NZ Post Children’s Book Awards – And the winner is …?

Cover of Guardian of the DeadFor the past two years I’ve been reading all the nominations and guessing (correctly) the winner of the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards in the Young Adult category. So this year I thought I would give it another go.

This year there seems to be a lot of similarity between the titles with lots of fantasy and science fiction. Guardian of the Dead is set very much in Christchurch pre-quake and what starts off like a school romance story quickly becomes more surreal as the characters become embroiled in Māori mythology that turns out to be a more literal explanation of the world than perhaps one suspected. With witches, monsters, gods, blood-thirsty faerie folk and a somewhat bizarre romance, this is derivative teen fiction with a Māori theme. It is very readable and I would certainly recommend it to teenagers – but after describing our beautiful and gloriously gaudy Peacock fountain as “a monstrosity” it can’t possibly get my vote to win!

Maurice Gee’s Limping Man is the third part of the Salt trilogy, the first of which won the award in 2008, I must confess to not getting very far with this.  A world with an evil enigmatic powerful villain and heroes with strange supernatural powers sounds thrilling but it all got a bit tedious – it seemed to lack the pace and page turning suspense of a great Young Adult novel.

Cover of Smiling JackThe opposite could be said for Smiling Jack – devoured voraciously in one sitting. A whodunit in a small town with a bizarre religious sect, a mysterious bottomless pit, missing gold bullion and bodies turning up all over town. This had great pace and kept you guessing right til the end. My only quibble was weak and unrealistic characterisation which didn’t really ruin the plot but did make the story less believable.

The two other contenders – Ebony Hill and Fierce September, I have blogged about previously – both of these are part two books (I would recommend reading part one of both first) and both excellent reads. However, both are slightly ruined in this competition by their similarity to each other. But of the two I found Fierce September more enjoyable, and probably my favourite of all the nominees.

So who will win?
Cover of Fierce SeptemberI’m really not sure. The Guardian of the Dead has the strongest New Zealand theme which sets it apart from other international literature, something important in a New Zealand-only contest and something the judges may well go for.

However, I would really like Fleur Beale’s Fierce September to win – she was also nominated in 2009 and 2010 with excellent titles Juno of Taris and The End of the Alphabet beaten only by an outstanding other entry each time  (The 10pm Question and The Crossing). So this time I’ll go with my heart and pick Fierce September, the results will be revealed Wednesday evening.

But what do you think?

Futuristic dystopian girls on islands …

Cover of Ebony HillIn the world of NZ young adult fiction, there seems to be a bit of a common theme – future dystopias involving girls trapped (and escaping) from islands.

This year’s New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards’ young adult finalists include two such titles: Ebony Hill and Fierce September.

Both these books are sequels – because I hadn’t read The Sea-Wreak Stranger, I tried it first before reading Ebony Hill – back to back on a rainy Sunday. They are those kind of books – the ones that you can’t put down and merely grunt at your partner when he presents you with a cup of tea.

cover of Fierce SeptemberFierce September the sequel to Juno of Taris – a finalist in the 2009 awards. I read it a while back and is another great book. I will find it hard to choose between it and Ebony Hill.

Both books are set in a near future where (mis)use of technology has caused planetary-wide devastation and the feisty non-conforming heroines escape from a small island run by corrupt rulers.  In both books they find an outside world also suffering from problems and corruption.

Last year The Crossing (where a feisty young heroine in near-future dystopia escapes from a Pacific island) won the award. The sequel, Into The Wilderness, has not been nominated, but the finale – Resurrection is already in the library. This is a far darker trilogy – the horrors of the island are more extreme – but in my opinion an even better read than this year’s nominees.

So far I am going to be at a loss to make a choice, but there are three more nominated titles to read:

The awards ceremony is on the 18 May and children can vote for their own favourite, the Children’s Choice Award.

P.S. Another book with this theme – Exodus – is not a NZ title but possibly my favourite of all.

Represent! Local music on the global stage

Making a name for yourself as a musician can be difficult in little ol’ New Zealand, and anyone wanting to earn any real money from it usually has to take the tour bus on international roads.

However, it’s not all bad news. The Internet is helping spread the word about our diverse Kiwi music scene. New Zealand-made films and television series are always keen to promote New Zealand music too, creating soundtracks brimming with lots of sweet-as local acts. But how much do you hear of New Zealand outside New Zealand?

There’s been several instances where I’ve been watching an American film or television series and suddenly recognised a Kiwi song in the soundtrack.  It’s one of those moments where my chest swells with pride; my beloved Aotearoa is once again on the map because of its talented citizens. It feels good to know people all over the world get a chance to listen to some great New Zealand tunes.

Home-grown music made world-famous by Hollywood

  • Two songs by Christchurch musicians feature in the American Pie movies – Sway by Bic Runga (American Pie) and Renegade Fighter by Zed (American Pie 2);
  • Minuit can be heard on two popular TV shows – Aotearoa plays briefly on Bones (Season 6, Episode 12) and I’m Still Dancing was used on Grey’s Anatomy (Season 6, Episode 13);
  • The soundtrack to the film A Room with a View includes two Italian songs sung by Kiri Te Kanawa;
  • Evermore’s track It’s Too Late got a lot of airplay once it was featured on The O.C.;
  • And Crowded House made it onto the Reality Bites soundtrack with their song Locked Out.

What other New Zealand artists have you randomly stumbled across while watching a movie or TV show made overseas?