June 25

Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich

simon-rich-LST075440What a strange little book! The publishers are intent on promoting it as comedy, and the credentials are impressive. The cover is right (and I just had a look at the new and very average cover). Even for once the quotable quotes on the cover are right, this really is clever and fun.

The plot could easily summarize any one of a hundred YA novels. New kid at the school befriends the local loser and decides to make him Mr Popularity before the end of the year. Since the New Kid has more money than Midas, this is absolutely going to work. Before the end of the year, Seymour is class president, going out with the cheerleader and getting an A for every subject. Most kids books would stop right there.

What makes this book so interesting is that part two suddenly fast forwards to the end of year 12 when suddenly these lies begin to matter. It’s not just school anymore, but now Seymour is facing the world with nothing but lies in his portfolio and he is nervous.

This is a very clever and thought provoking book. There are some snappy one-liners and funny anecdotes, but the book is much, much more than that. It is really about bullying and allowing someone else to control your life. How do you fight back and proclaim your independence? By being true to yourself. I like that!

This is a deceptive little treasure.

June 25

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

9780575096523I know. I can hear you. Every time I pick up the latest Charlaine Harris I end up complaining. So why do I keep reading them? Well, it’s like that daytime soap that you just can’t stay away from. Someday you hope, usually in vain, that something will happen. Just consider this my latest dose of soap opera.

Vampires are out, now so are the two-natured, but they aren’t so popular. So when Merlotts gets bombed, everyone assumes that the target is Sam. But then Sookie gets a message from her demon lawyer Cataliades that the Pelts are after her again. At the same time Sheriff Eric has just about had enough of his new boss.

With this volume in the long, long series, Harris has set aside politics, romance, and even steamy sex in order to try her hand at action/thriller writing. Bombings, murders, car chases, huge fight scenes, they are all here in spades. I think there is more ‘action’ here than in all the rest of the books put together. And surprisingly it seems to work.

If you haven’t been reading the series, then take my advice and go back at least a few novels before you try this one. Harris doesn’t spend a lot of time reprising the past and you will very quickly get lost in this world of supernatural beings who all seem to be related to each other somehow. But in each book, a little more backstory is revealed. This time we find out about the seduction of Sookie’s grandma.

This is a bit of harmless fun, and good to read when you just want to switch your brain off and relax.

June 24

Before We Say Goodbye by Gabriella Ambrosio

1271725280253Wow, what an unusual book! The whole idea is amazing and the way the book is crafted makes it even more powerful. Suddenly suicide bombers aren’t just on the evening news, they are in you head!

One day, that is all that is covered. And a whole stack of lives. The events of that all important day are told from several points of view, and at first the book makes no sense. But gradually the reader discovers what is in Dima’s mind, and inevitable tragedy unfolds.

At first I found there were too many points of view given and the book was actually irritating. However, as time passes, I find that irritation to be a virtue. The writing technique certainly maintains a sense of immediacy. Most authors would have focussed the whole story from Dima’s perspective, and tried to explain why she did what she did. But including the victims stories as well as the organiser’s perspective is important.

I also very much liked the fact that everything happened in a day. Backstory was provided through personal reflective moments within that day, but the story kept moving towards the inevitable.

It also only took a little over an hour to read. That made it feel like a news report rather than a novel. Scary.

This is not a fun book to read, but it is important.

June 24

Plugged by Eoin Colfer

9780755379996Interesting a crime novel written for adults from one of the most popular authors for 10-12 year olds. Not that I have made a point of reading Artemis Fowl, but really, does he think he is going to make a fortune writing for adults?

Dan is a doorman, you know the kind. Big, tough, and meant to discourage troublemakers from entering a club, and the one to throw them out at the first sign of trouble. He has an interesting past, mostly with the UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon, but now life has settled into relative peace, with a kind-of girlfriend and a steady job. That is until his girlfriend is found murdered in the carpark. Suddenly Dan is involved in the craziest 48 hours of his life and all the survival skills he learned in the army are needed.

Even without the author history, this was an interesting read. It was dark, gritty and tense. The hero was flawed and sometimes jumped to the wrong conclusions. The danger he encountered seemed realistic, at least certainly more realistic than the Andy McDermott novels. Somehow, though, I felt the level of violence was unnecessary. It was as if Colfer felt he had something to prove. Like he was shouting – This is an ADULT book! in every chapter. That wasn’t necessary. He is a writer and he writes tells stories.

In places I did find the book heavy going though. But right now I am blaming the edition that I read. My proof copy was very rough, small print and unrelenting text. I assume that the publishers fixed all that before releasing the book for sale.

I encourage Colfer to relax and just tell his story. There are lots of authors that cross the line between adult and YA fiction, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t join them.

June 22

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

9780575097575I love it when I go into a bookshop and look around at the books that I already have at home for review. And a few weeks ago I saw this one for sale and thought, well, however stupid it looks, I had better move it into the review pile. Really, nothing every compares itself to Harry Potter anymore. And I don’t call a Charlaine Harris promotional comment as an advertisement. But once reading, I found this to be a lot of fun.

Imagine a young police constable, just completing his probationary assignment, on patrol when a dead body is discovered. But then a witness ‘appears’ out of nowhere, literally. In fact this witness died over a century before. You see, Constable Peter Grant has the misfortune to be magically talented, and is ‘recruited’ into the Paranormal division of the London Metropolitan Police where is commences his magician’s apprenticeship. And the best training is on-the-job.

This is a delightful book. Far more mature than Rowling ever dreamed, but with just the right mix of drama and humour to keep the pages turning without descending into horror. Yes there are horrific passages. The shapeshifter is truly horrible. Through it all, Grant hangs onto his humanity, not becoming a superhero, just a man trying to get through each day on the job to the best of his ability. So what if his work day involves Mother Thames and her various river sprites.

I loved this book so much that I immediately dug through the boxes to find the sequel. And that was just as much fun!

June 22

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

9780330425780When you read as much as I do, most of the time you finish a book, close it, and think ‘oh well, that’s another one for the list.’ But every now and then you close a book with the thought, ‘Wow!’ Minutes ago I finished a ‘Wow’ book. Yes, my last post was 4 hours ago, and I hadn’t started reading then.

Reading this book in one sitting seems right. The story is told all in one night, a night ‘on the town’ searching for Shadow and Poet two graffiti artists. Lucy and her friends team up with three boys all who claim to know Shadow and Poet and where they hang out. As the night goes on, life just gets more and more complicated, and yet life becomes more and more clear. Confused? You won’t be once you read this, and you have to read this!

I have always loved Cath Crowley’s work. It is a measure of the insanity last year that I never got around to reading this book when it was released. Crowley has a wonderful ear for the adolescent voice, and her characters are rarely caricatures. Lucy, Ed, Shadow, even Al and Bert are good people and their goodness keeps them moving in the right direction. But life isn’t ever that simple, and her writing never trivialises the way her readers feel.

Crowley also has a wonderful talent for portraying sympathetic adults who work with teens. Too many authors dismiss them entirely, or try to pervert them into something dark and evil. Crowley simply treats her adult characters with respect and allows them to help as needed. No evil predator here, just an old man trying to offer a lifeline to a drowning talent.

This book is also shortlisted for the CBCA award this year. Unfortunately I doubt very much it will win. This is a good story, well told, but it takes more than that to win awards.

June 22

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

Six Impossible Things CVR SI.inddTwo more CBCA short listed books to read, and one is in my hands. But first I need to write the review for this.

Dan is a kid with troubles. His dad is gone, his mum is starting out a new business, and she is not very good at it. Part of the whole life reorganisation is a new school, and he hates the whole idea. There is that cute girl who lives next door, but if she ever finds out that he can get into her room through the attic, she will kill him. So there, right off the bat, five impossible things.

This is a book about being a teen. All the worries and day to day hassles that kids face and survive every day. The story is told gently and with humour, maintaining a positive outlook. That is very unusual in YA novels. Most of them prefer to dwell on tragedy and drama.

Shortlisted for the CBCA? I really don’t see why. It is very readable and a lovely story, but not literature. Seriously, once it was finished, I never thought about it again. And now that I am writing the review a couple weeks later, I can barely remember what happened. I don’t see that as award winning material.

But, still it is a nice read.

June 22

The Order of the Scales by Stephen Deas

9780575083813And finally, volume 3 reaches the top of the review pile! But at least I read it soon after the release date this time. Somehow, though, it was still tricky sorting out the main cast.

As with all fantasy trilogies, this book contains the final battles and the establishment of the new world order. The rogue dragons are ‘rescuing’ as many tamed dragons as they can find and leading them into the mountains to recover. At the same time, the humans are busy fighting amongst themselves. Very convenient because they are busy blaming each other for the destruction of the dragon eyries, rather than looking for Snow and the rogues. By the time the humans realise their mistake, most of the ruling families have been destroyed. But it is a simple mercenary who discovers the real treasure, a spear that can turn a dragon to stone. But who is going to believe him? Exactly no one, until it is almost too late.

This is a book that bears some thinking about. As you read it, it seems to be an adventure tale, but then too many of the ‘good guys’ die. In fact, the selfish, underhanded, manipulative Jehal sticks with the story almost to the last page. He opened the trilogy with a murder, and still survives until the end – it’s simply not fair. And patient, longsuffering Kemir? After seeing everything he loved destroyed, he is enslaved by the rogue dragon. When Snow finally releases him, he tentatively finds love, and just as it begins to bloom…well it’s not pretty.

This trilogy does have the good sense to end before the establishment of the new world order. Surprising for a series that has been so political. You would assume the Deas mapped out the new ‘democracy’ even if only to decide who had to survive the final battle, but does he share? Nope. That will certainly leave some readers wanting more.

And like any good fantasy novelist, the final chapter gives just a hint of another story to tell. “I am Silence, and I am hungry,” Scary words indeed.