Thursday, 2 July 2015

Bob's Blog Blew Me Away!

This post originally appeared on Bob's Book Blog, 3.7.15

Unworthy by Joanne Armstrong. Self published, 2014.

This is one of the best dystopian fiction novels by a New Zealand author that I have read. It demands a sequel and I expect one is already underway.
Arcadia is 17 years old and deemed “unworthy” by the ruthless and controlling Polis who rule the island population that is remarkably like the South island of New Zealand.
On Arcadia’s arm is a cross that signifies her unworthiness. At birth she was weak and sickly and like all similar babies is left outside at night in a ritualistic circle and is expected to die. She doesn’t and is brought up by a man she knows as grandfather, in a hub where she has no rights and is treated as a pariah. Her life is about to change big time.
The Polis who are strictly regimented took control of the island after an illness swept the World and anarchy reigned over their island reducing the population  from 4 million to just over 1 million. Now the Polis rule from a big City and the population live in small hubs that are strictly controlled. The Polis say they want to strengthen the human species by looking after the strong and whittling out the weak. Every child is subjected to the same test.
Captain Alexander Hayes is a young soldier who is summoned by the General to locate and escort Arcadia from her hub of Greytown  to the Polis City.  This undercover, action packed and tense journey is stunning but you will have to read the novel to find out all about it.
In line with the subject matter this novel is clinically written with not a word out of place. The novel is narrated by Arcadia and her shifting relationship with Captain Hayes is a highlight, as is the landscape through which they travel.
The journey and the city will provide the stunning answers to Arcadia’s identity, past, survival and family and of the true nature of the Polis.
If you miss this one you will kick yourself. For high school students and Young adults.

This novel can be purchased in digital format at  or in print and kindle format at

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

A modern teen discovers Austen for the first time...

I have a fellow bibliophile for a neighbour and we regularly have a girls' "Date Night", when we watch the kind of movies the husbands roll their eyes at. Last night it was Mansfield Park, the 1999 version with Frances O'Connor (we don't think we can face Billie Piper just yet).

The current teenager-in-residence (let's call her Hepzibah) was about ready to go to bed, but watched the first five minutes. Then ten, then thirty... she kept saying she had to go to bed, but we knew she was hooked.
Hepzibah has never read any Jane Austen, and till last night hadn't seen any of the adaptations either. In fact, I don't think she'd ever heard of her. (A travesty! What are schools teaching these days??! - I'm a teacher...) It was hugely entertaining hearing how she responded to the story and the language, and showed me that even though Austen was writing at a time very different from our own, it's clearly not as different as we might think.
At first the language was a bit strange for Hepzibah, but she soon got over that, and by the end didn't need any interpreting.
Here are a few of my favourite of Hepzibah's responses:
"Sister, you've been friend-zoned!" Then, a little more sadly, "I so know how that feels..."
"Is she really called Fanny?!"
"Are they... COUSINS?"
"Oh, he did NOT just say that!"
This last one was to Edmund's statement in a letter when he broke Fanny's heart to tell her Miss Crawford seemed to be coming round to his charms.
Ah, young love. It looks the same in any era. And whether you use the words, "Oh that that sigh were for me" or "Dude, I wish you'd look at me like that" it's pretty much a timeless story. Girl; boy; misunderstanding; a tempting bad boy; love triangle; happy ending. Boom!

Next we're going to try her on Pride and Prejudice.
Elizabeth Bennett with the face of Keira Knightley. That should be fun.
Watch this space!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Labyrinth by Dorian Zari
This was a pretty absorbing read. The pacing was slow to begin with, but after I’d read about a half of the book, things started happening very quickly and I felt it was harder to put down.
Download from Smashwords here.

For a little about Dorian Zari, here’s an excerpt from his website:

And you still want to know where I'm from? Fine. I come from the land of Vlad the Impaler (which by the way was his stripper name - trust me, we learned about him in history class), and hop between Romania and the UK - another country which has a seemingly immortal monarch.

As for my past. Each person is the willing or unwilling, knowing or unknowing, author of their own works of art.

They write, paint and sing it with every breath, call it their life. Even though the chapters in mine are full of exclamation and question marks, stained pages and worn covers, I never believed in releasing a work of art before it’s finished.

What I didn’t like so much: the pacing wasn’t perfect. I felt the first quarter drag terribly. It took a long while of determined reading to feel like I was getting anywhere, and when I did realise a little bit about what was going on, I felt it was time to move on. “All right I get it, what next?”

It was very wordy. That wasn’t always a bad thing, because most of it was thoroughly entertaining, but at times I just wanted it to get to the point. The Awakener for example. Honestly, woman, just skip every second word, pleeease. Some dialogue felt very forced – for example Dan’s conversation with his psychologist. I think I’d have beaten her over the head with my cane before answering her terribly obvious and condescending questions.

What I did like: lots! Almost everything else. Zari has a beautiful and engrossing writing style. His characters are solid and likeable. My pick is that Zach is Zari’s personal favourite – he has all the best lines, and clearly he had a lot of fun creating him and getting to know him. I found myself guiltily enjoying his character from the very start, and after that he just got better and better.

The creepy paranormal aspect is really quite fascinating. Zari presents his readers with the story of soul mates from a completely new perspective. And although this is a story about superhuman powers and about “chosen ones”, that aspect is new too. There were very few times during the book when I felt I knew where it was headed, and I really enjoyed the surprises.

I am happy to recommend this book to thriller or paranormal fans. Don’t read it if you’re a bit squeamish… there’s a bit of blood and gore, which is fairly central to the whole plot.

Here's a link to buy the book on Smashwords, in whichever format you prefer. $2 - that's a great price! It's well worth it - a fraction of the cost of a book from the big publishers!

Friday, 6 February 2015

And a Child Will Lead Them

Also available as the title "Idolism"

A little about Marcus Herzig:

Marcus Herzig was born in 1970 and studied Law, English, Educational Science, and Physics, albeit none of them with any tenacity or ambition. After dropping out of university he worked for bank, a utility company, and for Big Oil. He prefers sunsets over sunrises, white wine over red, beer over white wine, and pizza over pasta. His reaction to airplanes passing overhead resembles that of a seven-year-old seeing an ice cream van. Which, he insists, is a good thing.

Burb from Goodreads:

A new Pope, a world in social and political chaos, and a young singer and songwriter who has his unbelief tested as his big mouth accidentally propels him towards global superstardom. These are the ingredients of this thought provoking, tongue-in-cheek debut novel.

Seventeen-year-old Julian Monk never expected to be a famous singer, but when opportunity strikes, he strikes back and throws himself headfirst into that new, exciting world of record deals, TV interviews and screaming fan girls.

His band mates are rather less enthusiastic about that new life they never really asked for. Dealing with their newly acquired fame and fortune is one thing; dealing with Julian is quite another. His sudden and unexpected metamorphosis from the shy and timid creature they have known all their lives into a surprisingly charismatic public speaker and global superstar takes everyone aback, and when Julian sets off on a very public crusade to replace faith and bigotry with reason and compassion, he raises more than just a few eyebrows. He raises hell, and his friends are no longer having any of it.

Meanwhile at the Vatican, a former televangelist is elected Pope. Hell-bent on transforming the Church into a modern, ‘hip’ institution, Pius XIII is giving his PR advisor a headache or two. Intrigued by Julian’s radical way of inspiring some people while antagonizing others – including his own friends – simply by preaching love and understanding, the new pope can’t help but wonder where he heard that storyline before. They say God has a plan for every man, but this man has a plan of his own - and it involves a teenage atheist pop star.

My take on the book:

I hardly know where to start on this story. At first I thought it was a teen coming of age story. The flow and pace of the story worked really well with this assumption: four 17 year olds who are vaguely misfits, playing in a band in their spare time. I thought the story would follow a few small real-life teen adventures, or misadventures, and they’d get into a bit of trouble, then get out of it, learning something along the way. Yadda yadda.

The first sign I had of this book not following my expected path was when the band, through a mis-timed (well-timed?) media revelation, actually became famous. Then rich beyond their wildest dreams. Then had a bigger message to spread.

That’s the general movement of the story, but doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. The book is way, way more than just a story about a band that finds fame and how the four members, plucked from obscurity, cope with their stellar rise.

The four teens each present their very different points of view. Tummy comes from a deeply religious Catholic family, and has not yet analysed the reason why he calls himself a Catholic. He’s also been bullied all his life for being overweight and a bit of an idiot. Michael is a computer geek, brain the size of a planet, who spends more time with an artificially intelligent programme he created than eating or sleeping. Ginger is the only female in the group, comes from a loving and supportive home, and doesn’t feel she fits in with other kids her age since they are all immature yobs. Julian, the only group member not to have a voice in the book, has the most to say. He writes the lyrics and is the group’s mouthpiece. He creates for himself a worldwide stage on which he can stand and educate the masses.

Mr Herzig is a philosopher, there is no doubt about it. There were passages that I simply didn’t want to end; I became so engrossed in seeing how far the author would follow through with his ideas. I feared that he’d reach a question he couldn’t answer and just leave me hanging, but he never did. He’d considered everything.

I was tricked into reading philosophy, and I loved it. Early on in the book Julian spent a few pages comparing humanity’s evolutionary development with that of a single person, and I was so fascinated by it that I had to go back and read it twice. It had me cocking my head to the side and thinking, “huh – fancy that…” So maybe this theory isn’t new, and maybe I’m late to the party, but I’d certainly never considered it in this way before and it had me enraptured.

Julian is a really interesting character. At 17, he’s much more intelligent than anyone else in the room, of which he is fully aware, making him also insufferably superior. As charismatic as a cult leader, as well-read as a university professor, his thoughts as deeply considered as Descartes', he’s also Don Tillman… which makes him a little bit of a jumble, but he really works. I was over three-quarters of the way through the book before it occurred to me that Julian had been peddling his wares, preaching from his own personal pulpit, as far back as the others had ever known him, but since they hadn’t noticed, the reader hadn’t been allowed to either. This is so clever. All the band’s songs contain religious significance. Who wrote the lyrics? Julian. The other members all mention the reasons they are in the band at one time or another, and all downplay its importance – someplace to hang out, something to do, “I’m just the bass player”, all they’re doing is playing covers of old tunes - and yet I suddenly realised that Julian didn’t see the band in the same way, and that he never had.

And the moment when Michael denied who he was… let’s just say that’s when the scales fell away.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Heads You Lose by Rob Johnson

Heads You Lose by Rob Johnson

A little about Rob Johnson:

Rob Johnson sounds like a really interesting bloke. As a Brit living in Greece, I had wondered whether he would begin to draw on his own experiences abroad to begin informing Trevor’s trials and tribulations, and now in Heads You Lose, Trevor has travelled to Greece in order to care for an elderly (but not so disabled) patient. I have no doubt that there is a taverna close to where he lives where smoking is just about a condition of entry, and that there is a local officer Pericles whose gusto for seafood is only rivalled by his passion for his job.

In Johnson’s own words:

Having worked for several years as an administrator and publicist for touring theatre companies, I decided to try my hand at writing plays myself. Four of these were professionally produced and toured throughout the UK, but when public funding for non-commercial theatre virtually dried up overnight I was forced into the world of ‘proper jobs’ as my father liked to call them.

During this period, I also made use of my Equity card and appeared in numerous TV shows as a ‘supporting artiste’, otherwise and somewhat less attractively known as an ‘extra’. (Ricky Gervaise was spot on by the way. Just wish I’d written ‘Extras’ myself.)

I now live on a 5-acre smallholding in Greece with my partner Penny, six rescue dogs and three cats and divide my time between writing and growing olives organically for oil. I have several writing projects on the go, and my comedy thriller Lifting the Lid is now available from an online bookseller near you

About Heads You Lose:

I have to admit that I approached this book with a touch of reluctance. I really enjoyed Johnson’s first, Lifting the Lid; what if this one wasn’t as good? It’s hard to write a follow-up which contains the same characters with all their flaws and fascinations without being repetitive. To find new situations for them which contain the same combination of ridiculousness and Irish fate without being out and out dumb.

I should not have worried. Johnson has delivered another masterfully planned and executed novel, holding two intricate storylines and a large number of fascinating characters in his fingers. The story is so enjoyable that it’s easy to get lost in it and not appreciate the magic that he weaves so skilfully.

Firstly, his favourite characters – Trevor, Sandra and let’s not forget Milly – appear again, solidly consistent with their previous selves but in no way dull. They are joined by an enormous host of new characters, all fully rounded and wholly convincing. As with book 1, they are exaggerated versions of real life tweaked in order to be humorous, but never slip into caricatures, and I never felt the author was ridiculing them. One of my favourite new characters is Marcus Ingleby, the grouchy old man who Trevor and Sandra go to look after. Of course he has a dark past of his own, which manages to catch up with him at exactly the same time that Trevor (or let’s be honest, Sandra) is in charge, also the moment when Ingleby’s neighbour begins carrying out her careful plan of revenge.

Then there is Johnson’s timing. Although the beginning of the book is slow, his scene setting is impeccable and necessary. Around page 70 the strands begin to interweave, and the pace picks up. From then on the pacing is perfect, taking the characters from one ridiculous situation to the next and culminating with all of them getting an approximation of what they deserve. Johnson ties up all loose ends beautifully, even giving Trevor an opportunity to show that some of Sandra’s gumption has rubbed off.

The writing is professionally edited, making reading the story a highly enjoyable experience. It is a romp through expatriate Greece seen through the eyes of an observant and light hearted writer who is gentle on his characters and undoubtedly has a very quirky sense of humour.

It tickled my funny bone in all the right places.


Thursday, 29 January 2015

Summer Reading...

Here in the southern hemisphere it's SUMMER, and New Zealand is enjoying the most glorious long, dry, HOT days.
I love this photo, taken soon after Christmas in the Marlborough Sounds, NZ. Two teenagers relaxing in the sun with a good book... sounds like paradise to me.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

H'mmm, where to fall on this one? It's a book that follows the usual teen dystopia rhythm well. Female protagonist, trained to be tough, can change the world. She's beautiful and desirable (we know this because there's the usual love triangle). She's an alpha female, perfect in every way, for the first chapter of the book, then after her fall, has to cope with the knowledge that she carries the gene which makes her a killer, and from that point on her life changes drastically.

I feel the main character was sadly too annoying to like, which made the book hard to like. Davy before her fall is insufferable, and her boyfriend simply unbearable. Davy after her fall is more interesting, but certainly not likeable. I do realise that this is intentional though - we're not meant to like this character, but maybe we are meant to relate to her. Perhaps the author is drawing parallels between her readers' cossetted worlds and Davy's before her fall. I'm not sure.
Teen readers looking for a tried and true formula are sure to enjoy the story. There is comfort in knowing exactly what you are in for when you pick up a teen dystopia, and if this is what a reader is looking for s/he will not be disappointed.

The most interesting thing about this book was the background; the message. If we as a society could define the part of a person's character that makes them a murderer I have no doubt that we would. Where would that lead us? To predicting crimes of course, a la Minority Report. What would we do next? Fear would tell us to stop the identifiable risk before the crime is committed, and what you get is the world created by Sophie Jordan in Uninvited.
Tell someone they are predisposed to violence, force them onto the fringes of society, put them together with other identified risks, and you will create the person you are most afraid of. Davy, the main character in this book, would have undoubtedly had a very different life if she had not been identified and whisked away, and I think that's why she has to be so excruciating annoyingly perfect at the start. It had to be clear that she was destined for quite different things, of which she was painfully - on our part - very aware. So annoying as Davy admittedly is, there is purpose to this.

I think this book has much to say about our prison systems, our juvenile programmes, and even the way we teach students at school.
Link to Goodreads.