Archive for the ‘Intermediate Fiction’ Category

Between the Flags by Rachel Fenton. Pub. Cuba Press, 2022.

November 24, 2022 Comments off

Winner of the Laura Solomon Cuba Press prize for YA literature this three part novel captures the problems faced by young people when a crisis takes over their lives.

The following quotation from the book tells it better than I could so I have printed it intact:- “You can’t get rid of grief. Its like plastic. Once it’s there it’s always there. It just gets broken down into smaller and smaller pieces until you hardly notice it”

Mandy came out to NZ from England with her mother and elder brother and settled into the kiwi way of life. Her mother formed a relationship with a decent man, Geoff, and they had a son Casey who became Mandy’s younger brother and Geoff her father.

Mandy joins a surf lifesaving group and has serious rivalry with other girls in this group who bully her because she is over weight and different. When her mother is seen flirting with a well known local celebrity Mandy’s life starts to come undone. Then tragedy hits with the drowning of 6 year old casey and the demise of her mother’s relationship with Geoff.

Mandy copes by writing a comic book about a girl called Mako who is a lifesaver but it is not enough. She takes counselling, her school work falls away and her relationships fall apart. She needs help and a break. She gets it and the comic book is the key.

Two main parts to this novel with the comic book the third part. Read it and find out what happens. The comic illustrations are superb.

Very good teacher role models in this book. I wish I had teachers as good as this when I was at school. All the adults in this novel are worthy although the same cannot be said of some of the school girls. Female bullying is so personal.

Spaceboy by David Walliams. Illus. Adam Stower. Pub. HarperCollins children’s books, 2022

November 21, 2022 Comments off

Another amazing novel for children from the incredible David Walliams.

This time it is set in America in the early 1960’s when the space race between USA and the USSR was in full force. In the back is a timeline of important events in this race from 1957 with Sputnik 1 to 1969 moon landing.

Main character is Ruth an orphan (what else) who lives with her aunt Dorothy in the mid west, probably Kansas, on a dilapidated Ostrich farm. Aunt Dorothy is like a crocodile and treats Ruth badly and calls her Roof. Ruth has a three legged dog called Yuri after the first man in space Yuri Gargarin and she looks at the heavens every night from her bed in the attic of the farm house. and wishes her life were better.

One night a UFO crashes to the Earth and on board is a Spaceboy who talks English. Suddenly the farm is swamped with helicopters and moon buggies chasing the Spaceboy and Ruth with the help of Yuri the dog with an egg wisk as one hind leg, try to escape but without luck.

What secrets does Spaceboy have and how will it all end? There is a sort of David Bowie aspect to the novel with the four parts being named Life On Mars, Space Oddity, Loving the Alien and finally Heroes.

We meet some traditional American characters like the doughnut eating overweight sheriff, Major Majors the hollywood aging star like space boss, the incredibly vain President who wants it to be all about him, half mahcine half mad scientist Dr Schock and of course Spaceboy himself.

Loads of laughs enhanced by Adam Stower’s illustrations.

Just in time for Xmas this would make a great present for reluctant readers and David Walliam’s fans. Easy to read, I finished in under two hours and so will you if you want to but I would dwell on it if I were you. Savour it

Duck’s Backyard by Ulrich Hub, Illus. Jorg Muhle. translated by Helena Kirkby. Pub. Gecko Press, 2022.

November 18, 2022 Comments off

This is a brilliant story about a lame duck who is cared to fly and a blind chicken who has energy to burn and a desire to have his big secret come true.

They meet in Ducks backyard where he and his crutch have stayed for years and chicken persuades Duck to go on a journey of discovery. So they do

On the way they go through a dark forest, cross a deep ravine and discuss the philosophy of life. Will duck learn to fly and will chicken find his big secret. The journey is brilliant and the ending even better still.

Jorg Muhle’s illustrations of Duck with his crutch and chicken with his sunglasses are superb. he captures the fun and seriousness of their journey to a T.

A great read-a-loud for juniors and something to savour for intermediate readers and seniors. Adults will love this too. If you do not like this story then you are sick of life. Travel changes everyone.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Bk17. Diper Overlode by Jeff Kinney. Pub. Puffin Books, 2022.

November 15, 2022 Comments off

This book is a laugh from start to finish and it took me just two sittings of one hour each to finish it.

Wimpy Kid Greg Heffley yearns to be rich and famous but things are not going his way. He decides that the best way of achieving this is to be friends with or know someone who is famous or going to be famous

He decides he will tag along with his older brother Rodericks heavy metal band, Diper Overlode and try to help them get famous to achieve his own desires.

Diper Overlode have modelled themselves on a once famous band called Metallichihuahua and so they set out to make a record and get name recognition.

Not as easy as it sounds as the boys explore the rock’n roll lifestyles with hilarious results. Every diper joke in the book is exploited as is every rock’n roll cliche. Adults will get a big laugh out of this as well as it mimics some well known antics by real bands.

Excellent for reluctant readers especially boys and for fans of the wimpy kid.

The Candle Trees by Anthony Holcroft. Pub. Quentin Wilson Pubs. 2022

November 12, 2022 Comments off

13 year old Julian meets his great grandma, who is well into her 90’s, when she comes to stay for her last days and takes over Julian’s bedroom. He is miffed of course but soon changes his mind when he finds a journal that Julia had written when she was 15 years old and lost in the forests and jungle on the Argentine/Paraquay border.

Enthralled by a story told to her by her uncle while staying at his house, Villa Rosa, in Gaucho country in Northern Argentina, in which he describes a magical Candle tree which has magical healing properties. Julia knows that north of the matto grosso where she is staying there is a forest and she persuades her maid servant to ride to the edge of the forest where she hopes to find the candle trees.

Of course she gets lost, finds an Indian girl Taina to assist her find her way back but gets deeper into the forest where she meets a brute of a man called Andreas and together they cross rivers, meet a jaguar, face starvation but will they find the candle trees. Read it and find out.

Old fashioned writing and story telling at it’s best. You don’t get novels written like this any more and it is a delight. I had the fortune to travel through Northern Argentina, into Parquay and along the Rio Parana in the early 1970’s so this story was totally enthralling to me and it will be for you as well.

One of the best NZ novels this year.


The Crate. A ghost Story by James Norcliffe. Pub. Quentin Wilson Publishing, 2022

November 4, 2022 Comments off

A supernatural story set in a West Coast New Zealand lake called Tunamoana which is really a character in the novel with its deep dark moods.

Siblings Danny and Amy with their cousin Jack go on holiday to their grandfather’s cottage Bide-a-wee with their father. On arrival an old truck driven by a cloth capped old geezer delivers a heavy crate addressed to bide-a-wee cottage and tells them not to open it.

Of course they do and there is nothing inside except a damp patch and a piece of lake weed. This evokes on old mystery of a girl called Lily who went missing presumed drowned decades earlier and the mystery deepens when a girl in a dripping wet white nightie is seen and wet footprints are left on the floor.

The three teenagers discuss the happenings with their father and he suggests they follow the principle of Occam’s Razor which states “look for the most obvious, the most likely explanation”, But is there one?

Things become very complicated when the teenagers meet Skip and her mother Jessie who is a mystic, and then their cousin Jack goes missing. Read it and find out what happens. You won’t be disappointed.

Beautifully written and structured by James Norcliffe and excellent cover illustration by Jenny Cooper who gets the mood of the story just right.

The Physician’s Gun by John Evan Harris. Pub. Roiall Emerald Publishing 2022.

October 30, 2022 Comments off

Set in early New Zealand and based on true events, this story of murders most foul is a very readable story with a 15 year old boy, Henry Appleton as the main character.

Henry and his mother have a small house in the Nelson area in 1866. Many people pass through this area on their way to and from the Westland gold fields. Unfortunate Henry’s father has been killed and he and his mother are in hard times and living off a garden and Henry’s job cleaning at the bank.

Henry is an imaginative boy who yearns for a gun. He reads books by Johnny Slick who writes westerns and actually turns up in Nelson and meets Henry.

Into Nelson comes a physician Z. Smith, who is hunting his wife’s killer. The murder took place in Australia and Smith suspects the killer is in NZ. At the same time a ruthless robber and killer Richard Burgess, his mate Joseph Sullivan and his other cutthroat mates come to Nelson from Australia via the Westland goldfields.

Then some cowardly murders take place on the Maungatapu Road, a main thoroughfare from the goldfields that were notorious in 1860’s New Zealand. Who did the murders and how is Henry implicated? Thrilling stuff, read it and find out.

Excellent portrayal of early life in NZ and of a murder that stunned the country. Henry is a good role model, brave and his heart in the right place. In the back are photos of all those concerned and true facts about the Maungatapu Murders. Illustrations in pen and ink sketches show the main characters and action and enhance the story.

The Ghost House by Bill Nagelkerke, illus. Theo Macdonald. Pub. Cuba Press, October 2022.

October 12, 2022 Comments off

If you ask a group of children on a school camp what type of story they like best, a large proportion of them will say ghost stories. This is a ghost story about an old kauri villa, “as empty as the inside of a base drum’, still standing in the Red Zone created by the Canterbury Earthquakes.

David is recovering from a serious illness and is being baby sat by his older teenage sister who doesn’t mind the sitting, it’s the baby part she worries about. David just wants to get back to playing cricket so to ease the boredom he goes walking in the Red Zone which is now devoid of houses and full of trees and shrubs that have flourished since the earthquake.

On his first journey into the Red Zone he comes across a house that seems to be saying Help Me. When he enters he meets an old lady called Agnes and they talk. Who is she and what is she doing there? You will have to read the novel to find out, and you will not be disappointed.

A whimsical and easy story told in short chapters and characterised by rich descriptions and a cool relationship between the old and the young. It also describes the Red Zone and what it was and what it hopefully will become. Bee keepers already work the area and public gardens are growing. The encounter between Agnes and David unravels the history of the area.

A well told tale for junior and intermediate readers.

Out of the Egg – Ka Puta Mai I Te Heki and Fofoa Mai Le Fua Moa by Tina Matthews. Trans. Na Kiwa Hammond I Whakamaori (Maori)and Tafu Nicole Maynard (Samoan). Pub OneTree House 2022.

October 1, 2022 Comments off

I have known the story of the Little Red Hen for about 70 years and the essential theme of sharing, in order to benefit all, is still there, but with a strong conservation theme as well. A sign of the times.

An additional difference is that there are now two books one in English and Maori and the same story in English and Samoan.

The story revolves around the Little Red Hen, who plants a tree and seeks the help of Fat Cat, Dirty Rat and Greedy Pig, to assist her in planting and caring for the tree as it grows. They decline of course. When the tree grows and there is now a little cat, a little rat and a little pig who want to play in the tree, what will little Red Hen do? Read either book and find out for yourself.

Excellent illustrations with lino type black and white pictures with the little Red Hen and green plant standing out. Fat Cat, Dirty Rat and Greedy Pig are classic.

Paramount to the conservation and sharing themes are the two languages Maori and Samoan. These books are great for learning either language for primary and Intermediate students. The story is the key though and it hits the spot. Essential purchases for any multi cultural primary and intermediate school.

Flying Furballs Bk10. Take-Off! by Donovan Bixley. Pu. Upstart Press, 2022.

September 29, 2022 Comments off

Dull would he or she be of soul who could not find enjoyment out of this comic book adventure that is a parody of World War 1 flying aces with a bit of WW2 thrown in.

Europe is divided between countries that are either cats or dogs. It is Katdom verses DOGZ and the battle is in the air with Sopwith Camels and Fokker triplanes. It’s sort of Biggles with cats and dogs.

It is full of characters like Syd Fishus an ex flyer who is father of new ace Claude D’Bonair, plus Major Ginger Tom the best dogfighter in Katdom and Manx a no nonsense mechanic. On the DOGZ side we have Alf Alpha a Hitler type leader who is known as the Furrer, plus The Red Setter the most famous pilot in the Woof Laft.

The DOGZ have planned to divert Katdom with a phoney raid while plotting an armed invasion further south. Katdom is duped and set out in the air “to give those DOGZ a jolly good licking”. Mean while erstwhile potential hero Claude D’Bonair is declined permission to take part in the battle and sent south on reconnaissance. What will be the outcome? Has katdom gone to the dogs? or will the cats make a purrfect response? read it and find out.

Told in three different ways. Firstly the air war is in comic book style and episodic with each episode divided by an heroic episode on the life Major Ginger Tom called Tom Foolery and involves an Ancient Chinese Ming vase. Also between episodes of this story we have detailed drawings of the aircraft used in WW1 plus flying tricks used in air combat. But wait there’s more. Check and see what it is.

Amazing detail and some references from songs such as Cats in the cradle with a silver Spoon which is an autobiography of Major Tom and this gives this picture book sized story great appeal for adults and older readers.

I missed the first 9 books about the Flying Furballs and intend to go back and read them and so should you. One of the most readible and entertaining stories I have read for some time. Donovan Bixley’s illustrations and written text are superb. An award winner in the making.