The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom. Pub. Walker Books, 2017.
Abandoning their own when an operation turns bad is what the CIA is known for. So sayeth one of the characters in this book, but is it the whole truth.
Seventeen year old Gwendolyn is an ordinary American girl. She is told by her father that he works for the Government and as a result they have lived in many countries especially Russia and Italy making her adept at several languages.
When her father goes missing in France on what he said was a routine operation, Gwendolyn’s life changes. The CIA call round asking questions. A neighbour upstairs tells Gwendolyn that all is not as it seems and gives her a book that her father said was for her eyes only. What she discovers takes her to Paris and the company of a taut bodied former Mossad agent, Yael ,who describes her job as 90% waiting around and 10% terror.
Gwendolyn toughens up under Yael’s guidance and after a gun battle Gwendolyn takes off for Berlin and later Prague. She assumes the identity of a 22 year old Russian stripper called Sofia and becomes involved with a gun running, drug dealing, young girl smuggling multi millionaire Bohden Kladivo. He tells her “a woman who seeks to rise in the World must be crueler than men”. As the plot evolves Gwendolyn/Sofia finds the cruelty rising within her.
An excellent action/thriller/spy story that makes for tense reading. One of the best of this type of novel that I have read and the good news is the story is not over. There must be a sequel. The plot is tight and believable and the style is clever, menacing and witty – “trains creep slowly along the tracks like snakes in a moat”
Teens and Young Adults will love it.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Pub. Walker Books, 2017.
It is Spring break in America and while all of 16 year old Starr’s friends are talking about going to Taipei, the Bahamas and Harry Potter World she watches a cop kill her childhood friend and has his blood spill all over her.
Yes this is a tough book but it is essential that stories like this are told and the dangers of racism are seen for what they are. The story clearly grew out of events in USA that have led to the Black Lives Matter movement and it is difficult to see a more powerful novel about this topic come out anywhere in the World this year. It will stun you.
Khalil is also 16 years old he runs with the gangs because he has to. His mother is a Meth freak. He sees no other alternative, she needs help. Starr was his childhood friend and he takes her to a party where shots are fired, some boy is killed and on the car ride away from the party they are pulled over by the cop who kills Khalil.
Starr’s father has experienced the gang life, served jail time and now runs a store and taken his family away from that life. Starr goes to an essentially white school where if the white boys talk street slang they are cool but if the black girl does she is “hood”.
Starr also has a white boyfriend.
This powerful novel looks at the killing and asks questions about justice and racism. It also looks at the families of those living in the “hood” and their options in life. It is easier for them to find crack than it is to find a good school.
The way this story is spun by the different sides seems typical of Trump’s America where false news dominates and spin is more important than truth. As an Australian mate of mine said “this is a flamin’ good story”.
Senior fiction and Young Adult. It is simply written with the dialogue between characters superb. The phrase “stank Eye” really tickled me. If you don’t know it I bet you feel the same. The title comes from a rap by Tupac Shakur, put the first letter of each word of the title together and you get THUG. You will kick yourself if you miss this one.
Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts. Ten Tales from the Deep Dark Woods by Craig Phillips. Pub. Allen & Unwin, 2017.
The telling of stories of myths and legends was the reason the storyteller had the best seat by the fire. Here are ten myths legends and fairy tales from nine different cultures that talk about all the mythical creatures mentioned in the title.
Most of the stories you will know already although there was one I hadn’t heard of and it is a beauty. From Sweden is The Boy Who Was Never Afraid. He goes looking for his cow that was stolen by a an old Troll. Who hasn’t? he can’t afford to be afraid and after confronting bravely some formidable opponents he gets his cow back and becomes a hero at the same time. Brilliant.
You get Irish giant Finn McCool, Russian with Baba Yaga and Momotaro the peach boy plus others. You can’t beat that.
What makes these tales more accessible than they were before is the fact they are written in wide screen comic book illustrations that bring life to the tales. Visual readers will really get into these and so they should.
Less than 30 bucks will get you this impressive book that will appeal to reluctant readers and good readers alike. High boy appeal.
Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear & Isabelle Arsenault. Pub. Book Island, 2017.
This is a sophisticated picture book that is multi level, it is disturbing but ultimately hopeful and the topic is depression.
Many people get depressed but when a child gets depressed that is upsetting and needs investigation. When Virginia gets depressed she turns into a wolf and everything in the house turns upside down and dreary for her sister Vanessa.
Vanessa cares and tries to jolly Virginia up. It is a hard row to hoe. Virginia mentions Bloomsberry and so Vanessa paints her view of Bloomsberry with flowers and a garden in which she and Virginia can wander safely and happily.
The names of the children and the situation mirror that of writer Virginia Woolf and the name Bloomsberry is a name associated with her, although you don’t need to know that to enjoy the book.
Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations are superb. The black wolf, the brightly dressed Vanessa and the black and white images depicting depression are magical. The garden scenes painted by Vanessa fill the reader with hope that depression will pass.
A picture book for everyone.
A Different Dog by Paul Jennings. Pub. Allen & Unwin, 2017.
Fans of Paul Jennings will not be disappointed in this long short story. Just over 80 pages of writing that will keep you on edge and keep you guessing to the end.
The boy who narrates the story is known only as the boy. He never speaks but once owned a dog called Deefer whose fate is crucial to the story. The boy lives with his mother and they are very poor but both want to break that poverty thing.
Although the boy never talks you know what he is thinking. He has no friends and is harangued at school but an adventure in which a vehicle leaves the road and kills the owner leaving another dog, is to change the boy’s life. Read it and see how.
The illustrations by Geoff Kelly in black and white pen are a critical part of this story
Superbly constructed by a master storyteller for reluctant readers of intermediate and secondary school age.
Flight Path by David Hill. Pub. Puffin NZ, 2017.
This excellent novel about Bomber Command in World war 2 is released tomorrow and if I were you I would get down and get it because you will not read a better novel about this topic than this one.
Jack is a NZ boy of 19 years and he can’t wait to get off the ship and join in the fight against Hitler. He is allocated to F Fox Lancaster bomber sitting in the freezing cold perspex nose cone as a bomb releaser and gunner. He sees all the action front on.
After two raids Jack was scared and felt like he had been doing the job for ever.
The Lancaster has a multi national crew of seven and they are told if they get shot down to head for the dirtiest cafe in town sit in the corner and wait. Jack hopes it will never happen.
The crew take part in bombing raids over Germany, France and the English channel at night time. Starting after 10.00 o’clock and sometimes out there for 6 hours. Every mission has major risks from flack from ground fire or attack from German night fighters and even from their own bombers who are flying in close formation. There are missions at the D-Day landings and a hunt for the Battleship Tirpitz.
The dogfights and descriptions of the bombing raids are superb and after each mission a white bomb is painted on the nose of the Lancaster. However with each mission the tensions get higher. When will it be F Fox’s turn to be shot down or suffer casualties.
A superb novel that could be compared to Brian Falkner’s novel of 1917 reviewed below. David Hill is equally superb in his observations as Brian Falkner especially when the English pilot says things like what-ho and wizard. There is also a bit of romance so read it and find out.
Intermediate readers could easily read it but it is essentially high school and Young Adult.