The Exclusion Wars by Sheila Agnew

Published: 21st December 2015 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Oxiana Road Publishing
Pages: 204
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/ Thriller
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

A thriller set in 2025, in which teenager, Mateo Rivera, is in hiding as “Matt” in New York City where he must avoid capture by Mr. Rienham, the new chief of the Deportation of Latinos Agency, hand-picked for the job by President Trent himself. 

But Matt isn’t alone; he’s got the Underground, an organisation which advocates peaceful resistance. He’s been trained by the mysterious Underground leader, Polaris; harboured by reluctant shepherd and drop-out lawyer, Steve; and he has the not always helpful but well-intentioned support of his best friend, fifteen year-old, wannabe Navy Seal, Danni Singh. 

Rienham, the DLA and its roving pack of DepoDogs aren’t Matt’s only problems. There’s a new enemy on the horizon, and it calls itself The Latino Alliance. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review.

I really liked this book; it is every bit the thriller it claims to be while still balancing the storyline, drama, emotion, and all the other wonderful elements as well. With the Latinos being sent into exile or worse, those who haven’t fled are in hiding, and those who can pass are constantly worrying about being found out.

It’s a fascinating story with a wonderful insight into what fear and hatred can do to a country if the right voice is convincing enough. It also shows how laws and views of the few can shape the opinions of the many, influencing them in how they see others. What’s great about Agnew’s writing is that this can all be read into it, it doesn’t come across on the page as a blatant message about acceptance and about prejudice, Agnew uses the writing to subtly say things through the story rather than shoving it down our throats.

Agnew has created a story that is slightly prophetic in a way, because Agnew based Trent on a Trump like figure but wrote it years before Trump decided to run which makes it even eerier. It depicts a future that, honestly, is on the closer side to believable than not, the explanations are there about how this came about, gradually, and with the right set of circumstances, snowballing before it could be stopped, all really quite plausible. The dictator style of Trent and the control he and his lackeys have created bring this future to life with detail and well roundedness that makes it real.

The characters are fantastic and definitely a highlight of the story. They are all so unique, fully fledged, each with a passion of their own and not just there to play a role around Matt’s story.  Matt is a great kid and an excellent narrator. He tells his story well and Agnew uses his voice and conversations to inform the reader without needing to include large amounts of back story. Matt never forgets where he’s come from or who he is, but he is smart enough to keep the thoughts to himself, and always remember his training. He is adult in some ways, having to keep secrets about his heritage, knowing delicate information and constantly having to check his behaviour and actions so as not to get caught, but at the same time he is also very much the 14-year-old as well. He has an attitude, he has crushes on girls, he has friends to hang out with and get in trouble with, and he misses his mum immensely.

There is a continual sense of thrill and suspense, but all for different reasons. It’s the suspense of Matt thinking he’s about to be found out at school, the anticipation about whether someone knows his secret, tension when he is trapped and unable to send for help, the constant feeling you’ve developed that something is about to go wrong at any given moment. Agnew definitely makes you become involved with the varying levels of thrill and suspense she’s created and when there’s actual drama and action is brings it to a whole other level entirely.

You can’t ignore the similarities to the current situation in America when reading this story, but it is a fascinating read and doesn’t read like a response to current events, it remains in the futuristic realm, even if it is barely ten years in the future. Agnew begins and concludes this story wonderfully and it’s the right balances of everything in the middle. I would definitely love to read a second book so I can keep reading about these characters and this strange yet familiar world they live in.

You can purchase The Exclusion Wars via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

A Plum Job by Cenarth Fox

Published: 4th August 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Fox Plays
Pages: 249
Format: ebook
Genre: Historical Thriller
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It’s 1940. Germany’s military might is smashing through the Low Countries and the British, Belgian and French forces are trapped at Dunkirk. The Nazis will soon be in Gay Paree. 

