January 30

Then by Morris Gleitzmann

9780670072781This has been out for absolutely ages. I know that it spent over a year on my ‘must read’ pile and then I returned it last year when life went crazy. But now its sequel is raising to the top of the review pile, so I needed to get it read. So after Terminal World, it was a good choice.

The book Once saw Felix and his friend Zelda escape from the Nazis. ┬áIn Then Felix, a young Jew is aware of the danger, but little Zelda at only 6 still feels invincible, making rude gestures at soldiers and making noise when it is important to hide in silence. Somehow Felix has to find a place for the two of them to hide. The book opens with them looking for a family to adopt them for the remainder of the war. Instead they stumble onto a mass grave where the Nazis recently slaughtered children because they wanted their orphanage as a hostel for the Hitler Youth. After days without food, they are found by a farmer who takes them into her home. It is hard to change their names and pretend to be someone else, but all seems to be going well. But then comes Felix’s ‘birthday’…

This is a book written for younger children, but it is not one of those nice happy stories. I remember the public furore when Rowlings killed Cedric. Well everyone who thinks that children must be protected from any mention of death will be absolutely livid at this book. But as an introduction to the Holocaust and the many civilians who tried to help the Jews, this book is a treasure.

An important book for the collection.

January 30

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

9780575077188I can’t remember when it last took me a week to read a book, especially while I wasn’t working all day every day. But this one took that long, not because it was tedious and boring, but because it was so thought provoking and challenging that I wanted to savour every chapter.

Set on Earth(?) tens of thousands of years in the future, mankind has forgotten much of what had been learned. Mankind can remember enough to keep machines etc going, but without understanding and creativity. Also, the world has been fractured into zones separated by what seems like an electromagnetic barrier. Although humans can move between zones, it is not without physical illness, and machines can move into higher technology zones, but not into lower. As a result much of the planet is trapped in what we would recognize as historical eras, e.g. Horseland, Steamworld, etc. Most people live within a huge city, itself divided into zones, that is actually a huge spiral climbing into the sky. It certainly sounded like a space elevator to me, but no one alive knows.

Into this mix Quillion is forced to leave his world and his job as a pathologist. He is being hunted by ghouls and the only escape is into the wilderness. There he encounters many others, some of whom are friendly, who have been surviving within the largest zones that cover the earth. This in itself would make a magnificent tale, but Reynolds adds twists right up until the end.

I have been a scifi fan for as long as I can remember. And this is one of the best I have read in years. It doesn’t require a science degree to understand it. The reader understands and cares for the many different characters that appear and disappear. Reynolds also ensures that his cast remain recognizably human, no matter what their evolutionary progress.

But what happens to Quillion? I am hanging out for a sequel.

January 25

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

9780575089945Finally, book 3. The place where all the questions are answered, the problems solved and the final battle is engaged. Although each book in this trilogy has stood very strongly on it’s own, and you could read and appreciate them independently, I strongly recommend that you read the others before you tackle book 3. It may not be necessary, but it certainly helps.

It seems the world is falling apart. Earthquakes, volcanoes everywhere. The ashfall is killing all plant life, and it won’t be long before everything dies. What can Vin and Elend do about it? Or are they dependent on Sazed and his knowledge of all religions to find a clue to save the world.

Sanderson set up an incredibly complex world, but handled it confidently. It has been a very long time since I have read such a complex fantasy series, and frankly, I loved it. And probably the best thing is that I don’t think he clearly identified the title character. To my mind there were several nominations for Hero of Ages.

I think his new fantasy series has arrived and is somewhere in my review queue. I am certainly looking forward to it.

January 25

Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

9780575089334This is what happens when a series goes on too long – you run out of interesting stuff to write about. In previous books in the series I lamented about how everyone in this little town in Louisiana is some sort of mythical beast, well Dead in the Family starts to closely examine the political relationships within and between the various supernatural species. Is Ms Harris getting desperate – or are her publishers pushing for new publications far faster than anyone can write them?

I think Harris needs a break from her True Blood series. With luck she will find some new fresh ideas and interesting adventures for her crew.

January 22

Sebastian Darke : Prince of Pirates by Phillip Caveney

9781407020501One of the things I like about my job is that every now and then I get asked to read a little bit of nonsense that is simply fun to read. No deep and meaningful symbolism, no literary pretensions, just an action packed adventure that is meant to remind the reader that reading is fun.

There is apparently a whole series of adventures about Sebastian, but this is the only one I have read. In this book our hero is heading out to find a lost pirate treasure, but of course all kinds of things get in the way. And therein lies the fun.

This is a traditional page turner with a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. It is nearly 400 pages long, and that might be a little daunting for some young readers, but once they get started they will find that the story flies by.

Hopefully there will be an ebook edition available.

January 22

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

9780575089938Book 2 of a trilogy – always the hardest to review. The purpose of the second book is to set up the story for the final chapter, the blockbuster finale. But in this trilogy, book 1 appeared to be almost stand alone. I mean the hero was killed at the end, so where does it go from here. The revolution was successful and it appeared that everyone had what they wanted.

Well, almost. You see the revolution never found the precious metal as expected, so locating it becomes a priority. And then there are those surrounding kingdoms and duchys that are not so impressed with the revolution, so they try to invade while the government is weak. And weak is an understatement, there is no way a kingdom can become a democracy without a lot of political upheaval. Then of course there is the prophecy…

Sanderson has written a second volume that is very very different from the first. The heist element present in the opening book is totally missing. Instead two of the leading characters from the first book are working to establish a new society, in between falling in love. Inevitably many of the favourite characters from volume 1 take a minor role in this book, but they are still around and I suspect gathering force for book 3.

In the first review I ignored Sanderson’s basis for ‘magic’ in this series. In this world some select humans are able to ingest and burn different metals/alloys that allow them to briefly obtain a single super-skill. Very few are able to burn all the metals and thereby access all these incredible abilities. In a brief review like this, the concept seems impossible and strange, but Sanderson is so immersed in the idea that as you are reading it all seems perfectly possible. You have to admire the author for that dedication.

January 21

Secret Lives by Gabriella Poole

9780340989241-1-2It must be hard to find a new twist to the vampire/school novels written for teens. Just about everything has been tried, some more successfully than others.

And this is one of those series that was not so successful. Sorry, but my favourites are still House of Night and Vampire Academy. I read this because it arrived for review, but I forgot about as soon as I closed the cover.

Certainly it’s not worth the effort.

January 21

Time Riders by Alex Scarrow

9780141326924I have encountered Alex Scarrow before, well it might be the same Alex Scarrow. But then he was writing a historical horror for adults. Here he has turned his hand to a scifi adventure novel for kids.

Scarrow picked a topic well known to scifi readers – time travel. In this case he has proposed a group of kids rescued from various disasters through history and recruited to travel through time putting things right again after others change history for their own gain. But things never go as smoothly as they appear.

Book 1 in the series is mostly set in Washington 1956, but not the way we know it. In their world, Germany won the Second World War. But two of the team are stuck in an endlessly repeating loop of 10 and 11 September 2001, guess where.

This book serves to remind everyone that major world events are often changed by the decisions made by only one or two people. And that is the charm. Yes there is loads of adventure, and twists that will keep you guessing. But the best science fiction will make you think – what if? This book has that quality in spades.

January 21

Soul’s Reckoning by Sam Bowring

9780733624353Book 3. The finale of a fantasy trilogy. Plot is always – big battle between the forces of good and evil – establishment of new world order.

Bit as I read I wasn’t sure about who was good and who was evil. And the leaders of the two forces were actually different parts of the same soul, divided soon after birth. The obvious solution is to reunite the two leaders, but then who is going to become the dominate personality, the leader of the forces of darkness, who shows deep concern for the welfare of his people or the leader of the forces of light, who thinks of nothing but battle. And then of course there are two women involved. Who will keep her man once they are rejoined and surely the other will fight the process.

This is a fantasy series that will make you think. It is not just mindless adventure. Bowring forces the reader to consider the nature of good and evil by turning the fantasy conventions on their head.

And the finish was just as satisfying as all the rest of the series.

January 19

When Courage Came to Call by LM Fuge

9781741664447The publishers are making no secret of the fact that this book was written by a 16 year old girl. For that reason, if no other this book is a very interesting read.

It is a story of war, seemingly unprovoked and sudden. Imm is quietly reading in a library when the bombs begin to fall and from that moment on his world is turned upside down. This is a story of children struggling to survive in times of crisis. However, it is not John Marsden writing this.

This is an action packed adventure story with something happening constantly. Shooting, spying, assassination, escape, gangs – you think of it, and it is all in here. The language is clear and simple and even the print is larger than normal. Young readers will love it.

However, I have a few issues. I found the writing trite and predictable. Very simply the author lacks maturity. But then I had the same issues with Eragon when I read it and one of the delights of that series is watching a young author mature in his storytelling skill.

I also felt very uncomfortable with the depiction of the two countries. Maybe I am reading too much into things but I had an issue with Zamascus (Damascus?) as the innocent victim of the Inigish (English?) superior technology. And the excuse for the war seemed like something out of a middle school history class. Probably I am reading too much into it, but I felt that the rationalisation of the story and the portrayal of the different countries too simplistic for comfort.

But still, for such a young author, not a bad first book.