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Archive for the ‘Senior Fiction’ Category

The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman.

June 13, 2020 Comments off

length stringThe Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman. Pub. Puffin Books, 2020.

This novel for middle and senior school students is one of the most moving, emotional and compelling novels I have ever read.

Anna is 12 years old when the Germans invaded Luxembourg in 1941 and started identifying all the Jews with the yellow star and stripping them of any human dignity. In August 1941 it was still possible for Jewish people to escape Luxembourg to Portugal and get a ship to America but it was dangerous and expensive.

Anna leaves her twin sister Belle, plus the the rest of the family, at the insistence of her parents and goes to live with Hannah and Max in Brooklyn New York. Anna keeps a diary of her feelings addressed to her twin sister Belle and writes letters to her family. She gets no reply but remains positive about life and seeing them again.

In today’s World, Imani is 12 years old and facing her Bat Mitzvah. She is a black girl who has been adopted by Nordic parents in New York and has been brought up Jewish along with her also adopted brother Jaime. Imani wants to know who her parents were but finds it difficult to bring this fact up with her adoptive parents who have been loving and caring all her life.

When Anna dies she leaves her books to her grandchildren and Imani finds the diary Anna wrote in 1941 and reads it as part of her presentation for her Bat Mitzvah. What she and her friend Madeleine read brings out all the emotion and reality of the Holocaust.

Beautifully written with Anna’s diary entries and Imani’s life in the modern World. It will have you in tears.  It is also current as Imani tries to find her own identity as a black girl living in today’s world.

If you miss this you will kick yourself. Wow! What an ending.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. A Hunger Games Novel by Suzanne Collins.

June 4, 2020 Comments off

songbirdsThe Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. A Hunger Games Novel by Suzanne Collins. Pub Scholastic, 2020.

When I talked about the Hunger Games trilogy in schools when it first came out, the kids were riveted but their teachers were appalled that it involved children killing children. This sequel  addresses that concern and the rest of the inhumane treatment  that is meted out to the children and inhabitants of the 12 Districts by the rulers of Panem in the Capitol.

The civil war that resulted from the Hunger Games is over and the rebels from the Districts were defeated but not eliminated. Cassus Snow the Capitol leader is killed and there is a new guard, but Capitol has inflicted severe and more inhuman control over the Districts. The  10th Hunger Games are to take place and one of the most vile and sadistic characters I have read in children’s literature, a woman named Dr Gaul, is in charge of presenting the games. She is a Dr Mengle type who experiments on animals and humans.

A boy and girl from each of the 12 Districts are to take part in the games they are called tributes, but this time they each have a Mentor from Capitol to guide them. Coriolanus Nash son of Cassus Nash is to mentor Lucy Gray Baird from District 12 where Katniss came from. The relationship between Coriolanus and Lucy is at the heart of this novel but it is not the only one of importance.

The relationship between Sejanus Plinth, the son of a wealthy family and Coriolanus is of equal importance as Sejanus is also a mentor of a competitor in the Hunger games. It is Sejanus that heads the argument against the inhumane and barbaric treatment of the Districts and in particular the tributes in the games supported by Coriolanus in his relationship with Lucy. Can they change the way Capitol regards the District people?

As the games start inside an arena, not in an outdoor environment as with the first series, and the killing starts, all hell breaks loose.

If you are a new reader of this series do not worry you will not be all at sea, but if you have read the first series you will be totally absorbed in the new circumstances and at the more severe inhumane and barbaric treatment of the tributes in the Games

No characters from the earlier Trilogy are in this novel.

Stunningly written but not for the faint hearted. From Intermediate to YA in appeal. Over 500 pages long.

The Divorce Diaries by Sarah Quigley

May 30, 2020 Comments off

divorceThe Divorce Diaries by Sarah Quigley. Pub. Vintage imprint PenguinRandom House, 2020.

I bought this book for my wife after reading an article in the Sunday Times and decided to read it myself. I am very glad I did. It is beautifully written, full of feeling and emotion and best of all it is a profile of life in one of the great cities of the World, Berlin.

Leaving a relationship is a process and this six part book goes through the process from love is blind, marriage and all that it promises, through to separation, learning to live alone, becoming open to other relationships and finally contentment and acceptance.

It is compelling reading and the beauty of it is, you never know the husband’s name nor the identity of any of Sarah’s other relationships. You know her women friends first names and some of them are brilliant, but she spills the beans on no-one although in Berlin she runs into many famous people.

Divorce is always messy and it’s always different. The emotion attached to divorce according to Sarah is disappointment first, with anger a close second. It builds up in her like lava in a volcano but she gets through it.

Her Swedish husband couldn’t handle alcohol and became violent. For 360 days a year he was fine but when he drank no woman should have to put up with what he meted out. Sarah loved him and probably still does and it hurt her deeply to have failed although she in my eyes never failed.

The process of getting her life back is compelling reading. Her first relationship after the Swede was on holiday in Greece “where self confident girls in sexy red bikinis stand thigh deep in turquoise water, tossing back their salt-spray manes and taking selfies“.

her second is with a 50 year old German she calls Ad Man who has the sexual stamina of a 20 year old and the investment portfolio of a wealthy octogenarian.

It is not easy and it takes her a while to appreciate aloneness without feeling acutely alone. Sarah gets there by the end of the book, it is riveting.

For anyone with relationship problems and decisions to make. How about this for perception “sometimes divorce rids you of friends who were never real friends in the first place”

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K Rowling, illus. Olivia Lomenech Gill.

May 4, 2020 Comments off

FantasticFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K Rowling, illus. Olivia Lomenech Gill. Pub. Bloomsbury, 2020.

A magnificent piece of work this and a companion to the Harry Potter stories for primary secondary and young adult readers.

It is told by Newt Scamander a graduate of Hogwarts and close friend of Albus Dumbledore. He specialises in Fantastic magical beasts and developed policy to hide the beasts from muggles for the protection of both. he gives a brief history of this project then gets down to tell you about the magical beasts themselves.

Some of my favourites were The Demiguise a sort of orangatan with a white hairy coat from which invisibility cloaks are made. There are ten different dragons plus the Unicorn, the centaur, the Sphinx and my next favourite the Runespoor. This is a three headed snake – the left head is the planner, the middle head the dreamer and the right head the critic. In many cases the right head is missing, killed by the other two heads.

Star of the show are the illustrations. Absolutely superb. Each magical beast is drawn with a bio underneath. This is a book you can pick up and put down again, get engrossed in the beast then move to another once you have fantasised but the previous one.

A very classy publication.

Katipo Joe: Blitzkrieg by Brian Falkner.

March 31, 2020 Comments off

katipoKatipo Joe: Blitzkrieg by Brian Falkner. Pub. Scholastic, 2020.

This action filled war story of World war 2 is a novel to rival the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. I make this comparison because it is totally world class writing from, in my opinion the best action writer in New Zealand.

Based on true events it is set in Berlin in 1938 as the Nazi machine was taunting the world with threats and it’s anti Jewish programe. Joe is 12 years old and his parents work as diplomats and also spy on the Nazis. Joe goes to school in Berlin and mixes with Martin Borman’s nephew Klaus. Joe is a blue eyed blond youth and speaks fluent German , a fact that makes him a target for espionage.

When his father is arrested by the gestapo, Joe and his mother escape from berlin in a thrilling piece of action.

The scene shifts to London during the Blitz with Joe living in the ruins of the city looking for his mother. he meets friends on the street and the tragedy of wartime Britain. He gets involved in a Nazi spy ring that involves his mother and when his mother is allegedly  killed in a Nazi bomb plot, Joe is seconded by MI6 special forces and trained to be a spy.

The scene then shifts to occupied Paris with Joe flown into France to infiltrate the Hitlerjugend or Hitler Youth movement to effect an assassination of a prominent Nazi general. The action is thrilling.

Splendidly written by Brian Falkner who is at the top of his game. The action is astonishing and tragic. War is like this. Don’t miss this one it is superb.

For readers between 12 years and 16 years. Adults will love it too. Photographs in the back plus a glossary giving all the aircraft, guns and Nazi terms. Easy to read and compelling.

Burn by Patrick Ness

March 24, 2020 Comments off

burnBurn by Patrick Ness. Pub. Walker Books, 2020.

RELEASED MAY 2020

This is a Young Adult novel out of the top draw. It is a novel of parallel worlds, of dragons, of the human condition, of action and ultimately a love story.

It is the year 1957 and the Cold War is heating up so to speak. The Russians are on the verge of putting a satellite into space and the Americans are worried about the spying implications of such a satellite.

This is real history but there is an additional element -DRAGONS. Yes dragons inhabit this planet living in the waste lands of Russia of Asia of Europe and the Americas. Humans and dragons rarely meet. They have lived a peaceful but uneasy existence for centuries but that is all about to change with the launch of the Russian satellite.

There is a prophecy that nuclear war will break out between men and rid the planet of humans thus allowing dragons who are immune from radiation to fly free. The satellite launch is going to be used to trigger the war.

Enter a religious cult of dragon worshipers called Believers in the person of Malcolm a ruthless 17 year old, gay killer whose job is to assassinate a teenage girl called Sarah Dewhurst as she is prophesised to stop the dragons.

The action and plot turns are staggering. Written in two parts the end of the first part seeming to be the end of the world. After a torrid conflict a claw of a dragon known as The Spur is used to transfer all the action into a parallel world where every character in the first part has a different life in the second world.

This is a brilliant transition but will the prophecy be true in this second world and is there hope for human kind and dragons?

Superbly told, totally compelling. If you miss this you will miss the best book of the year.

Nightshade by Anthony Horowitz.

March 10, 2020 Comments off

alex rider (2)Nightshade by Anthony Horowitz. Pub. Walker books, 2020.

Released 2 April

This is book number 13 in the Alex Rider series and this time it is serious. Alex is a little out of his depth as he tackles a secret organisation called Nightshade which uses children who have been kidnapped at age 4 or 5 years.

These children have been brainwashed into forgetting their past and trained to be ruthless and efficient killers. One of their number known to MI6 as Freddy is captured while assassinating an agent in Brazil but shuts down and cannot be broken. MI6 know that there is a secret plan to destroy London and that Nightshade are the culprits.

Freddy who is a heartless killer is locked away in a secret high security prison on Gibraltar and Alex is given the identity of another villain from the past called Julius Grief with the job of befriending Freddy in order to find out when and how the destruction of London is to be achieved.

How Alex attempts this is astonishing and beggars the question is he finally out of his depth. To make things personal Mrs Jones, Alex’s master at MI6, had her two children kidnapped at ages 5 &6. Could they now be members of Nightshade? Alex also has his doubters in MI6.

Brilliantly conceived story, action packed and thrilling to read. I can tell you no more but if you are a fan you will relish this novel and if you are discovering Alex for the first time live long and prosper.

The best action novel you will read this year.

 

 

A Trio of Sophies by Eileen Merriman.

March 2, 2020 Comments off

trioA Trio of Sophies by Eileen Merriman. Pub. Penguin Random House, 2020.

This is a page turner make no bones about that. It is about friendship between three girls, all called Sophie, all 16 years old, all at the same school and what happens when boyfriends and sexual relations enter their lives.

Sophie A is very attractive with hair that doesn’t go frizzy on the most humid of Auckland days. Sophie T is sporty but not so academically gifted as the other two, and Sophie M is academically gifted and wants to become a forensic scientist. They have been friends since they were 9 years old but the hormones are buzzing around and this is going to shatter all their lives.

During the summer holidays Sophie M, who narrates this story, falls while running at Muriwai and is tended to by James Bacon. He tells her he is 19 and their romance blossoms with him being very much the leader and Sophie a willing participant. It is a dream come true for her and she is in love. She tells no-one but he is not being honest.

First day back at school is a massive surprise and things start deteriorating between Sophie and James. To make things worse Sophie A, the attractive one goes missing. I can tell you no more but it is riveting.

Structured in 3 parts the first of which takes up 75% of the book and the last two deal with the aftermath of what has occurred. What makes it a page turner is that it is written in diary form by Sophie M and there are hooks that make you keep reading. Also Sophie knows something that no-one else does but is it ever resolved. Read it and find out.

Teenage girls will love it, plenty of first love experiences, feelings and doubts and a male character who is as devious as a ferret. Much to enjoy in this novel. Other titles by the same author are reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

Best  New Zealand YA novel of the year so far. Don’t miss it you will kick yourself if you do. The ending will make you think. Classy cover.

Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray.

January 31, 2020 Comments off

orphansOrphans of the Tide by Struan Murray. Pub. Puffin, 2020.

RELEASED 18 FEB. 2020

Always nice to read a children’s novel by a new author who has a great imagination.

Struan Murray creates a totally believable world that has been through the Drowning. The sea has risen enormously and the only known city left is built on a mountain and is called the City. The City is a character in it’s own right in this novel.

The plot is mysterious and action packed and it is about survival in this watery world. It begins when a whale is washed up on the roof of a house close to the waterfront. Ellie the main character knows that whales start decomposing in the stomach which produces gas and needs to be opened up before it explodes.

The opening starts a panic in the town. Ellie slices the whale open and a boy is extracted from the intestines. Ellie names him Seth and wants to protect him from the townsfolk who have judged him to be a Vessel for the main foe of the people who they call the Enemy.

The Inquisitors in the City have the job of hunting the Vessel down and killing it. Seth is the first Vessel in 23 years, but Ellie, her friend Annie and mysterious character Finn have other ideas.

Between chapters there is the story of the previous Vessel who has left the Diary of Claude Hestermeyer. Does it hold the secret to what is going on?

Ellie is a superb character. Her mother was an inventor and she herself has many skills and a respected role in the town. But she has a deadly secret which you can find out about by reading this novel. The last 50 pages are gripping.

Highly descriptive  novel for intermediate and junior high school students that will make you think. There is a map in the front to guide you. A great start to my reading year.

 

One of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus

January 20, 2020 Comments off

one of usOne of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus. Pub. penguin Books, 2020.

If you are ever in an on-line Truth or Dare scenario take the Dare. That is the message of this compelling mystery novel about the toxic danger that on-line social media Apps can have.

This novel is a sequel to One of us is Lying in which high school student Simon arranged his own death to make it look like his friends murdered him. Sick ? yes I know. These friends who include a champion gay baseball pitcher, a courting couple and a girlfriend, are in this novel but a new generation have taken over.

A Truth or Dare App has taken over the lives of the students of Bayfield High School run by an anonymous sicko called Darkestmind. He taunts the students to play truth or dare and all the memories and sick behaviour shown when Simon was around come to the surface again.

The students of Bayfield High School are mesmerised by the new game and show behaviours that no school or society should condone. The school doesn’t but the students do. All they had to do was ignore the App but they flocked to it like lambs to the slaughter.

The main characters in this are Maeve, sister of Bronwyn from the earlier novel, and a leukemia sufferer who is in remission. Knox a law student and shy boy who is treated cruel in the Truth and Dare game and Phoebe who has a fling with her sisters boyfriend and suffers the consequences in the game.

Crisis time comes when a member of the school is killed, but is it murder?

Structured in two parts this novel has much to say about teenage relationships and the dangers of on-line social media Apps. Then there is the mystery of who is behind the Truth and Dare game.

Superbly written by Karen McManus who keeps the tension flowing and gives a satisfying ending, but the human behaviour amongst the young is often appalling. One comment stands out to me. When the girls look up Knox’s website this comment is made “No selfies. What kind of weirdo is he?” Astonishing!

You just have to read it. Senior high school and young adults