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.

May 19

Shadows by Paula Weston

9781921922503Supernatural romance novels. By now I would swear that there can be nothing new. They were the flavour of the month for years – until dystopian adventures took over. So – ho hum – this can fall to the bottom of the review stack. And there it lingered for a few years. Then book two arrived. Put the two together and wait for a good opportunity to read them. A few weeks ago I had a long and quiet weekend and got started.

Gaby is a normal teenager living in a remote surfing community. She works at the local cafe, lives with her BFF and grieves for her brother who was killed in a road accident a year ago. The only problem she has is a recurring nightmare that involves demons and hell-beasts. Eventually she writes down the story of the dream and submits it to a short story competition. Then Rafa comes to town, claiming to be her brothers best friend, but Gaby has no memory of him, except as a face in her dream. So what is reality – her life or her nightmare?

Shadows turned out to be a very good read. Paula Weston has writing style that holds attention and keeps you turning pages, but still pausing every now and then to think! Are the characters that feel foul really not to be trusted? Is Rafa too good to be true? There are no answers spelled out, the reader is left to draw their own conclusions.

I should have known better. Text doesn’t have a huge YA list, but it is generally quality reading. I have already handed Shadows on to others, and feedback has been excellent.

Now to get the rest of the series.

May 9

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

9780552566001-1-edition.default.original-1Fantasy – generally a genre with limited appeal. Most young adults either love it – or hate it. And ‘high’ fantasy is even more limited. Put a dragon on the cover and unless the series is televised on HBO, getting the book into the hands of the general reader is almost impossible. But personally, I love the genre. It provides a great opportunity to look at the real world with fresh eyes and new ideas.

Seraphina is a talented musician moving purposefully towards her career. She is reluctant to perform in public, but works wonders with ensembles and other performers. But when a soloist doesn’t show up for a funeral, Seraphina is forced to perform, and a whole chain of events is set in place that will change her life forever, and possibly her whole world.

Within the pages of this book Seraphina embarks on a journey of self discovery. She finds that she is of ‘mixed’ heritage, and that in itself causes all kinds of problems, but also connects her to a group of talented and special friends. Together they explore their talents and build a new future, although the new future will have to wait for book two.

Right now the idea seems to be that kids want to read Dystopian fiction and only by destroying the world will an author gain credibility. Seraphina challenges that idea, and it seems to be working. The book was nominated for an Inky in 2014, and certainly was one of the best I have read.

February 3

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

isbn9781444722659-detailHow much fantasy fits into your standard formula. Good guys – look good and feel better. Baddies – look foul and feel worse. Book 1 introduce the characters, book two move them around and set up the battle lines, book 3 – the final battle and the resolution. Well you can forget all that as soon as you open this little treasure.

First the protagonist is a 17 year art student, trying to live a normal life in Prague. But every now and then she is sent on an errand by her ‘foster parent’ Brimstone. She is sent all over the world to collect, of all things – teeth. All kinds of teeth and tusks, from thieves, murderers, and hunters. Once they are delivered to Brimstone she is free to return to her ‘normal’ world. Elsewhere – Brimstone’s world – is populated by all kinds of creatures that most humans would consider monsters, partially human bodies with animal elements. Imagine a minotaur or a sphinx in real life and able to talk!

Enter Akiva – apparently an angel.¬† Able to walk among humans by hiding his wings with a magical glamour. Naturally Karou falls in love, but something just doesn’t seem quite right. A sixth sense warns her to keep him secret and separate from Elsewhere. Then there is this vague memory that seems to be from a previous life, still in love with Akiva, but tragedy was the result. Just who was Madrigal?

This is a very readable book, and a very satisfying read all on it’s own. Very unusual for a fantasy. The fantasy world and access to it is limited, mostly this is a book about an art student and her friends, but strange things keep interrupting her ‘normal’ life. But I will warn you, once you hit the final chapters you definitely want book 2 on hand. The climax is amazing.

 

July 17

Nymph by Tonya Alexandra

1384925790952Have you ever been tired of reading about murder, destruction, and depression? Sick of vampires, zombies and the like? I certainly got that way earlier this year and then this book came across my desk. Judging a book by its cover, this was bound to be different.

Greek goddess Merope is in trouble. Zeus has agreed to her marriage, but she doesn’t even like Orion. So as punishment, she is sent to live on Earth for a year to consider her future. Not the ancient Greek Earth, but a modern Australian city. In order to fill her time, she is required to attend an everyday secondary school. Imagine a Greek Goddess in your class!

This is a light and entertaining romance novel, a great change from all the dystopian fiction so prevalent in YA today. But it is a real beach read. Don’t look for literary allusions or symbolism in this simple and straightforward story. Just read it to enjoy the fun of an all powerful god trying to blend in with modern teens.

This is not Percy Jackson, but is still fun in it’s own way.

May 16

The Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan

9781841495965I can’t believe I have had this book as long as I have. Nearly a year before I finished it. This is partly because I had to source and read book two in the trilogy before continuing the journey, but still…

Like many fantasy authors Canavan has established in her mind a wonderful complex magical world. This is book seven told from this world, and it very nicely draws together several threads and still leaves room to continue the story again, perhaps picking up the next generation.

In a world full of magic, black magic is seen as the most powerful, and dangerous. Very few magicians can access that power and they are isolated and guarded. In one country, only three are allowed, all others are prohibited training. But in this trilogy, all those rules are tested. First when the son of an authorised magician discovers latent abilities he naturally possess. What can be done to protect him, but to send him off as an ambassador to a distant land. But then he is kidnapped and taken to a hidden city of Traitors. Here it seems everyone practices black magic, and society runs well. Now in book 3, this society of Traitors is determined to destroy a nation whose social order is founded on slavery and the acquisition of power with magic.

As always, book 3 of a fantasy trilogy will make little or no sense without reading books 1 and 2 first. Much of this book would seem to be political diplomacy, court intrigue and small skirmishes that eventually lead to one big decisive battle. Totally appropriate for the story. To me, the final resolution was just ‘right’. Realistic without going too far. Satisfying without closing doors on all future stories.

And now to open the Canavan that arrived last week.

January 27

The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks

9781841499086Literally a year ago I reviewed book one of this fantasy trilogy. This book was read a few weeks later, but then last year was not a good year for either reading or reviewing. I certainly remember putting the book aside wondering how on earth I could write any comment or review that made any sense at all. Add to that the frustration of waiting for volume 3. So far there is no hint of a publication date, and I am really hanging out.

Gavin is dying. His White Prism power is fading and he must hide that fact skilfully if he is going to even survive a year. He has upset his father, who controls the governing council for the kingdom, and as a result he is effectively exiled from anyone who can help. His jilted fiance has discovered too many of his secrets, the disclosure of which can ruin him. His bastard son is showing more power every day, but unschooled he is dangerous. And then there is the rebellion…

As I have said many times, the whole point of book two is to thicken the plot, move the pieces on the chessboard and draw up the battle lines. In this book 2 the plot is definitely thicker, and the characters are moving into position. (I like the flying boat by the way.) However, the hero is losing everything, and the anti-hero may actually be the hero. All that confusion makes the battle lines difficult to find.

As always, Weeks takes a traditional fantasy formula and gives it a twist. Theme – Good vs. Evil? First you need to be able to tell which is which don’t you?

Please, please hurry with book 3.

 

October 13

Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas

9781408832332Modern writers just love giving the old fairy tale genre a real twist. And Maas has given the Cinderella story the twist of all twists. Start by making her an experienced and effective assassin, but one who has had the misfortune of getting caught. Then replace the traditional home service to the ugly stepsisters with the far more horrific salt mines.

But Prince Dorian (Charming) comes riding by and chooses Celaena to be his champion at the upcoming games, as long as she can qualify without anyone guessing her real identity. And there begins a wonderful adventure or mystery, or romance …whatever.

I have read a lot of fantasy over the years, high and low, traditional and urban, whatever. But this one got me in, really and truly. There is enough adventure to keep the pages turning, always on the edge of your seat. And the romance that is inevitable in YA fantasy is handled well. There is a great love triangle, and I for one am not going to try to predict which way Celaena is going to jump.

Crown of Midnight – book 2 in the series is out, and I am definitely adding it to my wish list.

October 13

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

9781408836446If you believe the media this is going to be the biggest new series since Harry Potter. Apparently this is book 1 of a 7 book series. Well, I found it entertaining, but will I commit to 7 volumes? At this stage unlikely. But it is really unfair to judge a fantasy series after book 1.

The year is 2059 and in this London, psychic abilities are widely known, but illegal. Paige is a dreamwalker, with the rare ability to travel into others dreams. She is surviving as part of a psychic gang that successfully avoid the periodic collection of illegals. But her luck runs out and she gets caught up in the once a decade sweep that gathers those with abilities and takes them away. And then her adventures truly begin. She now has to survive, alone in a world where many are far more powerful than she.

I have read some reviews that pan this book as being derivative. But then all good fantasy is based old stories retold. Those authors that try to write brand new, original stories all too often fall into the trap of extremism and become silly. I think Shannon has hit the target. Enough tradition to make the setting comfortable, but enough difference to keep it unpredictable.

My real problem is that I really don’t like Paige. She seems selfish and shallow. And the last minute romance thrown into the last few chapters just seemed wrong. I mean Paige goes on and on about her feelings for A, then it turns out that he is gay. OK, but when B suddenly gets all affectionate it almost felt like Shannon was saying ‘This is YA fiction. There has to be a romance’. Really, she needs to trust her readers.

Right now, this does not seem to me to be worth 7 volumes. But publishing being the industry it is, we are likely to get them anyway. Besides, volume 2 may be terrific.