January 31

Club Dead by Charlaine Harris

1365This is sad. I have actually finished the whole Sookie Stackhouse series but when I checked the review list, the most recent review was from book 2! Well here goes for book 3.

It seems like Sookie and Bill are together forever. But then Bill starts behaving strangely. He isolates himself working on a computer of all things, and Sookie is getting sick and tired of it. But then he disappears. Eric asks Sookie to go to Mississippi to the court of the King of the Mississippi vampires looking for Bill. He arranges for a werewolf, Alcide, to accompany her and help her move among the supernatural community there. One thing leads to another and Bill is found, but captive and tortured. The fanatical Fellowship of the Sun group are out to attack the vampires and of course Sookie is in the middle of it all. Where else would she be?

I must say though that I wasn’t comfortable with the finale. As readers we are supposed to like Sookie and agree with her. But I think at times in this book she is a bit childish, selfish and unfair. I don’t generally like two dimensional characters in books, and in this one Sookie is as flat as they come.

This is an entertaining read. Again, turn the brain off and just go along for the ride. Don’t expect quality literature here, this is a story told purely for fun (and profit.) But that’s fine. Club Dead happens to be a good story told well.

January 31

Destination Abudai by Prue Mason

9780143304029OK, my editor is on my back. The new year has begun. I have been reading all summer and now have a box of books and an ebook reader full of books that have been read, but not yet reviewed. I think it is time to get to work.

A few years ago I read and greatly enjoyed Camel Rider by Prue Mason. So when I was offered another book by the same author to review, I eagerly accepted. But now that it is done, I am not sure. I expected an adventure book for kids in years 7 or 8, but instead I got a book about cultural differences. Hmmm.

Jaz is a young Australian boy living with his mother and grandparents. He knows nothing at all about his father, but his family is happy and complete. And Jaz is passionate about karate. His life is centred around family, karate, and school, until he gets a letter from his father. Suddenly he is on a plane for Abudai, enrolled in an Islamic school and expected to live with his father, the Black Prince.

As Jaz tries to fit into the new life where he doesn’t know the rules, things start going wrong. His step-brother is left ‘in charge’ of the household, and that isn’t good news. His grandfather back in Australia is diagnosed with cancer. And his young step-sister has a very active imagination and convinces Jaz that he is in danger. All he wants is to go home!

This is a reasonable book with important themes. In this time of religious tension, any book that helps kids understand those who are ‘different’ is important. But maybe because I was expecting a real page turner and got a family drama, this didn’t capture my interest.

I would love to hear from anybody who disagrees.

January 31

The Cult of Osiris by Andy McDermott

9780755354627Last December I was really dark on the publicists who normally provide my reading. I had requested this book for review, and when it didn’t come, I actually had to go out and buy it! And this author isn’t available on ebook format, so I even had to pay full price. That is a rarity. So this hot horrible weekend, I decided to read a book that I wanted, rather than another review book. And this was exactly the escapist adventure I was looking for.

Once again Eddie and Nina are off around the world looking for ancient treasures. This time in Egypt. And of course there is an evil competitor bent on world domination racing them to their goal, in this case the Temple of Osiris. And there are lots of inevitable car chases, explosions, broken bones and guns. Just to let you know, I loved the car chase through New York. But that is why you read escapist fiction, it doesn’t tax the brain, it is sheer entertainment.

This book is truly entertainment. But there are a couple of features I liked. The addition of Macy as a young sidekick was great and I hope that someday in the future she gets involved again. Also I felt more comfortable with the Tomb of Osiris as the goal rather than the Garden of Eden. I think McDermott handled the whole archaeology far more confidently than in the previous book in the series.

This was exactly what I felt like this weekend. And the next time I am going to be trapped in the house for two days, I must remember to grab the Excalibur book from this series. Somehow I missed it.

January 28

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

shiver1Yes, I am known in the occasional bookshop. When someones reads as much as I do, it is inevitable that I get noticed. So last year when I was buying, one of the managers at my regular bookshop disappeared out the back and then reappeared with a new book that had just arrived. Her comment – you must read this, it is better than Twilight. Admitedly, I looked at the publisher (Scholastic) noted that they are not known for their quality publishing, and added the book to the mountain at home. But as the deadline for the Reading Challenge updates approached, I decided that I needed to read it, just in case it was as good as she said.

Grace is a girl who has always been fascinated by wolves. In the winter months she spends hours watching the pack that lives in the woods behind her house. In particular she watches one yellow-eyed wolf, and he seems to be watching her. Sam is living two lives. As a wolf he watches the girl he loves, and as a human he is frightened to even speak to her. Inevitably, their love demands recognition, with all the dangers and difficulties involved.

This is really an amazing book. It was every bit as good as the salesman said. In fact I have now handed copies on to several other people and they love it as much as I did. The characters are strong. The plot is supernatural, and therefore inevitably unreal, but still hangs together with credibility. The best bit is the fact that there are enough twists and turns to keep you entranced to the very last page.

Very often I use this blog to criticise publishers and their misleading and silly publishing gimmicks. Certainly when I opened this and saw the cool blue ink, I wondered how others would feel. In my experience readers are easily discouraged if anything is ‘different’. However in this case the story is so good that most reader’s won’t even notice. My one question is the temperature chapter titles. Some of us older readers will be familiar with Farenheit readings, but many of the younger readers will have no idea that 38 is really cold.

Regardless, get this book, and read it!

January 6

Jupiter’s Bones by Faye Kellerman

And I need to include some reviews of the books I am reading from by ebook reader. I think I have about 15 files sitting in memory waiting for the reviews to finish before I move them on. It seems like I am using the ebook format for the many series that I have started but never finished. The Peter Decker series by Faye Kellerman is one of these that has been hanging around for years. And finally I have worked out where I got up to in the series.

Decker is now a lieutenant, and administration takes up most of his time. But a high-profile murder calls for his personal touch. The murder of the leader of a fanatical religious cult means that Decker can leave the desk and get involved in real police work again. This case is especially confusing because the estranged daughter is actually the one who reported the death. When more members of the cult go missing, the pressure on Decker increases. Then suddenly everything falls into place, with disastrous consequences. Thank goodness for Marge.

But what keeps me coming back to the series are the supporting cast as they would say in Hollywood. I am interested in Rina, Jacob, Samuel and Cindy. The murder and mystery is simply an excuse for visiting these old friends.

January 6

Under this Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

9780297856597It’s not often that I don’t finish a book. And even rarer that I get to the last 25 pages and stop, vowing never to finish. But that is exactly what happened with Under this Unbroken Sky.

The story is set in the Midwestern plains of Canada in the 1930s. A time when the Great Depression gripped the world and destroyed so many poor and middle class families. Two Ukrainian refugee families homestead farming properties, intending to make a better life away from the upheaval of the Russian Revolution. As with many migrant families, the children are living in two worlds and the parents are trying to build their old home in a new place. Teodor is a hard working farmer, and together he, his wife and five children work the land, by hand and with great patience. His sister Anna married a young soldier, in love with his uniform and flashy lifestyle. However, in this new country his dreams of wealth and influence remain just dreams. But circumstances seem to favour the idle. Teodor’s first crop is damaged and then completely confiscated for taxes. When he tries to claim back a single bag of wheat for seed for his next crop, he is sent to gaol for theft. Stefan, Anna’s soldier, disappears for months at a time on drinking binges and other wanderings, leaving her alone with a farm and two children. She generously offers Teodor’s family a shed to live in when they lose the homestead.

After a year, Teodor returns from prison and starts to work his sister’s farm. She agrees that he can have some of the land for his own farm in exchange for the work needed to keep her homestead active. The families work hard, but the happiness they have in their shared lives lightens the load. And then Stefan returns.

Mitchell has written a wonderful story about incredible people. As a reader, you must respect Teodor and his very fallible family. You can understand Anna, even if her grasp of reality is tenuous. But her mental illness is part of the tragedy of this novel, as is the desperation of her son Petro in his efforts to win his father’s approval. This is a story of contrast, one family bound by love and respect, the other by ambition and fear. And the ending has to be tragic.

As I came near the end, it was like that recent video clip of the baby swept under a moving train. The bystanders, including the mother were absolutely powerless to stop the train or rescue the child. But in real life, a miracle happened. There was going to be no miracle for Teodor, so I simply closed the book.

January 6

Marked by PC and Kristin Cast

9781905654314Finally, after months of inactivity, I have a chance to review some of the dozens of books I have read in the last few months. Anyway, since October I have been absolutely immersed in the various YA supernatural romances that are around. Some are good and some are embarrassing and some are simply not worth the paper they are printed on – or a hard drive space on my ebook. In particular I am enjoying the two series, House of Night and Vampire Academy. Although neither of them have the huge following of Ms Meyer, in many ways I think they are far better written with stronger female characters and more original plots.

I started reading the House of Night Series when it became the second favourite book with the ‘tween’ girls, but when asked about why they liked the book so much, giggles erupted. And when 13 year olds start giggling, there is probably something inside the books that they don’t want their teachers to read. That immediately raises the book to the top of  the reading list.

Zoe Redbird is a young girl who appears to have a normal life. Her mother and step-father have ‘found religion’ so she is subjected to a lot more rules that make her comfortable, but then she is ‘marked’. A tattoo appears on her forehead that indicates that she has commenced the perfectly natural biological process of becoming a vampire. As a result she is required to attend a special school for young fledgling vampires. From there this book almost becomes a classic ‘boarding school’ novel with bitchy girls and BFFs, and the inevitable love interest. But the supernatural nature of the story makes it possible for the Casts to make the adolescent power struggle magical in nature. Zoe has been blessed by Nyx, the vampire’s Goddess, with special powers and as these are revealed the social structure at the school is overturned.

In many ways this book has much more in common with Harry Potter than Bella and Edward. The theme that solid friendships are the most important path through adolescents is common to both. The real source of strength, magical and personal, is in your relationships with others. Zoe’s grandmother provides the adult voice in her life, much like Dumbledore and Hagrid help Harry. But this is no children’s story.

In all of these vampire novels, it is very important that the author is able to create a believable world where good vampires can exist. The Casts do this by creating Nyx and the religion associated with them. In many ways this reflects a traditional pagan religion, linked into the religious practices of the North American Indians. By modeling an imaginary religion on a traditional belief system, it certainly added credibility to the whole idea.

And fear not – there is the traditional love triangle. Zoe’s one true love from her childhood years, Heath, does not want to  lose her, even if he has to provide her with blood. And as always in these romantic fantasy novels there is the new love interest, in this case Eric an incredibly talented fledgling soon to ‘graduate’.

This is the first book in the series, and as such, it is inevitably a slow read in places. Characters must be introduced, the scene set and the whole culture revealed. Fantasy novels are like that. But the Casts manage to hold the reader’s interest through all this with just the right mix of romance, suspense and bitch busting.