, a British author who has worked as a gravedigger and cinema projectionist. A heady brew indeed...

The back cover of the novel sets the scene as follows:

“They took the job to escape the world. They didn't expect the world to end. 

Kasker Rampart: a derelict refinery platform moored in the Arctic Ocean. A skeleton crew of fifteen fight boredom and despair as they wait for a relief ship to take them home. But the world beyond their frozen wasteland has gone to hell. Cities lie ravaged by a global pandemic. One by one TV channels die, replaced by silent wavebands. The Rampart crew are marooned. They must survive the long Arctic winter, then make their way home alone. They battle starvation and hypothermia, unaware that the deadly contagion that has devastated the world is heading their way...”

Although the setting is post-apocalyptic, the feeling of the novel is very much survival-horror. Who will be the first to go? Who’s next? Additionally, for me, with the frozen isolated setting and the general tone of the novel, it felt very much like John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’. However, to simply pigeonhole Baker’s work as derivative would be too cruel as the author has taken what could be considered an overused horror theme (end of the world, last humans alive, battling insurmountable odds and hordes of flesh-eating undead) and breathes new life into it. Instead of focusing on the ensuing worldwide carnage, he chooses to focus on the human aspect of the group at hand and explores themes of isolation, self-loathing and other elements of the human condition but primarily, the instinct for survival.

The characters in ‘Outpost’ are a mixed bunch but ultimately, the people on the rig are life’s losers and the bottom of the barrel. For a book of this type, these characters are fairly standard but the lead characters are not what you would expect and I choose not to reveal any more for fear of ruining one of the book’s first reveals.

Given the incredibly limited and bleak setting that Baker has chosen, he has conjured up a variety of situations for his characters to encounter and the imagery has stayed with me long after finishing the book itself. Following from this is my main criticism of the book; I’m unsure of the ending. It was altogether a little bit too “Hollywood” for me and I think that something a little darker may have been more in keeping with the book itself but then again, that is simply my opinion.

If you choose to, I would suggest that you will find deeper themes running throughout the novel; Good v Evil, the ultimate punishment of sinners, etc but that might just be me...

It is fair to say that ‘Outpost’ had me absolutely hooked from the first couple of pages. Baker’s style is immensely readable and his impressive debut novel has turned me into a real fan of his work.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

REVIEW: Iain McKinnon - Denying Thanatos


Title: Denying Thanatos
Author: Iain McKinnon
Publisher: Permuted Press
Purchase from: Amazon 

Review by: John Milton

Perhaps best known for his action driven zombie stories ‘Domain of the Dead’, ‘Remains of the Dead’, and ‘Demise of the Living’, Scottish author Iain McKinnon’s latest offering ‘Denying Thanatos’ is far removed from tales of the walking dead...

“Even though he knew something was coming, even though he tried to prepare his family, even though he had bought survival equipment and food stores, when it happened he wasn’t ready.

Haunted by the loss of his family and out of options, Frank has to weigh up the risk of starving to death against the risk of being discovered.”

The short synopsis provided is a fair summary of this title which is a bleak tale that, at its heart, is about one man’s battle to survive. ‘Denying Thanatos’ deals with issues often glossed over in seemingly similar tales: no bunker to hide in; no fully stocked shopping mall; this is one man struggling with hunger, battling to stay warm and dry, evading those who would visit harm upon him and contending with his own emotions regarding the loss of his family.

‘Denying Thanatos’ is no action driven tale of postapocalyptica and subsequently, won’t appeal to everyone. This book is about an Average Joe who finds himself in an extraordinary situation and, although he may have a little more knowledge and kit than most, he’s far from the special forces/ Bear Grylls type of protagonist that is endemic in such stories. Each chapter deals in turn with Frank’s current situation, and the events which led to his predicament.

On a critical note, my reading of this book was hindered at times by some glaring typos that ought to have been picked up when proof-read and edited. A mistake in the third line of the first chapter was particularly striking given the story had only started. Additionally, McKinnon’s prose can be overly verbose at times, “...swung pendulously at the nadir” being used to describe a girl’s hair bobble seems a little much.

Despite the above criticism, McKinnon’s narrative is compelling, drawing the reader in, creating empathy with Frank’s plight; his efforts to stay warm, find food and ultimately alive will make you grateful for that hot cup of coffee sitting beside you as you read.

A fairly short read at a little over 150 pages, McKinnon’s tale truly engages the reader and is set head and shoulders above its purported contemporaries thanks to the closing chapters, which finally disclose the events that led to Frank’s fight for survival and with an ending that’ll not only shock but will stay with the reader long after the final page is turned.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bump in the Road

On February 18th I wrote a blog post called New Home Office. I pointed out that Books of the Dead Press had moved from one town to another, was currently without internet, and would be a slow running machine for a month or so due to some necessary renovation issues. Well, here it is, a full two months later, and I’m just now finding my legs again.

At this point, on April 22, the internet has been fully restored… finally. Also, the renovations continue to be ongoing, but I do have a workspace that resembles an office, so I’m doing the best I can, bringing the company up to speed.

One of the realities Books of the Dead Press faces is the fact that the company has grown too big for one person the run… this, on a good day, when I’m not shuffling my life around and dealing with a million unexpected complications.

As the company moves forward, grows larger, becomes more reputable, sells more units and gains more fans, my workload increases: more emails, more products that need promotion, more accounting, more one-time problems and time stealing solutions. It’s hard to keep up. And right now, I’m behind. I’m behind on everything.

The authors that have been with me for a while can see this anomaly for what it is: it’s a glitch, a bump in the road, a moment that will soon pass. Some of my new authors and editors are not sure what to think. They haven’t been with me long enough to know.

Is this a bump in the road, or the lay of the land?

For what it’s worth, this is the first true impediment Books of the Dead Press has had since opening the doors back in 2009. It will take a bit of time for me to get caught up, being that the job is already too big for one man to handle, but it will happen.

Authors will be paid.
Paperbacks will be created.
New titles will be released.
Books will be promoted.

No reason to worry. Books of the Dead Press are not going anywhere.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

REVIEW: Rich Hawkins - The Last Plague


Title: The Last Plague
Author: Rich Hawkins
Publisher: Crowded Quarantine Publications
Purchase from: Amazon 

Review by: John Milton

‘The Last Plague’ is the debut novel from British author Rich Hawkins and principally follows the plight of four friends marking the impending marriage of one of their number on a stag weekend. As I’m sure you can guess from the brief synopsis provided, not all goes according to plan.

Without betraying too much about the plot, this is NOT a zombie story and is far from average horror fayre. With this book, Hawkins has conjured up a legion of nightmarish creatures and unleashed them on England, sparing none of his characters from their murderous onslaught.

The fact that this is the first novel length offering from Hawkins is belied by the quality of the writing here, with highly descriptive narrative prose, leaving little for the reader to guess at. Hawkins’ particular style will sate even the most inured gorehound, with evisceration, death, dismemberment and the rending of flesh seemingly par for the course in this title.

On what may be viewed as an overly critical point, Hawkins may be guilty of overuse of some particular vocabulary here. However, it is a small point to note and doesn’t detract from the quality of the work. Thankfully, Hawkins has stepped away from making any of his central characters ex-special forces or gun-toting cops. The four men on the stag weekend are ordinary guys facing an extraordinary situation and subsequently, their thoughts and motivation are notable for being more realistic than perhaps those that may be found in other horror tales, given that one of the prevailing expressions of emotion here is absent in many similar tales: fear. Despite being a fairly straightforward action based plot, it is the reactions and interactions between the characters that really allow this tale to come into its own. These men are struggling to survive and make it home to their loved ones.

 Described as “violent”, “gruesome”, “gory”; ‘The Last Plague’ weighs in at more than 500 pages and the author has lain waste to, at the very least, the south of England, with an army of monsters of indeterminate origins that’s only desire seems to be the consumption of human flesh.

If you’re not persuaded by my review then take a look at that cover. That beautifully horrific cover tells you all you need to know to convince you to part with your hard-earned cash and pick this book up.

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