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Archive for the ‘Senior Fiction’ Category

The Tomo by Mary-Anne Scott. Pub. OneTree House, 2021

October 5, 2021 Comments off

Set on a farm on the East Coast of the North Island near Wairoa this novel about a dog called Blue with one brown eye and one blue eye will capture your heart and have you gasping for breath in the last actions of this story.

Skip, Phil and Oliver are brothers from oldest to youngest but it is Phil that captures the big moments in this story. When their parents go to Auckland for treatment to their father for cancer the boys are farmed out literally with Phil going to work for Chopper Harris a grim farmer who is not used to having his methods questioned.

Phil is given all the crap jobs to do but he is looking after his fathers heading dog Blue, and that makes life bearable for him. Chopper refuses to let them get involved with mustering because he communicates with his dogs differently to what Blue is used to.

While out tracking down a wild ram a serious accident happens that is to test the resolve of all characters in the novel and it involves a limestone sink hole called a Tomo pronounced tor-mor.

Written in large font and short chapters this novel will have you captivated from beginning to end. Phil and his brothers are great role models as is Maori girl Emara who really knows her own mind.

One of the best of the year. Mary-Anne Scott understands kids.

The Other Sister by Philippa Werry. Pub. Pipi Press, 2021

September 23, 2021 Comments off

This is a sequel to The Telegram a novel also reviewed on this blog. That novel was about Beaty a strong willed girl who became a telegram girl in WW1 a role normally taken by boys. This novel concentrates on Tilly her younger sister who is now 13 years old and has won a scholarship to a prestigious girls school.

It is 1919/1920 in small town New Zealand. The soldiers have returned home many in a damaged condition mentally, others with lost limbs and scarred faces and bodies. Beaty’s friend Caleb is greatly damaged “its as if someone else came back in his place”. It is a time for healing and renewal and Tilly is a big part of it all.

Socially NZ has changed too with women having taken a major role in running society while the men were away now asked to go back to the kitchen and have babies. There are an anti German and anti Chinese sentiments around but loyalty to the British Empire is still solid. The prince of Wales tours the country in this book with Tilly being privileged to meet him.

Tilly the main character is a breath of fresh air. She goes to work in a rehabilitation home for returned soldiers and works in the house of a rich family who lost their only son in the action. Tilly wins a scholarship to Girls High where the wealthy girls go and experiences their snobbery and social aloofness. Fortunately she has two good friends in Molly and Ingrid who have their own crosses to bear. The girls are told at school not place too much importance on getting married as there were not enough men to go round, Gasps all round. Emphasis is on pursuing their careers and fulfilling lives.

An excellent study of life post WW1 in New Zealand with strong female characters and you can be assured of the accuracy of the historical context as the author is the best in the business when comes to history.

Short chapters make it easy to read, each chapter begins with an obituary to a fallen soldier in the war. At the back is the historical context and photographs of the era. You will love Tilly. Superb ending.

Kakapo Keeper by Gay Buckingham. Pub. OneTree House, 2021

September 17, 2021 Comments off

Most birds pong pretty bad. Penguins reek of rotting fish and poo but kakapo have a lovely fusty-warm smell. Not to mention an inviting face and eyes that suggest a sense of cheek and humour.

This is one of the many quotations mentioned in this superb novel based on fact about bird conservation in Fiordland particularly in Dusky Sound where Capt Cook once harboured on his voyage to New Zealand.

The story is of Conservationist Richard Henry who camped in Dusky Sound between 1894-1900, with several assistants, moving kiwi, Kakapo, Roa and other birds from the mainland to the islands in Dusky Sound particularly Resolution Island. He wanted to protect the birds from weasels stoats and ferrets which had decimated the bird population and the kakapo almost to extinction.

This story is told in diary form by Andrew a teenage boy who is a composite of the four assistants that helped Richard Henry. He heads each chapter with Date, Bird tally and injuries. The last is amusing but given the hostility of the Fiordland environment – the rain, the sandflies, the earthquakes the landscape, it was no short miracle that they survived. Sandfly bites headed the injury list and Andrew was covered in bites with the “oozy wetness of Dusky Sound making everything they did miserable”.

Throughout the easy to read large text are diagrams of all the birds, plus maps and drawings of buildings and boats they built and used. Adding to the beauty of the story are their dog companions Lassie and Foxy.

Beautifully told with a sobering episode towards the end of the story that you can find out for yourself. In the back is the true story plus photographs of important events and structures used and built plus bird and animal life particularly of the ferrets, stoats and weasels who slither in for the kill.

One of the best animal conservation stories about people who really cared for the birds that I have ever read. Highly recommended. The cover is delightful.

The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell. Pub. Usborne, 2021

September 3, 2021 Comments off

This is one of the most memorable novels I have ever read. I will not forget this in a hurry and nor will you.

It is set in New Ireland, a part of Papua New Guinea that is under going great change as the old culture is infiltrated by the modern World. A small coastal village is headed by the all powerful, Bigman, who wants to set the old ways in the past and embrace the new ways of modern culture. He has a jukebox in his hut.

Siringen is a Shark Caller a respected post that worship the shark which in the past was seen as a mirror of the fortunes of the village. Siringen looks after Blue Wing a young girl whose parents were killed by a shark called Xok. Blue Wing wishes to inherit the title of shark caller but Siringen will not teach her as she is a girl.

Into the village come an American History Professor and his daughter Maple who have lost a wife and mother and are struggling to deal with her death at the expense of their relationship. Maple and Blue Wing become friends and all the things that bother them are going to come to the surface in a most delightful and spiritual way. There will be tears.

The most delightful part of the writing is the inclusion of pidgin in the narrative which is done by Blue Wing. Words like liklik for little, nogut for bad and my favourite, longlong for crazy. As well there are a couple of wise sayings that apply to the story and to life itself. “A smile can mean many different things. Happiness might not be one of them” and very importantly “You cannot look for ghosts because they have not accepted death. If they wish to be seen they will come to you”

It is a wonderful story and the surreal ending will have you thinking but like me you will say that is very reassuring.

Don’t miss it. It is deep yet accessible for young readers. The chapters are short and the font large. One of the novels of the year.

The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne by Jonathan Stroud. Pub. Walker Books, 2021

August 30, 2021 Comments off

Reading this book through the lockdown has been inspirational. It has made my days interesting and I have savoured every word. In fact I got too involved and fretted for the characters. I didn’t want to finish but all good things come to an end but fortunately this is not going to be the last. There are other adventures to come and I can’t wait.

It is a dystopian fiction novel written in the future about a Britain that has divided back into seven Kingdoms of Mercia, Wessex where this story is set plus 5 others. There has been a Cataclysm, a Great Dieing and Frontier Wars that have caused humans and animals to evolve in a variety of ways very quickly and reduced Britain to a mentality like that of medieval times. Small gated towns exist with faith Houses who control people. The woods are filled with huge bears and wolves and other animals who will eat people as good as look at them. The sea level has risen drastically and the rivers are full of creatures like man eating otters and sharks. The air is infested with birds who will attack and eat humans. There is no safe place.

To make matters worse some humans have evolved into cannabalistic creatures called the Tainted. They are excluded from civilisation and hunt humans who stray, eating them where they stand.

In the first few chapters we meet Scarlett a girl between 16 and 18 years old who can look after herself big time. She has a big knife, a gun and quick wits, she takes no crap, robs banks and in the first chapter disposes easily of four men who are trying to rob her.

While escaping after robbing a bank she finds an overturned bus and meets a boy of similar age to her called Albert Browne who has mental abilities that are astonishing. He can read minds but his behaviour is dominate by what he calls The Fear. He has escaped a mental hospital controlled by a devilish woman called Dr Calloway who has a crocodilian nose for weakness. She wants Albert back and the novel then becomes a chase with Albert and Scarlett joining forces to outrun their enemies.

It is totally thrilling with Jonathan Stroud’s descriptive prose enthralling the reader with its wit and story telling skill. Once you start this you will not put it down. You daren’t. Written in four parts with each part ending in a blaze of action.

Eoin Colfer describes this novel as “a classic in the making” and Rick Riorden describes Stroud as a genius. They are both right.

The best action adventure I have read for years. If you miss this you will kick yourself

The Rise of the Remarkables Bk2 The Thaumagician’s Revenge by Gareth Ward. Pub. Walker books, 2021.

August 26, 2021 Comments off

The thrilling sequel to Brasswitch and Bot a title reviewed elsewhere on this blog and not the end of this saga.

In the first book Wrench discovers her talents as a Brasswitch which allow her to mentally get inside a machine and close it down. Very important if you are at war with machines. She has embraced magic as well and was taught to hone her skills by a boy Plum who has let the side down and become one of the enemy after an enormous battle called the Minster Schism which Wrench helped win.

Set in the beautiful city of York Wrench, her robot sidekick Bot, friend Octavia and new Brasswitch, Vexanna, belong to a group of counter revolutionaries or Regulators called Thirteen. They are to battle Remarkables who came through a Rupture above York made by the old Gods, accidentally, who thought they were opening a gateway to heaven. Through this Rupture came good and bad Remarkables or creatures with alarming body shapes and powers.

Not all Remarkables are bad but the leader of a rival group fighting the Remarkables, Flemington, hates Thirteen and wants to eliminate all Remarkables. The battles are riveting and bring in all sorts of technology with a Victorian era characteristic, hence the title steam punk.

Wrench has problems though. She still wants to get to the bottom of why her parents were killed and she wants to confront Plum whom she was close to but now realises he has “the innocence of a child pulling legs off a crane fly”. They are now enemies.

After a series of battles in the brick works and the museum Femington has procured a Cabal Inquisition, which is to look at all the action to date and pass judgement on Wrench and Bot. The Thirteen are in danger and the bad Remarkables are still a huge threat. .

On top of all this Wrench appears to be losing her powers and has certainly lost her confidence. What has Vexanna got to do with this and can she recover before it is too late? Read this action packed novel and see what happens.

Three Scoops by David Hill. Pub. OneTree House, 2021.

August 14, 2021 Comments off

David Hill shows his versatility in these three different stories for readers 10 years and over that are like three scoops of ice cream on the one cone.

Coming Home is historical fiction about a young man, Harry, and his horse Blaze who are on their way to South Africa to take part in the second Boer War. Harry views the whole thing as a great adventure while Blaze just wants to be with the human that treats him well. Things do not go as planned with Harry and Blaze are separated and the war is nothing like Harry imagined. The war is told from Harry’s point of view and Blaze narrates his own adventure in italics at the end of each chapter.

I Wish is a fantasy story but also a case for getting kids to read. Trent has moved house with his mother and his computer has been left behind. He finds a box of books in a room of his new house and begins to reluctantly read one. Fantastically a very rude green elf emerges from one and tells Trent he has three wishes in order to set the elf free from his imprisonment in the book. Trent wants to be special in his new school, he wants to be noticed and not be the boring person he sees himself as. He wishes to be a guitarist and a runner to impress people but things go wrong. Then he decides he wants to be a writer but will his chances be any better? Read it and find out.

Strange Meeting is the best story in my opinion and is a futuristic science fiction story about an asteroid that is hurtling towards Earth and threatens to destroy all life as on asteroid did to the dinosaurs billions of years ago. Sophie’s parents work on a rocket site about to launch a rocket into space and her school colleague Pita is rude to her and says his Koro(grandfather) does not approve of the launching. Koro knows something that no-one else does and the countdown to launching becomes a countdown to potential disaster.

Common to all three stories is David Hill’s ability to create tension that keeps the reader in the stories. The values are good and there is a strong message of being kind. Three of the best stories kids will ever read and a good read-a-loud for school classes. Variety is the spice of life and reading makes it so.

Coast Watcher by David Hill. Pub. Puffin, 2021

July 21, 2021 Comments off

Terrific war story this set in Bougainville in 1942/3 when the Japanese were a real threat to the security of NZ. The Japanese were in retreat but it was island by island stuff as USA, Australian and New Zealand troops and navy fought for dominance.

Frank is a young soldier who suffered from TB and is not regarded as frontline material. He is a radio operator and desperately wants to prove himself. He feels that his father let the side down and he is determined not to do the same but worries that his lungs will prevent him from achieving his goal.

Frank is given the chance to prove himself as radio operator on a coast watch mission on a small island off the coast of Bougainville where along with Maori soldier Wally and Australian soldier Les they are left behind to hide and report ship, air or troop movements.

The island is covered in jungle with animals from monkeys, snakes, lizards and poisonous insects and mosquitoes to make life treacherous along with the humid temperatures and heavy rainfall. The three settle in but are disturbed by a Solomon Islander, A’ata, who they like and mistrust at the same time. He takes them to Bougainville by canoe where the Japanese are still active and they discover something that will make HQ think that all their birthdays have come at once.

There is action aplenty and David Hill builds tension superbly throughout. At any moment you expect a crazed Japanese soldier left behind to do damage, come screaming out of the jungle with machete yelling Banzai!

A superbly told story that will keep you rivetted and one of my top novels of the year. I first read See Ya Simon 30 years ago and David Hill has lost none of his capacity to tell a good yarn. If you are not impressed by this you are very hard to please.

AVAILABLE 10 August

Under the Radar by Des O’Leary. Pub. Cuba Press, 2021.

July 16, 2021 Comments off

One of the most entertaining novels for high school and intermediate students I have read this year. It is the sequel to the excellent Slice of Heaven novel which was about a rough and ready racially diverse high school group who are forced to form a softball team as punishment for misdemeanors. This novel is about the same group of students plus a couple of new ones and how their lives and relationships develop in the following year.

Sione and TJ are the central characters again with Sione after parental pressure deciding that this year he is going to stay under the radar. Fat chance of that but he resists. A new big girl comes to school and he is assigned the task of showing her the ropes which he does reluctantly. Her name is Teresa and she has a shit attitude “I don’t want to make an effort. I don’t want friends. I don’t care if they don’t like me”.

This is not the only problem Sione faces. His younger brother Ronnie is seduced by the gangsta culture and wants to join a gang as a wannabe. Three of Sione’s softball buddies form a crew called FBK and want Sione to join. get respect, have your back covered, the gang is better support than your family, you will be safe on the streets. When Sione resists violence results but there is a guardian angel afoot called Turtle a big connected gang leader who drives a Mercedes and has an offsider called Ponytail. Why is Turtle looking after his back?

Lots of street action but the star of the writing is the banter between the characters. It is fast and witty with verses of rap lyrics in between. When big boy Jordan takes part in the shotput at the school sports day “he took it slow, he let it go, in that last throw. he felt the flow?

Sports Day and a after school Mathematics class are highlights and help bring Teresa out of her attitude. The discussion amongst the school mates over how the school Houses got their names is hilarious.

A great portrait of the community of South Auckland and of a school culture. The gangsta wannabe culture is exposed for what it is and the novel stresses family and community values. It you miss this one you will kick yourself. Very entertaining and easy to read in short chapters.

I am sure there will be another novel about this community. Bring it on.

Stop the Tour by Bill Nagelkerke. Pub Scholastic, 2021

June 29, 2021 Comments off

Martin Daly is thirteen years old, sensitive, caring and keeps a diary. This novel lifts extracts out of his diary about one of the most divisive episodes in New Zealand history, the 1981 Springbok rugby tour of new Zealand.

Before the tour commenced there was a simmering resentment over Maori land and racism in NZ and this tour brought it to the surface in the most violent fashion. It divided friends, families, communities, work places and ruined many relationships.

Martin tells all this from the point of view of his family, his school and his friends with short simple easy to read diary entries that give power to this social and historic catastrophe. Looking back, rugby has not suffered, South Africa has rid itself of apartheid but still racism persists as evidenced by the George Floyd incident in USA and the Ihumatao occupation in Auckland.

Martin’s sister was against the tour from the start and urges Martin to take sides and stop sitting on the fence. It takes a while as NZ disintegrates in conflict and division. A change of school and a friendship with captain of the first XIV helps him decide. It is not an easy decision as Martin’s father is a staunch rugby man and tour supporter.

The historical perspective and photographs are at the end of the novel and it begs an answer to the question “have we learnt anything from the tour?”

This book was first published in 2007 under the title Sitting on the Fence.