Monday, June 30, 2014

Renegade by J.A. Souders

Evie leads a tranquil life in the city of Elysium, an underwater city that Mother founded to take the citizens away from the violence of the greed of the Surface Dwellers above.  The city is secret and safe, and well protected from an invasion from the Surface Dwellers with a series of automated defences that will stop any threat from above.  Each day Evie wakes and spends time in her garden tending to her plants, working on her cross stitch, or playing her violin.  As the Daughter of the People Mother is grooming her to become her successor, the next ruler of the people of Elysium.  Evie strives to do her best, even though she has moments when her memory is poor or she fails to recognise things - the people lover her, even though to them she is ditzy and somewhat vague.

When a Surface Dweller breaches the cities protections, Evie suddenly finds herself caught in a strange and eerie new world.  Little cracks are forming in her memories, little cracks that make no sense and leave her reeling with confusion   When the Surface Dweller, Gavin, tries to reach her and tells her things that can't be true, Evie struggles against her own memories.  With each passing moment spent with Gavin she realises that something is very wrong - wrong with Mother, wrong with Elysium, and most importantly wrong with her.  As the layers of mystery and conspiracy are stripped away, Evie comes to realise that she has to help Gavin escape back to the surface because Mother is determined to kill him - no matter what the cost.  As they race towards a confrontation, Evie will discover that there is more to her life than she could have guessed, and that everyone in Elysium lives and dies at the whim of Mother.

There has been a flurry of books labelled under the dystopian genre in the past few years, and many of them fail to deliver on their promise - either because they fail to really touch the human part of the story, or because they try and be just too clever for their own good.  I was a little dubious about Renegade when I picked it up, partly because the cover is not particularly inspiring, but once I started reading I was hooked.  One of the strengths of this story is that we see the world through Evie's eyes, and it is through her eyes that we watch the world turn from one tinged with gold and hope, to one coated with blood and despair.  

Souders has a fantastic style that blended together the very human story of Evie and Gavin, and the tense and atmospheric world of Elysium and the secrets that float beneath the apparently tranquil surface of this underwater world.  While it is clear from the first few chapters that there is something not quite right with Evie, it soon becomes clear that it is not Evie that is broken or wrong, it is the world she lives in. There are subtle clues throughout the early chapters that hint at what the secrets beneath the perfect veneer might be, but when the full effect of Mothers planning and scheming is revealed it is totally mind boggling.

This is a true dystopian world, and like most of the best dystopian series on the surface everything seems to be perfect, and it is only by experiencing the world through the eyes of Evie and Gavin that we realise things are very very wrong.  A fantastic first book for this series, and I can't wait to read the sequel to see what happens next.

If you like this book then try:
  • Revelations by J.A. Souders
  • Breathe by Sarah Crossan
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • The testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Eve by Anna Carey
  • Inside out by Maria V. Snyder
  • Amongst the hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • The limit by Kristin Landon
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • XVI by Julia Karr

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Wild born by Brandon Mull

In Erdas children are offered the Nectar when they are eleven, a coming of age that helps with the bond between the chosen few and their spirit animals.  The bond is rare, but has been happening for centuries, and the Nectar helps ease the shock of the pairing and sidesteps the dangers of a bond occurring on its own.  For some the ceremony is a grand one with pomp and ceremony, for others it may be a simple time shared with family - but it hardly ever results in a bond. 
Four young people are about to taste the Nectar and discover their spirit animals - and the spirit animals they call will change their lives forever.  In the distant past there was a battle against an evil force known as the Devourer and his forces fought a great battle that led to the death of four of the Great Beasts - Great Beasts that became known as the Fallen.  Now in a time of great need the Fallen have returned to the lands of Erdas, but there are those who would work against them to try and prevent them from stopping an evil force as dangerous as the Devourer.  Conor, Abeke, Meilin and Rollan are about to face some of the greatest challenges of their lives, and they must find their courage and inner strength if they are to succeed.
Wild born is the first book in the Spirit animal series, and it starts the series off with a bang and strong premise.  I am not usually a fan of series that include an online gaming element because it often feels as though the story is a means to an end, rather than a story in its own right.  I have picked up several online game tie-ins and found them to be lacking in substance - but that was not the case here at all.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading Wild born, the mythology is well thought out, there has been attention to detail while world building, and the characters are well developed and very "human". 
In some ways I was a little disappointed that the story was not a little meatier, because it has almost a Tamora Pierce feeling to the world building and mythology, but it lacks the full depth and length of a Pierce novel.  On the flip side of that coin however is that because the text is a little spare and easy tor read, it does open up the series for readers of an older age who read at a lower level than their peers.  The next book in the series is written by another author, so it will be interesting to see how this series develops with different author voices adding to the mythology and the world building.  An interesting series beginning and if the rest of series delivers on the promise of this first book then this will be an amazing series.
If you like this book then try:
  • Spirit animals: Hunted by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Maddy West and the tongue taker by Brian Falkner
  • Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo
  • Stone heart by Charlie Fletcher
  • Hollow Earth by John Barrownman and Carole Barrowman
  • Prisoner of Quentaris by Anna Ciddor
  • Finding the fox by Ali Sparkes
  • Nest of lies by Heather McQuillan
  • The lost castle by Michael Pryor
  • Museum of thieves by Lian Tanner
  • The silver crown by Robert C. O'Brien
  • Northwood by Brian Falkner
  • Under the mountain by Maurice Gee
  • The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
  • Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda
  • Lionboy by Zizou Corder
  • Northwood by Brian Falkner
  • The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee
  • The forests of silence by Emily Rodda

Reviewed by Brilla

Out of circulation by Miranda James

Out of circulation is the fourth book in the Cat in the stack mysteries so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first three books in the series.  While you can read this series as standalone books it is best enjoyed read in series order so if you have not read the first books - Murder past due, Classified as murder, File M for murder - then you may want to read them first before reading anymore of this review.

With Christmas just around the corner Charlie is looking forward to a quiet and uneventful holiday with his family and friends, but with his knack for ending up in the middle of murder investigations it is unlikely that things will stay quiet for long.  When he hosts the planning meeting for the fundraiser for the Friends of Athena Public Library Charlie has the rather eye opening experience of watching the Ducote sisters wrangle control of the event from status conscious Vera Cassity.  Not a fan of confrontation, the whole event leaves Charlie uncomfortable, but nothing prepares him for the reaction of his housekeeper Azaleas reaction to the news Vera Cassity had been in her house.  There is history between Azalea and Vera and Charlie is dying of curiosity to know what caused the conflict.

When Vera Cassity is murdered at the Friends of Athena Public Library it is Azalea who is found over the body, but Charlie can't believe that Azalea would have done such a thing.  Although the Sheriff is determined to keep Azalea at the top of the suspects list it is pretty clear to everyone else that Azalea is not the culprit, and Charlie soon finds himself drawn into solving, or at least helping to solve, another murder mystery.  There are secrets in every town, and it seems as though there is a secret that Vera was trying to uncover before her death, a secret that could cause all kinds of trouble.  As Charlie digs deeper into the mystery he discovers information that was never supposed to have seen the light of day, information that could be damaging for some of the suspects - if they knew the truth.

The Charlie and Diesel books, as they are known in my house, are some of my favourite discoveries this year - a series that I have found myself sharing with my mother who loves them just as much as I do.  She often ends up reading them before I do and she waits with baited breath until I have finished each book so we can talk about the funny things that have happened, or the shocking discoveries Charlie has uncovered.  Luckily I am the faster reader so it doesn't take me long to catch up with her, and luckily the local library has the complete set so I can order the next book in the series while I am reading the current treasure. 

It can be easy to classify some books into a certain genre and while technically the Cat in the stack books are part of the murder mystery genre they are so much more than that - James blends together humour and complex human relationships to flesh out the town of Athena and its residents.  Charlie is a quiet and unassuming man who is the last person you would expect to become embroiled in murder mysteries, as a semi-retired librarian and archivist he is used to keeping secrets and working by himself - which leads to some of the most hilarious moments in the novels.  Diesel adds another dimension with his unusual size and the fact he accompanies Charlie everywhere, and he adds most of the other hilarious moments.  There is something about this series that is just pure charm, a charm that is missing from other murder mysteries, and I have tried a lot of them in the past six months looking for another series as charming and "murder mystery-ish" as the Cat in the stacks. 

This series is a rare find and hopefully there will be more books in the Cat in the stacks mysteries, even though James is now writing a spin-off series set in Athena.  There is still a lot of potential for more Charlie and Diesel murder mystery solving.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, June 23, 2014

Against their will by Nigel Cawthorne

It always seems so impossible that the same species can produce great humanitarians like Mother Theresa, people who overcome great adversity like Helen Keller and Rosa Parks, and also produce depraved and sadistic individuals like the ones featured in Against their will.

This is one of those thought provoking and disturbing books that will stay with you - not because it is well written (which it is), but because it offers a glimpse behind the curtain into the lives and minds of men who took children and women from their own lives and used them and abused them for their own pleasure.  Some of the stories are ones I was already familiar with due to media coverage that was sent around the world, but others are ones I have not seen before and are heartbreakingly similar in the way the victims were bent and twisted by the will of their captor - and in some cases the stories are very shocking because the victims are so young and vulnerable.

I did not pick this book up because I enjoy reading stories about victims, I picked it up because it is an insight into the darker side of human nature - and because it is a difficult subject matter that should be exposed to people who are willing to pick it up and read it.  If the parents of young children were to read this book they would be more vigilant about where their children can go and the people they let into their lives, and if young women read this book they might be more careful about the places they go with men who promise them the world, and for people who have survived this kind of abuse it may give them hope and the knowledge they are not alone.

Cawthorne could easily have gone down the road of sensationalism and graphic recounting of the capture and confinement of the victims, but he does not, there are detailed accounts but they are not gratuitously graphic.  His writing style lets you feel an amazing amount of empathy for the victims, but not to the point that you feel physically ill about what they faced.  There are some truly shocking stories here, and they were perpetrated all around the world - and it makes you realise that there are sick people all over the world.

The stories that make up Against their will include - Jaycee Lee Dugard, Elisabeth Fritzl, Elizabeth Smart, Natascha Kampusch, Steven Stayner, and Katie Beers.  Some are well known stories drawn from the media headlines of the past decade or so, while others look further back into the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's.  These are shocking stories, but each of them has something to teach us about how we can help prevent further abductions.

This is not a light read, nor is it a book for the faint hearted.  There are other stories out there of abuse and neglect of children and women, and some of them are truly horrifying.  Take your time reading Against their will and take a break when you need to.  If you read this book and want to read other stories from people who have lived through difficult experiences and trauma, then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Blood red by Mercedes Lackey

This is normally the part of the review where I would warn you about spoilers however - Blood red is part of the Elemental masters series which usually comes with a spoiler warning  BUT Blood red is not set in the same country as the other Elemental masters books so you can read this as a guilty pleasure all on its own, there is no need to read the other books in the series first!

Rosamund is an Earth Master who has grown up in the Schwarzwald after her parents abandoned city life when they realised that city life was poisoning their daughter and making her ill.  In their quiet country life Rosa is finally able to breath easily and relax, and with the help of Grossmutter Helga she is learning the basics of her elemental magic - although all the things that are supposed to be easy for an Earth Master seem frustratingly difficult for her to master.  When she meets a stranger on the way to visit Grossmutter Helga, all of her instincts warn her that he is not to be trusted - and when she finally reaches Grossmutters house she realises what her instincts were trying to tell her.  Taken into the care of the Schwarzwald Lodge, Rosa begins to learn the skills of a Hunter, and learns that her Earth magic is not the magic of healing and growth, but rather than magic of hunting and tracking to clear the land of dark and dangerous beasts.

Years later and Rosa is a Hunt Master in her own right, one of the few women with the physical and magical abilities to hunt and kill the creatures that prey on the innocent.  It is on the trail of a vampire that Rosa first encounters a type of werewolf that triggers memories of the past and the creature that attacked her as a child.  As a Hunter she always has intense satisfaction when she ends the life of another shifter who has used blood magic to change their form.  On the way back to her home she finds herself detoured to the home of the Graf, an old friend of her mentor, and while she is there she learns about a danger that has haunted a quiet part of Transylvania for decades, taking dozens of lives each year.  Determined to investigate the problem she finds herself with an unexpected ally - a shifter who changes not by curse or by dark spell, but because the ability to shift is in his blood.  To catch the dark creature they must Hunt together, but first Rosa must lose her distrust of shifters.

It is difficult to review a book like Blood red without sounding too shamelessly gushy.  I love the work of Mercedes Lackey - her world building, her turn of phrase, and the way she can take familiar stories and make you part of the story, feeling the twists, the turns and the emotions.  Of all her series I particularly like the Elemental masters series because it takes the tales we know so well from our childhood and makes them something new and exciting we can rediscover as adults - but also bound by rules and conditions that make them more "realistic".  In the case of Blood red I also adored the use of German phrases, as someone who is half Dutch so many of the words seemed familiar and comfortable (even though I am not fluent in Dutch).  It was also nice to just take a break from England for a change too, although it is not "officially" part of the series I have always loved the Fire rose, which for me is the first book in this series (the fact it is set in America appears to be the main reason it is not part of the series).

This series will not appeal to everyone, and there are a few books in the series that feel like they have "missed their mark a little", but Blood red is definitely one of the better ones.  It was nice to read a story where the mythology is subtly woven into the story, rather than having the story forcibly bent to fit the original idea.  Rosa is a well rounded character, and one I hope we get to visit again in the future as she can more than hold her own!

If you like this book then try:
  • The Fire rose by Mercedes Lackey
  • The serpent's shadow by Mercedes Lackey
  • Reserved for the cat by Mercedes Lackey
  • Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey
  • Firebird by Mercedes Lackey
  • Deerskin by Robin McKinley
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley
  • Rose daughter by Robin McKinley
  • Spindle's end by Robin McKinley
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The One by Kiera Cass

The One is the sequel to both The Selection and The Elite so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first two books.  If you like to read series in order then don't read any more of this review until you have read The Selection and The Elite.

The Selection is coming to an end, and Prince Maxon is expected to announce his choice soon.  Over time America has come to realise that she does love Maxon, but there are a lot of complications in her life - the least of which is her connection to Aspen.  As the time for Maxon to make his final choice draws closer the four girls find themselves in the awkward position of competing for the same person, a fact that is placing strain on their already complicated relationships.  When she is not worried about Celeste and her popularity, Elise and her connections, or the close relationship Kris also seems to have with Maxon, America is worried about the attention she is receiving from the King.  The King has no time for America and wants her gone, and it is only Maxon's determination that really keeps her in the palace - although America is increasingly aware that leaving the palace is the last thing she wants to do.

As her love for Maxon grows, America holds onto her pride, refusing to tell him that she loves him - unless he says it first.  Blowing hot and cold is confusing for both of them, and tension between them leads to opportunities for the other candidates that are exploited by everyone around them.  When an unexpected ally appears it could be a saving grace for Maxon and his cause, but they want Maxon and America to pay a high price for their support and neither of them is prepared for the consequences of the offer.  Drawn deeper into a tangled web of politics and deceit, America must make a decision - how much of herself is she willing to give up to stay in the running to become the Princess?  Her family, her friendships, and her life are on the line as she must decide which direction she will choose and the price she is willing to pay to keep Maxon - can she abandon her beliefs and convictions by bending to the will of the King?  Will all of the sacrifice and self doubt be worth it when the time comes for Maxon to choose - and what if he doesn't choose her?

The One is the final book in the Selection trilogy and closes off the story of America and Maxon, closing a story arc that has built over the first two novels and crashes to a close in the final book of the series.  The dystopian genre is still going strong, and there are a multitude of takes and angles on the idea - from the extremes of the Hunger games and Divergent, through to books like Article 5, and now like the Selection series.  There is a strong theme of social control throughout the Selection series, and while Cass has created a world where the King rules with a cold determination and the poorest of the poor struggle, it is not an overtly violent or cruel dystopian reality. 

The villain of the series is the Southern rebels who seem determined to overthrow the monarchy through a bloody rebellion, but this is an unusual angle for a dystopian novel because usually rebels like this would be the heroes.  Maxon and America form the centre of the series and it is their relationship that drives this series forward rather than just the single character of America or the cast of characters that are built around them.  In some ways this is a series that seems to have been written with a healthy dose of serialised romance novels like those from Mills and Boon (no offence to the author, it is not a negative contrast).  The characters of Maxon and America go through the kinds of misunderstandings and trials that you would normally see in a romance novel, something that became clearer when the three novels are taken as a whole rather than as individual books. 

I have enjoyed dipping my toes into the world of the Selection and while the series ends with The One it feels as though there is more story to tell and I hope Cass returns to this world, even if it is by holding a Selection for the children of Maxon and his chosen bride.  This was an ambitious series and makes a good addition to the dystopian genre - it is a great series for younger teens who want to read in the genre but who have parents that are less than keen for them to read some of the violence and villainy in other dystopian novels.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, June 9, 2014

Saving silence by Gina Blaxill

It starts with an act of violence and a secret that Sam needs to tell Imogen, a secret he has to work up the courage to tell her - but on the night he finally has the courage he is just about run down by a car and only Imogen's quick thinking saves them both from being hit.  That simple act draws Imogen and Sam together, making them both targets.  Desperate to save his family and Imogen from danger Sam leaves home and tries to deal with the danger on his own, but with Sam out of reach the bad guys turn on Imogen instead threatening everything she holds dear.  Imogen desperately wants to get to the bottom of the mystery to keep herself and her little brother safe - but to do that she has to find Sam and discover the secret he has kept hidden.

Saving silence is a deftly written thriller that keeps you hooked as you flick rapidly between Sam and Imogen's viewpoints.  Sam is the quiet newcomer to the school who seems to be apart from everyone else because of the way he dresses and speaks, and because he is keeping a secret.  Imogen is the popular girl who works hard to get the grades she needs to get to university and away from her current life - her family is also splintered by a secret that her parents never talk about.  Told in spare prose with a fast pace, Saving silence was something of a surprise because I didn't have high expectations for the story.  The rapidly changing viewpoints could have been annoying, but it works extremely well for this story, driving the pace and the action forward, but not moving so quickly that you feel like you have missed anything.

While parts of this story are very British and it is obvious that the story is written in the UK, it is a story that translates well for other readers and doesn't feel like it is exclusive to the UK market.  Sometimes when you read a book written for the UK or USA markets the slang and jargon are too much, too obviously something only a person from those countries would understand, but Blaxill seems to have neatly sidestepped that trap.  Saving silence is an excellent introduction to the crime/thriller genre for teens and is written in a very accessible way that makes it appeal to well read teens who will devour this in a matter of hours, but should also not be too challenging for teens who are after an interesting read but who don't necessary have an advanced vocabulary.  This was an interesting read and I look forward to reading more books from Blaxill to see if she is able to keep up the quality of Saving silence in other books.

If you like this book then try:
  • Pretty twisted by Gina Blaxill
  • Forget me never by Gina Blaxill
  • The half life of Ryan Davis by Melinda Szymanik
  • Beast by Ally Kennen
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
  • Rosebush by Michelle Jaffe
  • After by Francine Prose

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Regina's song by David and Leigh Eddings

The story of the Greenleaf and Austin families is twined together in the town of Everett, thirty miles north of Seattle.  A friendship forged in the Vietnam War survived the war and the return stateside creating a brotherhood of choice, an extended family for both of the men that grows to include children.  For the Austin family their child was Mark, and seven years later the Greenleaf family welcomed twins Regina and Renata.  Over the years the close bond between the families turned Mark into a surrogate big brother for twins, who were so identical even their mother couldn't tell them apart without a few tricks - tricks that fell by the wayside when the twins were old enough to undo ribbons and clasps.  The twins have such a strong identity as twins that Mark dubs them the Twinkies, and addressed them individually as Twink.  When Mark moved away to college it could have been the end of the extended family, but he stayed closed with both his own family and the Greenleaf's.

When the unthinkable happens and one of the twins is brutally raped and murdered the remaining twin drops abruptly into insanity, reverting to the twin speak that the twins retained into their late teens.  When Mark visits the remaining Twink in the private asylum she recognises him, even though she doesn't recognise anyone else, and she slowly starts creeping back to the real world.  With the support of her doctor, Mark, and her aunt Mary Twink finally leaves the asylum and returns to the real world, moving to Seattle to live with her aunt while she audits one of Mark's courses at the University.  It seems like she is finally connecting the real world, regaining some of what she has lost, but she still has some bad days where she screams about blood, and wolves, and water.  When a serial murderer starts attacking people in Seattle and Twink starts having more bad days her father wants to bring her home, but Twink is desperate to keep her independence, and while Mark supports her an idea is starting to niggle at the back of his mind about Twink and the murders.

Regina's song is a genre bending novel that defies classification - refusing to fall neatly into any genre while blithely skipping across several seemingly incompatible genre.  This is one of those books that I re-read every five years or so because the atmosphere at times is spine tingling, especially when you get side swiped with aspects of unexpected genre, and while some of the writing is fairly pedestrian and mundane the idea behind the story and the ending is just "wow".  Telling too much about the story ruins some of the punch of the little supernatural twists, but this is one story that you need to experience and enjoy for yourself.  It is a little dated now, having been set in the mid to late 1990's but it is not so dated that you can not thoroughly immerse yourself in the world of small town Everett and the world of the University campus. 

The people who surround Mark and Twink are diverse and strong characters in their own right, and their various specialties add to the depth and strength of the story.  This is a story that is just crying out to be made into a movie or a television mini-series, although admittedly in places it would be a rather gory movie because of the murders.  It took me over a day to read the story because unfortunately the copy I have has really tiny print in an unusual font that makes it difficult to read in low light, but when I got down to the last 40 pages I had to finish in a spring to get to the ending. 

This book will not appeal to the average Edding's fan who likes the usual Edding's fare of gods and goddesses interfering in the lives of mere mortals across several novels, but it is an intriguing read that pushes the boundaries of what you are willing to believe - and pushing you to really examine what you consider to be right and wrong, the difference between justice and vengeance and which one is better.  From the reviews on Amazon it is pretty clear that this book is one that readers either love or hate, with no real middle ground.  It is also one of those books that sits in so many genre that it is not easy to recommend other books to try, but some of the books below may appeal, and some are already reviewed here so you can check out the reviews before borrowing or buying your own copies.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla