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Natchez Burning
Natchez Burning
by Greg Iles
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.72

4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, 16 April 2014
This review is from: Natchez Burning (Hardcover)
A 791-page tome is a big ask. Especially considering it's a thriller, and the first in a trilogy - is it possible to keep the tension going for so long? Greg Iles is no ordinary writer, and thus he succeeds where others wouldn't.

It's also quite a challenge to write about racism and prejudice, and the author asks all the tough questions, with even more uncomfortable answers. And that's the point: people are often prejudiced, though they don't mean to be. Even thinking of someone as "exotic," and admitting that's part of the allure - this is prejudice, and Tom Cage acknowledges that. In a promotional video, the author says, "No one is immune to prejudice," and this book shows that truth.

This is Mississippi. Even in my high school in far away Australia, studying the film "Mississippi Burning" was part of the English curriculum. Although the lead characters love Natchez, they know the way the town is run and the things that happen in it are far from perfect. As mayor, Penn Cage does what he can, but even he is way out of his league when dealing with the likes of the Double Eagles and their descendants. What starts as trying to get his father off a murder charge soon becomes just the tip of the iceberg.

And it's horrific to read. But important. Hate crimes, and crimes against those trying to atone for their past, should not be easy to face, should not be swept under the carpet. But in the midst of all this terrible stuff are some real heroes: Albert Norris, whose music shop serves as a secret rendezvous for interracial couples. Henry Sexton, who investigates these cold cases for decades, even though it seriously endangers him and everyone he cares about. And Sleepy Johnston, who could be the key to providing evidence.

Though Penn, Caitlin, and Tom are the lead characters, they are not the real heroes. Not even they are above underhanded tactics to get what they want, and sometimes they are really freaking annoying. But these flaws make them more believable.

And then there's Katy, whose own father punished her for the supposed "crime" of loving a black boy. The repercussions continue, and this subplot is of particular interest to me because of the sanatorium element. Hopefully this is further explored later.

There are no happy endings here, but with time (over the remainder of the trilogy) maybe a little bit of justice can be served. The problem with reading a book as soon as it's released is that it makes the wait until the next novel even longer. But in the hands of Greg Iles, the wait will likely be worth it for readers. Looking forward to THE BONE TREE in 2015...


Cured
Cured
by Bethany Wiggins
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.03

3.0 out of 5 stars Playing pretend, 11 April 2014
This review is from: Cured (Paperback)
I've forgotten most of STUNG. There was bee flu, but the vaccine turned people into "beasts". The population is low now - due to lack of crops (no bee pollination, or there's killer-bee population), bees killing people, or people killing people? This isn't really explained in CURED; it's more "this is how things are now - deal with it".

The author succeeds in creating a genuinely dystopian world. In this rampant rape culture, females are particularly sought after now that a hundred captives of raiders have been mysteriously freed. To be safe, Jacqui lives as a boy: Jack. (Is this before or after she and her mother are denied access to the walled city because they're "obese"? Fat-shaming, y'all.)

Jacqui is presented as a twelve-year-old boy. Thus a particular scene, wherein a raider handles her neck, seems like logic-fail. During puberty, a male's laryngeal prominence (Adam's apple) enlarges considerably. And when does puberty hit? Twelve years old. The age "Jack" is supposed to be. And even though the raider thoroughly feels up her neck, he doesn't seem to notice the lack of laryngeal prominence.

Speaking of nonsense: the romance. In this fictional world, m/m sexuality seems non-existent. Without female captives, the raiders have become less violent due to lack of rape opportunities, and they apparently haven't turned to raping males. (Rape may be about power rather than sexuality in the real world, but in this book it's definitely more about sex.) It would've been interesting had Kevin not known Jack's true gender, so he could question his sexuality, but no. The author shuts the door on that, and instead constructs an eye-rolling, weak story of Kevin having loved Jacqui long before he encounters her.

Another missed opportunity for internal conflict involves Jacqui's brother. Had he actually turned out to be bad (as opposed to just pretending), Jacqui would've had to do some deep soul-searching. Would she have been able to forgive him? Would she still love him, knowing he was such an awful person? But this doesn't happen, and therefore we don't get the serious thinking.

Happy endings in dystopia feel so false, and kind of insulting to the reader. We can handle reading the dark stuff; that's why we read dystopias. But to chicken out, and have the main character remain unscathed, with all her loved ones alive? Go hard or go home, writers - don't just have your story play pretend.


