Sunday, January 25, 2009

Feasting the Wolf

Feasting the Wolf

By Susan Price

A poignant story of best friends, set in the violent battles of the Viking world.

Ottar and Ketil are farm boys, who have listened to many exciting tales of brave and heroic warriors who form The Great Army. One day a Viking ship comes to their village, and the two friends decide to join the crew and make their dreams of battles and adventures come true.

Susan Price is a wonderful author - her knowledge and understanding of Viking times, and the myths and legends that were so interwoven with ordinary lives during that time, really gives a strong backbone to this story. Ottar and Ketil’s friendship is challenged in many ways, by both internal struggles as well as threats from the violent adventure they have chosen. Their journey together, and as individuals, is carefully written, evoking a real connection with these characters.

An excellent story - themed around courage and bravery, and the bond of friendship and family.

The Castle Corona

The Castle Corona

By Sharon Creech

A gentle slow-moving fairytale, told with warm humour.

Living in the Castle Corona are the very spoiled, and very rich, royal family. Pia and Enzio live in the village below the castle, and are two very poor, orphaned peasants. Eventually, everyone’s lives cross, with Pia and Enzio moving into the castle to become the royal food testers. There’s a mystery to solve, and a thief about, and lots of odd and quirky characters to meet.

It’s all very low-key though, all the traditional rough edges of fairytales have been smoothed over, so for example, there are no great moments of danger, and no wickedly evil characters. Everyone grows and learns something about themselves, and all go on to live ‘mostly happily, most of the time’. In this way, it was mostly a good book.



By Gareth Hinds

This graphic novel retelling of the classic Norse myth is absolutely amazing!

There’s no getting away from the fact that the story of Beowulf is a bloodthirsty, gore-filled, horrifying tale. Hinds’s artwork stays true to that fact. Bold in its extreme depiction of the violence of Grendel and Beowulf’s battle, the story of the battle is totally wordless – this entire section of the tale is told solely with pictures. Strong, glorious pictures, using a dark and minimalist palette.

For all the horror though, there is a real feel for the emotion of the characters. As Beowulf ages, and the colours he is painted with turn to muted shades of gray, his final battle with the dragon weighs heavy on him. His doubts about his ability to survive are revealed both in the text, and in the colour and imagery of the graphics.

A wonderful retelling, true to the original, so perfectly suited to the graphic novel format.

Notes From the Teenage Underground

Notes from the Teenage Underground

By Simmone Howell

A refreshing novel, going places unexpected, in an interesting and challenging way.

Gem is determined to do something special these school holidays. With her two friends, Mira and Lo, she determines to make a film that will be an expression of who she really is – a statement about art and feminism. The three friends agree to have a summer that is extreme, anti-establishment and avant-garde.

Friendship and family are the main themes of this story. Howell gives an intimate view into the break-up of a friendship, the slow journey over time where motivations are suspect, agendas are revealed, and once-shared goals become different. Gem struggles to understand her place in the group, her place in the world, and her place in her family. Her interest in Warhol’s life, and her understanding of several famous women in history, all impact on her choices and decisions.

An exciting writing style, with cleverly characterised dialogue, make this book a joy to read.

Apothecarius Argentum

Apothecarius Argentum

By Tomomi Yamashita

Argent is a former slave, once the poison tester for the royal family. Over the years, he has developed an immunity to poisons, and has trained to become a master chemist able to cure any illness. Unfortunately, his very skin has become toxic, making it impossible for others to touch him. Which is quite sad actually, for Princess Primula, who’s life has been threatened once again by assassins, resulting in Argent’s recall to the kingdom to protect her.

There’s lots of story to spin out into further volumes, and it will be interesting to follow these two characters in a larger story arc. Argent is reclusive for several reasons, and his caution in the royal palace may be well warranted. Primula is a head-strong, courageous, though somewhat impulsive princess, who has yet to use her strength developed in training in the real world.

The drawing is good, very character based though, without the richly detailed backgrounds of other series. And there’s a bit of a mismatch in the dialogue, an unsuccessful attempt to mix romanticized medieval speech styles with contemporary language. But overall, it’s a manga full of potential, worth following up on future volumes.

Ancient Appetites

Ancient Appetites

By Oisin McGann

A really enjoyable story, with interesting characters, a sharp plot, and inventive fantasy elements.

Nate Wildenstern has enjoyed a life of privilege and extreme wealth. His family is ruled efficiently and ruthlessly by his father, as well as by a system of dark traditions - such as the Rules of Ascension, which determine how and when it is ok to murder a family member to improve your position as the next Heir.

All is going well for Nate, until his older brother Marcus is killed. Nate is forced back into the business-side of the family empire, he is accused of his brother’s murder, and he must forge new relationships with his remaining siblings and their partners. The major themes of family, grief, betrayal, murder and revenge are all well explored.

An atmospheric setting, strange creatures called engimals, and the reappearance of some ancient Wildenstern ancestors, all work to make this story quite an adventure.

Geography Club

Geography Club

By Brent Hartinger

Russel thinks he’s ‘the only gay in the village’ – well, in his school, at least – until he discovers that he’s not alone. Together with his newfound gay, straight and bisexual friends, he forms the Geography Club – a club that sounds so boring that no-one else will join and thus learn the secret of the true purpose of the club.

Russel is such a likeable protagonist, his first person narrative revealing him to be a fun-loving teen, with lots of heart, on a big journey learning about friendship, love and loyalty. He travels the path with some interesting friends, including Min and her lesbian lover, and the gorgeous jock Kevin who Russel falls for.

While lots of the issues in the story reflect the main themes of gay YA fiction – such as safe sex, homophobia and coming out – Hartinger has a way of making it all seem fresh and new and interesting. And this is because one of the main themes of the book is the feeling of wanting to hide away, or to keep secret, one’s true self – a theme so many can identify with. Even if it is like calling your gay, straight and lesbian alliance group a Geography Club.

A fast-paced book filled with fun, humour, sadness and friendship.

High Crag Linn

High Crag Linn

By Margaret McAllister

A brutally harsh story, set in fifteenth century England, challenging to read – but so worthwhile.

Hawk Jankin is determined to regain ownership of his family’s castle, lost to them many years ago. With a group of rough outlaws, he lays siege to the castle, and demands to wed Anna, which will regain him his right to the castle. Anna agrees, in the hope it will bring peace to her people’s lives. But an act of revenge by Hawk results in a terrible loss, and the story goes on to examine issues of guilt, remorse, regret and forgiveness.

The historical details are deftly interwoven into the story, giving a natural flow to the narrative. The cruelty and brutality of the times is confronted boldly and can be quite difficult to read, and the tension of the story makes it a real page-turner.

Rainbow High

Rainbow High

By Alex Sanchez

An interesting and enjoyable book, I loved the characters and the way Sanchez is able to give them voices that ring true.

It is, of course, very American-flavoured for this Aussie reader, which adds another dimension to the read – understanding American high schools, and the college selection process.

But it is the characters who drive this story. Nelson, who is waiting for the results of his HIV test, is dating Jeremy, who is HIV positive. Jason has to determine what effect it would have on his basketball career if he should come out, when so much depends on his scholarship for college. His boyfriend Kyle must decide whether to accept his offer from Princeton, when it would mean being so far away from Jason.

Sanchez writes with such clarity and confidence about such issues as coming out, safe sex and homophobia, and he mixes it in with universal issues such as first love, and the doubts, conflicts and sheer joy of falling in love. The balance seems just right, resulting in a well-crafted story.

Thoroughly caught up in these boys lives, I’ll be looking for the other titles in this series.



By Alan Durant

Brilliant, brilliant story! Absolutely loved it.

Robert’s parents make the front page of the newspapers – found shot dead in their suburban home. Grief turns to anger when Robert starts to feel the investigation into their murders is going too slowly. He takes on the task himself to find the murderer. His investigations reveal many disturbing family secrets, and Robert’s life and sanity are soon both under threat.

The structure of this story is so very clever, Robert’s first-person narrative a perfectly tuned voice of grief, anger, betrayal, fear and revenge. Durant treats his readers to an intelligent and challenging story that delves deep into the nature of grief, of family dynamics, and of the way the mind copes with trauma.

Thoroughly recommend this well-written, challenging and intriguing story.

The Tarot Cafe

The Tarot Café

By Sang-Sun Park

Pamela runs the Tarot Café, where she uses her Tarot deck to help guide those who seek her counsel. Her clients include vampires and fairies, and other fantastical creatures, such as a Wish-fulfilling Cat. Each comes to Pamela for help, with Pamela’s cards assisting to prompt more information, and to reveal hidden truths and wisdom.

There’s beautiful artwork here, with lots of gorgeously drawn characters, and detailed attention to costumes and backgrounds. The first volume has four episodes, each self-contained, though with Pamela’s continuing story linking them. The tarot cards are lovely, and are accompanied by little snippets of explanation so their relevance to the story is transparent.

