Sunday, 29 September 2013

Review: 21 Hours

21 Hours by Dustin Stevens

The synopsis can be found here on GoodReads. I suggest reading it before this review.

4 / 5 Stars
The writing style and characters really make this book enjoyable. I've never read a book that was primarily a thriller, so this was a first for me. I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It's a bit dark, but there's nothing too heavy, explicit or disturbing contained in this book.

First Impression

Neither the title or the cover give much away about this book. I personally don't associate much with 21 hours, perhaps if it was called 48 hours then I would associate it with child kidnapping on first sight. Meanwhile the cover is fairly ambiguous - a bridge over water with a city background. Nothing much there to hint at the contents of the book besides the fact that there will be some scenes in the city.

On the other hand the synopsis is very informative. I like that. It tells me what's going to on and pretty much lays out the plot. While I felt indifferent to the title and book cover, I knew I wanted to read this book when I read the synopsis. That might have something to do with my love for CSI and true life crimes.


This is marketed as a thriller and yes, it certainly ticks that box. It's exciting, crime related, has good fight scenes and even some gun action. It's a good read for those who like crime - though most of the book is not told from the point of view of professional crime investigators (if that's your preference).


Stevens' has a refreshing, no-frills writing style. There are no wasted words, no melodramatic description and no boring fluff to wade through. Everything written adds to the plot or describes the scene. The sentences are varied and so is the language (though there is some repetition, such as the metallic taste of blood). Despite this, I found it pretty easy to read and follow, even when I was tired.


The main character is O and we follow him on his dangerous journey to save his niece, Annie. At first we're told he's an ex-convict so we imagine he's a big, tough man. No doubt he will breeze through all the obstacles standing in his way, right? Wrong. This book doesn't kid itself with Hollywood conveniences. There's no perfect shots or convenient leads. O is forced into an underworld that pushes him to the edge of his physical limits. Beaten, battered and bloodied, O will not stop until he has Annie safe and sound. His anger and his fear make him a realistic character. All these qualities make it easy to become drawn into this thrilling story.

Other characters involve Lex. Stevens makes her emotions transparent. We watch as she falls apart as the chances of finding her daughter diminish. We even see her at breaking point. This isn't a one track thriller where only our tough hero and unfortunate victim matter. We have the distressed mother, the hospitalised boyfriend, even in-laws who are far from friendly and outsiders who play important roles in the story despite their minor parts.

The bad characters in this book are colourful - to say the least! They all have their own quirks and set up. Stevens' describes each criminal's lair well, allowing us to really be in the scene and also implying the nature of each baddie.


I've watched enough CSI to have some idea of how the book would go, but I'll be honest and say it didn't really follow the plan I had in my head. I predicted lots of police involvement, but for the most part O is alone. I think this makes the book more thrilling because he has no one to rely on. There's no back up. There's no lab, IT expert or combat trained partner. Just one man whose only qualifications are working on a ranch and a stint behind bars.

I liked the beginning. It was amusing and, for a moment, I thought his time at the ranch would last longer, just to get the reader comfortable and well acquainted with the character. Instead the scene is interrupted with a phone call. At first it didn't seem like a big event, but as Steven elaborates it's clear to see something is seriously wrong.

I thought that Stevens would end the book at finding Annie. What I mean by this is that they embrace (or something similar) and that's it. Rather than leave us at this point - where further misfortune could follow - Stevens extends the end of the book. He ties up the story in a fulfilling way by going some time into the future and letting us know that everything is going well for the once torn family (and hinting at some relationship between O and Watts - did anyone not see the insinuation coming?).

I felt like Stevens' had a real grip on where the story was going. There was no painful slowness or pauses. Every sentence helped keep a good pace which kept me interested. Obviously, as this book is told from the first person perspective of O, we don't get a broad overview of everything. We don't get into the minds of the criminals or what happened to the kidnapped children while they were missing. Lots of characters enter to serve their part and then are brushed aside. Some readers might not like this, but it makes perfect sense. The lens through which we experience this story is O's, he's a man who only cares about finding his niece and is aware of the limited time frame. Would he really waste time reflecting on people that have nothing to do with the task at hand?

Likes & Dislikes

+ Straight forward, yet detailed writing style.
+ Colourful and emotive characters.
+ A well deserved and satisfying happy ending.

- O waits till the last moment to tell Watts about the warehouses on the docks - if he told her sooner then he could have had much needed back up (so it seems silly he didn't).
- Where there should be a double 'l' in words, the second 'l' is magically missing (e.g. 'hell' appears as 'hel').
- The formatting of the book is really off. The page numbers are in with the book text and the lines are artificially broken so it can make it visually distracting.

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Friday, 20 September 2013

Review: The Cleansing

Book Summary

After the earth suffered from a series of severe natural disasters that claimed many lives, people are still fearful years later. America allows in foreigners from other devastated areas to assist with rebuilding. As a result, a new wave of immigration occurs, and now Americans are in the minority. They are discriminated against and blamed for global warming.
 When a foreigner becomes president of the United States, he devises a plan that will prevent Americans from standing in the way of his tyranny. He forces them to attend the Earth Education Program, where they are supposed to learn how to take better care of the environment.

The story follows John and Annie Weber, an American couple, who discover that the program is more malignant than it appears. As a massive genocide takes place, John and Annie struggle to survive in this new world.

Star Rating
5 / 5
I really enjoyed this book. It's depth surprised me. The character development in this book is superb and by the end of the novel you really feel connected to the characters. What makes this book even more amazing is how the plot is handled. It's pacing, subplot interjections, flashbacks, and plot twists kept me hooked. In a distant future I suppose the events in this book could become a possible reality. I think that the potential possibilities is what makes certain dystopian novels truly chilling. This is a great dystopian novel, and I think anyone who likes thrillers or drama would appreciate this book.


Throughout the book we see racism directed at Americans through laws. Having studied the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s I can see some similarities and, in the beginning, it was interesting to see things turned around on Americans. It wasn't long until their treatment stopped being an interesting 'how would you like it' and turned into something that registered as just wrong to me as a reader. The main characters in this novel, John and Annie, are a somewhat average couple. I think this makes it a lot easier to relate to the feelings of the characters. They aren't action heroes, they aren't the strongest or most intelligent, they aren't anything particularly special. They survive the story by their own skills, personal strengths, love and luck. But, as in all true dystopian novels, they are doomed to fail. We follow these two characters, share in their heartbreak and joys. We feel everything they do. In fact, towards the end of the book, I was close to tears (and I don't often cry over books!). I was happy to see that, at the end of the book, a sequel is planned. While I do hate cliché or unearned happy endings, I would like to think that the fictional world of this book can right the wrongs of Julian. So obviously I will be reading the rest of the series!

The book is sometimes interrupted by subplots of other characters. At first I thought it was strange, then I began to like it. The other perspectives helped give a bigger view of what was happening in the world and how other people were living or suffering. I found the chapter dedicated to John's parents to be very chilling and, for that reason, enjoyable because I didn't see it coming. I thought there would be some side note as to what happened to them, or that they would be left as deaths that happened off screen, presumably at the Earth Program. Laura and Stephanie's subplot was also interesting because their story gave the book its final, horrific chapter. Evans shows that she isn't limited to following just the 'main' characters in a book, and that she can weave a bigger picture using minor characters to spice up the novel.

This book was definitely easy to read, the length was perfect and I enjoyed the pace. For me, Evans ticked all the right boxes. Despite Annie's inability to bear children and her irritability (and bitterness) towards her family and friends who had children, Annie never came off as a character who was petty or annoying because of that aspect of her character. To me, her feelings and thoughts were justified, and so I liked her very much as a character. Furthermore, I felt John had a vulnerability about him which made him believable because he wasn't Mr Action Man.
While it isn't a negative point, I did foresee Annie getting pregnant, or at least a pregnancy scare, in the book because of the mention of nausea. Perhaps my mind was just making huge assumptions because of one word. However, there was a lot I didn't foresee. In this book I felt there were quite a few twists in the story. For example, when Annie and John are sent for 're-education' I thought the worse that would happen would be rigged exams to keep Americans locked up permanently. I ended up thinking the characters were just being a bit paranoid, but when the soldiers began to shoot at the Americans I realised how Evans had created a place where Americans were lulled into a false sense of security - and I too had been taken in by it! Moreover, I certainly didn't see one of the good guys mercilessly taking the life of a spy. As a reader I know it's what should always happen, but good characters do tend to refrain from outright murder, or there's more emotional anguish written. And, of course, the last note I made on this book was 'omg'. I definitely didn't think the ending would happen in such a way. I hope I haven't given too much away about this book, but it's rather difficult to explain how much of a pleasure it was to read without nodding to all the twists and turns in the book.

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Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Review: What Money Can Buy (Adult/Erotic Book)

Book Summary

When sexy temp Lauren is summoned to the office of her fearsome, billionaire boss Jason King, she's certain that she's about to be fired. Struggling to make ends meet and working two jobs to pay her father's medical bills, Lauren braces herself for a dressing-down from the handsome, enigmatic playboy.
But Jason King has other plans. He's been watching Lauren since the day she arrived, ready to sweep her off her feet and bring her into his world of wealth, success, power and sex.
In a few short days, Lauren's world is turned upside-down as her meager existence collides with Jason's extravagant life. From New York to Milan to Venice, her alpha male boss leads her down a rabbit-hole of lust and extravagance that proves intoxicating. But his world is littered with domination and deception...and Lauren is falling fast for her mysterious billionaire, with consequences that will change her life forever.

Star Rating
2 / 5

What Money Can Buy by Katie Cramer was a book I found for free on Amazon. While I will admit there are some interesting lines and expressions in this book, it didn't really capture my interest in general. The story felt almost non-existent (the blurb sounds so interest, but the book itself pales in comparison) and it seems a half-hearted attempt to explain why two people were engaging in sex. I have read a few random paragraphs from 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James and Cramer's book was both better written and more interesting, but it still boiled down to something I could have done without reading. The lack of character development was also a huge turn off for me.


There are always books out there that have an amazing blurb. You prepare yourself for this and that and you have high expectations - or at least some idea of what will occur in the book. Unfortunately, I felt the story didn't really stand up to the blurb. I was expecting to learn of a young woman's struggles, then of a man's dark world and all the fun bits in between. Instead the story was spread thin. It touches on Lauren's difficulty - her father and money troubles - and Jason's foul business plays. There's nothing gripping or engaging. Even the 'playboy' we're meant to get excited about just seems boring.

Both main characters are pretty dull. Our female lead, Lauren, starts off by being rather presumptuous - she makes a dramatic statement for almost no reason in the beginning of the novel ('There was a chink in this guy's armor – and I was it.'). She decides to have sex with her 'arrogant', 'intimidating' and 'sexist' boss, despite not knowing the man. Her reason? 'His hard chest muscles'. She's shallow, over excitable and rather trite. I wonder why she is given a back story of a sick father and two jobs to pay for his medical care when she generally seems so far from what you would expect someone in that situation to be like. Her character bounces between challenging the male lead, Jason (or Mr King) for control and being absolutely submissive - though she's generally the latter.

Meanwhile, Jason is given some dialogue which suggests he might rape the female lead, though, of course, she wants it - so no rape ever occurs. He makes a grand gesture of paying for Lauren's expenses for her father's medical treatment with the reason: 'what’s the point of money if you can't do anything good with it?'. A good point, but he could donate to charity, pay for other people's medical care when they are in need, in addition to spending money on his sex partner/girlfriend/wife. Does he do this? It's never mentioned. So it seems like it's just a gesture to win Lauren over.

The series name is Billionaire Domination and Submission BDSM Erotic Romance. I don't think the material really matched that. There was a bit of spanking, a brief gag, some secretary-boss roleplaying and that was that. In my mind this light play doesn't validate the tags of BDSM.

It seems, from the brief summary of the sequel, that there may be more plot and character development in the second book. However, I really wasn't thrilled enough to continue even with the dim hope that the next book could be an improvement.

It's readable, there's just little character development or motivation, and equally little plot. That isn't really the sort of thing I like to read, but from the looks of other reviews lots of people like this book. However, not every popular book is a good book, for example Fifty Shades of Grey. I think if you just want to read sex scenes then you will like this book, but if you read books for characters or story then I suggest picking another book.
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Monday, 16 September 2013

Review: 99 Reasons to Hate Cats

Book Summary

99 Reasons to Hate Cats is for cat lovers - and those who manage to just peacefully coexist. You'll find yourself and your cat (or cats) in the pages of this fun, funny cartoon book. It shows the many ways our feline friends can make us smile, laugh and be driven a little crazy.
All of the reasons are inspired by daily life with real cats. Short biographies of each of the felines who inspired the art are included in the back of the book.
Each of the 99 reasons are amusingly illustrated with original cartoon art. The images are simple, expressive and appeal to young and old alike. Illustrations are shown in color on your Kindle app (on iPhone, iPad and Android), Kindle Fire and the Amazon Cloud Reader.


99 Reasons to Hate Cats: Cartoons for Cat Lovers by Tom Briscoe  is a short cartoon book - because of that it's pretty difficult to do my standard 500+ word review so please enjoy this short one instead!

First of all, yes I am a massive cat lover! 

This book is easy to read and amusing. While it isn't anything special or amazing, laugh out loud comedy it does bring a smile to my face. It points out some of the funny things cats do. Perhaps this could have been improved by turning the single picture into a short multiple panel page set up for each sentence/reason - similar to other humorous animals books. It loaded fine on my kindle and I appreciated the use of colour in the background to make the pictures more interesting.

