Friday, July 28, 2017

Soft Sci Fi by a NZ Author

Thieves Trilogy, Ella West
This series was recommended to me by one of the youth in the youth group I serve.  We were on an op-shopping challenge; she picked up the first book in the series and said, "This is really good.  It's the first in a trilogy.  And it's a NZ author.  You'd like it."  I bought that copy, and it went on my TR shelf...for quite some time.  Earlier this month I went on a trip to support this group of youth in service at the temple, packing the recommended paperback as my planned reading for the flight up -- knowing I'd be spending the week with this young woman who told me it was worth reading.  I read the entire flight, then finished the final chapter by the baggage claim while the others in the group watched and waited for their luggage (I don't check baggage if I can help it).  I really enjoyed it. 

I can see why Thieves was short-listed for the New Zealand Post Book Awards and why Tessa Duder's endorsed it.  I can also understand why English classes are studying it.  In spite of all of these things, this series flew way under my radar -- and I imagine it has yours -- which is a real shame.   The series was published by Longacre Press (Dunedin), which has since been acquired by Random House...and nothing new has happened with it since the first editions more than a decade ago.  I think the trilogy deserves repackaging and promotion.  Minimal edits to update the tech content would be worth it, just to bump it into the relate-able mainstream.  Even without those, it's a great read.


It is easy reading at the same time as being well-written; it's sparse and tight, is all. 



In Thieves I was introduced to great pacing and intrigue.  It was simple and yet very engrossing.  There's a lot of New Zealand colloqualisms...and I dug those.  I would be interested to hear how these translate for those from elsewhere.  I also enjoyed the romantic development -- it was more real and less central, and nothing too spicy happens here.

I went and picked up the next two books from the library as soon as I got home.  I read Book 2, Anywhere But Here, in a single night.  The romance develops to feature more mature content (in that they talk about sex), but there are no heavy sensual scenes.  There is some disturbing and violent content, but this is handled tastefully.  I was really happy with the narrative direction.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the play-by-play prose -- it's never tedious, but rather just the right details are given so that they are something to savour.  I wasn't thrilled about the ending of this one, and became quite conscious of how young the protagonists were (they seem much, much older).

Book 3, Real Life, I picked up and read the next day.  I enjoyed the conclusion, but found it the least rivetting of the three.  Overall though, the series was a great escape, and I think more YA fans (particularly kiwi YA-readers) should seek out a copy and give it a whirl -- your library is sure to hold one.  Let me know what you think!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

From the Author of Hoot Owl

I Want to Be in a Scary Story, Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien (Illustrator)
We love Hoot Owl, and so I jumped at the chance to review Sean Taylor's release this month -- what with it clearly promising speech bubbles and comedy (and yes, I can confirm: it has both.)  It also features narrator-character dialogue, colour- and font-coding for voices (and zero "he said/she saids"), fun exclamations, and a tight tie-in ending.  I am a big fan of books that take children to "scary places" in a fun way, and this is definitely one of those.  The high contrast between the interludes and dark scenes pace the "scariness" so gently, even our youngest (age 4) didn't bat an eye. All of our girls love it, and it's one I'm happy to read again and again. The hardback edition would make a lovely gift...for your family library or someone else's. 

Review copy received from Walker.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Another Princess in Black

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate, Shannon and Dean Hale
Before I say anything, you need to see how Ivy reacted when this book arrived.  No exaggeration.
My girls read these over and over.  They're so amusing and delightful, and they manage to feel easy to dip into whilst introducing new vocabulary.  

This book is once again funny (and tastefully so) and just the right level of silly.  There's a new heroine on the scene!  Woopah!

If you have a reader aged 5-9 in your household, I'd be very surprised to learn they didn't smile reading one of these.  Visit/revisit my breakdown of why I love the series (spotlighting the last installment) here, if you still need convincing.

Or take in more of Ivy's reaction to a new Princess in Black to read;
Beautiful review copy received from Walker.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Insidious Insta-classic

Gather the Daughters, Jennie Melamed
This novel has been described as a combination of The Giver and Never Let Me Go.  Neither of those comes anywhere near being as insidious, haunting or dark as Gather the Daughters.  I would say it is more accurate to describe it as what The Giver would have been had it been penned by Margaret Atwood; which is to say Gather the Daughters is beautifully told, grand in scope, unforgettably bleak, and exceptionally disturbing.   And so darn compelling.  Like reading The Wasp Factory, Lord of the Flies, and A Handmaid's Tale -- I recognised early that familiar flavour; I was consuming critic-candy.  This at once sends a jolt of respect and wave of mourning through me.  This is Melamed's debut, and she's produced something unforgettable that will be talked about and circulated!  Buuuut my hands still before giving applause because the subject matter of that talk circulating is so horrifying.  Spoilers follow in the next sentence.  While the commentary is exquisitely handled and undeniably memorable, it features institutionalised incest, rape and pubescent orgies.  I felt the tug to drop this book unfinished over and over, but wanted desperately to know how it would play out.  I'll be haunted for having read it and I'll never recommend it.  However...my reaction to it will be precisely what draws would-be fans to its pages.  "Ange found it horrifying?  I need me a copy."  You know who you are.

Officially out today.
Review copy received from Hachette.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Fenn Halflin: Much better than I expected

Fenn Halflin and the Seaborn, Francesca Armour-Chelu
Because this is being compared to Percy Jackson all over the place, I was dubious going in.  The Percy Jackson books don't do it for me.  Fenn Halflin?  Now that's a young hero I can rally behind.  Because this arrived with other review copy for July (not on request), I dipped in without knowing a thing (when I request a book, it's almost always based on a synopsis);  I love when I can go in knowing nothing, it's my favourite.  I was met with dense and careful writing that wowed me!  This was not like other books I've read marketed to the younger YA market.  The world is a lot to take in, but then...it's a sequel! *forehead slap*  Yes, in my diving in, I didn't realise I'd missed an entire first book.  So I can tell you: this reads well as a stand-alone, but yeah, that world be A LOT to process.  I've since requested the first title, having learned of its existence -- because I think Fenn rocks (and Armour-Chelu? Good hands to be in).  So forget comparisons to the corny lightning thief who's of our world and yet angering Greek Gods...and think truly other-worldly, gritty, compelling narrative.  I think comparisons to The Golden Compass and Mortal Engines are more appropriate.  If there is any flaw, is that some things are resolved too neatly...but for younger YA, this is a very small offense.  Overall it is more vivid, confident and appealing to me than any read-alikes it's being compared to. 

Review copy received from Walker.
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