Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dark Life - Kat Falls

When the oceans rose, entire continents were swallowed up by the rising water. Now humans live packed into high rises on small tracts of land, while those willing to forge new frontiers settle deep on the ocean floor.

Ty is the first child to be born on the ocean floor in Benthic Territory, an underwater community. He has spent his entire life as one of the new settlers in this new environment. There are other children in the territory but he is the oldest. When he discovers a submarine without lights sitting on the sea floor it provides a convenient place to wait out some sharks that are a little too interested in him. Inside Ty finds the sub dripping with blood and a girl, Gemma, an orphan and ward of the Commonwealth, who is searching for her brother sent to a juvenile detention centre when she was young. But things are about to change in the territory, outlaws and pirates are preying on the ships of the 'wealth and they are about to turn their attention to the settlers. The children of the territory have secrets that could destroy their community and the life they live on the ocean floor.

Kat Falls has written an compelling book that owes a debt to many different genres and types of story. Variously a western (frontier life, pioneers, outlaws and a sheriff), a dystopian novel of life after global warming, a coming of age novel (both for the central character Ty and the community in which he lives), love story and science fiction all action adventure. Despite all of these different styles Falls has managed to keep a firm hand on her story which rattles along at breakneck speed and which will keep it 11+ audience entertained and enthralled.

Falls has done an excellent job of underwater world building, her awe and fascination with the creatures of the deep oceans is transmitted clearly through her vivid descriptions which, coupled with her underwater technologies, make the Benthic Territory a character in the book in it's own right. She touches on but does not labour the politics of the new frontier - control and exploitation by the Commonwealth. The reader is also made aware of The Topside (where Gemma comes from) an overcrowded, hot teeming place where space is a luxury and where the Commonwealth still maintain martial law and elections have not been held for 20 years. There are therefore many areas of interest for intelligent and interested teens to consider.

Although Ty and Gemma appear a little young for their supposed 15 years, slightly too gung-ho, innocent and unable to consider the consequences of their actions, they are not too young to feel the first stirrings of more adult emotions towards each other. Ty and his other underwater born friends have their own secrets which they are anxious to conceal, however as the outlaws turn their attention to Ty and Gemma and the 'Wealth reveals it's interest in the children of the new frontier it becomes clear that the children are what will help the settlers survive.

As the book ends and the plot arc draws to a close I anticipate that this is not the last we shall hear of Ty and Gemma, there is a lot more of this new world to be explored. Indeed for such a well thought out and potentially complex world I would hope that Kat Falls can produce fiction that is more complex and satisfying than this essentially plot driven novel. There is huge potential for the world of the Topsiders and Dark Lifers which is only touched on and skimmed over in this book. It is no surprise that the book has already been optioned as a movie.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The 10 p.m. Question – Kate de Goldi

Kate de Goldi is a New Zealand author. She writes young adult fiction, short stories and children’s books and has won many awards for her work. The 10 p.m. Question has received several awards including the New Zealand Post Book of the Year (2009) and the Readers’ Choice award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards (2009).

The 10 p.m. Question covers several months of twelve year old Frankie Parsons’ life. Frankie’s structured world is changed drastically when he makes friends with Sydney Vickerham, a new girl in his class. Sydney is different to everyone he knows and her intense questioning about his life and family make Frankie worry. Some parts of his family life are taboo subjects that no one ever brings up. What if Sydney asks him questions he does not want to answer?

As Sydney becomes part of Frankie’s life further worries emerge. Sydney’s mother does not stay in one place for long. Frankie worries all the time about everything from earthquakes to spiders and Sydney’s cheerful company helps Frankie to enjoy life more. He does not know how he will cope if Sydney goes. And since he is afraid of flying how will he be able to visit her?

de Goldi has created a fabulous world in The 10 p.m. Question. She has created fantastic characters in Frankie’s family and his school life. From the incredible Aunties to Frankie’s eccentric teacher, Mr A. all the characters in this book come to life on the page. Each chapter ends with a section in italics. This describes when Frankie goes to his mother’s room at 10 p.m. every night to ask her questions about what has been worrying him during the day. The italics make the conversation between Frankie and his mother more private and show what an important and personal part of Frankie’s day it is.

The 10 p.m. Question deals with the effect of mental illness in a family. It is interesting because it covers mental illness in both adults and children and shows the genetic connection within families. It also focuses more on Frankie’s journey to understanding what he wants from life than on how his difficulties with endless worry are solved. It is also notable in that it does not focus on the taking of medication to solve mental illness. It shows that there are limitations in trying to cure people who are mentally ill and that sometimes people need to compromise their idea of what is normal in order to be able to accept these limitations.

The 10 p.m. Question is out this August and is a great read for anyone in the 12+ age group.

My thanks to Templar Publishing for supplying me with a copy of this book for review.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gregor the Overlander - Suzanne Collins

Published this month is Suzanne Collins' debut novel Gregor the Overlander, previously only available in the US. It is a fantasy adventure novel for ages 9+ that is well written and action packed.

Gregor is 11, his father disappeared 2yrs 7mths and 13 days ago and life has not been the same since. Gregor doesn't allow himself to think about the future, it is too painful, he just thinks about now - the now of not being able to go to summer camp because he has to stay home and mind his 2yr old sister Boots while his mum works. But while he is thinking about the now his mind is not on what he is doing (the laundry) and definitely not on his sister. When Gregor realises his sister is very quite and has been for some time he finds her leaning into a grate in the laundry room, as he reaches for her she disappears, Gregor has to follow and down down he falls into the Underland.

Gregor finds himself in a land where cockroaches, bats, rats and spiders speak and are far larger than in the Overland. Humans have violet eyes and his father is being held by Gorger, King of the Rats. Gregor's arrival leads the Underlanders to believe that he is the warrior prophesied in 'The Legend of Gray' carved on the walls of the palace, a warrior that will affect the fate of the humans in Underworld. Gregor knows he is no warrior, but it is the only way he can rescue his father so he, Boots and two Underworlders set out to build an alliance with the spiders and the cockroaches in order to rescue Gregor's father and save the Underworld from the rats.

Suzanne Collins is known in Europe for her best selling Hunger Games Series, a dystopian adventure for the 11+age group. Gregor's tale is an introduction to the world of fantasy literature for the 9+ age range but is no less well written or absorbing just because it is for a younger audience.

Gregor is an average child who has suffered a traumatic loss and Collins is astute enough to realise that although Gregor's father can be rescued, he will have been changed by his experiences.

Gregor had thought he would get a parent back when he found his Dad. Then he could stop having to make hard decisions. He could just be a kid. But the man before him was even needier than Boots was.

Collins' portrayal of Gregor is real and vivid, Gregor is no all action hero he is just an ordinary boy in extraordinary circumstances - he even realises that even though he might want a sword, as his mum won't even let him carry a pocket knife and, as he is likely to be grounded for the rest of his life, a sword just wouldn't be worth the hassle!

The Underland is a fantastic world. From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  through to the wardrobe in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe secret portals to other worlds have long been a staple of children's literature and Collins has done an excellent job of world building. Coupled with dangerous allegiances, treachery and battles this book is a must for young (and not so young!) bookworms.

There are four more books in the series and I assume these will be released in due course

At the back of the book children will find a note about the author, an interview with Suzanne Collins and for imaginative children a piece about how to go about constructing their own portal and underworld when writing stories - this is a great idea.

You can find an excerpt of the book here

For the teachers amongst you a teachers guide and book group type questions here.


Monday, August 16, 2010

I Am Number Four - Pittacus Lore

Penguin's big new release for the autumn is I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, the pseudonym of James Frey ( A Million Little Pieces and Bright and Shiny Morning) and a new young writer Jobie Hughes. The book is also currently being filmed as a movie and clearly Penguin are hoping for great things from this projected 6 book series.

John Smith is a teenager new to Paradise, Ohio. His documentation says that he was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. John is not a normal teenager and his place of birth is far from Tuscaloosa, in fact its far from anywhere on Earth. John Smith was born on Lorien, a planet ravaged by the Mogadorian. He is a Garde, one of nine children that survived the Mogadorian invasion that destroyed his home world. Due to a charm placed on the nine they can only be killed in number order. Three of those survivors are dead, John is number four and he is next!

Whilst trying to come to terms with new powers that he is developing John must also try and blend in in the new school he is attending, difficult to do when your hands start glowing when stressed. Unfortunately not everyone in Paradise is friendly and as John's terrestrial problems mount it seems that his extra terrestrial problems are just about to explode with devastating consequences for friends and enemies alike.

This is a rip roaring read full of action and adventure for the 13+ age group, a plot driven story which will have the intended audience lapping up not just this book but it's sequels. It is also nice to see not only 'the love interest' but the introduction of, what I hope in future books, will be a kick ass girl - number 6.

The relationship between John and his guardian Henri is one of the best features of this tale. Henri has cared for and tried to guide John through 10 years of hiding on earth but, as with most teenagers, Henri's control over John is slipping as John moves closer to adulthood. As John makes more of the decisions on his own and Henri disappears we see just how frightening the adult world that Henri has shielded John from, can be.

Keep an eye out for two of my favourite characters Bernie Kosar and Sam Goode and for the sequel of this book which I am sure is going to be huge.

In the beginning we were a group of nine.
There are six of us left. The first three were killed in the order of their numbers.
They won't stop until they've killed us all.
I am number four.
I know that I am next.

Catch up with all the info on the book and movie here

My thanks to Penguin for sending me an advance copy of this book for review.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Odyssey - Homer (adapted by Tim Mucci, Ben Caldwell & Emanuel Tenderini

I have a confession to make - I have never read 'The Iliad' nor have I read 'The Odyssey' in their original form - I suspect that I am not alone. The thought of wading in to two epic poems of over 25,000 words in total does not appeal, however the stories that make up these poems, tales of heroes and Gods, have entered our cultural psyche.
I have another confession, I don't read graphic novels. Why? I think I am afraid that they will not be as rich an experience as immersing myself in a novel. I'm not sure I want the images that form whilst reading to be hijacked by someone elses idea of what the characters and their surroundings look like.

When the opportunity to read the story of The Odyssey as a graphic novel presented itself I jumped at the chance. This all action classic was a different experience to reading a novel, was it a satisfying one? Read on.

After 10 years of war and destruction at Troy King Odysseus wishes to return home to his Queen Penelope who is besieged by prospective suitors eager to steal his wife and the throne of Ithaca. As Penelope spends her days sewing and every night unpicking her stitches to keep her suitors at bay, Odysseus must battle fearsome monsters and jealous Gods in order to make his way home to his Queen. Odysseus is protected by Athena (breaker of Armies) as he honours the Gods but the other Greeks are condemned to make their own fate, unprotected, due to Agamemnon's cursing of the Gods and defilement of the sacred places. It is Odysseus' job to try to get them home safely.

Tim Mucci's adaptation brings Odysseus to life, his intelligence and cleverness coupled with an ability for trickery and slyness lead him and those who follow him into and out of one adventure after another. From the Cyclops to the multi-headed hound Kerberos who guards the gates of Hades Odysseus outwits them all. The dialogue is contemporary and at times playful:

Hermes:    Where are you off to now, my unlucky friend?
                   To Circe's Palace your life to end?
                   She'll change you in to Ox or Crow...

Odysseus: Wh..Who are You?

Hermes:   Me? Oh...You know.

Ben Caldwell, the penciller, from which I take it he drew the cartoons, has produced strong pictures full of movement. Ghost lines can be seen throughout the book, which adds to the sense that the characters in the pictures are moving. Eyes are large, waists small. Men are square jawed, women have heart shaped faces. Where Caldwell excels is the depiction of the monsters, the mighty Cyclops with his one eye, the lotus eaters wasting away and Poseidon intent on revenge. If you want to see the genesis of some of the artwork for the book and other work by Ben Caldwell then head over to Art Cartooning to see more

Whilst Ben Caldwell may have drawn the pictures he did not colour them in! That task falls to colourist Emanuel Tenderini and 'colouring in' is far to simple a way of explaining his contribution. Colour provides depth and perception to the work, colour influences our response to the image and colour prompts us to make judgements about what we are seeing. When Odysseus travels to Hades to seek audience with the blind oracle of Thebes, Tiresias, the images are cold blues, greys and purples as befits a shadowy after world. Cerise is the colour of the devourer Scylla and aqua the sharp toothed Sirens.

This is a great read and one that is easily accessible to those who don't want to wade through thousands of words of ancient poetry. Is it  authentic? Not having read the original I can't compare but it does put into context and explain the story of The Odyssey for a new generation.

And how was the experience of reading a graphic novel? The experience is not the same as reading a novel but it is not, as I feared, a lesser experience just a different and equally rewarding one. It is to the pictures you return again and again to assess expressions on faces and replay visual jokes. I will definitely be returning to the world of the graphic novel.

The Odyssey is available now and is the third in the All Action Classics series.

My thanks to GMC Distribution Services for sending me a copy of the book for review.


Monday, August 9, 2010

The Reapers Are The Angels - Alden Bell

It is the end of days and the dead have risen and walk the earth.

Temple has only known this hard world in which she fights to survive. Finding Maury, a simple mute man, she decides to take him to Texas in search of his relatives as atonement for the things she has done and the mistake she made.

Pursued by a man intent on vengeance, both hunter and hunted travel the roads of this wasted America happier in the wilderness with the walking dead than in the last remaining places of civilisation.

Although life is hard there are miracles along the way and even when the earth is going to hell there is beauty to behold.

This is a fine debut novel with a distinctive voice reminiscent of the western. It is a call to savour the natural beauty around us even though we may be hard pressed with worry and asks that old question, are we bound to our fate or can we make our own future?

The devil has sown his harvest and it is the end of the world – but who are the angels, the civilised in their fortresses or the lone gunmen in the wilderness?

A post apocalyptic zombie novel worth reading.

The Reapers Are The Angels  will be published on the 3rd September.

My thanks to Bertrams and Tor for providing me with an advance copy of the book for review.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Blood Ninja - Nick Lake

UK Cover
It is 1565 and Japan is ruled by a boy Emperor. The political situation is only stable because the competing interests of the Lords, who rule the provinces of Japan, ensures that no one of them becomes too powerful. Whilst everything on the surface is cordial the Lords secretly scheme to obtain ultimate power. The Lords Oda and Tokugawa in particular seek to rule Imperial Japan.

Unaware of the political intrigue and machinations that flow and eddy in the palaces and great houses of Japan, Taro, the son of a fisherman and an amas (pearl diver) grows up in the coastal village of Nagoya. Taro does not look like his fellow villagers, he also prefers the bow and the hunt to the rod and the sea which sets him apart. His best friend Hiro is also an outsider, saved from a shark by Taro when a child.

The scene is therefore set for one of the oldest and one of the newest plot lines in history - boy with destiny grows up in obscurity only to find out that he is not who he thought he was. This is a pretty well used story line but where Nick Lake makes things interesting is that he introduces a whole new class of undead warrior - the Vampire Ninja. This means that throughout the book we are given awesome swordplay (from both boys and girls) with some major martial arts (from the boys and the girls) and some pretty gruesome scenes (do I need to mention the finger and the leprosy!).
Nick Lake has brought 16th Century Imperial Japan to life in a real and vibrant way. He has clearly researched his period, including the myths and legends of the time, which all make for a full, three dimensional experience. Japanese words are used throughout the book ( I would have appreciated a glossary of terms to help me keep up) and time and distance are again dealt with as if you were Japanese (again an introductory explanation would have been useful).
This book is not however one fight scene after another poorly linked, there are whole sections of the book that do not involve fighting. As Taro and his companions travel through Japan to the Ninja secret hideout Taro is shown to grow both emotionally and in his awareness that the world is not a black and white place, that the reasons people do things are complex. The book ends with two great scenes that I wish I could tell you about but which set up book two to be as exciting and thrilling as this first one.
Blood Ninja is the first in a planned trilogy and Nick Lake has said that there is a very definite end point for the series. The book very much felt as if we are being given an introduction to the characters and their lives and I expect the sequel ( The Revenge of Lord Oda) to be fast and furious as both the characters and readers will have hit their stride. As with Blood Ninja expect swords, changing allegiances, throwing stars, hideouts, sellouts, revenge, sacrifice, beheadings, body parts - and vampire ninjas.
This is a book that boys and kick ass girls will love.
US Cover
Before leaving the review however I would like to mention Blood Ninja's UK cover (above). One of the best that I have seen this year, very different to the book's American version  (right) and a work of art. The illustrator is Hydro74 otherwise known as Joshua Smith. If you like the cover art then you could do worse than log on to his website ( here ) and view his other creations.
You can find an interview with Nick Lake here.
Read the first chapter of Blood Ninja: The Revenge of Lord Oda here (out 7th December).
Blood Ninja was published on 2nd August and is available to buy now.
My thanks to Corvus and Grove Atlantic for supplying me with a copy of Blood Ninja for review.