Nightmare Movies is an exhaustive, fun and thought-provoking look at horror movies since the 1960s. You may not agree with everything that Kim Newman...moreNightmare Movies is an exhaustive, fun and thought-provoking look at horror movies since the 1960s. You may not agree with everything that Kim Newman says - I was genuinely astounded by his praise for that '80s Aussie schlocker Razorback - and at times his prose clunks, but most of the time Nightmare Movies will bring back fond memories, make you reconsider faves and hates in different lights, and get yourself thinking about hosting another movie night. (less)
In six months' time, an asteroid will hit the Earth - so not surprisingly, as global civilisation goes into a pre-apocalypse wind-down, suicides are o...moreIn six months' time, an asteroid will hit the Earth - so not surprisingly, as global civilisation goes into a pre-apocalypse wind-down, suicides are on the rise and no longer a great priority for New Hampshire's Concord Police Department. Yet what looks like the latest suicide has aroused the suspicions of detective Henry Palace - is it actually a murder?
As the dogged Palace investigates further, however, he not only finds increasing sadness about the victim's life and evasiveness from a growing number of suspects, but also indifference from colleagues and superiors and even more craziness that each new day brings. Will Palace's world truly ends before he solves this mystery?
'The Last Policeman' works well on several levels. Apart from its irresistible premise, it's an engrossing police procedural with a very likeable hero and a very thought-provoking setting. At times, it's very moving and sad - but at other times, it's also very funny.
Best of all, 'The Last Policeman' is the first of a planned trilogy. While I hope that I never experience a pre-apocalypse world like Henry Palace's, I looking forward to visiting his again.(less)
As the end of the Second World War approaches, an English traitor and deserter from the SS British Free Corps discovers what appears to be a Soviet pl...moreAs the end of the Second World War approaches, an English traitor and deserter from the SS British Free Corps discovers what appears to be a Soviet plan to conquer Europe that Stalin may or may not be responsible for (is Uncle Joe up to the baddest of no-good - or, unknown to him, is it instead a secret cabal of nefarious officers?)
Alas, there are only days left to try and stop this dreadful plan - and the only way to maybe do so is for an ace RAF pilot still recovering from deep physical and psychological scarring to fly a newly-captured and very-impressive but highly-dangerous Nazi superjet deep into Soviet territory where he will only have one chance to deliver a knock-out blow...
...but before our ace sets off on his desperate mission, will he discover that his fellow pilot who's a ruggedly good-looking Rhodesian has recently begun an affair with his estranged wife? And if he does...how may that affect the mission where the fate of the world hangs in the balance?
I first read 'Angel, Archangel' way back in the....yikes, late '90s, and thanks to the above plot elements I've always remembered it fondly.
Recently, I discovered that 'Angel, Archangel' was available in a cheap ebook edition, and those above plot elements still make it a fun read...
...but I had also remembered that style-wise it was also a clunky read, and it still is. To be fair, it was a first-time novel - but even so, and pun unintended, it's a bumpy and uneven ride.
Still, if you're after some pulpy Second World War fun, 'Angel, Archangel' is an enjoyable hour or so of reading.(less)
A couple of weeks ago, I saw for the first time in many years the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man. In turn, that led me to re-read, al...moreA couple of weeks ago, I saw for the first time in many years the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man. In turn, that led me to re-read, also for the first time in many years, the short Stephen King novel that the film was loosely adapted from.
Both the film and the novel are lightweight fun. The film is nowadays mostly enjoyable as a dated Arnie actioner - it looks VERY '80s, indeed - and while the novel is not one of King's best it's certainly not one of his worst.
The first half of The Running Man is the best as it establishes its grim future and how its main protagonist ends up running for his life on reality-TV gone utterly mad. Alas, while the second half sees a lot of action, it also becomes something of a grind and loses much of the science-fiction flavour that made the first half enjoyable.(less)
One Of Your Own is a very grim yet very compelling biography of one of the most reviled figures in modern British history - Myra Hindley, who along wi...moreOne Of Your Own is a very grim yet very compelling biography of one of the most reviled figures in modern British history - Myra Hindley, who along with her then lover Ian Brady committed the dreadful Moors Murders of the mid-1960s.
Thanks to extensive research, Carol Ann Lee presents a very thorough and vivid account of who Hindley was, the world she came from and why she did what she did. A few times, Lee stumbles with purple-sounding prose - but most of the time, her command of material is very powerful.
There were a few pages of One Of Your Own that I had to skip over, but that's no fault of Lee. Those few pages contained the transcript of the dreadful recording that Brady and Hindley made of one of their young victims pleading for their life. That recording was major evidence that in 1966 helped to send Brady and Hindley to prison, where Hindley remained until her death in late 2002 (and where Brady still remains).
