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Laraine A. Barker "Laraine A Barker" (New Zealand)
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The Gathering
The Gathering
by Isobelle Carmody
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
15 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chilling, disturbing and utterly compelling, July 15 2004
"Outside the wind was blowing the wrong way and the world was filled with the smell of death ..."
At face value, Cheshunt is a model neighbourhood. But almost as soon as he and his mother move there Nathanial knows there is something wrong--something hideously wrong. And it isn't just the stench from the old abattoir, which doesn't seem to bother most residents.
Nathanial soon learns he is not in Cheshunt by accident. As the dark calls its own, so does the light. Nathanial must confront phantoms from his own past if he and all the others called by the light have any hope of stopping the Gathering and its creator.
The word "dark" in The Gathering should really have a capital letter (as it does in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising) for the forces of evil could not have been more vividly realised than in this book. A number of people who have read it see the Cheshunt school's headmaster, Mr Karle ("the Kraken") as a representation of Hitler. In a quote on the book's front flyleaf Terry Lane is reported to have called The Gathering "a dark, grim allegory of fascism". Many young readers might not realise just how accurate the analogy is because Hitler actually ran an organisation called The Occult Bureau. (If anything proves how insane Hitler was, this waste of time and resources surely does.)
The evil depicted in The Gathering is truly spine-chilling and I think the main reason for this is that Carmody doesn't rely solely on occultism to create the evil. While Nathanial's schoolmate Buddha (a very strange name for an evil character) is clearly driven by the Kraken's supernatural influence when he burns Nathanial's dog alive, there is nothing supernatural about how he does it. I found this incident so disturbing it kept me awake for hours. The scene in the fourth Harry Potter book that several people described as too frightening for many children pales by comparison. This is partly because monsters like Voldemort exist only in someone's imagination. Any well-adjusted child knows this, but also knows that it would be all too easy to murder a little dog as Buddha does.
I found a page of reviews by teenagers ([...]) where there were quite a few readers who didn't like The Gathering, and I suspect this is because they had to study it at school and write an essay on it, or answer a series of questions calculated to make them really think. (Some of them seem to have entered their views here.) Most young people would probably have enjoyed The Gathering if simply given it as being a "cool" book to read. Although the page of reviews mentioned above is peppered with the sort of review so often found on amazon.com (i.e., the "this is the best book in the world" type of review) several children have posted the material they were required to produce when studying the book at school.

Stranger with My Face
Stranger with My Face
by Lois Duncan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
57 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A suspenseful fantasy thriller, July 15 2004
How can she be in two places at one time?
Laurie was at home, but her boyfriend swears he saw her on the beach with another guy. Her family insists they see her coming and going when she's been out of the house for hours. Who--or what--is taking over Laurie's life?
A short blurb on the front cover proclaims: "Someone is watching Laurie, waiting to steal her life." How could any young reader resist such a line? When I picked up this book I couldn't.
Stranger with My Face, told in first person, starts off more as though it's going to be a thriller than a fantasy. But as the fantasy element strengthens it becomes steadily scarier, building into a terrifying climax that makes for an exciting, unputdownable read.
This book is definitely intended for young adults (after all, the protagonist is 17 years old) but I suspect most readers will be a lot younger. Few 12-year-olds can resist a really scary story. I certainly couldn't. I remember reading Jane Eyre (one of the few good books to come my way, purely by accident) and it was the mad woman in the attic rather than the hopeless love between Jane and her employer that kept me turning the pages. :-)
Many of the reviews here, I feel, give away too much of the plot. But I particularly like Heidi Lott's review and envy the fact that she obviously had someone around when she was young to point her in the direction of the best books for young readers. Like Heidi, I would also recommend Stranger with My Face to any adult who loves a good story well told.

Exodus
Exodus
by Julie Bertagna
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Heart-rending but unsentimental; a truly stunning book, July 15 2004
This review is from: Exodus (Paperback)
Mara's island home is slowly drowning beneath storm-tossed waves. As mighty icecaps melt, the Earth is losing its land to the ocean--and Mara knows she and her whole community will soon drown.
Howewver, there may still be hope. For Mara's favourite occupation is visiting the Weave (a version of the World Wide Web) on her portable cyberwizz (an outdated piece of "virtual reality" type technology, powered by solar batteries) and there she sees something extraordinary--hints of a New World, rising from the sea and reaching into the sky; cities where desperate refugees can surely find safety.
In a frantic bid for survival, Mara and her friends set sail in the ultimate exodus. But Mara's quest will become something even greater--a journey into humanity's capacity for good and evil, and a heart-wrenching story of love and loss ...
"Intellectually rigorous and bursting with humanity, this is a book to read again and again," said the Sunday Herald.
What could I possibly add this this? Exodus is a truly stunning book, an engrossing read for both young people and adults, and deserves to win many awards and become a top bestseller. Unfortunately, the latter is unlikely; it's seldom the best books that become bestsellers.
Warning: If sad stories tend to make you weep, keep plenty of tissues handy. Julie Bertagna tells her story without a hint of sentimentality, but its powerful simplicity is still bound to land some readers in tears.

