Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In the after by Demitria Lunetta

Amy is at home watching tv when the unthinkable happens - creatures are attacking the world, eating anyone they can catch, and in a matter of hours the world as she knew it is gone.  The only reason Amy survived the first wave of attacks from Them was because she was at home, kept safe by the electric fence her mother insisted they have, but over the next three years she learns how to keep herself safe, and along the way she takes in a young child that she calls Baby.  There are just three rules to keep you alive in this new After - don't make a noise, only go out at night, and don't trust strangers. 

It is an uncertain world, where death waits for you to make a stupid mistake.  Amy has stayed alive because she is careful, always thinking about Baby, and always taking the time to make sure they are safe.  When they take a chance on a stranger it seems as though things are changing for the better, even if Amy can't help but feel a little jealous of the time Baby and Amber spend together.  But then Amber betrays them and they are forced out into the open.  Out in the open Amber feels vulnerable, but at least they are still able to survive - and then they discover the colony of New Hope.  On the surface New Hope is an almost perfect Utopia where people have what they need to thrive as well as survive, a place of hope and science, a place where Amy and Baby might have a real future.  But things are not what they seem.

In the after is a stunning debut novel, very polished for a first time author, with a well thought out plot and well developed characters.  At times it did feel as though the story was a little contrived, but I think it was the awkwardness of the section - flicking back and forth in time to the present and the events leading up to the present, but it was distracting more than off putting.  Amy is an interesting and engaging person, you really feel the events she goes through and see the world through her eyes - eyes that refuse to have the wool pulled over them.  The other characters are also well developed and each have their part to play - a part which at times is not what you might think.

I really enjoyed In the after, and while it feels like there could (should?) be a sequel, it reads exceptionally well as a stand alone novel.  Lunetta has a great future in writing if this is what she is able to produce as a first outing.  Amy is a strong voice in her own right, but also a strong voice in a genre that is often male dominated - she has her flaws, she isn't perfect, and she doesn't always see the big picture, but she is also not afraid to be herself and she will stand up for what she believes in.

If you like this book then try:
  • Proxy by Alex London
  • Altered by Jennifer Rush
  • The 5th wave by Rick Yancey
  • The rules by Stacvey Kade
  • Enclave by Ann Aguirre
  • Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza
  • Adaptation by Melinda Lo
  • The testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Rot and ruin by Jonathan Maberry
  • The hunt by Andrew Fukuda
  • Daughter of smoke and bone by Laini Taylor
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • Anna dressed in blood by Kendare Blake

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Proxy by Alex London

In a future where the Earth has been ravaged by war and natural disasters, a new order has arisen where those who created the safe haven of the new city benefit from their wealth with good food and a suitably lux lifestyle, while the orphans and ordinary people scratch out a living in the Valve.  It is also the city where the wealthy can purchase a Proxy contract for their entitled children, selecting orphans from the Valve to be their own personal whipping boy (or girl) - every time the Patron child misbehaves the Proxy child is punished in their place.  It is a system that works, a system that is meant to protect the Patron child as they grow and learn, the punishment of their Proxy should lead to learning a lesson - but sometimes the Proxy ends up with a Patron like Knox.

Knox is wealthy and entitled, and he has no care for his Proxy Syd -every time he does something Syd has to deal with the consequences from hard labour through to painful jolts from an EMD stick.  When he is dragged before the Guardians yet again Syd wonders what his next punishment will be, and he has no idea that this time Knox has committed murder and the punishment is hard labour in a prison camp where he is likely to die or face permanent injury - and he will be imprisoned well beyond the two years he owes on his contract.  In what seems to be an impossible move Syd escapes and finds himself on the run with the most unlikely ally - Knox, the Patron who has made his life a living hell (and he has the scars to prove it).

Proxy was an intriguing and interesting take on the dystopia theme, but also on the theme of the whipping boy who takes the punishment of their wealthy Patron - a system they are signed up for in the orphanage without their consent.  The only way to leave the Patron/Proxy system is to repay the debt, to do your time and avoid racking up extra debt, or to die.  Syd is at the centre of a conspiracy that he has no clue about, he has no idea how special he is until Knox makes a completely boneheaded decision that sets both of them on a collision course with an unbelievable secret that neither of them could ever have guessed at.

The cast of Proxy is interesting, and the action is well paced, and the little hints and clues about the conspiracy at the centre of the novel are carefully doled out to keep you hooked on the story.  As Knox and Syd learn the little bits of the truth you learn with them, and it keeps you very much connected to what they are going through and what the ultimate goal might be.  The characters built around Syd and Know feel a little clichéd at times, but that is to be expected a little as people and stereotypes become clichéd for a reason.  This is a well imagined future, and one that could easily be just around the corner.  The writing felt a little awkward at times, the sentences not laid out or said quite the way I would have expected, but it was still an addictive read that I didn't want to put down - especially when I reached the second half of the book.

If you like this book then try:
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • The Declaration by Gemma Malley
  • Numbers by Rachel Ward
  • The limit by Kristin Landon
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • Hex by Rhiannon Lassiter
  • Eve by Anna Carey
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • Arrival by Chris Morphew
  • The hunt by Andrew Fukuda

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Eight million gods by Wen Spencer

Nikki has an unusual affliction, she has hypergraphia, a compulsion to write - not a bad thing in itself, but everything she writes turns out dark (and often deadly) for her characters.  For most of her life she has been checked into mental institutions and kept under the thumb of her mother and her mother conviction that Nikki is a danger to herself and everyone around her.  Escaping to Japan and living off the radar seemed like a good idea, it will be nearly impossible for her mother to find her in a city of millions and she can work on the novel her publisher expects her to deliver within the next year - another romantic thriller, doesn't seem too hard (except all her love interests keep getting killed off).

Life is trundling along in a haze of writing when bouts of hypergraphia strike, and it seems like she may meet her deadline - until there is a murder in the city that is eerily similar to the murder she just blogged on her website.  Suddenly Nikki is a murder suspect in a foreign country, and she is in serious danger of navigating the Japanese justice system or even worse - dealing with her mother.  When she is follows clues in her writing that lead her to a sword hidden in a locker Nikki has no idea that she is about to dragged into the world of Japanese mythology, a world of eight million gods who will stop at nothing to get what they want.  Along the way Nikki will face some personal demons, and a few bad guys.

I have loved Wen Spencer since I picked up Alien taste for the first time, and have even managed to track down a few in New Zealand to call my very own instead of having to borrow them from the library.  Eight million gods is what I have come to expect from Spencer, a carefully created world with lots of detail that supports believable and relateable characters.  In a departure from her other novels Eight million gods has been set firmly in this world and is densely populated with Japanese cultural references that lends a rich depth to the story but at times was a little overwhelming to try and keep everything straight - thank goodness there was a glossary in the back of what the terms meant to Spencer because that helped a lot.

This is a fast paced novel that covers a short space of time and has a complex interwoven cast of characters that come together through Nikki's eyes as she figures out everyones place in her story.  There was one thing about this book that drove me absolutely nuts - missing words!  I don't know how it happened but the copy I had was missing five words in the first 100 pages, and they were obviously missing words because the sentences only made sense if you inserted a word, and there must have been more than 10 errors in the whole book!  I was so frustrated with this because it kept nudging me out of the story, and at one point I was slammed out of the story because there were two words missing out of the same paragraph.  Apart from this frustration I did enjoy the story and hope that there might be some more novels set in this reality.

If you like this book then try:
  • Alien taste by Wen Spencer
  • Tinker by Wen Spencer
  • Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway
  • Prowlers by Christopher Golden
  • Children of the night by Mercedes Lackey
  • Cast in shadow by Michelle Sagara
  • Summon the keeper by Tanya Huff

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Thousand words by Jennifer Brown

It started with something very simple - a photo snapped and sent to a boyfriend who wasn't there to share the fun of the party, but it wasn't an ordinary photo - it was a naked snapshot.  Now Ashleigh has to live with the consequences of a moment of drunken stupidity, because when her boyfriend breaks up with her and things turn ugly, he sends the intimate picture to someone he knows and it is soon spreading through the school like wildfire.  Ashleigh has gone from being just another girl from a well off family to that girl, the slut, the whore, the object of jokes and snide comments.  

To make matters worse, Ashleigh has to complete 60 hours of community service because sending the picture to her boyfriend was considered an act of sharing child pornography.  Ashleigh has been living in a nightmare, one that keeps growing and gaining more momentum as more and more people receive the picture and even post it online.  It is a miserable time for Ashleigh and her parents, but worse is still to come - because Ashleigh's father is the superintendent and some people want him to resign because of her actions.  Ashleigh has to find the courage to look at the events that have led up to this moment, and she has to accept the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth if she truly wants things to get better.

Thousand words is an intense and enlightening novel, one that skips back and forth between the present time with Ashleigh in community service, and back in time a few months to when the infamous events took place.  At first this was a little annoying, but only because I wanted to know more right now, but the tension in the story is sooo much better when you have to wait to see what happens next, how things go from bad to worse, and how Ashleigh's life starts to spiral out of control.  It is so easy to see how this story could be happening right now to a naive teenager who trusts his or her partner, sending an intimate picture that will ultimately be abused by the other person if things go wrong.

Jennifer Brown is not afraid to tackle difficult or confrontational topics, and Thousand words doesn't pull any punches - Ashleigh is in real trouble, as are some of the other main "cast" members.  The voice of Ashleigh comes across as very real, and there are moments when you want to shake her because she blames everyone except for herself - she may have trusted the person she shouldn't have, but it takes her a long time to realise and accept her role in the events.  Her ex-boyfriend Kaleb is also interesting, and while he seems a bit of  walking cliche when he starts college, sometimes cliches exist for a reason - and his role in the later part of the book rings true for someone who feels sorry for himself.

I picked this book up because I read Hate list earlier and enjoyed the dose of realistic writing and the intense topic and wanted to see if Brown could deliver a second time - and I was not disappointed.  As sexting is a hot debate topic, and as there are teenagers out there who do share pictures with their partners I would highly recommend this book for teenagers to see how things can fall apart if you trust the wrong person, but I would also recommend it to anyone who just likes a really good book to read.

If you like this book then try:
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • Bitter end by Jennifer Brown
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • Rooftop by Paul Volponi
  • Panic by Sharon M. Draper
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Agent 21: Codebreaker by Chris Ryan

Codebreaker is the third book in the Agent 21 series so there are ***SPOILERS*** in this review if you have not read the other books in the series.  If you like reading series without spoilers then read Agent 21 and Agent 21: Reloaded before you read this review.

Zak is back from his last mission, carrying with him the knowledge that he will never be the same again, struggling with the fact that he has changed since becoming Agent 21 and he is not 100% sure what to do with that knowledge.  Knowing that decisions are made in the heat of battle is one thing, but experiencing those tough decisions first hand has made it more real fro Zak - and especially hard lesson when the person who tried to kill him was someone he considered a friend, a valuable lesson not to get too close to the people you are using to get close to your target.  Zak has learned a lot, but he still has some harsh lessons to learn.

When a bomb explodes on an early morning train, killing dozens of people it seems like an isolated terrorist plot, but it appears that there was a warning - but no one took it seriously.  Locked up in a high security mental health facility is a teenaged wonder kid who has annoyed the heck out of the Americans by hacking into government computers, an act that painted a target on his back.  When the mission to get him out of the hospital goes terribly wrong Zak and the team find themselves in a race against time to stop more bombs, racing against time to figure out where the next bomb will be.  The potential for carnage is high, and when Zak, Gabs, and Raf cross paths with the bomber they paint a huge target on their backs - and the bomber has plans that he will protect at all cost.

Agent 21 is a fast paced series that takes you on a high octane race against time as Zak Darke works against the clock to stop the bad guys - living in isolation with his Guardian Angels to hone his body and mind into the perfect spy, ready to step in at a moments notice.  One of the things I like most about this series is that it is well written, and doesn't try to be too smart.  The action and adventure is what drives the story forward, and while there is a smart idea behind the story, the book is not written as high brow literature where you need a dictionary beside you to figure out what they are talking about - it is a very accessible read for readers of lots of different reading levels. 

Finding really good series for boys can be difficult, but Chris Ryan has carved out a nice niche market for himself in the action/adventure/teen spy market with his series Agent 21, Code Red and his Alpha Force.  I love the fast paced action, and this series has really appealed to my nephew who likes reading books about the armed forces, spies, and action.  This is not a series for younger readers of the Cherub series by Robert Muchamore, but older teens who have enjoyed the last few books in the Cherub series may also enjoy Agent 21.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Skinny by Donna Cooner

For years Ever has been that girl, the fat girl who everyone laughs at, the one that people don't want to be around.  Ever weighs over 300 pounds and everyday is a struggle, not just because of the things that happen around her, but also because of the voice only she can hear - the voice of Skinny in her head telling her she is fat, that everyone laughs at her, that she is the butt of everyone's jokes.  It is no way for a teenage girl to live, and while Ever knows gastric bypass surgery is an option she has always been too afraid of the complications to really consider having the surgery - until something happens and she can no longer ignore what her weight really means to her.  The surgery is not a magic bullet though, Ever will have to make some serious changes in her life, and she will have to face some truths that she may not be ready to face yet.

Skinny is a personal story and based on the authors bio it appears to be at least a little autiobiographical.  Normally I don't like books like this because they seem more than a little preachy and holier-than-thou, but in this case I felt really connected to Ever as a person rather than just as a character - and there is a lot of depth to her character, rather than just the element of her being morbidly obese.  This book will not appeal to all readers, but it is an interesting read because Ever has her flaws and her strengths and while she does get a happy ending it is not the delirious happy ever after you might expect. 

This book is remarkably difficult to review because it is a very niche book - even though the characters have a wider readability and audience it is at heart a book about a teenage girl who takes drastic action to deal with her weight.  If you are interested in reading about teenagers who have a drastic change in their appearance and have to face their inner (and outer) demons, then this may just be the book for you.

If you like this book then try:
  • Cut by Patricia McCormick
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • Stuck in neutral by Terry Trueman
  • Staying fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
  • Fix by Leslie Margolis
  • Empty by K.M.Walton

Reviewed by Brilla



Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

After the Seven Stages War, humanity is hanging on by a thread, the population of billions drastically reduced and each settlement of people faces challenges from pollution, mutations, and a lack of resources.  Most people spend their whole lives in their settlements, some are happy with their lot in life while others dream of the Testing and entering University.  The Testing was a dream for Cia Vale, but she never dreamed she would be chosen - but for the first time in years people from her settlement have been chosen for the Testing, an honour that is treason to deny. 

Cia feels nervous about leaving, and softly spoken secrets from her father do little to ease her worries.  Cia learns about his nightmares, the memories that may or not be real after his memories were wiped after his own Testing - and his last words are to trust no one.  Thrust into a world of fierce competition where everyone seems to be in it for themselves, Cia tries to hold onto who she really is and clings to the hope that things are not as they appear.  As the other candidates make decisions with deadly, even fatal, consequences Cia must find the courage to survive the tests she is facing - but also the Testing itself.

The Testing is a gripping novel set in a dystopian future in the remains of the United States, where young people face deadly challenges to gain the prize of a coveted University position.  That may sound vaguely familiar, another Hunger games wannabe with much pomp and ceremony, a familiar story of triumph over adversity and blah blah blah - but The Testing is one of the best dystopian novels, a quietly creepy and disquieting novel that leaves you feeling like you have touched a truly distasteful world where the people in power can do anything they want and it is all you can do to hold onto your humanity - and even if you hang on to it you still may not really be a "winner".

Describing too much about the story and characters will reduce the impact of the story and the little twists and surprises Charbonneu has built into this absorbing (and more than a little sickening) dystopian future.  I can see the strong parallels between the Hunger games and The Testing, but it is not a carbon copy nor a pale imitation.  Like the Hunger games this will appeal to a wide range of audiences, and the sequel looks to be a promising follow up to this first book in the series.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to seeing how things develop for Cia and the other survivors of The Testing - and how things pan out for the people they have left behind.

If you like this book then try:
  • The Hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • Eve by Anna Carey
  • Enclave by Ann Aguirre
  • Dualed by Elsie Chapman
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • XVI by Julia Karr

Reviewed by Brilla

The look by Sophia Bennett

Ted is used to being the odd one out, the tall girl with the outrageous (and uncontrollable) hair, literally head and shoulders above the rest.  Her sister Ava has it all, the looks, the brains, the ability to make friends easily - and at the age of seventeen she also has cancer.  Her family didn't realise she was sick at first, and the diagnosis of cancer is a shock to the whole family - especially when the specialist says they have a 90% success rate.  Refusing to worry about the 10%, the family rallies around Ava to help her through the treatments.  Ava and Ted are close, sharing a room and spending time together, and when Ava wants her to follow up with a modelling scout Ted can't resist - even though she knows it will come to nothing.

It doesn't though, instead Ted finds herself swirled up into the breath taking world of modelling and high fashion.  Chosen by a modelling agency known for their unique models, it seems as though it is all going to be over before it even begins - but then Ted makes a breakthrough and all the world is laid out at her feet.  It seems impossible that one sister can be rising so high while the other is faltering and failing with a disease that could end her life before it even begins - and with the pressure growing all round Ted will have to make decisions that she may not be ready for, decisions she may regret for the rest of her life.

The look is a fascinating read, blending together a Cinderella-esque story with a moving story about the relationship between two sisters where one of them has a potentially fatal illness.  Ted is an interesting character because she is very human, full of doubt and genuine concern for her sister - she may seem naïve at times, but she has incredible depth and has a very steep personal growth curve.  Her sister Ava is the kind of sister you would usually dislike in a novel like this, the perfect older sister who does well at school and has a gorgeous boyfriend, but she is portrayed as a character with real depth and emotion and it is hard to dislike a character who so obviously loves her little sister long before she is famous. 

To say too much about this book is to ruin the surprises along the way and the portrayal of the relationships between Ava and Ted, and the relationship with their parents.  I was expecting a somewhat vapid and fluffy novel with the title and cover image, but what I found instead was a deeply emotional book with all the elements of a true coming of age story.  Ted is lovely with all her flaws and personal doubts, and Ava is just as amazing as she bravely works through the issues around her illness.  Too often novels peter out towards the end, starting strongly and then failing to deliver the punch line, but I loved The look from beginning to end and look forward to reading more from this author in the future as she has an easy to read style, and she is not afraid to have some substance to her novel.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla