Wednesday, 16 March 2016

A few book reviews

As my regular reader (to recycle an (the?) Ian Warden joke) will be aware we subscribe to the English magazine Country Life.  This is not because we desire to dress in tweed and own a cold house in the worst climate in the world, but because we enjoy the style of the writing, and share a good few of their policy positions.  So when they give a big wrap to an author we tend to pay attention.

In a recent addition they burbled about three top writers for young adult fiction:
  1. the late Terry Pratchett;
  2. J K Rowling and 
  3. Anthony Horowitz
The first two are among my favourites and clearly belong in such a list, but I had never heard of #3.  So I googled him and found he had written a whole lot of stuff.  Now the sensible thing to do - see below - would be to borrow a volume or two from the library and check out his style.  However we were going to the  Lifeline Book Fair so I searched out a couple of tomes at $3 each:
  • Eagle Strike, from the Alex Rider series; and
  • The Killing Joke.
What follows my not be totally fair, since I didn't finish either book.  Primarily they both seemed to be stilted in their writing, possibly driven by some idea that Young People need short simple ideas to keep their attention.  I also found the story in Eagle Strike (apparently about a 15 year old version of James Bond) uncredible.  That is a big call since stories about wizards and witches are clearly fantasy - but the two other authors listed make the reader believe they could be!  There is also a lot of use of Trump-like adjectives: everything is huge!  

I also felt there was a lot of 'product placement', especially in The Killing Joke.  (That would not be a problem for Country Life, since a good bit of their material is about high-end products, but at least they write about them in an interesting way.)  

It is good that we agree with the objectives of Lifeline so the $6 has gone to a good cause.  As noted I didn't finish either book, which is very unusual for me.  At least I didn't hurl it across the room using bad language of a faecal nature (an honour so far restricted to some book by Ayn Rand - possibly The Fountainhead).

Just after that unfortunate experience I was listening to ABC Radio National and heard Robyn Mundy talking about her latest work.  This included four things that had inspired her.  One of these was "How I live now" by Meg Rosoff.  She - Ms Mundy that is - had got on to this by wanting to read a good Young Adult book and asking a couple of YAs in a library what they recommended.

This time I followed my brain and borrowed the book from the ACT Library Service.  Which is a pity because I have to give it back and am much more likely to read this again than I am to have another attempt at Mr Horowitz!

The idea of the book is a girl sent from a rather dysfunctional family in New York to some relatives in England.  The relatives are, to say the least, rather strange (for some reason they make me think of the Weasly family in the Harry Potter series) but the plot takes a turn for the dark when Britain gets invaded and taken over by some other force.  The Others are not specified at all, but I think Mr Horowitz would definitely babble on about the whiteness of their Hilux utes!

Both Frances and myself found the book to be extremely gripping.  The situations described after the take-over  aren't pleasant but most of the main characters (including all the Weasley-substitutes) are described sympathetically and the story moves along very well.  In summary this would be far better to include alongside Hogwarts and the Discworld (and given the number of awards Ms Rosoff's books have won others share that opinion).

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