Friday, September 27, 2013

The Originals by Cat Patrick

Imagine if you could only live one third of your life? This is the case for Lizzie. She has two sisters who look identical to her, but they’re not triplets, they’re clones. The girls are the result of a successful attempt at cloning humans.

The girls spend their younger years as triplets, but as they get older the truth behind their conception comes to light, and for their own safety the three girls must live as one person, Elizabeth.

They literally live one third of a life, one sister (Lizzie)  goes to school in the morning, comes home at lunch time, switches over to another (Ella),  who comes home later afternoon where the last sister (Betsy) takes over for the night shift.  There are some difficulties with this situation, but the girls have always managed to figure out ways to make it work, then a problem rears its ugly head in the form of a boy!  Well two boys to be precise. Sean and David.  Lizzie wants to date Sean Kelly, but Betsy wants to date David Chancellor, but as there is only one Elizabeth, they can only date one boy.

It’s this hiccup that starts the girls thinking about their existence and digging further into the real reason they’re living as one.

I love Cat Patrick and this book like her others, did not disappoint.  I love that Cat Patricks' books make you think and question, but at the same time they are entertaining stories about believable characters.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Silent Saturday by Helen Grant

If you didn't know better you might think this is an adult thriller. It's just the age of the characters that would give you a clue that this was written as book for teens.

The book is set in Flanders, the Flemish community in the northern part of Belgium and the main character is Veerle, 17, who lives with her over protective mother.

The book opens with a 7 year old Veerle climbing to the bell tower of a local church with Kris Verstratens, a boy from a family with a bad reputation.  It's here that she witnesses a man walking down the street carrying the body of a dead child.  10 years later Veerle meets Kris again, the horrors she witnessed on that day have been erased from her memory, but the more time she spends with Kiris, the more she begins to remember.

Kris introduces Veerle to a group, an unusual group where the members rarely meet.  The group is called Koekoeken (Cuckoos)  This group forms a network of people who visit (break in to)  rich people's houses when they are out of town.  They don't do any damage, they simply enjoy it, and often make repairs, improvements when they are able.  Each person in the Koekoeken only knows two other people in the group, and everyone else is known by a pseudonym.

While Veele is being drawn into this world, there is someone on the prowl, De Jager (the Hunter) is murdering people, and as they put the pieces together, Kris and Veerle realise that it's the members of Koekoeken that are being targeted.

Lots of things make this book creepy, the setting for one, and the fact that most of the action takes place sneaking around in the dark of night.  As much as this is a murder mystery, there's also the story of Veerle's mother , whose over protective behaviour becomes extreme, and Veerle feels trapped because she doesn't want to stay in such an oppressed home, but she can't leave her mother either.

The one thing that bugged me, was how the book ended.  I found it abrupt and a bit confusing, but as this is the first book in a trilogy, I am hoping that it will all become clear with book 2.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bear Adventure by Anthony McGowan

I read the first book in this new series, Leopard Adventure, last year and was surprised by how mich I actually liked it.

The series is a spin off of the Willard Price novels, which were originally published 50 plus years ago. The central characters in the original novels were Hal and Roger Hunt. These new books see a new generation of Hunts, as the main characters are Amazon, Daughter of Roger Hunt, and Frazer, son of Hal Hunt. It’s best not to think too hard about the fact that Hal and Roger would actually be in their 60s or 70s now if the timeline was acurate, and they are certainly not that old in this new series.
This series has so much going for it. There’s the obvious adventurous aspect, as the characters see themselves in many a dangerous situation with dangerous wild animals, and a number of very close calls. There are survival skills, and a lot of information about the various animals threaded through the story. I also like the underlying theme of family. It’s not an obvious aspect of the storyline, but in this book we can see how hard it is for Amazon to be apart from her parents, and while her relationship with her cousin Frazer gets stronger, all she really wants is to see her parents again.

The one stand out for me in this and the earlier title I read, is the chapters told from the animals point of view. In this book we have chapters from the viewpoint of a creature we assume is bear, but we find out at the end of the book, how unique this bear actuallt is.   It is a great way to break up the text and give a very fresh take on what’s going on in the story.

Here's an example from page 144:
The feelings burned like sulphur in the beast’s huge heart.
He had thundered through the forest, driven on by the sounds of the pack.
And so he had come.
There were seven in the pack.  Four had attacked the place where the little white one lay.  The others were spread around the trees guarding the site.  The other animals were there also, the ones who seemed to be helpers.  Or at least seemed not to be harmers.  But if they tried to stop him…well, they could not stop him.  He would take the little one.
But first, the wolves.
See below for the two earlier titles in the series.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

In this humorous and heartfelt debut about a split cultural identity, nothing goes according to plan for sixth-grader Lucy Wu.

Lucy Wu, aspiring basketball star and interior designer, is on the verge of having the best year of her life. She's ready to rule the school as a sixth grader and take over the bedroom she has always shared with her sister. In an instant, though, her plans are shattered when she finds out that Yi Po, her beloved grandmother's sister, is coming to visit for several months -- and is staying in Lucy's room. Lucy's vision of a perfect year begins to crumble, and in its place come an unwelcome roommate, foiled birthday plans, and Chinese school with the awful Talent Chang.

This is an interesting topic, and a theme that is also being explored in recent Australian children’s fiction.   The book explores what it feels like to be an American born Chinese girl.  Lucy is American, she loves basketball and would rather eat lasagne than authentic Chinese food.  She’s looking forward to her sister going away to college because it means she finally gets her own room…but nothing goes to plan.

Her Great Aunt, Yi Po comes to stay and Lucy has to share a room, not happy, she builds a wall of bookcases and dressers to keep Yi Po out.  When her parents tell her she has to give up basketball to go to Chinese school (on a Saturday), Lucy has had enough. If this isn't enough to deal with Lucy also had to deal with Sloane, a girl at school whose bullying is making life difficult for Lucy.

I found myself identifying with Lucy’s best friend Madison in this book.  Madison is an All American, family came over on the Mayflower, kind of American and I am your 'average family came over from Europe Australian', with no strong cultural heritage to speak of, so for me having the opportunity to be immersed in another language and having a connection with such an amazing culture and history is quite appealing.  That is me as an adult speaking though, and Lucy is 11, and like most 11 year olds all she wants is to be just like everyone else…

I did find myself becoming frustrated with Lucy, but I think that’s the point, she became quite obnoxious in her stubbornness, but as the story  progressed, Lucy began to gain some perspective, and to me she became more likeable again. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Last Thirteen by James Phelan

Kidnapped from school and finding out his parents aren't who he thinks they are, Sam is suddenly running from danger at every turn. Nothing will ever be the same again. With his life and identity shattered, Sam's salvation is tied to an ancient prophecy. He is in the final battle to save the world, up against an enemy plotting to destroy us all. He alone can find the last 13. 13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.

This is the first book is what is going to be the NEXT BIG THING from Scholastic.  Like Conspiracy 365 which has come before the Last Thirteen series will see a book being released every month from September 2013 through to December 2014.

The book opens with a dream sequence, Sam (the main character in this first instalment) comes face to face with a repulsive monster and he is witness to the world being destroyed.  Just a dream you say…well here’s the kicker, Sam is one of the Last Thirteen…and his dreams come true.

When helicopters land at school and soldiers take Sam away, the adventure really begins.  The choppers are forced to crash land and a different group of dart gun wielding adults take Sam and his two new friends with them…to Switzerland.  There is of course a secret academy hidden in the Swiss mountain ranges, where everything is explained, and Sam learns what his part will be in the future of humanity!

Sound like your kind of book?  Well there’s a lot of online add-ons for this series and if you go to the link below, you can read an excerpt, meet the author, and maybe even win a prize! 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn

The blurb:

A haunting dystopian novel in the vein of John Marsden from a brand new voice in Australian YA literature

For Fin, it’s just like any other day – racing for the school bus, bluffing his way through class and trying to remain cool in front of the most sophisticated girl in his universe. Only it’s not like any other day because, on the other side of the world, nuclear missiles are being detonated.

When Fin wakes up the next morning, it’s dark, bitterly cold and snow is falling. There’s no Internet, no phone, no TV, no power and no parents. Nothing Fin’s learnt in school could have prepared him for this.

With his parents missing and dwindling food and water supplies, Fin and his younger brother, Max, must find a way to survive in a nuclear winter … all on their own.

When things are at their most desperate, where can you go for help?

Anyone who watches the news, knows that there are stories about countries with nulcear weapons and the possibility of any of these bombs being detonated.  Well, in this book it happens.

Fin and brother Max are alone when disaster strikes.  In a small town in the Blue Mountains the brothers have to survive the freezing cold and the dwindling food supplies.  They live in hope that the army (or someone) will come and help them, but after one visit from a supply one comes.  When the food runs out and people are starting to get sick and turn on each other,  the brothers decide to head for the city in search of their parents.

If I were to compare it to Tomorrow When the War Began (and people will compare the two) I would say there's less action but more suspense and anticipation.  More than half of the book takes place in the Blue Mountains where everyone is waiting for help.  That might sound like it might be a bit boring and dull, but it's anything but.  As a reader you are compelled to keep reading because you need to know what happens and find out how they manage to survive.

I really enjoyed this book, and it is the sort of book that you will read in one be warned.  I did however have a few niggles in the back of my mind as I was reading with regard to the choices some characters made.  I understand that the characters are facing extreme conditions and therefore there is no right or wrong response when faced with tough choices, but there were still things that didn't ring true with me.

As well as being a really good read, there are a number of themes in this book which makes it a great choice for a class text. Themes include: family, friendship, war, courage, belonging, death, survival, ethics and spirituality.

UQP has produced Teachers' Notes if you want to take a closer look at the themes in this book.