Friday, February 24, 2012

Takeshita Demons, by Cristy Burne (fiction) - Japanese demons attack London

Substitute teachers can be bad, but is this one a demon?
How can one teenager fight a legion of evil Japanese spirits?

Well, Miku and her best friend Cait just do it - battle against nukekubi and ittan momen to save baby brother Kazu. Who would have imagined that such yokai would follow the Takeshita family all the way from Osaka to London to fulfill an ancient curse?

A fun Friday indeed, as we race with Miku and Cait through the blizzard to confront the nukekubi before nightfall, when its screaming head can leave its body and fly through the air to devour them - and Kazu's soul.

Australian author Cristy Burne taught for several years in Japan and brings old tales of Japanese mythology into today, as Miku and her school friends encounter both good and evil yokai in this exciting adventure series.

Followed by The Filth Licker (#2) and Monster Matsuri (#3) - if your local independent bookstore doesn't have the whole set, ask them to order all the Takeshita (say Tah-KESH-ta) Demons books.

Book info: Takeshita Demons / Cristy Burne; illustrated by Siku. Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2010. [author's website] [author's blog] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: When an ancient evil follows Miku’s family from Japan to London, the teen tries to remember what her grandmother said about yokai - good and bad demons - before she died, but it may be too late.

Back home near Osaka, her Baba knew how to keep evil spirits away from their family’s old house with its sakabashira pillar. Since the ancient pole was accidentally installed top down, it drew in bad demons like a magnet. Thankfully, Baba’s Baba had attracted a good ghost to the house many years before; Zashiko kept the family safe for generations, and Baba kept adding layers of luck and protection.

But when the Takeshitas left their home to come to England, they left their safety behind. Without Zashiko as a shield, the bad demons are ready to take revenge on the family for blocking their way to the sakabashira pillar. Despite all Miku’s efforts to protect them as Baba did, a malicious yokai has entered their apartment and stolen her baby brother’s health and perhaps his spirit as well.

Miku needs to talk to her best friend Cait, but a substitute teacher is intent on keeping them apart. Why does Mrs. Okuda’s neck have all those tiny red Japanese characters tattooed across it? That reminds Miku of Baba’s stories about nukekubi demons who look like normal people until their screaming heads fly off their bodies at night.

A sudden blinding snowstorm sends Miku and Cait home early from school, only to find that Mum had gone to the emergency room, leaving a neighbor watching sick baby Kazu until Miku was home. Cait’s dad comes to pick her up at the same moment that Cait’s dad calls on the phone to make sure she’s staying overnight with Miku – what?? Is this another demon? Oh, no, where is Kazu? He was sleeping on the couch when the doorbell rang! And what’s that sinister face up in the snow clouds?

Miku and Cait decide that the nukekubi must have taken Kazu and struggle through the snowstorm back to school, back to the fake Mrs. Okuda, back to find Kazu and rescue him from the evil yokai.

This adventure story takes unexpected turns as we meet unfamiliar enemies and cheer for Miku and Cait to prevail over evil. First in a series from this Australian author. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Hittite (fiction) - an outsider inside The Trojan War

The face that launched a thousand ships,
Two kingdoms battling for years at the foot of Troy's walls,
One mercenary who doesn't care who wins as long as he can rescue his family.

So mighty that it could hire out entire legions to other kings, the Hittite Empire could not survive the assassination of its Emperor and the chaos that followed.

Lukka is determined to find his wife and sons, so he takes his small band of soldiers all the way to Troy, where they find themselves enmeshed in one of the most famous wars in history.

The people and events of The Iliad truly come to life in this exciting adventure.
For comparison, you can download the classic ode in its entirety here.

Look for The Hittite at your local library or independent bookstore to find out whether Lukka will ever see his wife and sons again. Oh, and to meet up with the Trojan Horse, too.

Book info: The Hittite / Ben Bova. Forge, 2010 (hardback), 2011 (paperback). [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: As a soldier, Lukka has seen how much civilians suffer when their rulers lust for power and land. But he thought his family was safe in the mighty Hittite capital city. Returning from a long war, he finds the city in flames, his house in ruins, his father dying. Worse yet, his wife and young sons have been taken by slave traders!

With no general remaining to command them, Lukka and his squad march west across the shattered empire in search of his family, following the trade routes across Greece, all the way to Troy.

War is there, too, as the Achaians are battling the Trojans, seeking the return of beautiful Helen. Perhaps Lukka’s wife and children are in the famous slave market of Troy behind those mighty walls; the squad has not found their bodies along the road.

The Hittites are famed warriors, so the squad could hire out as mercenaries to either side. Lukka visits with Agamemnon, high king of the Achaians, who sends him into Troy with a peace offer whose terms the Trojans will never accept – give up Helen.

On grinds this war, with daily skirmishes on the dust-choked battlefields below Troy’s towering walls, with Odysseos and Hector and Achilles fighting from their chariots. Lukka’s squad builds a siege tower so Achaian soldiers can get inside the walls. Startled Trojan guards mistake its horsehide covers for a real giant horse, sent by the gods against them.

The epic tale recounted in Homer's The Iliad gains new dimension as we experience the hurly-burly of chariots and foot-soldiers, the smoke and roughness of army camp, the stress of a besieged city running low on supplies, Lukka’s worry that he won’t reach his wife and sons before it’s too late. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Thief Queen's Daughter, by Elizabeth Haydon (fiction) - secrets, memories for sale

Fired on his first day as King Vandemere's Royal Reporter?
Ven must make his friends believe that as he embarks on a dangerous undercover assignment at the King's behest.

Willingly visiting the Gated City rather disreputable weekly Market? Alone?
Of course, they insist on going with him to the Outer Market, where one can buy pleasant dreams or have one's childhood memories stolen.

If they aren't out of the Raven Guild's market by last bell, they'll be trapped for a week in hostile territory where their coin won't buy food and their heads might not stay attached for long...

Haydon has 'excavated' Ven's fascinating journals from the long-ago time when humans were not the only intelligent race on the earth, when magic and dragons were commonplace, when Nainfolk like Ven lived to be 200 years old. It's great to see this series available in paperback now.

Having a brave Nain as a sworn friend-for-life might lead you into all sorts of adventures.
What are your experiences with friends who stuck with you through thick and thin?

Book info: The Thief Queen's Daughter (The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, book 2) / Elizabeth Haydon; illustrated by Jason Chen. Starscape, 2007 (hardback), 2008 (paperback). [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: When the King sends Ven searching for the origins of a mysterious artifact, he warns the young Nain that entering the Gated City on this secret mission might be the last thing he ever does. Of course, that’s the one place where unique items are bought and sold (and stolen) - from merchandise and promises to dreams, memories, or even childhood!

Curiosity and courage are equally strong in Ven, who is just beginning to grow his beard at age 50 (a young teenager in human terms), thirteenth child of the famous shipbuilding Polypheme family. He has to make his friends in the Boys’ Lodge believe that the King has fired him (his first day on the job as Royal Reporter, no less) so that they won’t be in danger as the hunt for information takes them to strange places.

A guard dog with an attitude in the armorer’s shop, warnings to leave the Gated City’s Outer Market before last bell or be locked in for a week, spying birds who report to enemies and allies – Ven and his friends have perils to avoid and wonders to explore as he seeks the artifact’s history. The Raven’s Guild doesn’t take kindly to strangers being inside the Gated City walls after Market Day, and the Thief Queen rules the Raven’s Guild with an iron hand.

When Saeli disappears near last bell time, they fear she’s been kidnapped and go looking for her. Daring to use the back alleys and rooftop ropewalks, Ven and friends find their way to the Inner Market gate, just as the last bell sounds.

Are the archers on the Gated City walls keeping the King’s citizens out after Market Day is over or making the Raven’s Guild and company stay inside? Why does Ida say she knows the Thief Queen? (Ida tells such tall tales) Will Ven live long enough to write this adventure in his journal or grow another hair in his beard?

Ven’s “rediscovered” journals have been carefully compiled by author Elizabeth Haydon, who enlisted Jason Chan’s help in restoring the maps and illustrations that our clever and oh-so curious young Nain included. Enjoy book 1, The Floating Island, first to learn how Ven wound up so far away from his family’s shipbuilding yard, then watch for book 3, The Dragon’s Lair. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.