March 26

The Ambassador’s Mission by Trudi Canavan

9781841498669A couple years ago I reviewed another book by Trudi Canavan and finished the review with the question – Is there more to come? And about 12 months ago the answer arrived, yes. But last year was not a good year for getting stuck into delicious fantasy, so The Ambassador’s Mission waited. Now I am hoping that volume 2 of the Traitor Spy Trilogy isn’t too far away.

This trilogy is actually a sequel to her Black Magician trilogy, so I am picking up the story in the middle. As always, summarizing a fantasy novel, especially volume 1, quickly gets boring, so I am going keep it short and simple. I’d call this a medieval fantasy novel rather than High Fantasy, simply because there is a relatively small cast of characters to keep track of. There is of course, magic and adventure, but not so much sword and sorcery, more murder and kidnapping. In many ways this first volume is as much a who-dun-it as anything else. The thieves, a respectable guild mind you, are being murdered, and there is rogue magic involved. All the best young minds are being destroyed by drugs, and generally it is the thieves guild responsible. And then the Black Magician’s son is sent to a neighbouring land as assistant to the new ambassador. But he doesn’t last long. The question is – does he really want to be rescued?

This is a good read. Fantasy can all too often be all action and adventure with two dimensional characters that no one misses when they die. But Canavan writes the kind of fantasy where the reader gets caught up in the story and can be reluctant to set it aside. Her characters live and breathe with talents and faults that are very much like people we know. And she can write a good mystery. Believe me, when you start this book you will want a quiet weekend so that you can finish it quickly.

March 14

The Other Countess by Eve Edwards

9780141327303I remember the days when I used to absolutely revel in historical romances. I would devour Victoria Holt and Jean Plaidy, simply starting at one end of the library shelf and read through to the other. But those days are over, or were.

Set in Elizabethan England, Ellie is the daughter of an alchemist and a Spanish countess. Her father has sold everything he owns to support his ‘scientific’ experiments and as the book opens he has helped the Earl of Dorset to empty his treasury. When the Earl dies, the eldest son who inherits an empty title is furious and throws the two of them off his lands. Years later, when Ellie has grown into a young woman, the rash young earl has cause to regret his hasty decision, not because he wishes to continue to support the alchemist, but the daughter is now quite attractive. While both are attending Elizabeth’s summer court, they begin to fall in love. But in those days impoverished nobility could not marry each other.

And that is where this book lost me. Will and Ellie are a sweet couple, but really, the whole – family will accept their love for each other – was ludicrous. Sorry, but I like a little more realism in my historical fiction.

March 14

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe edited by Harris and Kelner

9780575097865Short stories – great sometimes, especially when you really don’t have time to get caught up in a page turner. But my problem is that the stories are so uneven. This collection was mostly by authors unknown to me. I suspect they are mostly horror/mystery/romance popular authors from the States.

Harris and Kelner have previously released a similar collection, in the height of the vampire romance popularity, and guess what the common theme was! Naturally for this new collection to be released just before Christmas, they had to do something different – so they chose – werewolves and Christmastime. How original. And then Harris had the nerve to include one of her stories previously released in a collection of Sookie Stackhouse short stories. Nothing like double dipping.

But there were some really good stories included. ‘Milk and Cookies’ was absolutely chilling. I didn’t see that ending coming. I also really liked the opening of ‘The Werewolf before Christmas’. OK the title of that one isn’t refreshingly original. But I did get sick of the relentless sameness of the collection. Perhaps this needed to be read very, very slowly with a full book between each story.

It’s a little late now for Christmas anyway.

March 3

Bloodthirsty by Flynn Meaney

9780732292195Months ago when I was handed this book to review, I very quietly groaned. It looks silly, the blurb was silly and I really really wasn’t interested. But as I am always saying, reviewing is all about respect for the author. If an author has spent months even years writing a book, it is only common courtesy for a reviewer to read the whole thing. And so I began…

And what a delightful surprise. This was a very gentle spoof of the endless vampire romances in youth literature today. Finn is naturally very pale, almost allergic to sunlight. So naturally he avoids the sun. Rather than become a figure of jest, he decides to model his behaviour on a brooding silent vampire. When one day he actually stands up to a bully in defence of a classmate, his reputation as a vampire grows. As the rumour spreads, the girls gather. Some are absolutely convinced. But the one girl that Finn is really interested in? Well, she knows the truth.

This book is promoted as a laugh out loud comedy. I didn’t find that, but I certainly did appreciate the fact that this book is in no way serious. In spite of the lousy cover and its promotion as the latest ‘vampire romance’, this is a very normal story about life and school and all the other things that are important to teens.

March 3

Destiny’s Right Hand by Michael Wagner

9780143304210This is a very difficult book to give a genre tag. It is part ghost story, part scifi, part family and friends and even part love story. The difficulty is that all these ideas are roughly equal and the real theme is about learning to trust yourself in the face of opposition.

Eddie is a young journalist and on the way to an editorial meeting he sees a very inept shoplifting. Convinced there has to be a story here, he catches up to the girl and starts to hear her story. Thousands wouldn’t believe her, but Eddie is convinced. Together the two work out the puzzle.

I liked the unusual nature of this book. The whole idea of a renegade body part has great possibility and it was handled well. I also felt that it was targeted very nicely for that age group too old to swallow fantasy without thinking and too young to demand reality in everything they read.

And Eddie, well he learns to trust his own instincts!