A fun, dramatic and romantic manga series, with wonderful artwork.

Into the Wild

Into the Wild

By Sarah Beth Durst

The Wild is the world of fairytales, where every tale must play itself out to its predetermined conclusion, over and over again. The fairytale characters are caught in their roles, forever reliving the same story, over and over again. Until Repunzel makes a daring escape, and imprisons the Wild. In doing so, she brings freedom to her fairytale friends, giving them the chance to make their own decisions and choose freely their own futures.

But the Wild breaks free and works to reclaim all that it lost. Julie, Repunzel’s daughter, must journey deep into the Wild to rescue her mother, her brother (Puss-in-Boots) and all her mother’s friends. Julie soon realizes how much danger she is in, especially when she is threatened with becoming entrapped within a never-ending fairytale loop.

Julie’s journey, and her meetings with many fairytale characters provides for a fun, entertaining and thoughtful story - a pleasure to read.

Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers

By Peter Corris

Jack and Bart are best mates, whose friendship seems all but over. While Bart is recovering from a broken leg, he is also coping with his new girlfriend, his single-parent mum and her boyfriend, and his need to know more about his father who he has never met. Jack on the other hand, has lost himself to anger – lashing out at his mate, dabbling in drugs and alcohol, and crashing a car that kills another friend.

While the bond of friendship means so much to Bart that he is willing to track down his criminal father in the search of answers, we don’t actually get to see any of that friendship in the story – the book starting when the friends are already estranged – and so it’s a bit difficult to understand why Bart clings to the friendship so loyally. Otherwise though, it’s an interesting read with strong themes of mateship, fitting in, and growing up in a contemporary Australian setting.

The Last of the High Kings

The Last of the High Kings

By Kate Thompson

Although this book is a sequel to Thompson’s award winning novel The New Policeman, it can just as easily be read as a stand-alone story. It’s a fabulous mix of Irish folklore, Celtic mythology, and faerie tales, as well as more contemporary issues such as environmentalism and the importance of family and social connections.

Jenny is eleven years old, and would rather wander the Irish hillsides, talking with a ghost and a puca, than attend her classes at school. She seems out-of-place with her family, feels disconnected from the everyday humdrum, and must work hard to understand her connection to the legendary world of Tir na n’Og.

Though the themes and characters are complex, the story unfolds with ease, helped along by lovely language, witty dialogue, and lots of humour. Highly recommended!

The Portal

The Portal

By Andrew Norriss

William, aged 13, and his brother Daniel, aged 8, live a fairly ordinary life with their parents. But one day their parents disappear, and the two brothers learn very extraordinary things about their home, their parents and themselves.

This a very enjoyable book – Norriss writes with such humour and understanding of his young characters, and the story’s plot has touches of science-fiction, mystery, adventure and family drama.

William struggles to understand the disappearance of his parents, and is confused about how to help his younger brother cope. Friends of his parents offer him help and advice, but it is William himself who eventually solves the mystery. Mixed with this is the discovery that William’s dad was the Station Master for an intergalactic portal, and that he is expected to take over the role while his dad is missing, meeting and greeting visitors from other worlds.

A fun book, with an exciting story and interesting characters.

Scrapped Princess

Scrapped Princess

Volume 1 – A Tale of destiny
Volume 2 – Song of the forgiven

By Ichiro Sakaki

These are the novels that inspired the Scrapped Princess anime series. There are 14 Volumes planned.

Fourteen years ago, in the kingdom of Linevan, the queen gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl. However, a prophecy foretold that the girl would, on her 16th birthday, destroy the world, and therefore should be executed immediately. Heartbroken, the queen could not kill her daughter, but instead arranged for her to be adopted by local friends.

Pacifica grows up with her new siblings, Shannon and Raquel, unaware of her true fate. However, when it is revealed that she is the Scrapped Princess, the trio decide to avenge the murder of their father and to test the truth of the prophecy. Fast-paced adventure and action ensues, as the three journey across the kingdom, hunted by fierce warriors intent on killing the Princess before she destroys their world.

A fun series, though a bit slow in some spots, and clearly missing the visual details of the manga and anime. An interesting blend of a manga and a novel – it’s more an illustrated novel really - with several manga-style illustrations.



By Tim Lott

Little Fearless is taken from her home, and sent to the City Community Faith School for Retraining, Opportunity and Hope. The school in no way lives up to its name – it is instead a dark, dismal prison, where the girls are worked hard doing the city’s laundry. Little Fearless is the bravest girl in the school, telling stories to the others in an effort to keep their hopes up. Angry about the injustice of the school, Little Fearless plans to escape – sure that once the people outside are made aware of the true conditions inside the school, the girls will be saved.

It’s a challenging story – a dystopian world, where children are betrayed so badly by the adults around them. It’s also quite a depressing tale – about the stripping away of identity and the loss of individualism, the power of sacrifice, and the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs.

Due to the heavy dependence on fairytale and fable elements, the structure of the story seems quite formulaic at times, and some sections are a bit over-written. Nonetheless, it’s a good read, with the tension lasting right till the very end.

Blood Beast

Blood Beast

By Darren Shan

Book Five in The Demonata Series.

Previous titles, in order:
Lord Loss; Demon Thief; Slawter; Bec

Brilliant series - lots of horror, demons, fights, death, and interesting characters.

Grubbs is back, haunted by his nightmares, and battling demons again. But this time, his greatest challenge is his internal struggle against the family curse. The full moon brings agonizing symptoms, and Grubbs must fight against his emerging werewolf.

Shan keeps the pace frantic, the horror scary, and the characters true to their uniqueness. Grubbs’s inner dialogues are touching and revealing, filled with his self-doubt and his fierce protectiveness for his friends and what’s left of his family. Shan’s writing is crisp and abrupt – characterized by his short sentences and brisk dialogue. It works perfectly for this story, and for the voice of his narrator, Grubbs.

It finishes on a doozy of a cliffhanger – can’t wait for the next one!



By Jerry Spinelli

David’s mum dies in a freak accident, and he is sent to stay with his grandmother. He acts out his grief in anger, and makes life very hard for his grandmother, punishing her for not being the mother he loves. Primrose’s mother is a fortune-teller who marches to the beat of a different drum. Her dad is nothing more than a framed picture. Primrose’s anger comes from her mum being ‘different’ and for not loving her as Primrose thinks a mother should.

These two angry children meet up, become angry at each other, themselves, the people around them, and finally forge between them a strong friendship where they each find within the other a little of the something that’s missing in their own lives.

While the plot is deep and the characters are complicated and themes of loss and recovery are confronting – the prose is inviting and Spinelli writes with confidence and clarity. A thought-provoking and challenging book.

Vampire Knight

Vampire Knight

By Matsuri Hino

Fabulous manga series – a gothic romance full of danger and suspense – with beautiful artwork and lots of angst!

Yuki attends the Cross Academy, where the humans of the Day Class are protected from the Vampires of the Night Class. It is one of Yuki’s tasks to foster understanding and tolerance between the two Classes. Complicating matters is her attraction to two of the gorgeous boys attending the Academy – Kaname, a pure blood Vampire; and Zero, her partner who hates Vampires. Zero’s story is also very complicated, and adds much emotion and tension to the story.

The artwork is lovely – and the story is full of angsty plot, great humour and blood-sucking attacks!

The Declaration

The Declaration

By Gemma Malley

An interesting story set in a future time where overpopulation has depleted the world’s resources to the point of scarcity. Added to this is the invention of revolutionary drugs that act to prevent aging. To protect their ability to survive, the old have legislated against the rising birth-rate by banning children, except those very few allowed to be born under very strict controls. Children born outside the law are labeled ‘surpluses’ and are sent to draconian institutions to be trained as servants to atone for their illegal existence.

Anna is a Surplus, who, though well-brainwashed to know her place, nurtures a small amount of self-determination. When Peter arrives at Grange Hall, he brings with him disturbing news from the Outside and the hope that Anna’s real parents are still alive. Peter’s beliefs challenge everything that Anna believes. And Anna’s life is thrown into chaos.

Malley’s dystopian world is cruel and harsh, and the premise of the story is timely. A compelling and poignant story, with themes of death, aging, nature, and social and personal responsibility – a challenging read.



By Janet Lee Carey

A medieval fantasy fairy-tale, Talon is a story of secrets, betrayals, love and dragons.

Rose is a princess, prophesied by Merlin himself to bring peace to her people. Stopping her though, is what her mother sees as a hideous disfigurement that must be hidden from all, else she will be burned at the stake as a witch. Only her mother knows of the one dragon’s claw that replaces Rose’s ring finger, and the obsessive necessity of the glove Rose must ever wear to hide it.

There’s courtly intrigue and murder, sorcery and dragon attacks, betrayal and love for a courageous young knight. When Rose is kidnapped by the dragon, only the claw on her hand saves her from being eaten. Rose must work to find a way to reconcile her destiny, her identity and her cursed shame.

And underneath it all lies Rose’s complex relationship with her mother, a relationship richly explored and slowly revealed. An interesting read.

Viking Warrior

Viking Warrior

By Judson Roberts

A strong, violent, bloody story set in 9th century Denmark marks the first book in a new series titled The Strongbow Saga.

Young Halfdan, the main character and narrator, is a slave in his father’s house due to his illegitimacy. When his father is mortally wounded in battle, his mother makes a tragic sacrifice which frees Halfdan to be fully recognized by his half-brother and half-sister. Characters important to Halfdan, and his journey from slave to warrior, are richly drawn and are the key revealers of the minutiae of Viking life. Historical detail is so intimately interwoven into the story, making the time and place of the story believable and real.

The language of the story is beautifully done – Halfdan’s voice is a perfect mix of high fantasy, heroic sagas, Viking legends and enough contemporary to make for an ease of reading.

This is an incredibly violent tale though, set in cruel and violent times. Halfdan faces many trials and tragedies, some quite heartbreaking. The strength of his character is revealed in the way he copes and adapts and changes during his journey. This story is so much more than an historical adventure. So looking forward to the next in the series!



By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Quincie inherits a restaurant, which she reopens with a Vampire theme. She hires a new chef who may or may not be talented, and who may or may not be a Real Vampire. Her boyfriend is a hybrid werewolf, who is having trouble controlling his animalistic urges. And her school has recently suggested that she needn’t come in any more – offering homeschooling as a preferred option. Mixed into this is a murder mystery that prompts suspicions and accusations.

Despite the first person narrative, meant to draw the reader deeply into the inner characterization of Quincie, disappointingly there is no real character development or growth. In fact, overall, this novel suffers simply from a lack of depth. Never quite drawn into the drama or the romance or the mystery, it all becomes quite a shallow read, boosted every now and then by a bit of humour, but never reaching an engaging level.



By Anthony Horowitz

Another action-packed Alex Rider story, the seventh in this series. This one is set in Australia, with Alex working with ASIS to foil the South East Asian criminal group called Snakehead.

There’s action galore - threats to the environment, a Great Big Bomb, threats of non-con organ transplants, a martial arts tournament of death, and new gadgets to play with. There’s also Alex’s godfather, Ash, who may or may not unlock secrets from Alex’s past. Alex’s character grows a little deeper, a little more complex with each installment. As the series continues, I’m hoping that Horowitz continues to balance the exciting James Bond side of his story with the journey of personal growth that Alex is undertaking in his search for identity.

Wicked Lovely

Wicked Lovely

By Melissa Marr

‘Never speak to invisible faeries’ – just one of the rules that Aislinn has grown up with, ensuring that she does nothing to give away the fact that she can See the faerie world. But suddenly the rules don’t seem to be working anymore, and the barrier between the worlds is breeched. Keenan, the king of the faeries, has chosen Aislinn to be his queen.

A lively plot explores themes of choices made and those passed by, and of the role of fate in matters of love. A strong urban gothic setting works nicely to ground this fantasy novel.

Song of the Sparrow

Song of the Sparrow

By Lisa Ann Sandell

Absolutely lovely retelling of the legend of Elaine of Ascolot - the Lady of Shalott.

As Arthur leads his soldiers into battle after battle, Elaine learns the price of war and works with her small skills to bring healing to the wounded. She escapes into dreams of Lancelot, hoping he will return her love. But when Gwynivere arrives, she sees her hope end. Kidnapped and threatened with death and worse, Elaine must fight for her own life, and that of the lady Gwynivere. A powerful story of a strong, complex young woman finding her own place in a wartorn story, finding her own identity in a world dominated by men, and finding the strength to love after bitter betrayal.

The language of this story is beautifully lyrical, the free verse style adding to the epic feel of the story. An excellent addition to Arthurian canon.

Keturah and Lord Death

Keturah and Lord Death

Author: Martine Leavitt

This dark fairytale is nicely crafted, and is filled with interesting characters.

Keturah follows a hart into the dark forest. After spending several days lost and at the mercy of the elements, she meets up with Lord Death, who is about to claim her. Using her exceptional storytelling skills, Keturah offers Lord Death a story to gain a reprieve.

There’s such an old-fashioned feel to this tale – the haunting atmosphere, the lovely language, and the story structure, all work well together to create the feeling of a traditional high romance.I did have difficulty falling into the story, and had several false starts, but once in, I read straight through to the end - just had to know how Keturah fairs in her challenge to Lord Death’s claim.

An insightful and thought-provoking exploration of the themes of love and death.



Author: Catherine Fisher

An amazing, intriguing, thought-provoking story – with deeply drawn characters and a writing style that is such a pleasure to read. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

There is no escape from Incarceron. It was filled with lawbreakers, dissidents and society’s unwanted; then the doors were shut forever, creating a closed system from which none can enter and none can escape. The Experiment in prisoner rehabilitation failed quickly, with brutal warlords taking control of various sections, leaving the inhabitants to fight for grim survival. Finn has strange visions, and haunting nightmares, where he sees the stars, leading him to believe that he has been Outside. Finding a mysterious Key, he begins a quest to find the doorway that will lead him back to the Outside.

Outside, Claudia is the Warden’s daughter. Though she lives a life of prestige and wealth, she is also trapped – by the strange insistence of her society to live ‘In Era’, living in a faux-seventeenth century world ruled by Protocols of courtly manners, quaint affectations and no advanced technology. She is trapped too by an unwanted betrothal, by her role in courtly politics and intrigue, and by her strained relationship with her father. She too finds a mysterious Key, gains a communication channel with Finn, and becomes caught up in plans to help him Escape.

Through Finn and Claudia the story explores such interesting themes: the philosophy of identity; of personal journeying; of prisons and prisoner rehabilitation; of propaganda; authoritarianism; and the way love, hate, hopeless indifference and regret shape a person’s development. There is hope and tragedy and love and betrayal all blended together in this immensely readable story. Highly recommended.

What I Was

What I Was

Author: Meg Rosoff

A strange story, one that still leaves me uncomfortable, as though I missed something important and so didn’t quite ‘get’ what it was all about.

A first person narrative guides us through attendance at a gloomy, miserable boarding school, where regimented passivity and bullying are the main challenges to the day. The only escape is to a run-down cottage where a boy, living outside of society, enjoys a solitary life in the wild.

As with Rosoff’s first novel, How I Live Now, this is an intimate and poignant glimpse at one teenager’s awkward and turbulent coming of age. There’s something a little bit Catcher in the Rye here - likely it’s the dry dark humour bringing this to mind. The theme of love, of passion and yearning, is nicely tangled with confusion over identity and gender.

But in the end, there seemed little point to the Big Reveal – I was so sure the story was going somewhere very different, that I almost felt cheated with where it did go. There seemed to be little learned, and few consequences, and no exploration of the impact such a Reveal had on the main character – and I was left feeling I’d read something interesting, but with an unsatisfying resolution.

City of Bones

City of Bones

Author: Cassandra Clare

This is the first in a planned trilogy – the series title The Mortal Instruments referring to three magical items that can grant power over life and death.

Clary Fray is a normal teenager in every way, until she realizes that she can see things that others around her cannot. As she begins her journey to reclaiming the heritage that has been denied to her, her view of the world expands to include the existence of demons, vampires, werewolves and Shadowhunters. Clary’s clueless-but-loveable friend, Simon, gets caught up in her adventures; and she meets the brooding-and-mysterious Jace, who is adored by his brother-in-all-but-name Alec; and Alec’s gorgeously-beautiful-but-tough-as-nails sister Isabelle.

It is the cast of characters that carry this first novel. Interestingly intriguing, they are worth the effort of trying to determine their place in the plot, their various motivations and simply enjoying their moments of uniqueness. And the gothic, urban, New York setting gives such a gritty realism to the fantasy elements of the story.

In the end though, the novel is let down by the unoriginality of the plot. It is so derivative of so much else – more than simply reminiscent - the worlds of Buffy, Dr Who, Harry Potter, and Star Wars, are all echoing around in there. I’m mindful that this is the first in a series, so there’s hope that Clare is using these worlds as a springboard to her own ideas in the next two books. The nod to Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales is nicely done, and aims for that ‘insider’ feeling for readers following two authors writing in the same urban fantasy genre.

I was too disappointed with the plot device revealed at the end of the story; it’s so cliché now, it would take a writer with extraordinary skill to make that type of plot-line fresh and believable. Unfortunately, Clare is not there yet, and it made the ending anti-climactic and wince-worthy.

Nonetheless, I will be looking forward to reading the next part, The City of Ashes, to see where Clare takes her story and these characters. I have hopes that this will be one of those series that improves enormously with each new installment, building to a trilogy seen, as a whole, as a Great Read.

The December Boys

The December Boys

Author: Michael Noonan

This title is in the news big-time at the moment – made into a feature movie, it stars Daniel Radcliffe in his first non-Harry-Potter screen performance. Such an amazing choice of roles for him – this adaptation of an old Aussie novel!

The book itself was first published way back in 1963, and was Commended for the Miles Franklin Award. It’s a deeply moving story, tinged with humour and adventure, about four young orphans who have grown up in a Catholic orphanage. The boys are coming to realise that the possibility of them being chosen for adoption is starting to pass them by. They get to spend Christmas at the seaside, a treat that can’t even be diminished by their home-made, flour-sack converted, swimming costumes. At the beach they meet up with a childless couple who are planning to adopt, and the four boy’s bond of friendship is tested by their competition to be the one chosen.

This is a lovely snapshot of this time in Australian history – so many little details giving such an interesting feel to the story. The humour certainly helps to balance out the incredibly sad feeling I had for these orphan boys, so innocent of the poverty of their lives and experiences, and so full of hope and optimism for their futures. At times I found the language and style of the author quite dated, but in context this is not a major concern.

Well worth the read – a coming of age story, exploring themes of friendship, rivalry and belonging.

Our Little Secret

Our Little Secret

Author: Allayne Webster

Edwina’s best-friend’s older sister, Anne-Marie, has been raped, and the topic of her small town’s gossip is: did she ‘ask for it’ – were her clothes too slutty, was she too flirtatious, had she been drinking at the time?

This theme of consent /ambiguous consent /non consent to sexual advances is explored with confidence and forthrightness by the author. Edwina finds herself flattered by the attention of Tom, a much older young man. Her choices are clouded by her experimentations with alcohol and drugs. She knows she said ‘no’, but she continues to see Tom and submit to his demands for sex. They eventually break up and it is some time before a kindly teacher, herself a rape survivor, suspects what has happened to Edwina and offers her support.

This is a message-driven novel. Webster juxtaposes the plight of Anne-Marie, who is silenced, doubted and unsupported, with Edwina, who is supported and encouraged to speak by her courageous teacher. The messages are clear and uncompromising. Unfortunately, this quite clinical approach to the storytelling carries over to the people in the story. They lacked depth and emotion, and seemed reduced to the message-relaying roles that the author had assigned them.

It’s a big message though, and, from any and every source, one that every girl needs to hear.

Here Lies Arthur

Here Lies Arthur

Author: Philip Reeve

Here’s a Dark Ages Arthurian story; no magic, no high romanticism, and no chivalrous Lancelot. The story of Arthur is told through Gwyna’s voice, a young girl who is apprenticed to Myrddin. Gwyna is disguised as a boy for safety early in the story, and as the story unfolds she switches between male and female in response to changing circumstance. She becomes the ‘Lady in the Lake’ for Myrddin, and learns how easy it is to manufacture magical stories that grow with each retelling.

It is Myrddin’s role as bard to embellish the everyday tales of reality until they become mythical and majestic – and this is such a powerful theme carried right through this story. The ill-fated romance between the lovely character of Bedwyr and Arthur’s wife Gwenhwyfar, emphasizes the price of deceit and betrayal.

There’s a harsh feel to this story - life is tough, and battles are full of mud and blood and wounds and death. This Arthur is a brutal war-lord, and it is left to his bard to make his exploits presentably ‘heroic’ for the commoners.An interesting and thoughtful reworking of the Arthurian tale.

Marty's Shadow

Marty’s Shadow

Author: John Heffernan

Marty knows something is not right. There is something in his past that has left a shadow over his life. His nightmares, flashbacks and erratic behavior leave him fearful and confused. He wants to know what happened, just as much as he fears what that knowledge could mean.

This novel is difficult to read – not the prose though, which is unrelenting in it’s stark unveiling of Marty’s psyche – but in the sheer weight of the sorrows, traumas, fears and confrontations that Marty exists under. There’s the Event in his past, his alcoholic mother, abusive father, racial tensions in the town, cruel teachers, possible girlfriend, bullying at school, his pet dog, and his uncomfortable relationship with his brother. The way he deals with all this is shadowed by the Event in the past, which is slowly revealed in a series of Post Traumatic Stress induced flashbacks.

There’s brutal realism in this story; Heffernan takes Marty to the very edge of life, destroying everything Marty has ever clung to, leaving only a shadow behind. I found the ambiguity of the ending quite frightening – is his father, to continue to protect the secret from the past, actively working to ensure that Marty remains in his traumatized state? To me, that can be the only possible reason for the gift they take him…

A disturbing, engrossing read, that has left me thinking on its themes. And it’s left me wanting to read Marty’s brother’s story now, wanting to know his experience of his family, his town, his brother.



Author: Catherine Fisher

A contemporary retelling of the Fisher King legend, and Percival's search for the Holy Grail, this story confronts several dark themes in a deeply moving and emotional story.

Cal has been looking after his alcoholic, mentally unstable mum for all his young life. He jumps at a chance to go stay with a rich uncle, and ruthlessly severs his ties with his mum. However, he gets off the train at the wrong station, and finds himself in Corbenic, taken in by Bron (the wounded Fisher King), and sees a vision which he later denies.

Cal has been deeply wounded by his difficult upbringing, and his coping mechanisms work against him, leaving him lost in a pain filled wasteland. It's not until he accepts that he must face his past, acknowledge the way it has shaped him, and forgiven his mum and himself, that he can finally have a chance at gaining his Grail.

An excellent book - the dark themes are explored with confidence, and the mix of contemporary and legendary symbolism is nicely handled. I wonder though, how a reader not familiar with the source material would find the story...I feel that they may not be as drawn in as I was.

The Straight Road to Kylie

The straight road to Kylie

Author: Nico Medina

Hip and savvy, fast paced and partied out, this story is absolutely dripping with pop-culture references.

Jonathan is gay, and out and proud, until the most popular girl in the school offers him a deal. If he will go back in the closet, and be her boyfriend for their final school year, she will pay for him to go to London to attend a Kylie Minogue concert. Accepting the deal is easy, but when a cute boy enters the scene, Jonathan must weigh the cost of denying his true self.

This novel is full of fun, parties, fabulous humour, rich kids, drinking, and swearing. And it’s a really interesting and clever twist on the theme of acceptance/denial of gay identity. Jonathan is a very strong character, confident and happy with how he is living his life. It is the reaction of his friends to his new found ‘straight-ness’, and his interest in a possible boyfriend, that cause him to reexamine his sense of self.

I have to say that I feel Jonathan’s life as a young gay student - totally out, totally accepted, totally confident and proud - might seem more like a fantasy story for many gay kids. That being acknowledged though, it is a fun, fabulous read.



Author: Kevin Brooks

This is an intriguing story; a fast-paced, gritty novel with themes of identity, self, free-will and romance.

Robert goes into hospital for a routine procedure. Mid operation he becomes aware of his surroundings, listens as the surgeons find that his very human-ness is under doubt, and hears them call in government agents to investigate. Unable to understand what has happened, Robert goes on the run, and finds unexpected romance as he tries to elude his pursuers.This sci-fi thriller is a great read. As Robert tries to determine what it would mean if he found out that he was something other than human, the reader is easily drawn into the philosophical considerations of what makes a person who they are, of how much we determine what we can actually do. The philosophy is never blatant or unwieldy though, simply revealed through Robert’s thoughts in an accessible way.

This search for the meaning of identity, and the whole chase/escape scenes, have the same edgy feel as Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity, and the themes are reminiscent of those explored in the movie Bladerunner (based on Philip K Dick’s Do androids dream of electric sheep?).

I loved it – totally got caught up in Robert’s confusion and fear, loved that he met such a gutsy girl, and though I was initially annoyed at the ending, I’ve now come round to thinking it was the best and only way for the story to have finished.

The Ghost's Child

The Ghost's Child

Author: Sonya Hartnett

Oh, this is a special treat – a fairytale feel, with a darkness that is awash in sorrow and longing. There’s a nice sense of unease right from the start of the story, and it is sustained all the way to the final chapters.

Matilda is an elderly lady who is visited by a strange young boy. While we are wondering if he is the ‘ghost’ of the book’s title, Matilda tells her life story – of her search for beauty, for love, for belonging, and for her own sense of self. The theme of journeying is reflected in all parts of the story, as Matilda journeys through her life, as well as across the world. Love in all its many forms is another strong theme of the story – Matilda’s love for her father, for her husband, for her ‘fey’, and for herself.

The language of this story is just lovely – though lyrical and full of gorgeous metaphors, it is not a burden to read; it’s a pleasure to be lost in the fable-like elements and the fantastical sea voyage.
Such a beautiful story! I got to the end and marvelled at Sonya’s storytelling craft, and at the beauty of her writing.