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! 
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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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