Monthly Archives: July 2011

Weird and wonderful world of Shyness

Cover imageWelcome to Shyness, where the sun never rises and the darkness hides the dregs of humanity.  It’s in this strange place, in a bar called the Diabetic Hotel, that Wildgirl meets Wolfboy and they step out into a night that they’ll never forget.  Both Wildgirl and Wolfboy are hiding from a past they are desperate to forget, but as the story progresses we find out who they truly are.

This is Shyness, by the winner of the 2009 Text Prize, Leanne Hall is one of the most unique Young Adult books that I’ve read in a long time.  Leanne has created truly memorable characters that have so much depth.  You get drawn into both of their stories and can’t help but care about them.  The narrative alternates between the two characters so you see events from different perspectives and know how they feel about each other.

I also loved Leanne’s other creations, including the Kidds (dangerous children high on sugar and willing to mug anybody for a sugar fix), the Dreamers (teenagers who take drugs so that they can sleep and dream for longer), and the menacing Doctor Gregory.

The world of Shyness is terrifically weird but truly unique and once you get a taste of it, you’ll never want to leave.

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The Devil Walks by Anne Fine

When I first read about Anne Fine’s new book, The Devil Walks, I knew it would be an amazing book.  Anne Fine described it “as a venture into 19th-century gothic” and it sounded like the kind of dark, creepy story that I’d love.

The Devil Walks is the story of Daniel, who has been hidden away from the world for most of his life by his reclusive, disturbed mother.  However, this changes one day when a stranger takes Daniel from his home.  This stranger, Doctor Marlow, takes Daniel into his home, where he is embraced by his family.   Meanwhile, shocked by her son’s kidnap, Daniel’s mother is taken to an asylum where she hangs herself.   The house where Daniel spent his life is sold, along with everything his mother owned to pay her debts.   Daniel’s only inheritance is the one possession that Daniel takes with him from the house; his mother’s dolls house that is modeled on the house she grew up in, called High Gates.  In the dolls house are a family of dolls, including a stick-thin woman who looks remarkably like his mother.  During one of his games with Dr Marlow’s daughter, Sophie, they discover another doll, hidden in the house.  This doll is two-in-one, at one end a mischievous looking boy, and the other end a man with ‘green eyes that gazed out with a more piercing look and the thin smile had curdled into something sourer.’  The more time they spend with this doll, the more it’s wickedness creeps into their lives.  Just when Daniel is settled into his new life, Dr Marlow tells him he is being sent to live with his only surviving relative, his Uncle Severn at High Gates, the house that was the model for his dolls house.  Daniel is not sure what to make of his uncle – one moment he’s cheerful and the next he is pounding his fists on the table in anger.  As Daniel explores the house and the grounds, he discovers the terrible truth about his family and the sinister dolls house that his uncle will do anything to get his hands on.

The Devil Walks is one of the most spine-tingling books I’ve read in a long time.  Days after finishing the story it’s still stuck in my head and I keep going back over the story in my head.  The story is so dark and mysterious that I was hooked right from the very first page.  Anne Fine’s beautiful writing made me feel like I was right there with Daniel through the whole ordeal, from being hidden away in that dark house, to the labyrinth of rooms at High Gates.  I think the reason I liked the story so much was that it had everything that I love about Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s gothic stories, like Shadow of the Wind and Prince of Mist.   The Devil Walks is definitely one of my highlights of 2011 and I highly recommend it.

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Meg Rosoff on her new book, There is no Dog

Meg Rosoff is one of my favourite YA authors.  Her books are always unique and just a little weird.  I got the chance to meet her at the Auckland Writer’s Festival when she had a panel discussion with Margo Lanagan.  Listening to her talk about her stories made me want to go back and read them all again.   I can’t wait to read There in no Dog as I’m sure it’ll be brilliant.

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Phoenix Files: Contact by Chris Morphew

Contact jumps straight back into the story of Jordan, Luke and Peter, three of the inhabitants (or prisoners) of the town of Phoenix.  It starts off right where the first book, Arrival ended with Luke, Peter and Jordan hearing the ring of a phone and running off to find out who the phone belongs to.  You learn in the first book that the phones and internet don’t work in Phoenix so it’s strange to hear a phone ringing.  This mysterious phone sets off a string of events that Luke, Peter and Jordan get caught up in.  The people who are in charge of Phoenix discover that the three of them are snooping around, so their principal gives them tasks to keep them busy.  This doesn’t stop them investigating the plans of the Shackleton Cooperative to bring about the end of the world, and as they uncover more secrets they find themselves fighting to save themselves and the ones they love.

Contact is fast-paced and so suspenseful that I found I was racing to finish the book.  Luke, Peter and Jordan get themselves into some really tight situations in this book and you wonder if they are going to get out of them alive.  The part when they are in Ketterley’s office really had me on the edge of my seat, hoping that they didn’t get caught.  One of the things I liked best about Contact is that Chris Morphew told the story from a different character’s perspective.  We see things from Peter’s point of view, which is quite different from Luke’s in the first book.  Hopefully the third book, Mutation will be told from Jordan’s perspective.  I’m going to get started on Mutation straight away because I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Recommended for 12+.   10 out of 10

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Not Bad for a Bad Lad by Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo’s latest book is about a boy who is always getting into trouble.  Everyone is always telling him he’s a bad lad.  He gets caught playing on bomb sites, banging rubbish bin lids and stealing tomatoes and even a car.  He gets arrested and sentenced to a year in Borstal, which was a prison for young offenders where they could learn a trade like carpentry, painting or bricklaying.  The judge sends him there to think things over and learn his lesson.  The first few months are tough and the boys are worked hard, ‘laying bricks for hours on end in all weathers, making bread in the kitchens, weeding in the vegetable garden.’  Every morning the boys have to go on a two-mile run and the bad lad likes running past the stables.  One morning, as he goes past the stables the old man who looks after the horses calls him over and offers him an amazing opportunity to help out in the stables. This opportunity helps him to turn his life around and make his family proud of him.

Not Bad for a Bad Lad is another amazing story from Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman, the author and illustrator of War Horse, Kaspar: Prince of Cats and Billy the KidMichael Morpurgo often writes stories about an older person telling a child about their interesting life, and this is one of those stories.  The story is inspirational and Michael Foreman’s illustrations add perfectly to the story.  Don’t get put off by the picture of the horse on the front cover because this isn’t just a story about a horse.  This is a must-read for all Michael Morpurgo fans, but a great book to delve into if you haven’t read any of his books yet.  

Recommended for 9+    10 out of 10

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Picture books to brighten your day

On a cold, dark and miserable winter’s day,  reading and sharing picture books is one of the best things to brighten up your day.  The words bounce, float, and soar along the page and the illustrations can transport you to places far, far away.  The good thing about picture books is that they almost always have a happy ending that leaves you smiling.  Here are a couple of fantastic new picture books:

CoverHester and Lester is the latest book by award-winning New Zealand author, Kyle Mewburn and  it’s beautifully illustrated by Harriet Bailey,  the winner of the inaugural Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for Picture Book Illustration.  The book is about big sister Hester who finds her brother, Lester sitting sadly in the forest.  She tries to cheer him up and so they go on an imaginary adventure in the forest, building a castle, filling it with gold and jewels and assembling a troop of snail soldiers.  This is a great story about siblings and using your imagination, with beautiful illustrations that highlight our special flora and fauna.

CoverWaiting for Later is the new book by Tina Matthews, author and illustrator of the award-winning Out of the Egg.  Nancy is bored so she goes to each of the members of her family to ask if they will play cards, come for a swing, or tell her a story, but they all say ‘Later.’  Nancy decides to climb a tree to wait for later, when her family will have time for her.  In the tree she sees her mother ‘wondering up words and writing them down,’ and hears the little creatures in the tree and the autumn leaves saying ‘We will tickle you, until you wriggle and giggle.’  I loved this sweet story with all the descriptions of the things Nancy sees and hears, and the wood cut and stencil illustrations are stunning.

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Sophie and the Shadow Woods by Linda Chapman and Lee Weatherly

Meet Sophie, the one girl who will save the world.  Sophie is different from the other girls in her class at school who like to play games about fairies or giggle about girls.  Her favourite things are action films, taekwondo, sports, adventures, bikes, and skateboards, and when she grows up she wants to be a stuntwoman.

