April 30

Wavelength by AJ Betts

9781921696305_WAVELENGTHYear 12. Your whole future can be determined by a couple weeks in November. Its something I have always had problems with in this country, but sending 18 year olds hurtling towards a stress breakdown is apparently the best way to determine their ability to succeed in uni, career, or anything else life may throw at them.

Oliver is stressed. He has decided that the only career for him is to be a geologist working for a mining company. Quick pay rises, lots of opportunities, the only thing is that he really doesn’t like rocks. Or Chemistry and Physics for that matter. So if you have to get an 80% or more in two science subjects when you don’t like science, that is surely a recipe for stress. Add to it the fact that his mum runs a baking business from home, right next to his room in fact, and Oli is on his way to collapse. Then Mum decides to send him to stay with his father to study for a week. Out in the country with no distractions, what could be better. Well, Oli finds his own distractions, and a lot more.

I liked this little book about the ending of secondary school. During the week covered, Oli learns a lot about what is really important in life, and that is never a bad thing. He makes friends, some of his own age, and many more that are older. He gains an understanding of the frailty of humanity, not everyone makes the right choices every time. He learns to just occasionally think of others before himself, and that can be a hard lesson for anyone.

I do have one little objection. Betts really needed to do a little research about a year 12 Chem or Physics course. Maybe in WA it is different, but the stuff Oli was revising I was teaching to year 10s. That made the whole book lose credibility, and unnecessarily. I may just be fussy, but I think any other readers studying science will have the same issues.

Generally, it was an entertaining read with even more to think about between sessions.

April 30

Henry Hoey Hobson by Christine Bongers

HenryHobson_cov.inddTriple H, hmm. For fans of WWE wrestling this simple phrase will create an instant image. Now think of the opposite in every way, and you have a good idea of this HHH.

Henry is a new kid at school. He and his mum move every few months, and sometimes it seems every few weeks. But this move to a suburb of Brisbane is worse than most. Not only did he have to change schools, but Mum enrolled him in a small Catholic school just up the road from his new home. Great – not – especially when he discovers that he is the only boy in year 7! And then the vampires move in next door, complete with casket. How is he ever going to live this down!

This is written and designed to be a comedy. Many of the characters in these pages are larger than life, and the situations are sometimes beyond reality. But that makes this book simply delightful to read. However, there is also a very serious message about second chances here. Dressed up in the fun, it kind of slips in and sticks with you long after the silliness fades.

This book has been nominated in the CBCA Younger Readers category. I doubt very much if I will get the chance to read the rest, but this one really deserves the recognition that the nomination will bring.

April 30

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

9780575090903A couple weeks ago I reviewed book one of this trilogy. At the time I said that I was reading the whole trilogy in one go, and I did. But as usual, reading time and writing time are two different things.

This book has fascinated me for months. I kept pulling it out of the review box, reading the blurb, and then putting it back reluctantly because I didn’t have book 1. And of course now that I have read it, I know that the storyline didn’t depend on book 1 for success. Each book is about different people trapped on the same world, they are loosely connected and each appears in the other book, but the stories stand alone.

Anyway, book 1, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, sees our heroine Mary arrive at the ocean, a place she had always dreamed of seeing. Book 2 is about Gabry, a girl who has been raised by her mother living in a lighthouse on the edge of the ocean. You just know that the mother is Mary, but that isn’t confirmed until well into the book. Gabry is about 16 and falling in love. When she and a group of friends are beyond the Barrier exploring an old amusement park, they are attacked by the Unconsecrated. Gabry’s boyfriend is bitten, a death sentence. Forced into finding out what happens to him, she returns to the park and encounters a cult of Unconsecrated worshipers. Here she finds help, and eventually discovers that her boyfriend is alive and healthy – immune. Great news, except for the fact that the authorities usually capture all immunes and their friends and families in order to force them to travel the dangerous lands seeking supplies and other communities. To prevent this happening to all of them the kids escape to the Forest.

It can be difficult for many authors of trilogies to keep the tension going. Ryan succeeds by focusing on the people involved. The reader cares what happens to Elias, Catcher, and Cari just as much as Gabry and Mary. By keeping her characters real and varied, Ryan keeps the reader engaged even though the territory covered is the same as in the first book.

Once again, the end is heartbreaking, and will guarantee that you reach for the final book immediately. I certainly did.

April 30

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

9780141333663When you look at the cover of this book, I wonder what you think? When I saw it the first time I thought ‘another romance novel for kids’ and added it to the collection. But then a copy arrived with a review collection, and I suddenly had my excuse to read it for myself. Imagine my surprise when this ends up being one of the best scifi books for YAs that I have read in years.

The story begins with a group of interplanetary colonists preparing for hibernation while they travel the 300+ years that it is going to take to get to the nearest habitable planet. Amy is a ‘nonessential’ whose parents are listed as critical to the success of the colony. Given the choice, she decides to go with them. But then something happens and she wakes up about 50 years too early, finding herself on a spaceship populated by about 2000 people acting as carers for the precious cargo. It’s not long before she discovers that some of the other frozen colonists are being killed, and she is desperate to find the killer before her parents are attacked.

Not a bad idea. Certainly there is enough mystery and suspense to keep anyone reading. But as is the case with much of the best scifi around, the author is really using the genre as a medium to consider a much bigger question. In this case the question is, what would happen to human society if the population of a town was totally isolated for generations. How important would it be to avoid inbreeding? So would that result in a philosophy of racial purity? And in total isolation, how would any society determine the leadership structure? Revis has her own ideas, and in many ways that makes this book a very cautionary tale.

As you can see, this book can be read on many different levels. Some will read it simply for the mystery. Others will be attracted by the cover to find the love story and focus on that. Some will be interested in the science and the space travel ideas. For me, I liked the whole theme of history repeating itself when humanity doesn’t learn from its past.

Highly recommended.

April 25

Send Simon Savage by Stephen Measday

9781921541339I am not going to waste a lot of time on this one. Really the time was already wasted in reading it, so why spend any more.

One day Simon Savage (and where did that name come from?) watched as his father, an important scientist, simply disappears from the beach. Years later, a mysterious invitation arrives, asking Simon to participate in incredible time travel adventures. Naturally they send kids because the process is too dangerous for adults, so Simon and his team travel through time chasing bad guys and putting things right. Yeah, well, but Simon can rarely be bothered reading his background reports or mission guides.

I think this is supposed to be humorous, and I am fairly sure that it is supposed to be adventurous. But to me it was simply silly and predictable. For me to be caught up in adventure, just occasionally something unexpected has to happen.

This was given to me as supposedly one of the best Australian books from 2010. If that is the case, 2010 is a very sad year.

April 25

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

9781907410178Generally I can say that publishers are very generous in supplying me with reading. Mostly though the books arrive after publication, even if only by a few days. But my copy of this arrived weeks ago, and in manuscript form! With a publication date of April, I was careful to ensure that it got read on time.

So yesterday I started, yes yesterday. And it got read in virtually one sitting. The story got me in and held my attention. The book is a complete package with good characters, believable setting and enough adventure to keep you turning the pages.

Maya is a girl living in a small town, and I mean really small, who has a small circle of loyal friends. Her father is a park ranger, so she lives in the middle of a forest, which suits her just fine because she loves being outdoors. Maya has an affinity for animals, nursing injured wild ones back to health and releasing them. But sometimes they don’t leave, including Fitz, a three-legged cougar who loves climbing trees around the house, but can’t get back down. Sometimes Maya wonders who she is and where she came from, as a baby she was abandoned by her natural mother. But her adoptive parents adore her, and she is really very happy. But then one day her best friend and star of the swimming team drowns in a still lake. From then on strange things start happening to Maya.

This book reminded me a bit of the variety of vampire novels out today, at least the good ones. There is certainly a strong supernatural element in the story. But there is also a strong romantic plot, so you could think it was a romantic fantasy. Then again, since it is written for the YA (girl) audience, it is guaranteed to have a generous supply of gorgeous guys in it. What sets this apart from the normal is the link to Native American mythology.

I do have one objection however, the ending is very unsatisfying. This book answers virtually none of the dozens of questions that it raises. So, next year volume two will jump to the top of the reading list when it arrives. But I don’t have to be happy about waiting.

April 23

A Girl like Me by Penny Matthews

9780143011484I said I was over 12 months behind in my reviews. Here is another book that was released over a year ago, and just recently read. I am getting there.

Based on real events, Matthews has created a historical drama about the friendship between two girls, one from a privileged family and the other destined to be a servant her whole life. But one of these girls is brutally killed before she can begin her life.

This is a picture of life in Australia at the time of federation. Your future prospects depended very much on your birth and social status. If you were born to the middle class, then your life could be expected to follow a certain path, one that included children, social standing, and servants to do the actual work in running a household. However, if you were from an immigrant family, especially one with little ambition or education, then the best life a girl could hope for was in domestic service. In spite of these vast differences Emmie and Bertha become friends when Bertha gets a job helping with the heavy housework in Emmie’s home. But Bertha has her own ambitions.

This was a very interesting read simply because of the history involved. There isn’t much action. In fact, even the murder takes place out of sight. This is really chick lit because the whole story is about an unlikely friendship.

If Matthews was intending us to look again at the murder, to reconsider who was guilty, then this format for her story missed the target. In many ways, I would have liked to see the same story told with a different narrator. Perhaps Bertha’s sister Mary or even Bertha herself. To my mind the murder, the real pivotal point in the story, was too distant for real involvement.

But for a historical novel with a lot more credibility than the hundreds of ‘My Story’ variations around, this is a very good book.

April 23

Extinction by Lizzie Wilcock

9781741696462Before I begin, I will state for the record that I do like Lizzie Wilcock as an author. The books I have read in the past show a real sensitivity to real life situations faced by real kids today. But then somebody talked her into trying to write scifi. And that was a bad mistake.

The book opens with the destruction of all humanity, except for two twins. But magically the Internet still works and these kids discover that a moon that no one has ever heard of has exploded, causing everyone to die of a heart attack. After page after page of these two kids running around trying to find someone alive, eventually Wilcock gets on with her story, sending the children back in time 24 hours so they can try to prevent the catastrophe. Although what two kids are going to do about a moon exploding is beyond me. As the story continues, each time the kids fall asleep, they go back in time. Of course, there is the traditional bad guy, a word puzzle and supernatural powers all included just to make the story happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I love scifi. Well, good scifi. Something with a bit of real science and future vision. I am a firm believer that kids today would benefit from reading scifi. But not this. This book is so silly. There is no science, none – nothing to make any reader engage a single brain cell in wondering why. Nothing to make them curious about the world around them. Worse yet, so much of the story is pure drivel and just plain wrong.

For example, the kids eventually end up back nearly 10 years. And they are looking up blogs on the Internet? Wilcock needs to do some historical research before she goes any further.

And that is the worst thing about this book, it is the start of a series!

April 20

Fury by Shirley Marr

Official-Fury-Cover-Shirley-MarrAs you can probably tell, I am trying to catch up on all the reading that I didn’t do last year. So many of the books I am reading now were published in 2010 that I am almost embarrassed. However, every now and then I find a little treasure that I am glad that I didn’t miss.

Be warned that this is not an easy book to read. It will demand something from the reader, especially an open mind. I will admit that I absolutely hate the ‘spoiled rich girl’ character that all too often appears in YA novels. And in this book she is the narrator. I lost count of the times I wanted to see Eliza get what was coming to her.

A woman has been murdered and Eliza is found with blood on her clothing. Instead of ‘assisting the police with their enquiries’, Eliza clams up and refuses to talk to everyone except one person working with the police. She is unbelievably demanding on this person, but eventually her story is told. The result is a sometimes confusing flashing back and forth between the past and the present.

This is not a book for anyone but the most experienced readers. The reader has got to get involved in the story to try to knot out the real story. Perhaps those who love the Gossip Girl series with all the spoiled rich girls they contain will have a little more tolerance than I did, but still working out the exact circumstances of the murder is not easy.

But it is definitely worth the effort.

April 20

The Dragon with a Girl Tattoo by Adam Roberts

9780575103726Gollancz has a practice of publishing parodies of popular novels. In fact Adam Roberts has written the odd parody or two. So obviously they have an idea about what sells and what won’t. When this was released in December, I am sure that it sold thousands of copies. But I wonder how many purchasers misread the title?

Set in another time and another world where dragons live like we do, this is a tale of intrigue, mystery and evil. A wealthy old dragon hires an investigative journalist to find out what happened to Hellfire Vagner, a young she-dragon who disappeared three hundred years ago. The journalist is assisted by a young dragon who has a very strange marking on her scales, the image of the mythical creature, human. Sound familiar? It should if you have read the other book or even seen the movie.

I will admit that I am not a real fan of parodies, at least not when they are this close to the original. Give the story a new spin, and I will go with it. But unfortunately this has little or no originality between the covers.

Certainly the reader will find the bits of the original that annoyed Roberts. For example he thought the sheep farmer scene was just a little too convenient, so he adds another twist here. But for the most part, this book is just like the other with a few small changes to keep it from infringing copyright.

So why would you bother?