Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent

Divergent

Imagine a world torn apart by war. One city in America still functions but all is not as it seems. Society has been divided into five Factions. Each Faction focuses on the traits and abilities they feel will best protect humanity from further war and destruction. Abnegation values selflessness and honour. Candor values truth. Erudite values knowledge. Dauntless values courage and bravery. Amity values happiness. All children are born into a faction and grow up according to those rules and beliefs. At 16, each adolescent is test using computers and a serum to determine which Faction they are best suited to. the next day, each adolescent is allowed to choose their future Faction for themselves. If they get past the Initiation period, they are then fully integrated into their new faction. If they do not pass initiation, they then become Factionless and live on the streets of the city doing menial tasks.

Breatice, who becomes Tris begins the story as Abnegation, but after her testing goes wrong and her results are inconclusive, she is deemed to be Divergent and urged to keep this information to herself as it is very dangerous! The next day she chooses Dauntless for her new Faction, much to her father’s disgust, and begins a whole new adventure!

But all is not as it seems. As Tris learns to jump on and off moving trains, fight, shoot guns and conquer fear, as well as earn the trust and love of her new friends (especially the young leader named Four), the government of her city is being challenged by an Erudite leader who uses the media for a smear campaign. Tris’ father is one of the targets. Eventually the challenge steps up a few notches and challenges not just the government, but the whole belief system of the Factions!

I love this book! The characters are very empathetic and the society is brilliantly drawn. The factions mirror many of the cliques and groups found within schools and society in general. This book is a Dystopian Fantasy. That means that it depicts a supposedly Utopian Society and then looks at it’s faults and how those faults impact on the lives and choices of the main protagonists! Very well done! I highly recommend this book!

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

The Emerald Atlas

The Emerald Atlas

Three orphans, Kate, Michael and Emma P. are orphaned under unusual and difficult circumstances… and then over the course of ten years, are shunted from orphanage to orphanage until finally they end up at the strangest orphanage of all at Cambridge Falls!

While exploring their new home, they discover an old leather book, which when Kate places an old photo on one of it’s pages, transports them back to the time and place of the photo. A time and place where all children are prisoners of an evil but gorgeous witch who will stop at nothing to possess the old leather book!

The Leather book is actually the Emerald Atlas of the title, one of three powerful artifacts which were hidden, thought destroyed hundreds of years ago, and are now being sought by forces of evil. The three twins are each very different and lead by Kate, the eldest, they strive to understand the suddenly magical world they find themselves in, save the children and adults of Cambridge Falls, help the Dwarves,  keep the Atlas out of  the hands of the Wicked Countess, understand the mysterious hints and plots of Doctor Pym as well as stay together as a family and find their parents!

I enjoyed this book greatly, but found the start a little cumbersome! Suitable for mid to late Primary students.

Troubletwisters by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Troubletwiters

Troubletwisters

Jack and Jaide are twins. They are sent to live with their Grandmother, Grandma X, when their hose explodes, their father disappears and their mother needs to work to get the money together to rebuild their lives!

They have never been to their Grandmother’s house in the small town of Portland. They are not comfortable with their Grandmother at all! Especially when Grandma X and her house turn out to be quite eccentric and not a little disturbing! Then there are the strange things that happen around the town… talking cats, disappearing and reappearing doors, swarms of insects, including cockroaches, hot chocolate that makes you forget what just happened, tornadoes inside… and then things get really messy!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! The story is told from two points of view, with each twin taking turns to be the narrator. The stories overlap nicely with each child having a distinct voice and often differing opinions on what is happening! Grandma X is quite annoying as she constantly tries to divert the children from their questions and basically just confuses the issues… but all for good reason… can’t say too much more without giving the whole thing away – but destiny, family traits, abilities and inheritance play a big part in the adventure as the twins battle to keep together and understand the changes taking place around them – all while evil lurks around the corner and tries to kidnap or hijack them!

The Parliament of Blood by Justin Richards

The Parliament of Blood

The Parliament of Blood

Set in Victorian England, this is not a Steampunk novel. It is an enjoyable and rollicking Vampire yarn with lots of death, damnation and politics thrown in!

There are four main characters, although none of them really captured me as the central character. Young Eddie is a street urchin who has been taken in by George who works for Sir William at the British Museum in the Department of Unclassified Artifacts and is friends with Liz who spends most of her days caring for her ailing father.

An Egyptian Mummy is unwrapped with disastrous results, although no one believes that the events of the evening were anything bu an elaborate hoax. As Eddie and George follow the trail of the runaway mummy, they find more and more links to the mysterious Damnation Club, an exclusive club boasting some of England’s top politicians, celebrities, scientists and engineers. As they become more entwined in the machinations of the Club, they find ancient curses come to life, feats of engineering designed to feed sleeping monsters and evil plans to take over England and thereby eventually rule the world!

I found the book enjoyable, but not enthralling. I wanted George to be more central and more aware. His relationship with Liz was almost non existent until almost the end of the book!

Low Red Moon by Ivy Devlin

Low Red Moon

Low Red Moon

Avery has a large blank in her memory. She is not your average adolescent, having spent most of her life living outside town in the woods, being home schooled by her mother and learning just as much about the plants and animals around her as she did about book learning and school stuff. That all changed the night her parents were killed in front of her. Avery is not comfortable living at her Grandmother’s house in town. School is not so bad, but the nightmares involving flashes of silver, inhumanly fast and oceans of blood and tears.

Somehow the new boy, Ben, for whom she feels an instant connection, is involved and close to the puzzle of her parents murder – he is a werewolf, but he is also the victim of violence, where his whole family was wiped out by vigilantes. He understands her need to know the truth, but struggles with the connection and attraction they both feel and must learn to trust…

Avery is like a lost soul with a fair bit of angst and rebellion, but also vulnerable as she sees flashes and remembers bits of the night her parents died. The relationship between Avery and Ben is at times confusing – especially when it makes such a physical impression at first sight! Both want to trust each other and become increasingly obsessed with each other, but then they also constantly push each other away. Enjoyable but a tad confusing!

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Reynie Muldoon is a singular child. He is an orphan with an astonishing intellect. He, with the assistance of his tutor and friend, Ms Perumal, answers an add in the paper looking for exceptional children and after a gruelling round of tests and several strange min adventures,is one of only four children chosen by the mysterious Mr Benedict to help him save the world! Each of the children are orphans or runaways. Each has some gift, either intellectual or physical which makes them unique… and they all are strong minded and almost obsessed with the truth!

An interesting idea with some great characters, but a bit hard to get started! All of the children are geniuses in their own rights, and each has their own flaws and faults, but when put together they need to work together as a team to stop the evil plan of Mr Curtain to use brain washing techniques and mind sweeping machines to dominate and ultimately control the whole world!

A lot of time is spent introducing the characters and the main premise behind the plot. Once the children are sent to the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, the pace picks up and the story begins to become clearer!

A good read for Year 3-6 students who like a bit of a challenge and aren’t afraid to stick with a book beyond the first few slow chapters!

Heartless by Gail Carriger

Heartless

Heartless

Alexia Tarrabotti is back for the fourth installment! I thoroughly enjoyed this book – not surprising as I have become a keen fan of the Parasol Protectorate!

Alexia is in the final weeks of her pregnancy, and after yet another assassination attempt, a solution has been found for her predicament. The Vampires are bound and determined to exterminate Alexia’s unborn ‘infant inconvenience’ and hopefully her as well. At the same time, a plot to assassinate the Queen is uncovered with many clues leading back to the last attempt on Queen Victoria’s life, at the hands of Lord Maccon’s previous pack up in Kingair in Scotland! Gossip, politics, werewolves, vampires and mechanical octopods abound!

Can’t wait for the next instalment! (Timeless is due out in March 2012)!

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

The Girl in the Steel Corset

The Girl in the Steel Corset

The Steampunk Chronicles #1.

Finley Jayne is a girl who is not quite comfortable in her own skin… especially in times of stress or danger!This is when her darker side with super human strength, speed and healing abilities takes over! Running from a disastrous (for him) encounter with the Lord of the Manor, Finley finds herself struck down by velocycle and waking up in the guest bedroom of the  Duke of Greythorne, Griffin King.

This turns out to be a good move, as Griffin King is not only one of the most powerful men in Victorian England, he is also heavily involved in the  investigation and exploration of events of a more supernatural bent! Also living at the Mayfair Estate of the Duke are Emily; a brilliant inventor and engineer, Sam; half man, half machine, Lady Marsden; a strong telepath and Jasper; an American who can move faster than any other man alive. All these strange and evolving abilities can be traced back to a series of experiments conducted by Griffin’s parents involving a new found compound called Organites, which enhance and accelerate healing… among other things!

Of course there is the bad guy, who is plotting to take over all of England and kill as many of the friends as he can in the process!

Steampunk is not a new phenomenon, however it is still reasonably rare. The books are set in the time of Victorian England, but involve an alternate reality where the Industrial Revolution has already occurred with several sidetracks along the way! This book is a fine example of Steampunk and very enjoyable!

Die For Me by Amy Plum

Die For Me

Die For Me

Revenants are ugly scary creatures arisen form the dead… or are they! Set in Paris, this novel give Revenants the sexy treatment, dividing the ‘species’ (I suppose you could call them that) into good vs evil.

Kate’s world has been shaken up, turned upside down and transported from America (Brooklyn no less) to Paris in the space of just 3 short paragraphs. Her parents have died in a car accident and Kate and her older sister Georgia move to Paris to live with their Grandparents within days of the funeral. Kate is not coping. Not so much with the move as the two sisters have spent many months in the past visiting and living in Paris. The death of her parents has hit her hard and she is slowly withdrawing from the world around her. Only visiting the museums and reading her favourite books in some of the many cafes is keeping her remotely sane… until she see him.

Kate quickly becomes obsessed with Vincent, the devastatingly handsome guy who seems to pop up wherever she goes. She sees him everywhere – but more to the point, she starts to look for him everywhere. Of course they meet up and with some trepidation go on a ‘date’ of sorts. Kate witnesses a terrible accident where one of Vincent’s friends is killed and is then appalled by his lack of emotion… eventually to be told the truth – Vincent and his friends are no longer human. They are revenants, who spend their time rescuing people form death, often at the expense of their own lives… but then they rise form the dead and continue on!

I enjoyed this version of revenants – not zombified residents of horror movies, although once the bad guys kick into action, it is definitely not all roses and soft music! Kate is at first very torn by her reactions to watching Vincent and his friends die – having seen her own parents killed, the idea of watching her love and his friends die over and over again is not something she feels she can deal with! Eventually her need to be with Vincent overcomes her apprehension… but then the bad guys step up the drama, kidnapping, killing and threatening everything Kate holds dear!

I liked Kate. She is far from perfect and often spends days or even weeks arguing with herself and battling her depression. Vincent is flawed too. His own past experiences (he is nearly 100 years old) and present existence are not conducive to long term relationships! He often over or under-reacts and says or does the wrong thing only to turn around and prove just how romantic a city Paris can be! Definitely as tory for the romantics, but with quite a bit of blood, death and destruction in there as well!

Too Small to Fail by Morris Gleitzman

Too Small to Fail

Too Small to Fail

Oliver Newton’s parents own their own bank. They are rich and important people. They are very busy people. They are about to become victims of the Global Financial Crisis, taking many of their investors both small and large with them!

Oliver is a small, naive Year 5 boy who misses his parents and desperately wants their approval and attention. He also desperately wants a dog.

The story begins with Oliver, the boy who has every toy and gadget known to man mournfully trying to befriend a small dog (whom he has called Barclay) through the glass window of the local pet shop. Oliver is banned from entering the pet shop as the staff know he is not allowed to buy a dog. This is where Nancy steps in, buys the dog from under his nose, entices Oliver into her car and then threatens to kill the dog!

Nancy turns out to be one of the many housekeepers/nannies Oliver has been cared for over the course of his short life. She is also an investor with his parents’ bank who cannot now get her money and is in desperate need of assistance.

There is a lot of desperation going around in this book! Oliver’s parents are desperate to not lose everything, escape from their investors and in the case of Owen, Oliver’s Dad, start a new bank in Europe. Nancy and her daughter Rose are desperate to save their camels from dying of thirst by getting their investment money back from the Newtons and perhaps get a bit of closure for the death of Tim, Nancy’s husband. Hayden, who works at the bank desperately wants his new BMW. Erik desperately wants any money he can get by simply threatening to kill Barclay. The kid’s at Oliver’s exclusive school desperately want to double their money overnight… the list goes on.

There is a lot of desperation in this book and most of it revolves around money. Oliver’s simplistic and often misguided attempts to please everybody, help Nancy, rescue Barclay and impress his parents leave him further and further out of his depth and more and more stressed! Yet somehow, Oliver’s staunch belief in doing the right thing, no matter how difficult or how expensive eventually rubs off on Nancy, Rose and eventually his mother.

Right and wrong are rarely black and white, and as Oliver struggles to come to grips with Maths in general and his parents’ world of high finance in particular, the lines become even more blurred. Only Oliver seems to see the difference between greed and selfishness compared to compassion and selflessness. All his care is given to others.

Morris Gleitzman has produced a very topical book, at a time when many students struggle to understand the financial woes being reported around them. This book does not set out to explain or clarify the situation, but it does make it clear that it is the way we treat each other, not how much money we have that is important!