September 29

Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver

Before I begin I will admit that I have never found the time to read Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. I know they received wonderful reviews, but they seemed to find their own niche market, so they never needed help. This new series is also going to find a different niche market, probably with adventure loving boys.

Set in ancient Greece long before the Golden Age, Hylas is a young goatherd living like a slave in the control of the local chieftain. His only known family is his younger sister, who disappears early in the book. When the warrior tribe, commonly known as the Crows, arrive and start killing all Outsiders, Hylas has to run for his life. With a few lucky encounters, and the help of the Goddess, he escapes to a deserted island. Well, it seems deserted. But here is where the adventures truly begin.

With meticulous attention to historical detail, but willing to add a bit of fantastical magic where needed, Paver has created a Bronze age society that jumps off the page. The tribal law and honour system is clearly presented. These people have to live with continual earthquakes, and their supernatural explanations for the natural events seem totally logical. Paver even gives an insight into dolphin society as a dolphin plays an important role in Hylas survival.

This is not great literature, but it is fun. And there will be many who are going to be looking forward to the continued adventures of Hylas and his friends, because the Oracle has promised that he will overthrow the Crows one day.

September 29

Cuckoo by Julia Crouch

I can’t remember the last time that I read a book like this. Certainly it has been years. No, this is not a refreshingly different, unique piece of writing. It is meant to be a psychological thriller. It failed miserably.

Rose seems to have it all. Two lovely daughters, an adoring husband and a spacious home and property in the country. When her best friend’s husband dies suddenly, it only seems right to invite her to grieve with the support of friends. So Polly moves in, with her two boys. Moving in is not a problem, but it appears that moving out just might be more difficult.

Not a bad plot idea. It’s been done before, but there are enough opportunities to twist the plot and keep things fresh. The problem is that Crouch didn’t twist the plot, she created a book full of ugly characters. Polly is selfish and demanding. Her two sons are even worse, fighting all the time and manipulating everyone they come near. That would be fine for the baddies, but even the good guys are dreadful. Rose is weak and indecisive. She puts her childhood BFF before her husband, children and her own health. Her husband is terribly bad tempered and self-centred. Page after page is devoted to his yelling and screaming. Flossie is only a baby and as such is little more than a plot device. Anna, the older daughter is simply unable to cope with all the powerful adults around her and retreats into herself. Even the neighbors are hopeless.

To my mind a psychological thriller needs a certain amount of emotional involvement from the reader. Personally, I couldn’t care less about any of the characters. That made finishing this book a real chore, and there was no suspense or thrill to be found anywhere.

 

September 27

Into That Forest by Louis Nowra

Every now and then you come across a book that you just know is going to become a classic, or at least it ought to. Louis Nowra, well known author and playwright has just entered the publishing world of young adult literature, and entered with style. I opened this book wondering if it would even readable for kids, and finished it handing it on the the English staff as a recommended class text.

Hannah is now 76 and telling her story before she ‘hops the twig’. Her English isn’t so good, ’cause she had to learn it twice. But she can clearly remember the day her parents took her and the neighbour girl up the river for a picnic. At the time they were living deep in the Tasmanian wilderness. During the picnic a storm blew up quickly and as they were trying to get home a flash flood hit, overturning their rowboat. In their heavy clothes, both her parents drowned and Hannah and her friend were alone. They are followed by a Tasmanian tiger…

Eventually the girls are rescued and then their real struggle begins.

This book is simply crying out to be discussed. Literature circles, reading clubs, yes, even as a set text. There is no way that you can get all the meaning from a single reading, and the second reading will be much more meaningful after talking it over.

Some reference lists will suggest this for older readers, and I agree that it is probably a little to mature for 12 year olds. But it will stretch the imagination and the understanding of older middle school students, and that is never a bad thing.

 

September 27

The Midas Code by Boyd Morrison

This is another gem that has been hiding in my backlist for about 12 months. It is one of those rare books that you read and simply know who this book has to be handed on to. In fact, I am going to alter the format for this review just a little.

Tyler Locke is on board a ferry when he gets an anonymous phone call. He is told that there is a bomb on board and he has only 10 minutes to disarm it. When he gets to the bomb, there will be help available. He finds it, but the only person standing nearby is a classical Greek scholar. It turns out that the two of them must solve a Greek riddle before he can begin. Locke is successful, or else it would be a very short book, but it turns out that this was only a test to make sure the two could work together. Their real task is to find the tomb of King Midas, the one of the golden touch, and turn over the hand of Midas to his father’s kidnapper. Naturally there are a lot more twists and turns, including a terrorist and the dirty bomb, but you get the idea.

Why I Picked it up:

I have been reading a bit of historical, biographical, fantasy or murder mystery for a while now. When I opened the backlist box, this one simply jumped out at me. The blurb sounded silly, but I needed a change of pace.

What did I think:

It was surprisingly well done. The plot held together well, exciting without getting too over-the-top. Even all the science felt right (my nuclear physics is a little rusty, so I don’t know for sure.) The final solution wasn’t as creative as McDermott or as historically plausible as Gibbons, but you can’t have everything.

Who would I give it to:

Actually I have already handed it on to David who is a real fan of Gibbons. This one isn’t as thoughtful, but it may hold him over until the next one is released.

September 27

All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield

I love it when I get debut novels. First time authors are so courageous. They have to be if they are going to get published, simply because they need to stand out from the other manuscripts that must arrive daily at publishers. This book is certainly unusual, so much so that I wasn’t at all sure I liked it for the first few chapters. But I have a personal rule that whatever I start, I will finish. If an author has spent months or years writing a book, the least I can do is spend a few hours reading what they offer.

Mim is the daughter in a very unusual family. Her family has stepped right out of Underbelly. Both brothers are in prison, and but that doesn’t matter because every bully in town knows who her mother is, and is not willing to risk their lives. So Mim has a charmed, independent existence. Like all teenagers, she is not happy. She has established a set of rules that are intended to ensure that she does not end up like her mother, or her brothers. Then one day she is sent to pick up a package and deliver it. Assuming that it is drugs, she doesn’t ask questions. Only while she is on the delivery, the boy she has had a crush on forever stops her, leads her into a alley for a kiss, and steals the package. Suddenly Mim has a serious problem. The boy may be a rat, but he doesn’t deserve what her mother will do to get the package back. Her only choice is to try to get the package back before Mum finds out, and that means she may have to bend or break some of her rules.

This book was absolutely amazing. It was tough, and pulled no punches, definitely not for children. Mim deals with a rough crowd and even she is scared sometimes. But one of the reasons for reading fiction is to safely experience a dangerous world. Looking at the criminal subculture in Australia today is best done with a book.

I have had this book in the reading pile for a long time now. It appears that Wakefield has written a second novel during that time, but it never arrived for review. So the best I can say is – add this one to your collection, and find her second. But read it first before you loan it to others.

September 26

The Lord of Lies by Sam Bowring

Was I every happy to open my September collection to find this book on the top! After the wonderful opening book, I could hardly wait to get started on the second volume. Thank goodness that the book was published only a month after the first, because Bowring does not waste space reminding you about book 1. You need to open this ready to go.

So some of the Wardens are dead and their magical skills have been absorbed into the others. But some of the good guys get the evil skills and horror of horrors, the bad guy who literally feeds on pain gets the power to detect injustice. Will that make him a better man, or will the new skill simply help him choose his victims more easily? Even more importantly, does any of it matter because the world is literally falling down around them? And then there is the minor problem of the madman leading the unbeatable army. How are Rostigan and Yalenna going to prevail against these powerful forces? Through trickery and diplomacy is the answer, along with a healthy risk-taking attitude.

There are some scenes that are going to stick with me for a long time. The image of a mountain pass disappearing, complete with the army in ambush. Or the ‘Charge!’ in progress when suddenly the ground before them vanishes. I can honestly say I have never read battle scenes like this.

Bowring is also very good at keeping his good magicians grounded with human emotions. All through book 1 and most of book 2 it felt that Tarzi was a temporary fling for Rostigan. But then you find out that they have been together for decades, not months or years. And Yalenna’s seduction of Jandryn was simply natural and human. A lovely touch.

Bowring is an Australian fantasy writer of great promise. I look forward to reading much more from him.

 

September 26

On Two Feet and Wings by Abbas Kazerooni

I guess it is only to be expected. The early refugees from Iran and Iraq are now adult, settled and wanting to tell the story of their escape. And those stories are going to be much more real if released as biographies. Look at Mao’s Last Dancer for example. Who knows if a dancer can really write, but certainly he can get published and read. This time it is a California lawyer who is telling the story of his escape from Iran after the Shah.

Abbas was only 9 when the laws changed to allow boys over 8 years old to be drafted into the army. Because his family had once been wealthy and worked within the Shah’s regime, Abbas was sure to be targeted. His only option was to escape to Istanbul and hope for a visa to England. Plans were put in place, but at the last minute, his mother was refused permission to leave the country. So Abbas boarded a plane alone and soon found himself a young man in Turkey. Suddenly he had to decide for himself who to trust, how to survive, and how to deal with bureaucracy.¬†Fortunately, Abbas was an intelligent and inventive young man. He chose his friends well, far better than his father did. His age gained him support, especially when the consul had a son about the same age.

In retelling his story, Abbas may have placed the rose coloured lenses in his glasses, because compared to some of the other stories I have read recently about children alone in the big wide world, he was certainly very lucky. The heartbreak of leaving his parents is clear, and so is the debt this man owes a certain taxi driver and hotel owner.

Regardless of this, it was a good read. Not too harsh for younger children, and that is really a change. Most of these refugee stories are stark and cruel. This one focusses on the goodness of man, no matter where they are found.

September 26

The Devil Colony by James Rollins

I still remember the first Rollins book that I read. I was sitting in a car – waiting, waiting – and suddenly I didn’t mind. I was so caught up in the adventure that I never even noticed the time passing. So now, unfortunately, when I get a Rollins book to review, it must wait until I know I have a day clear to read it cover to cover. This one arrived over a year ago, and somehow got packed into a ‘someday’ box. The ones my husband keeps trying to get me to throw out. So last week it was found, and read.

An archaeologist makes a gruesome discovery in a cave deep in the Rockies. Hundreds of mummified bodies, presumably North American Indian, but some Caucasian are found near some very strange artefacts. When an artefact is moved to the open air, it causes a huge explosion that triggers another explosion, and another, and before long the whole world is threatened. Imagine the climate change if the supervolcano under Yellowstone erupted.

Enter Sigma Force. This unique blend of men and women with knowledge and skills far surpassing us mere mortals are quickly, though unofficially, on the case. But time and again they are too late. Its as though someone knows their every move. But Rollins has too much history invested in his team, so inevitably they win, but not without casualties.

This is a real roller coaster of a book. Forget the archaeology and history, most of it is just too far out. I mean, Lewis and Clarke, nanotechnology and European Indians? The author notes try to give the book some credibility, but it doesn’t work. No, this is a book to be read purely for entertainment. And that it does well.

When I retire and have all the time in the world to read, I am going to read this series from start to finish. But until then, I’ll take what I can get.