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Tell us about good books!

Dear readers, if you are between the ages of 13 and 18 and enjoy (shock! horror!) reading books, the editors of this venerable blog would like to invite you to share your thoughts with us in the form of reviews.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You read a book (physical or digital, whatever)
  2. Have thoughts
  3. Write them down and send them to us (click here to find out how)
  4. We publish your reviews on this blog
  5. ???
  6. Profit!!

How exactly does one profit, you may ask? You shall become rich in the eternal respect and admiration of your peers, of course, as well as gaining the widespread fame associated with writing for this most respected of publications.

Now, when you send us your reviews, make sure you include the important information: the title and author of the book, your name (or pseudonym, if you prefer), a haiku about yourself (it’s the law, if you want to publish on the Teen Blog), a promise to name your first-born child after one of our librarians — you know, the usual.

Remember, writing a good review entails more than just a plot summary. Give us some juice! Spill the tea! Tell us what you think about the book and why you think it! Did it make you cry? Did it make you laugh? Did it make you feel super weird? Did it remind you of another book, or a movie, or a song? Did it inspire you in some way? Would you recommend it to someone else? Would you re-read it? Would you rather yeet it into the ocean and never have to think about it again? All reactions valid, all reactions wanted. Just keep the language PG (this is a family site, after all!) and we’ll be all good.

So what are you waiting for? Time to get writing!

Hooked on NZ Books; Or, How to Get Free Books and Write About Them, Too!

Dear readers, we are guessing that since we have encountered one another amongst the digital pages of this most redoubtable publication, you are probably fairly keen book-readers as well. But how much do you choose to read books by New Zealand authors? Well, whether your answer was “Um, I LOVE to read books by New Zealand authors!” or “Not much, but I’d like to read more!” we have quite the opportunity for you.

Our friends at Read NZ / Te Pou Muramura (formerly the New Zealand Book Council) have put together an amazing programme called Hooked On NZ Books / He Ao Anofor young New Zealand readers to engage with new Kiwi literature and have their writing professionally edited and published, all while getting to keep swathes of ~free~ books for themselves. Curious to know more? Read on to hear what Read NZ have to say about the initiative.

 If you choose to take up this challenge, you'd better prepare yourself for a serious case of new-book-smell-induced bliss.

We Want to Know What You Think About New Zealand Books!

The American art critic Barbara McAdam writes that the ‘true calling’ of criticism is to start a discussion. Building a community of readers who discuss books, and growing the next generation of critics is what Hooked On NZ BOoks / He Ao Ano is all about.

Here are Read NZ / Te Pou Muramura (formerly the NZ Book Council), we’ve adopted the programme and are looking for passionate readers to review the latest NZ books for us.

First of all, we match readers aged 13-19 with new books. Most of the books we have to choose from are novels, but we also have some non-fiction, poetry and essays. We ask for the reviews to be emailed back within a month, and the reader gets to keep the book.

Our editor works with the reviewer to edit the piece so it’s the best it can be. Then we publish the review on the website, and share it with our wider community. The best review from each month is published on the official Read NZ website.

Our reviewers have the opportunity to respond personally and critically to the latest reads while together building an online resource about NZ books and a genuine platform for their voice.

Established four years ago by the NZ Review of Books journal, Hooked On NZ Books is already a useful archive of reviews, author interviews and other writing resources for younger readers. When the journal ceased publication in late 2019, its editors invited Read NZ to adopt the work.

Read NZ CEO Juliet Blyth says the purpose of Hooked On NZ Books is to grow the audience for home-grown literature, to provide another space for young writers to be published, and to nurture the next generation of critical readers in Aotearoa.

“Anyone can say that they loved or loathed a book, but it’s much harder to say why. Reviewing is important because well-argued reviews can influence what gets published and what gets read,” she says.

Tawa College student Hannah Marshall has submitted reviews to Hooked On NZ Books in past years. In a recent article about reviewing for Tearaway magazine, she describes the programme as a “springboard for a critical conversation.”

A chance visit to my school from the organisation opened my eyes to a world of opportunities. I had barely read a Kiwi-written YA [novel] in my life; today, most of my favourite books are by New Zealand authors. […] I gained valuable skills from the reviewing process and improved myself as a writer. I even found my name in print

— Hannah Marshall, Hooked On NZ Books reviewer

Read NZ is now looking for young readers and writers aged around 13-19 to participate. Interested reviewers can sign up on the Hooked On NZ Books website, or contact Read NZ to get involved. Read NZ also hopes to offer review-writing workshops around the country next year.


So what are you waiting for? Now is the time to get involved! While you’re at it, why not follow Read NZ and Hooked On NZ Books on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, for more delicious literary content, delivered right to your screen?

Love NZ books?

Hooked On NZ Books is all about YA books written by New Zealanders. You talk about movies, music, fashion and apps, and now some clever people have come up with a way for you to talk about books too.

You can get recommendations for what’s new and what others are reading and enjoying. If you want free copies of books to review, then you can get that too. And there’s even the opportunity to interview YA authors. Your opinions will feed directly into New Zealand’s publishing market, influencing what types of books are written and published in the future.

Not sure what to review? Grab a copy of our Top Teen Reads booklet from your local library for some inspo.

 

 

My Top Teen Reads: Speak

The newly released Top Teen Reads has inspired this librarian to take on a reading challenge – to read all 80 titles on the list. Whew! Here we go…

1. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Book cover courtesy of SyndeticsFirst line: It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomach ache.

This award winning book, and Anderson’s first novel, was very moving and powerful. Her narrative and writing successfully pulls you inside the head of Melinda – a high school junior trying to come to terms with a horrific event that happened to her over the summer holidays.

Melinda is an intelligent and witty observer of high school life, seen from her point of view as a hated and mute outcast. Melinda struggles through the school year; wanting to participate and engage with school life but finding herself unable to do so due to her loss of faith and trust in her friends, family and other students. Eventually circumstances force her to break her silence and speak out about the traumatic summer holiday events, unveiling the mystery behind her selective muteness, in order to protect others from suffering the same fate.

Speak is a fairly quick and easy read – the book is short and the story engaging, and will make you wonder what is really going on in other people’s lives that you have no idea about.

Highly recommended – 4 stars

 

Reading Wheel

Pick up your copy of the Top Teen Reads from any Wellington City Library, and start your own reading challenge

 

Valkyries and Liars: Book Reviews

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!).

~ Grimm

Some good books I’ve read lately

I’ve not done any reviews for a while, so here are four quick ones:

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty – the sequel to A Corner of White, and the middle book of the Colours of Madeleine trilogy, so I’ll try not to give too much away. Elliot lives in the kingdom of Cello, where colours rage across the country with very little warning, causing various degrees of havoc, and where the royal family have mysteriously and secretively disappeared (save for Princess Ko, who is keeping up appearances so that Cello doesn’t fall apart). Madeleine lives in the world, and communicates with Elliot through a parking meter. Princess Ko is convinced that the royal family have been moved into the world, and enlists Elliot’s (and Madeleine’s) help to track them down; the clock is ticking.

This is a really original, fantastic story, written really well. It’s sometimes hilarious, sad, surprising and always entertaining.

Half Bad, Sally Green – this is the first in a new trilogy and it’s been touted as the next big thing by some people. Nathan lives in a world of witches, black ones and white ones; he’s half and half, and because of this he worries the white witches (black witches are, apparently, inherently evil, so will he be?). At the start of the book Nathan lives in a cage in the Scottish countryside, watched over by a white witch prison guard. He needs to track down his father – the mysterious, über-cruel black witch Marcus – before the gifting ceremony on his 17th birthday or face death.

I didn’t find this as Harry Potter-ish as some reviewers (people said Harry Potter was lots of ish also – it’s tough being truly original), and it was an intriguing start to a new series.

Cress, Marissa Meyer – this is the third book in the Lunar Chronicles (Cinder is the first), and they’re very good – don’t let the book covers put you off, they’re not really that girly. They are all cyborg-sci-fi reworkings of fairytales, and Cress is Rapunzel. Cress has been imprisoned on a remote satelite by the Lunar queen, effectively her spy in the sky. Her job is to find Cinder for the Queen, but she might be more intent on rescue. In the mean time, Scarlet and Wolf are also on the run in France. (The next one, Winter, which is Snow White, will be published next year, which is a while away.)

The reason I mention the book covers is these books are action-packed and the female characters aren’t afraid of, well, getting involved in it. They aren’t really the high-heel types. Maybe the covers are subversive? Certainly, having lots of hair is more impractical than glamorous. Anyway! They’re a great read.

We’ve also got this as a book on CD.

Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson – this was published last year, but it’s so cool I thought it was worth mentioning. Epics are humans who have incredible superpowers, some of them are obscure and not so useful, some of them devastating for non-Epics. They also have a fatal weakness (again, some weaknesses are obscure, some devastating), and exploiting this is the only way to destroy an Epic. Steelheart, Chicago’s self-appointed overlord, is one of the worst. Ever since he saw Steelheart bleed (and then kill his father), David has wanted to join the Reckoners, a group who assassinate Epics. He thinks he can kill Steelheart, if he can figure out what made him bleed.

It’s a long wait for the second book in this series, Firefight (due for publication in 2015). Plenty of time to read Steelheart, which is awesome.

We’ve also got this as a book on CD.

Best of 2012: Monty’s Pick

Monty, who is fortunate enough to buy both the YA comics and the YA music, has found this list of best apps of 2012, which contains some incredible creative genius, and also a Monty recommendation:

Chopsticks, Jessica Anthony.

“After her mother died, Glory retreated into herself and her music. Her single father raised her as a piano prodigy, with a rigid schedule and the goal of playing sold-out shows across the globe. Now, as a teenager, Glory has disappeared. As we flash back to the events leading up to her disappearance, we see a girl on the precipice of disaster. Brilliant and lonely, Glory is drawn to an artistic new boy, Frank, who moves in next door. The farther she falls, the deeper she spirals into madness. Before long, Glory is unable to play anything but the song “Chopsticks.”

“But nothing is what it seems, and Glory’s reality is not reality at all. In this stunningly moving novel told in photographs, pictures, and words, it’s up to the reader to decide what is real, what is imagined, and what has been madness all along…” (goodreads.com)

Monty adds that it’s “a mish-mash of styles and good on the expectations and pressures of society on teens, contains romance and ends with surprise and mystery – what more could you ask for?”

Chopsticks is, as Monty says, a “multi-media extravaganza”! Visit the Chopsticks tumblr for more visuals, including a link to the app at the Apple store (for the downloading (note: it’s not a free app)).

The School Library Journal reviewed both the book and the app.

Some terrible magic this way comes

Advent (Advent Trilogy book one), by James Treadwell

A December night 1537 and a powerful mage boards a ship for England. There is a shipwreck and none survive. What has happened to the box he was carrying? The box with a magic mirror and ring inside?

Present day: Gavin knows he is different. He still has his childhood imaginary friend, Miss Grey for a start and he dreams very strange dreams. His parents don’t like him and when they get the chance to go overseas, they pack him off to his Aunt Gwen who lives outside Truro, on an estate called Pendurra. But his aunt isn’t there to meet his train and she isn’t in her cottage and when a girl with dead eyes bangs on his door at midnight and then shuffles away, Gavin is certain this is not going to be an ordinary holiday! The next day he meets the owner of Pendurra and his daughter. The very same dead looking girl whom he’d seen the night before but now very much alive. Marina and Gavin spend time exploring, finding strange things happening and finally realise that ‘magic is rising…’

~ Raewyn

Raewyn Reviews:

Changeling (Order of Darkness book one), by Philippa Gregory

Luca Vero, the changeling. Or so the people of his village called him, for he was a very brilliant boy and his parents only peasants. The church of 1453 find him, always asking questions and put him to the task of Inquirer into some of the strange happenings the church has become aware of lately. He arrives at an abbey where the nuns are having visions and stigmata are appearing on their hands. All of these things began when the new abbess arrived but is she the evil temptress they think she is? Luca must discover the truth or watch an innocent girl burn at the stake.

Written by the renowned historical author of The Other Boleyn Girl and many other books, this is an easy read with interesting outcomes and images.

~ Raewyn

Reader Review by Katie

The Catastrophic History of You and Me, Jess Rothenberg

Dying of a broken heart is just the beginning – Welcome to forever! This enchanting story of 16 year-old Brie starts with her dying and being catapulting into the afterlife. This novel is inspirational, heart wrenching, romantic and difficult to put down. Brie is a relatable and charismatic character who is journeying through the 5 stages of acceptance, with a little help from the charming, off- beat, and gorgeous Patrick who is a resident lost soul. With soaring highs and bottomless lows, this story takes you on the roller coaster ride of the afterlife, in novel which is called “gorgeous, funny and heart-breaking” by Lauren Oliver (New York Times best seller, and writer of Before I Fall). The Catastrophic History of You and Me is a novel I highly recommend.

~ Katie, Churton Park

Starters by Lissa Price

Set after a war where most adults have been killed by a biologogical weapon, the people remaining are mostly either children or teenagers (Starters) or the elderly (Enders). The Starters are unable to work and if an adult doesn’t claim them they can’t get accommodation, and can be arrested if they are caught. Enders are at the other end of the scale. They have health care to keep them alive until well into their hundreds, near limitless wealth and live in huge mansions.

Callie lives in an abandoned building with her friend Michael and her younger brother Tyler. Tyler is only seven, and unwell but they have no access to any kind of health care and no way of getting help. However, Callie has heard of one way she might be able to earn enough to get them a house and some safety. Prime Destinations run a body bank where Enders can rent the bodies of Starters, be young again, play sports, all that sort of thing. Callie should be asleep while the Ender is having fun being her, but the chip used to control her is defective and she wakes up to find out that the Ender who hired her wasn’t just planning on playing tennis or going dancing – she wants to use Callie’s body to kill someone.

 

Starters is a really good read, highly recommended if you are looking for more dystopia, and especially if you liked Scott Westerfelds Uglies trilogy.

Lissa Price’s blog is here.

A Disappearance, A Woodpecker and A Missionary

Where Things Come Back, John Corey Whaley

I can’t remember the last time I got so much enjoyment out of a book!

Where Things Come Back is made up of two separate narratives which eventually come together in a way I never expected. The first narrative is that of 17 year old Cullen Witter, whose widely-liked younger brother suddenly disappears. While his brother’s disappearance is in the forefront of his mind, the people of the small town he lives in are obsessed with the alleged sighting of a Lazarus Woodpecker, a bird not seen in the area for more than 50 years. The other narrative follows Benton Sage, a young university student who takes up a position as a missionary in Africa but loses his faith and any sense of meaning in his life along the way. It’s very well written and the multiple storylines are interwoven carefully. One issue I had was the narrative perspective change towards the end which came out of the blue. It took me four pages to click to what was going on before I realised it was something clever. There are a lot of smart, witty and heartfelt observations throughout the book as well as a lot of elements to the story, so I look forward to reading it over again.

I really can’t recommend this book enough!

~ Rachel

From turnip eating peasant to assassin nun

Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers

Ismae is a peasant girl living in 15th Century Brittany. Just after her wedding to a violent pig farmer, Ismae is rescued by the herbwitch who tried to poison her before she was born (but you wouldn’t quibble: the pig farmer is horrid) and whisked away to a mysterious convent. The sisters of the convent of St Mortain aren’t your average nuns. Mortain is merely masquerading as a saint: he’s an ancient god; Death, actually. Ismae is, she learns, a daughter of Mortain; immune to poison and with a natural gift for killing, and the sisters are assassins, using their skills to ensure the Duchy of Brittany remains independant from the looming, malignant France.

That’s basically the background to Grave Mercy, the first book in the His Fair Assassin series, which is getting great reviews from the lofty New York Times to blogger-reviewers, like here or here. I read the whole book in pretty much a day. It’s an action-packed historical novel with some romance, mystical magic, and a few gory endings, and I liked it!

An unbecoming review!

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

How is it that Mara escaped the totally destroyed building with a sore head and all her friends died? Who bashed in the head of that dog-beating hulk of a man near her school? What strange things are happening to the wildlife in their new home town? So many alligators dead all at once! Could these incidents be related? And why does she have to be attracted to the best looking guy at school who can only mean trouble!

A strange and haunting tale of life with amnesia and self discovery.

~ Raewyn

Best of 2011: Rachel’s Pick

The Name of the Star, Maureen Johnson

Rory (short for Aurora) moves to London from Louisiana to go to boarding school when her parents get jobs nearby in Bristol. On her arrival, Rory finds out there’s a murderer on the loose who is mimicking the murders of Jack the Ripper from over a hundred years ago. Shortly after she arrives, Rory comes into contact with the killer, but it seems as though she’s the only one who can see him…

There are a number of times when Rory is confused by British-isms somewhat endearingly, and while suspenseful the novel is also humorous. The first in a trilogy with the next one expected in late 2012!

~ Rachel

Best of 2011: Andrée’s Pick

The Golden Day, Ursula Dubosarsky

“The golden day is a novel set in Sydney in 1967, ending in 1975, about a group of schoolgirls whose teacher bizarrely goes missing on a school excursion, apparently murdered.”–Author’s note. 

The language in this was lovely, simple and well thought out. A little like Picnic at Hanging Rock.

~ Andrée

Best of 2011: Sarina’s Other Pick

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, by Annabel Pitcher

“Ten-year-old Jamie Matthews has just moved to the Lake District with his Dad and his teenage sister, Jasmine for a ‘Fresh New Start’. Five years ago his sister’s twin, Rose, was blown up by a terrorist bomb. His parents are wrecked by their grief, Jasmine turns to piercing, pink hair and stops eating. The family falls apart. But Jamie hasn’t cried in all that time. To him Rose is just a distant memory. Jamie is far more interested in his cat, Roger, his birthday Spiderman T-shirt, and in keeping his new friend Sunya a secret from his Dad. And in his deep longing and unshakeable belief that his Mum will come back to the family she walked out on months ago. When he sees a TV advert for a talent show, he feels certain that this will change everything and bring them all back together once and for all.” (Catalogue description)

Best of 2011: Grimm’s Picks

Froi of the Exiles, Melina Marchetta

The second book in the Lumatere Chronicles (the first being Finnikin of the Rock). In Finnikin, Froi was a street urchin with no moral compass. In Froi he has become a model student and an efficient assassin in waiting, devoted to his code of conduct and to the Queen of Lumatere. When Froi is sent to Charyn to assassinate the king it seems like an opportunity to prove his worth, but he finds himself embroiled in a chaotic uprising reminiscent of the French Revolution (hangings instead of the guillotine), and in a mysterious curse whose repercussions reverberate around Charyn, and appear to be knocking on the door of Lumatere.

This book is wonderful and epic (600 pages, but you’ll hardly notice). At its heart are really real characters, great dialogue, keen observations of the way people are, and an awesome rag tag group of wanderers that reminded me rather a lot of Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca etc. from Star Wars. Plus: there’s a very twisty twist at the end (third book due next year).

Also great:

Blood Red Road, Moira Young. A fantastic futuristic journey through a wasteland world, with land yachts, cage fighting, an epic quest, and a cool bird. Made me think of the Mad Max movies. Good thing that it’s going to be a movie then, by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator…).

The Floating Islands, Rachel Neumeier. A really successful, original fantasy world (with a mystical, Eastern element): had to try not to think of the movie Avatar with the floating islands idea, because it’s quite different. The potential romanceyness was well restrained, which is nice for a bit of a change.

~ Grimm

Best of 2011: Ada’s Pick

Beyond the dark journey: short stories and poems by young refugees in New Zealand

Eight young people from Burma, Aghanistan and the Sudan write about their journey to Aotearoa and coping with settling in. I especially liked the poetry and would like to share this verse with you:

I packed my bags throwing
My life into my suitcase
Not knowing where I was going.
Here I’m in windy wild Wellington.
Cold
Depressing
Alone
Quiet
Isolated
A neglected human ~ Sonia Azizi

I was priviliged to meet the young authors and after reading this book it has given me a better understanding about our courageous refugee community. A great read.

~ Ada

Read about the evolution of the book here.

Best of 2011: Lauren’s Pick

Love is the Higher Law, David Levithan

“Three New York City teenagers struggle to come of age amid the chaos and aftermath of September 11. Peter’s, Claire’s, and Jasper’s lives weave together as they come to terms with a new reality. A welcome addition to any YA fiction collection where there are few examples on the topic.” (Library Journal)

Love is the Higher Law showed another side of the events of 9/11 – what teens actually went through in NY, where they were when the planes hit the world trade centre and the events that followed.

~ Lauren

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