The Incrementalists
The Incrementalists
by Steven Brust
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.16

3.0 out of 5 stars Logic-fail, 4 April 2014
This review is from: The Incrementalists (Hardcover)
As a left-brainer, my thoughts often stop me from fully enjoying stories. I don't need every little thing explained in extensive detail, but something more than vagueness. For a novel filled with symbols and analogies, my experience was less than optimal.

Logic-fail kept me from falling under THE INCREMENTALISTS's spell. When even immortality sounds more believable than the concept herein, it's a sign the world-building is somewhat flawed. An incrementalist's memories can be implanted into someone else via A BURNING SPIKE TO THE FOREHEAD. Only because there's no mention of seared flesh or brain damage, the burning memory-spike may be symbolic/analogous and therefore not real. And that kind of stuff really gets my goat.

The whole novel takes place over a week, so there's insta-love. That could be explained due to meddlework, but the two parties seem relatively cool with the fact they were basically pimped, minds meddled with so they'd fall in love with one another. That's hella creepy, and yet our characters seem nonplussed. Huh.

And for a secret society dedicated to making the world a better place, a little bit at a time, they do no such thing in the main storyline - they just focus on themselves. Sure, they may have done some bettering in the past (though the references to real life events really irk me - YOU BROKE THE FOURTH WALL, BOOK!), but apparently nothing in connection to the major plot.

P.S. Early on a character checks their Google Reader, and I immediately thought, "Ha! You just dated yourself, book!" Then I realised the email above the reference is dated...2011. Yep, listing the year in the emails dates the book even more than Google Reader. We really only need to see the messages, and the to/from section. Dates are irrelevant. (Unless there's a particular reason the novel's set in 2011, other than that's when the authors wrote it. If there is a story-based reason, I missed it.)


Erased (Altered)
Erased (Altered)
by Jennifer Rush
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.09

3.0 out of 5 stars Unnecessary sequel, 31 Mar 2014
This review is from: Erased (Altered) (Hardcover)
I went into the first book (ALTERED) expecting science fiction, and instead got a thriller. It didn't need a sequel, yet it has one (ERASED). And having read that second novel, it doesn't need a sequel, yet it has one (REBORN will be published in early-January 2015). And there's a novella (FORGED), but that hasn't sold Australian rights, so I can't buy and read it - which means I'm relying on YOU to tell me the spoilers.

We need to talk about this series' covers. (The U.S. covers, I mean - non-English-language covers aren't my concern.) Because the main male characters have been genetically altered, they're aging slower, so I don't actually know how old any of them are. But this is marketed as young adult, which likely means the characters are teenagers. And shirtless teenagers make me feel uncomfortable. No, I'm not attracted to them, but I'm afraid other, older-than-teenage readers might be, and that's creepy. Please don't perv on teenagers, y'all.

The good news is that the American covers have been altered (hee-hee...SHUT UP, TEZ; PUNS AREN'T FUNNY!) so there's some colour pattern covering up the teenage man-titty. Except for FORGED's cover, but that's a novella, and thus may not strictly be part of the canon. But the full-length novel covers have censored the teenage man-titty, and I applaud the publisher (Little, Brown) for making this wise move.

And now onto ERASED's story. It starts so slowly that I thought it wouldn't be a thriller after all. (More like a suspense - building up to something, but nothing of note thus far.) So without plot, we're stuck with character...and Anna is annoying. She slut-shames Nick (and don't give me that faff about only women being slut-shamed - slut-shaming ANYONE is not okay!). She sees the only other female character as a love-rival. (Well, this other female used to date Anna's boyfriend, but shouldn't Anna be more concerned about her boyfriend, rather than just blaming the female for maybe wanting to get with her guy? He has freewill, and he chooses to follow the Compass of Wang.)

The more you think about thrillers, they make less sense. The law-breaking going on here is just appalling: The characters kill SO MANY PEOPLE. They SHOOT or knock them unconscious (even if they don't die). They UNDRESS unconscious people. They trespass/break into people's homes/cabins, and temporarily LIVE IN THEM. They steal SO MANY CARS. They have SO MANY WEAPONS (likely stolen), including LOTS OF GUNS. And that doesn't include all the money they mysteriously have. Being on the run is expensive, y'all: groceries, prepaid phones, diner meals, coffees, and all the fuel for their FREQUENT, LONG CAR JOURNEYS. These characters don't work, and thus don't get paid, and yet never seem to be short on funds. Where are they getting all that cash?! Likely stolen, because these characters seem to lack ethics - they claim to feel guilty about killing people, but then go on to kill even more people.

So what non-spoiler things happen in ERASED? People that were thought to be dead aren't actually dead. Characters have flashbacks, and keep secrets from each other about what the flashbacks mean. We learn who created the Branch. There are sleeper agents with trigger phrases that are a lot shorter than, "Gosh, that Italian family at the next table sure is quiet."


Make It Catchy: The Quintessential Guide to Writing Query Letters (Quintessential Guides)
Make It Catchy: The Quintessential Guide to Writing Query Letters (Quintessential Guides)
Price: 0.77

3.0 out of 5 stars Short, sharp, and to the point, 17 Mar 2014
Though my writing days are over, I'm still very much interested in the publishing industry and inside info. And if the insiders are people of whom I've actually heard, all the better.

These 62 pages are short, sharp, and to the point - serious, but still inspiring. Marta Acosta has been with six agents (I only knew about the last three), and she's still standing, thanks to an eye toward the future whilst keeping her backlist available in various formats.

New-to-me information includes some websites I hadn't subscribed to before, as well as permission/encouragement to be "a little flamboyant" in the hook. Maybe it's my Australian wariness of Tall Poppy Syndrome, but that feels awkward. You shouldn't make promises you can't keep - I hate it when publicity says something is "unmissable", "everyone's talking about", etc, because IT'S JUST SO SNARKABLE. (Maybe I've watched too many programme promos on TV...) But to each their own.

Whilst it's a pretty good compilation of advice, it'd be better served by perhaps adding the query letters that enticed her most recent agents - i.e., the manuscripts that sold. They would be true examples of query letters that work.

Also, the author's "completely unmarketable first novel"? I want to know all about it! That's a totally normal response, yes?


The Devil's Punchbowl
The Devil's Punchbowl
by Greg Iles
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely graphic, 15 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Devil's Punchbowl (Paperback)
Oy. THE DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL is hard reading, and not just because of its 550-page length. (Seriously, it's so physically awkward to hold open the book at times.)

Dog-fighting. It's not mentioned on the cover summary, but this is one of those things you really need to know beforehand. It's extremely graphic. DO NOT READ CHAPTER 31. I did, and I wish I hadn't. Just trust me on this. Nothing in that chapter happens plot-wise that isn't summarised later, so it's okay to skip.

The novel ends on a cliff-hanger, which I've heard is resolved in an e-novella, THE DEATH FACTORY. Which is annoying, because I still haven't found a DRM-free, non-geo-restricted, PayPal-welcome online bookstore that sells it. Grr...


Thursdays Children
Thursdays Children
by Nicci French
Edition: Paperback

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quality, 13 Mar 2014
This review is from: Thursdays Children (Paperback)
Nicci French is one of the few crime authors whose work I've read up to date. THURSDAY'S CHILDREN is another quality instalment in the Frieda Klein series, sad in many different circumstances. Victims are chosen specifically because the perp knows no one will believe them. That the victims' own mothers don't believe their daughters goes to show that the perp was correct in that, and it says a lot about society. It's depressing. There's victim-blaming and victim-shaming, and it's hard to read.

But this novel is less about daughters than it is about mothers:

-There's a tiny subplot involving poor Sasha, who's having a tough time.
-Frieda's mother is dying, and even if she wasn't, she'd still be unlikeable. Juliet Klein's granddaughter has had her issues, "Because her mother's a slut. Yes."
-The most recent victim's mother lashes out at Frieda: "Don't you talk to me in that calm voice. You don't understand. You'll never understand. You're not a mother. You're just a machine. You don't know what it feels like HERE."

It's that quote by Maddie that irks me the most. And it says a lot about society that unfortunately a lot of people would agree with her. Women who aren't mothers, by choice or otherwise, are treated as a lower species, inhuman. And as a non-mother, I do take offence to that. It's possible to be a mother without being obnoxious and derogatory about it, but unfortunately Maddie... That she's a victim's mother is no excuse for her to lash out at innocent people like Frieda.

Fingers crossed there's a fifth Frieda Klein novel coming soon. I love catching up with the gang, especially Josef, the tradie with a heart of gold.


Season to Taste or How to Eat Your Husband
Season to Taste or How to Eat Your Husband
by Natalie Young
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 8.36

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary, 6 Mar 2014
Is it, or is it not, a spoiler? It's the subtitle on the UK cover, and clearly the drawcard. Without it, I wouldn't have tried the book. So glad I did, though. Murder! Dismemberment! Cooking! Cannibalism! If you're interested in any of these, you'll be interested in Natalie Young's SEASON TO TASTE, OR HOW TO EAT YOUR HUSBAND. (Rephrase that: If you're interested in READING any of these... Because if you enjoy DOING murder, dismemberment, or cannibalism, you'd best turn yourself into police.)

So is Lizzie Prain a remarkable character, or are there just extreme circumstances? Nothing in particular seems to precede the murder. Jacob wasn't abusive; though it's clear it was a loveless marriage, a relationship out of convenience rather than anything else. Unemployment is a very relevant issue, and the strain it has on relationships is rather testing.

The cannibalism actually makes sense, strange as that sounds. If you don't want to be arrested, you've got to hide the evidence. A secluded location helps, as does a good barbecue, food processor, variety of recipes, and determination.

Yet the most fascinating sequence takes place in Glasgow, with a cooler bag that's struggling to keep cool its contents...

An extraordinary tale, SEASON TO TASTE is one of those novels you never expected to read and now can't imagine going WITHOUT reading it. Seemingly a literary tome, this genre fiction fan was fully engaged with SEASON TO TASTE. The monotony of the bonfire, cooking, and eating makes sense in the context, because it builds suspense for what's to come. I won't forget this book in a hurry.

Tori Amos said it best in "Blood Roses": "Sometimes you're nothing but meat."

Now awaiting the human/soylent green challenge on "Masterchef" and "My Kitchen Rules"...


Season to Taste: Or How to Eat Your Husband (Unabridged)
Season to Taste: Or How to Eat Your Husband (Unabridged)
Offered by Audible Ltd
Price: 13.12

4.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary, 6 Mar 2014
Is it, or is it not, a spoiler? It's the subtitle on the UK cover, and clearly the drawcard. Without it, I wouldn't have tried the book. So glad I did, though. Murder! Dismemberment! Cooking! Cannibalism! If you're interested in any of these, you'll be interested in Natalie Young's SEASON TO TASTE, OR HOW TO EAT YOUR HUSBAND. (Rephrase that: If you're interested in READING any of these... Because if you enjoy DOING murder, dismemberment, or cannibalism, you'd best turn yourself into police.)

So is Lizzie Prain a remarkable character, or are there just extreme circumstances? Nothing in particular seems to precede the murder. Jacob wasn't abusive; though it's clear it was a loveless marriage, a relationship out of convenience rather than anything else. Unemployment is a very relevant issue, and the strain it has on relationships is rather testing.

The cannibalism actually makes sense, strange as that sounds. If you don't want to be arrested, you've got to hide the evidence. A secluded location helps, as does a good barbecue, food processor, variety of recipes, and determination.

Yet the most fascinating sequence takes place in Glasgow, with a cooler bag that's struggling to keep cool its contents...

An extraordinary tale, SEASON TO TASTE is one of those novels you never expected to read and now can't imagine going WITHOUT reading it. Seemingly a literary tome, this genre fiction fan was fully engaged with SEASON TO TASTE. The monotony of the bonfire, cooking, and eating makes sense in the context, because it builds suspense for what's to come. I won't forget this book in a hurry.

Tori Amos said it best in "Blood Roses": "Sometimes you're nothing but meat."

Now awaiting the human/soylent green challenge on "Masterchef" and "My Kitchen Rules"...


The Academy: Love Match
The Academy: Love Match
by Monica Seles
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Addictive, 2 Mar 2014
I only have love for one trashy series at a time, and GAME ON secured Monica Seles's The Academy series as my chosen. LOVE MATCH cements its position with more drama, and occasional sport.

Yes, sport. There are plenty of physical female characters in YA fiction, but usually they're defensive or violent, so it's great to see sport have a starring role. Tennis player Maya Hart's point of view guides the entire novel, even though her own storyline is so-so. Her on-court career is going great, but her off-court life is less successful - mostly due to her dual attraction for gridiron-playing brothers, and the occasional upstaging in the media by her rival.

Chinese golfer Cleo has won a junior invitational tournament yet keeps being criticised by a particular blogger. First for her outfits, then for her "partying", and lastly for being "Americanized". This storyline is awkward because the characters seem to equate criticism with "trolling"/"bullying". It turns out the blogger's motives are good, but the execution is not. Cleo's sub-plot wraps up neatly with a happy ending.

South African/French swimmer Renee Ledecq is a little heart-breaking here. The daughter of wealthy parents, she's extremely generous to others...but doesn't treat herself half as well. However, her latest relationship could teach her to love herself more, and hopefully this will be expanded upon in a future novel.

This addictive series has hooked me fully, and further books set in the Academy 'verse would be most welcome. Yes it's trash, but it's MY kind of trash.


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