Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I've been reading...

You might have been wondering where I've been. My dad passed away on the First of December. While not unexpected, it has been a sad time for my family. There have been a few other unwanted challenges as well this month for us and at times I have been focusing on the words of others as a comforting distraction. Below are some reviews of the books I have read recently.

Monkey Boy by Donovan Bixley (Scholastic, 2014). 4 stars - Action and adventure on the high seas with young powder monkey Jimmy Grimholt, freshly recruited into the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars. While at first vulnerable and naive, with the help of some unexpected allies and a very special talent Jimmy faces danger head on. This book is not for the squeamish, with plenty of blood, guts and toilet humour, but Bixley's well timed inclusion of graphic novel elements provides an effective change from sections of text, adds drama and detail, and keeps the pace zipping along. The narrative is a little slow to find its rhythm at first, but is a terrific read when it hits its straps.  A ripping read

Hunter by Joy Cowley (2004). 5 stars - Spare, fast paced and satisfying. Cowley deftly imagines and handles NZ history, seamlessly and believably presenting customs and habits of  the Maori people in 1805. In 2005 young teenager Jordan and her two little brothers are in a plane crash in a light aircraft that veers off course trying to avoid a storm. Hurt and alone, in an isolated part of New Zealand's rugged South Island they must fend for themselves and keep their hopes alive that help will come. Yet when help does come, it initially arrives most unexpectedly from the past. From Hunter, a psychic young Maori slave on a Moa hunt in 1805.  The adventure is a little predictable but well managed and for the most part, rewarding. Some words are a bit dated for the 2005 setting  ('Hipsters'?).  Recommended.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (2014). 4.5 stars - following on from the breathless second part of Stievater's Raven Cycle series (The Dream Thieves), we pick up with Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah six months after Maura disappeared into Cabeswater. There are new threats and old enemies to deal with, as well as another quest. As ever, Stiefvater's writing is lush and lyrical with sentences that sweep you up in their arms like long lost lovers, and paragraphs you want to save for sharing or future reference. The characters are intriguing and well drawn in a good amount of detail. The plot did get a bit squirrelly at times and the book ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger with the final installment a year away, but I will be lining up to get my hands on it as soon as it is available.

Every Breath by Ellie Marney (2013). 4 stars - Great read, good pace, well written. It tends towards the schmaltzy in places, as it's essentially a romance, and the detective work is on the light side, but this book is most enjoyable, with plenty going on, some chilling villains and a few good thrills along the way.

Every Word by Ellie Marney (2014). 3.5 stars - There were things I really liked about the book and other aspects, not so much. The criminal activity is more complex (good), and the violence nasty and more frequent than I think is healthy (bad). The romance is still hot and heavy and I would have preferred it dialled back a notch. On the whole a pretty good read though and I'll be checking out the third book when it is out in 2015.

Half Bad by Sally Green (2014). 5 stars - Half Bad - rather good. The writing in this first in a trilogy is polished and tight in this urban fantasy where witches live privately side by side with regular folk. Ongoing concerns amongst white witches about the threat posed by black witches comes to a head as young half code (white witch mother, black witch father), Nathan, heads toward his 17th birthday when he will receive his magical powers. Classic themes of what really makes people good or evil, nature vs. nurture, and how people justify their cruelty to others, wrapped in a well thought out package.  I was reminded a little of the Demon's Lexicon series by Sarah Rees Brennan (in a good way). Sometimes main character Nathan thinks a little more maturely than his age would suggest and I had to keep reminding myself how old he was meant to be. But I like where this is heading and have high hopes that the solution will be way smarter and more satisfying than how the BBC's Sherlock jumping off the roof was sorted.

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen by Dylan Horrocks (2014). 5 stars - Magic indeed. We follow Sam Zabel through this comic adventure as he suffers a crisis of artistic conscience. Falling into a vintage comic of a famed fictional NZ comic artist, Sam explores the attitudes of the past as he searches for answers to questions about his own future, personally and creatively.