Monday, December 30, 2019

The lovely and the lost by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Kira is a survivor, her earliest memories are of living in the woods as a child, and her past has left scars - physical and emotional.  Years of patient support and acceptance from her foster mother Cady has enabled Kira to reenter society and find a place in it, even though at times her earliest survival skills take over making it difficult to fit in with everyone else.  The only time Kira feels truly understood is when she works with the search and rescue dogs that Cady trains, and with her own dog Saskia.  Life has a certain pattern and flow as Kira trains Saskia, and when they train with her foster brother Jude and neighbour Free.  The past occasionally intrudes, but she has it mostly under control as she focuses on turning 18 - once she is 18 she and Saskia can take the test to become a search and rescue team in their own right, a test that Cady thinks Saskia will fail.

Life has a certain flow and rhythm - one that is severely disrupted when Cady's estranged father turns up out of the blue and asks for her help with a missing child.  In asking for Cady's help, Bales Bennett is opening old wounds - not just for Cady, but as it turns out, also for Kira.  Along with Jude and Free and their dogs, Kira and Saskia find themselves working alongside other search and rescue teams in the Sierra Glades National Park.  It is challenging work, especially when the local Sheriff has made it clear he doesn't think teenagers belong on the front lines - unstable ones like Kira, and her unstable dog Saskia in particular.  As the search for the missing child draws out Kira will have to face increasingly unsettled feelings and force herself to face memories that are increasingly bubbling to the surface.  As secrets are slowly revealed it is all Kira can do to hold onto her humanity - but her instincts and survival skills may be the only thing that can save them all.

I always look forward to new books by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, not only because they are well written and have a great deal of depth and layers, but also because you very quickly connect with the characters and what they are going through.  I have a great deal of respect for working dogs and their handlers, and have been reading the Rider Creed series by Alex Kava for the past few years and so I was curious what this book would be like in comparison - and ended up finishing the whole thing in an afternoon because I didn't want to put it down!  Kira is a beautifully damaged soul, and it was not difficult to have sympathy for her while also admiring her personal strength and courage, and the courage of her foster family and the empathy and compassion they showed her.  Her foster mom and brother are clearly her pack, as is her friend and neighbour Free - as are the dogs that make up the rest of her pack/family.  

On top of all the amazing character development, there was an equally engaging and artfully developed story that kept you guessing what was happening as you slowly peeled back the layers chapter by chapter - usually through the eyes of Kira as she discovered a new secret or aspect of a persons personality.  There were no cliché story book villains, or men in black hats, everyone was a rounded personality with their flaws, faults, and finer points.  There are discoveries along the way that help you uncover hints and clues, and while my guess about whodunnit was right, that is partly because I read so many crime novels and thrillers, and the unveiling was in no way a disappointment.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Kira and her story and while this seems to be a standalone novel I can't help but hope that this isn't the last we have seen of Kira and her human and canine family because it is on par with the Rider Creed series and it would somewhat gratifying to spend more time in their company.

If you like this book then try:
  • Little white lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • In another life by C.C. Hunter
  • Holding smoke by Elle Cosimano
  • Nearly gone by Elle Cosimano
  • The stranger game by Cylin Busby
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • The Christopher killer by Alane Ferguson
  • Lost girls by Merrie Destefano
  • Nickel plated by Aric Davis
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • Burning blue by Paul Griffin
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong
  • What waits in the woods by Kieran Scott
  • Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess
  • Living dead girl by Elizabeth Scott

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Unraveled by Kate Jarvik Birch

Unraveled is the sequel to Perfected and Tarnished so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first books in the series.  This is a series that really needs to be read in order so stop reading this review and read Perfected and Tarnished first!

Ella is no longer a pampered Pet from one of the best kennels in the country, she is a revolutionary fighting for freedom for herself and all the other Pets.  Over the past few months she has made some truly shocking discoveries about Pets and the world she lives in, and she has found true friends and fellow revolutionaries.  She has also found, and lost a true friend in Missy, and she is determined to do whatever it takes to free Missy from NuPet and their plans.  The rest of the world thinks that NuPet is doing the decent thing now they have been exposed, rehabilitating the Pets and setting them up for a bright and happy future in the world, but Ella and her friends know the horrifying truth - NuPet is going to exterminate the Pets.  

When a mission goes sideways and they are forced to operate as a smaller group without their usual resources it seems like an uphill mission for them, and when they are accused of a bombing things go from bad to worse.  Ella and her friends as being portrayed as terrorists, while a carefully controlled propaganda campaign is making NuPet look like the good guys.  Running from Congressman John Kimball and NuPet was hard enough, but now Ella and her friends have to hide from a public that wants them rehabilitated, and law enforcement officers who want to stop their criminal activities.  When another mission goes sideways the stress begins to show and the group slowly starts imploding, and with a traitor among them it is only a matter of time until they fail or are captured.  It is a race against time with limited resources - but Ella is used to being underestimated, after all, how dangerous can one Pet be?

Unraveled is the final (or so it seems) book in the trilogy that started with Perfected and Tarnished - and it is a very satisfying end to the series.  I only discovered it at my local public library because I was recommending the first two books and discovered Unraveled had come out last year.  Rereading this series from the start and completing it in less than two days made it much clearer that this series is much darker than you pick up reading them some time apart, and there are some really adult themes for a book series that reads so well.  The idea of slavery and being property seems so much stronger on a second reading, and it seems like it should have been written for adults rather than teenagers - mind you I might have stronger feelings about those themes after reading another series which stresses how little power women had in the past, how fathers owned their daughters until they married and then ownership passed to their husbands.  

The development of the characters over the course of the trilogy is also interesting, you can see changes in all of the main characters and not always for the good.  In many ways we discover more about the people around Ella as she develops an understanding of the world around her she loses the naivety of being a Pet and becomes more human in every way - she loses her vulnerability and innocence and comes to understand how complicated the world is.  She essentially goes from being a pretty ornament to being a fully realised character who rescues herself rather than waiting to be rescued.  There are some heavy themes, but Kate Jarvik Birch doesn't shy away from them, and this is a very rewarding series to read as a result.

If you like this book then try:
  • The Jewel by Amy Ewing
  • The Ones by Daniel Sweren-Becker
  • Wither by Lauren DeStefano
  • Red queen by Victoria Aveyard
  • The scorpion rules by Erin Bow
  • Adaptation by Melinda Lo
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • The glass arrow by Kristen Simmons
  • The 100 by Kass Morgan
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • The testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Proxy by Alex London
  • ACID by Emma Pass
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera

Reviewed by Brilla

The nowhere child by Christian White

There's nothing special about Kim Leamy, she teaches photography a few nights a week, tries to keep in regular contact with her sister and stepfather, and likes to read.  She doesn't have a husband or partner, but she gets along fine and finds company with her lonely neighbour.  All that changes when she is approached by a man while she's on a break at Northampton Community TAFE - a man who shows her a picture of a missing child and claims that Kim is that child.  As it slowly sinks in that this man, this stranger thinks that she is Sammy Went all grown up, Kim slowly slides into a sense of confusion and betrayal - could the loving mother who raised her really be a kidnapper?  Kim could ask her if she hadn't died of cancer a few years earlier, and her stepfather Dean seems oddly determined for Kim to drop the subject, as does her sister Amy.

When Kim is shown more evidence that she is Sammy Went she makes the bold decision to travel to the small town where it all started to unravel the mystery herself.  Manson, Kentucky is a small town that keeps its secrets - now and in the past.  As Kim slowly comes to terms with her past, she must also come to terms with her 'new' family and the secrets and undercurrents of relationships that were all changed and twisted by the events long ago.  Kim may be struggling to understand what happened and tries to remember the past, the pastis just as frantic and hectic as the Went family struggles to cope with little Sammy's disappearance and the destructive secrets that are uncovered along the way.  Manson is home to many families, including those that belong to the Church of the Light Within - who have rigid religious ideas and use snakes and poison in their religious devotions.  What really happened to little Sammy all those years ago?

I am not ashamed to admit that I love a good crime novel - particularly ones that are fast paced with a twist or two in the tale.  I picked up The nowhere child after seeing it on the request shelf at my local public library (multiple copies of it) meaning lots of people were wanting to read it.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I got was a completely absorbing read that I finished in one sitting because I didn't want to put it down.  Christian White has cleverly used alternating chapters to lead the reader through a mystery in two different times, keeping the present moving at a brisk pace while slowly revealing the past and bringing forward hints and clues of what might lie in the future.  The pace is kept up but doesn't prevent character development and it is all too easy to understand how Kim can be so confused and off balance with the discovery that she is not who she thought she was.  The other characters around her come into focus during the course of the novel, like she is seeing some of them for the first time which makes it more realistic and believable.

I thoroughly enjoyed The nowhere child, as did my senior citizen mother, and I have already requested his follow up novel to see if it is as good as The nowhere child.  I read a lot of books and a lot of crime, and this was one of the stand out novels of 2019 for me which is quite impressive.  If White can keep up this standard of writing and keep his ideas fresh and interesting then he has a bright future in this genre - and I wouldn't be surprised if James Patterson comes knocking to collaborate as White also has a sparse, action/drama focused style.  Highly, highly recommended.
  
If you like this book then try:
  • Crimson Lake by Candice Fox
  • The vanishing season by Joanna Schaffhausen
  • Black & Blue by James Patterson and Candice Fox
  • Never never by James Patterson and Candice Fox
  • Spare me the truth by C.J. Carver
  • Vodka doesn't freeze by Leah Giarratano
  • What was mine by Helen Klein Ross
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • The starter wife by Nina Laurin
  • City of the lost by Kelley Armstrong
  • The better sister by Alafair Burke
  • The wife by Alafair Burke

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Doctor Who: The thirteenth Doctor: Old friends

When you can travel through time and space, it should be no surprise that you will meet people you already know - though sometimes you will meet someone for the first time when they are old and grey, and meet them for a second (or more) time when they are younger.  It should also be no surprise when you end up in the same place twice - but you would expect to at least remember that you have been.  When the Doctor is accused of stealing something she doesn't remember stealing, she learns she was the obvious suspect because she is a Time Lord and their rather unique physiology gave her away - but the rest of the description doesn't sound like the Doctor at all, but it does sound like someone she knows.  

Making a break for it, the Doctor and her companions track down the Time Lord responsible - only to discover that (as usual) things are not straight forward and that they are about to face a new adventure.  Never one to shy away from danger, or to shy away from doing what is right, the Doctor and her family will face some familiar challenges before their adventure is over.

Another fantastic adventure for the Doctor and her companions, and like with many episodes across a season of Doctor Who there are some story arcs that blend The thirteenth Doctor: Old friends into the storyline from the previous three graphic novels.  Can't wait to read more of this series - hopefully my local public library will continue to buy them so I can keep reading them!

If you liked this graphic novel then try:
  • Doctor Who: The road to the thirteenth Doctor by James Peaty and Jody Houser
  • Doctor Who: The thirteenth doctor: A new beginning by Jody Houser
  • Doctor Who: The thirteenth doctor: Hidden human history by Jody Houser

Reviewed by Brilla  

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Doctor Who: The thirteenth Doctor: Hidden human history by Jody Houser

The Doctor and her companions have found themselves on planet Earth during the 1500s in a place that is obscure and should be completely new to the Doctors companions - but somehow they know all about the time and place they have found themselves in.  The Doctor is puzzled by how they know about Guelder, but the discovery of aliens in the village soon distracts her from the puzzle.  When another hop in the TARDIS brings them to another time on Earth, another off the track time and location that the companions all seems to know about begs the question - how do they know about the times and places they find them in?  

The answer is surprisingly simple - there is a podcast that features the times and places that they have visited, and it seems that maybe the TARDIS has been listening to the podcasts as well (no matter what the Doctor seems to think).  As the Doctor and her companions slowly unravel the mystery of the podcasts and the connection to their own travels through time, they have no idea how close the connection will be.  

Another fantastic addition to the Doctor Who graphic novel universe - true to the episodes, and this could easily fit into the timeline of any series featuring the Doctor.  There are some clever little moments that bring the series up to date without dating it too quickly, and it was a wonderful escape into a familiar world with a new Doctor still discovering what she can do.  So much character and connection to enjoy, and hopefully there are many more to come from this team of writer/artists/colourists.

If you liked this graphic novel then try:
  • Doctor Who: The road to the thirteenth Doctor by James Peaty and Jody Houser
  • Doctor Who: The thirteenth doctor: A new beginning by Jody Houser
  • Doctor Who: The thirteenth doctor: Old friends by Jody Houser

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 20, 2019

Doctor Who: The thirteenth Doctor: A new beginning by Jody Houser

It can be a challenge getting used to a new body, but the thirteenth Doctor is taking it all in her stride and rediscovering old things with her new eyes - bringing her companions with her for the ride.  In many ways the universe is as new for her as it is for Ryan, Yaz and Graham - or at least that's how it seems.  When they encounter a strange distortion that appears to be following the Doctor through time, they discover the tragic story of two scientists who have stumbled across a being called the Hoarder - which in turn leads them into the path of the Doctor and her companions.

I stumbled across the graphic novels for the thirteenth Doctor by accident, but it turned out to be a very happy accident indeed.  The writer, Jody Houser, has a real knack for bringing the characters to life - to the point that I could clearly hear the Doctors voice in my head, and the voices of her companions.  The artists and colourists have also done an amazing job of bringing the characters to life on the page, particularly the facial expressions of the Doctor (her beaming smile in particular).  

The true test for a graphic novel tie in is that you can picture it as clearly on the page as you can on the screen, and there were no jarring anomalies or weirdness to kick you out of the story.  I have been rereading a book series working my way towards the most recent book in the series, and while I have other things to read nothing has distracted me - except for these Doctor Who graphic novels!  Fantastic find, and can't wait to see more of them (hopefully many more) from this amazing writer/artists/colourists combination.

If you liked this graphic novel then try:
  • Doctor Who: The road to the thirteenth Doctor by James Peaty and Jody Houser
  • Doctor Who: The thirteenth doctor: Hidden human history by Jody Houser
  • Doctor Who: The thirteenth doctor: Old friends by Jody Houser

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Doctor Who: The road to the thirteenth Doctor by James Peaty and Jody Houser

Doctor Who is one of those enduring characters that can be, and has been, enjoyed by generations of viewers and readers - thrilling, terrifying, and heart breaking in turn, it is a series that breaks down barriers and provides global connection.  The arrival of a new Doctor is always a chance to shake things up and head in a new direction, with each new actor bringing their own spin to this iconic character - and the graphic novel authors, artists, and colourists have new opportunities to bring their skills to this ever expanding universe.

Doctor Who: The road to the thirteenth Doctor was a real treat to read, not only because it leads up to the introduction of the new Doctor, but also because it is essentially a short story collection that connects past moments in the Doctors life and brings them to readers who have never seen them before.  The authors and artists have done an outstanding job of bringing the characters to life, you can really hear the voices of the different Doctors (at least I could), and the situations they get themselves into are exactly what the series would have shown if they had the chance.  

Loads of fun to read, the short stories were a fantastic reintroduction to the world of the Doctor, perfectly timed for the start of the next season of the show, and for the graphic novels about the thirteenth Doctor which I jumped straight into after this one.  Highly recommended, not just for the quality of the story, but also for the amazing artwork that brings the Doctors and their companions to life.

If you liked this graphic novel then try:
  • Doctor Who: The thirteenth doctor: A new beginning by Jody Houser
  • Doctor Who: The thirteenth doctor: Hidden human history by Jody Houser
  • Doctor Who: The thirteenth doctor: Old friends by Jody Houser

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Spin the dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Maia is the youngest member of her family, surrounded by her father and three older brothers.  Her father is an accomplished tailor, creating stunning outfits for the wealthy and noble from their shop in the city of Gangsun, one of many cities and towns on the Great Spice Road.  They are a well known and respected family, and the future seems bright, until their mother dies and Baba's grief overtakes him.  As the grief overtook him the quality of his work dropped and two of the brothers convinced him to move the family to a shophouse in Port Kamalan - a fresh start for all of them.  More grief and despair followed them, as one by one Maia's oldest brothers were pulled into the war that was ravaging their home land of A'landi.  Then her last brother ran away to join the war, leaving Maia to care for her father and the family business.  

When the war finally ends all that is left of their family is Baba, Maia, and the youngest brother - crippled from his final battle.  The future looks grim, but then an unexpected visitor appears demanding that Baba or one of his sons present themselves to the Emperor at the Summer Palace, because the Emperor is in need of a Master Tailor.  What the official doesn't know is that the garments that captured the attention of the Emperor were made by Maia and not her father, and that she is willing to risk everything to help her family.  Disguised as her brother, Maia travels to the Summer Palace to find that she is not the only tailor, and that she must compete for the prized position of Imperial Tailor.  

Unprepared for the cut throat politics of the Imperial Court, Maia struggles to keep her place in the competition.  As the tasks get harder and harder, Maia reluctantly picks up the gift her father gave her just before she left - a pair of tailors scissors that can do wondrous things.  As the number of competitors dwindles it becomes clear that not everyone is playing by the same rules, and that the future Empress is determined to stall her marriage as long as possible.  Winning the competition is not enough, the winner will have to face an epic challenge that is the stuff of myth and legend - and the other competitors don't hide the secrets that Maia does, secrets that could mean her life if she is uncovered.  With surprising allies on her side, Maia is in the fight of her life, and losing is not an option.

It is challenging to review Spin the dawn because there are some little twists and surprises that would be spoilt if I revealed them, but revealing them would make for a better book review than the one I have written which may seem a little stilted and lacking in wow factor.  Spin the dawn is extremely well written with characters that you connect with straight away and a storyline that brings together the mythical and a slightly nagging feeling that you might have heard or read this story before (which is a positive not a negative!).  From the start you are drawn into Maia's world and the tragedy of her family, her sense of honour, and the highly political world she is dragged into.  The fact Maia is so innocent of the 'real' world makes for some interesting moments and makes her more endearing, and as an adult sometimes very indignant on her behalf.  The other characters of her world are equally interesting, and she Elizabeth Lim has put an interesting spin on some of the mythology which makes it uniquely hers and opens the reader to all sorts of possibilities.  

I am eagerly looking forward to the release of Unravel the dusk to see what is next for Maia and her world.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The wife by Alafair Burke

On the outside Angela and Jason Powell have the perfect life - he is a professor of economics with a best selling book and his own consulting firm, and she is a stay at home mom.  Jason is not shy about being in the spotlight, he does media appearances and has a successful podcast, and his consultancy firm is doing well enough to have great clients and has attracted some interns too.  Having grown up poor, Angela appreciates the comfort they live in, and mostly stays in the background and out of the spotlight.  Their marriage isn't perfect, but they love each other and their son Spencer.  

That love and faith in her husband is tested when one of the interns from his office comes forward and accuses Jason of inappropriate behaviour.  Suddenly their whole life is under the spotlight - but for all the wrong reasons.  Suddenly every interaction Jason has had with women is up for discussion in the media, and then another woman comes forward with more allegations against Jason.  Trying to protect her family and her marriage, Angela does everything she can to support Jason, even taking advice that seems to be against everything she is trying to do.  It seems that everything is fair game for Jason and his defence team, including Angela's own story which was told to Jason in confidence between man and wife.  As more secrets are revealed, Angela has to wonder how much she really knows about her husband and their own relationship.

The wife is a delightfully convoluted novel that takes you from one point to another through a series of secrets, revelations, conspiracies and other twists and turns.  Angela and Jason start as two ordinary characters, but as each chapter peels back more layers of their story you come to realise that you don't really know that much about them at all, and that they don't know as much about each other as they think.  Angela seems like a typical naïve housewife caught out by a husband with a wandering eye, but she has faced and overcome great challenges already just to be alive.  Jason seems like a great husband at first, but it slowly becomes clear that he is quite self centred and focused on himself rather than the family.  Saying anymore will ruin the twists and discoveries that made this such great reading, but if you have read her other works you are going to love The wife.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Sea witch rising by Sarah Henning

Sea witch rising is the sequel to Sea witch, and while you can read them separately you will enjoy the series better if you read them in order.  This review also contains ***SPOILERS*** for what happens in Sea witch.

It has been decades since the girl who was once Evie became the Sea witch - feared and loathed by the people of the sea and the land alike.  She has been kept prisoner in her cove of black water, her only real company the people who died and became anchored in her polypus garden.  When a young mermaid named Alia comes to her and asks to strike a magical bargain Evie knows what the cost will be for both of them, but it is a bargain she makes none the less, sending the mermaid to try and claim the heart of her Prince.  Evie should have remembered that mermaids lie and that a heart can be blind, because close behind the first mermaid comes her twin sister Runa - who is desperate to create a bargain of her own to save her sisters life.

Life on the surface is even harder than Runa expected, and knowing the life of the Prince is the cost of her return to a mermaid Alia refuses to save her own life - even when she realises that he doesn't love her and her life is doomed.  Forced to act Runa makes a decision that will change both their lives, and sets in motion a chain of events that will either save or doom the land and the sea.  For decades the power of magic has been flowing from the land to the sea, the death of countless witches tipping the balance of power in favour of the ocean and the mermaid King who rules them all and Evie is starting to understand exactly what that means for her - and for everyone else.  The time is coming when Runa will have to make the ultimate choice, and the choice she makes has the power to save or destroy two worlds.

I absolutely adored Sea witch and was a bit worried that any sequel would fall flat because we all know a version of the little mermaid and the Sea witch is always painted as a sinister character rather than a sympathetic one - but I shouldn't have worried at all.  Sea witch rising was just as good, if not better than Sea witch, with the same attention to detail in terms of character building and cultural references.  For someone who has Scandinavian heritage it was a real treat to enter a world that felt right, that had a sense of history and culture.  As with the Sea witch there is more than one layer to the story, you have the main characters and the main storyline, but there are other characters and storylines that work together to create depth and connection to the story.  

This series has been a real treat, and I hope that we see more of these re-imagined traditional tales from Henning because she has a real knack for keeping true to the ideas of the stories, while breathing a fresh spark of life into them and making them her own.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla