May 19

Shadows by Paula Weston

9781921922503Supernatural romance novels. By now I would swear that there can be nothing new. They were the flavour of the month for years – until dystopian adventures took over. So – ho hum – this can fall to the bottom of the review stack. And there it lingered for a few years. Then book two arrived. Put the two together and wait for a good opportunity to read them. A few weeks ago I had a long and quiet weekend and got started.

Gaby is a normal teenager living in a remote surfing community. She works at the local cafe, lives with her BFF and grieves for her brother who was killed in a road accident a year ago. The only problem she has is a recurring nightmare that involves demons and hell-beasts. Eventually she writes down the story of the dream and submits it to a short story competition. Then Rafa comes to town, claiming to be her brothers best friend, but Gaby has no memory of him, except as a face in her dream. So what is reality – her life or her nightmare?

Shadows turned out to be a very good read. Paula Weston has writing style that holds attention and keeps you turning pages, but still pausing every now and then to think! Are the characters that feel foul really not to be trusted? Is Rafa too good to be true? There are no answers spelled out, the reader is left to draw their own conclusions.

I should have known better. Text doesn’t have a huge YA list, but it is generally quality reading. I have already handed Shadows on to others, and feedback has been excellent.

Now to get the rest of the series.

May 9

The 100 by Kass Morgan

9780316234498_p0_v2_s260x420Dystopian fiction – end this world and begin another. Once upon a time, believe it or not, this genre was seen as too dark and negative for adolescent readers. Are those days gone and forgotten. Publishers seem to publish nothing else, and Hollywood is turning out product for the big – and small – screen.

Fans of the TV series will already know that in this scenario the earth has been destroyed by nuclear holocaust. Humanity has escaped to space stations circling the earth, but now supplies are running low and the future has to change. Idea 1: send 100 criminals to earth and see if they survive. After a rough landing, the ‘colonists’ emerge onto a planet that seems to be paradise. But life isn’t as easy as one would hope. And therein lies the story.

I will admit that I have never seen the TV series, but have certainly read good reviews. Fortunately the reviewer had read the books and indicated that there are significant differences.

In keeping with the genre, this book is full of action, adventure, romance and all the other things that keep young adults coming back for more and more. Certainly I kept turning pages and reading through long sessions. But is it quality literature – no. Did I waste my time – maybe, but then again reading popular fiction titles is part of my job. Will I continue through the whole series – Doubtful.

May 9

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

9780552566001-1-edition.default.original-1Fantasy – generally a genre with limited appeal. Most young adults either love it – or hate it. And ‘high’ fantasy is even more limited. Put a dragon on the cover and unless the series is televised on HBO, getting the book into the hands of the general reader is almost impossible. But personally, I love the genre. It provides a great opportunity to look at the real world with fresh eyes and new ideas.

Seraphina is a talented musician moving purposefully towards her career. She is reluctant to perform in public, but works wonders with ensembles and other performers. But when a soloist doesn’t show up for a funeral, Seraphina is forced to perform, and a whole chain of events is set in place that will change her life forever, and possibly her whole world.

Within the pages of this book Seraphina embarks on a journey of self discovery. She finds that she is of ‘mixed’ heritage, and that in itself causes all kinds of problems, but also connects her to a group of talented and special friends. Together they explore their talents and build a new future, although the new future will have to wait for book two.

Right now the idea seems to be that kids want to read Dystopian fiction and only by destroying the world will an author gain credibility. Seraphina challenges that idea, and it seems to be working. The book was nominated for an Inky in 2014, and certainly was one of the best I have read.

May 9

A Game of Keeps by Dianne Bates

A-Game-of-Keeps-194x300Books for children with a ‘message’. Why do authors feel they need to ‘teach a lesson’ when they write for kids? As a child I remember hating preachy books, and as an adult, I think I am only worse. So it is little wonder that I have issues with this book.

Ashley is a little girl with a lot of problems. Her mum leaves her alone a lot, and always has. When hungry or lonely she visits an elderly lady living downstairs, but she isn’t very well. What Ashley really wants is her family all together again, but instead she has to put up with Eddie, her mother’s latest. Generally life for Ashley is grim, but when she meets Daisy and Will – a couple from ‘Aunts and Uncles’ – there is a promise of respite. But will they help her fix things?

As an adult I have real issues with this book. Not only is it preaching – stay positive and all will work out in the end – but the ‘solution’ to the child neglect problem is for mum to have a second baby. If she can’t manage her life with one child, how is she going to go with two? And yet that is presented as the ‘happy ever after ending’.

I know many children face these challenges, and I hope this book helps them understand that they are not unique. But really – Bates is better than this.

May 9

Boys are Dogs by Leslie Margolis

9781599906089Changing schools, changing families and changing lives – these are common themes in books written for children. Every changing relationship presents a challenge, and learning to deal with this is an important part of growing up. Margolis has written a book that looks at these problems with an positive attitude and a gentle humour.

With her mother’s changing relationship, Annabelle finds that she is moved from her all-girl school to a co-ed Middle School. Suddenly she has to spend the day with boys! And as the blurb says ‘Middle School boys act like wild animals.’ How does Annabelle cope? Obviously, just like you manage a new puppy, you train them. So begins the challenge.

I have been reading a lot of heavy, dark adult fiction (reviews to follow) and this was a lovely change. ┬áMaybe I don’t read enough younger readers books.

May 9

Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf

resized_9781743315859_224_297_FitSquareIt is always a delight to open a book translated by John Nieuwenhuizen. He has the wonderful skill of translating a book into English that is comfortable for kids to read, but still maintaining the literary quality that made the book worthy of note in the first place. Finding the right word is hard enough in the first place, but taking responsibility for another author’s words is a true challenge.

Nine Open Arms tells the story of a family of nine who are moving again. This time the move is to a small dilapidated house at the far end of the lane. The family is used to moving because ‘The Dad’ is not very good at holding a job. Everything they own can be bundled into a handcart. The house is well away from any neighbours, and looks very strange with doors in the wrong place, stairs leading nowhere, and the rest. Kids being kids, naturally they want to know why.

Raising the family is Oma Mei, their old grandmother. She carries one precious possession with her wherever they move. An old wooden case filled with papers and photos. When she is in the mood, Oma Mei reveals some of the secrets from this case in wild and wonderful stories.

Eleven year old Finn is out to solve these mysteries. She wants to know all the stories from Oma Mei’s case. And she wants to know why the house looks like it does. Little does she know at the start of her search how closely these two stories are linked.

This is a lovely book about family, with all their highs and lows. I have always loved reading stories based on character and narrative, and this one fills the bill.

However, as an adult I read this book feeling the large shadow over the whole story, simply because of the setting. The year is 1937, and the ‘new’ house is near the border between Holland and Germany. What happened to the family just a year later? Will we ever know.