CBCA Book of the Year: Older Readers Shortlist 2014

The CBCA short lists came out a few weeks ago and I am always interested to see what the judges have put on the short list. The interesting thing this year is the number of books by younger writers on the list. What a good thing for the Australian YA sector to have debut novels making it to the list.

As usual we did not have the full complement of listed books on our shelves but below is the list, with reviews, of the ones from the older readers list that we do have in our library.

OLDER READERS: (suitable for more mature readers able to cope with challenging themes and controversial characters)

Castagna, Felicity  The Incredible Here and Now (Giramondo Publishing)

  • The way the story is told is interesting. The chapters are like a series of anecdotes/stories from the life of the  main character, Michael.  Set in the suburb of Parramatta, 15-year-old Michael narrates what he thinks, sees and understands the year he turns 15. His world alters more than he expects when he and his beloved brother Dom are involved in a car accident. Dom dies but the story does not dwell on grief. It is about Michael and his growth, from a child to a young man. He is resilient and pragmatic character who has to deal with a lot of things including his grief over the death of his brother and the family turmoil it brings. The world Michael inhabits is described vividly, the characters that are part of that world, his family and friends, are realistic. The reader can relate to their foibles and care about what happens to them in the novel. The writing style is simple and the language suits the character. The chapters short and the events documented are easy to relate to. This a story that most teenage boys could identify with and read with themselves in mind.
  • Website with teaching resources here and reading notes here.  
  • An interview with the author here

Keil, Melissa  Life in Outer Space (Hardie Grant Egmont)

  • Sam Kinnison is happy to be classed as a “geek”. He is an “A” who loves horror movies, the World of Warcraft and all his friends are “nerds”. He is comfortable in his world and knows where he is going, although he is tormented by the jocks at school, his friends are always there for him. Then Camilla Carter arrives at his school. Camilla is more than “cool’. She can be part of whatever group she likes. Sam thinks he can ignore her but her arrival changes everything. People start behaving out of character and Camilla decides that Sam will be part of her life.
  • A debut novel that is funny although there are some sad or difficult moments for Sam. It is a good coming-of-age story that teenagers can identify with.
  • Other reviews: here and an interview with Melissa Keil here

Kostakis, Will The First Third  (Penguin Group)

  • Only the second novel from the author this is both a funny and sad book about families and adolescence. The main character is 17 year old  Billy Tsiolkas and he is part of a Greek-Australian family.  He is the middle son, in a single-parent family and loves his idiosyncratic grandmother, Yiayia. She is a great character in the story and to roughly quote Yiayia’s outlook on life from the novel “Life is made of 3 parts: at first you are embarrassed by your family; in the second part you make your own family and thirdly you embarrass the family you’ve made.”  Yiayia becomes ill and so she gives Billy her list of things to do, her bucket-list. It is a short list of three things but they basically they amount to Billy getting his family, which has drifted apart, back together again. This is a big task and Billy has to deal with all sorts of situations as he tries to follow Yiayia’s instructions. There are many situations and characters that readers would identify with as they read this realistic portrayal of adolescent life in Australia today. I like they way Billy’s character described the Melbourne’s laneways, when he and his friend “Sticks” make a flying visit, to an address supplied by Yiayia.
  • Reviews from Insideadog  
  • Publisher’s website with teaching notes here.
  • Melina Marchetta interviews Will Kostakis here.

Near, Allyse Fairytales for Wilde Girls (Random House) Not in our library and so I have yet to read this novel

Wood, Fiona Wildlife (Pan Macmillan) Not in our library and so I have yet to read this novel.

  • Teacher’s notes here

Zorn, Claire The Sky so heavy (UQP)

  • Apocalyptic novel set at the beginning of a nuclear winter. There were elements that reminded me of books I read when at school or starting out in libraries, titles such as Z for Zachariah, Brother in the Land and Children of the Dust come to mind. It is not a simple copy of these stories however and the Australian setting along with many current issues underpin the story. Ideas explored here include the heavy reliance of the modern world on electricity and a lack of understanding about living with the natural world and the treatment of refugees, in this case due to an environmental disaster. Many other elements are there as well, survival, starvation, mental strength, bullying and racism.
    It begins like any other day for Fin, a fairly normal Australian teenager. He is living in a small town in the Blue Mountains, N.S.W. where everything and everyone is familiar. It it all goes downhill from here. Nuclear missiles detonated after a conflict between two unnamed countries on the other side of the world spell disaster for everyone in Australia. Plunged into a nuclear winter Fin and his younger brother, Max, separated from their parents, have to survive. They are alone with food and water becoming more scarce and cold and darkness setting in. The normal way of behaving changes as people become sick and desperate for food, medicine and fuel. There is nothing coming out from the authorities and any hope of some sort of rescue fades. Suspicion, paranoia and rancour become more and more evident throughout the once friendly neighbourhood. Fin and Max decide to head to Sydney, with some friends, to try find their mother.  The journey to Sydney really brings home the enormity and finality of what has happened to Fin. The realisation that things will never go back to “before” hits home. He and Max are refugees in their own country on the wrong side of the barrier. As the story progresses Fin has many increasingly difficult choices to make and each one has consequences. He is not perfect and his character reacts in very understandable ways. This is a survival adventure story that appealed to a number of our boys. It is a good addition to the apocalyptic story genre.
  • Teacher notes are available here
  • Author interview here

It is interesting to compare the list to the INKY awards (Australian books chosen by young readers) Gold Inky Award long list (Australian books):

  • Zac and Mia by AJ Betts
  • All This Could End by Steph Bowe
  • Steal My Sunshine by Emily Gale
  • The Whole of My World by Nicole Hayes
  • These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
  • The First Third by Will Kostakis
  • Every Breath by Ellie Marney
  • Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near
  • Run by Tim Sinclair
  • The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn

Trailer for “The Giver” movie

The film is based on Lois Lowry’s  young adult novel is almost here. The trailer for the The Giver is a modern classic. It won the 1993 John Newbery Medal and was the 1993 Honor Book on the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award (Fiction)

The setting at first seems to be in a utopian society but gradually it begins to appear more and more dystopian. The poignant story is centred around 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colourless, world. At the Ceremony of the Twelves all the children in that age group are ‘assigned’ to their future role in life. The roles are carefully chosen by the Committee of Elders and based on their temperaments. It is expected that each child will live a productive life for the benefit of the whole. It is a world that encourages conformity which is seen as the path to contentment. Everyone is expected to be happy about their lot and fit into this life. This is a society which is free of pain and chaos but is also devoid of emotions and feelings. There is no place for love, joy, guilt or remorse or any other human emotion and freedom of choice and individuality are unknown concepts. Once someone becomes unproductive, for what ever reason, they enter the housing for the aged for a short period before being ‘released’.

Jonas is horrified when he believes that he has been passed over at the assigning ceremony but he is named as the Receiver. This is a position that is offered rarely and he knows nothing about it. He life changes as he begins his apprenticeship. He learns that the Receiver is the custodian of all memories in their community. The Receiver alone understands about colour, emotions, weather and, more importantly, individuality. The old Receiver is now The Giver and, as he transfers more and more memories to Jonas, Jonas begins to understand what the community has lost when they are so protected against pain, it also deprives them of joy.  As the Receiver of Memory he also begins to understand some of the other dark secrets behind his fragile community. It is a great book and I hope the film does it justice.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJNNugNe0Wo

John Flanagan on his Ranger’s Apprentice series

These books are well-loved and the final book was a fitting end to the series and Will’s story.

John Flanagan has often answered questions about his books via YouTube. Below are two recent videos offer some insight into what he is thinking and answer a few of the questions fans are asking. I will use them in our library next year to remind our readers about the books/series.

The first short video was done in answer to why he finished the series

And will there be a movie?

Russian Roulette: a prequel to Alex Rider series

A surprising novel as I did not expect another book that related to the Alex rider series but this is a welcome addition. I have only just finished and I have boys eagerly awaiting it.

I love the proliferation of good series for young adults, specially for boys. Many of our boys are not really adventurous (or great readers) and when they find a book they like, they would rather re-read it than take a chance on a new book that they might not like. Series make it much easier for me. If I can help them find a series they like they (and I) are very relieved. A few books they feel they have a connection to. After they have read a series,  we go to the “if you liked…., you might like……” approach.

My idea is to get them into the habit of reading and reading books that they enjoy. It is slow but with little steps we aim to increase their positive reading experiences.

Russian RouletteRussian Roulette by Anthony Horowitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was surprised to find this book. I enjoyed the Alex Rider series and thought like many others that it was finished which was the cause of much sadness for many of my students.
In a way it is a prequel to the Alex Rider series. It was fascinating to discover how the Alex Rider’s biggest enemy, the Scorpia assassin Yassen Gregorovich, came to be the man we encountered in the Stormbreaker. It was fascinating to see this character as a boy. We learn how brutally Yassen’s (born Yasha) family and childhood was ripped away. We see how he is forced into one difficult situation after another. He has to make many decisions that eventually lead him to be that character in the Alex Rider series. It is interesting to compare Alex and Yasha as boys. The characters are very similar but their circumstances drive them in completely opposite directions. It does however make the reader see Yassen in a different light and we fell some empathy this contract killer. In Russian Roulette the connection between Yassen and the Rider family is explained and why Yassen does not kill Alex when he had the chance at the end of Stormbreaker.
This was a good book and a must-read for all the Alex Rider fans.
Website: http://www.alexrider.com/Home

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Time for reading

I have had time to sit and read in the last 2 days. I have really enjoyed just reading for fun and the books I have been reading have immersed me totally in their worlds. Of course I have to keep up with my YA reading but John Flanagan created a terrific story for his final book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. The latest Felix Francis book was the best one by him yet and, as I lived in England for a while and have always had an interest in horses, it was another book I could connect with and enjoy in a number of ways.

I also have the latest Phyrne Fisher Murder and Mendelssohn (#20) on my kindle and I am currently almost 1/2 way through it. The ABC television series is enjoyable but the books are so much better. Then there will be more YA reading in the latest Young Sherlock Holmes book – #6 Knife Edge- by Andrew Lane, another series I have enjoyed, as well as finally reading Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo.

I have also started reviewing the books I finished on LibraryThing and GoodReads

The Royal Ranger (Ranger's Apprentice, #12)The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In book 12,”The Royal Ranger”, the saga turns full circle. This time it is Will who has to take on an apprentice. The book begins with Will suffering from an immense tragedy in his life and seeking revenge for his hurt. His friends are very worried for him and believe that the right apprentice just might help him recover his equanimity. John Flanagan does not disappoint in his final addition to this series. Will has become a master and has definitely learned enough to become a teacher himself but how will he take the suggestion? Will agrees however but taking on an apprentice is not easy and there are many challenges both Will and his apprentice must meet.
There were many small things in the story that harked back to the first book in the series when Will was an apprentice to Halt and it is a fitting way to farewell all the characters that readers have come to know and love through the RA stories.
The book is filled with action, humour and tragedy and there was plenty of natural dialogue throughout the story and some of reactions of the characters made me laugh.
Series website: http://www.rangersapprentice.com.au/
There is also enough in the book to sow the seeds of ideas for a new spinoff series to the Ranger’s Apprentice books. Could this happen?

Dick Francis's RefusalDick Francis’s Refusal by Felix Francis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Felix Francis wrote 4 books with his father and “Refusal” is the fourth he has written as the sole author. In this novel he brings back a character from his father’s previous books, Sid Halley, who was a well-respected private investigator and ex-jockey.
Sid Halley has retired from the PI business for the sake of his family and is now working as an investor and telling himself that his life is satisfying. He is living with his wife and daughter in a country village near his ex-father-in-law. So when an official from the British horse racing industry asks Sid to investigate what looks like race fixing, he refuses. When that person is later found dead the next day, after an apparent suicide, Sid becomes more interested but is still unwilling to get involved. When he gets a threatening phone call that demands he sign off on a report indicating that everything in racing is fine and his young daughter is temporarily kidnapped, Sid decides he has to get involved. The villain throws more and more trouble Sid’s way but he stubbornly perseveres. He knows that the only way his family will ever be safe is for him to work out how to beat the villain who is causing all the trouble, without bringing down his beloved racing industry in the process. Most of his old colleagues have moved on and are no longer available to assist him but Chico Barnes is still around. He is a great character and is again very helpful to Sid as the two of them investigate the leads to come up with a plan to end the threat to Sid’s life, his family and the British racing industry.
The story was exciting and moved at a fast pace and there were a few unexpected plot twists. The villain looked to be untouchable, Sid Halley was as courageous and obstinate as he always was as he fought for justice and there was a fitting ending to the story.
So far this fourth book by Felix Francis was the most enjoyable read for me

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