The Amulet of Samarkand
The Amulet of Samarkand
by Jonathan Stroud
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 13.86
79 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A STUNNING READ; knocks Harry Potter into a cocked hat, May 29 2004
"The sulphur cloud contracted into a thick column of smoke that vomited forth thin tendrils ... There was a barely perceptible pause. Then two yellow staring eyes materialized in the heart of the smoke.
Hey, it was his first time. I wanted to scare him."
The 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus resents being under the power of human magicians, especially when the one who summons him is a mere stripling of a boy. Bartimaeus expects to have to do nothing more taxing than a few simple illusions for Nathaniel But Nathaniel has talent way beyond his years and has something considerably more dangerous in mind: revenge against a magician who made him look a fool. Nathaniel sends Bartimaeus off to steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition who will do ANYTHING to achieve his ends. And so both djinni and apprentice boy wizard are soon caught up in a terrifying flood of magical intrigue, murder and rebellion that makes for a thrilling read for fantasy-lovers of all ages.
The excerpt starting this review comes on the second page, and the whole of the first page is descriptive, much like the first paragraph of the excerpt, so it's only when you read the last sentence that you realise this is a first-person account. It's an electrifying introduction to Bartimaeus and sets the scene for the hair-raising and hilarious things that will occur whenever the djinni is around.
However, when the story moves to Nathaniel's viewpoint, Jonathan Stroud wisely adopts third person rather than trying to imitate the language of a modern young teenager. I found the change a little disconcerting at first but soon became comfortable with it. Sometimes when Stroud makes a switch in viewpoint readers are returned to the beginning of the scene they have just read, which makes for some fascinating contrasts. It's also probably why the book is rather long, though it never seems so.
The Amulet of Samarkand is a stunning read (it knocks any of the Harry Potter books into a cocked hat) and I can't wait to meet Bartimaeus again. He, rather than young Nathaniel, is the "star" of Stroud's story.

Dragon's Blood: The Pit Dragon Trilogy, Volume One
Dragon's Blood: The Pit Dragon Trilogy, Volume One
by Jane Yolen
Edition: Paperback
38 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written, thought-provoking book, March 20 2004
The young dragon turned its black eyes toward him and Jakkin felt as if he could see strange constellations being born in the endless night of its eyes. "Be thou ever my friend," Jakkin whispered.
The dragon answered him with a weak trickle of smoke through its nose slits. It was no more than a patch of light fog, then was gone. But that it was smoke, the first conjurings of the fire of a fighting dragon, Jakkin was sure.
Fifteen-year-old Jakkin is a bond servant in Master Sarkkhan's dragon barns. Jakkin longs to be free. His only hope of obtaining enough money to free himself seems to be to steal a dragon to train secretly as a fighter. His best bet is to steal an egg, for all hatchlings are accounted for at birth. Unfortunately, a high proportion of eggs are infertile and Jakkin doesn't get the opportunity to take one, so his only option is to steal a hatchling. And finally fate seems to be on his side ...
But what if he is caught? Worse still, what if he finds he doesn't know enough to train his dragon well enough to become a true champion?
While repelled by the idea of creatures being pitted against each other in the fighting ring for the profit (or pleasure, come to that) of their human owners, I still found this novel, book one in The Pit Dragon trilogy, a thoroughly engrossing read and look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.
As so often happens, the publisher of this edition makes no mention of the other books in the trilogy. It isn't as though there is no room on the last page to list them. Worse still, however, is the omission on the cover of the fact that this is part of a trilogy. Since this novel was originally published in 1982 and this is a 1996 edition, I find the omission particularly unforgivable.

Alchemy
Alchemy
by Margaret Mahy
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Mahy at her very best, Sept. 15 2003
This review is from: Alchemy (Hardcover)
I've found myself rather disappointed in Mahy's recent books--until this one came along. The plot is as complex as anything from Diana Wynne Jones. Susan Price describes the book as "a sinister story of a conjurer and his mysterious cabinetï¿. The cabinet concerned is one of those boxes into which someone (ostensibly from the audience) climbs and seems to disappear.
Margaret Mahy doesnï¿t need a gloomy castle to create a creepy, amazingly scary atmosphere. She manages it in an ordinary urban New Zealand house. My home will never seem the same now. :-)
I'm amazed that both of the reviews posted here so far are so bad. I can only assume the readers are unimaginative adults or young readers not yet ready for the complexities of a plot like that of Alchemy.

