Skeleton Key: A darker take on the teen spy’s adventures

Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz

The ALEX RIDER books have always veered on the side of realism (as opposed to other teen-targeted spy stories such as Spy Kids and Kim Possible) but even I was surprised by just how dark the third book in Anthony Horowitz's series actually got.

Having been recruited and trained by MI6 in order to infiltrate locations and undergo missions in which teenagers go unnoticed, fourteen year old Alex is happy to be free of espionage and just hanging out with the lovely Sabina Pleasure (a Bond girl if ever there was one).

Naturally, his fun is over when he's once again approached by the Special Divisions Unit — first to go undercover as a ballboy at Wimbledom to investigate a strange break-in, and then (which takes up the bulk of Skeleton Key Read More

Redemption Ark: Promising ideas but excessive page-count

Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds

Redemption Ark (2002) is the follow-up to Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds’ debut novel and the second book in his REVELATION SPACE series of hard SF space opera in which highly-augmented human factions encounter implacable killer machines bent on exterminating sentient life. The first entry had elements of Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Read More

Grave Peril: About the women in Harry’s life

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Someone is torturing the ghosts of Chicago, driving them mad and juicing up their power. Harry Dresden, wizard, is the best person to handle this, but even a wizard needs back-up sometimes. In Grave Peril, the third book of The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher introduces Michael Carpenter, a Knight of the Cross.

Michael wields a sword given to him by an angel. He has pledged his life to serving God, vanquishing evil and freeing the victims of evil. For Michael, life is black and white, and faith is all, which makes him an interesting companion for Harry.

The first ghost they face in the book is a woman who accidentally killed her own child. This sets a tone for Grave Peril, because it is in many ways a book about women.

As Harry struggles to identify the force behind the angry, souped-up ghosts he confronts vario... Read More

Night Shade: Just…. No

Night Shade by Lynne Ewing

I’ll put it bluntly: I don’t recommend this series. Granted, I’m no longer in the demographic that Daughters of the Moon is targeted toward, but I was when I first read Nightshade and I wasn’t impressed even then.

The premise of Daughters of the Moon is that young girls who are delivered by the goddess Diana are infused with magical powers that they must use against the ancient evil Atrox and his various minions. It's the girl-power meets evil-bashing type of book, a ploy that usually works, but to be honest — there’s better stuff out there that covers the same ground.

The “goddesses” themselves are typical stereotypes: Serena is the leader, Jimena is the bad girl, Catty is the shy one, and Vanessa is the…extra? Each b... Read More

The City of Dreaming Books: Fun for young (and not-so-young) adults

The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers

Walter Moers's young adult novel The City of Dreaming Books is a wonderful combination of fantasy and farce. Moers leads the reader on a highly entertaining, and sometimes tense, journey through an imaginary world where literature is life.

Following the death of a beloved mentor, aspiring author Optimus Yarnspinner journeys to the city of Bookholm, a city devoted entirely to the creation, sale and consumption of books. The City of Dreaming Books follows Yarnspinner as he tries to follow the path that leads from his mentor to Bookholm and finds adventure along the way. Yarnspinner may be a dinosaur, but he lives and thinks like we do. After all, what could be more human than spending late nights in a café, drinking good coffee and eating good food?

I really liked Walter Moers’s willingne... Read More

Child of the Prophecy: Darker

Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier

While, like Son of the Shadows, Child of the Prophecy is never quite as wonderful as Daughter of the Forest, it is nevertheless a good book, and worth reading if you liked the first two.

This one is darker in tone. In Daughter of the Forest, the heroes and villains were clearly delineated; in Son of the Shadows the line between the two was more hazy, but the heroine herself was beyond reproach. In Child of the Prophecy the heroine, Fainne, is a conflicted and flawed character in ways that Sorcha and Liadan never were.

Fainne, child of the forbidden union of Ciaran and Niamh, is raised by her father in the lonely reaches of Kerry. When her father falls ill, Fainne's grandmother, the evil Oonagh, takes Fainne under her wing... Read More

Cold Fire: A strong potrayal of community

Cold Fire by Tamora Pierce

The Circle Opens quartet deals with the ongoing adventures of the four Winding Circle students as they themselves become the teachers to new (and even younger) apprentices. Sadly, one of the prerequisites of this teaching experience is that the four friends are separated, as became clear in Magic Steps, in which we learn from Sandry that Briar, Tris and Daja have left on far-flung journeys with their respective teachers in order to improve their own magical crafts. As such, the wonderful friendship that was the heart and soul of the previous quartet (Circle of Magic) is put on hiatus as the four make new friends, become teachers and deepen the relationship between themselves and their mentors.

Daja (still sporting the copper-cover hand that she earned... Read More

Harshini: It all comes crashing down

Harshini by Jennifer Fallon

Up till now I've enjoyed Jennifer Fallon's Demon Child trilogy; her writing is competent (not beautiful, but competent), her characters intriguing, and the story was interesting enough. But I always had this feeling... the same feeling I get when I watch my 2 year old daughter constructing a tower of blocks by stacking the big ones on top of the smaller ones...

Sure enough, just like my daughter's tower, in Harshini, it all comes crashing down.

R'shiel finally embraces her role as Demon Child and we at last see her putting her riding leathers to good use — she actually rides dragons in this novel (though it doesn't help much when taking a trip on a flying dragon takes just as long as it does in a rowboat). And that's probably the nicest thing I can say about R'shiel. She was never... Read More

Iron Council: A step down from earlier books but still quite strong

Iron Council by China Mieville

Iron Council is Miéville's third book set in his created world. While not really a trilogy as is normally thought of, since each book can stand independent of the others, it's probably best to have at least read Perdido Street Station since that book gives the most full description of the world's background — its various races, politics, technologies, magics, economics, etc. In this book, the city of Perdido Street Station is at war both with a vague outside enemy known as the Tesh and with itself, as it is being torn apart by economic, political, and racial tensions. The impending civil war was foreshadowed years ago when the oppressed workers of the transcontinental railroad mutinied against their corporate overseers and fled to start their own free state. That semi-mythical state has served as a symbol of hope to those back in the city and now a small group ... Read More

Reunion: A little shaky and predictable

Reunion by Meg Cabot

Reunion is the third book in the Mediator series by Meg Cabot/Jenny Carroll, centering around a young woman named Susannah 'Suze' Simon, who is a Mediator: someone who guides unquiet spirits to their eternal rest (whether they like it or not!) Having recently moved from New York to California to live with her mum's new husband, Suze has had to learn to cope with a new Catholic school and putting up with three new stepbrothers as well as the supernatural antics of the ghosts she has to control.

The only people who know her secrets are the kindly Principal Father Dominic and her best friend Gina from New York, who is present throughout this book, and of course Jesse, the incredibly gorgeous ghost that inhabits her room, that Suze has a mighty big crush on. For the moment however, she's happy to hang out wi... Read More