Sophie has just turned 10 and her taekwondo skills are going to come in very handy, because she has become the new Guardian of a magic gateway in the mysterious Shadow Woods.  Her mission is to stop the mischievous creatures that live there, including trolls, goblins, and gnomes entering our world.  The only problem is that Sophie has lost the key to the Shadow Realm and if the goblins get their hands on one of the shadow gems, Sophie’s world will be in danger.  Will Sophie be able to find the gem first and defeat the goblins?  Find out in the first book of the series, The Goblin King.

Sophie and the Shadow Woods is a cool new series by Linda Chapman and Lee Weatherly.  Sophie is an adventurous girl who kicks butt and she isn’t afraid to stand up to a goblin.  If you’re a girl who would rather read a Beast Quest book than a Rainbow Magic Fairies book, then this series is perfect for you.  We have the first two books, The Goblin King and The Swamp Boggles, in the library now and there are more to come soon.     Recommended for 7+       8 out of 10

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Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle comes to an end

First there was Eragon, then Eldest, Brisingr, and now the series comes to an end with Inheritance.  It’s released in New Zealand on 9 November 2011.

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Two authors = one breathtaking story

It’s no secret that I think Patrick Ness is a brilliant author (I’ve written many blog posts about it).  His Chaos Walking Trilogy is one of those stories that really struck a chord with me and and the characters and their world will stay with me for a long time.  The books in the trilogy have won various awards in the world of children’s literature, including the BookTrust Teenage Prize, the Guardian Award, the Costa Book Award, most recently the final book, Monsters of Men won the prestigious Carnegie Medal.  When the Chaos Walking Trilogy came to an end last year, I was looking forward to reading whatever Patrick Nesswrote next and thankfully I didn’t have to wait very long.

Patrick’s next project was to write a story based on the ideas of another brilliant author, Siobhan Dowd, who had passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  Siobhan had the characters, premise and beginning and it was up to Patrick to turn it into a story.   Being both a fan of Patrick’s and Siobhan’s writing I eagerly anticipated their story, called A Monster Calls.  And boy, what a story it is!  Night after night, Connor is woken by the same nightmare, “the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming.  The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter who hard he tried to hold on.”  It is one night, after waking from this nightmare, that the monster arrives, twisting to life from the yew tree in the graveyard.  The monster comes to offer Connor a deal; it will tell Connor three stories, but then he must tell the monster a fourth story, and it must be the truth.  However, Connor’s mum is very sick and the truth is the thing that he fears the worst.

I really can’t explain how amazing A Monster Calls is.  Before you even start reading the book, you just need a few minutes to marvel at how beautiful it is.  Walker Books have put so much love into the design, from the dust-jacket and the cover,  to the stunning illustrations spread throughout the book by the very talented Jim Kay.  The story itself is breathtaking and you’ll go on a roller-coaster of emotion as the monster guides Connor towards the truth.  I especially liked the three stories that the monster tells and I hope that Patrick Ness writes more short stories like these.  Grab a copy of A Monster Calls from the library now.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

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All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield

My favourite quote from one of the greatest books of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird, is

‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’

I was reminded of this quote while I was reading a wonderful book by debut Australian author, Vikki Wakefield.  Her book, All I Ever Wanted is the story of Mim, who is growing up in the suburbs.  She knows what she wants and where she wants to go – anywhere but home, with her mother who won’t get off the couch and her brothers in prison.  She’s set herself rules to live by, like ‘I will finish school, I will not drink alcohol, I will not be like everybody else, and I will not turn out like my mother.’   However, things aren’t going to plan; drug dealers are after her, her best friend isn’t talking to her, and the guy she likes is a creep.  Over the nine days before her 17th birthday, Mim’s life turns upside down.

All I Ever Wanted is a brilliant debut from Vikki Wakefield and I’ll eagerly await her next book.  I loved the character of Mim, whose voice was original and authentic.  Even though her life is tough, she stays true to herself and is determined not to turn out like the rest of her family.  The thing that really makes this book so great is the other people we meet who are a part of Mim’s life.  There’s the vicious, dodgy Mick Tarrant (who beats his family and his dog Gargoyle), her neighbour Mrs Tkautz (the grouchy woman who everyone thinks is a witch), Lola (the shy girl who lives next door), and Kate (the straight-laced sister of Jordan).  When Mim actually gets to know them she realises she has misunderstood them and maybe they aren’t so bad after all.  Mim and the cast of characters in All I Ever Wanted will stay with you long after you’ve finished their story.      Recommended for 13+      8 out of 10

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