August 31

The Last Child by John Hart

9781848540217Small town America is obviously a very scary place. I have read a few novels this year set in the Southern backwoods, and the setting adds a great deal to the darkness of the tale. This mystery is certainly dark and deadly.

It all begins with a missing child. She has been missing for years, but her 13 year old brother won’t let it go. To him the adults’ excuses don’t add up and since no one seems to care anymore, it is up to him to find out what happened. But the local cop is equally determined to ensure his safety. And to keep Johnny safe, he has to start investigating the disappearance again. Then more children disappear – and life gets even more interesting.

I read this book ages ago, but still the character of Johnny sticks with me. His single minded determination combined with his natural innocence and belief in his own invulnerability seems just so real. How many 13 year olds are convinced that nothing bad will happen to them?

But most of all, I loved the setting. Yes it may be considered trite and un-original, but Hart captures the flavour of the small town and all it’s various characters powerfully. The crumbling buildings and the hidden sheds are just perfect for this mystery.

August 30

Destiny’s Rift by Sam Bowring

9780733624346And now for part 2.

The boys are now men making a life for themselves, falling in love, but all the time aware that the prophecy will control their lives. In part 2, they discover each other’s existence. Then their challenge is to ensure that they are the blue-haired man that will win victory for his god. Bel sets off to find the Stone of Evenings Mild, his one chance to reunite his soul with the other half. Losara seeks power with which to defeat the armies of the light.

The second book of any trilogy is intended to place our hero into dangers and disasters and remove all hope of success. But in this series the question arises about who really is the hero. Bel may live in the light, but he thinks only of fighting and killing. Losara may become the Shadowdreamer, leader of the forces of darkness, but he genuinely cares for his people. At this stage, I can’t decide which of the boys is the hero.

But I did love the tension in the final scenes as each one obtained the weapons they wanted for the final battle. Volume 3 should be good!

August 29

Prophecy’s Ruin by Sam Bowring

9780733624339Hmmm. What does that say about the state of my review backlog. I just started reading volume 3 of this fantasy trilogy which I received this week, and then worked out that I hadn’t actually managed to write up the review for volume 1. So here goes.

In this fantasy world there are two kingdoms, but more controlled by gods than kings. One kingdom of light and the other of shadow. As you can imagine, they have been at war for centuries. But an old prophecy states that the war will be won by a blue-haired man. Great, when is the last time you met someone with naturally blue hair.

In a deep forest lives a hero of the kingdom of light, he has retired from war to make a home with his true love, who just happens to be part wood sprite. As the book opens they are expecting the birth of their first child. But in the forest nearby are two powerful magicians, each determined to carry this child off to their god, for they have been warned that this child will be the saviour of his land. And as the child is born (complete with blue hair) the two magicians attack. In the ensuing battle the mother is killed, the father is knocked unconscious and the baby is divided in two. Yes, two viable living babies, one carried off to the shadowlands and the other into the light.

The first volume is mostly concerned with childhood of these two boys. One has the benefit of his father’s care and training but the other is raised by the shadow king. As each child grows, the reader can compare the skills and abilities that each one holds after the split. One has an almost magical fighting ability. He can see a battle as choreography and simply needs to follow the path to victory. The other can command incredible magic.

This is a refreshing and original fantasy. And certainly as I was reading, I kept wondering about the many possible directions this tale could take. One soul divided in two and moving inevitably toward a final conflict. But which is more powerful? Who will win the final battle.

August 28

Jarvis 24 by David Metzenthen

9780143010043This is the CBC book of the year??!! Surely this year’s prize was awarded as a recognition of a lifetime of achievement. Metzenthen is a good author, but this is no where near his best work.

Marc Jarvis is a very average kid. He plays football, watches girls from a distance and somehow manages to lose shoes, books, everything. As the book opens he has to organise his work experience and standing around he sees a beautiful girl walk out of a secondhand car sales yard. He thinks, if I do work experience there, I might get to meet her. He gets the ‘job’, meets the girl, and learns a lot about life in the following months.

This is a very typical coming of age story about a young boy who is becoming a young man and in the process sorting out what is important in his life. It appears to be a story of first love, but then I am not sure. I really wanted to know a lot more than Metzenthen revealed about AA. But did he have to put in every possible stereotype. I mean really, the gay artist, or the single mother struggling with a toddler. And sorry when the AFL scouts ring Marc, I was ready to throw the book in the bin. OK, maybe the publishers paid the advance on the condition that this book would attract reluctant reader boys, but really did it have to be written to such an old formula.

Normally it takes me a couple hours to read a YA novel, but this thing took a week. I kept thinking, do I work a little longer – or go read for a while. Work suddenly looked very appealing.

I am very accustomed to disagreeing with the CBC judges, but I find nothing in this book of any merit.

August 23

Captain Cook’s Apprentice by Anthony Hill

9780143004820It seems like it has been forever since I last placed a review online. But that doesn’t mean that I have stopped reading. In fact, my review pile of books is starting to resemble the reading pile. This historical novel was actually finished over 6 months ago!

Anthony Hill has long been an excellent author of historical fiction for young people. He has that innate ability to make people from the past very real to modern readers. In this book he as chosen as his setting one of the greatest seafaring adventures of all time and looks at the experience through the eyes of a young man. The voyage included in this book was Cook’s voyage through the Southern Pacific in 1768 that began the process of mapping the coast of Australia as well as exploring many of the Polynesian islands. Through the eyes of young Isaac the modern reader can experience the excitement, the tension, the joys and the fears of the exploration of the unknown.

To my mind the most memorable part of the story was the time spent in Northern Queensland when the Endeavour ran aground on the reef. I have spent many happy holiday times in that area, and could easily visualise the location. From there it was only a short step in the imagination to understand what this area would have looked like to Europeans over two centuries ago.