Book Review: Landscapes with Invisible Hand, by M.T. Anderson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_landscape_with_invisible_handWeird, bleak and oddly compelling. Landscape with Invisible Hands is more closely aligned to social satire than science-fiction. It asks what would happen if the aliens came offering the ability to cure all illnesses and replace the jobs so that you need never work again? Sounds ideal? Well, it’s not.

The gap between rich and poor increases. The rich — and those who’ve managed to work their way into vuvv society — succeed. The others, left below to scrap over the few jobs that remain, suffer. Adam is one of those left below, living in the shadow of the vuvvs floating city. He is an artist, a painter, and something of a dreamer. Not the most ambitious of youths. After falling in love with a neighbour, the two of them decide to earn an income by starring in vuvv reality TV shows. The vuvv don’t form pair bonds but they do enjoy watching human courtship, circa 1950. It doesn’t end well, and thus Adam’s downward spiral begins…

This is a very readable, and quite relatable look at society — at what makes humans human and the lengths that we will go to both to make money and to please our mostly benevolent (but selfish) overlords. It acts as a social commentary on the division between the wealthy and the poverty-ridden, and how the latter are sometimes dehumanised. The ending falls a little flat but given the characters and the circumstances, I wasn’t expecting it to be dramatic. Overall, quite compelling (with short chapters) and one to make you think.

Review by Angela Oliver

Landscape with Invisible Hand
by M.T. Anderson
Published by Candlewick Press
ISBN 9780763687892

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Book Review: Tasting Stars, by Karen Mills

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Karen Mills grew up in Otara in Auckland in a household of abuse, so she writes from the heart in her first novel dedicated to inspiring young adults to believe they have the power to change their future.

Tasting Stars is the story of thirteen-year-old Rose Ann Dixon a Pakeha growing up in the 1960s in Otara. The eldest in the family of six children Rose tries to protect her siblings from her father’s abuse but she is often his target along with her mother.
Her teacher gifts Rose a gold fountain pen for her thirteenth birthday urging her to “Write me your dreams, Rose”.

After hearing Martin Luther King’s inspiring speech, Rose realizes that every child can have dreams and that what’s more they have a right to expect them to come true.
Rose begins a journey from Otara to Wellington and finally to India, after competing in a speech contest. Sustained by the love and wisdom of a recently deceased aunt and the kindness of her best friend’s family, Rose learns things that give her the strength she needs to save those she loves.

It is a gripping story about family violence with profound understanding and delightful humorous touches best suited for 11-18 years. I found it an easy read but also very moving and sad to think so many children live in similar circumstances. During her trip to India Rose realises, “When I go home I have to stop him. I don’t know how. But I will. I want my brothers and sisters to feel some of what I have felt over the last two weeks”.

Karen Mills left home at the age of fourteen to live with Jim and Kay Tichener, both teachers at her local school, before going on to teach for thirty years in South Auckland. She now volunteers for Destiny Rescue and has included an information page at the rear of the book as well as a website for further research.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Tasting Stars
by Karen Mills
Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473394974

 

Book Review: Tell it to the Moon, by Siobhan Curham

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tell_it_to_the_moonAs much as my English teachers would cringe to hear the word ‘lovely’ used to describe a book, that really was the first word which sprang to mind when I finished reading this story of life, friendship and relationships.

This story is about four girls heading to their late teens who have forged a strong bond through their private club (I know, it sounds a bit twee but go with it) the Moonlight Dreamers. What makes this group of ordinary girls work so well is the very fact that they are both ordinary and unique at the same time – as are we all.

There is Oscar Wilde-worshipping Amber who is suffering a writer’s block and wears vintage men’s clothes (I think she was my favourite), Rose who as the child of a famous actor and former super model dreams of being a baker with her own cake shop, Maali who is an Indian girl whose worry about her ill father causes her to question her faith in her gods and Sky the poet, who after being home schooled all her life finds herself at school for the first time. An eclectic and charming bunch of girls, much like any you might find in many high schools.  Tell it to the Moon is the second story featuring these characters, with the first (Moonlight Dreamers) relating how the girls met and became such close friends. This book picks up their friendship when they are separated over Christmas holidays, missing each other and looking towards the promise of new challenges and dreams to work towards for the coming new year.

The point of view moves smoothly from one girl to the other and each character is genuine and likeable; you find yourself encouraging them to keep going and not give up as they work through their personal challenges. The diversity of both the protagonists and secondary characters adds interest and gives deeper resonance to the story. They take strength from their friendship and this gives them the courage to be honest with themselves, to share their problems with each other and in turn grow in confidence.

As a coming of age story, it is a gentle and real one; it makes for a refreshing change of pace from the typical intense and gritty YA stories. The issues the girls face and work through are valid, their dreams are big and they are well on the way to understanding their worth.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Tell it to the Moon
by Siobhan Curham
Published by Walker Books 2017
ISBN: 9781406366150

 

 

Book Review: Alex Approximately, by Jenn Bennett

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_alex_approximatelyAlex, Approximately is sort of a modern-day novelised equivalent of the movie, You’ve Got Mail, aimed at a new generation.

Our protagonist, Bailey, loves classic movies and follows a strict habit of avoiding things that take her out of her comfort zone. So, when things become too uncomfortable at home with her mother’s new boyfriend, she moves to a small Californian coastal city, to live with her father. The fact that her online friend, fellow film-buff Alex, also lives there is just an added garnish.

However, not one to rush into things, Bailey determines to track down this mysterious “Alex” and suss him out before even tell him that they’re in the same city. The city, resting on the Californian Coast, somewhere near Monteray Bay and with the redwood forests as a backdrop, is a surfer’s paradise. It’s also home to a bizarre museum known as “The Cave” (which I feel was loosely based on The House On the Rock in Wisconsin). Here she picks up a summer job, and also catches the attentions of sexy, if infuriating, surfer boy, Parker. Their initial meetings are typical to the genre: he gently mocks her, and ultimately seems to be intent on trying to embarrass her. She bites back. They grow closer, become friends, and eventually Bailey decides she should stop trying to lightly stalk “Alex” in favour of her new relationship, and their already fairly infrequent online conversations cease.

If you’re reading this book for discussions about classic movies, I’m afraid you’re likely be disappointed. What you do receive, instead, is the awkward world of teenage dating and a frustrating case of hidden identity, interspersed with an intriguing array of background characters (Parker’s mother is most excellent!), and a somewhat-antagonist, Parker’s ex-friend, Davey. Davey is all kinds of messed up: he injured his knee a few years ago, became addicted to painkillers, and switched from there to harder drugs. He exhibits a variety of antisocial mannerisms, including a deep resentment of Parker, and Bailey has also caught his eye…

On the surface, Alex Approximately feels like a fairly light, superficial read. The twist, Alex’s identity, is easily figured out (and is pretty much spoiled on some of the promotional material, although not, fortunately, the blurb). It does contain frequent mentions of recreational drug use (although the main characters remain drug-free), violence, and some fairly descriptive sexual content. Thus I would not recommend it for the younger or more innocent reader (I would suggest, ages 14+).

It also fails to deal with some of the harder issues, such as Davey’s drug addiction, and he is cast more as the villain in need of taking out than the teenager in need of serious help that he clearly is. Bailey, for all that her father calls her “a good detective” at one point, is possibly the worst detective I’ve seen in a young adult novel, and completely fails to figure out who Alex is, despite the fact that even her father has guessed (but refuses to tell her or even drop substantial hints, presumably because the situation amuses him).

Whilst I would describe it as extremely readable, and quite entertaining, it could have been so much more.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Alex Approximately
by Jenn Bennett
Published by Simon & Schuster
ISBN  9781471161049

Book Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, by Lauren James

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_loneliest_girl_in_the_universeRomy Silvers finds herself alone in space on a journey to populate Earth II with a cargo of frozen embryos. When transmissions from Earth are interrupted with overtones of war, she becomes afraid for her own future. Just when things seem dire, help arrives in the form of another ship from Earth under the control of “J”.

This is an exciting tale of hope and despair. Romy fills in the background, but also the questions which begin to puzzle her about her mysterious rescuer. Is everything as simple as it seems?

Dystopia books are very popular at my school. This generation feels the danger of climate change, racial dischord and terrorism acutely. Creating fiction from this very real setting, captures the imagination of many young adults.

Lauren James is a 25-year-old British YA writer. Her science background is evident in the detail included in this title. It is a gripping read, with a twist: but my lips are sealed.

I already have takers for my copy of the Loneliest Girl in the Universe.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe
by Lauren James
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406375473

Book Review: Slave Power, by Raewyn Dawson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_slave_powerSlave Power is the first in The Amazon Series, and introduces a new voice in the Young Adult market. It is a tale of friendship, of determination, of love, and of dedication. Set in the historic world, and around the Black Sea, it follows two very different girls, brought together by unfortunate circumstances.

The fifteen-year old heroine, Melo, is one of the most talented Riders in the Wild Horse Tribe. Her prowess, combined with her compassion, has stirred the jealousies of older beauty, Mithrida. Envious, and devious, Mithrida hatches a plan to remove Melo from the tribe, a plot which results in Melo falling into the hands of slave traders. Here she befriends a young girl, Atalanta. Atalanta’s family, and her entire tribe, fell to the slave traders, many slaughtered, others captured.

They are taken to a isolated island to train as fighter-slaves. Here, Melo meets Sofia, a young priestess-in-training, and her older brother, Mati, captures Melo’s eye (and perhaps her heart as well). Whilst Melo helps to inspire and improve the spirits of her fellow slaves, the Amazon tribes must unite against the very real threat of the slave traders. Meanwhile, Mithrida, still plotting and planning for her own gain, forms an allegiance with the enemy.

The author has taught classical studies, so she knows her era well, and creates her world in evocative detail. With strong female role models, messages of compassion, kindness and finding value in others, “Slave Power” is an inspiration read for young adults, contrasting sharply with the more dark-world dystopia that currently floods the market. It promotes cooperation, and peaceful resolution. Romantic relationships are minimal, with the teenage heroine pursuing friendship first – a worthy message for the youth of today!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Slave Power
by Raewyn Dawson
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473389376

Book Review: The Haunting, by Margaret Mahy

cv_the_hauntingAvailable in bookshops nationwide. 

Eight-year-old Barney Palmer lives an almost-ordinary life with an almost-ordinary family, with two exceptions. Barney has been haunted all his childhood, and the Palmers are a family of magical blood. Every generation a ‘Palmer magician’ is born; this is seen as both a gift and a curse to the family. When Barney feels a “faint dizzy twist” in the world around him on the way home from school, he knows that he is about to be haunted again…but something is different about this haunting. For one, it seems to be linked to the death of Barney’s great-uncle (and namesake) Barnaby.

It soon becomes clear to Barney and his family that Barney is being haunted by something potentially dangerous. Barney begins to hear voices, has bizarre dreams and begins to look rather ghostly himself; pale-faced and constantly tired. Sometimes his eyes don’t appear to be his own. Sometimes his body feels like somebody else’s. With the help of his sisters – silent, mysteriously tidy Troy and talkative, curious Tabitha – Barney begins to get to the bottom of his family’s history.

My favourite thing about this book would have to be the characters; they feel fresh and bold, and their dialogue is so realistic. Tabitha and Barney both seem to share the role of the protagonist; while Barney is being haunted he feels like a ghost sometimes, observant and silent. On the other hand, Tabitha’s personality is so bubbly and overwhelming that she dominates the story with her note-taking, matter-of-fact commentary and constant stream of questions. I like Tabitha.

Only a few pages in, I could already see why this book had received the Carnegie Medal back in 1982. Margaret Mahy’s use of language is completely unique, and her way of storytelling is so effective. Conversations between the characters seem to crackle with energy, while the story progresses at a satisfying pace. The events of Barney’s haunting are told through the eyes of the children, so there’s this innocence about the way the story is told. (At first Barney refuses to confess that he is being haunted at all; he does this because he is afraid that he will upset his beloved stepmother Claire, who is expecting a baby.) Somehow it makes the scarier parts of the story that more chilling.

Overall, The Haunting is the perfect paranormal thriller – it manages to be a story that readers of any age will be gripped by, as they have been for 35 years now. Margaret Mahy is just one of those authors whose work is really timeless; that word gets thrown around a lot, but her work really does suit the description. I can imagine in another decade that The Haunting would have the same effect on its readers.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

The Haunting
by Margaret Mahy
Published by Hachette
ISBN 9781869713676