Red Edge by Des Hunt

I’ve only read a handful of books set in my home town of Christchurch. James Norcliffe’s Under the Rotunda was read to me at primary school and it stuck with me because I recognised the places that the characters went to. Recent kids books set here have focused on our earthquakes, including the wonderful Canterbury Quake by my good friend and fellow school librarian, Desna Wallace. Des Hunt’s latest book, Red Edge, has just been released and this story is set in Christchurch in the present day, a decade since the earthquakes. Red Edge really resonated with me and it feels like one of Des’ best books yet.

Cassi Whelan has just moved to a new house, close to the Red Zone in Christchurch, the area of cleared land that was once full of houses and streets. Cassi has moved houses eight times since the September 2010 earthquakes but she’s hoping this will be the last time. She lives next door to an abandoned house that is known as the Haunted House. However, with the help of her new friend and neighbour, Quinn, they discover that it’s not ghosts they should be worried about. Dodgy people are visiting the garage next door, there are wetas crawling around in there and large amounts of money appear in the letterbox. Cassi and Quinn know that something illegal is going on and they’re going to find out the truth. When they do discover what is happening they know it is up to them to stop it and bring the criminals to justice.

Red Edge had me on the edge of my seat the whole way through and I couldn’t stop until I knew how it all ended. Des Hunt really knows how to tell a story that draws you in immediately and keeps you furiously turning the pages. It’s fast-paced and some parts are quite nail-biting, especially in the second half of the book. Des makes you worry for his characters and hope that they can bring the bad guys down.

As someone who has lived in Christchurch my whole life I thought Des really knew my city. He doesn’t live here but it feels like he has driven the streets and knows the layout. He has clearly done his research. He has captured what it is like to live in this city and how years of earthquakes have affected us all. I’ve lived in the area where much of the story is set so I could picture everything so clearly.

The characters felt very real, from Cassi and Quinn to Lou and Raven. Cassi and Quinn are kids who were quite young at the time of the first earthquakes but it’s clear to see how they have affected their lives. Both Quinn and Cassi share their experiences of the September and February earthquakes and this part of the story made me choke up because their stories felt so real. Cassi prefers to be out in the open, running through the Red Zone because she knows that nothing can really fall on her if there is another big quake. She also sleepwalks which Quinn thinks might be tied to her cat running away during the earthquakes. Quinn is the target of vicious cyber bullying and the affect of this shows in his character. He is initially untrusting of Cassi, especially when it comes to her needing to text or call him. One of the girls at school has previously sent horrible texts to him and this starts up again after an incident at school. The adult characters in the story are wonderful too, especially Jim Maclean the ex-reporter, and Matiu the tow-trucker driver, who made me laugh every time. Des Hunt writes great villains and Lou and Raven are no exception. They’re nasty and sneaky and prepared to do anything to get their way.

Red Edge would make a fantastic read aloud for Years 7-9. It is a story that hooks readers straight away and keeps the tension high. This is New Zealand fiction for kids at its very best!

Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Dusti Bowling just gets better and better. Each of her books have been totally different but they’re all completely gripping. 24 Hours in Nowhere used to be my favourite of hers but Dusti’s new book, The Canyon’s Edge, has blown the others out of the water. You will need to have a spare few hours to read this in one go because you won’t want to put it down!

Eleanor and her father are emotionally scarred from a shooting that occurred a year ago, taking her mother’s life. Eleanor and her father have been hiding away from the world and have not been able to move on. As a family they spent a lot of time in the desert and were experienced climbers. A year after the incident Eleanor and her father leave civilisation to trek a canyon in the middle of the desert. Things start fine but a flash flood in the canyon leaves Eleanor scrambling to escape the waters and her father washed away. Scraped, bruised and with no supplies Eleanor must brave the heat, the plants and wildlife of the canyon to try and find her father and get out alive.

I read an early copy of Canyon’s Edge back in lockdown (thanks to Edelweiss+) but it’s a story that I keep coming back to. I know this will be one of my top books of 2020. This is Dusti’s first novel in verse (although it does start and finish as a traditional novel) and she absolutely nails it. I love verse novels because of the emotional power of this storytelling and Dusti’s story is perfectly suited for verse. The story is raw, gut-wrenching but ultimately full of hope. I devoured this book because I needed to know that Eleanor was going to be alright. Like Eleanor dying for water I was dying to get back to the story when I had to put it down. It is the kind of story that will grab all kids and I know it will make a fantastic read aloud for Years 7-9 (11-13 year olds). Eleanor faces so many challenges, and just when you think things can’t get any worse they do.

If you haven’t discovered Dusti Bowling you need to read all of her other books before this releases in September.

The Rise of the Remarkables: Brasswitch and Bot by Gareth Ward

This book is AMAZING! There is something for everyone – mystery, adventure, action, magic, ingenious machines, powers being used for good and evil, witty dialogue and curious characters. The fantastic cover (illustrated by Bex Bloomfield) alone is enough to draw you in and from the first page I was hooked on Brasswitch and Bot. Gareth drops you straight in to the action and gives you a taste of his world. Once you get a taste you just want more. This is a world of clockwork, machines and science but also a world tainted by power from another dimension. There are those with powers and abilities who live in the shadows and those who hunt them down.

When The Rupture occurred, monsters tore through into the world from another dimension, leaving many people with altered physical features and strange powers. Wrench is a Brasswitch, an ‘abberation’ who can control machines with her mind. After her parents died in a train crash when she was younger she tried to keep her abilities hidden away. Her abilities are discovered and she is taken by the ruthless Regulator, Flemington. When the mechanoid, Bot, rescues her, Wrench finds herself helping the Regulators to stop the rise of the abberations and the end of the world as they know it.

Brasswitch and Bot has shades of Hellboy and Skulduggery Pleasant. The abberations are being hunted down with the help of abberations, much like Hellboy, Abe Sapien and the B.P.R.D. The relationship between Wrench and Bot reminds me of Skulduggery and Stephanie’s relationship in the early Skulduggery books. The relationship and the banter between Wrench and Bot was one of my favourite aspects of this book. I really want to see more of these two taking on the bad guys together. I would also highly recommend this series for fans of Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series. Like Jessica, Gareth’s world-building and characters draw you in and you don’t want the story to end.

There is so much depth to the characters and you know there is more to discover about them. Bot is quite mysterious and secretive. You learn a little about him in this book but I want to know more about him and his history. Likewise, you get to know Wrench but she has more to learn about her powers and her past.

Gareth’s world-building is masterful. He gives us little details about this steampunk version of York throughout the story and gives us the details of the history of the Rupture. I really loved some of the little details of the world, like the Scotch dog (a mechanical creature that is made up of a giant set of bagpipes on legs) and G-mail (mail that is delivered by greyhounds).

Gareth’s dialogue is witty and there were lots of moments that made me chuckle. There are lots of TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations) used by the Regulators but my favourite is BBG (the Bloody Big Guns that come out when the situation gets serious).

I need book 2 right now! This is a series that will have me eagerly awaiting the next instalment and lining up like a Harry Potter fan to get my hands on it. Get to your bookstore or library and get The Rise of the Remarkables: Brasswitch and Bot now.

Pizazz by Sophy Henn

If you could have a superpower what would you choose? Laser eyes? Invisibility? Ice breath? Pizazz wishes she had a superpower that exciting but hers is just rubbish (or so she thinks). Sophy Henn introduces us to Pizazz and her super family in the first book in her new series.

Pizazz is a superhero in a family of superheroes. You would think that her life would be pretty awesome but, most of the time, Pizazz thinks it is super annoying. She has to wear the same outfit all the time and she has to keep dashing off to save the world, even if she’s in the middle of something important. Her friends used to understand how chaotic her life is but Pizazz has just moved house and schools. Being a superhero and trying to fit in really don’t go together. When she gets assigned as an eco monitor at school Pizazz thinks it is a bit lame until she realises this is her chance to save the world in a different way. If only horrible supervillains would stop trying to take over the world!

Pizazz is the hilarious, action-packed debut of the next superhero franchise you’ll get obsessed with. Pizazz has to deal with normal kid stuff like an annoying family, mean kids and making friends, but she also has to save the world from super-powered lasers and high-tech tank prams.

The book is jam-packed with Sophy’s fantastic black and white illustrations. There are plenty of super stares, super poses and super costumes. The thing I loved most about the illustrations are the parts where Pizazz and her family have to fight a villain. These parts look like a classic superhero comic.

I love Pizazz and all of her crazy family! They all have different superpowers, including Pizazz (although she doesn’t want us to know what it is). Her dog, Wanda, isn’t a normal dog either. She receives and transmits messages and keeps an eye on the family. My favourite character is Gramps, because he farts fireballs if he laughs too much. Sophy’s supervillains are brilliant too. There’s a giant baby called Googoo who fires toys from his tank shaped like a pram, Twerknado who uses his twerk power for destructive purposes, and pukey villain Megavom.

Pizazz is perfect for ages 7+. It’s a guaranteed great read for all kids. If you haven’t read Sophy’s previous series, Bad Nana, I highly recommend this too.

Great Graphic Novels for Primary and Intermediate

I absolutely love graphic novels for kids!  I can’t get enough of them and neither can the kids at my school (especially the girls).  There are more and more great graphic novels being written and produced for kids and there really is something for every sort of kid.  These are a selection of recent reads that have stood out for me.  If you’re looking for some great new reads for your graphic novel collection I highly recommend these ones.

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Sparks! by Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto

This is a hilarious story about two cats who do good deeds dressed in a dog suit.  August is a brilliant inventor who is afraid of the outdoors and Charlie is the pilot of the suit and isn’t afraid of anything.  Together they are a sort-of robo-Lassie (along with their sentient litter-box), rescuing a baby from a well and saving people from a burning building.  In to the story comes a strange family with an evil baby whose aim is to control every animal on earth.  It’s up to Sparks to save the day and stop their dastardly plan.

I smiled the whole way through this graphic novel because the humour is spot on.  I could hand this to any kid from Year 4-Year 8 and I’m sure they would love it too.

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The Adventures of Jack Scratch: The Quest for the Hiss-paniola by Craig Phillips.

This action-packed tale of cats on the high-seas started life as a Kick-Starter campaign and I was super excited when it went ahead and I got my copy.  It’s a swash-buckling adventure full of brave, fearsome and some down-right nasty cats.  Like the Tintin graphic novels I grew up with its got plenty of action to keep kids interested and illustrations that they will pore over.  One of the things I love most about graphic novels is that they are perfect for reading again and again and this one will certainly be read to bits.  Perfect for ages 7+

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Cucumber Quest #1: The Donut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

I can only do this book justice by using the Goodreads blurb so here it is:

What happens when an evil queen gets her hands on an ancient force of destruction?

World domination, obviously.

The seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they’ll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight.

Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour?

Sure, why not?

This is the first book in a new series (that started out as a web comic).  It’s another hilarious story with fantastic characters.  The BLT Trio had me laughing out loud and I hope to see more of them as the series progresses.  The world that the story takes place in reminded me of Adventure Time so any kids who love that will love Cucumber Quest. The kids that I’ve passed this on to have loved it just as much as I did and we all can’t wait for #2 to be available in NZ.  Perfect for ages 10+.

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Anne of Green Gables: a graphic novel, adapted by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler

This is a wonderful new graphic novel adaptation by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler.  It perfectly captures the essence of the story and will hopefully open up the story to a new generation of readers.

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The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

The Witch Boy is about 13-year-old Aster who is expected to grow up to be a shapeshifter when he really wants to become a witch.  In his family all the females are witches while all the males are shapeshifters, but Aster has always found witchcraft more exciting.  When some of the males start disappearing and an evil force threatens his family Aster knows that he can help – as a witch.  With the help of his non-magical new friend Charlie, he sets out to help his family using his witchcraft skills.

It is a fantastic story about being different and being who you want to be.  This is another graphic novel that the girls at my school have been gobbling up.  Molly’s illustration style is quite similar to Raina Telgemeier which lots of the kids love.

23594349Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach & Douglas Holgate

A dangerous rally race + archaeology = a whole lot of fun!

Clementine Hetherington and her robot brother, Digory, have run away from the orphanage they’ve been living in since their parents died. Clem and Dig want to follow in their famous archaeologist mother’s footsteps, but no one will take them seriously. Their chance arrives when a man from their past saves Digory’s life, and to repay the debt they enter a multiday rally race… to recover stolen artifacts! Clem and Dig hope to win so they can give them to a museum, but their opponents want to sell them on the black market. The Ironwood Race has no rules, and Clem and Dig might be in over their heads!

This is an ingenious mash-up that I couldn’t get enough of.  Before I knew it I had finished the book and I’m dying for more!  This story is sure to keep even the biggest non-reader engaged.  Those kids who love action-packed movies with great baddies and lots of explosions will love this book too.

 

The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

Sometimes you get that feeling when you start reading a book that you know you are going to love it.  Something about it, whether the characters or the tone of the story just clicks with you.  Mark Smith’s debut novel, The Road to Winter, is one of those books for me.

9781925355123Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.

He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.

But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.

And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.

I absolutely loved The Road to Winter, from the first page to the last!  It’s a thrilling story of survival in the aftermath of a virus that wipes out the population.  There’s lots of action and twists to keep you reading, but there are also some lulls in the action that give you a chance to breath and prepare yourself for the next part.  It’s a story that I couldn’t stop thinking about either.  When I wasn’t reading I was wondering what was happening to the characters and how the book was going to end.

Finn’s story takes place in the aftermath of a virus that has wiped out a huge percentage of the population.  The virus affected females mostly so it is mostly males that have survived.  Gangs of men, called Wilders, wander the countryside and control the north where Finn lives.  With a lack of females around to keep them in check these men have lost their humanity and have become violent and ruthless.  You certainly don’t want to bump into them!  Finn has hidden himself away in his house, with a secret store of food, gas, and other supplies, and he and his dog, Rowdy, have survived by themselves fine.  However, when Rose turns up, she brings trouble to Finn’s door and his quiet life is disturbed.  Being the kind of guy that he is though, Finn has to help Rose, both to help her hide and recover and to help her find her sister, Kas.

The Road to Winter reminded me of other books that I’ve really enjoyed, including one of my favourite books, Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go.  The tone of the book felt quite similar, as Finn has to try and help the girls escape the clutches of the violent men who want to harm them.  There is the suspense of them evading capture but not really knowing if they’ll be able to outrun them.  The other similarity to The Knife of Never Letting Go that I really liked was the relationship that Finn has with his dog Rowdy.  Rowdy is his constant companion and is incredibly loyal, much like Todd and Manchee.  The story also reminded me of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet because it’s all about Finn’s survival on his own, becoming aware of the land and the ocean to find hidden trails to get around and hunt for food.

I loved Mark’s characters too, especially Finn.  While the other males have lost their humanity, Finn has held onto his and leaves the safety of his home to go out and try to find Rose’s sister.  He cares for the girls and is willing to do anything he can to protect them and keep them alive.  I loved the special moments of hope that Finn shared with the females in the story.  Even with everything that was happening to them they still managed to laugh and enjoy having full stomachs.

My only complaint with The Road to Winter is that now I have to wait to find out what happens next.  I need to know what happens to these characters and whether they can find some peace eventually.  The book comes with a money back guarantee but you are certainly guaranteed a great read and I highly recommend The Road to Winter.

The Last Thirteen by James Phelan

Do your children love sinking their teeth into a new series? Do they love books like The 39 Clues, The Infinity Ring and Conspiracy 365?  Scholastic have just released a new series, called The Last Thirteen, that’s perfect for fans of these series and anyone who loves a fast-paced story full action, adventure, and mystery.

I click my fingers and everybody dies.

Sam wakes from his nightmare to discover the terrifying reality. It will come true.

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.

Are you one of them?

The first book in The Last Thirteen series has just been released and James Phelan kicks it off with a bang.  The first book sets the scene for the rest of the series, so we find out snippets of information about Sam, the Last Thirteen, and the organisations that want to get their hands on them.  The Last Thirteen are a group of teenagers with a special ability that some people will kill to get their hands on – their dreams come true.  Sam is the first of the 13 and the race is on to find the other 12 in order to save the world.

The plot races along (especially in the second half of the book) and the chapters are short, so readers will gobble it up and be waiting for the second book.  Each of the books ends with a dramatic cliff-hanger, and the end of the first book certainly makes me want to read the next one to find out what happens.

Like similar series (39 Clues, Infinity Ring) there is a dedicated fan website, where fans can register online and gain VIP access to a range of exciting features.  There’s also the chance to enter the competition, with your chance to become famous.

The Last Thirteen is perfect for ages 10+ who love action, adventure and mystery.  Get your copy today and join the race to find the Last Thirteen.

Check out the book trailer and the video of James talking about the series:

2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finalist: The Nature of Ash by Mandy Hager

Mandy Hager’s The Nature of Ash is one of the finalists in the Young Adult category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  It was one of my favourite Young Adult books of 2012 so I’m really glad to see it as a finalist.  I reviewed it back in June last year, so if you want to hear all about it and find out what makes it such a worthy finalist, read on.

I love books with lots of action, but I also want to read about characters that I care about and can relate to.  Those books are the ones that make me keep reading furiously, just to make sure the characters make it to the end of the book alive.  I love books like Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner for this very reason, but there aren’t many books like this for teenagers set in New Zealand (Fleur Beale’s Juno series and Brian Falkner’s Tomorrow Code are the only ones that come to mind).  Mandy Hager has set a new standard in thrilling, action-packed stories for NZ teens with her new book, The Nature of Ash, and I’ll say it can proudly stand alongside these international, best-selling dystopian thrillers.

Ash McCarthy thought he finally had it made: away from home and all its claustrophobic responsibilities, he’s revelling in the freedom of student hostel life. But life is about to take a devastating turn, when two police officers knock on his door. Their life-changing news forces him to return home to his Down Syndrome brother Mikey, and impels him into a shady world of political intrigue, corruption, terrorism and lies . . . so many lies. As if this isn’t bad enough, the whole country is imploding, as the world’s two greatest super-powers start a fight that leaves New Zealand ‘piggy-in-the-middle’ of their deadly games. While trying to protect Mikey, along with strangers Travis and Jiao, his fight to uncover the truth turns into a nightmare race to save their lives and stop the destruction of all the principles he holds dear.

The Nature of Ash is an exciting, explosive, action-packed thriller that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  From the first page I got caught up in Ash’s life and the horrific situation he finds himself in.  Mandy Hager has painted a picture of a future New Zealand that you could imagine turning from fiction into fact.  Our country is caught in the middle of a conflict between the two super powers of the world, the Western Alliance (USA, UK, Australia, Taiwan, Malaysian Federation, Republic of Indonesia, Peru) and the United People’s Republic (China, East Russia, United Korea, Japan, Republic of Indochina, Fiji, Chile).  Our Prime Minister is corrupt and will sell his loyalty to the highest bidder, there are protests, riots and looting breaking out all over the country, and food is running low.  In short, the country is falling apart and things keep getting worse.  In the middle of it all is Ash, who had gone to study in Christchurch, but gets called back to Wellington when a bomb explodes at his dad’s office.

In my opinion, Ash is one of the most authentic male teen characters in New Zealand fiction.  Mandy Hager is absolutely spot-on with Ash’s voice, his actions and decisions.  Sure, he swears, he drinks, and smokes some weed, but in the crappy situation that he’s in you can completely understand why he talks the way he does and makes those decisions.  He’s fiercely loyal to his family, especially his brother Mikey, who has Down Syndrome.  Even though it’s hard to look after Mikey and keep him calm and happy, Ash does all that he can to help him and protect him from harm.  I also loved Jiao and Travis, the other teenagers that escape from the city with them.  Jiao is an Asian girl who often looks after Mikey and is someone that he trusts (and has a bit of a crush on) and Travis is the son of policewoman Jeannie.  The group have some tense moments but they pull together when they need to.

The adult characters are a real mixed bag.  Ash and Mikey’s Dad is a very loving parent who really cares about his kids.  He’s always telling them he loves them and provides them with what they need.  Ash is left with no doubt that his father loves him and does all he can to protect them, even hiding secrets from them so they don’t need to worry.  There are many other adults who help them along the way, including Jeannie, Lucinda, Simon, and one of my favourite characters, Erich.  Then there are the immoral, sadistic characters, like the members of Muru, whose actions made me so angry.

Mandy Hager has created a story and characters that will stay with me long after I’ve put the book down.  I’m sure that teenage boys in particular will relate to Ash and his struggle to do what’s right.

5 out of 5 stars

Please note:  Ash uses some quite strong language (which I think is perfectly acceptable because of his situation) so please consider this if buying for your school library.  I would recommend the book for 13+.  Teaching notes are available through the Random House New Zealand website.