Friday, March 30, 2012

Fever by Lauren DeStefano

Warning this review is for Fever, the second book in the Chemical Garden Trilogy - if you have not read Wither and like to read things in order then stop reading this review now as it contains ***SPOILERS***

Rhine is free from the Mansion, but are she and Gabriel really free?  They stumble from the ocean to safety, but they soon find themselves captured by Madame and her brightly lit carnival of scarlet district girls who sleep away their days so they can make money for Madame at night.  It is a bleak world with no real hope, and Rhine soon realises that she has traded the bars of one prison for another.  Madame sees Rhine as a source of new money, her Goldenrod will make her a fortune - whether Rhine is a willing participant or not.  In Madame's world Gabriel is not an ally, he is a tool that can be used to make sure Rhine obeys, that she doesn't fight what is happening. 

The world that Rhine hoped to find beyond the walls of the Mansion is not what she finds, and it seems as though nothing is going right.  When it seems as though nothing could make things any worse at Madame's, Vaughn appears and Rhine and Gabriel must run again.  Reaching Manhattan and her twin brother Rowan seems like a distant dream, but something pushes at Rhine, tells her to keep going, keep moving.  As the travel closer and closer to her goal, Rhine finds herself seeing things, hearing things, and experiencing vivid dreams and nightmares.  As the sickness gets worse, all she can do is hope that she is not already dying, that she is not going to miss the chance to see her brother one more time.

This is the second book in this series, and I have to say that I enjoyed Fever more than Wither.  While Wither was an excellent concept and was well written for a first novel, it lacked a little of the polish and flair that Fever has.  It may be that because the story is already set in motion that there is less need for description and detail, but it just seems as though DeStefano was more confident in her ability, slightly more skilled with her writing - or maybe she just had a slightly better editor this time who was able to really make the story flow and engross you.  There are secrets starting to surface here, stories behind the stories, and some explanation of what is to come - but it also ends with one heck of a cliff hanger to make you come back for the final book in the series.

If you like this book then try:
  • Wither by Lauren DeStefano
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • Matched by Ally Condie
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Eve by Anna Carey
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • Article 5 by Kristen Simmons

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Super Finn by Leonie Agnew

It seemed like a simple assignment, telling the teacher about your dream career, but Finn was the only kid in his class who said he wanted to be a superhero.  To be fair the assignment was on your dream career, not what you really expected to be when you grew up, so with reluctance Finn's teacher lets him keep with the topic - as long as he takes it seriously.  Finn isn't looking forward to the writing and working part of the assignment, but the planning and dreaming part is not so bad - especially with the help of his best friend Brain.

The only thing now is what does a superhero actually do and how do you go about becoming one?  Saving a life seems to make a superhero, but how can a school student with no apparent superpowers save a life?  When his mother tells Finn and his brother Seymour that they have to stop sponsoring Umbaba (the child in Sudan the family supports through World Vision), Finn realises that he may have a life to save after all!  But how can Finn raise the $40 each month for Umbaba?  With a friend like Brain and practically no fear (and no real sense of self-preservation) Finn tries everything he can think of including doing dares for cash and starting a black market lolly trade - but will it be enough to raise the funds for Umbaba - and more importantly can Finn make it through the assignment without getting into too much trouble at home or school?

Super Finn is a quirky little read with some charming characters and tricky social situations handled in a fun way.  Finn comes from a single parent home struggling to make ends meet because his deadbeat dad has left them and doesn't pay his child support.  Finn and his brother Seymour are left to their own devices a lot because their mother is working long hours, but they are not neglected - just a little lacking in attention.  It is a difficult situation for a lot of single mothers, and there will be children all over the world who know what it's like to have a parent stretched to the limit just trying to make things work out for the family - keeping a roof over their heads, keeping everyone feed, and trying not to be too negative about the parent that is not there.

Super Finn was the winning manuscript for the Tom Fitzgibbon award in 2010, an award for a first time unpublished author for children administered by Storylines the Children's Literature Foundation of New Zealand.  While it is not a stunning example of literature for children, it is accessible for a wide audience and tackles a serious topic with charm and tack - Finn is not a child from a "broken home" - he is a child who is struggling to cope with school because he just isn't interested, and he struggles with being himself while also trying not to stress out or otherwise upset his mum.  It was a great read and shows the future potential of the author to write more books for children in the future.

If you like this book then try:
  • Henry and the flea by Brian Falkner
  • The real thing by Brian Falkner
  • My life of crime by Fleur Beale
  • Hollie chips by Anna Gowan
  • Limelight by Tania Kelly Roxborogh
  • Duster by Margaret Beames

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dead to you by Lisa McMann

Elven years ago Ethan was taken from his home and his family - he left as a seven year old boy, but now he returns as a sixteen year old.  The last few years have not been easy, he has lived with neglect, and he has even lived on the streets.  Ethan is not the only thing that has changed, so has his family.  Once it was just Ethan, his little brother Blake, and their mom and dad - but now there is a little sister Gracie as well.  It is a lot to take in, for everyone, and the worst thing is that he can't remember what life was like before he went missing, he has fragments of memories, but nothing whole and conclusive.  Blake is standoffish to begin with, but then things turn sour and Blake seems to actively hate him.

Everything is strange for Ethan, he has no real connection to his family, and while his mom tries hard to welcome him home, the rest of the family is not so welcoming.  Blake doesn't believe he is really Ethan, and goes out of his way to make things difficult.  His mom and dad are fighting, and they can't seem to find their rhythm as a family.  When things start to feel like they are settling another bomb shell comes along, one that will change everything forever.

This was an amazing read, and had an ending that I did not see coming, one that just leaves you absolutely dumbfounded (don't worry no spoilers).  Ethan is complicated and haunted, he wants to settle back into his family but he has a loyalty to the person who was his mother all those years, and he doesn't feel like he is really accepted.  Blake is the forgotten child who was pushed to the side while everyone searched for Ethan, and then had to sit by the sidelines when Gracie was born.  Gracie is suspicious and charming all at once, showing a child's innocence by accepting a brother she never knew - but it does take time.  And the parents fight and argue and struggle to keep their family together now that it is back together - an achingly realistic portrayal of what parents must go through when reunited with a child after so many years, especially when there are complications with a younger sibling like Blake.

I loved this book and highly recommend it for people who like real life reads, especially ones that cover emotional topics such as kidnappings and reunions.  Ethan is a dynamic character, and while in some ways the book was not as in depth as it could have been, it allows you to experience the emotions more readily and keeps the momentum of the story moving towards the gripping and dramatic climax.

If you like this book then try:
  • The face on the milk carton by Caroline B. Cooney
  • Beneath a meth moon by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Island of the blue dolphins by Scott O'Dell
  • Wither by Lauren DeStefano
  • You are my only by Beth Kephart
  • Girl, missing by Sophie McKenzie

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The future of us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Emma and Josh are neighbours, and until Josh made "the move" they were also best friends spending time together in and out of each others houses.  But after Josh made his big move and Emma rejected him for being "Josh", there has been a separation between them, an uncomfortable space that they can't seem to fill.  When Emma receives a new computer from her father, a kind of sorry gift from being so far away with his new wife and baby, Josh brings over an America Online CD-ROM that his mom got in the mail and Emma loads the disk up.  When she logs on she is automatically logged into Facebook - but it is only 1996 and Facebook hasn't even been invented yet!

What follows is a series of highs and lows as Emma and Josh log into Facebook and see their own futures - 15 years into the future.  Josh is more laid back about it, but Emma is almost obsessed, trying to find out what her future is like.  Facebook is a window to their future that she can't resist as she sees who her friends are, who she married, her future job, and what happens to her friends - is that really such an unhealthy thing to do?  It is innocent enough at first, but then Emma makes deliberate changes and watches the ripples through her Facebook page as first little changes, and then larger changes occur when she refreshes the page. 

Josh is not as involved in the "game" as Emma is, and he tries to warn her to be careful, but Emma is focused on what she wants and doesn't care about the consequences as long as her future looks bright.  Things become strained between them, especially when Josh attracts the attention of one of the most popular (and pretty) girls in school - while Emma attracts the attention of the star of the athletics team who is not exactly what she hopes he is.  Around the edges of all this floats there friendships, families, and dramas, all influenced by the glimpses of the future they get through Facebook.

This was a fun and somewhat quirky read, with the story alternating between Josh's view and Emma's.  Emma comes across as strong willed and willing to risk it all, while Josh is more a take-it-as-it-comes kind of person.  The idea of using Facebook to see the future, something so many of use take for granted was just inspired, and there are all these marvellous little references to the past (read present for Josh and Emma) just reminds me so much of being a teenager at around the same time.  The brilliant thing is that this book will date, but it should date relatively well.  I hope that these two authors collaborate again as this was a fun read that also blended together some heartfelt drama.

If you like this book then try:
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • Memento Nora by Angie Smibert
  • Where she went by Gayle Forman
  • Forgotten by Cat Patrick
  • You against me by Jenny Downham
  • Letters from the inside by John Marsden

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Winter of fire by Sherryl Jordan

Elsha lives in a harsh and unforgiven world, where the Quelled slave away in the mines to dig out the precious firestone that keeps them all alive.  Over their whole lives rule the Chosen, the blessed race that keeps the Quelled in line, branding them when they are children, choosing whom they marry, and choosing how they live.  It is a bleak existence for Elsha who is not only Quelled, but also harsha (a female Quelled). 

She has her secret dreams and rebellions, and the Chosen know she is a troublemaker, but on her 16th birthday she decides to take some time for herself and finds herself on the path to a new future.  She is taken from her old life and thrust into a new life where nothing is as it seems, and even though she should be one of the highest and most favoured people in the land, her Quelled past keeps her from finding an easy peace with herself or her new life.

This book is nearly 20 years old, but it has a time less quality that makes it one of those books that I re-read every couple of years.  Set in the Earth's future, Winter of fire sits nicely with the current trend of post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels.  Elsha is a wonderful character and at times it seems as though she carries the weight of her entire people on her shoulders, not only because of who she is personally, but also because of what she becomes. 

Her world is well imagined and could be set anywhere on Earth, and if you didn't know that the book was by a New Zealand author you could just as easily imagine that the book was set in Australia, America, Britain, or Europe.  The characters are what make this book so powerful, the landscape becomes a background of no real interest.  This was an enjoyable read, even after several re-readings over the years, and it reminded me of some of the other favourites I have which I might start re-reading as well.

If you like this book then try:
  • The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee
  • Alanna the first adventure by Tamora Pierce
  • Crown duel by Sherwood Smith
  • Dragons blood by Jane Yolen
  • Sister light, sister dark by Jane Yolen
  • Dealing with dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sickened: The memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood by Julie Gregory

Julie was a sickly child who was blessed to have a loving mother who took her to doctor after doctor to try and find a cause of her heart problems so she could get the help she needed - or did she?  This is a deeply personal story, a journey through a childhood of stark contrasts - the mother that the world saw who cared for Julie and protected her, and the mother that Julie knew who told her what to tell the doctors. 

Munchausen by Proxy has a terrible impact on families, and Julie's was no exception.  She was forced to walk a dangerous line to keep her mother happy in an explosive family environment.  She had a father who was terrorised by her mother, told he was useless and a faggot until he stepped in and did what she wanted.  Her mother was always reading medical books and dragging her from doctor to doctor, telling her what to tell the doctors and setting her up for painful and invasive tests.  The other people who shared her life were equally caught up in the web of deceit and attention seeking from her mother.

This is not an easy read, not only because it is so personal, but also because there is a part of you that just doesn't want to believe that a mother (or any other parental figure) could do this to her own child.  Most of Julie's story is set in the 1980's and you can understand to a certain extent how Julie slipped through the cracks, but even today there are children who are going through the same kind of nightmare.

Take your time with this story and pause when you need to.  If you read this book and want to read other biographies from people who have lived through difficult experiences and trauma, then try:

  • Child C: Surviving a foster mothers reign of terror by Christopher Spry
  • Punished by Vanessa Steel
  • A child named It by Dave Pelzer
  • Broken by Shy Keenan
  • Damaged by Cathy Glass
  • When rabbit howls by Truddi Chase
  • The little prisoner: A memoir by Jane Eliott

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, March 22, 2012

You by Stephen Michael King

This picture book falls just on the 'aah' side of cute - not 'cutesy' and not, heaven forbid 'saccharine'... as it tells the listener how special they are.
The illustrations show the relationship between a little dog-like creature and a bird, but the sentiment expressed is universal. Great to share, and to give to a special someone is your life, whatever their age.
I love Stephen Michael King's work - illustrations and text - so it's not hard to understand why I have to recommend this book. But, he makes it so easy to gush and rave and fall in love with his books. He has a different view of the world that appeals to me.

If you like this one, then these other books about love aren't too cutesy / saccharine:
  • Guess how much I love you by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram
  • No matter what by Debi Gliori
  • Love you when you whine by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier
  • Why do you love me? by Martin Baynton.
Reviewed by Thalia.

Bad kitty by Michele Jaffe

Jasmine "Jas" Callihan has the remarkable ability to end up in all sorts of interesting situations, and never seems to stay out of trouble for more than a few hours (okay maybe minutes) at a time.  In Las Vegas for a family vacation with her dad, her stepmother Sherri!, her aunt and uncle, and evil incarnate cousin, Jas totally plans to just relax and stay out of trouble - but then a cat comes out of nowhere and changes all that.  Jas finds it impossible to ignore a good mystery, and with one literally jumping into her lap, it seems like a dream come true.  As things heat up her best friends descend on Vegas to add to the excitement and drama, and Jas finds herself facing danger at every turn as the mystery unravels.

This is a fun and quirky read for a who load of reasons.  Firstly because Jas is the almost perfect anti-hero, and secondly because of the way Michele Jaffe writes - this is the first book I ever read that had footnotes at the bottom of some of the pages where the characters have conversations outside the story.  There are some truly laugh out loud moments here, and the supporting cast of friends and family help to bring this story to life.  It is also really nice to read a book where the characters have flaws, that they are not perfect people who bounce from one place to another without a scratch - Jas's specialty seems to be more bouncing from disaster to disaster collecting as many bumps and bruises as possible. 

This is the second time I have read Bad kitty, and I have to say that I enjoyed it as much this time around as I enjoyed reading it the first time.  It is true that Bad kitty won't appeal to everyone because it is quirky (here read strange, a little off kilter, slightly random, etc...) but it is a great read once you get used to the footnotes and banter between the characters.

If you like this book then try:
  • Kitty kitty by Michele Jaffe
  • The princess diaries by Meg Cabot
  • Rosebush by Michele Jaffe
  • Heist society by Ally Carter
  • All-American girl by Meg Cabot

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Except the Queen by Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder

Members of the Seelie Court, sisters Serana and Meteora are banished to the mortal realms for telling the Seelie Queen's secret - that she had a mortal lover. Stripped of their illusions of youth, the majority of their magic, and separated from each other, the two must learn to survive in an unknown environment.
There Meteora, now known as Sophia, finds shelter in Baba Yaga's house. There she also discovers Sparrow, a young woman with deep secrets.
Serana is taken in by the authorities and renames herself Mabel (after a cow). To her is drawn Robin, one of the fey and a hound.
The sisters form alliances - human and fey - to aid their upcoming battle. Because the Unseelie have brought their ageless war into the mortal realm.
Beguiling and fun, this is a reasonably quick read, yet one worth savouring.
Meteora and Serana's confusion upon being confronted with life in the mortal world is amusing, yet bittersweet, as they struggle with money, conventions, and turns of phrase.
Many of the main characters have the chance to show their own points of view in interludes that add to the main story arc, which is carried by the sisters. These interludes also pique the reader's interest as you try to figure out who the characters really are.

If you like this book, then you could also try:
  • Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey.
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.
  • Spindle's end by Robin McKinley.
  • To visit the queen by Diana Duane.
  • Deep secret by Diana Wynne Jones.
  • Tam Lin by Pamela Dean.
  • Any Charles De Lint.
  • Tithe by Holly Black.

Reviewed by Thalia

Stomp! a dinosaur follow-the-leader story by Ruth Paul

A glorious follow-the-leader picture book with simple text and bright bold illustrations. And it has dinosaurs! A great read-aloud which demands acting out. Works really well with an ethusiastic group of children.

If you like this then try:
  • Fish, swish! Splash, dash! by Suse McDonald.
  • Dinosaur stomp by Paul Stickland (especially the pop-up version).
  • I can fly by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Mary Blair.
  • Dance with me by Charles Smith, illustrated by Noah Jones.
Reviewed by Thalia.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dirt bomb by Fleur Beale

Buzz, Robbie, and Jake are best mates and have been for years.  Robbie is the dreamer, the one they have to keep an eye on so he doesn't get into trouble.  Buzz is the serious one who already has a steady job and pays for everything.  Jake is easy going and determined to never get a job and work for the "man".  Everything is going sweet, same as it has always been, until they find the old car in the ditch and decide to turn it into a paddock basher - a car they can drive around off road until it dies.  But there is a small hitch, Buzz refuses to pay for everything this time, if Robbie and Jake want to use the car too then they have to put in an even share.  Jake thinks Buzz will change his mind, but when he doesn't Jake has some hard choices to make.

This is another modern classic from New Zealand author Fleur Beale, a story that blends together action, drama, and car stuff - enough of everything to keep teen boys and teen girls interested.  It is short and punchy and you get a real sense of everyone growing and changing over the summer school holidays between year 12 and year 13.  This was a fun read and has some great laugh out loud moments.

If you like this book then try:
  • Sliding the corner by Fleur Beale
  • I am not Esther by Fleur Beale
  • Running hot by David Hill
  • See ya, Simon by David Hill
  • The Shearwater bell by Margaret Beames
  • The champion by Maurice Gee

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hate list: a novel by Jennifer Brown

Valerie will never forget May 2, 2008 - it was the day her boyfriend walked into the school Commons and opened fire on the people on the Hate List.  The Hate List was something she started, a way to vent the emotions she was feeling, the pain she was feeling from the bullies, the jerks, the morons who couldn't leave them alone to live their lives.  It was meant to be a secret, something only the two of them knew about, she had no idea that it would become a hit list of victims. 

The shooting ended the lives of some students, the innocence of others, and left some scarred for the rest of their lives.  Valerie never pulled the trigger, and even though she jumped in front of one of the people on the list, most of her town sees her as being just as guilty as Nick - especially once parts of the list are published.  Told from Valerie's point of view, switching between the present and the past, you begin to get a feel for what Valerie went through, what lead to the shooting, and the complications that continue to impact on Valerie's life months after the shooting.  She survived, but in many ways she is a shell of what she was, drifting through the world in both physical and emotional pain.  The guilt she feels, especially when the police suspect that she is just as guilty as Nick, when she realises that she never knew how serious he was about his talk of death, when she realises that her life is not what she thought it was - all of these things press down on Valerie as she tried to make it through her senior year of high school.

Mass shootings, especially in schools, are a terrifying fact of modern life - no matter where you are in the world compared to where they happened you feel their impact.  Just knowing that a person can take the lives of other people is an intense and uncomfortable feeling, and the images of the Columbine school shooting, and the Virginai ech shooting, and its aftermath are still there for so many people.  Brown handles the subject matter with surprising sensitivity, given that her main character was the gunman's girlfriend and the Hate List she created was part of the reason for the shootings.  The deceased victims of the shooting are represented mainly through media clippings peppered throughout the story, and you get a feel for how the surviving victims feel because of Valerie and how they interact with her.

It is not surprising that this is an emotional book to read, not only because of the shooting and the aftermath of the shooting, but also because so much "real life" happens around Valerie.  She doesn't live for a year in the vacuum of the shooting, she has family stuff to deal with, therapy to deal with, her friends and former friends to deal with.  I almost shied away from reading this book because of the subject matter, but I am really glad that I read it, not so much because of the topic itself, but because of the way it was handled.  This is a brave book - both to write and to read.  There are few authors who could take such a delicate topic and handle it with the dignity and emotion it deserves - Brown did an amazing job.

If you read this book and are interested in other hard hitting real life fiction then try:
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
  • Willow by Julia Hoban
  • Cut by Patricia McCormick
  • Hold still by Nina LaCour
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Whale talk by Chris Crutcher

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Nest of lies by Heather McQuillan

Ashlee lives in the Citadel, a protected city where the survivors of the Plague have resettled after abandoning the world to hide in the Sanctuary.  It is a place protected by walls and guards, and where every living bird is killed on sight because they are the ones that brought the Plague.  It is not an easy way to live, the survivors live in the ruined houses of the dead, and scavenge for things left behind, but it is the only live that Ashlee can remember.  At first it was Ashlee, her father, her mother, and her brother, but now it is Ashlee, her father, her stepmother, stepsisters, and half brother.  While her father is away working for the city, Ashlee is left to the mercy of her stepmother and stepsisters - the classic modern day Cinderella. 

It is a world of order, a world where she knows what will happen - until the day the bird arrives.  When Ashlee discovers the beauty and wonder of a real life bird, she starts on a path that will end the only world she has known, a world where even though there is misery and struggle, everyone knows their place in that world.  As Ashlee travels further and further from home she discovers some truths that she wish had never been, and discovers some secrets that should have remained hidden.  Her world is on the brink of war, not with nature or a hidden enemy, but rather with itself as the survivors try and find a way to survive - no matter what the cost.

This is the second book by New Zealand author Heather McQuillan, who won the Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2005, the winner of which has their first novel published by Scholastic New Zealand.  At the time I really enjoyed reading the story as it was a creative science fiction that was well written and avoided a lot of the cliches, and I have always hoped that McQuillan would write another novel for children - and she finally has.  Nest of lies was not quite as original as Mind over matter - partly because future worlds ravaged by plague, and dystopian themes are so prevalent at the moment - but that said, Nest of lies has a unique flavour that is missing from some of the other novels at the moment. 

Ashlee is a strong character that changes and grows over the course of the novel, and allows you to see a changing world through her eyes.  There are echoes of the places that once existed in her world, and unless I am mistaken the story is set in what is currently Christchurch (but that could be wrong, it is based on the place names).  There is an interesting blend of adventure and science fiction here, but also a few moments that show human nature, that people will be people even when there are only a few hundred or a few thousand people left.  One of the things I like and admire about this particular book is that while McQuillan does gentle-down some of the ideas, she doesn't dumb them down, something too many authors for children and teenagers do. 

This was an enjoyable read, and while there are not too many other novels in this same vein that I know of, I can recommend some other good books that readers of Nest of lies may also enjoy.

If you like this book then try:
  • Mind over matter by Heather McQuillan
  • Red eye by Susan Gates
  • Hollow Earth by John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman
  • Genesis by Bernard Beckett
  • Because we were the travellers by Jack Lasenby
  • The limit by Kritsin Landon
  • Under the mountain by Maurice Gee
  • Among the hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The basement: a novel by Stephen Leather

Marvin Waller is a screenwriter who writes the most amazing screenplays, and the only thing stopping him from reaching star status is the secretaries and flunkies of directors and actors who won't pass along his brilliant scripts and ideas - or at least that's how he sees it.  He lives in the hustle and bustle of New York, the place where a serial killer can easily hide their murders in the sheer number of people living there, and where a scriptwriter with dreams can bump into directors and actors by waiting outside their buildings at just the right time. 

It is a bad time to be a screenwriter with stalking tendencies, there is a serial killer loose in New York, a killer who targets women and tapes them doing all sorts of things, and the bodies are never found.  Detectives Turner and Marcinko are on the case and unfortunately for Waller he matches their profile for the killer - matches it a little too well for anybody to be comfortable.  As he plays a games of cat and mouse with the detectives, pushing their patience to the limits, the killer plays with their latest victim, a victim in a long line of victims.  Will the police find the killer in time, or has the killer been leading them on a merry dance?

This was quite a quick read, over and done in an afternoon, but it was a really good read.  The story is sharply focused and moves at a rapid pace, keeping you hooked from page one.  Waller is an engaging character, although at times you feel like yelling at him or slapping him because he is so arrogant and self assured, and the tension between the detectives and Waller builds beautifully over the course of the novel.  Some of the content is a little uncomfortable making, not because it is explicitly violent or has gratuitous elements, but because in a lot of ways being kidnapped and forced to do things in this manner is pretty anyones worst nightmare.  I won't ruin the ending for any of you but lets just say the novel climaxes on an amazing note.

If you like this book then try:
  • The postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • Level 26: Dark origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski
  • The swimsuit by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
  • Darkly dreaming Dexter by Jeffry Lindsay
  • The silence of the lambs by Thomas Harris
  • Nightfall by Stepeh Leather

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Daughter of smoke and bone by Laini Taylor

Karou is not your typical hero, or your typical teenager.  She lives alone in Prague, attending a school for the Arts and produces amazing works of art with her pencils and paints.  The world she draws is all true, but most people believe the monsters she draws are from a vivid imagination, not realising that they come from the secret life she keeps hidden away from her friends.  Her life is a tangle of secrets, dreams, and stretching to inhabit the world as we know it - and the world where her other family would be described as nothing short of monstrous. 

At a moments notice she may be called upon to run an errand for her family - a quick trip to Paris, or Morocco, or America, a quick trip to gather the teeth that her guardian Brimstone seems to find so important.  It is a world of balance, one that leaves her feeling somewhat empty, but otherwise content.  When the balance shifts and Karou finds her secret life spilling into her public life, it could mean disaster, but instead it is the beginning of something unexpected.  Her guardian Brimstone has always seemed to be hiding something from her, but she has never known what IT was, but one day she stumbles across a being that most people would call an angel.  Akiva is full of raw power and controlled rage, a soldier who has come to Earth to mark the portals that Brimstone uses to allow humans to acces his world, the portals that Karou uses to run his errands. 

While she continues to try and find a balance in her life, all around the world Akiva and his kin mark the doors, preparing for the day when they can destroy Brimstone's connection to the world.  In one moment, one act of willfulness, Karou enters through a door that she should not have, and enters a world that she never knew existed. That one act leads to her losing contact with the world she has always hidden away, but that she has also always loved.  But this one act of war brings Karou into contact with Akiva, and that contact leads to a discovery - a discovery of who she really is, the secrets that are hidden within her soul, and the answer to why she has always felt so empty.

It is difficult to review this book in a way that fully does it justice, while also not giving away too much of the plot.  There are some people who will compare this story to Twilight, but they would be doing a disservice to Daughter of smoke and bone as it is so much more than Twilight could ever hope to be (no offence to anyone who really loves Twilight).  Karou and her world are described in a detailed and rich way that flows from the page and swirls together to help you envision their world, a world that sits beside our own, but also has some completely fantastical elements as well.  Karou has her good points and her bad points, and she grows as a person through the course of the novel.  On the other side of the equation is Akiva, a being who is described in the god like reverence of another Edward Cullen, but who has a real history, a real story, a real realness

As the story progresses you are drawn more and more into their worlds, and at the same time our world is drawn more and more into the story.  Again, trying not to spoil the story too much for other readers, the author has used an interesting technique for filling some of the back story of the characters, telling the story from different points of view without relying on the use of startling flashbacks that fit in at convenient times.  It really feels as though this novel was a labour of love from the author, a world that had thought built into it, there are rules and mythology that seem so real, and the characters have believable back stories alongside their flaws and deeds.  I am really looking forward to reading the sequel (due for release at the end of 2012) and hope that Laini Taylor can keep up the momentum and quality of her writing.

It is not often that a book written for teenagers crosses over easily into being read by adults.  Often it is a case of hiding the cover so other adults can't tell that you are reading a book for teens - but there is no need to hide this one as it equally appeals to teens and adults (and the snazzy cover doesn't exactly scream "teen read" either).  This is a genuinely good read that should not be blocked off for one reading age or another, or for one genre or another.  Simply, it is there to enjoy.

If you like this book then try:
  • The black tattoo by Sam Enthoven
  • The scorpio races by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
  • Anna dressed in blood by Kendare Blake
  • The night circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • Legend by Marie Lu

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hollow Earth by John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman

Matt and Emily (Em) are not your average 'tweens - they're twins for starters, but they also have inherited an amazing ability from their mother, the ability to imagine things into being.  It seems like an amazing gift, but it draws attention to the twins at a time when their powers are growing and changing.  Their mother seems distracted, and when they slip up and animate themselves into a painting in a public place, their mother Sandie decides to move the family to a safe place. 

Barely escaping from the people who want to stop the twins from using their powers again, Matt and Em discover that their grandfathers house is more than they could ever have dreamed of - a place where their abilities are not only accepted, but they are also encouraged to develop them properly.  But the Abbey is not the safe place Sandie thought it would be, danger has followed them to the island, and the twins will need to untangle the confusion around them if they are to understand what is really happening - and to prevent a disaster that could spell the end of the world as we know it.

This is the first book in a series from John Barrowman and his sister Carole E. Barrowman, and if the rest of the series is written to this same high standard then there could be another cult classic series for children to enjoy now and for decades to come.  The writing style is vivid and engaging from start to finish, making one of the most remarkable reads for children I have read in a long time, a truly original storyline that takes you by surprise at times, while also keeping the idea that there are "rules" that keep things moving in a sensible way. 

The characters are well written, and Em and Matt in particular keep you focused on the story as the plot unfolds for them and for the reader at the same time.  There are the good guys and the bad guys, but neither group is cliched or over written - these are real world characters with flaws and good points.  Without giving away too much of the plot, you get to see Matt and Em grow through the story, becoming more aware of the world around them and their place in that world.  This is not a short read, but it reads so well that you don't tend to notice that it is over 300 pages long. 

If you like this book then try:
  • Stone heart by Charlie Fletcher
  • Finding the fox by Ali Sparkes
  • Under the mountain by Maurice Gee
  • The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
  • Northwood by Brian Falkner
  • The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee
  • Museum of thieves by Lian Tanner
  • The roar by Emma Clayton
  • The storm begins by Damian Dibben

Reviewed by Brilla