Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The house husband by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Teaghan Beaumont has just started back at work after spending six weeks at home with her beautiful new baby boy Christopher - difficult for any mother, but when you are a homicide detective conning back to a hot case, and you have a fresh c-section scar it goes from difficult to challenging.  

An entire family has been found dead in their home and it soon becomes clear to Detective Beaumont and her partner Detective Diaz that it was a murder.  The weird thing is that it's not the first murder involving a whole family.  There have been other cases, and if they are not able to stop the killer then there could be many more to come.

Bookshots have a wide variety of books in the series - some tie in with other full novel series, while others are stand alone novellas.  The house husband is a stand alone novella which means you can dive in with no background and enjoy with no strings attached!  

I have read quite a few Bookshots and this has been one of my favourite so far and I think that is partly because of the darker edge that Duane Swierczynski brings (he has proven to be somewhat twisted with his other books).  There is a lot to like here, and it was really challenging (in a good way) to try and figure out what was happening - and the ending is just *wow*.

If you like this book then try:
  • Private Royals by James Patterson and Rees Jones
  • Zoo 2 by James Patterson and Max DiLallo
  • The hostage by James Patterson and Robert Gold
  • Black and Blue by James Patterson and Candice Fox
  • Chase by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Airport code red by James Patterson and Michael White
  • Level 26: Dark origins by Anthony E. Zuiker & Duane Swierczynski

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bad blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Bad blood is the fourth book in The naturals series so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first books in the series.  This is one series where you really need to read the books in order so make sure you read The naturalsKiller instinct and All in before you read Bad blood.

Life is never straight forward for Cassie Hobbes and the other members of the Naturals programme.  Their natural talents make them assets for the FBI, but because of the very nature of their programme they are forced to work under the radar and keep secrets from the people around them.  In many respects Cassie has had it easy compared to the rest of the Naturals but that is starting to change, as the serial killer society they have unwittingly been hunting has plans for Cassie and her friends.  

It all starts with a high profile missing person case that Michael's father decides to use as an excuse to get Michael to visit - just days before he turns eighteen and can legally cut all ties with his family.  It also starts when Cassie visits Dean's father in prison and leaves her vulnerable to his careful manipulations and carefully sown doubts - a bad place to be for a profiler of any age.  A perfect storm is brewing, one that will bring the Naturals head-to-head with a group of killers that will stop at nothing to keep their legacy alive for generations to come.

When I started reading Bad blood I didn't realise that it was the last book in the series which was kind of nice - it meant I didn't go into the book with any real expectations.  What I got was another excellent thriller about a group of young people who tackle cases that would leave adults baffled.  There have been little secrets and little hidden messages throughout the series, and with this final book those secrets are revealed and the little messages finally make some sense.  

Moving parallel to the crime/thriller/mystery aspect of the story is the human story, aspects of the past that have made all the characters who they are (love them or loath them).  As the story unfolds we come to understand more about Michael and his childhood, and Lia and her childhood - cookie crumbs that help round them out further from cliche to relateable and human.  There are some hard hitting emotional moments, and there are some thrilling/edge of your seat moments.  This has been an excellent series and is one that deserves to be discovered and read by teenagers and adults alike.  Barnes has an amazing understanding of human nature and the criminal behaviour which creates a thoroughly believable world that sucks you in and doesn't spit you out again until the ride is over.

If you like this book then try:
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • Acceleration by Graham McNamee
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • Guy Langman, crime scene procrastinator by Josh Berk
  • A girl named Digit by Annabel Monahgan
  • The Christopher killer by Alane Ferguson
  • Nickel plated by Aric Davis
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • Crime seen by Jenny Pausacker
  • Burning blue by Paul Griffin
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess
  • Living dead girl by Elizabeth Scott

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

Pretties is the second book in the Uglies series so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** about what happens in Uglies and this is a series where you really need to read the books in order for maximum understanding and enjoyment.

Life in New Pretty Town is pretty bubbly for Tally Youngblood and her friends.  Every night is full of amazing parties and outrageous stunts - and an amazing sense of belonging with the hottest clique in town, the Crims.  The Crims always come up with the trickiest tricks and being among them makes Tally feel alive.  One night an Ugly crashes one of the parties and Tally's bubbly world comes crashing down because he has a letter for Tally - a letter that she wrote to herself, warning her about what being a Pretty really means and offering her a cure. When Tally takes the offered cure she discovers more about the way her city works, and her only hope for a future is to fight the system and escape into the wilds again.

This is one of those series that is amazing to read but more than a little difficult to review - because a long and lengthy review spoils the surprises and twists that make the book so amazing.  At the start of Pretties we have no real sense of time about how long Tally has been Pretty, but we know that it is long enough for her to have settled down into the decadent and self centered lifestyle of New Pretty Town.  Having read Uglies so recently the events were fresh in my mind and it was easy to drop back into the story, and easy to reconnect to Tally and her friends.  Like with Uglies there is a subtle building of story within Pretties that lets you ease into the story and reconnect with the characters before the story builds to the action and finale of the story.  

For some readers the story arc from Uglies to Pretties and then Specials may be too slow, but Westerfeld has done an amazing job of world building and character building across the series - a skill that some authors lack.  You care about Tally, and through Tally you grow to care about her friends, and by association you care about what happens to her world.  There are some amazing theses here that would work well with class readings - social control, government control, societal norms, the implications of surgery and genetics, self discovery, and coming of age.  A great older series that still has a lot of relevance today.

If you like this book then try:
  • Renegade by J.A. Souders
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • The testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
  • Proxy by Alex London
  • Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
  • In the after by Demitria Lunetta
  • ACID by Emma Pass
  • Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • The scorpion rules by Erin Bow
  • The hunt by Andrew Fukuda
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • Sister assassin by Kiersten White

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, January 6, 2017

Magic's price by Mercedes Lackey

Magic's price is the final book in The last Herald mage series so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** about what happens in Magic's pawn and Magic's promise and while you can read this story independently you will enjoy it more if you read the series in order.

The last few years have been hard on Herald mage Vanyel - the land of Valdemar is facing challenges from all sides and it is only his powerful combination of gifts that keeps the enemies at bay (or so it seems).  To ordinary people and Heralds alike he is a living legend, someone they look upon with awe and more than a little fear.  Luckily his Companion Yfandes helps him keep his feet on the ground, otherwise all the attention might go to his head.   Each year there are fewer and fewer Herald Mages to protect the borders of Valdemar and the lands of their allies, it is a troubling trend that has Vanyel worried on multiple levels.  His magic and skills, alongside those of the other Herald mages can only protect them all so far, and with other Heralds feeling like they are less because they are not mage Gifted it is a real concern. 

The rapid decline of his friend and King only adds to the stress - for Vanyel, the other Heralds, and the King's family.  King Randale is in constant pain from a mysterious illness that is slowly draining his life away, and it seems like a miracle when Vanyel's nephew Medren introduces him to Stefen another Bardic trainee.  Stefen has the near magical Gift of being able to relieve pain while he is playing.  With Stefen in attendance Randale is better able to cope with the challenges of his illness and running a kingdom, but that still leaves plenty of work for Vanyel.  As one by one his friends and fellow Heralds fall it falls on him to face his fears and face the dreams that Foresight have shown him - but he will not be alone in his fight.  Evil is stalking the land of Valdemar and one man must pay magic's price.

I knew (absolutely knew) how Magic's price was going to end as this is not the first time I have read the trilogy - but I still, still got tangled up in the story and got emotionally involved with the characters and the sacrifices they all faced.  I feel a little sheepish admitting to tears in my eyes at certain parts, but it is very hard not to get involved in Vanyel and his story - especially knowing that he walks into the events of the story with the knowledge that something bad is going to happen because of his Gifts. 

This is a bitter sweet finale for a trilogy that gets me every single time I read it, not just because it is a well written fantasy series, but also because of the circumstances and choices the characters have to make.  No one is perfect, no one is on a pedestal, and even though people in later years sing songs about the great legend of Vanyel, the reality is a man who is fragile, fallible, and very tragic in his loves and losses.  Some people I know didn't like this particular series that much because the romance was shaych (gay) and that is their choice, but one of the things I have always admired about Mercedes Lackey (and her Valdemar series in particular) is that relationships are treated equally whether they are man-woman, woman-woman or man-man.  I read a lot of Lackey novels as a teenager and I would credit the Valdemar series in particular with making me less judgemental of people because of who they were destined to love, or because they have different religious views.

It may be too late, but if you get emotionally involved with your characters I suggest you have tissues handy for certain parts of this story because you will most likely need them!

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Magic's promise by Mercedes Lackey

Magic's promise is the second book in The last Herald mage series so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** about what happens in Magic's pawn and while you can read this story independently you will enjoy it more if you read the series in order.

Herald Mage Vanyel is exhausted - body and soul.  As the most powerful Herald mage left in Valdemar he has been deployed to the battlefront to take the place of not one, not two, but five Herald mages in their war with Karse.  He is worn away to nothing and being on the battlefield for a year has left him hypersensitive and with a hair trigger.  The worse thing is that his King has no choice but to deploy him to battlefields as he is literally the only person with the power and skill to do what is needed.  To save his friend the King has prodded Vanyel to take leave far away from Haven, which means he is making a much overdue long visit to his family holding - after all, the King can not call on his services if he is nowhere to be found!

