Thursday, February 21, 2013

Janie face to face by Caroline B. Cooney

Janie face to face is the fifth and final book in The face on the milk carton series and as such this review contains ***SPOILERS***.  If you like to read series in order then don't read this review any further until you have read the other books in the series.  That said, Janie face to face can be read on its own as some of the back story is covered by the story.

For years Janie has been the girl with her face on the milk carton, the child who was stolen away from one family as a toddler and raised by another.  She has been forced to live with her real family, and returned to the family that raised her, she has been betrayed by those she has loved and moved on - and now she faces one of the biggest challenges of all, she is moving out of home to attend college.  It is not an easy transition, but it is the first chance she has really had to leave the story of Janie/Jennie behind, a chance to be just one face amongst thousands. 

When a well known true crime author starts approaching Janie, her friends, and her family it looks as though that delicate peace will be destroyed.  But her family and friends know about Janie, and for the most part they respect her privacy - but there are simmering resentments boiling under the surface, resentments that may finally surface as Janie plans one of the biggest days of her life.

I loved The face on the milk carton when I read it for the first time, probably not too long after it was first released.  It was a gripping story with drama and tension to burn, and the sequels that followed fleshed out Janie's world and answered some of the "what next" questions you couldn't help wondering about.  I was not expecting another book in the series, and while Janie face to face is a very satisfying conclusion for the series, there are also parts of the book that really bugged me - one of the biggest was time.  The first book was written and set in 1990, and this latest book was written and set in 2013 - yet the story is only supposed to have covered a few years in the life of Janie.  To be a really seamless story it really needed to have been set in a consistent time period - but maybe that is just something that bugged me because I had read the whole series.

If you are the kind of reader who really likes a conclusion to a series, then you will hopefully enjoy the way that Janie face to face finishes the story and provides closure.  One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that it bounces backwards and forwards between Janie and her family and friends, and the view point of Hannah, at times this was a little bouncy for my taste but it did drive the story forward and provided a well rounded view of their world.  If you enjoy the story then try and track down the made for TV movie which starred Kellie Martin, which from memory was a pretty good dramatisation of the story.

Janie face to face is not an in depth and dramatic story, there are times when it is very tense and packed with action, but there are also times when it is packed with "fluff".  I enjoyed it because it was a good read without too much effort on my part required to follow the story, and at times it was nice to laugh out loud about some of the things that happened, and to roll my eyes at others.

If you like this book then try:
  • The face on the milk carton by Caroline B. Cooney
  • Whatever happened to Janie? by Caroline B. Cooney
  • The voice on the radio by Caroline B. Cooney
  • What Jane found by Caroline B. Cooney
  • Girl, missing by Sophie McKenzie
  • Locked inside by Nancy Werlin
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • You are my only by Beth Kephart

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ten things I love about you by Daniel Kirk

My favourite picture books are with the theme of family or friendship - two things that mean a lot to children, especially when they learn that people around them love them and care about them.  Some of my favourite friendship books are the Gerald and Piggie books by Mo Willems, and one of the things I love about those books is the honesty they have with each other, and how they don't need to talk about how much they love each other because they both know and show it in other ways.  Ten things I love about you has that same feeling, you know that Pig and Rabbit are friends because they understand each other so well, and because they are very in tune with each other. 

This charming and engaging story is matched with some cute illustrations that help the story come to life.  These are two best friends who know each other, and even though it seems as though Rabbit is annoying his friend Pig and driving him more than a little nuts, you soon learn the truth.  Charming and the perfect length for little listeners (not too long and not too short), this is a book to read over and over again.

If you like this book then try:
  • A flower in the snow by Tracey Corderoy and Sophie Allsopp
  • Croc and bird by Alexis Deacon
  • There is a bird on your head! by Mo Willems
  • Ben and duck by Sara Acton
  • Elephants cannot dance! by Mo Willems
  • We love you, Hugless Douglas! by David Melling
  • I broke my trunk! by Mo Willems

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Maddy West and the tongue taker by Brian Falkner

Maddy is just like any other child, except for the fact that she can speak any language that she hears.  When her mother first heard Maddy speaking Japanese she took her to the doctor so she could be "fixed" - but the doctor knew what a gift it really was.  Once her mother realised that there was fame and fortune to be made it was on to the television and nationwide exposure, but it also brings Maddy to the attention of some not so nice people, people who realise that Maddy's gift can help them with their own goals.  Taken far from her home in England to the country of Bulgaria, Maddy thinks she is about to help a professor translate some ancient scrolls - but she is in fact about to star in a grand adventure that will test her courage, her strength of character, and doing the right thing no matter what the cost.