Louise Wellesley is a gorgeous and aristocratic young Englishwoman desperate to become an actress. But her upbringing demands that young women of her class go to finishing school, the Buckingham Palace debutante ball and then remain at home until the right chap comes along. Such young ladies most definitely do not cavort semi-naked upon the wicked stage. 

But war brings change. People tell lies. Rules are broken. So when you’re in a foreign country and living by your wits while facing arrest, torture and death from the French police, Resistance, Gestapo and a double-agent, you bloody well better remember your lines, act out of your skin and never ever bump into the furniture. 

Oh and it helps if your new best friend is Edith Piaf. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This is a great story that has been slotted into the folds of history. From innocent beginnings into the throws of World War Two Fox tells a captivating story about young Louise Wellesley.

The narrative perspectives of Louise plus cousins Max and Kurt Hartmann provide different sides of the events and opens up new perspectives. Fox connects the trio’s stories creatively and with style, and brings their humble origins into the dangers of a world war. Louise is not innocent nor is she entirely naive. She is determined and brave, and is quick thinking. Kurt and Max also have their own agenda’s and ambitions, their differences coming to light on the page and through their actions.

Louise is a character to admire even before her assistance to the war. She is fiercely loyal and a wonderful friend, she adores her family and wants to do right by them. But she is also ambitious, something she’s not supposed to be, but with her determination she gets what she wants and becomes who she wants to be. There is still a hint of that young inexperienced girl inside her, but that doesn’t stop her from doing what needs to be done.

The more you read of Louise’s time in Paris it’s hard to imagine her as the simple actress from England, but Louise has not forgotten her acting roots, nor those who guided her, and as she finds herself in times of trouble she reflects on what she’s been taught, faking confidence, suave, and bravery she keeps herself alive and out of danger for the most part.

Knowing a little but not a lot about the early days in Paris, I enjoyed the references to historical events and figures. The reactions and responses by those close to Hitler and those who suffered because of distant orders was interesting and it told of the gradual yet seemingly well organised invasion by Hitler’s forces.

A Plum Job is about passion and perseverance, about missed opportunities and great losses. Against the backdrop of a fresh world war and suspicion on both sides it is more than just a tale of a wannabe actress. The fictional tale Fox has woven through historical events is captivating and filled with drama and excitement, it’s even a little bit heartbreaking to be honest.

It’s not 100% historically accurate but it is hard to put down all the same with a story that’s filled with drama, excitement, and suspense. There are numerous surprises and unexpected things that keep you interested and engaged and it’s a compelling story, you’re never quite sure where it is heading but you don’t mind the journey getting there.

You can purchase A Plum Job via the following

Amazon

Amazon Au

Amazon UK

CLUB MEDicine by Jack Kinsley

Published: 13th February 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher: 
RANE Books
Pages: 309
Format: Ebook
Genre: Thriller
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

What drives a reasonable man to commit murder?

Travis Martin was the great American success story. A former addict who started the premiere private rehab in the hills of Malibu, California, he had it all: a thriving business, a beautiful wife, and a daughter who was the center of his universe. Unfortunately, when his recovery took a nosedive, everything he built went right along with it. Now, he has a rehab filled with eccentric clients he’s expected to keep sane, a dark secret he’s desperate to keep hidden, and forces from his past that are determined to strip him of anything that remains.
What’s a self-made man to do? Backed into a corner, Travis finds himself stuck on one moral question: Can he commit murder in order to keep it all from slipping away? How far down the rabbit hole will he go? And, perhaps more importantly, how does he come back from it after that life is gone?

Part thriller and part redemption tale, CLUB MEDicine explores the heart of darkness within us all as one man balances on the razor’s edge between self-actualization and self-destruction. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This was a hard story to pin down, even rate. It has good moments that piqued my interest, but there were also mundane moments that I didn’t see a need for. But Kinsley connects it together well and depending how you look at it, everything plays a part in telling Travis’ story.