One Of Your Own is one of the most stunning true-crime books I've read this year.(less)
Back in the early 2000s, I discovered the novels of Michael Connelly and became hooked for several years. I especially liked his police procedurals st...moreBack in the early 2000s, I discovered the novels of Michael Connelly and became hooked for several years. I especially liked his police procedurals starring the one and only Harry Bosch, and his now-classic serial-killer thriller 'The Poet'.
Recently, I enjoyed the movie adaptation of Connelly's novel 'The Lincoln Lawyer' and that led me to read the follow-ups 'The Brass Verdict' and 'The Reversal' - and once again, I became hooked.
Like the best of Connelly's earlier novels, 'The Brass Verdict' is a gripping story featuring another interesting anti-hero and how he rises to the challenge of a difficult and very dangerous situation. Despite his world-weary cynicism from "defending the damned", and the mess he's made of his family life (which he is trying his best to rectify), Mickey Haller the Lincoln Lawyer is an engaging and likable character (and Matthew McConaughey was perfect casting in 'The Lincoln Lawyer').
Although I was a little disappointed with one problem I've had with Connelly in the past - a sudden and credulity-stretching twist towards the end - 'The Brass Verdict' was hard to put down and made me eager to read 'The Reversal' straight afterwards. (less)
In the 1950s, former colonies in Africa began to gain independence from their European masters, and an exciting and hopeful chapter of modern history...moreIn the 1950s, former colonies in Africa began to gain independence from their European masters, and an exciting and hopeful chapter of modern history began.
Fifty years later, however, the story of modern Africa has turned out to be mostly one of carnage, corruption, horror and unbelievable suffering.
What went wrong so many times?
'The Fate Of Africa' is a sad yet gripping and thought-provoking overview of how and why Africa suffered terribly, from both internal and external factors. While there were some astounding successes like the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, there were many bitter failures where hundreds of millions died - and continue to die - from brutal oppression, mass poverty and starvation, and never-ending war.
Meredith takes no sides and gives credit and criticism where it is due. Many people within and without Africa are to blame for the continent's misfortunes, but there are also those who tried to make a difference and sometimes did despite many obstacles and overwhelming odds.
If you're wondering why Africa became a place of such sadness and sorrow, but with some glimmers of hope nonetheless, the exhaustive yet highly-readable 'The Fate Of Africa' is a excellent place to start. (less)
Back in 2009, I saw a film that immediately became one of my favourite Australian movies ever - the 1971 classic 'Wake In Fright' (released overseas a...moreBack in 2009, I saw a film that immediately became one of my favourite Australian movies ever - the 1971 classic 'Wake In Fright' (released overseas as 'Outback'). A grim and unflinching look at life in outback Australia, 'Wake In Fright' is still a very powerful and even shocking film today.
Recently, I read the 1961 novel of the same name by Kenneth Cook that 'Wake In Fright' was adapted from, and 50 years later it also retains a lot of power.
'Wake In Fright' tells the brief and brutal story of John Grant, a Sydney-born teacher who hates being based at a remote outback location and is very much looking forward to six weeks' leave back home. To get to Sydney, he has to catch a flight from the major outback town Bundanyabba...but after an unexpected night of drunkenness and recklessly gambling away almost all of his money, Grant strands himself in 'The Yabba', unexpectedly falls in with a very wrong crowd and finds each day getting much worse than the last.
Does Grant survive? I very much recommend reading 'Wake In Fright' to find out - and then seeing the movie, which vividly brings the novel to life in all its grueling glory. (less)
About a year or so ago, I read the Alex Scarrow novel 'Last Light' where the world's oil supply is disrupted, global civilisation collapses within a m...moreAbout a year or so ago, I read the Alex Scarrow novel 'Last Light' where the world's oil supply is disrupted, global civilisation collapses within a matter of days and an English family fights to survive and escape from an increasingly savage London.
Although nothing new in terms of premise and delivery, 'Last Light' was a compelling thriller that kept me reading until the end.
'Afterlight' is the sequel that takes up the story again 10 years after 'Last Light'. Despite the hardships and privations of post-collapse England, one community is making some success at surviving until it comes under threat from both within and without - especially after an expedition to a mostly-empty London makes a dark discovery...
There is a lot to like in 'Afterlight'. At times, it is very gripping, moving, thought-provoking and unnerving. As well, during flashback scenes to when London burned after global collapse, it was hard not to be reminded of the stunning 2011 riots that took place in England only weeks before I read 'Afterlight'. Like its predecessor, 'Afterlight' has many page-turning moments.
