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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Review: The Troop by Nick Cutter

The Troop is a horrific, terrifying and brilliant tale exploring what happens when boys are forced to become men. Part horror, part psychological thriller, part sci-med, The Troop starts out with a small scout group and their scoutmaster taking a trip to a remote, deserted island, all seems normal until one night a man arrives, clearly ill. Tim the scoutmaster feels that it is his duty as a doctor to try to help the dying man without fully realising the horror incubating inside the stranger. Soon the evil emerges and starts to slowly work its way through the small group, who have no one but themselves to turn to for help.
The Troop is so captivating that even when you really feel like you can’t take anymore you keep reading. The actual infection (I will say no more) pales into insignificance compared to the palpable fear of the characters and the detailed exploration of their psyche as the situation shows the best and the worst of the teens. There is no shying away from the necessities of the situation, and there is no clear ‘hero’, each of the boys will do something they regret. The author cleverly weaves in reports from those on the mainland taken after the events in the book, which allows the reader to catch their breath and regroup, as well as showing us how futile the boy’s situation is. The final bid for survival and the last twist had me in tears and goose bumps respectively.
This is not the book for those with a weak constitution, there is an abundance of gore, with some very graphic descriptions, there is swearing, there is some sexual activity, there is self-mutilation. However, none of this should bother most adult thriller or horror readers enough to stop them reading. I did however draw the line at the very graphic descriptions of animal cruelty by one of the characters, and did have to skip over one particular part involving a kitten. Whilst completely fitting to the story, it did upset me. There are also descriptions of animal experimentation, but this is presented more clinically. If any of this bothers you, you may want to give The Troop a miss.
Overall a horrifically good thriller that I recommend anyone with a strong stomach gives a go but not one for the kids.

The Troop is available for £7.99 from Amazon.co.ukand from February 24th will be available from Amazon.com.

[An ARC was provided by NetGalley]

Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: The Moses Virus by Jack Hyland

In sci-med thriller The Moses Virus, Dr Tom Stewart, a professor and trustee of the American Academy in Rome, stumbles upon an ancient virus, more deadly than the Spanish Flu and becomes the one man who can protect the virus from falling into the wrong hands.

I do like my deadly pathogen thrillers, and The Moses Virus certainly fits into this category, although is a bit slower than most novels in this genre, with a lot of focus being put on the history side of the story especially earlier on. Like many books since Dan Brown, there is a bit of an ‘evil Vatican’ sub-plot that will appeal to fans of that ilk. One of the highlights of The Moses Virus is that it is beautifully written and features well researched descriptions of modern Rome.
My big problem with The Moses Virus was that the plot is flawed, why is Dr Stewart the one to investigate the virus? There is a weak reason given in passing but it doesn’t really make sense. Neither does the fact the police and the Vatican seem completely happy to have him investigate seemly with very little official investigation going on particularly on the part of the police. Then there is the fact that he realises that there are people who will kill to find out what is going on and that he needs to be discrete but then goes any around telling all and sundry about the virus. Later in the book, he seems to manage to organise a cross border raid in very little time, with his only contact in government seemingly a Rome based director of the Laboratory for Communicable Substances. I realise that being utterly realistic wouldn’t work, but the lack of realism really bothers me and detracted from my overall enjoyment of the book.

Overall, an okay read which general fans of thrillers will enjoy, particular those who like a bit of history in the plot. Those who enjoy a bit more science in their thriller will probably be a bit disappointed with the lack of substantial science but The Moses Virus will still make for a pleasant afternoon’s read.

The Moses Virus is available in dead tree format from Amazon.com (January 7th) and from Amazon.co.uk(March 7th).

[An ARC was provided through NetGalley]

Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: Blood and Stone by Chris Collett

DI Tom Mariner decides the perfect cure for his grief after the death of his ex-girlfriend is to take a walking holiday in Wales. Unfortunately trouble seems to follow Tom and in short succession several people around him are dead. Is it the work of a recently released convict, a criminal from Mariner’s past or someone else entirely?

Blood and Stone has everything you need from a crime thriller – a realistic lead character, an interesting setting and so many interweaving threads that you’ll be kept guessing until the end. Tom Mariner is a very fallible character and like most in the book is characterised well. Collet switches between several characters when telling the story and so leads you on a merry chase which will have you swearing blind that you know who the killer is several times before the truth is revealed in a surprise ending. For those of you who have an aversion to gore, Collet gets the balance just right, not glossing over it but not going into every little detail.

This is sixth book in the DI Mariner series, and whilst past events are mentioned several times, I did not feel like I missed out having not read the previous five books, so Blood and Stone is fine when read as a stand alone novel.
Overall a very well done crime thriller which whilst thrilling leaves you with a nice cosy feeling at the end. Highly recommended for all readers – there is romance, murder and suspense.

Blood and Stone is available in dead tree from Amazon.co.ukfor £14.99.

[An ARC was provided through NetGalley]

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: The Boy Who Was Born A Girl by Jon and Luisa Edwards

Based on the TV documentary of the same name, The Boy Who Was Born a Girl is the inspiring story of a mother and son coming to terms with gender dysphoria. When the documentary was filmed, Jon was just starting hormone therapy to develop more male characteristics. This book, written four years after the documentary, covers both the stuff seen in the documentary and the aftermath of the 'fame' and hormone treatment; as well as providing tips and reassurance to others in a similar situation.

Jon was born as Natasha in 1992, and spent most of his childhood feeling different to other girls, and experienced some social isolation because of this. At the age of 15, after having to deal with his mum's bipolar illness, his parents divorce, bullying and his grandmother's passing, he attempted to take his own life and was hospitalised in an adolescent mental health ward. During this time Jon explored his sexuality and gender identity and found solace in a community of other LGBT youth, and eventually found the confidence to come out as transgender. The later part of the book deals with some of the issues associated with being transgender, such as sexual relationships and starting hormone treatment, and Jon, here more than anywhere else in the book, comes across as a well adjusted, happy, mature twenty year old. The book ends with a tender, heartwarming letter from Luisa to Jon, that will bring a tear of joy to any eye.

The book is written with separate chapters written by Jon, and his mother Luisa, with them both offering different perspectives on events or periods of time in their lives. This is slightly off-putting at first, but the reader quickly gets used to the flips in narrator. The contents page makes it easier for those seeking information on a particular period of time to find that section; and there is a helpful glossary section for those new to the whole gender dsyphoria world.

Jon and Lusia Edwards
Overall, an informative quick read which will be of particular interest to those with gender dsyphoria and their families.

The Boy Who Was Born a Girl is widely available, including as a Kindle e-book at Amazon for £3.66.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: Black Oil, Red Blood by Diane Castle

Black Oil, Red Oil is an Erin Brockovich style thriller following lawyer Chloe Talyor as she fights to prove that the local oil refinery gave her client’s husband cancer. As she struggles with her complicated personal life, her case starts to fall apart when her expert witness is killed days before the trial. With the big oil company and several in their pay trying to stop her, will she manage to get justice for her client?

If you like a story with a message then this one is for you. The author obviously doesn't like the petrochemical industry and the reader is well aware of this by the end of the book as the characters occasionally become puppets spouting anti-big oil rhetoric. There is nothing wrong with the argument, I just question how overt it was in this novel, and it does detract from the story.

The story itself is pretty much run of the mill for an action-thriller. There’s a conspiracy, there’s danger, there’s explosions. You are kept guessing over exactly who is in on the conspiracy and who isn't. I was enjoying the story up until the events near the end of the book, which were rushed and simply unbelievable.

For me the characters were a little 2D and stereotypical. Miles, Chloe’s paralegal, comes across almost as a caricature of a gay man, though he does provide a lot of humour in the novel. Nash, the detective, is your all American man, who Chloe falls for. Chloe herself comes across like Elle Woods from Legally Blonde; there is actually a scene talking about clothes and shoes!  

So, the good – it’s fast, it’s fun and there’s enough suspense to keep you reading. The bad – 2D characters, run-of-the-mill story and a strong political message. Overall if you are looking for a serious thriller then this is not for you; if you want a light summer read with a bit of action then give it a go.

Black Oil, Red Blood is available from Amazon UK for £3.35 and from Amazon US for $5.10.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: Frozen Solid by James M. Tabor

Having thoroughly enjoyed The Deep Zone, I really wanted to like Frozen Solid, the second Hallie Leland book in the series. In Frozen Solid Hallie Leland is dispatched to Antarcticaafter her friend, carrying out research there, suddenly dies. Hallie is asked to take over the research with only a week to go before the research station is all but shut down for the winter. Almost as soon as she arrives people start dying. Will Haillie be able to find out the cause before everyone leaves?

The plot of the book was very much my cup of tea, and I did enjoy the idea of an outside group trying to control overpopulation in a ‘humane’ way but it all going wrong. The psychological aspects of the plot such as the isolation, the fear of being watched and the ‘accidents’, serve to heighten the tension, and I very much enjoyed this aspect of the book.

The character of Hallie Leland is well written and believable. She is strong, but not overwhelming so. She is intelligent but not all knowing, and there are some moments of weakness which add to the depth of the character. The characterisation of Hallie is a strength of Frozen Solid, and there are clear improvements to her character since The Deep Zone.   

Frozen Solid is not without its frustrations. As a fan of the more fast-paced thriller, and The Deep Zone certainly came under this banner, Frozen Solid was a bit too slow to get started for me. Things don’t kick off till over half way through. The first half of the book is a confusing kaleidoscope of different characters, almost random scenes and the author going off on tangents; this makes it quite hard work to follow and often left me feeling frustrated. It is a shame that while Hallie is very well characterised; the other characters are mostly unmemorable, which also contributes to the confused feel of the book, as you try to remember who’s who.  There is also frequent bad language, now I am not a prude and feel that using swearing can enhance the story if used correctly and sparingly, in this case it was not. 

The science is there for fans of Sci-Med, and in the whole is written in a way that shouldn't present a problem for readers who are not of a scientific or medical bent, although don’t expect the science to be explained every step of the way as it is in McClure or Crichton books. There are some more technical terms but one of the benefits of reading on a Kindle is that any terminology you don’t know can easily be looked up. Overall the science used is believable but there are some subtle mistakes – for example, the events are set in February and this is described as being dark and very cold, when in reality there is 24 hour sunlight and the temperatures at the South Pole are a more balmy -38°C rather than the -58°C found in winter.  I can see that having 24 hour near darkness is essential to ramp up the psychological tension, so why not set it during March-September during southern winter. It makes no sense to say February and then claim its winter, and it makes me wonder how well researched the book was.

Overall, a pleasant Sci-Med thriller that fans of the genre will want to read. Action/adventure fans may also want to give Frozen Solid a go but may be put off by the amount of science and the slow, confused start. This was a very hard book for me to rate as I did enjoy the story but it also frustrated me, I settled for a 3 in the end as I did enjoy it but would caution readers to be aware of some of the book’s issues before purchasing.  

Frozen Solid is available from Amazon for £14.97 for the Kindle Edition. 

[A ARC was provided by NetGalley] 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Review: How do we know? by Kenny A. Chaffin

How do we know? is a back-to-basics science book for the curious lay person. In a series of short essay like chapters it takes the reader on a journey from the start of our planet to then modern man and AI, explaining the basic science as you go.

The book is written in a conversational style, with a smattering of humour, which makes it easy and enjoyable to read. I even learnt some new things, for example it had never occurred to me that iron ore deposits were formed by Cyanobacteria in the ocean. The language used is generally accessible for someone without a background in science as Chaffin explains concepts in simple terms, however the general language used is still difficult in places, so for educators, I wouldn’t recommend this for students younger than GCSE/A Level.

As each chapter is merely a brief summary of the topic the author provides some helpful links at the end of each chapter, so that the reader can read around the subject. I was somewhat surprised to see that many of these links are to Wikipedia, which I find not to be the most accessible source of further reading in terms of complexity, and is a website that I and most other teachers discourage students from using, due to the sometimes erroneous information it can contain.

Overall an enjoyable and informative read.  How do we know? is available from Amazon.co.ukfor £3.45 and from Amazon.com for $5.13.

[A review copy was provided by the author]