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Archive for the ‘Young Adult’ Category

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.

The Silence of Snow by Eileen Merriman. Pub. Black Swan, 2020.

January 17, 2021 Comments off

Two things hit me very quickly when I started to read this adult medical drama. Firstly how terribly difficult it must be to maintain a long distance romantic relationship. Secondly how frightening it is to expect young doctors to do 15 hour shifts when they are dealing with life and death situations in a hospital.

There are two main characters and things are going to get hot between them.

Jodi is in her late twenties, she is attractive but unsure of herself because she comes from a family of doctors and wonders is she doing the right thing for herself and everybody else. She is in a relationship with Fraser who lives in Dunedin while she works further north. It is nearing Xmas and because of work schedules and the demand from the hospital Jodi is unable to go to Dunedin to be with Fraser. He has visited her but their relationship is around bickering-why can’t you come down? you are always tired. That sort of thing.

Rory is slightly older, from Scotland with a smooth Scottish accent and a quick wit. The female doctors and nurses are smitten by him but he has a problem and a past. He is an anaesthetist and early in the novel assists Jodi in a desperate medical event. Rory deals with the pressures of work by self prescribing uppers and downers for however he feels. He is becoming addicted.

Rory is free and easy, drinks a lot and is slightly promiscuous because the women are available.

The first encounter between Jodi and Rory is sensual. Both feel the chemistry and it is a matter of time before they do the wild thing. Jodi has a relationship, Rory has a past and a problem. How can everything be resolved. Read it and find out.

Very well written in short chapters that have breaks for you to stop and reflect or get the tranquilisers out. The romance is hot and the medical events often disturbing. When Jodi and Rory have their first kiss, Jodi feels she is letting the wolf in and Rory feels his universe has been disturbed. One of the best devices Eileen makes is to provide the thoughts of the character in any situation written in italics. many of them will mirror your own thoughts.

I loved this novel, you will too. So what is the title all about? Well you don’t hear snow fall, until you are in the middle of a drift. Compelling reading.

She’s a Rainbow. The extraordinary Life of Anita Pallenberg by Simon Wells. Pub. Omnibus press, 2020.

January 12, 2021 Comments off

I have read many biographies of rock “n Roll stars and actors and most scratch the surface of their lives and give you little else, but this one on Anita Pallenberg ,I think got to the core of what she was like. It is both uplifting and tragic and ultimately the story of a woman who changed the world.

She was stunningly beautiful, with long legs, blond hair and a sexy European voice who dazzled when she walked into a room. She was well educated and well read spoke French, German Italian and English and was forthright in her opinions and ambitions. Her fashion sense was second to none and her Bohemian style dominated the fashions of swinging London and helped make London the centre of the modern cultural world. She was an actress a fashion model, a designer and she turned the Rolling Stones from “a band of suburban scruffs into a new breed of dandified lions”.

She first hit the scene as the girl friend of Brian Jones and their confrontational relationship is detailed in this book. The famous incident in Morocco in which Keith Richards rescued her from Brian Jones is told from many angles but the one sure thing is that Brian Jones never recovered from the split.

Life with Richards and the Stones is detailed from many sources but the truth of it is that it was based on drug taking on a huge scale. How she and Richards survived is beyond me but read it and see for yourself.

A highlight of the book for me is the chapter on the making of the film Performance, a cult film which after 50 years has still not recovered the costs of making it. Asked what her contribution to the film was Anita said “the sex”. She was right of course, it is the only reason a watched the film which I found awful. It did however have a powerful effect on all those that were in the film or associated with the making and promotion of the film. The biggest question posed of course was “did Anta and Mick Jagger do the wild thing?”. When Mick was asked he said the suggestion was too delicious to deny.

The tragedy of Anita’s life was of course drugs. She was addicted for much of her life and they stole the humanity from her. When 17 year old Scott Cantrell shot himself in her house Anita when asked about it said “I didn’t feel anything. That’s one of the wonders of drugs and drink”

One of the best overviews of life in the rock’n roll, fashion and film making world of the 1960’s and 70’s that I have read. If you miss this one you will kick yourself.

Answering to the Caul by Ted Dawe. Pub Mangakino University Press. 2020.

January 3, 2021 Comments off

This is a powerful novel in two distinctly different parts. The first part is titled Living with the Caul and analyses the life of Andrei Reti a boy who was born with a Caul covering his head. According to folk lore and superstition this will lead to him having an affinity with water with the possibility of drowning being unlikely.

Water does indeed have a great influence on Andrei as he survives drowning in the bath while a baby, and in other incidents in his life that affect his relationships with his whanau. He grows up with a sense of guilt.

However it is poverty and reading that by far have the biggest impact on his life. When your father is in jail and your mother is sick the world looks like a huge and lonely place. Poverty comes through the door and when Andrei’s mother dies he is shipped up to live with whanau in the north where poverty is a daily existence.

He adjusts and his only escape is books. He reads prolifically at a level far in advance of children his own age and this influence of reading is a major theme of the novel.

Up North he comes in contact with a wild family member called Dallas who is violent and on the verge of exploding every minute of the day. Dallas introduces him to the adult world and is to have a major impact on his life in the second part of this novel but you will have to read it to find out how. Needless to say Dallas regards the two factors that control his life as Whanau and utu. There is no room for aroha as Andrei tells him.

The story is narrated by Andrei and covers his early childhood and school up to high school. It then jumps into adulthood and the repercussions of his childhood and the Caul come to the fore.

Part two is another story as it is set in Thailand but I will leave that to you the reader. Needless to say there is an incident that reminds me of a novel by Michael Morpurgo involving elephants.

The book is very readible, with short chapters, and much to say about school life and poverty. It is very descriptive and brings back old kiwi english with terms like cackhanded, which made me smile. Then there is the description of a current scone made by his aunt that is described as “not a food but a landform, something between a boulder and a cow pat”.

This novel would go well when read in conjunction with Tim Tipene’s White Moko which is reviewed earlier on this blog. This New Zealand in the raw.

Time To Remember by Janna Ruth. Self published 2020. www.janna-ruth.com

December 24, 2020 Comments off

Trauma can have lasting effects on your mental and physical health” This novel written in late 2020 started out to show the effects of earthquake trauma on children at the tenth anniversary of the first quake that hit Canterbury in the early morning of September 4th 2010.

Janna Ruth is a best selling German author who was in Christchurch through all the Earthquakes but the traumatic events that are the Covid 19 pandemic needed to be included in the story as well. She does this successfully in a very compelling novel to read.

Josh and Nathalie are her two main characters and both were 10 years old when the first earthquake hit but it was the February earthquakes that affected them the most.

Josh and Nathalie both attend the University of Canterbury and both are involved in writing articles and publishing the Student newspaper Canta. At the start of the novel they dislike each other intensely and both are involved in relationships within their social circle. Nathalie suggests a special piece on the tenth anniversary of the quakes in which students are asked to write stories of their experiences and Josh is particularly vitriolic at her suggestion. Why? Read it and find out.

Trauma of the earthquakes is at the heart of Josh’s problems as it is with the behaviour of many of the characters in this novel. In many ways it is a love story which explores the fine line between love and hate.

The lockdown because of Covid helps consolidate opinions and situations. Very much an exploration of student relationships which add much of the drama to the novel. I can tell you no more except to say I lived in Christchurch through the earthquakes and attended University of Canterbury.

This novel was real enough to me. One character says this “We lost my mum. One of those white chairs on the lawn was hers”. Of course the words “EQC stinks” will ring true for many people.

A novel to remember.