I found this book for free on Amazon and, to be honest, I don't think I would buy it, just because the wealth of animal, especially cat, related material online is more laugh out loud, free and easy to access. 
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Review: Five More Days With The Dead

Book Summary (from Amazon)

Almost eight years ago the world changed and the laws of nature were broken. By the hand of man or by God, no-one knew for sure but now the dead were forever denied the solace of their dark oblivion. It was simple, if you died you came back, if you got bitten you came back. It didn't matter who you once were or what you once did, that was all gone now. All would become just one more of the Dead, stalking the living with a desperate hunger for flesh. But hope blossomed and life found a way. In rural areas, small communities of survivors clung to each other for safety and comfort and rebuilt their lives. They farmed, they scavenged, they made the best of this life that had been thrust upon them. In the Cornish countryside two such communities worked together, so all could survive. The high stone walls of the Lanherne convent and the secure fences of the Sub-station kept the living safe and the Dead at bay but with the hungry rotting corpses forever at their gates, things could never be the same again… or could they?


Five More Days With The Dead is the sequel to Six Days With The Dead by Stephen Charlick. My review for the first book can be found here.

I was eager to read this book because the first in the series was amazing and I hoped the second would be just as good - if not, better. In the first book Charlick used the archetype of a religious fanatic as the big baddie, this time we have a military archetype. Cruel, sadistic and all too capable, the big baddies in this book are a typical example of how the military is used in zombie media. Did this disappoint me? No. Why? Because they had a purpose besides being the evil that has to be overcome. SPOILER ALERT! The military bought with them a cure, of sorts. So for all the lack of humanity displayed by these living people, they did something amazing. With a cure the world can end the cycle of the Dead. After all, it's all well and good if you can fight back the numbers of the dead, but if new ones are joining the ranks it looks like a long, exhausting battle, which is unlucky to be won.

The book is kick started with a very dramatic opening. I loved it. And it gave you enough basic background to, perhaps, read this book without having read the first book. I would certainly suggest reading the first book though, the twists in it are great.

Charlick is great at character development and has a way of making readers really like characters. This time, with my old favourite Jackson dead, I found myself liking Phil (perhaps because he takes centre stage at some points). I realised, while reading this, that the inclusion of other races, sexualities and ages really makes this book diverse in a way that some zombie media really fails to be. From films and the occasional bit of television I've watched it seems as though the ingredients are as follows: a white majority cast, with women for show, damselling or 'wow I can't believe a woman could kick ass'  value, majority (if not all) heterosexual, and some old people or children thrown in to kill off and allow for heroic rescues (or heart wrenching failures). I think Charlick deviants well from this norm. Everyone plays an important role, from the elderly to the children. Even pregnant women are out doing their part in the dangerous world instead of living comfortably in seclusion.

However, I would have liked a little more Jen and Steve development. I was left wondering why Steve's mother married his father if he is such a detestable man. Was he always this way? If yes then wouldn't Steve dislike both parents? If not, then what changed? Why was he always a disappointment to his father? As for Jen I would have liked more development because she was a weak stranger who rescued children who were not her responsibility and then had the good sense to follow the wisdom of children. She risked a lot and is clearly a brave character. I feel that we'll see more of her in the next book, though, along with Leon and other members from Patrick's camp.

This is one of those books, like the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, that I find so engaging that I don't want to put it down. Ever. Until I'm done. Then I want to read the next one immediately. I'm up early to read this book, and up late to read some more. I can't get enough of Charlick's books, and I will be sad when the series ends. However, I greatly  look forward to more of Charlick's work because of his engaging writing style.

Once again I like the use of epilogue to follow up the story and tie up loose ends. It helps stem the 'oh no, it's over all ready' feeling when you reach the last page of the last chapter. What I did notice is that there were quite a few grammatical and spelling errors, particularly towards the middle and latter part of the book. I found some of these to be pretty distracting and they sometimes upset the flow of reading.

Overall, this is an amazing book. I would suggest this book for anyone who likes zombies and/or horror. Charlick's ability to engage all the senses and make good characters likeable  while making bad characters truly dislikeable is a talent that not every writer has. That Charlick can give each character of the cast an individual personality, role and background helps to immerse the reader deeper in the world of the Dead. In this book Charlick also plays with time, allowing the reader to experience two different places or situation at the same time, often converging at some point, with clear relation to the overall timeline to avoid confusion. I liked that characters and events from the previous book weren't entirely forgotten, this helped it feel like a natural continuation rather than a stand alone novel.

