Review: Matthew Reilly – Troll Mountain

Troll Mountain
Matthew Reilly

Raf’s only family has come down with a fatal disease that no human knows how to cure. The secret rests with the trolls of Troll Mountain – the very animals that killed the rest of Raf’s family. When the authorities of his tribe fail to make progress on helping Raf’s sister, he sets out on a quest.

21882602While at first glance things in society seem very simple, the questioning voice of Ko and Raf’s quick learning expose universal truths. Adults will probably see most things coming, but younger readers will appreciate the unveiling of the potential ugliness of society. It also seems as if Reilly is having a quick stab at the current state of politics (but it’s not intrusive).

This is a novel of the journey, the plot, the scenery and lastly the characters. Raf undergoes character development, but it’s really just a side effect of the journey. It certainly isn’t enough to drive the story. But the plot is swift and doesn’t let the reader or Raf catch their breath, ending up in a short read for me that took around a half hour.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this novel, but I don’t think it was what I expected from knowing about some of Reilly’s more popular works. I expected a gritty, heavy fantasy novel suitable for long-time converts, and instead got an accessible novel for all ages.

This novel was originally published in successive chapters as an ebook. I have to say, I probably never would have picked them up. I’m not very patient, and although each chapter wraps itself up nicely, and doesn’t form too much on an impatient cliff-hanger, I wouldn’t be good at remembering to keep reading it. I received this novel in a beautiful hardback from Macmillian. I’d suggest buying it for your young person in your life though – I think it would be worth reading and discussing. 3.5 stars from me.

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Review: Alexander Key – Escape to Witch Mountain

Alexander Key

Escape to Witch Mountain

Tia and Tony have been different all their lives. With abilities that seem to only get them into trouble, and branded as aggressors and thieves, Tony and Tia are alone in the world with only each other for support. When someone from their past comes looking for them, they know it is time to move into the future.

6576481I only picked up this novel because its listing in my digital borrowing app from my local library said it was a ‘blindingly brilliant piece of sci-fi’. I thought it couldn’t be that bad. And it wasn’t horrific, but nor would I recommend it.

Everything is completely see-through. Tony and Tia always have to succeed, even as it seems like they will be ruined forever. It’s a children’s fiction book as far as I am concerned, and that makes it all the more likely that everyone will escape without a scratch.

The reader on this one (and perhaps Tia’s character) drove me mad. Ugh! I hated the way Tia spoke, and the way she was all ‘don’t make me tell the hurty things’ Tony. Suck it up princess! I could barely listen to her. Tony wasn’t much better, and Father O’Dey could have done with a deeper and more commanding voice (especially since he’s the priest that adds validity to their claim that they aren’t the devil’s work).

What redeems this novel? None of the ideas are new. Or they aren’t new now. As another reviewer said, this feels like a predecessor to Harry Potter! If there is a child in your life, and you think they might be ready for some ‘gentle’ sci-fi, let them have this novel. There’s nothing offensive, the good God remains prominent, and it fits in nicely with tales of UFOs.

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Review: Darren Simon – Guardian’s Nightmare

Guardian’s Nightmare

Darren Simon

Charlee Smelton has just moved to San Francisco. She hates the city, she hates her school, and she doesn’t fit in at all. To make things worse, her dad just dragged home the most un-cool bike she’s ever seen. That bike is going to make trouble… and then maybe save her from it?

22246835Charlee is an unlikely heroine that embodies all of the things that make school bullies nasty. She likes soda, she couldn’t care less what she wears, and she’s just a little bit ‘odd’. To me, she’s a convincing character that despite being scared, like we all are at times, she still confronts her fears, and tries to do the best thing she sees at the time – even if that gets her into trouble!

So the setup was a bit transparent, and the rate at which common people accepted the oddities happening in San Francisco was unrealistic, but the characters themselves felt like they had stepped right out of childhood. And that made their problems relatable, and their characters something that a reader could empathise with.

This is not a simple ‘good guy wins, bad guy loses’, ‘good triumphs over evil’ story. Charlee can still get hurt, real people can get hurt, people lie for the worst and best reason, and it’s all perfectly normal! Apart from that odd bike…

I did have a small problem with the artwork on the novel’s jacket. The sideways Pegasus didn’t do anything for me, and made me think that the book was produced at a low cost. Additionally, the blurb left me wanting something more – but didn’t make me want to read the book. Once I got into it though, it wasn’t so bad 🙂

Ugh. Some of the reviews by other reviewers do not give this novel enough justice! It’s a middle-grade novel, you shouldn’t be expecting something that is too lengthy or depthy (that should be a word!). Giving a novel a positive review, yet low stars, is what upsets me about GoodRead’s scoring system. I enjoyed this novel, and if I was in the target age group, I’d for sure give it a 3-4 star rating. So that’s what I’m giving it – an above standard middle-grade novel that was enjoyable, but not perfect. I would certainly recommend it to middle-grade readers.

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Review: Anthony Horowitz – Snakehead

Snakehead
Anthony Horowitz
Twists, turns and family dramas. Alex Rider is embroiled in another job that is custom made for him. I often wonder what will happen to him when he grows up… or whether he ever will. Hit the jump for more.
1821571If the bad guys ever learnt not to gloat, and to shoot first, then Alex Rider would be in trouble. Instead they like to create creative ends for him, which he always manages to wriggle out of. It’s pretty close though, as a reader I’m almost always on the edge of my seat. I’m both hoping and dreading reaching the end of the series, as Alex’s luck could finally run out!
Alex has abandoned any attempt to be normal, and seems to be finally embracing the spy life. He’s not a patriot, he’s doing it only to find out what has happened to his mom and dad. Little does he know that he’s doomed from the beginning, and almost everything he trusts is a lie.
Something that fascinates me is Horowitz’s  realistic settings, and the effort he puts into being international. This is the first time he has really included Australia, which is totally typical of most writers. Australia is more of a destination than an explored place. Horowitz is very creative in the way he kills off the characters. It’s a mark of the research he obviously puts into his writing – I really appreciate it, after reading such things as ‘Twilight’ where things aren’t really thought out.
Thrilling, in fact I’d say it was one of the better books of the series. It was a little longer in length (or it felt that way). Horowitz puts his trademark twists in, as well as some gadgets, and some very nice disguises. What the reader thinks is a simple job, really never is.
I’d recommend this for teens who enjoy action. At this point in the series, I think it is essential to have read the books that came before. This book picks up straight after ‘Ark Angel’.

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Review: Anthony Horowitz – Ark Angel

Ark Angel
Anthony Horowitz

Alex Rider just can’t keep out of trouble. Recovering from a chest wound in hospital is never easy when you need to save your mate next door. Another gripping tale from Horowitz. Hit the jump for more…

94319Alex has been sniper shot when leaving MI6. He vows to himself that he will go home, rest and recover. He makes a friend in the hospital though, and when he seems threatened, Alex finds himself in action. Once again Alex must try make a case against a powerful man who has the potential to destroy the world.

Alex doesn’t seem to have many gadgets this time, although he ends up working with the CIA, it is his favourite pal at MI6 that brings him the gadgets he can use. For once there is another agent undercover with him who is able to save his skin when he gets into trouble!

Horowitz makes the book end on a cliffhanger – totally predictable to the canny reader by now. But he does make an effort to change up the plot, bringing in different spy elements. Alex is again likable, but I didn’t see that much change in his character from Scorpia. Sure, Alex wants to go home and is longing for the easy life – but this is Alex, he never does things the easy way.

I’d recommend this book for teenagers. If they have read the rest of this series, the conclusion won’t be much of a surprise, but it will leave them hankering after the next book in the series.

I have to wait now until I get my hands on the final three books… I didn’t order them in my last 10% off offer I took advantage of, and now I have to wait!

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Review: Anthony Horowitz – Scorpia

Scorpia
Anthony Horowitz

Alex Rider is a teenage spy. This time he has to choose between good and evil – but the line isn’t clear-cut and he has no idea what to do. Even if you haven’t read the other books, the beginning is good, as it quickly recapped what happened in the last book. Hit the jump for more…

542414The explanation of Alex’s father fits in with the fourth book, and if you hadn’t read it recently you might forget the significance. It’s absolutely a convoluted plot that even the audience doesn’t see coming – neither does Alex. just as you think the end is approaching, you note that the book still has a bunch of pages yet, and you know that Alex has to do something quickly to save himself!

I noticed similarities to the Bond movies/books again, but this time Horowitz acknowledges them. Alex is left without any particular gadgets this time, and so it is far more interesting to see what Scorpia equips him with. It’s amazing what you can do when you’re evil! Also, this book has more about fantastic disguises than gadgets.

The ending is shocking. If you didn’t know there were more books in the series, you’d be horrified! As it is, the ending is in clear, painful narration that makes the reader want to shout ‘No!’ but there is nothing they can do. Horowitz keeps the reader in his tight grasp the whole time.

This is mainly done by the compelling plot and narration, and also the character of Alex. Alex is well drawn, and again you can see the character development. Overall an enjoyable book. I’m going to hate reaching the end of the novel I own, and will be dying to pick up the new ones in the shops! But not for another couple of reviews sadly.

This novel is again more bloody than the last, and I’d start recommending it only for very mature children, and probably teens only.

