October 15

Oracle by Jackie French

I know I am repeating myself, but Jackie French is an incredibly versatile author. At one stage she wrote scifi/fantasy, then humour, non-fiction, picture story books and recently she has settled on writing historical fiction. Sometimes modern history, and sometimes ancient history. This one is certainly ancient, and it has to be fiction simply because there are no written records from that time. But wow, what a great origin story for a legendary character.

Set in Greece long before the classical Greek period, a little girl is born to a poor family. Left to die on the side of a mountain, her older brother rescues her and thereby takes responsibility for her for the rest of her life. The two children become their villages annual tribute to the king, and from their they begin a life of incredible adventure that eventually ends up in the village of Delphi.

I know very little about this period of history, but I trust French to be accurate. Her other histories have been scrupulous, and I assume this is just the same. The description of life in the Mycenaean court is astonishing, but credible. The characters are sympathetic and the adventures are grounded in reality. I even like the explanation for why the little girl would not speak based on sound psychological principles.

This is a very painless way to create an interest in history. I like it.

October 15

Genesis by Lara Morgan

Last night I finished the first volume of a new scifi series, The Rosie Black Chronicles. It’s essentially an adventure story  that happens to be set in the future rather than any sort of futuristic story with a solid science basis. So I will set aside my science prejudice and review it for what it truly is.

The book opens with Rosie and her best friend Luci beachcombing. They happen upon an old box with a strange inscription on the cover. With a little bit of fiddling, the box opens and the message appears – Short beacon activated. Before long Rosie’s father is kidnapped and Luci is dead. Rosie only survives with the help of the Feral child Pip. But in the tradition of all good scifi adventures, soon Pip and Rosie are on their way to the Mars settlement to rescue her father. Naturally there is an evil corporation trying to profit from a fatal disease they have released on Earth, if only they can find the cure.

This is a good old fashioned adventure. It is thick, over 400 pages, but the story is engaging. The time flies once you get into the action. And there is plenty of action.

Last year, when this was first released a few kids read it and raved about how good it was. The second book of the series is due out in a couple weeks, so you just have time to read this before the next one is ready to go.

October 13

About a Girl by Joanne Horniman

I will admit that I read this ages ago, in fact it could even have been a year ago. But the problem is that I read it from my eink reader, and unless the book hits my review pile, it gets left until I have time. Now I have time, but how much can I remember?

I chose to read this because it had very controversial content. Other reviews indicated that this book could be a real problem in school libraries. Then the CBC shortlisted it for this year! But they have never been afraid of controversy.

The book is purely a love story. A young couple meet, fall deeply in love, but one partner is more in love than the other. In this case the narrator is the partner most in love and when left alone, is inconsolable. Sounds totally appropriate for teens, right? Well, I’ll say totally appropriate for some teens. Because this relationship is between two girls. The love and the pathos is right there on the page, and totally believable, but some teens will find it difficult to take seriously.

I’m not surprised that this book did not win the Older Reader’s prize. It is well written with strong characters and all that, but still too many schools set reading tasks based on the CBC winners, and this one has too much risk.

October 12

iBoy by Kevin Brooks

Wow! Another powerful read from one of Great Britain’s best authors for young adults. You know when you pick it up, any Kevin Brooks novel is going to challenge your comfort zone and force you to think. Be Warned – this books is no different.

Tom is just an average kid trying to stay out of trouble in a community where most kids are defined by the gangs they join. If you’re not in a gang, you are nobody. And Tom is very comfortable being a nobody, that is until he is attacked on his way home from school. Actually, he has an iPhone thrown at him from a very great height and he ends up in hospital in a coma. When he emerges he discovers that life has gone wrong. Not only is part of the iPhone still in his brain, but his ‘almost’ girl has been raped by the same gang, and no one is doing anything about it. Enter iBoy and Tom’s world is never the same again.

OK, that is a teaser for the plot. But as with all of Brooks’ writing, the plot tells you almost nothing of what the book is about. This book is really about power. You know the old saying, ‘power corrupts.’ Well in this case it is true. But who has the power? That is the real question. Is it the gang? iBoy? or Tom himself? And can this power help Lucy, or will it drive her over the edge? All these questions, I could answer, but I won’t. Why would I deprive you of the fun of discovering the answers for yourself.

Most of what I have read from Brooks before has been a family drama, or a young man coming of age story. This is my first experience of Brooks as a scifi writer. I must admit that he took a totally improbable premise and made it feel real. There was real drama in the pages, and you can’t achieve that unless the characters and their plight are believable.

This book is highly recommended, but be aware that it is not a comfortable relaxed read. You will be forced to think, and about some ‘big questions’ in life.

October 12

Paladin by Dave Luckett

I have long since been a fan of Dave Luckett’s books, especially his Tenabran series written in the 90s. But I like too many authors, so some of them have to wait a bit for me to get around to reading their books. Paladin was released last year, and somehow it just never got to the top of the reading mountain until last week. However, I set myself the goal of reading a book a day over the holidays, so that clears the mountain. But I digress…

Two school friends are walking home one night after school and witness a gang of thugs beating up an old man. Sam intervenes without thinking and Finny is certainly able to hold her own in a fight. They rescue the old man, and thus begins a journey. He leads them into a fantasy world where both kids are recognised for their very special talents. Finny is a talented magician, and she is encouraged to remain and study magic. Sam, is a Paladin, and for those without a dictionary handy, that means he is a natural fighter for truth and justice. Part of his nature is a strong sense of responsibility, so while Finn stays behind, Sam insists that he must return home to his single mother. That is exactly what happens, and although Sam misses Finn, he adapts and begins to make new friends. But then Finn disappears from her magic school, and appears to be on the road to embracing dark magic. The only paladin in the fantasy world is fighting too far away for help, so the old man returns to our world to ask Sam’s help. Naturally, Sam can’t say no.

This is a simple story, but very well told. It looks thick, but with large print, it is certainly accessible to weaker readers. Heavy on adventure, Luckett skilfully disguises his moral, but it is bound to have an impact.

Luckett must surely be a real fan of medieval military history and weaponry. I learned so much about medieval armour in the Tenabran series and at times this felt like a refresher course. But so what? Is there any reason fiction can’t teach? And if you get confused, I suggest that you locate Luckett’s book Iron Soldiers that will make all clear.

 

 

October 5

Slice by Steven Herrick

I think this is the first time I have read a book by Steven Herrick that wasn’t a verse novel. Usually he is an artist with the careful word selection and mini-chapters that help his poetry tell one single story. This time he has written in normal prose, and tried to make the whole thing funny. And it works.

Darcy is a normal kid. He is falling in love with the prettiest girl in his class, his best friend is the class nerd, and naturally he is a target for bullies. He can handle himself, but he probably wouldn’t be in nearly so much trouble if he actually thought before he opened his mouth. But Darcy is one of these kids that just says what flies into his head, and damn the consequences. Naturally it lands him in some trouble and therein lies the humour.

This is a sweet, and humorous book. Light reading without expecting anything from the reader. And I guess that is why I found it disappointing. Herrick usually challenges the reader to think deeply and explore the world and an individual’s place in it. This is a real talent and an important role in the world of youth literature. But this book is outside the box. It has far more in common with John Larkin and his light comedy writing.

However, it may just lead an unsuspecting reader or two to Herrick’s more challenging books. And for that reason alone it deserves a place on the shelves.

October 5

Now by Morris Gleitzman

I know, I know, this book has been out for ages. And it is hard to believe that it took me so long to find the 2 hours it took to read it. But you see, I hadn’t read Then when this came out, so I had to find time to read both of them and Then was so sad that I needed a happier book and then…. Well, you know. Anyway Now was well and truly worth the wait.

Now continues the story of Felix and Zelda, but this time Zelda is his little granddaughter. The reader discovers that Felix survived the war and dedicated his life to helping others. When little Zelda goes to stay with her granddad for a few weeks, she discovers a great deal about his life and his courage.

Written at the time of the Black Saturday bushfires Gleitzman uses our memories of that event to create another short, but riveting story of survival against the odds, personal responsibility and hope. Little Zelda accidentally starts a fire and then watches in horror as her community burns hours later. Felix is now too old for surgery, but he still uses his experience and knowledge to help a neighbour survive. Gletzman even asks the reader to imagine the horror of the hundreds of pets caught up in the fires on the day.

Perhaps because of this confrontational content, some reviewers have suggest that this book is written for a target audience of 14+. I disagree. As always Gleitzman tells a story that is truly accessible to all ages, including the very young. Yes there is danger, yes there is sadness, but is it really a bad thing for children to encounter these emotions in the ‘safe’ context of a children’s book. I am not one of these adults who insists that children need to be wrapped in cotton wool.

This, and the others in the series, truly deserves to become a children’s classic.

October 4

The Sookie Stackhouse Companion

Did I get a surprise when this book arrived for review. I will admit to reading the whole of the Sookie Stackhouse series of books, and I have even been known to complain about the number and variety of supes found therein, but really a companion. This is nothing more than a greedy publisher grabbing for money while Harris writes the next installment.

I really have no idea about the intended audience for this book, unless it is only for the diehard fans. There are cookbooks full of Louisiana recipes, so 30 pages of Bon Temps recipes is only decoration. The supposed ‘Sookie Interview’ is simply silly. How can anyone interview a fictional character. And who cares about Bill and Eric’s correspondence. The novella contained in this companion is irrelevant to the regular storyline, like many of the Sookie short stories. And if it is like any of the other stories, it will appear in another collection for Christmas. As far as the summaries of the books, why not read them instead. It’s not like they are out of print. Each one will only take a couple of hours.

There may be some justification for the guide. Sometimes when there is a year between books it does take a couple of chapters before the minor characters sort themselves out in your mind. But then again, does it really matter? And the map? I actually think it detracts from the story. In my mind Sookie’s house is out of town by a mile or two, not literally around the corner from Tara’s Togs.

Sorry but at $33 this is a waste of your money, unless you are a diehard fan who absolutely must have the whole collection on the shelf.

October 4

Gods of Atlantis by David Gibbins

I was very happy to see this one arrive. It has been a while since I have read a good ‘Indiana Jones’ adventure and I was needing a change from the fantasy/crime rut that I seem to have fallen into.

The opening of this book sees Jack and Costa diving into a live volcano, yes, swimming over hot lava. They have returned to the site of Atlantis as discovered in one of Gibbins earlier books, only to discover that the fault line under the site is about to blow sky high, destroying any remaining archaeology. But a quick look around and judicious use of a helmet cam, and Jack thinks he has evidence for a possible explanation about what happened to the survivors. As normal for a Gibbins adventure, very soon the archaeology gets caught up in chasing bad guys and the survival of humanity. And returning to the theme from the last book, the bad guys are old enemies and collecting Nazi biological weapons.

Some would call the Gibbins novels slow. Certainly they are not as action packed as Andy McDermott or some of the other authors in this genre. But Gibbins is an intelligent author who will make the reader think, and even learn something in spite of themselves. Here he is teaching us all about Neolithic shamanism and the origins of ancient religions. Having recently finished the Auel series, this was a very interesting idea.

I do suggest that you read Mask of Troy before you read this one. You need to understand the Nazi bunker and a few other details before you start this. It will make the understanding much easier. It may also help to read Gibbins first book, Atlantis if you can find it. I hadn’t read it, and a couple of times I wished I had.

But still, it was well worth the time spent reading.

October 4

Iron House by John Hart

A little over a year ago I reviewed The Last Child by this author, and loved it. When I was asked if I was interested in his latest offering, I eagerly agreed. John Hart writes a dark and dangerous thriller, and after some of the other stuff I had been reading, I was ready for a spine tingle.

Two brothers were raised together in an orphanage twenty years ago. Well, raised is a very loose term. They were chucked into a life with a stack of bullies and together they tried to survive. Then one day the youngest brother snaps and takes a knife to one of his tormentors. Big brother takes the blame and runs away, eventually becoming a Mafia hitman as a career. The younger brother is quickly adopted by the Senator’s wife and is taken away to a life of pampering and luxury. But all is not well.

With the death of his mentor, Michael has to escape the mob. They are convinced that he has the passwords and account numbers of many millions of dollars, and they want them back. But Michael is in love and his girl is pregnant. He wants nothing more than to retire and live a normal life. When the mob can’t find Michael, they go after his family, including the brother he hasn’t seen or heard from in 20 years. Michael feels responsible and sets off to find and protect his brother.

Sounds like a simple plot doesn’t it. Well that is just the beginning. Soon there are so many twists and turns that you need a road map to work out where you are. This is a far more complicated story than The Last Child, and so much better for the complications.

I do worry about Hart though. He appears to have serious childhood issues. And anyone who does bad things to children deserves the worst that any thriller writer can dream up. This book is thickly populated with adults who don’t like kids and Hart has a specific creative penalty in store for each of them. Sometimes he is scary.

But this is a good read. Make sure you give the kids an extra hug every day while you read it.