Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Independent study by Joelle Charbonneau

Independent study is the sequel to The Testing so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not already read The Testing.  This is a series where it really pays to read the books in order so if you have not read book one yet then read that before you read anymore of this review.

Cia has successfully navigated her way through the Testing and she is now ready to face the exams which will decide which study stream she enters at the university - and the last thing she expects is to enter the school of government.  Government is not a path she would have chosen, but Cia is not about to let herself fail now - especially when she learns what happens to students who are Redirected out of the university programme.

Making it through the Testing was supposed to be a good thing, but now Cia is not so sure, especially when her dreams turn to veiled hints of those that were lost during the Testing.  It is a stressful time, a time when the students enter the Induction tests for the various schools of study and Cia realises that surviving the Testing was just the beginning of the challenges they will all face - especially when not everyone survives their Inductions.

As the memories begin to crowd back Cia learns more about the government and the other students - and she doesn't like what she is learning and what it means for her and her the Commonwealth.  Battle lines are being drawn and Cia will have to be careful if she doesn't want to end up on the wrong side of the line - or in harms way if people see her as a threat.  In a toxic environment where students are encouraged to spy on each other and report infractions Cia will have to watch her back and learn to tell her friends from her enemies, because sometimes there is a fine line between friend and foe.

Independent study is the second book in The Testing series and does an admirable job of keeping up the tension and pace from the first novel, while adding an extra helping of conspiracy and confusion on the side.  Cia remains a strong character, and the cast of characters built around her is fleshed out a little more in this second book in the series, as is the world in which they live. 

Like with The Testing, talking about the story too much ruins some of the plot twists and turns so I won't go into too much detail - I will only say that I can't wait for the third (and final) book in the series to come out so I can see what happens for Cia and her world because it feels like the tension is building towards something huge!

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Katsa has a Grace, and she is the King's Graceling.  Her Grace could have been anything, it could have made her an expert baker who always cooks the perfect meal, or a singer who never sings off pitch or out of key, it could even have made her a seamstress with perfect stitches and an eye for colour - but Katsa got none of these, her gift is death and killing.  Since she was a child Katsa has honed her fighting skills, learning how to take down a man with her bare hands, to use blade and bow to bring down the enemies of her King.  But her King is not just, and he uses Katsa as a weapon against the people who have crossed him or made him angry - she has broken bones, cut flesh, and killed people in public displays of blood and gore that leave the people terrified of her and her Grace.

As a way to deal with the rage building inside her Katsa began finding ways to work around his orders, ways to save the people she was supposed to hurt - a quiet rebellion that slowly grows into the Council.  Now Katsa is on a mission for the Council that will lead her to a disturbing discovery - and Prince Po, another Graceling who may be the only person who has given Katsa a fair fight .  But Po also makes Katsa realise other things, she is not the Kings dog to do his bidding, she has her own thoughts and wishes.  In a kingdom where she is not only the King''s niece, but also his property, Katsa makes the decision to refuse to serve him adn begins a journey that will lead to self discovery and acceptance.

Drawn into a mystery and conspiracy, Katsa travels towards the kingdom of Monsea, determined to solve the mystery of Po's kidnapped grandfather.  What they discover pushes Katsa and Po to their limits, and forces Katsa to examine what she knows about her Grace and herself.  Katsa is more than she knows, and it may take the thought of losing what she has found to realise that she was never what people thought she was, and even more importantly she was never what she thought she was.

Graceling is one of the books that I re-read every few years because I love the rich tapestry the story is built on, the detail that emerges throughout the story to flesh out a kingdom where to be born with a Grace can be both a blessing and a curse.  The Katsa we meet at the beginning of the story is essentially a slave to her uncle, he owns her because all of the Graced automatically belong to the King, but she has never let it beat her down and she finds ways to rebel against him.  When she stands up to her uncle it is just the beginning of the story, a quest that will see her push herself to the limit and become more than she ever thought she could be.  At times the language of the story is a little stilted and formal, but the strength of the story and the characters makes you forget.

I didn't realise that Graceling was being made into a movie when I picked it up to re-read it, but it deserves to be as long as they can keep the story true to form.  There is a lot to love about Graceling, and very little to dislike - and I sincerely hope they don't ruin the story with the movie treatment!  While there is a strong sense of "grrl power" with his novel, it is one that is just as palatable for the guys with lots of fighting, conspiracies, and action.  Graceling seamlessly blends together a variety of genres into one irresistible package that you will feel teh urge to read again, and again (and again).

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, February 7, 2014

The last girl by Michael Adams

Christmas is a time for family and friends, it is not supposed to be the beginning of the end, but that is exactly what happens when in a moment the mind of every person opens and everyone can hear everyone else s deepest thoughts and secrets.  At least it seems like it is everyone, but Danby is unique because while she can hear the thoughts around her, no one else seems to be able to hear her.  With the world falling into chaos around her, Danby focuses on one thing - getting herself and her little brother to her mothers place in the Blue Mountains, a place where she hopes they will both be safe.  But thinking about getting there and getting there are two different things, especially when all the people around her fall into shocking silence and Danby begins to panic.

Moving through a world that is eerily quiet, Danby fights against hopelessness as she sees death and destruction all around her.  When she realises she is not alone Danby feels a stirring of hope, but that hope soon turns to terror and then relief.  Danby is no longer alone with Nathan, especially when they find a way to wake some of the sleepers around them, but their success is short lived.  Out of the minds of the people they have rescued they can see the people who come out of the shadows, people who track down the Revived and kill them in cold blood - and now those people are after Danby and Nathan.

The last girl was a surprisingly addictive read, a book that had me hooked with an idea that was delivered in full by an amazing debut author.  Danby and her world seem just a few years in the future, a future where the level of connectedness to devices has increased and people seem to spend more time with their devices than their families.  It is into this world that a disaster no one expected appears, where people are suddenly able to connect with everyone else, a glimpse into the inner thoughts and fears of everyone else - and then everyone is suddenly shutdown like they have gone into sleep mode.  It is a terrifying reality, and one that seems like it could easily come true through some giant leap in evolution.  We see all this through the eyes of a teenage girl who has just been placed on psych meds, a girl who think she has completely lost the plot - but then as the story unfolds you realise she is not crazy at all, she may in fact be the only sane person left.

The last girl has a lot of the elements of an apocalypse novel - she is one of the last ones left, there is a disaster that seems to affect everyone else, the social order falls to pieces, there is at least one person who develops a sense of power, and it is up to Danby to sort through what is happening.  Although the story is set in Australia, it could just as easily have been set anywhere in the world - the location is Australian, but the story could be anywhere.  This is an intense psychological thriller more than anything else, Danby has a lot of information to process and a lot of surviving to do, but deep down this novel seems to be about human nature and what would happen if the majority of the world suddenly stopped - and what people will do to hold onto what they have.  At the end of the novel you get a taste for the second book in the series, and it looks like book two will be as much of a roller coaster ride as book one was.

If you like this book then try:
  • Tomorrow, when the war began by John Marsden
  • The testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • What's left of me by Kat Zhang
  • The arrival by Chris Morphew
  • Breathe by Sarah Crossan
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • In the after by Demitria Lunetta
  • The limit by Kristin Landon
  • Altered by Jennifer Rush
  • Slated by Teri Terry

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Rig by Joe Ducie

Will Drake has just been moved to the Rig, a maximum security prison for juveniles - a place where no one has ever escaped.  After escaping from his last detention centre (and the one before that) Will is a "special case", and he can look forward to at least five years on the Rig, stranded in the middle of nowhere on a converted drilling rig in the Arctic Ocean.  It seems like the perfect prison, and the inmates pay for everything they get - and in the case of Will they can rack up huge amounts of debt by breaking the rules and testing their limits.

Life on the Rig is an irritation for Will, he desperately wants to escape and return to the real world because there is somewhere he needs to be and he is working to a deadline.  It seems at first as though the Rig may be able to contain him, escape seems impossible with the armed guards and electronic surveillance of each inmate - but nothing is impossible if you really set your mind to it and Will is determined to escape no matter what the personal cost.  As the months slowly tick by Will realises that something is not quite right on the Rig, that there is a subtle undercurrent of "something" happening.  When Will finally discovers the truth about the Rig, the mind-blowing secret the Warden has been keeping, it may be too late for him to escape.

The Rig is a psychological thriller with a touch of science fiction and adventure - set in a future where the Alliance controls businesses and penitentiaries all over the world, and once you are under their control they can do pretty much anything they want to you.  Our (anti) hero Will Drake has ended up on the wrong side of the Alliance, and by default the law, so he has been incarcerated (although you don't find out why until quite late in the novel) in an escape proof prison.  It seems like the perfect backdrop for your average action adventure, but Ducie adds another level to the novel with a conspiracy of mind boggling proportions hidden under the layers of everyday life on the Rig.

