Saturday, November 30, 2013

Behind closed doors by Ngaire Thomas

Ngaire was born into an Exclusive Brethren family in the 1940's in New Zealand and lived an Exclusive Brethren life until she was expelled with her husband in the 1970's.  Her autobiography details, in a straight forward and direct fashion, her upbringing within the confines of a religious group that is patriarchal in nature and encourages women and daughters to be quiet, obedient, and submissive.  It was an upbringing that Ngaire struggled with because she was not a submissive personality - instead she challenged the norm and pushed boundaries, a challenge for her parents, and her behaviour brought her into conflict with the elders of the church on more than one occasion.  The bright light for Ngaire was her marriage to Denis and their children - but that was not the end of their troubles.

Ngaire found ways to bend the rules so that she was not suffocated by the rules of the church, rules that changed over time - changes brought about by the Men of God who directed the rules of the church.  Eventually Ngaire and Denis were "withdrawn from" - essentially removed from the memory of the church and all its members, any member of the church who saw them would act as if they did not exist.  This was a difficult time for the whole family as life on the outside of the church is challenging and isolating, especially with the ties they still had to the church.

Behind closed doors is a fascinating read because it is a New Zealand story, but also because when I was at school there were a relatively large number of Exclusive Brethren in my various schools.  The girls stood out because they had long hair and wore scarves, and because their skirts were long and they always wore long sleeved blouses.  The boys also stood out because of their neat hair cuts and because they didn't not swear and rough house with the other boys.  It was fascinating to read more about the Exclusive Brethren, and it is clear to see why they would have had problems with this book - I was only able to find a second edition of the book, the first edition was apparently challenged by the Exclusive Brethren and was edited before being released as a second edition.  There are times when it feels as though something is missing, or that something has been skipped over and this may be because the editing process was not as robust for the second edition - something left out in the rush to edit and get the second edition out.

Behind closed doors is a very personal story, and at times you can feel the pain of Thomas as she describes a particularly difficult period in their lives.  While this is a commentary on one family's relationship with the Exclusive Brethren, it does not feel like an attack on the church, it is more an explanation and examination of a relationship that was very difficult for Thomas and her family.  There is mention of the dreaded c word (cult) and the dreaded s word (sect), but Thomas doesn't pass judgement on the Exclusive Brethren, instead leaving the reader to make their own decisions.  I would not pass judgement on them either, but reading Behind closed doors is very much like reading other books about extreme religious sects and cults that I have read about recently, and I would have no problem describing them as a controlling religious sect - mainly because of the large number of rules and because of the use of isolation and ostracism to control members of the church.

Ngaire Thomas died in 2012 and Behind closed doors was the only book she wrote.  If you are interested in learning more about Exclusive Brethren and other religious sects then there are plenty of other books to read.
  • Banished: Surviving my years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain
  • I fired god by Jocelyn R. Zichterman
  • Beyond belief: My secret life inside Scientology and my harrowing escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill
  • Behind the Exclusive Brethren by Michael Bachelard
  • Shackles broken, bound by love (Bound by love) by Hannah Hales
Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shelter by Harlan Coben

Mickey is not having a good year - he is living with his uncle because his father is dead and his mother is in rehab, he made one of his new teachers dislike him on day one, and his girlfriend has gone missing.  Not much phases Mickey, but he is more than a little curious about what happened to Ashley and when strange things keep happening he decides to dig a little deeper and find out what happened to her - especially when the crazy Bat Lady tells him that his father is still alive.

Balancing some normal teenage years with some very abnormal events would be difficult for any teenager, but Mickey is more than just your average teenager.  Living with his uncle is almost like living in a failing relationship with a carefully structured set of rules keeping them on good terms - but the delicate trust they have built up is sorely tested when Mickey starts to unravel the mystery and starts taking risks.  The only thing Mickey can really count on is himself, but if he trusts the people around him he may just make it.

Harlan Coben usually writes novels for adults, and I always have a moment of held breath when I see an adult author has written a book for teens because sometimes it seems that all they do is take a great idea and "dumb it down" for their audience - insulting their teen audience and wasting their time.  That was not the case with Shelter, which gripped me from the first chapter and kept me addicted to Mickey's story from start to finish.  Shelter is set in the same world as one of Coben's other series (Mickey is the nephew of his main character in that series) and I had another moment of hesitation thinking that maybe it would be hard to pick up the story and run with it - another hesitation that was soon dashed to pieces.

Mickey is a likeable character with some character flaws (if you could call being incredibly loyal a flaw) and he doesn't care what other people think. He is not perfect, but he is also not a teenage hot head looking for trouble - though he is quite happy to finish off some trouble if it comes looking for him.  Shelter is a nicely self contained little adventure-thriller, and it easily sets up a series of books about Mickey in the future.  A great escapism novel where you root for the hero and luagh at some of the "dumb" things he does (and that thousands of teenagers do everyday).  A great read for the boys and anyone else who enjoys a really good read.

If you like this book then try:
  • Agent 21 by Chris Ryan
  • Boy soldier by Andy McNab
  • Catch the Zolt by Phillip Gwynne
  • Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
  • Lost worlds by Andrew Lane
  • People's republic by Robert Muchamore
  • Subject Seven by James A. Moore
  • Code Red: Battleground by Chris Ryan
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • Acceleration by Graham McNamee
  • Death cloud by Andrew Lane
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
  • Forbidden island by Malcolm Rose
  • Girl, missing by Sophie McKenzie

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hero dogs by Janet Menzies

Dogs are amazing animals - they are brave, loyal, and can display extraordinary amounts of intelligence and devotion.  Over thousands of years dogs have been shaped and bred to fill a variety of tasks from herding and protecting, to loyal companionship, and over the past one hundred years or so those traits have been harnessed to help people with a variety of disabilities as well as people who are in need.  

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, often known simply as Hearing Dogs,  is (in this case) a British charity that trains dogs to work alongside the deaf and hearing impaired to provide them with safety, comfort, and more independence.  Hero dogs introduces you to some of the amazing hearing dog partnerships that have come out of Hearing Dogs, including partnerships where the handler has more than one disability.  These simple little stories offer an insight into a world where the simplest of things can present huge obstacles, and where a partnership with a loyal companionship has been life altering.

Alongside these stories are glimpses into the lives of other working dogs from search and rescue dogs, to detector dogs, through to dogs working alongside the armed forces.  The range of dogs is amazing and although each story is a mere glimpse, it is enough to remind all of us about what dogs are capable of if they are given the opporunity to work.  This is a fantastic introduction to working dogs and there are some truly gorgeous photographs in the book which bring the stories and partnerships to life.

This is a great introduction to working dogs of all shapes and sizes, and while the book is about teams working in the United Kingdom, it is a taster of working dogs from all over the world.  If you enjoy this book there are plenty of books out there at the moment about working dogs and their partnerships (mainly because there seems to be a book at least every six months on the topic).

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, November 18, 2013

Quake dogs by Laura Sessions and Craig Bullock

Christchurch, New Zealand experienced two major earthquakes in less than a year and has experienced thousands of aftershocks in the past few years.  For many New Zealanders there was a feeling of helplessness about what we could do to help the people of Christchurch, and for some it was also wondering what could be done for the vulnerable pets left homeless by the quakes.  Some of us also remember vividly the images of search dogs from Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) searching the rubble for victims buried in collapsed buildings after the particularly violent earthquake on February 22, 2011.

Quake dogs is a collection of stories and photographs of the working dogs and companion dogs that have worked in Christchurch during the earthquakes, the dogs that have been rehomed due to often heart breaking reasons, and the dogs that have stayed with their owners but have suffered from their exposure to the earthquakes and debris thrown up by the quakes.  The poignant text is matched beautifully with photographs that capture the character of each dog.  Except for one story, all the stories have been captured by Laura Sessions - and some of those stories had tears streaming down my cheeks because of the raw emotion that was captured in each simple story.  Those words are perfectly matched with photographs that capture the intelligence, trauma, and sweetness of the more than sixty dogs featured.

