Sunday, May 26, 2013

Dark triumph by Robin LaFevers

Dark triumph is the sequel to Grave mercy so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read Grave mercy yet.  If you like reading series in order then read Grave mercy before you read this review.

Sybella is one of Deaths handmaidens, and she is very good at what she does.  The Abbess of the convent knows that Sybella is gifted in the arts of death and seduction, a combination that makes it easy for her to reach her targets because they welcome her with open arms - and where they welcome her they also welcome death.  But Sybella's latest mission is one that poses great danger, not only because she has been sent into the home of a ruthless man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, but also because that man is her father. 

Sybella escaped from her family, but she was left broken and half-mad - until she found peace at the convent and developed her skills so she could carry out the will of Mortain, but something is not quite right, sometimes it seems as though the Abbess has secrets.  Back in the loving embrace of her family, and far from the care and protection of the convent, Sybella finds herself struggling to keep a clear head and most of all stay safe.  The twisted past of her family haunts her, and Sybella must face her own personal demons to stay on the mission her Abbess has sent her on.  The one thing that keeps her going is the knowledge that she can kill her father as soon as the marque appears - a marque that is richly deserved.

Dark triumph is the sequel to Grave mercy and follows the story of Sybella, but continues on from and overlaps with the events that Ismae faces in Grave mercy - the third and final book in the series promises to follow the story of Annith.  This series is richly steeped in historical detail, although LaFevers admits at the end of this book that she compressed time and took some poetic licence to make the history work for the story.  This is a strong story which is rooted in a very real world, one that lives and breathes with people who are fighting their own battles, who are working behind the scenes to get what they want, and just a touch of magic through the touch of the god Mortain on Sybella, Ismae, and the other girls who are the daughters of death (or another god which is mentioned). 

It took me a few pages to get back into the story because it is so different from what I have been reading lately, but also because it has been some time since I read Grave mercy - a grumble I have had a few times lately because I tend to read books when they first come out and then have to wait for the sequels to come (and I seldom have time to re-read the previous books because my shelves are packed with new books to read).  This is  a fantastic series for young people who like to have a solid foundation for their stories with a well developed casts of characters, and language that you can sink your teeth into.  This is not a simple story, it is an epic tale that is part of an even greater epic tale, and the historical detail helps to make it both captivating and thoroughly engaging. 

This is one for the boys and the girls, although the touch of developing romance for some of the characters may have the boys rolling their eyes and skipping ahead to the fight scenes.  As an adult reader this was still an absorbing read written by a deft hand, but older teens will also enjoy the story.  Younger teens may struggle with some of the themes (incest and murder), and parents may want to have a quick look to make sure they are happy with the tone of the book and what it involves.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Catch the Zolt by Phillip Gwynne

Dom Silvagni is nothing special, sure his family has money and he is a pretty good middle distance runner, but other than that he is pretty ordinary.  Pretty ordinary, until his father and grandfather reveal that now he is fifteen he has to complete six tasks for the Dent, tasks to settle a debt one of his family agreed to in the very distant past.  His father completed his tasks, but his grandfather didn't and his missing leg is a grim reminder that if Dom fails to complete his tasks that the Debt will literally take their pound of flesh instead.

When  his first assignment arrives Dom is convinced he is doomed to failure from the start - he has to catch the Zolt, a teenaged one-man crime spree who has been going all Robin Hood on the holiday homes of the rich on Reverie Island.  When he learns that the Zolt has already been captured it seems as though it truly is an impossible task - but things are not what they seem.  Dom is about to see just how far he can push himself and what he is really capable of.

Catch the Zolt is the first of six books in The Debt series.  This was an interesting read for me as I didn't actually like the book that much for the first 100 pages or so because it reminded me a little too much of other books, but I also couldn't put it down because it was relatively well written and I wanted to see where the series was going.  The fact there are six books in the series makes it pretty obvious that Dom is going to succeed at least some of the time, but I did get a little hooked to see what would happen and how far fetched the storyline would get - and I was pleasantly surprised by how realistic the storyline stayed as the story progressed (realistic as far as these things go).

This series feels a little too much like Conspiracy 365 for my taste, mainly I think because it is a serialised story, because it involves things starting with a significant date, and because it is based around an Australian teenager.  I do think though that my review is somewhat tainted by the fact that I am an adult and an adult female - quite removed from the teen male audience this series is obviously written for.  This is the kind of story that I would give to my teenage nephew and I would recommend it to teen readers at work so try it and see what you think. 

There have been some good series out of Australia over the past few years, mainly written by young male writers and The Debt looks like it could translate relatively easily to readers in other countries if they enjoy high octane stories driven by the action rather than the relationships, with a touch of drama just to round out the story.

If you like this book then try:
  • The arrival by Chris Morphew
  • The recruit by Robert Muchamore
  • Conspiracy 365: January by Gabrielle Lord
  • Agent 21 by Chris Ryan
  • The lab by Jack Heath
  • Mister Monday by Garth Nix
  • Thyla by Kate Gordon

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, May 20, 2013

Something in the water by Trevor Baxendale

Torchwood is one of the worst kept secrets in Wales, an agency outside the law that deals with the odd and dangerous, the heroes in the black SUV that drive in to save the day when things get messy.  They are a tight team and used to using their unique skills to make progress in whatever Rift related challenge they are facing, but this time the team is a little fragmented and focused on different projects.  Tosh and Gwen are ghost hunting. and Owen has become more than a little distracted by a mysterious illness that has struck a community not far from the Rift.  To make matters worse weird sparks of Rift image are appearing and disappearing, tantalising little sparks that something isn't right.

As Captain Jack Harkness and his team try and solve the mystery they find themselves at risk of becoming part of the mystery, a mystery that seems to revolve around a woman named Saskia Harden and the legend of water hags.  When Tosh and Gwen discover a body in the bog and bring it back to the Hub they are shocked to discover that the dead body still has secrets to share - secrets that start them on a race against time.

One of the best things about reading books based on a television series is finding an author who manages to capture the charm of the series and the quirks of the characters - creating a story that reads like an episode of the show.  Baxendale has nailed the team of Torchwood, the quirks, the subtle charms, the lurking immaturity which makes them both a tight knit and somewhat childish team.  You can hear the characters through the writing, picture the boyish charm of the roguish Captain, and picture the horror as the supernatural villain rears it head and wreaks havoc on the team and the rest of the "cast". 

This is an old book in the series, written in 2008, and there have been cast changes in the series since but these early episodes is my favourite time period, a time when it was more about the freaky events and monsters than story arcs that got increasingly far fetched - a time when you could picture things happening rather than having a little trouble suspending belief.  I loved Torchwood and this book was a good fix.

If you like this book then try:
  • X-files: Ruins by Kevin J. Anderson
  • X-files: Skin by Ben Mezrich
  • Supernatural: Witch's Canyon by Jeff Mariotte
  • Supernatural: Night terror by John Passarella
  • Doctor Who: The kings dragon by Una McCormack
  • Doctor Who: Nuclear time by Oli Smith
  • Torchwood: First born by James Goss

Reviewed by Brilla

Altered by Jennifer Rush

For years Anna has helped her father study the young men who live in the lab in their basement.  At first she snuck into the lab, a secret act of rebellion to see what was down there, but once she was caught she became his assistant.  It is a consistent life, during the day she records the results of the tests and putters about through family life with her dad - but at night she spends time with the boys getting to know them as individuals.  There is Cas who is always hungry, always ready to try one of the recipes her mother wrote down in her journal.  There is Trev who is good natured and the closest thing she has to a friend, who chats with her and makes her feel connected.  There is also Nick, who seems to have a cold detachment from Anna, a cold detachment that appears as though it could easily turn to hate.  And finally there is Sam, the member of the group that Anna feels a real connection to, the person that seems to affect her like no one else.

Anna knows that the boys are part of some experiment for Branch, but she has no idea what she is really working with.  When the day comes for the boys to be taken away, Anna witnesses a fierce escape, and finds herself on the run with them when her father begs Sam to take her with them.  It is a scary new world for Anna, one where she is no longer protected by glass and walls, the boys are all around her, and she doesn't know what to believe and who to trust.  When they begin to unravel the mystery of who they were before, Anna and Sam come to realise that there is more going on than they thought - with themselves, with the boys, and with Branch.

Altered is a fast paced and absorbing read, right from the start you connect with Anna and her world, which is just as well as you are dragged at breakneck speed through an action thriller adventure as Sam races against time to solve the mystery of who they are and what Branch really wants with them,  At times it is not clear what genre this book belongs to, but that doesn't matter as the text is well written with strong characters that each carry part of the story, and there are little twists and turns that keep you guessing about what is coming next. 

It was a little difficult to tell if this was the first book in a series or not, the ending is satisfying and concluding, but there is room for the story to continue.  The trend in publishing seems to have shifted from vampires and werewolves, then to dystopian futures, and now there seems to be a trend to have books that involve genetics and advanced applications of science - and Altered is one of the better books from the latest trend.  The characters are great and are easy to connect to, the pace is carefully controlled, and the plot has been well thought out.  I thoroughly enjoyed Altered and hope that this is not the only book we have from Rush - a great debut novel.

If you like this book then try:
  • Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • MILA 2.0 by Debra Driza
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • The program by Suzanne Young
  • Adaptation by Melinda Lo
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • Agent 21 by Chris Ryan
  • Revived by Cat Patrick
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • Virals by Kathy Reichs
  • Unremembered by Jessica Brody
  • When we wake by Karen Healey

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, May 13, 2013

Slide by Jill Hathaway

Sylvia "Vee" Bell is most of the way to being the school freak because everyone thinks she has narcolepsy which means she can drop off to sleep at any minute without any warning.  It is a frustrating condition, one that leaves her tired and sometimes grumpy.  Her best friend Rollins thinks she also has OCD because she hates to touch things other people have handled, but it isn't really OCD - and it isn't really narcolepsy either.  What people take as a narcolepsy attack are really moments when Vee loses grip on her own body and own consciousness and slides into someone elses mind, seeing the world through their eyes.

It is a lonely existence because she has no one to tell, no one she thinks will believe her - she is even too afraid to tell Rollins, letting him believe she is just a little weird is better than him thinking she is crazy.  As if high school wasn't stressful enough, now she has to worry about sliding into the wrong person too.  Sliding used to be a rare event, but with each year that passes Vee slides more and more - and this time she has seen something she wasn't meant to see, the murder of a girl from school.  Vee can't get the image out of head, and to make matters worse everyone thinks it was a suicide.  Then a second body is discovered and Vee struggles with the realisation that someone she has met is a killer - because she can only slide into someone when she touches something that belongs to them, something they have made a connection with.

Slide was a fun and absorbing read, one that had me hooked from the beginning and rapidly turnign the pages to find out who the killer was and what their connection was to Vee.  This is not high brow literature, but it was an addictive read that I did not want to put down, and there were enough viable murder suspects to keep the story moving at a rapid pace with the twists and turns leading to an expected/unexpected ending that has left me itching to read the next book in the series.  The characters are not rendered in great detail, but they are well defined and easy to connect with, and while there are the expected characters in a teenage novel (the cheerleader, the rebel, the jock, the ex best friend) they are not so cliched that you roll your eyes and sigh and wait for something new.

The "science" of how sliding works is well thought out and Hathaway obviously spent a little it of time figuring out the rules of how sliding works because each slide felt "real" - nothing happened to jar you out of the reality.  I really enjoyed this book and hope that Hathaway continues to write more books, not only in the series, but also in general as she has a deft touch for writing readable books that leave you absorbed, fascinated, and thoroughly satisfied.  I can't wait for Imposter to arrive so I can see what happens next for Vee, her family, and friends.

If you like this book then try:
  • Imposter by Jill Hathaway
  • Numbers by Rachel Ward
  • Anna dressed in blood by Kendare Blake
  • Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Origin by Jessica Khoury
  • Sister assassin by Kiersten White
  • Fracture by Megan Miranda
  • Every other day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • The future of us by Jay Asher
  • Revived by Cat Patrick
  • Sleeper code by Tom Sniegoski
  • Thirteen days to midnight by Patrick Carman

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Breaking point by Kristen Simmons

Breaking point is the sequel to Article 5 so there will be ***SPOILERS*** in this review if you have not already read Article 5.  If you like reading series in order then read Article 5 first.

In what seemed like an impossible move Ember Miller and Chase Jennings escaped certain death at the hands of the Federal Bureau of Reformation (FBR) and they have taken shelter with the Resistance.  Everything feels very strange, but they have settled into an uneasy routine, one that is shattered when a sniper starts killing soldiers and Ember ends up on a highly publicised list of suspects - a list that is painting a target on her back for any soldier to take a shot at her, and for any civilian to turn her in for a reward.  It is a desperate time, and with the  FBR squeezing the marginalised it seems like it is only a matter of time until Ember is caught and turned over to the authorities.

It should be a terrifying time, Ember should be watching the shadows and be ready to run - but instead she is more determined than ever to fight her own battles and take her fair share of the danger.  When a new recruit appears in the Resistance headquarters, Ember and Chase are immediately on the defensive because the new recruit is someone from their past, someone that immediately has them on edge.  With the word Sniper hanging over her head it is only a matter of time before Ember has to deal with her past, and with the lies that have been told - by her, and by people around her.  As Ember, Chase, and Sean push forward with their plan to rescue Rebecca, they realise that nothing is what it seems, and there really may be no one they can truly trust - except for each other.

Breaking point is the sequel to Article 5, one of those books that took a little while for me to get into but thoroughly enjoyed once I was well into the story.  One of the most interesting aspects of this story is that it is not some far distant dystopian future where it has been centuries since the cataclysmic event happened, instead what you are experiencing is the change from a war torn country into a truly dystopian future.  Through Ember and Chase you experience the small changes that over time make the control of the state more intense, as it becomes a crime not to do something, but to instead be something.  The religious links in the story are fascinating, especially as real effort is often made to separate the State and the Church in most of our current societies.  Article 5 and Breaking point really do raise the issue of what could happen if someone who was extremely religious came into power and took over a government.

Breaking point continues on immediately after Article 5 so if you have not read the first book, or if it has been some time since you read the first book then it may take a chapter or two for you to fully immerse yourself back into the story.  One of the strongest features of Article 5 and Breaking point are the strong characters and the relationships between those characters - no one in this world is perfect, and they make some very realistic and human mistakes.  From what I can tell Article 5 is a trilogy so bring on book three so we can all see how the series ends!

If you like this book then try:
  • Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
  • Arrival by Chris Morphew
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • Origin by Jessica Khoury
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • Tomorrow, when the war began by John Marsden
  • The selection by Kiera Cass

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Fractured by Teri Terry

Fractured is the sequel to Slated, and because of that this review contains ***SPOILERS***.  If you prefer to read a series in order then stop reading now until you have read Slated.

A person who has been slated is supposed to have a clean slate, their past is supposed to be removed completely, and they are supposed to be incapable of violence.  Kyla now knows that what is supposed to be and what actually is are two completely separate things.  When Wayne attacked her part of her was released, something that should have been gone forever - part of her true self that survived the slating process.  She is confused and feels pulled in different directions - in one direction she is the Slated girl Kyla, and in the other direction she is Rain.  At times it feels as though she is fractured beyond repair, because not only does she has memories from Rain, she also seems to be remembering things about Lucy.

With her life fractured into three sets of memories, and more than one mixed emotion, Kyla is also confronted with conflicting loyalties.  Should she be loyal to Nico, the man from her past who expects her to be a good little soldier, to fight for the cause that would label her a terrorist in the eyes of the law.  Maybe she should just stay Kyla, and be loyal to the woman that she has come to really care for, the woman she calls mother.  There is also the added complication of the Lorders and Dr. Lysander who all seem to have expectations of her - expectations that may lead her down a path that she is not ready to travel yet.  It is a confusing time, and with so much of her past coming to the surface, Kyla is slowly but surely unravelling, caving in to the pressure around her, making choices that she may regret - if she lives long enough that is.

Fractured is the sequel to Slated and I was very much looking forward to reading it as the first book in the series was original, dark, and a shining example of a well thought out dystopian future in the making.  I did find it a little hard to get into the story in the beginning, but as is often the case this was simply because it has been nearly a year since I read Slated and even good books get a little hazy after such a long gap between novels.  Kyla has continued to develop as a realistic and engaging heroine and I am now eagerly awaiting the final book in the trilogy to see what happens.  The subplots that slowly trickle into the story over the course of the book lead to an explosive conclusion that is even more of a cliffhanger than Slated

A well written and absorbing story, one that leaves you wondering what twist and turn is coming next, and who the "bad guys" are.  As Kyla learns more about her past we also learn the depths to which some people will sink to reach their goals - no matter what the human cost may be.

If you like this book then try:
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • When we wake by Karen Healey
  • Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • Nobody by Jennifer Lynne Barnes
  • Enclave by Ann Aguirre
  • No safety in numbers by Dayna Lorentz
  • Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza
  • The always war by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • The declaration by Gemma Malley
  • Unremembered by Jessica Brody

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, May 3, 2013

The mirage by Matt Ruff

On November 9 2001, Christian fundamentalists hijacked four planes and aimed them at targets in the United Arab States.  One was brought down by the passengers, one flew into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh, and the others flew into the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad - killing thousands of people.  These unspeakable acts lead to the United Arab States declaring a War on Terror sending troops to establish a Green Zone in Washington, D.C.  It was supposed to be a relatively easy war to win, but nearly a decade later the UAS still has troops deployed in the Green Zone, and their troops are still coming under attack from Christian insurgents.

In the summer of 2009, Mustafa al Baghdadi interrogates a captured suicide bomber, but before the Arab Homeland Security agent can get the information he needs his investigation runs into resistance.  As part of his ongoing investigation, Mustafa discovers a puzzling artifact which shows the act of terrorism happened in New York on 9/11 - he immediately things it is a sick joke, a cruel part of a larger picture.  As he investigates further with the help of his team Amal and Samir, Mustafa learns that knowledge of the Mirage is growing, but he also learns that some people will stop at nothing to change the Mirage, while others will stop at nothing to keep it firmly in place.  But what is the Mirage, how did it come about, and what will it take to find the truth - and what will it cost Mustafa and his team?

The Mirage is one of those books that really opens your eyes and challenges you to really think about what is happening in the story - and by extension in our own world.  For some people this story will be offensive, plainly for the fact that it could appear to mock the tragedy of 9/11.  I am not an American, and while I was (and continue to be) horrified by the events of 9/11, I am far enough away to be able to read this book for what I think it was intended to be - a chance to look at the War on Terror from another perspective, a chance to really think about the causes of conflict and how we respond to it. 

Matt Ruff has been respectful of the situation, but he has also created a novel that makes you sit down and think about what happened and what continues to happen.  You can also see the dominoes of history, as each part of the story changes not only the 9/11 story, but also tweaks with some of the other countries and histories to create a world of Christian and Muslim nations that are not what (and sometimes where) you expect them to be.  This book wont be to every one's taste, but I found it fascinating and completely absorbing.  The names you would expect are all there, as well as some names you may not have, and I did not see the end coming - it was not what I was expecting but it was also very satisfying.  A thought provoking and absorbing read, with attention paid to the details that matter, and enough humanity built into the storyline to keep you attached to the main characters as they strive to uncover the truth of the Mirage - for themselves,. and for you.

If you like this book then try:
  • Bad monkeys by Matt Ruff
  • Tinker by Wen Spencer
  • Arctic rising by Tobias S. Buckell
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
  • Empire State by Adam Christopher
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  • The last policeman: A novel by Ben H. Winters

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

We love school by Lucie Billingsley

Starting school can be scary for children, but for the puppies in We love school it is a big adventure with lots of fun things to do.  There is painting and playtime and then a story from a big book - just like in a real kindergarten or school!  There is also time for something to eat at lunch, a bathroom break, and nap time.  Through the puppies children can learn that school can be fun, and the different activities in the book mirror what happens in a real preschool or school so when the child starts on their first day they will have an idea of what to expect.

Beyond the starting school message, this is a fun and enjoyable read, with illustrations that support the fun and energy of the story.  Puppies of all shapes and sizes are part of the class, and there are loads of bright colours including the text which has highlighted words.  This could be a great story for older children in the family to read to younger siblings, helping prepare them in a positive way for starting school. 

I loved this book because the puppies are so full of energy, and because I could easily visualise the havoc puppies would wreck if they really were in a classroom - especially if they were sharing the classroom with children!

If you like this book then try:
  • Bark, George by Jules Feiffer
  • First day of school by Anne Rockwell; pictures by Lizzy Rockwell
  • What puppies do best by Laura Numeroff; illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
  • The things I love about school by Trace Moroney
  • Muddypaws by Moira Butterfield; illustrated by Simon Mendez
  • Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's dairy by Lynley Dodd

Reviewed by Brilla