July 27

Soon by Morris Gleitzman

9780670078875It has been out nearly a month! And I had to wait to get my hands on the latest in the Felix adventures! But ‘once’ I got my hands on the copy, ‘after’ the other librarians had finished. ‘Then’ I sat down to read with a class, and had to finish it off that night. ‘Now’ I have to work out what I can say to explain to you how wonderful this book is, without spoiling.

If you have read any of the books in the Felix series, you will remember that Felix is a young Jewish boy caught up in the Holocaust of World War II. We have followed Felix through his various captures and escapes, and remember his train ride towards disaster. He has lived with partisans and eventually built a new life in Australia. All the time he somehow maintains a positive outlook and faith in humanity.

Soon covers the period of time immediately after the war. When one government had gone, and nothing was in place. Life was tough, for everyone. And with Poland for the Poles roaming the streets killing indiscriminately, life for Felix is more than a little dangerous. Then he is handed a bundle by a girl running for her life. That bundle happens to be a young baby, and suddenly staying quiet and secure becomes just a little more difficult.

Gleitzman has always been able to view complex world issues through the eyes of children, and he can write for kids with a real sensitivity and understanding. Over the past 20+ years I have read books where he looks at issues of disability, refugees, environmental damage, as well as the Holocaust. Many times I have had discussions with adults that firmly believe that kids should be protected from all such unpleasantness. Personally I have always taken the side that argues that kids need to know and understand so that it never happens again.

Thank you once again Morris for the chance for a wonderful read.

June 17

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

isbn9780356500966Oh, it has taken so long to get to this book. Number 15 in a series! And I read the whole series before I started this one. But I am glad I waited. Although this book would read comfortably as a stand-alone, it was more fun to read with the backstory fresh in my memory.

Harry Dresden is in trouble. His apprentice has been taken by the Winter Court, he is under the control of Mab and all the evil spirits controlled by Demonreach are waking up and becoming active. He has plenty to do trying to hold his world together, but Mab demands that he gets involved in a vault heist to steal the Holy Grail from Hades. How to ruin a perfectly good day. Unfortunately, a refusal is a death sentence, so as usual Harry tries to follow the letter of the contract without getting the city of Chicago wrecked in the process. And if he can somehow thwart the plans, so much the better.

Normally a long series of books deteriorate as they go. The author runs low on ideas, or simply┬ámilks the same plot one more time. Or in an effort to outdo the previous instalment, the stories become silly parodies of the early books. But Butcher is different. It’s as though he is growing to understand Harry and his team a little better in each book. Then the plot can be more complex, and the characters more complete. In Skin Game we have a heist novel, wrapped up in an urban fantasy with enough relationship drama to keep the reader coming back for more.

Skin Game well deserved it’s Hugo nomination and now I am ready for book 16. Bring it on!

June 17

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

isbn9780575092860Everyone knows Charlaine Harris. I doubt there is anyone with a television who hasn’t at least heard of True Blood, and I have reviewed several of the Sookie Stackhouse and Aurora Teagarden series. So last year when I got my hands on an advance copy of her new series opener, I started it almost immediately. I knew what to expect – a little romance, a little mystery, enough suspense to keep the pages turning, and a delightful supernatural silliness. I was not disappointed.

Midnight, Texas is a sleepy little town with a lot of empty buildings and few permanent residents. When Manfred Bernardo moves into town, he is sure he has found the perfect place to base his online psychic service. Gradually he meets the other ‘locals’ and psychic abilities are no help when trying to work them all out. There is the herbalist ‘witch’ who lives across the road, the gay couple who run the salon/antique shop, and his landlord with the 24 hour pawnshop, the reclusive Rev, and the family that runs the diner. Nobody asks too many questions, and that makes it easier for everyone to keep their secrets. But when Manfred runs into trouble, his secret is out and he finds that he needs the help and support of his new community.

This is very much an introductory book. The reader gets to meet the neighbours and make his own mind up about them all. Harris presumes that all readers will accept her supernatural cast of characters, even look forward to getting to know them all.

I am going to admit that I am looking forward to following series. The characters are fun and even original. This could simply have been a rehash of True Blood, but instead there is a lot more psychic than supe in Midnight.

June 17

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis

9781760111977Every now and then publishers appear to decide on a ‘theme’ for YA readers. During these times every second book published is about – vampires, teenage pregnancy, or terminally ill teens, etc. Twenty years ago the ‘theme’ was homosexuality in teen boys. This year is the girl’s turn. I think I have read 5 books so far this year with a lesbian relationship at the core, and I have heard of many more recently published, or soon to be released. However many are out there, you can be sure this is one of the best.

Set in Iran during the late 80s, Farrin is attending an exclusive school for the academically gifted. She is lonely and friendless, and very aware of her parents’ political incorrectness. Farrin retreats to an imaginary world of stories where women can be powerful and strong. Then one day Sadira arrives at the school and Farrin’s world is turned upside down. For the first time she has a friend! But in a world where a hug is viewed with suspicion and a kiss is a hanging offence, their friendship quickly becomes the target of criticism. And when the Revolutionary Guard gets involved everything spirals out of control.

As always, Ellis’ research is impeccable. Her writing is authoritative and real, but remains accessible to young readers. The story she tells is confronting, and may be emotionally difficult for some readers. However, just like Parvana, it is a story that needs to be told.

Be warned, the final chapters cover a range of difficult topics – capital punishment, arranged marriages, torture. These are all part of the powerful writing, but discretion is advised for very young readers.

May 19

Shadows by Paula Weston

9781921922503Supernatural romance novels. By now I would swear that there can be nothing new. They were the flavour of the month for years – until dystopian adventures took over. So – ho hum – this can fall to the bottom of the review stack. And there it lingered for a few years. Then book two arrived. Put the two together and wait for a good opportunity to read them. A few weeks ago I had a long and quiet weekend and got started.

Gaby is a normal teenager living in a remote surfing community. She works at the local cafe, lives with her BFF and grieves for her brother who was killed in a road accident a year ago. The only problem she has is a recurring nightmare that involves demons and hell-beasts. Eventually she writes down the story of the dream and submits it to a short story competition. Then Rafa comes to town, claiming to be her brothers best friend, but Gaby has no memory of him, except as a face in her dream. So what is reality – her life or her nightmare?

Shadows turned out to be a very good read. Paula Weston has writing style that holds attention and keeps you turning pages, but still pausing every now and then to think! Are the characters that feel foul really not to be trusted? Is Rafa too good to be true? There are no answers spelled out, the reader is left to draw their own conclusions.

I should have known better. Text doesn’t have a huge YA list, but it is generally quality reading. I have already handed Shadows on to others, and feedback has been excellent.

Now to get the rest of the series.

May 9

The 100 by Kass Morgan

9780316234498_p0_v2_s260x420Dystopian fiction – end this world and begin another. Once upon a time, believe it or not, this genre was seen as too dark and negative for adolescent readers. Are those days gone and forgotten. Publishers seem to publish nothing else, and Hollywood is turning out product for the big – and small – screen.

Fans of the TV series will already know that in this scenario the earth has been destroyed by nuclear holocaust. Humanity has escaped to space stations circling the earth, but now supplies are running low and the future has to change. Idea 1: send 100 criminals to earth and see if they survive. After a rough landing, the ‘colonists’ emerge onto a planet that seems to be paradise. But life isn’t as easy as one would hope. And therein lies the story.

I will admit that I have never seen the TV series, but have certainly read good reviews. Fortunately the reviewer had read the books and indicated that there are significant differences.

In keeping with the genre, this book is full of action, adventure, romance and all the other things that keep young adults coming back for more and more. Certainly I kept turning pages and reading through long sessions. But is it quality literature – no. Did I waste my time – maybe, but then again reading popular fiction titles is part of my job. Will I continue through the whole series – Doubtful.

May 9

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

9780552566001-1-edition.default.original-1Fantasy – generally a genre with limited appeal. Most young adults either love it – or hate it. And ‘high’ fantasy is even more limited. Put a dragon on the cover and unless the series is televised on HBO, getting the book into the hands of the general reader is almost impossible. But personally, I love the genre. It provides a great opportunity to look at the real world with fresh eyes and new ideas.

Seraphina is a talented musician moving purposefully towards her career. She is reluctant to perform in public, but works wonders with ensembles and other performers. But when a soloist doesn’t show up for a funeral, Seraphina is forced to perform, and a whole chain of events is set in place that will change her life forever, and possibly her whole world.

Within the pages of this book Seraphina embarks on a journey of self discovery. She finds that she is of ‘mixed’ heritage, and that in itself causes all kinds of problems, but also connects her to a group of talented and special friends. Together they explore their talents and build a new future, although the new future will have to wait for book two.

Right now the idea seems to be that kids want to read Dystopian fiction and only by destroying the world will an author gain credibility. Seraphina challenges that idea, and it seems to be working. The book was nominated for an Inky in 2014, and certainly was one of the best I have read.

May 9

A Game of Keeps by Dianne Bates

A-Game-of-Keeps-194x300Books for children with a ‘message’. Why do authors feel they need to ‘teach a lesson’ when they write for kids? As a child I remember hating preachy books, and as an adult, I think I am only worse. So it is little wonder that I have issues with this book.

Ashley is a little girl with a lot of problems. Her mum leaves her alone a lot, and always has. When hungry or lonely she visits an elderly lady living downstairs, but she isn’t very well. What Ashley really wants is her family all together again, but instead she has to put up with Eddie, her mother’s latest. Generally life for Ashley is grim, but when she meets Daisy and Will – a couple from ‘Aunts and Uncles’ – there is a promise of respite. But will they help her fix things?

As an adult I have real issues with this book. Not only is it preaching – stay positive and all will work out in the end – but the ‘solution’ to the child neglect problem is for mum to have a second baby. If she can’t manage her life with one child, how is she going to go with two? And yet that is presented as the ‘happy ever after ending’.

I know many children face these challenges, and I hope this book helps them understand that they are not unique. But really – Bates is better than this.

May 9

Boys are Dogs by Leslie Margolis

9781599906089Changing schools, changing families and changing lives – these are common themes in books written for children. Every changing relationship presents a challenge, and learning to deal with this is an important part of growing up. Margolis has written a book that looks at these problems with an positive attitude and a gentle humour.

With her mother’s changing relationship, Annabelle finds that she is moved from her all-girl school to a co-ed Middle School. Suddenly she has to spend the day with boys! And as the blurb says ‘Middle School boys act like wild animals.’ How does Annabelle cope? Obviously, just like you manage a new puppy, you train them. So begins the challenge.

I have been reading a lot of heavy, dark adult fiction (reviews to follow) and this was a lovely change. ┬áMaybe I don’t read enough younger readers books.

May 9

Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf

resized_9781743315859_224_297_FitSquareIt is always a delight to open a book translated by John Nieuwenhuizen. He has the wonderful skill of translating a book into English that is comfortable for kids to read, but still maintaining the literary quality that made the book worthy of note in the first place. Finding the right word is hard enough in the first place, but taking responsibility for another author’s words is a true challenge.

Nine Open Arms tells the story of a family of nine who are moving again. This time the move is to a small dilapidated house at the far end of the lane. The family is used to moving because ‘The Dad’ is not very good at holding a job. Everything they own can be bundled into a handcart. The house is well away from any neighbours, and looks very strange with doors in the wrong place, stairs leading nowhere, and the rest. Kids being kids, naturally they want to know why.

Raising the family is Oma Mei, their old grandmother. She carries one precious possession with her wherever they move. An old wooden case filled with papers and photos. When she is in the mood, Oma Mei reveals some of the secrets from this case in wild and wonderful stories.

Eleven year old Finn is out to solve these mysteries. She wants to know all the stories from Oma Mei’s case. And she wants to know why the house looks like it does. Little does she know at the start of her search how closely these two stories are linked.

This is a lovely book about family, with all their highs and lows. I have always loved reading stories based on character and narrative, and this one fills the bill.

However, as an adult I read this book feeling the large shadow over the whole story, simply because of the setting. The year is 1937, and the ‘new’ house is near the border between Holland and Germany. What happened to the family just a year later? Will we ever know.