Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The always war by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Tessa lives in a world of rationing and sacrifice, where the effort of her entire country is focused on supporting the war effort.  It is a hard life and the world around her is dull and grey, the buildings, the people, and the future.  The one bright spark is that her neighbourhood has a new hero, a neighbourhood boy who has been to war and returned a hero - or so they all think.  Something is not right with Gideon though, and on the day of his ceremony he declares he was a coward and runs away.  When Tessa follows him she finds herself on a journey that will change her life forever.

The always war is another absorbing and thought provoking read from Margaret Peterson Haddix.  Almost more a novella than a true novel, the story is short and concise but has some amazing moments.  It seems as though so many books lately are about dystopian futures, and so many of them seem to be churning through the same storylines - desolate future, small communities controlled by something, maybe a boarding school or two.  The always war breaks away from this tradition, offering a different kind of dystopia, one where we could be in a very short space of time, a place we could face within our lifetimes.

Without giving away the story too much, Haddix has created a world that is our not too distant future, and it looks as though the story is set in a future America - but the names have changed and not being American limits some of my understanding of the lakes mentioned in the story.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and hope that Haddix continues to write thought provoking and readable novels for many years to come.

If you like this book then try:
  • The walls have eyes by Clare B. Dunkle
  • Star split by Kathryn Lasky
  • Inside out by Maria V. Snyder
  • Genesis by Bernard Beckett
  • Sleeper code by Tom Sniegoski
  • Boy soldier by Andy McNabb and Robert Rigby

Reviewed by Brilla

Dhampir by Barb & J.C. Hendee

Magiere and her partner Leesil travel from village to village, killing the Undead that plague the nearby lands.  But the well run partnership is a con, with Magiere "killing" Leesil in each village with a stage show that leaves everyone convinced she has really done the deed.  It is a life they have lived for years, but one night the con becomes too real when a creature attacks Magiere and just about kills her.  Sick of their travelling lifestyle Magiere announces that she is moving to a tavern she has purchased, that her days of killing are over. 

It seems as though their days on the road are over, with Leesil and his dog offered a place in the tavern it seems as though they have nothing left to worry about - apart from keeping the tavern running and staying in profit.  But killing the strange man in the woods triggers a series of events that will force Magiere to accept some unpleasant possibilities - the least of which is the fact that vampires are very real, and not as easy to kill as her little road show has led people to think.

It is a little difficult to review this book without giving away too much about the story or where it is heading, as Dhampir is the first book in the Noble Dead series and a lot of the novel is about setting the scene for the future novels and future of the main characters.  It is well written and some of the mythologies are a refreshing change from the same old, same old that you can get with some vampire novels.  Magiere is also a refreshing change from some of the "heroes" of those series as she is a flawed human being (like the rest of us) - at least most of the time.  Leesil is an interesting character in his own right, and provides a strong support for both the partnership and for the novel.  Chap the dog is also interesting with little hints dropped about what he really might be, because he is definitely not just a dog.

This is the second time I have read Dhampir, the first time being about five years ago.  Sometimes re-reading a novel can leave you feeling a little like you have seen it all before, but this was like reading it for the first time and I cruised through it in a day, not wanting to put it down.  At least the first few sequels were also good and a worthwhile read.

If you like this book then try:
  • Blood price by Tanya Huff
  • Children of the night by Mercedes Lackey
  • Thief of lives by Barb & J.C.Hendee
  • Cry wolf by Patricia Briggs
  • Angels blood by Nalini Singh
  • Moon called by Patricia Briggs
  • Dead witch walking by Kim Harrison

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

Alex and his brother Aaron live in the world of Quill, where on their thirtenth birthday every child is sorted according to their future value to Quill.  The Wanteds are destined for University and a bright future amongst the leaders of Quill.  The Necessaries help to keep things working in Quill, working the farms and doing the hard labour that supports the Wanteds.  Last of all are the Unwanted, the creative minds that disturb the balance of quiet, dull, boring Quill.  Each year the Unwanteds are sent away to be Eliminated.  This year Alex knows his fate before he hears it, he has known he will be Unwanted for some time, but it is a dreadful shock when Aaron is declared a Wanted.  Taken away with all the other Unwanteds, Alex thinks he is going to his death but instead he finds himself under the care of Mr. Today, a strange man who keeps his world of Artime a secret.

Artime is not the fate that Alex or any of the other Unwanteds expected, and it is a shock for all of them to realise that the very acts that made them outcasts and reviled in the land of Quill are encouraged in the land of Artime, and that if they hone their skills they can even become weapons.  As Alex settles into the routines of Artime and his new life, he can't help but wonder about Aaron and what is happening to those left behind, but in his desire to connect with his brother again Alex may place all of Artime in terrible danger.  If Artime is ever discovered for what it really is then all of them are in terrible danger, and if Alex gives in to the need to see his brother then he may expose them all.

The Unwanteds is a fantastic read, a change of pace from a lot of the fantasy written at the moment.  There are no cliches - there are some stock standard characters like the hero and the villain, but the world is also populated with fantastical creatures that you will find nowhere else.  While at times the wording or turn of phrase is a little awkward, overall this is one of the most readable books I have read this year for the 9-13 year old age group.  Alex is a fantastic character, and the cast around him is full of life, laughter, talent, and loss.  There is a feeling like this could be the first book in a series, but it also finished in such a way that you are left feeling very satisfied with the ending.  At times it does feel a little like this was written as a screen play as it would translate quite easily to the screen, but it also reads so well that you don't really mind.

A fun read for all ages, but not recommended for younger readers as there is a battle scene that may leave them a little uneasy - it is not full of graphic violence as such, but it is a realistic battle with loses and some fights that may make younger readers a little upset.  While this may be an easy read for some teenagers, if you know a teenager who loves fantasy but struggles a little with their reading then this may be a good suggestion - it is engaging but not too challenging.

If you like this book then try:
  • The half men of O by Maurice Gee
  • Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda
  • Northwood by Brian Falkner
  • Harry Potter and the philosophers stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Spellbinder by Helen Stringer
  • Ella enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Variant by Robison Wells

Benson Fisher is a foster kid who seems to have landed on his feet.  Filling in the scholarship application seemed like a way out of the life he was living, an end to bouncing from foster home to foster home, and an escape from the latest home where he is supposed to be grateful that he has been put to work in the family business without any pay.  But Maxfield Academy is not what he was expecting, and nothing can prepare him for the world he is about to enter. 

There are no teachers on the campus, no adults what so ever.  The classes are taught by other students, and the pattern of the classes makes no sense.  The other students are just as wrong - formed into three different groups calling themselves gangs who seem to have sorted the way the school runs between themselves.  It is a very different world, one where attempts to escape are punished with detention - a death sentence reserved for the worst offences at the school.  Determined to escape, Benson soon finds himself tangled in the world of the school - it's politics, it's friendships, and it's secrets.  But will he discover the darkest secret of all before it is too late?

