Monday, April 29, 2019

Possession

Possession
by Kat Richardson
Recommended Ages: 15+

+++ REVIEW IN PROGRESS +++

This is the eighth of nine Greywalker novels, combining private detective fiction with the paranormal. The next (and to date, last) installment is Revenant.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Die Trying

Die Trying
by Lee Child
Recommended Ages: 15+

+++ REVIEW IN PROGRESS +++

For some reason, when I read Persuader, I was persuaded that it was the first novel in the Jack Reacher series. So, when I asked the person at the library circulation desk to put the second book on request for me, I got this – which is correct. I didn't know then, nor did I know while reading this book – in fact, I only found out just now, while doing my own little bit of online research for this review – that while this really is the second book, I haven't read the first book, which is Killing Floor, and that Persuader is all the way down the list at No. 7. But as the 24th book in the series is coming out later this year, I guess I have plenty of time to catch up.

Monday, April 22, 2019

How to Catch a Bogle

How to Catch a Bogle
by Catherine Jinks
Recommended Ages: 11+

+++ REVIEW IN PROGRESS +++

This book, a.k.a. A Very Unusual Pursuit, is the first book of the City of Orphans series. It continues in A Plague of Bogles (a.k.a. A Very Peculiar Plague) and The Last Bogler (a.k.a A Very Singular Guild). Catherine Jinks is the Australian-Canadian author of the four-book Pagan Chronicles, the Allie's Ghost Hunters quartet, the Cadel Piggott/Evil Genius trilogy, The Reformed Vampire Support Group, The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group and loads of other titles for teens and younger.

Full Wolf Moon

Full Wolf Moon
by Lincoln Child
Recommended Ages: 14+

+++ REVIEW IN PROGRESS +++

This is Book 5 of the Dr. Jeremy Logan series, coming after Deep Storm, Terminal Freeze, The Third Gate and The Forgotten Room. The author, not to be confused with Lee Child, is half of the "Preston & Child" writing duo, along with Douglas Preston. Together, they have written the 18-book Pendergast series and the five-book Gideon's Crew series, besides a handful of stand-alone books. By himself, Lincoln Child is also the author of Utopia (a.k.a. Lethal Velocity) and Death Match.

The Forgotten Room

The Forgotten Room
by Lincoln Child
Recommended Ages: 14+

+++ REVIEW IN PROGRESS +++

This is Book 4 of the Dr. Jeremy Logan series, which also includes Deep Storm, Terminal Freeze, The Third Gate and Full Wolf Moon. The author, not to be confused with Lee Child, is half of the "Preston & Child" writing duo, along with Douglas Preston. Together, they have written the 18-book Pendergast series and the five-book Gideon's Crew series, besides a handful of stand-alone books. By himself, Lincoln Child is also the author of Utopia (a.k.a. Lethal Velocity) and Death Match.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Boy Who Knew Everything

The Boy Who Knew Everything
by Victoria Forester
Recommended Ages: 12+

In this sequel to The Girl Who Could Fly, buoyant Piper McCloud has led her little band of misfits back to the farm where she started life, after their escape from an awful institution devoted to squashing the super-powers out of very special kids. Serving as co-leader of the group is Conrad Harrington III, a super-brilliant boy who feels the life go out of him when he realizes that his father, who rejects his very existence, is about to become President of the U.S. But he doesn't have long to mope, with a series of disasters threatening thousands of lives and the government doing less than nothing about it.

Before they get to the bottom of what is happening, Piper and Conrad must escape from a military that blames them for everything that is going wrong. They must find their way into a hidden world full of people like them and then, in defiance of even greater odds, out again. They must make peace with terrifying enemies who have become allies; and more difficult still, they must survive the betrayal of a seeming friend who is really their ultimate enemy.

That synopsis comes dangerously close to revealing too much. But really, all I want to add to this review is that it's a pretty good book, with some emotionally powerful moments, amazing feats and high adventure; but it doesn't move me quite as much as the first book did. I suppose this could partly be put down to middle-book-of-a-trilogy-itis. Part of it, however, is directly related to the ending being (I feel) rushed, with the pace of the story surging ahead more than I thought was really good for it. Nevertheless, I am very interested in seeing the third installment, The Boy Who Lived Forever (scheduled for release in January 2020). I expect a great deal, even after a not-quite-as-good second book, of the conclusion of a trilogy that started as strongly as this one did.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Shazam

Shazam! – I'm told Captain Marvel, released around the same time as this movie, was pretty good. But between the two movies, both based on characters originally named Captain Marvel, this was the one I wanted to see, and I enjoyed it very much. It features teen newcomer Asher Angel as a frequent-runaway foster child named Billy Batson who has been looking for his mother since, when he was very small, they were separated in a crowd. A desperate wizard played by Djimon Hounsou lays the mantle of the powers of SHAZAM on him - wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles, speed of Mercury - and tells him that he must defend the world from the demons who embody the seven deadly sins.

Unfortunately, those demons have already been unleashed on the world, thanks to the revenge of the previous boy who didn't prove to be as pure of heart as the job description required. That failed candidate, now grown up and played by Mark Strong (remember the villain in 2009's Sherlock Holmes?) goes on an evil rampage, while Billy and his mildly disabled foster-brother mess around with his new superpowers, which (among other things) turn him into an adult, played by Zachary Levi. Other cast members include John Glover as the villain's father, Michelle Borth (of the current Hawaii Five-O), Adam Brody (of TV's The O.C.), and Cooper Andrews (of TV's The Walking Dead).

The upshot is an engaging blend of boyish goofiness and superhero-fantasy action, climaxing in a carnival battle between the demons and Billy's SHAZAM-ified family of foster siblings. Troubled kid learns lesson about loyalty to the found family he didn't actually set out to find. Unlikely candidate for being "pure of heart" enough to carry the mantle of SHAZAM, proves to have more going on under the cape than anyone would have guessed. Schoolyard bullies get the "suitcase wedgie" they've been dishing out, as a fringe benefit of having their lives saved from a freak carnival accident. With special effects that relied a little less on boring billows of smoke, it would be a just-about-perfect piece of family entertainment.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) The boys use Billy's adult-hero look to buy beer at a convenience store - then try it, spit it out in disgust and go back for snacks. (2) The kid finally finds his birth mother, only to realize she isn't his real family. (3) Forced to discover his powers one at a time, young Shazam figures out how to fly only inches from going splat on a freeway overpass... then discovers his invulnerability when a truck slams into him. Bonus: The little "ha!" Billy's best bud/foster brother gives in the very last scene when he's introduced to a very Special lunch room guest. That capital S is a hint.

Guardians of the West

Guardians of the West
by David Eddings
Recommended Ages: 13+

The first book of five in The Malloreon begins more or less where the five-book series The Belgariad left off. Belgarion, formerly just plain Garion, has grown from a farm boy tied to the apron strings of his Aunt Pol to a young man, powerful in sorcery, experienced in battle, wearing the crown of a kingdom and bearing a sword of destiny, with a powerful stone in its pommel. He knows a 7,000-year-old sorcerer as his Grandfather, has the voice of a prophecy living inside his head, and is married to a half-dryad imperial princess. And lest we forget, he has recently returned from a quest that culminated in his slaying of an evil god. So, a wee bit of happily ever after would seem to be in order. Naturally, it proves wee indeed.

Only a few years later, the courtiers of the kingdom of Riva are nervous about the fact that Garion and Ce’Nedra haven’t produced an heir yet. Their relationship is strained by the petty misunderstandings that can turn love from sweet to bitter. Their alliance with the neighboring Alorn kingdoms is strained by an assassination attempt against the queen. A cult is rising, devoted to an interpretation of ancient prophecy that emphasizes the racial purity of the Alorn royalty and their authority to crush and dominate all other kingdoms in the world. At least equally terrible is a leader of one of the Angarak nations, who is waging a war of extermination on one of his people’s historic allies, and who aims personally to fill the void left in his empire’s ancient religion by the slaying of their god. And then there’s the rumor of a prophecy opposing the one in Garion’s head – the prophecy that supports the ambitions of the Child of Darkness. Garion thought he had sent that one packing already, but it seems to come back with even nastier plans than before, and a new source of power equal to the stone in the pommel of Garion’s sword.

This book charts the beginning of Garion’s second major quest, in which he revisits the cultures, characters, battlefields and courts brimming with intrigue that he previously passed through in The Belgariad. This time, the stakes are somehow even higher than before, both on a cosmic level – I mean, we could be talking the end of all things, here – as well as personally. No longer a mere boy, Garion suffers the agony of returning from the battlefield too late to prevent his own child’s abduction. The search for that child, with many delays, becomes tied up in his quest to save the world. And in that quest, once again, he is accompanied by a diverse group of companions selected by destiny (or by whomever) for reasons beyond his knowing – including a spy, a mute, a sometime blacksmith who has stumbled upon sorcery, and a strange boy who seems just as likely as Garion to become the champion of the Light in adventures to come.

At the risk of some repetition, fantasy pioneer David Eddings takes opportunity in this series to re-explore the already richly developed world he created in The Belgariad, full of endearing characters, complex geopolitics, delicious dialogue and thrilling action. The magic, when it happens, wows. The emotions, when they stir, run warm. The adventure, in both its horizontal geography and its penetration into multiple vertical layers of reality, can be called epic without fear of challenge. The opportunity to enjoy another quest with the same world at stake provides a rare opportunity to experience a sense of comfortable familiarity at the same time as gripping tension and excitement. Seeing the same old characters and places again, but in a different light, provides an intriguing blend of old and new. And remembering what Garion was, when we first met him – a child bursting with raw promise – makes us care all the more about what he has become, is still becoming, and will go through in this new series.

