Don’t Get Caught: A YA, Five Things I’ve Learned Review

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You wouldn’t necessarily think that one could learn much from a book about professional-level pranking, but today’s book puts that misconception to rest.  Don’t Get Caught by Kurt Dinan is a contemporary YA that dispenses with “all the feels” (hooray!) and gets straight down to the nitty-gritty…the nitty-gritty being pulling epic pranks on friends, neighbours, colleagues and schoolmates.  We received a copy of Don’t Get Caught from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

10:00 tonight at the water tower. Tell no one. -Chaos Club

When Max receives a mysterious invite from the untraceable, epic prank-pulling Chaos Club, he has to ask: why him? After all, he’s Mr. 2.5 GPA, Mr. No Social Life. He’s Just Max. And his favorite heist movies have taught him this situation calls for Rule #4: Be suspicious. But it’s also his one shot to leave Just Max in the dust…

Yeah, not so much. Max and four fellow students-who also received invites-are standing on the newly defaced water tower when campus security “catches” them. Definitely a setup. And this time, Max has had enough. It’s time for Rule #7: Always get payback.

Let the prank war begin.

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And here are Five Things I’ve Learned from Don’t Get Caught by Kurt Dinan:

  1. When committing a prank, always wear some kind of protective hand covering.  Not only does this ensure your fingerprints remain anonymous, but it also guards against picking up residual mess from pranksters trying to out-prank you.
  2. Always have a Plan B.  Preferably one that involves undergarments of some description.
  3. The decision to use livestock in pranking should not be undertaking lightly.  Nor should it be undertaken without recourse to the appropriate livestock-lifting safety harnesses.
  4. The leader of the pranksters is always the one you least suspect.  Or the one you most suspect.  Or someone you hadn’t suspected at all. Take your pick.
  5. Even the most public bout of humiliation can provide inspiration for new and original pranks.

Sometimes you just need a book that doesn’t take itself, or the business of being a teenager, too seriously.  Don’t Get Caught is the perfect book to fill such a need.  It’s light, it’s a lot of fun, it has a great mix of characters (albeit mildly stereotyped to begin with) and it never pretends that its dealing with anything other than a snapshot of time in the lives of a group of teens.  While the basis of the book is an in-house prank competition set up by the “Watertower Five” – the five kids invited to an ill-fated meeting with the infamous Chaos Club – the plot has a secondary focus on identity and revenge.  Without ever getting bogged down in too much seriousness, it is obvious that Max is questioning who he is and who he wants to be, and whether the end justifies the means, where revenge-based pranks are concerned.

Dinan has done a great job of dropping in some excellent adult characters, including artistic drop-out type Uncle Boyd, deputy principal and commanding officer of the fun police Mr Stranko, the long-suffering but really quite accommodating principal Mrs B, and the never-give-you-a-straight-answer philosophy teacher Mr Watson.  Even Max’s parents make a believable couple, and it’s not often you get to say that about adult characters in YA books.

The pace is generally quick throughout and although there is space given over to the more issues-based aspects of the plot – including social labeling, personal accountability for mistakes made, leaving a personal legacy – rather than slow the plot, these interludes save the whole book from spiralling down into one big crazy prank-fest.  There are a couple of fantastic twists at the end of the story – one or two I suspected might be coming and others that appeared out of the blue – and while I wouldn’t recommend reading it as an instructional guide to public mischief, overall it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read for those who enjoy a bit of subversive jollity.

Highly recommended.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce Steps Out for Between the Covers YA Event Brisbane!

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Last Thursday evening, something unprecedented happened.

I left the shelf.BTCYA Logo

I’ll give you a moment to absorb that, frankly, unlikely and unbelievable information.

Yes, last Thursday evening, HarperCollins Teen held a fan event for voracious readers of YA to inspire and incite fever and excitement over some of their upcoming titles.  And I made the unprecedented decision to strap on my feet (quite literally, as you will see) and get out there amongst the fleshlings.

First I had to ensure that I had functioning tootsies for the evening, after an incident with a mini-fleshling caused my duct tapefeet to part company with the rest of my person.  First I tried superglue and when that didn’t work, clutching at straws, I took the drastic measure of duct taping my feet to my body.  At least the grey tape matches my hide.

It’s hardly even noticeable, right?!

On arrival at the State Library of Queensland, I attempted to blend in with the fleshlings and their goodie bags.  I think I did a fine job and they never noticed a thing.

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I even managed to snap a shot with Terry, the YA-reading Dinosaur mascot of the Between the Covers team!

bruce and terry_Fotor

And I got to rub shoulders with some of Brisbane’s best and brightest bloggers in the YA sphere.  Here are some of those that attended.

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We were even treated to a chat from recent Gold Inky winner, Gabrielle Tozer – author of YA comedy contemporary titles The Intern and its sequel Faking It – and not only did she manage to photobomb my selfie, she was kind enough to sign a copy of her first book for me…selfie photobombintern cover_Fotor_Fotor_Collage

I’m not sure whether she intentionally meant the “rock” pun, given my stony nature, but I appreciated it nonetheless.

There was also plenty of loot on hand for attendees, with a few brilliantly enticing ARCs in our goodie bags, including Oz YA titles Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (described as a cross between Buffy and Jane Austen!!) and This is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang, author of Falling Into Place.

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I’m also itching to get into Demon Road by Derek Landy (of Skulduggery Pleasant fame), which looks like it will be delightfully cheeky and action-packed.  I was lucky enough to win some extra goodies, which included the graphic novel Nimona by Noelle Stevenson; a book that has been on my TBR for a while.

In fact, I was so swamped with loot, that I was very nearly crushed under the mountainous pile of it.

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All in all it was a wonderfully successful first jaunt out into the big wide world.  Mad Martha was exceptionally jealous that she didn’t get to fulfil her usual role as “Shelf Venturer-Outerer” given the amount of loot involved, but she needn’t worry as I doubt I will be making a habit of it.  I’m certain I lost a little stone off my ears in the journey there and back.

Many thanks to HarperCollins Australia for extending an invitation to we shelf dwellers!

Until next time,

Bruce

A YA Haiku Review: The Potion Diaries…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for a rare and mystical haiku review. Bruce unexpectedly received a copy of  YA new release The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward, from Simon & Schuster Australia and immediately passed it on to me as he suspected it might be altogether too girly for his tastes. He was probably right to do so, given that this is definitely a book aimed at a teenaged female audience. While I am not the greatest fan of romance in books either, there was plenty of fun and adventure in The Potion Diaries and it turned out to be a perfect antidote to the quagmire of illness that is plaguing the fleshlings in the household. In fact, I was quite happy to be able to wedge a heavy tome  against the shelfdom door, block out the sounds of hacking, coughing and nose-blowing, and curl up for a bit of good old-fashioned, magical girl power.  This book has a delightful charm about it such that I couldn’t help but feel fondly toward it, and so I allowed myself to move past its literary shortcomings and just be entertained by the spectacle.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.

Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime?

And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.

No big deal, then.

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Royal mercy dash

Complete with murd’rous aunt, reads

Like wacky races

Despite the fact that The Potion Diaries has plot holes the size of the Nullarbor, a stereotyped, teen-angsty romance and underdeveloped characters swanning all over the place, I actually really enjoyed it. If the preceding sentence sounds a little harsh, I mean those criticisms in the fondest possible way.

Is this book going to win any awards for originality or writing? No.

Have we seen this all before in a myriad other fantasy type books for younger teens? Yes.

Does that mean this book has no value?

Absolutely not!

Because sometimes you just need something light and fluffy, where you know nothing too shocking or unpredictable is going to happen, that you can just pick up and put down and delve into when you need a bit of indulgent escapism.  For that reason, The Potion Diaries is practically the quintessential holiday/beach/summer read; the book you turn to when you want to switch off from anything stressful or troubling and just tumble into adventure with a thoroughly likeable main character.

Samantha Kemi is a sort of everygirl character: overtly skilled in what seems to be a dying profession, ordinary in a world of Talenteds and for all intents and purposes, thwarted from following her dream of researching new potions by money and position. As the story progresses, we find out more about Sam’s family history and the strong traditions of alchemy that are keeping her from striking out on her own. I suspect that young teen girls will really relate to Sam and revel in the excitement of danger and adventure as they race along with her in the Wilde Hunt.

While the world-building is relatively sparse in this tome, Alward has done a good job of creating a setting in which magic and technology sit side by side, without the need for long and distracting explanations.  Similarly, the lack of any deep development in the majority of the characters provides a quick entry to the story and allows the reader to just dive right on in as the action ramps up. As I said before, the story is riddled with plot holes and events that seem to occur a bit too conveniently to be plausible, but unless you’re approaching this as a serious and deeply thought out fantasy offering, the tone is light enough and the pace quick enough for these issues to be overlooked in favour of just enjoying the fun.

Overall, this is not the kind of book that we shelf-dwellers normally go for (and admittedly, the romance narrative was so clichéd and annoyingly contrived that I wanted to just skip those pages entirely) but I honestly enjoyed the story and would happily pick up the sequel the next time I’m in desperate need of a story that won’t make me work too hard and will reward with unadulterated frivolous adventure.

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

 

 

 

Read-it-if Review: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain…

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Howdy superfriends! Today I have a very different YA novel for you filled with action and gadgets and cool outfits.  It’s Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts, and I received a digital copy of the book for review from the publisher, Curiosity Quills, via Netgalley – thanks!

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain is told from the point of view of Penelope, a young teen with superhero parents who is anxiously waiting for her own superpowers to appear.  Her friends, Claire and Ray, are similarly eager to come into their superpowers, and when Penelope unexpectedly builds an incredible machine that responds to her every command, without quite knowing how she did it, it appears the dream has become reality for at least one of the trio.  After some usual teenage unpleasantness involving another girl at her school, Penny and her friends seek revenge by using their newfound powers for evil, rather than good, and in doing so they inadvertently style themselves as supervillains rather than heroes when their antics (but not their identities) are caught on camera.  Working under the name The Inscrutable Machine, the trio venture out onto the town – but is it ever really too late to make a new name for yourself as a superhero? Or is it true that supervillains just have more fun?

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Read it if:

* you have a secret identity that you keep hidden at all costs…down the back of your undies drawer with your super-stretchy super-lycra superhero suit

* you’ve ever suspected that, if they found out the truth, your parents may be slightly disappointed in your chosen (or potential) career path

* you believe your teachers when they tell you that advanced mathematics has numerous practical applications in everyday life

* you believe that the ability to be cute and charming in order to get your own way is, in fact, a superpower

Now I first requested this title because (a) the cover is eye-poppingly awesome and (b) the title had me instantly interested.  Unfortunately, the book didn’t 100% live up to my high expectations.  Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of bits I enjoyed and I appreciated the unusual premise, but the execution didn’t get me that excited for some reason.  Let’s start with the positives though.

I suspect that this book is going to be a hit with discerning readers in their early teens who are looking to move on from the prolific middle grade market, but also want to read a book with ordinary teen problems played out with action and humour.  The thing that really stood out for me while reading the book was the fact that the premise is so different form anything else that’s out there at the moment.  The superhero content seems to be an area that isn’t really featured in a lot of books for this age group just now, and it should certainly be a drawcard for younger readers, as it was for me.  There’s also plenty (PLENTY!) of action in the book, with superhero-versus-supervillain clashes aplenty, as well as some great one-liners and comedy woven into the action.  So in that regard, I think this will be a book that appeals to both genders, as there’s something for everyone here.

I think the main reason this didn’t grab me in the way that I thought it would is that I suspect it’s a bit overly long.  It takes a reasonably long while for Penny to unleash her superpower and then after she gets a handle on her newfound talents, it takes another reasonably long time before the first showdown occurs.  For some people this may not be a problem, but I felt that there could have been a bit of judicious editing here and there to tighten up the flow of the story and keep it moving at a steady pace, particularly as this is a book aimed at the young adult bracket (read: those of us with shortish attention spans…ooh, a shiny thing!).  Also, I suspect that the book will require readers who don’t mind a bit of explanation – there’s a lot of jargony, computery, mathsy, type language in there (due to Penny and her father having superpowers relating to the field of mathematics and computation) and that may put off those who just want the guts of the story without having to wade through such specifics.

So overall, I don’t think this one is for me unfortunately, but I think that there will definitely be a fan base out there for whom this is exactly the type of quirky YA action-adventure they’ve been waiting for.  I’ve also had a look at some of Richard Roberts’ other works, and there are definitely some in there that I want to get my paws on despite not quite loving this effort.

Until next time,

Bruce

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