goodhouse

It took me a while to figure out why I was finding this such an unpleasant read. It wasn’t so much the violence, the bad language, or the dark dystopian future. It was that I really didn’t like the viewpoint character. When I thought about it, I realised that given that James is a boy with “bad genes”, suffering from PTSD after being nearly killed in a fire, and then used as an unsuspecting test subject for experimental drugs, he can be either a credible character or a likeable character, but not both. Other characters, such as his artistic roommate Owen, are easier on the nerves, although I failed to understand his sudden violent outbursts. As for Bethany, she’s portrayed as an intelligent girl with an interesting backstory; and what she sees in James is beyond my comprehension.

There are disagreeable underlying messages here, as well. The villain of the piece is a scientist, experimenting on the boys, and not in any fashion liable to help them – it’s the whole “science is bad” syndrome again. Furthermore, the basic premise that society might attempt to “cure” young males with a genetic disposition to violence by subjecting them to strict discipline in a “Goodhouse” seems unlikely. The jury is still out on the whole issue of genetics and violent behaviour, and I suspect that by the time any connection is proven, more effective ways to deal with “bad” genes will be available. (Whether or not they should be used is a whole other issue). So, the book is not much use as science fiction either – and let’s not go into Marshall’s lack of thought in his world-building. Essentially, Marshall isn’t writing an SF novel, or a YA adventure, he’s writing a polemic against reform schools.

I can’t really recommend this book… it left me with such a nasty taste. But I have no doubt that it will be highly praised in certain circles, and unsuspecting teenagers will be required to study it.

Doubleday

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

the chronicles of narmo

Morag Narmo is fifteen, slightly chubby, wears a pair of glasses ‘that make me look like my name is Alan’, and longs to be a writer. She and her siblings also don’t want to go to school anymore, preferring to feed their heads into the waste-disposal unit rather than ‘do the academical’ thing. Her mother suddenly decides to take them all out of school and home school them, which is chaotic with five children and leads to all sorts of whacky adventures.

A semi-autobiographical look at the ‘Narmo’ family life, this is the first book of How To Be A Woman author Caitlin Moran, written when she was fifteen/sixteen. There’s not much of a plot, more a series of events that happen in the Narmo’s lives, but it is funny and the characters are easy to love.

Try it; it’s funny, witty, and well-written. Really good work for a teen writer.

Corgi

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

first love

Good girl Axi has had it tough growing up – her little sister did young, her mother walked out, and her father crawled into the bottle for comfort. So when she decides to ditch school and run away she takes her best friend, Robinson, along. A tall, attractive bad boy, Robinson decides they’ll start their journey in style and leave town in a stolen car. An exciting journey of new experiences follows, with the two of them making fun memories and meeting interesting people. Then reality hits and the sobering realisation that some things you can’t run fast enough to escape from……..

A really sweet story aimed at teens, I enjoyed this story though I got the ending totally wrong.   Though Robinson seems a little too good to be true, he and Axi are likeable and easy to empathize with. Be warned; the ending is sad and you will need tissues. Lots of them.

Century

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

Young Bond Shoot to Kill

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, and here is a case in point. The black and shiny silver look might help this novel stand out on the booksellers’ shelves, but it’s garish and quite possibly gives the wrong message about the content. Besides, who buys books in a store these days?

In fact, serious pains have been taken to create stories set in the teenage years of James Bond as Ian Fleming might have written them. This is one of a number of prequels to the Bond novels, which are set firmly in the 1930’s (Bond was supposed to have been born around 1920). This series was begun by Charlie Higson in 2005, and has now been taken over by Steve Cole. Now, I haven’t read any of the earlier books, so I can’t compare them, which is probably a good thing.

Here, the young James Bond has been sent to a new and modernist school near Totnes in Devon (coincidentally enough, a real town I’ve actually visited). He, along with a group of students and principal, are invited on a field trip by airship to Hollywood to visit another progressive school which is sponsored by a movie mogul. Of course, certain parties are up to no good, and young Bond is drawn into combating a villainous plot to take over the minds of humanity…

The zeppelin count is definitely up in this one, although I certainly wouldn’t call it steampunk. It is action adventure for young adults, with the emphasis on the action. Sometimes it gets a little over the top, but then it is Bond after all, and excessive scenery-chewing is only to be expected. I loved the attention to detail in the setting – I found only one tiny anachronism, a reference to early magnetic tape as “compact” which it certainly wasn’t. But one consequence of this will be that young people who are looking for the ultra-rapid pace of events achievable with modern technology won’t find it here – the past really is another country. Not that there was any real lack of excitement. A fun read for teens, and who knows, they might learn something!

Doubleday

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

spark
I’d never heard of Cotard’s syndrome, but Wikipedia has enough of an entry to convince me that it is a very real although rare mental condition, in which a person actually does believe that they are dead. Jacob Underwood has thought of himself as deceased, to be no more than a spark within a shell, ever since a near fatal motorcycle accident. He feels nothing, and that makes him a perfect assassin in a world which sees everything. Set in a very believable dystopian near future, “Spark” is a psychological thriller with a distinctively Orwellian edge. Big Brother – or rather the EYE system – really is watching you, just one step into the future; having been created in a response to an atrocity called the “Day of Rage” which is eerily reminiscent of the massacre of school children that just occurred in Pakistan.

This really is a remarkable book. It drew me in, and grabbed me, and demanded that I keep reading. Jacob, for all his amorality, is a strangely sympathetic protagonist, especially as he begins to re-discover himself and the possibility of feeling… which begins when he finds himself reluctant to follow orders to kill a child, for no other reason than that the child has the wrong parents. The plot presses relentlessly onwards to its thrilling (and somewhat open-ended) conclusion. But there’s more to it than that, because we are compelled to question the nature of morality, even of our own personal reality. And like the best science fiction this book presents the reader with issues to think about ahead of their time – especially regarding the role of humanoid robots in the workplace, and the consequences of total surveillance. I do recommend this book… there is a fair amount of violence, none of it gratuitous; and an absence of profanity (often associated with emotional outbursts, and Jacob doesn’t do emotions). More importantly, this a book that will both entertain you and make you think.

Bantam

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

dont stand so close

Alone in a grand, imposing house, Stella hears a knock on the door one freezing snowy winters day. Severely agoraphobic, Stella is wary of letting her in but relents on seeing the girls shivering body in thin clothes. The girl, Blue, seems nice as she warms up but is reluctant to leave. Then she tells Stella terrible lies about her husband Max. Are they lies though?

The story seemed interesting but I found it hard to get into the book, it jumped too much from past to present with no warning and I found it difficult to keep up. I never warmed up to the characters and found I didn’t really care what happened to them. That’s just me though; give this a try if you like psychological drama.

Transworld Publishers

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

A Slip of the Keyboard

Terry Pratchett is famous for writing fiction, particularly the Discworld series of books, and this is a collection of his non-fiction work. The dustjacket is carefully annotated as such, just in case the careless purchaser thinks it might be otherwise. Thematically, Pratchett’s scribbling’s are divided into three main sections.

The first section concerns the behaviour of a professional writer. Not only what this particular one does during the day to continue writing, but the other minutiae of a professional writer’s existence, such as promoting the book, attending Science Fiction conventions (Terry is famously a Science Fiction author, but please don’t let that discourage you.) He presents some words of wisdom for the budding writer, such as Douglas Adams’ advice that once you’ve finished a project, you should immediately start a new one. Pratchett notes that Adams famously did not follow his own advice in this regard. Pratchett, on the other hand, has been a professional writer almost his entire working life, first as a journalist, then working as a press officer for an energy board and finally as an author.

The second section is a miscellany of essays about what got him to where is now, including his first book purchase – Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable - a title that is referred to more or less constantly in several essays. There is also the proprietor of a porn shop that sold Terry his first substantial quantities of SF (and possibly the inspiration for Nanny Ogg).

The third is the most intriguing – as most people ought to know, Terry is famously suffering from a degenerative brain condition, similar to Alzheimer’s disease – and Terry does not wish to pop his clogs suffering from an advanced case of going gaga. It is a tribute to his skill that these essays are neither insufferably egocentric nor bathetic. We will all die. Most of us will be blissfully unaware of our manner of going until quite late in the piece. Terry is one of the few who knows how. He would also like a degree of say over when.

There is a delightful introduction by Terry’s good friend Neil Gaiman. Read this book. You shan’t be disappointed.

Doubleday

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve