Contemporary fury and historical shadows

What have I been reading lately? I’m glad you asked! In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels, Fury by Shirley Marr and TimeRiders by Alex Scarrow. All three are YA. But they are three very different books. And at least two of them are a notch above your average YA novel.

First up, In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels. This is a historical novel inspired by the archaeological excavations around Lonsdale Street in the city of Melbourne, the artefacts from which were displayed at a Melbourne Museum exhibit. These artefacts are ordinary things, part of everyday life in 19th century Melbourne. Each chapter of In Lonnie’s Shadow is headed by an artefact’s name, number and description, rather than by a standard chapter number and title. And somewhere within the chapter, that particular item is alluded to. It could easily have been contrived and intrusive, but the author handles it with subtlety and aplomb. In her hands it is a wonderfully original, intriguing and evocative way into the story.

Lonnie McGuiness is a teenage resident of the area known as Little Lon — an area of poverty and hard knocks, looked down on by the rest of Melbourne in 1891. Lonnie is a stable-hand who dreams of being a jockey. He gets caught up in an illegal street race, which he discovers has been fixed. It is a story of struggles and survival… but most importantly, it is a story of friendship between Lonnie and his three best mates: Pearl, a prostitute caught between two rival brothels, desperate to get away from both; Daisy, a Salvation Army do-gooder with a mysterious past who moonlights as a seamstress, making dresses for one of the brothels; and Carlo, who operates a fruit cart but dreams of opening an ice cream factory. Four lives that cross paths; four teenagers who help each other out and stick together.

There is a lot of wonderful historical detail and atmosphere in this novel. The author certainly seems to have done her research. The characters are vivid and sympathetic. The Melbourne setting is both familiar and completely alien. As a Melbournian, I found the landmarks and place names were known to me (the Exhibition Building and its iconic fountain, for instance), but the poverty and squalor of the characters lives were an eye-opener. I can see this book being well-used in schools to help bring a historic period to life in the minds of students. It’s an enthralling read.

At the other end of the scale we have the very contemporary Fury, by Shirley Marr (who, incidentally, has visited Literary Clutter in the past).

“My name is Eliza Boans and I am a murderer.”

How’s that for a great opening line? This book had me hooked from word go and I found it very hard to put down. It’s about a high school girl and her friends who get caught up in murder. It’s also about friendship and the day-to-day dramas of teenage life in high school. It’s funny. It’s dramatic. It’s sad. It’s a really riveting read.

It’s also particularly interesting for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it is told with flash-backs. Eliza has been arrested and is sitting in a police station talking to anthropologist Dr Fadden, while refusing to see her mother. Slowly, over the course of several conversations, Eliza opens up and tells us about the events leading up to her arrest.

Secondly, Eliza, the main character, is thoroughly unlikeable. She is a spoiled rich kid living in a walled suburb and attending an exclusive private school. She is a bitchy, smart-mouthed, sarcastic, snobby brat who is even nasty to her own friends. Oh yeah, and she’s a complete control freak. And yet, somehow, Marr manages to elicit sympathy for this character. Maybe it’s because we get a bit of an insight into her past and how she came to be who she is. In any case, there were several moments where I found myself taking her side in conflicts — these moments were usually followed by a double-take as I reminded myself that I didn’t like Eliza and so I had no business taking her side. Hats off to the author for achieving this. It is rare for me to enjoy a book with an unlikeable protagonist.

Eliza aside, there are many interesting and memorable characters in this book — from Eliza’s trio of girlfriends, Marianne, Lexi and Ella, to the sympathetic and likeable student Neil, whose past is inextricably linked with Eliza’s. Neil was easily my favourite. I’d like to tell you why, but that would necessitate spoilers. All I’ll say is that there is a great deal of subtlety to his character.

Although this book seems aimed mostly at teenage girls, I think there’s a lot in it for other readers as well. It’s a thoughtful, well constructed novel… and a great read!

Finally, there’s the science fiction, time-travel adventure TimeRiders, by Alex Scarrow. I’ve already reviewed this book for the MC Review website, so if you’re interested you can go there to see what I thought of this clichéd but entertaining yarn.

So… anyone out there read anything really interesting lately? Feel free to share your literary adventures with the rest of us in the comments section below.

And tune in next time for a little bit of Doctor Who.

Catch ya later,  George

Time tripping

I’ve just started reading a YA novel called TimeRiders, written by Alex Scarrow. It’s a time travel story about three teens from three different years (1912, 2010 and 2026) who are recruited by the mysterious Agency to become TimeRiders, operatives who go about fixing problems caused by other time travellers. Sounds rather clichéd, doesn’t it? I’m only 50 pages in, but so far, so good. It plunges you straight into the action and has managed to hold my interest thus far. Mind you, there are still 376 pages to go. I’ll report back once I’ve finished it.

In the meantime, I thought now might be the appropriate moment for a time travel post. After all, a bit of time travel can be fun. I’m eagerly looking forward to the new season of Doctor Who. I’d list the Back to the Future movies amongst my favourite re-watchable films (What can I say? I’m a child of the 80s). I also have a soft spot for Somewhere in Time. And I’ve lost track of how often I’ve watched the various crews of the Starship Enterprise skip back into the past. But let’s talk about books…

Now that I think about it, I can’t recall having read all that many time travel books. I own a copy of The Time Machine by HG Wells, but I’ve never read it. Yes, very remiss of me. It’s been on my “must get around to reading” list for a good many years. (Along with other classic genre novels such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde — which I did finally get around to reading a couple of years ago.) But enough about what I haven’t read… let me tell you about what I have read.

The Puzzle RingThe two most recent time travel books to have actually made it through my reading list are Kate Forsyth’s The Puzzle Ring and Sean McMullen’s Before the Storm. These books nicely illustrate the two categories of time travel fiction that most stories fall into — science fiction and fantasy.

The Puzzle Ring is a charming novel for kids and teens, revolving around Celtic fairy folklore. When Hannah Rose Brown returns to her ancestral home in Scotland with her mother, she discovers a family curse and the truth about her father’s mysterious disappearance. The only way to save her father and break the curse is to travel back in time to the era of Mary Queen of Scots. The time travel in this story is achieved by passing through the realm of fairy.

Before the StormBefore the Storm, on the other hand, is YA science fiction. Fox and BC travel back in time from the distant future to 1901 with the aid of a time machine. These two teens are on a mission to stop the bombing of the first Australian Parliament — an event that will have a devastating affect on the future of the whole world. But once in 1901, they need the help of three ordinary teenagers from that time period to complete their mission.

Two very different books — examples of the two different types of time travel stories. Both are excellent!

Now, I’m going to try and think back to the hazy past of my childhood and teenage years and mention a couple of other time travel stories.

Red Hart Magic by Andre Norton. It’s about two kids who travel back in time, thanks to a magical model of an old English inn. I’m afraid I remember almost nothing about this book except that I really enjoyed it at the time I read it, around about the age of 13, I think. I read quite a lot of Andre Norton’s books at the time.

In my later teen years I read Robert Leeson’s Time Rope books: Time Rope, Three Against the World, At War With Tomorrow and The Metro Gangs Attack. This series is about three teens who travel through time by swinging on a rope hanging from an old tree in a mist-shrouded place called the Neural Zone. Again, memory fails me as to the details. I’ve continued to read Leeson’s books, most recently his retelling of the Arthurian legends, The Song of Arthur, although my favourite of his books is the parallel worlds novel, Slambash Wangs of a Compo Gormer.

Hmmm! I don’t seem to be doing too well in the memory stakes. I wonder if there are any other books I’ve read but can’t remember that I could recommend to you? 🙂

There are, of course, the plethora of Doctor Who novelisations, novels and short stories that I’ve read over the years. I do actually remember most of these. But they would be worthy of a post all to themselves. And I will get around to a Doctor Who post (or two, or three…) some time in the future. If you happen to have a time machine, feel free to skip ahead and read them now.

Let’s finish with a question. What are your favourite time travels books? Please feel free to leave your time travel recommendations in the comments section below.

Tune in next time, when Kate Forsyth, author of The Puzzle Ring, drops by to tell us about her favourite time travel books.

Catch ya later, George