Monday, March 31, 2014

Haatchi and Little B: The inspiring true story of one boy and his dog by Wendy Holden

The dog that would one day become Haatchi did not have an auspicious beginning - left on the train tracks to die as a five month old puppy his fate seemed sealed - but he was a survivor.  Found and rescued he was fed into the rescue network first under the RSPCA and then under the care of other dog rescue groups, the loss of most of his tail and one of his legs just added to story.  Despite everything that had happened the puppy, soon named Haatchi after a famously loyal Japanese Akita, was a loving and gentle dog and everyone who met him felt he deserved a second chance.

Haatchi's story soon collides with the story of Owen, affectionately known as Little B who has a rare genetic disorder that causes his muscles to contract - a disorder so rare that only a few people in the world are known to have it.  Loved completely by his parents, Little B is a brave little soul who you can't help but cheer for despite the challenges he faces on a daily basis.  When his parents divorced it was not the end of the world, but the beginning of a new one with the introduction of Colleen into their family, but Colleen is not the miracle worker who brought Little B out of his shell - that was Haatchi.

An Anatolian shepherd is not a small dog, and there was some concern that Haatchi would not be able to lead a normal life because large dogs often fail to thrive as a "tripod" - their massive weight is simply too much for their single back limb to manage.  Haatchi landed on his paws though, as his family makes sure that he receives all the care he needs to remain happy and healthy, and that love is repaid through a very special friendship that develops between Haatchi and Little B.  Through the good times and the bad, the trials and the tribulations, Little B and Haatchi are side-by-side - a shining example of the love between a boy and his dog, a friendship that has broken down barriers and brought sunshine into the lives of thousands (if not millions ) of people all around the world.

There are some truly amazing stories out there about the benefits of the human companion animal bond, and Haatchi and Little B is one of the few books about the HCAB between an animal and a child.  The story itself is deceptively simple - a boy facing medical challenges meets a dog who is also facing medical challenges  and together they forge a deep friendship and never let the world get them down.  Built around this deceptively simple story is the romance between his dad and his step mother to be, the challenges his parents faced (and face) with diagnosis and treatment, the amazing touch of karma that seems to be supporting them all, and the lives of the people they touch.  

The one disappointment for me was the writing style of the author which seemed jerky at times and at other times seemed to have some errors - it was also a bit wonky in places with timing seeming to go back and forth in time every now and then rather than keeping the story fluid and linear.  It was a bug bear rather than a turn off, but it did take some of the shine off the story.  The colour plates in the book are gorgeous and touching, and show the love Little B and Haatchi share for each other.

If you like this book then try:
Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, March 29, 2014

After edited by Ellen Daltow and Terri Windling

According to the news it seems as though the end of the world as we know it is just around the corner.  No one knows what form it will take - climate change, war, disease, genetic modification gone haywire, or just our refusal to think long term and protect the only planet we have. However it will end, it is what comes after that is more interesting, and the "after" is the focus of the nineteen stories that make up this anthology.

Dystopian futures are the focus of some of the most popular series at the moment, and the focus of many of the book-to-movies that are burning up the big screen.  Those dystopian futures are just one possibility though - here you have a choice of nineteen short stories from some of the hundreds of teen authors out there.  Some of the stories are the expected, a future where things have gone wrong and the people who are left have developed a new society to rise from the ruins, while others are more science fiction in nature with monsters and creatures that are our own making.  There are stories of hope and stories of apparent despair - and even more stories that just make you want to say "I told you so".

There are some stories that seem like they could just be around the corner, stories that grasp the science fiction/science fiction angle with both hands.  One of my favourite quotes from  Jurassic Park (and it may be slightly misquoted) is "we were so busy wondering if we could that we didn't stop to think if we should".  That sentiment comes through several of the stories, sometimes blatantly and sometimes dropped as hints that the disaster might have started in a lab.  Science experiments and scientific manipulation gone awry are a real threat and it is all too easy to see the future in the past of After.

In other cases the stories are about monsters and creatures that seem to come from nightmares, creating futures that are dark and leave little room for hope.  In some cases this seems more like nature fighting back, or a nightmare caused by messing with the environment.  Other stories blend together different origins to create a bleak vision of the future with little or no hope that there is a chance for the survival of human kind. 

The best thing about an anthology of short stories is that you get a variety of stories in one volume, a chance to pick and choose what you like rather than reading a book from cover to cover.  That can also be a weakness however because I found myself skipping some of the stories after a few pages (or a few sentences) because the story just didn't grab my attention.  In some cases I was surprised that I didn't like the story because it was from an author I would normally have adored.  There were also some surprising omissions here, authors I would have expected to see in an anthology like this, but that may have just been down to the timeframe for submitting material or because they are already well established in the genre.  I would have expected to see stories from Scott Westerfeld, Teri Terry, Kiera Cass, Isobelle Carmody, and Margaret Peterson Haddix to name the ones that immediately spring to mind.

This is an interesting anthology and adds new dimensions to the dystopian theme - and provides an explanation of the "true" meaning of dystopia as opposed to the common usage of the theme.  There are some truly thought provoking moments in the stories, and there are some possible ideas for further series or movies based on these stories.  If you find you like the stories in After then consider reading some of the authors mentioned above, or check out some of the recommended series and books in the list below.

If you like this book then try:
Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Dan Crawford has the opportunity of a lifetime - he will be spending his summer at the New Hampshire College Prep programme.  It is an opportunity to extend himself in an environment where everyone actually wants to be there - a far cry from your average American high school.  On day one he meets Abby and Jordan and they quickly become a tight trio.  His room mate Felix is interesting and not too intense, but the photograph he finds in the room is more than a little unsettling.  When Dan, Abby, and Jordan follow in Felix's footsteps and explore the out of bounds office they find creepy remnants of the dorm buildings past - before it was turned into a co-ed dorm the building was an insane asylum.

As the every day settles into a routine, Dan and his new friends find an easy friendship, but there are some niggles in the back of Dan's mind.  When he discovers that the last warden of the asylum had the same name as him, Dan can't help but dig into the history of the asylum to learn more about the man and the asylum itself.  It is an uphill battle though because the locals want the place torn down and destroyed, and the name Daniel Crawford is most unwelcome.  When a body is discovered on campus it is just the beginning of a deeper mystery, because things are happening that make Dan uneasy, things he supposedly did that he doesn't remember.  As events take a darker and darker turn, Dan has to pull himself together and figure out what is happening - before it is too late.

Asylum is a creepy and atmospheric book and you never quite know how the story is going to twist and turn until it reaches the very satisfying conclusion.  For me this reads a little like an episode of the X-Files, Supernatural  or even Warehouse 13 - there is a spooky edge to the story, yet it is also thoroughly grounded in reality and it is all too easy to belive that the events are unfolding in a real college campus somewhere   Revealing too much about the story will ruin some of the great little twists and turns, but the dynamic created by the friendship between Dan, Jordan, and Abby really adds depth to the story and makes it more believable.  There is also a little hint that this may not be the last we see of the trio which is kind of exciting.

I am not a fan of the "horror" genre so I was a little reluctant to pick this book up at first, but I am glad that I did becaise it is well written and the way the book has been presented creates little thrills and shivers (there are photographs from real asylums inside).  This is one of those books where your own imagination drives the level of terror/anticipation you feel, and I have to admit that reading it in the reduced lighting and empty spaces I was in when I read the beginning made it super spooky.  A great read, and I am now hoping that there might be a sequel because the ending left the ending a little undone.

If you like this book then try:
  • Anna dressed in blood by Kendare Blake
  • The unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
  • Thyla by Kate Gordon
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • Daughter of smoke and bone by Laini Taylor
  • Thirteen days to midnight by Patrick Carman
  • Burn bright by Marianne de Pierres
  • Something strange and deadly by Susan Dennard
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Rot and ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rock war by Robert Muchamore

When you are the bestselling author of one of the best loved series of all time it must surely be a somewhat daunting process to create an entirely new world of characters and settings for your latest series - but Robert Muchamore has tackled exactly this situation head on with the launch of Rock war, the first book in  anew series aimed at older teen readers (clearly pointed out by the "not suitable for younger readers" label on the back of the book).  To be honest, it took me a little while to shake the story loose and get comfortable with the new characters, partly because I had loved the world of CHERUB so much and all the characters had become like old friends - but once I shook off my hangups and settled into becoming acquainted with my new friends I really started to enjoy the story.

Jay is one child of many in a family where his older brothers and mother have had their fair share of run ins with the local police and one of his escapes is his music   Along with his friends Salman,Tristan, and Tristan's younger brother Alfie, Jay pours his heart and music into Brontobyte.  They have a bit of fun and have tried a few competitions, but they have never hit the big time.  When Jay finds someone who would be perfect for the drums it causes a huge row between him and Tristan and suddenly he is without a band - but he has plans to fix that.

Summer has an amazing voice but between looking after her nan and her terrible nerves she hasn't sung in front of an audience for ages.  Through a few strange twists of fate Summer finds herself involved with an all girl thrash metal band called Industrial Scale Slaughter.  For the first time in a long time Summer has something to worry about other than her nan, and her new bandmates swiftly become friends as well - although sometimes it feels like Michelle is more of a frenemy than a true friend.

Dylan has been at boarding school for years and has found what he thinks is the perfect way to get out of rugby - he takes music instead.  When he is busted for avoiding rugby even though he has been kicked out of  the orchestra he begs and pleads to get back into the orchestra but to no avail.  When he meets Leo, Max, and Eve Dylan has no idea they are about to become a band - or that his new friends are going to find out exactly who he is.

Rock war is an impressive start to a new series from Muchamore, and it comes loaded with his trademark honesty and strong character development.  While I wasn't sure if I liked the book to begin with, I soon got lost in the story and reached the end hoping it would reach a conclusion but not end.  Jay is the strongest viewpoint in this particular novel, but the rest of the cast rounds out the story and each character holds their own place without exception or apology.  There is the expected dodgy behaviour, the twists of fate, and getting away with things that probably shouldn't be got away with, but there is also some serious family and friendship dramas.  If the rest of the series is as well written and engrossing as Rock war then this series may very well be the next major bestseller for Muchamore.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, March 21, 2014

Burning blue by Paul Griffin

Nicole Castro is stunningly beautiful, the golden girl of her school and she appears to have everything she could possibly want - a loving boyfriend, parents who adore her even though they are separated, and she is on the fast track to success.  All that changes when out of nowhere an assailant dowses her face with acid and the beauty she once has melts away with her skin and other tissues, leaving her fighting the damage from the attack - physical and emotional.  As Nicole begins to recover, her protective mother takes every step she can to protect her from the press and the pain of her recovery.  It is through her counselling sessions that Nicole meets Jay, the boy everyone calls Spaceman because he had a seizure in front of everyone during a wrestling match.  Jay has been home schooled for a few years, but now he is back because his counsellor thinks it will be good for him to get back to school before he goes away to college.

The connection between Jay and Nicole is surprising as they are not in any of the same social circles, but Jay feels a strange compulsion to help Nicole find the person who attacker her.  When Jay discovers that the attacker sent emails before the attack it provides the perfect opportunity for him to use his hacking skills to help get to the bottom of the mystery.  Of course things are never that easy, and Jay soon finds himself on the wrong side of a detective and facing mounting pressure at home because his father is keeping secrets.  As the friendship between Jay and Nicole deepens Jay finds himself facing hostility and weirdness at every turn, and when he finally discovers the truth will it really be the whole truth?

Burning blue is an interesting and engrossing novel, told from a variety of perspectives including Jay's, Nicole's, and some of the professionals involved in Nicole's care.  The shifting viewpoints could have potentially made the story very difficult to follow, but instead the shifting viewpoints allow for a very organic story, one where you never know too much because you only have the first person view of the story rather than the "viewpoint of god" approach that some other authors might have tried to use for this story.  The voices of Jay and Nicole feel very authentic, the confusion they are feeling, the doubts, the fears - neither one is perfect and yet they are also not completely flawed.  Jay in particular was an interesting character because his story unfolds alongside Nicole's, so it is a little while before you discover why he is called Spaceman.

I really enjoyed Burning blue, and there are some very serious messages in the novel that are neatly blended into the story without messages being shoved in your face - acceptance of self and the disabilities we have, that beauty isn't everything, that even people who seem successful have serious doubts, that even perfect couples have problems, that even the professionals don't get it right ... I could go on and on but I won't.  There are some touchy topics in Burning blue but Griffin handles them very well, neither glorifying them or vilifying them.  A deeply satisfying read for anyone who likes a story with real bite and conviction.

If you like this book then try:
  • The raft by S.A. Bodeen
  • Counting backwards by Laura Lascarso
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • The killer's cousin by Nancy Werlin
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • The Gardener by S.A. Bodeen
  • Flawless by Lara Chapman
  • Locked inside by Nancy Werlin
  • Trafficked by Kim Purcell
  • Thousand words by Jennifer Brown
  • Skinny by Donna Cooner
  • Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • Girl, missing by Sophie McKenzie
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Themis Academy is a boarding school with an excellent reputation for mature students with a strong sense of honour, and there are never any problems   That is the view of Themis Academy that the faculty hold dear and that parent believe, but the students know the shiny apple has a rotten core and when things go wrong the students have no choice but to turn to the Mockingbirds for help.  When Alex wakes up in a strange boys bed with no memory of the night before she feels ashamed, but that shame soon turns to the realisation that she has had sex with a boy for the first time - and she did not consent.  Convinced by her friends to seek justice, Alex approaches the Mockingbirds for help.

It will not be an easy journey though, the Mockingbirds can only act if she asks them for help, and they can only act on her case if the rest of the school agrees that sex must always be accompanied by a yes from both parties - anything else is date rape.  It is a difficult time for Alex, she sees Carter everywhere she goes, and even if she tries to hide from what happened there are all the rumours and innuendo to deal with.  As the trial approaches Alex must hold on to what she knows is true and not let her doubts ruin her chance for justice.

The Mokingbirds is not an easy read - mainly because of the theme of date rape, which is a highly controversial topic for some people.  Alex is portrayed with amazing sensitivity  and when you realise that the author herself was date raped you can understand where the thoughts and feelings Alex experiences come from - there is an authenticity and sympathy for Alex and her situation which can not be faked.  From what I have read in the past (fiction and non-fiction) the division of opinion is very realistic - Alex was very drunk and for some people that is enough to say it wasn't rape, while for others it is the cherry on top proving Carter took advantage of Alex and her condition.  

This is not an easy read, but I am very glad that I read the Mockingbirds - the idea of a student council that protects other students and seeks genuine justice has an amazing amount of appeal to me.  The characters are laid bare for their strengths and their weaknesses, and the cast of characters that flesh out the novel add depth and credibility to the story.  Just amazing, and highly recommended for teenage girls.

If you like this book then try:
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • Rooftop by Paul Volponi
  • Panic by Sharon M. Draper
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess
  • Living dead girl by Elizabeth Scott

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Erased by Jennifer Rush

Erased is the sequel to Altered so there are ***SPOILERS*** in this review if you have not read the first book in the series.  I highly recommend that you read Altered before you read any more of this review and before you read Erased as it is one of those series where it is really important to read them in order.

Anna is slowly adjusting to life away from the only home she has ever known - it helps that she and the "boys" have developed a routine to keep them all safe and ready to move at a moments notice.  She has grown closer to Sam, she has found a playful relationship with Cas where he shamelessly flirts and she knocks him back, and with Nick she has found the best thing for both of them is for her to keep distance between them.  They have moments of intense training and focus, but they also have moments of peace and tranquility - which is increasingly interrupted by flashbacks from their past.

Sam and Anna seem to be particularly shaken by their flashbacks, and Anna is finding it harder and harder to shake the images and feelings after each flashback.  Staying under the radar is challenging, especially when they have to stick together for mutual protection, but so far they have managed to stay away from Branch and their cronies.  When Anna's sister Dani suddenly reappears everything they have worked for is threatened - because Dani has been captured by Branch and the only way to break her out is to launch an attack on one of the Branch labs.

Erased is a worthy sequel for Altered - packed with drama, action, and conspiracies.  Anna and the boys are more defined in this second book in the series, and you can see their development as individuals as they learn more about their pasts.  There are some truly mind-blowing revelations in this book in the series, which at times just leave you going "huh, I didn't see that one coming."  Picking up from where the last book in the series left off can be a bit of a killer for some books (mainly because you forget what happened during the gap between publishing dates) but that was not the case this time - the characters had made enough of an impact for me to fill in enough of the gaps jumping back in.

The dynamic between the characters seems very grounded, and the relationships seem well thought out.  I initially thought this was the final book in the series because the ending is so satisfying, but after checking online it seems as though there is another book to come (so watch this space).

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, March 3, 2014

Cemetery girl: The pretenders by Christopher Golden and Charlaine Harris

The pretenders is the first book in the graphic novel trilogy Cemetery girl and it starts with an amazing first line and then barely leaves you time to catch your breath as you enter the narrow confines of the cemetery along with a teenage girl with no memory of who she is and how she got there - all she knows for certain is that she died at some point.  In a moment of self preservation said teenage girl hides in the cemetery - and continues to hide over the days, weeks, and months to come.  She gets by with the help of some of the people who live in and around the cemetery, but it is a lonely existence and not one that she plans to cling to forever.  With no other name to use she names herself Calexa Rose Dunhill, and even though it is not her real name it will work for the time being.

When she unwittingly sees the murder of a teenage girl in the cemetery, Calexa finds herself drawn into a dangerous game of cat and mouse - partly because the victims spirit flows into her body as she dies.  Surrounded by thoughts, feelings, and memories which are not her own, Calexa must decide what to do.  If she draws attention to the location of the victims grave she may be discovered herself and a teenage girl living in a cemetery would be shipped off to a foster home in an instant.  She also can't confront the murderers herself because she is badly outnumbered.  It seems as though there is no good choice to make, and Calexa is rapidly running out of time.

The pretenders is the first book in a trilogy that carries a world of promise - coming as it does from two minds with a reputation for creating engaging reads where our world rubs up against the supernatural world with interesting results.  Sometimes graphic novels come across as a little second rate (because the author doesn't put thought into the story, not because of the fact it is a graphic novel!) but that is not the case here.  I was hooked from page one and whipped through the story to find out what happened next.  Golden and Harris have created a mini-universe in the cemetery, but we have had glimpses of the outside world that drops major hints that something very serious happened in Calexa's life just before she was dumped in the cemetery.  

A fabulously "graphic" little read and I can't wait to see what comes next for Calexa and the people in her life because it feels like something big is coming, that there is some unseen conspiracy working in the background that will make Calexa's life very interesting - whether she can remember her life from before or not!

If you like this book then try:

  • Alpha and Omega: Cry wolf by Patricia Briggs and David Lawrence
  • Moon called by Patricia Briggs and David Lawrence
  • Midnight secretary by Tomu Ohmi
  • Infernal devices one: Clockwork angel by Cassandra Clare and Hyekyung Baek
  • Maximum ride by James Patterson and NaRae Lee
  • Soulless: the manga by Gail Carriger and REM
  • Bloodwork by Kim Harrison, Pedro Maia, and Gemma Magno
  • Circus of the damned by Laurell K. Hamilton and Jeff Ruffner-Booth

Reviewed by Brilla