Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tom Hassler and the rats of Droolmoan Cave by Doug Wilson

Tom Hassler is not your usual child, who could be with a name like Thomas Erkel-Erkel Farht-Ball Hassler.  For years Tom has lived in his quiet little home town, living with just his mother after his dad died in a terrible accident.  They lead a very quiet and simple life in a quiet and simple little town, but that all changes when a letter arrives asking that Tom travel immediately to the castle home of his grandmother - a relative Tom had no idea even existed.  Over the coming weeks Tom will learn that there is a great deal he doesn't know, about himself, his family, and a dangerous enemy that is gathering her forces.  Tom has only a short time to learn how to control strange new abilities, and to absorb the truth about who he really is and the role he will play in saving the world.

Tom Hassler and the rats of Droolmoan Cave is the first book in a new series for children that shows a great deal of promise - the characters are likeable and believable, and the world feels very firmly like it could be "our" world.  The idea behind the series appears to be raising awareness about the natural world around us and the dangers we and other animals represent, but it is not a bogged down didactic story - there is flow and charm here that is usually missing from stories that try and beat you over the head with their message.  Wilson has managed to wrangle a lot of charm into what is a simple but extremely well written story for children and 'tweens.  There is a sense of wonder and magic, but there is also a sense of danger and horror - and unlike some other authors Wilson does not shy away from an appropriate and "cringy" ending for the bad guy.

Hopefully Wilson will continue to write books in the Tom Hassler universe.  He has the potential to be another great New Zealand author, although it feels a little cheeky claiming Wilson as a Kiwi seeing as he has lived in many different parts of the world.  A fun little read and a great escape on a quiet afternoon.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

The compound by S.A.Bodeen

Eli and his family have spent the past six years living in the compound - an immense underground facility built by his eccentric and wealthy father to protect the family in the event of a nuclear attack on America.  When Eli was nine that nightmare was realised and Eli, his two sisters, his mother, and his father all descended underground - leaving his twin brother, his grandmother, and their pets behind.  Life underground has set routines - they watch movies, they listen to music, they exercise in the gym, they play music together on their various instruments, and they live day-by-day under the watchful eye of their father and husband.

After six years underground some of the plans Eli's father made are not quite going to plan - the cows and chickens that were supposed to give them protein have all died, someone packed the wrong bulbs for the hydroponics and Eli has to baby each bulb along, and little by little their food supplies are succumbing to age and becoming past their best by date.  But there is something else that is a little rotten in the compound, something that Eli slowly comes to realise as his dad becomes more and more controlling, and as they edge closer and closer to making decisions that they can never turn back from.  As Eli slowly learns his fathers secret, he muse also decide what steps he will take for himself, and for his family.

The compound is one of those stories that seems to start as one thing and ends as something completely different, but the change is so subtle and twisted that you can't hlp but wonder if the wool has been pulled over your eyes at the beginning or in the middle, or in the end.  Eli and his family as strong individual characters which are blended together to form a micro society with all the ups and downs you would expect from living in such an enclosed environment, and there are little factions that form over different things - and over everything is the father who controls every aspect of their lives and who everyone is afraid of on some level (although that is not always covertly expressed in the book, more something you pick up on).

The compound was a compulsive read for me, and I am really glad I picked it up on a public holiday so I could read it in one go with little to no interruptions.  I am looking forward to reading the sequel, The fallout, to see if the author is able to keep up the tension and pace of the first novel.  This is a psychological thriller as well as a slightly dystopian novel and it should appeal to readers who enjoy a wide range of genre, and it is also one of those books that will appeal to teen boys as well as teen girls - and 'tweens should have no trouble with the content either.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

Kennedy is a relatively normal teenager - one bestfriend (check), absentee dad (check), and a photographic memory.  When Kennedy arrives home to find her mother dead, her mind tries to process the image of her cat sitting on her mothers chest, an image that comes back to haunt her when she wakes one night unable to breath and finds her cat on her chest.  In one moment Kennedy learns that there is more to the world than she knows - mostly because twins Jared and Lukas Lockhart crash into her life to save the day.

Now Kennedy is over her head, struggling to keep her head and figure out what is going on while mysterious forces work against her, the Lockhart's, and the other members of a team of teenagers who are trying to stop an unspeakable evil being released into the world.  It is a stressful time, everyone else seems so good at what they do, while Kennedy only seems to be good at screwing up.  When her face is splashed across the papers and television it makes things even more complicated - which is saying a lot considering what they are up against.

Unbreakable is a fast paced adrenaline rush that will appeal to fans of television series like Supernatural, Buffy the vampire slayer, Grimm and Warehouse 13.  The well thought out mythology supports a story that starts with a bang and ends with a bang, an exciting new world that exists alongside our own yet is just out of reach for most of us.  The teenage cast is well developed and makes you connect straight away with the story - especially the complex emotions and feelings of the main characters as they figure all sorts of things out.  The nice cliffhanger ending leaves you waiting for the next book in the series (which hopefully will be released sooner rather than later).

If you like this book then try:
  • Hunting Lila by Sarah Alderson
  • The black tattoo by Sam Enthoven
  • Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Born at midnight by C.C. Hunter
  • The demon trapper's daughter by Jana Olive
  • Burn bright by Marianne de Pierres
  • Legacies by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill 

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, December 23, 2013

The brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney

Anthem Fleet lives a life of privilege in the family penthouse, far above Bedlam city and blocks away from the dangers of the South Side.  She spends time with her best friend Zahra and practices ballet for hours everyday to reach her dream of being a prima ballerina - and she has just dumped her boyfriend Will.  Feeling a little adrift she finds herself drawn towards a South Side boy named Gavin, a boy unlike any she has ever known before.  But in a moment her new found love is swept away by kidnappers who demand money in exchange for Gavin - and on the way home Anthem has an accident and wakes up in a strange lab and learns that because they could not get her heart to start she now has an illegal biomechanical heart.

Back in the safety of her penthouse Anthem keeps her new heart a secret from everyone around her, and each day she learns more about what the heart will allow her to do, and each day she becomes more determined to find the people who took Gavin.  But Anthem is playing a game where she doesn't know all the rules and where some of the players are playing for keeps - even if that means leaving a few dead bodies in their wake.  While Anthem is closing in on the bad guys, she is also having to deal with the unwanted attentions of her ex-boyfriend Will and the confusion of her best friend who can't understand why Anthem has changed so much.  Anthem is going through some huge changes, but are they worth it?

The brokenhearted was one of those books that grabbed my attention because of the somewhat sinister and mysterious cover, and then the blurb sucked me into the story.  I wasn't expecting a lot from this story and was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the characters and the underlying plot (which emerges over the course of the novel) - I may have guessed most of the ending during the course of the novel, but it wasn't a disappointment to be proved right, more satisfying that I was right.  Anthem and her world are not described in deep and intimate detail, but her world is very real and absorbing just the same.  There are some interesting elements blended together into this story with touches of romance, drama, conspiracy, thriller, and a smidge of the dystopian.  

There is a hint that this may be the first book in a series, but that could be a misleading hint - you can decide for yourself.  A fun and absorbing read that kept drawing me away from other tasks until I finished the book in one final rush.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Soulless: the manga by Gail Carriger and REM

Miss Alexia Tarabotti is a spinster living with her family in Victorian London, a situation that creates a strained relationship between Alexia and the rest of her family.  Her status as a spinster is nothing compared to her status as a preternatural - she is soulless.  Her preternatural state has not really been an issue in the past, but when she is attached by a rove vampire her life suddenly takes a sharp and complicated turn.

Soulless is one of those series where I was really attracted to the idea of the story, but for some reason struggled to really get into the novel and I gave up after a few chapters.  I really liked the idea of the story though so I was really excited to see a manga version of the story - the manga makes it so much easier to get into the story and stay in the story (so much so that I read the entire graphic novel in one sprint).  The manga rendering of Soulless makes it instantly accessible and appealing, and there are some really classic made more charming by the shear nature of manga.

I can not comment on how closely the manga version follows the novel version, but it is unusual for series like these to deviate greatly from the novel - though some things are changed slightly to meet the unique requirements of manga.  This was a great read and I have already ordered the second manga in the series to see what happens next for Alexia.

If you like this book then try:
  • Alpha and Omega: Cry wolf by Patricia Briggs and David Lawrence
  • Moon called by Patricia Briggs and David Lawrence
  • Midnight secretary by Tomu Ohmi
  • Infernal devices one: Clockwork angel by Cassandra Clare and Hyekyung Baek
  • Maximum ride by James Patterson and NaRae Lee
  • Zoo the graphic novel by James Patterson, Michael Ledwidge, and Andy MacDonald
  • Bloodwork by Kim Harrison, Pedro Maia, and Gemma Magno
  • Circus of the damned by Laurell K. Hamilton and Jeff Ruffner-Booth

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dragon's keep by Janet Lee Carey

Princess Rosalind has kept a secret her entire life - she was born with a dragons claw where one of her fingers should be.  Her mother has helped her keep her secret, wearing golden gloves and shaving the talon each week to keep it hidden from prying eyes and whispers of curses.  Her secret is a heavy burden, a burden she can not share because her mother keeps her isolated from the young people her age and refuses to allow her a ladies maid and the close companionship such a maid would bring.  Rosalind is mostly content with her life, but each year she must watch as a dragon swoops down and snatches the towns people one by one - watching friends and neighbours toasted and eating is not pleasant, and watching all the young knights ride to their doom is just as bad.

For years Rosalind has lived with her curse, and the knowledge that she is the princess destined to fulfill a prophecy from the wizard Merlin.  Generations in the past her ancestor was banished from the kingdom and erased from the memory of her people, but Rosalind is the princess destined to return Wilde Island to its rightful place of power.  But nothing goes to plan for Rosalind and her mother, especially when Rosalind finds herself caught up by the dragon and taken to Dragon's Keep - where she learns more about her past, and more about her future.  On Dragon's Keep Rosalind must face some hard truths, and she will learn more about who she is meant to be - one painful lesson at a time.  But will Rosalind learn those lessons in time to save her friends and family on Wilde Island?

I have a soft spot for books with dragons, especially when the dragons are written as intelligent beings rather than mindless savage beasts.  Janet Lee Carey has created a world where dragons are just that - intelligent, emotional, and carrying the stain of a dark history that leaves them with a bitter resentment towards humans.  Rosalind is a fantastic counterpoint to the dragons because she is young, naive, and grows into her own as a woman and a ruler through the trials and tribulations of her journey.  The cast of characters which fill out the story each bring with them their own part of the story, sometimes good and sometimes bad, and it feels like an epic drama played out over the years - which allows for some long term plans to come to fruition.

The language of the story is genuine which means at times it feels a little old fashioned, but that adds to the authenticity of the story.  Dragon's Keep adds an interesting twist to the Merlin and Arthurian legends, introducing a branch of the family and what might have happened hundreds of years into the future for a disgraced daughter.  I loved the blend of action, drama, and mystery - there is an underlying sadness to the story of Rosalind and the desperate measures a mother will take to conceive a child she so desperately wants.  Rosalind grows and blossoms as a woman under the pressure of the events she lives through, and there is a strong coming of age message underneath the drama and fantasy.  This is an older novel now, but it was an enjoyable read and one I enjoyed re-reading several years after it was originally released.

If you like this book then try:



Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The trap by Andrew Fukuda

The trap is the third book in the Hunt trilogy so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you haven't read The hunt and The prey yet.

Gene has made another lucky escape, but now he is on his way to an unknown future with the survivors of the dusker massacre.  Everyone is tense as the train draws closer and closer to their destination, especially Gene and Sissy who know what is most likely waiting for them at the end of the line.  Their worst fears are realised when they find themselves trapped in the underground pens of hepers that are the personal property of the Ruler - a convenient collection of food just waiting to be devoured whenever the urge strikes the Ruler.  It is a desperate time, made even more desperate by a hidden conspiracy within the dusker metropolis that wants to use Gene and Sissy for their own plans.


When Gene is offered the chance to gain his freedom along with freedom for Sissy he jumps at the chance, even though his chance will bring him into conflict with his first love Ashley June.  There are dark undercurrents in Gene's life, and it feels like everything has a double meaning and that everyone is keeping secrets.  In the metropolis Gene and Sissy will face overwhelming odds, and will have to make split second decisions that could change their lives forever.  On the opposite side is Ashley June who has discovered a secret so terrible that it has been erased from the history of the duskers, a secret that will have far reaching consequences for everyone - if they survive.


The trap is the final book in the Hunt trilogy and I was eagerly awaiting the final book in the series so I could see what finally happened with Gene and Sissy - and what I got was a fast paced read with a mind blowing twist at the end that left saying "what, he did what to the story".  This whole series has been an adventure, a fresh take on the mythology of vampires and has flipped the story over, making the people the odd ones out rather than the "vampires".  The human relationships in the story have also been a strong point, you feel the connection between Gene and Ashley June, and Gene and Sissy and the boys - the relationships and the connections are what provide the story with substance and depth.


This series is extremely well written and was more than a little addictive.  I have started a few series in the past year and failed to sink into the second or third book in the series because the series had just lost its way - that is not the case here, the series is strong from start to finish.  This is not a series you can easily slot into a genre - there is horror (vampires), action (lots of action), mystery (what is really going on?), there is a smidge of romance (it's all a part of life after all), and then there is the dystopian aspect that runs through all the novels.  This is an amazing series and deserves attention - hopefully future books by Fukuda will be as strong as these - he is a fantastic writer for teens because he doesn't talk down to his audience or cheat them with the story.  I have enjoyed the journey with Gene and hope that there will be more "Gene's" in the future.


If you like this book then try:

  • The hunt by Andrew Fukuda
  • The prey by Andrew Fukuda
  • Enclave by Ann Aguirre
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
  • ACID by Emma Pass
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • Anna dressed in blood by Kendare Blake
  • Proxy by Alex London
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • Sister assassin by Kiersten White
  • Every other day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Rot and ruin by Jonathan Maberry
  • Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 13, 2013

The witness wore red by Rebecca Musser with M. Bridget Cook

There has been growing interest recently in "cults" and "extreme religious groups" - interest partly driven by stories like Rebecca Musser's.  Rebecca grew up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a religious group that expects purity and subservience from their women, and for men to marry multiple wives to gain entrance to Heaven for themselves and their wives.  It is a religion with no room for freedom of speech or freedom of choice, and the word of God is passed through the Prophet who has control of the people, their lives, how and where they live, and speaks Gods words for all to hear and obey.  Rebecca grew up in this world and struggled to be a good girl in the eyes of the FLDS community gaining more than her fair share of the wrong kind of attention from the Prophet's son Warren, and watching as her siblings also struggled against their strict and unforgiving upbringing.

Rebecca describes a childhood of growing up in hiding, living in the lower levels of the family home so the Gentiles will not know that her father is breaking the law with a second wife and family.  It is a tense time, with her fathers first wife and children from his first wife making it difficult for them to all exist in the same home.  There are moments of true happiness, and their mother is loving, but it is not enough to protect them from moments of great violence and manipulation from their "other mother".  When Rebecca and her siblings move to attend the Alta Academy their becomes even stricter and even more controlled - and it brings Rebecca even closer to the Prophets son Warren - a man who seems determined to control every aspect of Rebecca's life, eager to bring her under his control.  Things changed for the better, and for the worse, when Rebecca became a teenage bride for the Prophet - the 19th wife and the latest of the younger wives the Prophet has taken.

