Category Archives: Book Reviews

[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.

[REVIEW] Whitefern – V. C. Andrews

V. C. Andrews [also published as Virginia Andrews]
Whitefern (Audrina, Book 2)
Simon & Schuster (US & CA: 26th July; UK & AU: 20th October 2016)
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SPOILER WARNING: This review consists only of spoilers. Can’t discuss the book without them. Read on at your risk.

Continue reading

[REVIEW] Sage’s Eyes – V. C. Andrews

V. C. Andrews [also published as Virginia Andrews]
Sage’s Eyes
Simon & Schuster (US & CA: 26th January 2016; AU: 11th February 2016; UK: 2nd June 2016)
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That I barely remember anything from this book is likely a blessing, because what I do remember of it is terrible.

Put short, this novel would’ve fared better had it been written in the 1990s. That it’s been published twenty years later does not serve it well. V. C. Andrews is not good at writing paranormals, as evidenced here in Sage’s Eyes.

But worse than the pitiful attempt at supernatural activity is…the self-referencing. The characters go to see a movie adaptation of Ruby – yes, based on the V. C. Andrews novel. I can handle shoddy writing, but this wankery was too much.

Skip Sage’s Eyes. It’s not even “so bad, it’s good”. It’s just bad.

[REVIEW] Ruthless – Carolyn Lee Adams

Carolyn Lee Adams
Ruthless
Simon & Schuster Pulse (AU: 14th July 2015; US, UK, & CA: 12th July 2016)
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NOTE: You may want to skip the interlude between Chapters 5 and 6. Piglets, their mother, and a dog all killed. The violence is implied, but nonetheless hard to read.

Serial killer novels are tricky, especially when written from the POV of a potential victim. You know there has to be reason why this character is the protagonist, rather than any of the previous victims. You know there’s something different this time around – because Ruth Carver is ruthless.

This is uncomfortable, because it relies on the trope of “she’s not like other girls”, which compares girls instead of appreciating them on their own merits. I had a similar problem reading Cheryl Rainfield’s Stained, also from the POV of a serial killer’s captive, which implies that the previous victims “didn’t try hard enough” to save themselves.

In short, this is an awkward situation that I’m not sure any author can get right. But Carolyn Lee Adams does include the previous victims in a spiritual sense, having them work together with Ruth. She wasn’t around to save them, but they’ll do what they can to help her. After all, they’ve all been targets of Wolfman.

It’s so hard to write antagonists. If you write them as too obviously evil, they lack nuance. But if you give them back-story, it’s like humanising them. It’s kind of no-win in this aspect. Ruthless gives Wolfman a history and reasons why he kills, but there’s no excuse for murder. I particularly dislike the trope of “this person bullied me, so I’ll kill everyone who reminds me of them”. Is this how anti-bullying is taught in the US? “If you bully someone, they’ll bring a gun to school and shoot you”? Are we supposed to feel sorry for Wolfman? I don’t. But maybe if he’d received better mental healthcare, he may not have become a killer. Who knows?

Ruth Carver’s persistence in surviving takes her from Wolfman’s cabin to out and about in the Blue Ridge Mountains – hiking, hiding, and hunting. Nature is both a help and a hindrance, while the kindness of strangers can’t be counted on at all. A spooky, atmospheric read, Ruthless isn’t easily forgotten. At first, Ruth just wants help. But then she wants revenge.

Wolfman must be stopped before his misogyny kills again.

Recommended listening: Kings of Leon’s “Trunk” played in my head during the driving scenes.

Quote of interest: “You ever heard of trich? It’s not even a bacteria or a virus; it’s a protozoa. A little animal.”

[REVIEW] The Dirt on Ninth Grave – Darynda Jones

Darynda Jones
The Dirt on Ninth Grave (Charley Davidson, Book 9)
Hachette Little, Brown Piatkus (UK & AU: 12th January 2016); Macmillan St. Martin’s (US: 31st May 2016)
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WARNING: Chapter 9 includes finding the corpse of a murdered dog.

I preferred this series when Charley Davidson was just a reaper. But when the true nature of her heritage was revealed, as well as celestial names and everything else I’ve forgot…Charley became a bit too “special snowflake”. And Eighth Grave After Dark totally jumped the shark with the birth of her daughter, followed by Charley’s amnesia.

The Dirt on Ninth Grave picks up where the previous episode left off. Charley is now a Jane Doe, working as a waitress in Sleepy Hollow. While the book has been described as Charley – and readers – falling in love with Reyes all over again, Ninth just goes to show that their relationship’s not based on much substance. It’s incredibly superficial, and they can’t seem to have any conversation without going on about how attractive the other one is, and it’s too over-the-top and boring. Reyes always has come across as a stalker, and this book does nothing to change that.

Meanwhile, Garret Swopes has a genuine friendship with Charley – I ship THEM together. Reyes is too obvious, but Garret is real and has a lot more going for him than just good looks and sexual prowess.

The book is at its best when Charley investigates the mystery of her co-worker’s daughter. But this unfortunately takes up very few pages in comparison to the rest.

[REVIEW] Speaking Out – Tara Moss

Tara Moss
Speaking Out: A 21st-Century Handbook for Women and Girls
HarperCollins (AU: 1st June 2016)
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Speaking Out: A 21st-Century Handbook for Women and Girls is well-meaning, but is it really what we need? A lot of women and girls are already speaking out – that isn’t the problem. The issue is that people need to learn to LISTEN. For the privileged to listen to the marginalised. For white people to listen to people of colour. For cis-gender people to listen to people who are transgender or non-binary. For heterosexual people to listen to everyone else. For the wealthy to listen to the poor. For the non-disabled to listen to the disabled. For the neuro-typical to listen to the neuro-divergent. For the well-connected to listen to the lonely.

I understand why Tara Moss hasn’t written that kind of book, though. The people who most need to listen would likely refuse to read it. So since we can’t change other people, Speaking Out is more about changing ourselves. Forming better, stronger arguments, and the way we deliver them, in order to give us the best possible chance of being heard.

Which makes reading the section focused on the spoken word, rather than the written, rather awkward.

I remember an ad for a particular season of Australia’s The Biggest Loser. A primary school-aged boy, a competitor on the programme, spoke of the kids at school teasing him because he was fat. And so he signed up to join the show. I don’t blame him; he likely just wanted the bullying to stop. And because the kids picked on his appearance, he chose to try to change it. It’s a sad world that people teach kids to lose weight, rather than teach kids not to bully/tease/pick on others.

Which brings us to Speaking Out. Women are often dismissed when they speak out, with listeners blaming the orator’s “high-pitched voice” or “vocal fry”. This handbook has tips for adjusting your voice to sound more “acceptable”. The author says her tips are optional, but the very fact that they’re included leads me to believe she thinks we should definitely consider them.

Do I have a high-pitched voice or vocal fry? I don’t know, but I certainly had a lisp growing up. I may still have one now. Should I feel grateful or not that tips for eliminating a lisp aren’t included? On one hand, I’m glad not to be patronised and victim-blamed. (E.g. People wouldn’t pick on you for having a lisp if you didn’t have one, so you should get rid of yours.) On the other hand, does this book erase my type of vocal issue?

But again, this book is about changing oneself, instead of changing other people’s shoddy behaviour towards you.

The next part is best suited to students, with lots of advice on research, structuring arguments, and presenting them. I sped through this part, just to get it finished – I wasn’t interested, but students should get a lot out of it.

The third section is the most helpful, where the handbook really earns its stripes – on what to expect when speaking out. While I read it, male radio broadcasters’ comments about holding a woman’s head under icy water were being heavily discussed in the media, including social. All the diversionary tactics listed in the book were played out in public. But because violent language against women happens on a regular basis, this part of the book is timeless.

There are contributions from a handful of women who’ve “survived social media”. Most of the women included have worthy contributions, but one name will raise eyebrows: Amanda Palmer. She has a history of problematic behaviour; there are details here. (Hover over the text in the post – they’re clickable links.) Remember when she invited Jian Ghomeshi to join her tour? After a lot of push-back (and rightfully so) from the public, Palmer announced he would no longer be a guest on her tour, and that she had made a “snap judgment”.

Her “snap judgment” was to provide a platform for someone who allegedly “non-consensually beat up four different women during sexual encounters”. And “eight different women […] have come forward to accuse Ghomeshi of violence, sexual abuse, or harassment”. (Quotes from the Stereogum article.) Palmer initially chose to side with THIS GUY, instead of the numerous victims.

So what the hell is she doing in a handbook that supposedly empowers women and girls to speak out, when she at first chose not to believe the women who’d spoken out against Ghomeshi?

After taking time to calm and think, I was more open-minded to reading the piece. After all, her contribution could be about how she was wrong to initially support Ghomeshi. How speaking out in this case probably wasn’t a good idea. How Palmer had learned from the experience, about the importance of researching, thinking, and addressing one’s own biases (such as not believing victims of sexual violence and harassment) before speaking out.

My gut reaction turned out to be correct: Palmer’s contribution mentions nothing of her initial support for an alleged sexual offender. Mentions nothing about how others were right to call her out on including him on her tour.

So yes, her contribution shouldn’t be here because it’s ultimately hollow. And considering that Tara Moss emphasises the importance of research, I’m surprised she didn’t investigate Palmer’s history of problematic behaviour. It didn’t take me long to dig up those links and read them. So why didn’t Moss?

Maybe this handbook is an example of White Feminism. While it very briefly mentions intersections, this book is pretty much geared towards straight white cis-women. Understandable, because the author acknowledges it’s not her place to speak out on identities she doesn’t have.

Moss includes statistics throughout the handbook, but when it comes to the conviction rate on reported crimes of cyber-stalking/cyber-bullying…no statistics are included. Because there aren’t any official statistics, or because the conviction rate is so low that it may discourage victims from reporting crimes, knowing there’s so low a chance of the perpetrator facing any justice?

My depression was already in a bad way before reading this book. It didn’t improve over the course of it. Speaking Out is a major downer. It doesn’t mean to be – it’s supposed to be inspiring, motivating, encouraging. But it had the opposite effect on me.

[REVIEW] New Guard – Robert Muchamore

Robert Muchamore
New Guard (CHERUB, Book 17)
Hachette Hodder (AU: 31st May 2016; UK: 2nd June 2016)
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New Guard is the final novel in Robert Muchamore’s thrilling CHERUB series. It was time. I’d lost some interest, until I perked up again with the introduction of now-regulars Ryan Sharma and Fu Ning. But the Aramov case took three books to solve, so it seemed overly long. As for Lone Wolf, the penultimate, all I remember is the unveiling of the Campus Village at the end. (How can CHERUB afford all that, by the way? And the annual summer sojourn to a private Mediterranean island resort? While some may point out the improbability of underage people being spies, I instead get hung up on money issues. I am strange.)

New Guard is a wonderfully fitting farewell, doing the classic move of pop culture series everywhere: it gets the old gang back together for one last hurrah. Though this time the “Crustys” have some “Currents” with them on a mission to rescue two kidnapped oil well equipment maintenance workers in Syria.

What’s great about CHERUB is that it’s not all about James Adams. It may have started with his POV, but quickly expanded to include his sister Lauren, his girlfriend Kerry Chang, and more recently characters like Ryan and Ning. Indeed, the strongest characters in the series are the girls. This instalment also includes the awesome Tovah, and the future’s looking bright with a new youngster we meet at the end.

As for the boys… Well, in the past James cheated on Kerry. Ryan’s still hung up on someone he met on a mission, though he could do better. And while Bruce Norris’s choice of girlfriend is otherwise awesome…she’s seventeen, and he’s about twenty-three.

Though Lauren stars on the front cover, the character with the biggest arc in the book is Kerry. She goes through a lot of tripe and upheaval, but it looks like she’ll be OK.