September 19

Kill the Possum by James Moloney

9780143004202

This is another book shortlisted for the CBC awards, and it well deserves nomination. But for all kinds of reasons, I hope it doesn’t win. Personally, I am uncomfortable with the level of violence.

The book opens with Dylan ‘dropping in’ on his almost girlfriend Kirsty one Sunday afternoon. Accidently he times his visit to coincide with Kirsty’s stepfather’s fortnightly visit when he returns his daughter after his access weekend. This fortnightly visit follows a long established routine of verbal abuse, denigration, and general bullying that re-establishes Ian’s control over the family for another fortnight.

After witnessing this demolition of people that he likes and respects, Dylan gets angry. As a young social activist, he rushes in with all kinds of advice and good intentions. But Kirsty and Time, the younger brother, gradually help Dylan understand the way they are trapped. They have tried, but Ian has a very aggressive lawyer. Everything got tied in knots and soon all the community services that are supposed to help started avoiding any involvement.

But Dylan is still angry, partially at Ian, but also at his own father who deserted his mother when Dylan was only months old. This level of anger and frustration needs to be vented.

The story rapidly escalates to an incredible level of violence for a book written for young adults. Yes there are moments when all the young people enjoy life, a shopping trip, a pool party, and even a first kiss. But the continual undercurrent of anger and violence is always just below the surface. And then a gun gets involved…

This was an excellent book to read. The writing was strong and the level of tension was maintained throughout. I had great difficulty putting it aside and consequently read it in one day. But I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea that violent behavior requires a violent response. What are we telling our children in this age of road rage and nightclub brawls?

September 19

Ravensoul by James Barclay

9780575081994

This book has been on my reading list for months. It was released in January, but somehow it never appealed. Part of the reason is that this is clearly a continuation of a fantasy saga and regular readers will know how I feel about that. In fact it appears that the author had finished a double trilogy about The Raven, and now there is just one more book. To me that smacks of a publisher’s push for a story that never needed telling but certainly needed selling.

I haven’t read anything from the previous trilogy, but very quickly Barclay reminds his readers that he had killed off most of The Raven, his band of heroes. Only two survive and they have established lives and careers very different from their mercenary ways. But one day the dead refuse to die! Gradually dead bodies, each animated by the soul of a Raven, gather in Sol’s inn. It seems there is one more evil for them to fight.

The evil is very impressive. Imagine huge machines, each supported by indestructible soldiers, that suddenly appear out of nowhere and proceed to harvest mana. The process virtually sucks all life from that area. Complete and total devastation. The whole planet is under attack. And the last continent for harvest is where Sol lives.

But how do a band of dead bodies fight, let alone destroy the indestructible. And where do these monsters come from? Therein lies the tale, and I will go no further.

I found this book amazing. The action scenes were riveting. The characters, including the heroes, were flawed and very believable. Barclay’s novel is not only an incredible action adventure, but he has taken the time to portray the political and philosophical background to his tale. That simply ground the story very solidly. At time I would have loved a map, but as I moved through the book, it really didn’t matter. And the final scene is just so right.

This was an excellent fantasy novel written by a master of the genre.

September 19

The Covenant of Genesis by Andy McDermott

9780755345526

Fasten your seatbelt. Place critical thinking on hold. Activate visual imagination. Now you are ready for Andy McDermott’s latest thriller.

My regular readers will be familiar with the term ‘Indiana Jones’ genre and some of you will know that I am a real fan of Andy McDermott. This is a worthy addition to his booklist and as I was reading it, several other fans were keen to lay their hands on a copy.

In this the fourth book of the Eddie Chase series, Eddie and Nina are on the trail of an ancient civilisation, one far older than Atlantis, that has apparently disappeared from the face of the earth. Of course, there are a bunch of bad guys sworn to protect the secrets of this civilisation by killing everyone who learns anything and obliterating all archaeological traces. But of course Eddie and Nina survive their first encounter and once again find a treasure that will change mankind’s future. Well, maybe.

OK so the plot is not original. That’s why it is called a genre. But Andy McDermott writes it well. The story unfolds like a high-speed action movie with car chases, high explosives, and lots and lots of hand-to-hand combat. The reader never has a chance to draw breath. And that is the whole fun of the story. This is a book you read for pure entertainment.

And I really, really liked the explanation of the Genesis story at the end.

