July 26

Destiny’s Star by Beth Vaughan

How often do I complain about cover art? And nearly as often I object to misleading titles. Well the cover art and title for this latest offering from Beth Vaughan must have been settled at the very last minute because even the publisher’s website has the wrong cover and/or the wrong title for book three of this romantic fantasy series. Personally, I prefer the title Slave Chains by the way.

In Red Gloves, the first book in the series, Vaughan created a strong cast of female characters. Each book in turn is allowing her to tell the story for each of her important women. This time it is Red’s warrior friend Bethral. She and the slave Ezren are sent through a portal to another part of their world in order to avoid Ezren’s wild magic destroying the royal court. They find themselves in an open desert, alone and very far from help. The country is populated by a nomadic tribe that reminded me of the early Mongolian culture. The shaman claim that Ezren has stolen the wild magic from their land and it can only be returned to them as his death. Bethral is determined to keep him safe and try to find a way back to the world they both know. She is assisted in this task by a group of young men and women newly arrived at warrior status.

Just like the rest of the books in the series, this is a very gentle romantic fantasy. The story is has as much romance as adventure, but both are kept very restrained. Ezren and Bethral are meant for each other, but it takes them forever to work it out. And about the time they decide they are in love, the bad guys are upon them and all the trouble begins.

This book delivers exactly what you expect if you have read the previous books in the series. A light entertaining read that won’t make you think too hard. I think I finished it in a couple hours, about the time it takes for a romantic comedy movie. And really there isn’t too much difference.

July 26

The Mask of Troy by David Gibbins

9780755353965There are just some books that I am always happy to receive for review. And this was one of them. Yes this is another of the Indiana Jones genre, but Gibbins is always going to keep his ideas within the realms of possibility. As an archaeologist himself, he can create a plot that makes you think it just could be true.

This time Gibbins’ hero is excavating near Troy. With a very limited time on the site and in the water nearby, the whole team we have come to know in previous books are here. Each working within their own specialty. Using the records left by Schliemann, they continue the original excavations, discovering the truth behind the victory by the Greeks and the real meaning of the Trojan Horse. Also chasing the Schliemann treasure is a group of ‘businessmen’ who want to re-create the Nazi regime by finding some of the looted art treasures. They believe that stored with these treasures are weapons of mass destruction that can be upgraded and used in the modern world. But the treasure they are seeking, the Mask of Agamemnon, is deep in a flooded cave in Poland. Jack and Costas are the only divers who are likely to reach the treasure, but the problem is how to make them cooperate.

When I started this book, I didn’t know much about the archaeology of Troy. In fact, I knew very little about the Ancient Greek period. Yes, the Trojan Wars happened very early in the story of Greece, but Bronze Age or Iron Age? No idea. Gibbins gently teaches his readers the necessary history as they enjoy the story, and I guess that is one reason why I like his books so much. But everything seems just so logical.

For a change, I felt that the neo-Nazi link was a bit flimsy. OK, Schliemann was German and Gibbins claims he was a friend of Bismark. So yes, some of the secret treasures of Troy were very likely to end up in Germany. But the whole biological warfare research happening in bunkers under concentration camps idea just doesn’t sit well.

But the radical new explanation of the Trojan ‘Horse’ is a lot easier to believe that the Hollywood version.

July 25

The Whisperer by Fiona McIntosh

9780732286675When this book first came in I remember looking at it thinking, oh, if I only had the time. And then in was shortlisted for the CBC prize in the younger reader’s category, so I had my excuse. Yeah!!

This is a fantasy story but very much more. On the surface, a peaceful kingdom is taken over by the King’s evil brother. The young prince barely escapes the palace with his life, and now he is in search of help to regain his kingdom. The parallel story is about Griff, a young circus performer who is very keen to remain just one of the crew that put up the tents, feed the animals and the other lonely jobs in a circus. Unfortunately, he does have one talent, mind-reading. And when the circus owner discovers this talent, suddenly Griff is pressured to ‘perform’. Eventually, in the manner of all fantasy, the Griff turns out to be the only person who can help the Prince and together they put the world back together the way that it is meant to be.

Does that sound trite and boring? Well you try to summarise the plot of any fantasy in 100 words or less. The thing is that McIntosh manages to make this story convincing. There is a dash of adventure, actually probably more than a dash. But her people are the most important part of this story and they simply jump off the page. She even manages to give her mythical creatures a personality and blend them into the plot.

This is a very good book for young fantasy readers. However, I have a feeling that those readers who are not well versed in the fantasy genre may find it all a little difficult. The unusual names, the magical beasts that appear without warning or background, and even the sheer length of this book are going to discourage many young readers. Sad that.

But for those of us who love fantasy. Young and old, enjoy.

July 25

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard

9781741756586Years ago I read a scifi novel by Glenda Millard that was supposed to be a breakthrough in popularising science fiction for today’s young adults. I will admit that I was so disappointed that I have avoided reading anything by Millard for years. But this year one of her books was listed on the CBC shortlist for older readers, so it had to go into the reading mountain. I will admit to downloading a copy for my ebook reader, thereby forcing myself to read it during those boring times when nothing else is happening. You know the moments, waiting for a train, or the dentist. Well the dentist appointment was this week, and what a wonderful, delightful surprise I got. This book is an absolute gem.

Skip is a troubled child. His mother left him when he was very young, and he was removed from the care of his mentally ill father and placed in a series of foster homes. At the opening of the book, Skip is planning to run away. He soon discovers that running away isn’t hard, the problem is what to do afterward. The first section of the book is all about Skip’s life on the streets and an old soldier that befriends him. But one night while sleeping in a skip, the world catches fire. Suddenly a few bombs make the whole world homeless and Skip and Billy seem to be the only ones that can find their way through the chaos. Gradually they build a small family and take responsibility for their safety.

On the surface this appears a simple tale that almost goes nowhere. It is all centred around people, and all of them are damaged. We are never told their backstories, we just know that Billy made a mistake that he has regretted all the rest of his life, Max is brave because he can’t bear to think of the alternative, and Tia is swallowed up with loneliness. Millard has created such a beautiful cast of characters for this simple drama.

In reality this is a book of great complexity. I can easily imagine this becoming a very popular set text for junior secondary classes because English teachers will relish investigating the symbolism of the House of Horrors, or even the Chariot of Peace with their students. A book like this could give the term ‘text response’ a whole new meaning.

I am notoriously bad at choosing the CBC Book of the Year winner. And I haven’t finished the full list yet. But it will take an incredible piece of writing to top this.

And if I get a chance, I might try to find time to read some of her other books.