December 22

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

Months ago I hear that this book was in development. Horowitz, an international bestselling author for young adults, was going to write a traditional Sherlock Holmes mystery. My first reaction was to question whether he could control his passion for the extreme enough to write a fitting tribute. And the jury is still out.

The book opens as a ‘lost manuscript’, or rather a final story recorded by Conan Doyle before his death that was considered so controversial that it was placed in storage for 100 years and has only now been released. Holmes is consulted by an American who had been caught up in the theft/destruction of significant artwork. But then his enquiries lead him to a mysterious House of Silk, apparently a classy opium den and organised crime ring. From there the plot thickens.

Horowitz has an excellent grasp of the Conan Doyle writing style. Many times I felt I was actually reading a ‘real’ Sherlock Holmes. And he successfully maintained the focus on Holmes thinking rather than modern gadgetry to move the plot forward. All the favourite characters were there, Watson, Mrs Hudson, the Baker Street Irregulars, and I felt they were true to their historical roots. This is an amazing effort from Horowitz, obviously a real fan of the originals.

However, I really felt that the final ‘reveal’ was just too modern. Too ‘set up’ for modern morality. In 1890, I suspect that little or nothing would have been said about this ‘crime’ if it even was a crime back then. It is hard to go further without spoiling, but I am very disappointed that Horowitz was unable to avoid this rush to the 21st century.

December 22

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Can you tell? I’m on holidays again! And this year I have two Sanderson fantasy books to read, but not a complete trilogy. The first one I picked up is the new Mistborn novel. Last year I remember loving this series, but is the author trying to spin out his tale just a little too long? No!

Set 300 years after the events in the first series, Sanderson’s land of the Mistborn now resembles something of the Wild West. People move around by train, rifles and pistols are common, and beyond the boundaries is a country where civilisation is forgotten. Waxillium has made a name for himself as a lawman in the ‘Roughs’ when he is summoned back to the city, heir to his uncle’s estates. Reluctantly Wax packs away his guns and mist cloak to become a gentleman. But there is this curious series of robberies…

At only a little over 300 pages, there is no time to explain the magic, so either accept the burning metals and the push and pull of a Coinshot or set aside a week to read the full Mistborn saga first. All your questions will be answered. Many readers simply don’t like the foreign lands and difficult names common in fantasy, but if you read Wax for Max, suddenly the name becomes common and manageable. Saying that, I do love the pun of Wax and Wayne.

Strictly speaking this is a fantasy, but if you analysed the story elements, it has a lot more in common with a western adventure than anything else. Reading it I was reminded of the old TV series The Wild, Wild West. A little bit silly, a lot of action and adventure, and most of all a lot of fun.

But I suspect this is a stand-alone book. Not fair! I want more of Wax’s adventures. At least tell me if he gets the right girl!

 

December 19

Dream Warrior by Sherrilyn Kenyon

I never claim that my book reviews are prompt. I get about 15 books each month, and sometimes they just have to wait their turn. This little book certainly waited. In fact I very much doubt you will be able to buy it anywhere. But that is fine, don’t bother.

You can tell from the cover this is another of those supernatural romances that are everywhere nowadays. Kenyon has made a nice little living out of writing book after book, series after series, all sticking closely to a formula. That is not a problem to me. When you make a favourite recipe, you are sticking to a familiar formula. Some people call that comfort food. What is wrong with comfort reading? However, this is the first book I have read from this author, so I didn’t know the formula. And I’m not rushing out for more.

Set in the world of our unconscious, Dream Hunter Delphine’s purpose is to protect humanity from those who would invade their dreams. But dream hunters are being turned, and only a powerful god will be able to support her in her work. Her task – to find the ancient Greek God Cratus and convince him to help her save mankind. But centuries ago he turned his back on Olympus and all that responsibility and he is not the least bit interested in helping out now.

This book was hard going. It might have been easier if I had read other books in the series (this one is book 4), but I’m not so sure. The characters were too ‘all knowing’ and powerful to have any interesting weakness. The whole Greek God thing was just too simplistic. And sadly, the romance was also just too superficial and unreal.

I don’t say it often, but this book was a waste of time.

December 13

A Pocketful of Eyes by Lili Wilkinson

I love Lili’s writing. She has done so much magnificent work, even when writing for the Girlfriend series of romance novels. Therefore I was really excited to get this book to review. But sometimes life holds a disappointment. Not that the book is bad, far from it. Just not as wonderful and refreshing as I had hoped. This is really a traditional murder mystery written for kids and without all the police procedural stuff that is found in many novels now since the advent of CSI and the like on TV.

Bee is working in the taxidermy department of the Museum for her summer job. She loves it and is even good at it. But then her boss is found murdered, and Bee finds the police explanation unsatisfactory. So she investigates, accepting as her ally the new guy working with her in taxidermy. But can she really trust him?

The blurb and other promotional information mention Agatha Christie a lot. This is a very traditional mystery story, one that dear Agatha would approve. However, I find that it stretches the bounds of reality just a little too far. The whole idea that an untrained summer worker would be given the responsibility of preparing a major exhibition is just one example. And the love interest is just too improbable. Maybe I am strange, but I prefer my mysteries to be a little more credible.

Maybe I am getting too old for some of these ‘kids’ books, but then I think modern kids want an edge of reality.

December 13

Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby

Did you know that there are actually schools that train all the slayers of ‘bad things’ that invade our world. Vampires, demons, goblins wereanimals and the like? At that school Emma is tops of her class and totally expects to be designated Dragon Slayer. Imagine her surprise when her allocation is announced – fairy slayer. Fairies may be a nuisance with their practical jokes and other such carrying on, but dangerous? Not likely.

Hopefully by now you have an idea of this wonderful book. It is a true fantasy adventure story, with more than a little humour thrown into the mix. Emma and her nemesis Curtis are really just kids and are subject to all the insecurities and problems of adolescence. This means that they are less superhero, more down to earth and real for the readers. I think this will be enjoyed by kids everywhere, especially those who are sick to death of Twilight and it’s like. This is a real laugh out loud novel.

As you can tell, I like it and I am very happy to recommend it.

 

December 13

Small Blue Thing by SC Ransom

One of the first tasks when I start a review is to decide the genre. Sometimes this isn’t as easy as it seems. This book is part love story, part ghost story, part historical novel and part psychological thriller. And written for 12-15 year olds! Very unusual, and very good.

After her school exams, Alex and her best friend are wandering along the banks of the Thames when she sees a swan caught and distressed. During the rescue she discovers an opal bracelet, too valuable to leave behind. She cleans it up and, fascinated by the blue stone, puts it on. Almost immediately the shadows appear. At first they are only shadows, but on a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral one becomes ‘real’ and actually speaks to her. His name is Callum and he tells her about the ghosts of the river’s dead. One of these is his ‘sister’ Catherine, and soon Alex is in contact with her as well. But each are pulling her in different directions. She loses touch with her ‘real’ life and friends and is quickly caught up in this ghostly world.

OK a love story where the object of affection is a supernatural being. That story has been done before, and will be again. Most of those are entertaining reading, but have little or no substance. This book is shorter, missing the black and red cover, and I think it has a lot more substance to offer the reader. There is a strong sense of history, and the conflict is far more psychological than physical. The reader has to become involved in the story rather than simply going along for the ride.

As an aside, I would like to mention the publishers. Nosy Crow is a new publishing company that appears to be embracing both the new and old technologies. They publish both apps and books. The apps appear to be reading and story related and focussed on very young readers. Hopefully they will quickly adapt and get involved in the ebook market that is quickly developing.

Anyway, I really liked Small Blue Thing. It appears the sequel has been released and hopefully it will be my review bundle for next year.

December 13

Trash by Andy Mulligan

I can’t believe that I haven’t written this review. The book was read months ago and it was packed away with those heading for a new home when I thought, I’ll just double check this review. And guess what, it wasn’t there. Very unusual for one of the best books that I have read this year.

Set in an unknown city in an unknown land, this story is about 3 children surviving in poverty. They make their income by picking through the tip looking for anything that might be resold or recycled. They can’t afford to go to school because to do would take away their time for scavenging. Then one day they find a bag, and what is inside could mean their death, or their brighter future. What do they do? Find the original owner, return the valuables, hand it into the police, or keep everything for themselves. Very quickly they realise that they can’t trust the police. So they investigate where the bag came from and then decide what to do.

This is an exceptional snapshot of life in another place. The news and other media tell us about children who live in poverty, but this book makes you live with them. You cry at their pain, and keep turning the pages as they get into, and out of, trouble. Right from the opening pages where the reader is told about the most common parcels to be found everywhere. Disgusting? Definitely. Enlightening? Well, kind of. Important to understand? Absolutely.

I have seen a few reviews that question the ending. Personally, I don’t think the kids had another choice.

 

December 12

Just a Girl by Jane Caro

The title for this book is deceptive. If there was every any woman in history who was never ‘just’ a girl, it surely was Elizabeth I. Imagine surviving the death of her mother, the political intrigues of the time, the violence against Protestants commanded by Bloody Mary and to eventually become one of the most powerful women in Europe.

As you have probably guessed this is a historical novel for kids. Young Elizabeth comes alive on the pages, and the characterisation is very credible. This is one girl from history most likely to be understood by modern girls. She surely had a strong will and independence even at a young age. And her survival depended on her ability to negotiate through difficult times. As a child she was a pawn used by various powerful families in their struggle for control over the government. During these times she surely learned lessons useful as she was used as a pawn between powerful kingdoms. Politics is a difficult business for a child, but Elizabeth’s political training began young. All of that is made very clear in this book.

This is an unusual publication for UQP. They seem to specialise in Australian fiction. Jane Caro is an Australian author, but her book could easily have been produced in England. The theme and topic is very relevant for an overseas audience.

I read a lot of historical fiction for adults, and much of it I enjoy. But generally historical fiction written for kids is too superficial, too ignorant of the customs and conventions of the time to be credible. Just a Girl is everything I look for in historical fiction, and it is written for kids. A real Winner.

December 12

Wasted by Nicola Morgan

This surely qualifies as the weirdest book that I have read in a long time. The core idea is strange, the characters are very unusual and the whole plot and backstory is impossible. This book presents itself as a modern adolescent life drama, but I found it to be much more an urban fantasy.

Jack is a young man who refuses to make a decision. Whenever a choice has to be made, he tosses a coin. And I mean for everything. Turning a corner, crossing a road, doing his homework, whatever – a coin makes his choice. Jess has her own problems, deciding a future and finding the money to allow her to do what she truly loves. But she falls for Jack in a big way when they discover their mutual passion for music. Then one fateful night, Jess tosses the coin that could determine whether Jack survives the night. For real.

In many ways I found this book annoying. The whole premise is silly, but without the humorous touch that silly themes need. I really think Morgan was trying to be serious in her writing, she just missed. And then there are the ‘alternative’ chapters that are little more than confusing. Is the reader meant to read one and not the other? That is what the author says, but then later in the book there is a real assumption that the reader either read both, or just the second option. And the two endings!!! Morgan should either make up her mind or stop the book before the end so the reader can work out what happened.

This is one book I could have survived never reading.

December 12

Stresshead by Allayne Webster

Ah the drama of adolescence. Nothing ever goes to plan. Friends come and go with the weather, even a BFF. And you can guarantee that in times of greatest need, even your love life turns to dust. Webster has captured the mood and the pain effectively in this delightful little book.

The book opens the day the year 11 exam results are announced, and naturally that is the day all modern communication in the household dies. In fact life seems to be a total mess. The boyfriend hasn’t texted in days, her BFF is acting strangely, and suddenly Mum has all these strange appointments. Then there is the boring holiday job organised for her at her father’s law firm. That is surely enough to stress out even the most calm and confident child and Dennie is far from that. Somehow she has to keep it all together.

This book has an excellent blend of humour, drama, tragedy and even a few important life lessons. Told in the first person, it is essential that Webster is able to create an effective voice for Dennie, and I for one believe that she has. This is a really good read.

And yes, it is definitely chick lit. The pink cover screams at you. But there is a large group of readers out there that are put off by the glaring pink cover, and for them the publisher’s choice is unfortunate. This book is far better than the cover implies.