Category Archives: Fiction

The 13 Books I Read in March

Joe Schreiber, Eat the Dark: When I found out the author was a friend of Mark Henry’s and an MRI tech, I was interested. Hoping for a medical thriller, I grabbed this book from the library. I should’ve paid attention to the genre sticker: a ghost for horror. I like medical novels because I can believe that the events within them could actually happen in real life. Not so with this one, and I’m disappointed but it’s my fault. Please let me know when the author writes a proper medical thriller. Until then, I’ll be sulking in a corner.

Laura Ruby, Good Girls: I’ve heard authors say they ‘tone down’ their material when they write young adult fiction. What a freaking copout. Which readers do you want to attract: young adults, or those who want teens to believe that everyone has Ken-and-Barbie genitalia? Finally, Laura Ruby has come through with an utterly believable novel that’s realistic of contemporary teen life. There’s no preaching, moralising, or ‘toning down’ of anything. Many thanks to the author for having the guts – and sense – to be honest.

Laurie Faria Stolarz, Blue Is for Nightmares: A quite enjoyable YA novel featuring a hereditary witch who via dreams has premonitions of her best friend’s death. Thus follows a race to keep the teen alive and out of harm’s way, whilst investigating her stalker. Good fun; and Amber is a thoroughly engaging secondary character.

Michelle Gagnon, The Tunnels: An FBI case involving Norse mythology. It probably wasn’t written badly, but it just didn’t spark my interest.

Robert Muchamore, CHERUB #7: The Fall: Another great instalment in this ever-entertaining young adult series. James Adams’ mission in Russia goes horribly wrong, and it doesn’t get any easier back home. The CIA is battling the MI5, and they’re both battling CHERUB, Britain’s intelligence organisation whose agents are kids. Whilst James investigates what his mission controller isn’t telling him, his sister Lauren is undercover in a children’s home in England, investigating human trafficking and forced prostitution. Whether they’re on a mission, trying to get some or fighting, the characters remain realistic and believable, and always make for a fun and intelligent read.

Janet Evanovich, Plum Lucky: In the words of Lurr, Ruler of Omicron Persei 8: ‘Okay; not great.’ It’s flimsy fun with Stephanie Plum’s gang, including someone who claims to be a leprechaun, and a horse that rides in an RV. Not to mention everyone spending thousands at an Atlantic City casino. But this novella’s not a must-buy.

J. A. Konrath, Dirty Martini: A pretty interesting plot involving mass poisoning, but it took me a while to get into it. (I was reading in front of the TV, and while drowsy.)

Greg Iles, True Evil: Divorces are messy, and can cost you millions of dollars. But what if there was a less expensive way to get rid of your spouse? A divorce attorney is in partnership with an evil doctor who kills unwanted spouses, but these are no simple murders: the weapon is a retrovirus that causes cancer. But FBI agent Alex Morse has the opportunity to stop future victims from being killed, but first she needs to convince Dr Chris Shepard that his wife wants him dead…and she’s doing something about it. Medical issues, suspense, a vivid setting and believably flawed characters – Greg Iles knows how to write a cracker of a novel.

Philip K. Dick, The World Jones Made: I read this while the weather was rather hot, and I just couldn’t concentrate. Which is a shame, because this book had some great ideas.

Sisters in Crime Australia (ed. Lindy Cameron), Scarlet Stiletto: The First Cut: As far as anthologies go, this one’s quite good. This is because the short stories within are from circa thirteen years of Sisters in Crime Australia’s annual Scarlet Stiletto Awards. So there are first, second, third prize entries; best police procedurals; and best crime-in-verse stories. Thus the quality is much better than I’ve usually found in anthologies, where the authors are invited to write, instead of earning the right to be there with the quality of their stories. So while I’d only heard of (and only read, incidentally) Tara Moss before, there are still quite a lot of good stories in here. There are, however, numerous typos and other stuff that really needed proofreading before publication.

Margaret Clark, Love Notes: Participants in experiments/studies must be aware that they’re participating in an experiment/study. Thus this book is lame because the experimenters/studiers didn’t go through proper procedure. But this is a novel for sixth-graders, and generally speaking, sixth-graders wouldn’t know this.

Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner (Eds.), Many Bloody Returns: The problem I have with anthologies is the quality of the stories varies greatly. This collection is no exception. The best stories were by Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine and Jeanne C. Stein. Wait until it comes out in paperback, and then buy it – not worth the hardcover price, in my opinion.

