Game Theory, by Barry Jonsberg

Clouds part and moonlight steals through my curtains, a silver intruder.
I sit upright in bed and the gunis clasped in my right hand. I have been in the same position all night; the pillow is rucked against my back and there is a pan in my neck. My hand aches from gripping the gun’s handle too hard. I have not slept, though I tried at first.

Jamie is a maths whiz. His older sister Summerlee is rebellious and his younger sister Phoebe is loved by everyone. When Summerlee wins the lottery on her eighteenth birthday her rebelliousness goes up a notch – she no longer needs her family, so she’s out of there. Soon she and her boyfriend Spider are living it up with parties, drugs and alcohol, while the rest of the family carry on as best they can, until Phoebe is kidnapped, by someone who wants 2 million dollars to give her back.

Right from the start it is Jamie the kidnapper communicates with, and as Jamie was with Phoebe when she was taken, he decides it is up to him to get her back, using game theory. He needs to outsmart the kidnapper, predict his or her moves – and not be predictable himself.

Game Theory is an exciting young adult psychological thriller for teen readers. There are plenty of clues and leads encouraging readers to try to figure out who the kidnapper is, and a prologue which foreshadows the third (and last) section of the book, as Jamie attempts to get Phoebe back. Jamie is a likeable main character – aware of his own strengths and weaknesses, humorous and also brave when needed, even though he shows his fear and worries for his sister.

Jonsberg has written in a variety of genres for the young adult readership. Game Theory is a new direction and will not disappoint.

Game Theory, Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760290153

The Special Ones, by Em Bailey

But I am the Esther, and Esther doesn’t dash. Her remembering book is very clear about that. Esther’s movements are dignified, considered – especially in the parlour. Esther would never let excitement or nervousness show, or waste time watching people walk.
Sometimes being Esther feels like wearing a Halloween costume. One that doesn’t fit. One I can’t ever take off.

Esther is one of the Special Ones: a chosen group of four who live in a secure farmhouse, watched by him. He keeps them safe from the toxic modern world, and in return the Esther and her three companions follow his rules, and give their followers advice and insights.  Esther fears doing something wrong, because to do so would mean she is no longer Special and will be renewed.

The Special Ones is an intriguing story which initially seems dystopian but fast solidifies as contemporary story of kidnap and psychological control. Esther and her three housemates is each given a set of rules to live by, as well as the story of their past, their likes and dislikes, set down in the form of a book. Any breach of the rules could be disastrous. Their captor is a shadowy presence in the first half of the book, but in the second many of the chapters are from his viewpoint, giving insight into the workings of his mind.

As might be expected, this is a confronting read, but it is also gripping.

The Special Ones, by Em Bailey
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2916
ISBN 9781742976280

Three by Justin D’Ath

The explosion that killed my parents happened halfway through Second Lesson. We all heard the dull thump, even though the Presidential Palace was fully two kilometres from school. Mr Chibei, our new teacher, was writing the traditional word for patriot on the chalkboard. He went still for a moment. The rest of us looked up at the windows. I don’t know what we expected to see – mightbe smoke? Mighbe the looping white trails of rebel mortars? – but all we saw were fat-bellied clouds.

Storm clouds.

We continued with our lesson. Mr Chibei wrote thunder, first in English, then in Zantugi, and we all felt relieved.

The explosion that killed my parents happened halfway through Second Lesson. We all heard the dull thump, even though the Presidential Palace was fully two kilometres from school. Mr Chibei, our new teacher, was writing the traditional word for patriot on the chalkboard. He went still for a moment. The rest of us looked up at the windows. I don’t know what we expected to see – mightbe smoke? Mighbe the looping white trails of rebel mortars? – but all we saw were fat-bellied clouds.

Storm clouds.

We continued with our lesson. Mr Chibei wrote thunder, first in English, then in Zantugi, and we all felt relieved.

Son of President Balewo, and heir-apparent to the presidency, Sunday Balewo is at school, wondering why Holly (who he has recently kissed for the first time) is not at school today, when a bomb explodes in the Presidential P, killing both his parents. There has been a coup d’etat and General Mbuti has seized control of the country. Now it seems a bomb-carrying baboon is searching for him. Lucky for Sunday, he’s a talented athlete known as ‘Magic Feet’, because his life is about to accelerate out of control. He’s truly on the run. He must keep one step ahead of the bomb-carrying baboon as well as trying to work out who to trust in in the aftermath of the coup. People he has known all his life are suddenly strangers, and strangers become friends.

Three begins with a bomb, then speeds up to missile pace. The relatively naïve and sheltered 16 year-old Sunday takes a little while to realise that his life will ever be the same. He has no time to mourn his parents, or to consider what he will now do, because he has to make split-second decisions to stay alive. This is an abrupt coming of age, where the main character Sunday has not only to navigate the world beyond his palace upbringing, but he also has to establish his own trust parameters. It is no longer relevant to accept the parameters set by his father. Amid the explosive (sorry) action, Sunday faces very real moral dilemmas and a re-assessment of what he wants from his own life. Recommended for upper-primary, early-secondary readers who love thrillers.

Three, Justin D’Ath
Ford Street Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925272277

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Scream: The Squid Slayer by Jack Heath

‘I really don’t think we’re supposed to be here,’ Yvette said.

Sarah sighed. When had her best friend become so obsessed with rules? Didn’t she know how to have fun?

‘Relax,’ she said. ‘if we get caught, I can talk our way out of it. “Oh, I’m so sorry, we got totally lost. We’re just kids, we don’t know our way around.”’

‘I’m not so worried about getting caught. No-one ever comes down here,’ Yvette said. ‘I’m more concerned about that.’

‘I really don’t think we’re supposed to be here,’ Yvette said.

Sarah sighed. When had her best friend become so obsessed with rules? Didn’t she know how to have fun?

‘Relax,’ she said. ‘if we get caught, I can talk our way out of it. “Oh, I’m so sorry, we got totally lost. We’re just kids, we don’t know our way around.”’

‘I’m not so worried about getting caught. No-one ever comes down here,’ Yvette said. ‘I’m more concerned about that.’

Sarah and her friend, Yvette live in a coastal town. Water-loving Sarah lives on a houseboat with her mother. Yvette lives in town. Yvette is a mostly-willing companion/accomplice in Sarah’s sometimes wild schemes. Sarah loves ghosts and is determined to prove their existence. Where better to find one than deep inside a cave system? They have only just begun their search when a ocean monster on the beach pulls them and almost everyone in town to the water’s edge. It’s an impossible thing, and Sarah wonders where it came from? Later, she finds far more than she expects as she starts to explore an old sunken ship. Her discoveries leave her with many, many more questions. The cover features an evil-looking squid and the tentacles of many more. The back cover warns ‘read at your own risk’. Pages are surrounded by dark borders adding to the claustrophobia.

The Squid Slayer is mystery, fantasy and horror combined, pitched at newly-independent readers, one of four titles in the new Scream series from Scholastic. Sarah is an outsider, at least partly because of her reputation for tall tales and her belief in ghosts. Yvette is a mostly-willing assistant, trying to keep her friend safe. The Squid Slayer is not for the faint-hearted. Hold on to your wetsuit, and ready your fins for an ocean-based thriller. Recommended for independent readers who like a frisson of danger in their fiction.

Scream: The Squid Slayer , Jack Heath
Scholastic 2016
ISBN: 9781760152116

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

The Exit, by Helen Fitzgerald

Mum had been pushing me to try for the only job that required fewer skills than crew member at McDonald’s: care assistant at a place called Dear Green Care Home. She knew someone who knew someone, she said, and gave me a number to call. All I had to be was human, ready to start immediately, and in Clydebank for an interview at 3.30.

Catherine is 23, and only gets a job to get her mother off her case – and so that she can save for a trip to Costa Rica. With debts mounting and another of her mother’s family meetings looming, Catherine figures working a local aged care facility can’t be too bad. But something strange is going on at Dear Green. One of the residents, eighty-two year old Rose, is convinced that terrible things happen in Room 7, and that she is in danger. The problem is, Rose has dementia, and keeps regressing to a terrible event when she was ten years old, so perhaps her worries for the present are unreliable. As Catherine gets to know and care for Rose, she must figure out what is really going on.

Apart from her job, Catherine has other issues to sort through. Is her biggest concern really getting a good selfie for Facebook, and enough likes on her posts? What about her mother’s strange behaviour and her numerous brief relationships?

The Exit is a stunning psychological thriller which deals with issues of family, ageing, dementia, and more as it moves through shocking twists and turns towards a dramatic conclusion. Told from the dual points of view of Catherine and Rose, the story gives insight into the mind of a seemingly self-absorbed young person and an older person who is losing her memory but who has previously been independent and successful, a pair who are very different but who the reader is able to get to know, and like, well.

The Exit is a compelling read.

The Exit, by Helen Fitzgerald
Faber & Faber,2015
ISBN 9780571323715

Available from good bookstores and online.

Black Light, by K.A. Bedford

“I have been having the most frightful dreams, Ruth. Something was happening to you – something terrible. I saw someone trying to kill you, someone with the most enormous hands – “

Twelve years ago Ruth Black’s husband was killed in mysterious war-time circumstances. Since then she has built herself a new life, resettling in rural Western Australia and forging a career as a novelist. But the arrival of  her Aunt Julia heralds the start of a series of unsettling events. Julia has travelled from England to warn her niece that she has forseen her murder. Ruth is not sure whether to believe her Aunt’s eerie premonition, but is startled by her knowledge of Ruth’s home, without ever having visited it.  As events unfold, Ruth must take her Aunt’s warnings seriously – but how is she to stop her enemies, and who is she to trust?

Black Light is a spine-tingling supernatural crime thriller, set in 1920s Western Australia. The town of Pelican River is fictional (though loosely modelled on Mandurah, south of Perth), and populated with an intriguing cast, including the eccentric Ruth herself; her widower neighbour Gordon, who copes with his grief by inventing things and surrounding himself with dogs; and a parish priest who believes Ruth is evil.

An intriguing blend of mystery, thriller and the supernatural, Black Light is absorbing, though at times a little confusing. For example, Ruth – and it seems everyone else – is acceptant of the fact that elves populate the neighbourhood, and that Gordon can cast protection spells, but struggles with other paranormal or supernatural possibilities. Still, it is perhaps this unpredictability which make the book intriguing.

Recommended for lovers of the paranormal.

 

Black Light

Black Light, by K. A. Bedford
Fremantle Press, 2015
ISBN 9781925161410

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly

‘Now, I know what you are thinking,’ Hu Tang paused. ‘You are thinking that there are hundreds of zoos, why does the world need another one? Indeed, what can China do with a zoo that has not already been done before? Ladies and gentlemen…this is what we can do.’
At that moment, the speeding bullet train burst out into brilliant sunshine and CJ found herself staring at an awesome sight.

In spite of its massive population and a booming economy, China lags behind its adversary, the United States of America, in a key way: it is not the cultural ruler of the planet. China needs something to compete with the power of Disneyland, the dreamfilled destination which epitomises commercialisation and is known the world over. When it is discovered that the most famous mythical creature of them all is not in fact a myth, and is hiding deep within China, it seems that the answer is clear: a zoo unlike any other, where dragons fly free. People will come from everywhere to see them, and will leave knowing that China really is the world ruler.

CJ Cameron doesn’t know any of this. All she knows is that the Chinese government has requested that she visit its new zoo on behalf of the National Geographic. With her brother Hamish and a party of other influential journalists, she is taken to a secret destination, little knowing what it is she will see there. Soon, though, her amazement at the realisation that the zoo houses dragons, is replaced with horror as she realises the dragons are turning rogue, and that zoo officials will do anything to ensure she doesn’t escape to spread the word of this glitch in the zoo’s operations.

The Great Zoo of China is a fast-moving, often gruesome, action thriller of the kind Matthew Reilly fans have come to expect.  Moving almost as quickly as the bullet rains which appear in parts of the novel, the story unfolds over a very short space of time, but manages to include many deaths and lots of destruction, along with a feisty main character who, with some help, tackles dragons and human foe with ingenuity. If the plot sounds familiar, Reilly admits that it was inspired by his love of the novel Jurassic Park and, although he has worked to make it different, by setting it in China and by using dragons instead of dinosaurs, there are similarities which make his homage obvious. This doesn’t make the book less likely to appeal to lovers of Reilly’s work, or of action novels in general, who will enjoy the premise and the plot.

 

The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly
Macmillan, 2014
ISBN 9781743517017

Available from good bookstores and online.

 

The Lost Girls, by Wendy James

I am fourty-four years old. A happily married woman. I shouldn’t be with this virtual stranger, letting him run his hand down and then up my thigh. You see, in my head this is all about the past. It’s about Angie, about Rob and about Mick, too. But what if I’m wrong? What if it’s just about me? About my life now? What then?

In 1978 fourteen year old Angie goes missing, while staying with her cousins in Sydney. When she’s found, dead, police investigate and, when a second girl is murdered weeks later, it seems there’s a serial killer in action. Thirty years later a journalist turns up asking to interview the surviving members of Angie’s family, to find out how the murder impacted on the family. For Jane, who was Angie’s younger cousin, this comes at a time when her life is changing. Confronting the vents of the past is initially uncomfortable, until Jane realises it is  liberating to open up and to let go. But facing the events surrounding Angie’s death may force her to question everything she thought she believed.

The Lost Girls is a powerful exploration of confronting the past, the present and the truth. As the mystery of Angie’s death slowly unravels, the people closest to her are pushed to grow and adapt. While this isn’t always a comfortable experience, for the reader it is intriguing.

Thrilling, thought provoking and satisfying.

 

The Lost Girls

The Lost Girls, by Wendy James
Penguin, 2014
ISBN 9781921901058

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Killing Woods, by Lucy Christopher

I search for air, gasp. Close up his features are blurred, but I can still make out his copper-coloured eyes, the downward curve of his lips. It’s not because he’s on top of me that the words won’t come. It’s because of who he is.
Leaning down onto me, stopping my fight, is Damon Hilary. Sports prefect. The most beautiful boy in the school.
Also, Ashlee Parker’s boyfriend.

Beautiful Ashlee Parker is dead, and Emily’s dad has pleaded guilty to her manslaughter. Emily, though, is sure her father wouldn’t be capable of such a crime, in spite of his troubled state. She seems to be the only person who believes in her father’s innocence.

Damon is mourning the loss of his girlfriend, too soon after also losing his father. He is sure that Emily’s dad is guilty, even though Damon was the last person to see her alive. If only his memories of that night weren’t so scrambled, blurred by drugs and alcohol. He can’t tell the police about his own movements because he and his friends were playing a dangerous game in the woods.

The Killing Woods is a compelling, frightening story for teen readers. A wonderful blend of mystery and thriller set in and around a dark woods, the story draws the reader in trying to piece together exactly what happened and why. Whilst set in a realistic setting, the issues and events are chilling, though deftly handled. Not a comfortable read but an absorbing one.

 

The Killing Woods, by Lucy Christopher
Chicken House/Scholastic, 2013
ISBN 9781906427726

Available from good bookstores or online.

Pretty Girl, by J. C. Burke

The other girls are looking up and laughing, the tension dissolving around them. But it’s not for Sarah. Where Sarah and Tallulah have found themselves in their first year of college is worse than Sarah could ever have been imagined.

AT school Sarah, Tallulah, Jess and Tallulah were inseparable, so when they were all offered places at the same university college, it seemed certain their friendship would continue to flourish. But none of them could have foreseen the way their first year at university would pan out. Sarah’s having relationship trouble with her long-term boyfriend Wil, Paige and Jess hare both keeping secrets about their new crushes, and Tallulah is partying way too hard. Then Sarah finds Paige face down in the university swimming pool, and although she saves her, the months that follow are confusing. Was it a terrible accident, or did someone hurt Paige? Sarah saw something that night, but hasn’t told anyone, for reasons of her own. Then Jess has a fatal accident, and the remaining girls struggle to remain connected.

Pretty Girl is an intriguing blend of thriller and coming of age tale. Told from the dual perspectives of friends Sarah and Paige, readers are able to piece together much of the mystery of what has happened, but at the same time can only guess at how it will end. Alongside the mystery, we see the two girls, and (to a lesser extent) their friends, struggle to find their place in the world. Their friendships, their relationships and their sense of identity are all questioned as they navigate a tumultuous year.

An absorbing read for teens and young adults.

 

Pretty Girl, J.C. Burke

Pretty Girl, by J. C. Burke
Random House, 2013
ISBN 9781741663136

Available from good bookstores and online.