There are some good books around at the moment! Here’s a couple I’ve enjoyed recently:
The Strange Maid, Tessa Gratton
If you haven’t read the United States of Asgard books yet then you should! This is a companion novel to The Lost Sun – it’s not really a sequel because it starts before The Lost Sun, then catches up and passes it. You could read this one first; it might be a bit spoilery but you wouldn’t be confused.
The United States of Asgard are an alternative United States where the Norse gods are real and preside over the running of the country, where there are Beserkers, Valkyries and trolls – it’s a bit dystopian (the trolls help here), but also not at the same time. The Strange Maid introduces Signy Valborn, a Valkyrie-in-waiting who has received a prophetic riddle from Odin she must solve (and, in doing so, fulfill her destiny). Signy is a tough customer with a troubled past, and she’s not going to be outdone by the riddle or other people’s disappointment in her. When a strange man tells her he knows the answer she jumps at the opportunity to crack it, even if the solution is dangerous to the point of impossibility.
This is a great read, particularly if you like strong female characters (too busy being kick-ass to be nice sometimes), a lot of action, and a bit of poetry mixed in here and there. It’s also a good introduction to Beowulf. Really recommend it!
We Were Liars, E. Lockhart
E. Lockhart strikes again! We loved Frankie Landau-Banks, and have waited ages for this one.
An old, privileged East-Coast American family owns an island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and every summer they stay there, each branch of the family in their own house. Cadence, a couple of her cousins and a close friend make up the Liars, and they’re inseparable.
That’s as far as I go because I don’t want to spoil things, because the book has big secrets! It might not have important things to say like Frankie does, but, wow, that ending will catch you unawares (unless you go snooping for clues on the internet – but we definitely don’t recommend doing that!).
The Wellington NZIFF programme launched a couple of weeks ago and there are so many to choose from – nearly 150 films are in the programme so it is absolutely chocka. Having given it some thought, I’ve picked out some I think will be hits! Check out my list and let me know what you’re excited for in the comments!
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (3D)
From the director of Amelie comes a tale of a prodigious young inventor of completely zany and fascinating products. His perpetual motion machine comes to the attention of the Smithsonian institute and they invite T.S. to Washington, unaware he is just 10 years old. Determined to respond to the invitation, T.S. sets out alone one night on a cross-country adventure to collect his reward for his brilliance.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
The newest film from Studio Ghibli (The Wind Rises) and eight years in the making, Princess Kaguya is a retelling of a traditional Japanese folk tale. A humble bamboo-cutter stumbles upon a tiny princess-like doll hidden in a bamboo shoot. He takes it home, and he and his wife are shocked when the doll turns into a wailing baby. When gifts of gold and silks continue to appear, the bamboo-cutter and his wife decide to abandon their humble lifestyle to raise the girl as a proper princess.
We Are The Best!
We Are The Best! is the story of 3 young misfits growing up in Stockholm, Sweden in the 1980s. Klara and Bobo are 13-year-old rebels looking for a cause. Despite having no particular musical talents, they channel their efforts into forming an all-girl punk band and enlist their shy, guitar-playing classmate Hedvig to join them. The story is based on a graphic novel by the director’s wife Coco Moodysson and fully embodies the DIY spirit of the punk movement.
Another exciting anime film, Patema Inverted is the story of young and inquisitive Patema who lives in a post-disaster underground world. While exploring one day she falls into a deep pit, but mysteriously finds herself falling upward to the Earth’s surface. However it is an upside-down surface – surface dwellers live by the opposite gravity to Patema. She is helped by a surface boy called Age, who explains that in his world “inverted” people like Patema are considered unholy sinners and she soon finds herself being pursued by secret police. Together Age and Patema must uncover the dark conspiracy lurking behind their inverted worlds.
This is a documentary about the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland and the first proton-smashing experiments conducted there. It also follows closely the thrilling search for the Higgs boson, the particle that gives mass to other particles. It is a fascinating insight into the world of physics and discovering our own universe and looks to be extremely exciting!
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
This documentary follows Hayao Miyazaki and visits Studio Ghibli, which in itself looks like a Miyazaki movie. Miyazaki is working on his allegedly final film The Wind Rises, working by hand in a cluttered workspace filled with old technologies. Meanwhile, Ghibli’s other maestro Takahata Isao is working on Princess Kaguya (see above) across town in a completely different working environment. Ghibli producer and co-founder Suzuki Toshio shuttles between the two, managing their differing approaches with love and appreciation for the different challenges each film faces.
Shakespeare is taught in most college classes these days; whether you think this is a bad or good thing depends on you! I’m a fan, but I get tired of the same-old same-old productions and books. So here are a few of my favourite Shakespeare related books, websites and DVDs, to make your experience of the great man that much more interesting. I think this post is going to get a lot of flack from English teachers and Shakespeare purists everywhere, but I’m of the opinion that stuff like this should be enjoyable and accessible. I’m sure the Bard would have wanted it that way.
To be or not to be: a chooseable path adventure, by Ryan North, Shakespeare, and you!
This is unquestionably one of my favourite things to come into the YA collection in a while. I have fond memories of choose-your-own adventure books from my childhood, even though I always ended up dying! That’s an option in this book but the great thing is, you can always start again. Especially if you start out as Hamlet Senior…well, that’s not a spoiler. After all, I think the statue of limitations on spoiler warnings runs out after 415 years. Anyway, you can start the game as the aforementioned (deceased) King of Denmark, Ophelia or Hamlet himself. After that, it’s up to you. It’s written more like a YA novel than in prose, and the possible endings get pretty wacky. Added to this are the amazing illustrators; there are too many to namecheck all of them but Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant), Randall Munroe (XKCD) and Faith Erin Hicks (Friends with Boys, Nothing Possibly can go wrong) all contribute. What I find particularly awesome is that this book is the result of a kickstarter campaign: crowd funding for the win! A necessary disclaimer: I wouldn’t recommend using this to write your NCEA essays.
Hamlet: a novel, John Marsden
This book takes a rather more serious look at Hamlet. It keeps fairly close to the original story, but manages to convey the inner emotions of those entangled in the story. Retellings of Hamlet are by far the most popular among YA writers, but I think this one’s the best. The language is fresh and the pace makes the looming disaster all the more tragic. It also doesn’t try to force a happy ending on the characters, which I’ve always find a bit jarring, especially in books that aim to be taken seriously.
Lady Macbeth’s daughter, Lisa Klein
In the text of Macbeth, it is revealed that lady Macbeth has been pregnant before; but this is only mentioned once, and Macbeth’s lack of children plays a central role in the plot of the play. In this novel, Lisa Klein imagines what the life of such a child – a daughter, who is cast out by Macbeth – would be like. The historic Lady Macbeth also had a son, by her first husband, but is Lady Macbeth and Albia, her lost daughter, who tell the story in alternating chapters. The writer says she set out to give “an entirely new perspective on the events of Shakespeare’s play, using a protagonist who is outside the main action but crucial to its unfolding.” She more than succeeds, and manages to incorporate historical facts into the narrative fairly seamlessly, which keeps the book from seeming too fanciful.
The most excellent and lamentable tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare and illustrated by Gareth Hinds
This is the only book included in this blog post which takes its text entirely from the play, although it’s somewhat abridged. What sets it apart from the other graphic adaptations is its attention to detail; the artist, in his postscript, has taken actual features from Verona and uses them in backgrounds in his lavish illustrations. He does admit that he’s moved various places around for aesthetic purposes, but it doesn’t really affect the sense of a real Renaissance city. Gareth Hinds also tries to “fix” parts of the text that are often portrayed incorrectly in the staging.
Shakespeare retold DVD series
There are plenty of “pure” adaptaions out there but sometimes it can be a struggle to get through all that prose. These modern adaptations are a whole lot of fun. They feature some of the best actors England has to offer having a great time chewing the scenery and taking a break from having to memorise 16th century lines. Again, I wouldn’t recommend using these to help write your essay, but I’m a big believer in enjoying Shakespeare because it’s fun, rather than because you have to study it in class. My favourites are Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer night’s dream.
10 things I hate about you
I remember when this film first came out, which, given that this was 15 years ago, is going to date me a bit. I didn’t realise that this was based off Taming of the Shrew until a while later though! It’s considered a classic, and for good reason. Even though the fashion is slightly dated, the movie still holds up: Heath Ledger, in his break-out role, has great chemistry with Julia Stiles, who’s equally impressive as Kat. It’s full of quotable dialogue and great acting, and conveys what it’s like to be young, cynical and in love in college. Well, as far as I can remember, anyway.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are dead
This is a classic adaptation of an extraordinary play. It concerns the lives of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, two fairly minor characters in Hamlet. There are chunks of the actual play, but for the most part it’s in modern language. It deals with fate, the nature of theatre and performance, and various philosophical problems. It might sound a bit dry, but it’s extremely funny and features some of the best actors working today.
Silver people: voices from the Panama canal, Margarita Eagle (255 pages)One hundred years ago, the world celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, which connected the world’s two largest oceans and signaled America’s emergence as a global superpower. It was a miracle, this path of water where a mountain had stood—and creating a miracle is no easy thing. Thousands lost their lives, and those who survived worked under the harshest conditions for only a few silver coins a day.
From the young “silver people” whose back-breaking labor built the Canal to the denizens of the endangered rainforest itself, this is the story of one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, as only Newbery Honor-winning author Margarita Engle could tell it. (Goodreads)
First lines: Fear is a fierce wind
that sends me reeling
down to the seashore,
where I beg for work,
any work at all,
to carry me far
from my father’s
Tigers on the beach, Doug MacLeod (251 pages)Have you heard the one about the guy who lost a grandfather, but found a girlfriend? It’s funny. It’s also kind of sad. And some of the bits that are sad are also kind of funny (but only if you laugh at that sort of thing). Adam thinks Samantha could be the one for him. But first he has to sort out his parents’ crumbling marriage, stop getting into embarrassing situations involving public nudity, find out what’s making his gran so angry, stop his little brother doing something really, really dangerous and work out what’s so funny about two tigers on a beach. It can’t be that hard, can it? (Goodreads)
First lines: My grandpa tells jokes. Some are ridiculous and rambling, like the one about the boy born with a screw in his belly button.
Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli (184 pages)Jeffrey Lionel “Maniac” Magee might have lived a normal life if a freak accident hadn’t made him an orphan. After living with his unhappy and uptight aunt and uncle for eight years, he decides to run–and not just run away, but run. This is where the myth of Maniac Magee begins, as he changes the lives of a racially divided small town with his amazing and legendary feats. (Goodreads)
First lines: They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring. They say he hept an eight-inch cockroach on a leash and that rats stood guard over him while he slept. They say if you knew he was coming and you sprinkled salt on the ground and he ran over it, within two or three blocks he would be slow as everyone else. They say.
#16thingsIthoughtweretrue, Janet Gurtler (278 pages)Heart attacks happen to other people #thingsIthoughtweretrue When Morgan’s mom gets sick, it’s hard not to panic. Without her mother, she would have no one—until she finds out the dad who walked out on her as a baby isn’t as far away as she thought…Adam is a stuck-up, uptight jerk #thingsIthoughtweretrue…Now that they have a summer job together, Morgan’s getting to know the real Adam, and he’s actually pretty sweet…in a nerdy-hot kind of way. He even offers to go with her to find her dad. Road trip, anyone? 5000 Twitter followers are all the friends I need #thingsIthoughtweretrue…
With Adam in the back seat, a hyper chatterbox named Amy behind the wheel, and plenty of Cheetos to fuel their trip, Morgan feels ready for anything. She’s not expecting a flat tire, a missed ferry, a fake girlfriend…and that these two people she barely knew before the summer started will become the people she can’t imagine living without. (Goodreads)
First lines:After pausing for a deep breath, I force myself to walk into the room with my head held high and my shoulders pulled back. I can totally do this, show people who I really am – not the girl they saw dancing on the video.
Gladiator: Vengeance, Simon Scarrow (292 pages)Marcus may be free from the brutal training regime of the gladiators but he will not rest until he finds his mother. With his old friends Festus and Lupus at his side, and a letter from Caesar instructing all who cross his path to help him, he begins his journey. He is going back to the lands where he lived as a slave boy: the remote farming estate of the savage Decimus. Yet Ancient Greece is ruled by deceit and corruption. Many do not want to see Marcus succeed. Many more would rather see him dead. As the most powerful men in the country plot against him, is it finally over for the son of Spartacus? (Goodreads)
First lines: “Ready?” asked Festus.
Marcus nodded and then glanced round the marketplace of Chalcis, a small port on the coast of the Gulf of Corinth. Below the market the ground sloped down to the sea, brilliant beneath the clear sky and the glare of the early afternoon sun.
Elusion, Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam (382 pages)Soon, Elusion® will change the world and life as we know it.A new technology called Elusion is sweeping the country. An app, visor and wristband will virtually transport you to an exotic destination where adventure can be pursued without the complications—or consequences—of real life. Regan is an Elusion insider. Or at least she used to be. Her father invented the program, and her best friend, Patrick, heir to the tech giant Orexis, is about to release it nationwide. But ever since her father’s unexpected death, Regan can’t bear to Escape, especially since waking up from the dream means crashing back to her grim reality.
Still, when there are rumors of trouble in Elusion—accusations that it’s addictive and dangerous— Regan is determined to defend it. But the critics of Elusion come from surprising sources, including Josh, the handsome skeptic with his own personal stakes. As Regan investigates the claims, she discovers a disturbing web of secrets. She will soon have to choose between love and loyalty…a decision that will affect the lives of millions. (Goodreads)
First lines: “Don’t be scared, Regan,” my father says. “I’ll be next to you the whole time, I promise.”
But I’m not scared at all. The reason my breath is coming out in quick, little gasps is because I’m excited. After all, I’ve been waiting for this moment for such a long time.
What we hide, Marthe Jocelyn (275 pages)Americans Jenny and her brother, Tom, are off to England: Tom to university, to dodge the Vietnam draft, Jenny to be the new girl at a boarding school, Illington Hall. This is Jenny’s chance to finally stand out, so accidentally, on purpose, she tells a lie. But in the small world of Ill Hall, everyone has something to hide. Jenny pretends she has a boyfriend. Robbie and Luke both pretend they don’t. Brenda won’t tell what happened with the school doctor. Nico wants to hide his mother’s memoir. Percy keeps his famous dad a secret. Oona lies to everyone. Penelope lies only to herself. (Goodreads)
First lines: So here we were, running away to save Tom’s life. And turning mine inside out. If there hadn’t been a war going on, my brother would have taken a year off before college and doodled down to Mexico in a van. But now it was college versus Vietnam.
#scandal, Sarah Ockler (399 pages)Lucy’s learned some important lessons from tabloid darling Jayla Heart’s all-too-public blunders: Avoid the spotlight, don’t feed the Internet trolls, and keep your secrets secret. The policy has served Lucy well all through high school, so when her best friend Ellie gets sick before prom and begs her to step in as Cole’s date, she accepts with a smile, silencing about ten different reservations. Like the one where she’d rather stay home shredding online zombies. And the one where she hates playing dress-up. And especially the one where she’s been secretly in love with Cole since the dawn of time.
When Cole surprises her at the after party with a kiss under the stars, it’s everything Lucy has ever dreamed of… and the biggest BFF deal-breaker ever. Despite Cole’s lingering sweetness, Lucy knows they’ll have to ’fess up to Ellie. But before they get the chance, Lucy’s own Facebook profile mysteriously explodes with compromising pics of her and Cole, along with tons of other students’ party indiscretions. Tagged. Liked. And furiously viral. By Monday morning, Lucy’s been branded a slut, a backstabber, and a narc, mired in a tabloid-worthy scandal just weeks before graduation.
Lucy’s been battling undead masses online long enough to know there’s only one way to survive a disaster of this magnitude: Stand up and fight. Game plan? Uncover and expose the Facebook hacker, win back her best friend’s trust, and graduate with a clean slate. There’s just one snag—Cole. Turns out Lucy’s not the only one who’s been harboring unrequited love…(Goodreads)
First lines: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture tagged on Miss Demeanor’s Scandal of the Month page is worth about a million. Especially when the story all those words tell is an absolute lie.
Graduation day, Joelle Charbonneau (291 pages)She wants to put an end to the Testing. In a scarred and brutal future, The United Commonwealth teeters on the brink of all-out civil war. The rebel resistance plots against a government that rules with cruelty and cunning. Gifted student and Testing survivor, Cia Vale, vows to fight. But she can’t do it alone. This is the chance to lead that Cia has trained for – but who will follow? Plunging through layers of danger and deception, Cia must risk the lives of those she loves–and gamble on the loyalty of her lethal classmates. Who can Cia trust? The stakes are higher than ever-lives of promise cut short or fulfilled; a future ruled by fear or hope–in the electrifying conclusion to Joelle Charbonneau’s epic Testing trilogy. Ready or not…it’s Graduation Day. (Goodreads)
First lines: A knock makes me jump. My hands shake from exhaustion, fear and sorrow as I unlatch the door of my residence hall rooms and turn the handle. I let out a sigh of relief as I see Raffe Jeffries in the doorway.
Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier (365 pages) The setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses—Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson—is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten. Kelpie knows the dangers of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment. Dymphna is Gloriana Nelson’s ‘best girl’, experienced in surviving the criminal world, but she doesn’t know what this day has in store for her.When Dymphna meets Kelpie over the corpse of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna’s latest boyfriend, she pronounces herself Kelpie’s new protector. But Dymphna’s life is in danger too, and she needs an ally. And while Jimmy’s ghost wants to help, the dead cannot protect the living…(Goodreads)
First lines: Tommy was a talker and didn’t much like other ghosts, so he was forever talking to Kelpie. That’s how she divided them up: talkers and silent ones. Most ghosts were silent. Most ignored the living. Kelpie thought that was just as well. She wished Tommy was a silent one. She wished she hadn’t listened.
I kill the mockingbird, Paul Acampora, (163 pages)When Lucy, Elena, and Michael receive their summer reading list, they are excited to see To Kill A Mockingbird included. But not everyone in their class shares the same enthusiasm. So they hatch a plot to get the entire town talking about the well-known Harper Lee classic. They plan controversial ways to get people to read the book, including re-shelving copies of the book in bookstores so that people think they are missing and starting a website committed to “destroying the mockingbird.” Their efforts are successful when all of the hullabaloo starts to direct more people to the book. But soon, their exploits start to spin out of control and they unwittingly start a mini revolution in the name of books. (Goodreads)
First lines: My mother’s wheeelchair does not fit through the bathroom door, and I don’t know what to do about it. I pull the chair back an inch and then roll it into the door frame again. The clunk makes Mom sit up straight. “You have got to be kidding me,” she says. Actually, those are not her exact words. I am not allowed to repeat her exact words.
This side of salvation, Jeri Smith-Ready (368 pages)Everyone mourns differently. When his older brother was killed, David got angry. As in, fist-meets-someone-else’s-face furious. But his parents? They got religious. David’s still figuring out his relationship with a higher power, but there’s one thing he does know for sure: The closer he gets to new-girl Bailey, the better, brighter, happier, more he feels. Then his parents start cutting all their worldly ties to prepare for the Rush, the divine moment when the faithful will be whisked off to Heaven…and they want David to do the same. David’s torn. There’s a big difference between living in the moment and giving up his best friend, varsity baseball, and Bailey—especially Bailey—in hope of salvation. But when he comes home late from prom, and late for the Rush, to find that his parents have vanished, David is in more trouble than he ever could have imagined… (Goodreads)
First lines: If this were the first night of my life, I could be at peace with that. That, and everything else, as I walk hand in hand with Bailey out of the pool house and back into the blare of the party. Her long hair brushes my elbow, stirring memories of reaching, fumbling in the dark; memories so fresh they feel more like dreams – not etched as events in my past but posed as possibilities in my future.
Shadow sister, Carole Wilkinson (356 pages)Tao is learning to be a dragonkeeper. With no one to teach him it is not easy. He must keep Kai safe but there is danger at every turn – they are pursued by a gang of murderous nomads, tricked by unseen spirits, attacked by a giant seven-headed snake and disoriented in the realms of the dead. Most terrifying of all is the ghost who can turn blood into ice. Tao knows he must prove he is truly worthy of the name dragonkeeper. But the road west is never straight and nothing for Tao and Kai is what it seems. (Goodreads)
First lines: The dragon groaned. “My stomach hurts.” He had been slow-moving all day, insisting on stopping often to rest.
“Let me see your tongue.”
The dragon sat on his haunches in front of the boy. Tao had grown a little in the weeks the two had been travelling together but, when sitting, Kai was still head and shoulders taller.
Buffalo Soldier, Tanya Landman, (361 pages)What kind of a girl steals the clothes from a dead man’s back and runs off to join the army? A desperate one, that’s who. World been turned on its head by that big old war, and the army seemed like the safest place to be, until we was sent off to fight them Indians. And then? Heck! When Death’s so close you can smell his breath, ain’t nothing makes you feel more alive. (Goodreads)
First lines: Two covered wagons are heading out into the open, slow and steady, like little ships afloat on the ocean. Axles are greased, wheels barely creaking. The oxen are well groomed, their hides glossy as polished wood. Gaily coloured ribbons are tied to their horns and silver bells hang around their necks.
The eagle trail, Robert Rigby (289 pages)WWII, German-occupied Antwerp, and life continues as usual for 16-year-old Paul Hansen – until his father is shot. Paul learns that his parents are part of a group of resistance fighters and he’s whisked away by Jos Theys, his father’s closest friend, to the home of an elderly couple. There Paul learns he must leave Antwerp as quickly as possible and travel south through France and across the Pyrenees into Spain, and from there to England, and freedom … Along the way he is aided by a collection of courageous men and women prepared to risk everything to help him in his desperate fight for survival (Publisher information)
First lines: The leader of the Andorrans was built like a bull, but he moved with the lightness of a mountain goat. Not once had he stumbled or tripped as he led the small group further and deeper into the towering Pyrenees.
The wardens, Stuart Daly (329 pages)A secret brotherhood of treasure hunters. An invading army coming ever closer. Five young apprentices. The race is on. Life as a thief is cold, miserable and hungry. Caspan leaps at the opportunity to compete to join the Brotherhood of Thieves – a secret order sanctioned by the king. What the Brotherhood seeks are the lost magical weapons of an ancient race that will help them defeat the Roon, the invading army who creep ever closer. Defeat seems inevitable. Unless Caspan and his fellow recruits – Roland, Lachlan, Sara and Kilt – can set aside their differences and use their new skills to help turn the tide. With swords strapped to their belts, riding magical beasts called Wardens that come only to their call, they leave the sanctuary of their training ground for their first mission. Will it be their last? (Goodreads)
First lines: Caspan ran for his life. The cry of alarm brought confusion and panic to the market square, as the teenage footpad weaved through the caravans and food stalls, away from the man whose purse he had tried to take.
Hate, Alan Gibbons (230 pages)Eve’s older sister, Rosie, was bright and alive and always loved being the centre of attention. Then one day, she is brutally murdered. Six months later, Eve meets Antony and discovers that he was there the night Rosie died and did nothing to help. Is there any way she can ever get past that? (Goodreads)
First lines: The last time I saw Rosie, she was getting on the bus with Paul. It was August and the air was hick with dust and petrol fumes on the Manchester road. Off to our left, on the far side of the housing estate, sun and shadow were playing tag on the hills.