Monday, October 28, 2013

I fired god by Jocelyn R. Zichterman

There is always something special about an autobiography from someone who has lived through times we can only dream of - or in some cases lived through a nightmare that we can only be thankful to have avoided.  This is especially true for me when I read autobiographies from people who have experienced difficult circumstances while growing up, whether it is abuse or neglect, or overcoming physical challenges that greatly limit their lives.  There is a certain sense of opening yourself up for criticism and being mocked, and for some people they risk their safety to share their story - as is the case with I fired God.

Jocelyn was raised in a Independent Fundamental Baptist cult - a story that is filled with moments of pain, torture, molestation, child abuse, and religious indoctrination.  This is a bravely told and very personal story, one that was at times difficult to read because it seems impossible that a supposedly Christian faith could accept, promote, and allow acts of child abuse and intimidation.  The story unfolds in a measured way as Jocelyn describes her childhood growing up, the molestation at the hands of her brothers and father, the indoctrination into the faith, the beatings to break their spirits so they can be saved in the faith, and the unjustness of a patriarchal "society" where a woman is supposed to submit to the will of the men in her lives.  The description is not unique to the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, but it is a little chilling to know that in this day and age that children are denied their basic rights and are placed at such risk for long term emotional and physical harm.

One of the most telling parts of Jocelyn's memoir is when she and her husband break away from the cult and try and begin a new life - how they are hounded, threatened, and pushed to the brink of financial disaster because of the actions of the cult.  It is clear that some of the intimidation tactics came about because Jocelyn spoke out against them and collected together information from other survivors, but it also clear that they would have done what they could to "get her" anyway because of the kind of man her father was. 

This is not an easy read in any sense of the word - yet I am grateful that Jocelyn has shared her story because she has become a voice for thousands of people who have been raised in a cult from childhood with no protection from the system of the American government.  I have read several fiction stories lately for teenagers raised in fundamental faiths and I thought they were exaggerating the amount of freedom given to these religious groups due to their "rights" to practice their faith - rights which completely overshadow the rights of the children to grow up safe and secure in their family home.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are just as valid as the right to religious freedom, and Jocelyn has set forward some clear and simple solutions to protect the child as well as respecting peoples individual rights to their faith.

This book will not appeal to everyone, and there are no doubt some people who will think that this book is a bunch of rubbish, but I highly recommend it.  Take your time reading I fired God and take a break when you need to.  If you read this book and want to read other stories from people who have lived through difficult experiences and trauma, then try:
  • Child C: Surviving a foster mothers reign of terror by Christopher Spry
  • Punished by Vanessa Steel
  • Etched in sand by Regina Calcaterra
  • A child named It by Dave Pelzer
  • Stolen innocence by Elissa Wall
  • Parents who kill by Carol Anne Davis
  • Banished: Surviving my years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain
  • When rabbit howls by Truddi Chase
  • The little prisoner: A memoir by Jane Eliott
  • Beyond belief: My secret life inside Scientology and my harrowing escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill
  • Sickened: The memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood by Julie Gregory

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Model spy by Shannon Greenland

Kelly James is sixteen, she is living independently at college - and she has just broken the law in a major way by hacking into the government computer network.  She wasn't doing it to show off or for the thrill of it, she did it to help her friend David - the result however is that she is in deep trouble and the only way out of trouble is to agree to join a secret government spy agency that trains teenagers from troubled backgrounds to become part of a spy team that uses each of their unique talents.  The only problem is that Kelly never broke the law so the agency used David to nudge her into breaking the law so they could swoop in and strong arm her into joining the programme.  Now Kelly has a new name, a new "family", and she is about to be sent out on her first mission - as a model!  This is the perfect first mission for someone who is so clumsy that she can trip over thin air.

Model spy was a fun read and a fresh take on the teen spy genre - fun and flirty rather than serious and nerve racking.  Kelly is an interesting character with some rather glaring character flaws (she always runs late and tends to get too caught up in things) but she also manages to grow as a person throughout the book which is also kind of nice.  I wasn't expecting huge sweeping story lines with detailed plots and subplots in Model spy, and it lived up to my expectations with a healthy dose of humour and a sense of the ridiculous making it a worthwhile diversion for a few hours as Kelly raced towards the expected conclusion to the novel.  This is the first book in the series, and while it is a few years old now it still appears to be available.

If you like this book then try:
  • Down to the wire by Shannon Greenland
  • The winning element by Shannon Greenland
  • Native tongue by Shannon Greenland
  • Bad kitty by Michele Jaffe
  • All-American girl by Meg Cabot
  • Heist society by Ally Carter
  • A girl named Digit by Annabel Monahgan

Reviewed by Brilla

Parents who kill by Carol Anne Davis

For many people, the thought of killing a child is abhorrent, something beyond their comprehension.  Yet every year thousands of children worldwide die at the hands of their parents through neglect, abuse, or deliberate acts of premeditated murder.  Parents who kill chronicles the stories of parents who have killed their children through neglect, through severe physical abuse, through religious perversion, and deliberate acts of murder for profit or revenge.  The stories are mainly from the United Kingdom and the United States, but there are a scattering of other stories too.  The author has read extensively from newspapers and published works, as well as interviewing some authors and journalists to create an insightful look into parents who kill their children.

What could easily have become a blood drenched horror is instead an insightful look into what drives people to commit such horrible acts against children.  Broken down into sections the book examines similar murders and killings as a group - mothers who kill to keep their boyfriends, mercy killings, postnatal depression killings, revenge against partners who leave, religious beliefs taken to extremes or otherwise perverted, and parents who kill to claim insurance money.  While the majority of the cases described are very brief, the author manages to take you inside the minds and world of the killers to show the motivations for what they did.  Sadly too many of the cases also show the failings of the social services involved, with multiple children dying in horrible circumstances because the social service agencies lack the teeth to act or failed to follow through on reports of abuse.

I have read quite a few books recently about neglected children or children who have been abused by their parents and it is a horrible topic to read about, but it is also important to be aware that not everyone is cut out to be a parent and that some people have children for the wrong reasons.  Carol Anne Davis makes some blunt recommendations at the end of the book and raises some ideas that as a society we need to be aware of - children need to be protected from abuse is one of them, but it also raises the idea that society has a responsibility to react in more appropriate ways to women who show severe signs of postnatal depression, and that we need to forget the illusion that the bond between mothers and infants is instant and magical. 

What could have become a preachy book is instead an eye opening one that I am glad I read, although some of the stories made me sick to the stomach and I had to put the book down a few times because the stories were just too much to keep reading.  I have seen the results of child abuse first hand, and in New Zealand there is a tragic history of children killed by parents or caregivers - some of which are achingly familiar when reading the stories in Parents who kill.  I would recommend to anyone working in a social work, school, or other public facility read this book so they can understand some of the warning signs and hopefully act on them rather than wait until it is too late.

Take your time reading Parents who kill and take a break when you need to.  If you read this book and want to read other stories from people who have lived through difficult experiences and trauma, then try:
  • Child C: Surviving a foster mothers reign of terror by Christopher Spry
  • Punished by Vanessa Steel
  • Etched in sand by Regina Calcaterra
  • A child named It by Dave Pelzer
  • Broken by Shy Keenan
  • Damaged by Cathy Glass
  • When rabbit howls by Truddi Chase
  • The little prisoner: A memoir by Jane Eliott
  • Sickened: The memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood by Julie Gregory

Reviewed by Brilla

The art of clean up by Ursus Wehrli

The full title of this book is The art of clean up: Life made neat and tidy and I first became aware of the "artist" and his work through Sideswipe - a daily humour column in the New Zealand Herald which pulls together videos, images, and pithy sayings from people.  The link on Sideswipe only had a few of the images so when I found out there was a book I had to order it to see what it was like and I was not disappointed.

There is a running joke with certain friends that I am a "little bit pedantic" and I can now say at least I am not as pedantic as Ursus Wehrli!  The basic idea is that he has taken everyday objects and situations and put them into order - so what you might say, but he does it with somewhat surprising and very amusing results.  Without wanting to ruin the visual surprises I can say picture a normal parking lot with cars of all sizes, shapes, and colours - and then imagine them tidied up into some semblance of order.  Or maybe imagine a bowl of fruit salad and the contents neatly arranged.

This book appeals on so many levels, there is the artistic level with its strong use of lines and colours - there is also the humorous side which leaves you at least giggling over the absurdity of the idea of making everything so orderly - and then there is also the plain sense of fun, that someone had the idea of making the everyday so orderly.  If you know someone who might like an interesting coffee table book then this may just be the one for them, and as it is relatively light it is easy to pick up and enjoy without having to lug its weight around when you want to show it off.

This book is so quirky that I have trouble suggesting anything else other than another book from the same author called Tidying up art.  Loads of fun to look at it, and it was even better when I shared it with the people around me at home and at work.  The perfect gift for that friend who likes to have everything just "so" - though maybe not the best book for anyone you know who genuinely has OCD.

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Battle magic by Tamora Pierce

Battle magic is a stand alone book in the world of Emelan - home of the Circle of magic and Circle opens quartets, as well as the Will of the Empress and Melting stones.  If you like to read series in some form of order then this review will contain ***SPOILERS***  You can read Battle magic on its own, but for the most enjoyment you should read the Circle of magic and Circle opens quartets first.  As a personal recommendation I would strongly recommend that you read the quartets first, then read Battle magic, and then read Melting stones and the Will of the Empress.

Rosethorn, Briar, and Briar's study Evvy are traveling in the land of Gyongxe when they receive an invitation from the Emperor of Yanjing to visit him and see his worlds famous gardens.  It is an offer that they are reluctant to ignore, especially when the honour is bestowed on so few people, but they quickly discover that there is a rotten core at the heart of the glittering empire.  The Emperor is a cruel and heartless leader, who leads his people through pure power - both the power of his throne, and the power of the mages who control his people through fear and deadly magic.  The Emperor is also very good at finding out what people love and using that knowledge to bend them to his will, using them up and spitting them out in the constant move for more land, more subjects, and more power.

Sickened by a display of power and control, the trio take leave of the Emperor and his court and start out on their return journey to Emelan - but their plans change when they learn that the Emperor plans to invade Gyongxe.  Making the decision to warn the God-King in Gyongxe automatically makes them the enemies of the Emperor, who will see the move as an act of betrayal, but none of them can stand by and watch as their friends in Gyongxe face war.  As enemies of the Emperor Rosethorn, Briar, and Evvy have a price on their heads which will only make their tasks harder when they are separated to complete their own tasks - tasks that will change them forever.

Battle magic sits in the world of Emelan, and while there are details that would make it okay to read on its own, it really does pay to have read the Circle of magic and Circle opens quartets so you have an understanding of who Rosethorn, Briar, and Evvy are.  Luckily I have recently read the first book of the Circle of magic series so the characters were quite fresh in my mind, and I have read both Melting stones and the Will of the Empress so it was somewhat satisfying to read Battle magic and fill in some of the gaps of why Briar was so shell shocked from the events that happened in Gyongxe.

While the earlier books set in the Emelan world are aimed at 'tweens (9 years plus) Battle magic has more of a teen feel - while there is no gratuitous violence, the themes are more realistic for a teens audience, or at least a 'tweens audience with adult support if they have questions.  Some reviews have criticised Pierce for glossing over some of the details, or feeling that the events described in Battle magic fail to explain the PTSD symptoms that Briar displays in the Will of the Empress - but I don't feel the same way - I do feel that the story should have maybe been on a larger scale, but the story fits the "feel" of the Emelan books. 

I did take longer to read Battle magic than I expected as I kept putting it down, but that may be more a me thing than the book thing as there has been a lot going on around me and I didn't get as much chance to read the book in my breaks at work so it possibly took longer for that reason rather than as a lack of connection to the characters.  Another addition to the Pierce library for fans of this talented author.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Black Friday by Robert Muchamore

Black Friday is the final book in a CHERUB trilogy so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** and if you like to read series in order then you should go back and read People's Republic and Guardian angel before you read anymore of this review.

For the better part of a year Ryan has been in a deep cover assignment for CHERUB, working from the inside to help bring down the Amarov clan from the inside.  He is on his way to making a name for himself, if only he can make it through the next 24 hours that is, and with a group of extremists safety is never assured and the Islamic Department of Justice is about as extreme as they come.  When his mission doesn't work out as planned things rapidly begin to spiral out of control as the politicians race to cover their butts in the event that the ever critical public figures out what has been happening behind closed doors.

Forced to make an early move, the team working to take down the Amarov clan for good is about to face some of their toughest challenges to date - not least of which is tracking down Leonid Aramov so they can tie up their loose ends.  While the team races against time they discover that Leonid has not been quietly sitting in hiding, he has been making plans and getting ready to go into hiding for real.  CHERUB agents are so valuable because no one suspects children, but has Ryan bitten off more than he can chew with this case, and will he be able to maintain his cover for the rest of the mission or has he blown it all?

Black Friday is a fast paced and very satisfying conclusion to the CHERUB trilogy that lived up to all my expectations and more.  It was a nice change of pace to have a series of novels that blended together a few lead voices rather than just one, the original CHERUB series was fantastic but was focused on one character - this series has allowed Muchamore to show that he can carry a more complex character structure and keep it moving and keep it real.  The themes in this series have been more in line with the later James books, more suitable for "middle aged" teens rather than older children and 'tweens - but it doesn't feel as though he has used gratuitous violence or sexual references, it just feels "right" to have been written for this age group.

I love Muchamore's CHERUB series, not only because it is so genuinely written, but also because it has helped to make so many teenagers read - especially teenage boys.  Too many authors seem to be focusing on the next little goldmine about vampires or zombies, but the CHERUB books are a contemporary series written purely for the readers themselves (anyone who started writing stories to get his nephew hooked on reading can't be in it just for the money).  Muchamore has made a very nice little corner for himself in the writing market and I hope that he continues to write more books in the CHERUB universe, the only grumble being it seems to take soooo long for the next book in the series to come out and then I have to compete with the teenagers to get a copy to read (for me) and to review (for you).  An awesome author and series.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, October 18, 2013

Dog shaming by Pascale Lemire

The title of this delightful little book really does say it all - dogs being shamed with signs that spell out their crimes for the whole world to see.  I am a shameless animal lover with several dogs (and cats) at home and lots of friends with dogs and I was laughing right from the start recognising some of the behaviours of my dog and friends dogs in the photos. 

There are a variety of "crimes" and a variety of postures and poses - from dogs that really look like they are feeling the shame of what they have done through to dogs full of teenage attitude almost saying "and what are you gonna do about it, huh?" - so at least two of our dogs are represented here. 

While people who don't have dogs or who don't like dogs probably won't get the humour of this book, anyone who has owned dogs will recognise the misdeeds of their four-legged companions here.  Here is the website that started it all - - although as the book says they have raided the vault to publish never before seen pictures as well as favourites.

If you like this book then try:
  • Simon's cat by Simon Tofield
  • Sorry I pooped in your shoe (And other heartwarming letters from Doggie) by Jeremy Greenburg
  • How to tell if your cat is trying to kill you by The Oatmeal and Matthew Inman
  • Texts from dog by October Jones
  • My dog: The Paradox by The Oatmeal
  • T-Rex trying by Hugh Murphy
  • Grumpy cat: A grumpy book by Grumpy Cat

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Weekends with Daisy by Sharron Kahn Luttrell

Sharron had a full-blown case of Canine Deficit Disorder (CDD) after the death of her beloved German shepherd named Tucker.  Even though the family home had been nicknamed Camp Luttrell in the two years since Tucker had died (because they would dog sit for all their family and friends) but there was still a dog shaped hole in Sharron's life - until a chance encounter at the supermarket introduced her to the world of inmate training programmes.  Becoming a weekend puppy raiser for NEADS was not on the cards for the family, was not even something they had thought about, but with the children growing up and almost ready to leave the nest Sharron and her husband decided to give it a go.  

In a very short space of time Sharron was all trained and ready for her first dog - much to the family's disappointment their first puppy arrived in the shape of a Standard poodle with a high prey drive who was more like a small horse than a dog.  With that disaster out of the way the door was open for a small Labrador named Daisy.  Daisy is just what the family ordered (cute, loveable, and very much a puppy) but no one was truly prepared for the impact this little puppy was going to have on all their lives.  All the tips and tricks Sharron learns through working with Daisy have an unusual (and rewarding) influence on her interactions with her children - and they work especially well for relationships with her teenage daughter.  Working alongside Keith, the inmate who is training Daisy in the prison, is also a rewarding and somewhat uncomfortable experience - pushing her boundaries and leading to some interesting discoveries and learning experiences.

As someone who has been involved with raising puppies to work with disabled individuals there were so many echoes for me when reading Weekends with Daisy - not only because of the effect Daisy has when she is out and about, but also because of the anxiety you feel sometimes knowing that you are working with an animal that is destined for great things and one little slip on your part has the potential to undo months of hard work - or even worse, the dog might fail because you have failed to meet the standard required.  So many times I found myself smiling when Sharron described a chance encounter with someone, or grimaced in sympathy when something went wrong - and sometimes I smiled and then grimaced because of what had happened.  The heartache (and pleasure) of giving up Daisy was also a familiar experience, including everyone asking how Sharron was going to cope giving Daisy up - you never truly know until the time comes, and there is always that special puppy that tugs at your heartstrings a little more than the others - a special dog that stays with you for a long time.

