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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

LOW RED MOON By Ivy Devlin. London, Bloomsbury, 2010.

Avery Hood’s parents were killed brutally in front of her, but she can’t remember a thing. The family lived near the forest next to the small historic town of Woodlake, where there has been a constant argument going between the pro and anti-development lobbies. Avery’s parents were environmentalists who recycled everything and fought to keep the woods. Is this what caused their murder? What about the strange stories about the town’s foundation and the wolves who were more than wolves?

Avery starts to wonder about that when she learns that gorgeous new boy at school Ben Dusic is a werewolf. But Ben has a bond with her; each knows what the other is feeling. They’re in love. He has even saved her life. Can he possibly be her parents’ murderer?

This is a paranormal romance with the emphasis on the romance. I liked the fact that when Avery asks Ben how long he has been seventeen, he says about six months and expects to be eighteen, nineteen and so on. One can have enough of the vampires who have been seventeen for a hundred or more years and are still romancing teenage girls. Ben is a boy - one who has had as much tragedy in his life as Avery has, losing his parents and sisters to werewolf hunters - but a boy. I suspect the author is having a cheeky poke at the vampire romances in that scene, before turning back to the drama.

There’s also a murder mystery here and the clues are scattered through the book, as they should be.

The only thing I found irksome was not the novel itself, but the tendency to print the word “moon” in red letters every time. It’s unclear why. At one point in the novel, Ben tells Avery that actually, the only effect the full moon has on him is to make it impossible to change back before dawn, so he tries not to change on those nights. So why all those red “moons” in the text?

Girls will enjoy this. Although it reads like a stand-alone story, there are ends left untied that suggest a sequel. They’ll like that too.

THREE THINGS ABOUT DAISY BLUE (Girlfriend Fiction #20) By Kate Gordon. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2010.

Two girls keeping diaries. One of them making lists of three. One trip to Bali with their mothers.

Daisy Blue and Paulina Gifford are the daughters of government speechwriters. When their mothers are going to Bali for a conference, they come along. Daisy (or Zee as she prefers to be called) calls her diary Angelina and complains non-stop about everything - the probable lack of Diet Coke in Bali, having to miss her favourite TV show and, by the way, that geek Paulina. Geeky Paulina is looking forward to learning lots of stuff for school while there and trying local cuisine and, by the way, is unimpressed by Daisy, that lemon lollipop (Daisy is very thin).

As the book goes on, we learn that Zee has an eating disorder for a number of reasons and Paulina has her own reasons for her nerdy attitude to everything. Each is able to help the other. There are also the two boys - Cody the young Aussie film-maker doing a documentary in Bali, who has a lot in common with Paulina and Wayan, the gorgeous Balinese student who works part time as a waiter and is dreaming of becoming a volunteer doctor in East Timor. Will something come from this or are they just holiday romances? Are they romances at all? Read and find out.

It’s funny and genlte and easy reading, broken up into diary entries. The message bewhind it is perhaps a little too obvious, but I suspect that this won’t be as obvious to this book’s natural readers.

This series has proven very popular in my library, both among the girls who need the high-interest-low-reading-level stuff and those who just want a break from Dickens a nd Bronte and such. I’m looking forward to adding this one.

DEMON STORM: The School of Night. By Justin Richards. London: Faber and Faber, 2010

Ben Foundlling lives with his sister Sam in a home - the modern equivalent of an orphanage, if not quite as awful. They have been moved from carer to carer because nobody can cope with the fact that Sam sees dead people - all the time. When Sam disappears shortly after looking into a strange box as part of a test by the mysterious Mr Knight, and everyone, even the police, just assumes it’s a matter of teenage running away, Ben is determined to find her - or at least what happened to her. This leads him, eventually, to the strange School of Night, where other kids who can see ghosts and evil spirits are trained to fight them. Sam isn’t there - and Mr Knight didn’t kidnap her. He’s one of the good guys. But if Ben is going to find out what is going on, he has to pretend to be one of the children with the Sight. And meanwhile, he’s wondering whether he really has seen his sister whenever he needed her, or if it’s all in his head...

Justin Richards is always good value. He has written many thoroughly entertaining fantasy adventures for young people, usually with tongue in cheek elements behind all the seemingly serious ones. Even with the villains planning to take over the world via human sacrifice to demons, he just can’t resist the puns. I mean - Dirk Knight? School of (K)night? I chuckled all the way through.

This is very readable adventure fantasy fiction, which shouldn’t be too hard even for teens whose reading levels aren’t high. It’s the first of a new series and young readers will be demanding when the next one is due out.

Recommended for children from twelve upwards.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

DEMON PRINCESS: REIGN CHECK By Michelle Rowan. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2010.

This is the second in a series. I haven’t read the first book, Reign Or Shine; this one closes with loose ends untied, so will probably continue for some time.

Nikki Donovan is an ordinary American teenager who has a tendency to sprout horns, wings and a tail when she’s highly stressed. A nuisance for clothes, of course, and really not a good idea to do it in front of others, especially if your best friend is in training to be a demon slayer. So far, it’s only been seen by a boy who went too far after a school dance and Nikki hopes he might be persuaded that he saw nothing.

Somewhere in the Shadowlands lives Nikki’s father, a demon King who once visited our world, just long enough to become her father. King Desmond can’t leave his castle – and if Nikki ever becomes Queen, she’ll have the same problem. Meanwhile, there’s the gorgeous Shadow, Michael, who is bound to her as a servant, though she’d rather have him as a boyfriend. There’s the rather cute teenage Faerie King Rhys, who has heard a negative prophecy about Nikki and come to investigate. Two hot boys! Decisions, decisions!

The writing style and the tongue-in-cheek punning title show that the author doesn’t take the whole idea too seriously; whether young readers will or not is another matter. They’ll certainly enjoy the usual paranormal romance theme, plus the idea of the heroine being a princess of whatever variety. Mind you, I’m not too sure anyone would really want to sprout horns and tail under stress, even if it did mean being a princess and falling in love with hot paranormal boys. Which is probably the point of the story.

Good fun for girls from about fourteen up.

DEAD MAN’S CHEST By Kerry Greenwood. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2010

When Kerry Greenwood created the rich, beautiful, intelligent Jazz Age sleuth, Phryne Fisher, she was expecting the series to last for about two books. Because she knew all about 1928, that was the year in which it was to be set, permanently.

Seventeen books later, the author has finally had to move to January 1929. Phryne Fisher has returned to coastal town Queenscliff, scene of her second adventure, Flying Too High. That time she was in Queenscliff as part of a kidnapping case, and stayed at the gorgeous Queenscliff Hotel (where, because of the novel, I used to have lunch once a year on the veranda, looking out to sea).

This time Phryne is back with her faithful maid and companion, Dot Williams, her two adopted daughters Ruth and Jane and her dog Molly, and they’re staying in a borrowed holiday home. There will, of course, be absolutely no investigations!

But where Phryne Fisher goes, mystery follows – or, in this case, precedes. When the family arrives, the live-in servants, Mr and Mrs Johnson, are missing. No property is missing except food, and valuables have been stashed away for safety. But the Johnsons’ furniture is gone and a removalist was seen arriving at the house.

This gives Ruth, the would-be cook, a chance to make meals for the family while Phryne investigates the disappearance. Queenscliff is never dull, with the missing couple, a group of surrealists next door, a nosy old lady across the road, who might have seen something, a historical film being made down on the beach and some nasty goings-on nearby.

Phryne investigates, but she takes a step back in this novel and lets other characters come to the fore. She also has a new sidekick to add to her entourage; it will be interesting to see where he goes.

As always, the story is a lot of fun, with adventure, baddies, plenty of lovingly-detailed descriptions of meals and Phryne’s clothes. This author knows her era, but doesn’t overwhelm you with it.

If you’ve been following the series, go and buy it. If you haven’t, go back and read the rest – then buy it!

Monday, October 04, 2010

What I've just re-read: The King Must Die

Unlike many of my other favourite books, I actually did read this when I was a child. Well, I didn't know it wasn't a children's book, did I? I was madly into Greek mythology at the time (still am, actually). And I had recently read Robert Graves' The Greek Myths (another book I hadn't realised wasn't for kids, so I made my older sister borrow it for me four times and puzzled everyone in my primary school class with my talk of sacred kings and triple goddesses...). So when I heard about this novel on the radio - probably the ABC - I just had to go and get my own copy. It is still on my shelves, falling apart, and a couple of weeks ago I plucked my biography of Mary Renault from the shelves, finally able to read it. It's by David Sweetman, if anyone is interested. He had interviewed the author for a TV documentary and finally decided to do a book. It's a fascinating read, mingling her life story with some of the possible reasons why she wrote as she did.

Interestingly, she studied at Oxford and one of her teachers there was J.R.R. Tolkien and another person from whom she learned there was related to Arthur Evans, who dug at Knossos.

After all this, I just had to go and dig out my copy of The King Must Die and re-read it, of course. I will have to get hold of a new copy if I want to read it again without it falling completely apart. Meanwhile, I found it just as wonderful as when I was eleven, only now I get all the bits that went over my head when I was a child.

It tells the story of Theseus from his childhood to his return from Crete. She does a very fine job of explaining how the various things might have happened. She sets it in a specific time; at one point, there's a conversation about this Pharoah who's good for craftsmen and only worships one god. Theseus kills "Kerkyon" at Eleusis as part of the yearly king-sacrifice in the matriarchal society and becomes "Kerkyon" himself, that being the king's title, not his name. He clears up the bandits on the Isthmus with his army and allies, not by himself - and he's a short, assertive man, not a hulking six-footer, because a big man couldn't have been a bull-dancer. The youths and maidens are taken to Crete to be bull-dancers, not to be eaten by the Minotaur (and Minotaur is the title of the heir to the throne, like "Dauphin" or "Prince of Wales") - the bull-headed man is a heraldic device, not an actual monster. Despite all this, Theseus believes firmly that he has a relationship with the god Poseidon, even though he knows King Aigeus is his actual father. And there's the odd fantastical touch - Theseus knows when an earthquake is coming. Mainly, it's about the clash between old religion and new. Women don't get very good press in this book, apart from the odd Amazon and the hero's mother, who respects and serves the Goddess, but is a part of the male-based sky-god worship. Theseus really loves Ariadne, but she lets him down. He understands why, but can't bring himself to take her home. The reasons for all this are probably more about Mary Renault than about the characters, but I can see it happening this way. Having read Robert Graves, I understand the background.

If you just want a great action-adventure which gives a fascinating interpretation of a Greek myth, you can still enjoy this. You're unlikely to find it in your local bookshop any more, but it's available. I'm going to order my second copy on-line; I think I'm going to need it.