Friday, January 5, 2018

Freed by flame and storm by Becky Allen

Freed by flame and storm is the sequel to Bound by blood and sand and it is highly recommended that you read the series in order.  This review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not already read Bound by blood and sand.

No one could ever have imagined that one of the Highest, the ruling class, would ever work with a Closest - but that is exactly what is happening.  Jae was born into the Closest, the lowest caste of society, considered to be traitors and generations later they are still paying that price.  Elan was born into the Highest, the ruling caste, and he has discovered that everything he thought he knew was a lie, and if he and Jae don't work together then their world is doomed.  Jae has freed her mage powers, and has plans to free the rest of the Closest from their slavery, no matter what it costs her personally - and Elan has thrown his complete support behind her, because now he knows the truth he is willing to make his own sacrifices to save his world.  

Convincing others to believe their story is only part of the problem, generations of lies and secrets has lead to mistrust of the Closest, and when the Highest have control of the Twill and Avowed Jae and the Closest have a massive fight on their hands.  Jae and Elan are not the only ones fighting for what they believe in, and when Erra discovers that she is the one person in her generation who has to protect her people she takes the responsibility seriously - even though it means that she has to keep her beloved brother at arms length.  Elan is determined to reach out to his sister, but with lies and secrets flying all around them will he be able to convince her that his truth is the real truth?  A war is coming and the winners will decide the fate of their world, and with both sides thinking they are in the right desperate people will be pushed to desperate action.

Freed by flame and storm was one of the books I was really looking forward to reading in 2017, but I didn't get my hands on it in time so it was one of my first books for 2018 instead.  I was expecting great things from Freed by flame and storm and it is a relief to say that I was not disappointed, as Allen closes her story arc in a way that is both satisfying and rewarding.  Jae stays true to her character throughout the story, growing and developing as she learns to be free and learns what it means to be a leader.  Elan also changes and grows, learning how to leave behind the trappings of being a Highest while also learning how to stand up for what he believes in.  The rest of the cast of characters that support the story are also realistic and relatable - lovable, engaging, or reviled in turn.  

This duology has been an amazing read, and the second book in the series is polished and well written - somewhat didactic with some of the messages, but flawlessly delivered as a story rather than a lecture.  The themes of this series are well thought and delivered, and would make engaging set reading for themes around slavery, how history is changed to suit the victors, and loyalty.  I'm glad I got to read the book in one sitting (mainly thanks to a 10 hour power cut with nothing else to do) and I hope that this is not the last we see of Allen - even if it revisiting the world of Jae and Elan in several generations to see what happens next, or travelling back in time to see what started it all!

If you like this book then try:
  • The girl of fire and thorns by Rae Carson
  • Sandry's book (The magic in the weaving) by Tamora Pierce
  • Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
  • Winter of fire by Sherryl Jordan
  • Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
  • The halfmen of O by Maurice Gee
  • Under the mountain by Maurice Gee
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The Menagerie by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland
  • Walk on Earth a stranger by Rae Carson
  • Snow in Summer: Fairest of them all by Jane Yolen
  • The castle behind thorns by Merrie Haskell
  • Soundless by Richelle Mead
  • Crown duel by Sherwood Smith

Reviewed by Brilla

The vanishing season by Joanna Schaffhausen

Fourteen years ago Abigail Hathaway was abducted by serial killer Francis Michael Coben, and thanks to young FBI agent Reed Markham Abigail survived and became the victim who lived.  Thanks to careful management of the press case Abigail was able to transition to become Ellery Hathaway, small town police officer in Woodbury, Massachusetts.  No one knows who she once was, and because she is a survivor Ellery takes pride in being independent and living her own life - though surviving Coben has left it's scars, physical and mental. 

Life in a small town is soothing and familiar, a place where Ellery can just be Ellie, the only female cop in a small police force.  Someone knows who she really is though, someone who has sent her a birthday card each year for the past three years, each card coming around the same time as a missing persons case that no one seems to think needs solving.  Dreading the arrival of yet another birthday card, Ellie reaches out to Agent Markham for help, not realising that he is battling demons of his own.  Can Ellie and Reed solve the case that no one thinks needs solving - especially when the local Chief wants nothing to do with Ellie's obsession and Reed's sudden appearance?  Chasing cold cases is never easy, and knowing the clock is ticking for another victim pushes Ellie and Reed to take desperate steps in the hopes they won't be too late and have to wait another year for the killer.

I stumbled across The vanishing season in the new books section of my library website, and while I wasn't too sure about reading it for the first few pages I was soon hooked on the story.  The start is very dramatic and it takes a moment or two to realise what we are witnessing, but it lays the ground work beautifully for the rest of the story.  Ellie is a scarred and damaged person, exactly what you would expect from someone who lived through what she did - and the ways she interacts with people feels very genuine.  In his own turn, Reed is also what you would expect from a seasoned FBI agent, especially one who deals with the cases that he does.  Ellie and Reed somehow manage to represent victims and law enforcement everywhere, without drifting too far into the cliché.  Small town America, and pretty much small town anywhere, is also reflected in the way the towns people interact and interrelate.  

While The vanishing season is not the most polished of books, it benefits from that rather than suffers.  The length was pretty much perfect, and the pace was bang on, keeping you reading and hooked without making you feel like you were being dragged down by superfluous side stories and characters.  There are some delightful little twists and hints dropped that keep you hooked in the story until the big reveal at the end - and if you are someone who likes to play along and try and figure it out before the big reveal (I certainly do), then it was a nice challenge to try and figure it out before the end.  This was an amazing debut novel, and hopefully we see more from Schaffhausen, maybe not set in Woodbury (although it feels like there could be more here) but she has great potential and it would be interesting to explore other characters and stories with her,

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mercy killing by Lisa Cutts

Detective Inspector Harry Powell and his team are about to catch the worst kind of case - a case they don't really want to solve.  Albie Woodville has been found murdered in his flat, nothing unusual in this day and age, DI Powell and his team see murders all the time - but Albie Woodville was a convicted child sex offender, and no one likes kiddie fiddlers, especially not the police.  Determined to be professional and solve the case quickly Powell directs his team to follow up all and any leads, starting with the scarce evidence at the crime scene and spreading to include his victims. 

Unfortunately there are plenty of potential suspects, especially after the Police released information about his past to Albie's girlfriend and the amateur dramatics society he had joined.  As they interview potential suspects and witnesses the team chases any lead that may help them catch the killer or killers - no matter how distasteful that line of query may be for the officers involved.  As they get closer to the killer the team has to balance their personal lives with their professional lives and put aside their own feelings to solve the case.

As sometimes happens I picked up the sequel to Mercy killing, Buried secrets, and read that first which means that I had a somewhat backwards introduction to the world of East Rise Police Station.  Reading Mercy killing was challenging at times because of the theme of child sexual abuse that runs through the novel, but Cutts handled it very well and was realistic about the aftermath without being gratuitous and clichéd.  The characters, both Police and civilian, were well developed and interesting, and I found myself caught up in the story and trying to figure out who the killer was from start to finish. 

I spent the last part of 2017 on something of a British crime spree and the East Rise books were two of my favourite books of the past six months - I enjoyed them because they felt so real and show the personal toll policing can take on the people who protect and serve (to borrow the American phrase).  This series is polished and I really wish I had read them in order because it would have made the second book more enjoyable after the introduction to some of the characters in Mercy killing.  There are some loose ends at the end, but that is only to be expected because in real life crime isn't always perfectly solved and delivered with a big bow on top. 

Hopefully there are more books to come about the East Rise team, because Cutts is a very talented author and her characters are relatable and all to easy to imagine as real people.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Blood sisters by Jane Corry

Fifteen years ago Alison, Kitty, and Kitty's best friend Vanessa were walking to school when there was a terrible accident - one that has left scars on the survivors.  Alison lives her life on the side lines, a quiet and simple life that keeps her unnoticed and safe.  She doesn't have a husband or children, she focuses on teaching art and stained glass making at the local college.  It is a self imposed penance and while it does pay the bills, when a chance to work at a local prison as the resident artist arises she sees it as a chance to have a steady income and worry less about supporting herself and leaning on her mother for financial help. 

Her mother is already stretched after all, paying the extra cost for keeping her sister Kitty in a care home - the place she has lived for the fifteen years since the accident that left her with severe brain injuries.  Locked inside her own mind Kitty is frustrated by the people around her not understanding what she is trying to say, and she has a reputation for being difficult at her care home.  Kitty has no idea that her life is about to change in a sudden and remarkable way, and that the past is going to come back to haunt everyone in her family.  

Blood sisters is one of those books that are great to read and nightmare to review because you usually want a review to draw the reader in and hook them, but sharing the best bits of Blood sisters runs the risk of spoiling the way the story unfolds for the reader.  The first part of the story is told in the present, flipping between Alison and Kitty as they go about their everyday lives, nothing spectacular or remarkable for either of them.  As the story progresses the pace picks up, especially when we start to get glimpses of them both as school girls. 

I won't say anymore as it runs the risk of spoilers, but this was a nice slow burn that built into an avalanche that had me hooked from page one - so much so that I finished it in a single sitting and passed it on to my mother to read as well.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Unleashed by Eileen Brady

Unleashed is the second book in the Kate Turner, DVM series and while you can read it as a stand alone you will enjoy it more if you read the series in order - so start with Muzzled.

Seven months into her year long contract in the small town of Oak Falls, Kate Turner has settled into the routines of a small town vet.  With a busy practice to cover she has little time left over to twiddle her thumbs, and with a wide variety of clinic and house call clients she has little chance of getting bored.  When one of her clients, a young artist named Claire, commits suicide Kate is shocked.  She can't believe that Claire committed suicide, it just feels wrong - especially with Claire's beloved dog Toto in the clinic.  

Unable to accept Claire's death as a suicide Kate can't help but dig into the mystery, despite the protests of her friends and family.  Little details keep niggling at Kate, things that don't add up to a suicide, and it seems as though she is not the only person who thinks there is something hinky about the case.  The more Kate digs into the case the more secrets she finds.  When the Police arrest one of her staff she knows that somethings not right, but as she continues to search for the killer she is putting her life in danger.  Can Kate figure out who the killer is before they strike again?

The Kate Turner, DVM mysteries are a fun little series that brings to life the joys (and complications) of living in a small town.  Kate may have lived in Oak Falls for seven months, but she is still very much an outsider to the long term residents - although she has some charming and endearing connections to people in the town.  Brady has created a character that is engaging, believable, and very down to earth.  There are some very funny moments in this series, mainly because of the antics of the town residents (animal and human), and it is all too easy to picture Kate and her new town as real.  

Unleashed is an enjoyable romp in a small town where the small population gets smaller with each new book, and each new book brings Kate more firmly into the fabric of the town.  A fun read that deserves to be discovered and enjoyed in a single session.  Can't wait to see what is next for the town of Oak Falls.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Tell me a lie by C.J. Carver

Tell me a lie is the sequel to Spare me the truth, 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.

Dan Forrester is coming to terms with his new reality, not only is he coming to terms with the fact that he used to be part of MI5, he is also coming to terms with the fact that his wife knew the truth and kept it from him.  Living separate lives while he tries to wrap his head around his new reality, their relationship is already under strain, so when he has to bow out of family time to fly to Russia on a mission for his old boss his wife is less than thrilled.  Going to Russia is risky, because although Dan used to work there he has no memory of that time, and he has no memory of the contact that reached out to him.  In Russia he is far from home, and as a retired spy he doesn't have the same support network as an active member of MI5.

Back home in the United Kingdom Constable Lucy Davies arrives at the scene of a bloody and brutal family slaying - the only survivor is the father, who swears black and blue that he didn't do it.  All the evidence points to him, but something about the case doesn't feel right to Lucy and she feels the urge to investigate further.  When she hears about another family tragedy she finds herself slowly making connections, connections that no one else seems to see, and she finds herself going out on a limb to follow the case.  Walking a fine line between doing her current job and not upsetting her new boss, Lucy will have to use all her skill to try and untangle the truth behind the secrets, half truths, and the lies.

Tell me a lie is an intensely satisfying read, with layers of complexity that keep you guessing what is coming next, and startling twists that keep you hooked and wondering what could possibly come next.  Carver has characters that are easy to connect to, action sequences that are believable and suck you into the story, and the ability to side swipe you with twists that you might or might not see coming (depending on how much attention you are paying).  This is a series that sits firmly in the middle between action/adventure and crime and would appeal to readers of both genre - it would also appeal to anyone who likes the challenge of trying to figure out what is happening before the traditional big reveal.  

When you read as many books as I tend to it takes an author with a strong voice and new ideas to capture and really keep my attention - and I was hooked on both Spare me the truth and Tell me a lie right from the start.  Dan and Lucy are interesting characters that haven't been moulded from clay that has been used by hundreds (if not thousands) of authors before, and the locations have not been done to death either.  The action sequences are well thought out and believable, and the characters react to situations in ways that are all too human.  This series has been a pleasure to read, and I am not waiting (im)patiently for the third book in the series so I can see what happens next!

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 22, 2017

Muzzled by Eileen Brady

Kate Turner moved to Oak Falls to take up a one year contract as the local vet so she could get away from her former boss and his girlfriend - who took the place that Kate had thought was hers.  Small town living seems to be suiting her, even though she is so busy she feels like she already needs a vacation of her own.  She sees a wide variety of patients big and small, and between her house calls and the surgeries at the practice she is kept pretty busy.  When she stumbles across a crime scene on her rounds it is shocking, and not just because she was the unlucky person to find the bodies.  There is something not quite right about the crime scene, and when she becomes a suspect she can't help but dig into the case herself.

As she digs deeper and deeper into the case Kate finds quite a few things that don't add up in her new home town - especially among the dog breeding elite of the town.  When the daughter of the murder victims arrives in town and shows no interest in the dogs that her parents spent so many years breeding and showing it doesn't sit well with Kate - especially when she is suddenly under pressure to provide medical certificates for a few of the best dogs.  When there is another incident Kate finds herself under even more suspicion, but she has no idea just how close to the truth she is getting - and what the truth might cost her.

Muzzled was a fun read that had me hooked from the first page and thoroughly entertained to the last page.  Kate Turner is far from perfect, and her sometimes bumbling attempts to uncover what is really happening in her small town is both realistic and endearing.  Knowing something about the dog breeding world and the interesting people it can attract made this book even more amusing, but did nothing to dampen the tension that built during the story.  It's always fun to see if you can solve the mystery before the end of the story, and while I did it was just before the end which was both satisfying and rewarding.  I already have the second book in the series to read to see what is next for Kate Turner and her adventures in upstate New York.

Muzzled should appeal to a wide audience as it is a murder mystery, but it also has a strong animal focus, and a healthy dose of humour.


If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Earth children are weird by Jason Rekulak; illustrated by Kim Smith

Dana Scully and her friend Fox Mulder are camping out in a tent in the backyard - staying up late telling stories when Fox becomes convinced that there are aliens outside (after all, there are billions of planets out there and it would be crazy to assume we are the only one with intelligent life).  But each time Fox thinks he hears or sees proof of aliens Dana convinces him that he is hearing and seeing things ... but is he really?

I am a huge X-files fan and have watched the show and read as many books as I could get my hands on, and while the idea of a picture book did seem cheesy I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the book (once I got over the weird moment of seeing Dana and Fox reading X-files books at the beginning).  This was a fun little read, and while it will not be suitable for toddlers, children will enjoy the science fiction aspect if they are into that kind of thing.  The target market does appear to be adults who enjoy the show and it really hit the mark with all the adult fans I showed it to!

A great little read, and for the first time I am unable to recommend other books to try because I am not aware of any other television series that have done anything even remotely similar!  However, with the recent revival in the X-files I can recommend trying the young adult novels released earlier this year featuring teenage Scully and Mulder.  You might also like to read some of the adult novels, though considering the age of the series you may have trouble finding copies of some of them.

If you like this book then try:
  • Agent of chaos by Kami Garcia
  • Devil's advocate by Jonathan Maberry
  • X-Files: Ground zero by Kevin J. Anderson
  • X-Files: Ruins by Kevin J. Anderson
  • X-Files: Antibodies by Kevin J. Anderson
  • X-Files: Skin by Ben Mezrich
  • X-Files: Whirlwind by Charles Grant
  • X-Files: Goblins by Charles Grant

Reviewed by Brilla

Freaks and geeks script by Faith Erin Hicks; art by Lishan Li

Buffy the vampire slayer is used to fighting the Bad, usually in the form of vampires and demons, but not always.  She may be strong and powerful as the Slayer, but she is also a teenage girl who went from being part of the in crowd to being considered a weirdo and a freak.  She has been targeted before, but never by a group of vampire geeks that are considered outsiders as much as she is.  They have one single minded goal, to take out the Slayer and be accepted by the cool vampires - but they have no idea what they are getting themselves into.

Every now and then Buffy the vampire slayer had episodes that seemed to almost poke fun at themselves, showing a less serious side to the evil that stalks the streets of Sunnydale, and this graphic novel felt very much like one of those episodes.  It also connected to the side of Buffy that was not as confident and fierce as she pretended to always be, the softer teenage girl that shows how much her social bump hurt and that all she really wanted to do was fit in.  A great part of the Buffy mythology that was very sympathetic to the television series while also putting a funny little episode into the mythology in a very witty and clever way.  Great fun, and hopefully there are more episodes like this to come.

If you liked this graphic novel then try:
  • Parental parasite script by Kel McDonald; art by Yishan Li
  • Glutton for punishment script by Kel McDonald; art by Yishan Li
  • Fray by Joss Whedon

Reviewed by Brilla

Parental parasite script by Kel McDonald; art by Yishan Li

One of the hardest things for Buffy Summers is keeping a monumental secret from her mother - she is the Slayer, the one girl in her generation who fights the demons and vampires.  She may have the strength and speed to fight the forces of darkness, but she also has to skip class to fight said forces of evil, and even if she isn't skipping classes she is falling asleep in them because she spends most of her nights patrolling. 

When her mother is called to the school, again, she decides that she and Buffy need to spend more quality time together - which is all good, except it's nearly impossible for Buffy to do her job as the Slayer when she is worried about her mother.  When a demon in the guise of a little girl enters their lives it means Joyce has no time for Buffy, but her attachment to the demon could cost her her life.  Buffy has to stop the demon before it's too late, and beside, a little sibling rivalry never hurt anyone - right?

Parental parasite is one of the three graphic novels that have brought the legend of Buffy the vampire slayer back to her school years - and it was a real treat to revisit this time in her life.  The storyline is short and punchy, but that was part of the fun.  Hopefully there are more graphic novels of this type coming because they were all great fun to read.

If you liked this graphic novel then try:
  • Freaks and geeks script by Faith Erin Hicks; art by Yishan Li
  • Glutton for punishment script by Kel McDonald; art by Yishan Li
  • Fray by Joss Whedon

Reviewed by Brilla