28 December 2012

Review: Microsoft Surface as an e-reader

I was obviously a very good girl this year as Santa brought my Microsoft's new Surface tablet for Christmas. This review is solely about it's function as a e-reading device, a review of the tablet's other features will follow shortly.

Look and Feel

The Surface feels pleasantly heavy in the hand and the bevelled edges give it a quality feel. However as an e-reader the weight is a concern. It is difficult to imagine holding the device for any length of time, especially as it is wider than it is high, which makes holding it portrait style, like you would a traditional e-reader, difficult and uncomfortable. The Surface does come with the much-publicised stand, which means if you have a table and don't mind reading in landscape mode then the weight and dimensions become less of an issue.

Overall 2/5


The screen is bright, crisp and clear - although not as sharp as the iPad with it's retina display. I enjoyed viewing covers and illustrations on the screen, and did not have any issues with finger smudges on screen. However when reading a novel I had to give up after 10 mins as the backlight was hurting my eyes. You can turn down the screen brightness using the charms bar, but for me that didn't solve the problem. Reading magazines in colour was however a much better experience. The images and text appeared quickly, and there was less of a jarring lag when turning pages or resizing text than I get with my Kindle.

Overall 4/5


One of the first apps I downloaded was the Kindle app which is very similar to the Android app but obviously occupying a much bigger screen. The app works well and is quick and simple to use. I was quite worried about finding a decent app to read non-DRM EPUB files but there are several apps available for this purpose. I personally prefer Book HD, which is easy to use and has a very nice layout. I particularly like the option of having multiple shelves for different types of books - like collections on Kindle but with the ability of viewing covers. A big plus of using a tablet for e-reading is the ease of transferring books. The Surface comes with SkyDrive which is a cloud based storage system, you can also transfer via a full sized USB, download from your e-mail or web stores or use the micro-SD port. This is really helpful for me as I don't have to go via Calibre or mess around with cables.

Overall 5/5

Other Features

Whilst some people might like not to be bothered when reading, I don't mind it too much. With the Surface I quite like having Messaging running in the background whilst reading, which allows me to then chat to people when they come online, instead of having the laptop running and having to switch devices. It is a simple left to right swipe to change between your book and chat, and back again. The same applies to having music in the background, listening to audio books and browsing the web - all features in Kindle which don't function as well as they could.

For those who like to type notes into their books - this feature is still available in the Kindle app, although I haven't tried it in the other apps. The standard keyboard, much praised by Microsoft, takes a little time to get used to due to the lack of tactile feedback (it is much easier to type with the sound on) but once you get used to it works well; I type about as fast as I do on a normal keyboard and indeed wrote this post entirely using the Surface and it's keyboard. Much more ergonomic than the Kindle keyboard, particularly if you add a lot of notes.

Overall 5/5


As a device purely for e-reading, the Surface tablet has many attractive features but for me the weight and backlit screen mean I won't be getting rid of my Kindle just yet, as the reading experience for books is just not good enough. If you are more into magazines or comics then maybe this is a device to consider. That is not to say I don't like the Surface as a tablet device but for reading it just cannot compete with an e-ink device.


15 August 2012

Promotion/Giveaway: Teen Life by D.M. Mejias

D.M. Mejias is offering copies of his book Teen Life to giveaway on GoodReads. The author says Teen Life deals with all the issues teens face today such as drugs, bullying, pregnancy, sex, and peer pressures while showing teens how to successfully navigate through the turbulent high school years. It is an easy and to the point read with the occasional illustrations. It also talks about love, how to make your crush fall in love with you, how to treat your sweetheart, how to deal with difficult people and more.  This book explains the consequences of bad choices and shows how choosing positive alternatives can successfully impact their lives. Everybody knows a teen that needs the information on this book, so help me pass it on.

The giveaway ends August 28th, so head over there now to get your entry in (you will need to be a member to enter).

8 August 2012

Review: Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez

Kill Decision is a techno-thriller by Daniel Suarez. This non-stop, seat of your pants story follows a very realistic and frighteningly, scientifically plausible plot in which unmanned armed drones are turned against their makers. The scientific accuracy of this novel is a definite strength, which I believe will appeal to sci-fi and military fiction fans alike.

The story itself is well paced with good, well developed characters; I particularly liked the characterisation of McKinney; the ‘ant’ scientist. There was also a real sense of camaraderie amongst the group assembled to find those responsible for the drone attacks. The plot builds well throughout, although the ending, whilst acceptable, was a bit lacklustre for my liking; not entirely satisfying. Looking past the fiction, the science is presented well and in an unbiased way, allowing the reader to make their own decisions on if the progress of this type of technology is good or bad. Some have compared the writing style to Michael Crichton but whilst I saw similarities between Kill Decision and Prey – I wouldn’t say the overall writing compares to Crichton; as there isn’t very much for the reader to work out in Suarez’s work.

Overall a good thriller which will keep you engrossed from start to finish. A perfect book for fans of writers like Tom Clancy and Andy McNab. Kill Decision is available from Amazon UK for £6.43, unfortunately only as a dead-tree book. 

1 August 2012

Review: Mortuary Confidential by Kenneth McKenzie

Mortuary Confidential is a collection of anecdotes about the lives and experiences of undertakers. It offers a different, more light hearted perspective on the industry than I had experienced before, although it is not as humorous as I had originally imagined.

It’s a real mix of some inspiring and heartbreaking stories – some of which left me in tears – and some really funny ones including my personal favourite of the undertaker who accidentally made up a person to look like someone completely different. Unlike similar book Stiff there is very little technical detail and the focus is primarily on the experiences of the undertakers rather than the corpse. There were also no ‘gross out’ moments, making it a more appealing book, although, as mentioned before, there are some very sad moments which may upset some people, especially the recently bereaved.

Overall, I found it a humorous as well as thought provoking book, which was extremely easy to read. It’s the kind of book you might take to an appointment where you don’t want to be too bogged down in an evolving plot but just want something light to pass the time.

Mortuary Confidential is available from Amazon UK for £6.47.

25 July 2012

Review: Living Proof by Kira Peikoff

Living Proof is set a in a world where the church and the state are closer than ever. In a very religious society the progress made by 2012 in stem cell treatment has all but been forgotten; embryos cannot be used for experimentation or treatment, only their use in procreation is allowed. However even in this world there are those who remember the potential benefits of stem cell treatment, people like Arianna, a fertility doctor with a personal motive to continue the research, no matter what the cost. But will her new boyfriend be a blessing or a curse to her cause?

The subject matter of Living Proof is very relevant in today’s society and the book portrays both sides of the controversy. It is obvious the author favours science, as at times the religious argument is put across in a somewhat flippant manner through the way the religious characters are portrayed.  I personally didn’t like this, as a constant thread though the book was essentially that the religious characters were extremists and almost stupid because of their beliefs. I did however enjoy the way Trent, who works for an enforcement agency protecting embryos, questions his faith in an intelligent and fascinating way which came across as very real because you could feel his confusion. From the science side, which I personally support, some arguments were ‘preachy’ and very run-of-the-mill. I would have preferred, from both sides, for characters other than Trent to have more varying opinions and degrees of belief; this would have made the characters more interesting and complex.

There is a romantic sub-plot in this thriller. Whilst I’m not normally a fan of romance, it was done well and I did find myself routing for the couple by the end. Again, this is something that could have been taken further, and whilst there was some conflict, this could have been more complex to make it more interesting and less predictable.

The book was somewhat let down by the drop in pace in several parts which detracted from the suspense and left me slightly bored. Despite these slow parts, usually where characters were introduced or explored, there were still some characters, such as those in Arianna’s lab team, that I felt I didn’t know by the end of the book. Along side this there are small plot problems that make Arianna less believable as a character – why would she trust Trent so fast? Why does her MS progress so quickly in a matter of weeks?

Overall this book is an interesting look at a possible and realistic future. I enjoyed reading it, as I think other science/medical thriller fans will, due to the ethics involved. The plot does take a backseat to the pro-choice agenda and this may put some readers off. Christians and those who are strongly pro-life will also probably want to avoid this due to the characterisation of religious people; whom in this book are definitely the bad guys. I would especially recommend this for book clubs and school groups due to the discussions it will spurn, in fact I would have liked to see a ‘questions for discussion’ section or similar, which can often be found in similar books.

Living Proof is available from Amazon UK for £16.41 (hardback) and £5.08 (paperback), hopefully an e-book version will be released soon. 

[A review copy was provided by the publisher] 

18 July 2012

Review: Momentum by Saci Lloyd (YA)

Momentum paints a picture of a future world, where the UK is critically short of energy. There are two main groups of people – the rich, who can afford to pay for energy, and the poor, who form communities generating their own energy. Some of the poor, the Outsiders, have risen up to rebel against the rich (Citzens), even resorting to sabotaging nuclear power plants. This had led to great tensions between
the communities and even greater segregation.

The story follows Hunter, a citizen and Uma, an outsider, who meet when Hunter helps Uma to hide an important code from soldiers during a raid. They then have to watch each other’s backs whilst being betrayed by those they trusted.

The story is very fast paced, with lots of action and a very detailed future world with concepts such as Jee-uh (a website similar to Facebook) and the RETscan (a futuristic Smartphone that is implanted in your eye).
There’s even a bit of romance. I personally really like the references to sustainable energy and the problems of not having a sustainable energy network in the future, and found the concept very realistic.

Momentum is available from Amazon UK (£4.49) and from Waterstones (£6.29 - paperback)

11 July 2012

Review: Confessions of a Male Nurse by Michael Alexander

Confessions of a Male Nurse follows in the footsteps of books like Confessions of a GP and Life and Death on the Streets to chronicle the real-life experiences of a male nurse while he worked in both the UK and New Zealand. The book is split into short chapters dealing with one patient or one setting, and this makes the book very easy and quick to read. Perfect if you don’t want to be tied to reading a book for several days; it’s also easy to put down and pick up again without having to go back over parts of the story.

Whilst I enjoyed reading Confessions of a Male Nurse, it wasn’t as humorous as I would have liked it to be, especially considering it’s marketed as “frequently hilarious”. There were some points when I had a little smile but nothing caused me to laugh out loud. There was also a lack of deep, emotional stories; at no point did I feel that the nurse was particularly affected by what he had seen on an emotional level. He did show frustration at the state of the NHS and some of the situations he was put in but if you are looking for a tell-all on the state of the National Health Service this isn’t the book for you.

Overall Confessions of a Male Nurse was an enjoyable quick read. I would recommend it if you like similar books in this genre or fancy something light to read but if you are looking for real humour or an expose, you are going to be left wanting.

Confessions of a Male Nurse can be purchased from Amazon UK for £2.99 or from Barnes & Noble for $4.99. 

8 July 2012

Free E-Book: Requiem by Ken McClure

Another great Ken McClure medical thriller is up for FREE on Amazon this week - Requiem. The offer is valid till Tuesday and I urge you to take advantage of it if you've never tried Ken McClure's work before. Don't be put off by the cover, Requiem is a fantastic thriller and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

3 July 2012

Review: One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

“He has a gun.”
                                                        “Who? Tell me, who has a gun?”
                                                                                                                                      “I love you mum”

This book cannot be accused of taking things slow, One Breath Away immediately throws the reader into the heart of the action. On page one we are confronted with a bed-bound mother, receiving the phone call all parents dread, her thirteen year old daughter on the phone telling her that there is a gunman in her classroom. From this running start, Heather Gudenkauf does not let up; the reader is taken on a rollercoaster ride though this nightmare scenario, the short chapters helping create pace. This was literally a book I could not put down, starting reading it at 8am and finishing it before 12.

In the style of Jodi Picoult in My Sister’s Keeper, the story is told by several different characters: Holly – the mother, Augie – the daughter, Mrs Oliver – the teacher, Meg – the police officer and Will – Holly’s father. This gives a wonderful emotional varity to the book, as you look on the situation from a number of perspectives. I was originally concerned that with so many characters telling the story it would be hard to follow or I would find it difficult to get to know all the characters (like Julia in My Sister’s Keeper) but this was not the case. Not once did I have to check which character was speaking and the back story was so wonderfully woven into the narrative of each character that you easily got to know the characters. Apart from the first chapter, Gudenkauf avoids using a non-linear timeline – which also helps to allow the reader to get to know the characters and follow the story.

The characters are believable throughout, helped by how the author acknowledges their faults and weaknesses. I especially connected with Mrs Oliver, the grade-school teacher, and was moved to tears by the love she had for her students, and her love for her husband, whom she imagines speaking to her for much of the novel. Also impressive was the way the plot deviated from the typical school-shooter plot – there was no depressed and angry teenager, instead the identity of the shooter came as a complete surprise. It was also refreshing to see a small rural town not being portrayed as being full of hicks, with an inept police department. No predictability here.

Overall, an engrossing, well conceived story told in a beautiful and compassionate way, with great characterisation. Having never having read Heather Gudenkauf before, she is now a must-read author for me and I look forward to checking out her previous work. Highly recommended for fans of authors such as Jodi Picoult or for those who prefer more ‘cosy’, but emotional thrillers.

One Breath Away can be purchased as a hardback from Amazon UK, and is available on Kindle for £6.29.

[A review copy was provided by Mira]

26 June 2012

Review: A Slow Cold Death by Susy Gage

Lori Barrow was a Wunderkind, the youngest person ever to enrol in America's most prestigious science university, the Superior Technological Institute of Los Angeles, CA. Now, twenty years later, she's a lonely, socially awkward Luddite whose career is all over the map because she refuses to grow up. She knows that her alma mater has brought her back as a professor not because of any great achievements, but because they hope her wide range of skills will resuscitate the dying physics department.
She learns very quickly that the "dying" is all too literal. Mysterious deaths and accidents have plagued the department for at least two years, linked somehow to experiments at the South Pole and the happenings at the rocket lab.
Afraid of making too many waves too early, Lori says nothing... until the department's only female graduate student is found frozen to death in the cold room. An angry technician with a misogynist streak is arrested, and everyone but Lori breathes a sigh of relief. She is convinced that the murder was not personal but political, a warning to her and her colleagues to stay away from the rocket lab. At stake is a six hundred million dollar grant that has the power to return the department to its former glory.

When I stumbled across an ARC of Susy Gage’s first novel, A Slow Cold Death, I was instantly interested. The premise is interesting and the book ticked all the right boxes for me – thriller, science in fiction, high body count and written by an actual scientist (the best science stories are always written by scientists).

The prologue is typical thriller and is instantly gripping; I always love a novel when there is a death within the first few pages. However after that the novel goes downhill fast as the pace slows to a crawl and a large cast of characters are introduced. Apart from an accident in a BSL3 lab there is little to move the story along and so the first chapters are dull and lack the thread of suspense a thriller should have. This continues for the first half of the book – there is no real suspense or sense of danger. At times the main character, Lori or her colleague Lou, refer to someone being out to get them, but this has the effect of taking away the suspense, rather than increasing it. The lack of danger may originate from the fact the characters don’t really react to the threat for much of the first quarter to half of the book. Past the half-way mark the threat level and suspense does increase but even at it’s peak had little effect on me as a reader and I believe the impact would have been greater if it was more subtly done from the start and given a chance to build up – having the characters aware of the threat so early means it has lost all meaning by the end.

The writing style is good for the most part although there is a lot of jumping around in the first part of the novel, which makes it difficult for the reader to follow what is going on. This is not helped by having a large cast of characters, some with nick-names that are only used on and off. I found myself re-reading sections on numerous occasions; a particularly memorable example was when the narrative suddenly referred to a plot as if the reader already knew about it, and I had to check I hadn’t missed anything. As you go through the book there is less jumping around, making the plot easier to follow, and by the half-way mark I was clear on what was happening and the book became much more enjoyable to read. However had I not been reading to review I would have put the book down before I reach that point.

After the half-way point the book gets much better, a clearer plot and more suspense meant I was anxious to continue reading; this is what a thriller should be like. The fact that at this point there are several suspects results in the reader trying to piece together all the pieces and you start to connect with the characters. The ending, whilst not expected, was anti-climatic, not helped by the fact Lori Barrow takes almost a back seat towards the end of the novel. Looking back the plot makes sense, although I have a minor issue with the believability of some of the scenarios. Whilst the novel is a piece of fiction, I’m a strong believer that novels such as this should have a ring of believability and at times A Slow Cold Death lacks this, with the characters breaking into labs and stealing samples with impunity. This meant that I was not as immersed as I could have been in the story, which was a shame.

I was reading the ARC as a .pdf on a Kindle, and as such, whilst there were formatting errors, I am overlooking those in my rating. From looking at the publisher’s website it seems that they know the e-book market and so I have no doubt that formatting will be addressed in the retail formats of the book. There were some cases of missing punctuation, especially full stops, and I would hope that this would be addressed before the book comes out in November.

Overall, the first quarter of the book I could happily have done without but once the story got going it was good and enjoyable to read. The characters are interesting and clearly defined, and the plot addresses, although not directly, some of the issues within the scientific community. I wouldn’t class it as a thriller, more of a cosy mystery due to the lack of suspense for much of the book. Unfortunately, whilst the premise was good and the story picked as the book progressed, the first quarter of the book, along with the lack of suspense, ruined it for me and the book didn’t live up to my expectations – although I accept that perhaps my expectations were wrong.

A Slow Cold Death will be published on November 1st 2012 and a dead tree copy is available to pre-order from Barnes & Noble for $10.11. Hopefully more outlets and an e-book format will become available nearer to release.

A note about the publisher: Whilst A Slow Cold Death disappointed me, I was intrigued by the publisher Biting Duck Press. It is a fledging press run by academics, its green, has genre focuses including science in fiction and medical thrillers, and also seems to have an understanding of how the publishing world is changing in light of the rise in e-books. I wish them the best of luck and have already discovered an interesting book that I’ll be on the lookout for in 2013. The world needs more publishers for science in fiction novels!

[An ARC was provided by Bitingduck Press via Net Galley]

23 June 2012

Free Kindle E-book: Pandora's Helix by Ken McClure

I've got a great offer to bring to you today! Ken McClure, one of my all time favorite author's is offering his novel Pandora's Helix, in Kindle format, for FREE on Amazon. I've read it many times and it is a great read for fans of medical thrillers or science in fiction. Here's the synopsis:

Check out my review's of some of McClure's other offerings - Wild Card and Lost Causes

Pandora's Helix can be downloaded free from Amazon UK, until June 26th, after that it is £3.20. You can also follow Ken McClure on Goodreads to be sure of catching future offers. 

22 June 2012

Review: Click: An Online Love Story by Lisa Becker

Click: An Online Love Story does exactly what it says on the tin. It tells the story of four friends in their quest for love (or in some cases lust) through a series of e-mails. We follow PR girl Renee through the ups and downs of the dating world.

Romance is not usually my thing but I found the premise of a story told solely through e-mails intriguing. Whilst I had my doubts, this format does work well once you get used to it and the characters’ voices are clear; although there were a few occasions when I had to check the To: and From: fields to be sure who was speaking. It was also refreshing to see an indie book that was correctly formatted, complete with cover and metadata, and displayed well on both my PC and Kindle. Kudos, Ms Becker. One slight niggle though, the e-mail addresses for the online dating site are in the wrong format i.e. xxx@xxxxx.com/xxxx instead of xxx@xxxxx.com – such a tiny thing but once I noticed it once I kept noticing – which was a bit distracting. Overall though I don’t think the e-mail format will hold readers who are not IT literate back.

The plot is simple but humorous, making this a great light read. I found the e-mails from potential suitors particularly funny and at one point was laughing out loud. The characterisation is fantastic for most of the characters, though at times Shelly is a little ‘overdone’ for my taste. Renee in particular is very relatable for a young audience, and some of the situations seem to spring right from my life (making out with best friend anyone?!).

Overall, a wonderful, well crafted story with a quirky style. There is love, friendship and sex in barrels which combines to create a fun and funny novel. It doesn’t seem as long as it’s 347 pages - for me it was a quick read and an enjoyable way to spend an evening. So it gets 4.5 stars from me!

Click is available from Amazon UK for £3.20.

[Review copy provided by the author]

Fancy reading Click yourself? Well one lucky reader is going to win an e-book copy of Click: An Online Love Story courtesy of Lisa Becker! 

After following this blog enter via the Rafflecopter widget below (refresh if it doesn’t appear). You can get 2 extra entries by just commenting on this review telling me why you would like to read Click and what your funniest dating experience has been. Other extra entries can be earned a number of ways and on July 23rd , one lucky winner will be chosen at random out of all the valid entries to win the e-book. Please feel free to promote this review and giveaway on other sites! 
a Rafflecopter giveaway
ThePrizeFinder - UK Competitions

21 June 2012

Update: Review Guidelines

Life sometimes takes a funny turn, my life did several months ago and as such I have only just started reviewing again. The sheer number of review requests in my inbox upon my return was shocking and has forced me to make a change to my review guidelines.

Effective immediately I will now only review books from indie/self-published authors in the following genres: 
- non-fiction 
- crime
- mystery
- thrillers (including medical thrillers)
- action/adventure
- dystopian
- apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic
- zombie
- suspense
- espionage/military
- sci-fi with a strong science/technology/medicine focus

The genres listed reflect my personal reading interests and are genres that I read and enjoy regularly, making it more likely that I will review your book. Hopefully this change will save authors time and effort, as well as making it easier for me to get through review requests. The guidelines for agency authors remain the same.

If you are not sure if your book falls under these categories drop me an e-mail with a short synopsis and I'll let you know. 

Review: Chernobyl Murders by Michael Beres

"In a western Ukraine wine cellar in 1985, Chernobyl engineer Mihaly Horvath discloses the unnecessary risks associated with the power plant to his brother, Kiev Militia detective Lazlo. Spawned by a desire to protect his family, Lazlo investigates—irritating his superiors, drawing the attention of a CIA operative, raising the hackles of an old KGB major, and ultimately discovering his brother’s secret affair with a Chernobyl technician, Juli Popovics. After the explosion, the Ukraine is not only blanketed with deadly radiation, but also becomes a killing ground involving pre-perestroika factions in disarray, a Soviet government on its last legs, and madmen hungry for power. With a poisoned environment at their backs and a killer snapping at their heels, Lazlo and Juli flee for their lives—and their love—in this engrossing political thriller."

Chernobyl Murders was a surprising diamond in the rough. When I first started reading the book I didn’t have very high expectations but I pushed on as it was set against the backdrop of the Chernobyl Disaster. I quickly was hooked by the believable technical details and the intriguing plot; this resulted in me finishing the book in a few hours, despite the story being slow to start.  

The book follows Lazlo Horvath, a police detective in Kiev as he tries to clear his brother’s name from involvement in a supposed terrorist attack on the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station before the KGB arrest him and his brother’s mistress for involvement in the attack. This gives the story good pace once it gets going and provides plenty of action.

The book is unfortunately let down by the writing. The characters, despite having moments of tangibility, are often predictable, wooden and their voices are stereotypical; at times merge into one. This is particularly seen in the case of the two PK officers – who, for most of the book, are interchangeable and woefully unbelievable. The prose is also awkward at times and in places incredibly dull.

The ending was something that really puzzled me. Set in the present day, it involves an encounter between Horvath’s niece and a spy in modern day Kiev. It left me confused and cheapened the ending. Therefore I felt the book would have been better ending with the previous chapter.

Overall, Beres should be praised for his research and fantastic plot; these points on their own make this a great read for those with an interest in nuclear disasters, Chernobyl in particular. It would also appeal to those who like novels based around the fall of the Soviet Union, as this political change is regularly referred to for context. However the poor writing style and one dimensional characters mean that some of the trill is lost and the book leaves you feeling slightly disappointed at end.

Chernobyl Murders is available for Kindle from Amazon UK (£3.32) and for Nook from Barnes& Noble ($4.24).

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