Category Archives: Book Reviews

[REVIEW] Infected – Sophie Littlefield

Sophie Littlefield
Penguin Random House Delacorte (US & CA: 6th January 2015)
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There are times when characters in love are necessary to the story. This is not one of those times. Carina unknowingly infected Tanner via saliva with a killer illness. The plot does not require them to be in love. Carina could have gone on the run with anyone she may have kissed.

This takes place BEFORE the book begins, so we’re told right from the start that Carina and Tanner are in love. And we’re repeatedly reminded throughout the novel, often bordering on border prose. It’s TELLING, rather than showing. Because we haven’t seen them face struggles hooking up, it’s hard to care for their love. I don’t ship it. Neither of the characters stands out on their own, or together. Which means you’d hope to be invested in the plot instead.

Alas, no. The thing with thrillers is that you can change location, and go on the run as many times as you want. But if the story doesn’t advance, and it’s just an extended chase sequence… *shrug* Albanians are the antagonists here, so it’s not sterling rep for that country’s people.

I’m not sure how a story with a dangerous, life-threatening infection could be so shrug-worthy, but here we are. I’ve read much better books by the same author – try Garden of Stones instead.


[REVIEW] Three Strikes – Kate Kessler

Kate Kessler
Three Strikes (Audrey Harte, Book 3)
Hachette Redhook (US: 24th October 2017; UK: 26th October 2017; AU: 12th December 2017)
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I rate this book 4 stars (out of 5), which may not be apparent from the rest of this post. Also, I read this during summer, which is my worst time of year.

Three Strikes is not a thriller, but there are three mysteries to solve:

-Who’s Mackenzie Bell’s biological father, and who’s warning her away from finding out?
-What were the circumstances surrounding Mike LeBlanc’s death?
-Who’s responsible for the recent dead body?

One of the things I appreciate most about this series is that Audrey Harte killed someone when she was about thirteen, and actually faced consequences: time in a juvenile correctional facility. Vigilante murders are common in fiction, but the perps aren’t often held to account. That may be part of wish fulfilment on the part of the author, and maybe readers. So I have a lot of respect for characters – and the authors who write them – who don’t just do the crime but also do the time. Even another character in the series commits murder, and is also sent to a correctional facility.

But apparently that all changes if the person committing the crimes is an adult. Then the person covers their arse, or other people cover it for them. That happens in Three Strikes:

-A character erases security footage, planning to claim it’s a “glitch”
-When a character is attacked, the police immediately want to view security footage, but another character claims that they need permission from the attacked person first
-A character promises not to tell a secret, but then quickly after tells someone because “they won’t tell anyone”

There’s even possible statutory rape (or gross sexual assault) that happened nineteen years ago, but the police aren’t told so no charges are laid.

And it pisses me off that Detective Neve Graham is treated like the enemy because she’s competent at her job. She also grew up biracial in very white Edgeport, so she was already an outsider and not part of the Harte/Tripp family unit.

It’s also annoying how Jake pretty much owns everything in town, and is noted as a “real estate mogul”. It would be interesting to see how Edgeport would survive without him if he died, but for better or worse (worse, in my opinion) I predict a happy ending to the series. Which is NOT WHY I READ CRIME.

All grumbles aside, Three Strikes is another instalment in a series I always look forward to reading. Though only one novel and one novella are scheduled to follow, I’d happily read more crime fiction by Kate Kessler. Edgeport comes alive with all its small-town secrets, and there are likely countless more yet uncovered.

[REVIEW] Emma in the Night – Wendy Walker

Wendy Walker
Emma in the Night
HarperCollins HQ (AU: 20th November 2017; UK: 8th February 2018); Macmillan St. Martin’s Griffin (US: 7th August 2018)
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Wendy Walker’s All Is Not Forgotten is a great psychological thriller, but Emma in the Night exceeds even that. It’s wonderfully gothic, starring missed-up families with hidden agendas. The big reveals, along with the attention to detail (the counting!), make this a thriller not to be missed. I’m eager to read whatever Wendy Walker publishes next – two five-star novels in a row make her a must-read author.

[REVIEW] Little Peach – Peggy Kern

Peggy Kern
Little Peach
HarperCollins Balzer + Bray (US & CA: 10th March 2015)
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Michelle is fourteen years old. Her beloved grandpa dies, and her drug-addicted mother kicks her out of the house. Michelle wants to escape being sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend again, so she leaves…but with nowhere to go.

We know what this story is about: Child trafficking, child drugging, child rape, child prostitution. It hurts witnessing Michelle go home with Devon, wanting a real family and watching it go so wrong so fast. It hurts witnessing Michelle, Kat, and Baby going to the hotel every night, drugging their selves to get through their “jobs”. It hurts that they’re scared of police, of people who could get them out of this situation.

It’s heartbreaking as Michelle sees a poster for a missing teen girl – a WHITE girl. There’s a reward for information leading to her return. And Michelle realises that there’s no one searching for her, hoping she’ll be back. A missing white girl still has skin privilege.

The ending is probably fitting – there’s hope that Michelle’s life could improve, but no guarantee of a happily-ever-after.

Little Peach is a five-star read. It’s not fun or enjoyable, but it is important. It strikes the heart. Peggy Kern is skilled at making readers care about her characters and those suffering similar situations in real life.

[REVIEW] The Other Girl – Erica Spindler

Erica Spindler
The Other Girl
Macmillan St. Martin’s (US: 22nd August 2017); Hachette Little, Brown Sphere (UK: 26th October 2017; AU: 31st October)
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Miranda Rader knows a revenge-killing when she sees one. Yet her colleagues and higher-ups in the police force claim she’s not objective, and that she’s leading witnesses. These men don’t want to believe that a murder victim may have been sexually and psychologically abusive while he was alive.

The deceased’s father protects his son’s reputation in a way that brings to mind the Brock Turner case – wherein if a male commits sexual violence, his future shouldn’t be “ruined” because of “ten minutes of action”. Way to perpetuate rape culture, you terrible parent.

The Other Girl rings true on so many levels: Women not being believed. Men more interested in defending a man’s reputation than supporting his victims. The gaslighting. And women being punished – via employment loss and/or psychological anguish – because they know the truth and speak of it.

It reminds me so much of those conservatives on Twitter shouting about “due process”, because they believe false accusations of rape are more damaging than actually being raped. “Due process” gives the accused the benefit of the doubt, instead of the accuser. This cruel environment supports rapists (or suspected rapists) instead of the raped. They’d rather perps go unpunished than have one false accusation lead to a conviction.

And it’s impossible to ignore the racism that gets innocent black people killed by police or imprisoned, while white rapists walk free to commit their crimes again. (Though race isn’t discussed in the novel, because I think all the characters are white.)

In fewer than 300 pages, Erica Spindler has crafted a timeless thriller packed with hurtful truths. Sometimes no one will believe or help you. But there’s also hope that maybe there’ll be a person like Miranda Rader who won’t give up on you, and will keep fighting for justice.

P.S. Two unrelated characters named Cathy and Catherine confused me. One of them should’ve had a different name.

[REVIEW] The Invisible – Amelia Kahaney

Amelia Kahaney
The Invisible (The Brokenhearted, Book 2)
HarperCollins (US & CA: 8th September 2015; AU: 21st September 2015; UK: 8th October 2015)
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NOTE: I first published this on Speculative Chic.

Amelia Kahaney’s The Invisible does what you hope all sequels will do: improve upon the predecessor. If The Brokenhearted is the origin story, then The Invisible is where the series-proper starts. (Unfortunately, a third novel wasn’t contracted.)

Anthem Fleet’s chimerical heart and ballet skills are well needed to defeat The Invisible, a secret organisation kidnapping children from rich families in order to raise money for the poor part of Bedlam. The wealthy side of town was built to literally raise them above the damaged side, so that flooding wouldn’t inconvenience the cashed-up.

The Invisible sees Anthem confronting her own economic privilege. The well-off have to actually lose something, such as a child, before they’ll consider donating half their fortune to aid worthy causes low down.

Amelia Kahaney writes The Invisible with stunning imagery. The scene where Anthem watches skyscrapers collapse, not knowing if her Tower will fall next, is genuinely thrilling.

I was surprised to discover that I’d rated the first book in the series only two stars. The Invisible is worth double that.

[REVIEW] Hold Back the Stars – Katie Khan

Katie Khan
Hold Back the Stars
Penguin Random House Black Swan (AU: 27th November 2017; UK: 30th November 2017); Simon & Schuster Gallery (US & CA: 20th February 2018)
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NOTE: I first published this on Speculative Chic.

I’ve never been interested in book clubs, where everyone reads the same thing at the same time like assigned homework. But in the case of Katie Khan’s Hold Back the Stars, I definitely would recommend it to book groups. Having read it, I want to discuss spoilery things and ask questions!

This literary sci-fi tells the tale of Carys and Max, the supposed utopia they’re from, and why they’re stranded in space with only ninety minutes left of oxygen and no help in sight. The space scenes are fraught and fascinating as the duo does what they can to avoid drowning in their own tears. (Yes, that’s a thing that could happen inside their helmets.) Communication – or lack thereof – is challenging enough on its own, but also they battle to create propellant and avoid asteroids. Hopefully film rights will be snapped up, because the ever-present danger and uncommon setting would make for a spectacular cinematic experience. This novel likely involved a heck of a lot of research, and Katie Khan’s work pays off big-time.

Though I wouldn’t recommend anyone removes their glove in space. Creative licence there, I’m guessing.

But Carys and Max’s time on Earth doesn’t grip like the space scenes. It’s a relationship drama with a whole gamut of obstacles to overcome, and refreshing that they argue like couples in real life. Ultimately I didn’t cheer for their relationship, but that’s not unusual for me as a reader.