September 19

The Counterfeit Guest by Rose Melikan

9781847441362

Before I start, if you haven’t read the Blackstone Key by this author, skip this review and the book until you have finished it. I made the mistake of suggesting that a friend might enjoy this book, but since she hadn’t read book one in the series, well, let’s just say that her response was not flattering.

So having established that you remember Mary Firth and the dashing Captain Holland, we now get to visit our heroine after she has come into her fortune. As might be expected, Mary is quickly bored with the formal visits, shopping and musical soirees. There may be a war with France brewing, but none of that is going to impact on Society. Mary’s yearning for another adventure quickly finds her once again spying for the British government. This time however Captain Holland is undercover, seemingly working for the French agents who are stirring up the British military to mutiny. But spying is a difficult business, and very soon the hunters become the hunted.

The period is late 18th century. The gowns are long, class distinctions in England are in absolute control. Therefore the potential romance between Mary and Holland must be extinguished, or does it? This novel is liberally sprinkled with real historical figures and events. The plot is implausible, but then again, it is known that women were very effective spies at the time. What better way to gather information quietly than as a companion for a friend in her country manor?

This historical romance is heavier on the history than on the romance, but that’s OK. I like Mary and can’t wait for the next instalment due for publication next year.

September 19

War Child: a boy soldier’s story by Emmanuel Jal

9781408700051

Many of you will know a lot more about Jal than I. As you might expect, I tend to spend a lot of time with my head in a book rather than keeping up to date with pop culture and its icons. Those of you who know of the rap-artist Emmanuel Jal will be keen to read this personal biography. I strongly suggest that even if you have never heard of the man, this story has a message to all.

Jal began life in a small village in Sudan. As the civil war moved closer, his family joined the thousands of refugees looking for a safe haven. But there was no safety, no haven. Instead he was recruited to the Sudanese Liberation Army at age 9. The story of his experiences in the army, after his rescue and even his passion for music makes riveting reading.

This is the story of a remarkable human being. His story will bring a tear to your eye and hope to your soul.

September 19

A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder by Shamini Flint

9780749929756

Welcome to Inspector Singh, a new detective in the ever-expanding world of crime fiction.

Singh is in trouble. He has been sent from home to KL in order to investigate the murder of a wealthy Malaysian businessman. The accused is the famous Singaporean model Chelsea Liew. Singh’s assignment is to ensure that she is really guilty before she is executed. It appears an open and shut case. She had motive and opportunity. Unfortunately she claims that she didn’t do it, and Singh believes her. Therein lies the problem. The Malaysian police think the crime is solved, so they aren’t very helpful. Every clue that Singh turns up, seems to point to Liew’s guilt. What is really the truth?

Crime novels rise and fall on two things – the appeal of the investigating officer and the credibility of the solution. Agatha Christie had that right when she created such memorable personalities as Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Flint’s Singh has a wonderfully human desire for comfort and familiarity, grumpy nature when sleep deprived or hungry, but also a true determination to discover the truth. And the solution is very neat. It fits within the culture and personality of the victim and real plausibility.

The next volume of this three part series is due out in November. Watch for it.

September 19

The Quiet War by Paul McAuley

9780575079328

Two hundred fifty years from now what is the Earth going to be like? How and where are humans going to live? These are just some of the questions addressed by McAuley in this thought provoking scifi novel.

Earth has been ravaged by climate change and the people remaining hold onto a pre-industrial idealistic ‘religion’ based on Gaia. Those people who left the Earth during the disruption have colonised the solar system and created incredible new technologies to manage the various environments. The colonists are also very dependent on genetic manipulation to develop various flora and fauna to share their new worlds. Inevitably these two philosophies come into conflict.

Set on several of the moons of Saturn, this novel looks at the lives of a few different characters – a young woman who escaped a prison city on Earth, a spy posing as a diplomat, and any number of talented scientists. Through the eyes of these various people the conflict is explained and when war comes all of them are critical to the eventual outcome.

Generally I loved the book, although many readers would find the pace too slow. This is not your typical space opera action adventure. There will never be a film made of this. This novel will challenge the reader to think, not only because of the scientific terminology and biological concepts, but also because a good portion of the novel examines the political strategies that happen in the background during the lead-up to war.

I would rank The Quiet War with some of the best scifi that I have ever read.