May 31

Dark Wraith of Shannara by Terry Brooks

I know, I know. I call myself a fantasy reader. And hundreds of true fantasy fanatics will be horrified by what I next say. But I have to admit up front that I have never read anything by Terry Brooks. But somehow when a fantasy series is already up to 15 books, I find it hard to start on the journey unless I know I am going to enjoy the trip.

And then the Buzz Editor gave me Dark Wraith of Shannara, a graphic novel! In an hour I had finished it. I had a good feel for the fantasy world, the main characters, the quest and I was ready for more. Fortunately for the budget, I didn’t get near a bookshop that day.

I am not going to bother with a plot summary. It’s a quest tale, our hero is on his way to rescue some friends captured by the bad guys. OK, done.

Instead I am going to applaud the courage and the skill of the author and illustrators in developing this text. In my experience fantasy readers are committed to the act of reading, and a good thing too since most fantasy works can be measured by volume. An important part of reading is the development of images within the reader’s imagination and most committed readers like it that way.

But with the growing popularity and respectibility of graphic novels someone had to put a traditional fantasy story into a graphic format. I think it works, or it certainly did for a newcomer to the world of Shannara. I really liked the fact that the story immediately got into the action, leaving the scene setting and character description to the artist. And I really liked the way the story was over in an hour. Like watching a single episode of a TV series.

However, I do make one suggestion. My copy was in standard paperback format, and I think I would have preferred the trade paperback edition. The small page simply didn’t do the story justice.

May 31

The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies

I finished this most interesting book last night, and I still don’t know quite what to think. Apparently the author is an award winning short story writer, and I am not much good at all the modern short story techniques, so maybe that is why I am still pondering.

Anyway, this books is set in 1944, on and soon after D-Day. The book opens with the British interrogation of Hess, and the translator is an escaped German of Jewish descent. After this the young German is placed as a spy with German POWs and eventually sent to Wales on a secret mission. Part 2 is about Esther, a young woman working on her father’s sheep farm and pulling beers in the local pub evenings. Esther dreams of a glamorous future far away, but in reality she knows that she must look after her father. She is as tied to the land as the sheep who know the mountain paddocks where they belong. A local boy is in love with Esther, but she has caught the eye of one of the young soldiers building a camp nearby. A late night date, a walk in the new camp, an error of communication, and suddenly Esther has something to hide. Part 3 begins on the coast of France on D-Day. Karsten, a young German corporal orders the men in his bunker to surrender once they run out of ammunition. Together the three of them become POWs and after a difficult time that shows how little preparation was done for prisoners, all three find themselves in a brand new POW camp in Wales. You guessed it, right next to Esther’s farm. The local louts create a new hobby of prisoner baiting, and Esther gets involved when the young evacuee she and her father are looking after joins the fun. From there you have to read for yourself.

I found this book very credible. All parts of the plot were logical and the characters were realistic, flawed and frightened. The flavour of the traditional Welsh village in summer was almost sensual.

However, I suspect there are more layers to this book than a simple historical romance. The whole point of Rotherham, the German Jew, was lost on me. I would easily have been satisfied with the story of Esther, Colin, Rhys and Karsten. And those readers with a passion for literary analysis would make much of the theme of separation that continually appears in many many disguises.

Overall, I think I liked it. Perhaps I even wish I had time to read it, or parts of it, again.

May 24

Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks

This was the darkest book I have read in a very long time, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy every word of this new book from Kevin Brooks.

Pete Boland was a young man bored with life. He had finished school, well the compulsory bit, and was spending the summer vegetating at home trying to decide whether or not to return to school for the final year, or quit and get a job.  And vegetating is the correct term, Pete had spent days in his room, too ‘tired’ to do anything but listen to music and watch TV. Suddenly, out of the blue, Nic, and old friend and love interest rings up. She and her brother are leaving for Paris and they would like to get the old gang together on Saturday night for one last time. The old gang consists of 5 friends that went through school together and used to hang out back when they were ‘little’. Although Nic didn’t invite him, Pete includes Ray who was once part of the group but was dropped by the others when he started hearing voices.

On the night of the reunion the friends get a little too drunk and rapidly the evening spins out of control. The next morning Ray is gone, a minor celebrity has disappeared, and from there life spins out of control.

Brooks maintains the authentic feel for the story with his portrayal of Pete’s anger and confusion. Pete’s frustration when no one seems to care that Ray is gone sends him off searching by himself, against his father’s instructions. Since Dad is a cop, not following advice lands Pete into more and more trouble. Gradually Pete discovers clues that the cops don’t care to know and comes to his own conclusion about what happened to Ray, and everyone else that night. I found Pete’s behavior totally believable and even admirable as he faces his fears.

This is a story primarily about friendship and loyality, but it is certainly a powerful adventure thriller as well.

May 1

Love is a UFO by Ken Spillman

An interesting title, not a bad cover. I have never read anything by Ken Spillman before, but it is always fun to find someone new.

Ossie is a troubled teen. His father is dead, his mother hates all men, his sister is annoying and life is tough. Somehow he has to survive a plague of post-it notes, a cold sore taking over his face, and a laughing psychologist. Working through these challenges would be difficult enough, but then he meets the girl…

This is a typical adolescent story told with a lightness and fun spirit that keeps the book entertaining, even at the serious points. I didn’t find it laugh-out-loud funny, but it was certainly amusing. The twist at the end came as a real surprise, but again Spillman handled it with a very light touch that respected the serious without dragging the whole book down.

May 1

Rotters and Squatters by Jackie French

I think I have now read all the books in this new series from Jackie French. I am convinced that they will do for Australian History what Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories have done for English history.

Australia, 1820, lots of convicts, some settlers and the colony is spreading out. Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia get a start. But I’ll bet you never knew some of the quirky bits of history that French has managed to uncover. Her way of writing up the boring bits makes reading this information book from cover to cover a fascinating experience. For example, ‘If Sydney was the colony at the end of the world, the colony of Hobart almost dropped off the edge of the planet.’

This book is a most entertaining way to find out about Australian history. The cartoons and illustrations keep the mood light and the information entertaining. Well done.

May 1

Hello God by Moya Simons

Over the years I have read many books by Moya Simons, but I think this is my favourite.

Kate is 10 and talks to God regularly, about friends, school, family and even her new glasses. Part of these conversations include Stephanie, a new girl in the class. She appears to be a nerd, but proves to be surprisingly interesting. The conversations with God become serious when Stephanie becomes ill, and nothing appears to make her better. Just as Kate is ready to give up on God, things change.

This is a lovely warm book for the older primary student. It doesn’t flinch from reality, but still manages to convey warmth and compassion in what could be a very dark book.

May 1

The Blackstone Key by Rose Melikan

I found this book a very nice, comfortable read. A little adventure, a little romance, a little mystery… an excellent holiday read.

Set in the late 18th century this book is about a young woman forced through circumstances into teaching in a very miserable boarding school. Mary is given the opportunity to escape when her uncle, long estranged from her late parents, writes to her inviting her to visit. This uncle managed to inherit the family wealth, and build it up. Mary travels alone to visit this uncle and on the way the coach encounters an accident. Mary is sitting with the injured man as he whispers his last words. While trying to identify him, she recognizes her uncle’s watch, and suddenly the dying words take on new meaning. The rest of the book tries to get to the real meaning behind the strange words.

Naturally there is a handsome army officer who escorts Mary the rest of the way to her uncle’s home. And later there is a Caribbean refugee who offers his assistance. The whole story gets caught up in the growing international tension between England and Napolean. To say anything more would spoil the plot.

I found the book an interesting read, but not riveting. And riveting is the way I like my mysteries. At times the whole gunpowder subplot seemed contrived, but in the end it proved necessary. I just wish it could have been blended in more smoothly.

May 1

Miss McAllister’s Ghost by Elizabeth Fensham

I have been raving about this book all week! It is by far the best book I have read this year for the 11-14 year old reader.

My rave goes on for ages, so here I will only offer a teaser. Three children from a ‘normal’ working family encounter a very old lady living in the 19th century. Through various circumstances, they end up doing jobs for her, and they learn a lot about life before household appliances. But this lady does take the time to work with the children, talk to them, and more importantly, she listens to them. After the week of ‘community service’ all three of the kids continue to visit Miss McAllister most nights after school. The bulk of the book is about the growing friendship as the children introduce Miss McAllister to the 21st century, and she reminds them of what family and responsibility for others really means.

This book is just so warm and lovely. The balloon ride brought tears to my eyes but they were tears of absolute joy. I wanted to be there, but then it wouldn’t have been the same. Inevitably there is a sad ending, but that keeps up the realistic tone of the book. But you just know all three of the children will be far better people for the months they knew Miss McAllister.

I really cannot recommend this book highly enough. In a time when many authors feel they need to focus on negative elements in modern society, this book relishes in the common bond shared by humanity and the good that can come from it. Thank you Elizabeth Fensham.