Category Archives: Book Reviews

[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.

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[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.

[REVIEW] Rolling in the Deep – Mira Grant

Mira Grant
Rolling in the Deep
Subterranean (US: 6th April 2015)
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NOTE: I first published this on Speculative Chic.

Climb aboard the SS Atargatis for a fantastic journey exploring the Mariana Trench. But beware of what lies beneath the surface…

The scientists want to research, but are forced to share the ship with a TV crew filming a pseudo-scientific documentary about possible sea monsters. The network has also sent along professional mermaids to swim in the shadows on camera.

Don’t get too attached, though. We’re warned upfront: no one returns home.

Mira Grant’s Rolling in the Deep is a killer adventure at sea – and below. The large cast of characters are sometimes hard to keep track of and their department, though my favourites are David and Jessica.

And good news, everyone! Into the Drowning Deep, a companion novel, will be published in November, so there’s more “aquatic horror” to anticipate.

[REVIEW] The Thousandth Floor – Katharine McGee

Review originally published at Speculative Chic.

Katharine McGee
The Thousandth Floor (The Thousandth Floor, Book 1)
HarperCollins (UK: 30th August 2016; AU: 1st September 2016; US & CA: 6th June 2017)
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In Manhattan 2118 stands a thousand-floor building, kind of a city within itself. It contains homes, schools, parks, clubs, and plenty of futuristic goodies. Welcome to the vertical urbanism of Katharine McGee’s The Thousandth Floor.

The prologue shows a girl in a dress plummeting to the ground outside. Who is she? Did she jump, or was she pushed? The series is marketed as the new Gossip Girl, but once I put away notions of who represents Serena and Blair, I was able to appreciate these new characters for themselves. Leda is fresh out of rehab. Eris loses her wealthy lifestyle and is forced to move way down the Tower. Watt is hired as a hacker, but the case turns personal. And then there’s Nadia, who’s altogether awesome.

The drama is contemporary, but the extravagant futuristic setting adds delightful spark. There’s life outside the Tower, too, including travel to other continents in just a few hours. Not all of the sub-plots appeal, but there’s an undeniable addictiveness to The Thousandth Floor that’s left me impatient for more. Book 2, The Dazzling Heights is scheduled for publication later this year.

[REVIEW] Metaltown – Kristen Simmons

Kristen Simmons
Metaltown
Macmillan Tor (US: 20th September 2016; AU: 11th October 2016)
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NOTE: I first published this review as part of the group “My Favorite Things” column on Speculative Chic, 6th February 2017.

Some stories have more resonance if you read them at a particular time.

I didn’t plan for Kristen Simmons’s Metaltown to be my first read of 2017, but that’s when my library copy arrived. The novel felt instantly familiar, as it fits the classic underdog plot. But instead of a feel-good story, Metaltown is dark and dystopian – and not everyone gets a happy ending.

Mostly the story rings true because it shows how to create change.

Ty and Colin work in the small parts section of a manufacturer. There are no health benefits, and they often aren’t paid in a timely manner, enough, or at all. A workplace accident leads to acid burns and a lost job. Ty has nothing left to lose – she’s now an unemployed, homeless orphan, and even her best friend Colin seems to be slipping away from her. And so Ty does what she can lead a “press”, a workers’ strike, against the manufacturer.

But she can’t do it alone. One person can’t be the entire movement in order to create real change. Ty needs the entire small parts section – and other sections, too – to band together in the press. If everyone stops work, the manufacturer will be forced to employ and train more workers. That will make it more difficult for the company to fill the order for their products. This will be bad for business, so the manufacturer has something to lose unless they agree to the workers’ demands.

Can one person make a difference? Maybe. But there’s strength in numbers, and we can’t expect one person to shoulder all the responsibility. We each need to find our personal tipping point; what we’re willing to risk for the greater good. We must PRESS BACK.

Metaltown is a timely read that I won’t soon forget.