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People’s Republic – December Book Club

Of all the themes in the Cherub series human trafficking is one of those topics that pushes my buttons. So you might think it strange that I chose to post about that at this time of the year, what with Christmas only a few days away. In some ways though I think now is a perfect time to think about things like this.

I live in a prosperous country and have a roof over my head, a job, friends, clothes and food. People that get swept into the complex world of people smuggling often don’t have the luxuries afforded to me. Those that are smuggled at any rate. Those that do the smuggling in many ways live possibly as well or better than I do.

I don’t claim to understand more than a fraction of this complex issue but what I know makes me angry and sad. I am angry that the world we live in has such horrid violations against decency and it makes me sad that so many people are in a position to be taken advantage of.

The people smuggling in People’s Republic focuses on illegal workers ending up in sweat shop conditions rather than the more high profile sex trade but without a question both these issues are tragic and important.

As in Cherub the issue is wider than most of us will ever think about and there is no easy solution. Any smuggling operation like this, is a chain and cutting off one head will more than likely not just result in someone else popping up to fill the void.

I guess really then the question I should ask, before I continue to rant on the topic, is ‘do issues like this have a place in young adult fiction?’

I know there are many who think our youth don’t need to know about all these things but the truth is they do. Young people talk about all sorts of things, they are aware of what is going on in the world, or at least some of them are. Teenagers shouldn’t be underestimated, their interests and passions are as varied as those in any given group of adults.

Books like the Cherub series address the darker issues of our society, and our teenagers face some of these things everyday. Admittedly most won’t have contact with anything to do with people smuggling but influences such as drugs, cults and gangs? Well in my opinion we would be naïve to think otherwise. As far as I can see the Cherub books are interesting stories, I enjoy reading them, the adventure and action. I have problems with the way characters like James treat women, but then the women have the ability to kick his butt – though with Kerry constantly going back to him…well that says things I would like to talk about but this is not the forum for that.

The other thing is if you are so inclined these books can springboard topics of discussion or research. Books that include such topics give us the opportunity to look at things we would sometimes prefer not to look at too closely and sometimes awareness is vital in dealing with issues like these.

So then yes, I believe there is a place in young adult fiction to broach such delicate and inflaming topics.

Burn Bright – December Book Club

I thought we could look at things in genre fiction that we can relate to in normal life. Using this as a starting point I think there are several things we can look at.

The first of these things is family. The rigid structure imposed by Retra’s parents, or predominantly her father, is not something I have experience with and I have to say I’m glad. Having said that there are many who have. I can understand why being in a situation like that would seem unappealing and why with very little extra provocation, you would be willing to leave that behind. The other family aspect that is there, is Retra’s relationship with her brother. She was close to him before he left and now, with what appears to be nothing left to lose, Retra is more than willing to search him out on Ixion.

So the question is then, would you follow a sibling to a party island? For me the answer would be more to do with what I was escaping rather than what I was going to. Which really is what Retra did. If she was happier in her home life she would never have run away. In that way my motivation would be similar to Retra’s I have never really had a desire to live in a world of perpetual parties and no rules.

Which leads us neatly to another of the predominant themes in Burn Bright is – doing whatever you want. Party hard baby bats.

It sounds really good, on the surface. No rules, no one to say no, no one to say don’t take that. Thing is a situation like that usually comes under the umbrella of  ‘if it looks too good then it probably is’. Most of the baby bats embrace the Ixion lifestyle. They are swept up into hedonistic living. Do what I want when I want. Even so there are rules right from the beginning. Don’t go off the paths, make sure you get your rest at the right time and take the pills. They sound like some fairly restrictive rules to me. For these baby bats they are so swept up with the surface permissiveness that they fail to see what is right under their noses, just a little further under the surface.

I think this is indicative of how some people want to live their lives. Party, party, party, with no thought to the consequences. You just need to look around you to see that that very rarely ends well. In this way then life and art are mirror images of each other.

De Pierres has given us a world that appears fairly unique yet if you look a little under the surface then you see there are many mirrors to the world around us. With a book like this you can take it two ways. As purely an escapist piece of reading, and it fits that bill very well. I really enjoyed this book and it’s sequel. The other way is to scrape away the  top and look at the mirrors and see what they have to say about the society in which you live. Being as this isn’t a lit class then I’d have to say I’ve probably done enough of that.

