Book Review: Shield, by Rachael Craw

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_shieldShield is the third and final book in Rachael Craw’s young adult science thriller. It brings with it tension, revelation, and brings the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. If you have not picked up its predecessors: Spark and Stray, then I would highly recommend you do. Whilst aimed at the teenage market, they display a level of complexity and maturity that clearly demonstrates how much care the author has taken in weaving her world and her words. It is one I would recommend for the older teens, and potentially the “new adult” market.

In Spark, Evie discovered that she was a Shield, a genetically-altered being designed to protect the vulnerable Sparks. These Sparks, generally gifted and bright individuals, are in turn being hunted by Strays – people that remain seemingly ordinary, until they come into contact with the Sparks, then they become struck with the savage, all-encompassing, desire to kill the Spark. Evie’s best friend, Kitty is the Spark, and a Stray has found her…

In Stray, Kitty teams with Evie in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, as they try and prove that Strays can be cured. Unfortunately, the project that created her, Affinity, is not open to fresh ideas and wants her back under their control. Meanwhile, there are numerous family revelations, tragedies, heart-break and non-stop action.

Shield felt slower moving than its predecessors. It delved more heavily into the politics and inner workings of Affinity, as Evie finally found herself, inescapably, in their clutches. The action really did not take off until the second half of the book – and then it was a helter-skelter, rollercoaster of a ride. Instead, it dealt more with emotions. This perhaps weakened it a bit in my mind: I’m somewhat less interested in teenager jealousy, miscommunication and blind assumptions than I once was. However, it was true to the characters and there was more than enough action to keep me hooked. There were also a few steamier moments – but nothing too overboard for a teen novel – and several surprise revelations.

Definitely worth a read, and I highly recommend the trilogy to those that love suspense, romance, and genetically-altered heroes.

Book reviewed by Angela Oliver

Shield
by Rachael Craw
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922179647

The blog to end our 20-day blog tour!

BookAwards_CC_900x320_v3_bannerWe have just finished a fabulous four-week tour around our authors inspirations, aims and achievements with their Children’s Choice finalist books. Now it is time for you to help your kids to vote their favourite book and author to win: they will be in to win a selection of finalists for themselves and their school if they do! Kids can select a winner in each category; the winning book of each category will win a prize at the Book Awards ceremony on Thursday 13 August. Thank you to all of the other blogs who have hosted these interviews!

Children's_choice_ya_fic_V2jpgDuring the first week of our tour, we heard from the Young Adult fiction finalists. We heard from Ella West (who, like any good super author, writes under a pseudonym) who dedicated Night Vision to Trish Brooking, because she still takes her out for lunch, after looking after her as Otago Education College Writer in Residence in 2010. We learned that Natalie King has not one but three pseudonyms, and was inspired by a dream of a lake to write the book Awakening, which begins with a mysterious necklace drawn from a lake. While Jill Harris sadly passed away in December, Makaro Press publisher Mary McCallum told us that she published her book The Red Suitcase because the opening chapter inside a Lancaster bomber had her riveted. I Am Rebecca was a return to a character that author Fleur Beale had written about before, in I am not Esther. She told us that the secret to her amazing characters is simply to “walk in the shoes of the character so that what happens to the character informs the story.” Our final YA author was Nelson-based Rachael Craw, who had two interviews in two different places! Spark was also inspired by a dream, which took 5 and a half years to come to fruition: she had to learn to write first! She was inspired by the power of DNA when she met her birth mother.

Children's_choice_picbook_v4Week two saw us jump back a few reading years to the Picture Book finalists. Scott Tulloch ran I am Not a Worm past fellow Children’s Choice finalist Juliette MacIver and her kids, and her oldest son Louis suggested what became the final line in the book: “I like butterflies.” Yvonne Morrison, author of Little Red Riding Hood…Not Quite, told us she was about to leave NZ for a new job in Vietnam, living on a jungle island and managing a centre for endangered primates! Donovan Bixley covered two finalist books in one interview, Little Red and Junior Fiction book Dragon Knight: Fire! and he said that working with the same authors again and again means he can just do a messy scribble at the early stage of illustrating, and they will trust him to flesh it out!  Jo van Dam wrote doggy rhymes for her own children when they were young, and this became Doggy Ditties from A to Z. This is illustrated by Myles Lawford, who had to do a lot of research to make sure he illustrated each breed accurately. Peter Millet answered his own question about pets in the army with The Anzac Puppy, illustrated by Trish Bowles, who used to get in trouble at school for drawing: she now gets rewarded for it! Juliette MacIver likes to feature things in her books that children see in their everyday lives – “monkeys, old wooden galleons, pirates, for example, things that children encounter most days on their way to kindy or school.” Marmaduke Duck and the Wide Blue Seas was the third in the series by her and Sarah Davis, who reckons Juliette sometimes writes things in just to annoy her: ”52 marmosets leaped on board”?!? Seriously!!? Do you know how long it takes to draw 52 marmosets? Much longer than it takes to write the words “52 marmosets”, that’s for sure.”

Children's_choice_JUNIOR_V4We began the Junior Fiction category with an interview with Kyle Mewburn, author of Dragon Knight: Fire!, the first in a new series for the younger Junior Fiction age-group, and a finalist in both the children’s choice and the judges’ lists. Kyle doesn’t let his ideas float around “in case they escape, or some sneaky author steals one.”  The lead character in 1914 – Riding into War, by Susan Brocker, was inspired by her grandfather, Thomas McGee, who served as a mounted rifleman in WW1. Desna Wallace lived through the Canterbury Quake, and the character of Maddy popped into her head on the way home from work as a school librarian one day. “It was a bit crowded in there, so I sat down and wrote it out,” she said. Stacy Gregg‘s story The Island of Lost Horses began when she fell in love, with a picture of an Abaco Barb horse, the breed featured in this story; which is inspired by real events. Suzanne Main won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon award for the manuscript for How I Alienated My Grandma. This came with an offer of publication from Scholastic NZ, which enabled her to keep backing herself and her work to succeed.Children's_choice_NON_FIC_V3

The Non-fiction category tour began with the double-nominee (in judge’s and children’s choice lists) Māori Art for Kids, written and illustrated by the husband and wife team, Julie Noanoa & Norm Heke. Their aim was “to create something for families to connect with and appreciate Maori art.” Poet Sarah Jane Barnett featured poetry title The Letterbox Cat & other poems by Paula Green and Myles Lawford on her blog The Red Room. Paula says, “When I saw the way the zesty illustrations of Myles Lawford danced on the page, I cried!” Maria Gill followed up her New Zealand Hall of Fame of 2011 with New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions – she says the toughest task was to decide who to leave out. Gorgeous illustration guide book A New Zealand Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris, was featured next on NZ Green Buttons. Sandra’s favourite thing to do when not drawing or managing her illustration agency, is tramping, unsurprisingly!  Philippa Werry was in last year’s awards with her great Anzac Day book, and this year she was a children’s choice finalist for Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story, featured on Barbara Murison’s blog. Philippa focused this book on the day itself, as opposed to the treaty, and she enjoys doing cryptic crosswords while contemplating writing.

While this tour is ending, we will be carrying on our celebration of the book awards, promoting the judges’ list in the Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in the run-up to the awards announcement at Government House on 13 August 2015. There will be giveaways and reviews, and fun besides, so watch this space!

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For the full links list for the Book Awards, please head here.

Other blogs involved were: NZ Booklovers blog, Booknotes Unbound, Around the BookshopsThrifty Gifty, My Best Friends are Books, NZ Green Buttons Blog and The Red Room.

Rachael Craw answers our questions about her YA book, Spark

Rachael Craw has been voted for by teenagers all over New Zealand to become a
Spark-NZCYA-Webfinalist in the Children’s Choice Young Adult Fiction category, for her first YA book, Spark. This is the first in a trilogy, of which the second, Stray, will be published later this year by Walker Books. According to Booksellers NZ reviewer, Renee Boyer-Willisson, “Evie is a great protagonist – like the Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen she is a strong female character, but with flaws and insecurities that make her human and relatable.”

So how did this idea come to fruition? And where in the YA genre does it sit? Here are the answers:

Rachael Craw photo_sml1. As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to
write this story in particular?
I knew I wanted to write a YA story with a strong female protagonist and I knew I wanted the story to have some kind of fantastical element that gave the character powers or abilities beyond the norm, but I didn’t have a premise. One night I sat on my bed and prayed for an idea. I went to sleep and had the dream that became the prologue of Spark. In the dream I ran through a forest at night with phenomenal speed, strength and reflexes. Then I was gripped by a terrible sense of urgency and I knew there was someone out there lost in the dark in great danger. I knew I had to get to this person before a killer did. I woke from the dream and knew I had my idea and began to ask lots of questions: how was I so fast/strong etc? How did I know there was someone lost in the dark? Why was it my responsibility etc? Why was someone trying to hurt this person? And the ideas began to flow. The special abilities didn’t feel like magic – they felt like radioactive spider bite material – something designed in a lab.

2. Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?cv_spark
Writing Spark was a five-and-a-half year-long learning curve from inception to publication. I had lots of passion for the story and an obsession with words, but I needed to learn how to write. Having my work professionally assessed, and later a year of mentoring, made all the difference. Barbara and Chris Else, who eventually offered to represent me as literary agents, were tremendous guides and advocates for me in developing my craft.

The biggest challenge for me in writing is having perspective – I’m always looking for it and never feel as though I am finding it.

3. How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?
Choosing a seventeen-year-old protagonist shaped the story by itself. Evangeline’s voice came to me very quickly. I knew she would be an intelligent, reserved person, with a strong sense of self, made vulnerable by grief. I wanted to explore identity and free-will in the extreme context of genetic engineering. Playing that story out in a grieving teenager’s life provided a naturally dramatic platform for that exploration. School, family, friends and first love can be complicated enough – but it becomes a nightmare when you’re bound by DNA to fight to the death to save the life of your best friend.

3d-dna4. Who have you dedicated this book to, and why?
This book is dedicated to my birth mother and my adoptive parents. Meeting my birth mum definitely influenced the writing of Spark. It highlighted to me the intense power of DNA and it seemed incredible to me that I could be so like someone with whom I had never spent any time. Aside from the thrill of discovering physical resemblance the behavioural similarities temperament/personality, talents, mannerisms, seemed astonishing to me. It made me wonder how much of whom we are destined to become is already written into us at a cellular level.

5. Can you recommend any books for young adults who love this book?
Reviewers most often recommend Spark for fans of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, Kathy Reichs’ Virals series and Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.

buffy_powter6. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
Binge watching internet television! I recently re-watched the entire series of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It was utterly blissful. I love internet TV because it’s when and where you want it and as much as you like (now I sound like an advert). I prefer a 3-episode minimum and NO delayed gratification.
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If you want to know more about Rachael, check out her website here.

For reviews of her book, check out the Booksellers NZ review here.

There is a Spark discussion guide available here.

This is day five of the blog tour featuring each of the finalists in the Children’s Choice category of the awards, and the last of the YA features. Tomorrow’s feature will be picture book I Am Not a Worm, by Scott Tulloch, which will be covered on the Thrifty Gifty blog.

What you might have missed from the Young Adult list:
Night Vision, by Ella West – review | interview | giveaway
Awakening, by Natalie King – review | interview | giveaway
The Red Suitcase, by Jill Harris – interview | giveaway
I Am Rebecca, by Fleur Beale – review | interview

Book Review: Spark, by Rachael Craw

cv_sparkEvangeline Everton, aka Evie, isn’t having a great year. Her mum has passed away, and with no father on the scene she has been shipped off to live with her aunt Miriam, her mum’s twin sister, in a different city. As if that isn’t enough, Evie seems to be going through an unusually violent growth spurt which includes strange fizzing pins and needles in her spine, insomnia, and a loss of appetite. And New Hampshire, where she now lives, may be home to one of her best friends, Kitty, but it is also home to Kitty’s magnetic brother Jamie, with whom Evie has a Past.

But there is more to Miriam than it seems, and it’s not long before Evie discovers that Miriam’s secret is about to become her own. Evie, like Miriam, has altered DNA, the result of tampering by a government agency, Affinity, a couple of generations ago. The tampering, in the form of a synthetic gene known as Optimal, was originally intended to create a group of super-soldiers, but didn’t go quite to plan. As a result, there are now three types of DNA mutations. The first, Sparks, are carriers – they spark the abilities of others. The second, Strays, are killers, who attach to a Spark and won’t stop until that spark is dead. The third are Shields, defenders, designed to protect their Spark from the Stray. A Spark will only spark once. A Stray and Shield will remain attached to their Spark until either the Spark or Stray is dead. And then it begins again.

Evie’s first Spark is her best friend, Kitty. But Shields almost never manage to save their first Spark. And the presence of Jamie only adds to Evie’s distress and confusion. There’s something different about Evie though: her abilities seem to be stronger and improving faster than normal – but will it be enough?

I found it interesting that Craw, a New Zealand author, decided to set her debut novel in the USA, when really the location doesn’t seem to be all that important. I wonder whether this was to appeal to a potentially wider audience, or whether the next two books in this intended trilogy will make the choice of location more apparent. It certainly didn’t detract from the book, but had I not known this was a New Zealand writer, I would never have suspected it from the writing.

Evie is a great protagonist – like the Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen she is a strong female character, but with flaws and insecurities that make her human and relatable. The book was compelling and I read it quickly, and the twists and turns made sense without being predictable.

The details about Affinity and Optimal were a bit long and overly complex, and there were way too many acronyms, but the plot wasn’t hard to follow even with only a skim read of Miriam’s explanations. It will be interesting to see how Craw handles this in the second and third books – allowing enough explanation for readers who haven’t read the first book without relitigating everything for those who have.

The blend of sci-fi “lite”, romance, and supernatural themes is well tested on the YA audience, and this new series brings a fresh perspective to the genre and will not disappoint. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Reviewed by Renee Boyer-Willisson

Spark
by Rachael Craw
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922179623