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

The 100 by Kass Morgan

9780316234498_p0_v2_s260x420Dystopian fiction – end this world and begin another. Once upon a time, believe it or not, this genre was seen as too dark and negative for adolescent readers. Are those days gone and forgotten. Publishers seem to publish nothing else, and Hollywood is turning out product for the big – and small – screen.

Fans of the TV series will already know that in this scenario the earth has been destroyed by nuclear holocaust. Humanity has escaped to space stations circling the earth, but now supplies are running low and the future has to change. Idea 1: send 100 criminals to earth and see if they survive. After a rough landing, the ‘colonists’ emerge onto a planet that seems to be paradise. But life isn’t as easy as one would hope. And therein lies the story.

I will admit that I have never seen the TV series, but have certainly read good reviews. Fortunately the reviewer had read the books and indicated that there are significant differences.

In keeping with the genre, this book is full of action, adventure, romance and all the other things that keep young adults coming back for more and more. Certainly I kept turning pages and reading through long sessions. But is it quality literature – no. Did I waste my time – maybe, but then again reading popular fiction titles is part of my job. Will I continue through the whole series – Doubtful.

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.

July 16

The First Third by Will Kostakis

9780143568179‘Life is made up of three parts: In the first third you’re embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you’ve made’. What a line, and what a theme.

Billy’s family is falling apart. One brother has headed off interstate to live. Mum is dating, and not all the dates work out. His younger brother won’t speak to anybody. And to top it all off, YiaYia (grandmother) is in hospital. Life is falling apart. But then YiaYia gives him her bucket list…and life falls apart a bit further.

This is a lovely, funny family story. A warm fuzzy alternative to all the dystopian fiction written now for YAs. The reader will laugh at Will’s antics, cringe during his first date, and cry with him during the funeral. But supporting Will, and the reader, is a traditional Greek extended family.

This book has been shortlisted for the CBC under the category Older Readers. I enjoyed the book, but I have some question about whether it is really the best book written last year. Nearly half the book is taken up establishing characters and background. It isn’t until Will gets the bucket list that the story becomes something wonderful. For that reason, I don’t think it is outstanding enough to be Book of the Year.

But then I am often wrong…

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.

May 16

Concealed in Death by JD Robb

9780749959401Book 38 of a series… How on earth can an author keep a story going? I will admit that I came to this series relatively late, only reading a handful of books in the last few years. But each one has been a fun read, and I look forward to the time when I can take the time to read some of the early books.

For those unfamiliar with the In Death series, the primary investigators are Eve Dallas, police lieutenant, and her wealthy computer whiz husband Roarke. The books are set just slightly in the future, but not enough to be scifi. This time the story depends on good old-fashioned police work. Roarke is renovating an old building once used to house homeless youth. During the grand project launch, he symbolically takes a sledgehammer to a wall, only to discover a skeleton. Eventually 12 skeletons are located, and Eve takes on the challenge of identifying each body and hunting down their killer.

I think what I liked best about this book is the traditional whodunit style. No fancy virtual reality suite, no super evil tech device, just simple gathering evidence and drawing conclusions. First the struggle to identify the victims, then find the links between them, if any. Some of the best scenes in this book are the moments when Eve breaks the news to the next of kin as each child is identified. And ever so gently she needs to ask about known friends.

I don’t think I have read a bad book in this series, but this one seems to stand out as just a little bit better.