March 21

Secrets: three stories from Dawn McMillan

9780143503811How often do I get asked to review picture story books? Not often. But they are fun.

This book is actually a collection of three stories, each illustrated by different artists. The first story Sea Secrets has been published as an individual title, but the others are new stories. Each of these stories is linked by the idea of sharing secrets with those that you love.

This is an ideal read-aloud book. There is a great deal of text, and it would be overwhelming for novice readers. But these stories are meant to be shared. There are lots of opportunities for discussion and relating the experiences of the children in these stories to the real life experiences of an audience. But not necessarily a large audience. These secrets are meant for individual reflection.

This is a book that would probably be bypassed in a shop with it’s simple cover and subdued tones. But I believe that it could easily become a family favourite.

March 21

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

9780440868408As you can see from the rest of the books on this website, I spend a lot of time reading books for the 15+ audience. So when I get the chance to read something for the 10-14 age group it can be a refreshing change. Unfortunately, this one wasn’t refreshing, and not even much of a change.

The Penderwick sisters are a formidable team. Mr Penderwick, a single father, gives them his total and undivided attention, and that is the way they like it. So when their aunt starts pressuring Mr Penderwick to start dating again, the sisters form a Plan. The Save Daddy Plan is bold, brilliant and funny. But most importantly, will it work?

This is a plot that has been covered again, again and again. Sometimes as adolescent angst, sometimes as children’s humour, and sometimes the story becomes a meaningful examination of the meaning of love. Unfortunately this book is none of these things. I found this book to be simply trivia, almost a waste of time.

March 21

The Dangerous Days of Daniel X by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

9780552558488Author normally writes thrillers for adults and now trying to write adventure stories for kids? Not the best recommendation. And then he chooses the scifi genre? Kids don’t read stories about aliens anymore. This book appears doomed from the start.

Daniel X is 15 and an accomplished alien hunter. His parents are hunting down some of the most bloodthirsty aliens there are when they are killed. Daniel takes up the challenge and starts working his way down The List. Yes he has a list of super-powers that will help, but super-power can only go just so far. And the difficulty is that Daniel has a list, but all those on it have the same target, him.

This book was better than I expected. It was a light entertaining read, a lot of good fun. The scifi is far more Men in Black than Star Wars, but that is OK, even for a hard core scifi fan like me. I wish more kids would read the genre, and maybe this series will lead them on their way.

This is certainly a series for a younger audience than Patterson’s previous Maximum Ride series. The reader needs to be willing to suspend belief and go along for the experience. Perhaps that is a common thread with science fiction, but personally I prefer a little more reality.

But this is another fun adventure for young readers.

March 21

The Billionaire’s Curse by Richard Newsome

9781921520570I rarely get the chance to read a book in a single sitting. And most books are not capable of holding interest from go to whoa. But this is a superb adventure story that will entertain the kid in everyone.

Gerald is 13 and life is fairly normal until he becomes the sole heir of recently deceased aunt, and inherits a billion pounds. Along with the money comes a series of letters that indicate that his aunt may have been murdered. But who is going to listen to a kid? So Gerald along with his new friends Sam and Ruby start to investigate the link between the death and the theft of a very valuable diamond.

This book is a lot of good fun. I was reminded of 101 kids adventure stories that I read as a kid. Totally impossible, but with enough money, is anything impossible. Newsome has a winning formula here.

March 21

The Museum of Mary Child by Cassandra Golds

516YfP64Y4L._SL500_I have included this cover image because personally I think it is far more inviting than the childish cover on the Australian edition. This cover clearly indicates that the story is dark, haunting and very very lonely.

The main character is Heloise, a child living with her godmother after the death of her mother. They live next door to a museum, a place that Heloise has never been allowed to visit. Her godmother gives tours, and the visitors never fail to leave the museum pale and shaken.

Heloise has no love in her life. She is not allowed friends, she is not allowed conversation. Her godmother is cold, unloving and very very strict. Then one day Heloise finds a doll under the floorboards and she finally has something to love. And the delicate compromise that is her existence begins to unravel.

This is a book that is very difficult to classify. It is part Gothic horror, part fairy tale, part coming-of-age story, part mystery and all magical fantasy. All this is happening at the same time, a bit like a juggling act. But Golds is always a supreme craftsman. Her writing focusses on Heloise and the reader doesn’t notice the complexity of the story as it very gently unfolds around the girl.

Again this is a book for an accomplished and confident reader. It will captivate and engage the right audience, but too many will put it aside with the comment ‘boring’. They will miss a truly unique experience.

March 21

The Cup of the World by John Dickinson

9780552548861Months ago I was given the third book in this series to review, but it is no fun at all to start a story at the end. So I found books 1 and 2 for my e-reader and began the adventure. It ended up as one of the best medieval fantasies that I have read.

Phaedra is the only child of a baron. Since her mother died when she was young, she has been a pampered and spoiled child, able to bend her father to her every wish. As long as she can remember a young knight has appeared in her dreams. As she approaches the age for marriage, it seems that no suitor can compare with the man in her dreams. But then the dream comes to life. Phaedra has to make a choice between going off with her young knight or obediently marrying the youngest son of the king. Phaedra runs away with her knight, and thus sets off an incredible chain of events. For her love used magic to appear in her dreams, and this magical power comes at a terrible price.

There are so many reasons that I liked this book. I like the independent strong character of Phaedra. I like the fact that she was able to learn from her mistakes. I liked the morality of the story, the lesson that one has to live with the consequences of their decisions. I even like the unhappy ending because it lead me immediately to book 2.

However, be warned, this is not an easy read for young children. The language use is quite complex and this book will force the reader to pause occasionally and think! How rare is that in children’s literature.

March 20

The Anniversary Man by R J Ellory

9780752898759Serial killers are the bread and butter of the mystery writer’s world. As early as Agatha Christie and continuing to most modern mystery fiction, the serial murder provides the writer and reader with many opportunities to drop clues and gradually build a case. But how many real serial killers are there?

This is certainly a serial killer with a twist. In this thriller, the killer is copycatting (is that a word?) famous murders on the anniversary of their occurance. And if you think about it, almost every day would be an anniversary of some murder somewhere. And with each murder happening in a different police district, the chances are very good that the pattern may never emerge.

However, the police have an ally. Serial killer survivor John Costello works out what is happening and points out the pattern to detective Irving. But how on earth can they work out when and where the next victim will turn up. And how is this killer able to replicate the crime scene so perfectly? When he starts to imitate the Zodiac killer, who was never caught, everyone starts to worry.

This was certainly a very good read. I finished it in only a couple of sittings, including one that ran late into the night. Both Irving and Costello have trust issues, and half of the tension is in their growing friendship. The romantic interest is a little superfluous, but then this is a mystery thriller rather than a romance novel and that cannot really be a negative.

However, I think the finish was not really satisfying. Introducing a new character and making him the killer all in the last 50 pages is simply too convenient. It somehow seems to me like a cop out.

March 20

The Pain Merchants by Janice Hardy

9780007326785I actually had to wait in a queue to get this book, even when it first arrived. The blurb is so inviting that three other people grabbed it and finished it before I was my turn. All those readers were enthusiastic about adventure fantasy written for kids.

In this fantasy world, there are very few doctors. Wealthy people are healed by magic healers who work with other magicians who are able to absorb pain. The Takers are then taught to deposit the pain into a special metal that can then be forged into a weapon. Very creative idea.

Anyway young Nya is a natural Taker, but for some reason she is not admitted to the Healer’s Guild. She makes a living as a thief, until her secret is discovered and she is blackmailed into performing some illicit healing. The problem is that without the metal, she is forced to share the pain between others, and it gradually destroys them. When the city comes under siege and a huge fire injures many, many are willing to risk anything to relieve the pain. But the official Takers are all disappearing. Nya must find out why in order to release the pain and save her friends.

I don’t believe I have ever read a fantasy adventure quite like this one. Action is non-stop, the characters are reasonably well-developed. I mean, this market will not stand for complexity in their characters. Simple and two dimensional is best so that the story keeps going. But Hardy pushes the boundaries just a lttle, and I like that.

But unfortunately, 24 hours after I finished this book, I couldn’t have told you anything about it without some revision. And that is not a good way to start a trilogy. By the time book 2 and 3 are out, I probably won’t care about Nya anymore.

March 20

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington

9781841497839This is a difficult review to write. The book took a whole week to read, and that in itself usually guarantees a negative comment, because if I am engaged in the story, the book will only take a day or two at most. But this is a very different kind of book and somehow, I kept going back to it. It simply would not wait until later.

The story is set in the mid-1300s. Europe is a very different place. Magic and monsters seem rife, witches can be found in every strange place. The brothers are graverobbers, and when life gets a little difficult at home, they decide to head south to the famed tombs of Gyptland. Along the way they are forced to defend themselves, and inevitably these two cause some offence. Soon a family seeking revenge is on their trail.

I liked how this book created a medieval atmosphere and maintained it relentlessly. At times it was like reading a fairy tale, not the Disney version, but the original dark Grimm tales. In this tale, the medieval world is not populated with knights in shining armour, or even damsels in distress. This medieval world is filled with poor farmers, heretic priests, claustrophobic cities and thieves.

And there were never two more unlikable heroes as the Brothers Grossbart. They are dishonest, greedy, violent and naive. But they gradually grow on you. In the end you are cheering for them as they are chased by monsters even more vile. And their companions as they arrive in Gyptland? All of them are flawed, but warmly human.

Yes I think I really am recommending this book. It is unique, and that is rarely encountered.

March 8

Chosen by PC and Kristen Cast

9781905654338Certainly today I have been highly critical of some of the vampire romances on the shelves today. But I am going to finish with one of my favourites, the House of Night series.

Book 3 opens almost immediately after the finish of book 2. Zoey is still leading the Dark Daughters and finding that leadership is very difficult. Stevie Rae is still gone, and somehow Zoey finds it hard to confide in her other friends. The one person who understands what she is going through is Aphrodite. And then there is the poet who always seems to be around when Zoey needs help. Before long, Zoey is worrying about keeping the three men in her life apart, and not paying attention to her responsibilities.

As before, one of the reasons I like this series so much is the real humanity of the vampire cast. And since Stevie Rae did come back, I am ready to continue on with the series.

However, I was very uncomfortable with the whole illicit sex scene. Yes, I know that it was important to the plot, and it did emphasize Zoey’s immaturity, but really wasn’t there another way?