Jeri Smith-Ready, Wicked Game: Con artist Ciara Griffin joins a radio station as a marketing intern, and learns that the DJs are all vampires, and the eras of music they play is the only way to keep them from ‘fading’. Ciara’s rivalry with Jolene is so high school, and the author keeps trying to redeem Ciara instead of letting readers accept that we’ve all got something bad inside us. All in all, it’s a fresh take on vampires with some interesting ideas. I’m looking forward to reading Book 2 next year.

The 11 Books I Read in January

Jim Butcher, White Night
My brain in summer: I can read things, but not a lot of it absorbs; I can enjoy things at the time then later forget the details. Such was my state of mind when reading this instalment of ‘The Dresden Files’. Bob’s great, Carlos Ramirez is great…and if I remember correctly (which I may not) Priscilla the Bitch was great too. As for other details of the book? Molly Carpenter is a sex symbol for horny old men. Now my brain rests.

Justin Gustainis, Black Magic Woman
Ever read a book where the protag doesn’t really interest you, but everyone else does? That was the situation for me with this novel: our protag is Quincey Morris, an occult investigator who’s a descendant of the Quincey Morris from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That gimmick put me off, but Quincey’s partner in crime, white witch Libby Chastain, is very interesting. Less Quincey and more Libby, Mr Gustainis, please! Some scenes seem unnecessary, and others seem like short stories more than part of a novel, but keep reading. The main reason to continue is the subject of muti killings, something I hadn’t heard of before. An important character whom I rather like is Garth Van Dreenan from the South African Police’s Occult Crime Unit. I just happen to love the South African accent, so of course I was going to like the man. A character I particularly didn’t like is Snake Perkins, a bigot who thinks of his partner-in-crime as…an N-word. Only the N-word is actually written, which made me really uncomfortable. I can handle murderers and such in fiction, but a racist? That’s just too much for me. I would’ve liked to learn more about Project Violet (Scotland Yard’s unit investigating witchcraft crime), and an incubus unlike any other I’ve come across before in fiction. And keep an eye out for what I call ‘A Series of Hallucinogenic Events’. I would’ve edited out some scenes, but this is still a great read, and we can all look forward to more from this author.

Libba Bray, Rebel Angels
At 549 pages, this is a big read, and rather a stretch for my fingers to hold. But I’ll forgive the author because there’s a lot of interesting stuff in here: Opium! Absinthe! Felicity’s family secret! Anagrams! (Yes, I have to exclaim those, though the book didn’t.) Now who wouldn’t want to read about them?

Cynthia Leitich Smith, Rain Is Not My Indian Name
Even with the happy ending, this book was still too depressing for me. Was an interesting look at race relations, though.

Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
I thought I was enjoying the book while I read it, but now I can’t pinpoint what I liked about it. The downside, however, is that I sometimes wanted to yell at the characters ‘Get over them, they’re not worth it’. Keep an eye out for Tris, who’s the most fascinating character.

Gabrielle Lord, Jumbo
This was first published in 1986, but still has relevance today. Lisa Brand is a school leaver who’s finding it impossible to land a job. She’s tried everywhere and keeps getting knocked back, and when her father is laid off from his job, tensions are even higher in the household. With so much pain, suffering and horror in the world the only thing that brings Lisa any joy is caring for three children. They deserve to live somewhere better than this world, especially because their mother’s new suitor doesn’t like them. So Lisa decides to give the kids a good Christmas by the beach, but she hadn’t counted on smart Brenny, a thinker who realises that something’s terribly wrong with Lisa, and that it’s up to Brenny to save him and his siblings. Even though Lisa is the antag, she is so utterly believable that you can’t help but sympathise, and this is a sign of a very good writer. If you’re looking for psychological suspense, here’s one novel you can’t go past.