Many of the books about service and assistance dogs at the moment are about fully qualified dogs and their handlers, so it was refreshing to have a story about someone who is working alongside a puppy to prepare them for a future career as a working dog - it is a very different relationship with its own pitfalls, challenges, and rewards.  For me this book was also amazing because the story of Keith, Daisy's inmate, is as much a part of the story as Daisy herself and it was interesting/absorbing/rewarding to read about the changes Daisy made for him, and the changes he made for Daisy as well.  At times it is not easy to read about Keith and why he was in prison, but inmate training programmes are amazing (judging from all the articles I have read) both for the accelerated training of the dogs and the inmates themselves, and this is an easy introduction to the valuable work they do in one of the programmes.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Red Rocks by Rachael King

Jake has been staying in Wellington with his father for the school holidays.  He is enjoying the time away from his mother, his stepfather, and his new little half brother, but his dad sometimes seems a little like the absent minded professor and Jake is spending a lot of time alone.  On one of his adventures near the Red Rocks Jake crawls into a nearly invisible cave and finds a beautiful seal skin, a skin that appears untouched by time or decay.  Once he touches it Jake knows he has to take it home, but once he removes the seal skin from the cave he sets in motion a dangerous course of events.

The seal skin is not just any seal skin, it is the skin of a selkie, and by taking the skin Jake has not only cursed the selkie to walk the land until the skin is returned, but he has also created a connection between his family and the selkie.  It seems like a made up story, and Jake is skeptical as soon as Jessie tells him the story, but as time passes Jake realises that there is more to Jessie - and the story - than he thought.  Determined to fix the mistake he has made, Jake is in a race against time (and it appears, fate) to get the seal skin back to the selkie who do anything to get her skin back.

Red Rocks was a surprising little read, partly because it has taken a traditional story from mainly Celtic mythology and translated it to a modern New Zealand setting - and it treats that tradition with a surprising amount of respect.  The characters are not particularly well fleshed out, but that fits with the fast paced action of the story, and the focal point of the story is definitely Jake.  In many ways Red Rocks blends together a coming of age story and a story of self discovery, with a tipping point story where Jake is old enough to understand the consequences of his actions, but is also young enough to believe quite quickly that there is more to the world than he can understand.  In a lot of ways there is also an element of a child who is coming to terms with the fact that since his parents divorce his mother has moved on and started creating a new life for herself. and that his father is looking for something too, or more accurately someone.

This was a nice little break from reality, a little adventure mixed in with some drama, set in a setting that could be New Zealand, but could also be somewhere else.  Experiencing the story alongside Jake makes it more accessible, and his personal viewpoints help you to understand the mythology in a modern setting.

If you like this book then try:
  • The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee
  • Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo
  • Hollow Earth by John Barrownman and Carole Barrowman
  • Finding the fox by Ali Sparkes
  • A gift from Winklesea by Helen Cresswell
  • Nest of lies by Heather McQuillan
  • The water horse by Dick King-Smith
  • Pangur ban the white cat by Fay Sampson
  • Northwood by Brian Falkner

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, October 14, 2013

The submissive by Tara Sue Me

Abby King is on a mission, even though she knows Nathaniel West only takes experienced submissives, she has always carried the secret fantasy that he will make an exception and take her on and train and mold her.  When he does agree to take her on for a trial basis it seems as though she is closer to her goal of being his, but right from the start things aren't quite what she expected - even though things seem to go well at first, it soon becomes clear that there is something wrong and Nathaniel wont tell her what it is.

As their relationship grows and changes, Abby finds herself moving further and further away from the safe and boring world of her safe library job, and safe circle of friends, and closer and closer to the world of full submission and belonging.   When things start to unravel Abby faces the heartbreaking choice of fighting for what she wants and needs, and letting Nathaniel walk all over her - to her detriment and his.  Will Abby and Nathaniel be able to break through their own preconceived ideas and find true contentment - or are they on a collision course with disaster?

The submissive is what Fifty shades of Grey could have been if it had been edited by a skilled editor and trimmed to fit neatly in a single volume with no repetition.  There are some echoes of Fifty shades here, but mainly because of the genre and the fact that Nathaniel plays the piano - there is also the fact that he is pretty wealthy, but that seems to be the case with most of these novels (otherwise they wouldn't be able to live decadent lives and fly their submissives to exotic locations).  The character development for Abby and Nathaniel was pretty well balanced, and neither character is more important than the other, the relationship they develop is one of equals (to a certain extent) and they develop individually and together over the course of the story.

Telling too much will of course ruin the story, but if you like your erotic fiction with a good storyline, strong character development, and some spicy action in the bedroom, then The submissive may just be the book for you.  The sex scenes are not as racy as some I have read recently, but they are steamy enough if you like this kind of book.  This is the first book in a series that was originally released as an e-book, but I have to say that it was a satisfying read in its own right, and after reading the extract from The dominant the second book in the series, it does appear there is some cross over between them anyway rather than a transition from story to story.

If you like this book then try:
  • The dominant by Tara Sue Me
  • The training by Tara Sue Me
  • Fifty shades of Grey by E.L. James
  • Sweet addiction by Maya Banks
  • Velvet glove by Emma Holly
  • Belong to me by Shayla Black
  • Haven of obedience by Marina Anderson
  • Fever by Maya Banks
  • Burn by Maya Banks

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bastion by Mercedes Lackey

Bastion is the fifth book in the Collegium Chronicles so this review has ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the other books in the series.  If you like to read series in order then go back and read the other books in the series, starting with Foundation.

For Mags the past few years have been a roller coaster ride of emotional and physical challenges, especially where his uncertain heritage is concerned.  He has his supporters and a close group of friends, but there is always a little niggle in the back of his mind that he is placing his friends, his King, and his country and risk through his continued presence.  His worst nightmares seem to have come true when he was kidnapped and kept separated from Dallen through drugs and distance, but now he is back at Haven and waiting for the next disaster to fall on his shoulders.

He was expecting disaster, what he wasn't expecting was to be sent to Bastion - the place where his parents were killed.  There are several reasons to send him out with his friends, there is the public story, the story he knows, and probably several other stories he will never know - all he knows is that it is a chance for him to be away from Haven, and a way for him to keep his friends close.  It is a chance for Mags to try and learn more about his parents, a chance to search for answers away from the one place the tribe of assassins on his tail knows where to look for him, a chance to spend time with his friends and keep them safe.  That was the theory anyway, in practice the Bastion may not be the refuge they hoped for, it may instead be a tempting target for the people who want Mags back in the family - no matter what the cost.

Bastion is the fifth book in the Collegium Chronicles, and one of the most intriguing things about this series is that you don't know how it will end, or when.  Lackey is well known for writing trilogies based in her world of Valdemar, or standalone books, it is unheard of for a series to break that mould and keep going - and while it is a little niggly to not know when the series is going to end, it is also somewhat exciting to try and guess how many more books might be in the series, or where things might head next.  In a lot of ways the previous book, Redoubt, felt like a middle book, which would make the series seven books long in total, but someone I was talking to about Bastion felt that it might be the end book in the series.  It is also unusual for Lackey to have a single world for the title of her Valdemar books, usually the series start with the same word and the theme carries through for the trilogy, so in a lot of ways the Collegium Chronicles are unique.  

However long the Collegium Chronicles last, one thing is clear, Lackey is still an amazing world and character builder who creates depth in her characters and presents them with real challenges to overcome.  Nothing is ever easy for the characters in Valdemar, there are curve balls, learning experiences, and in some cases heartbreak galore - and how many other people would also admit that their openness to religion and same sex relationship comes from a world where there is "no one way" and where a good number of the characters are openly shay'a'chern.  I hope there are more books for Mags, even if it is just so we can see what happens with Amily - but also to learn more about this time in Valdemar's history. 

If you like this book then try:
  • Foundation by Mercedes Lackey
  • Magic's pawn by Mercedes Lackey
  • Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Burning brightly by Mercedes Lackey
  • Sing the four quarters by Tanya Huff
  • If I pay thee not in gold by Piers Anthony and Mercedes Lackey
  • Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
  • Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
  • The diamond throne by David Eddings
  • Cast in shadow by Michelle Sagara

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Etched in sand: A true story of five siblings who survived an unspeakable childhood on Long Island by Regina Calcaterra

Regina and her four siblings did not have a normal childhood - they experienced abuse and homelessness as their mother self medicated with alcohol and spend more time away from home with her boyfriends than she did looking after her children.  Cherie, Camille, Regina, Norman, and Rosie essentially raised themselves, resorting to all sorts of extreme measures to make sure that at least Norman and Rosie had enough to eat.  Their mother Cookie was a force of nature, one that uprooted their lives more than once - a woman who had five children by five different fathers, a woman who was in and out of their lives as they bounced from rental accommodation  to homelessness, to foster homes.

What could easily have been a bleak and unforgiving story is instead a story of hope - Regina not only survived her childhood, she managed to succeed beyond anyone's expectations.  When she finally told the truth as a teenager it sparked the beginning of a journey for all the siblings, one that was at times very difficult to read - especially when you remember that they were very young children at the time.  The scary thing, probably the scariest thing for me, is the lack of belief on the part of social services about the abuse that Regina and her siblings experienced in foster care.  They were beaten, neglected, and there are hints that Regina was sexually assaulted or at least "interfered with" at one of the homes - and they were not believed.  

Children in foster care are extremely vulnerable, and through the course of the book you realise just how vulnerable they are, and how lucky Regina was in some cases.  The scary thing is that the neglect and abuse Regina and her siblings experienced is not unique, and there are children all over the world who wake up everyday not knowing if they are safe, not knowing if they have enough to eat, not knowing if one wrong move will result in a beating.  At one point Regina wonders out loud if a social worker she is dealing with has just been through "Social Work 101" and you have to wonder if that was true because of the boneheaded things he did - and the fact that he never checked into Regina's background.  

People often seem to have a relucatance to acknowledge that child abuse and neglect happens - except in the extreme cases where there are broken bones, permanent damage, or even death.  In New Zealand child abuse and neglect are a shameful mark against the entire country - there is an extremely high rate of child abuse here, and a lot of it is the "small" things like neglect, failing to supply the necessities of life, and being too quick to lash out at children.  Every year children die at the hands of their parents and other caregivers and Regina and her siblings are lucky they didn't become such a statistic.

Etched in sand is not an easy read, it is nauseating to think that a parent can have such little regard for a child - any child.  Children are vulnerable and at the mercy of the adults raising them, and in the case of Regina and her siblings the neglect and abuse resulted in them raising themselves.  If you are working with foster children, or are considering working as a social worker then you need to read Etched in sand and other stories of this kind so you can work into your job with your eyes wide open - these are not unique stories, they are just the stories where the person has the courage to lift their voice and share their experiences.

Take your time with this story and pause when you need to.  If you read this book and want to read other biographies from people who have lived through difficult experiences and trauma, then try:
  • Child C: Surviving a foster mothers reign of terror by Christopher Spry
  • Punished by Vanessa Steel
  • A child named It by Dave Pelzer
  • Broken by Shy Keenan
  • Damaged by Cathy Glass
  • When rabbit howls by Truddi Chase
  • The little prisoner: A memoir by Jane Eliott
  • Sickened: The memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood by Julie Gregory

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Don't turn around by Michelle Gagnon

For the past few years Noa has been living off the grid, knowing that if she is caught they will throw her back into the unappealing world of revolving foster families and time spent at the Centre.  She only managed to escape using her mad computer skills to create a fictitious foster family, and working freelance as her pretend foster father to make money to pay the bills and keep some money in the bank.  It was the perfect invisible life, but now someone is collecting the bill on that invisible life - because Noa has woken up in a secret laboratory after some mysterious medical procedure and the people who have experimented on her desperately want her back.

At the opposite end of the social scale is Peter, a spoilt rich kid who only really wants one thing - some undivided genuine attention from his parents.  Lacking that, he has carved out a niche for himself as a hacker and creator of /ALLIANCE/ a coalition of anonymous hackers who use their skills to expose the deadly, dangerous, and despicable.  When he comes across a reference to AMRF he can't resist the temptation to dig up more information about them - and that just opens a huge can of worms.

Peter and Noa are both on the run from mysterious men who are highly trained and highly organised, and highly focused on stopping Peter and bringing Noa back in.  No one in their lives is safe, especially with the quietly menacing Mr. Mason on their trail.  Noa and Peter need to discover what AMRF is and what the experiments are about, because Noa is not the only victim of their experiments, but she may be the only success and the shadowy men in black in desperate to get her back - no matter how many people have to die in the process.

Don't turn around suffers from the fate of having a terrible cover, one that doesn't reflect the adrenaline packed read inside - the version I have looks almost more like a horror novel cover, rather a cover more fitting to a tensely written psychological thriller/teen adventure story.  Luckily later editions of the book appear to have fixed this, providing a cover that provides a better taste of the reading goodness inside the novel.  The first book in a trilogy, Don't turn around sets the scene for coming events, but is also a strong stand alone book with a satisfying conclusion (leaving room for the rest of the books in the series but also providing some closure at the end of the novel). 

Gagnon did not disappoint with Don't turn around, creating a believable premise that will have you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next for Noa and Peter.  There is a sense of foreboding for most of the novel, the sense that someone very powerful is pulling strings in all kinds of places to keep what they are doing under the radar - and that they are targeting some of the most vulnerable people to move forward with their plans.  Through Noa and Peter we learn more about their plans and what they are willing to sacrifice to get their work done, but there is a niggling sense that there is more than Gagnon is hinting at.  Noa and Peter are fully formed and believable characters, and I found myself part of their cheering squad quite quickly as they work to outwit and out manoeuvre the bad guys on their trail. I can't wait to get my hands on Don't look now to see where their investigations take them next.

If you like this book then try:
  • Don't look now by Michelle Gagnon
  • Altered by Jennifer Rush
  • Mila 2.0 by Debra Drizer
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • Arrival by Chris Morphew
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • Subject Seven by James A. Moore
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • Proxy by Alex London

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Gone by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Gone is the sixth book in the Michael Bennett series and follows on closely from the events in I, Michael Bennett.  This review contains ***SPOILERS*** for what happens in the Michael Bennett series so I highly recommend reading this series in order, and you really should read I, Michael Bennett before jumping into Gone.

The Bennett family have been living a completely different life for the past eight months, far from the bustling noises and bright lights of Manhattan - they are under the loving care of the witness protection programme on the far side of the country.  It is a peaceful (if slow) change of pace, and the kids are adjusting to the home schooling and farm animals way more quickly than Michael is - and Mary Catherine is fully in her element.  One morning the monotony is broken by the news of a coordinated attack against mobsters across the country - attacks carried out by fugitive Manuel Perrine.

Perrine may be a fugitive, but he is not in hiding, he is out for blood and will stop at nothing to get what he wants.  He has begun a carefully orchestrated campaign against the people who have crossed him, the people who have refused to deal with him, and anyone else who gets in his way - and most of all he wants to make Michael Bennett and his family suffer.  Death by bloody death, Perrine is cleansing away his enemies and no one is safe - federal agents, police, DEA, informants, everyone is a target and his troops are ruthlessly efficient.  The body count is growing, and with his knowledge of Perrine Bennett is soon dragged into the case - exposing him to danger, along with his family.

I have been waiting for Gone for months, eager to see what happens next in the life of Michael Bennett and his family after the explosive conclusion to I, Michael Bennett.  Michael Bennett is probably my favourite James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge character, and I eagerly await each book to see what happens next for this brilliant (and very human) New York detective and his family.  Gone did not disappoint, and while I was somewhat sceptical about the whole "like a James Bond novel" tagline I saw somewhere, this is in fact a very tensely written novel that reads more like an adventure novel rather than a simple detective story - the armed forces are well represented, and there are some impressive arsenals involved on both sides.

I have said it before and I will say it again, Patterson and Ledwidge have an amazing writing chemistry, the story is seamless and well paced with well developed characters.  There are little twists and turns, and while I guessed some of the things that happened they didn't happen quite like I expected - a pleasant surprise.  I had to read the last half of the novel in one sitting after reading the first half during my breaks and lunch - it was just too good to put down.  This is a fantastic series and I can't help but wonder where Patterson and Ledwidge will take the series next.  Highly recommended.

If you like this book then try:
  • Step on a crack by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Run for your life by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Worst case by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Tick tock by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • I, Michael Bennett by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • The edge of normal by Carla Norton
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • The apprentice by Tess Gerritsen
  • Kill switch by Neal Baer and Jonathan Greene
  • NYPD Red by James Patterson and Marshall Karp
  • Kill me if you can by James Patterson and Marshall Karp

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Rush by Maya Banks

Gabe, Ash, and Jace are best mates and run a very successful empire together - they also share a fiercely protective streak for Jace's little sister Mia, who they have all watched grow up.  The death of their parents left Jace responsible for raising the much younger Mia, and they have all watched her grow up, graduate college, and move into an adult life - but Gabe has watched her a little differently, not knowing that Mia has also had vivid fantasies about them being together.  When an opportunity arises for the two of them to explore those fantasies, it seems as though fate has intervened - but they are desperate to keep their relationship under the radar because if Jace finds out what Gabe is doing with Mia there will be all hell to pay.

Rush is a romance novel with a difference, a little bit more spanky with your hanky panky than your average Mills and Boon, but there is also more of a plot and real character development than you get with a lot of the BDSM books that are being published by the dozen at the moment.  This is not the first Maya Banks novel I have read, and once again I was impressed by the fact that she doesn't let her readers down, she takes the time to lay out a story and develop her characters - essentially it is a romance with some sex thrown in rather than a book about sex with some characters thrown in.  Rush is relatively "tame" compared to the other books I have read, and it is more likely to appeal to the "mummy porn" readers who have enjoyed Fifty shades of Grey than fans of more hardcore BDSM novels, but it was an extremely satisfying read.  

These novels are not to everyone's tastes, but if you have a little bit of curiosity and want to read a good BDSM romance then give Rush a try - it is what Fifty shades could have been in the trilogy had been refined and polished.  Rush is the first book in the breathless trilogy and is followed by Fever and Burn.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla