Weird but wonderful

Title:  Grasshopper Junglegrasshopper

Author: Andrew Smith

Interest Level:  Year 10 +

At the outset it must be said that Andrew Smith is a great story teller, with a gift for straightforward, thought provoking prose. Smith created a protagonist, Austin, who is not just confused about his life and sexuality, but finds himself grappling with the oftentimes strange (and meaningless) coincidences that occur in history. What differentiates this book from other YA fiction is the “genre morphing” that occurs. Initially the reader is so caught up in Austin’s “everyday” story, there is no way they could predict the twist in events (and genre)  that lead to Austin and his friend Robby being partly responsible for humanity’s destruction by “Unstoppable Soldiers” (which bare a striking resemblance to 6 feet tall Praying Mantises). That people from his small town, his country and the world may be abandoned to face brutal deaths barely registers on Austin’s radar, except as commentary in his oftentimes myopic family and town history. Austin has his own, more important issues to sort through: is he in love with Shann? is he in love with Robby?…can he experiment and still be straight? Ironically, he and Robby have the knowledge and power to halt the Unstoppable Soldiers, but they must choose to act. Will they?

This book is quite extraordinary, and a must read (with the warning that the themes and language are appropriate for a mature Young Adult audience) (Year 10+). Grasshopper Jungle is certainly worth the challenge, but readers should prepare to suspend disbelief before they venture into the book.  I’m not entirely sure if the conclusion is hopeful or hopeless, or in fact, whether Austin is in any way likeable. What do you think?

Recommended (ipe): *****

Fast-paced from start to finish

machine warsTITLE = MACHINE WARS

AUTHOR = MICHAEL PRYOR

GENRE = SCIENCE FICTION, FUTURE, ACTION, ADVENTURE 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

This novel is a fast-paced adventure from the very first line.

Bram’s mum (the genius behind many Artificial Intelligence (AI) inventions) has always been aware of the potential problems inherent in AI so when one of her creations (Ahriman) starts to act strangely, she has prepared her family with a well-researched “Scatter-and-Hide” safety plan.

But for 14 year old Bram, practising a safety plan and the reality of a safety plan are 2 very different things. Bram finds it exhausting, nerve-wracking and down-right dangerous being on the run from robotic-internet driven AI controlled bugs. IT is just as well he has 2 companions: a friend from school (Stella) who distinguishes herself with her intelligence, and Bob the duck (Bram’s favourite toy when he was a toddler but since turned into an AI protector by Bram’s mum).

Can Bram, Stella and Bob the Duck outwit the power hungry Ahriman long enough for Bram’s mum to come up with a counter-attack?? With clever robots on their tails, the machine wars are very, very real and could end very, very badly for Bram, Stella and Bob.

Great pace, great action and clever plotting make this story an enjoyable romp from start to finish. There are plenty of punches and punchlines andjust  a touch of romance, so it is wonderful  entertainment for younger readers.

Recommended (dma) ****

Sleeping beauty wakes up in 2128

when we wake coverTITLE = WHEN WE WAKE

AUTHOR = KAREN HEALEY

GENRE = SCIENCE FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8, 9

Tegan Oglietti is having the best day of her life, in Melbourne, in 2027, a few years in our future. But the next thing she knows, she wakes up in a hospital – in 2128, having been asleep for over 100 years. She is the first patient who has ever woken up from stasis, and immediately becomes a celebrity, followed at the supermarket and at school. She manages to make some friends (and introduce her music class to the Beatles) but as she discovers more about the world she has woken in, she finds out that not all the changes between the Melbourne she grew up in and this new Melbourne are good, or for good reasons.

This adventure shows us what our future might be; how our decisions can change the world, even if we are sixteen year old girls who have been asleep for a century.

The author, Karen Healey, is from New Zealand but lived in Melbourne for a few years. On her website she has some extras for When We Wake: you can have a look at what the characters are wearing, listen to the book’s soundtrack, or read her essays on the Sleeping Beauty archetype that inspired the story!

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky awards.

Highly recommended (emc) *****

An exciting foray into the gearpunk world

TITLE = THE RITHMATIST

AUTHOR = BRANDON SANDERSON

GENRE = GEARPUNK, ADVENTURE, MAGIC, FANTASY,SERIES

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

Journey into the “Gearpunk” world of “the Rithmatist” for fun, fantasy and adventure. Young Joel is the son of a chalk maker and an enthusiastic devotee of Rithmatists, those who use chalk drawings to wield magic. Using complex mathematical formulae and symbols, Rithmatists can create in chalk elaborate defences and mount attacks against enemies. They can also create chalklings to further extend their powers. But what if these abilities are used against the Rithmatists themselves?? Who can stave off such attacks??

Joel is keen to help: he has an amazing knowledge of the Rithmatist’s lore and would dearly love to be able to wield power as they do; but he missed his opportunity as a youngster. Can he join forces with the professor and the remedial Rithmatist student, Melody, to save the day?? Or will he simply make enemies of those with great power? This is an exciting foray into a new fantasy series – one with engines powered by unusual gears and cogs, one with an odd mix of mathematics and magic, one where courage is needed to face great odds.

An exciting mystery and fantasy set in a gearpunk world created by a famed fantasy writer: Brandon Sanderson. Check out his website and blog here.

Check out the book trailer below, too:

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

If a dinosaur travelled to mediaeval times … oops!

TITLE = DINOSAUR KNIGHTS

AUTHOR = MICHAEL GERARD BAUER

GENRE = TIME TRAVEL, KNIGHTS, ADVENTURE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7, 8

Take a scientist who believes he can play with time, a dinosaur and some medieval twins and you have the recipe for an unusual adventure. Roland and Oswald have known better times when they grew up in the castle as the twin sons of the esteemed doctor. Since their father has fallen out of favour their lives have been turned upside down and Roland’s dreams of becoming a knight seem hopeless. Or are they? What happens when an unsuspecting dinosaur is transported into their time … and mistaken for a fire-breathing dragon? Will Roland get his chance to face the dragon and save the princess?? Or will he and his brother simply be collateral damage in a scientist’s attempt to play with time??

Michael Gerard Bauer has all the ingredients for an entertaining story which young readers are sure to enjoy.

Recommended (dma) ****

Dreams can come true … maybe

TITLE = GALACTIC ADVENTURES: FIRST KIDS IN SPACE

AUTHOR = TRISTAN BANCKS

GENRE = SCI FI, ADVENTURE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7, 8

This is an easy story to read and enjoy. Why not check out the book trailer below:

(Note that the music for this trailer was sourced from the Animoto site: “Moon Based Memories” by Bernard Fevre)

 Recommended (dma) ***

 

 

 

Doctor Who Anniversary eBooks are a lot of fun

Kindle ebook review: Kindle 4

DR WHO EBOOKS

Genre= Science Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, eleven ebook short stories are being written throughout 2013: ELEVEN Doctors, ELEVEN Months, ELEVEN Authors, ELEVEN Stories.

Doctor Who: Tip of the Tongue (5th Doctor) by Patrick Ness : ★

In true Patrick Ness style and upholding the spirit of the Dr Who series, this is a clever and funny short story with a thoughtful message underlying the action. Set in 1945 in the Deep South of the USA, the Doctor and his companion, Nyssa, must right the wrongs of racism, slavery and truth telling! 

Doctor Who: The Spear of Destiny (3rd Doctor) by Marcus Sedgwick. 

The action is fast-paced and non-stop, whilst the Doctor and his companion, Jo, travel from London in 1973 back to Uppsalla, Sweden in the time of the Vikings. Searching for a famous spear. But they may find more than they bargained for when they come up against the Vikings! 

Doctor Who: The Roots of Evil (4th Doctor) by Philip Reeve. 

This story takes a more traditional sci-fi approach as the Doctor and his companion, Leela land on a tree-like planet. Unfortunately for the Doctor it just happens to be a planet where they hate him and every living thing appears to seek vengeance upon him. Can the Doctor (and his beloved scarf) get them out of this fix?

A slow burn sci fi story

TITLE = A CONFUSION OF PRINCES

AUTHOR = GARTH NIX

GENRE = SCIENCE FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8 -10

After a slow start, this journey into a Sci Fi world becomes quite engaging. Khemri has been programmed to become a Prince, a ruler of the Empire. With all sorts of in-built biological and technological aids, you would think that this young Prince in the making would be heroic and wise. Instead, at the start of the novel he seems like a spoilt jerk!

This humorous characteristic is the saving grace of the novel at the beginning. In amongst all the SF techno jargon and the setting up of this strange new SF world, the reader can enjoy a chuckle at Khemri’s expense. Although one delightful part of this arrogant Prince’s character is that he is a fast learner – so he soon begins to recognise his own short-comings (and the problems and humourous situations that can arise from them).

Most importantly he gradually realises that having been prepared for life as a priest is really no preparation for his world at all. Sent off on strange missions, Khemri begins to realise that those mere humans that he once scorned may actually offer a life that is preferable to the world of power and dominion for which he has been bred. More importantly, he falls in love and his whole world view changes. As Khemri grows and becomes more human he also becomes more likable so readers are likely to be drawn in excitedly over the last few nail-biting chapters … to see if Khemri will survive his brush with humanity.

This novel was written to accompany the online game “Imperial Galaxy” – check it out here. And the accompanying wiki can be found here.

Recommended (dma) ****

An enticing opening to a fascinating fantasy series

TITLE = THE COLOURS OF MADELEINE: Book 1 – A CORNER OF WHITE

AUTHOR = JACLYN MORIARTY

GENRE = FANTASY, FATHERS, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 – 12

This is a truly enchanting book by Jaclyn Moriarty who writes in an evocative and original manner. It may take some readers a while to truly get into the book as it really contains two stories in one: the story of Madeleine and her Cambridge friends, set in the world we know as ours and the story of Elliott and his friends, in the Kingdom of Cello. But when a letter moves through a crack between these 2 worlds, the stories begin to merge and Elliott and Madeleine begin to tell each other about themselves and their worlds.

Both Madeleine and Elliott are living alone with their mothers and have missing fathers. But whereas Madeleine left her father by choice, for Elliott, there is a deep mystery surrounding his father’s disappearance. Over the course of the novel both teens must face the reality about their fathers, face the fact that these men who they loved dearly may in fact have been quite flawed. Both teens worry about their own failings and how much they may have followed in their father’s footsteps.

There is much to enjoy in this book. The letter writing and gradual friendship between Elliott and Madeleine does not run smoothly as she is initially quite dismissive of him, refusing to believe that he really exists. But they both help each other thorough some difficult times and by novel’s end may in fact need each other to survive the future. Certainly, Elliott’s friendship with Madeleine is daring: for in his world contact with the Other World is shunned, punishable by death…but surely, when you are a popular heroic boy like Elliott, your life couldn’t be at risk??

There are some very clever twists in the plot of this story that will keep the reader intrigued till the last page and eagerly awaiting the next instalment in this fantasy series. The author has said that she likes making her readers think and she has certainly achieved this with this amazing new book.

This novel is a worthy Notable Book for the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers).

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A strange and violent world …that may just drive you mad!

TITLE = BZRK

AUTHOR = MICHAEL GRANT

GENRE = SCIENCE FICTION, GAMING,

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8,9

This is a weird and rather dark book. The opening chapters introduce us to a number of characters and a number of plot lines – a young teen visits his brother who is chained in a mental institute and screams insanely “beserk”. Another teen dies in an explosive plane crash which seriously injures his sister. So far we are in a violent and angry world but not a strange one.

And then we learn that a character named “The Bug Man” created the plane crash by rewiring the brain of the pilot – using bugs or biots. Sounds wrong. Sounds evil. But what if the “good guys” use a similar technology to try and combat the baddies. What if they use nanbots to rewire people’s brains too?? It takes skill to do this – to enter a person’s body and move inside to the right part of the eye or the brain so that you can control them. If you get it wrong … then you might die..or you might go mad! And why are they doing this? BugMan’s bosses  want to control everyone – so we can all live happy lives. The good guys want freedom of thought. But is freedom more important than happiness?? So important that they will risk madness?? And should freedom be gained by any means??

This is at times a fascinating story as we are literally taken inside people’s heads and over their eyeballs. It is often a violent book – as there are battles waged on the nanoscale and (more conventionally) on the macro scale (with fists and guns). It is also a dark book – with so many deaths, the stakes are high. The similarity of the strategies employed by both the good guys and the bad guys certainly makes for an interesting moral dilemma. There is no doubt the good guys have greater integrity and are more appealing – whether they are the cool Vincent or the newbies Sadie and Noah. However, it is somewhat disturbing that the good guys have all taken on names of people who have all gone mad: Vincent (van Gogh), Plath (Sylivia), Keats …

Michael Grant wrote the compelling “Gone” series but this new books is more complex and less easy to read, partly due to the nanotechnology and partly because it is less easy to emotionally engage with some of these characters – like those figures in the Gone series, they are all flawed.

BugMan is clearly a gamer and there are Games and iPad apps to accompany the novel. Check out the book’s website.

Intriguing. (dma) ***