April 14

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

This is book two of a series. Feel free to go through the backlist, but no book one never arrived. I hate it when publishers do that. But I bit the bullet and downloaded a copy of Delirium to my ereader, and hated it. So I left this book for a few days, dreading the fact that it had to be read. But surprisingly, it is much better than the first in the series.

At the end of Delirium Lena escaped to the wilds leaving her one true love on the wrong side of the fence seriously wounded. Running for her life, she assumes Alex is dead and now she is alone in the Wilds looking for a way to survive. Days and weeks later she literally stumbles into a small group surviving in caves and underground buildings. Much of this book is about her welcome into the tribe and her eventual joining of the resistance movement. The chapters entitled Now, however, show Lena as an active resistance fighter working undercover in New York City. She is assigned to keep track of the young son of the DFA leader, a young man destined to lead in his own right, after his ‘cure’ of course. During a rally the Scavengers attack and suddenly Lena and Julian are imprisoned in the subway together.

I will happily admit that this book is far better than the first one in the series. The preachy is mostly gone, the stupid core concept is swept aside as almost all the characters are still diseased and there is enough action to keep the pages turning. Can this be read without suffering the first? I don’t know, but I hope so.

However, the ending seems just a mite too contrived for my taste. The publishers are promoting this as a book for young and old, but I really suspect that it is more for the 12-15 age than anybody else. I don’t know of many older readers who will accept the convenience of the resolution.

Hachette’s YA department usually has better taste than this.

 

April 14

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I really hate it when publishers send me book two of a series but not book one. Last week I had collected a little pile of these second volumes and went online to find ebook (cheap) editions for them all. Thank goodness the range of ebooks available is much better than it used to be and I managed to find them all.

This is the first one read, and I thought it was going to be a chick romance. Something nice, light and a change of pace from all the dark futuristic dystopian stuff that has passed through my hands in the past few weeks. WRONG! Once again I am caught in a future where some powerful politician/scientist has supposedly solved all the problems in the world. This time it is a scientist who has discovered a surgical procedure to remove emotions. That way humanity is no longer angry, sad, depressed, in love, or happy. Nice and neutral. The silly thing is that the procedure is best done after a child turns 18, so to prevent any untoward behaviour boys and girls are kept strictly apart until the ‘cure’ is complete.

Lena is nearly 18 and looking forward to her cure. She is afraid that she is already catching the delirium disease and when she meets Alex, who is supposedly cured, she knows full well that she has it bad. Then Alex admits that he is a resistance fighter from the Wilds, and not cured at all. Lena at first tries to leave him, but love is just too powerful.

Sorry, but I found this book painful. The first chapters were preachy and the following storyline just got sillier and sillier. OK so it may someday be possible to surgically remove the emotional centre of the brain, but really convincing the population of the US that emotional engagement is a disease. Not likely.

And I have book two waiting to review! AHHHHH!

April 14

The Killables by Gemma Malley

In the past few weeks I have read so much dystopian fiction for YAs that I am having trouble telling them apart. Somehow it seems like everything I pick up is about the end of society or existence in the new society that replaces it. All of them focus on teens and their unique ‘coming of age’ challenge.

Malley is already well known for her Declaration series, more very popular dystopian books for the YA market. The Killables creates a new world and a new set of challenges for those who survive. Everyone is watched. Everyone is rated, and your rating determines your future. The System know everything. Evil is banished beyond the city and those who rate K are sent to join the Evils. Evie is employed in the ratings office and it is her job to maintain accurate records as people are moved through various rankings. Her problem is that she is in love with the troublemaker Raffy, but paired with his brother Lucas. When Raffy discovers a fault in the System’s programming, suddenly life becomes very difficult for Evie and Raffy. But then is Lucas all that he seems?

It took me some time to get into this book. I started it weeks ago, read a few pages, and then set it aside for a very long time. But then once I got into the story, the strength of Evie’s character and her relationship with Raffy led me into the adventure and suddenly the book was over. Malley also has an excellent baddie in the Brother, he seems just so logical and ‘nice’.

Although this book had a satisfying ending, I suspect this is the start of another series. So with the Killables released in March, fans have years of waiting ahead.

April 13

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Being a parent is among the hardest things most people will ever do. No matter how hard you try, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you expect. Regardless, the parent will remain loyal and fight for the child’s future. Even if that child is suspected of murder.

Andy is an assistant DA, and he always prosecutes the murder cases. When a classmate of his son is killed on the way to school, Andy gets involved in the investigation against the advice of the police. But when suspicion turns towards his son, he is suspended from duty. Convinced of his son’s innocence he puts together a defence team and goes to work to discredit the evidence. No mention is made of the knife found in his son’s possession and disposed of immediately.

Landay has a beautiful way of just dropping in clues that make you doubt your conclusions. Not red herrings exactly, more like uncomfortable details that just don’t fit with the story. And these details are very important when explaining the final chapter of the book. That last twist is good, but as a result of the clues, not totally unexpected.

I will warn you that the middle section of the book does slow down. Chapter after chapter, page after page of trial narration. Personally I found it hard going, but then law is not my passion. Make up your own mind.

On the other hand, this is a book that will make you think about right and wrong. Is the legal system trustworthy? Sometimes is it right to take the law into your own hands?

Can you tell I really don’t know what to think about this book?

 

April 13

The Deadly Touch of the Tigress by Ian Hamilton

I have read a lot of adventure thrillers over the years. Many are also mysteries with private detectives, police inspectors, medical examiners or even forensic anthropologists. But I don’t think I have ever read a book where the lead investigator is a forensic accountant. Somehow accounting doesn’t conjure up images of adventure. Hamilton has certainly changed that around.

Ava Lee is in the very exclusive business of recovering stolen money. This time 5 million dollars has been borrowed, but never paid back and the borrowers seem to have disappeared. For that amount of money, the holder is willing to do anything including kidnapping, murder or anything else. Ava quickly finds the money, but getting it is harder than she would originally think.

The blurb compares Ava to Lisbeth Salander, and for once I agree. Ava is smart, courageous and able to look after herself. She works for a firm based in Hong Kong, and many of the baddies she encounters just assume that she is linked to Chinese triads. Surely that saves her some trouble, but not always enough. The book also resembles the other series in that it is full of exotic settings and individuals.

I found this book very difficult to put down. Although not read in one sitting, it was certainly close. I think that was the most surprising thing. How can anyone make the story of an accountant just that exciting?

April 13

The Business of Death by Trent Jamieson

For once, I applaud the publishers for their wisdom in this publication. Imagine, the common sense of publishing the first two volumes of a trilogy in the same omnibus edition as the first release of the third volume. That way the reader doesn’t have to hunt around for copies of books one and two, or even hunt up plot summaries of them. All you need to do is start at the beginning and enjoy the whole story. Thank goodness.

A plot summary is a little tricky. This is a fantasy adventure, kind of set in modern Brisbane. Our hero is lazy, drunk and has no ambition. But once the war begins, somehow he survives right to the very end, as much through good luck and the help of a friendly ghost as anything else. OK, so book one explains how he got to the top of his local heap. Then book two, with a similar plot, explains how he got to the top of the world wide heap. But he knows something bigger is coming, and is he really, really ready. That is the question…

The interesting difference in this series is the context. Steven, our hero, is in the business of ensuring that souls of the recently departed actually move on to where they are going rather than hanging around cluttering up this spiritual plane. At the same time, he ensures that the vacant body cannot be taken over by another soul and become a zombie. This is important work! And Death, the old master from medieval times, has made it into a profitable business as well.

Like with all fantasy, you do need to lock your logic and practicality away when you read this. And I would strongly suggest a decent chunk of time for the first reading because it will take awhile to work out the whole world view. The other warning is that you won’t finish this in a hurry. It took me over a week, and that is a rarity. But then again, it is really three books in one.

This is a book for those with a taste for quirky adventure.

 

April 13

The Unseen by Katherine Webb

Once again I have dipped into the backlog of old titles waiting for review. This was the first out of the box, and from the cover I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Chick lit, murder mystery, or historical? Did the publishers know or were they trying to grab all three readers.

Most of the book is set in 1911 and centres around the life of Cat Morley, a young servant who has been drawn into the suffragette movement, and been imprisoned for her efforts. Once released she is sent to serve as housemaid in a country vicarage. Enter a budding theosophist, and suddenly Cat is caught up in circumstances far beyond her control. But she is an intelligent girl and determined to find her way through the mess. That is until the mess ends in murder.

The second story, set in modern times, centres on a young journalist trying to identify the remains of a WWI soldier recently found in Belgium. Her search leads her to the same English village, where she meets the sole remaining descendent of the individuals involved in the 1911 scandal. But how is that going to help her put a name to the body?

These two stories were not at all balanced. It appears that the modern story was simply a plot device designed to drop clues about the eventual crime, or crimes, hundreds of pages before they were relevant. Certainly Webb gave her readers very little opportunity to get to know, or like, Leah and so the hint of romance at the end was really wasted. However, is was important to the modern mind to know that the truth would eventually be told. Somehow it makes all the lies and cover-ups that happened at the time more tolerable.

This is a book that was made for the ‘book club’ market. I can just imagine groups of mature women debating the ethics, the philosophy, and even a good dash of ‘was he or wasn’t he’. Fuelled with a bottle of wine and a good cheese, this book could easily provide hours of enjoyment long after the last page is turned.

 

April 8

Erebos by Ursula Pozanski

Hmmm. Where to classify this book? Does the AI make it SciFi? Or does the fact that the game players are mostly school friends make it a school story? In a lot of ways the way this game controls and manipulates the players makes it horror? Then again there are enough killings and attempted murders to qualify as a crime novel. Certainly it has tons of adventure inside the game. Get the picture?

Nick is watching his friends carefully and it looks like they are sharing a great new computer game. But nobody will talk about it! Worse yet, he can’t get his hands on a copy to find out what all the excitement is about. Whatever it is, this game is taking over lives. Kids are skipping basketball practice, school, homework, everything. When eventually Nick is invited to join, he learns rules, and understands that if they are broken, The Messenger will know. Somehow this game and reality are linked. Some of the challenges involve moving strange packages around London, the real London. And once you leave the game, you can’t get back. No way, no how. Then Nick fails a challenge…

I will admit I had great difficulty setting this book aside. The translation is excellent and the story incredible. Imagine 400+ pages read in a single day. Just like the game itself, once started, this is hard to stop. But every once in a while, I will admit that I did pause and check the links to Greek Mythology and other fantasy forms. Perhaps had I been reading on my iPad, I wouldn’t even have put it down that long.

Whatever, this book is highly recommended for those kids who just can’t manage to lift their head out of a computer game long enough to see what is happening. Perhaps this book could be even better than the game.

April 8

Victims by Jonathan Kellerman

Regular readers will know that although I am a fan of Kellerman, recently his books have been very much written to formula. He has a formula that works, and both he and his publishers know it. If you think about it hard enough, all crime writing is essentially written to formula. In his early books, though, Kellerman used his understanding of child psychology to anchor his novels in a scary twisted subconscious mind. Well, the old Kellerman is back!

The murder is horrific, and somehow it just keeps going. But are Milo and Alex chasing one killer, or two, because not all have the same MO. And what on earth do the victims have in common? Apparently nothing. Is Milo finally stumped? The final explanation is so dark, so twisted, and yet so logical I am not going to spoil it here.

I do have one objection however. I am very uncomfortable with the new promotion for the Alex Delaware novels. Really, Alex Delaware is the Crime Reader! No the fans are the crime readers. Alex just brings an understanding of psychology to a police force too cheap to pay for consultants. Reading the scene of the crime is far more like CSI, and that is a long way from what these books are about.

Anyway, good to see a much loved author return to form.

April 5

BZRK by Michael Grant

It has been far too long since I have reviewed anything new. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading, just that the books have been piling up waiting for my comments. The pile is now too big for the shelf, so I had better get to work.

SciFi for kids. Not so long ago that phrase meant pulp fiction from the 1950s. Everyone was writing ‘realism’ fiction or fantasy, and stayed well away from science, or anything resembling science. But Grant has brought it back, and with an incredible punch.

Nanotechnology, who really knows what it means. Yes there is this great idea that someday little tiny robots will be able to enter your body and fix up all the damage that modern lifestyles inflict, repair broken arteries, clear blood vessels, even remove skin blemishes. But then once they are inside, how do you know what they are really doing. Grant has an idea, and it is certainly not pretty.

BZRK is like nothing you have ever read before. It is certainly an action adventure. And I will say here that the plane crash scene in the opening chapters was one of the best I have ever read. Under the surface, this is about a what makes us human or what is madness and where is the line between good and evil. I haven’t read a book with this much philosophy since Genesis, but BZRK doesn’t allow you time to think, not until after the last page is turned.

I will admit that I have not yet read Gone and it’s sequels. Somehow I never find the time to read books that are popular enough to market themselves. But I will brag that I got this one first!