Fast-paced from start to finish

machine warsTITLE = MACHINE WARS

AUTHOR = MICHAEL PRYOR

GENRE = SCIENCE FICTION, FUTURE, ACTION, ADVENTURE 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

This novel is a fast-paced adventure from the very first line.

Bram’s mum (the genius behind many Artificial Intelligence (AI) inventions) has always been aware of the potential problems inherent in AI so when one of her creations (Ahriman) starts to act strangely, she has prepared her family with a well-researched “Scatter-and-Hide” safety plan.

But for 14 year old Bram, practising a safety plan and the reality of a safety plan are 2 very different things. Bram finds it exhausting, nerve-wracking and down-right dangerous being on the run from robotic-internet driven AI controlled bugs. IT is just as well he has 2 companions: a friend from school (Stella) who distinguishes herself with her intelligence, and Bob the duck (Bram’s favourite toy when he was a toddler but since turned into an AI protector by Bram’s mum).

Can Bram, Stella and Bob the Duck outwit the power hungry Ahriman long enough for Bram’s mum to come up with a counter-attack?? With clever robots on their tails, the machine wars are very, very real and could end very, very badly for Bram, Stella and Bob.

Great pace, great action and clever plotting make this story an enjoyable romp from start to finish. There are plenty of punches and punchlines andjust  a touch of romance, so it is wonderful  entertainment for younger readers.

Recommended (dma) ****

A moving story for older readers

eleanor and parkTITLE = ELEANOR & PARK

AUTHOR = RAINBOW ROWELL

GENRE = FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, SCHOOL, BULLYING, ROMANCE 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

This is a sad story as flagged from the opening page.

Park is afraid to be open about his feelings, so initially seems a bit angry with Eleanor. Eleanor seems gawky and awkward but as we follow their stories in alternating chapters, we see what hides beneath the veneer that they show the world.

Eleanor comes from a poor and brutal home where her step-father rules. He has only just allowed Eleanor to return home, after kicking her out a year ago. Her mother is afraid to stand up to her partner, so Eleanor and her siblings eat early (before he comes home) and cower whilst he shouts and their mother cries.

Eleanor’s newness and strange attire make her a target for the school bullies so school days are equally difficult for Eleanor; until Park slowly reaches out to her over a shared interest in comics and music. Gradually, their friendship blossoms, giving both of them inner strength. But does their love stand a chance when Eleanor’s brutish step-father is watching her every move… and when put to the test, will Eleanor and Park have the courage to take action .. even at a cost to their relationship?

This is a credible and moving story … although some readers may not like the ending?? Given the themes in the story, it is likely to suit more mature readers.

Recommended (dma) **** 

In a dark future how do you survive?

the sky so heavyTITLE = THE SKY SO HEAVY

AUTHOR = CLAIRE ZORN

GENRE = FUTURE, VIOLENCE, SURVIVAL, FRIENDSHIP 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

This is an exciting story of survival which also gives the reader plenty to think about. The opening line takes us straight into a dramatic situation and awakens a strong sense of peril and fear. And then we go back to find out what brought the narrator, Fin to this urgent situation.

And it all began on what seems like a typical day in the life of teenaged Fin: catching the bus to school, trying to chat with his crush (Lucy), listening to his teachers waffle about the world outside their own Blue Mts. At home, his brother clashes with his father and step-mum, so the boys are left on their own … and that’s when the horrifying adventure really begins.

In an apocalyptic future, Fin and his brother Max must face the danger alone. The power goes almost instantly so any chance of communication with the outside world is immediately restricted. It becomes a daily battle to keep warm and feed themselves, let alone entertain themselves… as they wait for dad to come home …or to be rescued.

Fin is a decent and responsible lad but even he can be pushed to extremes when faced with the mammoth job of keeping his brother alive and safe. Suddenly Fin decides to take action in a morally questionable way … this leads the way for a clever and thought-provoking strand to develop in this novel. For the story gradually raises questions about actions and consequences: does the end always justify the means? Does the fight for survival give one the right to hurt others? How far is too far?

Fin joins forces with Lucy and another boy from their school whose religious leanings provoke some of the moral questioning. Fin is a credibly flawed character who faces great odds and readers will be truly engaged in his story.

Shortlisted for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), this book was announced as AN HONOUR BOOK!! CONGRATULATIONS TO CLAIRE ZORN.

Recommended (dma) ****

Choices always have consequences … some may be unexpected …

dead dogTITLE = DEAD DOG IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT

AUTHOR = ARCHIMEDE FUSILLO

GENRE = FAMILY, GROWING UP, VIOLENCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

This is a dark novel with a sense of brooding violence and anger lingering at the edge of every page. Primo has a lot on his plate: his father is in a nursing home and his girlfriend wants to break up with him. His home-life hasn’t got any easier since his brothers have moved back in, bringing all sorts of problems and pressures with them. How can somebody concentrate on their VCE studies with all this going on?

AS Primo tells his best mate, Tony, smart guys sometimes make dumb decisions … and it seems like Primo is talking about himself … first with his dad’s beloved car and then with the dead dog. What seemed like a good idea at the time may turn out to be a very very bad idea once it has been executed. And trying to fix one bad idea with another bad idea is surely never going to work? But hindsight is all very well – it is not going to help if the thug from work wants revenge, it is not going to help when he has to tell his mother the truth … as Primo learns all too well.

And ultimately that is what becomes important in this book: any one can make mistakes but it is how we deal with these mistakes, how we learn (or if we learn) that can make us grow up to fight another day… in a better way. Will Primo see that before his world comes crumbling down around him …and what will he learn about his family in the process? A book which may be dark but which also shows that strength doesn’t always come from a fist and dignity can be found in unlikely places.

Recommended (dma) ***** 

A brilliant end to a wonderful series

black heartTITLE = THE CURSE WORKERS (Book 3): Black Heart

AUTHOR = HOLLY BLACK

GENRE = FANTASY, MAGIC, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8 +

This is the third and final book in an intriguing series. Fans of the previous 2 books are sure to be satisfied with Holly Black’s clever conclusion. As usual, Cassel Sharpe finds himself in a tricky situation: trying to keep his mother alive and out of jail, trying to keep away from a life of crime, he has signed up to help the Feds. But can he trust them? Or do they simply want to use him as so many others have used him before?

And is his heart destined to be broken…again? The only girl he has ever loved truly despises him (and given that he once turned her into a cat and his own mother once worked a spell on her, Cassel can’t really blame her). But his heart so wishes it was otherwise.

Meanwhile his best friends are fighting, a girl he doesn’t trust wants his help and the principal keeps threatening to kick him out of school. Life was never meant to be this complicated .. was it?

A  terrific book and a wonderfully inventive series … Cassel Sharpe will worm his way into your heart …even if he thinks his own heart is blackened.

Highly Highly Recommended (dma) *****

The final breathtaking instalment in a popular series

Allegiant_DemiJacket_WetProofTest.inddTITLE = THE DIVERGENT SERIES #3: Allegiant

AUTHOR = VERONICA ROTH

GENRE = DYSTOPIAN FICTION, ACTION, ROMANCE, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8+

There may be a bit less action in this conclusion to the Divergent trilogy, and more political intrigue – as we (and the main characters) finally the truth behind the factional system that has governed their country for so long. But some things remain the same – Tris and Tobias once again seem to be targeted for involvement in revolution and rebellion … but will they agree on the best course of action or will their determination to see a better world finally pull apart these 2 strong-minded young people? Will more lives be lost in the hope of a better future … and where does love, family and friendship fit into all of this confusion?

AS the final instalment in a riveting series, ALLEGIANT is all about honesty, trust and forgiveness. IT is about self-knowledge and knowing what makes us human. Ultimately, our main characters have to learn the true meaning of bravery – which isn’t just about having the courage to fight violence with violence, it can also be about the strength needed to live each day, even when in pain and grief from the loss of loved ones … it is having the strength to carry on.

Fans of the series will be on the edge of their seats as the read about Tris and Tobias’ tortuous adventures – and most should be satisfied with the conclusion that Veronica Roth has woven .. but keep the tissue box handy! For newcomers to the series, read about Book 1 (Divergent) here.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A gripping read

KILLING-WOODS-Final2-196x300TITLE = THE KILLING WOODS

AUTHOR = LUCY CHRISTOPHER

GENRE = CRIME, MYSTERY, ADVENTURE, HORROR  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

This is a clever but quite chilling tale told by 2 key characters: Emily and Damon. Emily is the daughter of a battle-shattered man who has been arrested for the murder of a teenager in the woods behind their house. The doctors and police have decided that her dad’s wounded mind has led him to mistakenly kill the girl whilst in the throes of a flashback. Emily refuses to believe that her dad is guilty of the murder so she wants answers: why was the teenage girl (Ashlee Parker) in the woods on that night anyway? Was her dad simply trying to save the girl as he had saved many woodland creatures in the past?

Damon was Ashlee’s boyfriend. He too wants answers – whilst he firmly believes that Emily’s father is the guilty party, he was actually in the woods with Ashlee on that fateful night  … but a combination of drink and drugs means he cannot clearly remember what happened. He is haunted by the suspicion that he could or should have saved her. Worse still, could he have anything to do with her death?

Can Emily and Damon trust each other enough to find answers for both of them? And what about their own close friends – are they helping or hindering the police investigation … can they be trusted?

A gripping story which is a real page-turner from go to whoa. Like Emily and Damon, the reader will be keen to piece together the events which have led to Ashlee’s death, but will we see the truth before they do?

Why not check out the author’s website to learn more about this gripping novel and her other award winning books?

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A beautifully written story with a dark edge

TITLE = THE BONE DRAGON

AUTHOR = ALEXIA CASALE

GENRE = FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, REVENGE, DRAGONS, FANTASY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10-11

This is a genuinely spinechilling novel but cleverly crafted so that the chills literally creep up on you in unexpected ways. The novel’s cover looks magical but we soon realise there is a bleak layer beneath that surface appearance.

Evie is recovering from an operation which removed a fractured rib. From this rib she begins to carve a magical and beautiful dragon with whom she has night time rambles on the fens surrounding her home. There is beauty and magic in the descriptions of these nightly forays – darkness, mist and dampness suddenly look quite bewitching rather than scary  – when you have a dragon accompanying you. Dragon says he has come to protect Evie and his nightly rambles seem to help her sleep and recover more fully. But is there a darker reason for these adventures? We suspect that Evie has been badly treated by her mother and grandparents and part of the gripping feel of this book comes from our desire to learn the truth of Evie’s past. The more we guess, the more we pity her for what she has suffered and what she still suffers. For Evie is subjected to bullying from one of the lads at school – but this is where the first warning comes into the story … has Evie coirrectly interpreted events?

The reader will be on the edge of their seats as they turn the last few pages with equal amounts of awe and dread: the ending will stun and surprise and make you adjust your thoughts – not just about Evie but also about the ethics of revenge and the nature of evil. This is the true magic of this amazing and compelling novel by first time author, Alexia Casale; beautifully written but with a layer of darkness beneath each page.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A satisfying conclusion to an exciting series

TITLE = THE PHOENIX FILES Book 6: DOOMSDAY

AUTHOR =  CHRIS MORPHEW

GENRE = ACTION, ADVENTURE, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

After 5 action-packed books, we finally come to the conclusion of this engaging series. The clock continues to tick for Luke and Jordan and this time they take it in turns to tell the story,  which only serves to increase the sense of drama.

Once more the odds are set against them: not only are they trying to prevent Luke’s murder but they also have broader concerns: harnessing the potential power of baby Tobias, who remains their last chance of saving the world from the outbreak of Tabitha. All the while, they are trying to avoid being captured by Shackleton and his army.

Yet help suddenly appears from unexpected quarters … or does it? Realistically, neiter the characters nor the reader knows quite who to trust apart for much of the story which only adds to the tension that Morphew has created.

Some might quibble that there are one too many character about-faces to be truly credible but the fact that we are never certain about their motivation ensures most readers will be carried along with the story.

Readers looking for fast paced action and nailbiting tension will be satisfied with this final instalment in what has been an exciting series.

Recommended (dma) ****

 

A nail-biting end to a saga of betrayal and revenge

TITLE = QUINTANA OF CHARYN

AUTHOR = MELINA MARCHETTA

GENRE = FANTASY, POLITICAL INTRIGUE, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

Having left readers on a cliffedge at the end of book 2 in this series (“Quintara of Charyn”), from the opening page of this final instalment, Melina Marchetta steps back into the same sense of dread and doom that permeated the middle section of this intriguing series. In book 2, the only glimmer of lightness came when we visited the Queen of Lumatere, Isaboe and her beloved husband and child, Finnikin and Jasmina. Yet book 3 opens with the couple fighting. What does this mean for the happy couple and the future of their land?

Isaboe has been hell-bent on revenge, having lost her entire family to assassins. But as the reader knows, this means she has unknowingly sent her husband out to kill the father of Froi, the young man whom Isaboe and Finnikin cherish as a friend.

Book 1 in this series was about displaced persons and the need for a homeland; book 2 was about betrayal and loyalty on both a personal and national level. Book 3 builds on both themes, for much of this novel is about choices; in particular the choices we make in the name of family loyalty and love. So many of the characters have experienced pain at the hands of others, yet so few of them seem capable of getting past this pain, in fact, many seem determined to inflict pain on others in the name of justice. It seems rare for many of these public figures to show kindness and compassion.

Cleverly, the comparisons between the lives of Quintara and Isaboe are sharply drawn in this third book: both women are pregnant, both imagine they are having sons, both carry the babes of men who love them, both are queens but here the similarities seem to end. Whilst Quintara seems cruel and crazy and hated by most of her kingdom, Isaboe seems the model diplomat and rational ruler. Until they cross paths. Will Isaboe take revenge on her “rival” simply because she is linked to the assassins who destroyed her family? And if so, at what cost to her own sanity? And could such action put Lumatere at risk? Or will Isaboe learn some hard lessons about the ugly side of revenge?

Another compelling novel in the Lumatere Chronicles which is sure to leave readers satisfied and amazed with Marchetta’s craft at tying together the complex and thoughtful strands of this fascinating saga.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****