Monday, July 29, 2013

Ella Minnow Pea: A novel in letters by Mark Dunn

Welcome to the island nation of Nollop, an independent island that lies off the coast of the United States of America near the South Carolina coast.  It is a small country, where the inhabitants proudly live in a culture rich with language and words with meaning, a legacy from Nevin Nollop who wrote the famous sentence that uses all the letters of the alphabet with little repetition - "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog".  These immortal words are etched on a memorial that has stood for over a hundred years, but when a letter falls from the monument it is seen not as a sign of aging adhesive, but rather the will of the mighty Nollop expressing his opinion from the great beyond - the letter has to go.

What begins with the loss of a single letter - z - soon turns into a dream-like (okay nightmare-like) existence where one by one the letters of the alphabet are removed from the written and spoken language, each letter removed from the language as it falls from the monument.  The people are a little confused at first, bemused even, but as the ones they love are punished (and even banished from the island completely) it becomes clear that things are never going to be the same on their little island.  As things go from bad to worse, it is up to one courageous young woman to save them all - but can she manage to complete Enterprise 32.  Ella Minnow Pea is not your average heroine, but she may be just what the island nation of Nollop needs.

In what may seem an odd twist this book was recommended to me by one of our library customers - and I am now passing on the favour by recommending it to you.  I am not usually a fan of novels in letter form, they can be quite contrived and hard to work through as the author tries to be clever and hide plot points in the letter with little care for how the letter would read - that is not the case here.  Almost from the first letter I was hooked on this story, and sat to finish the second half in one sitting so I could reach the end and find out what happens. 

This is one of those eye-opening books that makes you look at things in a different light, one of those thought provoking novels that will no doubt end up as one of those books students read at school to see how people can be manipulated to do things by the people in power - a modern classic to replace Animal farm or Lord of the flies.  This difference between Ella Minnow Pea and those other novels is that I actually enjoyed reading it, it became an addictive read to see how Ella would cope with the missing letters, the next little power trip from the council, and finally if anyone could break the 32 barrier and complete Enterprise 32.  An engrossing and thought provoking novel that will stay with you for some time.

If you like this book then try:
  • Ibid: a novel by Mark Dunn
  • Animal farm by George Orwell
  • Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
  • Lord of the flies by William Golding
  • I am the cheese by Robert Cormier
  • Fahrenheit 451: A novel by Ray Bradbury

Reviewed by Brilla

The accident by Kate Hendrick

One moment on a wet and stormy night changed their lives forever - one moment that is in the future, in the present, and in the past.  Sarah survived the crash but her brother Robbie didn't, and her future is a new school, a painful new beginning, and a family that is pulling apart.  Will's present is a mother who lives like a hermit in her room while he takes care of himself and his younger sister Morgan takes care of herself - while their big sister Lauren seems to be anywhere but at home.  And looking towards her future is Eliat, who is struggling to be a parent to two year old Task while she tries to finish her studies and still have a good time.  Three teenage lives on a collision course with fate, connected by an accident that none of them saw coming, and which had consequences none of them could have planned for.

The accident is one of those weird books that was a good read and was engaging, but left me feeling more than a little disappointed in the end - and dare I say it leaving me feel a little cheated.  The overall story is well thought out and shows a lot of thought, but some of the connections felt a little shaky, and with the bouncing around between past, present, and future it felt at times like the author was trying to be too clever rather than focusing on the meat of the story.  Strangely though, I still enjoyed the story, even though books like this usually make me roll my eyes after a chapter or two and throw them on the reject pile - I can't help but think that maybe it would have been better to have the whole past, then the whole present, and then the whole future, it may have ruined a few of the surprises but for me it would have read better. 

There are some hidden strengths in this story, but there are also some rather gaping cliches.  Each of the characters is well drawn with their own strengths and flaws, and there are some genuine teenage voices here speaking through trying experiences, and I hope that teenagers will be able to connect more with the story than I did looking with adult eyes.  Set in Australia, there is a subtle Aussie flavour, but it could easily have been set anywhere in the world.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The possibility dogs by Susannah Charleson

The path a life takes can sometimes be surprising, and sometimes the journey is the most surprising of all.  This is a memoir with a difference, blending together a life of working with a search and rescue trained golden retriever and providing refuge for rescue dogs - and a life of discovery in the often misunderstood world of psychiatric service dogs.  In a carefully balanced dance of chapters we experience the life Susannah lives with Puzzle, her swarm of Pomeranians, and a puppy that fell into her lap called Jake Piper, but we also learn about the lives who have been touched by working psychiatric service dogs.

I have a strong personal interest in psychiatric service dogs and assistance dogs in general because I have seen them working and done the research - psychiatric service dogs are thought of as a crutch, a gimmick, a chance for someone to take their pet with them to make them feel better, but there is so much more to these dogs than that (and sure some people would abuse the law but you get that everywhere).  What easily could have become a preachy book, talking at the reader about these dogs, instead it is a touching and at times emotional journey through one woman's work to train a rescued puppy to become a working assistance dog, but it is also a collection of short biographies of working partnerships that can (and did) bring you to tears.

In recent years books about working dogs have become very popular, thanks in no small part to the release of a book called a Friend like Henry by Nuala Gardner - a very personal story about a family with a child with autism spectrum disorder and the Golden retriever that reached him when nothing else would.  These stories have traditionally been about assistance dogs for the physically disabled, or in the case of Until Tuesday where the handler has both physical and psychiatric conditions, but Charleson focuses less on the physical and more on the pure psychiatric.  Her story also shows the level of training that is required for assistance dogs, Jake Piper is put through his paces (and then some), he is not given an easy pass just because he may end up as a guide dog for the mind - Charleson expects him to have the same high standards as any other assistance dog.

I come from a country where the law clearly defines a disability assist dog, and where dogs can only work in public spaces if they are certified by organisations listed in the legislation that allows working dogs - and I can see the benefits of this over the system in the United States where anyone can train a dog and call it an assistance dog.  One of the reasons I find our system better is that it holds a high standard for training and certification, allows for better public education, and ensures the person working with the dog has a genuine disability - three things missing from the situation in the United States.  Charleson's book provides a glimpse into the training of psychiatric service dogs and provides a glowing example of how it should be done, how people training their own dogs can strive for and reach high standards.  The possibility dogs is an education wrapped up in an engaging and absorbing story.

If you are interested in learning more about psychiatric service dogs then this is a fantastic book to read - if you are interested in reading about amazing relationships based on the human-animal bond then this is a fantastic book to read - if you are interested in reading a book about rescue dogs that will bring tears to your eyes then this is a fantastic book to read - if you are looking for a good book to read then this is a fantastic book to read.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Frost burned by Patricia Briggs

Frost burned is the seventh book in the Mercy Thompson series so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** of what happens in the previous books.  If you like to read series in order then don't read anymore of this review until you have read the other books in this series - a series that really benefits from being read in the right order.

Mercy has settled in well to her role as Adam's wife and the role of being the mate of the Alpha werewolf - even though there are some members of the pack who are not particularly happy with some of the changes she has made, never mind the fact that she is a skin walking coyote rather than a werewolf.  A somewhat easier role to settle into has been the role of Jesse's stepmother, but even that has it's challenges on a busy night when everyone and their dog (or coyote in this case) is out searching for bargains leading up to Christmas.  The worst thing Mercy should have to worry about is looking for a decent parking space, but instead she finds herself bumped and bruised after a car accident - and shaken and lost when she realises the pack has been drugged and taken by force by a mysterious group of people who claimed to be federal agents.

It is a stressful time for Mercy, not only is she nursing some physical injuries, but she is also nursing a few spiritual and emotional ones as well.  She is never afraid to face danger head on, but when there are vulnerable civilians in the way things become much more complicated - especially when the bad guys prove that they are not above playing dirty to get what they want.  It is times like these when Mercy realises just how much she misses because she is coyote rather than a werewolf like everyone else, the subtle little things that everyone else does rather than having to think about it.  Feeling the loss of Adam, and sickened through their pack bond, Mercy has to figure out what is happening and fast - otherwise she could loose more than just her Mate and her Pack.

The Mercy Thompson books and the Alpha and Omega series are both guilty pleasures for me - not because they are fantasy novels, but because I usually slink away to hide in the house somewhere so I can try and read them in one sitting.  Frost burned is no exception to this rule, although I did have a little trouble settling into the story for the first chapter or two because I had to remember what had happened in the last book (through the veil of all the books I have read in between) - this is a professional hazard of reading as many books as I do in a year.  This is not a reflection on Frost burned, which started with a bang (okay that might have just been the car wreck) and built the mystery and tension until the villain was ultimately revealed, along with a little more information about the law of vampires and werewolves in Brigg's addictive and well imagined world. 

I am a shameless addict and Frost burned was definitely a good fix while I wait for the next Alpha and Omega and Mercy Thompson books to be written.  There are several series out there that have a similar vibe, but they have quickly become too tangled in their mythology, loosing some of the charm of the series and become too complicated to follow across time - that is not the case of Brigg's world.  A very satisfying read.

If you like this book then try:
  • Moon called by Patricia Briggs
  • Tinker by Wen Spencer
  • Night shifted by Cassie Alexander
  • Cry wolf by Patricia Briggs
  • Kitty and the midnight hour by Carrie Vaughn
  • Dark descendant by Jenna Black
  • Burning water by Mercedes Lackey
  • Kitty goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn
  • Blood price by Tanya Huff
  • Urban shaman by C.E. Murphy
  • Spiders bite by Jennifer Estep
  • Dead witch walking by Kim Harrison
  • Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Elite by Kiera Cass

The Elite is the sequel to the Selection so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the Selection.  If you like to read series in order then don't read any more of this review until you have read the Selection.
The Selection has seen the arrival of 35 girls to compete to become the princess of Ilea and the wife of the future king.  Over time the original 35 has been whittled down to just 6, and axon has been spending time getting to know the girls who remain, although America is sure that she holds a special place in his heart.  Everything seems to be going okay with the Selection, but with every passing day America finds her confusing growing as she tried to decide who really holds her heart - Maxon or Aspen.  Just when America thinks she has finally made her choice, she finds herself torn once more between the safe and comfortable love from Aspen, and the apparently more passionate and intoxicating romantic gestures from Maxon.
In the background the rebels are working to overthrow the kingdom, threatening the royal family and everyone living in the palace as they fight to make changes to the country of Ilea.  America knows that her country isn't perfect, and she struggles with the knowledge that she has moved up in the caste system while others have been punished and sent down the tiers of the caste system.  It is a difficult time, especially when all the other Elite girls seem to have knowledge, skills, or graces that let them excel at their lessons and during their public appearances.  When they unthinkable happens and America publicly goes against the royal family in a very public way, she risks losing Maxon for good - has she taken too long to make up her mind, will she lose her true love before she even realises who it is?
The Elite is the sequel to the Selection and picks up where the first book left off, dragging you deeper into the love triangle of America, Aspen, and Prince Maxon.  This is an interesting series because it has romance at the heart of the story, yet the story fits neatly into the genre of adventure and mystery as well.  The future world where the Elite is set is the remains of America, a dystopian world where the only way to save society was to create a caste system where everyone knows their place from birth, it is a simple society that everyone understands - yet there are people who fight against it.  Dystopian novels are popular at the moment, but the Selection and the Elite stand out from the crowd a little because they are not a simple and straight forward story, there is a lot of background information that you only really learn about in the Elite, information that helps you to better understand America and her world.
This is not high brow literature, it is a story that is meant to be read and enjoyed - and I did both.  Cass has created a realistic world and populated it with realistic people, America is not perfect and neither are the people around her.  At times I wanted to shake her and tell her to grow up, to grow a backbone, to think of other people, to see the possibilities - and while she does develop over the novel I couldn't help but roll my eyes at her a few times.  The Elite is darker than the Selection and I can't wait to see what happens in the next book in the series as America discovers some home truths about herself, but she also discovers more about the people around her that is both shocking and begging for more detail.  This series is very readable, and was difficult to put down once I picked it up.
If you like this book then try:
  • The Selection by Kiera Cass
  • Matched by Ally Condie
  • Wither by Lauren Destefano
  • Crown duel by Sherwood Smith
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • The pledge by Kimberly Derting
  • Eve by Anna Carey
  • Winter of fire by Sherryl Jordan
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reboot by Amy Tintera

Five years ago Wren died - and woke up 178 minutes later as a Reboot.  As a Reboot Wren has only one choice, to work for the Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation (HARC) - and she is now Wren 178, the most feared Reboot of them all.  Wren is the "oldest" Reboot ever known, she was dead for so long that most people treat her as an inhuman monster, incapable of feeling emotions - in short she is the perfect tool for the HARC as they hunt down undeclared Reboots, the sick, and the rebels who threaten to undermine the HARC.  She is everything the HARC could want in a soldier, and she is content with her life and her place in the world, but the arrival of a new batch of Reboots rocks her world to the core.
As the highest ranked Reboot Wren has her pick of the new recruits, and she has always picked the highest number, the Reboot most likely to succeed in the training.  She excels at training Reboots, her trainees seem to live longer than other trainees, and they are model soldiers.  When Callum arrives it seems as though he will never make it as a Reboot, at 22 he is just too human, too close to the people they are supposed to help control and contain.  When Wren takes him on as her trainee (against her better judgment) it seems as though everything is stacked against them, and when Wren is told to bring Callum in line or terminate him, she begins to realise that all the things she has always believed about Reboots may not be true at all.
Reboot is set in the remains of the state of Texas, a series of settlements that have been ravaged by the KDH virus and the Reboot wars.  Wren is the epitome of a Reboot soldier working for the HARC, she is obedient, strong, and have no pesky emotions to get in the way of enjoying her work.  For the past five years she has trained, hunted, and retrieved her state sanctioned prey, all at the beck and call of the humans that hold her and the other Reboots with contempt, disdain, and fear.  It is a scary thought that our future could hold not only a virus that creates a creature that looks human (with a few subtle differences) but is no longer the person they used to be. 
It is difficult to pinpoint which mythology the Reboots fall under, they almost seem like zombies because of the whole walking dead and no emotions thing, but they are also quite like the vampire mythology because of the need for red meat and because when they go off the rails they crave blood and red meat.  It is safe to say that there is a new kind of mythology here, and in some ways the future world in Reboot reminded me very strongly of the future world we saw in the movie I am legend staring Will Smith.  It is not surprising in the least to know that there is already a movie in the pipeline for Reboot as it reads very much like a movie script - a little too much so for my taste, it always feels a little bit like the author is cheating their readers when something is so blatantly written for the screen.
I did enjoy Reboot, although I did find it a little predictable and there were moments when things seemed a little too easy, but it was a good bit of escapism and that was what I was looking for at the time.  Tintera has great promise for future writing as this was a strongly written debut novel that showed real attention to the little details.  There is just a smidge of romance here, and that may make it a little more appealing to teenage boys - the action is the centre of the story and what keeps the pace moving to the end.  I am not sure if there will be a sequel, it felt like a complete and contained story, but there was also an element of this possibly being the first book in a series - we will all have to wait and see.
If you like this book then try:
  • Enclave by Ann Aguire
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • Altered by Jennifer Rush
  • The hunt by Andrew Fukuda
  • Thyla by Kate Gordon
  • Crave by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • XVI by Julia Karr
Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, July 11, 2013

T-Rex trying by Hugh Murphy

The longer title of this book is T-Rex trying: The unfortunate trials of the tyrant lizard king and it was laugh out loud funny from the moment I opened the first page.  What started as a simple cartoon drawing for his wife, has turned into a hilarious Tumblr blog and now a book!  My co-workers and I have an in joke thanks to a dinosaur cartoon where a bunch of dinosaurs are singing "if you're happy and you know it", and the T-Rex in the front accuses them of being, well not very nice - T-Rex kind of reminds me of that in joke. 
There are so many visual jokes in this book that make you want to roll around on the floor laughing that it is difficult to choose a favourite - particularly because everyone had their own favourite.  There are jokes for all occasions from team building (a T-Rex trust fall or wheelbarrow race anyone) through to a T-Rex trying to hitchhike or ride a horse.  It takes a certain person to create a simple visual gag that people can instantly relate to, a twisted mind, a genius mind, or something trapped between the two (you choose but you may be revealing more about yourself than you intended!).
I loved this book and it reminds me a lot of Simon's cat and Texts from dog in the fact that they were all famous online before they made their way to the pages of a book, but also because there is something simple and charming about line drawings (and the humour that is about the content rather than all the bells and whistles).  This was a fun and amusing book, and may just make its way to my bookshelf at home too.
If you like this book then try:
  • Simon's cat by Simon Tofield
  • All my friends are dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John
  • Texts from dog by October Jones
  • Vader's little princess by Jeffrey Brown
  • Darth Vader and son by Jefrey Brown
  • How to tell if your cat is trying to kill you by The Oatmeal and Matthew Inman
Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

10,000 dresses by Marcus Ewert; illustrated by Rex Ray

Bailey dreams about dresses every night - all kinds of beautiful dresses that are unique and just begging to be worn.  When Bailey tries on the first dress the crystals clink against each other like little bells and rainbows jump out when the sunlight hits the crystals just right.  With all her heart Bailey wants the dress, but the next morning when she tries to tell her mother about the dress her mother tells Bailey that she is a boy and boys don't wear dresses! 

The next night Bailey dreams of a dress made of lilies and roses, with honeysuckles and blossoms that tasted like honey.  When Bailey tried to tell her father about the beautiful dress he tells her that she is a boy and boys don't wear dresses!  Bailey feels like a girl, even though she looks like a boy, and all she wants is to have one of the beautiful dresses she sees in her dreams.  It seems like an impossible dream because even her family is not listening, they keep telling her she is a boy and boys don't wear dresses!  Then Bailey meets a girl called Laurel and things make a change for the better.

I am not usually a fan of books with messages - especially picture books - but 10,000 dresses is a simple and sweet book that can be enjoyed as a story in its own right.  Too often our books for children are full of stereotypes of how people should look or sound, and to have such an open and honest story about a girl who just happens to look like a boy to everyone else has immense charm for me.  There are other books out there that encourage acceptance of diversity and provide support for children who are experiencing tough or confusing times, but most of them can not be enjoyed as a simple story - and 10,000 dresses can.

I loved this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who knows a transgendered child who needs a bit of a boost, to anyone who has a child who is friends with a transgendered child, and anyone who would like to read a sweet and touching story about a child who is happy in their own skin who happens to find a happy ending.

If you like this book then try:
  • My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis; illustrated by Suzanne DeSimone
  • Chamelia by Ethan Long
  • And Tango makes three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  • Be who you are by Jennifer Carr; pictures by Ben Rumback
  • It's okay to be different by Todd Parr
  • You're different and that's super by Carson Kressley; illustrated by Jared Lee
Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The rules by Stacey Kade

For ten years Ariane has followed The Rules - never trust anyone, remember they are always searching, don't get involved, keep your head down, don't fall in love - five simple rules to keep her secret and keep her safe.  She has always followed The Rules, even though it can be a struggle just to remember to seem like everyone else, completely human - because Ariane is not, completely human that is. 

Ariane is designated GTX-F-107, a human alien hybrid who lived like a lab rat until her "father" rescued her one night after the lab was bombed.  For the past ten years she has tried to blend in, hiding the physical difference with coloured contacts and hair dye, and she almost passes for human - almost but not quite.  Her one friend is Jenna, and together they are riding through the social hell known as high school, staying under the radar and mostly unnoticed - until Jenna finds herself in the cross hairs of queen bee and school bully Rachel Jacobs. 

Suddenly things are not quiet and simple, and once Ariane breaks one of the rules - the others quickly tumble too.  Things go from complicated to completely messed up when Zane Bradshaw steps outside of the rules as well, going against the will of the mighty Rachel Jacobs.  With Rachel pushing all her buttons, and Ariane struggling to control the abilities she has kept clamped down for so long, the battle lines are drawn for an epic battle that may mean life or death - for Ariane, and the people she cares about.

The Rules is the first book in the Project Paper Doll series and it is an explosive beginning to the series - complete with a conspiracy of secrets, a heroine who is more fragile than she seems and not what she appears to be, a tortured soul looking to fit in and be accepted, and a spoiled prima donna who wants what she wants and doesn't care who gets hurt in the process.  Some (minor) cliches not withstanding, The Rules is an absorbing read with a carefully thought out back story that is both convincing and a little too close to some of the conspiracy theories out there (how many of the stories about secret government facilities are there anyway?). 

Ariane rings true with her teenage voice and concerns, but she also has a true voice as someone who is trying to keep the ultimate secret - she is not wholly human and some of the things she could do as a child were both awe inspiring and scary.  Trying to navigate high school is tricky enough for a normal teenager, never mind being a teenager who lives by a series of rules that are designed to keep her hidden and safe.  The characters built around Ariane are realistic and have their charms and flaws - something you pick up more readily because the chapters alternate between Ariane's voice and Zane's.

This is a very promising start to a new series, and while it is not a short read (410 pages) once I was absorbed in the story the chapters flew by until I reached the stunning conclusion.  This is one of the better books I have read this year, and I hope that Kade doesn't keep us waiting too long for the next book in the series.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, July 5, 2013

Parallel by Lauren Miller

For Abby Barnes it was just a normal day on the movie set with a little partying in the evening to celebrate her (almost) 18th birthday.  She never expected or wanted to become an actress, but through a twist of fate her dreams of college turned into a reality of acting in a movie with one of Hollywood's biggest leading men.  When she wakes up from a night spent dreaming about earthquakes she discovers that she is no longer on the way to fame and fortune in Hollywood - instead she is a student at Yale, a school she never planned to go to.

Confused and more than a little disorientated by the difference in her life as opposed to the real life she remembers, Abby reaches out to her bestfriend Caitlin to try and make sense of what is happening.  The explanation is both freakishly simple and freakishly scary - there has been a collision between parallel worlds and the events in the other world have become their new reality, and only Abby seems to remember that there ever was another reality.  As her parallel makes decisions Abby discovers that things can change over night, and only she can remember a difference.  Uncertain about what will happen next, Abby clings to what she remembers and grows increasingly resentful towards the "other" Abby, the one she sees as ruining her life.  But are things as simple as Abby believes, or is there more to her story than meets the eye.

Parallel is both incredibly slick and clever, but also intriguing and addictive.  At first it took a few chapters to really sink into the story and what was happening, but once I did I didn't want to put the story down because I wanted to know what the "other" Abby was going to do and how it would change the situation for "real" Abby.  The subtle changes in the alternate reality made some quite huge changes for Abby, and at other times things hardly rippled at all.

This is one of those books where explaining too much about the story has the potential to ruin the plot for people - so I won't say anymore about the plot.  At times the story did feel a little "clunky" but for a debut novel there is an amazing amount of polish and I look forward to seeing if Miller continues as an author and what she is capable of as this is a very promising start for an author who doesn't cheat her audience by taking sort cuts and using cheap clichés to keep her story moving.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rump: The true story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

His whole life Rump has been picked on because of his unusual name and because he doesn't know what his full name in - his mother died before she could speak his full name.  It is a sad tale, but that is only the start, for Rump's young life is full of challenges and trials on a daily basis.  Rump lives with his grandmother on The Mountain, digging and searching for the gold that his King holds so dear.  Everyone on the mountain tries to find enough gold to get their fair share of the provisions that the Miller distributes on behalf of the King.  It is not an easy life, he has to search for gold and avoid the gold obsessed pixies that hover anytime gold is near.

When Rump finds his mothers spinning wheel he has no idea that he is about to embark on a mind boggling adventure that will be told for generations to come - although not in quite the way he experiences it.  When Rump tries to use the spinning wheel he discovers that he has the ability to spin common straw into strands of magical gold, a discovery that soon turns into a nightmare when the greedy Miller finds out his secret.  When the gold loving King discovers that someone in his village can spin gold, Rump's life and the life of everyone in the village will never be the same again.

Rump is a wonderful retelling of the legend of Rumpelstiltskin, not only because Shurtliff has covered a part of the story that has not been covered before, but also because of the warmth and humour the story portrays.  Rump is something of a victim of fate, but the people around him help him to discover who he really is and what his destiny will be.  The characters range from villains to friends, through to family and idiotic kings.  The elements of the traditional telling of Rumpelstiltskin are all there, but not quite as you expect.

This is a fun little story, and Shurtliff has a firm future in writing books for children if she can keep up the world creating and myth busting that she has created here.  Often books like this are too clever for their own good, trying to be something they are not, but I didn't feel that about Rump at all - it is a book that is true to itself, but also manages to be true to the legend as well.  It was a pleasure to read for the fun of it, to discover a world that is just a little different to what you thought it was going to be - a truly fractured fairytale.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Lost worlds by Andrew Lane

After losing the use of his legs and both his parents in a car accident several years ago, Calum Challenger has become focused on one thing - cryptozoology.  Through his Lost Worlds website Calum tracks down and records information about creatures of legend and creatures that everyone believes no longer exist.  It is a strange hobby for a teenage boy, but then not every teenage boy has the financial resources Calum does - as long as he doesn't want to buy a Ferrari then he pretty much has his aunt (and guardians) support.  When Calum finds a picture online that appears to be an Almast he is excited beyond belief, this may be the first chance to really prove that these creatures exist - and it might be his first chance to source some of their DNA, DNA that may help[ cure him one day.

What Calum can't prepare himself for is the arrival of new allies in his life - and new enemies.  Gecko is a free runner who calls the roof tops home, a free open space where he can challenge himself mentally and physically.  He is smart, driven, and has no small skill when it comes to knowing what he is capable of.  Unfortunately there are people who are all too aware of what he is capable of and they have plans for his unique skill set, plans that don't sit well with Gecko.  At the same time Tara is happy to try and crack websites and open up information about corporations that don't seem on the up and up, but that has brought her to the attention of a company that is as interested in her as she is in them - and they don't play fair.  In the USA Rhino is the subject of some unwanted attention and only some quick thinking can get him out of the jam he is in. 

All three of them - Gecko, Tara, and Rhino - have the need to be elsewhere for awhile, and Calum has the need for someone to be in the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia.  An expedition seems like the answer, but things don't run smoothly, especially with the Nemor Corporation working in the background to make sure Calum and his team don't succeed.

Lost worlds was fast paced, multi-faceted, and addictive.  Lane has a knack for writing tension and action without all the flowery details and descriptions that can make some series seem to be drowning under the weight of their own words - what you get here is a tightly written novel that keeps the tension and pace up through the whole story, providing you with enough detail to picture the story in your own mind.  The cast of characters is varied and interesting, each of them has their own demons to deal with and bring a unique skill set to the team - there are moments of clichés but not enough to turn me off the story.  While there are some impressive "toys" in the story, they are not outside the realm of possibility and you end up with a believable action adventure for teens of all ages.  This promises to be the first book in the series, and if the series keeps to this same high standard then it will be an exciting and addictive series to read.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Steadfast by Mercedes Lackey

Katie Langford has performed with the circus since she was a child - first with her parents, and then after their tragic death, with her husband Dick.  It is not an easy life, she works hard to maintain her flexibility and keep her performances to a high standard, but that is more and more difficult as she watches her abusive husband drink and whore their money away.  It is a life with no breaks, no chances - only the same routine over and over again as the circus travels from village to village performing for whatever money they can.  Certain that things are not right, Katie looks for help among the women of the circus but they offer nothing - Katie belongs to her husband just as she used to belong to her father, and in the eyes of the law Dick can do what he wants with her and face no consequences.

Driven to breaking point, Katie takes her share of their earnings and runs away from the circus, seeking a chance at a new life away from her abusive husband and the only life she has ever known.  She has no real plan, all she wants to do is escape and it seems as though fortune is smiling on her because through a small series of chance events she finds herself employed as a magicians assistant in the popular seaside town of Brighton.  It is a completely different way of life, she has a place to call home, and a permanent job with a wage in an act that stays in one place - the Palace Music Hall in Brighton.  The only real dark mark is the knowledge that Dick can turn up one day and take her away to the circus, and there is nothing she can do to stop him.

Surrounded by people who care about her Katie starts to relax and enjoy herself a little, even though the work is physically demanding she has a safe place to sleep, she is making friends, and she has a chance at a future away from Dick.  The people who care about her know that she is hiding something, but they don't press her until they discover something about Katie that even she never knew - Katie has the power of Fire.  Her employer Lionel Hawkins is an Air Magician and one of the theatre workers Jack Prescott shares the ability of Fire, and between them they must teach Katie to control her ability before it leaps out of control and destroys her life.

Steadfast is the latest book in the Elemental Masters series from Mercedes Lackey.  The last two books in the series were not as much to my taste as the earlier books in the series, but Steadfast has seen a return to more of the storytelling that I like - although I have enjoyed all the books in the series to varying degrees.  The cast of this novel is smaller than some of the others, and reminds me very much of Reserved for the cat as some of the characters from the wider story arc of the series are not featured prominently - this really is a story about Katie and the people around her rather than just another book in the series.  Another addictive read and (slightly) guilty pleasure.

If you like this book then try:
  • The Fire rose by Mercedes Lackey
  • The serpent's shadow by Mercedes Lackey
  • Reserved for the cat by Mercedes Lackey
  • Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey
  • Firebird by Mercedes Lackey
  • Deerskin by Robin McKinley
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley
  • Rose daughter by Robin McKinley
  • Spindle's end by Robin McKinley
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Reviewed by Brilla