Sunday, April 27, 2014

French polished murder by Elise Hyatt

French polished murder is the sequel to Dipped, stripped and dead so this review contains some ***SPOILERS*** about what happens in the first book.  While the books can be read independently, if you like to read a series in order then stop now and read the Dipped, stripped and dead first.

It has been six months since Dyce walked away (relatively unscathed) from the last murder mystery in Goldport, Colorado.  In the past six months things have settled down a little, and she is finding her feet with her new boyfriend Cas and enjoying all the pitfalls that come with any new relationship.  E is finally talking around other people which has eased her mind a little, but sometimes he comes out with some "Ben-isms" which are not so suitable for mixed company.  Things are going slowly with Cas because Dyce doesn't want to confuse E if things don't work out long term, but they take the first step towards a more serious relationship when Dyce agrees to French polish a piano for Cas.

In the process of stripping the piano Dyce discovers a nest full of baby rats hidden inside the piano - along with a very old letter from a person who mysteriously disappeared many years before.  With the baby rats safely collected, and with the help of Ben hand raised, Dyce is free to start thinking about that letter and the people who wrote and received it.  Dyce should know better than to stir up the past though - if she learned anything from her last adventure it should have been that it is usually better to leave the murder solving to the professionals.  Nothing sinister seems to be afoot though, it just seems as though there is some subtle manoeuvring to stop Dyce getting the information she needs - but that is just at first.  It soon becomes clear that someone doesn't want Dyce to learn the truth, and they will stop at nothing to keep their secrets safe.

French polished murder is the second book in the Daring Finds series and is as delightful and entertaining as the first book in the series - although there are still some of the same language quirks that bugged me a little with the first book in the series.  Dyce is still far from perfect, and she is more than a little neurotic about the oddest things - but that just makes her more endearing.  I have come to really love little E too, he adds a touch of humour that can not be matched in any other series, and I love the expanded cast of rats and Peesgrass (partly because I am pretty sure I have a Peesgrass of my own).  

The developing relationship between Dyce and Cas also adds to the drama / romance / humour, as does the relationship between Ben and Dyce.  I think it says a lot about this series that even though sometimes the writing bugs me a little (and it is a very personal taste thing) I still eagerly look forward to the next book in the series to see what happens next for Dyce and her "team" - and what mishap and near miss she encounters next.  Loads of fun and laugh out loud moments that seem something of a "crime" in a murder mystery series - should you really have so much fun when someone has died?  
 
If you like this book then try:
  • Death of a country fried Redneck by Lee Hollis
  • Dipped, stripped, and dead by Elise Hyatt
  • Books can be deceiving by Jenn McKinlay
  • One for the money by Janet Evanovich
  • Murder past due by Miranda James

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Lark and the Wren by Mercedes Lackey

Rune has called the Hungry Bear home for as long as she can remember - her mother Stara arrived with Rune and the story of a dead husband years before, but most people rightly assumed Rune was a bastard child and treated her as such.  With a mother who is interested only in herself, the only real kindness in Rune's life comes from Rose who owns the Hungry Bear alongside her husband Jeoff.  Through Rose Rune gets the greatest gift in her young life, a second hand fiddle from which she slowly coaxes music.  For years Rune has played music in the Hungry Bear, drawing in the local and not so local crowds to listen to her music, have something to eat, and something to drink.  But with the death of Rose things are slowly starting to change, Rune is expected to work more and play less - a depressing future awaits Rune if things don't change.

Pushed to her limits Rune makes a throwaway comment about playing for the Skull Hill Ghost - a ghost no one has seen and survived to talk about.  Striking a bargain with the Skull Hill Ghost to play the fiddle through the night, Rune puts her heat into the music - and the next morning she not only survives but has a direction for her future.  Leaving the little town she has known all her life, Rune sets out for the town of Nolton and a chance at her dream of becoming a Bard. 

Nolton offers a chance for a new start where Rune can leave her past behind and work towards the dream of taking part in the trials to join the Bardic Guild - but first she must learn more about music than how to play a fiddle.  Rune has a lot to learn about living in a town, but also about music.  Rune must be able to read and write music, to play at least two instruments, be able to compose music, and she has to do everything in the guise of a boy otherwise she will never have the chance to take part in the trials.  It seems as though everything is stacked against her - but Rune is determined to make a place for herself and to fulfil her dreams.  Shaking off her past as a country bumbpkin Rune settles into town life and works towards her goals.  Along the way she makes some amazing friends and finds a family of her own - but there is a terrible cost to pay.   

The Lark and the Wren is the first book in the Bardic Voices series, and it is a series I return to like an old friend every five years or so to reacquaint myself with Rune and her world - a world that is very different from the other worlds created by Mercedes Lackey (who is best known for her Valdemar books).  I love the world of Rune and the Free Bards, there is a lot of thought and foundation work in the novels that you don't have to think about, but if you do you realise that this is a fully formed world where some of the characters share some amazing philosophies about society and how it works.  Rune is an interesting character to experience this world through, she may be young and a little idealistic but she is also malleable and is able to change her ideas when presented with robust arguments - she may be stubborn but she is also caring and fiercely loyal to her friends and adopted family.

This novel is a foundation for the rest of the series and is nearly 500 pages long - which makes it a bit of a commitment to read.  It took me two days to read (due to unforeseen circumstances) and I ended up staying up later than usual to finish the story rather than letting it travel into a third day.  In some ways this book could have been divided into two separate novels because there is the part that is clearly Rune's story, and then there is the part that is clearly more about the Free Bards and their interplay with Rune's story.  I can see why it was combined into one story though, as it keeps the story going with some momentum and leads into the next book in the series.  There are only four books in this series and a stand alone novel that ties in with the story - this is a relatively small series for Lackey but it is still well written with strong character development and robust plots.  If you like this book and this series then you are bound to be a fan of most of Lackey's books.

If you like this book then try:
  • The Robin and Kestrel by Mercedes Lackey
  • The Eagle and the Nightingales by Mercedes Lackey
  • Four and twenty Blackbirds by Mercedes Lackey
  • A cast of Corbies by Mercedes Lackey and Josepha Sherman
  • If I pay thee not in gold by Piers Anthony and Mercedes Lackey
  • Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Sing the four quarters by Tanya Huff
  • Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
  • Cast in shadow by Michelle Sagara

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pies and prejudice by Ellery Adams

When Ella Mae walks in on her husband and some women from their New York apartment building in a compromising position she gathers up her pride, her dog Chewy, and runs to her mothers house in Havenwood, Georgia.  It is a chance for her to lick her wounds and figure out what she is going to do - apart from divorce the cheating rat that is.  With the encouragement of her mother and aunts Ella Mae decides to open the Charmed Pie Shoppe, a chance for a fresh start using her baking skills.  Her baking skills are very impressive and it seems like a good move, especially when her baking seems to have magical results for the people who taste her pies and desserts.  Her baking is having a positive impact for Ella Mae and the people in her life, but not everyone is happy she is back in Havenwood.

Childhood nemesis and neighbour Loralyn Gaynor makes it very clear that Ella Mae is not welcome back in Havenwood - especially when Ella Mae manages to snaffle the building that Loralyn wanted.  Loralyn is a nasty piece of work, which is why it is surprising that she is engaged to Bradford Knox - a charming man who winds up dead.  It's bad enough that people think Ella Mae threatened him, but when the murder weapon turns out to be a rolling pin with her fingerprints on it Ella Mae has to turn detective to clear her name.  With her business taking off and a murder to solve she has hardly any spare time, and she certainly doesn't have time for her future ex-husband Sloan and his mind games.  Can Ella Mae get to the bottom of the mystery before someone else meets a grisly end?

Pies and prejudice is a charming little story that blends together a murder mystery, a little bit of romance, some magic, and some seriously heavenly cooking.  Ella Mae is an unlikely mystery solver, she has been studying the culinary arts for years, not attending a forensics school - but she soon finds her feet as a detective, even though she sometimes bites off more than she can chew.  This was an enjoyable read with dashes of humour to spice up the storyline and a subtle blend of magic to take the story beyond your average murder mystery.  The world built around Ella Mae is real enough to touch, and the women who make up her family are interesting and diverse - and you discover more about why at the end of the novel.

The mystery itself is satisfying, not too easy to solve and with enough mishaps along the way to draw the story out and keep you hooked.  Sometimes the over descriptions got a little annoying - yes Ella Mae has whiskey-coloured hair (we know) and she is good at baking (we know) and she has a great range of recipes to use (see the back of the book for the recipes) - sometimes it seemed like the author was trying to make sure we didn't miss things so overstated them a little.  As introductions to a series go this is one of the better ones, and Ella Mae and her family as well set up to appear in future books in the series.  There is an interesting undercurrent happening with her soon to be ex-husband Sloan that has my interest piqued and I look forward to seeing if my suspicions are correct in that area.

Pies and prejudice is an interesting cross over between the world of murder mysteries and the world of fantasy and magic.  I enjoyed this book because of the murder mystery but also because of the magical element that was woven through the story - so there are bound to be other people who enjoy the same blend.  Because there is a strong element of magic and fantasy some of the recommended reads below reflect that rather than just focusing on the murder mystery aspect.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Perfect lies by Kiersten White

Perfect lies is the sequel to Mind games / Sister Assassin so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** - if you like to read series in order then stop reading this review and read the first book in the series.

Annie is on the outside - she is free from the School.  Fia is also free, without Annie as a hostage the School has no hold over her - but her love for James keeps her tied to him.  Annie was waiting for Fia to join her, but as the months slip by she realises that Fia isn't coming, that their freedom means they are separated.  As long as the Keane Foundation thinks Annie is dead she is in theory safe, but that is only a theory when the Seers and Feelers can operate over great distances and find people through their connections - no matter how tenuous. 

For the first time in years Fia doesn't have to worry about the Keane Foundation controlling her through Annie - she is instead standing beside James as he plots to bring down the Foundation from the inside.  It is a plan they don't talk about, a plan they barely dare to plan - because if you plan the Seers can see it and then their whole plan is blown before it is even thought of.  For the first time in her life Fia feels like she can trust someone completely, and that is a novel experience, but it is also a time of frustration.  Fia wants to move, she wants to do something, her body is telling her to move - and instead she is stuck babysitting "Pixie" and trying to stay unfocused and fuzzy.

The paths are set for both sisters and as the time to act draws nearer the paths begin to shift and turn, changing from solid ground to quicksand.  The only things keeping Fia sane are her faith in James and his plan, and the fact Annie is safe from the Keane Foundation.  Annie is away from the Keane Foundation but the Lerner group is a complicated organisation with its own quirks and pitfalls.  As the time to act draws nearer the sisters each set their own paths - but will they both survive their decisions?

Perfect lies is the sequel to the very cool Mind games / Sister assassin and I was really looking forward to reading the book to see what happens next for Fia and Annie - and I have to confess that I was more than a little frustrated with the book and nearly gave up on it a few times.  One of the biggest frustrations for me is the jumping backwards and forwards between Annie and Fia - this is not a new tool for writers, but the frustration came from the huge time difference between the two stories.  For Annie we are talking months, for Fia we are talking hours.  I know that this is partly tied into the story and the fact that Fia can only plan so far in advance, but it was still an annoyance! 

The world of Fia and Annie is a twisted little world with strangers become friends, friends becoming betrayers, and an undercurrent of fate bubbling beneath the surface.  The cast of characters is still small, but growing a little bit because Annie is now in the real world and Fia is meeting new people too.  Without giving too much away it feels like there is still more to come for Fia and Annie, so I will not be surprised if there is another book in this series - White wrote three books for the Paranormalcy series so maybe this will also be a trilogy.  Hopefully book three will lose some of the quirks of Perfect lies to make a smoother and more enjoyable read.

If you like this book then try:
  • Sister assassin / Mind games by Kiersten White
  • Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
  • Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
  • Every other day by Jennifer Lynne Barnes
  • Unremembered by Jessica Brody
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • Agent 21 by Chris Ryan
  • Origin by Jessica Khoury
  • Raven's gate by Anthony Horowitz
  • Eve by Anne Carey
  • Adaptation by Melinda Lo

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Death of a kitchen diva by Lee Hollis

Hayley Powell is your average single mom raising two teenagers on a fixed income and practically zero financial support from her ex-husband.  To make ends meet she runs the office of the Island Times - a job she has made her own over the past four years.  When she finally works up the courage to ask for a raise she doesn't get it, what she gets instead is the opportunity to write the island food and spirits column in the Island Times.  Knowing she has big boots to fill (her predecessor was a legend) Hayley whips up a column and drops it on her boss to a lukewarm reception - but the community goes nuts for the column and Hayley soon finds herself something of a celebrity.

Of course that celebrity comes at a cost - in the form of a sudden and bitter rivalry with Karen Appelbaum, who writes the food column for the rival newspaper.  It doesn't seem like too big a deal to Hayley, Karen may have been nasty but it is not worth losing sleep over.  Then Karen turns up murdered and Hayley is the prime suspect!  As the local community speculates about what happened, things go from bad to worse and Hayley realises that it is up to her to clear her good name (or at least what is left of her good name).  With the case causing tension in her family and her friends sticking by her it is going to be an interesting ride, and if Hayley doesn't figure out who the killer is she may find herself on the murderers menu herself!

Death of a kitchen diva opens with something of a bang, with Hayley arrested just as the eligible Lex arrives to take her out to dinner - and after a quick back track to a week earlier we learn exactly why Hayley has been arrested.  It is an opening gamble that can flop sometimes, but in this case starting with now and jumping back in time lets you slip into the exciting part of the story and then catch up with what has happened in short order.  I love the character of Hayley - she is fallible, stubborn, gets talked into all sorts of things, and has the same rotten luck that seems to plague me at time.  She is not perfect, she is not a goddess of perfection, and she seems to be just keeping her head above water - but she also has a great family, friends she can count on, and a stubborn determination to solve the crime so she can clear her good name.

As I have said previously I am new to reading this kind of murder mystery, usually reading the big blockbusters that are packed with action instead, but I have found the genre to be entertaining and thoroughly absorbing.  I am coming to realise that the words "absorbing" and "addictive" are good all-round descriptors for these books - I have picked up a few and discarded them after a few pages because they lack the spark and charm of books like Death of a kitchen diva.  One unusual feature of this book is the recipes inside - because Hayley writes the food and spirits columns and these are reproduced as part of the text.  There is a full seven course meal included in the articles, and there are also some great cocktail recipes (sadly I am allergic to alcohol so didn't get to try them myself).  The humour is at times subtle and "real life situational" stuff, and at other times the humour comes from the slip ups of one of the main characters who has English as a second language.

There are laugh out loud moments throughout Death of a kitchen diva and just when I thought I had figured out who the killer was I was twisted back into the story to find out who the real killer was.  I was hooked right until the end and am eagerly awaiting the second book in the series to see if the authors (Lee Hollis is a brother and sister writing team) can keep up the tension, humour, and twists and turns in the next book in the series.

If you like this book then try:
  • Death of a country fried Redneck by Lee Hollis
  • Dipped, stripped, and dead by Elise Hyatt
  • French polished murder by Elise Hyatt
  • Books can be deceiving by Jenn McKinlay
  • One for the money by Janet Evanovich
  • Murder past due by Miranda James

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, April 18, 2014

Murder past due by Miranda James

Charlie Harris lives a quiet life in Athena, Mississippi - a quiet little town where he shared the house his aunt left him with a series of students from the local university where he works in the library and archives.  Left a widower after the death of his wife, Charlie shares his life with another unlikely housemate - a rescue Maine Coon he called Diesel.  It is a quiet life with very little excitement, a life of routine and structure where he drifts between his various tasks at the university and his volunteer work at the local public library.  His routines are rocked when Godfrey Priest, local boy turned famous author, blows into town and promptly ends up in a fight - before ending up dead.

Drawn into the investigation by circumstances and an insistent house keeper, Charlie soon finds himself involved in the puzzle of the life and death of Godfrey Priest.  There seems to be no end of potential suspects because not only did Godfrey return to Athena on a frequent basis, he also seemed to make enemies each time he visited.  From husbands seeking revenge because Godfrey had an affair with their wives, to people shafted by Godfrey's less than above board business tactics - and then there is the recently discovered son that Godfrey wants to get to know.  There are so many suspects that it seems like an impossible task to track down the murderer - and with the lead investigator rapidly losing patience with Charlie he may find himself on the wrong side of the law too!

Murder past due was a charming read from the start, made charming in no small part thanks to the antics and personality of a certain Maine Coon named Diesel.  I have been owned by a Maine Coon myself and so there was a certain amount of reminiscing involved because of Diesel's personality - and the laugh out loud moments that seemed to happen because Charlie and Diesel are such a fixture in their town.  What could have been a rather dry murder mystery (it is set in a library and archive for the most part) was instead spiced up with some funny misunderstanding. some petty squabbling, some clichés, and someone who appears to get their just desserts.  Anyone who works in a real library will know that they are not the places of quiet and solitude people think they are - that they have their own quirky squabbles and misunderstandings. and James captures that world perfectly in this murder mystery.

It took a chapter or two to get used to James style and to get a sense for Charlie's world, but I was very quickly absorbed in the story and the little plot twists that keep you guessing about what was going to happen next (or what misstep Charlie was going to make next).  The town of Athena is both charming and quaint, and a place that feels like a real world rather than a perfect world created in the authors imagination.  The plot is well defined and the characters step off the page whole, and while at times the writing seemed a little clumsy it took nothing away from the charm and grit of the story.  I can't wait to see what happens next for Charlie and Diesel. 

I enjoy at least a little humour in my books (and TV series and movies) and Murder past due ticked all the right boxes.  I am new to reading this genre - usually I read the action/thrillers by the likes of Patterson and Gerritsen - but I thoroughly enjoyed the world James has created and can't wait to read more great examples of this genre.

If you like this book then try:
  • Classified as murder by Miranda James
  • Dipped, stripped, and dead by Elise Hyatt
  • French polished murder by Elise Hyatt
  • Books can be deceiving by Jenn McKinlay
  • One for the money by Janet Evanovich
  • Two for the dough by Janet Evanovich
  • Undead and unwed by MaryJanice Davidson
  • Death of a kitchen diva by Lee Hollis

Reviewed by Brilla

Shattered by Teri Terry

Shattered is the sequel to Slated and Fractured, and because of that this review contains ***SPOILERS***.  If you prefer to read a series in order then stop reading now until you have read Slated and Fractured.

The past few months have been a blur of discoveries and changes, of love and loss - but Kyla has managed to keep things together, even if she is feeling like she is only holding on by her finger tips.  With the help of MIA she has changed the way she looks and has a new identity and a new life that will take her back to the beginning, back to her life as Lucy.  It is a risky prospect, people are still chasing her and there is still so much about her past that she doesn't know or understand.  Her appearance may have changed, but she is still risking discovery by travelling across country at a time when the Lorders seems to be taking more and more liberties.

Back in the town where she was born Kyla reconnects with her mother, but it is a strange and somewhat strained relationship.  The atmosphere at Waterfall House is tense and the girls who live their rebel against the tough rules Stella Connor enforces with "her" girls - none more than Madison.  Madison and Kyla quickly become friends - although living as Lucy/Kyla/Riley is growing increasingly complicated.  As Kyla digs deeper into her past she discovers some shocking truths - truths that soon see her on the run again.  This time Kyla is going to have to make a stand, but is the price too high to pay?

The Slated trilogy has been an intriguing blend of mystery, science fiction, and social control - it is all too easy to imagine a future where science is used to control the "undesirable" element of society - although being a teenager doesn't exactly make you an undesirable element!  Kyla is an interesting, and inspired, choice to be the "voice" of the story because we discover information and the truth only as she does - there is no voice of god giving you the answers and spoon feeding you the story.  Because we see the world through Kyla's eyes it makes everything more "real" - her terror, her horror, her confusion all bring the story into sharp focus and help forge a strong connection to the story and the conspiracy. 

I have wondered how Terry would finish the trilogy - whether she would take the easy way out and give a "pat" happily ever after ending, whether she would leave the world in disaster and ruin, or whether she would find some other way to provide a satisfying conclusion.  The answer is (without ruining the ending for anyone else) it was a very satisfying ending that ended the trilogy with a sense of understanding and conclusion - although for some readers it may not be the ending they were expecting. 

Overall this series has been well written and has created a future world that is eerily like our own, except the personal freedoms of the population have been stripped away - especially for teenagers.  Kyla provides a unique view of this world, she is a teenager who appears to have lead the life of a pawn - she has been used and shaped into a tool by everyone in her life, lead towards a future of sacrifice and loss.  Kyla breaks free of her future and creates her own, making connections and fighting for not only her future but also the future of other teenagers who share the same fate.  At around 400 pages per book these have also been substantial reads, treating teen readers to a real story rather than watering down the story for a quick read that cheats the audience of some serious reading material.  Terry is similar to Robert Muchamore in this respect, keeping the story real rather than watering it down just because the book is for a teen audience.  I look forward to reading more from Terry in the future as she has a great talent.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Next by Michael Crichton

We live in a time of rapid scientific change, where the bounds of science are almost limitless - except where national and international laws limit what can be done.  In this world of transgenics and gene therapy it seems as though there is a cure for everything and a chance to change everything for the better.  But that is just the big picture, what about the little stories that weave together to paint a picture for the everyday person - the everyday person living with the knowledge they are on the cutting edge of science, or the everyday person walking around with a patent on their cells, or the discovery that somewhere along the way you messed up in your research and you have an unexpected child out there.  All these stories and more could be happening out there right now - probably are happening right now.

In Next we get to experience those stories first hand through the lives of the people whose stories are intertwined in this thought provoking novel about what science has lead us to, what it still might lead us to, and the havoc those changes are making in a world that it not yet ready for the legal and ethical complications of medical science, greed, and competition.  For Frank Burnet the cancer that saved his life was a miracle, but he never expected the team at UCLA to take his cells for years after he was cured so they could patent them and make a huge profit - a profit he thought it was reasonable to request a share of.  He also shouldn't expect his daughter and grandson to be targeted by a bounty hunter when the patent holder needs replacement cells and he is nowhere to be found - but that is just what happens when the patent holder exploits the fact the law is behind the times.  Woven around this story are others that show what could be happening right now across the world as research teams scramble for an advantage, a patent that will make them millions - no matter what scientific boundaries they have to push in the process.

Next is nearly a decade old now, but it is still a thought provoking and gripping read - not spoilt in the least by the fact I have already read it before and mostly remember how it ended.  Michael Crichton has a history of writing books that push the boundaries of science, making us think about what is possible and what might be possible - and if we should mess with nature just because we can (think Jurassic Park, Congo, Sphere).  Crichton has a knack for writing books that suck you into the story and refuse to let you go until you reach the conclusion of the novel - and even then sometimes the ideas bounce around in your head for days to come.  One of my favourite quotes around science comes from Jurassic Park, and while I may slightly misquote it the sentiment is there - "we were so busy wondering if we could that we didn't stop to think if we should". 

The loss of Michael Crichton was just that, a loss, with his death we lost a compelling and thought provoking author who was also an talented screen writer and director.  I was inspired to re-read Next after adding Genesis by Bernard Beckett to my reading list and I am glad I re-read it because I couldn't put it down and read it in a single sitting (who needs to watch the evening news anyway).  The short chapters and intertwined storylines may drive some people to distraction, but over time the story blends together layer by layer and I was so absorbed in the story I had no problem keeping everyone straight after the first chapter or two about each aspect/character of the story.  A must read for anyone who has an interest in "realistic" science fiction or even anyone who likes a good action adventure with a healthy dose of conspiracy theory.

If you like this book then try:
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  • Sphere by Michael Crichton
  • The devil's cure by Kenneth Oppel
  • Antibodies by Kevi J. Anderson
  • Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
 
Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Genesis by Bernard Beckett

The day has arrived for Anaximander (Anax) to face the panel of Examiners for admittance to the Academy.  It is a day for her to make or break her future, it is the only chance she will have to enter the Academy and find a place in a society where she finds herself always a little behind or away from everyone else.  The next three hours will decide her future and her fate - and oral examination with questions and answers carefully built around her topic.  It is a nerve-wracking prospect and Anax only feels ready to face the examination because of the coaching and support from her tutor Pericles.

The examination is a test of her knowledge of Adam Forde, a man who has helped forge the modern state in which they live - it is an unusual topic for an examination and one Anax has spent time studying for and preparing.  Her search for information has lead to discoveries and interpretations that are completely new - something Anax hopes will bring her to the attention of the examination board as she peels back the layers of Adam Forde's life - a life that is not as it has always been portrayed.  As the examination proceeds Anax finds her beliefs and knowledge tested as never before, and when the examination panel reveals a hidden truth her mind is sent reeling.

Genesis is one of those books that gets under your skin and makes you think about what is happening now, what could happen in the future, and what it means to live in a society protecting itself from a future they see as dangerous.  I first read this book when it was released and was one of the few people I knew who got really hooked on the story from the start and didn't put it down again until I was finished.  The main reason for people to struggle was the fact the story is told like a transcript of the examination with flashes in between of what Anax is feeling - this was a very unusual format for the time and some people didn't gel with the idea.  Reading it again this time it took a few pages to settle back into the story because I had forgotten about the unusual style - but I was very quickly absorbed in the story and read it to the end in one sitting.

While I love Genesis because it is by a New Zealand author and set in a future New Zealand, this story could just as easily have been set anywhere in the world - the isolation of New Zealand is a perfect backdrop for the history of the society, but the current society could have been anywhere in the world.  There are many elements here that would be described as purely didactic, but I prefer to describe it as a well thought out glimpse of a future that could be just around the corner - perhaps it could even be described as an early precursor for all those post apocalypse and dystopian novels out there! 

Genesis won't appeal to everyone because of its unusual style, but the mind-blowing ending is just that - mind-blowing.  It is not surprising that Genesis is an award winning book having won both the Esther Glen Award for children's literature and a New Zealand Post Book Award.  Another no holds barred novel from Bernard Beckett - enjoy.

If you like this book then try:
  • Tomorrow the dark by Ken Catran
  • Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
  • Box by Penelope Todd
  • Winter of fire by Sherryl Jordan
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • Bodies and soul by David Hill
  • Nest of lies by Heather McQuillan
  • After edited by Ellen Daltow and Terri Windling

Reviewed by Brilla

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

For years Elspeth Gordie has kept a terrible secret, she is a Misfit and if she is discovered she will have to face the swift "justice" of the Council.  In a world tainted by the Great White, the ordinary people are protected at the expense of anyone who sows signs that they have been mutated by the tainted world that exists beyond the boundaries of their towns - and anyone who shows dissent is just as bad as these tainted souls.  After the death of her parents Elspeth and her brother Jes have become orphans, moving from home to home while they wait until they are old enough to gain their certificates and become part of adult society.  That goal is nearly in reach when Elspeth slips up and her status as a Misfit is revealed.

Sent to the mysterious Obernewtyn estate, Elspeth has no idea what to expect and soon finds herself over her head and caught up in a mystery.  There is a sinister force at work in the estate, and she finds herself hiding behind the façade of a dim witted girl to avoid the attention of the people who are in charge.  Her anxiety is heightened when she learns about the doctor and his experiments, his patients turning slowly into ghosts of their former selves while he is trying to "help" them.  But it is also a place of some safety, a place where Elspeth can start to make friends for the first time and allow those friendships to be in the open - but not everything is as it appears.  As Elspeth starts to peel back the layers of the mysteries of Obernewtyn she has no idea that she is on a collision course with a destiny only she can fulfil.

Obernewtyn is the first book in a series written by Australian author Isobelle Carmody - an author I was lucky enough to hear speak at a conference in Rotorua last year.  Without sharing her story too much (because it is her story to tell after all), Carmody is an example of a writer who has faced difficulties and challenges in her life but not let them stop her from pursuing a writing career.  I have not read any of her works before now because she is one of those authors who seems to be quite popular with a variety of readers and age groups, and I like to support new writers where possible.  After hearing her speak about her life and her writing I spoke to Isobelle Carmody and promised that I would read one of her books - and I have finally kept that promise and was not disappointed in any way shape or form!

Carmody has created a richly imagined world that sucks you in and keeps you in until you have finished your journey.  Elspeth is a complex character and because you see the world through her eyes you experience the journey with her - the secrets, the lies, the half-truths, the villains and the heroes.  It is mind-blowing to think that Carmody began writing this series when she was still a teenager, the depth and power of the characters voices seems well beyond the reach of the average teenager - but then again Carmody was not your average teenager.  I have already ordered the second book in the series so I can find out what happens next for Elspeth and her friends because this is a world I am not ready to leave yet!  A fantastic read for lovers of fantasy, adventure, and mystery set in a world that has been destroyed to the ground and raised back up again - returning from an apocalypse that has left the world scarred and more than a little corrupted.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The last shot by Michael Adams

The last shot is the sequel to The last girl so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first book in this trilogy.  This is one of those series where it really pays to read the books in order so if you have not already read The last girl then stop reading this review now and read the book first.

It seems as though Christmas was years ago, not only a few days because so much has happened on the emotional rollercoaster that has become Danby's life.  She has left Nathan and Jack behind to find her mother and a desperate hope for some connection with someone she loves and who loves her - but what she finds instead is a corpse that she was too late to save.  A quick check of the other residents tells her she was too late to save any of them, and the person to blame appears to be Jack and his Minions.  Unable to put off returning to Jack forever Danby comes up with a plan to save her brother Evan and all the other Minions caught in Jack's web of lies and control. 

On the way back to what has become civilisation Danby builds her resolve to deal with Jack and what she believes he has done, but when she meets him ago she is in for a shock.  He no longer appears to be the dark and twisted soul she thought he was, he has made huge in roads into saving what is left of humanity and some of Danby's ideas appear to have been abruptly dropped on their heads.  Jack no longer appears to be a monster and some of his ideas really seem to make sense.  Then he drops the biggest bombshell of all - Nathan has been in hiding since Danby left but he appears to be leading attacks against convoys trying to collect medical supplies for the survivors.  Everything has been turned inside out and twisted, but things are not what they appear and Danby needs to figure things out fast.

The last shot is the second book in an exciting trilogy that has you wondering what will happen next as you discover a new world (and a new threat) through Danby's eyes.  This is a post apocalypse story with a difference - this is a story that has not been told before, there are no aliens, no apparent virus, no rising up of the machines, it is in fact unexplained about what happens we just get to see the fallout.  Danby is an interesting character to observe the world with, she is not perfect and her moral compass makes a few interesting twists and turns as she deals with a world that is no longer safe or consistent.  It is an emotional rollercoaster and she has to deal with plenty of loss and difficult decisions.

Adams continues to keep up the fast pace of the action  but also keeps up the intense psychological aspects of the novel as the world is twisted and warped by a mind that seems completely in control (though more than a little unhinged).  You never know quite where the story is going to go next and while I almost didn't read the story to the end because it seemed to flounder a little bit in the first part I am glad I finished because now I really want to know what happens next because of the big bombshell dropped at the end.

This is not a light and fluffy post apocalypse novel where boy meet girl, they face a threat and then live happily ever after - this is a meaty storyline with plenty of challenges and no guarantees that anyone is going to make it out alive.  The cast of The last shot is bigger than The last girl and you get a sense of a bigger world and bigger plans - which just makes the story that much better.  There is a lot to like here, and I hope that Adams can deliver on the promise he made in The last girl and The last shot and that The last place closes the series with a bang rather than a whimper. 

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Torn apart: The heartbreaking true story of a childhood lost by James Patterson and Hal Friedman

Cory was a normal little boy - until he got the irresistible urge to shake his head.  That was the moment that would define his life for more than a decade as his family and doctors tried medication after medication and therapy after therapy to tackle his unique combination of Tourette syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, among other conditions.  The story is brought to heart breaking relief through the use of first person narrative, rather than describing Cory's symptoms in a clinical and abstract way, this story is Cory's voice and you experience every heartbreak, every failed medication, every stumbling block as if you were there when it happened.  There is confusion, prejudice, pettiness, daily struggles, and most of all a loving family that doesn't give up on him. 

Co-authored by James Patterson and Cory's dad Hal Friedman, this is a brutally honest look into a young life that was almost destroyed b y a complex set of neurological disorders that created a living hell for Cory and his family - especially at times when he was treated with the "best" medications.  Over the years Cory was on dozens of medications and saw nearly as many doctors, taking combinations of medication that caused a range of symptoms including weight gain, fatigue, chronic pain, increased energy, increased ticking, and risk taking behaviour.  This is a story that was difficult to read because of all the times the hopes and dreams of the family were dashed and Cory ended up back at zero.  The glimmer of hope throughout the whole story is the obvious love and support of his family - especially his mother and his father.

This is not an easy read, and at times I was grateful for the involvement of James Patterson who has a knack for conveying intensity and emotion without using excessive amounts of text - the story is told succinctly, almost bluntly, and carries you from moment to moment alongside Cory as he experiences the pain and failure of treatment plan after treatment plan.  Ultimately though this is not a story about failure or loss, it is about one family and their path from diagnosis to living day-to-day with some control and normalcy.  Cory is a person you can't help but connect with through his story, and had Patterson and Friedman chosen a more traditional approach to this biography I think it would have lost a great deal of the impact - it is Cory's words that suck you in and spit you out.

At times I was crying reading Cory's story, at other times I laughed, and at other times I just didn't know what to think or feel.  This is one of those stories that you will either read from cover to cover and be a better person for the reading, or it will be one of those stories that you can't read more than a few words of without putting it aside - I fell into the first category and hope others out there will give Cory and his story a chance.

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:

Reviewed by Brilla 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Night broken by Patricia Briggs

Night broken is the eighth book in the Mercy Thompson series so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** of what happens in the previous books.  If you like to read series in order then don't read anymore of this review until you have read the other books in this series - a series that really benefits from being read in the right order.

Mercy has finally found peace with her role as Adam's mate and her role in the pack, an uneasy relationship that certain members of the pack test whenever they get the chance.  Not usually one for politics, Mercy is learning when to let things be and when to exert her authority as the alphas mate.  It seems as though she is finally getting somewhere, which is why it seems more than a little unfair that Adam's ex-wife Christy is coming to stay in the home Mercy has come to see as her own - there may be a stalker on Christy's heels driving her back towards the pack, but it is going to take very ounce of Mercy's patience and political skills to keep things on an even keel (for everyone's sake).

It doesn't take long for Christy to work her unique ability to manipulate people into feeling sorry for her, and Mercy finds herself an awkward outsider in her own home - and the worst thing is that anything she says has the potential to seem petty and narrow minded, even selfish.  Clenching her teeth and getting on with things will only get Mercy so far, especially when the stalker reveals himself and they discover that he is far from an ordinary stalker.  Somehow Christy has managed to attract the attention of a seriously dangerous supernatural being who is hell-bent on reclaiming what he sees as his - and for the first time the pack may have taken on more than they can chew.  Of course, because one challenges if never enough, Mercy also has the unenviable task of tracking down Coyote to retrieve something she left in his care - if she fails then the whole city may be destroyed by one very pissed off fae.

Night broken is another adictivbe read in the Mercy Thompson series, and I oncve again found myself trying to finish the book in one sitting so I could read without interruption - sadly work got in the way and I had to keep taking breaks to go back to work.  Briggs is a master storyteller who blends together elements of the mystery and thriller genres and neatly packages them into a fantasy world that mirrors ours but has a much more interesting "mythology".  Mercy is a strong character who has some pretty spectacular "flaws" (stubborn, pig headed, loyal, independent, and did I mention stubborn) but she is also incredibly loyal to anyone she considers part of her family.  Living with werewolves presents some interesting challenges for Mercy, and it is nice to see that she has finally found some happiness and contentment after so many dangerous adventures over the course of the series.  The relationship between her and Adam is not mushy and sickly sweet, it is instead a meeting of equals and partners who become better and complete around each other because they smooth each others weaknesses.

The turn of events in Night broken was not quite what I was expecting, but it fits well with the rest of the mythology and events of the series and opens the door for future storylines - I realise this is a little vague but it is nice to discover the little twists and turns for yourself rather than having a reviewer ruin it for you!  I was very satisfied with Night broken and found it easier to remember events of previous novels than I have with other series which implies the characters are sticking with me better than other series, although I did have a little trouble placing some of the lesser pack members (but luckily Briggs filled in the gaps).  As with other books in this series there are some seriously laugh out loud moments, and some teary moments, bound together with some serious fight scenes and mystery solving.  Bring on the next book in the series.

If you like this book then try:
  • Moon called by Patricia Briggs
  • Tinker by Wen Spencer
  • Night shifted by Cassie Alexander
  • Cry wolf by Patricia Briggs
  • Kitty and the midnight hour by Carrie Vaughn
  • Dark descendant by Jenna Black
  • Burning water by Mercedes Lackey
  • Kitty goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn
  • Blood price by Tanya Huff
  • Urban shaman by C.E. Murphy
  • Spiders bite by Jennifer Estep
  • Dead witch walking by Kim Harrison
  • Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When Fraser met Billy: The rescue cat that transformed a little boy's life by Louise Booth

Fraser is like a lot of other children facing the challenges associated with autism, but he also has hypotonia - which reduces his mobility.  Like many parents who have a child on the autism spectrum Louise Booth faces challenges on a daily basis with communication, sensory input, and unexpected rage that builds up to epic meltdowns over seemingly trivial things.  Reading about those early years with Fraser stirs echoes of my own nephew and the struggles he had with communication and connecting with other people - there are also strong echoes of the story of Nuala Gardner and her son Dale from A friend like Henry.  Almost overnight there is a remarkable changes in Fraser when he meets a rescue cat named Billy.

Billy seems on the surface to be your average cat, but right from the first introduction he appears to have an unusual relationship with Fraser.  Most cats would run screaming from a child having a meltdown, but Billy seems instead to be drawn towards Fraser.  There are times when Louise is at the end of her tether trying to do something for Fraser or with Fraser, and the appearance of Billy makes things run more smoothly.  She soon gets used to the quiet doubts of her husband Chris when she talks about all the things Billy does, but soon it becomes clear that Billy is a miracle worker who will see the family through some truly difficult times.

I have read a few stories now about the benefits of dogs working with children with autism, and I have recently read about a cat who helped a boy with selective mutism, but this is the first story I have come across where the four legged therapist is a cat.  I have no doubt that there are other stories out there about our less well known feline therapists for children with autism, but this is the first story I have come across that echoes the story of Dale Gardner and his dog Henry.  Anyone who has worked or lived with a child with autism spectrum disorder will know that all your hopes and dreams for a "normal" child goes out the window, and that at times the day-to-day drain of raising such a child can be very draining.  Dogs often help to ease the stress and conflicts between children with autism and their families, but according to Billy a cat can fill the space just as well!

Reading books like When Fraser met Billy stirs up a lot of memories for me because I have had a lot to do with my nephew with autism and I can clearly remember similar situations.  Raising a child with autism can be extremely isolating because you don't want to take the risk of setting off a meltdown, and because the child is usually very "normal" looking people assume that you are a bad caregiver who can't control the child - they have no understanding of what the child is facing, and by extension what the family is facing.  Louise doesn't pull punches in the description of her home life with Fraser, and the near miraculous changes that Billy makes.  The description of Billy is just enchanting and endearing, a biography of a man in a fur coat, and any animal lover would love the description's of the various antics he gets up to.

There are few books that allow you a glimpse into the world of a child with autism, and it is very easy to think that what you are going through only you are going through.  If you are interested in autism spectrum disorder and how it can affect an entire family (remembering that each child presents with a unique version of the disorder) then this may very well be the perfect book for you to read.  This is an emotional read and at times is quite harrowing - it is physically exhausting reading juts hoe far Frasers autism pushed Louise and her husband.  Interestingly, there is an absence of the colour photographs that normally fill the centre of a book like this, and while there is no explanation of why I would guess it is either because they live on the Queen's Balmoral Estate, or because overall Louise is open yet private about her family.  A touching, heart-warming read.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, April 7, 2014

A dog called homeless by Sarah Lean

The past year has been a difficult time for Cally Fisher and her family - a year ago her mother was killed in a car accident and her family life has slowly been falling to pieces ever since.  Her father is quiet and preoccupied and not interested in celebrating his birthday because it is the anniversary of the car accident - and her brother is more interested in playing computer games in his room than spending time with his sister.  At school Cally gets into trouble because she can't stop her mind from wandering, and even her best friend is drifting away from her.  Then she face a challenge that no one thinks she can complete - staying completely silent for an entire school day to raise funds for charity.

Not only does Cally stay silent for the entire day - she remains silent for days afterwards.  At first everyone thinks it is a cry for attention, but there is much more to her silence than wanting attention.  Cally can see her mother, and everyone else is telling her she is wrong and that she should be quiet - so she stays quiet.  The only other person who seems to see her mother is a giant gray dog that appears to be called Homeless.  As her relationship with her father, brother, friends, and teachers changes Cally learns more about herself and the world around her.

A dog called Homeless is a touching and emotional story about self discovery and coming to terms with the loss of a parent.  Cally is a sensitive young girl who is dealing with a lot of issues at once, and she is not too different from the hundreds of children each day who have to deal with the loss of a parent.  There are undercurrents of loss, love, friendship  self-discovery, and healing, all woven together around a simple yet touching story that may help younger readers deal with the loss of their parent.  Sarah Lean has a deft touch and makes you forget everything else as you join Cally on her journey through loss and the beginning of her journey of healing.

If you like this book then try:
  • A hundred horses by Sarah Lean
  • Defiance by Valerie Hobbs
  • Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Wenny has wings by Janet Lee Carey

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A dog named Boo: The underdog with the heart of gold by Lisa J. Edwards

Sometimes it seems as though animals come into our lives at a time when we need them the most, and that is definitely the case with Lisa and a little dog she names Boo.  After living through a complicated childhood, Lisa had overcome most of her issues to become a moderate success with a husband, two dogs, and two cats.  Her life had taken some unexpected turns, and life wasn't perfect, but she had found balance and a way forward - a balance that was shaken through a series of events including the diagnosis of her brother with a terminal illness, the ups and downs of married life with a man who was as damaged in his own way as she was, and a build up of stressors and niggles from her chronic pain and mobility issues   Into this complicated world came a little dog named Boo - who seemed to face as many challenges as Lisa did, if not more.

Boo was not your typical dog, he seemed to have issues with his vision and mobility, and he was not the brightest crayon in the box - what he was was himself.  Through trial and error (sometimes trial by error) Lisa discovered that her hopes and dreams for Boo would never work out, but that he instead has his own little niche to carve out.  Through her animal assisted therapy and animal assisted activity work, Lisa introduced a whole bunch of people to the amazing little dog that no one and nothing could bring down.  He may have just scraped through his therapy animal test, but Boo turned out to have a unique gift for therapy work - including helping to heal some of the wounds that Lisa had carried for a long time.

A dog named Boo struck a chord with me, mainly because I have an aging therapy dog who has worked some of the same magic as Boo.  Working, or in my case volunteering, in the world of animal assisted therapy can be tiring and leave you feeling drained - but it is also an incredible moment to watch the change your dog can have in someone else.  I couldn't help but smile about some of the anecdotes Lisa shared because they could almost have been some of my anecdotes, and while my dog is not as challenged as Boo he still faces some challenges   This is a very bravely told story, Lisa doesn't pull her punches when she tells her story and it is impossible not to connect with her and the realisation that she has overcome so much to be the success she is. 

This is a very personal story and some people may struggle to read parts of Lisa's story, but it is an important story to read so you can understand where Lisa comes from and why the relationship with Boo is so important   A deeply touching and moving story of the human companion animal bond and what our companion animals can mean to us.  There were times when I had tears rolling down my cheeks, not only because of the loss of the dogs in Lisa's life, but also because of some of the stories that she shares and the dramatic impact Boo had on people.  My advice, read this book with tissues nearby!

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla