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Archive for the ‘Senior Fiction’ Category

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.

LIT. Stories from Home. Edited by Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod. Pub. Onetree House, 2021.

June 26, 2021 Comments off

I was very happy to read this anthology of 15 short stories by New Zealand writers because it reacquainted me with Katherine Mansfield’s The Dolls House which I had read nearly 60 years ago in my 4th Form English class taught by Gordon Ogilvie who was to become a writer in his own right. He described the story as the most important piece of literature written by a new Zealander and at the time that meant nothing to me but now it does. I remember sympathising with the Kelvey sisters because I was from a family of eight and we were poor like them.

This story is important to the theme of this anthology which explores society in New Zealand from the closed class ridden structure of The Dolls House through the various stages in our development till todays society which is varied, ethnically diverse and severely challenged.

The anthology begins with Baby Doll by Gina Cole narrated by a 10 year old Uyghur working in a slave factory sewing garments and stressing because she will be docked pay for not meeting targets and who has subsequently fled China and now resides in New Zealand but looking back.

In between times we have gems from Witi Ihimaera, Owen Marshall, David Hill, Frank Sargeson and another favourite Elsie Locke. There are other gems each adding another development of New Zealand’s society to where it is today.

The last story in the anthology is Chinese New Zealander Ting. J. Yiu titled Gutting which will stun you as it did me. It features a middle aged Chinese woman called Kim who lives as a hunter in the bush of West Coast new Zealand and actually hunts, kills and guts a deer during the story. This is surprising in itself but she arrives at doing this after she has discovered a pod of pilot whales who have beached themselves on a remote West Coast beach. The meaning of all this is one for you to decide for yourself but are we all like beached whales looking for our own place in this new society we call New Zealand /Aotearoa.

If you miss this you will kick yourself. One of the best short story anthologies I have read.

The Life and Times of Eddie Mcgrath by Brigid Feehan. Pub, Onetree House, 2021

June 11, 2021 Comments off

Eddie short for Edwina is an imaginative junior high school student with a caring and bizarre family including two older sisters and an aunty who is a Druid. She has stunned everybody by winning a competition in which she becomes an MP for the day in his or her constituency office, then has to prepare a speech and meet the Prime Minister, all on camera.

She has a couple of good friends Meri and a boy named Liam and it is all innocent and idealistic. Such is young life. Their lives are hectic and things change very quickly but they are caring and well meaning. The story is narrated by Eddie and she agonises over her life with her friends as young girls do.

Hanging over her head is of course the meeting with the PM and her speech but many other things are happening. Her father has an accident and a boy from Christchurch who also won the competition wants to come to Wellington to meet her.

The best story however involves Liam and his arthritic dog Russ. Liam is not happy with some chickens that are being mistreated by a neighbour so he removes them in a chilly bin and ensconces them on the top floor of an abandoned and earthquake risky former convent. Then he changes his mind and decides to put them back but is caught. This introduces another character and another situation.

Brigid Feehan links all the stories together in a witty spirited novel for intermediate and junior secondary readers. Eddie is a committed reader herself and this novel is probably best suited for girls although not necessarily so. I enjoyed it and it shows that life doesn’t always go smooth but if you adapt to the changes you might get a better than asked for result.

Displaced by Cristina Sanders. Pub. Walker Books, 2021

May 14, 2021 Comments off

I really enjoyed this historical novel of New Zealand in the 1870’s when settlers were being encouraged to come to New Zealand and establish farms. The Land Wars with the Maori were essentially over in terms of an armed struggle and new Zealand was open to settlers from all over the World.

This novel concentrates on an English gentry family named Sansonnet headed by Robert and his family whose farm in England is sold from underneath them by Robert’s brother who encourages them to join him on a farm in New Zealand. Well all is not as it seems.

Robert and Penelope and their three sons and two daughters book passage to Napier in New Zealand and set sail but all does not go well. Robert is a bully of a father and it is way or the highway for his family. This cause some conflict. On the journey all three sons come to grief in different ways and only one makes to Napier.

On arrival there is no brother waiting, no farm and a very rough and ready colonial settlement. Robert takes off to Thames to meet his brother and the family are left to make it on their own headed by 18 year old Eloise who is a superb character, her 16 year old sister Martha and mother Penelope who has lost it after the fate that befell her sons.

With the help of a preachers daughter the family settle in, but Eloise has fallen for a Norwegian woodcutter named Lars and Martha has taken with Hemi, a half cast Maori boy. To find out any more you are going to have to read it yourself and believe me it is worth it.

The clash of values of Victorian manners of the Sansonnets and those of the settler communities is stunning. The women cope very well but the men are left flabbergasted and found to be hypocritical.

Well written, the descriptions of early New Zealand are superb and there is a nice bit of scandal at the end. One of the best novels about early New Zealand that I have read. Could be read by Intermediate school readers and above but aimed at senior audiences.

Winner of The Storylines Tessa Duder Award for 2021.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston. Pub. Hardy Grant, 2021.

April 16, 2021 Comments off

Amari is a black girl from the housing projects who has a destiny that she doesn’t understand. She is used to living the hard way but has good attitudes and is loyal and brave. Her older brother Quinton has gone missing in a magical world and she is determined to find him.

Quinton is a magician which nobody knows about and he sends her a package in which is a pair of glasses that give Amari a virtual reality show telling her about the dangerous world Quinton has got caught up in and a plea to not try to find him.

Amari follows clues from the glasses and is led to a magical world that exists in the same space as the real world but only few people can see it. A bit like J.K. Rowlings world of Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Amari enters the world of the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs an organisation that ensures that supernaturals have a safe place to meet. Amira is tested for her suitability to work for the department and surprisingly learns that she is a magician and related to magicians that have caused havoc in the past. She learns too that her brother Quinton was also a magician and has disappeared while looking for and elusive and dangerous group called the Night Brothers.

Amari applies to become a member of the Dept of Supernatural Investigations run by the van Helsings relatives of the Van Helsings that trapped Dracula. How will she get on? Will she find Quinton? and who are the Night Brothers.

Exciting fantasy for lovers of this genre.

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman. Pub. Walker Books, 2021.

March 16, 2021 Comments off

Neal Shusterman is one of my favourite authors with his Arc of the Scythe series being his outstanding work. This novel for senior students and Young Adults is a thought provoking novel, cleverly written with an outstanding imagination and wit. It could also be seen as a picture of Trump’s America but not everybody will see this.

Ash is in his High School football team. He is in the defensive unit and his job is to get the opposing quarter back and make his life a misery. He does it very well, but in the first game of the year he clashes heads with an opposing player and has a major shift in reality. It is a game changer.

In the real world Ash lives in he is from a poor family. His best friend is Leo who is in his football team and he is black. He is also friends with the star quarter back Layton a brute of a boy who dominates his girlfriend Kate who Ash quite likes. Ash takes Math lessons from a classmate Paul and his younger brother Hunter is a bit of a pain.

After the clash of heads Ash enters into a parallel reality and in this one he is a very rich boy. All the above mentioned friends are in the new reality but their relationships have changed. Another clash of heads in the next game pushes Ash into another reality in which he himself is still a football player but also a drug dealer. But the biggest change is that America is a segregated country. Black and white do not mix. This disturbs Ash and he goes looking for his black friend Leo.

The next clash of heads changes Ash completely. In the previously realities Ash has reflected often about who he is but in this next reality he is gay and is taunted by a gay friend to come out of the closet which he does in dramatic fashion. This new reality has Ash questioning his identity further and has one of the best lines in the novel. When he tells his parents that he is gay he looked at his mother ” all she could see were her unborn grandchildren dying before her eyes”.

Will Ash get back to his first reality? Are there other realities? Read this very clever novel and find out. The ending is outrageous.

Katipo Joe. Bk2. Spycraft by Brian Falkner. Pub Scholastic, 2021.

March 6, 2021 Comments off

This is masterful writing from Brian Falkner that will have you spellbound from beginning till end. Falkner grabs the reader on page one and never lets you go till the stunning ending when you will be screaming out for more.

After his experiences in London during the Blitz and the fateful mission in France, Katipo Joe the fifteen year old spy is airlifted into Germany during a bombing raid, with the aim of infiltrating an elite group of Hitler Youth. This will have him mixing with five other elite young Nazis and competing with them to become movie stars in a film by Leni Riefenstahl. But there is a bigger prize than that but you will have to read the novel to find out what it is. This will not be a hardship I can assure you of that.

In this journey he finds love and meets Hitler’s inner circle of Himmler, Goebbels and Goring and even the girl that stole Hitler’s heart Eva Braun, plus Hitler’s dog Blondi and that is a story in itself. He mixes with the Nazi elite in the town of Obersalzberg and ponders “how can you be in the presence of such evil and not feel even a prickle of discomfort?”. They appear so normal.

The highlight for me is the meeting of the top Nazis including Hitler, Eva Braun plus Goebbels etc at the Eagle’s Nest fortress in Berchtesgaden, a place I visited in 2004.

This is world class writing, well researched, historically accurate and poses a “what if “scenario regarding Hitler’s dilemma of whether to to invade England. The detail is fascinating from the descriptions of the Nazi leaders to the aircraft, the guns the motor vehicles that the SS and Hitlr drove around in and of course the landscape around Obersalzberg. In the back of the novel there are some very enlightening photographs in which the action was involved

The ending is stunning and sets up book three. I can’t wait. If this isn’t the best Children and Young Adults book of the year I will give up eating strudel.

A Doubtful Detour by Anya Forest. Pub. www.anyaforest.com

March 1, 2021 Comments off

This historical time travel novel took me a while to read because of the amazing detail it gives about life in the Fiordland National park during the 1920,s and 1960’s. Fiordland is the major character in this novel with it’s mountains, fiords, rivers, waterfalls, dense bush, rain and unique animal life.

This is a sequel to the novel Home from the Homer also reviewed on this blog, and features 13 year old twins Seth and Zoe and their parents who travel south of the Homer to Doubtful Sound and Deep Cove. As with the earlier novel they slip into different time zones and experience life in the raw in the early days.

Seth slips into the 1920’s when tourism was starting to develop in Fiordland as is hunting. He meets several famous characters particularly Leslie Murrell a hunter and tourist developer of the 1920’s and Vivian Donald who had a company that developed the first woolpress in NZ. Seth accompanies them on a hunting and sailing trip that takes him down Doubtful sound to the ocean and trips to Dusky sound and the Puysegur Point lighthouse which was built in 1879 and burnt to the ground in 1942. He travels on a famous boat the Constance and takes part on the first licensed hunting for wapiti trip in 1923. he also comes across a whale and the rareTawaki or Firodland crested penguin.

Zoe has a totally different trip in Doubtful Sound and West Arm where the Manapouri Power Station was being built. Her main companion there was Sister Josie a nurse on board the Wanganella passenger ship that was home to over 400 men who built the Manapouri complex. The Wanganella had a gymnasium and a cinema for over 400 men when spitting on the deck meant you were fired. She travels inside Machine Hall a huge place carved into the rock that house all the turbines that made the power from the Manapouri scheme.

There are many tales like this in this novel and all are accompanied by superb photographs and documents of the times. The characters, the transport, the wildlife and the landscape and seascape of the wonder that is fiordland.

I can say no more find out the rest for yourself you will not be disappointed. Of course there is the mystery of the time travel and whether or not the family will find each other again.