Review: Wake by Elizabeth Knox

Knox, E. (2013). Wake. Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press. [Fantasy]

Wake

Wake is set in Kahukura, a small fictional town in Golden Bay, not too far from Nelson.  In Kahukura there is a small fishing wharf, an expensive luxury resort, a native bird reserve for endangered kakapo, an old folks’ home, and a new subdivision is being built.  The place is so familiar to a New Zealand audience that you can almost smell the sea air and recognise all of the locals.  That is what makes what happens there so jarring.

An illness suddenly descends upon the town, turning all its inhabitants into murderous zombie-type creatures.  The illness lasts until every last person is killed.  Except for 14 survivors.  These 14 people happened to be out of the town limits when the illness hit, but returned to town as an invisible ‘No Go’ zone surrounded Kahukura.  Now they’re trapped there – there is no escape by sea or land, and, by the looks of the Air Force personnel they find splattered on a roof, there’s no way in or out by air either.

The survivors then go about the business of surviving.  There’s a big clean up to do to stop the spread of disease, they need to keep themselves fed and healthy (in mind, as well as in body), there is a whole lot of untended animals left behind, and some very rare birds that need to be kept alive.  And then there’s the long term goals: how can they contact the outside world? how are they going to get out of the zone? what is this zone and what is it for? and who is the black man that watches them so intently but runs from any contact?

I know this book is a fantasy, and so the reason for the illness and the zone are fantastical, and requires you to suspend your disbelief.  But by making the setting so real and so contemporary, Elizabeth Knox has made a really creepy story!  The resolution may not satisfy everyone, however, the story is such a creepy, compelling, page-turner, and asks such good questions about the ethics of survival and what makes us human a lot will be forgiven.

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Review: Trouble in Time by Adele Broadbent

Broadbent, A. (2014). Trouble in time. Auckland, NZ: Scholastic. [Fantasy]

rsz_trouble_in_timeTwelve-year-old Ben is grumpy that he has to move out of his bedroom into a caravan in the backyard.  In fact, he’s almost as grumpy as the 91-year-old great-grandfather that has displaced him from his room.  Ben knows right away they are not going to get along.

But then Ben gets a bit of a fright.  One day, after school when no one else is home, the old man is not moving in his chair – and he doesn’t respond when Ben calls out to him.  Could he be…dead?  When Ben goes to shake his great-grandfather to check his status, he suddenly finds himself transported back to 1935, and face to face with 12-year-old George, his future great-grandfather!

The two relatives begin to enjoy their time slipping for different reasons: Ben enjoys participating in the rural activities that are not available to him in his modern city life, while George enjoys reliving his youth and his body feels younger when he returns to the present.  However, it is not all positive when time travel is involved.  The two quickly learn that what they do in 1935 has consequences in 2014; they need to take care with what they do, limit the visits they make – and they certainly shouldn’t tell anyone else what they’ve been up to.

There soon develops an understanding, respect, and friendship between the two generations.  Especially when they discover that someone else is time slipping – and that their intentions may not be so benign…

I really enjoyed the interplay between Ben and George.  The time travel has a neat explanation, and timey-wimey plot holes are avoided.  This book really makes me hope that when my 94-year-old grandmother appears to be dozing, she has actually time slipped back to Mackford Farm up the Mokau River and is having a grand old time making mischief with her sisters.  Thanks for this, Adele 🙂

I got my copy of Trouble in Time from Napier Boys’ High School Memorial Library.

If you’re not allowed to take our books out try Napier Libraries.

Review: Reboot by Amy Tintera

Tintera, A. (2013). Reboot. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. [Fantasy]

rsz_reboot-au-coverWren is a Reboot.  She was dead for 178 minutes before she ‘rebooted’.  Wren came back to life stronger, faster, with a self-healing body, and less emotional.  The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are – and Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot of all.

All Reboots are collected up by a private medical facility called the Human Advancement and Repopulation Corportation.  In exchange for feeding and housing the Reboots, HARC use them as their own private army and laboratory rats.  Of course, all this is for the greater good.

Wren never questions the status quo, life is easier inside HARC than it ever was in the slum where she grew up.  But then she meets Callum, a new Reboot trainee, who was only dead for 22 minutes – he is practically still human.

This meeting sparks a series of events that causes Wren to question everything she knows: about HARC, being a Reboot, and what it is to be human.

This is a fast-paced, action-packed page turner.  Being an old cynic, I rolled my eyes a bit at all of the darting looks and brushing kisses; however, most teens should enjoy this better-than-average zombie apocalypse novel.

And who could resist those awesome page edges?!

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Review: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Riordan, R. (2005). Percy Jackson and the lightning thief. London, UK: Puffin Books. [Fantasy]

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Percy Jackson has trouble at school.  He’s dyslexic, has ADHD, and is attending his sixth school in six years.  Things just seem to happen around him; like in the fifth-grade when Percy accidentally shot the school bus with a cannon during a field trip, or the time in fourth-grade when his entire class ended up swimming in a shark pool.  What could possibly go wrong with Percy’s latest school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

It turns out quite a lot.  When Percy’s maths teacher attacks him in a quiet spot of the museum he is forced to protect himself and accidentally vaporizes her.  With a ballpoint pen.  This sets off a chain of events in which Percy discovers that he is a ‘half-blood’; his mother is human but his father is one of Ancient Greece’s great gods – it’s just no one’s quite sure which one.  Percy is soon sent on an important quest.  If he is successful he will stop a giant battle being waged between Zeus and Poseidon.  But if Percy fails, it will be disastrous for the whole planet.

This is a fast-paced adventure that plunges straight into action in the first chapter.  Percy tells his story with great humour and lashings of snark.  The short chapters will attract less confident readers, while the inclusion of Greek gods and their mythology will appeal to those more able and knowledgeable readers.  Recommended for ages 9 and up.

I got my copy of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief from my nephew.

If your nephew doesn’t have a copy you can grab one from Napier Libraries.

Review: The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton

Blyton, E. (1978). The enchanted wood. London, United Kingdom: Beaver Books. [Fantasy]

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This book was a favourite of mine during my early primary school years.  I think I was first exposed to it as a class read-aloud in Standard 1 (Year 3) when my mother was my teacher.  Once the class had finished listening to The Enchanted Wood I quickly went off to read the rest of the series independently.

The Faraway Tree books focus on three children who have lived in town all their lives, but now find themselves transposed to the countryside due to their father’s job.  The children find their new surroundings idyllic, and are soon exploring the Enchanted Woods close to where they live.  Inside the woods they feel magic all around them, and discover whispering trees, brownies meeting on toadstools and talking rabbits.

The children are soon led to the Faraway Tree where a strange mixture of creatures have made their homes.  And at the to of the tree a ladder leads to different fantasy lands, which are hidden inside large, fluffy clouds.  It is these lands that add the adventure to the books; they change at irregular intervals, sometimes with little warning, and are not always pleasant places for the characters to be.

There are many fairytale qualities to The Faraway Tree books.  There is plenty of action, the stories move quickly, and are often humorous (McCahon, 1999).  There are also spells, magical creatures, and a threshold to cross to get the characters into new lands (McCahon, 1999).  There are multiple conflicts in each book, usually centering around the land at the top of the Faraway Tree; depending on which land it is, it will either create or solve the problem the characters have.

The Enchanted Wood appealed to me in middle childhood for a number of reasons.  I liked the idea of a magical place being hidden in such an ordinary, accessible place – I lived on a farm surrounded by bush, could there be fantastical lands at the top of one of our trees?  I liked the atmosphere of excitement and suspense (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2011) that the ever-changing lands created – would the children end up in the Land of Birthdays with all those delicious things to eat, or would they find themselves in Dame Slap’s school where the sticky buns turned into stale bread and you got slapped if you couldn’t answer the nonsensical questions correctly?  There is also great humour in these books, from the names of the magical creatures to the ways in which the children outsmart the mean adult-types they find at the top of the tree.

Enid Blyton’s book was first published in 1939 and I have recently spotted newly jacketed copies at the bookshop.  I guess this illustrates The Open Polytechnic’s (2011) point that fantasy stories do not date as quickly as realistic fiction.  Though I did notice that Fanny’s name has been changed!

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I got my copy of The Enchanted Wood from my bookshelf.

You can find a copy at Napier Libraries.

References:

McCahon, R. (1999). Fantasy, folklore, myth and legend. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.

The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2011). Module 1: Children and young people – developmental stages, literacy, and literature. In 72276 Literature and information resources for children and young people. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: Author.