The books following this are King of the Murgos, Demon Lord of Karanda, Sorceress of Darshiva and The Seeress of Kell. Eddings is also the author or co-author of the Elenium and Tamuli trilogies, several other companion books and stand-alone novels.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Glass Magician

The Glass Magician
by Charlie N. Holmberg
Recommended Ages: 13+

Ceony Twill, an apprentice to the paper magician (commonly known as a Folder) Emery Thane, has fallen in love with her master. She can hardly help it, after actually traveling through his heart in an adventure to save him from a blood magician who used to be his wife. But in a magical U.K. on a similar technological level to our world’s early 20th century, an intimate relationship between a master and apprentice would be highly scandalous. And anyway, he doesn’t act like he reciprocates her feelings.

And anyway anyway, they may not live to exchange passionate endearments, because evil magicians are after them again. Rather, they’re after Ceony, because they think she might be able to reverse what she did to freeze the female bad guy in the previous book. One of the new bad guys is another blood magician (Excisioner), who only needs to touch you once to gain the power to kill you with a flick of his wrist. About as bad is the other bad guy, a glass magician (Gaffer) like Ceony’s best friend Delilah, who can do amazing things (for example) with mirrors.

But don’t count a mere Folder out of the fight. Ceony manages to use folding paper to fly, build a bomb, shield objects from magical detection, and even create a moving, two-dimensional copy of herself. All these skills may not be enough, however, against fiends who are willing to blow up a factory, murder people indiscriminately, and do things that would make most people shudder. Worse still, one of them has discovered a secret that could alter the relationship between magicians and the materials they are bound to.

This novel has a powerful charge of danger, action, horror and magic in it, and romance is never far behind. Ceony sends many other emotions across just as powerfully – including, I’m afraid, guilt and grief. I find the combination irresistible, and the shape of magic in Ceony's world is fascinating and unique. This series, which started with The Paper Magician, continues after this book with two more, so far – The Master Magician and The Plastic Magician. I look forward to reading them both.

Persuader

Persuader
by Lee Child
Recommended Ages: 15+

Some book reviews should come with a Spoiler Warning. For this review, I feel like issuing a Non-Spoiler Warning. I mean, I’m actually going to tell you less about what happens in this book than the back-cover blurb does. I’m also going to advise you not to read the back-cover or book-jacket blurb before you’ve made it a significant way through the book. I made the mistake of sneaking a peak at the back-cover blurb, and I found that it destroyed a surprise and discharged an electrical potential of tension that accumulated during the first chapter.

So, first chapter synopsis only: Jack Reacher is this guy who was in the military for a long time, and has been out of the military for a short time. He was much better at being in the military than he is at being out. But the skills he picked up during that earlier time prove really handy now, when – apparently by sheer chance – a rich college boy is snatched off a Boston street right in front of him in a barrage of weapons fire that puts said college boy’s body guards out of commission. Jack checks his “are you sure you want to do this” meter, then interferes with the kidnap with brutal efficiency. Unfortunately, one of the bodies that goes down belongs to a cop who just happened to be there.

Jack and college boy hit the road. Jack tells the boy he’ll take him anywhere he likes, as long as it’s out of town and doesn’t involve the police. Cop killers don’t get a warm welcome with the police, he reasons. College boy is all right with that; he’s so freaked out, having been kidnapped once before and having a mutilated ear to show for it. He begs and pleads and finally convinces Jack to drive him all the way to Maine, to the suspiciously well-armed oceanside fortress where his family lives. The kid's father is supposedly a rug importer, but there is clearly something else going on. More ominous still are the signs that someone else, someone unseen, is really in charge and that the kid’s parents, crooked dad and all, are just as trapped there as Jack soon will be. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Let’s not, for example, mention that there is more to why Jack is there than mere chance. Pay no attention to the insinuation that either a rescue mission or a piece of stone-cold revenge is in play, let alone both. Cover the next couple of sentences so you don’t find out, sooner than you should, that the book is a slow-burning fuse branching off to an exquisitely timed series of explosions. Jack Reacher frequently risks, and just as frequently inflicts, coldblooded death. He proves relentless, resourceful and ridiculously competent – and boy, does he know his way around a gun.

I am not a Tom Cruise fan, and I have not seen the film or films (I don’t even know whether there are more than one) featuring him as Jack Reacher. Basing my mental image of Jack Reacher on this book, I can’t begin to conceive of how Tom Cruise could play him. Please, don’t tell me. I would rather not know. Just as you would rather not know more than you strictly must to get hooked on this savagely violent, torturously suspenseful, unputdownable book.

Though this is the first book by Lee Child that I have read, it turns out to be the seventh in soon-to-be 24 novels in his Jack Reacher series, starting all the way back in 1997 with Killing Floor and due to continue in October 2019 with Blue Moon. In between, their titles include Die Trying, Tripwire, The Visitor, Echo Burning, Without Fail, The Enemy, One Shot, The Hard Way, Bad Luck and Trouble, Nothing to Lose, Gone Tomorrow, 61 Hours, Worth Dying For, The Affair, A Wanted Man, Never Go Back, Personal, Make Me, Night School, The Midnight Line and Past Tense, plus several novellas. Lee Child is a British transplant to New York, USA.