May 16

The Valhalla Prophecy by Andy McDermott

9780755380664Ah, a good, old fashioned page turner. Airport novel, beach book, whatever you may call these guilty pleasures that you read when you just want to relax. You can count on McDermott to entertain without challenging your ‘little grey cells.’

In this installment of the continuing series, Eddie and Nina are helping friends chase down Valhalla, the legendary Viking hall of the slain. Runestones have been unearthed that seem to provide clues to the spot, naturally well above the Arctic Circle. As always, the bad guys are after the same thing because the structure is said to protect the most deadly poison ever. A single drop on your skin will kill you. It seems the Russians found the first location in the 60s and sealed it with a nuclear weapon. So the race is on for site number 2, literally.

These long series of similar books can present an author with a problem. How on earth do you keep readers coming back? McDermott handles this problem by creating interesting characters, and adding their backstory ever so slowly. This time it is Eddie with the big secret, so secret he can’t even trust Nina. Will he risk his marriage to protect this woman he knew years before? Read the book to find out. But be warned, we are all going to be hanging on the next book for Nina’s health check.

In large format or wait for the paperback edition due out in August, fans of this series will love this. If not already a fan, I suggest that you lay your hands on some of the earlier books to introduce the characters we all know and love.

February 13

Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones

1363038957328Some would call this gothic, others mystery, or even adventure. Me? I just say this is one of those wonderful books that ignores genre boundaries. Even better – it’s fun to read.

Wild Boy is covered in hair and was raised as a monster. He is making a ‘living’ as part of a travelling freak show. But he isn’t as stupid as everyone thinks. He watches the audience every day with great care and quickly becomes a very good observer – Sherlock Holmes good. But then one day he is accused of murder. No one will believe that the Freak is innocent, after all he is a wild monster. His only chance is to run and try to find the real killer.

This book is dripping with atmosphere, literally. You can hear the hawkers in the freak show. The overcrowded streets of 1840s London are dirty, smelly and provide heaps of hiding places. But beware the shadowy figure who always turns up. Or maybe not?

This is a book marketed for upper primary, and experienced readers of that age will certainly enjoy it. But me, I suggest that it will be an excellent alternative for all those lower secondary kids who find it difficult to get into books. This one just could surprise them.

February 13

The Tunnels of Tarcoola by Jennifer Walsh

resized_9781742376752_224_297_FitSquareThere is something about a mystery that appeals to everyone. I have seen this book compared to classics, like the Famous Five, but placed in a contemporary world. Like these children’s classics, the action starts on page one with the kids arguing and throwing stones on the beach. But then the tide changes…

Four children, all tweens, are led into a world of secret tunnels and mysterious packages. All good fun until grown-ups start watching and following. What is so important? And are the kids safe? Can they keep each other safe? Will they still be friends when it is all over?

In a modern world where most kids are wrapped in cotton wool, these four adventurers have a lot of freedom. But then they need that freedom in order for the plot to work. Realistic? Who cares? I challenge anyone to claim that Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys or the Famous Five were realistic, and kids have been loving them for years.

Jennifer Walsh has written a classic adventure tale for modern times.

January 18

The Intercept by Dick Wolf

9780751551143

What does a screenwriter/producer do when he is approaching retirement? Turn to writing fiction of course. You are probably most familiar with Dick Wolf’s writing through the many episodes of Law & Order you have watched over the years. Well now he has diversified into thriller fiction.

Jeremy Fisk is working with the NYPD intelligence unit. Since he speaks Arabic fluently, he is seconded to an interdepartmental team that works with Homeland Security. And Fisk is one of those policemen who knows enough to follow his hunches.

The story opens with a young Muslim setting out to explode a bomb in the New York Subway. The FBI has information that the attack is set for three days time, but Fisk has the feeling it is going to be sooner. Naturally Fisk is right and his team prevents disaster. Later a plane on the way to Newark is carrying a hijacker. Six passengers stop the hijacking and become instant celebrities. According to the FBI, that is another attack prevented, done and dusted. But something just doesn’t feel right to Fisk.

As you might expect, this is a real page turner. Not too much time spent on setting scenes and character development, but enough to make sure your care about the danger. Fisk is not exactly well rounded, but there is more to him that gunfights and international travel.  The second novel in the series was released this week, and I am looking forward to Fisk’s further adventures, and hopefully, his growing complexity.

If some mysteries are considered police procedurals, this novel could be considered an espionage procedural. It is full of plausible technical details, like what happened to all the ‘stuff’ gathered when Bin Laden was eliminated. Surely the surgical operation gathered up everything they could find, but then what happened? This novel offers an explanation that sounded pretty logical to me.

Generally a fun read that won’t take overly long.

June 3

The Reluctant Halleluia by Gabrielle Williams

9780143566847Review #14.

I’m back! Overseas visitors have gone home, and finally I have caught up on all the work that was left while I spent time with friends and family. Then last weekend I re-motivated myself by attending the Reading Matters conference at SLV. As a result I have unpacked all my YA lit and started reading again.

The first off the pile was this. I have been sent Williams’ first novel for review, but after the enticing comments about this one, it jumped to the top of the list. Of course the excuse is that I have to do a bunch of booktalks about journeys on Thursday, so this unique road trip novel just had to be included.

Imagine, second last day of year 12 classes, exam stress at max. And Mum and Dad disappear! Gone! No call, no text, just gone! And then Enron of all people tells Dodo about this basement in your house and tells you to go down there. What basement? He has never been to Dodo’s place.

But there is the basement, and oh my God, what a surprise is down there! Worse than that, it has to be taken to Sydney. Now…

Reason and Logic would indicate that this book is just too far ‘out there’. The plot could never, ever work. Heaven knows how Williams pitched it to her publisher. But it does work! She has just the right lightness of touch and sense of comedy to keep the whole thing from going too far. And Santa’s miracles add just the touch of wonder.

I will admit that I had to think carefully to find the Wizard of Oz allusions.

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.

 

October 20

Department 19 by Will Hill

Once upon a time every boy wanted to be James Bond. Horowitz and Muchamore among many others have made their name by writing adventure novels about secret government organisations and saving the world. Will Hill is now joining that club, but his SGO has a delicious difference.

Many years ago Jamie watched his father die. Then he was declared a traitor to his government and Jamie had to learn to live with the disgrace. Now his mother has been kidnapped and only Jamie appears to be interested in getting her back. But he needs help, and very specialist help at that. Enter Department 19, the secret government organisation that once employed his father. The question is whether Jamie can actually operate under their rules and still rescue his mum.

This was a real page turner. It may look long, but it was hard to put down. There are so many twists and turns that the question ‘Now What?’ should be the title of every chapter. Caught up in Jamie’s struggles are a couple of characters right out of Hollywood, but then is reality necessary when you are reading. The imagination just picks up these ideas and flies.

This isn’t the greatest book I have read this year, but it was a lot of fun. It is over the top and impossible. But then if even a fraction of the stuff that happens in this book were possible, the world would be a very scary place.

And by the way – book 2 is available.

 

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 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.