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Review: Anthony Horowitz – Eagle Strike

Eagle Strike
Anthony Horowitz
‘Eagle Strike’ is the fourth book in the Alex Rider series. Again, Horowitz manages to produce a new plot filled with exciting action that is different from the ones before. Hit the jump for more…
851344Alex Rider is growing up. He has an almost girlfriend – who refuses to believe he is a spy. After a near fatal accident for Sabina’s father, and the recurrent presence of Yassen (a professional killer), Alex is left on his own. He’s not quite without resources – he has the requites set of gadgets all built into a special device. Certainly though, it’s a struggle because he’s against a man everyone finds likable.
The ideas in this novel I have come across before (particularly the coins – you’ll understand when you read it). Also, the gadgets are not particularly new. The video game concept was a good one, although I am sure I have read other novels that use the same idea (think Gillian Rubinstein – Space Demons).
The chase scene seems contrived, as it often does in movies, but I guess it had to be there. The novel did keep me reading to find out what happened though. The ending is a bit of a surprise, but the whole text had been leading up to it. Alex is always courting death, but we know that the hero will always survive (that’s the problem with a series).
Not a bad try for a series novel, but if it was a stand alone (and I wasn’t already attached to Alex) I wouldn’t be interested in trying more books. Probably just an offshoot of having read the four books in a row. I think this novel is equally bloody compared to the last novel.

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Review: Anthony Horowitz – Skeleton Key

Skeleton Key
Anthony Horowitz
‘Skeleton Key’ is the third book in this series about Alex Rider, a teenage spy. Alex is sent on an expensive holiday to Skeleton Key in Cuba. Well, it’s supposed to be a holiday, but really he’s there to do his job – nuclear war is coming. Hit the jump for more…
103983Alex is given the opportunity to see tennis live at Wimbledon. However, instead of the interesting time he expected to have, he uncovers a sinister plot by the Triad. He heads off on a surfing holiday with his budding girlfriend Serena, but is followed there by the Triad. MI6 says that they will put him out of harm’s way by sending him on a tropical vacation. What could go wrong? Everything in fact.
I think the most enjoyable thing of this novel was the ending, seeing Alex push through the terrors he had been through to become a better person on the other side. In this novel you can really see him grow up, and start taking an interest in girls. Horowitz has managed to take a series that could become quite stale with the same character and same spy elements and make it continue to develop.
This novel is more bloody than the first two novels (in the same way that the Harry Potter series became more adult as it progressed). I’d still say that children could read it, but not those with impressionable minds or those who were likely to be scared. If they enjoyed the first two novels, this is certainly not too much of a step forward.

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Review: Anthony Horowitz – Point Blanc

Point Blanc
Anthony Horowitz
‘Point Blanc’ follows Alex Rider, the teenage spy. This time he is sent to a prestigious boarding school for the troubled teens of rich men around the world. The action is fast paced, the hero realistic and the scenery really quite breathtaking.
224500Alex Rider, introduced first in ‘Stormbreaker’, is a reluctant spy, forced into action by MI6 (Englands’s Secret Service). Again he is up against a psychopath who wants to destroy England and all her countries. Armed with only a couple of special gadgets (not even a gun, to his great dismay) he is sent into the icy wilderness of Point Blanc.
Alex is a believable hero, not too heroic, but always on the side of good. It is hard to believe that MI6 wouldn’t care about bringing him home safe. But then again, the government never seems to have the individual’s (or even the majority’s) best interests at heart. Horowitz includes some nice scenery details – but not too much, just enough to set the scene. The narrative is again told in third person, which allows for including some extra details about the bad guys that aren’t immediately obvious to Alex.
I knocked this book over in maybe 2 hours, but it would take younger readers longer no doubt. It feels like cheating to review it, but my goal is to review ALL of the books on my shelf, not just the ones that suit me best!
The ending of the novel is quite unsettling – if you didn’t know there were more books in the series you could be seriously worried. All in all, it is an enjoyable book, and although not worth a reread by an adult perhaps, younger readers will enjoy rereading to catch each of the important turning points in the novel.
This is a great novel for the reluctant reader. Although it is probably best to read it after the first book in the series, you could probably get away with reading it first (although some of the suspense when you got around to reading the first book would be lost).

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Review: Anthony Horowitz – Stormbreaker

Stormbreaker
Anthony Horowitz
Horowitz is a prolific writer, and has produced a number of series and stand alone books for younger teens and children. ‘Stormbreaker’ is the first in a long line of Alex Rider spy stories. As a young teen’s book, it’s a very easy read for me, and also very predictable. I think it would be great for kids who are too young for James Bond (particularly boys) just to get them into reading. Hit the jump for more…
826379Alex Rider’s uncle has just been killed in a suspicious car accident. His parents have died years before, and now the only person looking out for him is Jack, an American immigrant to London whose visa is about to expire. Alex wouldn’t be worried – except for the bank that his uncle worked for is hunting him…
Alex is a somewhat sketchy character, but certainly enough to satisfy younger readers. The entire focus is on Alex, despite the book being written in 3rd person perspective. The main driver of the book is the plot, which leaps ahead very quickly – that is the element that would make this book attractive to younger readers with a short attention span. The language is quite simple as well.
This novel was shortlisted for the 2001 Children’s Book Awards, and I can understand why. Yes, there is violence and death in it, but only of the bad guys! Alex himself isn’t allowed a gun, which I think was a wise move by Horowitz, given the current climate. This book is a number of years old (obviously), but it’s certainly still relevant and enjoyable today.
This book, and the others in the series (which I will probably get around to reading and reviewing soon), are good books for children and reluctant readers.

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