July 15

Good Oil by Laura Buzo

resized_9781741759976_224_297_FitSquareIt’s not very often that I don’t finish a book. I figure that an author is going to spend months or even years on a book, I can at least do him/her the courtesy of reading it all before I form an opinion. I was so tempted several times to simply put this book aside, and it was only this principle that kept me turning the pages. And am I glad I did. The finish simply changed my whole perspective and this became one of the best books I have read this year.

Amelia is 15, just, when she takes a job at Woolies as a check-out chick. Her trainer is Chris, 21, finishing uni, and very easy on the eyes. Instantly Amelia falls for him with the worst school girl crush you can imagine and 80% of this book is Amelia going through all the anguish that any girl with an inappropriate crush endures. That bit of the book has been done before, often with a lot more humour.

What makes this book different is the other part. Buzo has included two sections from Chris’s diaries. Through these chapters the reader learns about Chris and his life, including his guilt when he discovers that the only girl who seems to make any sense in his life is the youngster. It seems that he is in an impossible position and there is no happy escape.┬áThankfully Buzo provides us all with one. Personally, I think her final pages are a brilliant solution.

This could all too easily become a silly romance, an unreal fantasy, or a dark and depressing story of power, control and manipulation. Buzo avoids all of that very artfully without losing that touch of reality that made so much of this book uncomfortable to read.

Personally, I would list that among my top 10 YA for 2010.

July 15

Killer of Men by Christian Cameron

9780752898599Every now and then it is nice to discover that you can be wrong about an author. Based on his Tyrant series, I had Christian Cameron pegged as one of those historical fiction authors that was so caught up in the historical detail that the story got lost. You know the kind, detail after excruciating detail and then once every 100 or so pages something happens! Well believe me, this series is different!

Picture a young Greek boy whose life is his father’s bronzesmith forge and the farm and that is all he ever wanted. Then some priest from a neighbouring city spots his intelligence and encourages his parents to educate him. The education he receives is far more than reading, mathematics and philosophy, but also includes military and survival skills. Then while squiring for his older brother during a battle, the brother is killed and suddenly Arimnestos finds himself in the middle of a phalanx. When a dishonest relative spots a chance to inherit everything, the poor boy is sold into slavery and sailing off to what is now Turkey. This book is about his life, or at least the early years, and his eventual return to his homeland.

Cameron could so easily been caught up in the historical detail, but this time he kept the action happening. Revolutions, piracy, personal vendetta’s, this book has it all. And believe me there was so much action happening that it was very difficult to put aside. I will admit that I have very little idea about ancient Greek history, especially the Ionian Greeks living on the west coast of Turkey at the time of the Persians, but Cameron provides enough detail to keep the story logical without getting boring.

The sequel is supposed to be released in October. I’ll be watching for it.

July 8

Red Glove by Holly Black

9780575096769Yesterday I reviewed White Cat by this author and last night I finished the sequel, Red Glove. Just a warning, if you haven’t read White Cat yet, stop here and find it, and read it before considering this sequel. It can be read independently, but you will enjoy it much more if you have the right background.

White Cat left Cassel with the discovery that his brothers had used his magical talent to set up an assassination business, and he managed to make them stop. But now, a few weeks later, one brother is dead and Federal Agents are pulling him out of class to insist that he assist them in their enquiries into the murders. You see, his brother was helping them before his untimely death. At the same time his mother becomes an aide to the state governor, school is getting on his case, and Lila is still besotted. When two crime families start bidding for his talent, Cassel has just about had enough. How on earth can he get out of this pickle, and work out who really killed his brother. And what can he do once he finds out?

The solution he comes up with is brilliant. Last night as I was reading, I could only admire this young man with a well developed sense of survival. The Feds would have been furious! Let alone the crime syndicates. But whatever he has done, he will be facing more challenges in the future. I hope Black keeps us in the loop about his future.

July 8

Halo by Alexandra Adornetto

9780732289898A few weeks ago I was entering books on the Reading Challenge website for some of my year 9s and noticed that a lot of them were reading this book Halo by Alexandra Adornetto. I knew it was in my reading pile somewhere, but kept going to the bottom because it was going to be a long read. Well I lifted it out and began. How wrong could I be?

This is another fantasy romance very much along the lines of Twilight. A new girl arrives in town in the care of her brother and sister. She starts school and meets a boy. But you see, she isn’t really a girl and her ‘brother/guardian’ is the angel Gabriel. The three angels have been sent to fight an evil force that is also in the town. At school Bethany, the angelic girl, meets Xavier, who is charming and seductive. But is he really what he seems? Read the book and find out.

It is hard to describe why I loved this book so much. Is it because I felt the vulnerability of Bethany so much? Or is it the sheer humanity of all the different characters? I don’t know, but it was very hard to put it down. In fact it was not a long read at all because I was reading at every opportunity. Thanks to a couple of train trips, it was done in a day.

I also think it will appeal to the Twilight fan. Bethany is a much stronger character than Bella, even without her angelic power. But she has the same disregard for authority that enables her to make her own decisions. I mean imagine, anybody willing to risk their future in heaven for love, must have it bad.

And now I only have to wait a couple months before the sequel arrives!

July 7

Chasers by James Phelan

9780733624797Hmmm…another dystopian novel for young people. And believe me this one is dark. I wonder why it is that publishers think that all kids want to read books about the destruction of the world as we know it, with only a handful of teens surviving.

In this book four teens are part of a UN Ambassadors experience in New York. Each one is from a different area of the world, but they have become friends during the week. They are on their way to the UN building via the subway when there is a huge explosion. When they come to, they work their way out of the subway into a city that they don’t recognize. Suddenly they have become prey and the hunters are fellow humans who look like they have been infected somehow. The challenge for the four of them is to stay alive and find help.

I felt this book was awfully weak. I not only couldn’t sympathise, but I didn’t even like the kids who survived. And their misadventures were mostly caused through pure silliness. A little basic outdoors survival training, or even some common sense would have made their lives a whole lot easier. Sorry, but driving through the streets full of wreckage trying to get to a marina and find the boats all available seems naive and foolish. They deserved what they got.

But my biggest objection was the final ‘twist’. It not only made no sense, but it contradicted everything else in the book. The editor should have picked up on the inconsistencies and forced at least a partial rewrite. James Phelan writes for adults through Hachette, so maybe the children’s editor didn’t feel they could criticise an established ‘adult’ author. That is a shame, because this book really needs a red pencil.

There are more on the way, so read them for yourself and see what you think.

July 7

White Cat by Holly Black

9780575096714There is nothing like receiving book two of a series for review to make one reach into the reading pile and pull out book one. Last week when Red Gloves arrived, I figured it was time to read White Cat. I had heard good things about this one, but my regular reading is right now about a year behind.

Yes this is another contemporary fantasy for young people. In this series the premise is that there are those among us with a natural ability to ‘curse’ or magically influence our thoughts, future or physical well-being. All it takes is a touch, and therefore these magic workers are required by law to wear gloves at all times. Cassell is from a family of ‘workers’ but he himself is without talent, or so he thinks. As the book proceeds, he discovers that his brothers have been taking advantage of his unique talent and then wiping his memory every time. But somehow, that white cat just seems important, even if he can’t remember why.

One could say that Black was suffering from a lack of imagination. This is a book about a young man at a boarding school who gradually discovers his magical talent. Does that plot sound familiar? It should. But in many ways this is far more than just a story for children. For one thing, the hero is in year 12 and trying to manage his year 12 studies, a girlfriend, and a private business. The author also raises questions about human rights and responsibilities. Is it fair that human beings are imprisoned if they make use of their ‘talent’? Even if all they do is bring a friend good luck? Interesting questions.

This is a light and easy read. The book has large print and it only took a couple of hours. But it will make you think harder and longer than many.

July 4

The River of Shadows by Robert V.S. Redick

9780575081840Eighteen months! That is how long I have had to wait for news from my friends at sea! And sadly, it took me some time to refresh my memory. There have just been too many books read in between.

