The Mirror Chronicles:
The Bell Between Worlds
Sylas Tate lives with his uncle in a crooked old building called Gabblety Row. The occupants of the Row seem as odd as the building, but it is what Sylas knows. He is distracted while running and errand for his uncle and enters a store called The Shop of Things. From that moment nothing is ever going to be the same for Sylas. He will be called another world where magic battles magic and evil reigns over good.
The oddest part of Sylas’ journey in this strange world may be his feeling that he belongs there. He meets a number of people who help him and many who want to capture or kill him. He has been dropped in the middle of an age old struggle, but his friends all seem to be on the losing side.
I enjoyed this book. The idea behind the two worlds is new. There are a great many books about children and who travel to a different world where they become heroes. The Bell Between Worlds is set apart by a unique approach to the alternate world plot.
The characters are well defined and interesting. Though Sylas is well drawn as a boy who is suddenly plunged into a conflict beyond his imagination, it is some of the surrounding characters who really shine and add interest and colour to the story. The book is meant for children and youth, but like all well written children’s books it is just as enjoyable for adults.
I would recommend The Bell Between Worlds for all lovers of adventure and fantasy.
There aren’t many books that I can’t put down, but Bitterblue is one of them. I said of Graceling, Kristin Cashore’s first book that I wished I could give it a six on the scale of one to five stars. Bitterblue is even better. The story picks up some nine years after the close of Graceling and Bitterblue is the Queen of a country that still has trouble remembering itself after the damage that Leck did to it during his mad reign.
To escape the overwhelming amount of paperwork, Bitterblue takes to walking the streets of her city at night. She discovers story halls and meets a thief who claims that he only steals what was already stolen.
There are few books that cause me to laugh out loud. Bitterblue had me chortling all the way through. The humour is a wonderful counterpoint to a story of a country that is struggling with a form of communal mental illness. We bounce from humour to despair and sometimes both inhabit the same words.
The characters that we know from the earlier books are present, but Bitterblue is the Queen of this story. We are privileged to follow her through her mistakes and to the place where she begins to learn what she can do.
I heartily recommend this book to any fantasy reader, and beyond that to people who have interest in the idea of mental health both individual and communal.
Billie Bly is the female P.I. in Bleeding Blue. Her day starts off with her psychic warning her of a murder. Unfortunately it’s Billie’s murder. Billie wakes up in the hospital with a bullet hole in her and the knowledge that someone wants her dead. Life gets worse as people around her start dying including one of her beloved brothers.
I found it a little hard to get into the story. There are a lot of well worn character types in the novel and several times I got frustrated at the predictability of the plot. Even so the book grew on me and by the time I got to the second half of the story I was enjoying the story. That Billie Bly is supposed to be a hard-boiled private investigator is appropriate because the book reminded me of the old dime store novels. They were a lot of fun to read even when you had a pretty good idea of what’s coming next.
Overall I think I will recommend the book to people who just want to read an old fashioned mystery. The plot and eventually the characters rise above some of the rough edges of the book to give a satisfying read.
Scott J. Holliday
Haley Road Publishing
Stonefly is not the book I expected when I started reading it. Is is a far superior story to the one I expected. It was the whole wish granting thing that pushed my expectations in a different direction. I expected a story about a person who had the power to make wishes happen. Instead the story is about Jacob Duke, who has the responsibility to grant wishes, but no special power to do so.
He has returned to the landscape that he saw out the windows of Dover, an institute for the dangerously insane. He spent years there as a result of granting his first wish. All Jacob wants to do is flyfish, but he meets Frankie – a ten year old who wishes someone would kill his dad. Jacob checks out the man and if there was anyone who needed killing it was Darren Collins, but Jacob isn’t happy with the idea, but there are consequences for not granting a wish and they are unthinkable.
Part of what surprised me about the book is the depth of the characters that Holliday uses to populate his book. Even the characters with bit parts get careful attention so that we feel we know them. Jacob is both matter of fact and tortured by his curse. He is aware of the ethical problems with the wishes, but he is also very much aware that we humans can’t stop wishing.
I would strongly recommend this book for anybody who enjoys a good roller coaster of a ride. I will be looking forward to the next book in the Jacob Duke series.
Feral is a non-fiction book on the subject of rewilding. Rewilding is allowing large spaces of land to return to an uncontrolled state. It is the uncontrolled portion of the definition that is especially important to Monbiot. He suggests that when we try to control how the ecosystem will be revived, that we limit our vision. We set the bar too low and fail to see the possible complexities that may arise. The job of the human species is to re-introduce some animals into areas that they are extinct or scare and let nature find its own balance.
The examples he uses are drawn from around the world, but especially from Scotland where large tracts of land are being protected from over grazing by deer or sheep. As the grazing slows the wilderness that has hidden for centuries begins to return and it continues to surprise and delight.
This is a book that is full of lyrical prose describing Monbiot’s connection to the land and the wilderness. Many times the connection is one of a spiritual nature as he discovers in himself the memory of a richer place than where we now live. What is equally clear in his writing is the hope. This is no doom and gloom book of how we have irrevocably ruined our home. Rather Monbiot suggests that the ecology is able to recover in strange and unexpected ways if we give it a minimum of help and a minimum of interference. He waxes poetic about the possibility of returning lions and elephants to Europe in a similar way to how the wolf and bear have made a comeback in several countries.
One change can cause a whole raft of changes. He uses the example of beavers helping rivers to heal, and the regeneration of the Yellowstone ecology after the re-introduction of wolves there. He admits that the changes won’t all be popular, but he argues that in the long run we will be richer for the rewilded spaces than we are with the mono-cultures that so many people accept as ‘wilderness’.
This is a fascinating and enthralling book to read. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a glimpse of hope about the earth’s future.
Dragonflies is set in the present moment of drones and micro vehicles. In the book they have been pushed to the next level of effectiveness. Raina piloted helicopters in Afghanistan until she was shot down and lost a foot. Now she’s been recruited for a mysterious mission and teamed up with Tye Palmer the man who earned a medal pulling her out of the flaming wreckage of her chopper. Their task is to expose the son of a powerful man. The son is guilty of rape. His father wants it covered up. Raina and Tye quickly realize that the situation is much more complicated than they had thought.
I really like the way Andy Straka introduces the micro-drones and some of the discussion of the ethics of their use. He makes clear both the strengths and weakness of the remote vehicles. I found the characters of Raina and Tye a bit more problematic. They felt a little one dimensional and the emotional interaction doesn’t ring quite true. Nevertheless this book is easy to read and enjoyable.
This is the first book in a series. I was a bit disappointed in the way the book concluded. It is cut off very abruptly even for a cliff hanger ending. I still think that I will read the next book in the series as much for the technology as for the people.
I would recommend the book for people who like speculation on technology and its possible use or misuse.
The Liars’ Gospel
Little, Brown and Company
The Liar’s Gospel is one of those books that challenge and provoke. Naomi Alderman gives an alternate telling of the time of Jesus, Yehoshuah in the Hebrew. Yehoshuah is Miryam’s eldest son, but he is a disappointment to his father Yosef. Miryam starts the telling of the story creating fiction that Gidon, one of Yehoshuah’s followers wants to hear. Iehuda, Judas in the latin, picks up the tale, then Caiaphas, the High Priest and lastly Bar-Avo, Barrabas. For those who are looking for another uplifting story of Jesus, don’t pick up this book. Jesus is not a great man in this book. He is disturbed, perhaps a little mad. To be honest if you want an uplifting story at all, this is not the book for you.
The period was a time of oppression and degradation. There are no heroes in this book. Each of the people who tell the story are deeply flawed. It is these flaws that drives the narrative as each talks about how their lives intersected the mad-man Yehoshuah. Of all the narrators, only one ends with any sense of hope whatsoever, yet given the bloody nature of this period of history that isn’t surprising.
It is that feeling that we are being given a glimpse into history that makes this novel compelling. There are many other stories of this time that gloss over the brutality of the conflict between Rome and the Jews. Naomi puts us deep into the conflict and shows the brokenness of both sides. There are no heroes; there are no winners. The tone reminds me of another book in which the world ends while the characters bicker about who is at fault. This is a book that prizes realism over a happy ending.
To my mind the weakest part of the novel is the epilogue in which we step away from the personal narrative and are given a kind of apologia for the rise of Christianity. It comes across like Victorian children’s book that need to explain to the reader what they were supposed to have learned from reading this book.
Random House Children’s
Twerp introduces Julian Twerski and one of the most authentic young narrators that I have encountered since Holden Caufield. Julian is assigned the task of keeping a journal after an undescribed ‘incident’. The carrot initially is that he can substitute the journal for reading Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. We are then treated to a insider’s view of the powerful friendship between Julian and Lonnie and the other boys that make up their group.
While Julian is writing this very personal account of his life, he never forgets that his teacher is going to be reading the words. The tension between what he is telling us and what he might say if Mr. Selkirk weren’t reading over his shoulder is ever present.
As Julian writes about the last half of Sixth Grade he talks about the problems with girls, friends and the biggest fifth grader in the world who is going to knock Julian off the pedestal of ‘fastest kid in his school’. Though the book is by nature episodic, it builds in tension and power as we read. Julian is a very engaging narrator, but we know that there is something that he is avoiding, and he knows it too.
I really enjoyed this book. The characters and situations are true to life. I remember kids like Julian and the others from when I was young. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough for anyone who enjoys a good story.
Fyrelocke is a young adult novel in which Jack, who plans to be an inventor when he’s finished being a kid, finds a strange purple rock and learns that he doesn’t know nearly as much about the world as he thought he did.
The local fortune teller warns him that the world he lives in is going to change. That is an understatement. Jack’s parents tell him that he isn’t their son, but he’s sure they are under the control of the creepy people who say that they are. Jack escapes, but is very quickly on a roller coaster ride that avoids cliches and stock characters.
Fyrelocke is a very fast paced novel. Once I got used to the very short chapters and allowed them to control the pacing of the novel I found that it was a effective device. It also means that it is very tempting to read ‘just one more chapter’. I finished this book in a single afternoon. I enjoyed it immensely. Aside from the solid plotting, the characters are well developed and having Jack and Chase able to play off of each other added some well scripted comic moments.
A bonus to the book are the well done illustration that are scattered through the story. They are placed carefully to not interrupt the story line, and give some insight into how Christopher sees his characters. This is clearly the first book of a series, yet it is complete enough in itself for me to put it down with a sense of satisfaction and a desire to read the next one as soon as it comes out.
I would recommend Fyrelocke to anyone who enjoys easy to read but very hard to put down books.
In Untimed we are introduced to Charlie. No one can remember Charlie’s name, not even his mother. He goes through life alone and friendless. The only advantage is that the girl next door doesn’t remember when he makes a fool of himself. There are only two exceptions to Charlie’s plight and that is his father and Aunt Sopie. Unfortunately they aren’t around much. There is something that Charlie’s father is going to explain on Charlie’s birthday. When his father doesn’t show, Charlie is worried but he is even more worried when a odd looking man tries to kill him and then disappears into a vortex. Determined to learn what is going on, Charlie follows the man and ends up in eighteenth century London.
I wasn’t sure about the book when I started it. It is one of those books that I picked up because the cover looked interesting. It didn’t take me long to get hooked into a terrific story. Andy Gavin gives Charlie an authentic teen voice and a more complex character than we often meet in young adult fiction. The premise of the book is well thought out and truly fascinating yet we aren’t bored with long explanations of how it all works. We find out the way that Charlie does.
Charlie isn’t the only strong character in the book. Yvaine, the female lead is also a very mixed character and her dialect is enough to add to her character without being so much as to drive me to distraction.
This is the first book in a series and I am already looking forward to the next one. This is a well written, well put together book that any one who enjoys adventure will like.