June 17

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

isbn9780356500966Oh, it has taken so long to get to this book. Number 15 in a series! And I read the whole series before I started this one. But I am glad I waited. Although this book would read comfortably as a stand-alone, it was more fun to read with the backstory fresh in my memory.

Harry Dresden is in trouble. His apprentice has been taken by the Winter Court, he is under the control of Mab and all the evil spirits controlled by Demonreach are waking up and becoming active. He has plenty to do trying to hold his world together, but Mab demands that he gets involved in a vault heist to steal the Holy Grail from Hades. How to ruin a perfectly good day. Unfortunately, a refusal is a death sentence, so as usual Harry tries to follow the letter of the contract without getting the city of Chicago wrecked in the process. And if he can somehow thwart the plans, so much the better.

Normally a long series of books deteriorate as they go. The author runs low on ideas, or simply¬†milks the same plot one more time. Or in an effort to outdo the previous instalment, the stories become silly parodies of the early books. But Butcher is different. It’s as though he is growing to understand Harry and his team a little better in each book. Then the plot can be more complex, and the characters more complete. In Skin Game we have a heist novel, wrapped up in an urban fantasy with enough relationship drama to keep the reader coming back for more.

Skin Game well deserved it’s Hugo nomination and now I am ready for book 16. Bring it on!

June 17

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

isbn9780575092860Everyone knows Charlaine Harris. I doubt there is anyone with a television who hasn’t at least heard of True Blood, and I have reviewed several of the Sookie Stackhouse and Aurora Teagarden series. So last year when I got my hands on an advance copy of her new series opener, I started it almost immediately. I knew what to expect – a little romance, a little mystery, enough suspense to keep the pages turning, and a delightful supernatural silliness. I was not disappointed.

Midnight, Texas is a sleepy little town with a lot of empty buildings and few permanent residents. When Manfred Bernardo moves into town, he is sure he has found the perfect place to base his online psychic service. Gradually he meets the other ‘locals’ and psychic abilities are no help when trying to work them all out. There is the herbalist ‘witch’ who lives across the road, the gay couple who run the salon/antique shop, and his landlord with the 24 hour pawnshop, the reclusive Rev, and the family that runs the diner. Nobody asks too many questions, and that makes it easier for everyone to keep their secrets. But when Manfred runs into trouble, his secret is out and he finds that he needs the help and support of his new community.

This is very much an introductory book. The reader gets to meet the neighbours and make his own mind up about them all. Harris presumes that all readers will accept her supernatural cast of characters, even look forward to getting to know them all.

I am going to admit that I am looking forward to following series. The characters are fun and even original. This could simply have been a rehash of True Blood, but instead there is a lot more psychic than supe in Midnight.

June 17

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis

9781760111977Every now and then publishers appear to decide on a ‘theme’ for YA readers. During these times every second book published is about – vampires, teenage pregnancy, or terminally ill teens, etc. Twenty years ago the ‘theme’ was homosexuality in teen boys. This year is the girl’s turn. I think I have read 5 books so far this year with a lesbian relationship at the core, and I have heard of many more recently published, or soon to be released. However many are out there, you can be sure this is one of the best.

Set in Iran during the late 80s, Farrin is attending an exclusive school for the academically gifted. She is lonely and friendless, and very aware of her parents’ political incorrectness. Farrin retreats to an imaginary world of stories where women can be powerful and strong. Then one day Sadira arrives at the school and Farrin’s world is turned upside down. For the first time she has a friend! But in a world where a hug is viewed with suspicion and a kiss is a hanging offence, their friendship quickly becomes the target of criticism. And when the Revolutionary Guard gets involved everything spirals out of control.

As always, Ellis’ research is impeccable. Her writing is authoritative and real, but remains accessible to young readers. The story she tells is confronting, and may be emotionally difficult for some readers. However, just like Parvana, it is a story that needs to be told.

Be warned, the final chapters cover a range of difficult topics – capital punishment, arranged marriages, torture. These are all part of the powerful writing, but discretion is advised for very young readers.