Monday, April 25, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

Cassia lives under the rules of the Society.  On the day of her 17th birthday Cassia attends her Matching Banquet, where she will find out who her future husband is, the man she will spend her life with until they both turn 80 and attend their Final Banquets.  Everything is orderly and planned, watched over by the Officials who make sure that everyone lives the life they are supposed to live.  But there is something unusual about Cassia's Matching, when she looks at the information about her future husband she doesn't find the face of her Match from the Banquet, instead she sees the face of someone else, someone that she already knows.  Keeping the fact a secret from everyone but her Grandfather, Cassia finds herself wondering what is happening, despite the reassurances from the Officials.

Cassia lives in a highly controlled world, where the Officials make all the decisions, right down to the food that you eat each day.  Everyone is split into compartments, essentially keeping everyone dependent on the Society for their food and other resources.  It is a perfect world that seems as though it caters to everything that you could ever need, but under the surface there is something rotten, something that eats away at the citizens and keeps them imprisoned in a perfect cage.  As Cassia spends more time with Ky, the face she sees instead of her Match Xander, the more she comes to see that things aren't quite right.

This was an absorbing read, one that kept me turning the pages waiting for the next revelation, the next discovery of what is going on.  The Society seems so wonderful, but it was kind of creepy how deep the hold of Society was on the people, and how easily it would be to conform and confine people into a society like that of Cassia and her Society by telling people it is for their own good, that to protect the planet and the environment that they have to conform and do what they are told.  This is tempered somewhat by the gentle romance that develops throughout the story.  I have to confess to a slight disappointment with the end though - it seemed like it was building to something and then just left hanging.  This is apparently the first book in a trilogy so some of that disappointment may fade after reading the next book in the series.

If you liked this book then try:
  • The declaration by Gemma Malley
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • The knife of never letting go by Patrick Ness

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gorilla city by Charlie Small

The full title of this book is Gorilla City: The amazing, astonishing, incredible and true adventures of me! by Charlie Small.  Found washed up on the banks of a river in England, this is the true story of Charlie Small and his grand adventure that begins when he takes his raft out on the river near his house and gets swept away in a storm.  He ends up in a strange land with even stranger creatures, and an intense urge to get home to his family, his life, and even his school.

This is the first book in a series that I picked up because a parent had come into work trying to find the series.  It sounded as though it may be a popular series so checked it out to read and ended up reading it in a single session.  Charlie is an interesting character and the "voice" of Charlie is bouncing, lively, and keeps the story moving along at a decent clip.  Throughout the book are interesting images of the different animals that Charlie stumbles across in the jungle.

Best suited to children about 8 - 12 years of age, this is a fun read that has lots of interesting mental (and not so mental) imagery, and a great pace.  If the rest of the series is this good then it should be a great story for young readers.

If you like this book then try:
  • The field guide by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
  • The Onts by Dan Greenburg
  • Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
  • Bartlett and the ice voyage by Odo Hirsch

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Meg by Steve Alten

I have to confess that I picked this book up thinking that I would read a few pages, laugh hysterically and then return the book to the local library for someone else to laugh over.  What I found instead was a novel that I really enjoyed reading and had trouble putting down.

The story is a simple one - on a deep sea dive for the Navy Jonas Taylor thinks he sees an extinct megalodon in the waters of the Mariana Trench causing him to take emergency action that kills his submersible crew.  Forced out of the Navy because of the incident, Jonas turns to the lecture circuit where he shares his belief that the ancient sharks are in fact still alive.  Years later Jonas finds himself returning to the same trench and this time he is not sure about what he saw back then, an illusion that is shattered when he sees one of the mighty sharks rising into the ocean above.

All too quickly Jonas, and everyone else realises that the modern world is not ready for the massive size of this killer shark - and the equally large appetite that she brings with her.  Able to move at incredible speeds and remain undetected by swimming through the deepest parts of the ocean, the megalodon is a killing machine who rapidly discovers a taste for tasty little human sized morsels.  Thrown in the deep end, Jonas may be the only thing standing between a pregnant megalodon and her goal of finding a safe place to birth her pups.  The only hope of salvation may be the Tanaka Lagoon, a massive man made lake designed to capture migrating whales - but they are in a race against time, and the clock is against them.

This series brings together elements of the adventure, thriller, and science fiction genres in a unique and terrifying vision of what could happen if one of the most feared predators in the ocean was suddenly joined by it's larger and more ferocious cousin.  While this will not appeal to everyone, I enjoyed it and am looking forward to sinking my teeth (ahem) into the sequels.  

If you like this then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Subject Seven by James A. Moore

When Subject Seven escapes from the facility where he has spent his whole (young) life, it is the beginning of a gripping story that will have you on the edge of your seat.  Subject Seven is part of the Doppleganger project, an attempt to hide sleeper operatives inside the body of teenagers.  The teenagers aren't supposed to know that their Others are there, and the Others are supposed to be perfect soldiers with no memories from the life that their teenage alternates live. 

But every project has its failures, and the failures from Project Doppleganger were supposed to be destroyed - but someone got greedy and the babies were adopted out to unsuspecting families.  Now fifteen years old, they have no idea about the secret that is so deeply hidden that even they don't know about it, a secret that will end when they meet Joe Bronx and get introduced to a dangerous new world that they are not ready to deal with.  To make matters worse, their Others are on the warpath and more than ready to deal with the forces of the corporation that created them, and now wants to see them destroyed.

This is the first book in a new series that is explosive, gripping, and more than a little violent.  The story is delivered in a punchy style that keeps you turning pages as you shift from viewpoint to viewpoint and learn more about the teenagers, their others, and the people behind the experiment.  Although this is not a recommended read for younger teens because there is some calculated violence involved, this was a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing read and hopefully book two in the series is not too far away.

If you like this then try:
  • Sleeper code by Tom Sniegoski
  • Maximum ride: The angel experiment by James Patterson
  • Boy soldier by Andy McNab
  • Conspiracy 365: January by Gabrielle Lord

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Heat Wave by Richard Castle

This is one of those gems of a novel that comes along and has you wondering whether you should roll your eyes or laugh out loud - or sometimes has you doing a little bit of both.  Heat wave is the novel that fictional character Richard Castle writes during the first season of the hit TV series Castle. 

Nikki Heat is the female detective that he bases on Detective Kate Beckett, the detective who has the pleasure of Castle's company as she and her team attempt to solve a variety of crimes on the streets of New York.  If you have seen the TV series then you will find that this novel reads like an episode from the series - with journalist Jameson Rook filling the role usually held by Richard Castle - the smooth talking writer who always seems to end up with some good questions and good answers, while also ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time by ever listening to what he is told.  If you have never seen the TV series then don't worry, you can read this novel completely independently of the TV series, and if you enjoy your crime fiction with a touch of humour then you will really enjoy this one.

This is a relatively short novel, but was a very enjoyable read, and hopefully book three is not too far away in this series. 

If you like this then try:
  • Naked heat by Richard Castle
  • One for the money by Janet Evanovich
  • CSI: Body of evidence by Max Allan Collins
  • CSI: Blood quantum by Jeff Marriotte

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The familiars by Adam Jay Epstein & Andrew Jacobson

Welcome to the magical world of Vastia, where a young alley cat named Aldwyn is about to end up in the adventure of his life.  While on the run from a terrible fate Aldwyn ends up in a store that sells magical animal familiars to wizards in training - and he soon finds himself matched up with a young wizard named Jack.

Settling into his new life as a familiar, Aldwyn has to work hard to convince the other familiars that he is not a big phoney - something that is not as easy to do as hopes.  Then the unthinkable happens and Aldwyn and his new familiar friends must set off on a quest to rescue their loyals from an enemy that will stop at nothing to destroy the loyals, and the familiars that are desperately seeking a way to save them.

This story has many elements that will appeal to young readers - and it is no surprise that the book is going to become an animated movie due for release in 2012.  There is adventure, drama, fantasy, magic, a daring quest, an evil villain beyond belief, and the power of friendship.  Having the heroes in the form of a bird, a frog, and a cat almost seems like a gag joke, but each of the characters has their own flaws and skills that sees them pull together and be totally believable.  This looks like the beginning of a new series, and is probably best for 'tween readers or confident readers from age 8+.

If you like this then try:
  • Warriors series by Erin Hunter
  • Seekers series by Erin Hunter
  • Harry Potter series by J K Rowling
  • Rowan of Rin series by Emily Rodda
  • Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pegasus by Robin McKinley

Having recommended almost every Robin McKinley in my previous post - I thought it time to review her latest offering, Pegasus.

Like Cloaked in red, this is marketed to teens, but has much wider, adult, appeal.

There is something magic in McKinley's writing. Something you can sink into and wallow. There is a richness and depth to her language that is uncommon these days. And, it is that complexity that leads me to feel it is more adult-friendly. There is some action - but Pegasus is a more-internal book. It is about understanding, and friendship, and knowledge, and knowing.

Sylvi is the fourth child, and only daughter, of the king. At 12, she is bound to a pegasus - because of a centuries-old alliance treaty. Her bond pegasus is Ebon, son of the king of the pegasi. At their bonding ceremony, Sylvi learns Ebon's name, when he silent-speaks it to her. And, this breaks protocol - and all history. Humans and pegasi do not speak to each other. That's why they have a Speaker - a human magician - to translate. That's why they learn sign language. This leads to a confrontation with a leading magician, and a very careful tiptope around the issues by the kings.

Sylvi and Ebon's relationship - friendship - is deep-rooted and strong. They KNOW each other. Unfortunately, this strength is threatening to other humans. The pegasi see this as an opportunity, a way to bridge the gap.

Its appeal - everything.

However, if your fantasy tastes run to epic action-packed romps, this is not for you.

Thank the writing muses - there will be a sequel to this one!

If you liked this, then try:
  • Lots of Robin McKinley (did you expect anything different?) - especially Chalice and Sunshine.
  • Patricia McKillip - The Riddle-master of Hed.
  • Sharon Shinn - Summes at Castle Auburn.
  • Sheri S Tepper - The Gate to Women's Country.
  • Charles de Lint - Dingo or Blue girl.
Reviewed by Thalia.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cloaked in red by Vivian Vande Velde

This is one of those books that has ended up marketed at young adults thanks, I suppose, by the author's previous work, but would appeal far more to adults.

Eight versions of 'Little Red Riding Hood' are offered in this collection. Eight versions with adult sensibilities and humour, some of which I feel would be lost on younger readers. I don't think a teenager would understand the pathos in 'The Red Hiding Hood Doll', and the depth of need that impels Georgette to create the doll.

Wider popular culture references occasionally provide a 'nudge-nudge-wink-wink' kind of a laugh.

Appealing yes, but more for adults. As I think about it, my favourite story changes, so I can't offer any thoughts on that one, sorry.

If you like this try:
  • The Enchanted Forest chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede, starting with Dealing with dragons (also published as Dragonsbane).
  • Five Hundred kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey, starting with The Fairy Godmother.
  • The Elemental masters series by Mercedes Lackey.
  • Pretty much any Robin McKinley! I'd say start with Beauty or Rose Daughter. Or, maybe Spindle's end. Or, Deerskin.
Reviewed by Thalia.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Agent 21 by Chris Ryan

Thanks to the popularity of series like Alex Rider and CHERUB, the teenage secret agent or spy is a popular read for young people.  Chris Ryan, who served in the SAS, has tackled this genre with a cracking good read that starts his new series with a roar.

Zak Darke is orphaned after the death of his parents at a conference in Nigeria, and ends up living with the Aunt and Uncle who were looking after him while his parents were away.  It is not a happy place to be, the only bright light being his cousin Ellie.  He feels as though he is being watched, observed, and one day he catches his watcher in the act.  That moment leads to a choice - stay as he is and live the life he is barely living, or he can choose to live a new life away from everything he has ever known.  Needless to say he chooses option B.  After months of gruelling training Zak, now known as Agent 21, is sent on his first mission to Mexico.  All he needs to do is follow instructions and keep his mind clear of distractions - easier said than done. 

Chris Ryan has already written several series for teenagers, and his writing syle is fast paced with plenty of action along the way.  His background with the SAS, and his knowledge of overseas locations brings his books to life in a way that keeps you turning the pages in a race to the end of the book to find out what happens.  Agent 21 is no exception, and Zak Darke is an interesting character.  The best part is that you can imagine there really is a Zak out there, rather than some of the other series of this type where it is not quite possible to suspend your disbelief.  Looking forward to book two in the series, hopefully it is not too far away.

If you like this book then try:
  • Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
  • The recruit by Robert Muchamore
  • Deep end by Sam Hutton
  • Flash flood by Chris Ryan

Reviewed by Brilla 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Level 26: Dark origins by Anthony E. Zuiker & Duane Swierczynski

Anthony E. Zuiker is the creator and executive director of one of the most successful (and one of my favourite) shows on television.  He has now turned those same creative talents to creating a book series that combines some of the best crime solving features of CSI, and all the forensic tricks and tools to create an extremely creepy novel about a criminal out of your worst nightmares - Sqweegel.  Some of you may even have a cross-over episode of CSI that featured the creepy Sqweegel in his latex body suit.

Novels and TV series about serial killers and murderers have always shown us that there are different degrees of killers - ranging from killers of opportunity, through to killers who plan their kills in advance with meticulous and sadistic pleasure.  These killers are rated on a scale of level 1 to level 25 - but in Zuiker's world there is a new kind of killer, a level 26 killer, a killer who requires a special kind of law enforcement to track them down - and in Zuiker's world that person is Steve Dark.

Steve Dark is a tortured soul who has seen things and lived through things that would make most people go mad - and he might have gotten close, but he turns that madness into an edge as he tracks the killer known as Sqweegel.  The story is fast paced and packs a rather solid punch with gritty details and heart stopping moments.  One of the most interesting things about this novel is that it was written with cyber-bridges that link you in to short movies that are posted on - this movies can either be watched at the intervals suggested in the novel, watched at the end of the book - or ignored completely.  I watched them when they were indicated in the book and it makes the reading experience so much more intense to watch the action on screen before diving into the next part of the story.

This is not a novel for the faint hearted, some of the scenes described as somewhat gruesome, and the tension can be intense - but it was one of the best novels I have read in recent years.  The plot is well defined and there are some moments of genuine surprise - which is not so easy in such a popular genre for both authors and readers.  I highly recommend this book, and having just finished the sequel I can only hope that Zuiker and Swierczynski can keep up this high level of writing for many books to come.

If you like this book then try:
  • Level 26: Dark prophecy by Anthony E. Zuiker & Duane Swierczynski
  • Kiss the girls by James Patterson
  • The postcard killers by James Patterson and Liz Marklund
  • Keeping the dead by Tess Gerritsen

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The lady most likely... by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Connie Brockway

A lifetime of Georgette Heyer fandom (and, ashamedly, a brief fling with Barbara Cartland) has left me susceptible to Regency romances. What is it about that period that is so appealing?

Quick plot summary: Lord Hugh figures it’s time to get married and, seeing as he’s much more interested in raising and training horses than hanging out in social gatherings, he asks his sister to compile a list of likely ladies. After giggling and teasing him, said sister obliges and organises a post-Season house party so he has a chance with them. She also invites other eligible gentlemen, to balance out the numbers.

What follows is an attack of Cupid. By the end of the house party there are three newly engaged couples. Two sets of couples have a past – old childhood friends.

This is an engaging read, with humour and great characters – the sort of people you wouldn’t mind hanging out with. The characters have relationships with their family – which appeals to me, as someone who spends a lot of time with my family. It has the added benefit of trying to figure out how the three different authors melded their work into one novel – yes, it is one novel, not an anthology. Who wrote what? Did they *own* individual couples?

Oh, and it’s the sort of book you could recommend to your mum – not too steamy.

If you like this book then try:

Well, books by the individual authors... but, my best recommendations are:

  • The Bridgeton books (all eight of them) by Julia Quinn, starting with The Duke and I.
  • Ten things I love about you by Julia Quinn.
  • Nine rules to break when romancing a rake by Sarah MacLean.
  • The liar’s club series by Celeste Bradley, starting with The pretender.
Reviewed by Thalia.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

All the things I love about you by LeUyen Pham

Picture books for parents and other grown ups to share with their children are a breed apart from your average picture.  The text is often very personal with lots of "I's" and "you's" - and all sorts of other things that make you feel all warm inside.  Some do it better than others, and one of the best ones I have seen recently is All the things I love about you.

The text and pictures blend together well, and some of the pictures are absolutely delightful - full of energy, warmth, emotion, and just a touch of cheeky sense of humour.  This is a book perfect for mothers to share with their little boys, particularly at the toddler stage when they are zooming around with so much energy and enthusiasm.  This is a picture book that you will want to share over and over again, and could be a good bedtime story for the little man in your life.

If you like this book then try:
  • Guess how much I love you by Sam McBratney & illustrated by Anita Jeram
  • Grandma calls me gigglepie by J.D. Lester & illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
  • Just like my mum by David Melling
  • Just like my dad by David Melling

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Old Hu-Hu by Kyle Mewburn & illustrated by Rachel Driscoll

Helping children understand and cope with death is one of the most difficult things for parents.  Non-fiction books are often aimed at older children, or are too focused on the emotional aftermath of death - rather than helping children understand that death is natural, and that the confused feelings there are experiencing are normal.

Old Hu-Hu is one of the few picture books that handles death relatively well.  While these kinds of picture books always have a certain "preachy" element because of their subject matter, Old Hu-Hu has a warmth that is missing from a lot of other books.  When Old Hu-Hu dies his grandson Hu-Hu-Tu realises that his body is just an empty shell and begins the search for his grandfather - a search that ultimately ends with an idea that will be reassuring and easy to understand for pre-schoolers and older children.

The story is lovely, and the illustrations are a perfect match for the words.  Before reading the story to your little person, just take the time to read through it first to make sure that you are comfortable with the philosophy behind the words - as Old Hu-Hu does not go to heaven, but rather becomes something special for Hu-Hu-Tu.

If you like this book then try:
  • The sunshine cat by Miriam Moss & illustrated by Lisa Flather
  • When dinosaurs die: a guide to understanding death by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown

Reviewed by Brilla

Tortall and other lands by Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce is best known for her strong heroines and magical worlds.  Tortall and other lands: A collection of tales brings together characters that are familiar, as well as new characters from new worlds.  I waited for this book with eager anticipation as I have enjoyed reading Tamora Pierce for a long time, and have yet to come across a book that I did not like - although some characters are more memorable than others (I don't dare use the words favourite here).

This collection was everything I hoped for, but did somehow leave me feeling a little disappointed at times - like someone had offered me a really nice pie, only to find out that it was mostly crust with not so much meat in it.  The stories are well crafted and enjoyable, and it was a chance to reconnect with characters from some of her earlier novels - ones where you sometimes wonder what happened to them when the story ended.  For me though, it was the stories set in other worlds that acutally appealed the most. 

One of the first stories is about a girl who learns to become a warrior by watching the animals on the plains as she tends her animals.  It is the least likely place to learn the skills of fighting, but the way she learns unfolds into a story of justice and grrrl power.  Another story, that I don't want to ruin by telling too much shows how kindness and loyalty can be rewarded, especially when you help in the face of adversity.  Or the story about a young girl who works with her father to teach people about the other side of the dominating religion, helping others to find the same path that they have.

Not all of the stories will appeal to all readers.  I love Tamora's books and even I found myself skim reading some of the stories, or skipping them after a few pages.  The majority were well written and absorbing, and if you like her works them you will enjoy the majority of this book as well.

If you like this book then try:
  • Alanna the first adventure by Tamora Pierce
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Crown duel by Sherwood Smith
Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Toys by James Patterson and Neil McMahon

James Patterson is one of today's most prolific crimes writers, and he has some of the best known crime series including the Alex Cross novels, and the novels featuring Detective Michael Bennett.

Toys is an interesting read, although it is quite a departure from the normal Patterson fare with a very strong science fiction bent.  Told in short, punchy chapters (the trademark of the Patterson novel) Toys takes you into the future, a world where Elites have taken control of the planet.  Elites are bioengineered people created in a lab rather than being born, who spend two years "gestating" so they can be enhanced with implants that make them faster, stronger, and more intelligent than the humans who created them.  Their world is marked with wealth and prilege, and the wide variety of high tech toys that fill their world - exotci animals that are genetically tamed, android dolls that act and talk like humans, and simulators so real it is a shock to the system to leave them behind.

Hays Baker is one of the Elite, a member of the organisation that keeps an eye on the humans and puts them in their place when they step out of line.  He and his wife Lizbeth are amongst the favoured few who help keep the stinking tide of Skunks at bay, he has killed humans in the past and sees nothing wrong with killing more if it keeps the Elites safe.  But one day the bubble of his perfect world bursts and Hays finds out that nothing is as it seems - his life, his wife, his past, himself.  He is on the run, with nowhere to run to, and nowhere to hide. 

This was an enjoyable read, but it may not appeal to all Patterson fans because it is set in the future with all sorts of gizmos and gadgets - rather than set in the world that we all know.  It was still an enjoyable read packed with the trademark action, adventure, twists and turns that make Patterson novels so great.

If you like this book then try:
  • The postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • Maximum ride: the angel experiment by James Patterson

Reviewed by Brilla