Monday, March 19, 2018

Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz

Hellbent is the sequel to Orphan X and The Nowhere man, and while you can read the books independently there are ***SPOILERS*** in this review if you have not read the first books in the series.  I highly recommend reading the books in order for the ultimate reading experience.

It's a voice from his past that sets Evan Smoak, currently known as The Nowhere man and formerly known as Orphan X on his latest race against the clock.  With a target painted on his back it is only a matter of time until he caught by the head of the Orphan Program, and is the wrong time to pick up complications - but that is exactly what happens when Jack Johns asks Evan to go to an address and look after the package.  It turns out the package is a teenage girl with a complicated story that fits perfectly with the rest of the Orphan Program and the damage it leaves in it's wake.

Used to working on his own, Evan struggles to cope with suddenly having someone else to care for - especially as Joey doesn't want his help, and resents his assumptions that she can't take care of herself.  With a hit squad and two Orphans hunting him down on Van Sciver's orders it seems like its only a matter of time before the noose tightens and Evan and Joey fall.  But Evan is not that easy to kill, he may be up against superior numbers but he is also an Orphan and with someone to protect he is more determined than ever.  With a new person to help, Joey in tow and operatives actively targeting him Evan is in for one hell of a ride.

Hellbent is the third gripping installment in the Orphan X series and while I would have enjoyed reading it on it's own, having the back story from the previous two books made it an even more thrilling and enjoyable ride.  Hurwitz has a knack for creating characters that you care about, and putting them in situations that are both adrenaline fueled and realistic.  Thanks to a healthy dose of thrillers, action and crime novels (not to mention a healthier dose of watching action movies and TV series) it is easy to get jaded and feel like you've seen everything before - but Evan Smoak and his world of Orphans is at the same time familiar and refreshingly new.  

This is a series that deserves to be discovered and the things Evan uncovers in Hellbent make it clear that we have not see the last of the Orphans programme.  I highly, highly recommend that you try and read Hellbent in one sitting because having to put it down was very frustrating when all I wanted to do was know what was coming next!

If you like this book then try:
  • Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz
  • The killing kind by Chris Holm
  • Breaking Creed by Alex Kava
  • The Postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • The basement: A novel  by Stephen Leather
  • City of the lost by Kelley Armstrong
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • Truth or die by James Patterson and Howard Roughan
  • Dead secret by Ava McCarthy
  • Never never by James Patterson and Candice Fox
  • Darkly dreaming Dexter by Jeffry P. Lindsay
  • Kiss the girls by James Patterson
  • Kill me if you can by James Patterson and Marshall Kamp

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Honor among thieves by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre

Zara Cole lives in The Lower Eight, far from the bright and shiny of Paradise, living the life she chose and following the laws of the streets.  Her life is a challenging but simple one - steal enough to survive the streets, don't rat out her fellow residents, and escape if she is sent to a rehabilitation facility.  It isn't an easy life, but it's the one she chose, staying on Earth while her mother and sister moved to Mars.  When Zara steals from the wrong mark she discovers that her life in The Lower Eight isn't as secure as she thought.  Running from a powerful player who wants what she took, Zara runs to the only place she thinks she will be safe - but safety is an illusion when money and power can get you anything you want.  

Her salvation is a complete surprise  - Zara is chosen as one of the Honors, the people chosen to travel the stars for one year in the company of a Leviathan.  For many on Earth the Leviathan are saviours, swooping in to save the Earth when it was on the brink of collapse, sharing their knowledge and asking for very little in return.  Accepting the offer to join the Honors programme is a no brainer for Zara, if she doesn't accept then she won't last long, but the programme is not without it's own risks. 

Zara and one of her fellow Honors,  Beatriz, are partnered with Nadim, a Leviathan who is facing his own challenges, and from the start it appears that they are a good match - although in the eyes of the elder Leviatthan that would be debatable.  As Zara and Beatriz learn more about each other and Nadim Zara starts to relax and feel at home, an unsettling feeling for someone who distrusts everyone.  This journey will test Zara, Beatriz and Nadim and push them all to their limits, and when they discover the truth about the Honors programme it will change their lives forever.

Honor among thieves is a deftly written and thoroughly engrossing science fiction novel that may be aimed at teenagers, but has a much wider appeal.  Zara is a strong character, pushing against the "establishment" but it isn't a mindless rebellion, and as we learn more about her across the course of the story we come to realise why she is the way she is - and it feels "right".  Balancing the story of Zara is the story of Nadim, a story that runs parallel and equally - he may be a ship, but he is also a fully developed character in his own right which makes the story more engaging and more real.  The other characters who make up the cast of the story has their own voices that weave together to make a completely believable whole.  The only real drawback for me is that now I have to wait for the next book in the series to see what happens next because the ending was ... wow.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, March 9, 2018

Murder beyond the grave by James Patterson

Murder beyond the grave is one of a series of books written to tie-in with the Murder is forever television series.  Each book in the series includes two stories based on actual events that have been slightly fictionalised, but that doesn't take away from the stories covered.

Stephen Small has everything he wants in life - a loving wife, three sons, and enough money to live comfortably.  For one man Stephen is a source of resentment and jealously, a man who has everything he could want and more - more than enough to cover a ransom demand.  Danny Edwards has lost it all, he squandered his chances growing up, and then lost it all when he was busted for drug dealing and had to earn an honest living.  Chafing at the new restrictions on his life Danny hatches a plan to get the money he needs to live the life he thinks he deserves, and Stephen Small is the key to his plan.  Things don't go as planned however, and he destroys the lives of everyone involved in the case.

Bonnie Hood is the proud new owner of Camp Nelson Lodge, a property she visited as a young girl and that she hopes to bring back to its former glory.  Her husband Jim is also an owner, but her dedication to the project means he only gets to see her in the weekends when he visits with the children.  The redevelopment takes time, and as she makes changes Bonnie ruffles the feathers of the locals, who have come to see the Camp tavern as theirs.  As she continues the development Bonnie receives death threats - and then the unthinkable happens and she is gunned down in the night.  The crime may not be as simple as it seems, but the Police are determined to catch the killer.

These two compelling stories are intriguing and disturbing in turn - what drives a person to commit crimes like these?  While I am not usually a fan of fictionalised real life stories, Patterson has done an excellent job of remaining sensitive to the victims.  In many ways these stories are scarier than anything he could have dreamed up in one of his own stories because these are real murders with real motivations, and people that you can realise despise for what they have done.  This has been an engaging series to read (not to mention somewhat disturbing) and it will be interesting to see if there are more books in the series.

If you are interested in reading more real life reads and true crime stories then try some of the these books:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Mister Tender's girl by Carter Wilson

When she was just fourteen years old Alice Hill was brutally stabbed by two of her so called friends, twin girls who claimed that Mister Tender told them to do it.  The crime was shocking and sensational, not only because the victim and perpetrators were all teenagers, but also because Mister Tender was the fictional creation of Alice's own father.  The Mister Tender graphic novels had a cult following, including people willing and eager to believe that the demonic seeming bar tender who can make your wishes come true for a cost might be real.  The crime nearly killed Alice, but it succeeded in killing her family - driving her mother to move them from England to America, leaving her father behind apart from the occasional visit.  

More than a decade later Alice Hill is now Alice Gray, living a quiet life as the owner of a small coffee shop in small town.  No one knows who she really is and she likes it that way, it's one of the few ways she can leave the past behind.  Having lived in the shadow of the attack and the fallout of the breakdown of her parents relationship, living a seemingly normal life is bliss.  It helps her forget the crippling panic attacks that leave her gasping for breath and rung out on the floor, and it helps her forget that her brother is sick and depends on their controlling mother.  When a stranger comes to town and reaches out to her about her past Alice slowly comes to realise that she has not escaped from Mister Tender at all, and as her delicate grip on reality slow starts to slip away she comes face to face with what is truly means to be Mister Tender's girl.

I wasn't sure what to expect with Mister Tender's girl, but what I got was a solid session of reading the book from cover to cover without a break.  Carter Wilson has crafted a story that leaves you wondering where the story could possibly go next, a gentle dance through several different genre before settling into an ending that is gripping and ultimately satisfying without feeling too pat or clich├ęd.  Alice is a real person to the reader, well rounded and well developed, and while I have never suffered from panic attacks the description matches and gels with accounts from friends who have and nonfiction accounts of how they come on and how they make you feel.  Alice may have been a victim when she was first attacked, but she is a fighter and that comes through loud and clear through her actions and words. 

This book was a real treat and I have already requested another book from Wilson to see if it was the magic of this one story - or if he can keep me this hooked across multiple books.

If you like this book then try:
  • Mercy killings by Lisa Cutts
  • Cut short by Leigh Russell
  • Good me bad me by Ali Land
  • The slaughter man by Tony Parsons
  • Still waters by Nigel McCrery
  • Crimson Lake by Candice Fox
  • What was mine by Helen Klein Ross
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • One step too far by Tina Seskis

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, February 26, 2018

Claws for concern (ebook) by Miranda James

Claws for concern is the ninth book in the Cat in the stack mysteries so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first eight books in the series.  While you can read this series as standalone books it is best enjoyed read in series order so if you have not read the first books - then you may want to read them first before reading anymore of this review.

Charlie has gotten used to his uncanny knack for finding himself in the middle of murder investigations, but he has always been careful to stay out of the media spotlight and let the local police take the credit for solving the crime.  He has after all only played a (mostly) small part in each of the investigations, and he isn't keen to ruffle any feathers by claiming more than his share of the credit.  With the arrival of his first grandchild, and a second one on the way, it seems like a good time to slow down with the mystery solving anyway.  When an author, Jack Pemberton,  approaches him about being the subject of a new book he is writing Charlie is sure he will turn the offer down, but then he discovers a surprising connection between himself and a new person in town.  

Investigating a cold case is never easy, especially when some of the people involved are no longer around to talk to - and it is especially difficult when people refuse to speak to you at all.  Luckily for Charlie he has a secret weapon, there are very few people who can refuse the charm of his cat Diesel and while Diesel may not open every door, he certainly helps in most cases.  As Charlie and Jack dig into the cold case murder they discover that the conspiracy goes further than they thought.  As they stir up the past it becomes clear that people are keeping secrets - and some of the secrets could get them killed.  After lying as a cold case for twenty years, the unsolved murder is becoming a hot case again, and if Charlie and Jack aren't careful the body count may rise as the murderer is determined to keep their secret no matter what it costs.

Saying that I adore the Charlie and Diesel books may be something of an understatement - and luckily for me my mother also reads the series so I have someone to talk to about them!  This series has a wide appeal, not only because Charlie is a librarian (my chosen profession) so there are a lot of subtle moments that feel familiar, but also because Diesel reminds me very much of a Maine coon I used to have and a little moggie I own now.  The two characters together are what make this series so charming and endearing, and the family and cast of characters that has grown around Charlie and Diesel mean there is lots of interest and realism to keep the series real and engaging. 

This was an interesting departure from the usual format for this series, with another strong character coming in, and with the case being a cold case rather than an active case - but it was an interesting and very rewarding departure.  It's always a challenge to try and figure out whodunnit first - but the ride is what makes it good and this was a very good ride indeed. 

I read Claws for concern as an ebook because my local public library had it listed months ago and in some ways I liked it more because it's harder to tell how far through a book you are when you are reading an ebook so I was able to suspend the "there's only so much of the book left" thoughts and just read the story.  Now all I have to do is wait for the tree book copy to arrive so I can talk about this story.  There is already the promise of the next book in the series and I can't wait until it comes out so I can see what is next for Charlie and Diesel.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Tempests and slaughter by Tamora Pierce

They say heroes are made, not born - but when you have a powerful magical gift it is fair to say that sometimes they are born too.  Arram Draper is only a child when he begins his magical studies at the Imperial University of Carthak, but it soon becomes clear that he has a powerful gift that needs extra supervision so he finds himself with the dubious honour of being a special case.  Despite the sparks of jealously that appear over the years from students who are less advanced and don't believe a child should be studying alongside them, his early years of study also provide a great deal of reward.  

It is a little difficult to tell which is the greatest reward - being able to study more advanced magic and keep his busy mind occupied, or forming a friendship with the other advanced students Varice and Ozorne.  There are some who would think that a commoner like Arram shouldn't spend time with an heir to the Imperial throne, but as Ozorne is a spare prince unlikely to actually rule it is not a problem for others.  As the years pass, and their friendship deepens, it becomes harder and harder for new people to join their group which also leads to some resentment.  As the years pass and Arram learns more about his magic and what he can do with it, he also learns more about the dangers of being too smart for his own good.  There are forces at work in the Carthaki Empire and not all of them are good.

Tempests and slaughter is the long-awaited first book in the Numair chronicles and it was a real pleasure to learn more about the child that grew into the man we meet in some of the Tortall books.  This is definitely not a Tamora Pierce novel for younger readers, as it covers themes that younger readers may struggle to understand and/or cope with.  In many ways Tempests and slaughter is similar to the later books in the Circle universe, covering themes of friendship, betrayal, conspiracies, and more than a little bit of gore through gladiatorial fights and medical procedures.  I thoroughly enjoyed this first outing with a young Arram and his friends, and you can already see the little hints of the tragedy and drama that is to come.  Another masterful story from Tamora Pierce that had me hooked from cover to cover.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, February 12, 2018

Know me now by C.J. Carver

Know me now is the sequel to Spare me the truth and Tell me a lie, and while you can read it as a stand alone you will enjoy the series more if you read them in order.  This review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you haven't already read Spare me the truth and Tell me a lie.

Death and loss are never easy to deal with, but losing both his father and his godson comes as a terrible shock for Dan Forrester.  Losing his father is an emotional event, but when tantalising little clues reveal that his father may in fact have been murdered, it's like a physical blow.  When his friend Grace Reavey, a doctor in the small town of Duncaid, tells him that she thinks his godson Connor was murdered rather than committing suicide it is a double blow.  Determined to uncover the truth about what happened to his father, he uses all of his connections to start investigating the case.

Sending his friend DC Lucy Davies to Duncaid to quietly investigate the events surrounding Connor's death allows him to concentrate on finding out what really happened to his father - which is not as easy as it sounds because his father died in Germany.  As Lucy and Grace look into the deaths in Duncaid, and Dan looks into the death of his father they stir up a past that was not meant to be discovered.

This series was a surprise find for me and I am very glad that I found it (even if it is getting harder and harder to write decent reviews).  Dan Forrester is an interesting and complex character, and because his past is such a mystery there is so much potential for each book to head in unexpected directions.  The first two books in the series were very much set in the now as Dan comes to terms with his past, with this latest book in the series we see more of his past and his future.  This is a very enjoyable series and I highly recommend it not only for fans of action/thrillers, but also for fans of crime/mysteries as well as there is a lot to like here and the series gets better with each book.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Redemption point by Candice Fox

Redemption Point is the sequel to Crimson Lake and to get the most out of this series you have to read them in order - so read Crimson Lake before you read Redemption Point or anymore of this review as it contains ***SPOILERS*** - you have been warned.

Crimson Lake appears to be a quiet little town, but it seems as though appearances can be deceiving - something former police detective Ted Conkaffrey is discovering all too quickly.  Since his arrest and trial for a crime he didn't commit, a trial that didn't exonerate him, he has lived in self imposed exile in the small town which suits him just fine for the time being.  When he and his boss are called in to investigate a double murder it is rather uncomfortable - for everyone other than his boss Amanda that is, noting seems to phase Amanda.  The family has called them in at the start of the investigation, which means that Ted and Amanda are having to dance around the cops who despise both of them, treading on toes and trying to curry favour to get the information they need.

Just when Ted should be concentrating on the case he finds his own past coming back to haunt him - or his alleged past anyway.  Finally agreeing to do an interview seems like a good idea, but it turns out that the media never play fair when ratings are at stake and his name is going to be dragged through the mud again.  Despite growing pressure from his supporters and loyal listeners of the Innocent Ted podcasts there are plenty of people who think that Ted is the scum he is portrayed to be, and when he finds himself saddled with two "babysitters" who work for a notorious criminal from his police past it doesn't go down so well with some people - including his soon to be ex-wife.  When an unexpected ally turns up, if they can be called that at all, Ted starts making some surprising discoveries that could lead him to the real culprit.

I loved the first book in this series and I was really looking forward to reading Redemption Point, but also dreading it too because so often a powerful book like Crimson Lake makes it almost impossible to write a good follow up - but I needed have been worried because Redemption Point was everything it should be and nothing it shouldn't.   Once again Candice Fox has thrown us into the deep end that is the life of a disgraced cop who has to interact, and even work alongside, the small town police who see him as the lowest of the low for doing unspeakable acts while wearing the badge.  With very few friends and allies to call upon in his new home town, it is not surprising that he has developed some interesting quirks that make him all the more human as a character.

One of the most enjoyable parts of Redemption Point is how everything starts spiraling out of control for Ted, but not in the expected ways.  This is a meaty story that is both divided and joined, with Ted following his story and his leads, Amanda following their case, the Police working on the investigation and including/excluding Amanda as they see fit, and the story that happens in Sydney in the past and the present.  This is a deeply satisfying read, and the ending was both expected and unexpected, and leaves a big space for another book in the series - but also, at the same time, provides story loops and spirals that also close several parts of the story off.  Any book that has me talking in riddles and code has to be good!  An amazing read that I devoured in a single afternoon because I could not put it down.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Forest of a thousand lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Xifeng lives a simple life in a small village, working alongside her aunt and their hired helper Ning to create beautiful patterns on silk.  Her embroidery is beautiful and practiced, but not as beautiful as Xifeng herself, and for all of her eighteen years her aunt has told her that she is destined for great things, destined to become the Empress of all of Feng Lu.  That destiny is all her aunt cares about, but Xifeng is torn between her promised destiny and the young man that makes her heart sing and race.  Sneaking around to spend time with Wei is exciting, but also dangerous, her body bears the scars of beatings dished out by her aunt for stolen moments with her love.

When Xifeng is thrust onto the path of her destiny she is an innocent peasant, her experience limited to the life and politics of her small village - the world beyond is full of beauty, danger, and hidden secrets.  Her promised density glitters like a jewel just out of reach, and Xifeng slowly comes to realise that if she wants to be the Empress that she will need to make a choice - the path to glory and power that will cost her dearly, or a life of obscurity living the rest of her life with Wei.  Thrust into the glittering world of the Emperor and Empress, Xifeng quickly realises that she has much to learn about life in the palace, and about her own life. 

Forest of a thousand lanterns was a delightful find, a journey into a fantasy world that has echoes of Chinese and Japanese history and culture woven together to create a world that is believable and unforgettable.  You connect immediately with Xifeng and her story, a story that does not take the expected path, and that has plenty of twists and turns to keep you hooked and shocked by turn.  It is not often that a character has me ready to shake them and congratulate them by turn - at times you can't help but cheer as Xifeng finds a way to overcome or work around obstacles, but there are also times when you feel like asking her "what are you doing???". 

Fantasy novels can be hit and miss, some bury you in details and others push you too far and too fast, but Julie C. Dao paced the story well and found the perfect balance of description and character development to help you visualise the world and the characters without bogging you down in the little details.  The end came rather abruptly and did feel a touch rushed, but that could just be because I had enjoyed the book so much and didn't want it to end.  There are mature themes in this book, so it is best suited to older teens or mature teens - and highly recommended for adult readers too!  While it is only February, Forest of a thousand lanterns is a strong front runner for my best book of the year.

Now comes the impatient wait for the next book in the series to see what happens next for Xifeng and her world.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Still waters by Nigel McCrery

DCI Mark Lapslie has been on "gardening leave" for the past few months, a charming catch all euphemism used to describe long term leave for health reasons.  His health reason is synaesthesia, a neurological condition that means his senses are 'cross wired' and he tastes the noises around him.  Sometimes it is pleasant, a taste of citrus across his tongue when he hears a voice, a taste of chocolate when his phone rings - other times it might be the taste of rotting meat when he hears a certain song.  The condition has wreaked havoc on his personal life too, driving his wife and children out of the family home because he couldn't handle the tastes that came with the normal sounds of family life. 

Forced away from regular police work Lapslie has worked on special projects, staying away from the bustle and noise that is synonymous with a police station.  When a phone call comes out of the blue asking him to come to a crime scene it is a shock, not just because he has been called to a case, but also because his name was flagged because of an aspect of the case that sounds vaguely familiar but doesn't ring any real bells.  What he discovers is an elderly victim in a shallow grave with a rather distinctive mutilation.  As Lapslie digs into the case he finds himself battling not only the unique challenges of his synaesthesia, but also a surprising amount of red tape.  There is a killer on the loose, and if no one stops her the list of victims will continue to grow.

I picked up Still waters after seeing the latest book in the series on a new books list, and as I like reading series in order I tracked down the first book in the series - and I was not disappointed.  Still waters is an interesting read, not just because it blends the parallel storylines of the killer and Lapslie so well, but also because of the history and depth of characters that are portrayed through the story.  Lapslie is not perfect, but he is also a unique character because of his neurological condition.   The killer is also interesting and unique in a world of serial killers clamouring for attention, she is not what you expect and has motivations that make sense.  There is also a subtle note of conspiracy that makes an appearance and makes you wonder what is going on.

I really enjoyed Still waters, and have passed the novel on to my mother to read as it was well written and well paced to keep you hooked from cover to cover - although for a senior citizen it may be a little close to home for her!

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla