Book Reviews Reading

Lethal Deliveries by Ken Benn

What is it?

Photo of the book Lethal Deliveries by Ken Benn

Lethal Deliveries by Ken Benn

First published 2007 (I read the Thomson New House edition.)

A New Zealand, young adult contemporary novel.

The Back Cover Blurb

Rochelle has her hopes set on one day playing in the National Women’s Inline Hockey team. Her goal seems to slip from her reach as she gets sucked into her brother Jack’s world of gangs and drug dealing.

But is that gang life what Rochelle’s brother really wants or is it a choice his father has made for him?

Rochelle finds herself in a dangerous world supported by the most unlikely companions including her alcoholic ex-con hockey coach.

There’s a price to be paid for these friendships. An ultimate price!

What I thought

I accidentally spoiled myself for this book because I picked book two out of the library, not realising it was part of a series. Once I figured that out, I took it back and swapped it for this one.

In general, I liked the writing. The voices–particularly Rochelle’s–were good, apart from the old flub (“I made one for Jack as well so he needn’t break yours.” p.262. Needn’t. Seriously?) The amount of POVs was a bit annoying. Particularly because they weren’t even. Rochelle told most of the story, but Jack (her brother) had 6 chapters, The Geek only got 2 at the beginning, Methsy (their hockey coach–I always feel weird when adults get POV scenes in YA books) came in with 5, and there was one short scene from another adult.

Sometimes multiple POVs can work, when they’re used deliberately for effect, but it can also be a cop out. I think The Geek’s POV could’ve been cut, but in general it worked. Even Methsy wasn’t the most adult of adults, so he kind of fitted in.

Which brings me to the point of their ages. Rochelle is only 13, right down the bottom of the YA rang. And I know she’s had a hard life which might account for her being more mature (having to grow up quick, and no offense to 13 year olds here, who are generally awesome), but she was handling a lot of heavy stuff for someone so young without it seeming to take a toll.

Hockey plays a huge part in the story and the lives of the characters, it’s what brings them all together. We get to live through a lot of games, and they were well described and pretty good action sequences. (I’ll take notes for future reference.) But it also led to one of the big whiplash moments in the book. As the blurb indicates, Jack is getting involved with a gang and drugs, and after a long sequence where the kids are in physical danger and narrowly escape (but with the knowledge it will come back to haunt them) they turn up the next day to play hockey as if nothing happened. I don’t think going through something that scary would be so easy to brush off.

The story has a lot of loose ends. Not quite a cliffhanger, but close. And it’s clearly setting up for book 2. Because of this, it really doesn’t feel like the story is finished. It just stops. And I think it could have been wrapped up better, giving us a sense of closure if not finality, while still leading us into book 2.

But overall I enjoyed it, and I’ll definitely check out Trapped Outside a Cage.

Find out more about Ken Benn.

Book Reviews Reading

Like Nobody’s Watching by LJ Ritchie

A picture of the book Like Nobody’s Watching by LJ Ritchie

What is it?

Like Nobody’s Watching by LJ Ritchie

First published 2016

A New Zealand, young adult contemporary novel.

The Back Cover Blurb

When Oscar and his friends hack into the school’s surveillance system, the plan is simple: find the footage, blackmail the bullies, and leave no fingerprints. But the sense of power it brings them is hard to let go…

How do you go from cyber vigilante to cyber villain, when those around you turn their screens against you?

What I thought

Okay, first, let’s talk about the cover. It’s not great. The picture is clearly meant to resemble the grainy footage from a surveillance camera, but it kinda gives me vertigo. And the three words of the title are so spread out that it’s hard to read.

Second, let’s talk about the length. It’s short. Really short. So short that when it arrived in the mail, I actually did a I-paid-how-much? double-take.

Right, now I’ve got those grumbles out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff.

Quite often I talk about books that don’t grab me, don’t make me feel, don’t pull me in. I’d say the start of Like Nobody’s Watching is a bit like that. The writing is not bad. Maybe even pretty good. Maybe even close to great. I like the character of Oscar and his voice. The other characters (his friends) are less well fleshed out, and tend to float around filling a role.

After a bullying incident, Oscar and his friends decide to hack into the school’s surveillance system and use the footage to threaten the bullies. But after they’ve done it once, they do it again and again, until they go too far.

This is all fairly rudimentary, we go through the motions to get the characters into position.

Then the book makes a huge change.

Another thing I complain about is too much summary, not enough scenes. The second half of the book almost fell into that trap. We spend a lot of time in Oscar’s head, as he deals with the ramifications of what he did. But in this case, it works. We get caught up in his misery and inability to cope. His depression and withdrawal from life are shown so well, which makes the emphasis on his internal view fit. I really felt for him (yay! feelings!) and I powered through to the end when I should have been sleeping.

Last comment on the subject matter. I think it was a really great topic. Not just the idea of cameras everywhere and someone hacking them, but the way the kids use and abuse social media seemed really relevant.  Although it did make me wonder how oblivious the teachers were, that they didn’t notice anything going on.

I’d give this a solid 4 out of 5 bars, and I think LJ Ritchie is a NZ author I’ll keep an eye on. (LOL!)

Book Reviews Reading

The Demos Deception by Carl Anson

A photo of the cover of the book The Demos Deception by Carl Anson
A photo of the cover of the book The Demos Deception by Carl Anson

What is it?

The Demos Deception by Carl Anson

First published 2010

A New Zealand, young adult adventure novel.

The Back Cover Blurb

Seventeen year old Steven Grant, tragically orphaned whilst in his last year at school, longs to escape the humdrum existence he is forced to lead with his appointed guardians.

Sea Wolf, a blue water yacht left to him by his father is his one love and finally provides his escape to freedom. All is not plain sailing however as Steven is soon to discover.

Shipwrecked by a violent storm on a supposedly deserted Pacific island he accidentally uncovers a terrorist plot by modern day pirates.

Captured, he escapes and begins a personal odyssey to bring the culprits to justice. Aided by the intrepid Nadia Villas from the British Embassy in Bahrain he comes up against the piratical captain and crew of the oil tanker Demos which sails the seas under different aliases.

Can Steven and Nadia foil the terrorist plot to blow up a Middle Eastern port?

What I thought

Oh…kay. I picked this up at the library because I was trawling through the YA section starting at A.

The back cover blurb is kinda bad, (Humdrum? Really?) but it had a couple of things that interested me. Tragically orphaned. Boom! Appointed guardians. Zap! Personal odyssey. Pow!

So I’m thinking, angry kid pushing against people who aren’t his real parents. That sounds like a bit of me. The rest of it (shipwreck, pirates, terrorist plot) wasn’t as interesting, but in line with my resolution to read more NZ YA that I wouldn’t otherwise, I grabbed it.

And, in the spirit of honesty, I skimmed it. It was that bad.

Again, I don’t want to go on a rant about why I didn’t like it, but here are a couple of things:

  1. The title is a bad choice. The Demos Deception makes it sound fantastical, but it’s contemporary.
  2. The writing doesn’t work. Along with the humdrum example from the blurb, there are dozens of examples of bad word choice. Forenoon (uh, we call that morning). Encumbrance (um, just, reword that). Alighted (try, got off). There were also some spots where the writing was lovely: “The staccato drumming of the radials on the roadway.” But do teens, the target audience, know that radials are tyres? What this really comes down to is that the voice was off. It wasn’t a teenager telling this story. It was an old man.
  3. There were scenes from Steven’s uncle’s POV and the ship captain’s POV. Does it ever work having adult POV in YA? Really, it felt like a cop-out to be able to tell the reader stuff Steven wouldn’t otherwise know.
  4. But the big thing, the thing it always comes down to, was the lack of feeling. Steven was desperate enough to jump on a little yacht and sail off into the Pacific Ocean. I wanted to feel his pain. He got abducted by pirates. I wanted to feel his fear. And I wanted him to grow, to be a different person at the end thanks to the events he experienced. I didn’t feel anything.