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Archive for the ‘Young Adult’ Category

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.

Mirror Man by Fiona McIntosh. Pub Penguin Random House, 2021

June 15, 2021 Comments off

I do not read many adult novels but this one is very good. It is about a serial killer, Colin, who wants to ensure that criminals pay their dues while answering the need to empty prisons. He is a vigilante, or is he? and when a prisoner who has committed a dastardly crime is released too early, he plans and commits a murder. He has done it on at least four occasions but are there more and will there be others?

I admit than when I read about the crimes and the death of the perpetrators, I felt a sense of justice being done and indeed Colin feels that he is administering justice to the victims of crime. But there is more to this story than that but that is for you the reader to find out.

The hero of this story is DCI Jack Hawksworth a debonair James Bond like character who has a weakness for beautiful vulnerable women, and there are many of those in this novel. Jack is chivalrous, charming, awfully good looking, with long legs and a smile that melts the hearts of women who cross his path. He plays it cool as he has been hurt badly in the past, especially from a serial killer, Anne who is now inside Holloway prison and whom he consults on this case.

Jack is instructed to look at connections between several murders and to keep a low profile so as not to unsettle the public but he is undone by a canny journalist Lauren, who has been worked over by a cad of a man but has an instinct for a story like no other. Jack is attracted to her and she to him, and he realises that a nosey journalist can fly under the radar in a way no member of the police can. But can he ignore his weakness for this vulnerable, clever and beautiful woman?

A clever intelligent story that I was thrilled to bits to read. Fiona McIntosh writes a well crafted plot with endearing characters, grim murders and ties up all the loose ends. A particular strength is her portrayal of women. Most are in their 30’s have been worked over by a man, and are reluctant to try again. Until they meet Jack of course.

This is the third book about Jack Hawksworth and I for one an going to read the first two. Fiona McIntosh is not well known in NZ and she should be. I savoured this novel over a week and I don’t know where to go after reading it. I bet you feel the same.

What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson. Pub. Penguin Books, 2021.

May 21, 2021 Comments off

Set in Idaho in mid winter this suspense thriller for Young Adults is possibly the best book this year. If it was a rock band you would describe it as tight, if it was a film you would liken it to Fargo.

The background to the story is a robbery of a money laundering premises in which a suitcase of money has gone missing, hidden by a criminal who is violent and now in prison. The money is of drug origin and the gang is still after their loot.

Seventeen year old Jack and his six year old brother Matty are the sons of the man in prison and when we first meet them they are living in a cold house without heat or food and their mother has just hung herself after years of drug abuse. Jack buries his mother in the back garden and vows to himself that he will look after Matty.

At school Jack meets a tough shy girl called Ava who is described as “an animal peering out through human eyes”. She has a black tattoo of a heart on her wrist and keeps to herself. Jack helps her out at school and a bond begins between them that blossoms as the book progresses. Ava’s father was strongly implicated in the money laundering robbery and he wants the missing suitcase of money.

As carnage breaks out around them Jack and Matty link up with Ava without knowing that her father is chasing the money and will do anything to get it and does so. Jack suffers horribly and Ava for the first time in her life starts caring about someone.

The action is thrilling, compulsive and fast moving. The chapters are short and very readible hence the word tight in the opening paragraph. Each chapter has an introduction by the narrator who is mostly Ava looking back at what has happened. There is the occasional poem and a lot of talk about the human condition. The ending is gory and earth shattering but you can find that out for yourself.

The profile of the killer Bardem whose catch phrase is “whatever you put in that circle is yours to take’ is astonishing. Don’t miss this novel.

A superb novel. Take your time over it and relish every word. One of the best of the year.

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.

Becoming by Michelle Obama. Adapted for young Readers. Pub. Penguin Random House, 2021.

April 3, 2021 Comments off

The most fascinating and readable autobiography I have read for some time. The cover says it has been adapted for young readers but I couldn’t see what Michelle had left out. The woman with the dazzling smile, with the too lovely daughters who stood beside Obama when president of USA, sweeps you off your feet in this extraordinary book.

The book is in four parts the first is Becoming Me and tells of her schooling and College until she met Barack Obama. Born Michelle Robinson in South Chicago in an area that experienced whit flight as the Black population slowly moved in. It was a rough area and Michelle and her brother Craig with their parents lived in an upstairs apartment above a stern woman who taught piano. Michelle learnt piano and went to schools that were mainly coloured students.

She learnt how connections and privilege gave some people an advantage over others which she accepted. She spoke very correct English and was taunted by her fellow students ” how come you speak like a white girl”? She was seen as uppity and betraying her black Culture.

She followed her basketball scholarship brother Craig to Princeton in the 1980’s a place she saw as “extremely white and very Male”. She stuck to what she knew and had few white friends. When she left with her degree she studied law and got a position in a Chicago law firm and met Barack when she was assigned the job of mentoring him.

Part 2 is titled becoming Us in which she gets to know Barack, forms a relationship with him, marriage two daughters Malia and Sacha as well as developing a career involving social and political work plus motherhood. She saw that Barack was a deep thinker, heavy reader and had a version of hope that extended beyond hers. He wouldn’t settle for the World as it was, he wanted it as it should be.

Politically the path of the future was laid with the election of bill Clinton as President when she was involved in encouraging the black voters to vote which ensured Clinton’s win. The road was set for Obama’s run for president.

Michelle and Barack married in style with a Stevie Wonder song You and I We can conquer the world.

As Barack’s political aspirations bore fruit Michelle was left as a working mother bringing up her daughters with

Barack largely absent. She gave him the space to forge his career. She witnessed the dirty right wing lies that mar any election and the racism that a black man running for election brings. Obama had to receive the earliest protection any presidential candidate has ever had.

Becoming More is part 3 and covers Obama’s election, inauguration and move into the White House that makes fascinating and compelling reading but I will let you the reader find this out for yourself.

Michelle Obama is a talented writer. She is clear concise and bloody interesting. You will not read a better autobiography than this.

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.

In the Black Spiral Trilogy. Bk1. Violet Black by Eileen Merriman. Pub. Penguin Books, 2021.

February 16, 2021 Comments off

NOT RELEASED UNTIL 11 MAY 2021

The function of the first novel in a trilogy is to establish the scenario, introduce the characters and set the second novel up so that the reader wants to read that. This novel does all of that and more. You will be compelled to read the next one.

Set in the near future when a measles like pandemic(M-Fever) has struck giving victims a form of encephalitis from which few survive. Those that do develop a brain that can absorb everything and give strength that is at the super power level. Such people can be very useful for many things and also dangerous at the same time.

Violet Black is 17 years, is a survivor of M Fever. Her father is a scientist who has worked on a vaccine to stop the fever. Ethan Wright is also 17 years and his family think Violet’s father is a crook. Ethan and Violet develop ESP and can communicate with Think-say. They talk to each other with thoughts. Think-say is shown with writing in Italics.

A Mysterious and possibly sinister group called the Spiral Foundation led by Noel Marlow isolate Ethan and Violet along with four other survivors of M Fever, with similar powers and name them VORTEX. This survival group are shifted to Australia secretly where their powers can be developed in strict secrecy. They have a role to play in espionage to detect anti vax terrorists and other organisations. But they are being groomed for a role they never asked for.

For me the most appealing aspect is the ability of VORTEX members to separate the soul from the body and to travel widely in a dreamlike flow. Once again Elaine Merriman’s experience in medicine comes to the fore and makes this side of the story believable.

The action plays out with a mission to infiltrate a terrorist group in Berlin with consequences that will leave you breathless and wanting more. Don’t miss this trilogy. Book 2 Black Wolf will be out later this year.

The King’s Nightingale by Sherryl Jordan. Pub. Scholastic 2021.

January 31, 2021 Comments off

This is one of the best adventure novels about slavery that you will read this year. Based in Europe and North Africa although those two regions are not mentioned in the novel. Instead it is the Penhallow Isles where the main character Elowen was born and raised, and Rabakesh where she is enslaved to king Shaistakhan.

Elowen is a 16 year old girl brought up in a christian religion called Followers of the Shepherd. It’s faults and credibility are revealed to her early in the novel over a illegitimate baby is denied death rights because of her illegitimacy. As this is happening pirates from the south sack Elown’s village and carry off those they can catch to be sold as slaves. Many do not make the journey alive after brutal treatment from the pirates.

Elowen survives along with her brother Fisher but they are sold separately. Elowen is bought for the king because of her beautiful singing voice and is treated very well indeed, in fact in luxury but she has a fatal flaw which is going to ruin this for her.

She is warned not to question the decisions of men or to speak ill of the king who belong to the Izarin religion much like Islam. Elowen is outspoken and makes it clear she wants to escape to find her brother fisher.

Her abilities as a singer earns her the name Shalimar or Kings nightingale and she evokes jealousy amongst the king’s harem. This results in Elowen being resold into desperately different conditions that she had with the King. She regrets this and when she learns of a war machine that is to attack The King she takes very dangerous actions. Read the rest and find out it is brilliant.

Beautifully told and described by Sherryl Jordan who is surely at the top of her game. It follows a similar book titled The Freedom Merchants also reviewed earlier on this blog. However the descriptions of the desert landscape of Rabakesh and the palace lifestyle of King Shaistakhan are delicious, as are the comparisons of the two religions and cultures.

Elowen is a good role model, loyal, brave, compassionate and generous but her outspokenness gets her into trouble. She learns the language and religion of her captives in order to quietly achieve her goals.

A novel in four parts. If you miss this one you will kick yourself.

Bad Reputation. The Unauthorized Biography of Joan Jett by Dave Thomson. Pub.Backbeat Books, 2011.

January 23, 2021 Comments off

” I love rock’n roll put another dime in the Juke box baby..” yes this hit for Joan Jett and The Blackhearts was one of my favourite rock songs not only of the 80’s but of all time. Jett had that attitude and a sneer that could curdle milk.

Joan Larkin entered the world of rock’n roll as Joan Jett via an impressario Kim Folley and an all female rock band called the Runaways. All the girls were 15 and 16 and they came from South Los Angeles which was the hub of American rock music.

This is a sort of biography of Jett but mostly a portrait of rock music in LA and later to London through the punk era and into the 80’s and 90’s and how Joan Jett evolved her musical image from rock chick to lesbian roll model. It is not a life story but it is bloody interesting. Her musical influences from Suzi Quatro to the Ramones is documented with many quotes from notable people of her era.

Sexuality has always been a huge part of rock’n roll and The Runaways her first band were portrayed more for their sexuality than for their music but good music is what they were all about. It is a sleazy story in parts but that is because of the male attitudes to a girl band that toughened Joan Jett up. You can read about the rest yourself and it is very enlightening.

When Jett formed the Blackhearts in the early 80’s she wanted guys in the band. She was sick of the all girl thing. Her image had toughened and I love Rock’n roll sealed her reputation for ever.

Kristin Stewart and Dakota Fanning made a film in 2010 called The Runaways that brings credibility to Joan Jett’s bands and music and women’s rights.