The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson.

13453104289 pages

Published March 1st 2013 by Arthur A. Levine

Palmares Trés, Brazil. 400 years after the end of the world. Technology has advanced a lot and people can live for up to two hundred and fifty years. Palmares Trés doesn’t get into the whole tech thing quite as much as other cities – in the future Tokyo, the people there actually download themselves into code and live in the cloud. There is debate over whether the Brazilian city should allow more tech/body modifications/etc or not. They are very passionate about art, in all it’s forms.

Palmares Trés is run by women. They have a Queen who rules the city with just the help of the ‘Aunties’ (leaders) for most of the time, but every five years the city elects a Summer King. At the end of his very short term, he is sacrificed. In his last moments, it is his job is to elect a new Queen (or reinstate the current one). The kings die so that their choice of the new Queen can be irrevocable, unassailable, and unprejudiced. After all, there’s no time for corruption when your throat is being cut. 

June is a young artist. She has just been chosen as a finalist for the Queen’s Award – a prestigious award that can change your whole life if you win. The current Queen was a winner herself, back in the day.

Enki has just been elected as Summer King. He too is an artist. Together, he and June work on anonymous and amazing art projects around the city.

Gil is June’s best friend. He is a beautiful dancer. Enki has just picked him as his most public consort.

But things are changing in the city of Palmares Trés. And Enki and June are at the centre of it all.

The Summer Prince was definitely different than I expected. The description made it sound like a love story, and though there is love here, there’s no way I would call it a romance, or even romantic. It’s more about the city, I think – it’s outdated customs and the way it needs to change or adapt. I wouldn’t say that I particularly connected with any of the characters.

I did like it, I think. My feelings are a bit complicated, actually.

It’s separated into the four seasons. There aren’t any chapters, which makes it harder to read, I find. It’s just that I like to stop a reading session at a new chapter. There are plenty of page breaks, so that’s something. Also, it was a bit slow to get into, but at about the hundred page mark, it started to click for me.

I’m not sure that I would really call this a young adult novel, either. There were some pretty mature themes, and even the writing itself was harder to read than your usual young adult pickings.

The most complicated thing of all, I found, was the way that sexuality had been redefined. There are no straight/gay/bi people – same gender couples are just as ordinary as mixed gender couples. Everyone just gets with everyone, and that’s the norm. I had to essentially reset my brain to try and get around that concept. Sex didn’t seem to be mean much, though. At one point, June says that she and Gil took care of their ‘virginity problem’ years ago, like it’s nothing.

I can’t even really pin down a proper genre. I guess, sci-fi? It’s a tricky one, is The Summer Prince.

Undead by Kirsty McKay.

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Book One in the Undead series.

294 pages

Published September 1st 2011 by Chicken House

Bobby and Smitty are on a Scottish school ski trip. On the way home, the group stops at the Cheery Chomper cafe for some lunch, but they stay on the bus – Bobby because she is new and wants to be left alone and Smitty because he’s a Bad Boy. After a short while, popular girl Alice comes running out of the cafe, clearly distressed. When she gets onto the bus, she tells Bobby and Smitty that everyone is dead, including their teacher – even though he was trying to bite her. Soon, the students start shuffling out of the cafe, hungry for flesh.

After catching up with one other surviving classmate, Pete, the four teens start to wonder just how many people have been infected – is it worldwide? or just close by? They just need to survive until someone comes to rescue them … that is, if there’s anyone left out there.

If you like reading about teens stuck in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, then this is definitely for you. There’s the popular girl who screams  a lot and is kind of useless. The smart guy who has an answer for everything and a paranoid edge. The class clown/bad boy and the new girl loner who rise to the occasion   time and time again (that would be Smitty and Bobby – they are both so brave and just get things done, no complaints).

Even though it isn’t heavy on gore, there are still moments that made me cringe. It’s funny and clever sometimes.  I liked how Bobby explains some horror movie stereotypes, like when people go to a place where there is obviously going to be danger (the basement, the woods, across a darkened threshold) – they do it because you just have to keep moving. Or when people throw out all those macho comments, it’s because it helps distract from the severity of the situation and makes you feel braver.

I also enjoyed the fact that this was just a good old fashioned zombie survival story. It covers just a few days, and there’s none of that supernatural stuff going on. Not that I mind the supernatural stuff, but it’s nice to not have it, too.

I think the best thing about zombie books (and probably movies – I can’t watch them because they give me terror-induced insomnia!) is the creative zom-situations that the author can come up with. Like, ‘where can I put these animated corpses that will have my reader terrified/in stitches/going ‘ah!’ with the cleverness of it all?’ One situation in this book had zombies in a loch, trapped under the frozen surface and banging on the ice to try and break through. So cool.

Undead does end with a cliffhanger, but it’s a good one. There were enough answers and enough of a conclusion to leave the reader satisfied and very much looking forward to book two.

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson.

12937427

Book Two in the Shades of London series.

290 pages

Published February 26th 2013 by HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks

When we last saw Rory Deveaux, she had been (almost fatally) knifed by a ghost in her school bathroom. Also, she zapped another ghost into nothingness using her bare fingers – no terminus required.

Now, she’s left London and is staying with her parents in Bristol. She’s going to therapy and trying to get well enough (mentally/psychologically) to return to school in London. She misses her friends – both the school ones and the ghost fighting ones – and is struggling to come to terms with the fact that she is a human terminus.

But once Rory’s back at Wexford, it seems that there may be new enemies to threaten her. Some are murderous ghosts, but some are seemingly harmless. It isn’t until Rory lets her guard down that she realises just how deep in trouble she really is.

Bedlam breaks free . . .

I want to be honest: I was very disappointed by this book. Because I loved The Name of the Star so much, this was probably my most highly anticipated sequel of 2013. I was so keen to read about more of Rory’s adventures, but now having read the book I feel very flat. It’s not that The Madness Underneath is badly written, it’s just that there is not enough of a plot or maybe not enough of a fully formed one. It’s kind of like it’s made up of two halves of different plots. Honestly, I did enjoy the book as I was reading it – Rory’s still an awesome narrator, and there were some promising developments. But once I had finished, I thought to myself: I waited a year for that?! 

The first thing I noticed when I got my copy is that it’s so much shorter than it’s predecessor. This would be fine, except it ends with a hideous cliffhanger that totally deflated me. It didn’t make me want to go and look up every piece of information available about the third book, like I normally would. It was not one of those cliffhangers where you tear out your hair and shake your fists at the heavens and positively shake with anticipation for the next instalment, knowing that what you’ve just read is fleshy and amazing. It was a totally dissatisfying ending.

I wish that this had either been a) twice the length, therefore including more of the storyline that began right near the end, or b) a novella that simply covered Rory’s recovery and return to London.

Obviously Rory was always going to have to have some downtime – a ghost nearly killed her! That’s got to have some pretty serious repercussions. When she gets back to London, everything’s different, and this is where poor Jerome gets the raw end of the deal. Once again, I know that after a traumatic experience, your feelings about things from before will be different. All of this was necessary, but maybe it got in the way of a great story?

The more I think about that novella idea, the more I like it. It could have come out some months after The Name of the Star, paving the way for a more whole version of The Madness Underneath. Maybe you disagree, but I think it could have worked.

Anyway, now that I’ve talked this up so much, I’m sure everyone is just desperate to get their hands on a copy. Just don’t be like me – try to go in without too many expectations and you’ll probably enjoy it more.

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith.

16065521375 pages

Published May 28th 2013 by Katherine Tegen Books

Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy.

I’m afraid that this was a case of blurb misinterpretation for me. I had expected this to be a sort of bittersweet mystery with a romance woven throughout. Nowhere in the blurb does it say mystery – I totally assumed because the premise seemed reminiscent of The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan, and also of an idea for a story that’s been swimming around in my mind for a while. I should have focused more on another ‘m’ word in the blurb – madness. I was completely taken by surprise with Wild Awake.

I’ve always loved the missing and/or dead big sister premise. The way you idealise them and then realise that maybe they weren’t the person you thought they were – this is something that Kiri Byrd goes through. Her big sister, Sukey, died five years ago. Her parents told Kiri that it was a car accident, but in reality she was murdered.

Sukey had a vibe straight out of an earlier era, kind of like a hippie. She was a free spirit and an artist who left home to make it on her own when she was still a teenager. Of course, Kiri loved Sukey, and thought that she was amazing.

Kiri is off beat, smart and talented. She likes to really live, to the point where she is almost self-destructive. While her parents are away, she is finally free to be/discover her true self, rather than just be the post-Sukey parent-pleaser the she became five years earlier. She’s pretty crazy, and more like her sister than any knows.

There are no mistakes, I realise – just detours whose significance only become clear when you when you see the whole picture at once. 

While there is technically a love story in here, it’s not what I would call a romance. If I were you, I wouldn’t go in expecting any swoonish or cute moments. Or even, I daresay, the kind of leading man that you might fantasise about. This isn’t that book. It’s pretty heavy, actually.

For the last hundred pages or so, I had a lump in my throat the entire time. I felt almost distressed. Wild Awake took another path that I wasn’t expecting. It got quite intense. I felt the need to sit and think for a while when I finished it.

Hilary T. Smith is definitely a talented author that I want to keep my eye on. I can’t wait to see what she writes next. I think that this is a very good young adult novel.

OCD, The Dude, and Me by Lauren Roedy Vaughn.

15721669240 pages

Published March 21st 2013 by Dial

OCD, The Dude, and Me chronicles one year in the life of Danielle Levine. She’s an adopted, redheaded, chunky senior with OCD. She’s got stacks of hats and a pair of Chucks for every occasion. She goes to a small alternative high school in Los Angeles, where she doesn’t exactly fit in.

This is one of those novels that doesn’t really have a plot – there’s gradual growth, but not much plot. It’s written in the form of letters, writing assignments and diary entries – all the documents that make up Danielle’s super secret ‘me-moirs’ that she keeps locked up under her bed.  I actually love this style of writing, but I know that others might hate it.

Danielle is an incredible character. I got so very attached to her. She’s funny, smart and self deprecating. I wanted everything to work out for her. I got to the end of the book and felt like crying, but not really for any particular reason. Just because I was empathising with her so much, I guess (If I had been alone, I definitely would have cried).

I watched The Big Lebowski in preparation for this, and I’m glad I did. It’s not essential, but if you have seen it then there are parts of the novel that will make you feel all nostalgic and like you’re a part of something really cool (I wanted to be at that Lebowski fest!). I think that I also had lots of warm fuzzy feelings because I went bowling earlier in the week (the bowling wasn’t in preparation of the book, but a simple coincidence – though it did add to the experience).

If you like contemporary young adult fiction, then I’d definitely recommend OCD, The Dude, and Me.

Woe for my Kobo.

When I decided to buy a Kobo eReader, I was so excited. I stayed up late researching it and trying to decide if I would wait a week or two and save or just dip into my savings (I attacked the savings – it was around 12:30am and I couldn’t get to sleep because I was as keen as a bean – many of my splurges are made late at night or early in the morning). Then I had to wait a week or so for it to come in the mail (my local Angus & Robertson didn’t keep them in stock). In preparation, I sewed a little protective case out of some funky red fabric.

When it finally came, I was in love. How wonderful are those eReaders? I spent literally hours combing through the young adult section of the Kobo website, buying way too many eBooks. Back then, they would do heaps of limitless thirty percent off deals. Now, they only seem to do vouchers for one book at thirty percent off. Bummer.

Anyway, we had so many good times together, my Kobo and I. I read him outside and in bed and in my armchair and in the car and at the beach. I took him on holiday and tore through my many unread purchases (I used to make deals with myself that I wouldn’t buy any more eBooks until I had read all the ones I had already bought . . . it never worked). We spent many many hours together while I was housesitting (I hated living alone for those two weeks and didn’t have anything to do except read and clean). He survived the horrible-but-fun-to-look-back-on camping experience (there were drunken teens lapping around the secluded camping site, yelling and swearing and taking firewood from the bush, even though it had a sign that distinctly said not to take any firewood from the bush – hoodlums, I tell you! They didn’t even show up until eight at night when every single other person at the site was already asleep – who goes camping at eight at night??). 

Then, one day – one woeful day – I made the decision to buy an iPad. It was like I was possessed – the idea just popped into my head while I was at work and I couldn’t talk myself out of it. I transferred all the required funds from my savings and went to Big W straight from work and bought that seven hundred dollar iPad with only a twinge of that ‘should I really be doing this?’ feeling.

From that day, my Kobo just sat on my shelf and gathered dust – I had the Kobo and Amazon apps on my iPad, I didn’t need him anymore. “I’ll still use him,” I told myself. “I’ll take him places where I wouldn’t want to take my very expensive, shiny new iPad” But I hardly ever did use the poor fella again. He just hung around, probably feeling completely rejected.

When my sister announced that she was having a garage sale, I hunted around my room, desperately looking for stuff to sell. Poor Kobo got picked up off the shelf and sent away to be sold to some stranger. My sister said it was a man who played around with my acoustic guitar for a while. His wife picked up my Kobo and said, “buy this for your daughter, she’s been wanting one!” They got both the Kobo and the guitar for forty dollars.

Apart from when I was staying with my other sister for a couple of months (she doesn’t have a TV, and I wasn’t connected to the internet, so you can imagine the crazy amount of reading I got done there!), I haven’t read very consistently on my iPad. In fact, I’ve sort of gone off eBooks. There was something so basic and perfect about my Kobo. I think it’s the lack of distractions. With the iPad, you might be reading happily when you get an email, so you go and check it, and that makes you think of something that you wanted to look up online, so you look it up, thinking you’ll go back to reading very soon. But it’s too late, you’ve already been sucked into an hour long web surf.

Tonight I was thinking about my Kobo, and I suddenly realised that I wanted him back. Obviously I can’t have my one back, but I can buy one of his cousins. Which is exactly what I have just done. Oh, yes. There is currently an order for yours truly at JB HiFi for one lovely lilac Kobo. They’re now half the price that they used to be, with more stuff for your money. My Kobo was the very basic kind with a compass style navigation button, and no wi-fi. I can’t wait to get this new one. Lately, I’ve been feeling like all the gadgets I have are just distractions getting in the way of my reading and other creative pursuits, and my new Kobo, with it’s internet limitations, is just what I need to tackle my many many many many many many unread eBooks (I still buy more every now and again, even though I’m not reading them!).

The only downside is that I don’t think I can sync two different stores (Bookworld, formerly Borders, and Kobo) books onto the one device, even though they are all ePubs, unless that has changed since I sold my poor Kobo (I hope that the daughter of the garage sale couple treats him well, I really do). If it hasn’t, I can still reread the Borders ones on the iPad. I was only buying from them until they went under a few years ago.

Lilac Kobo, I can’t wait to meet you!

 

(This post will serve as a cautionary tale for myself if I ever think about selling my new Kobo – Future Laura, do NOT sell your Kobo, because you will definitely regret it!)

The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell.

11019529304 pages

First published August 3rd 2010

Older than her years and completely alone, Temple is just trying to live one day at a time in a post-apocalyptic world, where the undead roam endlessly, and the remnant of mankind who have survived, at times, seem to retain little humanity themselves…Her journey takes her to far flung places, to people struggling to maintain some semblance of civilisation – and to those who have created a new world order for themselves. When she comes across the helpless Maury, she attempts to set one thing right: if she can just get him back to his family then maybe it will bring forgiveness for some of the terrible things that she has done in her past. Because Temple has had to fight to survive; along the road she’s made enemies – and one vengeful man is determined that, in a world gone mad, killing her is the only thing that makes sense…

The Reapers are the Angels is quite different. It’s a zombie journey (road) novel, which is a very common type of zombie book, but it features this incredible girl (I think that she is fifteen) named Temple who has never known the world to be any different. She’s totally alone and only stays somewhere until it is no longer safe, then she just looks for somewhere else to go.

Temple’s got a certain kind of faith in God. She believes that you don’t miss out on nothing you’re supposed to witness first hand. This faith is kind of a recurring theme.

Her companion, Maury, is much older and totally helpless. When she first meets him, he is carrying his deceased grandmother – who was his carer – along a road with a string of meatskins (zombies) behind him. He’s got a note that his gran wrote, asking anyone who finds him to please take him back home to the west if they can.

Also, there is a man after her. He wants to kill her in order to settle a blood debt.

It’s quite beautifully written, but in that unflinching way that you’d expect of a zombie book. Temple is a strong character who’s just looking for some redemption.

While the zombies are significant, they’re not the horrific kind that you may be hoping for. If you like the blood and guts kind of zombie, then look elsewhere. But if you enjoy reading about the ‘what it means to be human’ kind of zombie, then this is for you.