Star Rating
4.5 / 5

While I do often overlook spelling and grammar mistakes, some were glaringly obvious and interrupted the pace of my reading. For that reason I've deducted half a star. Otherwise, this is a brilliant, five star book, a great follow up to the first book Six Days With The Dead.  
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Thursday, 12 September 2013

Review: Life First

Book Summary (from Amazon)

 Strong-willed Kelsey Reed must escape tonight or tomorrow her government will take her kidney and give it to someone else.

 In this future forged by survivors of pandemics that wiped out 80 percent of the world's population, life is valued above all else. The government of "Life First" requires the mentally ill to be sterilized, outlaws abortions and sentences to death those who refuse to donate an organ when told.

 Determined not to give up her kidney, Kelsey enlists the help of her boyfriend Luke and a dodgy doctor to escape. The trio must disable the tracking chip in her arm for her to flee undetected. If they fail, Kelsey will be stripped of everything.

*** I was given this book for free in exchange for an honest review. ***

Life First by RJ Crayton gets off to a pretty good start. I know a lot of readers use the first chapter to gauge whether they want to continue with a book or not and Crayton's chapter certainly doesn't let it down. It ends on a cliff hanger to compel readers to continue with the book, and establishes the main character, as well as important factors that influence Kelsey and her later decisions (such as her upcoming surgery and her father). Crayton doesn't take too long to give the reader a little more insight as to what's going to happen in regards to Kelsey's apparent fate. I felt Life First had good pacing from the start and it certainly kept me reading. I appreciated the well sized chapters which allowed me to stop at natural breaks in the book.

Crayton has a habit of holding back certain details to leave the reader wondering why. Kelsey's father, for example, is first described as being somewhat impersonal and out of touch with his daughter. When Crayton reveals he is a politician it all seems to make sense. This technique is used throughout the book and is part of the reason I originally disliked Kelsey. Early on in the book I found myself disliking Kelsey as I perceived her as exaggerating events and even, at times, being unduly selfish. As more was revealed I was able to sympathise more with Kelsey.

However, I still found the character of Kelsey to be annoying at times. She feels she is in a 'do or die' situation in regards to the surgery, despite her father telling her the chance of misfortune is only 5%. Later on, when we learn the fate of Kelsey's mother and best friend, it seems a bit more understandable that Kelsey would be very wary of what could go wrong.  At times Kelsey seems to be rather innocence, and believes that speaking her mind is for the best and (as a result of this) gets herself deeper in trouble. In fact, whenever she acts independently she seems to do things wrong. My ultimate grievance with her is that she lived in a society whose core values were ones she didn't share. Rather than leave society, as she was seemingly free to do before she was marked for surgery, she choose to stay until called upon to do her 'civic duty'.

I was intrigued as to how in a society obsessed with Life First (and with technology such as Life Monitoring Systems) there was no mention of organs being grown in a laboratory as an alternative to human donation. Manufacturing body parts would seem to hold no risk for any human donor, whereas the system of donor's carries a risk of damaging complications. Nevertheless, the idea of Life First is an interesting change to other social movements found in dystopian media.

Unlike many books, Crayton uses the first person present tense and I feel that this works. Given all the problems that arise in Kelsey's life it always seems like the next problem could lead to the end of Kelsey.  The uncertainly of Kelsey's ultimate fate left me feeling as though she was going to die and the odds certainly did seem stacked against her. I think this made the book more thrilling because of her mortality.

Front Cover

The front cover could use a little something to make it really stand out as it seems a little bland and forgettable. Maybe a propaganda Life First poster?

Overall Rating

 3.5 / 5 

A well paced dramatic sci-fi which raises questions of social duty and morality. While I personally didn't like Kelsey much, most of the characters are admirable as they overcame obstacles they faced as a result of society. The use of present tense adds an exciting element of uncertainty to this book. This works well as a stand alone novel for young readers, but I feel as though it could have been made into a much darker, more elaborate adult novel which could have really explored the dark side of Life First and the world beyond Kelsey's limited life and environment. This is one possible direction Crayton might take in the sequel - we'll have to wait and see!

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Sunday, 1 September 2013

Review: Maggie Moore and the Secret School Diary

While Maggie's life is a little more dramatic than a normal child's life, it's a fiction book and I think that the events in the book - from the family gifts to the talent show - will keep younger readers engaged. It's amusing, easy to read and doesn't get boring. The little sketches in throughout are also quite cute, and the bubble writing for the months in something I remember doing as a child so it seems pretty authentic. This is a definite must have for younger female readers (or male readers if you think they can relate, there's no lovey-dovey eyes at boys so there's no reason why boys can't enjoy this book)!

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