At the end of volume 2, our heroes, well most of them, had just arrived at a small village at the other end of the world. Where they had a big surprise waiting. Suddenly they are no longer heroes, but rather more like slaves, or worse plague carriers. They have a lot more to worry about than just Arunis, survival becomes the real challenge. Food, water, and repairs to the severely damaged ship take priority for awhile, and then there is that armada of Great Ships that are just over the horizon hunting for them. If they allow themselves to be captured, then at least they will be fed and their captors are likely to repair the ship. Once the basics of survival are looked after, well, just then Arunis steals the Nilstone, and once again the fate of the world depends on the seven.

The big battle/finale in this is great! I can’t say too much, but I certainly got a huge surprise. And when Thasha gets her answers, I suddenly thought that I needed to go back to book one and do a little homework. Too bad I don’t have storage space to keep everything on the shelf. I’ll have to trace a copy to work out the backstory to Eristhume.

And pretty please, don’t make us wait for 18 months for volume 4. Neeps hasn’t got that long.

July 4

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

9780575097612I love this series. Mystery with a touch of the mystic and a generous serve of humour. I was very happy to finish book one and move straight on to book 2. But books 1 and 2 were released in April and May respectively. It’s now July and there isn’t even a teaser on the publisher’s website. Come on – where is book 3?

Anyway, you may remember from Rivers of London that Peter Grant is a junior Police Constable with a very special skill. In that book he commenced his advanced police training in the ‘Very Special’ Squad. However, his boss is seriously injured and now he is acting Leading Investigator in a series of suspicious deaths of jazz musicians. Peter has some experience in the jazz scene because his father was at one time a leading jazz trumpeter, that is before alcohol took over his life. Behind him all the way is new girlfriend, Simone. But be warned, nothing is as it seems in this excellent mystery with more twists and turns than a mountain highway.

Peter Grant is evolving as a character. In Rivers of London he seemed to be a pawn in a huge chess game. This time he is displaying some independence of thought and action, although this independence is not always successful.

Aaronovitch has struck a wonderful balance of gentle humour, action adventure and mystery. He must have an incredible imagination to come up with these scenarios, but I hope they keep coming. I want to know some details about Lesley’s new ability and how on earth she came by it.

July 4

The Dark & Hollow Places buy Carrie Ryan

9780575094833I can’t believe that I haven’t written the review for this yet. I read the whole series weeks ago, but this one must have been hiding.

Remember the future/fantasy world? Humanity has been infected with a plague that kills and then mobilises. Thousands of zombies control the world and only a very few are immune from the infection. Book one was set in a village in a forest, book two looked at the next generation who were living by the sea. In the final volume of the trilogy, our heroes head for the remaining city. But just as they arrive, the outer reaches of the city are invaded and they get trapped/imprisoned on a small island in the middle of the river.

This is by far the darkest of the three books. Hopelessness, death and depression appear to be the main themes. Very unusual in this series that has really been about the redemptive power of love. I don’t want to spoil it, but I will advise that no matter how dark and depressing it gets, keep reading, you will be rewarded in the end.

I don’t see how there can be a fourth book, but you never know.

July 4

Gideon’s Sword by Preston and Child

9781409133131If you watch my reading list you will know that I am a fan of this pair of authors. I love the Pendergast series. So I was most interested in trying this new series.

Gideon Crew watched the authorities kill his father, who was assumed to be a brilliant scientist who went mad. As an adult, he traces the real story and very early in the novel, deals out revenge. However, the sheer efficiency with which this revenge was done, draws the attention of a clandestine group of ‘government agents’ who enlist him to do a few favours for them. The first of those jobs is incredible.

This is very much a typical adventure story, but without the archaeology trappings that have become so fashionable nowadays. This is a good, old-fashioned, action book with no pretensions. An ideal read for those who want a touch of reality in their reading. Only a touch mind you, but at least it appears realistic.

But somehow I missed the quirky Pendergast and all the other friends from the other series. I’ll be hanging out for the new book in that series when it is released in September.

Until then, this is going to be another series to watch from this incredible team.