Rachel Caine, The Dead Girls’ Dance
The copy is misleading: Claire Danvers and Eve Rosser didn’t have dates for the Dead Girls’ Dance (whose name is also misleading; it was just a fancy-dress boozer). The action starts on the first page: Claire and Eve believe one of their housemates has been murdered, but instead of being dead he’s some kind of ghost. College town Morganville is basically run by vampires, a bitchy bunch of people who prove that power corrupts absolutely. But who are the evil ones: the vampires or those seeking them? It’s all a bit confusing, but is nonetheless an interesting read. There are some scenes with college girls and guys being lame that I would’ve cut. We’re simply told that Claire is an early-admissions genius, yet we don’t get solid proof. Sure, she reads ahead in her texts and likes physics…but this is the same chick who drinks from an opened bottle offered to her by a stranger. You may be familiar with the phrase OMGWTFBBQ, but for me it was an OMGWTFSVH moment. (The 1bruce1 LiveJournal community should educate you.) Drink-spiking! Attempted statutory rape! Dance at a frat house! This is not a bad thing, though, it made me smile. I’ll be reading more from this author, and hoping for more OMGWTFSVH moments.

Laurell K. Hamilton, A Lick of Frost
Well, this was astounding. I hadn’t really connected with these books before, so this was a bit surprising. Three of Princess Meredith NicEssus’s guards have been accused of raping someone from King Taranis’s court, but this is thrown by the wayside when King Taranis brutally attacks Merry’s people through a mirror. But that’s not all: in a strange event that I didn’t understand, Merry receives her most devastating blow yet, and even though it comes with good news she can’t be merry. (What? Someone had to say it.) But King Taranis isn’t done with Merry yet. Unfortunately, it takes a while to get to the good stuff: I was reading but not particularly immersed until circa page 200, so the bulk of the action happens in the last 75 pages. There were moments when I was pissed off with Merry: she used magic to get a human doctor to do her bidding. And talk of Merry’s favourites seemed to be quite an issue. Quoth Merry: ‘Wasn’t I entitled to have favourites?’ Yes, you are, but if you’re still shagging your non-favourites you’re leading them on, and that’s not nice. Those points aside, this is by far my favourite of the Merry books.

Gabrielle Lord, Tooth and Claw
Though first published in 1983, this novel still holds up well. On an isolated farm, finances aren’t looking good for Beth after her husband’s death. Fearing she’s being watched, Beth hunts for shelter elsewhere. But there are signs that someone’s still on her property, so she returns to face the music, armed with a gun, her dog and a jar of magic mushrooms. Fans of Gwen Hunter’s Shadow Valley should enjoy this Australian location with its strong protag.

Elizabeth Flock, But Inside I’m Screaming
This novel took the author four years to write, and it’s clearly understandable why: it’s so harrowing. Broadcast journalist Isabel Murphy freezes on screen and after one too many suicide attempts checks herself into a psychiatric hospital. This is a disturbing read filled with memorable characters who are all too real, with heart-wrenching back stories. The road to mental wellness is so difficult with numerous setbacks, and Isabel does her best to struggle through. But perhaps the most powerful thing about this novel is that it makes the reader think about themselves, their own life, what breaks them down. As someone mentally ill, this novel really did get to me, articulating feelings I’d found indescribable. This novel gives a voice to those who can’t find the right words. It’s a real effort to keep reading this emotionally draining story, but it’s worth it. Buy it for yourself and your loved ones. Share it with the world. And may it help us all on the road to recovery.

Nury Vittachi, The Shanghai Union of Industrial Mystics
Readers who’ve found Alexander McCall Smith’s work too cutesy will be better off with this light novel with a social conscience. Feng shui master CF Wong and his Australian assistant Joyce McQuinnie have moved from Singapore to Shanghai…only their new office is blown up. Traffic jams are abundant, and a bomb is discovered inside a live elephant. However, sometimes the author’s humour appears at inappropriate moments: a major murder scene (recalling Robert Muchamore’s Man v Beast) should’ve been harrowing for the reader, but it wasn’t. Still, the author makes up for it with social commentary, when an American character says, ‘How come every goddamn nation on this planet counts in kilos and we count in pounds? What’s wrong with them all?’ Of course it would make more sense for Americans to join in counting kilos, but do you think they’d see it? Not Thomas ‘Cobb’ Dooley!

The 10 Books I Read in September

Keri Arthur, Dangerous Games I have a feeling this series was meant to be a trilogy, because this forth book doesn’t quite seem to fit in with the genetic/cloning plot thread of the preceding novels. As a guardian, Riley Jenson has to shag suspects to get information out of them, and this case involves a secret sex club where death is the ultimate satisfaction. Something like that, anyway; I got confused. Quinn continues to be mega-emo here, doing nothing to dispel the vampiric stereotype. Quinn’s a bastard to Riley, yet she won’t ditch him because of the sex. Wake up, bitch: you can get it, and better, from others who aren’t so emo. Drop the whinger already!

Armistead Maupin, Michael Tolliver Lives Methinks the author doesn’t outline, and instead writes on the fly. I say that because really his novels seem more like vignettes than proper plotted novels. Yet, I still love reading them, this one included.

Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black, The Spiderwick Chronicles #2: The Seeing Stone
Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black, The Spiderwick Chronicles #5: The Wrath of Mulgarath

Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events #11: The Grim Grotto Apparently, horseradish can be substituted with wasabi. Who knew?

Scott Westerfeld, The Last Days The author’s Midnighters and Uglies series just haven’t appealed to me. But this series is a good one: a vampire story where the V-word is rarely mentioned. Where the vampires (of sorts) aren’t emo – now that’s something to cheer about! And the readers who’ll get the most out of this are music fans – both listeners and players. (B+)

Libba Bray, A Great and Terrible Beauty

Charlaine Harris, All Together Dead The narrator finds it ridiculous that someone is named Jodi. Right, and that’s coming from someone named Sookie. Yeah.

Dinah McCall, The Survivors The first third was good. Then…for crying out loud, couples don’t speak like that! Real couples yell at each other, pick petty fights…not all that lovey-dovey stuff.

Kit Whitfield, Bareback After reading so many American books, it’s nice to read an urban fantasy book by a different author – this one is English, even though her characters inhabit a fictional city. In a society where werewolves are hideously violent and definitely not living in secret, the nons – cruelly referred to as barebacks – are in charge of policing them, especially on the tense moon night. Legal adviser Lola Galley investigates as to who killed one of her best mates, but then the suspect – and likely culprit – goes missing. And it all has something to do with some questionable – illegal – medical practises. This novel is a real treat, and rare in that the author hasn’t mentioned it being part of a series (this would never happen in the U.S.). Lola is a relatable narrator with emotions and conflictions that make her real. Get ready for a great read. (B+)

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre Apparently, the author’s earlier work (the ‘Angrian’ stories) were all of pretty people with pretty things in pretty places. But then she decided to write about more realistic things, that more people could relate to. Jane Eyre, unlike most of today’s contemporary heroines, is plain, and so are the people around her. As for the story itself: I only read it because I liked the idea of Bertha, and she’s a very interesting character. As for the rest of the novel… quite frankly, I only managed to finish it because I was hoping for more Bertha scenes: I was disappointed.

The 21 Books I Read in August

Louise Welsh, The Cutting Room This gritty, noir novel deals with the debauched. Rilke works in an auction house, and his latest job leads him to go against his client’s orders. Miss McKindless wants the contents of her brother’s attic burnt. But Rilke knows this extensive collection of pornography is very valuable. What disturbs him, however, are the photographs: were these women killed in the name of snuff? An interesting story, though I read too much of it in front of the TV, and thus didn’t pay as much attention as I should have.

Tom Holt, Only Human
Tom Holt, Here Comes the Sun
Tom Holt, Odds and Gods

John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In This tale is much more than just a vampire story. It has crime, social commentary, school life, parental issues, alcoholism and cats. It’s so refreshing to read an urban fantasy novel that doesn’t have the cliché kick-arse heroine. Instead, we have schoolboy Oskar, bullied relentlessly at school, who has a macabre fascination with murder. Eli, who’s just moved next door, is like no one else Oskar’s encountered before, and there’s a good reason for that. Oskar and Eli are two of the most fascinating characters I’ve come across in a long time. The cat scenes are disturbing – the moral of the story being not to own eighteen cats. (I’m happy with just one.) The cruelty and violence of the kids is horrifying; forget the innocence you believe children have. An engrossing read that leaves me awaiting the author’s second novel to be translated into English.

Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black, The Spiderwick Chronicles #4: The Ironwood Tree
Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events #6: The Ersatz Elevator
Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events #8: The Hostile Hospital
Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events #9: The Carnivorous Carnival

Meg Cabot, Missing: Missing You This book came out of nowhere and knocked my socks off. I read the first four novels in this series some time ago, and only remembered the basics: that when Jessica Mastriani was struck by lightning, she got the ability to find missing people. Now Jess is nineteen, and has finally got over the night terrors that plagued her since she went to Afghanistan to find people for the U.S. Marines. She’s lost her ability now, so she’s doubtful that she can help her ex Rob find his newfound half-sister. But when she knows the girl’s location, Jess returns with Rob to Indiana. They track down Hannah, but things are dangerous and complicated: the underage sex pornography distribution ring helmed by a wealthy heir. Finally, a young adult novel that tackles the big issues! And though I usually despise romance, even this subplot had me locked in. I just loved, adored this book. The others in the series were good, but nowhere near this fantastic. But of course, there’s bad news: this is the conclusion of the Missing series. And the author’s finished her Mediator series too – typical, the stuff by her that I rather like, she stops writing. That’s really disappointing, because I can’t recommend this novel enough.

Justine Larbalestier, Magic’s Child
Maria V. Snyder, Magic Study
J. A. Konrath, Whiskey Sour

Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events #5: The Austere Academy This is the first novel in which we meet the Quagmires. I still think of Family Guy whenever I see that surname, and giggle. All right! 

Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events #10: The Slippery Slope I reckon Verdant Flammable Devices are bongs. Esmé Squalor thinks they’re cigarettes. Either way, they’re smoking paraphernalia – in a kids’ book. Well done to the author on getting it past the censors. Young Sunny Baudelaire has evolved. She used to talk gibberish, but now she’s rather eloquent. She even informs those around her that she’s not a baby anymore. Houston, we have character development.

Karin Slaughter, Skin Privilege The author’s books are great for many reasons, but one that particularly comes to mind are characters. They aren’t Mary Sues and Gary Stus – these people are really screwed up, and none more so than my favourite, Lena Adams. This novel takes us out of Grant County where Lena is suspected of a brutal murder. And she’s flown the coop. This is a woman who doesn’t want to be saved, yet seemingly doesn’t want to save herself, either. And the people populating her hometown…yep, they’re screwed up, too. They keep family secrets, they’re big on drugs, and skinheads unfortunately abound. But what’s most surprising about this novel? The final page. Don’t spoil it for yourself, readers.

Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events #12: The Penultimate Peril Opium dens are mentioned on page 27. I’m just letting you know in case your children ask what they are, so you have time to formulate an eloquent response.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Tattoo Four friends put on temporary tattoos, and with them come supernatural gifts to help them in the battle against an evil Sídhe – I think. Fairies confuse me, so I didn’t quite understand. Which is a shame, because other than that, the novel seemed to be a great read.

Harlan Coben, Promise Me Myron Bolitar is back, but he’s no longer just a sports agent, and this book has nothing to do with sport. Instead, the daughter of one of Myron’s friends calls him to pick her up and drop her off somewhere. But then no one hears from her for days. Keep an eye out for the baddie who quotes from Kylie Minogue’s “Got to Be Certain”…in Spanish.

Keri Arthur, Kissing Sin What pissed me off (and I get pissed off very easily, I might add) is that some words were changed to suit the American audience. But allow me to provide the back story: the author is based in Victoria, Australia, the same state I’m in. But she has an American agent, editor and publisher – thus why some things have been changed. Ketchup should be tomato sauce, and mom should be mum. These may seem like minor things to you, but really: Americans aren’t as xenophobic as the stereotype/myth goes. I reckon there are Americans out there who’d actually like to expand their global vocabulary. So yes, it pissed me off to see the Americanised words – or should I say Americanized? These changes really did bring me out of the story, and once that happens it’s very hard for me to get reinvolved.

Keri Arthur, Tempting Evil Sometimes you’ve got to stick with a series, because it’ll eventually come through with the goods. Full Moon Rising was okay. Kissing Sin was better. Tempting Evil is the best of the series so far. The sci-fi factor of the genes/cloning plotline is definitely interesting, what I consider to be the best part of the series. Character-wise, the author has finally got around to including some more females, and Dia, Berna and Nerida are memorable. That the story mostly takes place on one location is wise, creating a tense atmosphere. As for Riley Jenson, it’s good to see her actually try to defy her wolf instincts. She still continues to shag many people and often, but she denies the animal within her by trying to hold back from killing so willingly. And of course, the scene near Luna Park reminded me of the Palace (right near LP), which burned down earlier this year. The Palace was never mentioned in the novel, but it still provoked fond memories. Yes, I like reading about places I actually know, places I’ve been to – it’s good to be Victorian after all 😉