Saturday, April 21, 2012

Harper Collins NZ latest!

Earth Dragon, Fire Hare by Ken Catran, HarperCollins New Zealand
I’m not in the target audience for this book (it’s aimed at teenage boys) but I definitely enjoyed reading it. Ken Catran continues his focus on war; however this title is not part of his earlier series about the Moran family at war. There are two young heroes in this story – Peter Hayes, a Kiwi soldier, and Ng, a Communist guerrilla. The era is the 1940s, and the setting is the jungle of Malaysia. Like most New Zealanders I know little about the fighting in Malaysia, first against the Japanese and later against the Communists, so I was interested in the background. As always with Ken Catran, this was extensively and thoroughly researched. The chapters skip back and forth between the two main characters, sketching in their totally different transitions from boyhood to young manhood. The characters are not connected directly until two-thirds of the way through the book, when they both are given Chinese horoscopes which link their destinies. After that they meet in the jungle – and discover the extreme difficulties that ensue from making friends with the enemy. Inevitably, the ending involves death.
The plot is fast-moving and full of action – and there aren’t any boring bits! So teenagers should enjoy it. They may even learn a bit of history while they read...
ISBN 978 1 86950 941 5 RRP $24.99 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
Steel Pelicans by Des Hunt, HarperCollins NZ
This author specialises in exciting adventure stories for intermediate-aged boys, and his latest title should appeal to his fans. Dean Steele and Pete Kelly (aka Pelly) are a gang of two – the Steel Pelicans. Pete is the narrator of the story (in an older-and wiser tone), but Dean is the daredevil of the pair – he’s fascinated with explosions. The opening scene (set in Wollongong) is so memorable that one wonders if something similar really happened to the author. An explosion doesn’t work, Pete goes to see what’s wrong, Pete ends up with dead rat entrails plastered all over his face... But the gang of two is split up when Pete’s family shift back to New Zealand. Pete misses his friend, but manages to make a new friend at school called Afi Moore. Pete and Afi stumble across a smuggling operation involving a senior pupil at their school, together with a local criminal family. But when Dean comes across for a holiday and organises some sabotage to disrupt the operations of the bad guys, things really start happening. Inevitably, Dean, Afi and Pete get far more dangerously involved than they bargained for...  A good read for boys, and the eye-catching cover picture of a pair of steel pelican robots will certainly attract the target audience.
ISBN 978 1 86950 953 8 RRP $19.99 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
Reach by Hugh Brown, HarperCollins NZ
This coming-of-age story is the inaugural winner of the Tessa Duder Award for Young Adult Fiction (sponsored by Storylines and HarperCollins NZ). It will be launched on 31 March at Margaret Mahy Day. The main protagonist is male, but teenage girls will probably read it quite happily. Will Clark is a boy of many parts, but a lack of confidence holds him back. He loves reading, and even writes his own fantasy/sci fi stories. He’s learning taekwondo but none of his friends are aware of this. He’s being bullied by a jock at school, teased by his nerdish best friend, and apparently ignored by a girl called Conway Jones, whom he fancies. But his life is riven by even deeper problems – his father is depressed and uncommunicative, his mother has taken off to join a commune, and his grandfather has a prostate cancer scare. Despite himself, Will needs to battle through these problems and come out stronger at the end – which he does. It’s a contemplative story, written with a strong understanding of teenage angst. Its strength lies in its characterisation, humour, and awareness of modern-day teenage issues. Personally, I’m glad the first Tessa Duder Award was given for a realistic and moving story about a likeable 21st-century New Zealand teenager – rather than a vampire or a werewolf...
ISBN 978 1 86950 956 9 RRP $22.99 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

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