Brian Falkner is one of my favourite authors for children, and the best part is that even though he now lives in Australia he is still one of the best home grown Kiwi authors for children - especially with his Kiwi flavoured earlier books.  Like Northwood, Maddy West is a charming and original story, a fresh voice in a crowded and competitive fantasy market.  Although the story is set in two real countries, there is a sense of a magical time and place for most of the story, and it could really be set in any time and place - you feel like there really could be a Maddy out there waiting to save the world with her unique gifts.

I loved Maddy West and hope (sincerely hope) that Brian Falkner has a long writing career as he has a knack of writing books that appeal to both boys and girls, and his stories have a wide appeal in terms of ages.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Maddy West to a younger reader with an advanced reading age, your average child read, the 'tween reader, teen readers who want a good read that is not too taxing when they are stuffing school info into their brains, and to other adults who just want to read something fun and interesting. 

If you like this book then try:
  • Northwood by Brian Falkner
  • Stone heart by Charlie Fletcher
  • The real thing by Brian Falkner
  • The world around the corner by Maurice Gee
  • Shape shifter: The naming of Pangur Ban by Fay Sampson
  • The half men of O by Maurice Gee
  • Hollow earth by John Barrowman and Carole Barrowman

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pieces of me by Darlene Ryan

Maddie has only been living on the streets for a short time, but she has already learned some of the do's and don'ts - she has definitely learnt enough to know not to trust every person she meets.  When she meets Q it seems as though they are destined to go their own ways, but something about him makes her trust him enough to let him lead her to a place where she can get a free meal without a sermon, and a safe place to sleep.  What starts as an uneasy relationship soon develops into a quick friendship, which quickly becomes complicated when their partnership grows to a threesome with the arrival of Dylan into their lives. 

Abandoned by his father, Dylan struggles to cope with the sudden lose of his family, a difficult time for anyone - never mind a small child.  As Maddie and Q struggle to keep a roof over the head of their growing family, Maddie comes to realise that things are not as straight forward as she thought, that she may not be able to handle the life she has chosen.  As things begin to unravel, Maddie has to make some difficult decisions, decisions that could change all their lives forever.

Maddie is a voice for the hundreds (if not thousands) of teenagers who have made the choice to live on the streets rather than face the life that waits for them at home - and other characters in the novel give voice to the other reasons that some children, teenagers, and adults end up on the streets.  At times it feels as though Maddie has it a little bit easy, she has developed a favourable relationship with one of the people at the shelter, she finds Q when she needs to, she finds someone who can help her find food, it sometimes feels a little too easy - but she is driven, caring, and smart which may make a difference. 

I felt a real connection to Maddie, maybe because she is so practical yet still really cares for the people who become her family, but also maybe just because she takes a difficult situation and doesn't fall into a spiral of self pity and drug use.  This is not a hard hitting novel, there are moments that shock you, but not enough to make this novel unsuitable for younger teen readers.  If you like to read real life reads, with a real teenage voice then Pieces of me may be the book for you. 

If you like this book then try:
  • Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
  • Cuts like a knife by Darlene Ryan
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • Trafficked by Kim Purcell
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

Three young ladies are about to cross paths as their unique places in society bring them into contact with a secret villain and each other.  Cora is the street urchin who has risen above her station in life to become the assistant and trusted right hand of Lord White - she helps him with his inventing and experiments, and acts as a social secretary to keep him on the straight and narrow and in the right place at the right time.  Nellie is the magicians assistant, who has learned a few things over the year about how to escape from tight corners, and she has also learned how to distract men with her good looks and bubbly personality.  Michiko is the samurai in training who has left her native Japan for an adventure in England, only to find that her new home is not the place she though it would be, and that her master is a brutal stupid man who makes bad choices and takes them out on her. 

They have nothing in common, nothing to bring them together - until they stumble across a murder and a murderer after a ball.  There is a mystery for them to solve, one that will use all their skills and the tricks of the trade they have learnt over the years.  For Cora it is a chance to prove herself, a chance to test her mind with a puzzle that has deadly consequences if she fails to unravel all the clues.  For Nellie it is the chance to be more than a pretty face, a chance for her to show that she has brains as well as beauty, and to prove to herself that she can have courage.  For Michiko it is a chance to discover what kind of samurai she is going to be, a chance for her to live the life of a samurai rather than just train to be one among men and boys who treat her as something of a joke.  Together they are stronger than they know - especially if they can drop their doubts and just run with it.

The Friday Society is a steampunk adventure that has more focus on the adventure and the mystery rather than world building, which for me was rather nice as the last steampunk novel I read was dripping in minute detail that quite frankly bugged me no end.  The characters here are well developed and are strong enough to stand on their own, however they have an equally impressive supporting cast that rounds out the story and makes it more believable.  I really enjoyed the story, although at times it was a little distracting to have the story bouncing from one character to the other through short chapters - it works to give you a view of the characters world, but it was a little distracting when lots of action was happening in a short space of time and the view kept bouncing through short chapters.  It feels like this could be the beginning of a series, and hopefully there are more because Cora, Nellie, and Michiko are great characters to spend time with, and their world is well rounded enough without drowning in detail.

If you like this book then try:
  • The golden compass by Philip Pullman
  • Etiquette and espionage by Gail Carriger
  • The girl in the steel corset by Kady Cross
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • Anna dressed in blood by Kendare Blake
  • Every other day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Legend by Marie Lu

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, February 4, 2013

The girl of fire and thorns by Rae Carson

Elisa is not a typical teenager, she is a princess of Orovalle and the chosen one, the bearer of the Godstone.  Once every one hundred years a child is blessed with a Godstone, the mark of a great destiny in their future.  She knows she is different and special, but she doesn't feel her worth and can't understand why god chose her, the useless second daughter who knows people laugh behind her back because her clothes get bigger each year and because she can not compete with the grace and intelligence of her older, perfect sister.  For years she has felt that god made a mistake, that she is not really the chosen one, even though the Godstone throbs with a gentle warmth every time she prays.  She seems destined for a rather boring life, until she is discovers that her father has agreed to marry her to King Alejandro - a man she has never met.

Taken away to his kingdom she barely escapes with her life when their caravan is attacked, and once she enters her new home she discovers that she is his wife in secret only, that he does not wish to acknowledge their marriage to his people.  Confused, Elisa tries to make herself at home in her new kingdom, but there are secrets surrounding her Godstone, secrets that she must uncover if she is to understand her stone and her destiny.  When circumstances find her far from any home she has ever known, Elisa discovers that she is not as useless as she has always believed, that her Godstone may in fact lead her to a great destiny - but at what cost?

The girl of fire and thorns feels a little bit like the old fantasy for teenagers (not a bad thing at all considering the current trend for vampires and werewolves).  Set in an ancient land that has a flavour of Spain with a dash of desert nomads, the story is sweeping with a rich history and a touch of magic that comes from an unexpected source.  The mythology is interesting, and while there are references to god it isn't about our god or Christianity, it is about a god that saved the people of the world and sends a "champion" of sorts every 100 years to help his people.  There are references to religious texts, complete with quoted passages, but it doesn't distract from the story.  An epic story that felt a little stilted in the writing, but which was very satisfying as a whole.

One of the best things about this story is that you can see the growth of the characters, particularly Elisa.  Too often in fantasy novels the hero or heroine is amazing from the start, a strong character that drives the story forward, facing any challenge in their way with grace and a strong will.  Elisa is different, she is full of self doubt and as the story unfolds you get to know the real Elisa, the one that just needed a chance to shine through.  The cast built around her are the same, they shift and grow as the story progresses - and there are some stereotyped characters that get knocked into reality through the course of the story.  I have requested The crown of embers so I can see what happens next for Elisa and her world.

If you like this book then try:
  • The crown of embers by Rae Carson
  • Alanna the first adventure by Tamora Pierce
  • Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix
  • The blue sword by Robin McKinley
  • Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
  • Daughter of smoke and bone by Laini Taylor

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Legend of the ghost dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

Tee and her brother Jack are in Alaska for two weeks while their dad researches sled dogs and their owners in the harsh and unforgiving wilderness.  It may be a harsh place to live, but it is also beautiful and has plenty of room for Tee and her beagle Henry to run around - but on one of their first outings they come across something that freaks Henry out and leaves Tee wondering exactly what is wandering around in the woods near their rental cabin.  When Tee makes friends with local girl Quin, she discovers that a mysterious ghost dog lurks in the woods near her temporary home, a dog with a history lost in time.

This book was a pleasant surprise as I was expecting your typical ghost story, one that is not particularly original, one that lacks depth - so I was really surprised to find that Legend of the ghost dog has a lot of thought behind it, and a sense of both history and respect for peoples beliefs.  There is a ghost story here, but it is one with meaning rather than just a chance to thrill the reader or leave them wanting to sleep with the light on.  Tee is your average nearly teenage girl, who happens to have the added challenges of a father who is lovely but very absent minded and distracted, and a somewhat spoilt younger brother who seems pretty used to getting his own way.

While this book is aimed at the 'tween market (8 - 12 year olds), younger teens may also enjoy reading it if they are struggling a little with their reading and want an interesting book that wont challenge their reading too much.  This book is also suitable for slightly younger readers looking for something to read that might challenge them a little bit.

If you like this book then try:
  • The quest begins by Erin Hunter
  • Balto and the great race by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
  • In the stone circle by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  • The ghost of Cutter Creek by Cynthia DeFelice
  • The ghost of Sadie Kimber by Pat Moon

Reviewed by Brilla