The trip home is a dreaded pilgrimage, because although he is the most powerful Herald mage in Valdemar, and a high ranking Herald he always feels like a disappointment to his family.  It doesn't help that his mother refuses to accept that he is shaych and throws every eligible woman (young and old) in his direction in the hopes that he will change his mind and start a family of his own.  His Aunt Savil offers to accompany him as she is also overdue for an extended visit and the promise of support at home is almost too good to believe.  The rest will do Vanyel and Yfandes some good - but only if they actually get to rest.

A scream for help from a Companion and their new Chosen draws Vanyel, Yfandes and the rest of the family into a complicated mess over the border.  Tashir, heir to the throne has been accused of murdering his entire family and his people are baying for his blood.  Spiriting Tashir and his Companion across the border into the family home leaves Vanyel and his family vulnerable - because the killer has big plans and a couple of Heralds and their Companions are not going to stop them.  Something is coming, something that reeks of power and danger.  A storm is coming, and everything and everyone Vanyel loves is in danger.

After finishing Magic's pawn I jumped straight into Magic's promise - with the story picking up roughly ten years after the events in Magic's pawn.  I was once again dragged into the emotionally draining story of Vanyel and his path to becoming a living legend, and a legend that will be remembered for many years to come.  The Vanyel we see now is older and wiser than his younger self, someone who is able to look at the bigger picture and push aside emotion to deal with the things that must be dealt with.  His ability to compartmentalise the different parts of his life is one of his greatest skills - and probably one of the few things that stop him from going over the edge.  The legends talk about his power, but not about the little things and big things he has to deal with.  

Through the events in Magic's promise we see some of the reasons that he isolates himself and holds himself apart from others - it is difficult to lose people and have them used as pawns in power games if you don't make deep connections with other people.  Once again we also see some characters that bear the scars of emotional and physical abuse - the kind of characters that Mercedes Lackey has a knack for creating and making you care about.  This is a middle book - it builds on the story in the first book and sets the stage for what is to come in the last book - but it is a very good middle book.  I have already started reading Magic's price and the tears are already prickling knowing what comes next (not just because I have read it before, but also because the story of Vanyel is well known in later times).  

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Magic's pawn by Mercedes Lackey

Vanyel Ashkevron is the oldest son, the heir to the family holding - and a constant disappointment to his Lord father.  His father is a force of nature, huge and powerful, a man who has literally and figuratively fought for the family holding.  In contrast Vanyel is slight and pretty, more interested in music and scholarship than fighting, a masculine version of his lady mother.  The only person who seems to understand him is his older sister Lissa, and she can do nothing against their Lord father, she can only be there to pick up the pieces when things go badly.  When his arm is broken by the brutal arms master intent on moulding Vanyel into a man, it is the start of a downward spiral that see's Vanyel exiled to the tender care of his Aunt Savil in Haven.

On the journey to Haven Vanyel closes himself off from his emotions, determined to be made of ice and stone so nothing can ever hurt again.  When he arrives in the capital he is cold and distant from his Aunt and her students, protected from the pain of human contact, but also cut off from any chance of human warmth and companionship.  As time goes on Vanyel finds himself forming a relationship with Savil's student, a young man named Tylendel who is fighting demons of his own.  When a single moment of madness leads to Vanyel's gifts being violently awoken everyone is at risk unless Vanyel can see through the pain and the loss and find a way to tame the magic and power that is coursing through him - because without control his power could destroy him and everyone around him.

The last Herald mage series is one of the most important series to read in the Valdemar universe as it provides a lot of the background for the future series - both in terms of the events that echo from this time, but also because it is one of the series that shows the amazing depths of the lifebond relationships.  Through Magic's pawn we are introduced to Vanyel, the damaged and lonely boy who will become one of the most famous Heralds of all time.  As with many of Mercedes Lackey's young characters he is damaged and more than a little broken by his upbringing - an abrupt and dominating father who tries to force him into this own image, and a self centred mother who is as damaging with her demanding neediness and lack of concern for Vanyel's needs.  While they are not outwardly violent and physically abusive, anyone who has dealt with damaged teens knows that words and isolation are as damaging as weapons and physical violence.

It is has been a few years since I last read this series and I had forgotten how emotionally draining it is to read this early part of his life, the lack of love and isolation right through to the incredible sense of loss and wish to die.  I read this series for the first time as a teenager, and while I would class this series as adult fantasy now, there are a number of teenagers who would be able to cope with the emotional baggage that comes along with this series.  I am about to jump straight into book two to continue to story while it is still fresh in my mind - and as this is one of the series I own I don't have to wait for a library copy to appear. 