The Giver
The Giver
by Lois Lowry
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 7.59
77 used & new from CDN$ 0.38

5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly gripping read and beautifully written, Aug. 23 2003
This review is from: The Giver (Mass Market Paperback)
Jonas lives in a community that appears, on first acquaintance, to be perfect. It's a world without crime, and with no unemployment--and therefore no poverty--nobody has to suffer hunger pangs, never mind the torment of starvation and homelessness. All members of a family unit share the experiences and "feelings" of their day each evening and nobody lies. Or so Jonas believes. Only when he learns that his lifetime job is to be the Receiver (taking on all the memories of both pain and joy that have been banished from his society, and being given permission to lie) does he realise the community's creators have banished even more good than evil from his society. Jonas and his tutor, the previous Receiver, to whom he gives the title the Giver, decide that the cost of their stable society is too high ...
Jonas's community clearly doesn't cover the whole world in which it's set, and one doesn't even have to travel over water to reach "Elsewhere", of which there are hints relatively early in the book. Most members of the community clearly believe that this is where people who are "released" go. Young readers possibly might not guess the truth here but I'm sure adult readers will.
For a book with such a complex set-up The Giver is amazingly short at less than 200 pages. If it had been a novel for adults I think it would have contained a lot more detail on how this utopian society was set up, because it does leave you asking questions about it. Lowry does, however, give enough detail for the purpose of her story and she handles it deftly, never getting in the way of the forward motion of the plot and therefore taking the risk of boring young readers.
I was amazed to hear that The Giver was on the list of "most challenged" books for 2000, on the grounds of "being sexually explicit, having occult themes, violence". I didn't see anything in it that wasn't appropriate to its audience of young adults. It's a thoroughly gripping read and beautifully written.

Dragon's Blood: The Pit Dragon Trilogy, Volume One
Dragon's Blood: The Pit Dragon Trilogy, Volume One
by Jane Yolen
Edition: Paperback
38 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly engrossing book for readers of all ages, Aug. 23 2003
The young dragon turned its black eyes toward him and Jakkin felt as if he could see strange constellations being born in the endless night of its eyes. "Be though ever my friend," Jakkin whispered.
The dragon answered him with a weak trickle of smoke through its nose slits. It was no more than a patch of light fog, then was gone. But that it was smoke, the first conjurings of the fire of a fighting dragon, Jakkin was sure.
Fifteen-year-old Jakkin is a bond servant in Master Sarkkhan's dragon barns. Jakkin longs to be free. His only hope of obtaining enough money to free himself seems to be to steal a dragon to train secretly as a fighter. His best bet is to take an egg, for all hatchlings are accounted for at birth. Unfortunately, a high proportion of eggs are infertile and Jakkin doesn't get the opportunity to take one, so his only option is to steal a hatchling. And finally fate seems to be on his side ...
But what if he is caught? Worse still, what if he finds he doesn't know enough to train his dragon well enough to become a true champion?
While repelled by the idea of creatures being pitted against each other in the fighting ring for the profit (or pleasure, come to that) of their human owners, I still found this novel, book one in The Pit Dragon trilogy, a thoroughly engrossing read and look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.
As so often happens, the publisher of this edition makes no mention of the other books in the trilogy. It isn't as though there is no room on the last page to list them. Worse still, however, is the omission on the cover of the fact that this is part of a trilogy. Since this novel was originally published in 1982 and this is a 1996 edition, I find the omission particularly unforgivable.

Rinaldo A Three Act Opera
Rinaldo A Three Act Opera
3 used & new from CDN$ 80.02

4.0 out of 5 stars Vivica Genaux very disappointing, Aug. 9 2003
I am listening to this music right now, broadcast on Concert FM (New Zealand). The orchestra is magnificent but I can't understand why Jacobs chose Vivica Genaux. I am finding her vibrato (in "Cara Sposa") very disturbing, particularly unacceptable in a period instrument performance where I expect not to have to put up with the wobbly singing of so many of today's opera singers.

Cold Tom
Cold Tom
by Sally Prue
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from CDN$ 0.28

5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read for both adults and children, May 31 2003
This review is from: Cold Tom (Hardcover)
Tom and his kind are cold in more ways than just physically. When his Tribe sees him as a danger to them, it is his own parents whose job it is to hunt him down and kill him. And Tom knows they will do just that if they catch him. He has no place to hide but the city of the demons, a noisy, smelly place of fast chariots and houses piled cheek by jowl. The demons are clumsy and loud-voiced. But worst of all, in Tom's eyes, are the ties that bind them to each other, while he is wild and free and determined to remain so. Tom wants nothing to do with the demons but but has no choice but to accept the help offered by a girl demon if he is to stay alive. And just because he isn't interested in the demons, it doesn't follow that they are not interested in him.
The quote on the English edition's cover from Michael Morpurgo suggests this was Sally Prue's first novel. On the back the words "original, fascinating, dark splendour, chilling, inventive, haunting, impressive, compelling" are splattered among a constellation of silver stars and I wouldn't like to argue with any of them. This is quite a short novel but it's beautifully written and packs a lot into its 136 pages, especially about the condition of being human.

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