Alas, there were other parts of 'Afterlight' that I didn't find as interesting. Part of this was personal preference - I found the expedition-to-London scenes more compelling than the community-under-internal-threat scenes - but part of this was when the prose did more telling than showing, and became plodding rather than stimulating.
Still, 'Afterlight' is not bad, and if you liked 'Last Light' you most likely won't mind this sequel. (less)
If you've read Jon Ronson's previous books 'Them: Adventures with Extremists' and 'The Men Who Stare At Goats' and thought that the world can't get an...moreIf you've read Jon Ronson's previous books 'Them: Adventures with Extremists' and 'The Men Who Stare At Goats' and thought that the world can't get any more bizarre and weird, think again.
'The Psychopath Test' is my favourite Ronson yet. This time he recounts how he set out to learn what makes a person a psychopath and (most important) how you can identify if you're in the presence of one...
...but yet again as in 'Them' and 'Goats', but even more so this time, Ronson comes to know too much and is never the same man again after travelling around the world, meeting a variety of bewildered and bewildering people, and rediscovering lost side-roads of history (some of which were deliberately lost, for bad and good reasons).
Funny, sad, thought-provoking and unnerving, 'The Psychopath Test' was one of my favourite non-fiction reads this year. (less)
Nine years before he was tragically murdered, civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. survived another attempt on his life that nowadays is mostly fo...moreNine years before he was tragically murdered, civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. survived another attempt on his life that nowadays is mostly forgotten, but in its day was very controversial - especially as it took place in Harlem, and his assailant was a black woman who stabbed him in the chest.
'When Harlem Nearly Killed King' tells the startling story of this very political and emotionally-charged incident. Hugh Pearson has written a gripping account of how and why MLK became such a very popular but also very divisive figure in 1950s America; why his visit to Harlem in 1958 was both welcome and unwelcome; how even the venue where he held a book-signing event in Harlem was controversial in itself; and last but certainly not least, how even the choice of hospital and surgeon to treat MLK after the assault were very thorny issues.
'When Harlem Nearly Killed King' is compelling and engrossing reading. (less)
Like many others before him, burnt-out white-collar worker Prioleau Alexander decided to drop out of the rat-race for a while and see what life was li...moreLike many others before him, burnt-out white-collar worker Prioleau Alexander decided to drop out of the rat-race for a while and see what life was like as a blue-collar worker.
What he found in a variety of jobs surprised and startled him - and also makes for amusing, sobering and thought-provoking reading in his account 'You Want Fries With That?'
At times, Alexander tries too hard to be funny and his style becomes clumsy and inept. Fortunately, though, most of the time he sticks to straight-forward recounting of the absurd and grim situations he finds himself in, and that's all he needs to do.
If you're thinking of dropping out of the rat-race yourself, read 'You Want Fries With That?' and you may think again.(less)
In the mid-1980s, English social worker Margaret Humphreys made a shocking discovery.
For several decades up until the 1960s, over a hundred thousand B...moreIn the mid-1980s, English social worker Margaret Humphreys made a shocking discovery.
For several decades up until the 1960s, over a hundred thousand British children were taken mostly from orphanages under false pretenses and shipped overseas to Commonwealth countries like Australia and Canada where they were promised happy new lives - but in many cases were instead treated like slave labour, suffered physical and sexual abuse, and forgotten about...except by anguished relatives back in Britain who had been told that the children had died, just as the children themselves had been told that their parents had died or no longer wanted them.
Despite a lack of resources, much official resistance and at times even death threats, Humphreys and her colleagues persisted in bringing to light the awful history of 'The Lost Children Of The Empire', as it became known. Thanks to their dogged determination, not only did the British and Australian governments finally acknowledge what had happened and took steps to redress it, but Humphreys and her colleagues were able to reunite many of the adult Lost Children with surviving family members.
'Empty Cradles' is Humphreys' story, and although at times it's very depressing and sad there are also many wonderful moments of hope and triumph. Several times, I was almost moved to tears.
The recent film 'Oranges And Sunshine' is an adaptation of 'Empty Cradles', and is a good complement to the book - while some elements had to be compressed or left out, the visuals and especially the acting help to illustrate what it was like for the Lost Children.(less)
Many Germans laughed and joked about Hitler and the Nazis before and after their rise and fall, for the same reasons that people throughout history ha...moreMany Germans laughed and joked about Hitler and the Nazis before and after their rise and fall, for the same reasons that people throughout history have done - to criticise or support the powers-that-be; to let off steam; and (especially as life under the Nazis got worse and worse) to help get themselves through dark days.
Dead Funny is a gripping, moving and thought-provoking history of laughs about the Nazis. In a highly-readable style, Herzog details the history of the humour up to the controversial 1997 film Life Is Beautiful, and how the Nazis reacted.