The characters are eccentric and have a range of problems, and some characters grow on you much more than others, but Kinsley keeps it interesting with various aspects and dramas of rehab life. The centre is the focus and connects characters, secrets, and plot development, and contains most of the drama that unfolds. Travis is also a closet drug addict himself which brings in a nice sense of the blind leading the blind and a nice case of irony, and it is a key part of the unfolding events, consequence, cause, or otherwise.

For a thriller I felt there wasn’t as much of a focus on that element. It came and went, but there was a lot more time given on the events, ordinary and otherwise, in the rehab. Granted it is connected, and seeing Travis operate in the centre and his drug addiction on top of that was a key part, but I felt the thriller aspect didn’t shine through until the very end.

There is a steady pace to the story that has rises of suspense throughout but instead of a solid thriller with a sense of gaining momentum to something bigger, Kinsley has focused on the psychological unravelling and desperations of a man trying to hold onto his reality, but in a self-focused and inner dilemma rather than have it constantly play out on the page.

It was more watching a man’s life be on the brink of crumbling and seeing him fall further into despair before finally reaching desperation. Having said that though, I didn’t feel the intense desperation I think Kinsley was aiming for. It read as a huge leap to planning murder but at the same time I understood it, which was weird. Even though Travis runs through his options and realising he is being backed into a corner, I didn’t catch a sense of urgency in the tone of the narrative despite the words telling me there was.

There are some great and surprising moments though. The story is actually unexpected and Kinsley keeps it going with a few surprises and hints at secrets and dark pasts that are withheld until the right moments. This unexpected nature makes the intermittent moments of suspense work because it does just suddenly happen, but it’s the rapid resettling into routine that is unsatisfying.

It is hard to judge a novel before finishing it which is where most of my notes came from, and I think the end is where the story finds its footing, everything falls into place and the story unites into an unexpected, thrilling conclusion. The final moments allow you to see the clues placed throughout that had gone unnoticed, and with everything linking up it shifts your perspective and opinion on how you saw the story, but while it solves some mysteries and shows off creative writing, other issues remain.

I liked the ending in as much I think Travis got what he deserved. There are consequences and lessons, and having not had much sympathy or real care for him through most of the novel I liked that he didn’t get off scot-free but got a chance at redemption, and being on shaky ground with those around him is a good solution. Condemning him entirely would not have felt satisfactory and Kinsley balances adequate punishment, the right thing, and hope nicely.

You can purchase CLUB MEDicine via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

Flank Street by A. J. Sendall

Published: 15th May 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Ascend Digital Publications
Pages: 310
Format: Ebook
Genre: Crime Thriller
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Flank Street is set in Australia, mainly in Sydney’s Kings Cross. It’s written in first person from the distorted reality of Micky DeWitt, a shiftless career criminal and world sailor.

Micky arrives in Sydney by boat, broke and on the lookout for opportunity. After taking a job as barman in a Kings Cross pub, he’s eventually approached by a high-end escort who needs something stolen.

Nothing is what it seems, as Micky falls into a honey trap that spins his life out of control.
Some characters from Heather make an appearance, including Mitchell, and the enigmatic Ray Peterson.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This is the second book in the Sydney Underworld series and takes place before the events set in Heather but remains connected to the life at Kings Cross and includes many familiar faces. It was interesting to read about what the Cross was like before Loretto Reed took over and where certain characters started out, and knowing how the story pans out it was great to see little clues and references scattered throughout. Reading this also made me realise I had made assumptions in Heather which I hadn’t noticed, and having read Heather it made this a better read as well because there was a deeper understanding of even minor characters.

Told from a first-person perspective Flank Street focuses on Micky, a guy with a mysterious past who turns up to Sydney on his boat with the intention of getting involved with the underbelly of Sydney life. I liked Micky’s no-nonsense approach, he knew what he wanted and he went out and got it. His history is not really known and while he makes passing references to where he has been, there is still not a lot known about him. While I would love to know more about Micky’s history it isn’t important to the story and it also made him fit in well with his new life, someone with secrets, a vague past, with a certain set of skills.

It’s hard not to see similarities between Heather and Sam from the first book and Micky and Carol in this one, but at the same time they are also totally separate as well. While Sam enters the Kings Cross life after being convinced by another and with a mission to achieve, Micky chooses it because it is a world where he is comfortable and a place where he is looking to get in with a particular type of people and seeing where that road leads him.

Having only heard about Carol in snippets previously it was easy to see her as a victim, but getting to know her makes you realise she isn’t the nicest person, nor is she that innocent. From early on Carol got little sympathy for me, she was manipulative and selfish and it appears she has secrets of her own. Her association with Micky was curious, never quite trusting one another and both trying to get something from the other. Micky isn’t a fool, he is smart and he is wary but he does get talked into things. Even after telling himself she is not to be trusted that she is playing him, he still goes along with her ideas, against his gut instinct.

I loved getting back into the gritty Underworld of Sydney, albeit from a different angle. Sendall captures the atmosphere of that life and the control one person can have over a place but doesn’t make it too over the top, unrealistic, or even overly dramatic. The hidden threat and the secret agenda of nearly everyone involved means that everyone can be hiding something and not really knowing what people are thinking or are capable of makes for an enthralling read.

Much like Heather this story is one of boats, the underworld, and an outsider looking for a way in, but Sendall makes it much more than that. He has managed to create an elaborate story with intricate connections and complex and mysterious characters that all come together in an engaging and clever read. Flank Street is a wonderful continuation of the series and with a conclusion that boggles your mind and makes you rethink everything you have read Sendall makes sure to uphold your interest and eagerness for the next book in the series.

You can purchase Flank Street via the following

Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com | Amazon.com.au

Barnes & Noble | Createspace

The Conviction: Enacting Vigilante Justice by John Mathews

Published: 25th January 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 72
Format: Ebook
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Two criminals are responsible for an innocent man getting sentenced to life for murder. An inept defense attorney and a crooked prosecutor are the other players in this case of egregious American corruption.

The four of them have been lured into a trap in an abandoned warehouse. Someone wants vengeance. This is a story of vigilante justice for the wrongfully convicted. Marked doors lead to four locked rooms, one where each of them will have to pay a price for what they have done. What will they be required to do in order to survive?

This riveting crime thriller puts the American justice system in public view and will keep you guessing until the very last scene. A dark masked figure watches…waits…and wants revenge.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This short story is an interesting take on the idea of vigilante justice with entrapment, mind games, and threats all playing a part. There is drama and suspense and a multitude of questions about who is behind the elaborate set up. There is mystery and unanswered questions that are hidden from the reader as well as the characters, but small clues and snippets of information make an already mysterious situation complex and even more curious.

Narrative wise the story flowed quite well and Matthews tells the story with care, keeping it interesting and engaging, while also holding back when needed. The dialogue didn’t have much life, and the conversation between character seemed stiff, not really connecting with one another, and yet at times Matthews captures the panic and desperation they feel quite well as their situation looks dire and the begin to turn on one another.

The characters themselves are terrible people in all honesty, but that is why they have found themselves in their current predicament. I didn’t really engage with who they were aside from casting casual judgements on them based on what they did, but not caring about them didn’t really bother me as I was more focused on the developing mystery and game play element than realising how one dimensional they were.

Away from the characters, and to Matthews’ credit, the story itself was clever and it never goes where you expect. From early on it intrigued me and this was maintained as the story progressed with a lot packed into such a short story. There are surprises and revelations that change what you though would happen and what you thought had happened.

I liked the idea of the vigilante justice and the mystery figure orchestrating the entire thing was great and led to all manner of creative theories on who he possibly was. When the man behind the curtain is finally revealed it was certainly unexpected and I can imagine it would split readers to either liking it or disliking it. Personally I wasn’t a fan of how Matthews chose to end it, one because I thought it was going in a totally different direction, and two it immediately seemed unbelievable which flattened the anticipation that had been building from the start. Having said that it was different, and creative in its own way, and it was completely unexpected.

You can purchase The Conviction via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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