Think what you will but me, I will continue to be cautious of those things that offer answers to so many desires. Party hard baby bats but be aware!

Book Club December 2011 – People’s Republic

The second book for December Book Club is


Book: People’s Republic

Series: Cherub, Aramov Trilogy

Author: Robert Muchamore

Genre: Adventure, Crime

Synopsis

Ryan is twelve, just out of basic training and desperate for his first mission. he finally gets the chance and heads to California to befriend Ethan Aramov. Ethan’s mother is estranged from her family, his grandmother is the matriarch of a billion dollar criminal empire. The thing with CHERUB missions is you can’t always plan for every contingency. It becomes more than they originally planned and Ryan is confronted with more than he bargained for.

Fu Ning hates school, rules and getting up in the morning. Still she finds it odd that her adoptive mother turns up at school and drags her out of it. They end up on the run and when she finds out exactly what her father was her life will never be the same again. On the run, working illegally and just trying to survive.

Initial Thoughts

Fans of the CHERUB series may have wondered how the series would survive without James and all the old familiar characters, well I’d have to say it does it very well. These stories have always held elements of dark due simply to the nature of the organisation, children who infiltrate criminal circles of various levels. This is perhaps one of the darkest as it delves into the realm of people smuggling and the illegal sex trade, the latter is not mentioned in explicit detail.

Ryan is a solid replacement for James; tough, trained, and untried, he makes mistakes but has a core of compassion. It will be interesting to see his character develop through this three story arc. Fu Ning is tough and full of attitude, she needs to be to survive what she comes against and if some of those senarios don’t cause you to pause and think for a moment then I will be surprised.

Did I Like It?

This story is tough, even brutal and definitely not for younger readers. Muchamore has delivered a story with gritty realism and terrible truth at it’s core. As always the CHERUB books are full of action and move along at a fair pace. I am a fan of the series and that remains true. This was a solid addition to a series that appeals to even non-readers but I feel I have to add a word of caution – these topics are very real, and may be considered confronting.

 Honestly I think I prefer Ryan to James for reasons I’m not really sure I can put my finger on, probably to do more with the way James treats the girls around him, even though most of them can kick his ass.
Why Choose This?
Well without question these books are huge sellers internationally. I think they are great and as a book seller they are something I recommend all the time. There are people out there who would say these don’t belong on the reality side of the book club equation. I have had people tell me they consider them to be genre fiction. However for me, the fact that they are set solidly in the now puts them into general fiction as opposed to genre fiction. For me the thing that really interests me is how putting these topics into a YA book brings them to the attention of young adults. That is something I will look at later on.
So do you agree that this series and this book is popular fiction or do you think it fits more appropriately into the category of genre fiction?

Book Club December 2011 – Burn Bright

December brings a change of books for the book club and the first new one I am putting forward is

Book: Burn Bright

Series: The Night Creatures

Author: Marianne de Pierres.

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Synopsis

Retra is a Seal – that is she is from the sealed community, a community cut off from those outside it. She is marked as an outcast, a behaviour strip to control some of her actions has been attached to her body. Despite the pain of her actions she is determined to escape. Unlike her brother, Joel, she doesn’t really want to go to Ixion, she has no real desire to party and seek pleasure like the rest of those who choose to go. Ruzalia, is a priate who raids the boats, pulling certain people off them, no-one seems to know why, so getting to Ixion is the first challenge.

For Retra to survive on Ixion she has to put aside all she has ever learnt and find a way to blend in. She needs to start having fun. If she can’t do this she will be withdrawn early and no-one can say exactly what that means. Except perhaps the Ripers, who are the Guardians of Ixion but are they really looking out for everyone or is something much darker going on. Retra doesn’t want to get caught up in the machinations going on under the pretty surface, she just wants to find Joel, if he is still alive. The problem is the dark secrets she stumbles upon mean Retra has some decisions to make. Even if she wanted to stay uninvolved she can’t, she knows too much.

My Initial Thoughts

This is an intricately and darkly woven dance. The layers are well blended, the story compelling. You move silently with Retra as she discovers herself, her strength, and the secrets most seem unwilling to uncover. As she grows from Retra to Naife you know you you have to keep reading to find out what happens next. Retra is accompanied by an eclectic mix of characters that blend well to create the diverse micro-culture that is Ixion.

Did I Like It?

Yes, is the easy answer. I really liked the way the surface and underlying worlds of Ixion played against each other. It’s dark in it’s tone rather than relying on paranormal creatures to make it that way. Don’t get me wrong the creatures add to the tone, they just aren’t the focus. I found the world De Pierres has created to be one that draws you in completely. You get swept up into the hedonism of the moment, the goal of the Baby Bats, even while sensing, through Retra, that things are not quite what they seem. It needs to be added though, the events that pan out don’t seem obvious which is part of the reason you stay drawn in.

The theme in this that really intrigued me is the one of how something can appear one way on the surface, or to one group of people and yet to others something entirely different is going on. This will probably be something I touch on in a later post.

So be brave baby bat and step out into the night. Tell me how it goes for you.

The Rest of the Series

This is the first and the second, Angel Arias was released in the second half of this year. I will try to keep spoilers  out or at least give you spoiler alerts in later posts.


Book Club – Book Giveaway

I am in the fortunate position to have my hands on a spare copy of the second Heroes of Olympus book – Son of Neptune.

It’s real easy to win this comp, just leave a comment about why you loved the Percy Jackson books and someone will be selected at random.

And just in case you forgot or didn’t know – Percy is in this book. Yay!

The Lost Hero – Book Club November

So having read the two Heroes of Olympus books I felt the need to go and re-read the whole of the Percy Jackson series. Yep, the whole thing. My conclusion? I still think they are really fun.

I really like the way Rick Riordan has made this a modern story woven through with mythology. Sure the purists will probably find a few problems with the underlying mythology but is that really why you read something like this? To get a greater knowledge and understanding of mythology? No not really. Not me. I read them because they are fun.

Sure genre fiction can slip little useful bits and pieces of information into your brain that you may find useful at some point in time. But really that isn’t why you read it.

Why do you read genre fiction?

I read it because it takes me away and I love to escape reality. Sure I’ve never read a book that is close to my life but then I wouldn’t want to, not sure it would be that exciting. Though having said that there are certain things I’ve gone through that I can identify with in some characters and I quite like that.

In this series I really like the way Riordan has added the three new characters into a setting we are already very familiar with. I also like the way he connects Jason into the world we know. The similarities and the differences are key as is his real connecting to a character we are also very familiar with. I have to say that that connection did surprise me and I like it when I am surprised.

In Piper’s case I really like her reluctance to be Aphrodite’s daughter, her disappointment when she finds out, also the flip side to what we tend to think of when we think of that particular goddess, I like that extra dimension. Piper and Leo are an interesting addition after the loss of Silena and Beckendorf in The Last Olympian. It brings a welcome balance to the previous loss.

Do I like these more than the Percy books? I think the series has developed strongly off the back of the Percy Jackson series and I really enjoy them.

Road Tripping – Nov Book Club

So have you done any thinking about what you would need on a road trip? Me? I think there are two things that are essential; good company and a good soundtrack. Of course along the way you will need to fill up on plenty of junk food an drinks  but that really goes without saying. A plan on the other hand is something that will work or not, it’s up to you and the circumstances. How nice would it be to be able to pack up and just drive off into the where ever, no plan and no cares.

In Amy & Roger’s case the company was thrust on them. Fortunately they found a way to make it work. They each had their own agendas but were able to incorporate both in the trip. A road trip would be a total shocker if one person made all the choices. The theme here, strangers by need or accident on a road trip together, is a theme that has been used effectively in quite a few road trip stories. Can you think of any films or books that use this. And no I’m not feeding you the answers right now.

Now onto my other essential ingredient. Music. Music is a vital component of any road trip. Roger provides an eclectic and fun soundtrack. If some of them aren’t familiar then it’s no surprise it really is an eclectic list. Don’t believe me, check song list 5. On this one list you will find – Elton John, Erasure, The Dandy Warhols and Muse. Muse would certainly make my travel playlist. Other bands that would make the cut include Within Temptation and Nickelback. Hmmm, maybe I should leave it there but then it is no secret that the actree in me likes showtunes and that’s all I will say. Obviously though the random function on an MP3 player is a really great function. Are there any bands or songs you would have to have on playing on your road trip?

Finally there is of course one problem when it comes to contemplating a road trip – money. Driving on a whim simply isn’t cheap. So if money wasn’t an issue then would you take part of you summer and head off on a road trip? If so where would you go? Somewhere familiar, would you stay in relative luxury? Or would you be more adventurous and willing to try something a little out of the box?

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