Eventually Rebecca escapes from the FLDS, but it will not be a clean break and it will not be an easy break.  Rebecca is not prepared for the world of the Gentiles, she has trouble breaking the habits of a lifetime, and there is a language barrier with words she has known all her life having a completely different meaning in the world of the Gentiles.  To make matters worse it is even more difficult to leave behind her old life than she thought - firstly because Warren and the FLDS community are not happy she left, but also because she feels the need to support her relatives when some of them reach out to her for help.  Driven to help she is drawn into a legal battle against the FLDS community that pits the community against the laws and courts of the Gentiles - a battle that will last for years and cause conflict in her life.

The witness wore red is the account of one woman who left behind the FLDS "lifestyle" but could not leave behind the relatives and friends still living within the community.  This is a very personal story, one that at times is more than a little harrowing to read, knowing what Rebecca and other young girls in the community went through.  Even if you are sceptical about Rebecca's story - there are two sides to every story after all - even if only half of what she says and remembers is the truth, this is still a mind blowing story about the FLDS community.  Freedom of religion is protected in many cultures and countries, but should freedom of religion override basic human rights - the right to freedom from pain, from fear, the right to choose who you marry and where you live, the right to an education and the ability to make your own way as an adult in your own society?

I am not passing judgement on the FLDS community, and as you read the story of Rebecca you quickly come to realise that her passion is not the destruction of a religion or community, her passion is the young people and women still living in her former community.  While the contents of the book themselves are damning towards the FLDS, they are not damning because they are an attack on the community, they are damning because they are one woman sharing her own story and the story of her family.  This is not an easy read, and it took a couple of days for me to finish the book because at times it was exhausting to read about Rebecca's life and what she went through - both in the FLDS community and once she had left.

If you are interested in reading more stories from people who have been raised in extreme religious groups or cults then try some of these stories.  Some of the stories are disturbing because of their references to sexual and physical violence towards women and children, so reader beware that there will be some unpleasant (but not gratuitous) reading ahead.  If you would like to read more then try:
  • Stolen innocence by Elissa Wall
  • Parents who kill by Carol Anne Davis
  • The little prisoner: A memoir by Jane Eliott
  • Behind closed doors by Ngaire Thomas
  • Beyond belief: My secret life inside Scientology and my harrowing escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill
  • Banished: Surviving my years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain
  • I fired god by Jocelyn R. Zichterman
  • Behind the Exclusive Brethren by Michael Bachelard
  • Shackles broken, bound by love (Bound by love) by Hannah Hales

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, December 9, 2013

ACID by Emma Pass

For two years Jenna Strong has been the only female, and the only teenage female, in the Mileway prison.  Her crime, the cold blooded murder of her parents - and her punishment was designed to fit the crime.  In prison Jenna has built up her defences, built up her strength, and built emotional walls to protect herself from the violence and unwanted attention of the other prisoners.  When she is broken out of prison her world is turned upside down and inside out - especially when things don't go to plan for her "rescuers".  Jenna is about to embark on a roller coaster ride of dark secrets, deadly games, and a life as a pawn in a long running power play that could drive her country to wreck and ruin - or save it from an ongoing life of oppression and control.

ACID is an epic read that plays out like a deftly plotted movie - it packs together a conspiracy story, a thriller, a mystery, a little dash of romance, and the kind of twisted plot that made the original Total recall movie so enticing and convoluted.  Like many novels of this "type" a review with too many details will end up spoiling some of the plot twists and turns so the analysis is more indepth than the "review" part of the review.  Jenna is not a straight forward character, she is very "real" complete with doubts, regrets, and moments of confusion.  The dystopian world built around her is very believable, an island nation like the United Kingdom could easily become isolated in the way described in ACID, and it would be so easy for small changes over time to slowly suck away the freedom of the people in such a way that they barely notice.  It is also a very believable villain - they say absolute power corrupts absolutely and that is so true in the case of General Harvey.

ACID is a deftly written novel that keeps up the right amount of tension and pace across the whole novel - partly moved along by the use of short chapters and clear breaks in the content to help you stay focused on what is happening.  In many ways ACID reminds me of James Patteson novels, another author who uses short chapters and breaks in the story to keep the tension levels high and the reader focused.  Emma Pass is also an above average author for teens - she doesn't short change the reader by sugar coating the story or taking it easy, but there is also no gratitous violence to take it out of the reach of younger teen readers.  I was hooked after the first few pages and read most of the book in an afternoon - before having to finish it in my lunch break so I could finish the end in one sitting.  While it is easy to compare any dystopian novel to the Hunger games, ACID is one of those books that both has a strong echo of Hunger games, but is also very unlike Hunger games (not easy to describe as you can tell).

ACID is one of those books that is not gender specific - while the main character is a teenage girl, the level of action and the fast pace will also appeal to teen boys who don't like all the gooey romantic stuff.  An excellent read and I hope there are many more to come from Emma Pass.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dogs in action: Working dogs and their stories by Maria Alomajan

Sometimes we forget how amazing mans best friend is - for many people dogs are a loyal companion and part of the family, but for others dogs are a working companion helping in times of need, or helping to defend from danger.  Dogs in action is an introduction to the world of working dogs of all shapes, sizes and professions.  There are dogs that work alongside people with disabilities of various kinds, helping them to navigate the world safely and more easily.  There are dogs trained to track criminals, detect bombs, and find people missing during times of disaster.  Dogs for animal assisted activities and animal assisted therapy are mentioned alongside dogs trained in prisons and to help people with psychiatric disorders.

I was really looking forward to reading this book because there is very little New Zealand material written about working dogs - but sadly I was quite disappointed.  The stories are grouped by the dog rather than by the work they do, and at times the information became quite garbled bouncing backwards and forwards between the story of a specific dog and then general information about the work dogs of that type can do, and then bouncing back to the specific dog.  In several cases the story was about one dog and another dogs story creeped in and overtook the main dogs story.  One of the most frustrating things was the lack of information about the organisations the dogs come from - information that would have been very helpful for people interested in supporting organisations and understanding where the dogs come from.

Overall this book feels as though it was started as one thing and then ended up as something else.  It feels like it was meant to be a children's book - mainly because of the focus on the dogs as the focus of the biographies - but it was too convoluted to be a children's book.  It also didn't feel as polished and well structured as other books which introduce working dogs and the work they do.  You can feel Alomajan's interest and passion but it failed to translate sufficiently to the page.  I found it a vaguely interesting read, but knowing a lot about these dogs and the organisations meant I read through the book quite quickly and was struck by a few errors - one company was spelt wrong.  This is one book that I am glad I borrowed from the library rather than purchasing.

If you would like to read more books about working dogs try:
  • Quake dogs by Laura Sessions and Craig Bullock
  • Soldier dogs by Maria Goodavage
  • Thunder dog by Michael Hingson
  • Hero dogs by Janet Menzies
  • Scent of the missing by Susnnah Charleson
  • Puppy chow is better than Prozac by Bruce Goldstein
  • Paws and effect: The healing power of dogs by Sharon Sakson
  • The possibility dogs by Susannah Charleson

Reviewed by Brilla

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Bea, Alina, and Quinn live in the Pod - the lucky descendants of the people who won the lottery to live in the Pod during the Switch, a time when the oxygen levels in the world plummeted and most of the worlds population was left to suffocate to death.  Time has passed and the people of the Pod have clearly divided into two groups - the Premiums and the Auxiliaries.  The Premiums have it all, enough oxygen to breath and live a normal life, they hold the power and can do almost anything they want.  They are supported by the Auxiliaries who get enough air to survive but not enough to truly thrive and be healthy.  It is a stable world where everyone knows their place, but it is also a place of secrets and lies.

Bea works hard to escape her life in the Auxiliaries, not because she is ashamed of her life but because she has the chance to be something more than a menial servant.  Her best friend is Quinn, who takes his life as a Premium for granted - but he is always happy to share his bounty with Bea.  They have an uncomplicated friendship, even though Bea secretly hopes that one day Quinn will realise how she feels about him - something that seems unlikely when every pretty girl turns his head.  One of those pretty girls is Alina, a girl with more than a few secrets of her own - one of which could get them all killed.  Alina knows the truth about the Pod and the games the Premiums are playing to stay in power - but knowing the truth may not be enough to stop their games.

I picked up Breathe after seeing the cover for Resist and reading the blurb and wondered how I could have missed Breathe in the first place - seeing as I have been on a dystopian treasure hunt ever since The hunger games came out and the genre really took off.  I didn't have high hopes for Breathe as I had seen a vaguely similar book in the past and gave up after a fee chapters, so I was surprised to find myself hooked almost from the first word, and I started to resent every little interruption as I moved further and further into the action and drama of the story shared by Bea, Alina, and Quinn.  Told from different viewpoints, the story blends together in a way that makes you forget the authors clever use of the single person viewpoint to tell the story without the "voice of god", and you quickly become absorbed in the story.  

There are some neat little twists and turns in the tale, and the pace and tension are carefully balanced so you can catch your breath a little between the main action sequences.  This is an excellent story, told by an author who has a well built mythology and understanding of human nature and how people act and react under pressure.  This is one of those books that is just screaming out to be made into a movie or a television series because the switch between characters and the complexity of the story lends itself well to an adaptation to the screen.  I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Resist to see how the story moves forward.

If you like this book then try:
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • The testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Eve by Anna Carey
  • Inside out by Maria V. Snyder
  • The limit by Kristin Landon
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • Dualed by Elsie Chapman

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Behind closed doors by Ngaire Thomas

Ngaire was born into an Exclusive Brethren family in the 1940's in New Zealand and lived an Exclusive Brethren life until she was expelled with her husband in the 1970's.  Her autobiography details, in a straight forward and direct fashion, her upbringing within the confines of a religious group that is patriarchal in nature and encourages women and daughters to be quiet, obedient, and submissive.  It was an upbringing that Ngaire struggled with because she was not a submissive personality - instead she challenged the norm and pushed boundaries, a challenge for her parents, and her behaviour brought her into conflict with the elders of the church on more than one occasion.  The bright light for Ngaire was her marriage to Denis and their children - but that was not the end of their troubles.

Ngaire found ways to bend the rules so that she was not suffocated by the rules of the church, rules that changed over time - changes brought about by the Men of God who directed the rules of the church.  Eventually Ngaire and Denis were "withdrawn from" - essentially removed from the memory of the church and all its members, any member of the church who saw them would act as if they did not exist.  This was a difficult time for the whole family as life on the outside of the church is challenging and isolating, especially with the ties they still had to the church.

Behind closed doors is a fascinating read because it is a New Zealand story, but also because when I was at school there were a relatively large number of Exclusive Brethren in my various schools.  The girls stood out because they had long hair and wore scarves, and because their skirts were long and they always wore long sleeved blouses.  The boys also stood out because of their neat hair cuts and because they didn't not swear and rough house with the other boys.  It was fascinating to read more about the Exclusive Brethren, and it is clear to see why they would have had problems with this book - I was only able to find a second edition of the book, the first edition was apparently challenged by the Exclusive Brethren and was edited before being released as a second edition.  There are times when it feels as though something is missing, or that something has been skipped over and this may be because the editing process was not as robust for the second edition - something left out in the rush to edit and get the second edition out.

Behind closed doors is a very personal story, and at times you can feel the pain of Thomas as she describes a particularly difficult period in their lives.  While this is a commentary on one family's relationship with the Exclusive Brethren, it does not feel like an attack on the church, it is more an explanation and examination of a relationship that was very difficult for Thomas and her family.  There is mention of the dreaded c word (cult) and the dreaded s word (sect), but Thomas doesn't pass judgement on the Exclusive Brethren, instead leaving the reader to make their own decisions.  I would not pass judgement on them either, but reading Behind closed doors is very much like reading other books about extreme religious sects and cults that I have read about recently, and I would have no problem describing them as a controlling religious sect - mainly because of the large number of rules and because of the use of isolation and ostracism to control members of the church.

Ngaire Thomas died in 2012 and Behind closed doors was the only book she wrote.  If you are interested in learning more about Exclusive Brethren and other religious sects then there are plenty of other books to read.
  • Banished: Surviving my years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain
  • I fired god by Jocelyn R. Zichterman
  • Beyond belief: My secret life inside Scientology and my harrowing escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill
  • Behind the Exclusive Brethren by Michael Bachelard
  • Shackles broken, bound by love (Bound by love) by Hannah Hales
Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shelter by Harlan Coben

Mickey is not having a good year - he is living with his uncle because his father is dead and his mother is in rehab, he made one of his new teachers dislike him on day one, and his girlfriend has gone missing.  Not much phases Mickey, but he is more than a little curious about what happened to Ashley and when strange things keep happening he decides to dig a little deeper and find out what happened to her - especially when the crazy Bat Lady tells him that his father is still alive.

Balancing some normal teenage years with some very abnormal events would be difficult for any teenager, but Mickey is more than just your average teenager.  Living with his uncle is almost like living in a failing relationship with a carefully structured set of rules keeping them on good terms - but the delicate trust they have built up is sorely tested when Mickey starts to unravel the mystery and starts taking risks.  The only thing Mickey can really count on is himself, but if he trusts the people around him he may just make it.

Harlan Coben usually writes novels for adults, and I always have a moment of held breath when I see an adult author has written a book for teens because sometimes it seems that all they do is take a great idea and "dumb it down" for their audience - insulting their teen audience and wasting their time.  That was not the case with Shelter, which gripped me from the first chapter and kept me addicted to Mickey's story from start to finish.  Shelter is set in the same world as one of Coben's other series (Mickey is the nephew of his main character in that series) and I had another moment of hesitation thinking that maybe it would be hard to pick up the story and run with it - another hesitation that was soon dashed to pieces.

Mickey is a likeable character with some character flaws (if you could call being incredibly loyal a flaw) and he doesn't care what other people think. He is not perfect, but he is also not a teenage hot head looking for trouble - though he is quite happy to finish off some trouble if it comes looking for him.  Shelter is a nicely self contained little adventure-thriller, and it easily sets up a series of books about Mickey in the future.  A great escapism novel where you root for the hero and luagh at some of the "dumb" things he does (and that thousands of teenagers do everyday).  A great read for the boys and anyone else who enjoys a really good read.

If you like this book then try:
  • Agent 21 by Chris Ryan
  • Boy soldier by Andy McNab
  • Catch the Zolt by Phillip Gwynne
  • Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
  • Lost worlds by Andrew Lane
  • People's republic by Robert Muchamore
  • Subject Seven by James A. Moore
  • Code Red: Battleground by Chris Ryan
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • Acceleration by Graham McNamee
  • Death cloud by Andrew Lane
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
  • Forbidden island by Malcolm Rose
  • Girl, missing by Sophie McKenzie

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hero dogs by Janet Menzies

Dogs are amazing animals - they are brave, loyal, and can display extraordinary amounts of intelligence and devotion.  Over thousands of years dogs have been shaped and bred to fill a variety of tasks from herding and protecting, to loyal companionship, and over the past one hundred years or so those traits have been harnessed to help people with a variety of disabilities as well as people who are in need.  

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, often known simply as Hearing Dogs,  is (in this case) a British charity that trains dogs to work alongside the deaf and hearing impaired to provide them with safety, comfort, and more independence.  Hero dogs introduces you to some of the amazing hearing dog partnerships that have come out of Hearing Dogs, including partnerships where the handler has more than one disability.  These simple little stories offer an insight into a world where the simplest of things can present huge obstacles, and where a partnership with a loyal companionship has been life altering.

Alongside these stories are glimpses into the lives of other working dogs from search and rescue dogs, to detector dogs, through to dogs working alongside the armed forces.  The range of dogs is amazing and although each story is a mere glimpse, it is enough to remind all of us about what dogs are capable of if they are given the opporunity to work.  This is a fantastic introduction to working dogs and there are some truly gorgeous photographs in the book which bring the stories and partnerships to life.

This is a great introduction to working dogs of all shapes and sizes, and while the book is about teams working in the United Kingdom, it is a taster of working dogs from all over the world.  If you enjoy this book there are plenty of books out there at the moment about working dogs and their partnerships (mainly because there seems to be a book at least every six months on the topic).

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, November 18, 2013

Quake dogs by Laura Sessions and Craig Bullock

Christchurch, New Zealand experienced two major earthquakes in less than a year and has experienced thousands of aftershocks in the past few years.  For many New Zealanders there was a feeling of helplessness about what we could do to help the people of Christchurch, and for some it was also wondering what could be done for the vulnerable pets left homeless by the quakes.  Some of us also remember vividly the images of search dogs from Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) searching the rubble for victims buried in collapsed buildings after the particularly violent earthquake on February 22, 2011.

Quake dogs is a collection of stories and photographs of the working dogs and companion dogs that have worked in Christchurch during the earthquakes, the dogs that have been rehomed due to often heart breaking reasons, and the dogs that have stayed with their owners but have suffered from their exposure to the earthquakes and debris thrown up by the quakes.  The poignant text is matched beautifully with photographs that capture the character of each dog.  Except for one story, all the stories have been captured by Laura Sessions - and some of those stories had tears streaming down my cheeks because of the raw emotion that was captured in each simple story.  Those words are perfectly matched with photographs that capture the intelligence, trauma, and sweetness of the more than sixty dogs featured.

Sessions and Bullock tracked down dogs all over New Zealand and all over Christchurch to complete their book, a book that has the feel of their passion to share these amazing stories.  Some of the funds from the book are going to support HUHA (Helping You Help Animals) a charitable trust which helps animals of all shapes and sizes.  There are clear themes throughout the book of dogs working closely with people to help people in need (Police and USAR), dogs rehomed through HUHA during mercy missions to find new homes for dogs that people could no longer keep, and the stories of the dogs that have been able to stay with their families and the medical and emotional challenges some of the dogs have continued to face. 

I am not (too) ashamed to admit that I had more than a few moments where I had tears in my eyes because of a particularly touching relationship between two dogs, or because of the devotion shown by the people and their dogs - but there were also times when I had a somewhat goofy smile from relating to the personality of a particular dog.  One story in particular stayed with me, the story of the unknown dog - I tried to tell someone about it and choked up, and then choked up when I tried to read it to someone else.  While this is the story of the dogs of Christchurch, and the dogs who worked in Christchurch, it also captures some of the drama, confusion, and despair people faced in the times after the quakes.

This is not an easy book to read in places, and it is such a unique book that it is difficult to suggest other titles that are the same.  If you enjoy Quake dogs or feel a strong connection to the story in terms of the connection between people and their animals then you may also enjoy some of the following stories about service animals and companion animals.

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The bitter kingdom by Rae Carson

The bitter kingdom is the third and final book in the girl of fire and thorns trilogy so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first two books in the series.  If you like reading series in order without spoilers then read The girl of fire and thorns and The crown of embers first.

Elisa has grown accustomed to having a life that is not her own - she is the bearer of a living Godstone, she has become queen of a country where she is a foreigner, she has become a young widow with the death of her husband, and she must make sacrifices to save her new country.  But Elisa is also a young woman who is beginning to understand the power she has over her own decisions, which is why she is travelling through hostile territory in the hope that she can catch up with the men who have taken her beloved Hector captive - and why she is determined to enter the Invierno homeland to put a stop to the hostilities between the two nations once and for all.

The journey was never meant to be easy, but it seems as though there is a new danger around every corner and even their small party can not travel without raising curiosity and the chance of discovery.  Her determination may be the only thing that keeps Elisa fighting to the end, but determination is not enough to keep away danger, hunger, and the crashing elements.  Elisa is fast approaching the moment when she must prove herself to her enemies, to her friends, and most importantly to herself.  Despite her strength Elisa still finds herself too trusting and her desire for peace for herself and her people may be her ultimate undoing.

The bitter kingdom is the final book in an epic series, one that took on the ambitious task of raising up a heroine of awe inspiring power and courage, as well as attempting to change the course of generations of hate and mistrust.  Overall Carson delivers a grand finale that ticks all the boxes, though at times it did feel as though the pacing was a little off - although to be fair that could have been because I was interrupted quite a few times while I was reading the second half of the novel and those interruptions often happened before or after something jaw droppingly surprising happened.

This series has been a new epic series for teenagers and adults a like and to a certain extent it reminds me of early Tamora Pierce - mainly in the sense that it is a very human story on a sweeping scale, one with strong female characters (and male characters), and a subtle weaving through of magic and destiny.  Elisa and her story are very genuine and at times I really connected with the characters because of how well they are drawn on the paper.  I sincerely hope that Carson will continue to write more stories, though not necessarily in Elisa's world as this story feels like it is now completed and settled.  While this series will appeal to girls because of the strong female characters and the interwoven stories of human connection, boys who don't enjoy that kind of thing will hopefully connect with the battle scenes and subplots of deception.

If you like this book then try:
  • The girl of fire and thorns by Rae Carson
  • The crown of embers by Rae Carson
  • Alanna the first adventure by Tamora Pierce
  • Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix
  • Throne of glass by Sarah J. Maas
  • The blue sword by Robin McKinley
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Crown duel by Sherwood Smith
  • Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
  • Daughter of smoke and bone by Laini Taylor
  • Winter of fire by Sherryl Jordan

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The chaos of stars by Kiersten White

Isadora is your average teenager - average except for the fact that her mother is Isis and her father is Osiris, as in the Egyptian god and goddess.  For the past few years she has rebelled against her mother and avoided learning about her role in her family, because although her parents are both gods Isadora is 100% mortal.  When she learns that her mother is pregnant with her next baby (about three years ahead of schedule) and that there is a dark force moving against her family Isadora is only too happy to be shipped off to stay with her big brother Sirus - but then again what 17 year old wouldn't want to move out of home (and the country) to get away from the grief at home.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Isadora soon discovers that she hasn't left her troubles behind her after all, because she keeps having bad dreams and weird things happen at her brothers house and the museum where she will help set up an exhibition of artefacts from her family.  It is enough to drive anyone crazy, and then she has the added complication of her friendship with Ry, because Ry doesn't seem to want to leave things at "just friends".

The chaos of stars is one of those books that almost feels a little too clever for its own good and I have to confess that I almost gave up after the first few pages, but I have loved Kiersten White's other books and gave the Isadora and her story the benefit of the doubt - and I am glad I did because it is a well crafted story that pulls together family drama, teen angst, a mystery, and an extra large dose of mythology on the side.  What initially felt like the author being too clever quickly settled into a grounding in the background of the story and a refresher of Egyptian mythology.  I loved Isadora as a character - who wouldn't love someone who bucks the system because they can, but also has a fierce loyalty to their family and mythology? 

The chaos of stars will not be to everyone's taste, even some of White's fans will have trouble settling into the story, but it is well crafted and leaves a tantalising feel that there may be more stories in this vein if not with the exact same characters.  It takes a talented author to take real world and blend it together with the fantastical and White is very good at doing that, and she is very very good at creating believable and absorbing mythologies.  Another gem from Kiersten White.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Don't look now by Michelle Gagnon

Don't look now is the sequel to Don't turn around so this review contains ***SPOILERS***  If you like to read series in order then read Don't turn around before reading anymore of this review.

Noa and Peter have gone their separate ways - working individually but together, to bring down Project Persephone and rescue the kids that have been taken from the streets.  Peter is using his computer skills to track down the labs where the kids are taken and Noa then conducts a raid on the facility with her small team.  It is a system that has been working, but it is a very small scale operation and they know there are still kids being taken off the streets for PEMA research.  When a raid goes badly Noa and her team find themselves running for safety with some new recruits in tow - and one of them has Noa on edge although she can't explain why and the others just think Noa is jealous.  At the same time Peter is facing his own challenges as what seemed like a cunning plan backfires and leaves him making difficult choices.

Don't look now follows on closely from the events in Don't turn around and keeps up the tension and the pace as we rejoin Peter and Noa a few months after they have gone their separate ways - each of them facing new challenges and tough choices.  They have both continued to grow as individuals, and with new challenges coming thick and fast they have to make snap decisions that could affect not only them but also the work they are trying to complete to bring down Project Persephone.  The characters from the first book are all present and accounted for, and while Noa and Peter are the main characters there are subplots woven through the novel keeping you in touch with the rest of the characters and what is happening in their lives.

This series is one of those series where it is really beneficial to read the books in series order - mainly because there are subtleties to the plot that you miss if you haven't read the first book before reading the second (and in some cases not so subtle).  The pacing of these books is well handled, with a fast pace balanced with the occasional downtime to give you a chance for a breath before you launch into the next action scene. 

The final book in the series appears to be titled Don't let go but I couldn't find anymore information or a publication date so hopefully there will be more information available soon.  This is a brilliant series and I have high hopes for a satisfying conclusion to the series because Gagnon has set a very high standard for herself with this series.

If you like this book then try:
  • Don't turn around by Michelle Gagnon
  • Altered by Jennifer Rush
  • Mila 2.0 by Debra Drizer
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • Arrival by Chris Morphew
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • Subject Seven by James A. Moore
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • Proxy by Alex London

Reviewed by Brilla