December 30

Fever Dream by Preston and Child

9781409113539Looking back through my reviews it appears that I have only reviewed one of the books I have read by this team of authors. Since most of them have been read in the ebook format, it looks like those reviews are even further behind that the print reviews. Someday I will catch up.

Anyway this is the latest in the Pendergast series of horror/crime novels featuring FBI Special Agent Pendergast. Remind you of an old TV series? I think it should. Most of the novels in the series feature a healthy ration of supernatural forces in their mystery.

On a rare visit home, Pendergast begins to clear out some reminders of his wife who had been killed in a hunting accident many years before. Then he discovers that it was no accident! Cold case? International jurisdiction? None of that matters as Pendergast and his friend D’Agosta search for the killers and bring them to justice.

This book has lots of suspense, violence and intrigue that will make it a good crime thriller. But I certainly missed the supernatural content that I have come to expect, and even adore in a Preston/Child collaboration. That doesn’t mean the book was bad, just different than I expected.

And guys – when are your publishers going to release the backlist for ebooks?

December 30

Trail of Fate by Michael Spradlin

trail_of_fatecover-199x300Before I stopped for the Christmas holidays I reviewed book one in this series. At the time I continued straight on into book 2, but didn’t get the review written at the conclusion.

Trail of Fate opens with Tristan’s rescue from the shipwreck. Surprisingly his pack is still with him and so he must continue to make his way towards Scotland in order to fulfil his vow. The only way through France is by foot.

It’s not long before Tristan, Maryam and Robard encounter French Huguenots and the Inquisitors who are searching for them. Naturally the three heroes take the side of a pretty French girl, and their arch enemy shows up to the battle with the Inquisitors. But that all keeps the adventure happening. How boring would the book be if they were fighting on the same side.

Once again Spradlin cannot resist the temptation to place the three pilgrims in historically improbable situations. Somehow I have trouble believing that a squire would gain immediate audience with Eleanor of Aquitaine. But then all adventure stories venture into the realms of the improbable.

Book 3 is out. I just couldn’t get my hands on it for the holidays, so look for the review early next year.

December 30

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

9781921656361A couple months ago I reviewed the first collection of short stories by Kelly Link. This second collection of her stories follows a similar style and theme, but this time her each of the stories contains a monster. Whether the monster is good or evil, or just plain dumb – that decision is left to the reader.

No these are not ‘horror’ stories, at least in the idea of a modern ‘horror’ film or novel. Each story has some supernatural content, and an unearthly being or two. But nothing is going to leave the reader with nightmares.

Some have questioned my listing these books for junior secondary. Certainly both books are best suited to good readers. Like most modern short stories, a great deal is left to the reader to fill in. Also the language use is quite mature. But the subject material is well suited to younger readers, so I stand by my category.

December 29

Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead

9781921518904Its a measure of just how busy I have been that I didn’t even know this book was released for over a week. And worse yet, I didn’t even manage to lay my hands on a copy until it had been out nearly a fortnight. But reading … that happened as soon as I got it home.

Book 5 ended with Rose in prison awaiting trial for murder and book 6 does the reader the courtesy of picking up the story at that precise spot. Her friends and supporters are working hard to prove her innocence, but time is running out. So her friends and family organise a daring escape and suddenly Rose is hiding in a backwoods motel. But fans of this series just know that she isn’t going to be able to sit back and let others take an active role in clearing her name. So before long she convinces her guardian, you guessed it, Dimitri that she can follow up leads and still stay out of trouble. As always, one thing leads to another, and soon she is fighting for her own survival. And as always, it is not only Rose who gets into trouble, but somehow everyone around her gets dropped into danger.

But we just know that everything is going to work out for the best. There will be a new queen, Rose will be Lissa’s guardian, and of course true love will always win out. There were some surprises. I certainly did not pick the real murderer. And the last Dragomir was obvious once you thought about it, but while I was reading, I got surprised.

I still say that Rose is too immature to be a competent guardian, but hopefully someday she will grow up. Certainly Dimitri has always provided a steadying influence.

Mead tied up all the loose ends very neatly. She has maintained an excellent tension level throughout the series and her characters stayed consistent. In her final comments she said that although Rose’s story is over, she plans to return to Vampire Academy to find other stories that need telling. Somehow I suspect that Rose will appear occasionally. She is simply too strong to stay in the background.

But until then, my advice is to go back to book one and read the whole set again. It is certainly one of the best of the vampire romances around.

December 29

The Byron Journals by Daniel Ducrou

Ducrou_Byron_JournalsI think this book was published with a YA audience in mind. But I’m not really too sure. It may simply be a book intended for the 30+ crowd who are looking to recapture the spirit of adventure and recklessness of their youth.

Andrew and his mate Benny have decided to have a working holiday in Byron Bay. After a party one day the two friends fall out and suddenly Andrew is looking for a place to bunk. He meets Heidi and shortly he lays claim to a room in her share house. The problem is that he needs to earn some money, and that isn’t as easy as one would wish. Eventually Benny heads back home, but Andrew decides that he is staying.

I may be in the minority, but this book made me feel very uncomfortable. Yes it was interesting, and the characters were really believable. The reader is bound to wonder if this book doesn’t have more than a little autobiographical content. But mostly this book blatantly promotes the use of all different kinds of drugs. Drugs are a quick and secure means of making quick money, they make all your problems go away, and best of all, they will help you catch the girl of your dreams. In fact only those readers that actually get to the very end will discover that there is anything harmful or even remotely negative about drug use.

I have real questions about the suitability of this book for young adults.

December 29

Tuck by Stephen Lawhead

9781904233756Now that Christmas is over and life is settling back down, it is time to clear up my backlog of unreviewed books. Some of these were read months ago, so comments could be a little short and sketchy.

Last September I reviewed the first book in this wonderful retelling of the Robin Hood tale. Somehow I missed reviewing book two of the series, but it is now time to review volume 3.

Lawhead has changed and moved the Robin Hood story to Wales just after the Norman invasion of England. Instead of the Sheriff of Nottingham here the main antagonist is Abbot Hugo, a man who has great hatred of the native population of his huge land grant. Rhi Bran and his supporting cleric, Tuck, help these poor people fight to make the land too difficult for Hugo to control.

This series has totally changed my tolerance for the traditional Robin Hood and its variations. I saw a TV trailer for the British TV series and my first response is, ‘But we all know that Robin was Welsh.’ This is a real credit to Lawhead’s research, and his ability to create a wonderfully believable story.

It took about two weeks to read the complete series, and it was two weeks very well spent.

December 14

The Double-Edged Sword by Sarah Silverwood

9780575095793This book arrived as part of my normal review bundle, from the publisher who provides me mostly with books for adults. As I was reading, I was thinking that it was a fantasy that would surely appeal to 13+ boys, a definite YA. Only when I was looking for some background information did I see that the publisher is promoting it as a YA novel. For once we agree.

Set in London, or more accurately Londons, Fin is an orphan who was found in a box on the steps of Old Bailey. He has been supported by a group of elderly men who live in a ‘secret’ retirement home, but his life has been strange. Alternate years he changes schools, changes friends, changes social standing, everything. His lives are bundled into two trunks, one green and one red. Until his 16th birthday that is. On that day the world starts to change and before he knows it he is moving between alternate realities rescuing the Storyholder who holds the secret to holding all the different realities in place.

I liked several features of this book. Firstly, and unusually for book one of a fantasy series, it tells its own story. Not quite self-contained, but a satisfying conclusion. Only in the epilogue are the teasers for volume 2 revealed. That is so much better than spending the whole book introducing characters and setting a scene. For that reason alone, I suspect it will appeal to adolescent readers.

Secondly there was a good measure of adventure, with the kids at the core, but it never went silly leaving the 16 year old boys rescuing knights and destroying evil. Each of the boys has a role to play, but generally they are supporting characters once the fighting begins. I like that.

However, the story does depend on the reader having a basic familiarity with the geography of London. That may be fine for English teens, but here in Australia that may be a stumbling block. I certainly hope not because I think Sarah Silverwood has a lot to offer readers.

December 14

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

9781409123798Before I begin I will own up that I have never read any of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. They are certainly on my someday list, and I am waiting for them to become available for ebooks, but as yet I haven’t ready any of them. So I had no prior knowledge of this author, good or bad. Since this book is blatantly a ghost story rather than her normal fantasy genre, I figured that it didn’t matter.

Set in 1937, this story is about four young English university students who decide to winter in Iceland, just for the adventure. They get funding and sponsorship by agreeing to provide regular weather reports and other scientific observations during their time on the ice. And of course they want to stay as far from human habitation as possible.

Even before they arrive, things begin to go wrong. One by one each of the ‘explorers’ is evacuated and one local seal hunter tells Jack a horrific tale of the history of the mine found on their campsite. Is it true? Are their really ghosts? Jack is certainly convinced.

I have read several other similar stories of the madness brought on by loneliness and isolation. Probably the best of these was Anthony Eaton’s Into White Silence. And sorry, but this book can’t hold a candle to that one. Paver’s sense of location and setting just didn’t have the power and realism of Eaton’s. Yes there are definite similarities, both badly prepared expeditions, both lead by fools interested only in personal glory. The environment is unforgiving, and anyone taking the challenge needs to be strong in very many ways.

As a ghost story, though, it isn’t bad. Certainly for those looking to read a good horror, this is a likely candidate.

December 14

With a Sword in My Hand

resized_9781741758658_224_297_FitSquareNormally I let you know right at the start the author of every book I review, but this book not only has two authors but also a translator. So here goes: The authors are Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem and Pat van Beirs and the book was translated into English by John Nieuwenhuizen.  Together they have given life to a historical figure whose story is mostly lost in time.

According to the authors, Marguerite van Male was tomboy living in the 14th century. As an only child, she was given great freedom, including sword training. However, she was a girl, and in those days, a girl of royal birth would marry as directed rather than as she wished. So if her father wanted stronger ties to England, she would marry an English Duke rather than the French prince everyone assumed was her future. But Marguerite wasn’t just your average little girl, her political awareness was well above most. Eventually she does marry Phillip, only to watch him die of the plague.

I have some difficulty with these ‘historical’ novels that totally disregard the social mores of the time. Yes Marguerite was probably an exceptional woman, but somehow I don’t believe that she would dare to approach the Pope to intercede with her father. I much prefer my historical fiction to be more historical, especially regarding the role of girls and women in history. Sorry, although I found the Marguerite as appearing on these pages a fascinating young lady, I don’t believe for a moment that this is the girl who actually lived.

But there is a very strong moral to the story, if you think about the consequences of her selfish and rash action.

December 13

The Youngest Templar by Michael Spradlin

9780732290702Some places have this book titled Keeper of the Grail, but my copy was simply named The Youngest Templar, which eventually became the series title. The setting is England and Israel during the Crusades leaving lots of possibilities for swordfights and knights in armour.

Tristan is an orphan who has lived for 14 years in a monastery in England. One day a group of Templar Knights pass through and see that he is very good working with animals. Before they leave, Tristan is offered the chance to become a squire to Sir Thomas, the leader of this group. Very quickly Tristan is on a ship bound for the Holy Land. But all does not go to plan. Just before one particularly hopeless fight, Sir Thomas charges Tristan to take his pack containing a priceless treasure safely to Scotland. The treasure is said to be the Holy Grail, and Tristan escapes Jerusalem through a tunnel and heads off to Acre. On his way he makes two friends, Roband and Maryam. Together the three escape the Middle East and head for England.

This is a non-stop adventure story. The action never stops and in in true adventure series style, the book ends with Tristan’s ship caught in a storm and sinking. Certainly several boys who picked up the book, loved it and could hardly wait for book 2.

However, I don’t think the Robin Hood references were at all necessary.