January 27

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Review #13.

I can’t believe that it has been four years since I read a book by Brent Weeks. I remember his Night Angel trilogy with delight, and sharing this joy with several YAs also into adventure fantasy. But four years? Where has the time gone? Anyway in December I received The Blinding Knife for review and discovered it was book 2…so drag out the eReader and download book 1. And last week I enjoyed a delicious 10 hour train ride with nothing else to do but read!

So, book 1 of a fantasy trilogy, The plot is all about establishing the fantasy world and identifying the various characters who will play a part. Generally there is also time spent sorting out the good guys from the bad guys, and establishing the basis for the magical power available in this world. OK – World divided into 7 parts, each ruled by a magician able to transform one colour of light into physical matter. Each colour has special properties – red is explosive, green is wild, etc. Theoretically in charge of the whole world is the Prism, a magician able to separate white light into it’s various colours and then build using each colour. Actually though the White is in control. The Prism has a secret, in fact he has lots of secrets, and not all of them are secure. Enter the poor fat boy from the provinces. His village has just been destroyed and he is the only survivor because under stress he discovered that he could use light to cause damage. Poor Kip is taken to the capitol and soon identified as the Prism’s bastard son. But is he?

As I was reading this I remembered why I loved Weeks’ writing so much. He very cleverly twists the fantasy conventions just enough to be different. Certainly this book started out very clearly separating the good guys from the evildoers, but before the end you just couldn’t be sure. And actually, who is the Black Prism? Is it the prisoner or Kip? Even now I am not at all sure.

It is going to take some personal discipline to avoid moving straight on to book 2, but I am back to work this week and need to catch up on some YA reading.

January 27

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Review #12.

Most of you will realise by now that I adore reading Joe Abercrombie’s fantasy. He has a gritty writing style and has developed an extensive cast of characters to suit. Most of all he loves writing about his Northmen. But I never expected him to put one of his Northmen into the Wild Wild West!

The story opens with the young woman Shy visiting the local town trying to sell the annual grain harvest from her farm. With her is the big strong, and cowardly, man, Lamb, who had lived with the family during her mother’s final years. The town sets the background for the story so well, introducing the gold rush and the character of the people on the road. When Shy and Lamb get home they discover their hired man dead and the two children kidnapped. Suddenly the two are on the trail of the ‘bad guys’. And therein lies the story.

I won’t spoil the surprise about Lamb’s true identity. Some reviews I have read of this book indicated that the reader hadn’t guessed until very late in the tale. Obviously they hadn’t read the First Law trilogy closely enough. I’ll just say, welcome back to one of my favourite characters.

As with all of Abercrombie’s writing, the reader needs to be prepared for violence. But all except for the bloodless westerns of the 50s, this genre requires violence to move the story forward. In amongst the violence this time, there are some wonderful and generous humans, even if Temple doesn’t think he is.

This is a book to be savoured. A pre-industrial Western plot with the swords and just a touch of sorcery fantasy. Loved it.

January 12

Mice by Gordon Reece

Review #11

I was given a copy of this thriller by a bookseller ages ago. He claimed it was one of the best YA novels that he had ever read. I dipped into it at the time and found the writing style a bit ‘in your face’ and decided that it could wait. Now I am trying to clean up my ‘old’ books and decided to push through those first pages…and found a riveting thriller beyond.

Victims for their whole lives Shelley and her mother escape to a quiet place in the country and establish a quiet peaceful home. Finally they can go about their lives without someone else telling them, or forcing them, to do whatever. Then one night their haven is invaded and Shelley  fights back.

This is a debut novel and Reece sometimes appears to have little faith in his readers. OK, we all get the title, even I, who have been accused of misunderstanding literary references. So there is no need for the continual mice references in the first chapters.

I also really did not like Shelley and her mother as people. Sometimes it is difficult to deal with those who wear a ‘victim’ sign, and these two had it painted glow in the dark.

But once the home invasion started, there was no putting it down. This book became a psychological thriller far better than most.

January 11

Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson

Review #10 – 94 to go. So far I am well on track to finish the Mad Reviewer Challenge!

Once upon a time nearly every book written for young adults addressed some social issue – drugs, drinking, eating disorders, mental illness, abuse – you name it and there was a book about it. Reality fiction seemed to be all that publishers were interested in. Then suddenly everything changed – now it is supernatural, fantasy, adventure, and sometimes all in one book. This novel seems to turn the clock back, but in a very good way.

Dani was born with a bad heart. For 15 years she has been in and out of hospital, endured more medical tests than you can imagine. The only thing that could give her a normal life is a new heart. But for her to get a heart, some other family has to lose everything. How on earth do you deal with that?

Amanda is a gymnast. She lives for her physical activity, and then one day a blood clot in her brain ends it all. Fortunately for Dani, Amanda’s family generously allows her healthy organs to be taken for transplant.

Now Dani wants to say thank you! But how?

Wolfson has told an important story without pulling any punches. Reviewers who know more about medical procedures than I do have commented about the detailed and accurate descriptions. This is truly reality fiction, a whole lot more real than any reality TV you may see. Running parallel to all this information is the emotional story, both from Dani and Amanda’s family. I challenge anybody to read that last chapter without a tear.

I am not going to say this was my favourite read last year, but I am certainly glad I did.

January 11

Waiting for it by Chrissie Keighery

Review #9 – 95 to go

Hardie Grant have created for themselves a wonderful little market. Their Zac Power and Go Girl series are fantastic early chapter books for young readers. Now it looks like they are developing a new market with their ‘Girl V the World’ series about 13 year old girls dealing with ‘normal’ life. These are well written basic school and family life books, short and to the point.

Waiting for it is just exactly that. Tween Hazel feels like she really doesn’t belong anywhere. There is nothing special about her life. She is even in the middle of the boys ‘hot list’. Better than being at the bottom, but still nothing special. She is sick of being stuck in the middle, and it is time for things to change. The question is – Is change always an improvement?

This was a quick, one-sitting read. The characters are well developed for this tiny book, and there aren’t too many to keep track of. Without spoiling, I’ll just say that as you would expect, Hazel discovers that it isn’t so bad being in the middle and she is very special – so a positive outcome.

I have only read one from the series, but I suspect that it will fill a niche market very well.

January 11

White Ninja by Tiffiny Hall

Review #8 – 96 to go

It seems like I am reviewing a stack of books for the 10+ age range. It just happens that this is the order they are coming off the table. And besides, it is nice to read something for younger readers for a change. I sorted the stash yesterday, and there are a lot more coming.

Roxy is a 13 year old girl who is living a normal life, boring. But then one day the school bully chooses her as his next victim. Suddenly she is moving lightning quick and looks like some martial arts expert. What on Earth? Then the new boy at school convinces her to join a martial arts training group, and there Roxy learns about the legend of the mystical White Ninja and the magical Tiger Scrolls. Before she knows it she is caught up in the search for the Scrolls and the White Warrior.

OK, so the plot seems a little silly. Remember this is written for kids. Often the same kids who not long ago were watching ninja cartoons and have now graduated to computer games. Silly is good, if for no other reason than who wants to read a heavy stodgy book about the dangers of martial arts. Far better to have a quick adventure with strong characters, and then wait for the next book in the series.

All the way through the book I was thinking that this author certainly knows her martial arts, not only the skills, but the training techniques and fitness level needed. In places it read like that netball book I read a few years ago. But the adventure held my interest much better. Then much to my surprise I saw Ms Hall on telly promoting fitness and looking every inch a taekwondo expert. Somehow I think she had the right background to make this book realistic.

I hope the series continues.

January 9

Goldrush by Steven Lochran

Review #7 – 97 to go

Superheroes with superpowers. Where once they were delegated to the shadowy realm of comic books, now they are featured in blockbuster movies, TV shows, novels and games. But most writers seem happy to stick with the established heroes with familiar back stories. Not Lochran. He has begun a whole series of books for young teens that feature a new group of heroes with new superpowers.

Sam grew up like any normal boy. But one day he discovers, much to his dismay that he is very different. And the discovery isn’t subtle, it is big, impressive, in public and hurts those closest to him. Not a good start. But when he gets recruited for Vanguard Prime his troubles really begin. Yes he gets the chance to battle evil. Yes he gets help managing his powers. But he is also the youngest kid ever recruited and sometimes it is tough being the ‘baby’, especially when surrounded by adults.

This is a small little book that will well suit those kids who much prefer reading comics. The characters and storyline are familiar and with under 200 pages, even reluctant readers should find this a lot of fun.

Lochran has also managed to teach a few good lessons without being preachy. This is a good coming-of-age tale without tons of adolescent angst that young readers are not ready for. Sam also has to learn that making a mistake is OK, as long as you learn from it. Another important lesson presented through plot.

This series promises to be fun. Looking forward to book 2.

 

January 9

Louis Beside Himself by Anna Fienberg

Review #6 – 98 to go

When I get under pressure for reviews, I sometimes look for a book that is going to be quick and easy to read. Generally I assume that I will be able to read it in an hour or so and then crank out the review. Every now and then one of those books provides a little more meat, and I need to spend some time thinking about what the author is doing.

Louis is a tween who just doesn’t fit in. He loves words and reading, and his Dad loves wrestling, the big, splashy, theatrical stuff on TV. His best mates are into outdoor activities, but they understand him and are cool with his choices. But then while Louis is home alone one night an burglar breaks in. Can Louis remember enough of his Dad’s wrestling training to defend himself? And just who is this burglar anyway. Louis manages the situation using his own special skills, and there the story begins.

This book is a lot of fun, but it also makes an important point. Everyone has their own special place in this world and finding that place will make them happy. And as for Cordelia and Doreen…Well you are going to have to read the book yourself to find out.

This is a gentle humorous novel, not too long so hopefully boys will be willing to read it.

January 9

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Review # 5 – 99 to go

In the last few years everyone and their neighbour have written about the Holocaust. I have reviewed lots of them here. Many of these books are written by children and grandchildren of survivors. While I agree that this story needs to be remembered by future generations, there are other important survival stories as well. And this book will introduce the reader to one of them.

Those of us who grew up during the Cold War will be very familiar with the two words Stalin and Siberia, and all that this meant for the Russian people. I had never stopped to think about the significance for the many other ethnic groups absorbed into the Soviet Union after World War II. This book, written for kids, was a lesson to me.

1941, Lithuania. Lina is the daughter of a man who refuses to give up on the future of his homeland. Then one night the Secret Police arrive, and the whole family is moved. Her father is separated and kept apart with the men, but her mother and brother are herded with her into a cattle car and painfully slowly transported east. Workcamps, hunger, and help from locals, then they are moved, this time north. Winter in the Arctic, a unique form of genocide. But somehow Lina’s spirit remains strong and hopeful.

This is a novel, but like many other refugee stories, it has a strong base in truth. Sepetys used her grandparent’s history as her starting point and expanded it through her personal research, even spending time in one of the old cattle cars and travelling through Russia in the winter to help her tell the story with a ring of truth.

I will admit that this is not the most entertaining, riveting book I have read recently, but it is an important story. Perfect for those who want to read something ‘real’.

January 9

Every Day by David Levithan

Review #4 – 100 to go

I had heard lots of good things about this book. Reviewed for both young adults and adults alike, and every comment outstanding. So I went digging through my backlog of books and dragged it to the top. Verdict? This is by far one of the best books I have read from the 2012 publication list, and it is going to take something fantastic to remove this from my top read of 2013 shelf.

Just in case you haven’t heard already. A is a lost soul. Every single day he wakes up inside a different body and lives as that person until midnight. There are only two ‘rules’ – the body is the same age as he is and lives roughly within 100 miles. His life has been like this since he was a baby, and along the way he has established a few personal guidelines to avoid disaster. But one morning he wakes up as Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon. By midnight A is in love and has an immense problem, how can he stay nearby? He can’t.

Who would believe him if he explained the reality of his life? How can a relationship grow if every day the two people are different? Sometimes promises can’t be kept when you life is totally beyond control. If somehow he can convince Rhiannon that he is really the same spirit inside another boy’s body, how is she going to feel when he wakes up as a girl? And then there is Nathan who realises he has lost a day and wants to find out why….

There aren’t superlatives enough for this book. I could not put it down, and was reading well into the wee hours of the morning. Levithan has always had a wonderful understanding of young people, but sometimes he can be a little ‘average’ in his plot and character ideas. Not this time.

Thanks for a fantastic reading experience.