This is the first book in a new series, and if the rest of the series is as explosive and action packed as this first novel then readers are in for a treat.  There are lots of great things to recommend about Variant - it is deftly written without all the overbearing and O.T.T descriptions that weighs down so many young adult novels, the characters are well defined without any characters being too unbelievable, the pace is just right which keeps you going as the tension builds, and the ending is the perfect "what the?" ending, keeping you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next book in the series.  While Variant may appeal slightly more to boys because the lead character Benson is a boy, it will keep anyone interested in a really good read on the edge of their seats and wishing they could read it in one session.

Highly recommended, and hopefully we won't have to wait too long for the sequel to be released.

If you like this book then try:
  • Hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • Among the hidden by Margaret Patterson Haddix
  • Arrival by Chris Morphew
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • Inside out by Maria V.Snyder
  • Tomorrow, when the war began by John Marsden
  • Shatter me by Tahereh Mafi
  • Virals by Kathy Reichs

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Mara Dyer and her family have moved from New York to Miami after the death of her best friend and two other friends in a building collapse that Mara miraculously survives.  Since the accident Mara has been unable to remember what happened, but in her nightmares she has vague memories of things that happen, and when she is awake she sees her dead friends in the mirror and other impossible places.  The move to Miami is meant to be a new start, a place where she can leave the past behind and focus on a new future, but the past wont let her go and Mara finds herself teetering on the edge of sanity.  It doesn't help that one of the girls at her new school seems to have it in for her, or that ones of the teachers seems to have it in for her too. 

The one speck of light in her life is Noah, who makes everything feel different.  Despite the fact that everyone in school thinks he is only after one thing (and once he gets it he'll be gone) Mara can't help but fall under his spell, despite all the alarm bells that go off in her head.  As her life gets more challenging Mara begins to understand more about what happened that night in the ruins of the old asylum, and she learns more about what she is really capable of.  While she struggles to understand what is happening, Mara has no idea that danger is stalking her and her family, and if she can't find her balance and figure out what is really happening it may be too late - too late for her, and those around her.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book when I picked it up - the reviews implied that it was some kind of supernatural love story, while the opening page implied it was more of a crime novel.  The truth lies somewhere in the middle, with this deftly written book drawing together themes from a variety of genre and blending them together to form a novel that is startling - both in concept and story.  Mara is not your typical heroine, but she is also not your typical anti-heroine either.  The characters around her could easily have become cliches and ridiculous, but even the characters that are a cliche just seem to click into place and work well.  When the big revelation comes it was not quite what I was expecting which was fabulous as it made the rest of the book a really absorbing read rather than just the same old same old.

This is a challenging read, mostly because it is over 400 pages long, but also because Michelle Hodkin has not dumbed down the language for her teen audience - and this book is definitely one that has a cross over into the adult market as well.  Absorbing, gripping, and satisfying I can't wait for the promised sequel to come out so I can find out what happens next for Mara and those around her.

If you like this book then try:
  • Numbers by Rachel Ward
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Subject seven by James A. Moore
  • Thyla by Kate Gordon
  • Summon the keeper by Tanya Huff
  • Rosebush by Michele Jaffe
  • Raven's gate by Anthony Horowitz
  • City of bones by Cassandra Clare

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thunder dog: The true story of a blind man, his guide dog, and the triumph of trust at ground zero by Michael Hingson with Susy Flory

Michael Hingson and his guide dog Roselle were on the 78th floor of Tower 1 when the planes flew into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  This book is a blend of their story as they walked the 1,463 steps to escape the tower, and the story of a person who grew up in a family that didn't let his blindness stop him from living a full life.  It is a deeply moving story for so many reasons, and is more than just a memoir or a biography, it is a window into the world of an extraordinary partnership that stayed strong through a devastating and confusing event that was felt around the world.

I have read a lot of books this year that provide an account of the life shared by a handler and their assistance dog, and each one has been unique and portrayed the way their various disabilities have affected their lives.  Some have been working with dogs for years, like Michael Hingson who has worked with several guide dogs before partnering with Roselle, while for others the dog they are working with is their first dog.  As I have said in other reviews of similar books, it seems as though publishing memoirs of people with disabilities and the dogs that help them has become the favourite thing for publishers to do at the moment, ranging from stories about children with autism spectrum disorder through to people with more traditional assistance dogs such as guide dogs.

Some memoirs have drifted from the path of the story, providing lots of background information that can at times be a little distracting, or they bounce from past to presence leaving you a little confused about where you are at in their life story.  Thunder dog is expertly written, blending together the story of 9/11 with the story of Michael's life, mostly alternating chapters to bring you up to speed about how Michael ended up where he did, while also providing a much needed breather from the emotional and sometimes draining description of what happened on that day. 

This was not an easy read, because while the book describes events as they unfold, as a reader (even one from New Zealand - the other side of the world) I can remember the horror of watching the news and seeing the planes flying into the towers, then watching the towers collapse, and worst of all watching the devastating aftermath as people searched for loved ones amongst the chaos.  Each step of the way you know what is coming next, and experiencing what happened along with Michael adds an authenticity to events, something that you could never gain through watching events on the television.

This is a highly recommended book and while the first thing you see when you open the book is an article written by Michael because Roselle died earlier this year, the book is full of hope and life.  Michael Hingson is a fantastic ambassador for guide dog users, but also for people with a disability who are living a full life without letting their disability control their lives. 

If you like this book then try:
  • Emma and I by Sheila Hocken
  • A dog named Slugger: the true story of the friend who changed my world by Leigh Brill
  • Hearing dog: The story of Jenny and Connie by Angela Locke and Jenny Harmer
  • A friend like Henry by Nuala Gardner
  • Cowboy & Wills by Monica Holloway
  • Finding Harmony: The remarkable dog that helped a family through the darkest of times by Sally Hyder
  • Endal: How one extraordinary dog brought a family back from the brink by Allen and Sandra Parton with Gill Paul
  • Love heels: Tales from Canine Companions for Independence by Patricia Dibsie

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Anna dressed in blood by Kendare Blake

Cas Lowood travels the United States (and sometimes the world) seeking out spirits that are causing havoc for the living and laying them to rest with an athame that only he can use.  But Cas is not your average ghosthunter - he is a teenager who has to fit the ghosthunting around school and the perils that come with walking the halls of your average high school.  His current mission is to find a spirit that kills and dismembers anyone who steps into her house, a spirit know as Anna dressed in blood - a girl who was murdered in a brutal fashion and who has haunted her house ever since. 

Cas is careful to keep his double life a secret, but while hunting for clues about the location of Anna's house, Cas accidentally tangles some other teenagers up in his very complicated life.  Since his father died it has always been just Cas, his mother, and their cantankerous cat Tybalt - but now Cas has found himself making friends and enemies, which is just going to make things really complicated.  To make matters worse, Anna is like no ghost Cas has ever met before.  She is beautiful / terrifying / deadly / sweet / tortured / vengeful / torn and she seems to be a prisoner to her fate, a ghost that has as many secrets from herself as she does from Cas.  As he grapples with Anna, Cas has no idea that something dark is building, something is stalking them and unless he can keep his wits about him then everything may be lost.

Anna dressed in blood is one of the most original novels I have read this year, and not just because the text is the colour of dried blood instead of a boring and traditional black.  The story leaps straight into the action and doesn't really let up until you reach the end of the gripping climax.  While Cas is the main part of the story, his co-stars are more than cardboard cut outs making up the numbers, they have their own stories to tell and have something to add to the story rather than just being props.  I was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it first came out (and own them on DVD now as a guilty pleasure) and this story reminds me of BTVS for a number of reasons - they're teenagers, they have a team of adults backing them up from a distance, the team is not perfect and has its dysfunctions, and most of all the rest of the people around them are totally clueless about what is going on.

It was a great read with some little hints of background story that kept you up to date and moving on without drowning you in details.  The ending was fantastic and kept the surprise right until the end, and while the ending is very satisfying it leaves the book with a place to go into a series if the authors wishes to keep the series going.  One of the best reads for the year and highly recommended.  It wont appeal to everyone because it has strong supernatural themes and the occasional (in context) f word, but it is engaging, a fresh voice, and promises more great things from this new author.

If you like this book then try:
  • Legacies by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill
  • Tighter by Adele Griffin
  • Thyla by Kate Gordon
  • Born at midnight by C.C. Hunter
  • Burn bright by Marianne de Pierres
  • Something strange and deadly by Susan Dennard
  • Masque of the red death by Bethany Griffin
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bom! Went the Bear by Nicki Greenberg

Picture books filled with sounds play an important role in language development for children and are an essential part of emergent literacy for children - but so many publishers miss the point that just because they are important for learning doesn't mean they have to be boring! 

Bom! Went the Bear is anything but boring.  From cover to cover this picture book is packed full of bright and colourful characters that seem to leap off the page, and the sounds the different animals and instruments make are pulled seamlessly into a great story with a little bit of a twist at the end.  There are animals and instruments galore and any young reader will thoroughly enjoy their noisy introduction to so many new instruments and friends.

This is a lovely little book, great to share with children of all ages.  Can be read to your own little person, or can be read to a group as a storytime read.

If you like this book the try:
  • Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy by Lynley Dodd
  • Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack by Lynley Dodd
  • The loud book! by Deborah Underwood; illustrated by Renata Liwska
  • One, two, cockatoo! by Sarah Garson
  • Should I share my ice cream? by Mo Willems
  • New socks by Bob Shea

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The golden door by Emily Rodda

Rye lives in the walled city of Weld with his mother and two older brothers, living in a city that is both protected and imprisoned by the mighty wall that completely surrounds the city.  Once a year the dreaded skimmers plague the city, attacking anyone in the open at night, and they have even begun to attack buildings to reach the people inside.  It is a world of terror and fear, where the smallest sound at night can attract the skimmers to your door, and it seems as though more and more families are falling victim to the vicious creatures.  Rye and his family have been lucky so far, they all have a role to play in their town and their garden allows them to make enough money to live comfortably. 

But then comes the big announcement, anyone over the age of 18 may undertake a quest, to leave the city of Weld by a secret way and find the source of the skimmers.  Stopping the skimmers should save the city, meaning they no longer have to live in fear of the skimmers or the barbarians that send them.  Rye's older brothers leave one after the other to undertake this quest, but neither of them returns.  When Rye and his mother are driven from their home, Rye decides to undertake the dangerous quest himself - even though he is not of legal age.  The quest will not be easy, there are strange creatures beyond the walls of Weld, and their is evil beyond anything Rye can imagine.

This is the first book in a brand new trilogy by Emma Rodda, and Australian author who has carved out a unique niche for herself in the fantasy genre for children.  Her books are rich in detail and have story arcs that drag the reader in and keep them absorbed from the start of the series to the end - but at the same time she writes in a style that engages children who are struggling to read, taking away the stress of reading without dumbing down the writing or making the story too bland.  Her stories blend together strong mythologies, true friends, adventure, and heroes who are very "human" and have a destiny that they know nothing about. 

Like her other books, The golden door is very easy to read and keeps you turning the pages to see what happens next, with a fast paced story that you can sort of figure out, but also has a few mysteries and heart stopping moments to keep you wondering what will happen next.  A truly enjoyable read that will appeal to a wide range of ages and tastes.  For years I have encouraged children to read Emily Rodda (although at times she is so popular that you can't recommend them because they are just not there for people the borrow) because she is such an amazing author, but also because her series have some amazing art work courtesy of artist Marc  McBride.  I look forward to reading book two, The silver door, and will continue recommending this fantastic author to children (and adults) of all ages.

If you like this book then try:
  • Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda
  • The forests of silence by Emily Rodda
  • Northwood by Brian Falkner
  • The silver crown by Robert C. O'Brien
  • Silence and stone by Kathleen Duey
  • Prisoner of Quentaris by Anna Ciddor
  • Princess of shadows by Paul Collins

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Welcome to the world of Tortall, where an attack of unimaginable proportions has left the Royal Summer Palace in ruins, and the young Prince spirited away in the night towards destinations unknown.  Summoned in the middle of the night, Beka Cooper is called away from to join the Hunt for the missing boy, leaving behind her friends and the funeral of her betrothed.  Her Hunt will not be easy, not only is the person they search for meant to remain a secret, but even their small hunting party is attracting unwanted attention. 

By her side during this Hunt are her partner Senior Guardsman Matthias Tunstall, Pounce a constellation disguised as a cat who at times is both a blessing and a curse, Lady Sabine of Macayhill a lady knight and close personal friend to Tunstall, Farmer Cape a mage from the Provosts Guard, and her scent hound Achoo whose powerful nose leads the way.  This will be a dangerous Hunt, and Beka may have to risk it all to save the Prince.

This is the third book in the Beka Cooper series, and this series is very different from the other series Tamora Pierce has previously written.  One of the biggest differences with this series is that it is written as a journal from Beka's point of view, rather than being a story that unfolds through the eyes of the author.  This is also a much more mature series, covering themes and content that is not suitable for children and younger teens, a feature that made previous Pierce books such a great find for readers of all ages. 

The world Beka lives in a rough and at times downright brutal, full of murders, assaults, and all the other things you would expect to find in a medieval world.  This is not violence for violence sake, but it does strike a marked contrast from the other series.  The adventures that Beka enters into are also more about the mystery behind them and the police work, using clues to help unpick the crime and while there is magic is in this series, it is not featured as prominently as it was in the Alanna series which is set several hundred years later.

I have to confess that I felt a bit annoyed with Mastiff at times, finding myself stumbling over certain parts of the story and wondering if I had misread something because sometimes it didn't seem to match up between what was said a page or two ago and what was said now - something that other readers may not feel as strongly.  I hate to say it too, but I think that Mastiff could have benefited from losing a few pages (or a few dozen pages). 

The story was built up a little too slowly for my taste, and the adventure itself seemed to take a little too long and be a little too detailed for my liking, it just seemed to be going on and on at times.  It was a very epic story, but at times it seemed a little too epic - but again that could just be me.  It has been a long time since I read Terrier (book one) and Bloodhound (book two) which may also have made it a bit more difficult for me to get into the story.

If you have read Mastiff and completely disagree with my review or if you only agree with part of it then please post your own review by adding comments.  All comments are welcome (unless they are profane or offensive).

If you like this book then try:
Terrier by Tamora Pierce
Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce
The diamond throne by David Eddings
By the sword by Mercedes Lackey


Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Blue chicken by Deborah Freedman

Picture books are often a guilty pleasure for adult readers, something we can only enjoy when there are children around to justify our picking them up.  There are just a few picture books that make the raised eyebrows from other adults worthwhile, and this is one of them!  Some of my co-workers already know that I have a soft spot for picture books that are a little bit quirky or strange, and Blue chicken is one of those quirky books.

A lovely picture of a barnyard and barnyard animals is on a drawing table minding its own business when one of the chickens decides to climb onto the blue paint pot - which results in blue paint going everywhere!  Soon all the animals are covered in blue and the blue paint continues to spread, all because one little chicken wanted to help out.  I won't ruin the ending, but it is charming and reminds me of another book called Wait! No paint, but this is a much simpler book and will (hopefully) appeal to adults and children of all ages.

If you like this book then try:
  • Wait! No paint! by Bruce Whately
  • Giggle, giggle, quack by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Betsy Lewin
  • Click, clack, moo: cows that type by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Betsy Lewin
  • Cushie Butterfield (she's a little cow) by Colin McNaughton
  • If you give a mouse a cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond

Reviewed by Brilla

Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey

Beauty and the Werewolf is the latest offering in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey, and here I have to use the term series somewhat loosely as you can pretty much pick them up in any order and read them without too much trouble, or wondering what has happened in other stories up to this point.  This series leans heavily on traditional stories and fairytales, but uses them in a rather unique way - there is a powerful force called the Tradition (note the capital T) which tries to force people into the mould it thinks fits best for their personal circumstances.  So while a stepmother may not begin as mean and petty, the force applied by the Tradition may eventually turn her into the typical stepmother found in tales. 

This particular tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms introduces us to Bella, a feisty and headstrong young woman who runs the household of her merchant father while indulging her hypochondriac stepmother and being the perfect big sister to her twin stepsisters.  Everything seems to be going swimmingly, until she runs into a spot of bother one night while on her way from visiting the Granny in the local forest.  Bitten on the ankle by a werewolf, Bella finds herself bundled up and whisked off to the local manor where she finds out the secret that has made the Duke a recluse all these years - he is the werewolf that bit her.  Forced to live in the manor with the Duke Bella tries to make the best of the situation and soon finds herself caught up in the mystery of why the Duke is a werewolf (it didn't happen the usual way after all), and the greater mystery of the servants of the manor who are not what they appear to be.

This is not my favourite book in this series, but it was also not the worst one in the series either (I never did manage to get very far with the The Snow Queen).  Isabella is more than a little annoying to begin with, and it took a while to warm to her as a character, but at least she does change over the course of the book and becomes a much better person (in my humble opinion anyway).  At times the characters seem a little flat and two dimensional, but that may just be because some of the other books in the series have set such a high standard.  Lackey's understanding and use of fairytales and traditional stories is phenomenal and you can see that not only in this series, but also in her elemental masters series which is set during different historical periods in our own world - and some of the stories have been the same, the sleeping beauty, Cinderella, and more.  The Tradition is a fantastic device for allowing all sorts of different things to happen, or not as the case may be, and there is a wealth of material out there to allow for many more books in the five hundred kingdoms series. 

If you like this book then try:
  • The fairy godmother by Mercedes Lackey
  • The sleeping beauty by Mercedes Lackey
  • The fire rose by Mercedes Lackey
  • The serpent's shadow by Mercedes Lackey
  • Phoenix and ashes by Mercedes Lackey
  • Reserved for the cat by Mercedes Lackey

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Run for cover by Eva Gray

Run for cover is the second of four books in the Tomorrow girls series and picks up the action where the first book left off.  The series is about four girls who are sent to a boarding school in the middle of nowhere in a future America where the Alliance is a threat to everyone living in the USA and parents are sending their children to school in secret locations where they can be safe.  Thrown together in one group at the school are Louisa, Maddie, Evelyn, and Rosie - four girls who are all hiding secrets from each other. 

In the first book the girls discover that the school is not what they think it is, and not what their parents are expecting either.  A closely followed schedule of hard work, exercise, and reading out dated books are the norm at the school, and it may not be a bad thing for them to learn how to take care of themselves as when they leave school they will be expected to join the war effort against the Alliance.

Like so many books at the moment there is a strong dystopian theme running through this series (which could in fact have been one big book instead of four little ones).  This time the point of view has switched to Rosie, the one with the survival skills and a secret that she is reluctant to share with the others.  At times this story is very light and fluffy, almost like a real novel that has been reduced to the bare bones and then published - this doesn't mean that the series isn't worth reading, it just means that you shouldn't expect too much from the story.

There are several books and series similar to Tomorrow girls, stories that have an intelligent idea or storyline, but that have been stripped of a lot of the body to make a fast paced, easier to read novel.  For young adults that struggle with reading but still want to read good books this is important as they don't have to wade through lots of heavy writing to get to story, but for more confident readers it can be a little bit of a let down when you have an expectation of a richer storyline after reading similar stories or series.  Overall a great read, just don't expect too much.

If you like this book then try:
  • Behind the gates by Eva Gray
  • Among the hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Eve by Anna Carey
  • Tomorrow, when the war began by John Marsden
  • The Hunger games by Suzanne Collins

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Angel Arias by Marianne de Pierres

Angel Arias is the sequel to Burn bright, if you have not read Burn bright then be warned that there are ***SPOILERS*** in this review.  If you want to read the books in order then don't read this until you have read the first book.

Naif and her friends are away from Ixion and living with others that Ruzalia the pirate has rescued.  It should be a time of relaxation and coming to terms with what they have learned, but instead it is a time of unease and tension.  The other young people around them are growing restless, pushing at the boundaries that Ruzalia has set in place, boundaries put there to keep them safe.  When the anger and resentment boils over into an all out attack, Naif and her friends find themselves searching for safety. 