This is a highly recommended series, but just be warned that you are in for an emotional roller coaster ride with this most famous of Heralds.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, January 2, 2017

The stranger game by Cylin Busby

It has been four years since Sarah, Nico's older sister, rode her bike away from the family home and disappeared.  Sarah was supposed to stay home and look after Nico, but she chose to sneak off and meet with her boyfriend instead.  In the weeks that followed everyone rallied around the family, the press conferences and missing persons posters a neon sign that screamed to the world the pain their family was in.  Over the years, the reports of possible sightings has drifted off, life drifting into a new kind of normal as everyone goes back to their lives - everyone except for the remains of their family, a threesome that was meant to be a quartet. 

Life can never truly go back to normal though, and while they may look like a family they are really three people living separate lives in the same space.  Nico may have returned to a somewhat normal routine of after school activities and having friends, but she is always aware that her mother is watching and waiting, holding her tight and keeping her too close.  That starts to change when the unexpected happens and Sarah is found - alive and suffering from amnesia.  Nico should be happy, it is a miracle that Sarah was found alive, but she keeps waiting for things to go back to normal.  She is waiting for the whispered jibes, the sarcastic biting comments, and disgusted looks.  The Sarah who comes home is strangely different though, she seems kind and more than a little lost, wanting to connect with the family she left behind.

I wasn't sure what to expect from The stranger game, but what I got was a well written novel with surprising depth and understanding of human nature in a relatively light and easy to read format (and yes I realise that sounds like a contradiction).  Through Nico's eyes and memories we gain a picture of an older sister that was cruel and abusive, physically and emotionally dominating over a younger and easily intimidated sister.  Her words and actions were calculated and cold, robbing a young Nico of her self confidence and self belief.  The Sarah that returns is changed by her own experiences and leaves Nico confused and on edge, waiting for the physical and verbal blows that never seem to come.  Over time Nico realises that the Sarah that has returned is not the same as the Sarah who left, and when a new threat arises for their family Nico must find a way to come to terms with the fact that things have changed and it is up to her to find acceptance with what was and what is.

This book is highly recommended for teens, and other readers, who enjoy books that have strong characters that you can connect with and see from the inside out.  There is a strong storyline that is easy to connect with, and more than once left me feeling an intense sense of empathy for the characters and what they are going through.  This may be a relatively short and lightly written book, but that makes it accessible to readers who enjoy character driven stories with depth, but who may not have strong reading skills.  Thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable, an emotional roller coaster that was totally worth the ride.

If you like this book then try:
  • The face on the milk carton by Caroline B. Cooney
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Thousand words by Jennifer Brown
  • You are my only by Beth Kephart
  • The mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
  • Girl, missing by Sophie McKenzie
  • The way I used to be by Amber Smith
  • Speechless by Hannah Harrington
  • Lies we tell ourselves by Robin Talley
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Kill again by Neal Baer and Jonathan Greene

Kill again is the sequel to Kill switch, and while the books can be read independently there are ***SPOILERS*** in this review if you have not already read Kill switch.  I highly recommend reading the series in order.

Having picked up the pieces of her life as best she can, Claire Waters has returned to treating patients as part of the Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship that she almost walked away from.  It is not the same as before though, she is keeping her distance and keeping barriers in place after the events of the year before.  She can't keep those barriers up with Rosa though, one of her patients and a woman that seems to have been dealt bitter blow after bitter blow.  She lost her job, her husband, and her freedom - and then lost even more in prison to a guard who took advantage of the situation.  Freed from prison under the Fellowship programme, Rosa is making positive changes in her life and making progress - and then Claire sees a police man leading Rosa away in hand cuffs into an unmarked car. 

That moment is the start of a nightmare for Claire, because no one knows where Rosa is and no one seems to care apart from Claire.  When official channels can't or wont help Claire she reaches out to Detective Nick Lawler - the only cop that Claire thinks will help her.  Working together is risky for both of them, but for Nick it could mean the immediate end to a career that is almost over anyway.  His rapidly diminishing eye sight has him confined to a desk, stripped of his weapon and most of his self respect, but something about Claire's story pulls him into a mystery that they have to solve before there are more victims.

Reading Kill again took a little more effort than I usually like to spend on a book, partly because at times it felt like the pace was a little slow.  As with the first book in the series you can pick up on the television background for the writers, as some of the storyline lacked a consistent level of pace and punch - but on the screen it would have been fine.  I did like the challenge of trying to figure out what was going on, and that was the saving grace for this book.  I am not sure if I would pick up more books in the series, if there are more, but it was a good mental workout trying to figure out what was going on. 

