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