Book Review: Shooting Stars, by Brian Falkner

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_shooting_starsThis story follows some well-worn tropes, but is filled out with a compelling back-story and some brilliant set-pieces from the assured pen of Brian Falkner.

Wild boy Egan has been raised by his mother, through her fear of his father, entirely in the Coromandel bush. Moma has taken inspiration from a variety of philosophies – Christian, Confucian, Hindu and more, to instill in Egan a Code of rules to live by. This Code forms the centre of all of the actions that Egan takes, and as he writes in his diary – the book is in diary format – he records the codes he had cause to reflect on that day.

When Moma goes missing near to Christmas during Egan’s 15th year, Egan is dismayed but determined to find her – he knows she would never voluntarily leave him alone. With the help of a letter and money from the lock-box in their hut, he goes to find an Uncle in Auckland. He has been living with no running water, no internet, no electricity for his entire 15 years, so to say this is a cultural clash is putting it mildly.

Brian Falkner really knows how to write action. He’s been doing this well since his junior fiction-writing days, so it is no surprise to see this continue. The thing that I felt this book lacked a little was emotion. Egan’s mother is his entire world right up until he meets J.T., a hunter, near the time of her disappearance on Christmas Eve. When she disappears, this is forced to change so quickly that Egan doesn’t seem to sit down and mourn. His actions are rational, and though this seems to be put down to living by the Code, it stretched my credulity a little.

When Egan is in Auckland, he has to learn quickly how to live in a city, sleeping in the Domain. He has his stuff stolen by street kids early on, then after a few heroics ends up part of the crew that tried to steal from him. He continues to live in the Domain, but falls in love with Reggie, the only female member of the teenage homeless kids. He has just settled into his new life when somebody in the crew betrays him, and his past catches up with him – or rather, his mother’s past.

One of my favourite parts of the book were the short stories scattered throughout it, written by Egan in the style of the author whose book he is reading at the time. This is exactly how any young writer starts out – in fact it could probably be said to be how any young writer should start out – and neatly encompasses Falkner’s reading/writing philosophy. The absence of books in a significant house later on in the story is a neatly set up harbinger of doom.

The other fun aspect of the book is when Egan meets the “real world,” as the media calls it when he becomes a media superstar. His observations are priceless – heading to Maccers for lunch, he is impressed they even give him a toy.

While this isn’t as strong for me as Falkner’s last published book, Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo, which won the Book Award for Young Adults in last year’s NZCYA; it is a rattling good read that keeps you turning those pages to see how things will end. Recommended for age 11+.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Shooting Stars
by Brian Falkner
Published by Scholastic
ISBN 9781775433606

 

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Book Review: Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo, by Brian Falkner

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_battlesaurus_rampage_at_waterlooBattlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo, won the YA category of the 2016 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

NZ author Brian Falkner’s novel introduces a thrilling concept to readers – what if the French emperor Napoleon had had a secret weapon, and what if that weapon was an army of the most dangerous and vicious creatures in history? Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo combines the 1815 Battle of Waterloo and a world plagued by dinosaurs to create a suspenseful story with a riveting conclusion.

In this alternate universe where small dinosaurs run wild, and are farmed and kept as pets, war is swiftly approaching. When fifteen-year-old Willem, son of a famous magician, learns that a girl from his Belgian village has been killed by something in the forest, he knows that the culprit is a far greater danger than the smaller ‘saurs’ that inhabit the land. It’s clear that this is connected to Napoleon’s plans to invade Europe. Willem is the only one who can interfere with Napoleon’s plans and save the world from a terrible fate.

While I was skeptical at first about the book, the pairing of the unique idea and the very high quality of the writing made it an incredible read. With remarkably well-written, historically accurate battle scenes, terrifying dinosaurs and a set of strong characters that readers will find themselves rooting for, Rampage at Waterloo will leave you eagerly anticipating the sequel.*

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo
by Brian Falkner
Published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux Inc
ISBN:  9780374300753

NB: The sequel is Battlesaurus: Clash of Empires (FSG) and it was released in hardback last month. ISBN 9780374300777

Add these authors into your popularity stakes this Christmas

While approximately half of all international book sales are made up by sales of books for Children and Young Adults, less than 1/3 of NZ book sales are in the Children and Young Adult category. Why is this? The talent is certainly here – perhaps it is a matter of name recognition?

Looking at the bestsellers charts for international Children’s & YA, parents and kids buy based on author name. Right now, Andy Griffiths is hovering at the top of the charts for his Treehouse series. David Walliams also sticks on the chart like glue: I didn’t even realise he’d written seven books until his visit to the Auckland Writers’ Festival made that clear. In the domestic market, names like Lynley Dodd, and Kiwi story author Bob Darroch stick around, with backlist sales being incredibly strong.

With this in mind, here are a whole load of still-living, possibly-overlooked amazing NZ authors that you should bring into your child’s reading world as early as you can.

Picture Book Authors

Donovan Bixley
cv_little_bo_peepDonovan is New Zealand’s king of expressive illustration. His sheep in Little Bo Peep and More (Upstart Press) are hilarious, and his illustrations of kid’s classics Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald’s Farm (Hachette NZ) are brilliantly original. With several original stories under his belt now – the award-winning Monkey Boy (Scholastic NZ, 2014), for one – I can’t wait to see more.

cv_ghoulish_getupsFifi Colston
Home costume creation must-have Ghoulish Get-ups (Scholastic NZ) is just the latest in a great range of books that multi-talented creative Fifi Colston has to offer. Her award-winning Wearable Wonders (Scholastic NZ)  is essential for any young creative soul, and she has illustrated more books than I can count, in a career spanning 30 years. The Red Poppy, written by David Hill (Scholastic NZ), was just gorgeous, and Itiiti’s Gift, with Melanie Drewery (Puffin), is another classic.

Juliette MacIver
cv_yak_and_gnuWith her latest picture book, Yak and Gnu (Walker Books), being her 12th picture book in 5 years, Juliette MacIver and her flawless rhyming verse have become one of the perennials of the NZ book world. Her first book, Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam (Scholastic NZ), is the boys’ favourite; my personal favourite from her backlist is Toucan Can (Gecko Press). Most of her books are illustrated by the equally wonderful Sarah Davis.

cv_trainsCatherine Foreman
Catherine Foreman has a way with words for the younger kids in your family. Her 2015 book, The Roly-Poly Baby (Scholastic NZ), is a lovely short tale for your adventurous baby. Her 2013 series ‘Machines & Me’ still comes out most nights in our family – Trains in particular. Take note, writers of NZ – we need more good books about trains!

Ruth Paul
cv_stompRuth’s latest is the third in a group of dinosaur books, What’s the Time, Dinosaur? (Scholastic NZ) Not only are Ruth’s illustrations delightful, she can even rhyme! Our family favourites are Stomp! (board book just released), Two Little Pirates , and The King’s Bubbles (all Scholastic NZ).

Sally Suttoncv_zoo_train
All aboard the Zoo Train (Walker Books)! Sally is another fantastic picture book writer that isn’t anywhere near as well-known as she ought to be. Every child needs a copy of Roadworks (Walker Books). Be ready to hide it when it becomes a must-read Every Single Night. There are two follow-ups too – Demolition, and Construction.

Junior Fiction & Non-fiction

Kyle Mewburn
cv_dragon_knightKyle Mewburn has collaborated with Donovan Bixley for both of his recent junior fiction series’, Dinosaur Rescue (8 books, Scholastic NZ), and Dragon Knight. Begun early in 2015, this series is already 4 books strong. Both of these series are full of silly laughs for lovers of Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with a bit of Horrible Histories for good measure. He also has a 24-title-strong picture book list too: Duck’s Stuck (Scholastic NZ) and No Room for a Mouse (Scholastic Aus) are family favourites.

cv_cool_nukesDes Hunt
Cool Nukes author Des Hunt specialises in action-packed, environmentally-conscious writing. He has written about glaciers (Shadows in the Ice), mining (Frog Whistle Mine) and treasure-hunting (Cry of the Taniwha). There is something in his 22-book strong backlist for every adventure-loving 8-12-year-old.

Elizabeth Pulford
cv_sanspell‘Bloodtree Chronicles’ author Elizabeth Pulford is an incredibly diverse writer, writing for every age range. Her Scholastic fairy series Lily was published worldwide, and her most recent picture book Finding Monkey Moon (Candlewick Press) is being feted all over the globe. Junior Fiction series ‘Bloodtree Chronicles’, beginning with Sanspell, is perfect for the magic-loving kids in your life.
Philippa Werrycv_anzac_day_the_new_zealand_story
Author of non-fiction titles Anzac Day and Waitangi Day (New Holland), Philippa is another multi-talented author, writing ably across age ranges. Her most recent books have focused on war, and the New Zealand experience of war, but an old favourite of mine is junior fiction title The Great Chocolate Cake Bake-Off.

WW1 series, Scholastic NZ
cv_1915_wounds_of_warScholastic has a current book series commemorating New Zealanders’ wartime adventures. This began last year, with 1914: Riding into War, by Susan Brocker (another great underrated writer), then 1915: Wounds of War, by Diana Menefy (you guessed it, another). It will go for another three years, and is good reading for kids who enjoy Michael Morpurgo and other war-focussed writers.

Ned Barraud & Gillian Candler
cv_in_the_bushNed and Gillian have paired up on four books about New Zealand nature so far, and each of them have been extraordinarily good. In the Bush is the latest from this pair, but there is also On the Beach, In the Garden, and Under the Ocean. All are published by Potton& Burton. So, no matter where you are going this summer, there is a book in this range for you. Another kiwi author who writes and illustrates in the same area is Andrew Crowe.

cv_new_zealand_hall_of_fameMaria Gill
Most recently, Maria is known for her ‘Hall of Fame’ books – New Zealand Hall of Fame and New Zealand’s Sports Hall of Fame; but she has also got a huge backlist of nature publishing under her belt. If it explodes (Rangitoto, Eruption), has feathers (Call of the Kokako, Bird’s Eye View) or indeed fins (Save our Seas), she is bound to have written about it. Get your eco-ranger onto her books now!

Young Adult Fiction
David Hill
cv_first_to_the_topMy Brother’s War and The Deadly Sky (Penguin NZ) are just the most recent in a very long list of books for young adults that the wonderful David Hill has produced. He has recently branched into picture book writing, with Red Poppy and First to the Top (Penguin, 2015). In his YA list, his sensitive portrayal of awkward teendom, and his wit, is what sets him apart from others.

cv_evies_warAnna Mackenzie
Author of the recent release Evie’s War, Anna Mackenzie has been an essential part of the YA scene in New Zealand for many years. The Sea-Wreck Stranger was the first in a series exploring the fate of a stranger in a close-knit community. Cattra’s Legacy and Donnel’s Promise took us back into history, and reminded me a bit of Tamora Pierce’s books, with their fierce heroine.


Brian Falkner

cv_recon_team_angel_vengeanceRecon Team Angel (Walker Books) is the most recent series from Falkner, and it is a must-read for lovers of the ‘Cherub’ series. He began his writing career with junior fiction, incorporating the Warriors (The Flea Thing) and Coca Cola (The Real Thing); then moved into future-tech YA, with Brain Jack and The Tomorrow Code. He is a master of fast-paced action-packed adventure fiction.

Finally, a few you ought to know by now: Kate De Goldi, Elizabeth Knox, Fleur Beale, Mandy Hager, Bernard Beckett, and Ella Hunt. Introduce your teens to them, and they’ll read all of their books. They are brilliant. See my post from a couple of years ago for more about teen fiction writers in NZ.

by Sarah Forster

Book Review: Recon Team Angel – Vengeance, by Brian Falkner

Available in bookstores nationwide.

This is the best action writing that I have read.cv_recon_team_angel_vengeance

Structured in three parts, each part builds on the other and leads to a great ending. The action is brilliant, with outstanding dialogue and relationships details.

Falkner has a great sense of the absurd and the obvious in dealing with action talk. It made me laugh. His metaphors can be illuminating, as when he describes something as “standing out like skid marks on a wedding dress.”

The best part for me is that the Bzadians are not bad aliens. They have a crime-free society. They have a spiritual leader, Azoh, and they are neat and tidy. They have their faults and importantly, they have developed a bomb – the positronium bomb – that makes nuclear weapons look like firecrackers. The point is will they use it when chips are really down? More importantly, would humans use it in the same position?

An excellent novel for a wide range of age groups from intermediate to young adults. Its depth and its humour set this novel aside from most action books. I am sorry to see the end of the series; it would be great if it had been longer. I can imagine more twists that could lead to a whole new series.

Reviewed by Isaac Gilbert-Woodbury, Year 9, Scots College

Recon Team Angel: Vengeance
by Brian Falkner
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781921720574

Previous three books in the series, all published by Walker Books here, and Random House in the USA:
Recon Team Angel: Assault  9781921720543
Recon Team Angel: Task Force 
9781921720550
Recon Team Angel: Ice War 
9781921720567