Sunday, January 27, 2013

What's left of me by Kat Zhang

In a world where every body is born with two souls, it is the norm for one of those souls to fade into oblivion while the body is still a child, leaving one soul and one body - the way they say it should be.  But sometimes something doesn't happen (or does happen) and both souls survive, creating one of the dreaded hybrids that everyone fears so much.  Any child that doesn't settle at the right time, or when it is known for certain that the child is a hybrid, they are sent to one of the institutions to be "mended" so they can become part of society again.  It is a dangerous time to be a hybrid, and everyone knows to be on the lookout for the danger signs of a potential hybrid.
Eva and Addie live their lives with the constant knowledge that they can be discovered at any time - that one day someone will realise that Eva never fully faded away, that although she no longer has control over their body, she is still very much alive.  Addie has worked hard for both of them, keeping Eva a secret from everyone (including their family), trying to blend in with the other children so the doctors who watched her and waited for her to settle can relax and really believe the lie that she and Eva told.  It hasn't been easy, but they have managed until now - now they are both in danger, but it is a risk they both must be willing to take.
To tell you too much of the plot of What's left of me has the potential to ruin the story, because some of the greatest pleasure with this book is the unraveling secrets and the unfolding plot within plot that drives the story forward.  The idea behind the hybrid chronicles is fresh and original, the idea of each body being born with two souls is intriguing and makes you wonder what it would be like to have another personality (in fact another person) share your body with you, someone to talk to who has experienced everything you have, who can help with your homework when you are having a brain dead day - but then also realising that the other person ceases to exist (or you do) before you are fully out of childhood is just mind blowing.
On top of all that you add the fact that some people don't settle like they are "supposed" to, that some people become wanted criminals just because they are different - because they are hybrids.  The history of this world explains some of the paranoia, but the story also gives you intriguing glimpses of a conspiracy, or hidden ideas and dangerous secrets.  What's left of me was fascinating, gripping, and once you got used to the idea of how Eva and Addie "worked" it was a fast paced and smoothly written story that has left me desperate for book two to see what happens next.  While not as fully "dystopian" as some of the other books in this genre, this book will appeal to readers who like that genre.
If you like this book then try:
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • Eve by Anna Carey
  • When we wake by Karen Healey
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • Revived by Cat Patrick
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • Subject seven by James A. Moore
  • Numbers by Rachel Ward
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • Sleeper code by Tom Sniegoski
Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, January 24, 2013

When we wake by Karen Healey

Tegan Oglietti was sixteen years old on the day she died, and just over one hundred years later she is revived from cryogenic stasis to find she is living in a very different world.  The Australia she knew is a distant memory  - the food, the people, the technology, and the music are all different - the only thing that is the same is Tegan.  She has woken to a world where the military that paid for her care and revival essentially own her, she can ask for what she wants, but ultimately Colonel Dawson and his team have the right to tell her what to do and when.  In some ways this is an advantage, Tegan has no clue about her new world, the technology is strange and scary - she can't even recognise some of the things she sees for what they are (I mean who knew a computer could become so small and un-computer like). 

Australia has also become closed and unfriendly, no one can become an Australian citizen or resident, the only way to be Australian is to be born there to Australian parents.  Tegan quickly becomes a source of media interest, and she has the dubious pleasure of being the target of groups that consider her to be without a soul (because she died and therefore no longer has a soul because her soul is with God), and another group that says Tegan is not an Australian because she had already died.  It is a tense and confusing time, made more confusing because things are not what they seem.  People are keeping secrets from Tegan, but who and what are they hiding?

Dystopian novels still seem to be really popular at the moment, and while when we wake is not your typical post apocalyptic dystopian novel, it is somewhat more poignant because you get to experience the world that was and the world that is through the same pair of eyes.  Tegan's story is not a smooth transition from start to finish, there is a little bit of jumping around in the story that took a little getting used to, but by the end I didn't notice the transitions from one view to the other.  This was an enjoyable read, one that was absorbing and had plenty of ideas bouncing around in my head - like how do you control population growth if you are seen as a land of plenty, are people really dreaming if they think that in the world of the future everyone will be able to live clean and green, and how far should a government go to protect just their people and their land when everything on the planet is connected? 

This story had a lot of different levels and I enjoyed the story as much as the message - the writing was strong, the characters were interesting and well developed, and I liked some of the things that were so normal that we still consider different or wrong.  A great read, and while it feels like there might be potential for a sequel (or at least another book set in the same time and place, but from a different persons perspective).

If you like this book then try:
  • Arrival by Chris Morphew
  • The interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina
  • Beta by Rachel Cohn
  • Origin by Jessica Khoury
  • The line by Teri Hall
  • The Selection by Kiera Cass
  • Revived by Cat Patrick
  • Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
  • Eve by Anna Carey

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Master and God by Lindsey Davis

Having learnt so much about Vespasian, (in Davis' previous standalone novel, The course of honour) I’ve always wondered how and why his younger son, Domitian, turned out so badly. Vespasian and his oldest son, Titus, appear to be so capable and sane. Domitian, not so much.

The story begins with the meeting of young Flavia Lucilla, reporting a burglary, and vigile Gaius Vinius. Their first meeting is cut short when Rome is threatened by fire while the Emperor Titus is on his second visit to Pompeii, following the infamous 79AD eruption. Days into fire-fighting and Gaius meets the emperor’s heir, Domitian. This fateful encounter sets the scene for the following story, with Gaius appointed to the Praetorian Guard, and Lucilla’s growing fame as a hairdresser to the court.

Underlying the changing relationship between the two, is the growing madness and paranoia of Rome’s Master and God, the Emperor Domitian. A situation that leaves Rome edgy and afraid.

Davis is adept at weaving modern-day sensibilities and dialogue into a richly detailed historical setting. You feel as though you can taste and smell the food, and feel the cobbles under your feet. Not only is this a well-paced, brilliantly researched, yet accessible, historical novel, it is also a story of relationships, and moral struggles.

If you like this, try:
  • Davis' Falco novels, beginning with The silver pigs.
  • Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn.
  • Pompeii by TL Higley.
  • Rome: the emperor's spy by MC Scott.
  • Hero of Rome by Douglas Jackson.
  • Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough.
Reviewed by Thalia.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The gobbledygook is eating a book by Justine Clarke and Arthur Baysting; illustrated by Tom Jellett

There are some books that just grab you as soon as you start to read, while others grab you as soon as you see the cover - and The Gobbledygook is eating a book is definitely one of those books that grabbed me from the moment I saw the front cover.  This strange little monster sitting all alone on the cover, clasping pages lovingly to its chest while gazing up at the title had me intrigued, and the punchy and amusing story that follows kept me hooked right to the end. 

The rhythm and rhyme keeps up through the whole book and carries the reader from page to page as the Gobbledygook meets a little girl who is determined to show it how books should be used (and how they shouldn't be eaten).  As a librarian working in a public library I really enjoy any book that encourages children to read books for the fun of it - because reading for pleasure encourages literacy skills and helps set children up for their future of work, study, and play. 

This has been one of my favourite picture books recently for encouraging reading for fun - the story is fresh and new, and the illustrations match the text perfectly.  Boys and girls will both enjoy this book, and I am sure that there will be loads of parents out there soon who can recite the Gobbledygook from memory!

If you like this book then try:
  • The children who loved books by Peter Carnavas
  • No T.Rex in the library by Toni Buzzeo; ilustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa
  • Bark, George by Jules Feiffer
  • Don't let the pigeon drive the bus by Mo Willems
  • Click, clack, moo: Cows that type by Doreen Cronin
  • Tadpole's promise by Jeanne Willis; illustrated by Tony Ross
  • No, David! by David Shannon
  • Croc and bird by Alexis Deacon
  • Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann
  • Stephanie's ponytail by Robert Munsch; illustrated by Michael Martchenko

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My dad is beautiful by Jessica Spanyol

Finding books about mums and dads can be a challenge, especially if you want to find a book about just one of the parents for children that have either lost a parent or don't know one of their parents.  My dad is beautiful is an incredibly simple, yet also incredibly sweet book about one little child and all the reasons that they think their dad is beautiful (although maybe it should really be "my dad is great because...").

I loved the simplicity of this book, it has great repetition for young children coming to grips with language, and it is also a great book for fathers to read to their children.  The illustrations are simple and have a unique charm because they have bears rather than people (you don't have to worry about what you look like as a dad). 

This would make a great fathers day present for dads with young children - especially when they come to grips with the story and can read it to their own dads.

If you like this book then try:
  • My mum is beautiful by Jessica Spanyol
  • Just like my mum by David Melling
  • Just like my dad by David Melling
  • Kisses for daddy by Frances Watts
  • My dad is brilliant by Nick Butterworth
  • My mum is fantastic by Nick Butterworth
  • I love you just the way you are by Virginia Miller

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, January 11, 2013

Let's go for a drive! by Mo Willems

Elephant and Piggie are the bestest of friends and they have all sorts of adventures and great times together - and Let's go for a drive! is no exception.  Elephant has the great idea of going for a drive, but needs a helping hand to plan the adventure - and Piggie is just the pig for the job.  What follows is the typical madcap madness that has become Mo Willems trademark for this terrific twosome.

Elephant and Piggie books are perfect for reading aloud - either big person and little person, or (as our personal favourite) read aloud to an audience by two friends who can bring all the energy and enthusiasm of the books to live.  The illustrations perfectly match the story and bring an infectious enthusiasm that encourages readers to throw themselves into character and do justice to the stories. 

I am not sure how Mo Willems manages to come up with all the storylines that he does for our favourite elephant and pig, but everytime a new story appears at work their are squeals of delight and a rush to find the right partner to read the story with so you can entertain everyone with the story at the same time.

If you like this book then try:
  • My friend is sad by Mo Willems
  • Elephants cannot dance! by Mo Willems
  • I broke my trunk! by Mo Willems
  • Happy pig day! by Mo Willems
  • Watch me throw the ball! by Mo Willems
  • Don't let the pigeon drive the bus! by Mo Willems
  • Don't let the pigeon stay up late! by Mo Willems
  • New socks by Bob Shea

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The children who loved books by Peter Carnavas

Angus and Lucy are two children who may not have a lot of material things, but the one thing they have a lot of is a love of books.  Their house is a small caravan crammed to the brim with books, they don't have a television, and they don't have a car - but they have worlds at their fingertips through their extensive collection of books.  Their hundreds of books are piled here and there around the caravan, but one day their home can take no more and the books have to go.  What Angus, Lucy and their parents discover is that their home is very empty indeed without their books, they have lost their books but so much more.  One day somethings tumbles out of Lucy's school bag that will change things - for all of them.

This is a charming picture book that is simple but very effective, and makes a wonderful addition to any family bookshelf for read aloud sharing.  The characters are simply but warmly drawn, and the world they inhabit could be anywhere in the world, or just around the corner.  The story is simple, but also has a hidden depth, and while there is the strong message that reading and books are important, it is delivered in such a way that it doesn't hit you over the head with the message.  A wonderful, warm, shareable read for the whole family - from little ones listening to stories, through to preschoolers learning to sound out their words, through to school age children who enjoy a lovely family read.

If you like this book then try:
  • No T.Rex in the library by Toni Buzzeo; illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa
  • The Gobbledygook is eating a book by Justine Clarke and Arthur Baysting; illustrated by Tom Jellett
  • It's a book by Lane Smith
  • Library lion by Michelle Knudsen; illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
  • The library dragon by Carmen Agra Deedy; illustrated by Michael P. White
  • Wild about books by Judy Sierra; pictures by Marc Brown
  • The librarian of Basra: A true story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter
  • Miss Brooks loves books (and I don't) by Barbara Bottner; illustrated by Michael Emberley
  • The library by Sarah Stewart; illustrated by David Small

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Throne of glass by Sarah J. Maas

Celaena Sardothien is beautiful and deadly, sent to the salt mines of Endovier for the crime of being Adarlan's Assassin.  She has survived in the death camp for a year, something no one else has ever done, and she has survived with her mind and spirit intact - although her physical shape leaves a lot to be desired.  She is waiting to die, waiting for the mines or the King to finish her off - she does not expect the Crown Prince to offer her a chance at her freedom.  There is only one catch, to gain her freedom she must win a tournament and become the King's Champion.  As King's Champion she will have to obey his orders, including assassinations, but after just four years of servitude she will be free to live her own life.

The training for the tournament will not be easy, she must rebuild her body after a year of hard labour, and return her strength after a year of near starvation - and she she must survive the trials themselves, and the tests that form the tournament.  There is also something dark stalking the halls of the castle, something that is picking off the other potential champions one-by-one, killing them in a brutal and gruesome fashion.  Life at Court is also not easy, there are undercurrents of deceit and maneuvering for power that are as dangerous as the battles and training.  Hidden behind a false name, and forced to hide what she is really capable of, Celaena slowly realises that there is more to the tournament and life in the castle than she thought.

Throne of glass is the first book in what promises to be an epic series, one with real depth and an addictive storyline.  Celaena is intense, surprisingly vulnerable, driven, and very human - characteristics that make her both more believable and more relatable.  The language of the story is quite modern, there are moments where it almost seems like the story could be happening right now, but that adds to the relatability of the story (nobody likes reading a book when you have to keep a dictionary handy to figure out what the characters are talking about).  The other characters are well developed and equally engaging, even if at times you want to slap some of them (yes Kaltain I am talking about you!).

This is not a lightly written novel, it has depth and character, which is just as well as the story is over 400 pages and it takes a good writer to keep an audience thoroughly engaged through all of those pages - and Maas does it with style and skill.  There is great promise for this series if Throne of glass is any indication, and Maas has the potential to become one of the great fantasy voices of her generation, a new master (or mistress if you prefer) of the genre.  I enjoyed this book immensely and look forward to seeing what is next for Celaena and her world, as the ending hints and promises there is more to come.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Megacatastrophes!: nine weird ways the world could end by David Darling & Dirk Schulze-Makuch

I’m quite partial to the odd science book. Odd in both senses: an-indeterminate-number and quirky. It sounded like it fitted both definitions.

When I have a few things going on and my brain’s feeling a bit full, I relax by reading non-fiction. Popular science books are a favourite at this time – enough information to keep my mind occupied, but not so difficult that I struggle to figure it out.

This is entertaining in content and in writing style. Chapter 2 ‘When physics goes wrong’ is particularly relevant, with the discussion of the search for the Higgs boson (‘The God Particle’) using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The subject itself is fascinating and, having watched a few docos on it, thought it would be right up my alley. And it was.

Entertaining, educational, and intriguing. Good for science-fans, but not necessarily serious science-types.

Other info-tainment sciency-books are:
  • The geek-manifesto by Mark Henderson.
  • The science of Doctor Who by Paul Parsons.
  • Bad science by Ben Goldacre.
  • Star Trek, I'm working on that by William Shatner.
  • Science is golden by Karl Kruszelnicki.
Reviewed by Thalia.