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Archive for the ‘Realism’ Category

What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson. Pub. Penguin Books, 2021.

May 21, 2021 Comments off

Set in Idaho in mid winter this suspense thriller for Young Adults is possibly the best book this year. If it was a rock band you would describe it as tight, if it was a film you would liken it to Fargo.

The background to the story is a robbery of a money laundering premises in which a suitcase of money has gone missing, hidden by a criminal who is violent and now in prison. The money is of drug origin and the gang is still after their loot.

Seventeen year old Jack and his six year old brother Matty are the sons of the man in prison and when we first meet them they are living in a cold house without heat or food and their mother has just hung herself after years of drug abuse. Jack buries his mother in the back garden and vows to himself that he will look after Matty.

At school Jack meets a tough shy girl called Ava who is described as “an animal peering out through human eyes”. She has a black tattoo of a heart on her wrist and keeps to herself. Jack helps her out at school and a bond begins between them that blossoms as the book progresses. Ava’s father was strongly implicated in the money laundering robbery and he wants the missing suitcase of money.

As carnage breaks out around them Jack and Matty link up with Ava without knowing that her father is chasing the money and will do anything to get it and does so. Jack suffers horribly and Ava for the first time in her life starts caring about someone.

The action is thrilling, compulsive and fast moving. The chapters are short and very readible hence the word tight in the opening paragraph. Each chapter has an introduction by the narrator who is mostly Ava looking back at what has happened. There is the occasional poem and a lot of talk about the human condition. The ending is gory and earth shattering but you can find that out for yourself.

The profile of the killer Bardem whose catch phrase is “whatever you put in that circle is yours to take’ is astonishing. Don’t miss this novel.

A superb novel. Take your time over it and relish every word. One of the best of the year.

The Silence of Snow by Eileen Merriman. Pub. Black Swan, 2020.

January 17, 2021 Comments off

Two things hit me very quickly when I started to read this adult medical drama. Firstly how terribly difficult it must be to maintain a long distance romantic relationship. Secondly how frightening it is to expect young doctors to do 15 hour shifts when they are dealing with life and death situations in a hospital.

There are two main characters and things are going to get hot between them.

Jodi is in her late twenties, she is attractive but unsure of herself because she comes from a family of doctors and wonders is she doing the right thing for herself and everybody else. She is in a relationship with Fraser who lives in Dunedin while she works further north. It is nearing Xmas and because of work schedules and the demand from the hospital Jodi is unable to go to Dunedin to be with Fraser. He has visited her but their relationship is around bickering-why can’t you come down? you are always tired. That sort of thing.

Rory is slightly older, from Scotland with a smooth Scottish accent and a quick wit. The female doctors and nurses are smitten by him but he has a problem and a past. He is an anaesthetist and early in the novel assists Jodi in a desperate medical event. Rory deals with the pressures of work by self prescribing uppers and downers for however he feels. He is becoming addicted.

Rory is free and easy, drinks a lot and is slightly promiscuous because the women are available.

The first encounter between Jodi and Rory is sensual. Both feel the chemistry and it is a matter of time before they do the wild thing. Jodi has a relationship, Rory has a past and a problem. How can everything be resolved. Read it and find out.

Very well written in short chapters that have breaks for you to stop and reflect or get the tranquilisers out. The romance is hot and the medical events often disturbing. When Jodi and Rory have their first kiss, Jodi feels she is letting the wolf in and Rory feels his universe has been disturbed. One of the best devices Eileen makes is to provide the thoughts of the character in any situation written in italics. many of them will mirror your own thoughts.

I loved this novel, you will too. So what is the title all about? Well you don’t hear snow fall, until you are in the middle of a drift. Compelling reading.

Answering to the Caul by Ted Dawe. Pub Mangakino University Press. 2020.

January 3, 2021 Comments off

This is a powerful novel in two distinctly different parts. The first part is titled Living with the Caul and analyses the life of Andrei Reti a boy who was born with a Caul covering his head. According to folk lore and superstition this will lead to him having an affinity with water with the possibility of drowning being unlikely.

Water does indeed have a great influence on Andrei as he survives drowning in the bath while a baby, and in other incidents in his life that affect his relationships with his whanau. He grows up with a sense of guilt.

However it is poverty and reading that by far have the biggest impact on his life. When your father is in jail and your mother is sick the world looks like a huge and lonely place. Poverty comes through the door and when Andrei’s mother dies he is shipped up to live with whanau in the north where poverty is a daily existence.

He adjusts and his only escape is books. He reads prolifically at a level far in advance of children his own age and this influence of reading is a major theme of the novel.

Up North he comes in contact with a wild family member called Dallas who is violent and on the verge of exploding every minute of the day. Dallas introduces him to the adult world and is to have a major impact on his life in the second part of this novel but you will have to read it to find out how. Needless to say Dallas regards the two factors that control his life as Whanau and utu. There is no room for aroha as Andrei tells him.

The story is narrated by Andrei and covers his early childhood and school up to high school. It then jumps into adulthood and the repercussions of his childhood and the Caul come to the fore.

Part two is another story as it is set in Thailand but I will leave that to you the reader. Needless to say there is an incident that reminds me of a novel by Michael Morpurgo involving elephants.

The book is very readible, with short chapters, and much to say about school life and poverty. It is very descriptive and brings back old kiwi english with terms like cackhanded, which made me smile. Then there is the description of a current scone made by his aunt that is described as “not a food but a landform, something between a boulder and a cow pat”.

This novel would go well when read in conjunction with Tim Tipene’s White Moko which is reviewed earlier on this blog. This New Zealand in the raw.

The Catholic Boys by Mike Ledingham with brothers Gerard and Chris.

August 5, 2019 Comments off

catholicThe Catholic Boys by Mike Ledingham with brothers Gerard and Chris. Pub. BMS Books, 2019.

The word paedophile is enough to send shudders through parents and caregivers everywhere and I thought carefully about whether a true story of child abuse was appropriate for a children and Young adult literature blog.

After reading the short autobiographical book of the three Ledingham brothers who were sexually abused by catholic priest Father Francis Green while attending St Joseph’s Onehunga Catholic school, I had no doubts I should review it.

Literature reflects life and this true story is a reminder and a warning to parents and children alike that there are bad people out there. It also offers support to other children who have been sexually abused to speak up and to let them know they are not alone.

Francis Green was a despicable man who preyed on young boys and Mike, Gerard and Chris tell their stories and the effects that it had on them at the time and for the rest of their lives. All lost confidence, suffered guilt, had trouble forming relationships, had problems with alcohol and drugs and have reached retirement in a state that could have been a lot better.

The Catholic Church for its’ part was at first in denial, secondly protective of the offending priests, thirdly obstructive to anybody seeking the truth and lastly lacked understanding with compensation for the wrongs done.

It is shameful. Patrick Dunn Bishop of Auckland Catholic Diocese does have his comments in the book.

A courageous story of a terrible wrong.

Very readible for anyone who needs to know about this subject.

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Speechless by Adam. P. Schmitt.

June 21, 2019 Comments off

speechlessSpeechless by Adam. P. Schmitt. Pub. Candlewick Press, 2019.

This superbly paced young adult novel kept me on tenterhooks from beginning to end.

It is said that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family, this is teenager Jimmy’s problem and has been for the whole of his life.

Jimmy’s mum has a twin sister who is needy. She has a son called Patrick who is the same age as Jimmy and they have been around every important occasion in Jimmy’s life and much of other times too. Jimmy can’t stand Patrick because he ruins every event and prevents Jimmy enjoying any occasion and having friends of his own. Patrick is unpredictable and volatile and Jimmy is nearly always the victim.

Now Patrick is dead and Jimmy is told by his mother that he has to make a speech at Patrick’s funeral. He doesn’t want to, he feels even in death Patrick is beating him.

The action opens at the wake before the funeral and many people from Patrick and Jimmy’s life show up. Jimmy recounts some of the episodes that happened and he can’t for the life of him think of anything positive about Patrick to say.

Throughout this novel I was desperate to learn two things. Firstly how Patrick died and secondly what and if Jimmy would say anything.  Adam Schmitt draws you in and strings you out magnificently.

One of the best novels of late. You will feel the same as me, I bet. The ending will move you to tears.

 

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas.

December 18, 2018 Comments off

come upOn The Come Up by Angie Thomas. Pub. Walker Books, 2018.

Bri is a teenager whose father was a rapper killed in a gun fight in the Garden, a suburb commonly known as “the hood”. The area is dominated by two gangs – the GDs and the Crowns and the culture is Rap and gangsta hip hop.

Bri’s mother Jay an ex junkie now looks after her and her brother Trey in below a poverty line standard of living. They go to food banks and welfare shelters for their essentials. Bri has a dream to be a rapper and she has some talent at composing lyrics that reflect the life she leads and some lyrics of which she clearly has no understanding. But she is going to find out.

A struggle with two security guards at school that is filmed on various cell phones, makes her visible in school. Then she wins a  rap-off at the Ring, a local club that gives young artists an outlet for their works. Bri puts together a song about her struggle with the security guards called On The Come Up and it becomes an overnight sensation on the Net. But will it bring her fame and wealth that she so desperately seeks. Read it and find out.

Some tough themes here on life for Afro American kids whom white society judges harshly and unfairly. If one black kid messes up all are messed up. It doesn’t take much to give white society a reason to put them down.

Bri is to learn that it is one thing to wanna do something but quite another to think that it is possible. Bri is a likable girl who is struggling with the past of her mother and father as she blossoms into a woman. Her quest to be a rap star is a rocky road, she is talented but the odds are against her.

The most profound statement is this –  White kids in the suburbs like rap because listening to it scares the shit out of their parents. Something to think about.

Written clearly from experience it gives a family and community view of life as a Black in the city. This novel follows on months after her first novel The Hate You Give also reviewed on this blog. Powerful stuff.

Slice of Heaven by Des O’Leary.

September 12, 2018 Comments off

slice heavenSlice of Heaven by Des O’Leary. Pub. Makaro Press, 2018.

This is a terrific novel about kids going to High School in South Auckland and the lives they live in this multi cultural community.

Many people will refer to South Auckland as “the Hood” and in many ways that is exactly what it is. The rap culture and the Gangsta model have to a certain extent captured the psyche of the kids in South Auckland and it is more than just pretence. It is their lives.

Sione & TJ, Deepak & Raj, Nigel &Junior, Jordan, Hieu, Oko, and Redemption are all on detention at school when they are press-ganged into joining the school softball team for a game against a visiting school. They all have crap attitudes, have no interest in school or softball but hey it is better than detention. The real team never showed up because they couldn’t pay the $20.00 for travel and use of the gear.

From this beginning they become a team but heaps happens in their home lives as well. Sione has hard working parents who came to New Zealand so their kids could have a better future not running wild with the gangs. Sione does some dumb things and takes a beating from his father. Other characters have bad family problems and live in poverty stricken over crowded homes.What hope do they have?

Superbly written and told by Des O’Leary who was a teacher in Aorere College  South Auckland and certainly knows what is what with kids culture. His characters are Samoan, Tongan, Maori, Indian Fijian, Vietnamese and others and the strongest feature is the dialogue between the characters. They talk to each other in an aggressive manner with embarrassment and the put down major weapons but there is an underlying sense of humour about how they talk that will captivate readers. One thing you don’t do is call a Vietnamese, Chinese. Read it and find out why.

The social and economic depravity of the area is also a theme “the old man shuffled past the kids looking for cigarette butts on the ground”. The gangsta stuff with the coloured bandanas and the attachment to “our turf’ is a factor and most characters are pretending to be people they aren’t.

The point is will the softball connection change their lives?

Excellent novel for teenagers about an area with attitude that has some mystique in New Zealand culture. Great cover, says it all.

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow.

August 6, 2018 Comments off

girlGirl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow. Pub. HarperCollins, 2016.

If I had to give advice to a new writer I would say write what you know, write what you have experienced, write honestly about how you feel and write with a purpose.

Kathleen Glasgow has done all of those things in this compelling young adult novel about 17 year old Charlotte (Charlie) Davis. Charlie thinks that nobody normal will love her.

Charlie has had a harrowing life and has NSSI or non suicidal self injuring. Yes she cuts herself on the arms and legs and amazingly feels that she is in control of her body while she is doing this. She keeps a Tender Kit with her at all times – a box that enables her to cut herself and repair herself afterwards.

The book opens in a psychiatric centre for young girls who do the same as Charlie. She doesn’t speak, she has been living on the street and her body has been cut to ribbons. We learn of her journey to this crisis point in her life in part one of this novel and it doesn’t make for pleasant reading. Abusive mother, bullying at school, drugs, sleeping rough, brutal men, self loathing, worthlessness and extreme self harm. Yet strong friendship from those around her.

Part 2 of the novel takes Charlie out of her Minnesota environment to Tucson Arizona where she finds work at the bottom of the pile and starts to get herself together again. She is vulnerable, she needs love and attention and she needs a massive break in life.

Can she get it or will her past come back to haunt her? read part 3 and find out.

I loved Charlie to pieces. I didn’t want to stop reading about her. I wanted to care for her and for much of the novel I was totally apprehensive. You will be too.

Beautifully written in short sharp episodes that keep you hanging on. It’s tough and has a powerful message ” sometimes you have to let stuff go if you want to move forward”

Boy Under Water by Adam Baron, illus. Benji Davies.

July 30, 2018 Comments off

boy under waterBoy Under Water by Adam Baron, illus. Benji Davies.. Pub. HarperCollins, 2018.

This novel for intermediate and junior high school readers is about growing up and it addresses a massive question – “Do grown-ups tell you the real stuff or do they try to shove it aside like an old tent stuffed behind a sofa”?

Every family has secrets, secrets that affect other family members and friends  behaviour, and kids do not understand. Why don’t they know? and what will happen when they eventually find out?

Cymbeline Igloo is nine years old and he lives with his mother. He has artistic ability and his mother gives art lessons. Family history comes to a shattering crisis when Cymbelline has to go to the swimming pool with his class. His mother panics and Cymbelline wonders why his mother has never taken him to the pool or any body of water where he could learn to swim.

Cymbelline attends after a challenge from a class member and while waiting to commence a swimming lesson he is pushed into the deep end and sinks to the bottom. His mother erupts. The next morning when Cymbelline wakes up his mother is gone.

I am not going to tell you anymore you will have to read the novel and believe me I did not guess the ending, nor will you but it is brilliant.

Superbly told and explained by Adam Baron with an underlining dark and witty humour. He is talking to the kids and opening big secrets. Deftly illustrated by Benji Davies.

You will find out about the name when you read the book.

Don’t stop Thinking About Tomorrow by Siobhan Curham.

July 24, 2018 Comments off

dont stopDon’t stop Thinking About Tomorrow by Siobhan Curham. Pub. Walker Books, 2018.

I bet that somewhere in the World in this very moment in time, a refugee is wishing that things in their own country were safe and they could return. They will be thinking that people in the country they are in feel threatened by them and resent them being there. They will despair for the future of themselves and their families and friends

This is true of Hafiz a teenager from Syria whose escape to freedom you will read about in this novel. He is lucky to be alive and lucky that he has an aunt and uncle in the UK that can support him. He is a gifted footballer and has aspirations to join the best, but will he be given the opportunity to show his talents and develop the way a UK national would?  Read this novel and find out.

Stevie is a talented guitarist and singer, she is 14 years old and is living with her severely depressed mother who can’t get over the death by violent means of her husband and Stevie’s father. They are living on the breadline and things look hopeless. They have to move on and they need a break. Read it and see if this happens.

Stevie and Hafiz come together at school in a class that has some bullying and less understanding kids, but not all. Their relationship develops, they are good for each other but they are going to be sorely tested.

An excellent novel that examines modern day issues of refugees and mental depression and the effects it has on lives when attitudes of hatred and lack of understanding are to the fore.

This book could have drifted into  a state of sentimentality but it doesn’t. You feel for both Hafiz and Stevie and their chances in life in a hostile world. Their story is as common as life itself and the message is, things have got to change!!

Written in short chapters consecutively by Stevie and Hafiz which makes it very easy to read in short bursts but if you are like me you will keep reading long after your eyes are drooping onto the page.

A story for readers in the intermediate to young adult age group. Adults will get reward from it too. But be warned there will be tears.