March 27

GemX by Nicky Singer

Every now and then I come across a book that tells me I may just have read too much science fiction in my life. This one seemed silly and false and boring because I really never got caught up in the adventure.

Maxo is perfect. Not only in his own and his parents mind, but because he has been genetically engineered to be so. But one morning he wakes up and finds a wrinkle on his face. Horrors! The rest of the book is Maxo’s desperate search for a ‘cure’.

I am sorry, but the theme of genetic engineering for perfection has now officially been done to death. Several authors have covered this with a lot more sensitivity and reality. Nicky Singer may be considered one of England’s best authors for children, but I reserve the right to disagree. At least until I find something of his that I like.

March 27

M or F by Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts

The Internet certainly has a lot to answer for, but one thing that it has done for writers is to open up a whole new way of writing about mistaken identity. This book is a classic, but funny example.

Frannie has a crush on Jeffrey, the hottest guy at school. But whenever she gets near him, her mouth and brain shut down and she can say nothing. However, she does join a chat room Jeffrey frequents. So far so good, but once again her brain shuts down and she can think of nothing to say. In desperation she turns to her best friend Marcus and asks him to write something. Once an easy solution is found, it is very difficult to find the right time and place to go to the hard solution, even if it is the right thing to do.

But Marcus is gay, and gradually he develops a real interest in Jeffrey. He knows he is probably doing the wrong thing when he starts corresponding with Jeffrey without Frannie’s knowledge. And the longer he goes on the more he becomes convinced that Jeffrey is falling for him. Problem…

This is another book that is certainly chick lit. The irridescent pink cover kind of shouts that out. But it is also witty and funny in an American sitcom kind of way. Certainly it is not the worst book I have read recently, but it is still a long way from the best. But still, it will find a market.

March 27

Night Hunter by Cathy McDavid

Every now and then the Buzz editor gives me a loser. This is the most recent. Once upon a time, I thought I knew and liked the genre Gothic Romance. But then I had only encountered it in books like Jane Eyre and Rebecca. I have now read my first schlock horror book, and hated it.

Plot first. Girl meets monster, girl meets boy, boy meets monster, girl meets boy again and they go to bed, boy meets monster and then finds girl and they go to bed, boy and girl go hunt monster’s mate, and then go to bed, monster goes and mates with a minor character in the story, boy and girl hunt monster and kill it and then go to bed. I am sure I have missed some going to bed in there, but you get the idea.

I am really hard pressed to find any redeeming quality in this book. So I went surfing to find out what I could about Cathy McDavid. It turns out she writes Harlequin romance books for a living. What more can I say?

March 27

Disney Fairies Series

Some regular readers may think I like every book I have ever read. Well today I am going to review several bad books, just for a change.

The first of these are two books from the Disney Fairy Series. Before I start I will own up to never liking fairy stories. Folklore is fine, but stories written about sweet little fairies for sweet little girls never interested me. Give me a good adventure or mystery anytime, even when I was a kid. However, the VPRC committee had sent me 2 Disney Fairy books to read and evaluate for inclusion on the approved literature list.

My second bias is against Disney books. To me they reek of cheap advertising. When I found out that Disney is preparing an animated film about the Disney fairies for the home DVD market for release in 2008, suddenly the reason they were submitted to the VPRC became clear.

Anyway, I knew I had to read them, put my prejudices aside, and make a recommendation about their suitability for inclusion on the approved list.

The two samples I read were Beck and the Great Berry Battle and Vidia and the Fairy Crown. Of the two Beck was by far the better it dealt with the theme of the importance of finding a peaceful resolution to conflict. Except for the fact that the story took ages to come to the point (is there a mandatory word count?) the story was quite good. With that in mind I started Vidia. This book was every fantasy reader’s nightmare, an obnoxious hero, dozens of superfluous and silly side characters and no sensible solution to the problem. I am sorry, but the whole idea of a team of fairies that have laundry-talent gives me chills. Are fairies so stupid that they can’t learn to do washing?

Can you tell I won’t be recommending this series for every child in Victoria to read?

March 26

Thieves by Ella West

Have you ever wanted to close your eyes and suddenly be somewhere else? I have. Who hasn’t?

Nicky has regularly been able to ‘disappear’ into her closet at home all her life. She has kept this ability a secret, naturally. But one day while reading aloud in English she suddenly finds herself in her closet. Public disappearance is frowned upon, and Nicky finds that she has been removed from school out to a camp in the desert and suddenly joined something called The Project. With her are several other kids with the same ability to disappear. The Project managers begin to send them out on missions, sometimes search and rescue, sometimes information gathering, and sometimes even more dangerous and illegal activities. Are these ‘talented’ kids powerless against the adults, or can they fight back?

I remember this book was a quick read. I got caught up in the storyline and a two hour train journey saw the book finished nicely before the end. I put it down with a thousand thoughts spinning in my head, but no place to write anything down, and no time. So it is going to be hard to recapture my initial response. Yes, the book has slow spots. This is after all a first time author. But I expect the readers are going to care about the characters enough to push through the slow bits in order to find out what happens.

However, I suspect there will be a real problem in marketing this to students. The print is small, and the story takes awhile to get started. A shame really, because I think it is a worthy read.

March 26

Jack Brown and the Trail of the Python by Greg Pyers

I have seen a lot of Greg Pyers books over the years. Mostly they are information books nicely written to give good reliable information to 8-12 year olds. Personally, I think Pyers should have stayed with that format and not tried to make a go of it writing fiction.

This book is very clearly number 2 in the Jack Brown series, and clearly there are, or were, plans for many more. Jack is a young man passionate about animals. Not at all surprising since he can speak to any animal telepathically. Naturally the bad guys are out to destroy rare animals, rob a zoo, or otherwise upset the beasts. Conveniently Jack’s cousin Molly lives near the City Zoo, so his R&R after his first big adventure is interrupted again.

Yes this book, and the series has it’s place. It is very difficult to find something not too long, and not too complex for 12 year old boys who have decided that they cannot read, or will not read. They need something that is short so it is not scary, and gets straight into the action without wasting time developing characters. This book fits the bill. At 150 pages long, most boys will at least give it a go.

But I believe the plot is too predictable, even too childish to stand up to a long series. Since I can’t find any more in the series after book 2, it looks like the publishers agreed with me.

March 26

Master of the Books by James Moloney

I remember dying to get my hands on this book as soon as it arrived. I loved Book of Lies mainly because the writing was just so unexpected. A well-established author of teenage realistic fiction was suddenly launching into fantasy stories. But Master of the Books did not hold the same delight.

The story so far… Marcel has defeated the war dragon Mortregis, and he thinks the Book of Lies has been destroyed. However, this new book tells us that one scrap of the book remains and Marcel’s brother Fergus has taken it to guide him in his search for revenge. Nicola and Marcel set off searching for Fergus, and … you get the picture.

As an adventure story for lower secondary students this book is superb, but somehow I felt it lacked the subtlety of the first book in the series. This one read far more like an average adventure story with a magical and medieval setting. Better than many in the genre, but not quite up to the high standard I have come to expect from Moloney. Pity that.

March 26

The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott

What would adventure writers ever do if Spielberg hadn’t come up with Indiana Jones? How many authors in the genre have been forced to move away from the cold war battles popular in the late 20th century to either fighting terrorism or finding lost treasure? Matthew Reilly is certainly a member of the archaeology club, and now so is Andy McDermott.

Atlantis…mythological city destroyed hundreds of years before ancient Greeks wrote about it. But it never really went away. Everyone knows the story about this ancient city built on an island that disappeared forever. The Stargate team believe that the ancient race inhabiting this city built a space ship and now they can be found in another galaxy. McDermott puts forward a case that the ancients knew their city was about to be destroyed and so they built two duplicate cities, one in the east and one in the west. Unfortunately the cities died out as the Atlantians mingled with the native populations in these places.

But today a wealthy multi-billionaire is looking for the descendents of the ancient race, and for the cities the ancestors built. Money is no object. Nina Wilde is an archaeologist specialising in Atlantis mythology and she thinks she knows where the city is. But what university is going to give her a research grant? And then there is the Brotherhood… a medieval order sworn to protect the secret of Atlantis.

OK, so the plot is not original. For a first novel, it is probably a good idea to stick to a proven storyline. But the action is all there. Reading this is a lot like seeing a Die Hard movie for the first time. Just when you draw breath, another helicopter arrives. Explosives rule. Helicopters never manage to stay in the air and boats never keep floating. And then just when you think it is all over, the good guys turn bad.

I was reading until far too late last night, or should I say this morning. McDermott has also set up a plausible scenario for a whole series of Nina Wilde/Eddie Chase adventures. According to his website The Tomb of Hercules will be available in May. What do you say Buzz Editor? When do I get my copy?

March 26

Teeth Marks by Rose Moxham

OK, start a book in the middle. Go on from there, but every now and then time shift to before the start. Confused? You should be.

I’ll try to sort it all out for you. The first chapter describes Nick hurtling down a hill on his bicycle, no hands. Surprise, surprise, the second chapter finds Nick commencing his 5 weeks in traction at the hospital. The second last chapter provides the lead-up to the bike ride. In between, the reader learns that Nick wants to be a singer, but at 19 he had to work at something else. He never expected to fall for Jude or her rockabilly style. But he did, and he fell hard. He didn’t expect it to hurt so much.

One reviewer called this book a road novel, but all taking place in a bed in hospital. It really is. Nick has plenty of time to get to know his fellow warders and their visitors. He has plenty of time to think about Jude and analyse their relationship. He also has plenty of time to think about where he is going. Usually this thinking takes place on the road, often running away. Is Nick running away? Make up your own mind.

March 26

Love like water by Meme McDonald

A very interesting book this one. I first read a review of it a last year, long before I read the book and I was very excited to see it come to the top of the reading list.

This book is about a year in the life of 3 young adults who have come to Alice Springs to start their lives of independence. Cathy was raised on a Queensland station, so she is familiar with life in the dry regions of Australia. But she wanted to make her own way and comes to Alice looking for a job until she sorts out what she is going to do with her life. She quickly finds a job working in the pub and soon she discovers she is very good at hospitality.

Jay has also come to the Alice for a job. He is a radio DJ looking for a change from Melbourne. His people are from the south, but for a while he is working at the local indigenous station doing the morning shift. But he is also looking for purpose and meaning in his life.

Margie has been Cathy’s best friend since school. But after school finished Margie qualified as a nurse. She can get a job anywhere, but it is her idea that Cathy and her share a flat in Alice Springs for a year. Margie is out to have a good time, as simple as that. Nothing is going to get in her way.

Cathy and Jay find each other. They seem to be soulmates, friends as well as lovers. But can this candle continue to burn?

This book is certainly for older secondary readers. Not only because of the sexual content, but also some maturity is needed before the reader can understand the motives of our various main characters.

I certainly enjoyed this book. Probably more than any other by Meme McDonald.