Friday, November 8, 2013

Dystopian with birds - what's not to love?

Nest of LiesNest of Lies by Heather McQuillan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's no secret that I love birds - so when I discovered a dystopian novel set in my home city, with birds as a core element, I had to snap it up. What amazes me is that I never picked it up sooner!
I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself into Ashlee's world, which was familiar but at the same time utterly alien. It was fun trying to pick up the places from their slightly altered names. In not-too-many words, McQuillan introduces us to the Citadel - with its overgrown, abandoned houses. Where the guards watch out for the threat from the sky - the birds that brought with them the Plague many years before, a plague that decimated the human race.

But were the birds really to blame?

With characters like the Greenie, Whaleman, it would have been easy for this novel to slip into eco-preaching, but it does not and he is a strong and likeable character, counterbalanced with the scientist, "Egghead", Mynah. McQuillan manages to touch on both sides of the arguement, whilst keeping the pace steady and enjoyable. Mynah is likewise a fun character, despite her name (I dislike mynah birds), but it is - of course - Felix that steals the show. Ika was fun too. I enjoyed watching the characters' personalities grow throughout the novel, although for such a small book it does have a rather large cast, and some were not given enough room to shine. I would like to see a sequel, as there are numerous questions left unanswered.

I also enjoyed the allusions to various fairy tales.

Overall, a fine read from a local author.

(At first it bugged me when I discovered the scientists, Eggheads, were named for extinct birds  - because I was thinking but magpie, raven and mynah are opportunistic scavengers and will eat anything - if the human race were to end, then they would surely flourish. Then I remembered that the birds had died from the same plague as the humans - and therefore any bird that eats carrion is likely to be more susceptible. Not sure if Heather considered that or not, but it works with my mental reasoning!)

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zombies VS Vegans

A Single Girl's Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseA Single Girl's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse by JT Clay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a crazy adventure story of a novel! For a zombie novel, this was very quirky and had some nicely original twists - a fresh bud in an oversaturated genre. The characterisation was great - Q being an awesome character, and her relationship with young Hannah was priceless. You've got to love the precocious a six year old!

Q has prepared all her life for the Zombie Apocalypse, but she never thought she would be away on a Vegan camping weekend when it struck. And she would never have been there at all, if it weren't for the super sexy hippy musician, Rabbit. Now she's out in the middle of nowhere, with a group of pacifists as the zombie hoards begin to close in.

It was so ridiculous and outrageous that it made for an awesome, super-quick read. There were times of sorrow, but times of laughter and times of wondering if anyone could possibly get out of it alive.

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Destiny, Dreams and the Desire for Popularity

The Dream KeeperThe Dream Keeper by Mikey Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting and imaginative novel that works on several different levels. Ultimately, it is an adventure novel - the forces of good against the forces of darkness as Parker and Kaelyn help Dream Keeper Gladamyr fight against the evil usurper of the Dream realms.

Underneath that, however, is a storyline that will strike a chord with many of the young readers - ages probably 11+ - and that is the desire to be popular: Parker doesn't want to be branded a "loser" so badly that he is prepared to lie to his friends over something of no more consequence than a computer game; for Kaelyn it's too late - the "Plastic" crowd have already branded her as such, all because of her aunt Zelda, a psychic. Self doubt and loathing plague her throughout the story, but are interspersed with some true acts of heroism that really make her shine.

Add into this: the magical setting of the Dream world; Gladamyr - a Dream Keeper whose mere existence proves that your birth does not shape your destiny; a villain set on destroying the human race; the trials and tribulations of trying to "keep cool in school" and you've got an enchanting story, a fast-paced, diverse and slightyl surreal adventure and an overall jolly fine read.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Adventures Await, in Alternate-Europe of 1888

The Forever EngineThe Forever Engine by Frank Chadwick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I highly enjoyed this novel, which felt like a combination of scientific romp and espionage adventure.

Jack Fargo is a modern-day ex-soldier, seeking the simple life of a scholar in an effort to overcome the trauma of the battlefield and the tragic death of his wife. Alas, it all changes for him when a fluke explosion of a new, experimental weapon, blows him back in time, to London, 1888. Fargo is quick to adapt and think on his feet, but all he really wants is to return to his own time and his daughter, Sarah. Alas, events conspire against him and he is flung on an adventure carrying him across Europe and into the mountains, seeking the only man that might be able to help him - but is more likely to bring further pain and heartbreak.

For a debut novel, this is a jolly fine read - Chadwick clearly knows his stuff (a fact confirmed by his past work with Traveller and Space 1889). The science might be slightly implausible, but Chadwick explains it convincingly well, and in the exact amount of depth that it needs to be explained. Never once, throughout this entire novel, did I feel my interest waning.

Not only does he have the plotting tight and coherent, but he also develops excellent characterisation. From the brave, quick-thinking protagonist/narrator; to the somewhat unlikeable, cowardly Gordon and the potential love interest, French woman Gabrielle, who has some interesting quirks and a secret of her own. Even the minor players are well thought out.

Overall, this is a really good book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope to see more of Fargo and this alternate-1888 in the future.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

You'll laugh, you'll cry... but you won't put it down!

StimStim by Kevin Berry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I highly enjoyed the story of Robert, a university student with Aspergers Syndrome. Robert's story is candidly told - his view of the world clearly described and just a little bit different. Some parts will have you gritting your teeth ("I can't believe he just said that!"), and others snorting with laughter. It is also deeply poignant, and very moving, especially as you watch Robert and Chloe's friendship grow, and also experience the understanding of their NS flatmate, Stef.

Berry has captured Robert's voice extremely well - with his precise, slightly formal way of speaking; his straightforward, honest-to-the-point-of-innappropriate; his little quirks - it is the sort of book that could only be written by someone with a deep insight into the aspie mind.

I would highly recommend this to everyone over the age of about 16/17 - NS or aspie: for the former it will offer a deeper insight, and for the latter, open the awareness that you are not alone.

I look forward to reading more in the future.

Thanks to Kevin for the almost-advance reading copy!

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Colourful Fun with a hint of Steampunk.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy (A Tale of Fontania #2)The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A colourful and fast-paced, action-packed and entertaining romp in the ever-so-slightly-magical-but-also-quite-scientifc world of Fontania.

Else has a real knack for creating quirky characters - in this case, Sibella the "little" Queen, who follows protagonist, Hodie when he runs away, and more-or-less, by accident or intent, ropes him in to helping her save her kingdom from the pompous emperor of Um'Binnia.

The plot bounces along, twisting and turning in topsy-turvy rhythms with some totally madcap moments and a hearty dose of humour. The description of the technology is nifty - it could be steampunk, but it has the playful colour and fun of rather crazy, over-the-top inventions, maybe what Dr Seuss would invent.

With giant toads, ogres, dragon-eagles and much more, this is one adventure that you will want to be whisked up and away on!

This is the second in her Fontania books - the first being the "Travelling Restaurant", but they are stand-alones and I have not read the previous one, although I feel now I should. Previously, the only Else novel I have read was her adult historic novel, "Wild Lattitudes", which was also populated with a cast of rather quirky characters and is definitely worth venturing into, although it does have a certain outrageousness not usually found in historic novels.

I do wonder, was there some deeper metaphor/meaning to the ugly squirrel? I suppose bad deeds will come back to bite you, yes?

Special thanks to NetGalley and Gecko Press for providing me with the review-copy ebook.

Speaking of Gecko Press - they are purveyors of quality literature for children and I have seen some beautiful books come out of their publishing house. If you want something slightly different, a bit - or a lot - special, then definitely look their way!

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

A fresh voice in fantasy fiction

History's Shadow I: Legends Born (Book One: Tahir Edition)History's Shadow I: Legends Born by K. Dzr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fantasy adventure of epic scale - whilst quite a long book (and thus good value for money) and whilst it does concentrate on Tahir's upbringing and training, it did not drag at all, and I found the antics of him and his childhood friends rather delightful (even the fights - such typical boys, despite their differences in appearance). I would have liked to see Roddy play a more important role, but that's just a small niggle.

With the uninhibited freshness of self-published fantasy, this was a charming tale, with an obvious level of thought and research put into the settings and with a colourful cast of intriguing characters.

An enjoyable world that I would be happy to venture into again.

Free ebook of this title was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Fowl Kind of War.

The Dirty BombersThe Dirty Bombers by Ed Taylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a lover of Watership Down and a writer of animal protagnoist novels, I jumped at the chance to read this title. Gulls have always held character to me - garrulous, greedy and bold. I did enjoy this book. It moved along at a clipping pace, showed the situation from both viewpoints, allowing the reader to both sympathise with the gulls and the poor villagers being besieged by these fowl bombs.
Animal protagonist books can usually fall into two or three different categories - there are the allegory type ones, like Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and Animal Farm; the semi-realistic ones like Watership Down, the Kine Saga and the fantasy ones like Tailchaser's Song and Redwall. This falls into the second camp and does so in a manner that is more-or-less convincing - the gulls behave much as gulls are expected, with the addition of structure and military organisation.

I enjoyed it, the plotting is tight and the characters - both human and avian - entertaining. Whilst the gulls plans for non violent protest may seem sound to them, there is an ever increasing sense of dread as you realise that their "peaceful" actions are condemning them to the probability of a cull. The ending seemed rather sudden, but I am not sure more was required.

My main issue is that I am not sure how well considered the audience is for the writing. It is listed as a "teen" book and considered an analogy of the Palestinians and Israelis conflict. However, given the "dirty bombs" delivered by the gulls, I feel it would probably garner more interest to the younger readers - it would have made a pretty neat plot idea for the 7-10 age range. However, the writing style is entirely unsuited for this age group, with a few (rather tame) curse words, rather mature concepts and relatively complicated prose. I do not think that there are many teens who would be interested in reading a book where the main characters were gulls. However, I could be wrong - and I certainly have devoured animal novels my entire life. So, in summary, it's a decent and enjoyable read, but I am not sure of the intended market.

Interestingly enough, soon after I started reading this, a news article popped up in my Google Newsfeed about the scourge of black-backed gulls in one of our major cities - they are carting rubbish from the local tip and depositing it and their droppings on high end businesses in the seaside district. A cull of their numbers may be approved.

eARC received courtesy of Troubador and NetGalley.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

InterSpecies Communication

Mind BondMind Bond by Julie Haydon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is something tremendously romantic about the thought of being able to psychically connect with a non-human animal and communicate via telepathy. So, the concept of being an Inter Species Telepath is awesome, and had me immediately hooked on this book. The main character, Christa, mentally connects with a wolf whilst on vacation in Sakima National Park. This is a fictional (I'm fairly certain) US park that appears to be based on Yellowstone. I do find it a little bit cliched that in all of these style of stories - whether they be shifters or psychics, the animals they connect with are always the most charismatic, the most romantic - in this case: wolf, eagle and cougar for the three main IST characters. All predators, all considered symbols of power, freedom and the wild. Of course, having someone who became telepathically bonded with a squirrel or a blue jay would probably hold rather less appeal for the reader.

The story is a richly crafted, complex affair - dealing not only with Christa's newfound bond; but also a brother, kidnapped as a child; friendship; her relationship with the distinctly unlikeable Tom; a brutal poacher who is killing and removing tails as trophies; some rednecks and a wide cast of other characters all creating a rich tapestry and entrapping the reader into the story. Haydon weaves her web well, her emotive and evocative language bring the scent of pine, the chill in the air, encompasing the power and grace and the divine wildness of the wilderness. Her passion is evident in her words, and cannot fail to touch those that read it.

This was a hard tale to let go - I am already craving a sequel!

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It's a Kind of Faerie

Damselfly (Damselfly, #1)Damselfly by Jennie Bates Bozic

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am having mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is beautifully written with an interesting premise and a good general sense that thought has been put into creating the dystopian world of somewhere in the 2060s. On the other hand, the plot felt a bit weak at times, and certain events did not sit well with me. Why, for example, in a world where people are starving to death would lilliputan people - essentially faeries - be considered a sign of hope for the future? Unless they were being bred as spies, they would serve no other purpose except as scientific curiosities. Which is, indeed, what Lina is - a scientific curiosity.

Despite being sentient and intelligent, human in general form and figure, she is treated like a pet, a novelty, a being with no rights or will of her own. Lina, of course, rebels against this. She behaves at times courageous, rebellious and selfish - all typical of the teenaged girl she really is. The six Toms, from whom she is supposed to choose a mate, are an interesting cast of characters - well, at least two of them are, the others are treated as basically peripherals, with little more role than to make up numbers. I also wondered at times if the author had taken the diminutive stature of her main characters into consideration - what effect would the high altitude of sky-diving have on such a small body mass? (How high do songbirds fly?). Would the 6-foot wave they surfed upon not be a treacherous, unsurmountable mountain? Of course, with wings, there's always an escape route - but do wet wings work?

Overall, the storyline was interesting, the protagonists and her situations making for a compelling storyline and the concept was intriguing however, like many dystopia novels, it is another that does not stand up well against over-analysing and over-thinking the premise.

I could not help but feel that the story is not yet finished (a sense clarified by the "Damselfy #1" tag above), and that there will be other tales to tell. I do rather want to know what Blue's issues with Lina were, and would like to see more of Shrike. The ethical and moral aspects were intriguing too, and I would like to see them explored in more detail.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

A Light, Magical Tale

Spellbound and DeterminedSpellbound and Determined by Dax Varley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this fun, quick read. It is a "Scavenger hunt" style story with an entertaining plot; a quick-thinking, witty protagonist; a cute geeky boy; a somewhat crazed best friend and an adorable ferret. Whilst quite a lot of time was spent on High School Hi-jinks (specifically in relation to best friend Reade's foolish crush on the temperamental, and not particularly smart, Troy), the exploits that these three must undertake to collect the ingredients for their magic spell are rather fun. The "grey guy" antagonist could be better developed, he did not radiate particular menace to me, but overall it proved to be easy to pick up, difficult to put down, and had a cute ending (and an adorable ferret).

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Glorious Steampunk/Faerie Tale

The Whatnot (The Peculiar, #2)The Whatnot by Stefan Bachmann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With "The Peculiar" fresh in mind, I embarked excitedly upon "The Whatnot". Like its predecessor, it has a magnificant cover, filled with whimsical charm and a story inside to match. Bachman pens a splendid narrative, filled with evocative colour and vibrancy; lyrical and poetic, he casts a magical weave.

"The Whatnot" picks up some six or so years after the door to the faerie lands was temporarily opened, and Bartholomew's sister, Hettie, snatched away into the other world. He has never given up looking for her. But what is several years for him, has been a decidedly shorter preiod of time for her. Hettie is given decidedly more personality in this book, playing a much more important role, as she becomes the maid-servant/pet for a sidhe noblewoman. Meanwhile, back in Victorian England, a boy without an eye is having visions, and may be the key to the location of a faerie door. However, the English are about to go to war with the fae and things are about to get deadly.

These worlds are so exquisitely imagined, surreal in beauty and charm. The characters are given more room to shine, and the narrative flows at a smooth and lyrical pace. The sort of book that once you have picked it up, it is easy to keep reading and be drawn away into a vibrant and forboding land.
And, I am happy to report, that this ending left me feeling contented!

eARC courtesy of Harper Collins and NetGalley, an EXCELLENT site for book reviewers, librarians and booksellers. I recommend it if you love reading (and love reading books first).

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Evocative Tales from the Fae of England

The Peculiar (The Peculiar, #1)The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

This beautifully written tale is filled with evocative imagery, a delightful cast of strange faerie beings and an engaging and interesting plot.  It is the story of Bartholomew Kettle and his little sister Hettie, two half-fae children (Changelings aka Peculiars) living in a Victorian era England where the fae had returned, causing calamity and then intergrating with the native populations. The world is beautifully realised and well rendered. The clockwork birds, the creepy Mr Lickerish and the mysterious lady in Plum all wove together into a compelling and captivating tapestry.

It has rather a slow, but luxurious build, with Bartholomew's storyline running parallel with that of Arthur Jelliby, a councillor who finds himself, through a series of befuddled coincidences, wrapped up in it all. After this build, however, the ending came all too swiftly and severed itself shortly after the climax, with no wind-down. This works in the context of the narrative, but did leave me feeling as though I had suddenly become disconnected from a world, and a story, that I had become so drawn into.

I shall be looking forward to delving into this world again, when the sequel is released locally.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Wizardry from a Local Author

Azrael's Twins: Book One of the Nearworld TalesAzrael's Twins: Book One of the Nearworld Tales by V J Mortimer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a rather delightful book, the story of two siblings - a brother and sister (not twins, as the title had lead me to previously believe) who live in our world, but one day they follow some squirrels and meet a phoenix. From that point on, their lives will never be the same again, as they are whisked away into a fantastical world, the world from which their parents originated, and begin to learn the craft of magic - and many other things besides.

It is impossible to read this book without drawing mental comparisons to the adventures of a certain boy wizard - with the wands and the broomsticks and magical castles in which places switch and shift - but there is enough originality here too, this is not merely a Harry Potter clone but a fun and engaging novel in its own right.

In terms of editing, it's pretty good, with no spellling mistakes noted thus fun! However, I did find a few missing closing " on dialogue (and one opening), and also - no final fullstop! - overall, pretty good for a self-published novel. It also may seem rather long - at over 160,000 words, but it moves at a rollicking pace and I finished it within only a few days.

An enjoyable read for the middle-school age group (9-13) and those of us who are young at heart.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Paranormal Fantasy from the Pacific

When Water Burns (Telesa, #2)When Water Burns by Lani Wendt Young

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This follow-up to "The Covenant Keeper" is as least, if not more, engrossing at its predecessor. Leila returns to Samoa, this time a stronger, more mature and more independent woman than the one who first made the journey to the island shores. However, she is still her hot-tempered, stubborn self and still flares up at the least provacation (although not it is more emotionally, rather than literally). The courtship between her and Daniel continues to be sweet, even if he can be a brick-headed chunk hunk at times. Simone comes more to the front in this novel, taking the role of "flamboyant best friend". However, aside from these formulaic moves, the plot has a freshness absent in many teen paranormal-style novels, the folklore behind the Telesa and their convenants is more fully explained, and the delightfully lyrical nature of the writing immerses one fully in the humidity of tropical Samoa.

I look forward to reading the final volume!

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Should be Compulsory Reading!

Dear VincentDear Vincent by Mandy Hager

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an extraordinary and very moving book. At times I was almost reduced to tears, other times my heart swelled with the imagery. Sometimes I felt a little ill, sickened and saddened, and wanted to slap Tara and/or her mother and tell them to take a deep breath and approach the situation like adults. But oh, the sheer stubborness of the two female leads! Their emotions as sharp and fragile as a razor's edge.

This is a story of secrets and lies, of loss and loneliness. A story of art, and memories and pain unresolved. All of the main players are damaged in some sort of way - Tara's situation seems bleak and depressing - her father is incapable, almost comatose, thanks to two severe strokes he has suffered; her relationship with her mother is a bitter and shattered thing, with the two barely rubbing shoulders but still finding time to argue. It is a situation made all the worse when Tara learns how her older sister, Vanessa, really died - and it wasn't in a car crash. Slowly the threads of her life begin to crumble around her, as the shadows loom in. But luckily there is a ray of light from the shadows - first coming in the form of Max, an elderly gentleman residing in the Old Folks' home where Tara works - he has lived through pain and suffering too, being born in Austria before World War II, and of Jewish heritage.

Tara is not the most admirable of heroines, she makes plenty of mistakes, biting when she should be restraining herself and pushing people away from her, but this just expands her personality, and adds a real flavour to the plot.

Overall, this is a powerful story telling a powerful message and it should be read by any teenager that is feeling a little melancholic, a bit nihilistic because there is one thing that is definitely not the answer.

I would recommend this to fans of John Green. The themes are similar (teenage drama, handled maturely but with a dash of humour) and the writing precise and poignant. Probably best for ages 14+. And Mandy Hagar - you've won my vote in next year's NZ Children's Post Book Awards (and this had better jolly well make the shortlist).

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shimmering New Zealand

The Dreamtime (Guardians of the Shimmer Part 1)The Dreamtime by Garth LAWLESS

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story has a strange sci-fi feel that, for some reason, puts me in mind of the sci-fi movies of the 80s - the ones with the really cheesy special effects and light shows. I suspect part of the reason is the monochromatic colours the characters wear - since they are divided up into Guardian groups known as "Ghosts" and their job is to protect the dreams of people from the evil spread of darkness, and the influence of the VELI. This is one of those books that looks and feels self-published. And it is. Despite belong published in 2012, it feels dated. The combining words together and internally capitalising them added to the 80s vibe (at least in my brain).

That's not to say it isn't a good book but it could do with a bit of a polish and another edit or two. Overall, it was an interesting read with an original plot. However, the ending left rather a lot of the plot hanging. Also, it felt a little rushed at times, as it thrust us into this strange and otherworldly realm, with Guardians, the Shimmer, where you can enter into SingleView and ActionView to help you fight... There was a lot of jargon, and it felt somewhat like the author was so familiar with his world that he had neglected to fully explain it to the reader. Plenty of potential, and I'm sure the world will be further explained in the sequels.

The main character is twelve, but given the complexity of the world, I would say it is more suited for the teenage market. However, it is an accepted fact that youngsters prefer their protagonists to be older than they are. Therefore, it would be more suitable for Cole to be fourteen or fifteen. (The amazon site says Cole is thirteen, I could have sworn he was 12 in the text. I shall have to double check).

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A debut with potential

Rise of the Fallen (Andrew and the Quest of Orion's Belt, #1)Rise of the Fallen by Ivory Autumn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fun read with potential, but one that requires work to make it flow smoothly. The plot seemed rather disjointed, with some very fast paced moments where a lot of action occured in very little period of time, vs long periods where nothing happened at all. The characterisation was awkward. Hero, Andrew, seemed to be the main character, but it also seemed that Ivory (the author) was scheduled to fill that position. At one point, they've just rescued Ivory from one danger (the Fog Locker) and not many minutes later she gets bored of the boys tomfoolery, wanders off by herself and is immediately in a situation in which she needs to be rescued from again. And the other two boys (Freddie and whats-his-name) seemed largely redundant to the plot. Overall, it could have benefitted rather from a professional edit.

In other editting news, I am happy to report that there were no misspelt words. However, Ms Autumn just suffer somewhat from comma overload and, whilst it was clearly spell-checked, in many situations the wrong word had been used - I started making note of it partway through and discovered: "Now give me your best shot. I promise I'll be fare." (she did spell "fair" correctly earlier on in the book); "...gazing at her with a mesmerizing glair." (A "glair" is a bonding agent made from egg white); and finally "The close they wore was softer than sealskin." There were several more earlier on too.

Overall, the plot has promise, and the premise is interesting. The illustrations are a delight. However, it needs another edit or two and a bit of a polish before it is to the standard of a traditionally polished novel.

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Wonderful Political Dystopia

The Nature of AshThe Nature of Ash by Mandy Hager

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am impressed! This was a real adrenalin rush of a read - devoured in a matter of days. Pretty serious stuff, and all the more powerful because it's set in my country, in places I have a passing familiarity with. The writing style is compelling and I found the characters convincing. I especially liked the inclusion of Mikey, the younger brother with Downs Syndrome, and the relationship he had with Ash. Whilst other readers have commented on the language - I would have to say - this is probably set 10-20 years in the future - who's to say how teenagers will talk? The storyline was heartbreaking, brutal and tense, but with a healthy dose of humanity and a dash of humour. The political intrigue was fascinating - and very complicated. All too easy to believe with the world in the state it is. The little hints to how the world had changed really brought this future world to life without it feeling like things were being forced down your throat, but introduced them naturally. Indeed, I am tempted now to go back and read the rest of Hager's "Blood of the Lamb" trilogy for she is clearly a skillful author.

My only complaints - or to be precise, observations - are the storyline is littered with swearwords - which definitely fit the premise but may not be to the tastes of some readers and the occasional sexual thoughts of Ash felt a little cliched - like the author was writing them in because it was how she thought an 18 year old boy must feel. Otherwise, she managed to get into the head of a late-teen boy very well indeed. I found Mikey's behaviour very convincing: she seems to have a very sound knowledge of Downs Syndrome.

Overall, an excellent and compelling read and I highly recommend it for ages 16+ - it should certainly spur a lot of discussion about our political future if we continue in the way that we are going (selling off our assets overseas, etc). I hope it does well in the NZ Children's Post Book Awards, in which it is one of hte nominees.

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