That search eventually lands Naif and Markes in the last place they might have expected - they have returned to their homeland of Grave.  They are on a dangerous mission to discover what the connection in between Grave and Ixion, two places that seem at first to be polar opposites, but there are secrets that will blow that illusion away forever.  While Naif searches for the answer to their questions in Grave, Lenoir is struggling to keep control in Ixion, control that is slowly slipping through his fingers with each passing day.  As both Lenoir and Naif learn what is really going on, it may alrady be too late to stop a dangerous slide into disaster - for everyone.

This is the second book in the trilogy, and apart from one mistake where one of the characters is called by the wrong name, it is another deftly written book and moves along at a rapid pace.  In some ways this series is very lightly written, lacking some of the depth and detail in other series, but it keeps the pace moving along and there is enough story to keep things interesting and engaging. 

At times Angel Arias does seem to suffer a little from “second book” syndrome, reminding readers of important parts from the first book and then dropping hints about what is to come in the concluding book.  Naif is still the central character of the story, with the focus on her while the other characters revolve around her and come in and out of focus as she works her way through Grave, but it works for this story.

Don’t expect too much from this series except to enjoy it and you will – expect too much from this series and you will be disappointed.  The relationships at the centre of the story are at times breathtaking in their dept, but at other times the friendships echoe everyday friendships that we all have.  Bring on book three to see how this trilogy finally ends – especially now that some of the dark secrets of both Grave and Ixion have been revealed and you know some kind of big event is going to happen.

If you like this book then try:
  • Crave by Melinda Metz and Laura J. Burns
  • Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
  • Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
  • Blood and chocolate by Annette Curtis Klaus
  • Tinker by Wen Spencer

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

There is no dog by Meg Rosoff.

Because of Rosoff’s publishing history, this wee number has ended up in teen collections. *Sigh*. Yeah, sure, it has been marketed as a teen book but, IMHO, the closest you’d get is that it is a cross-over novel.
It’s not even really that. It’s an adult fiction. It’s a bit navel-gazing. It’s a bit nostalgia. The sensibilities are adult.
God may be Bob, 17-year-old angsty teen with sex on his mind, and complete oblivion to the chaos he causes, thanks to his self-centeredness.
Alongside Bob, as his assistant, is Mr B who, quite frankly, has had enough of the juvenile behaviour of this god, and wants out. It is his impatience, his ennui, that pervades the novel. And, honestly, made me less than sympathetic to pretty much any character. Even Bob’s pet, Eck, whose plight seems thrown in to highlight the gods’ disregard, even contempt, for mortals (of any species).
Lucy, Bob’s love interest, is flowery and annoying. Her mother and godfather are, just slightly, more interesting – but that’s because they’re adults, with pasts, and are treated slightly more sympathetically.
So, for me, a big meh. Didn’t leave me questioning much about GOD, although I’m sure it should have, just questioning why I bothered finishing it and how long it would take to do so, and go away.
If you want books that explore questions of God and what he/she/it may  be like - and have a greater likelihood of enjoying them... then try:
  • Job, a comedy of justice by Robert A. Heinlein.
  • Good omens  the nice and accurate prophecies of Agnes Nutter, witch by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman.
  • Odds and gods by Tom Holt (well, lots of Tom Holt… including Only human).

~ Reviewed by Thalia.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Changes by Mercedes Lackey

This is the third book in The Collegium Chronicles from Mercedes Lackey so there will be some spoilers in this review, if you like to read series in order without ***SPOILERS*** then don't read this review any further until you have read Foundation and Intrigue.

Mags is well settled into the Collegium and is steadily working towards becoming a Herald, but fate is determined to through road blocks in his way and they are not always obvious.  His close group of friends are also facing their own challenges - mostly from their respective fathers.  Bear has created an amazing and valuable resource for people who aren't Healers and who don't always have access to a Healer, but his father sees it as nothing and wants to drag him home so he can make babies that might just have the Healer gift that Bear lacks.  Lena is facing her own demons, her father has a new protege, and to make things worse there is a rumour going around that she is not really her fathers daughter, despite the Bardic gifts that she carries.  Mags would normally help to smooth things over and help them stay together, but instead he is dragged into an intriguing mystery with the King's Own Nikolas. 

There are dangers a foot as well, with plans to fix Amily's leg pushed aside with no warning and no reason, and even though Mags may be in a position to find out what it is it may be too late to stop things spinning out of control and placing the whole kingdom in danger.  Even with his Companion Dallen as his constant support and teacher, Mags is still not prepared for some of the secrets he is about to expose.  Mags skills at deducing what is going on around him are going to be stretched to the limit because this time he is not only part of the solution, he is also part of the problem.  The forces that are moving against Valdemar are also moving against him, and this time the people sent after him are scarily good, so good that even Mags may not be able to stay out of their clutches for very long.  There are some unpleasant days ahead for Mags, and some of the biggest questions are still who is he, who were his parents, and why is he a target?

This is the third novel in the series and by now Mags, Lena, and Bear are like old friends.  Mags has continued to develop as a strong character, and the relationship between Mags and Dallen just rings out as one of the truest Companion/Herald relationships, right up there with Talia and Rolan, and Vanyel and Yfandes.  It is often these relationships that make these novels and the world of Valdemar so magical and engaging.  The one thing that bugged me about this novel was trying to figure out what Mags was saying some of the time - yes I know he has a thick and uneducated way of talking, but sometimes it was just too heavy handed with the way it was written and reading late at night didn't help.  Here is a silent plea to Mercedes Lackey to try and make it a little easier next time and to not lay it on quite so thickly. 

The world of Valdemar is one of the most engaging in fantasy and over the decades there have been some stunning series with epic battles, mysteries, and the odd touch of romance to keep you thoroughly engrossed.  I have to admit that as a teenager the world of Valdemar had no small part in forming some of the ideas that have stayed with me as an adult - including subtle comments about religion and sexuality. It is difficult to forget the simple motto of "there is no one way" when it comes to religion, with all the different temples and deities accepted by everyone in Valdemar (okay, pretty much anyone).  And it is difficult to forget some of the amazing relationships throughout the novels that show that it is not what the other person looks like that matters, it is who they are inside - and the homosexual relationships are treated with the same attention and equality as the heterosexual relationships without pushing them in your face or being over the top - they are treated as an equal relationship.

It looks as though The Collegium Chronicles may be a long running series, a break from the trilogies that Lackey has written in the past.  As long as the story keeps developing as it is, the suspense of Mags' past should keep you coming back, and coming back - because something is building on the horizon and it looks as though Mags is going to be at the centre when whatever is coming finally happens.

If you like this book then try:
  • Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Magics pawn by Mercedes Lackey
  • Winds of fate by Mercdes Lackey
  • The Elvenbane by Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton
  • Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Supernaturally by Kiersten White

*** SPOLIER ALERT***  If you have not read Paranormalcy and don't want to know anything about the second book in the series then don't read this review - read Paranormalcy first!

Evie has left the IPCA behind forever and is finally living her life as a normal teacher - complete with boring classes, worries about getting into the one and only college she wants to get into, and a gym teacher who seems to have it in for her.  So life is normal, not perfect, but normal - well as normal as it can get for a supernatural being who has no soul of her own and lives in a town where all the freaky supernatural things seem to be gathering and hanging out together in relative safety, and where every single one of them seems to be taking a little too much interest in Evie.  The only thing that is really perfect is her amazing boyfriend Lend, who has moved on to college but still finds time for his girlfriend. 

When the IPCA contacts Evie and offers her work as a contractor, the offer is too good to refuse, even though it means entering back into a world she thought she had left behind forever.  It also means a new complication enters her life, a highly annoying but also seemingly harmless Jack, who can bounce across the faerie lands like most people navigate their way through city streets.  Working for IPCA is a secret, partly because Lend is dead set against it, but also because in some ways Evie herself is not sure what she is doing.  Then things start to turn deadly and Evie finds herself dodging danger like she has never known before, and as a contractor for IPCA instead of one of their own, she doesn't get all the toys she used to have to back her up.  Depending on other people isn't always a bad thing, but what happens when some of those people are keeping secrets, secrets that could be deadly?

Supernaturally is the second book in what could be a trilogy (judging by the hint about a conclusion to the story in the next book) and is one of the best novels for teens in the supernatural genre at the moment.  While it took a little while to really get absorbed in the story again, this was only because it has been some time since I read the first book in the series and the details got a little hazy because of all the books I have read in between.  Evie's world continues to get more interesting, and with this addition to the trilogy secrets are revealed and you learn more about Evie, who she is, what she is, and what started the process for some of the supernaturals evolving (and it may not be what you expect).  The story line is fast paced for the majority, with the action taking place in a relatively short time.  This was an enjoyable read, and there is some interesting mythology in Evie's world which means that the supernaturals are not cookie-cutter copies of other vampires or werewolves in other novels. 

If you like this book then try:
  • Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
  • Hush, hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
  • Deception by Lee Nichols
  • The carrier of the mark by Leigh Fallon
  • Night terror by John Passarella
  • Angel burn by L.A. Weatherly

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Forgotten by Cat Patrick

London Lane is your typical teenager - she goes to school, likes to hang out with her best friend, and has a mother who drives her ever so slightly round the bend.  And like other teenagers London has her secrets, hers is a just a little bigger than most - unlike other people London doesn't remember the past, she remembers the future!  Every day when London reads the notes by the side of her bed to prepare herself for the day, little reminders of what she wore the day before and the important things that she might need to know for the coming day.  Having memories of the future means London knows what is coming, she can see the heartbreak that is coming for her best friend, the girl at school who will have her heart broken, the vacations that she will take in the future - but she can't remember who she has insulted (by accident or otherwise), her homework assignments, or what happened in her past that led to her memory resetting itself every night. 

Then a mystery enters her life, a boy named Luke who doesn't appear to be in her future, yet he is there everyday, a presence in her life that helps to soothe the edges when her friendship with Jamie breaks down because of London's attempts to stop a disastrous future from coming true.  But it is not just the mystery of Luke that has her puzzled, there is a dark memory that is trying to come to the surface, a memory that London has trouble placing, one that wakes her at night and leaves her with a feeling of dread.  As she works her way through the mysteries that are her life, London learns more about who she is and possibly why she is the way she is.

This was a fascinating read, not only because London is such an engaging character, but also because it is such a different angle to come from in terms of memory.  I want to classify it as fantasy or science fiction, but this book is so grounded in the real world that it is difficult to make that jump, to reach that conclusion.  This is an amazing book and has such a unique "voice", and unlike so many other books that are out there that try and be unique or different, Patrick actually managed to keep the intrigue going all the way to end and ended the book on a good note, rather than allowing the story to end with a wishy washy or too convenient ending.  It would be difficult to have a sequel for this story without rehashing some things, or becoming too similar, but it was a really enjoyable read.  There is the occasional moment where you may think "huh" that doesn't sound quite right, but it is not enough to take away the enjoyment of reading this great read. 

If you like this book then try:
  • Before I fall by Lauren Oliver
  • The unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
  • Tighter by Adele Griffin
  • Flawless by Lara Chapman
  • Memento Nora by Angie Smibert
  • Rosebush by Michelle Jaffe
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • Illuminate by Aimee Agresti (published 2012)
  • Altered by Jennifer Rush (published 2012)

Reviewed by Brilla

Eve by Anna Carey

In the not too distant future the New America has risen from the ashes of a devastating plague under the rule of a benevolent King who wants to protect the orphans left behind while building up the future of their country.  Eve lives in one of the Schools, a place of safety where she learns about the dangers of the world outside the sheltering walls of the school, a world of wild dog packs and men.  Eve has been taught to be wary of men, to suspect them of manipulation and betrayal, and she dreads the day that she might meet one. 

Most of her life has been spent studying and learning the ways of her future, preparing for the day that she will leave the school and take her place in the world.  The one sour spot in her world is Arden, the only school rebel, a troublemaker that makes Eve so angry she can barely stand it - especially when she catches Arden trying to escape from the school.  Making the decision to find out the truth, Eve discovers the secret she was never supposed to know - her future is not to be one of the bright new minds rebuilding the future of New America, her future is to help breed the future population while she is strapped down to a bed.  Given the chance to escape Eve flees from the school, but she didn't count on how badly she will be missed, or the search that will place her life at risk, along with the lives of those who join her on her journey to the distance promise of safety.

There is a real trend at the moment to write books about a future dystopian society that all began because of a plague that has wiped out large chunks of the population - along with the side sub-genre that is all about losing part of the population that comes back as zombies.  Eve is a deftly written, fast paced read that keeps up the action while keeping the story believable.   There is a little sense of skipping over some of the details, but this book would lose a lot of its charm if it became too bogged down in detail.  This is the first book in a promised trilogy, and if Carey can keep up the pace and the action then the rest of the series promises to be very interesting.

Eve is just what you would hope for in a heroine - she is not too smart or dumb, she is pretty but not so stunning that she is unbelievable, and she has big flaws that change and reduce as the story moves along.  Her supporting cast as also well written providing a more worldly balance to Eve's charming and sheer naivety about the world around her and how things really are (as opposed to what she has been raised to believe the world is like).  There is some violence, but it is not gory or gratuitous, and there is some reference to sexual attraction, but not to a level that makes it unsuitable for younger teen readers.  This story will appeal more to the girls than the boys, but there is enough action here to keep boys interested if they take a punt on a book that has a very girly name.

If you like this book then try:
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collings
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Among the hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Inside out by Maria V. Snyder
  • Virals by Kathy Reichs
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Behind the gates by Eva Gray
  • The silver crown by Robert C. O'Brien
  • Rot and ruin by Jonathan Maberry
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Soul thief by Jana Oliver

***SPOILER*** alert - if you have not read the first book in the series then do not read this review as it has ***SPOILERS*** for the first book.

Riley managed to survive the attack on the Trappers, but now things are getting even more complicated.  Simon is giving her the cold shoulder while he tried to come to terms with the attack on the tabernacle and the ensuing slaughter, and he doesn't seem to understand that there are more things to think about than his narrow world view.  Her fathers disappearance is still a mystery, with no one claiming responsibility for the theft of his body, and all trails leading to a dead end.  Beck is being a controlling jerk and trying to get Riley to leave town, which may not be such a bad idea with the hunters arriving in town.  Riley has enenmies at every turn, and her allies may not be who she thinks they are.  The danger is building for Riley and everyone she loves - and it looks like a showdown is coming, a war to end all wars.

This is the second book in the Demon trappers series and Jana Oliver has once again delivered an engaging novel with a thoroughly engrossing story and entirely believable world.  Riley has continued to grow as a character, but she has also maintained the character flaws that make her entirely believable.  It is not clear how long this series will run, or how many books will be in the series, but Oliver has laid very good ground work for a long running series.

One of the best things about this series is that it is so genuine - too many authors dumb down storylines for teenagers or take the easy way out with the plotlines, but Oliver keeps the plot moving forwards and keeps the action tense (and real).  This is a series that will appeal to a wide audience, because although Riley is a teenager the world she inhabits is a very adult one, with danger around every corner, adult relationships, and having to make very adult decisions.  Hopefully this series doesn't over reach or try too hard and fail, because this could be the next Twilight reaching across a wide range of audiences and providing a new world for readers to enjoy for a long time.

If you like this book then try:
  • The black tattoo by Sam Enthoven
  • Dead witch walking by Kim Harrison
  • Born at midnight by C.C. Hunter
  • Burn bright by Marianne de Pierres
  • Legacies by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill 

 Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Game runner by B.R. Collins

Rick is one of the lucky few in Undone, he lives in the sheltered environment of Crater, the biggest gameing company in Ingland.  It is a sheltered life where he is protected from the dangerous streets of Undone where gangs of feral children roam, and where the acid rain will poison and kill you if you spend time outside without the safety of a rain hood.  All day long he spends time in the tank running the Maze, the only game that really counts, the one that everyone is Undone would play if they had the chance - maybe even the whole world would play if they had the chance.  The world seems perfect and safe, until the night Daed asks him to enter the Maze and stop a player from reaching the end - that one request starts a spiral of terrifying events as Rick comes to realise that his world is not perfect, or safe, or secure.  Rick is on a race against time to figure out what is really happening, and to try and find a way to survive.

Dystopian novels for teenagers are a growing sensation, and they all seem to be looking for that little difference that will make their vision of the future stand out.  In many ways Game runner is a fresh voice in this genre, a different take on what is becoming a predictable formula.  Unlike some of the other dystopian novels this is a relatively quick read, building the vision quickly and then dragging you through the story at breakneck speed without any of the weighty prose or ensnaring plots that make some dystopian novels sooo long and complicated.  The detail is there, but it unfolds as part of the story rather than being a narrative on the sidelines that seems like a voice explaining the plot of the movie because you can't figure out what is happening on screen.  The one thing that niggles a little is that it seems a little too close to the Hunger games trilogy by Suzanne Collins - but that is possibly because of the shared Collins surname and the fact that they are both set in the future and that they both involve running through dangerous environments (although in this case a virtual environment).

Overall this was a very satisfying read, being nothing more or less than was promised.  There is the odd plot twist that makes you think huh, and the ending is not what you might expect.  While the target market appears to be teenage boys (computer games, a mystery, a shark in the swimming pool - need I say more) there is also plenty here for anyone who likes a really engrossing read that isn't going to take days to finish.  Hopefully Collins writes more of this time because she has a punchy writing style and has a knack for keping the story moving at a decent pace.

If you like this book then try:
  • Hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • Because we were the travellers by Jack Lasenby
  • Enclave by Ann Aguire
  • Serpents of Arakesh by V.M. Jones
  • The walls have eyes by Clare B. Dunkle

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Firespell by Chloe Neill

Lily Parker is about to start at the exclusive St Sophia's in Chicago - a private academy for girls that just screams old money and snooty girls.  It seems as though Lily is going to be out of her league very quickly, but her fast friendship with Scout (one of her new room mates) means that she is not as lonely as she seems - even though the local queen bee and her followers seem to want to make her life miserable.  Scout has a secret she is keeping though - she is part of a group that is trying to protect the streets of Chicago from the bad guys, bad guys who have power and are not afraid to use it to get what they want.  Lily has been thrown in the deep end and she has to learn the rules of the new world around her before she makes a fatal mistake.

This is the first book in the Dark elite series and introduces readers to Lily Parker, Scout and the rest of the people who populate a world where magic is a very real thing, as are the dangers that come because of it.  When I read this I had the feeling that I had read parts of this before, possibly because there seems to have been a mini explosion of books about teenagers with magic who are living in a boarding school situation.  That said, this is an interesting read that moves along at a decent pace, but there are some cliches that raise their heads so the speak - you have the mean queen bee, the braindead follower, the handsome boy who's just out of reach, the bad guys who may not be what they appear, and the superior bad guy who just oozes bad guy stuff. 

It will be interesting to see if the rest of the series continues with the same speed and strength.  This is not the best book of this type out there, but it is very readable and hasn't been dumbed down for a teenage audience (which sadly some authors do).  This book is a nice balance between a fun read, and a read with real mythology and 'world building' behind it - a world that you can really believe exists within ours, just waiting to be discovered.

If you like this book then try:
  • Hexbound by Chloe Neill
  • Glass houses by Rachel Caine
  • Hex hall by Rachel Hawkins
  • Glimmerglass by Jenna Black
  • Skin hunger by Kathleen Duey
  • Impossible by Nancy Werlin
  • Legacies by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Crave by Laura J. Burns & Melinda Metz

Shay has a rare and debilitating blood disease, one that seems to defy a proper diagnosis from all the specialists she has seen throughout her life.  Her life is a series of blood transfusions that help her life a half life - one where she is always watching the other kids at her school go to parties, hang out, and make it through a whole week of school.  Then her stepfather, who also happens to be one of the best doctors around for someone with a blood disease, gives her a transfusion that has Shay fizzing with life, bursting with an energy she has never had before.  Suddenly she is hanging out and being normal, leaving the "Sick Girl" tag behind.  But where does the new blood come from, what makes it so special, and why does she keep having visions of another life where the people around her call her Gabriel - where the people around her are vampires.

Finding a new way to twist the vampire mythology is not easy, especially with all the creative people out there who have tackled not only the vampire mythology, but also the dhampir mythology.  Burns and Metz have done a great job of finding something new here, something that while at times was a little transparent so you could see things coming, was also just a little bit clever.  Jumping in with the action can be a tricky move for a book, but the gamble paid off here with action straight away and the back story coming through slowly as the book unfolds.  This is obviously the first book in a series (judging by the fact that the sequel is already available) and if the series remains as strong as the first book then this will be a good series to read.

If you like this book then try:
  • Sacrifice by Laura J. Burns & Melinda Metz
  • Turned by Morgan Rice
  • Marked by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
  • Glass houses by Rachel Caine
  • Crusade by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie
  • Kissing coffins by Ellen Schrieber

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, October 9, 2011

First born by James Goss

With the destruction of Torchwood, and with Captain Jack leaving Earth, Gwen is the only remaining link to Torchwood and someone wants her very badly judging by all the men in black chasing her and Rhys across Wales.  Being on the run is never fun or easy, but being heavily pregnant adds its own complications, as does the arrival of baby Anwen.  Hiding in an out of the way little village called Rawbone seems like an okay plan, until Gwen and Rhys notice that there is something very different about the children of Rawbone - they're a little too neat, a little too perfect, more than just a little bit difference.  Things are also strange with the adults, they seem to have an unhealthy interest in Rhys, Gwen and Anwen, an interest that could turn dangerous if Gwen can't figure out what is really going on in this village - and the fact that Torchwood has the key for a caravan in an abandoned caravan park means that Jack knows something, if only he was there to ask.

Novels that tie in to TV series can either go really well, or really badly, depending on the author and how well they learn the details of their characters through the eyes of the fans.  You could probably write a really good novel using the facts from the writers of the show, but it can take someone who has watched the series to make it really work.  I can't judge if James Goss watches the show or not, but it appears that he is very steeped in the worlds/cultures of Torchwood and the result is a punchy novel that is thoroughly engrossing and you can almost see the episode running through your head. 

This is part of a series of three novels that act as prequels for season four of Torchwood and is the bets of the two I have tried to read - the other being Long time dead which was discarded after the first few pages because it lacked any zing.  The only weird thing about this particular books are all the references to motherhood and what it feels like - kind of weird from a male author even if he did acknowledge his support team.  Thoroughly enjoyable read and I can't wait to get my copy of The men who sold the world so I can see how that compares to the others in the series.

If you like this book then try:
  • X-files: Ground zero by Kevin J. Anderson
  • X-files: Skin by Ben Mezrich
  • Doctor Who: The kings dragon by Una McCormack
  • Doctor Who: Nuclear time by Oli Smith
  • Torchwood: Pack animals by Peter Anghelides

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cowboy & Wills by Monica Holloway

Wills is the much loved son of Michael and Monica, and he also has high functioning autism.  This book is the story of how Monica brings a menagerie of small animals into his life (that builds into a small zoo) that make a difference, and the story of a golden retriever named Cowboy who made big changes in all of their lives.  This is a families journey of discovery, love, and hope, and a draining and exhausting story of a family that battles through the heartache of a puppy with health problems so severe that most people would have given up immediately. 

As emotional roller coasters go, this book will take you on a journey from laughter, to crying, to laughing, to poignant moments that will take your breath away.  In places you will definitely need the tissues nearby, but it is an amazing story of a little boy who makes connections to the world around him and finds his place amongst his peers, and about a golden retriever who walked beside (and even dragged him forward) to make friends.

If you have read A friend like Henry by Nuala Gardner you will be struck by the similarities between Dale and Wills.  Both are locked in their own world and struggle with the world we all live in, to the point of screaming or running away.  For both boys a golden retriever entered their lives and began to make a positive difference, helping them to connect to the world around them.  Both mothers provide a detailed (but not analytical) account of the lead up to the big autism diagnosis, and the special schools and therapies that they entered into to help their sons. 

But there is something missing from Cowboy and Wills, something that leaves you a little bit wanting, almost like it was written as a script for a movie rather than truly narrating what came from the heart.  That could partly be because Cowboy becomes so ill and so much of the book is about Cowboy and the lengths they go to in an attempt to find a diagnosis, to find a treatment, the hope that she will pull through.  It could also just be that I have read too many of these types of books recently about service dogs and assistance dogs, and that A friend like Henry has stuck with me more because it was the first book of this type that I read - I really just don't know but this book just didn't "gel" as well with me.

This is an amazing book from the point of view that Monica is a mother determined to move heaven and earth (and the occasional small animal) to help her son get the best out of life - the special school, the therapists, the pets, the puppy, all working towards Wills having as normal a life as possible.  Monica and Michael are obviously devoted parents, and Wills thrives under their support, and I really enjoyed reading the book and seeing the changes Cowboy helped to make - don't let me put you off reading it, you just may want to try reading A friend like Henry afterwards and draw your own conclusions.  This at times feels very much like someone went there's a story about a child with autism in the United Kingdom and the golden retriever that helped change his life, lets tell the American version now we've seen how popular this type of book is becoming.

Although Cowboy was not technically an assistance dog or service dog because she had no formal training in that area, I have categorised this book with the other assistance/service dog biographies because that is the best fit and the parts of this book that you enjoy are most likely to be the parts of those books that you enjoy.

If you like this book then try:
  • A friend like Henry by Nuala Garnder
  • Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan
  • A dog named Slugger by Leigh Brill
  • A dog in a million by Hazel Carter
  • Partners for life by Jane Bidder

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Northwood by Brian Falkner

This is the amazing (and possibly true) story of Cecilia Undergarment and her unplanned (and very dangerous) trip to the Northwood.  Everyone knows that you never enter the Northwood, and those that do are never seen again.  It's partly because the woods themselves are so dangerous, and because of the black lions that prowl within the shadows of the forest.  Cecilia didn't mean to go there, she was only trying to help an animal in need, but what she finds in the Northwood is more than just danger - she also finds mystery, intrigue, and a few wrongs that might need to be made right. 

Brian Falkner is a New Zealand author who has written some brilliantly original books for young readers, along with some excellent reads for teenagers and 'tweens.  Northwood is both charming and original, and while the style of writing takes a little getting used to (it is a little like someone telling you a story when they are easily distracted), the story bounces along at a decent speed and keeps you turning the pages to find out what happens next. 

It is all too easy for fantasy/adventure books to become walking cliches, but Falkner sidesteps most of them neatly to provide you with a thoroughly enjoyable read.  This was fun to read and I hope there are more from Falkner written in this light and bouncy style (with some hidden depth) that makes it a great read for younger readers wanting to stretch themselves a little, and for teenagers and 'tweens who want to take a break from all the vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural reads that everyone is reading.  This is a real treasure and I hope more people will try this fun and engaging book (and no Brian Falkner did not pay me to say this!).

If you like this book then try:
  • The project by Brian Falkner
  • The real thing by Brian Falkner
  • The Half-men of O by Maurice Gee
  • The mysterious howling by Maryrose Wood
  • The familiars by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
  • The quest begins by Erin Hunter

Reviewed by Brilla