I prefer books that have punch and a fast pace so some of the negativity would purely be my reading preferences and there will be plenty of readers out there who prefer a slower burn and more background building who will no doubt eagerly lap the story up and want more.  This is definitely a series that you have to try to see if it is your taste.

If you like this book then try:
  • Kill switch by Neal Baer and Jonathan Greene
  • The devil's cure by Kenneth Oppel
  • Catch me by Lisa Gardner
  • Taken by Robert Crais
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • Heat wave by Richard Castle
  • Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 30, 2016

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Tally is looking forward to her sixteenth birthday - the day when she will receive the operation and change from one of the Uglies into one of the Pretties.  It feels like she has been waiting forever, and with her friend Peris living in New Pretty Town she is feeling lonely - which leads to one of the biggest adventures she has had, and leads to Shay.  Shay is also about to turn sixteen, and she and Tally strike up a fast friendship.  Together they are an unstoppable force, and come up with the most bubbly escapades. 

As the time for the operation approaches things change and Shay seems withdrawn, focused on the rusty ruins beyond the city limits.  Shay seems to actively avoid mention of the operation, refusing to play the game of planning her perfect new body and face, looking to the world beyond what they know.  When Shay runs away just days before the operation Tally is pulled into the most bogus adventure of her life because she knew Shay and everyone assumes she knew what Shay was about to do.  Tally is about to discover some of the biggest secrets of her city, and once she knows them it will change her life forever.

I read Uglies when it was first released over ten years ago, and as I had the luxury of some time off around the public holidays I decided to pick the series up and read it from start to finish.  It says something about the enduring nature of the series that it doesn't feel like it has dated over the past decade, and if anything it feels more relevant today than it did back then.  Tally is an interesting and engaging character, as are Shay and the others, and the story is more believable because we make the most important discoveries through their eyes. 

There are so many things that can be said about Uglies, but most of them would be spoilers that ruin the surprises within the story.  While this is a science fiction series, there are themes that appear that are relevant to today - the environment, social control, friendship, loyalty, and self discovery.  This is one of the original dystopian series, and Westerfeld created a world that seems perfect on the surface until you discover the rotten core - and Tally Youngblood is one of the archetype characters that are echoed through other dystopian novels.

If you like this book then try:
  • Renegade by J.A. Souders
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • The testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
  • Proxy by Alex London
  • Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
  • In the after by Demitria Lunetta
  • ACID by Emma Pass
  • Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • The scorpion rules by Erin Bow
  • The hunt by Andrew Fukuda
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • Sister assassin by Kiersten White

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Dead secret by Ava McCarthy

Jodie Garrett has one thing on her mind - she is going to kill her husband and then herself.  She's not a deranged killer though, she is a mother seeking revenge against the man who killed their daughter Abby.  What seemed like a perfect marriage turned out to be anything but, and Jodie has nothing left to live for now that her little girl is gone.  The man who made her feel like she had finally found her place and a family turned out to be a manipulative and controlling man who liked to twist things to make Jodie feel off balance and uncertain.  Killing their daughter was the final act of a man who was determined to control the situation when Jodie decided to walk away.

Things don't go to plan though, and Jodie finds herself incarcerated for the murder of her husband - her own words used to convict her.  Inside life has settled into a routine, a routine that is destroyed when a reporter asks to see Jodie and reveals a mind blowing surprise - it is possible that her husband is still alive.  Reporter Matt Novak has some rather damning evidence against her husband, but without her help he is only seeing part of the picture.  Jodie is going to have to risk it all to find out the truth about her beloved husband - and she is about to discover that some secrets are better left dead and buried.

In many ways Dead secret reminds me of the movie Double jeopardy with Ashley Judd - a wife imprisoned for the murder of her husband who discovers that he may not be dead after all.  The early similarities and niggles to remember the plot of the movie almost put me off, but I am extremely glad that I shook it off and read the book all the way through (in one day to find out what happened!) because it is a book with lots of twists and turns as the full story is slowly revealed.  I am not going to include any spoilers here as the story unfolding is one of the best parts of the story, but there are some real shocks throughout the story and the subtle clues about what is really happening build towards an ending that you might (or might not) figure out before the big reveal at the end of the story.

A thoroughly entertaining and absorbing story with characters that leap off the page and make you care about what happens to them.  Jodie is at times filled with strength and determination, and at other times crippled by doubts and confusion - making this a realistic and plausible story.  Can you guess what is happening before the end?

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla