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.
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.
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.
Kiwis at War 1917. Machines of War by Brian Falkner. Pub. Scholastic, 2017.
Seventeen year old Bob Sunday took his dead brother’s identity and signed up to be a pilot in the newly formed Air Corps in WW1. He was made an observer instead with his back to the pilot in a new Bristol fighter handling a Lewis machine gun but he will be made a pilot later.
His first encounter with action won him the Military Medal without even leaving the ground, but he was still put on a charge. In the coming weeks he learned that newcomers were not treated very well because of their high attrition rate. Many did not last a week, nobody wants to get to know a man who is going to die. His survival and bravery ensured that he made friends and enemies as the Flying Corps is revealed as elitist and tarnished with the social structure of England.
The highlights of this superbly told story are the airborne dogfights and the parties around the piano in the evening as the pilots mourned those that never came back and toasted victories. The Red Baron and Herr Voss the German Aces in their tri-planes, featured in the fights as did the contrast between the war in the air and that of the soldier in the trenches, the PBI or poor bloody infantry.
Told between April and November 1917 the War is still very much even culminating in the bloodiest battle of all Passchendaele. The view of the battle from the air is a revelation as is the use of the new technology, Tanks.
An on going controversy through this period was the non use of parachutes by the airmen even though the technology existed. Top brass cared little for the parachute as they considered the pilots would fight harder if the knew they would die. It was the sort of decision making that was a feature of WW1 made by heartless officers who had never fought themselves and cared nothing about casualty rates.
Brian Falkner does not miss a beat in this superb novel for intermediate and high school students. YA,s and adults will also get a lot out of this excellently researched novel.
Too Right Boy by M.O. Chamberlain. Pub. SHIHvillage publications. raewyn@247PR.co.nz. 2016
A self published novel about a road trip by grandfather Harry aged 80’s and his grandson Brad aged 12 years. A road trip that is life changing for both grandfather and grandson.
Harry is a retired journalist with plenty of life experience, a risk taker and a man who deeply loved his deceased wife. He misses her and still talks to her but he kept a secret from her and the road trip is going to out this secret and others.
Brad has a bit of baggage too. His mother is over protective and considers Harry to be irresponsible and an earlier day trip on horseback just strengthened her beliefs.
Harry decides on a road trip in a camper van and Brad is forbidden to go, but he stows away when granddad leaves and circumstances at home ensure that Brad remains with his granddad for the trip at least.
On the trip many subjects are discussed between the two from sex to God and drugs. Brad is a surfer and this stimulates his writing as Harry encourages him to write the events of each day down. There is also a Harley Davidson and a violent confrontation to surprise readers. Rule nothing out on this trip.Things get testy on the road as Harry relives his life and Brad soaks up the experience.
Well told in journalistic style with plenty to interest boy readers in a sort of Barry Crump way. It is positive in spite of the family demons that need to be worked through. I found it very easy to relate to Harry.