Archive for the ‘Senior 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.

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.

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.

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.

The Midnighters by Hana Tooke. Illus. Ayesha Rubio. Pub. Puffin, 2022.

July 28, 2022 Comments off

One of the most unusual novels I have ever read, it’s not quite realism, it’s not quite fantasy but it is both of these. Set in the magical city of Prague with it’s spires, it’s bridges and its mechanical clock this novel takes you beneath the city to the dark magical world of the people that live after midnight.

Ema Vaskova was born at midnight on the twelfth day of the twelfth month at the same time as her grandmother Liliana died. She was one of twelve children-5 sets of twins and the oldest sister Frantiska, the only non twin, who takes responsibility for bringing her up.

Now Ema is twelve and she is sent to live with her uncle in old Prague where she meets a girl hanging upside down like a bat with a round face, round eyes and silver hair called Silvie. Ema lives in a state of impending doom, has a scientific mind like her other family members, has the ability to go unseen, people don’t notice her, and has a skill of being able to read people’s faces and know when they are lying.

Silvie sees Ema for what she is and tells her “nothing is impossible with a little imagination” and encourages her to have “less worrying and more daring.” Silvie tells Ema of a world beneath the city of Prague where the midnight Guild meet and react, and it is a strange world indeed. How will Ema cope? Then Silvie disappears and evidence of a murder starts to emerge. Where is Silvie and if there has been a murder who is guilty?

This is a novel about difference and in the words of the author Ema is an Enigma and quite possibly neurodivergent. This novel is not for everyone but readers of fantasy who love detail will love it to bits. I did.

Each chapter contains an illustration by Ayesha Rubio at the top which helps the intrigue and sets the scene for the action. A very nice package with short chapters and nearly 400 pages. You have never read anything like this before.

The Snow Laundry by Mette Jakobsen. Pub Angus & Robertson, Imprint HarperCollins, 2022

July 17, 2022 Comments off

This is the best dystopian fiction novel I have read for some time and it is part one of a series, part 2 will be out in April 2023.

Dystopian fiction always scares the poop out of me because it is so real one thinks can it ever happen here? Certainly there have been civilisations that have occurred already with Nazi Germany being a prime example.

Seventeen year old Ally and her boyfriend Bon were street kids, probably Black, living under the city in the tunnels which have now been locked up. They were persecuted by people and called rats. Then there was a revolution in which a sweet talking woman called Elenor Maslin campaigned with weasel words promising a bright future for everyone including the tunnel rats. Once in power all that changed and the tunnel kids were rounded up crammed into confined lodgings and forced to work serving the rich folk in a complex that once was the Hilton hotel.

Ally works in the laundry along with Bon and her friends Berger, Ollie, Fi and others. They are regularly beaten and starved and treated inhumanely. Most of the book describes their lives and how they got there. Ally who cannot read laments that no-one talks about anything important, they are terrified of the brutal guards and it is very much “us against the world”

Then Bon disappears after being brutally beaten and Ally wants to find him. The leader of the complex in which the kids live is known as ONE. He is genial, well dressed and a sweet talker of weasel words. It is nearing his birthday and celebrations are planned. Ally is drawn into serving the party for ONE but there is an underground resistance movement that hopes to destroy the celebrations.

The last 50 pages are thrilling and set up the next in the series.

A very tense novel because you like and relate to Ally. You will kick yourself if you miss this book. As good as the Hunger games.

Showtym Viking by Kelly Wilson and Amanda Wilson. Pub. Penguin Random House. Imprint Puffin, 2022.

June 13, 2022 Comments off

If you are a horse person, into show jumping and love competition then this is the novel for you. Written by two of the famous Wilson sisters with input from the rest of the family this novel doesn’t seem like your regular novel it reads like a true story. I am sure it is based on real events.

Amanda is 16 years going on 17 and she rides ponies in show jumping events. Her older sisters are riders in big events and are an important part of her interest in horses. Amanda is homeschooled and mixes her school work with training and riding horses. She is good at it but at times lacks confidence particularly when things don’t go her way. She has to learn to get back on the horse after a fall.

When sister Vicki recommends she buy a 6 year old pony who she sees as special Amanda does so and finds that Vicki is right. As Amanda rides the new pony who she calls Strider, with the name Showtym Viking for events, she learns that Strider is indeed a special horse.

With her other horses Max Frodo and Baggins, Amanda competes in many real events with the aspiration that Strider can compete in Pony of the Year a title that no 6 year old horse has ever won. Can she do it? Read it yourself and find out. Is Amanda up to it?

I have read many girl and horse books particularly from Stacy Gregg and other titles from Kelly Wilson too, but this novel taught me more about what training and riding a horse in show jumping events means. Showing the horse the jump before an event, working out how many strides it takes between fences according to the stride and pace of the horse, bridleless riding and lots more.

Well written with short chapters and big build up to the main event. Good story.

Loki. A Bad God’s Guide to being Good by Louie Stowell. Pub. Walker Books, 2022

June 4, 2022 Comments off

Satire and irony are clever tools in comedy and this easy to read short novel about Loki the Norse god of mischief is a great example of these two techniques in action.

Loki is sent by Odin to Earth from Asgard, down the Rainbow Bridge because of his bad behaviour. He is accompanied by his nemesis Thor and two make believe parents Hyrrokkin, a giant woman and Heimdall an ogre like man. The reason is to learn how to behave, show empathy, remorse and kindness. If he fails he will be sent to hell with snakes.

Loki must keep a diary of what happens and the diary can monitor his behaviour and dock points off his starting point of minus 3000 for bad behaviour on Earth. he hasn’t got a chance because he can’t change the habits of a life time or can he? Read it and find out.

Thor is a perfect speciman, popular with the girls while Loki is a puny nerd looking boy who can’t compete, except by behaving badly which he is very good at. When the points differential reaches a million to the power of infinity he is in bad shape but can he come back?

Human behaviour is savaged. Stowell takes the water out of schools, family life, shopping, eating takeaways etc. Very funny and will attract reluctant readers particularly boys.