October 31

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

9781406326307Oh, the publishers had fun with this one. When the first copy arrived at the library the techs were not at all happy to see the little strip of elastic or the plastic cover that rejected all stickers. It is almost as though it was purposely put together to avoid library circulation. But the story inside is a real gem, and lots of readers are agreeing with me.

Lennie may be only 17, but her older sister has just died of heart failure. That’s not supposed to happen to young people just starting out on their lives. The family, consisting of Gran, Uncle Big, and Lennie are pretty broken up and none of them really know how to adjust to the changes in their life. One beautiful, memorable line from the book has Lennie wondering, – what does a companion pony do when the racehorse dies? In these few words, Nelson tells us all about the relationship between these two sisters.

But Lennie is also 17, and at that age hormones cannot be ignored. When the gorgeous new guy arrives at school from France, Lennie gets distracted from her grief. However, there is no way she is emotionally stable enough right now to commit to a real relationship. The question is whether Joe will wait until she is ready.

This is really a teen romance, but with a serious side. Yes, here the grief process is different from Beautiful Monster that I reviewed yesterday, but not every person is going to grieve in the same way. Lennie does indulge in some risky behaviour, but its not life threatening, just inappropriate and guilty.

This is a good read and I promise it won’t make you think too hard. I have suggested 15+, but I know many 12-15s are reading and enjoying it as well.

October 31

Fire and Sword by Simon Scarrow

9780755324385While the men in my family are all devouring the Eagle series by this author, this, the third book in his Napoleon series has been gathering dust in my reading pile. With the pronouncement that this book was ‘too boring’ for them, I knew I had to give it a go. And funny thing, I found it anything but boring.

Fire and Sword as the third book in a series that is based on the military careers of Napoleon and Wellington. It opens with Wellington, or Wellesley as he is at the time, returning to England from India and starting off on a political career with encouragement from his mother to ‘make something of his life’. Napoleon’s story, on the other hand, opens with his coronation as emperor of Europe. And although his advisors are all crying for peace, Napoleon can only see threats from neighboring countries. And he responds to the threats with invasion. Naples, Austria, Prussia, then peace with Russia, Netherlands and finally Spain and Portugal are subdued between the pages of this ‘boring’ book. Wellesley in the meantime is trying desperately to convince someone in the English government that mastery of the seas is not enough, especially after the death of Nelson. He is absolutely convinced that Napoleon must be beaten on land, but more senior officers don’t want to take the risk. Eventually an army is landed in Portugal, but Wellesley’s command is short-lived and soon he his on his way back to England.

Battles, marches, tyranny and deceit, what else does anyone want from history? This book has plenty of all of that. But I really couldn’t call it a historical adventure. Since the leading characters are the generals in the battles, inevitably there is a great deal of standing off and describing troop movements rather than the hand-to-hand fighting common in many Napoleonic novels. So the book is a little short on adventure, it is still a fascinating look at two very important historical characters.

And sorry, but I even appreciated the love scenes, such as they were. Each man’s character and personality was clearly defined in their relationships, and I felt it made them seem more real and less like chess pieces.

So I may be a minority in my household, but I am very glad that the next book in the series arrived for review.

October 30

What Now Tilda B? by Kathryn Lomer

9780702237782How many novels have you read that have been set on lonely deserted beaches? Now how many have been written set in Tasmania? International readers may not appreciate the rarity of this book, but I have spent many holidays/vacations in Tassie, and their southern beaches are some of the loneliest places on earth. So why on earth would Lomer choose this setting for her coming-of-age story. Because it is familiar to the author, and she uses the setting beautifully.

Tilda is nearly 16 and facing one of the biggest decisions of her life. Does she take a risk and move away from home to go to a city school to finish years 11 and 12, or does she stay home with all her friends and work in the fish and chip shop where she already holds a part time job. She really can’t see any purpose in continuing school, because she really doesn’t have any idea about what she wants to do with her life. And why go to all that fuss and expense with no goal or purpose.

But then the elephant seal gets lost…

Suddenly Meg is at the centre of the rescue and protection plan. She is recording data for scientists, doing background research, and a critical member of a team. This experience opens her eyes to a much bigger future that just may be possible beyond the borders of her home town.

This was an easy, comfortable read with few surprises. In fact, the plot was fairly predictable, but so what? The story flowed nicely with a measure of logic. The coincidences weren’t too fantastic. And maybe because I have spent just one cold winter day on a beach about as far south as Tasmania goes, the reality of the setting helped maintain the credibility of the story.

Not a bad read. Certainly far more interesting than Lomer’s previous effort – The Spare Room.

October 30

Beautiful Monster by Kate McCaffrey

9781921361982_BEAUTIFULMONSTERI don’t know if you have read any Kate McCaffrey before, but if you have you will know exactly what I mean when I say that once again McCaffrey has written a book that will sends chills up the spine of any adult and ring true to adolescents today. And OK, a few years ago the trend in adolescent fiction was to write about anorexia or grief, but this one was well worth waiting for.

The book opens with Tessa’s typical day taking her brother to school. And then the unthinkable happens. Years later the family is still in shock, and that is when Ned becomes Tessa’s friend and confidant. But Ned isn’t really a good friend, for all his apparent support. He talks her into some incredible risk taking behaviour, partially to cover her grief, and partially to prove that she has some control over her life. Eventually the Tessa is stopped, but is that really the end of the story?

Reading McCaffrey’s books as an adult, I find is a difficult experience. She has a superb way of getting right inside the thoughts of tortured, depressed, angry adolescents, and forcing the reader to go along for the ride. This book was read in just over an hour, but the message to any adult working with teens is strong. Ignore them and your – and their – peril.

Some YAs reading McCaffrey’s books find them too harsh, too uncomfortable. Certainly her heroines face a world of difficulties and confusion, and a lot of young people don’t want to be confronted in their recreational reading. That may be one reason for the books’ limited popularity. However, it is oh so important that these books are written.

Thank you Kate for another thought-provoking read. And for another Wake-Up Call.

October 12

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

9780007263073Rule #1 Don’t ever attract the attention of faeries. Ash has been raised with this rule since she was a very young child. Most kids don’t have to worry, but Ash, like many women in her family, has the gift of sight, the ability to see the faery world that surrounds us all in our daily lives. But when Keenan arrives at school and decides that Ash is the girl for him, Ash knows that she should run the other way, but curiosity killed the cat.

This is the first book in an urban fantasy series written for young adults. The publishers website suggest that the book is for ages 12+, but I think it would be of far more interest to the 15+ reader simply because many of the hidden themes would completely bypass the younger reader. A 12-year-old would read this as just another modern fairy tale, but an older reader would be able to see the subtleties, recognize the dangers and feel the tension build.

Personally, I really liked the story. Aislinn is a strong willed, independent girl who is not about to do as everyone else expects. She has also lived her life knowing and understanding the faery world. Late in the book the reader is given an explanation for her Gran’s panic when she discovers that faery are following Ash. This pacing and gentle reveal helps the book feel very comfortable, but exciting as well.

I read this on my e-reader. Too bad I can’t find the sequel in the same format.

October 4

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

9780575082489I do like Joe Abercrombie’s gritty realistic fantasy. I loved his earlier trilogy and looked forward to this follow-up novel. Not really a sequel, more of an update about what is happening in the world we left behind.

Revenge is best served cold. And when Monza Murcatto decides that revenge is due, she will stop at nothing to ensure that it is served well. It may take time, it may involve putting together a team of allies, but Grand Duke Orso is as dead as her brother, only Orso doesn’t know it yet. But is death enough revenge, perhaps it would be better to destroy the man first.

Be warned, this is going to be a fantasy novel that you have to think about. The plot is complex and the characters are certainly 3 dimensional. Don’t choose this book if you are looking for some mindless adventure reading because you will need to pause every now and then to think about the story.

October 3

The Wrong Grave by Kelly Link

9781921520730Remember the days when every bookshop and library had shelves of ghost stories. Not the paranormal romances of Twilight and the like, or the Stephen King horror novels. No I am thinking about those wonderful little stories with some supernatural content, and always a twist at the end. Poe, Lovecraft, and even the short stories of Roald Dahl are the sort of thing I am thinking about. Stine tried very hard to hijack the genre with his Goosebumps series, and I think old fashioned ghost stories lost popularity at about the same time. But I am very pleased to announce their return.

The Wrong Grave is a collection of five short stories, each written with individuality and flare. Faery, ghosts, wizards and even librarians do battle with brave and determined children. I would have some difficulty in nominating my favourite story, but certainly every story is well worth a second or even third reading. I will admit that ‘Magic for Beginners’ had me stumped.

Each story is a little gem of contemporary fantasy. Set in modern times, with modern children included the magic elements are simply part of everyday life. I love the idea.

I hope these excellent stories will gain popularity with children and young adults.

October 3

Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre

9780575093973Gollancz has recently been sending me a variety of paranormal romance books in a small format. All that I have read so far, have been nothing more than light entertainment. At least the covers make that fact very clear.

Aguirre’s heroine is a ‘handler’. She can touch something and know it’s history and sometimes its future. She got very tired of her boyfriend’s using her skill for financial gain so ran away to Mexico to open a secondhand/pawn shop. When Chance (the ex) tracks her down her first response is to flee, but he begs her to help him locate Min, a dear friend of them both. Corinne strikes a deal and agrees to help, one last time.

This is really an adventure story dressed up as a paranormal romance. Magic abounds, sometimes thinly disguised as voodoo. But as long as you don’t take anything seriously, this book is good fun. Be warned though, it is very, very silly.

I read Blue Diablo and it’s sequel a few weeks ago when I was immobilised with a knee injury. It was actually a good way to fill in a few hours.

October 1

Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey

9780575093614Six months ago I reviewed the first book in this new series from Jacqueline Carey. When I received the second book it quickly moved to the top of the reading list. The first book was fun, a bit of mindless drivel. Imagine my surprise when the second book actually made me think!

We left Moirin in ‘China’, leaving the royal court in search of her soulmate Bao who had left months before in search of a new life. She follows his trail north into the wilderness, but the winter catches her first. Alone in the ‘Mongolian’ wilderness, she has little chance of survival. However, the Tartar tribe welcomes her into the village for the winter, especially when they discover that she is an expert archer. In spring the tribes gather to renew their loyalty to the Great Khan, and there Moirin finds Bao, now married to the Khan’s daughter. Unhappy at the lover’s plans to escape, the Khan plans to separate the pair permanently.

I was very surprised by this second book. Carey has left behind the purely erotic fantasy and moved into something far more interesting. Yes there are a couple of passionate love scenes, but Moirin and Bao spend far more time caught up in religious wars and conflict. Moirin’s sympathetic nature leads her to try to understand the nature of religious fanaticism, while all the time struggling to escape its clutches. Christianity, Islam, Hindi, Buddhism, none of the great religions escape examination.

Having established strong characters and her realistic world in the first book, Carey has done far more than continue the adventure. I approve, and hope that I don’t have to wait too long for the next installment.