Friday, December 30, 2011

Top Picks of 2011

These are books I read in 2011, not books that were released in 2011.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Blackbringer by Laini Taylor
Petal Storm by Paul Kidd
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Alchemyst's Apprentice by Walter Moers

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Not much bark nor bite, but a few laughs.

How to Date a Werewolf (Rylie Cruz #1)How to Date a Werewolf by Rose Pressey

This was a fun read. Not especially remarkable and it certainly had a number of flaws, but it was an enjoyable, entertaining tale that was of about the right length to keep the reader amused. Indeed, my only major bugbear is the capabilities of the werewolves when they were in wolf form - how can one hold a gun? And also that the author went a different way with the ending than I had perceived (nothing wrong with that - my ending was perhaps a little too predictable).

Riley is a werewolf and she runs a dating agency for supernaturals, as well as ordinary humans. Alas, for all her efforts to matchmake others, she has had no success finding a mate of her own. This she blames on a family curse - that is until the day Jack moves in next door. Cynical, but living for the moment, Riley is persuaded into several dates. But things go from good to bad when a pair of scruffy werewolf start dogging her trail and someone keeps sending her threatening bullets (although how sending someone a silver bullet is a threat, I do not understand - surely you're actually giving them potential weapons to use against you!). Is it Lily? The discgrunted psycho-bitch whose love match went tail-up? Or is something more sinister afoot?

Alas, for all the possible greater depths, "How to date a werewolf" never gets deeper than the paddling stage, but that does not make it a bad read and it is rather amusing.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Elves and Humans

Griffin's Daughter (Griffin's Daughter Trilogy, #1)Griffin's Daughter by Leslie Ann Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For some reason, this has been labelled "paranormal". It's not - it's fantasy. Set in a medieval style kingdom, where elves and humans share a border and neither thinks too fondly of the other. Jelena is the product of an unlikely allegiance between elf and human - neither one nor the other, she is reviled by the humans and her lowly position eventually forces her to run away and seek her elven heritage.

The elves were not entirely convincing as a species - they felt more like another race of humans, rather than a distinctly different people - their language was relatively coarse and their customs not significantly different from their human neighbours. I feel the author could have accentuated the differences more - even without having her elven folk live in trees or what-not.

However, as far as self-published works go, this one was very well done. The characters were well developed, the plot moved at a steady pace - although there were a few sidetrack plots to tie up loose ends (such as what happened to cousin Magnes). Editting errors and spelling mistakes were minimal and did not detract from the storyline.

It was interesting, and engrossing and definitely deserves the recognition it has received. However, like almost all self-published tales - it ends on a startling revelation to tempt the reader into purchasing the next instalment. As I have read the reviews of the latter instalments, I am not sure that I shall be tempted, but we will see...

Find it on Amazon in Kindle or real book format.
I read the "young adult" edition - not sure what the difference will be.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Bee's Knees

Petal StormPetal Storm by Paul Kidd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always been a fan of Kidd's writing style, and I own pretty much his entire collection of books - almost all of which are self-published. Kidd certainly makes one appreciate the true glory that can be found in these somewhat quirky, speculative works of fiction - the likes of which your typical publishing house won't touch - not because they're poorly written, but because the concept is just slightly too risky for them to take. Well, their loss.

"Petal Storm" is a story of bees. Rather, anthropormophic bees that ride hornets and live in a very matriachal society. Kidd has carefully captured much of general bee nature and habit here - the bees are led by one female, a queen, and the other workers are all neuter-females - incapable of breeding. The drones largely stay away, except when required to fertilise her many eggs. They behave in a manner that is quite believable if you were ever given a world in which bees were the sentient lifeform. He has also taken careful consideration of things like water droplets, and other such things, that on such a minute scale are rather different from how we humans perceive them.

Around this exciting and original premise, he has spun a story of manipulation and politics - of a Hive with not only one Queen, but two princesses, an unheard of situation. The two princesses are set on destroying each other, so that one can take the throne when their mother dies - as is the bee way, but events are conspiring that might make traditions have to change. The main characters - most of them neuter-females, are lovingly crafted. Kidd can often be commended for creating characters with the sort of personality that means you remember them, relate to them and feel like you know them a little bit.

There are a few minor bugbears - the occasional typo or missing word, and the fact that the bees have hair (why?). And the cover of the paperback version seems to depict a human girl with bee wings. I have chosen to perceive the characters rather truer to their intended identity.

This is an exciting story, and may well become one of my top 5 picks for books I have read this year (not ones released this year).

View all my reviews

And here's my interpretation of the bee girls:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fairies of the Dreamdark

Purchased on ebook via Amazon for $7.99 - not cheap, but this is definitely one I would read again and will likely cherish for years to come. I just wish there was a way to share it.

I already own book two.

Blackbringer (Dreamdark #1)Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before she penned the amazing "Daughter of Smoke and Bone", Laini Taylor wrote some other novels - most noteably the Dreamdark books. There are two books in the series so far, and this is the first. The Dreamdark books are populated with faeries - delightful winged people such as you might like to find in your garden. Magpie Windwitch is a particularly fierce faerie. It is her duty to rid the world of devils - djinn that have escaped their bottle and are wrecking havoc. Her latest endeavour brings her up against a devil more terrible than any she has ever seen before - a beast of darkness that does not appear to devour people but to rip them from existence entirely. With the help of her seven crow friends (who add comic value as well) Magpie must destroy this beast before it destroys everything she knows and loves.

The lyrical writing style and evocative descriptions make this a delicious and engrossing read. With fun, somewhat quirky characters and a delightful and well conceptualised setting; I fell in love a little with this book and can hardly wait until I next venture into the Dreamdark. A charming delight to read.

View all my reviews

And this is Snoshti - an adorable little Hedge Imp:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Strong build, but failed to climax

Available here on Amazon for $0.00. Can't beat that price!

The Golden BellThe Golden Bell by Autumn Dawn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really did enjoy this book. Although it is the fourth set in the un-aptly named "Dark Lands", I found myself instantly hooked, and although I did feel rather like there was a little more that I was missing, I was certainly never lost nor confused in the plot.

The characterisation was good. The two main characters - Rain and Fallon, were both well developed. Particularly Rain, with her occasional feral streaks and quick temper. Also, one has got to love a genius engineer. She did seem to fall a bit too easily into Fallon's bed, but that can be forgiven. He was rather sexy, and although you could sense that he wanted to be controlling, he also allowed her freedom and did not pressure her. All good points in a man.

The sex scenes were quite steamy, and well written, and not too prevalent in the plot. Sexual tension was also kept to a relative minimum, allowing more room for the plot to be established.

Now, about the plot... It started strong - Rain being rescued from a Charmer, exiled to the Dark Lands and trying to establish a place for herself amongst the Haunts, as well as uncovering her father's murderer.

That's where it fell down. It almost feels like the author ran out of steam. Like she had a certain word length she wanted to finish it in and didn't wish to exceed this. There was no build - the murderer was unveiled and defeated, without being an apparent threat to Rain or her new way of life. What's more, despite the fact that the evidence was shaky and that Rain took matters into her own hands, there were no serious repurcussions of what she did. No climax, no threat, no tension. Very frustrating - and left me feeling cheated.

On the other hand, I liked the writing style, enjoyed the characters and found the setting intriguing, so I would be interested in reading more by this author - at some point.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Eyes of Sandala by Cathy Benedetto

To celebrate my acquisition of a kindle, and my desire to read and support self-published authors (being one myself), I have decided to rekindle (hehe) this blog to help support these authors. Now - this does not necessarily mean that I will be writing nice things about the books! If they're poorly written, or weak, then I will not lie, but I shall hopefully find a few pearls for anyone seeking something a little bit different.

This particular book is available here on Amazon. Ebook is $4.99.

The Eyes of SandalaThe Eyes of Sandala by Cathy Benedetto

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At first, I somewhat enjoyed this book. It did seem to follow rather traditional plotlines - involving invading armies against the kingdom. Character development, particularly the relationship between Ariann and Tahjeen could have been stronger. As it was, many of the characters came across as somewhat flat and I had trouble remembering who was who and the romance was somewhat unconvincing. A bit more dialogue might have helped. With the male declaring soon after their meeting that they were "destined to be together" it all seemed rather predictable and cliched from there on. There were no surprises, and after the first 60% or so, I started to get bored of it. I set it down. I read another couple of books. I picked it up again. I read a few pages, put it down, and then finally decided I should just finish the jolly thing.

What a waste of time. The ending felt flaky and incomplete, like the author was trying for a cliff-hanger but didn't build up enough to make the reader care. Because the characters were flat and two dimensional, I could barely remember their names, let alone who did what and where. Added into that, was the editting - or lack thereof. I can cope with the occasional spellnig mistake, and the split compound words, whilst odd, was fine. What I did not understand was the lack of line spacing between some of the paragraphs. One minute you'd be reading about the bad guy and what he was thinking/doing, the next it would suddenly shift to the good guys - somewhere else entirely, in the same block of text, this compounded the confusion already garnered by having too many characters and too many names without having enough developed personalities for you to remember who was who. I would suggest that the author takes the time to read through her story at various font sizes in order to pick up on this structural errors.

I liked the concept of the Shala - especially the colour-changing eyes, but the zoologist in me would like to point out that big cats cannot purr.

At $4.99 - a complete waste of money. I'm going to stick to freebies from now on. At least when they suck, I don't have to angst about wasting money on them.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 5, 2011

And another Top Pick for 2011

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Enter the lyrical and haunting world of the Night Circus. It will draw you in, entrance you and wisk you away to a different time and place. With its evocative language, and gently flowing plot, it reminded me rather of "Jonathan Strange" and some of Neil Gaiman's work. The descriptions are lush and vivid, the characters entrancing. It haunted me long after the final page. However, there is a blemish to every jewel and in this one it was the constantly shifting time periods - each chapter would jump back or forward some years, which left me feeling a little disorientated. It was to good purpose though, to aid the ebby and flow of the tale.

View all my reviews

One of my Top Picks for 2011

Daughter of Smoke and BoneDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is beautiful. It is dark and haunting and eloquently written. With an interesting quirk to the traditional demons vs angels. The Angels in this point are terrifying beings with eyes of fire, the "demons", chimerical hybrids. One of the many things I loved about this book is that there is no real good or evil - there are two sides at war - both with reason, and one innocent human girl stuck in the middle. I cannot say much more without giving too much away, but this is a wonderful and engrossing read. I HIGHLY recommend it.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent follow-up to "Name of the Wind" and one that has filled me with the desire for more, more, more! Rothfuss is a skillful writer, he creates a colourful world filled with a diverse range of cultures and with a rather charasmatic hero. Kvothe makes a fine progtagonist - his sharp tongue and impulsive answers make for a lot of rather interesting, if not entire pleassant (for him) situations.

I can't wait to see what comes next, and am especially intrigued by Bast.

View all my reviews

A tasty treat with a bit of an aftertaste

Recipe for LifeRecipe for Life by Nicky Pellegrino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fairly light and flavoursome read, peppered with delicious descriptions. The plot seems rather prolonged - from the cover it looks like it all occurs in one summer - when it really spans more than two decades. Still, it was compelling and appealing, even if it seemed to lack that extra spice.

View all my reviews

Monday, May 2, 2011

Life's not dull for this diminutive librarian!

Aurora Teagarden Series
Charlaine Harris

Genre: Crime/Mystery
Audience: adults, mainly female
Rating: 3.5/5

Despite the popularity of her "Sookie Stackhouse" series, this is the first Charlaine Harris series I have really sunk my teeth into. There's no werewolves, no vampires, no supernatural creatures what-so-ever. What there is instead is a petite (4'11") librarian with big glasses and a penchant for being in the wrong place at the right time. There's a lot of murders in this small, Southern town in America, Lawrencetown. So much in fact that you start to wonder if everyone is either a future murderer or a murder victim in waiting. To be fair on Aurora, quite a time lapses between each book. Interspersed with the murder-solving is Aurora's tumultuous love life, which has some both amusing and tragic moments.

This series started in the 90s with:

Real Murder:
They thought they'd just be meeting to discuss famous murderers of the past. Little did they know that soon they would be involved in the most dramatic series of murders to be seen in Lawrencetown for many a decade...

Bone to Pick:
An inheritance leaves Aurora with more than just money. And we're not talking about the cat...

Three bedrooms, One Corpse:
A house showing gets gruesome when a Realtor turns up dead...

The Julius House:
This mystery might be 30 years in the grave, but when Aurora acquires the old "Julius house", she's determined to unearth the skeletons in its closet.

Dead over heels:
Aurora may never have got on with him, but that doesn't mean she wanted him dropped in her yard... From a great height and very dead.

A Fool and His Honey:
When Aurora's Niece-in-law turns up with a baby and then disappears a short time later, Aurora is left holding the baby and with another mystery on her hands.

Last Scene Alive:
Hollywood comes to Lawrencetown when Robin Crusoe, mystery writer, returns to film his version of "Real Murders" for tv. But the fantasy soon becomes the reality...

Warning: These books are highly addictive! They're short, quick reads, with a few red herrings and a bit of smut. But you might find yourself like me - chasing around libraries to get the next one so that you can read them all in order (I've still a couple to go).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Magician by trade, bastard by disposition

Eagle Rising
David Devearaux

Genre: Crime thriller
Audience: mature, probably more male
Rating: 4/5

You can call him "Jack", it's not his name, but if you knew his name, he'd have to kill you. Jack works for a secret branch of the government - a branch that deals with the supernatural thread. Jack is a magician. But this is not your typical paranormal urban fantasy. This is a crime thriller with a touch of magic. Jack's latest challenge is to infiltrate a neo-nazi society - a society that are about to delve into dark magics. To do this, first he must befriend some of the least likeable people you might ever meet. Jack is a hard man, somewhere deeply buried within him is a conscience, but he is not afraid to do what has to be done to achieve his goals - whether it be killing someone, or worse...

Not for the faint of heart, and not for those of you that like to sink your teeth into a nice paranormal romance. This book is as far from romance as you can go. It's bleak, it's grim and it will make you cringe and maybe even think about stopping reading. But you won't. Because for all that you will grow to hate him, just a little, Jack's story is just too darned engrossing.

And here's my review in brief of its predecessor:

Hunter's Moon
"Jack" is a magician, working for the government. He's also not the sort of person you'd want as a friend - and even less as an enemy. He may not be proud of his methods, but he's prepared to do what it requires to complete his mission. This book is like a dark cousin to Jim Butcher, Jack lacks in morals and subtlety and the whole set-up is just more brutal and dark. From disturbing sex-scenes to even more disturbing inquisition tactics, this is not a tale for you paranormal romance readers!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Books in Brief

Aurora Teagarden Mysteries Omnibus 1-4
Charlaine Harris
Fun detective/mystery novels with some rather brutal moments. Aurora Teagarden is a diminutive librarian living in a small town, who finds herself involved - sometimes rather indirectly in varoius murders around town, and invariably gets involved.

Robin Hobb
A worthy follow-up to "Dragonkeeper", this instalment further develops the characters and advances the plot.

The Project
Brian Falkner
A fast-paced teenage action novel set in a small town in the US. Two boys uncover the most boring book in teh world, which hides a deadly secret amongst its droll prose and find themselves in a great deal of trouble.

Lauren Kate
Better than I had expected - but I wasn't expecting much. This is another paranormal romance aimed at teenages, but this time it is set in a school for children that are not-quite-right. Creepy and over-the-top weird, I found the school mostly unbelieavable, but interesting never-the-less. One gets the feeling from these sort of books that teenage girls are romantically inclined towards boys that seem to hate them, and are dark, mysterious and most of all - dangerous. The nice, sweet ones never get a look in.

Year of the Griffin
Diana Wynne Jones
A magical school book as written by the Diana Wynne Jones. Her stories are fun, fast-paced and filled with unexpected twists and turns. I re-read this slim novel to commemerate her passing on the 26th March from cancer.

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
What a delight! This charming book is written as a series of letters between an English reporter, Juliet Ashton and a Guernsey Farmer, Dawsey Adams. What transpires is friendship, mystery and ... oh, just read it!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sibling Rivalry

Sharon Osborne

Rating: 4/5

She's an intelligent and determined woman, but not only that, Sharon Osborne can actually write. This book is good! It's filled with the gritty, dark side of show business, of pushing your children to become the person you failed to become yourself, of allowing dreams to overwelm reality. It has the dark, British humour of Ben Elton intermingled with the more scandalous manipulation of many popular female authors (although not the sort I normally read). You grow to alternatively love and hate the characters, or possibly just want to give them a slap and tell them to "get over themselves". In short, Osborne writes a convincing, compelling story about sibling rivalry and fame.

Amber and Chelsea Stone are sisters, but could not be more unalike. Chelsea is quick-tempered, impulsive and reckless, whereas Amber is the lovely, sweet "girl next door". Both are famous. But in the world of show-business, only one can truly be the star.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A bit of Monkey Busines.

Plum Spooky
Janet Evanovich
Stephanie Plum "Between the Numbers" book

Genre: Chicklit/humour/crime
Audience: Women
Rating: 3/5

There's always a time when one needs something light and fun to read, and it was certainly the case when I picked this book up. And I rather enjoyed it. Nothing like a face-paced crime/comedy with a hearty dose of tongue-in-cheek humour, feisty women and sexy men to distract one from the drama of real life. And there are monkeys. Lots of monkeys. The ending was a bit of a letdown, but I believe this was just what the doctor ordered.

Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter extraordinaire has her work cut out for her once again in this spooky case. Not only has she had a smart-arse monkey foisted upon her, but the rather hot and quite mysterious Diseal is back and seems to want to sleep in her bed. And her latest FTA is a short computer geek with relationship issues who has fallen into league with her most frightening opponent yet. Not to forget the Easter Bunny (retired), sasquatch and what's the deal with the Jersey Devil?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Do you oil your war machines or do you feed them?

Scott Westerfield

Genre: Steampunk/alternate history/fantasy
Audience: Ages 10+
Rating 4.5/5

If you've enjoyed Phuilip Reeve, you will delighted to read this similar-feeling but completely different novel by Scott Westerfield. Filled with quirky delights, strange beasties and a delightful cast of characters, it is easy to pick up and hard to put down.

The year is 1914, and Europe is on the verge of war. On one side we have the Darwinists - the English people, with their genetically-manipulated-and-modified monsters (they're alive and freaky-awesome) - on the other side, Germany with its mighty metal war machines. Caught in the middle we have Aleck, a young royal on the run for his life, and Deryn, a girl who has masqueraded as a boy in order to enter the air force. With a secret mission and a mystery cargo and with danger assailing them from all sides - one can but hold their breath and eagerly await learning what happens next.

Make sure you check out the Book Trailer linked above, it a really good one.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A case for Bigamy?

The Wives of Henry Oades
Johanna Moran

Genre: Historical
Audience: Adults
Rating: 3/5

Based on a true case, this is the story of Henry Oades, who accidentally ended up commiting bigamy. At times funny, others heart-breaking it will in turn intrigue you, hearten you and occasionally frustrate you (some of the people are so close-minded). It is a well written, not overly well researched first-time novel from a New Zealand writer.

Why do I say not well researched? Well, Henry Oades earns the post in New Zealand when his predecessor dies from a bat bite. Now, rabies has never been recorded in New Zealand and our bats are rare and not prone to biting. So I was a little annoyed at this from the onset. However, I did not allow this to put me off reading, and I am glad I persevered.

After earning the post in New Zealand, Henry Oades brings over his wife and his two children. They settle in, more-or-less to this rough and ready lifestyle, so unlike that which they had experienced in England. Although unhappy, Margaret Oades knows it is only for a short time, a year or so. Then disaster strikes - and she and her children are captured by Maori and whisked away as slaves.

Henry Oades returns to find his family gone, his house burned. His searches end in failure and after a time, he resigns them as dead and in his grief, he leaves for America. Wherein he marries again, this time to a young widow.

But Margaret and the children are not dead, and when they escape they manage to trail him to America. Wherein he is faced with a terrible dilemma for he now has two wives and only recently was a confirmed bigamist hanged...

Avian flu in Otago

The Peco Incident
Des Hunt

Genre: adventure
Audience: boys 10+
Rating: 3.5/5

I always enjoy the works of Des Hunt, and this is his latest offering. This slim novel is set on the Otago Peninsula, near the tiny township of Portobello. It is the story of Danny, a young boy, who lives on the peninsula and takes an avid interest in its wildlife. When his cousin comes to stay, things turn topsy-turvy for a while. Nick is hyperactive and impulsive, everything the more sensible and sensitive Danny is not. And then there's the dead birds that are turning up everywhere. Is someone poisoning them? Or is it something more sinister? Then death and disease strike the Peco Chicken Factory, could Danny's beloved albatross and penguins be the next victims?

Like all his books, this deals with a range of elements all relevant to the pre-teen boys of today. With a fast-paced plot, exciting climax, elements of science and a charming parakeet called Harriet, this is another one-sit-reading.

The Fae in England

61 Nails
Mike Shevdon

Urban Fantasy

Compared favourably to"Neverwhere", I picked up this novel some time ago, and have finally gotten around to reading it. It is an appealing urban fantasy, with similar characterisation to Gaiman's work - the rather befuddled man whose life is turned upside down when he realises that the world is rather different, and less safe, than he had imagined. In this case, after a rather rough day, Niall has a heart attack and is saved by a mysterious elderly lady. Calling herself "Blackbird" she then reveals to him that an ancient darkness is about to rise and engulf the world and he is the unlikely saviour. Fast paced, quite entertaining and a little bit different, this makes for an enjoyable read.

Will be followed by a sequel.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dragons are not romantic

Robin Hobb
Rain Wild volume 1

Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Adults
Rating 4/5

This is the fourth trilogy set in the Farseer World and acts as a follow-up to "Liveship Traders" although with references to the events of the "Tawny Man" trilogy. However, we are introduced to an entirely new cast of characters. These range from Thymara, a somewhat disfigured Rainwilds' girl, to Alise, a scholarly woman devoted to the study of dragons. As before, Hobb's paints her characters in a colourful manner, giving them traits that makes you both love and hate some of them. She sets up a compelling storyline, with an interesting setting and then leaves you anxious for the next instalment.

The serpents that cocooned at the end of the Liveship Traders have hatched, but the dragon hatchlings are not as expected. Stunted and deficient, it falls upon the Rainwilds Council to provide for them. As the dragons grow, so too does their disatisfaction - intelligent beings trapped in bodies that they know are not as they should be. A more suitable home is needed for them, and in their collective memory is the name of such a place - Kelsingra. With a misfit band of Rainwild adolescents as their keepers, the dragons set out to discover this ancient city - which may be little more than a myth.

Romance through a Druid's Eyes

Seer of Sevenwaters
Juliet Marillier
Sevenwaters series, bk 5

Genre: Historic/Fantasy/Romance
Audience: Women
Rating: 4/5

Another beautifully written, engrossing historical dark romance. Marillier weaves a fine historic tale with a strong folklore theme to it. She creates strong characters that you can relate to and an intriguing plot.

This novel continues with the daughters of Sean and Aisling, but this time the heroine is Sibeal - the quiet, sensible, spiritual one. She has been sent to Inis Eala to spend time with her older sisters, Muirrin and Clodagh before committing fully to the Druidhood. For those who have read "Heir...", it is good to find out how Clodagh and Cathal have fared. But at the same time as Sibeal arrives, a ship wrecks itself off the shore. Only two survivors are found - a Nordic warrior and his mute, mysterious wife. That is until Sibeal discovers the third survivor. A young, storm-battered, half-drowned man with no memory of his past. Together they uncover a mysterious that could harm them all.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A culinary novel from a demented mind

The Alchemaster's Apprentice
Walter Moers

Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Cross-over-suitable teens and adults
Rating: 5/5

One cannot help but love the demented imagination of German author, Walter Moers. This book is a delicious delight. It is the story of Echo - the last Crat in Malaisea (the city where everyone is ill). What is a Crat? Well, it's a lot like a cat except that he can talk and has two livers. Echo's kind mistress has died and he is now alone in the world - and slowly starving and freezing to death. When the fearful Alchemaster, Ghoolian, discovers him, he has not the strength to run away but instead the two make a deal. Ghoolian requires the Crat's fat for his dastardly plans of immortality - and as an extra month of life and a hearty diet is favourable to the slow, cold death he is currently experiencing, Echo agrees. Now as a guest for the Alchemaster, Echo is treated lavishly and fed man delectable treats - all described in mouth-watering (and occasionally eye-watering) detail. But never fear: at no time does this book drag on or get boring! Some of the meals cause surprising insights and slowly Echo hatches a plan for his ongoing survival. Meanwhile, he has much to learn from the Alchemaster, for the more learned the creature, the more improved its fat will be. He makes some surprising allies and meets some strange beasties and all in all, this is a whimsical, fantastical tale of the highest order.

If you enjoy books that are quirky and weird, with random passages of philosophy and science, crazy characters and demented plots - Moers might well be the author for you.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The next big thing? Not likely.

The Emerald Atlas
John Stevens

Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Childrens 10+
Rating: 3/5

This book, the first in a trilogy, gained a lot of exposure at the Bologna Children's Book Fair. And understandably, there are high hopes for it. In truth, the novel is not exceptional. Described as having a fantastical, Narnia-like setting, I felt it rather lacked the enchantment of Narnia. Indeed, the whole plot plodded along at a reasonable pace, with few surprises. Possibly it is the inclusion of a Prophecy which made me balk from the start. Prophecy, evil "queen", kidnapped children. Nothing particularly amazing.

Kate, Michael and Emma have grown up in a succession of Orphanages, after being abandoned by their parents - parents only Kate - the eldest, can remember. Considered difficult to foster, they finally find themselves in an old, mysterious mansion in a small town. A town with a secret. After they discover a strange book, hidden in a secret room, they are catapulted into the past and into a struggle for their life - and the survival of the town's children is at stake.

There is humour, and the characters are well developed, but overall it failed to live up to expectations.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Lost Gate
Orson Scott Card
Mithermages series, book 1

Genre: fantasy
Audience: teens + adults
Rating: 4/5

Orson Scott Card weaves an involved and intriguing fantasy world into our own. Our hero is Daniel North, a young man living in what is more or less a commune - but a community where all the inhabitants have magical abilities and are descended from the Nordic Gods. Alas, poor Daniel has not displayed any talents of his own and it is feared that he is a Dreeka - one without magic and little bit than the non-magical humans (called Drowder). However, when Danny's talent actually DOES reveal itself, it puts him in even more danger. For Danny is a Gate Mage - the most despited and rarest of the mages. Loki, the trickster, doomed all with Gate Mage abilities when he destroyed all the gates. Forced to flee from his home, Danny must live on his wits and abilities. Entwined with this is the story of Wad, a young man freed after years of capture and flung into the complicated world of court politics. How do these two rather different stories weave together? You'll have to read it and see.

Card writes well-developed, and distinct characters - and that combined with the interesting world will engulf you in its pages until the very end.
Lesley Pearce

Genre: romance/historical
Audience: women
Rating: 3.5/5

Lesley Pearce is one of the best selling female writers in the WORLD. I am not sure why, because her writing style is weak compared to Belinda Alexandra and Kate Morton, but I guess she has been around longer. Still, she writes an engaging heroine and an interesting story. One of my customers described her writing as "dull" and it did not take me long to realise why. She writes like Danielle Steel. Her text is filled with "she felt sad at the treatment of the poor children" and other such text that is what they call "tell" not "show". Also, her language came across as quite immature, like she was writing to a child (although the content is certainly intended for an adult). Belle however was an interesting character, making many foolish mistakes due to her impulsive behaviour and lack of foresight. Of course, she was also the victim of terrible circumstances and some very bad men. But there were good men too, and good women and several shades of grey between the two. And a lot of sex. Some of it horrific, some of it rather less so.

Belle is the daughter of a brothel-keeper, but despite this she has been raised to be an innocent, good girl. She can read, and has a strong mind and will. But her sweet life turns to tragedy when she bears witness to a brutal murder. Shortly after she is abducted and introduced to the very trade her mother has carefully kept her away from - prostitution. But not one to take her fate lying down, Belle retains a confidence and spirit that is as admirable as it is bittersweet. Events take her to France, New York and also New Orleans and along the way she touches the hearts of many. But will she ever return to her beloved England? And if so, will she still be the same Belle she once was?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reflections on Mirrorworld

Cornelia Funke

Genre: fantasy
Audience: Ages 12+ (with some mature concepts)
Rating: 2.5/5

I love Cornelia Funke. The Inkheart trilogy ranks up there in my "favourites". However, I did not love this book. I should have - it had all the elements of something I would enjoy - fairytale references, dark fantasy, a mirror reflected into ours. A curse. What it suffered from was poor plotting and poor writing. Is this how Funke's work usually is? Or is it the fault of the Translator (Not Anthea Bell, as her previous novels had been)? Who knows? Whatever it was, this felt like only half a book. It started introducing Jacob, one of the Protagonists to the Mirrorworld - a faerie tale world through the looking glass. It then jumped 12 years into the future when Jacob had been visiting on a regular basis, only to have his younger brother follow him and subsequently be cursed by a dark fairy to turn into one of the stone people, the Goyl. Constant inferences were made to events and adventures Jacob had participated in the past, but the present was a choppy shambles of unfinished sentences. I found my attention - and thus my comprehension - wandering throughout and forced myself to re-read several pages.

Another thing of note - although I found this in the "children's" section it is not really a children's book. Will and Jacob are adults, Jacob engages in several (albeit quite subtle) sexual encounters in the book. However, the writing style is too simple to be an adult's book. So I'm going to classify it as Young Adult, although that doesn't feel quite right either...

Cornelia, you've let me down.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Midnight Witchery

I shall Wear Midnight
Terry Pratchett
Book 4, Tiffany Aching

Genre: fantasy
Audience: Ages 12+ (with a few swearwords and mature concepts)
Rating: 5/5

If any author deserved a Knighthood, it is most certainly Sir Terry Pratchett. This book was his offering for 2011 and is a splendid "cross-over" novel - which means to say it should appeal to young and old alike. The indomitable Terry Pratchett spirit is alive and well here - with a sprinkling of puns, delightful use of language, parody and humour. Tiffany is back in full spirit in what is the last of her adventures (at least to be cast in print). With any luck we shall see her make an appearance in some later novels. Speaking of making an appearance, there's a few faces here that will be familiar to faithful readers - and I'm not talking about the irrepresible Nanny Ogg!

Tiffany has now earned her pointed hat and is the Witch of the Chalk. This is not a job to be taken lightly, with too many sleepless nights taking their toll. And something is stirring. Something dark and ancient. Something that witches, throughout the centuries, have learnt to fear. Suddenly it seems that the world is turning against witches and Tiffany must face the danger - but she's not alone. She's got her faithful Nac Mac Feegle friends to watch her back - and, as usual, they're spoiling for a fight.

Good stuff indeed!

Here's my review of book #2 - written in 2005, as you can see, I was trying to be a wee bit clever...

Hat Full of Sky
(sequel to "Wee Free Men")

Ach crivens! Tiffany Aching, the big wee hag has returned. Two years hae passed since she beat the scuggan fairie queen wi' nothin' more then her fryin' pan an' 'er wits. Now she's got somethin' more to contend with. She's off ter start her 'prenticeship wi' the peculiar hag Miss Level, and ter meet some other big wee hags her own age. But there's an eldritch beastie out ter get 'er. But it's a beastie ye cannae hit, one that gets inside ye head and takes o'er ye body an' ye mind. Luckily, she's got the Nac Mac Feegle Big Man, Rob Anybody, an' 'is pack of willin' volunteers ter 'elp her, aye?

Another fine offering from Terry Pratchett, whose children's books not only teach the reader some new words (thanks to Tiffany and her dictionary reading habits) but he does not write down to his audience although he's not as harsh on his characters as Eoin Colfer. A good, and very fun read with some serious moments and a good gutsy heroine. A delightful read for young an' old alike.

And ye cannae forget the Nac Mac Feegle, the wee red-haired pictsies what were thrown out of Fairyland fer being pished* all the time.

* According to the glossary of commonly used Feegle words, pished translates as "tired".

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Bounty Hunter, Stephanie Plum

The "Stephanie Plum" series is an excellent blend of chick-lit and crime novel. Highly addictive, they are also best read in singles or pairs as I suspect reading three or more in a row would dampen the enjoyment. And thus I began reading this series in 2005 and really had to dig deep to track down my original reviews. After some seeking I finally managed to unearth my 2003-2005 book reviews website - which I updated religiously for two years or so, before I got bored with it. With any luck, this blog will last longer. And maybe earn more readers?

Having discovered one of my friends owns all the books, I have been borrowing them off her in steady increments. And pacing myself.

High Five
Janet Evanovich

Genre: Chick-lit/Crime
Audience: Women with a good sense of humour
Rating: 4/5

Our favourite sassy bounty hunter is back - and once again - she's broke. Her only job - a bad-tempered computer nerd who's jumped bail on a concealed weapon charge. But no Stephanie Plum tale can be so ordinary. Before we know it, she's hunting for an old man that may have been kidnapped by aliens; a psychotic murderer is on parole and on her tail; she's got a midget hiding in her closet; an Italian watching her every move and she's forced to take work from the mysterious Ranger, who has ethics of his own. And to top it all off, there's Joe Morelli as well, still pursuing her with determination (and lust) in his eyes...

My reviews of the earlier titles:

One for the Money
A very quick and easy read, with enough light-hearted comedy intermingled with action, violence and some frankly quite frightening scenes to keep you on your toes and turning the pages.

Stephanie Plum is down on her luck - she's lost her job, sold off half her stuff and not only that, she has to face a meal with her dinner-at-six parents. It is then that they suggest she takes up working with cousin Vinnie, a "debt collector" of a different kind - he brings in felons that have failed to appear in court. Thrown into the job as a bounty hunter, Stephanie is given the mission to bring in one Joe Morelli, a former ex-cop wanted for murder. He just also happens to be the irresistable macho pig that took her virginity and then wrote the details on the bathroom wall of Mario's Sub Shop. Not only that, but there's also the problem of the heavyweight stalker...

Looks like Stephanie really has her work cut out for her - especially since she doesn't even know how to load her gun.

Two for the Dough
The return of Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter not-so-extraordinare with her usual flare of luck and with a new felon to catch, and a very nasty one. And to make things worse, he's cousin to that charming bastard, Joe Moreilli. He's also a twisted sadist and when pieces of embalmed bodies start showing up, Stephanie can only hope she hasn't gone one case too far.

More light-hearted fun and crime from Evanovich, a good and easy read for a rainy day. I think, however, I might wait a few months afore delving back into the world of Stephanie Plum.

Three to get Deadly
Another fun, fast-paced crime novel with a feisty heroine, sexy men, exploding cars, wise-as-ex-prostitutes and an all round crazy plot. Great fun for a quick, relaxing read.

Four to Score
An entertaining aeroplane read. Enjoyable, as always with some nifty sex scenes. If you like that kinda thing. It's classic Evanovich - she's one of those tongue-in-cheek (and in some cases, hand-on-cheek) with bitchin' heroines, sexy, mysterious men, a rollicking mystery that seems to tie in three different threads. Sassy and fun, with a bit of excitement for good measure.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Life as a Dog

Eva Hornung

Genre: Contemporary/Literary
Audience: Mature audiences (adults)
Rating: 5/5

This is easily the most disturbing, yet oddly beautiful book I have read this year. It is dark and bleak, but portrayed in a way that seems almost natural. The life of feral child, Romochka is frightening and heart-rendering. The way he is treated by his own species, frankly terrifying. It is a compelling and quite intense read.

Romochka is only four years old when his mother abandons him. Alone and hungry, he wanders from home and follows a nursing bitch back to her den. The gentle dog adopts him as one of her puppies and from then Romochka grows up with the dogs. His life is a harsh one - a struggle to survive through the terrible Rusisan winters, and as he grows older, he learns to mingle with two worlds - the human world and the dog. He is a bright, resilient boy and one cannot help but admire what he survives.

Highly recommended.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Chris Wooding
Malice series bk 2

Genre: steam/cyberpunk/modern day
Audience: Ages 10+ (although probably more geared at teen)
Rating: 4/5

I thoroughly enjoyed this second half of the "Malice" duology*. Wooding has stepped away from the somewhat Japanese/anime feel of his earlier books and into a league of his own. Well, maybe not quite a league of his own - it's one he shares with China Mieville. A world of dark technology, strange devices, creepy, mysterious villains and a pervading feeling of ultimate doom. Tension and intrigued are maintained throughout this novel, where text is interspersed with graphic novel scenes.

"Malice" starts with a comic book. But not one you can buy off a shelf. No, the "Malice" comic book is often talked about but rarely found. Copies of it are difficult to find, and can lead to more trouble than they are worth. Within the pages of these books is a dark character, known as Tall Jake. There is a ritual to contact him - to call for this mysterious man to come and take you away. And if you follow it - be it in jest or be it with real intent, Jake will listen. And he will come for you. Sometimes he might make you wait a week or a year, but after performing the ritual, you will know that you are living on borrowed time. For the adventures featured in the comic book are not stories. They are the truth, and if you are really (un)lucky, you might earn yourself a starring role...

If you like dark, creepy dystopic worlds where kids rule the roost, then this is the book for you. But be warned - it is not advisable to read it after dark. Unless you want to have really wicked dreams. Or no sleep at all.

And here were my views on:

A nicely creepy, dark cyber-fantasy for young adults. Although it got off to a somewhat shakey start, it quickly picked up the past and dragged me into the dingy, almost steampunk world of Malice. Intermingling with comic book pages is a clever idea, however, some parts proved a little difficult to read (I work better with words than pictures). As it did not really build to much in the way of a climax, it left me feeling faintly unfulfiled, but eager for the next instalment, "Havoc". Intriguing and original ideas.

* It's in two parts cos it was too long for one book. Wooding says so himself. That explains the rather abrupt ending I made note of above.

OOOOOH , there's gonna be a MOVIE! I hope they don't make a trainwreck of it. I bet it will be in 3d...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Immortal Nicholas Flamel

The Necromancer
Michael Scott
The Secrets of the Immortal, Nicholas Flamel, bk 4

Genre: Fantasy/modern day
Audience: Ages 10+
Rating: 4/5

Things are really starting to build up. And like the characters, the reader no longer knows who to trust. The Dark Elders look set to overwelm the world, but John Dee is no longer in their good books. Machiavelli has sided with a famous outlaw and Scathach and Joan of Arc remain trapped in the past. The twins are reunited with the Flamel's - but for how long?

Don't expect a conclusive ending - there's two more books to come - DO expect, lots of adventure, surprises, twists and a few new characters. One of the things I enjoy about this series is googling the name of the new characters - because aside from Sophie and Josh, they're all from history, folklore or such-like. Try it and see, you might be surprised!

The Sorceress

Michael Scott
The Secrets of the Immortal, Nicholas Flamel, bk 3

Genre: Fantasy/modern day
Audience: Ages 10+
Rating: 4/5

I like the way Scott is going with this series. The characters are chosen from history, folklore and legend and the plot is intriguing. The modern-day touch gives it the edge that appeals to the youth of today too. This third one follows two seperate threads of plot - that of Nicholas and the twins as they struggle to come to terms with the changes that are undertaking them (and the world) and Perenelle Flamel, as she is trapped on Alcatraz. The character of Perenelle is further developed. With a good mix of action, adventure and mythological monsters thrown into the mix, this should appeal to fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.

Not much I can say about the plot, without giving too much away (this is the third in the series) but this series follows the adventures of Sophie and Josh Newman - two teenage twins who are working summer jobs in a small American town when everything turns haywire. Suddenly they are thrust into a world where monsters stalk the earth, stone can be animated into life and Dr John Dee, a legend come to life, is after them.

Here's what I wrote about book 1 (I never reviewed book 2, possibly because WeRead, the Facebook app I was using was particualrly buggy at the time):

The Alchemyst
Very readable and quite enjoyable. This adventure/fantasy novel combines mythology and the modern day. Whilst nothing remarkable, it's compelling enough (and open-ending enough) to entice me to read on.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

City of Disappointing Writing

Stravaganza: City of Ships
Mary Hoffman
(bk 5, Stavaganza series)

Genre: Historic/Adventure
Audience: Young Adult (12+)
Rating: 3/5

Maybe I've just become more critical of writing, or maybe the style is genuinely slipping, but I found myself picking many holes in this book. The main character, Isabel, is better developed than Matt in the previous volume, and I think Hoffman has learnt from her previous one. The other Stravagantes are kept in the shadows - almost too much - they are undeveloped to the point of if you hadn't read the previous books, you'd be wondering what all these pointless background characters were doing in the story. Of course, you'd also probably be quite confused about the whole Stavagation thing. Her relationship with Charlie is interesting, but the section concerning 1580s England seemed like a rather odd side-track - it had no real relevance to the plot and seemed to contridict what we'd already learned - that they were all linked to an alternate-Italy. If anything, I think the character of Sky should have been further developed, because the whole romance-side-plot was exceedingly weak.

Anyway, enough nitpicking.

"City of Ships" is a decent enough yarn. It's about a 21st century girl, Isabel, who lives in the shadow of her twin brother, Charlie. She discovers her talisman, which transports her into the world of Talia - a bit like our 18th century Italy. Here she visits the city of Classe, a city under threat by the dreaded "Gate" people (I'm not sure where they're from, they're not linked to the di Chimici family, anyhow). With the help of a dashing pirate , the equally charming Lucien and a cast of everyone-from-the-former books, Isabel must help defend the city against this threat. Oh, and there's lots of di Chimici and Belezza politics in there too, that would be really confusing for those of you that haven't read the earlier books.

In conclusion:
Hoffman should really concentrate on developing the characters she's already got, instead of creating more. The earlier ones - Georgia, Nick and Lucien were interesting, the later ones might be interesting too, but I don't really feel I know them. Also, she has an unfortunate habit of "cutting" away from exciting scenes and jumping to the present day when Isabel is telling her Stavagante friends about what happened next. I did enjoy the effect of being a Stravagante on regular social relationships too.

Things I would like to see in Book Six - City of Swords
* More of Andrea
Yeh, that's about it, really. I liked the dashing pirate/rogue. Even if he was very much a cliche - and a little but Captain Sparrow, he did give the book a bit of flair.

I need to go back to re-read the earlier books and see if the same flaws are apparent there. Meanwhile, here's the short review I wrote for the "City of Secrets", book number four.

City of Secrets
Whilst I enjoyed this as I was reading it, I found myself quite disappointed. It just seemed rather clumsy compared to its predecessors. Whilst Matt was an interesting character, he did not really add anything to the plot - Luciano was really the star of the show. And although it was nice to see the old faces show up, it lead the story to feel quite fragmented and clumsy with many ends left frayed and hanging.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cute animal stories for children

Donna Jo Napoli is well renowned for her delightful children's books, including her own versions of popular fairy tales. Writing across the whole spctrum from age zero to teenages, it is her animal stories that have currently enchanted me.

Both of the two I have read recently have been based on fairy tales, and both have provided me with inspiration for my own animal chapter books. I shall review them both here:

Mogo, the Third Warthog
An adorable story about a little warthog growing up. I loved the portrayal of this ugly, yet endearing pigs and Mogo's accounts of his adventures in the African savannah. Written in first person narrative, this felt a little odd at first - but I found it quite enjoyable. It helped me relate better to the character, and his trials and triumphs. A goodly amount of facts were thrown into the mix, scattered higgledy-piggledy in a way which educates the reader almost without their knowledge. There is a fair amount of action as well, and she does not shy away from darker issues, like death. Whilst something of a retelling of "Three Little Pigs" this is more the story about survival and spirit. Gotta love the Wild Dog being cast as the Big Bad Wolf!

Another delightful story, also told in first person narrative. This one is set in Australia, and contains themes of friendship, family and also spirit. Ugly is the last duckling to hatch in Mama duck's brood, and much larger (and uglier) than his siblings. His behaviour also provides something of a conundrum. Ducks do not trust strangeness, and Ugly and his family quickly find themselves being bullied by the other ducks in Dove Pond. A pacifist by nature, Mama Duck realises that there is no way around it - Ugly must use his brains and survive on his own. But once it is him against the world, Ugly quickly learns that he's not as smart as Mama has lead him to believe. The world is a dangerous place, and a friend is what one needs to get by. He makes many new friends on his quest for his identity - a competitive wallaby; a sweet, loveable wombat; two bawdy geese and a feisty possum, before he finally realises what family and friendship truly are. Enchanting.

These books are both well suited for the 8-10 age group. But because of the inclusion of death in both books - albeit briefly - parents are also encouraged to read them. So they can discuss it with their children. And because they're good ^^

Magic Strikes, Burns, Bleeds and Bites

Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews

I have just completed the fourth book in this series, and it is truly growing on me. It took me a while to warm to it - the first book contained a few too many out-of-this-world ideas and concepts for me to immediately grasp. But now I am thoroughly hooked.

Imagine a future where magic strikes - randomly and in force, and technology fails. Imagine a world where industry has crumbled, where skyscrapers lay in fallen ruins and city suburbs are twisted labyrinths into other dimensions. This is the somewhat bleak future that Ilona Andrews (a husband and wife writing team) have conceptualised.

It is a world populated by humans, and creatures far strangers. Foul, anthropied vampires that stalk the streets, piloted by hidden masters. Werebeasts of every imaginable shape and size exist - bears, wolves, rats, hyena (my favourite) and many others besides. Where the Knights of the Order strive to keep order over gods and monsters.

Kate Daniels is not a god, nor is she a monster, at least not in body. She's a human, a human with a dark secret and a personal vendetta against the forces of darkness, particularly those that threaten her nearest and dearest. Through this series of books she undergoes various challenges and faces dire threats. With a healthy dose of bitter humour. And yes, there's a bit of smut too.

It takes a bit of getting used to, and a while to get to know and love this rather bleak world, but once you do, you will become as addicted as I.

Individual summaries of the volumes to date:

1. Magic Bites
A brave start for an intriguing series. This novel takes the popular trend of vampires and werewolves, magic and monsters, to a slightly different level. Andrews world is a complicated one, and it takes a bit of getting used to, but their characterisation is engaging and one cannot help but be drawn in. This novel starts with a violent death - that of Kate's mentor and guardian. And she is next on the list. Can she find the killer before all hell breaks loose?

2. Magic Burns
Something a wee bit different whilst still being in the urban paranormal vein. Vampires are truly foul. Andrews has added a few unique twists into a tired genre and come up with something that is engaging and interesting and makes for a fun read (with a few rather tense moments). After stumbling upon a set of stolen maps and accidentally "adopting" a pre-adolescent girl, Kate finds herself caught up in a war between two gods, both set on the same goal - to manifest, rule and conquer...

3. Magic Strikes

The more I read of this story, the more I like it. I am now getting some awesome mental imagery of the post-magic Atlanta, with ruined skyscrapers and strange mythological monsters roaming the streets. The humour is great, the shapeshifters (especially the Bouda and Curran) awesome and it is plain that Ilona Andrews has developed their world very well. I can't wait to learn more! When Kate's friend Derek is found in a near death and exceedingly bad state, she vows to stop at nothing at tracking down the perpetrators. Her investigations lead her to the Midnight Games - a deadly arena in which opponents fight to the death.

4. Magic Bleeds

Just finished this one and I cannot deny it. I am hooked. Character development is furthered in this instalment, and more of Kate's history revealed. I am starting to really grow fond of Andrea and Raphael, as well. I can't help it - I love the Bouda. There's something about their attitudes. You also learn rather more (perhaps than you wanted to know) of shapeshifter lore and customs. There's an Iron Mary on the loose - a strange, hooded figure that spreads fear, disease and death wherever it steps. And it appears that Kate may be the only one with the resources, the courage and the dedication to track down the plague-bearer before it's too late.

I love Grendel! Every book needs an Attack Poodle.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Around the world, hunting for clues

39 Clues series by assorted authors
This list will be updated as I read the final volumes.

#1 Maze of Bones
Rick Riordan
After their parents die in a tragic house fire, Amy and Dan Cahill are raised by a nasty aunt. But they have visits with their grandmother, Grace to look forward to. Shortly after her death from cancer, Grace's Will is read and a challenge issued to the most competitive (and dangerous) family of all time. Take one million dollars, or join the quest to uncover the 39 Clues and become the Most Powerful Person in the World. Amy and Dan accept the challenge and thus begins an exciting (and potentially deadly) around-the-world scavenger hunt. Some of the major plot points and twists seem a little too obvious to an experienced reader like me, and the plot is ridiculously far-fetched. Overall, however, it's exciting, the characters are interesting (although a bit on the cliched side) and the pace is frantic and highly addictive. Which leaves me eager for more. I can see why the kids are gobbling these up. The series is accompanied by a website, trading cards and the opportunity for the reader to join in the adventures and thus hunt for him or herself. It has a wide appeal.

I listened to volumes 1-6 on audio book, which I highly recommend.

#2 One False Note
Gordon Korman
In this instalment of the "around-the-world" treasure hunt we have crazy boat chases, a cat on a hunger strike, secret headquarters beneath a music store and many other things beside. As our heroes find themselves in Venice. The writer has a love of the word "astern" and graces us with it at least 6 times in as many minutes, and also overuses the cliches, but overall an exciting adventure leaving me hungry for more.

#3 Sword Thief
Peter Lerangis
Another fun, fast paced instalment in this series, this time our heroes find their way to Japan and have a run-in with more of the extended family. The implied delationship/romance seemed contrived but the plot contained a few surprises and a goodly amount of excitement. A fun series for adventurous kids.

#4 Beyond the Grave
Jude Watson
Not bad, another fast-paced plot and a bit of Cahill-reminiscing sweetness. Despite these all being written by different authors, I'm not finding too much difference in writing style. Although some make Dan more obnoxious than others! In this volume our heroes venture into Egypt in an effort to uncover the Cahill family secret.

#5 The Black Circle

Patrick Carman
This one is most noted as being the one when a main character dies. Which one? You'll have to read and see. In this volume, our heroes are starting to doubt their Au Pair, Nelly, and when a clue leads them to the airport and hands them tickets to Russia and fake passports, they leap at the chance to branch out on their own.

#6 In Too Deep
Jude Watson
Not one of the best in the series. In this chapter of their adventures, Dan and Amy make their way to Australia. Here, Watson has some fun with Aussie slang and throws a few cliches around before whisking our heroes off to the opal mines and away to the Philippines. Everything flows a little too smoothly and is a bit too predictable. Still, lots of fun.

#7 The Viper's Nest
Peter Lerangis
This is the first of this series that I have actually physically read (the others on audio book). And even though they're as addictive as caffeine, they're not exactly "well written" or even close. In this instalment the quest for the clues leads Dan and... Amy to Pretoria, South Africa and eventually concludes with them arriving at their Grandmother's house in Madagascar (complete with absolutely no description of this amazing country, which left me feeling very let down) where finally you learn their family identity. Those of you that hadn't had it all figured out from book 1 that is. Predictable, cheesy and very, very addictive.

#8 The Emperor's Code
Gordon Kormon
Gordon strikes me as one of the stronger writers in this series. I certainly enjoyed this instalment, which takes our Cahill heroes first to China, then divides the two up for the first time in the series. Fast paced and intriguing, it relies a lot on coincidence, but that's too be expected. Certainly some tense moments here, and a hidden message in the text too (although not well hidden) which makes for some added fun. Makes you wonder where the series is going and who the Madrigals REALLY are...

#9 Storn Warning
Linda Sue Park
I believe this is the best instalment in this series so far. The thrills and surprises never stop (some of those us more experienced readers guessed back in book 2 are finally revealed) and the tension builds well. There is some heartbreak in here as well, and Linda Sue Park just proves to be a strong writer with a good grasp on the characters. Roll on book #10 and the childrens' biggest challenge yet!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Angels on Earth

Alexandra Adornetto

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Romance
Audience: Young Adult (12+)
Rating: 3/5

Just another instalment in the current trend of Paranormal Romance novels aimed at teenage girls, you ask yourself? Well, Halo might fit that description quite well, but it does at least contain some originality. For one thing, it's the female narrator that is the otherworldly being - in this case an angel. She has been sent to a small, sleepy town along with her "siblings", the Archangel Gabriel and a seraphim, Ivy. Their mission? To inspire general goodness in the community and do away with the creeping shadows of evil that are growing in the small town. And it gets off to a good start. Our heroine, Bethany, is a young angel, being only 17 years old. She is naive and innocent and has learned about human-kind from television and literature. Being flung into modern society - and school - makes for quite an eye-opening experience. Even eating is something new to her. The first section of this book is charming, and does make you take another look at the world we're so used to. Then she falls in love. Xavier is a lovely young man and the relationship is likewise sweet and innocent with only a slight spattering of angst. It's only when the "evil" character is introduced that the plot begins to lose some of its sparkle. The villain is cliched, and the plot holds no real surprises - although it does build to a nice bit of tension. It would be nice to have some sort of red herring in here, but everything is pretty much straightforward from beginning to end, leaving the reader feeling slightly disatisfied. Also, as it is part of a series, the major plot point - can an angel and a human really have a life together - is left hanging for further instalments.
Overall, this book is sweet and somewhat innocent (although there is some mention of sex) and quite a refreshing addition to this tired but addictive genre. However, it could be so much stronger. But one thing that should be noted - despite the Christian elements to the plot, it is not at all preachy. For this she should be commended.

Adornetto is a young Australian author, who published her first book at age 13. As she is only now 19, and this is her first dabbling at teen fiction, I can see she has is plenty of promise to mature into a very fine novelist. She certainly seems to have good morals, if her book is anything to go by.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Top five reads of 2010

Every Year I compile a list of the five books I read that year that left an impression. This can be because they were really good, really original, or so god-awful terrible that I could not help but love them. Luckily this year, there were none of the latter!

So, here's my list - please note that not all (or perhaps even any) of these books were actually RELEASED in 2010).


The Passage
Justin Cronin

Creepy, dark, engrossing. This novel darkened my thoughts and haunted my dreams. Well written, with good characterisation, it could be described as "The Strain" meets "The Stand" and is a original and interesting post-apocalyptic thriller with a different take on vampires. I wouldn't even really consider them vampires, personally. With more than a few surprises in store, this book took me on a journey I did not quite expect. It will be interesting to see where it continues to lead me.


Florence and Giles
John Harding

Exceptionally clever, written in the Narrator's own, poetic tongue of her semi-invented language. This is one of the stories when the intentions of the Narrator - in this case, 12 year old Florence, might not be quite as clear as her take on things makes... out. Lots of clever little plot touches, and delightful seasonings that allow your mind to wander beyond what our "heroine" sees and believes, and what reality actually holds. In this manner, it reminds me rather of Matt Haig. Very clever, quite chilling, and with a delightful sting in the tail, Harding does not beat you over the head with the plot twists, but allows you to come to your own conclusions. Excellent writing and highly recommended.


Gone (Gone #1)
Michael Grant

"Under the Dome" for teenagers - this is the story of a small American town who one day suffer from a strange problem - all of the people over 15 disappear - POOF, just like that. So, what happens to the survivors? How can a bunch of kids survive on their own? Suddenly they're forced to grow up fast. It's good guys vs the bad guys, with some grey bits in between, mutant animals, super powers and all in all, an engrossing and intriguing read. Huighly enjoyable, even if the writing style started off a wee bit shaky.


Mockingjay (Hunger Games #)
Suzanne Collins

Wow. What a book and what a conclusion. Engrossing, frightening and beautiful all at once, this is most certainly not for the young and sensitive. One of the best Young Adult series I have read in a long while draws to its bittersweet close and leaves me still feeling hungry for me. Absolutely marvellous and highly recommended.


Going Bovine
Libba Bray

Refreshingly original and bordering on the surreal, this book is a road trip with a difference. It's completely insane! When he is diagnosed with the human equivalent of Mad Cow Disease, Cameron has little to hope for except a quick and painless death. ...Until a punk angel shows up and offers him a solution. There is one person who has the cure - the mysterious Doctor X. The only problem is, nobody knows where he is, and his parellel-dimension jumping habits have allowed dark energy to flow into our world, Soon they will destroy it. Only Cameron can save it - with the help of a death-obsessed dwarf and a lawn gnome who claims to be a Viking god. Cameron's quest leads him a series of intriguing - and increasingly demented, challenges - including a church of happiness, a reality tv show, New Orleans, and many other things besides. This book is sheer brilliance - once you get past the somewhat immature language (first person, present tense narrative - so the language is most definitely in character).


These reviews are very short and succinct on account of being cross-posted from my WeRead account. I am now abandoning my WeRead account and will be posting all reviews here. This is NOT because WeRead have shifted servers to India but because they have lost all the reviews I have written there (over 500 books!) and my emails to them have bounced. I managed to salvage most of my 2010 reviews (by ploughing through my Facebook Profile page for several hours and the powers of cut-n-paste), but shall not trouble you by cross-posting them all here, except when I review a follow-up.

Return of Bartimaeus

Ring of Solomon
Jonathan Stroud

Genre: Historic Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult (10+)
Rating: 4/5

Bartimaeus is back! This is the fourth novel featuring the willful, sarcastic Djinni and he is in fine form indeed. Set before the Bartimaeus Trilogy ("Amulet of Samarkand" etc) this tale focuses on King Solomon. A powerful Egyptian king who keeps his people in check by possessing a very strong spirit, trapped in a ring. Bartimaeus is at his typically irreverent best, savaging his master with his cutting wit and sharp tongue. This does not lead him to make many friends, and indeed leads to him falling into the grasp of an assasssin, a young woman sent to kill the king. Charged with an utterly hopeless mission, with sure death as its goal, Bartimaeus takes it all in his (grudging and sarcastic) stride and gives us a most entertaining tale indeed.

If you like this, I would urge you to also check out:
The Bartimaeus Trilogy
Amulet of Samarkand
The Golem's Eye
Ptolemy's Gate