Monday, April 30, 2012

Bewitching by Alex Flinn

Kendra is a witch with a difference - she uses her magic to try and right wrongs.  Her magic doesn't always work out as planned, but she has certainly had some amazing adventures over the centuries.  Some of you may even have read Beastly, the story of how Kendra helped a young man by making him beastly so he could do the whole beauty and the beast thing.  Bewitching blends together the main story of Emma and Lisette with several other stories, along with Kendras own story.

I have to be honest and say that I was not that enthralled with Bewitching - I would have enjoyed it more if the different stories had been told as a series of novellas or short stories as the way the stories were woven together felt clumsy and rushed.  It was interesting to read stories involving Kendra as I enjoyed Beastly when I read it many years ago.  I know someone else who read this book who was really enjoying it, so maybe this is one of those times when I have read so many good things lately that even a great book could seem mediocre in comparion.

If you like this book then try:
  • Beastly by Alex Flinn
  • Cloaked by Alex Flinn
  • Princess of the midnight ball by Jessica Day George
  • Snow by Tracy Lynn
  • Beauty sleep by Cameron Dokey
  • Ella enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, April 27, 2012

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Violet’s mother makes her living as a spiritualist – a fake medium who tricks high society Victorians into believing she has the ability to speak with, and channel, the dead.
With such a background, it’s no wonder Violet is bewildered when real ghosts start appearing to her. One in particular – Rowena, a young aristocrat who mysteriously drowned a year earlier.
How can Violet prove Rowena was murdered when the clues given by Rowena are subject to interpretation (who was the fish aimed at anyway?). When Violet’s mother’s trickery is exposed, Violet is taken away from the murder site, making it even harder to solve the mystery. Oh, and then there’s Colin – her mother’s jack-of-all-trades. Romance, danger, ghosts and history.

If you like this book, then try:
  • A matter of magic by Patricia C. Wrede.
  • The Luxe by Anna Godbersen.
  • Dingo by Charles De Lint.
  • Jade Green by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
  • Give up the ghost by Megan Crewe.
  • Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe by James M. Ward.
  • Radiance by Alyson Noël.
  • Velvet by Mary Hooper.
~ Reviewed by Talia.

The Industry by Rose Foster

Kirra Hayward is your average teenager, she goes to school, struggles to deal with living with a perfect sister, and tries to stay out of trouble at home - the only thing that makes her really special is her ability to do maths.  Kirra is so good at maths that she is taking maths classes with senior students, something that makes her a bit of a social outcast at school.  When she is given an assignment to make a puzzle, she decides to cheat a little and find one online to copy, but the puzzle she finds is like nothing she has even seen before, and the way she works out the answer is even weirder.  At first it seems as though there is nothing to the puzzle, but then some strange men come out of nowhere and drag Kirra away from her family, her country, and her whole life. 

Trapped far away from everything she has ever known, Kirra struggles to grasp what has actually happened to her, and clings to the hope that someone will come and save her.  This is a hope that slowly fades away as the weeks pass and there is no sign of rescue.  The rules of her captivity are pretty simple though, she is one of the few people in the world who can crack the Spencer code and she will crack the code every time she is asked to - if she doesn't then they will use force.  It is a terrifying world she has been forced into, and she is not alone for long, soon Milo joins her and he can crack codes too.  But as she finds herself sharing more and more with Milo, Kirra leaves herself open to more pain and anguish as the people who have taken them use their growing friendship against them.

Kirra and her world are imagined in intricate detail in this first installment in an amazing new series.  Rose Foster may be a debut author, but she has started with a high quality read that is both engaging and highly believable.  It is easy to imagine that there really is an Industry out there, a shadowy organised world that connects criminals across the world.  Kirra is realistic and engaging, her emotions are genuine, and you feel what she feels as she is forced to become part of a world she never knew existed.  The people around her are more than cardboard cutouts of bad guys, they have connections to other people, emotions and dramas that flow around the main part of the story.

I hope that the rest of the series is as good as this first book because it starts with a hiss and a roar and was incredibly addictive - I had to read it in one go to get through it to see what happened next.  There were some great twists and turns in the story, and Foster seems to have really kept a rein on her creativity to keep the story firmly grounded in the here and now which makes it so much more believable and engaging.

If you like this book then try:
  • The recruit by Robert Muchamore
  • Also known as Rowan Pohi by Ralph Fletcher
  • The arrival by Chris Morphew
  • Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
  • Boy soldier by Andy McNab
  • Maximum Ride: the angel experiment by James Patterson
  • Agent 21 by Chris Ryan
  • Heist society by Ally Carter
  • Wake by Lisa McMann
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • January: Conspiracy 365 by Gabrielle Lord
  • Crime seen by Jenny Pausacker

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The half life of Ryan Davis by Melinda Szymanik

For the past three years Ryan feels like he has been living in a parallel world - everything that happened before three years ago is the world of his family, and the past three years have been the world where his oldest sister Mallory vanished and his family fell apart.  The past two years have been just his mum, his younger sister Gemma, and him - his dad left and found himself a new life away from the pressure of Mallory and her disappearance.  It is a strange way to live, he can't get an afterschool job, he has to babysit Gemma whenever his mother goes out (even though she is 13), and he has to live with the fact that he will never live up to the high standards set by Mallory. 

Sometimes Ryan resents Mallory for disappearing, and sometimes it is all he can do just to try and stay normal.  When the detective involved in Mallory's case turns up to say that her old cellphone has been turned back on, things go from bad to worse.  Ryan's mum has always believed that Mallory will come home one day, and keeps searching for her, but things are taking a strange turn at home.  Ryan has always tried to stay under her radar, but with a girlfriend to impress he starts breaking all the rules - and then all hell breaks loose.

Too often when I read New Zealand books it feels as though it is a "once over lightly" taking an intense topic and making a pass at the idea rather than examining things in depth - and this is not one of those times.  The half life of Ryan Davis is a tense psychological thriller that grabs you from the start and keeps you hooked until the end.  Without giving away any of the plot twists and the subplots of the story, I can say that this book exceeded my expectations, the blurb promises an in depth read and it delivers. 

What would it be like to live in a household where a sibling has vanished?  It is something you often wonder about, and it comes up again and again in other novels where there is a kidnapping, it feels like the parents become so invested in the child that is missing that they forget that there are other children in the household, or in some cases it feels as though they expect the whole family to suffer because someone is missing.  This is an intense read and ends with a good amount of closure for the reader - without feeling too rushed.

If you like this book then try:
  • The face on the milk carton by Caroline B. Cooney
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • I am not Esther by Fleur Beale
  • Girl, missing by Sophie McKenzie
  • The sleeper wakes by David Hill
  • See ya, Simon by David Hill
  • The project by Brian Falkner

Reviewed by Brilla

Also known as Rowan Pohi by Ralph Fletcher

Bobby Steele is an impulsive person, someone who doesn't really think things through very well- which is not always a bad thing.  His latest impulsive project, inventing a kid with his best friends Marcus and Big Poobs and seeing if they can get him into the elite Whitestone school.  It seems like a harmless prank until they get the letter back saying that Whitestone would like their new kid, Rowan Pohi, as a student.  It's a big laugh for Marcus and Big Poobs, but as the time for school starting gets closer and closer it becomes less of a joke to Bobby, and more of a chance to get away from being that Bobby Steele, the son of the man who shares his name and ended up in jail for what he did to his wife.

Home is tense, his little brother Cody walks around with a feather in his hair claiming to be an Indian, and his dad is distant.  Taking on the guise of Rowan Pohi allows Bobby to enter a whole new world, a place where he has access to small classes, the best equipment, a football team - and most of all a chance at a future.  But he is also walking a tight rope, trying to keep the lie from spiralling out of control, trying to keep his balance when someone threatens to blow the whistle.  Whitestone is a real chance, but only if he can keep his act together.

Also known as Rowan Pohi is a thought provoking novel, and although it is short and relatively light, it raises some very interesting ideas about what it would be like to be that kid, the one with the infamous father who has your name, a name you can never escape.  The reactions of some people are subtle, but you can see that Bobby (junior) shares some of the shame of Bobby (senior) just because they share the same name.  It also makes me wonder what I would do in the same position, what chances would I have taken at the same age to make a difference in my own life. 

To say too much about the story has the potential to impact on the enjoyment of other readers, so I will just say that Ralph Fletcher has handled this story well, not only in terms of writing a good plot, but also in terms of handling such a difficult topic so well.  It doesn't feel like there could be a sequel to this book, but hopefully Fletcher will write more thought provoking novels as he has the potential to be another Chris Crutcher, another person who tackles difficult topics for teen readers.

If you like this book then try:
  • Whale talk by Chris Crutcher
  • Staying fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The future of us by Jay Asher
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • Street dreams by Tama Wise
  • Stuck in neutral by Terry Trueman
  • Cut by Patricia McCormick

Reviewed by Brilla

Spider's bite by Jennifer Estep

Gin is an assassin, a very successful assassin known as the Spider.  Her reputation has been well earned, she is fast, deadly, and always gets her target - but she also lives by a trick code, no children and no pets.  Her handler Fletcher handles the business side of things, compiling folders of the targets, taking the deposits and collecting the rest of the money once the job is done.  She has just come off a job when she is offered another job on short notice that seems too good to be true - and when the job goes severely pear shaped she realises it really was too good to be true.  

Trying to hunt down the person responsible brings her into contact with sexy Detective Donovan Caine - he would the perfect partner if not for the fact that he wants her dead because she killed his partner.  This is not going to be an easy job, not only does she have to contend with the cops and the bad guys, she also has to take into account that the person responsible for her troubles is an Air elemental who can control the very air around her - but Gin has a few tricks up her sleeve too, she is a Stone elemental with a little bit extra on the side. 

I loved this book from start to finish, it jumps straight into the action and doesn't let up to the final page.  Gin is a strong character and while she should come off as an anti-hero, because she is an assassin after all, there is enough of her background in the story to pick up that she is has some pretty strong morals and does pro bono work on the side - hence the death of Detective Caines partner.  I picked this book up as a paranormal romance, but have to confess that it fits more in the fantasy with romance section than the romance with fantasy section.  The world they live in appears to basically be alternate reality where elemental magic exists and people of other "races" also exist - for races read dwarfs, giants, and vampires.  It is an amazing world, made all the more interesting because the magic has rules and limits that make it all the more believable. 

This was an entertaining read that I finished in an afternoon because I didn't want to put it down, and if there weren't so many other things on my shelves to read at the moment then I would have jumped straight into book number two.  The only thing that annoyed me was the fact that the author kept saying Gin put a knife up each sleeve, a knife in each boot, and a knife in the small of her back - once or twice would have been enough. 

If you like this book then try:
  • Spiders web by Jennifer Estep
  • Dead witch walking by Kim Harrison
  • Angel's blood by Nalini Singh
  • Children of the night by Mercedes Lackey
  • Blood price by Tanya Huff

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, April 20, 2012

Voices of dragons by Carrie Vaughn

Kay has lived her life with the knowledge that her town lies on the border of Dragon, the place where dragons have lived since they re-emerged after World War Two.  It is an uneasy peace in a lot of ways, with the local high school holding regular "dragon drills" so the students can practice what to do just in case a dragon swoops down out of the sky and decides to rampage through the town breathing fire.  Not one to let small town living hold her back, Kay spends as much of her time hiking and rock climbing, seeing how close she can get to Dragon without actually crossing over the line.  One day she gets a little too close and finds herself on the wrong side of the border looking up into the face of a real live dragon.

What could have been a disaster turns into a series of encounters, and exchange of information and ideas, a chance for the dragon to practice talking to a human.  Kay is in an awkward position though as both her mum and dad are supposed to keep people away from the border, away from any chance of breaking the peace and causing a war between Dragon and the humans.  It is a heavy burden to keep her secret, but Kay manages to until the day a plane crashes on the wrong side of the border and the military unveils a new kind of weapon that may even the playing field between dragons and humans - a weapon that may enable the people to win the war that is developing with frightening speed.

Voices of dragons is a teen books written by an author who usually writes for adults, and while I loved her adult books (that I have read), this book feels a little too much like they had scaled back the ideas and writing for a teen audience - which always feels a little like a cheap shot at the teen readers.  There is nothing wrong with the story or the writing as such, but at times it feels as though words have been cut out, or thoughts have been side swiped to keep with the length of a traditional teen novel.  The idea is fantastic, and the characters are quite well developed, and the story certainly develops over time, but it still feels a little bit *meh* really. 

There is action, drama, suspense, fantasy, a believable mythology, thought has gone into the story - so it should be a really good read, and for the majority of readers this will be a really enjoyable read, just remember not to expect too much and you will be fine.  Along with dystopian novels there appears to be a trend for authors, particularly in the fantasy genre, to write novels for teenagers - which is brilliant BUT they have to remember to use other methods to make it teen suitable rather than robbing teens of a really good read by cutting out words and using what can be very sloppy writing.  Vaughn is not the worst example I have seen recently, she makes a good attempt at a good novel, but if this is the first book in a series (which it feels like it might be) then I hope she lifts her game a little and puts a little more effort into providing a consistently good read.

If you like this book then try:
  • Steel by Carrie Vaughn
  • Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
  • Dragon's blood by Jane Yolen
  • Dealing with dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
  • The princess's dragon by Susan Trombley
  • Other by Karen Kincy
  • Tinker by Wen Spencer
  • The golden compass by Philip Pullman
  • Mister Monday by Garth Nix

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, April 16, 2012

Article 5 by Kristen Simmons

America has survived a brutal war that has left it damaged and broken, but the Powers That Be have a plan to get back on track and the changes they are making are for the good of society as a whole.  The Federal Bureau of Reformation has issued a series of moral statutes to guide them all into a moral future built on the strength of a strong family unit.  Immoral literature or writings not approved by the State are now illegal, the Church of America is the official religion and all other religions are now illegal, a family is one woman one man and child(ren) anything else is illegal - and most of all only a child born to a married husband and wife is a legal citizen with a future in this new society.

Ember Miller has lived in this "bold" new world for years and has struggled to keep her mother safe and a team player in that time.  She keeps an eye out for the MM (Moral Militia) and tries to make sure that her mother doesn't get caught breaking the wrong rules or too many rules at any one time.  It is a balancing act she has maintained for years, but one afternoon she comes home to find that this time there is no escape from the MM or the rules of the FBR.  Torn away from her mother, Ember's only wish is to get back home again, to reach the only family she has.  That won't be easy though, first she has to escape from the FBR and they have had lots of practice keeping non-compliant teenagers in check.

Dystopian ... dystopia ... country destroyed by war ... oppressive rules ... these are the main themes of so many books at the moment, a trend driven no doubt by the success of series such as the Hunger games trilogy.  It is increasingly difficult to create storylines and plots where so many other novels have already been, where so many storylines are already becoming cliched.  Article 5 is not your typical dystopian novel, if for no other reason than it is set so close to the end of the existing society - you could easily picture Article 5 being the society that lead to the Hunger games world over the course of decades.  Article 5 is not new, amazingly different, or groundbreaking, but Simmons does take an overworked idea and makes it her own, tackling a different time for any dystopian series/world - the point in time when ordinary people are turned into unthinking slaves of the regime.

I got to about the half way point of Article 5 and then nearly gave up because it did feel a little like I had been here before, but then I pushed through and am glad I did because I read the second half of the book in one big rush.  Ember and Chase are interesting characters, and through the course of the book they change and grow, and you come to understand more about their motivation with each passing chapter and "adventure".  Article 5 will appeal to both the boys and girls, possibly more so to the boys because there is a lot of action and drama rather than romantic tension.

If you like this book then try:
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • Partials by Dan Wells
  • Pure by Julianna Baggott
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • Tomorrow, when the war began by John Marsden
  • The way we fall by Megan Crewe
  • The eleventh plague by Jeff Hirsch
  • Rot and ruin by Jonathan Maberry
  • Arrival by Chris Morphew

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Crown duel by Sherwood Smith

Meliara lives in her family home in the mountains, a small and modest keep where she spends her days running the kitchens and keeping the books while her father slips away towards death and her brother tries to keep up with the news at Court.  The news that comes from Court is not good, the current king is selfish and cruel, and his taxes are crippling the people.  Worse still, he plans to break the Covenant with the Hill Folk, which places everyone at risk for the Hill Folk will protect their forests as they have in the past. 

Meliara and her brother Branaric are about to become the figure heads of a push for change, but that push brings them to the attention of the king and he does not accept challenges for his power.  Suddenly Mel and her brother are fighting a war that they are ill equipped to win, a war where they must use all their skill and knowledge of the land - but it is not enough and Mel finds herself captured by the enemy and thrust into a world of politics, danger, and duplicity.  Is it really worth it?

The edition of this book that I read was actually Crown duel and the sequel Court duel published in one volume - with a bonus short story published at the end.  The authors note at the back of the book says that this is a version where the original names she planned have been restored, so it sounds as though there are several versions of these books in existence.  They are a nice length, not too big and not too small, and I finished the book in one day reading through both "books" and the short story.

I have read these books several times over the years and have enjoyed them each time, although this time the writing seemed a little stilted, a little stiff, which I have not noticed before.  It is a reflection of the time it was written (about 15 years ago) and it appears that I have become somewhat spoilt for choice in recent years, with books for teenagers offering much more than they used to in terms of quality.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed re-reading these books immensely, and enjoyed the challenge for my vocabulary, but it was lacking some of the character of other books I have read recently.

Suitable for younger 'tween readers, and having some exciting sword fights and chases, it also appeals to both the boys and the girls.  There is just a touch of romance, a subtle undercurrent that flows through the stories that may appeal more to the girls, but there is also drama and suspense to keep older readers entertained.  Hopefully I will enjoy it as much again when I re-read it in a few years time.