Sessions and Bullock tracked down dogs all over New Zealand and all over Christchurch to complete their book, a book that has the feel of their passion to share these amazing stories.  Some of the funds from the book are going to support HUHA (Helping You Help Animals) a charitable trust which helps animals of all shapes and sizes.  There are clear themes throughout the book of dogs working closely with people to help people in need (Police and USAR), dogs rehomed through HUHA during mercy missions to find new homes for dogs that people could no longer keep, and the stories of the dogs that have been able to stay with their families and the medical and emotional challenges some of the dogs have continued to face. 

I am not (too) ashamed to admit that I had more than a few moments where I had tears in my eyes because of a particularly touching relationship between two dogs, or because of the devotion shown by the people and their dogs - but there were also times when I had a somewhat goofy smile from relating to the personality of a particular dog.  One story in particular stayed with me, the story of the unknown dog - I tried to tell someone about it and choked up, and then choked up when I tried to read it to someone else.  While this is the story of the dogs of Christchurch, and the dogs who worked in Christchurch, it also captures some of the drama, confusion, and despair people faced in the times after the quakes.

This is not an easy book to read in places, and it is such a unique book that it is difficult to suggest other titles that are the same.  If you enjoy Quake dogs or feel a strong connection to the story in terms of the connection between people and their animals then you may also enjoy some of the following stories about service animals and companion animals.

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The bitter kingdom by Rae Carson

The bitter kingdom is the third and final book in the girl of fire and thorns trilogy so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first two books in the series.  If you like reading series in order without spoilers then read The girl of fire and thorns and The crown of embers first.

Elisa has grown accustomed to having a life that is not her own - she is the bearer of a living Godstone, she has become queen of a country where she is a foreigner, she has become a young widow with the death of her husband, and she must make sacrifices to save her new country.  But Elisa is also a young woman who is beginning to understand the power she has over her own decisions, which is why she is travelling through hostile territory in the hope that she can catch up with the men who have taken her beloved Hector captive - and why she is determined to enter the Invierno homeland to put a stop to the hostilities between the two nations once and for all.

The journey was never meant to be easy, but it seems as though there is a new danger around every corner and even their small party can not travel without raising curiosity and the chance of discovery.  Her determination may be the only thing that keeps Elisa fighting to the end, but determination is not enough to keep away danger, hunger, and the crashing elements.  Elisa is fast approaching the moment when she must prove herself to her enemies, to her friends, and most importantly to herself.  Despite her strength Elisa still finds herself too trusting and her desire for peace for herself and her people may be her ultimate undoing.

The bitter kingdom is the final book in an epic series, one that took on the ambitious task of raising up a heroine of awe inspiring power and courage, as well as attempting to change the course of generations of hate and mistrust.  Overall Carson delivers a grand finale that ticks all the boxes, though at times it did feel as though the pacing was a little off - although to be fair that could have been because I was interrupted quite a few times while I was reading the second half of the novel and those interruptions often happened before or after something jaw droppingly surprising happened.

This series has been a new epic series for teenagers and adults a like and to a certain extent it reminds me of early Tamora Pierce - mainly in the sense that it is a very human story on a sweeping scale, one with strong female characters (and male characters), and a subtle weaving through of magic and destiny.  Elisa and her story are very genuine and at times I really connected with the characters because of how well they are drawn on the paper.  I sincerely hope that Carson will continue to write more stories, though not necessarily in Elisa's world as this story feels like it is now completed and settled.  While this series will appeal to girls because of the strong female characters and the interwoven stories of human connection, boys who don't enjoy that kind of thing will hopefully connect with the battle scenes and subplots of deception.

If you like this book then try:
  • The girl of fire and thorns by Rae Carson
  • The crown of embers by Rae Carson
  • Alanna the first adventure by Tamora Pierce
  • Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix
  • Throne of glass by Sarah J. Maas
  • The blue sword by Robin McKinley
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Crown duel by Sherwood Smith
  • Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
  • Daughter of smoke and bone by Laini Taylor
  • Winter of fire by Sherryl Jordan

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The chaos of stars by Kiersten White

Isadora is your average teenager - average except for the fact that her mother is Isis and her father is Osiris, as in the Egyptian god and goddess.  For the past few years she has rebelled against her mother and avoided learning about her role in her family, because although her parents are both gods Isadora is 100% mortal.  When she learns that her mother is pregnant with her next baby (about three years ahead of schedule) and that there is a dark force moving against her family Isadora is only too happy to be shipped off to stay with her big brother Sirus - but then again what 17 year old wouldn't want to move out of home (and the country) to get away from the grief at home.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Isadora soon discovers that she hasn't left her troubles behind her after all, because she keeps having bad dreams and weird things happen at her brothers house and the museum where she will help set up an exhibition of artefacts from her family.  It is enough to drive anyone crazy, and then she has the added complication of her friendship with Ry, because Ry doesn't seem to want to leave things at "just friends".

The chaos of stars is one of those books that almost feels a little too clever for its own good and I have to confess that I almost gave up after the first few pages, but I have loved Kiersten White's other books and gave the Isadora and her story the benefit of the doubt - and I am glad I did because it is a well crafted story that pulls together family drama, teen angst, a mystery, and an extra large dose of mythology on the side.  What initially felt like the author being too clever quickly settled into a grounding in the background of the story and a refresher of Egyptian mythology.  I loved Isadora as a character - who wouldn't love someone who bucks the system because they can, but also has a fierce loyalty to their family and mythology? 

The chaos of stars will not be to everyone's taste, even some of White's fans will have trouble settling into the story, but it is well crafted and leaves a tantalising feel that there may be more stories in this vein if not with the exact same characters.  It takes a talented author to take real world and blend it together with the fantastical and White is very good at doing that, and she is very very good at creating believable and absorbing mythologies.  Another gem from Kiersten White.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Don't look now by Michelle Gagnon

Don't look now is the sequel to Don't turn around so this review contains ***SPOILERS***  If you like to read series in order then read Don't turn around before reading anymore of this review.

Noa and Peter have gone their separate ways - working individually but together, to bring down Project Persephone and rescue the kids that have been taken from the streets.  Peter is using his computer skills to track down the labs where the kids are taken and Noa then conducts a raid on the facility with her small team.  It is a system that has been working, but it is a very small scale operation and they know there are still kids being taken off the streets for PEMA research.  When a raid goes badly Noa and her team find themselves running for safety with some new recruits in tow - and one of them has Noa on edge although she can't explain why and the others just think Noa is jealous.  At the same time Peter is facing his own challenges as what seemed like a cunning plan backfires and leaves him making difficult choices.

Don't look now follows on closely from the events in Don't turn around and keeps up the tension and the pace as we rejoin Peter and Noa a few months after they have gone their separate ways - each of them facing new challenges and tough choices.  They have both continued to grow as individuals, and with new challenges coming thick and fast they have to make snap decisions that could affect not only them but also the work they are trying to complete to bring down Project Persephone.  The characters from the first book are all present and accounted for, and while Noa and Peter are the main characters there are subplots woven through the novel keeping you in touch with the rest of the characters and what is happening in their lives.

This series is one of those series where it is really beneficial to read the books in series order - mainly because there are subtleties to the plot that you miss if you haven't read the first book before reading the second (and in some cases not so subtle).  The pacing of these books is well handled, with a fast pace balanced with the occasional downtime to give you a chance for a breath before you launch into the next action scene. 

The final book in the series appears to be titled Don't let go but I couldn't find anymore information or a publication date so hopefully there will be more information available soon.  This is a brilliant series and I have high hopes for a satisfying conclusion to the series because Gagnon has set a very high standard for herself with this series.

If you like this book then try:
  • Don't turn around 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