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 know 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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The detour by S.A. Bodeen

Life is great for seventeen-year-old Livvy Flynn, she is a bestselling author and living the good life.  Her books are loved by millions, have been translated into other languages, and she has enough money from her book deals to do just about anything she wants.  It's not all a dream life though, being famous means she has to be careful about what she does, and it also means that she has to put on public face and spend time with her fans.  Her dream life comes crashing down when she crashes her new sports car in somewhat spectacular fashion on the way to a writers retreat. 

The crash was bad enough, but when she wakes up she realises that she is in a nightmare that she can't wake up from.  Instead of waking up in a hospital she wakes up in a basement - a basement that includes a woman who demands that Livvy apologises from what she has done.  Terrified and in pain Livvy tries to think about what she could have possibly done to this woman or her daughter and comes up with a blank - could they have targeted her just because she is famous?  As her hopes of being rescued slowly start to fade Livvy has to find the strength to fight for her life in a situation that is increasingly scary and dangerous.  As Livvy tries to stay strong she can't help but relive her past, and if her fans knew what she was remembering they would realise that her life is not as perfect as people think it is.

The detour was yet another thrilling read from S.A. Bodeen, a tensely and sparely written book that has you wondering what could possibly come next for Livvy.  It was all too easy to put yourself in her shoes and wonder a) what could possibly come next, and b) what would I do in the same situation.  Without wanting to give too much away, it becomes clear quite early on that nothing is what it seems, and that Livvy and her perfect life are not as perfect as they seem either.

One of my favourite things about Bodeen and her books is that she makes her stories accessible to such a wide audience.  While there are mature themes here because of the kidnapping and some of the other events, it is written in such a way that teens who struggle with reading can read the book, and 'tweens with advanced reading and social ages can also enjoy the story (it was also a rather nice diversion for this adult reader too).  There is a puzzle aspect to this story, trying to figure out all the pieces before the story ends, and while I did figure them out I enjoyed the ride and I get the feeling that the won't be as obvious for readers who don't read as widely as I do!  A great read, and a fantastic diversion on a hot summer afternoon when it was too hot to do anything else but sit indoors and read.

If you like this book then try:
  • The compound by S.A. Bodeen
  • The Gardener by S.A. Bodeen
  • The raft by S.A. Bodeen
  • Checkers by John Marsden
  • Proxy by Alex London
  • Island of the blue dolphins by Scott O'Dell
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • The Cay by Theodore Taylor
  • When we wake by Karen Healey
  • Survival by Chris Ryan
  • I am the cheese by Robert Cormier
  • The limit by Kristin Landon

Reviewed by Brilla

Home sweet murder by James Patterson

Home sweet murder 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.

Leo Fisher and his wife Sue are going through their normal nightly routine of preparing dinner when there is a knock at the door.  The man on their doorstep claims to be an SEC agent, but Leo knows that he's not and over the next few hours he proves that by restraining them and threatening them.  Leo may be the main target, but that won't stop Sue from facing her share of the torment.  Who has targeted Leo and why?

The death of a child is something no one should have to face - especially the gruesome murder of a child in their own home.  That is exactly the nightmare that Hunter family faces when their youngest son and their housekeeper are killed in the family home, but they are lucky enough to have Detective Derek Mois on their side, because over the next few years he is going to prove just how determined he is to solve the case and bring the killer to justice.  Piecing together a series of seemingly unrelated events will finally bring the killer to justice.

Like the stories covered in Murder, interrupted these are compelling stories are intriguing and disturbing in turn - shining a light on the people who have a twisted need for revenge against real and imagined slights.  I am not usually a fan of fictionalised real life stories, but this series is well written and 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.  

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, January 27, 2018

Murder, interrupted by James Patterson

Murder, interrupted 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.

In the first story Murder, interrupted,  we learn about mother-of-three Nancy Howard who was shot in the head by an apparent stranger.  The truth is stranger than fiction though, because the person who wants Nancy dead is not a stranger, but her own husband.  Frank Howard has been living a double life, one with his wife of twenty-eight years in Texas, and the other with his mistress in California.  For years he has dreamed about killing his wife so he can move on with his life, but despite hiring a hit man it has never gotten anywhere - until the night a stranger shoots Nancy and leaves her for dead.  Frank has been keeping secrets and living a double life, and the lies are about to come crashing down around him.

Dee Dee Blanchard is a single mother who has devoted her life to caring for her sick daughter Gypsy Rose.  Wheelchair bound and chronically unwell, Gypsy Rose can only dream of a normal life.  Then the unthinkable happens - Dee Dee is found stabbed to death in their home, and Gypsy Rose is nowhere to be found.  As the police investigate the murder the shocking truth is uncovered - Gypsy Rose was never truly sick, Dee Dee was making her sick.  What would drive a mother to make her own child sick, keeping her a virtual prisoner in a weak and poisoned body?  And what would that child do when she discovers the truth?

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.  I am already part way through the other book in the series that I have, and it is just as engaging/scary as Murder, interrupted.

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

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, January 26, 2018

Chained by Eileen Brady

Chained is the third 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 and Unleashed first.

Kate Turner is finding herself increasingly at home in the small town of Oak Falls, and the local residents appear to have accepted her as the local vet - and the local amateur sleuth.  It has been a while since Kate was involved with a murder, but that changes when one of her patients proudly returns home with a human bone.  It turns out that the bone belongs to Flynn Keegan, who everyone assumed had run off to Hollywood ten years previously. 

When Kate is approached by his family to investigate the murder it becomes clear that she is getting something of the reputation - and this time the case may be a little out of her league.  Solving a fresh case is relatively easy, but how do you go about solving a cold case when you weren't even living in the town at the time of the murder?  As she digs into the case Kate realises that there are quite a few people keeping secrets in her little town, and that there are some wounds that even ten years can't heal.  As the cold case starts getting warmer Kate finds herself playing host to a former boyfriend and an increasingly complicated personal life that may lead her into trouble before the case is over.

Chained is the third book in the charming and fun Kate Turner, DVM series.  In this third book Eileen Brady appears to have hit her writing stride, with a story that has all the charming and engaging characters we are used to, along with a feeling of being more polished and finely tuned.  The characters have started to feel like real people, and with this third outing the characters have more depth and more evolved back stories (thanks to having read the series in order).  You could read this series out of order with enjoyment, but it is definitely a series that deserves to be read in order so you can gain the benefit of watching the relationships develop and grow.

This small town gets smaller with each new book, but each book expands the world we know and sees Kate become a greater part of her new community.  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

Friday, January 19, 2018

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

A freak accident shatters the seemingly perfect life that Gina Royal was living - loving husband, two perfect children, and the comfortable family home.  It turns out that her husband was not the loving man she thought he was, he was in fact a sadistic killer who tortured and killed women a stones throw from the family home.  Gwen was swept up in the case, accused of being an accomplice because no one could believe that she didn't know about the murders when they happened so close to home.  She was finally cleared but not before the damage was done = to her life, and that of her children.

Years later Gina is now Gwen Proctor, living in a small town with her two children, carefully hidden away from the world under yet another new identity.  She may not be in an official witness protection programme, but with some help she has become very good at starting over when her identity is discovered.  She is not just hiding from her past, she is also hiding from the people who stalk her online, threatening violence to her and her children - violence and threats that are both sickening and scary.  It is a careful balancing act, trying to keep one step ahead of the people who are stalking her, while also trying to maintain as normal a life as possible for her family. 

They appear to have found a home on the shores of Stillhouse Lake, but the discovery of a body in the lake brings that slowly tumbling down around her ears.  The body looks as though it could be one of her husband's victims, and what evidence there is seems to point towards Gwen.  As her real identity is revealed Gwen is forced to make some difficult choices, and when she is cornered she calls on all her resources to fight for her new life.  Someone is stalking Gwen and her family, but they don't realise that the person they think they are hunting no longer exists - Gina was a meek woman and the perfect victim, but Gwen is not Gina anymore and is stronger than they know.

Stillhouse Lake was a surprise discovery at the local library, and when I picked it up I quickly found myself hooked and not wanting to put it down.  The subject matter was confronting and challenging, but it was also deftly written and very subtle in setting up some of the intense moments that happen throughout the story.  Stillhouse Lake punches well above it's weight, it's 286 pages packed with twists and turns, as well as some intensely emotional moments.  I couldn't help but put myself in Gwen's shoes and wonder what it must have been like to realise that you married a monster, and then on top of that having to live with the venom and threats of people who blame you for not noticing or who refuse to believe that you didn't know about what your husband was doing.  On top of that she has to deal with a teenage daughter who is angry and acting out, and a pre-teen son who is keeping secrets.

This is an intense and highly rewarding read, and I can't wait to get my hands on the next book in the series to see what happens next.  

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla