October 5

Now by Morris Gleitzman

I know, I know, this book has been out for ages. And it is hard to believe that it took me so long to find the 2 hours it took to read it. But you see, I hadn’t read Then when this came out, so I had to find time to read both of them and Then was so sad that I needed a happier book and then…. Well, you know. Anyway Now was well and truly worth the wait.

Now continues the story of Felix and Zelda, but this time Zelda is his little granddaughter. The reader discovers that Felix survived the war and dedicated his life to helping others. When little Zelda goes to stay with her granddad for a few weeks, she discovers a great deal about his life and his courage.

Written at the time of the Black Saturday bushfires Gleitzman uses our memories of that event to create another short, but riveting story of survival against the odds, personal responsibility and hope. Little Zelda accidentally starts a fire and then watches in horror as her community burns hours later. Felix is now too old for surgery, but he still uses his experience and knowledge to help a neighbour survive. Gletzman even asks the reader to imagine the horror of the hundreds of pets caught up in the fires on the day.

Perhaps because of this confrontational content, some reviewers have suggest that this book is written for a target audience of 14+. I disagree. As always Gleitzman tells a story that is truly accessible to all ages, including the very young. Yes there is danger, yes there is sadness, but is it really a bad thing for children to encounter these emotions in the ‘safe’ context of a children’s book. I am not one of these adults who insists that children need to be wrapped in cotton wool.

This, and the others in the series, truly deserves to become a children’s classic.

October 4

Gods of Atlantis by David Gibbins

I was very happy to see this one arrive. It has been a while since I have read a good ‘Indiana Jones’ adventure and I was needing a change from the fantasy/crime rut that I seem to have fallen into.

The opening of this book sees Jack and Costa diving into a live volcano, yes, swimming over hot lava. They have returned to the site of Atlantis as discovered in one of Gibbins earlier books, only to discover that the fault line under the site is about to blow sky high, destroying any remaining archaeology. But a quick look around and judicious use of a helmet cam, and Jack thinks he has evidence for a possible explanation about what happened to the survivors. As normal for a Gibbins adventure, very soon the archaeology gets caught up in chasing bad guys and the survival of humanity. And returning to the theme from the last book, the bad guys are old enemies and collecting Nazi biological weapons.

Some would call the Gibbins novels slow. Certainly they are not as action packed as Andy McDermott or some of the other authors in this genre. But Gibbins is an intelligent author who will make the reader think, and even learn something in spite of themselves. Here he is teaching us all about Neolithic shamanism and the origins of ancient religions. Having recently finished the Auel series, this was a very interesting idea.

I do suggest that you read Mask of Troy before you read this one. You need to understand the Nazi bunker and a few other details before you start this. It will make the understanding much easier. It may also help to read Gibbins first book, Atlantis if you can find it. I hadn’t read it, and a couple of times I wished I had.

But still, it was well worth the time spent reading.

October 4

Iron House by John Hart

A little over a year ago I reviewed The Last Child by this author, and loved it. When I was asked if I was interested in his latest offering, I eagerly agreed. John Hart writes a dark and dangerous thriller, and after some of the other stuff I had been reading, I was ready for a spine tingle.

Two brothers were raised together in an orphanage twenty years ago. Well, raised is a very loose term. They were chucked into a life with a stack of bullies and together they tried to survive. Then one day the youngest brother snaps and takes a knife to one of his tormentors. Big brother takes the blame and runs away, eventually becoming a Mafia hitman as a career. The younger brother is quickly adopted by the Senator’s wife and is taken away to a life of pampering and luxury. But all is not well.

With the death of his mentor, Michael has to escape the mob. They are convinced that he has the passwords and account numbers of many millions of dollars, and they want them back. But Michael is in love and his girl is pregnant. He wants nothing more than to retire and live a normal life. When the mob can’t find Michael, they go after his family, including the brother he hasn’t seen or heard from in 20 years. Michael feels responsible and sets off to find and protect his brother.

Sounds like a simple plot doesn’t it. Well that is just the beginning. Soon there are so many twists and turns that you need a road map to work out where you are. This is a far more complicated story than The Last Child, and so much better for the complications.

I do worry about Hart though. He appears to have serious childhood issues. And anyone who does bad things to children deserves the worst that any thriller writer can dream up. This book is thickly populated with adults who don’t like kids and Hart has a specific creative penalty in store for each of them. Sometimes he is scary.

But this is a good read. Make sure you give the kids an extra hug every day while you read it.

 

October 4

Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh

Just so you clearly understand, not all the books I get sent are great literature. In fact last year I spent a week totally immobile and reading bodice rippers. Never heard that term, well it is an old fashioned term for the totally over the top romance genre. Nowadays that genre simply has to be set in some sort of supernatural world and at least one of the objects of lust has to have supernatural powers.

The plot is simple, boy meets girl. Instant chemistry, dark brooding eyes, etc. Eventually, and how much time it takes does vary, boy and girl kiss. But their power of their supernatural natures threatens their happiness. Some massive outside trauma forces them to realise that they are stronger together. Big sex scene. Happy ending.

In this book both of the lovers are supes. He is a changeling, more commonly known as a werewolf. She is a psychic, and her talent is in channelling energy. She has been told from childhood that one day she is going to go up like a bomb and take most of the continent with her. Guess what the trauma is – the Psy council want her back to be their ultimate weapon at about the same time as she can feel herself ‘going critical’. Will she be forced to leave her wolf lover? What do you think?

At this stage you are suspecting that I hated the book. Actually it wasn’t that bad. I found the supernatural world very comfortable, well at least I have read many far worse. And the battle scene was fantastic! Just the right amount of tension to keep the pages turning without getting silly. And I loved the ‘valve’.

But a suggestion, upload the ebook. You don’t want to be caught in public reading anything with this cover.

September 26

Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

It always happens, I open my review books to find volume 2 of a series and then have to dig through the reading pile to find out if I have book 1. And in this case I did, and embarrassingly, bearing a publication date of 2010. So you may have to hunt for this book in your local bookshop, that is, if you still have a local bookshop.

This book is a real adventure fantasy, with the emphasis on adventure. Lenk, our hero, has scraped together a band of adventurers from many different races. The tale begins at sea with the pirates attacking. The battle is full on, and gradually each of the team is introduced and gets to demonstrate their individual skill and personality. None of this long explanation of setting and character, we are right into the action. Once the pirates are dispatched, it is revealed that they got away with a very important book of magic. This book must be located and regained before the gates to hell are opened and demons are released into the world. Imagine, the future of the world depending on a book! The adventurers track down the pirates, or what is left of them, to an isolated island where each of them must fight for their lives, sometimes alone and isolated from their friends.

I wasn’t really surprised to find that the author of this book was only 25, and he started writing this when he was 17. I mean an adult author would know better than to spend 200 pages on a single battle. The plot goes nowhere all that time. Then suddenly, almost magically, they are at the site of another battle and that one goes on for another couple hundred pages. There has got to be more to a book.

The publisher’s hype about this was incredible. Dropping names like Joe Abercrombie or Stephen Deas is bound to attract attention. But sorry, I think we were ripped off.

And did I race off to read volume 2? Well it came out of the review crate for a while, but now it has been packed away again.

August 27

Big River Little Fish by Belinda Jeffrey

This book was released last year, and I have just recently got to read it. But after the massive rainfall and flooding last summer and autumn in northern Victoria, this became a far more interesting read than it would have been during the drought.

Set on the banks of the Murray River just before the record breaking 1956 flood, this is the story of a young man who is generous enough to befriend the homeless who survive on the resources provided by the river. He takes responsibility for the old, the ill, and the forgotten souls that call the Murray their home. As the flood upstream gradually approaches, he tries his best to ensure that his friends have the best chance of survival.

This is a story of a time long gone. I wonder how relevant this book would be for children today. There isn’t a breath of ‘stranger danger’ or mistrust of adults and the elderly. I suppose there would be those who say this book has no place on the reading list of any child today because it encourages them to trust others. What a horrible idea!

But I was raised in a gentler age. And personally, I enjoyed this picture of a simpler time.

August 27

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I finished this book a few weeks ago, so details might be a little sketchy. But then again, for a romance novel, who cares about details? It is all about the romance, the will he/won’t he, will she/won’t she. And I’m not going to be the one to offer a spoiler here.

Anna was all set for her senior year at her old school with her old friends, but her father insists that she attend her final year of high school at a stuffy old boarding school in France. Imagine, 17 years old and forced to live in Paris. What a hardship! But for Anna it is. She is a creature of habit and she want’s her old routines, including the almost romance that was just beginning when she left town. Inevitably she makes friends, and in her new group there is one very interesting boy. Unfortunately, he is already semi-permanently attached, or so it seems.

I found this a nice enough read. A bit of froth and bubble, but certainly not literature. However, it has made the Inky’s longlist, which means a lot of teens like it a lot. It is nice to see that a more traditional romance is popular. One without the faintest trace of a vampire or werewolf.

August 27

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Hmmm. I often have a go at publishers for false advertising. You know what I mean, a bad cover or a blurb that has nothing to do with the book. Well I first heard about this book from the author. She presented it as the latest variant of the vampire/monster genre. Surely she was joking.

Set in New Zealand, the main character, Ellie, thinks of herself as ordinary. For the most part, she is, very very ordinary. But part of her seems to be linked into a fantasy world where legends become real. She can see things she shouldn’t, and they can be scary. Including and especially her boyfriend’s mother.

I guess that my biggest complaint about this book is that it was just too ‘nice’. The blurb indicated that it would be a real horror; it wasn’t. The author indicated that monsters and other supernatural beings were on every page; they weren’t. And Ellie, well, don’t get me started. She had better toughen up if she is going to live with her ‘powers’. In this book she reminded me of those screaming companions found so often with Dr Who, brainless and frightened of every shadow.

I may be a minority here. This book got all kinds of awards. But I didn’t think it was all that brilliant. And if there is ever a sequel, well, I hope it doesn’t come to me for review.

August 27

The Land of Painted Caves by Jean Auel

I can’t believe that this series is finally over. I can actually claim to be one of those readers who loved ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ back in 1980 when it was first released. I devoured the first four books as quickly as they were printed, but when it came to book 5, I had too many other reviewing duties, so I purchased it, and let it sit on the shelf until there was time. A year later, I loaned it to a friend, and never saw it again. So imagine my surprise when I unpacked the Grand Finale! My friend has moved interstate, so it was quick, download the ebook and get started catching up the story.

In this, the final book of the series, Ayla is living with her husband’s cave and training to become a spiritual leader. As part of her training she is expected to visit a series of sacred sites, mostly painted caves. This is the story of that journey, not only the physical journey around what is now southern France, but also the spiritual journey of discovery, and the personal journey building trust and friendships. The book is primarily descriptive without much action or adventure, at least until the last 100 or so pages.

That lack of action was fine with me. Ayla is settled, starting a family, and therefore it is not appropriate for her to be out taming lions and wolves, or searching for romance. Life is supposed to settle down in middle age, and at this time in history 20 was certainly middle age. I enjoy historical fiction enough that the slow pace of this book was just fine.

But I strongly suggest that this book not be read as your introduction to Ayla’s story. Yes there is enough backstory contained in this to explain what is happening, but it would be very unfair to the magnificent character that Auel has created.

Auel has been absolutely painstaking in her research for these books. In fact she is now recognized as one of the world’s experts on this period of pre-history, the time when the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon humans were both competing for limited resources. Her expertise literally leaps off the page of this book, so be prepared to learn as you read.

It is always sad to come to the end of a favourite series.

July 7

Chasers by James Phelan

9780733624797Hmmm…another dystopian novel for young people. And believe me this one is dark. I wonder why it is that publishers think that all kids want to read books about the destruction of the world as we know it, with only a handful of teens surviving.

In this book four teens are part of a UN Ambassadors experience in New York. Each one is from a different area of the world, but they have become friends during the week. They are on their way to the UN building via the subway when there is a huge explosion. When they come to, they work their way out of the subway into a city that they don’t recognize. Suddenly they have become prey and the hunters are fellow humans who look like they have been infected somehow. The challenge for the four of them is to stay alive and find help.

I felt this book was awfully weak. I not only couldn’t sympathise, but I didn’t even like the kids who survived. And their misadventures were mostly caused through pure silliness. A little basic outdoors survival training, or even some common sense would have made their lives a whole lot easier. Sorry, but driving through the streets full of wreckage trying to get to a marina and find the boats all available seems naive and foolish. They deserved what they got.

But my biggest objection was the final ‘twist’. It not only made no sense, but it contradicted everything else in the book. The editor should have picked up on the inconsistencies and forced at least a partial rewrite. James Phelan writes for adults through Hachette, so maybe the children’s editor didn’t feel they could criticise an established ‘adult’ author. That is a shame, because this book really needs a red pencil.

There are more on the way, so read them for yourself and see what you think.