If you like this book then try:
  • Court duel by Sherwood Smith
  • Alanna the first adventure by Tamora Pierce
  • Dragons blood by Jane Yolen
  • Dealing with dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
  • A posse of princesses by Sherwood Smith
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Princess of the midnight ball by Jessica Day George

Reviewed by Brilla

Heist society by Ally Carter

Katarina "Kat" Bishop has left her family to study at the exclusive Colgan School, a path that many young wealthy and entitled people take on their path to great lives and careers - the only thing is, Kat is not wealthy and entitled, and she is not from one of "those" families.  Kat is from a family of master thieves, and she got into the Colgan School using all the tricks of the trade so she can leave her past behind, but it is not going to be that easy.  Expelled from Colgan for a prank she didn't even commit, Kat finds herself back in the company of old friends and allies, but this time there are heavier stakes than normal.

One of the meanest bad guys around has had his paintings stolen under some exceptional circumstances, and the prime (and only) suspect is Kat's dad - although he swears he is innocent.  Kat now has two weeks to return the paintings to their owner, or her dad will be in some serious trouble, and so will Kat.  Her family won't step in to help, so Kat has to do it herself, building up a band of thieves to help her pull off the rescue of the century - or the theft of the century depending on who you ask.  It will be challenging and dangerous - but so is doing nothing.

Kat is almost the perfect anti-hero, she comes from a dodgy past and has skills that make her the kind of person that you hide family secrets from (not to mention the family jewels) - but she also has a heart of gold when it comes to her family.  Her father is almost the absent minded thief, not really connecting with Kat, but trying to sort of protect her as well.  The team that Kat assembles are smart, funny, highly skilled, and just a little bit nuts - taking on the theft of the century.  This was a pleasant afternoon read, and whenever I put it down to do something else I quickly drifted back to see what happened next.

There are few books that can blend together action, suspense, drama, and humour this well, and if the blend is maintained in future books then this will be a great series appealing to a wide audience.  Like other books in this vein there is a wider appeal than just for the girls, as there is enough action and technical details to keep the boys interested as well.

If you like this book then try:
  • Uncommon criminals by Ally Carter
  • Kitty kitty by Michele Jaffe
  • All-American girl by Meg Cabot
  • 13 little blue envelopes by Maureen Johnson
  • Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wake by Lisa McMann

Since she was 8 years old Janie has been dragged into other peoples dreams when they sleep, a pull that is too strong for her to resist.  The normal dreams aren't too bad, but the nightmares really get to her - physically as well as emotionally.  It is a secret she has kept for years, a secret that has crippled her social life and earned her a "freak" badge of honour with the mean set at her high school.  It is a secret that she keeps at all costs, even from her bestfriend Carrie, but when she approaches the end of high school Janie makes some startling discoveries about what she can do with her gift.  Already going through an awkward stage (that has lasted nearly ten years and counting) the last thing Janie needs to do it get tangled up with a boy, especially one smart enough to figure out that something serious is going on in her life, something mysterious.

Wake is the first book in a fast paced series that starts with a bang and keeps up the frantic pace for the entire novel.  This is not a well fleshed novel with loads of detail to weigh you down, it is a fast paced thriller and fantasy that almost dares you to keep up with the action.  Janie is a fantastic character grappling with one of the most innovative gifts I have come across in fantasy for a long time, and her world seems so real that you can picture a Janie living round the corner.  As regular readers of this blog will now I am a big believer in sound mythologies, and from what appears in this first novel real thought has gone into how Janie's gift works and what she can do.

Fun and quick read that kept me hooked from the first page to the last - can't wait to read the sequels Fade and Gone.

If you like this book then try:
  • Fade by Lisa McMann
  • Gone by Lisa McMann
  • Sleeper code by Tom Sniegoski
  • Out of sight, out of mind by Marilyn Kaye
  • Better late than never by Marilyn Kaye
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Born at midnight by C.C. Hunter
  • The pledge by Kimberly Derting
  • When lightning strikes by Meg Cabot
  • Shadowland by Meg Cabot

Reviewed by Brilla

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder is a cyborg, a second class citizen with no rights and in the eyes of the law she belongs to her stepmother.  She lives with her stepmother Adri and her two stepsisters Peony and Pearl, a miserable existence where the only bright spark is her friendship with Peony and the work she does in the local market that allows her to escape from the household.  Her only other friend is Iko the family droid who has a quirky personality due to a fault with her personality chip. Other people who know she is a cyborg treat her as trash, or even worse invisible.  Her life is a blur of work and more work as she slaves away to make money, money that goes to her guardian rather than Cinder, money that is spent on frivolities for her spoilt sister Pearl and for Peony.  Life is a day-to-day drag and Cinder secretly dreams of escaping her life - it doesn't matter where as long as it is away.

Her quiet life is interrupted one day when the prince visits her market stall to ask for her help to repair his old tutor android, joking that it has crown secrets hidden inside - a joke that is closer to the truth than he is letting on.  Taking on the job is not a problem, but before she can really get into the repair the dreaded Letumosis virus strikes a person at the market and Cinder makes a run for home with Iko and the faulty android in tow.  When she gets home she finds her family preparing for the annual ball, dreaming of meeting Prince Kai.  When her stepmother says she can go to the ball but must do all her chores and find a dress herself, it seems as though things may be going well - but in a very short space of time things go from bad to worse.

When Peony contracts the Letumosis virus Adri blames Cinder and donates her to the plague research, a death sentence for certain - but somehow Cinder is immune to the virus and becomes a subject of great interest.  When her path crosses with Prince Kai again it appears as though there is some kind fate working to Cinder's advantage, but the Prince is under a great deal of pressure to prevent a war with the Lunar's who live on the moon, especially Queen Levana.  Cinder is about to discover some dangerous truths about herself, the doctor who is running the plague research, and the Lunar queen - and she will have to make some difficult choices.

Cinder is the first installment in a new series based on the story of Cinderella - reimagined and updated for a new generation of readers.  There are elements of science fiction, drama, fantasy, and romance woven around the basic form of the story making the appeal much wider than your average retelling of a fairytale.  The future world has echoes of our world, and has some of the standard science fiction elements without being too cliched.  Cinder as a cyborg is a wonderful concept as it lends itself to several somewhat hysterical moments, as well as adding some interesting complications to her relationship with those around her.  The relationships between Cinder and those around her are also influenced by the fact she is a cyborg and that she can't remember much of her life before joining her new family. 

This series has great potential and I can't wait for Scarlet to be released in 2013 so we can all see what is next for Cinder, Prince Kai, and the rest of the cast.

If you like this book then try:
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • Across the universe by Beth Revis
  • Wither by Lauren DeStefano
  • The selection by Kiera Cass
  • Partials by Dan Wells
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • The running dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
  • Princess of the midnight ball by Jessica Day George

Reviewed by Brilla

Princess of the midnight ball by Jessica Day George

Galen is a young soldier returning from war, travelling to meet the only family he has left, a family he has never met living in the capital city of Westfalin.  All he has known was a life on the road with the soldiers fighting in the bitter war against the Analousian - a war that cost Galen his mother, father, and younger sister.  His uncle Reiner reluctantly takes him in and employs him as a gardener in the palace, where Galen meets Princess Rose.  Princess Rose and her eleven sisters are the subject of much of the gossip in the town, as nearly every night they wear out a pair of dancing slippers, even though they are locked in their rooms under guard each night. 

Out of desperation, the King of Westfalin makes an offer - any prince who can discover the secret of the princesses and their dancing may have their choice of princess in marriage, and will rule the kingdom at her side.  It is a tempting prize, and several princes take up the offer, but no one can solve the mystery.  Finally, in desperation the king accepts Galens offer to try and solve the mystery, but no one expects an under gardener to succeed where princes have failed, but Galen has some secrets of his own that may just solve the mystery and save a kingdom in the process.

This is a retelling of the classic story of the twelve dancing princesses who are compelled to dance night after night in a fairytale realm, keeping the secret until a young man manages to follow them and breaks the spell.  This is a rich retelling of the story, adding layers of mystery and magic around what is originally a very simple story.  Galen is the centre of this story, a young man returned from a war older than his years, with a good heart who sees beyond the title of princess to see the "real" Rose and her sisters.  He has a fondness for them all that is sweet, yet also respectful of the fact that he is a commoner and they are royalty.  Rose is a strong character who tries to hold her family together while supporting the younger sisters who are struggling with the day-to-day realities of their curse. 

Their world is richly imagined and appears to be based on old Europe, with echoes of certain countries in their names.  This was not a fast read, and at times the pace is a little slow and overly descriptive and emotional, but it was a rewarding read.  Even though you know how this story will end to a certain extent, there are a few surprises along the way that keep things interesting and rewarding.  Retelling fairytales and making them more modern, or setting them in modern settings, is a recent trend and there are loads out there to try if you have enjoyed Princess of the midnight ball.

If you like this book then try:
  • Princess of glass by Jessica Day George
  • Cloaked in red by Vivian Vande Velde
  • The world above by Cameron Dokey
  • Violet eyes by Debbie Viguie
  • The crimson thread by Suzanne Weyn
  • Midnight pearls by Debbie Viguie
  • Crown duel by Sherwood Smith
  • The night dance by Suzanne Weyn
  • The storytellers daughter by Cameron Doeky
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Street dreams by Tama Wise

Tyson Rua is young, Maori, and shoulders the responsibility of being one of the two "bread" winners for his family.  He works as a dishwasher to pay his own way, and to help his mum support his two younger brothers, and he tries to be there when his bestfriend and next door neighbour Rawiri gets beaten on my his old man - again.  More recently, Tyson has also come to think that he might be different, that he might be gay.  It is a scary thought, and trying to deal with this revelation is a stress he doesn't need - especially when his first real crush seems too perfect.  One of the things that keeps Tyson's world together is his love of local hip hop, and the black books where he sketches the graffiti art he sees from the train and the sketches that come from his imagination. 

When he connects with his crush and gets introduced to a hot new South Auckland hip hop crew it seems as though he can merge his two worlds together - until he realises that one of the crew is a seriously homophobic hot head that is not afraid to use his size and mouth to intimidate and bully others, dragging them down with his harsh attitude and judgemental attitude.  As he explores his sexuality and how he could fit into the gay community, a tragedy at home brings everything crashing down around him. 

Before I go any further with this review I have to confess that I know the author and worked with them for several years before they went off to do other things - BUT that does not change the review for this book, or colour my judgement in any way (other than the fact that I am so happy that they succeeded in being published!).  On a more serious note, this was an amazing first novel, especially for a New Zealand book dealing with such sensitive topics - being a young gay, living with a bestfriend who is regularly beaten by his father, being from a home where a young man feels compelled to contribute to the household, a young man coming into his own, and first love that is not reciprocated. 

Too many of the novels that deal with sexuality are only about the sexuality, isolating that part of the main character like it is the only part of them that exists.  Street dreams keeps Tyson whole, he struggles with his sexuality, but it is only part of what he goes through during the course of the novel.  His bestfriend Rawiri is both his support and his weakness, a broken thing that he can't fix.  His relationship with his mother has echoes of the relationship that so many teens have with their single parents - where the teen feels a need to contribute to their family, while the parent feels the guilt of having to accept help from their children. 

There is a distinct New Zealand flavour to this novel, not surprising as it is set in the largest city - Auckland.  I have walked some of the same places as Tyson and seen some of the same culture in South Auckland where everyone seems to gain the inspiration for their clothes and speech from watching too many American hop hop videos.  The language is genuine, and while there is some profanity it is used in a realistic context and echoes the conversations we hear everyday around us where young people congregate, and where the hip hop culture is strongest.  There is also a Maori flavour to the novel, which adds to the New Zealand appeal.

If you like this book then try:
  • Who I am by M.L. Rice
  • 365 days by K.E. Payne
  • Geography club by Brent Hartinger
  • The order of the poison oak by Brent Hartinger
  • Boy meets boy by David Levithan
  • Hero by Perry Moore
  • A secret edge by Robin Reardon
  • Hidden by Tomas Mournian

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Uglies: Shay's story by Scott Westerfeld & Devin Grayson; illustrated by Steven Cummings

Uglies (the novel) tells the story of Shay and Tally from Tally's point of view, but now you get to see the story from Shay's point of view.  Long before she met Tally, Shay was an adventurer, mixing with all kinds of other uglies and seeing how far she could push the boundaries with the authorities.  Not afraid to push the boundaries she has tested the limits of her crash bracelets, learnt how to trick her room to think she is still there, and she has found a group that introduces her to the Ruins - and they help her find David.  Shay is strong willed and capable, and she wants Tally to have the same chance she has - but can she convince her best friend to leave everything behind, to believe that being Pretty isn't everything, that the surgery Tally wants so desperately isn't the be-all and end-all?

This is a graphic novel set in the Uglies world so straight away there is a huge difference for readers - it is also some time since I read Uglies, so some of the events are a little hazy (to be expected when you read the amount of books I do each year!).  Shay's story can be read by itself, you don't need to have read the rest of the Uglies books to understand it, yet at the same time it doesn't contain mind numbing details that will bore someone who has read Uglies to death.  The world of Uglies is a fascinating one because it is not quite a fit for the dystopian genre because everything is so "perfect" but it is also not quite a fit for the pure science fiction genre because there is so much real life drama involved. 

Uglies is a series that crosses the gender boundaries - being a book that has enough action and adventure to keep the guys interested - and enough real life to keep the girls interested.  The graphic novel format makes the story more accessible to readers who struggle to read decent sized novels (being a novel more than 200 pages long), and the short chapters make it easy to pick up and put down if you are doing other things.  There is a sequel on the way and hopefully it will open the way for more graphic novels set in this universe as there is a lot of potential for more storylines.

If you like this book then try:
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Witch and Wizard by James Patterson, Gabrielle Charbonnet, and Svetlana Chmakova
  • Witch and Wizard: Operation zero by James Patterson and Dara Naraghi
  • Legacy by P.C. Cast, Kristin Cast, and Kent Dalian
  • Maximum ride by James Patterson and NaRae Lee
  • Daniel X by James Patterson and MIchael Ledwidge

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Banished by Sophie Littlefield

Hailey lives in a small town with her grandmother Alice and her foster brother Chub.  Nothing much happens in Gypsum, Missouri, but life can be interesting when your grandmother is the local drug dealer.  For years Hailey lived a quiet existence with her grandmother, until the authorities found out that she wasn't going to school or getting home schooled - and then a whole new world opens up, going to a public school.  Compared to the good kids at her school Hailey is trash from the wrong side of town, but the other kids from the wrong side of town want nothing to do with her either.  At school Hailey gets picked on by the school queen bee, but she can usually side step any problems. 

That all changes when one of the Morries from the wrong side of town hurts herself and Hailey helps her somehow, using a new force flowing through her veins to reach out and touch the other girl.  You would think she would be grateful, but the gap between Hailey and the rest of the kids at her school grows instead.  Hailey is changing, and the creepy men who hang around her grandmothers house are noticing those changes, and some of them seem to expect something from Hailey.  It seems as though a power is growing inside Hailey, a pull towards those that are hurt, and when she lays her hands on them they heal.  Things get even more complicated when Hailey's aunt arrives back in town - an aunt that Hailey never even knew existed - but fairs fair because she had no idea that Hailey existed.  Hailey is a Healer, and she is more powerful than she knows, and there are people who will stop at nothing to control her life and push her down the path that they have chosen.

This was a great read, adding to the increasing range of paranormal reads for teen readers.  This is one of the better series, relying on a sound mythology and well considered writing rather than relying on cliched love interests and eternal/undying love.  Hailey is a strong character with an intense loyalty to her foster brother Chub, and who has to face some difficult decisions in a short space of time.  Her world sits within ours yet has an element of the supernatural, but you can see it easily being part of our world.  This is the first book in the series and leaves you with some interesting thoughts and hopes for the second book.  This could easily be made into a movie or TV series as the mythology leaves a lot of room to create drama, suspense, and the paranormal elements too.

If you like this book then try:
  • Unforsaken by Sophie Littlefield
  • The demon trappers daughter by Jana Oliver
  • Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
  • Invisibel touch by Kelly Parra
  • Illuminate by Aimee Agresti
  • Firespell: a novel of the elite by Chloe Neill

Reviewed by Brilla

After by Francine Prose

The school shooting at Pleasant Valley was a shock to everyone at the high school, but the ripples of the event spread further than the local community.  At nearby Central High School the students hear about the events when their cellphones start going off in class as anxious parents try to reach their children and make sure that they are all okay.  When the students come back after a day off school they discover Dr. Willner, the new grief and crisis counselor.  There is something fake about Dr. Willner, something that makes Tom more than a little suspicious.  Over the next few weeks changes start happening at the school, new rules, severe punishments for even minor infractions, and each night emails to their parents list more changes and more rules. 

Central goes from your average high school to something resembling a police state.  Now every morning the students have to go through metal detectors and random students are thoroughly searched by security guards.  Random locker searches start happening, with students deemed a danger to themselves brought before Dr. Willner for a private chat.  Even the extra curricula programmes start to change, with random drug screening.  The trouble makers are expelled from school, and they seem to disappear - no one knows where all of them go, but some are sent to youth camps where they can learn the error of their ways.  As things become more and more desperate, Tom must make a decision about what he is going to do - follow the rules and be a good boy, or follow his heart and find out what is really happening at his school.

Okay, it may sound strange but I really didn't like this book, but I also loved it so much that I sat down and read it in a single sitting in an afternoon.  That may sound strange, but the storyline was a brilliant idea, and the whole concept behind the novel really intrigued me - but the author was full of cliched, her cast were very "flat", and the writing itself was rather mediocre.  Strange I know, but this is the first time I have not liked the writing of an author this much and still finished the entire book. 

If you are after an interesting idea to start a group discussion about how power can be abused, or how things can change rapidly in a short space of time then this is the book for you.  It was fascinating to see how the parents and other adults were manipulated so quickly, and how people can have their rights and freedoms taken away so quickly.  Looking at this book, and without spoiling the plot too much, you can see how something so simple as taking over a high school and making changes could lead to a hugely different state of being in only a generation or two - think Nazi youth or some of the Christian cults.

If you like this book then try:
  • Touch by Francine Prose
  • Tomorrow, when the war began by John Marsden
  • The chocolate war by Robert Cormier
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • The outsiders by S. E. Hinton
  • The wave by Todd Strasser
  • Memento Nora by Angie Smibert
  • Give a boy a gun by Todd Strasser
  • Candor by Pam Bachorz

Reviewed by Brilla