April 26, 2012

Murder mystery

Out of the Cold: A Robyn Hunter Mystery
by Norah McClintock

Nick has disappeared without a word, and Robyn doesn't know what to make of it. Could this be the end of their relationship? To keep her mind off her romantic troubles, she decides to volunteer at a drop-in centre for the homeless. After injuring Robyn, one of its clients, a man named Duffy, is banished from the shelter. On the coldest night of the year, he is found dead. Another volunteer named Ben blames Robyn for Mr. Duffy's death. 

Determined to have Mr. Duffy properly remembered, Ben tries to find out more about him. To make amends, Robyn agrees to help. What seems like another tragic death turns out to be something more sinister.

Robyn is no Nancy Drew. She lacks Nancy's confidence and smarts, which is somewhat surprising given that her father is an ex-cop turned private investigator. He helps out by giving her some pretty obvious advice. Conveniently, she manages to find some pretty handy clues and speak to all the right people, leading to a very far-fetched resolution. Let's just say it involves a botched murder attempt, amnesia, and an odd relationship.

As for Nick's disappearance, that plot point's left hanging. Robyn alludes to a previous incident, but we never know what actually happened. Since this book is part of a series, I must assume that Nick shows up in the other books. If readers like easy mysteries, they will seek out the rest of the series. If not, they'll go for something more exciting. I'd suggest The Mysterious Benedict Society.

April 24, 2012

Supernatural cold freeze

by Nicole Luiken

A talented hockey player, Johnny is usually the life of the party. But lately, his friends are beginning to think something's wrong. Mysterious accidents befall anyone Johnny gets close to and he's been hearing voices. And now he's been seen with the Stranger, a man named Frost. Turns out Frost is using Johnny to start a new ice age.

This is a very strange novel. Since Frost is powerful enough to move glaciers and start blizzards, he really doesn't need Johnny. He could kill everybody himself. Still, the book is very suspenseful, though the final showdown wasn't quite what I expected. Johnny shares a special bond with Cheryl, with whom he has an on/off relationship. Cheryl is closely in tune with nature and spirituality, so I thought she would use her unique abilities to defeat Frost. It doesn't quite work out, which was a little disappointing.

The book tends towards tedium in spots, especially when it involves Johnny's other girlfriend, Kathy. Kathy spends most of her time agonizing over Johnny's relationship with Cheryl. Kathy is a very superfluous character who is only there as a convenient backup plan for Frost. The book ends with a poor attempt at humour, which is too little, too late.

Good for readers who like their supernatural elements mixed with snow.

April 19, 2012

Wave of destruction

by Eric Walters

Twelve-year-old Sam and his parents are spending their annual Christmas vacation at their favourite resort in Phuket, Thailand. This time, they're without Sam's sister Beth, 19, who is due at a swim meet in Minnesota on December 27th. Sam has no idea that soon, he'll be caught up in an unimaginable disaster.

Sam narrates the first half of the book, in which he describes the horror of the approaching tsunami. Beth takes over in the second half, as she desperately searches for her family. Anyone who has seen footage of the 2004 Asian tsunami will be filled with dread as they read this novel. 

Terrifying and unforgettable; readers should not expect a happy ending.

April 17, 2012

Portrait of grief

by Francis Chalifour

After his father's suicide, fifteen-year-old Francis struggles to cope with the feelings of anger, guilt and sadness that consumes him. His young brother doesn't yet understand and his mother must work more to support the family. But as time passes, he gradually comes to terms with his loss. 

Although Francis wonders why his dad killed himself, this is not a book about suicide. Instead, Chalifour paints a realistic story of a teen going through the stages of grief and how it isolates him from his friends. The book may be difficult to read due to its overall sadness, but it would be useful for anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one.

April 12, 2012

Fairy tale murder mystery

A wolf named Henry Whelp escapes from a home for wayward youth and attempts to clear his father's name in a crime for which he was not wholly responsible. He had been acting under the influence of fairy dust when he brutally murdered Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother.

Fairy dust is addictive and hallucinogenic, with violent side effects. With assistance from Fiona, a tough fellow wolf, Henry tries to expose the dark truth about fairy dust, which involves drug smugglers, a pharmaceutical company, and a lot of dead fairies.

Action-packed, scary, and very violent (with a bit of torture), kids will no doubt get a kick out it (pun not intended). They'll also like the quirky characters, who are clever send-ups of popular fairy tale characters. There's crime boss Skinner (aka Rumplestiltskin), thieving Jack (of beanstalk fame), and Detective Inspector White, who used to live with a group of miners (seven of them). She's really good at taking people down.

Kids may not like the romance between Henry and Fiona, which involves a lot of kissing and hand/paw holding. Other readers may have a bit of trouble with the characters. Henry is not very smart (he doesn't shed his prison uniform right away), and Fiona has to juggle film canisters during a tense escape scene. I kept wondering why she didn't have a digital camera. I also wondered why the animals wore clothes. They'd be much better off without them (nothing to get ripped or dirty, and less of a hindrance when squeezing into tight spaces).

Despite these minor problems, the story is exciting and memorable, although the ending is bit unclear, with everything wrapped up a little too neatly. A sequel may be necessary.

April 10, 2012

Witches at work

by Terry Pratchett

Tiffany Aching is back, fulfilling her witchly duties for the people of the chalk. Sixteen now, she's capable of all sorts of things both mundane (cutting toenails, bandaging legs) and terrible (burying babies, preventing a suicide). As usual, she is helped by the Nac Mac Feegles, an irreverent and violent bunch of fairies. When not setting fire to her broomstick or rebuilding a pub back to front, they're happiest at fighting and breaking glass.

But this time, they are powerless against a bigger threat. An evil being called the Cunning Man is out to exterminate all witches, starting with Tiffany. He's already poisoned the minds of the villagers against her. With her reputation on the line, Tiffany needs to defeat him or she'll be put to death by the other witches.

A darker and scarier book than the previous ones, with grown-up scenarios and problems. Fortunately, you can always count on the Feegles to lighten things up. Tiffany even has a love interest! An exciting and entertaining read. 

Also read the other books in the series: The Wee Free Men,A Hat Full of Sky,and Wintersmith.

April 5, 2012

Dare to be different

by David Walliams
illustrated by Quentin Blake

Dennis is a twelve-year-old who misses his mother and the way things used to be when she was around. Her absence has strained the relationship between Dennis and his father and brother. They don't really talk much anymore. 

Dennis doesn't really keep it a secret, but he's a bit different. Why was he different? Well, the title pretty much gives it away. Dennis likes looking at women's clothes. But he doesn't do anything with them until he gets detention for heading a ball into the headmaster's office. In detention, he meets Lisa, the most beautiful girl in school. Their shared love of fashion makes them friends. It's Lisa who encourages Dennis to try on dresses and make-up. Then she gets him to do one more thing .... to pretend to be a French exchange student named Denise! Things predictably don't go as planned, but in a hilarious twist, it all comes right in the end.

David Walliams' gently humorous novel will remind many readers of Roald Dahl, but without the really nasty characters. And aside from prolonged laughter, everyone is remarkably accepting of Dennis' fetish. If only people could be like that in real life!

A very fun read.

April 3, 2012

Living in post-Taliban Afghanistan

by Rukhsana Khan

After the death of his wife, Jameela's father decides to seek a better life in Kabul. But being an opium addict, his decisions are often bad. They move in with another family, where Jameela is treated like a slave. When they're forced to leave, Jameela's father suddenly remarries. But her stepmother dislikes her and gets Jameela's father to abandon her in the marketplace. She ends up living in an orphanage. 

Though Jameela is afraid and helpless at first, she longs for more - an education and a fix to cure a cleft lip. At the orphanage, she learns to read, becomes more assertive, and gains a measure of strength to make her own decisions. With the memories of Mor (her mother), the kindness of strangers, and her religious faith, she is able to overcome tragedy without bitterness.

A depressing story, yet the ending provides a slight measure of hope.