I have to confess that I wasn't drawn into the story from the first word, first sentence, or even the first chapter - I was instead slowly drawn into the story and at first found myself thinking "maybe we'll learn more in the next chapter", and then I did learn more and wanted to know even more and before I knew it the story was half over and I really wanted to know what was going to happen next for Will and his friends.  This is something of an old fashioned story, old fashioned in the sense that it builds to the action slowly, creating a rich back story and introducing you to the supporting cast and story - rather than launching you with no warning into action and conspiracies with no clue about what is really going on. 

In some places it was a little slow for my taste, but I can appreciate why the pace was a little slower in places - and in a lot of ways it does feel like this was a screenplay in book form, like we can expect to see the movie in a few years once the rights are sold.  The Rig is one of those stories where talking about too much detail in the review will ruin some of the surprises, so I will instead say that fans of the Alex Rider series will find a lot to like here.

If you like this book then try:
  • Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • Don't turn around by Michelle Gagnon
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • Stung by Bethany Wiggins
  • Nowhere by Jon Robinson
  • The darkest minds by Alexandra Bracken
  • ACID by Emma Pass

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Private L.A. by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan

Private L.A. is part of the Private series and while it is not a series that you need to read in a strict order to enjoy the story, reading them "out of order" can ruin a few surprises for you.  For the best enjoyment you may want to read Private and Private No. 1 suspect before you read Private L.A.

Jack Morgan could never describe his life as boring, especially with a twin brother hell bent on taking everything Jack has - including his reputation.  His week goes from tense and interesting to heart pounding and out of control when Private is thrust into the middle of not one, but two high profile cases.  The first is No Prisoners, a terrorist who is attacking the city of Los Angeles through the controlled use of violence to extort money - a tactic no one has ever seen before.  The attacks are random, brutal, and designed to create the maximum impact of fear, anxiety, and terror - and Private may be the only agency with the ability to track down No Prisoners and bring them to justice. 

But it is a balancing act, because at the same time they are involved in the super secret disappearance of golden couple Thom and Jennifer Harlow - actors and philanthropists that appear to have vanished off the face of the earth with their adopted children.  The already tricky investigation is hampered by the team behind the Harlow-Quinn, who want the disappearance kept out of the media.  But there is also something else going on, a conspiracy that could cost the Harlow-Quinn's their lives and their fortunes.

As Jack and his team work the two cases they reach out to colleagues and experts to help unravel the tangled web of conspiracies, cunning plans, and dodgy deals - and the clock is ticking to save the future victims of No Prisoners, and the lives of Thom and Jennifer before their children are orphaned for a second time.

The Private series is an interesting one because it is co-written with a variety of authors and there is no single story arc that draws the series together - this is a strength and a weakness, and there are definitely co-authors that I prefer over others.  I had a little bit of trouble settling into Private L.A. to begin with, but after a few chapters I was caught up in the double story arc and the action and tension that builds rapidly through the first half of the book.  The writing was particularly good in Private L.A. and there was a sense of a story on a grander scale than some of the other Private novels, and I really felt that it delivered on the promise of the double story arc - neither story buries the other, and there are times when you are so caught up in one story that you almost forget their is a second story arc (the sign of really good writing).

Private L.A. may not appeal to all James Patterson fans because of the nature of the story, it is definitely a novel for adults and there are some uncomfortable moments, even if those moments may only come from what you imagine happens as well as what actually happens.  The action sequences are more intense than some of his other novels as well, though books co-authored with Mark Sullivan do tend to have more action sequences than some of his other novels.  A great read devoured in one sitting, and looking forward to see what happens next for Jack Morgan and his team(s).

If you like this book then try:
  • Private by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
  • Level 26: Dark origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski
  • Private London by James Patterson and Mark Pearson
  • The postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • Level 26: Dark origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski
  • Private Oz by James Patterson and Michael White
  • The survivors club by Lisa Gardner
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • Vodka doesn't freeze by Leah Giarrantano
  • Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • NYPD Red by James Patterson and Marshall Karp
  • The basement: a novel by Stephen Leather
  • Step on a crack by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Darkly dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Reviewed by Brilla