Monday, June 24, 2013

Nine days by Fred Hiatt

Ethan Wynkoop and his friend Ti-Anna Chen have an unusual friendship - mostly because her family would have trouble accepting that she has an American friend who also happens to be a boy.  Their secret friendship is really put to the test when Ti-Anna confides that her father has gone to Hong Kong and has gone missing - and she and her mother both fear that his status as an activist against Communist China has gotten him into trouble.

Thinking a little outside the box, Ethan comes up with a cunning plan - he and Ti-Anna can sneak off to Hong Kong and find her father - paid for by his "borrowed" credit card from his somewhat distracted and oblivious parents.  It seemed like a good idea, something that would be relatively simple to pull off, but right from the start there are forces at work that seem determined to keep Ti-Anna and Ethan from finding out the truth about what happened to her father.

Nine days is a relatively quick read, with the action happening in quick fire succession over the course of just over a week - the prose is well written without any waffly extra bits, which keeps the story moving forward (I think you will have no trouble picking up that the author is a newspaper journalist from his writing style).  The story itself is a little incredulous, that two teenagers could get so far in a country foreign to both of them, but it is not completely implausible.

The relationship between Ti-Anna and Ethan is very sweet, and you can see the depth of their friendship and the way it develops over the course of the novel.  This is an interesting political read too, not only because of the subject matter of the book, but also because of the note from the real Ti-Anna at the end of the book.  Communist China is a massive state, and it has been criticised over the years by many individuals who are considered very brave to speak out against the state, and I have heard stories of people being watched and "controlled" in the media - there is definitely a political lean to this novel, but it is not distasteful or too "in your face".

This book can be enjoyed as an adventure story, as an example of what two teenagers can do if they set their mind to something - but it can also be read as a true life read, and example of what happens when someone agitates against the State, and what can happen to young girls in foreign countries.  It is a social commentary, but it is also a great read.  This book will not be to everyone's taste because of the political overtones, but it was a good read.

If you like this book then try:
  • The recruit by Robert Muchamore
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Never fall down by Patricia McCormick
  • Trafficked by Kim Purcell
  • After by Francine Prose
  • The always war by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • The walls have eyes by Clare B. Dunkle
  • Legend by Marie Lu

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Game by Barry Lyga

Game is the sequel to I hunt killers so there are ***SPOILERS*** in this review.  If you like reading series in order then read I hunt killers before you read any more of this review.

The Impressionist has been caught and Jazz should be feeling pretty proud of himself - and he probably would if he didn't know that his dad is out of prison.  Being the son of the famous Billy Dent is bad enough, but living with the knowledge that moving the bird bath sent some kind of signal to help Billy escape is a heavy weight for Jazz to bear.  He is relatively content to settle down back into his life of school, looking after his senile grandmother, and avoiding sex with his girlfriend - but fate has other ideas.

When an NYPD detective comes knocking looking for Jazz's help with the Hat-Dog Killer it seems like the chance to get back in the game, a chance to live up to the message Jazz has tattooed on his chest - but things are not what they seem.  When he arrives in New York Jazz finds Connie has ignored his warning to stay away and has come to New York too, a city Jazz hates immediately because the little voice of Billy Dent that has always lived in the back of his head cranks up the volume and croons about all the prospecting Jazz could do in such a large city - so many people, a few could go missing easy.  It is a challenging game this time, and this time there are more players - and more bodies.

Sometimes a sequel tries too hard to live up to the original and fails miserably - Game is not one of those sequels, it is a force of nature sequel that sucks you in from the beginning and keeps up the tension to the mind blowing conclusion (damn cliffhangers).  I loved I hunt killers, it was an indepth read for teens that you don't often see, a story that wasn't dumbed down or softened for the teen audience, Lyga treated his audience with respect.  Game continues in that same vein, creating a story that is both chilling because of the backgrounds of the characters, but also addictive because of the way the story drives forward as you try and figure out who the bad guy is and what is really going on.

Both I hunt killers and Game are books for older teens, merely because of the subject matter, however I was thoroughly engrossed as an adult and if younger teens have someone to talk to about the subject matter if they have questions they should also enjoy the books as well.  From the ending it is clear there is at least one more book to come in the series - hopefully we don't have a long wait as I really want to see what happens next for Jazz and Connie.  This is a series that seems like it would translate well to a tv series or movie franchise, but unlike other series it doesn't feel like the author is a frustrated screen writer who wrote a novel hoping it will be "picked up".  Jazz and his world are incredible, and the creepy voice of Billy hovering in the background is just - well - creepy.

If you like this book then try:
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • The book of blood and shadow by Robin Wasserman
  • Acceleration by Graham McNamee
  • Death cloud by Andrew Lane
  • Crime seen by Jenny Pausacker
  • The Christopher killer by Alane Ferguson
  • Guy Langman, crime scene procrastinator by Josh Berk
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Goose by Laura Wall

Sophie likes to do lots of different things- but it's no fun when she does them by herself.  At the park she wants to do things, but there is no one to play with so she ends up doing them by herself.  Then one day she goes to the park and finds a rather unusual friend to play with - a goose!  Sophie and Goose have lots of fun together, but then one day Goose's friends fly over head and it is time for Goose to fly away.  Sophie is lonely when her new friend leaves, but it may not be forever.

There are some very simple books out there that are purely and simply charming and Goose is one of them.  Sophie could be any little girl in any city in the world (as long as they have geese and playgrounds) and her story will ring true for lots of different children - but Goose isn't an imaginary friend, Goose is a friend that brings some brightness into Sophie's life.  I loved this book and it's simply message and illustration style.  One for sharing for sure, and one that should read well as an out loud book.

If you like this book then try:
  • Goose goes to the zoo by Laura Wall
  • Goose on the farm by Laura Wall
  • Ben & duck by Sara Acton
  • Duckat by Gaelyn Gordon; illustrated by Chris Gaskin
  • Giggle, giggle, quack by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Betsy Lewin
  • Wanted: the perfect pet by Fiona Robertson

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The bunker diary by Kevin Brooks

Linus was only trying to help the blind man out, but by the time he figured out something was wrong it was too late.  When he woke up in the bunker he thought it was a bad dream, but it quickly turned into a nightmare.  In the bunker there are six little rooms, six plates, six cups and Linus has a bad feeling about that, a bad feeling that is confirmed when the first of the other five "guests" arrive in the bunker.  Over time the bunker slowly fills up, and over time Linus fills the pages of his diary with the day-to-day life of the bunker and the people trapped inside.

I knew when I picked this book up that it would not be an easy read, not when the name of the book and the first few pages confirmed that it is a very personal story about a teenage boy trapped in a bunker by a person who has complete control of his life - and the life of the other people in the bunker.  This is an intense and emotional read, and is definitely best left to mature teens who have the ability to process what is happening as well as understand what they are reading - the content could take a lot of explaining to younger teens and may bring up more questions that could be difficult to answer.

Without spoiling the story, and without giving too much away, this is an intense read right from the start, and with the little incidents that happen it quickly becomes both absorbing and disturbing.  Linus is remarkably mature and astute, but the fact he has been living on the streets leading up the abduction may have something to do with that.  The rest of the characters are well constructed and add to the drama and tension, especially the mysterious Him that has them all contained in the bunker.  This is a story that will stay with me for some time and has the potential to be The Lord of the flies for this generation, an example of human nature under pressure.

This is not a pleasant read, however it is absorbing and keeps you connected to Linus throughout the story, and because of that the events in the bunker are made that much more real because you experience them as he does.

If you read this book and would like to read similar books then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rise by Anna Carey

Rise is the final book in the Eve trilogy and follows on from Eve and Once - and as such this review contains ***SPOILERS***.  If you like to read series in order then read Eve and Once before reading anymore of this review.

Time has passed for Eve since Caleb died, but his death has left a heavy weight in her heart - a weight made heavier by the mask she must wear in public.  At times the mask can slip, but only when she is around her husband and around the rebel leader known as Moss.  It is a difficult time, a time of balancng in two worlds and making decisions that will have consequences for Eve, for her family, and for the country her father has rebuilt with an iron hand over the past few decades.

Life in the Palace is pleasant enough, but the presence of the Lieutenant makes it a dangerous place to be, and each time Eve catches him in conversation with her father she feels more than a little uneasy.  Her sense of unease grows when Moss gives her the means to kill her father, a death that is necessary for the regime to fall and a new America to grow, but it is also a very personal choice that will leave the blood of her father on her hands.  When she is forced to flee the city, she finds herself supporting a group of sometimes unwilling escapees who are a burden on her already stretched resources, and a stress she doesn't need at a time when she is already feeling vulnerable and desperate.

Rise is the final book in the Eve trilogy and provides a satisfying and logical end to the series, an ending that is somewhat predictable - but also not quite what you might be expecting.  Dystopian novels are a huge genre right now, and some of them take a very dark turn looking at the worst of human nature, this trilogy doesn't take that path and instead blends together action, drama, and a little bit of romance in a dysfunctional and tightly controlled world.  This is more one for the girls than the guys as the strong female voice of Eve is what drives the story forward and there is not enough action and intrigue to fully appeal to the male audience - however there will be exceptions to the rule and it is a well written novel so that will make a difference for some of the boys out there.

Carey has a good writing voice and has the ability to keep the story moving at a good pace, and hopefully she will write more books in the future as she is an emerging talent that is able to balance the personal voices and stories of her characters with the need to create a world that challenges them to face their inner (and outer) demons.

If you like this book then try:
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collings
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • The always war by Margaret Paterson Haddix
  • Among the hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Inside out by Maria V. Snyder
  • Virals by Kathy Reichs
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • The selection by Kiera Cass
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • The silver crown by Robert C. O'Brien
  • Rot and ruin by Jonathan Maberry
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, June 10, 2013

The originals by Cat Patrick

Lizzie, Ella and Betsey Best are a modern marvel, a genuine set of human clones grown from the DNA of their "Original" at the request of the Originals parents.  It is a secret they have kept for years after growing up believing that they were identical triplets, their mother never told them the truth to keep them safe, but now they know the truth they must also live with the consequences of their mothers secret - the consequence being that they are three teenage girls sharing one life.

Elizabeth Best is a little aloof, but she is also involved in cheer leading and dance, and attends college classes in the evening to get a head start on college when she graduates.  It is a carefully balanced dance, with each of the girls taking a third of the day - one does school in the morning while the other two are home schooled in the same subjects, another takes the afternoon classes while the other two are home schooled in the same subjects, and the third takes their part time job and college classes.  It is a balance that can easily be thrown out of kilter, which is exactly what happens when Lizzie bombs during a math quiz and Ella takes her place in the morning schedule and Lizzie moves into her slot in the afternoon.

It is a stressful time for them all - but then Lizzie meets Sean and things begin to spiral out of control.  "Elizabeth" has never been allowed to date, but their mother may finally be relaxing that rule - but how do you decide who gets to date when Ella and Lizzie like very different boys.  The time is approaching for Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey to decide is one shared life is enough for all of them.

I have to confess that I have fallen very much into an addiction when it comes to books by Cat Patrick - the concepts and ideas behind the books are intriguing and fresh, she has a deft touch with her writing that keeps the tension and the pace moving through the entire book, and she comes up with little twists and turns that keep you guessing how the story would end.  The originals was not quite up to her usual standard (I guessed the ending pretty early on) but the story was absorbing enough that the ending was a satisfying end rather than a too easily guessed cliche. 

It can't be easy coming up with these storylines and ideas, but Patrick has a knack for teasing out the parts of her characters that make them truly human - including all their flaws.  Lizzie is the strongest voice in this novel, but her "sisters", mother, and boyfriend hold their own.  A gripping read that was impossible to put down.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hunting Lila by Sarah Alderson

When her mother was murdered, Lila was taken away from the only home she has ever known and was forced to leave behind her brother Jack and her brothers bestfriend Alex.  Years later she runs away from her dreary home in London after she uses her secret ability to stop a mugging near her home, and she runs to her older brother Jack who stayed in America to finish college.  It seems like a breath of fresh air to be back in the US, although it is surprisingly hard to breath whenever she is around Alex, but that may have more to do with the crush she has had on him forever more than anything else.

Lila was hoping to be able to stay with Jack and Alex, but they are being awfully secretive about what they do, and her father is adament that she will return home to her life in London.  When Lila stumbles across someone who seems to know a lot about Jack, it doesn't seem that big a deal - until she discovers even more about the secret work that Jack, Alex, and the rest of the Unit do.  Suddenly the mugging is a distant memory, because there are other things to worry about now - and Lila has to run, and keep running if she wants to stay ahead of the people after her.

Hunting Lila was an interesting read for me, one of those books where I loved the idea and the world building, but the writing style of the author bugged me.  Let me just say that I got it really quickly that Alex was Lila's dream guy, that she was really in love with him and that he had the perfect body - I really didn't need all the reminders, you don't have to hit your audience over the head Alderson to get your message across.  There were also moments where I got completely jarred out of the story for the simple reason that throughout the book the mother is referred to as "mum" but this is a teenager who grew up in the States and so did her brother and his best friend - they would have been using "mom" instead - it may seem like a little niggle but it didn't ring true for the characters (although it would have if the book was set in the UK).

This is the first book in the series, and I hope that the sequel keeps up the pace and the mystery - especially with some of the plot twists towards the end of the book.  It is too late to plead for more accurate language, but hopefully there are more "mom" language usage, and less "mum" language usage.  Alderson shows great promise for a new voice in the action/thriller genre for teens, and Hunting Lila sits nicely with the emerging trend of writing books combining elements of the supernatural with military conspiracies.

If you like this book then try:

Losing Lila by Sarah Alderson
  • Altered by Jennifer Rush
  • Fated by Sarah Alderson
  • When we wake by Karen Healey
  • Adaptation by Melinda Lo
  • Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Eve by Anna Carey
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • Sister assassin (Mind games) by Kiersten White

  • Reviewed by Brilla

    The last elephant by Justin D'Ath

    Twelve years from now the world will be a very different place - thanks to a deadly virus carried by rats which has simply become known as rat flu.  Rat flu decimated the animal population, only a few lucky farm animals survived thanks to a vaccination programme, but they are not the only animals.  The Lost World Circus is home to rare and exotic animals that survived the outbreak of the deadly rat flu and have since become a travelling attraction - and the biggest attraction by far is Lucy, the last elephant on Earth.  When Lucy catches the dreaded rat flu it looks as though it is the end for her, especially when the Rat Cops arrive and threaten to end the menace of the rat flu by ending Lucy!

    Lucy's only hope is Colt, who was at the circus the night Lucy caught the flu, and was there when his mother was called to see Lucy because the circus vet is too scared.  Colt is determined to save Lucy, and with the help of one of the human stars of the circus he may just be able to pull off the impossible - especially when he discovers that he can do things that he really shouldn't be able to, things that are almost superhuman.

    The last elephant is the first book in a new series from Australian author Justin D'Ath - and it is a very promising start to a series that blends together action, adventure, mystery, danger, and kids pulling out all the stops to do what they believe in (and even succeeding).  Justin has a deft hand with his writing, and although his writing style is to use little words and use them well, he has a knack for keeping the action moving and the characters growing, without throwing lots of big words and complicated plot twists at you - it is a pure story, one that is easy to get absorbed in right from the start.

    While the story does seem to be pitched at the 8 - 12 year old 'tween market, I thoroughly enjoyed it and there are going to be older readers who also enjoy the action and drama - if you know a teen who is struggling with reading and wanting something to enjoy that is not babyish then suggest they give this book a try, or one of the other series that D'Ath has written in recent years.  A quick read with substance.

    If you like this book then try:
    • Crocodile attack by Justin D'Ath
    • Bush rescue by Justin D'Ath
    • Northwood by Brian Falkner
    • The forests of silence by Emily Rodda
    • The tunnels of Ferdinand by James Moloney
    • The real thing by Brian Falkner
    • Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda
    • January by Gabrielle Lord
    • Animal lab by Malcolm Rose
    • The halfmen of O by Maurice Gee
    • Four degrees more by Malcolm Rose

    Reviewed by Brilla

    Saturday, June 1, 2013

    Death cloud by Andrew Lane

    Sherlock Holmes is waiting to go home for the school break, but instead he is sent to live with relatives he has never met because his father has been sent to India to serve his country.  It is an uncertain time, and Sherlock quickly discovers that he is not a welcome guest is his aunt and uncles home, but it is not them who make him feel truly unwelcome - it is the housekeeper.  It looks as though it may be a dull summer with little to do except feel like an intruder, but then he meets Matty a local boy, and he meets his new tutor Amyus Crowe.  He also stumbles across a mystery in desperate need of solving.

    It began with the mysterious death of one man, a death that Matty almost witnessed, but he definitely witnessed the dark cloud that moved away from the place where the man died - a dark cloud that Sherlock also witnesses when he finds a dead body on his aunt and uncles property.  With the discovery of the two bodies the people in the town are starting to panic, packing up their belongings and moving away from the plague that they fear is about to spread like wildfire, but something is tickling in the back of Sherlock's brain, a tickle that gets stronger when Crowe encourages him to develop his reasoning skills.  What is the connection between the plague and the mysterious warehouse that Sherlock found in town, and what is the connection to the boxes in the warehouse?

    Death cloud is the first book in a series that follows the development of a teenage Sherlock Holmes, laying the foundations for the man that will one day become the worlds most famous detectives.  Welcome to a world where the young Sherlock Holmes is an extraordinary teenage boy, one who is coming to terms with a situation that would frustrate most teenagers - a change of plans and expectations that leads to some extraordinary encounters.  Here are the first glimmers of an ability to connect the dots, an ability to see beneath the surface and understand what others can not - a skill that is enhanced and nurtured by the appearance of his tutor Amyus Crowe.

    I have not read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, a fact that may have made this more enjoyable for me, but I have read stories based around him including books about the Baker Street Irregulars which mention Holmes in passing.  I find this time period particularly engaging and interesting, and Lane has done an amazing job of working historical facts and accuracy into his rendition of Holmes.  At times he was a little heavy handed with some of the descriptions, but I was thoroughly tangled in the story from the start.

    The authors afterword provides quite a bit of information about Lane's motivation for writing the series, and provides an idea of where his character comes from - the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a healthy dose of other sources.  It is a challenge to take someone else's character and write a convincing and engaging story - but Lane has managed to define a teenage Sherlock Holmes that shows the promise of the adult Holmes that has come to be well known through novels, movies, and tv series.  This is one for anyone who likes a good mystery built around strong characters in a world that is both realistic and relateable - I look forward to reading more books in the series to see if Lane is able to keep building on the strong foundations of Death cloud

    If you like this book then try:
    • The case of the Ranjipur ruby by Anthony Read
    • The case of the Limehouse laundry by Anthony Read
    • The ruby in the smoke by Philip Pullman
    • The shadow in the North by Philip Pullman
    • Silverfin: Young James Bond by Charles Higson
    • The case of the missing Marquess: an Enola Holmes mystery by Nancy Springer
    • The case of the left-handed lady: an Enola Holmes mystery by Nancy Springer
    • The paranormal puppet show by Justin Richards
    • Shadow beast by Justin Richards

    Reviewed by Brilla