Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Ashley project by Melissa de la Cruz

The three Ashley's rule their school - Ashley "A.A" Alioto, Ashley "Lili" Li, and ultimate queen bee of them all Ashley Spencer.  For years they have been at the top of their game and everyone with half a brain wants in their inner circle, or at least permission to hang around the edges and bask in their combined glory.  For years Lauren Page was their victim, one of the many girls who received special attention from the triumvirate of Ashley's, victim of behaviour that is not becoming of a young lady from Miss Gamble's Preparatory School for Girls.

But something has changed over the summer, Lauren is no longer a social zero - since her family became rich the game has changed.  Suddenly money is no problem and Lauren can buy anything she wants, and with plenty of money comes some interesting new friends.  After years of being the outsider Lauren finally has a chance to be someone, but the price she has to pay may be more than she is prepared to pay.  Breaking into the inner circle is just the start of her plan, a chance to bring down the Ashley's from the inside - but that will be a lot harder than she thinks.  Lauren is about to discover that there is money and then there is old money, and that sometimes you have to play dirty to get the upper hand.

I am not a huge fan of really girly books because they always seem to come across as really fake, and with a brilliantly and unashamedly PINK cover like the one on this book just shouted cheesy read to me (which is why I picked it up, figuring it would give me some bubblegum story line to laugh about).  I got way more than I bargained for, discovering a read that is surprisingly deep for a story that seems aimed at really girly girly 'tweens.  Let me be clear here, I am not putting down girly reads or chick lit, it is just not my normal cup of tea.  I was engaged with The Ashley project right from the start, mostly because the rapidly changing viewpoints kept you involved with the action from start to finish, never giving you time to drift away from the story because you were bored or losing track of what was happening.

The Ashley project is a surprisingly deep read with lots of little secrets revealed along the way - secrets about Lauren and about the Ashley's, secrets that make the story that much more real and genuine.  I enjoyed the story in the same way I enjoyed the movie Mean girls, not so much because of the mean streak that runs through the book, but rather because of the OTT cliches of the mean girls, and the shameless name dropping of designers and places.  This is a very American book, both in terms of setting and the story, but it was a fun little read that has me waiting for the next book in the series to see what happens next.  The series has been published before and the books are being released with new titles, so double check before buying to make sure you don't already own a copy.

If you like this book then try:
  • Social order by Melissa de la Cruz
  • Birthday vicious by Melissa de la Cruz
  • Popularity takeoever by Melissa de la Cruz

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The murder complex by Lindsay Cummings

Meadow and Zephyr come from two very different sides of the same coin - growing up in the claustrophobic and controlled world of the Shallows.  In the Shallows everyone knows the four golden rules and everyone obeys, or at least they all pretend to obey them, bending the rules while no one is looking.  Meadow is one of the lucky ones, she has a family and her father has taught her to be a survivor and a fighter - essential life skills in a world where everyone looks out for themselves.  On the other side of the coin is Zephyr, an orphaned Ward who helps keep the world running smoothly by removing the dead and other rubbish from the streets, his life is not perfect but at least he is alive. 

Meadow fights to stay alive, fights to help her family stay alive - and Zephyr tries to live and ignore the impulses that appear out of nowhere urging him to kill.  Their two worlds are set to collide violently as Zephyr strives to connect with the memory of a girl with long silver hair, and Meadow strives to uncover a secret that no one wants exposed.  In a future where disease and death from injury are practically unheard of the murder rate is climbing rapidly and no one seems safe from the killings.  As Meadow uncovers more information about the murders and the reasons behind them she will also discover more about herself and her family - but is she prepared to face the whole truth, or will it be too much for both of them to bear?

The murder complex is a dark and oddly compelling story that is unsettling in its bluntness, but also worms its way into your subconscious and nestles there long after the book has ended.  This is a dark story, there is no questions about that, but it is also a story that carries both hope and a sense of understanding about what would drive an individual (and a society) to make choices like those you find in the Shallows.  These are vague and veiled hints I know, but this is one of those stories where to reveal too much in the review would ruin some of the best parts of the novel - the parts where you peel back the layers and discover the truth at the core of the story.

When people saw me reading a book with such a charming title they asked me what it was about and I found it hard to explain in simple terms.  In basic terms Meadow is raised by a father who systematically challenges and tortures her to teach her the ultimate survival lessons, teaching her to fight and stay alive no matter what the challenge - but she is so much more than that.  Zephyr is the orphan cleaning the streets of human and other types of garbage, hiding the secret he has killed a dozen people but barely remembers the details - but he is so much more than that.  It is over the course of the novel that we get a real measure of Meadow and Zephyr and get a real sense of the challenges they face in their world, and the challenges they have to overcome to move forward. 

There are allies, enemies, traitors, and mind blowing revelations making this an intense and gripping read - but it is also a straightforward and high octane thriller featuring a race against time, with two teenagers facing off against a repressive controlling power in a future dystopia.  There is a lot to like here and very little not to like, it was a treasure to discover and read The murder complex before anyone else I knew so they couldn't ruin the surprises for me - and I promise not to ruin them for you either!  This is one for the more mature teen readers or younger teen readers with support as some aspects of this story are disturbing - even for me as an adult reader.  Thought provoking and profound, the perfect blend of an intelligent read that makes you think, and a fast paced action thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  This is not your average dystopian retelling of the Hunger games, it is a clear and strong voice in its own right (and the ending hints at a sequel ... maybe).

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Survival by Chris Ryan

The Phoenix is a sailing ship with a difference, the crew are teenagers from around the world brought together for a trip of lifetime - well for most of the teenagers on boar it is.  For some of them the trip is more of a nightmare, a prison, a punishment.  Alex, Li, Paolo, Amber, and Hex make up the A-Watch, the most dysfunctional watch on the whole Phoenix.  When they get into trouble they make a decision that lands them in real trouble.  Set adrift on the ocean the only hope they have is to find land, but in the vast space of the ocean there is plenty of water and very little land - water that is full of its own hazards.

When they finally land on an island that will not be the end of their struggles, because to survive they need food and water - and water is a precious resource that is not always easy to find even on a large island.  As long as they are all focused on themselves and their own needs they will fail, because to survive on the island they need more than their own skills, they need the skills of the whole team working together.  It will take all of their skills - survival skills, animal knowledge, medical triage - to get them out of the mess they are in.

Survival is the first book in the ALPHA force series and is an explosive start to a series that focuses on some of the many real dangers people face in our world - exploitation, forced organ harvest, the rape of nature for precious resources - and the team facing these challenges are teenagers with a unique combined skills set.  I first read Survival when it was released more than ten years ago and I was a little bit worried that it may have been terribly dated, but it was surprisingly current and topical.

Chris Ryan was in the SAS and has written nonfiction accounts of the SAS and adult action thrillers for many years, and he has increasingly found his feet in the teen fiction market with a range of series featuring tough as nails teenagers who do things for themselves rather than depending on adults to bail them out of trouble.  The ALPHA force series was one of the first and while the book lacks deep personal descriptions of the characters and a deep look beneath the surface of their psyches - it instead offers a lightning paced story driven by drama and action where you can't help but cheer for the characters as you experience the challenges through their eyes.  While each member of ALPHA force has a unique set of skills, none of them are so perfect that you fail to relate - there is going to be at least one character in the team that real teens will be able to relate to and connect to.

This is a retro read because it is more than ten years old, but this series has stayed in print (or at least been reprinted) and re-reading it reminds me of why I liked the series so much in the first place.  If there weren't so many books to read on my reading shelf I would be launching myself back into the rest of the series (but that will have to wait until I have more reading time free).  This is a series for all reading abilities, and although some of the content in the series is uncomfortable reading, 'tweens should be able to cope with the content as well as the reading level.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Anywhere by Jon Robinson

Anywhere is the sequel to Nowhere so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first book in the series.  This is a series where it is highly recommended that you read the books in order - otherwise you will miss out on the full impact of the series.

They may have escaped from Nowhere, but there are still plenty of challenges for them to overcome if Elsa, Harlan, Alyn, Ryan, Jes, and Julian are going to reclaim their lives.  When they were forced to split up they had no idea if they would see each other again, but nothing will stop them from trying to free the other teenagers still trapped in Nowhere.  At first it seems like an impossible mission, but they should know by now that nothing is impossible - especially when they learn that the people who have locked them up and used them have enemies of their own.

In a race against time the escapees must figure out who they good guys are, who the bad guys really are, and figure out what part of the game they want to play. It seems as though both sides only want to use them as pawns for their own purposes, and it will be up to them to decide their own fates this time.  Separated they are weak, but together they may just find the strength they need to save the teens trapped in Nowhere - and themselves.

It is really challenging to review Anywhere because giving away too many of the "wow" moments will ruin the plot twists and turns - not to mention potentially ruining the momentum of the story.  Once again Jon Robinson has penned a slick, high octane thriller that will keep you glued to your seat to see what happens next for the teenagers that we got to know in Nowhere.  Each of their distinct personalities and voices come into play in this addictive and mind blowing sequel to a book that defied an easy category - is it a thriller, a science fiction, a fantasy, a coming of age?  It doesn't really matter what genre you want to slot this series into because it will shake off that label in a few chapters!

The pace of Anywhere is ruthless, and this is one of those series where you really need to read the series in order as book two picks up right where book one ended, and it looks as though the final book will also pick up where this one left off.  Told through rapidly changing viewpoints Anywhere could have been a disaster, but rather than confusing or complicating matters the short and rapidly changing chapters keeps the action at a fever pitched and keeps you turning pages saying, "just one more chapter, just one more chapter".  A must read for fans of high octane teen thrillers.

If you like this book then try:
  • Nowhere by Jon Robinson
  • Proxy by Alex London
  • The recruit by Robert Muchamore
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Numbers by Rachel Ward
  • Agent 21 by Chris Ryan
  • The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Wolf brother by Michelle Paver
  • In the after by Demitria Lunetta
  • Framed by Malcolm Rose
  • The industry by Rose Foster
  • Jimmy Coates by Joe Craig
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • Finding the fox by Ali Sparkes
  • The hunt by Andrew Fukuda
  • In the after by Demitria Lunetta
  • Arrival by Chris Morphew
  • ACID by Emma Pass

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The castle behind thorns by Merrie Haskell

When Sand wakes up in the fire place of the abandoned old castle it seems like a dream - but quickly turns into a nightmare.  Sand is trapped in the castle by a fierce wall of thorns that reaches for him when he tries to escape and peppers his skin with fever inducing thorns.  Out of a combination of boredom and necessity he starts to mend the broken items in the castle, and there is plenty of damage to repair.  Some powerful force has worked its way through the castle, splitting walls and doors, tearing strips out of wall hangings and bedding, and ripping metal objects in two.

One of the first things Sand repairs is not so much a what as a who, a person who died years before yet miraculously returns to life as a result of Sand's care.  Refusing to believe in magic, it takes time for Sand to come to terms with the appearance of Perrotte, but there is more than one kind of magic at work here.  As they repair the items they need to stay comfortable, they both discover other changes around them.  Both Sand and Perrotte are keeping secrets though, and one of those secrets could destroy all they have worked for.  As their work on the castle progresses, Perrotte and Sand learn more about themselves, about each other, and that the most powerful magic of all is a true friendship.

It is not often that I come across a book that I read from cover to cover even though the book bugs me in some way - but The castle behind thorns was one of those books.  The elements of a truly magical quest story are all here, but the story lacks the sparkle that would normally make a book like this soar and become an unforgettable tale.  The idea behind the story was what kept me turning the pages, even though the writing was at times stilted or very cliche.  Sand is an interesting character but seems a little two dimensional  he never truly seems to show his strength of character.  Perrotte is also interesting because of the deep hurt she carries and her need to take back what is hers, but she also seems at times to be very flat and a cliche of the spoilt princess who must make good.

While I didn't become completely absorbed in the story and lose myself in the world of Perrotte and Sand, this is an intriguing concept that will appeal to readers who like a little mystery and conspiracy mixed in with their fantasy, or a quest story where the characters really need to overcome challenges before they can succeed.  This is not the best example of a fantasy/quest/righting the wrong story, it was an interesting diversion that will appeal to readers who like to be challneged by their reading.

If you like this book then try:
  • The girl of fire and thorns by Rae Carson
  • Alanna the first adventure by Tamora Pierce
  • Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix
  • Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
  • The safe-keepers secret by Sharon Shinn
  • The secret prince by D. Anne Love
  • The half-men of O by Maurice Gee

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wind Dancer by Chris Platt

Ali and her best friend Cara have no idea of the consequences they will face when they sneak into a neighbours barn in search of two starving horses.  For weeks they have watched the steady decline of the horses from healthy and energetic, to skinny and lethargic.  A complaint to animal welfare does nothing, so they decide to find the horses themselves.  What they find are two pathetic horses that are close to death, but their anonymous call to animal welfare suddenly drops them in a whole lot of trouble.
When Ali's parents find out she and Cara snuck into the barn in the middle of the night they ground her for sneaking out - but they also make arrangements for the two horses to be delivered to their property so they can get the care they need to get back on their feet and healthy.  Ali doesn't know what to do, she has had very little to do with horses since the death of her beloved pony, she doesn't want the horses there but she aslo feels a little responsible for them.  
To make matters even more complicated Ali and her family have to deal with the emotional roller coaster ride that is her brother Danny.  Danny came back from the war missing part of his leg, but he also seems to have lost some of his spirit as well.  He has shut himself off from the rest of the family, but he seems to have a connection with one of the rescued horses, and Ali can't help but feel a little hope when the horses seem to improve - but are looks deceiving?
Wind Dancer is a quick read for older children that deals with two very difficult and confronting issues - veterans returning from war with PTSD and physical wounds, and the neglect of animals.  What could have become a dark and dreary read is instead a story of discovery and hope as Danny and Ali learn more about each other and the challenges each are facing, balanced with the realism of the concern of their parents and the real challenges Danny faces because of his missing leg and PTSD.  
The issues covered make this book most suitable for older children and 'tweens as younger readers may struggle with the emotional content, and they would generally lack the understanding of the horrors of modern warfare and the psychological and physical impact it has on veterans.  For me Platt struck the right balance between expresing the challenges Danny and Ali face, while not becoming too graphic or bogged down in detail.  Children should not be protected from the harsh realities of the world, and age appropriate stories like Wind Dancer offer parents the opportunity to expose their children to the darker side of life without the content being too dark or heavy for them to handle.
If you like this book then try:
  • A dog called Homeless by Sarah Lean
  • 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
  • Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
  • My friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara

Reviewed by Brilla

The tyrant's daughter by J.C. Carleson

When her father is murdered by her uncles assassin Laila, her brother, and her mother flee the only home she has ever known for an uncertain future in the United States of America.  She has lived the life of a princess, a life of privilege and protection, safe in a bubble that protected her from the truth about her family and the country they rule.  Her father was the king, her brother the prince, and now that is all gone - only the memories are left.  But in America Laila learns that what she has always known is not the whole truth, her father was not the king, he was a dictator who ruled their Middle Eastern country with an iron fist and deadly control.  It is a shocking discovery that makes Laila question everything she knew about her father and everything she knows about their life as a family.

In America it is easy to be just another person, another refugee leaving their past behind.  When she has to start school it quickly becomes clear that school is a chance for a new start, a chance for her to learn how to adapt to her new home, a chance to be just another teenagers.  America offers incredible freedom and at the same time shows incredible waste - food is processed and packaged and wasted, such a change from the freshness and lacking-ness of her old life.  As Laila learns more about her father, and learns more about her mothers plans, she also discovers more about herself and how far she is willing to go.  As she sheds her veils and her ignorance, Laila also discovers who she truly is and what she is willing to do for the people in the country she once called home and for the people who share her new world in America.

The tyrant's daughter is a thought provoking novel that is very different to the kinds of books I would normally read and I am very glad that I picked it up after seeing the book reviewed on an email newsletter.  The book is so vague in the descriptions of Laila's home country that it is easy to picture a wealth of possibilities, especially as there is so much conflict in some parts of the world at the moment and while there are echoes of the past there are also warnings for the future.  Through Laila we discover just how easy it is for children to be raised ignorant of what their parents do, to see just how easily a person can be despised as a tyrant by the rest of the world and yet loved by their family.  Laila feels like a genuine voice, and at times her voice seems to be the only sane voice in her new world as everyone else tries to push their own agendas or simply get their own way.

J.C. Carleson is a former undercover CIA officer and it is her knowledge and "feel" for international events that makes this book so real and believable - while it is a work of fiction Carleson admits to including events and ideas that are based on a variety of truths.  While this was a well written book with an engaging cast of characters and events, it is also clear that this story has the potential to be a powerful teaching tool for assigned reading for high school students around the world.  There are so many possibilities for themes here that it is mind boggling - self discovery, heroes and villains, war and peace, American interference with international events, and so on.  It seems even more poignant reading this story at a time when the conflict has ramped up yet again between Israel and Palestine - it makes you look at who holds the power there and what desperate people will do when they are denied access to food and essential medical supplies. 

The tyrant's daughter has the potential to become a modern classic alongside titles like Z for Zachariah and Tomorrow, when the war began.  There is no gratuitous violence, no exaggeration, this is a story told plainly and with passion - seeing the world through Laila's eyes once all the veils are lifted is enough to give this story incredible impact.  This is not a story for every reader, some will struggle to finish, but it is one of those books for me, one I am glad I picked up and read because it is a unique book with a unique voice that deserves to be discovered and read for its own merits.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Code red lipstick by Sarah Sky

Jessica Cole is not your average teenager, first of all she is an up and coming teen model, and secondly her dad is a retired MI6 operative.  With a father who was a spy it was natural for him to transition into the world of private detective services, but most people would be more than a little surprised to know that he has been teaching Jessica some of the tricks of the trade over the years.  When her father goes missing and his secret office is ransacked, Jessica reaches out for help - only to be told to sit tight and do nothing because her father is wanted for questioning for dodgy dealings.  Knowing her father is tantalisingly close (just across the Channel in Paris) makes doing nothing torture, especially when she is told to stay away from Paris.

With no choice but to strike out on her own Jessica wrangles a trip to Paris out of her modelling agency - Couture Week is the perfect cover.  But nothing is ever simple when spies are involved, and it quickly becomes clear that even with all the tricks and skills her father taught her she is in over her head.  Jessica is in a race against time to find her father before the required evil mastermind completes their evil plan - of course to stop the back guy you have to figure out who it is first!  There are lots of players in this spying game, and all of them seem to be getting in the way as Jessica desperately searches for her father.

Code red lipstick is the first book in the Jessica Cole model spy series and was a charming diversion from all of the intense dystopias and action thrillers I have read recently.  Teen spies and model spies have been a "thing" for the past few years, gaining popularity with characters like Alex Rider and evolving to include series like CHERUB - ranging from serious and intense through to the sublime and the ridiculous.  Jessica Cole sits somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, there are cool gadgets and real danger, but at times it is a little hard to take the book seriously when the main character is a model whose role is usually to sit there and look pretty. 

I wasn't expecting too much from this read, a little escapism and a giggle, but what I got was so much more and I was disappointed when I couldn't read the book in one sitting because I wanted (okay at times needed) to know what came next.  In many ways Jessica has a lot in common with Alex Rider, while there is a grounding in reality the story stretches your believability to the limits and makes it clear that this is fiction not fact.  The story is suitably complicated, it is not clear who the bad guys are as they don't obviously wear black hats or show their cards too early which helps keep the tension high right up until the end.  If you want a fun read with a bit of substance then Code red lipstick may just be the book for you.  Really looking forward to more books in this series to see if Sky can keep up the quality writing, and to see what happens next for Jessica.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Dragon shield by Charlie Fletcher

Will and his sister Jo are in the hospital waiting room when the world around them freezes in time, along with everyone around them.  At first it looks like someone is playing an elaborate prank on them, but as they explore it becomes clear that something is going on, something that is too mind boggling to take in - and then they see the dragon!  Will and Jo have just discovered a world they never knew existed, one where the statues of London come to life and move around on their own, a world that Regulars like Will and Jo are never meant to see.  To make matters even worse, Will and Jo seem to be targeted by the Taints, the dragons and other creatures that have statues all over London.  Their only help comes from the Spits, the statues of men and manlike beings who also inhabit the streets of London.  Without realising it, Will and Jo have found themselves caught up in an ancient battle, one that is held in check by the most fragile of agreements between the Taints and the Spits.

When Jo is snatched away, it is up to Will to save her, but when you fell like a coward and a liar it is difficult to be brave - especially when the enemy is all around you and ready to pounce the moment you are least prepared.  Separated Jo and Will are weaker than they are together, but it is only when they are apart that they can start piecing together the pieces of the puzzle - and start to figure out how to bring the pieces together so they can save the rest of the world.  An ancient power has risen from a sleep that has lasted for centuries, a power that wants nothing more than to punish the world for centuries of forced oblivion.  Jo and Will may be all that stands between the power and what it wants - and they are very ill equipped for the battle ahead.

Dragon shield is the first book in a new trilogy from Charlie Fletcher, who has previously introduced us to the world of Spits and Taints in his previous trilogy of Stone heart, Iron hand, and Silver tongueDragon shield is written for a younger audience than the original trilogy, but the same creative energy that drove the Stone heart trilogy also drives this series, albeit with a slightly easier reading level and a shorter novel.  The world created by Fletcher is unique and intriguing - how many times have you walked past a statue and really stopped to look at (or stopped to see if it is exactly the same as the last time you saw it). 

The realism and thought that has gone into this world made me look at statues differently, and what makes it so creepy at times is that this is our world, not some far flung place of pure fantasy.  This was the start of statues being a little creepy, made much worse by the weeping angels of Dr. Who fame (shudder).  This is an imaginative and engaging start to a fabulous new series from a fresh voice in the fantasy genre, a read you can really sink your teeth and your believability into - this is a fantasy for the reader who loves adventure and mystery, with a dash of magic that could be just around the corner.  Hopefully the rest of the series lives up to the promise of this first outing.

If you like this book then try:
  • Stone heart by Charlie Fletcher
  • The eighth day by Dianne K. Salerni
  • Maddy West and the tongue taker by Brian Falkner
  • The Menagerie by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland
  • Pangur ban the white cat by Fay Sampson
  • The star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson
  • The mysterious howling by Maryrose Wood
  • Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo
  • Northwood by Brian Falkner
  • Finding the fox by Ali Sparkes
  • Hollow Earth by John Barrownman and Carole Barrowman
  • The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
  • Ella enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
  • Museum of thieves by Lian Tanner

Reviewed by Brilla

The 100 by Kass Morgan

Hundreds of years ago the lucky few escaped the destruction of Earth for the safety of space and their descendants now live as Waldenites, Arcadians, and the privileged Phoenecians.  Life is maintained through a series of strict laws, where serious infractions are met with a death sentence - life is sacred, but the well being of the masses outweighs the well being of the few.  Juvenile offenders are Confined until they are eighteen and can be tried as adults, while adult offenders are sentenced on the spot.  There has always been hope that a teenager may receive a reprieve at their retrial, but lately no one has been successful and there is a distinct lack of hope amongst the juvenile population in Confinement. 

When one hundred of the confined teens are bundled into a space ship and sent to Earth it may seem an act of mercy, but in reality they are nothing but human guinea pigs as the ruling powers of the space colony seek a desperate solution to their dwindling supplies.  As the brave new "colonists" try and survive their strange new world on limited supplies old memories resurface and old betrayals rise to the surface as they wait for their lives to end in what they have always been told is a toxic, poisoned landscape.  What they find is a strange world that seems oddly untouched, where the trees are huge and somewhat intimidating, and the animals are vaguely familiar but somehow different.  As they attempt to forge new lives for themselves, some find it more difficult to shake off their pasts than others, and they don't know that there are greater challenges ahead.

I sought out The 100 after watching the pilot episode of the television series based on the book - basically I wanted to see if the book was better, the same, or worse than the series.  What I quickly discovered was that the television series is truly "based" on the book and is not a faithful copy, diverging from the book in several key areas right from the start.  I was somewhat relived as there is nothing worse than having a television series or movie that follows the book really closely and then goes off on a tangent, or even worse is nothing more than the book faithfully transferred from the page word by word and scene by scene. 

The 100 is not your typical dystopian novel for teens, and it is not your typical survival story for teens, it takes elements from both genre and blends them into a seamless and gripping adventure read.  Told from alternating viewpoints you get a much clearer idea of what is happening for the main characters as they experience events through different circumstances - you also get a chance to hear different voices which makes the story seem much more genuine.  Humming along quietly in the background is a sense of conspiracy, a little sense of danger on the horizon, and as you read more of the story you come to realise that while people may have been forced together to survive there will always be people who feel that they have more rights than other people just because of who they are.

If you enjoy a good adventure story with a tightly written and well paced plot then you will enjoy The 100.  If you enjoy a good dystopian read where there is something more than a little bit rotten at the core of the government then you will enjoy The 100.  If you enjoy teen series where the teens are bright, independent, and can figure their way out of pretty much any jam then you will enjoy The 100.  If you enjoy a romance story with a dash of adversity then you will enjoy The 100.  If you enjoy a good read that will keep you turning the pages because you can't wait to see what happens next then you will enjoy The 100.  If you like a good read that will keep you waiting for the sequel, then guess what - you will probably enjoy The 100.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dragon on trial by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland

Dragon on trial is the second book in the Menagerie series and this book review contains ***SPOILERS*** because the action picks up right where the first book in the series left off.  This is a series where it is highly recommended that you read book one before you read book two - so check out The Menagerie before reading any more of this review!

It was a huge relief for Logan and his new friends Zoe and Blue to find all the griffin cubs and have them back in the Menagerie before the dreaded SNAPA inspection, but now they have even bigger problems to deal with!  Someone snuck into the aviary and killed Pelly, the (completely annoying and self obsessed) goose that lays the golden eggs.  It is a huge shock for everyone, not only because it is Pelly's golden eggs that help keep the Menagerie afloat, but also because it looks as though one of the dragons is to blame for her death.  Scratch is not the most likely of villains, but he is definitely keeping a secret and looking guilty about something - not a good thing when you are on trial for murder and the penalty is a visit from the executioner.

It is a race against time for Zoe, Logan, and Blue to find out what really happened to Pelly and clear Scratch's name in the process.  But there is more than one mystery floating around the Menagerie, and Zoe's older brother Matthew is keeping secrets from the rest of the family.  As Logan learns more about the Menagerie and meets more of the mythical creatures that call the sanctuary home, he also realises that his father is also keeping secrets from him, secrets about his mother.  As Logan and his friends race against tie to save Scratch, Logan learns more about his new world, and learns that maybe he had more in common with his mother than he thought  because Logan is showing a natural talent for Tracking that could lead him deeper into the world of the Menagerie.

Dragon on trial is the second book is the sequel to The Menagerie and leaps straight back into the story without a pause - not a bad thing when you have read the first book recently and the action is really well paced, but maybe not so great if you have to wait a while between books!  The world of the Menagerie is well defined and has some amazing characters, including all the mythical creatures that call the Menagerie home.  Who would have thought that unicorns could be so snooty, or that a yeti would weave fabric from his own hair, or that dragons would sound a little like Yoda - it is always a pleasure to read the characters words and actions and have them leap off the page (even though I think I would stuff Pelly back into the book even if she offered to pay me in golden eggs!).  Rather than being a gimmick, the mythical creatures are characters in their own rights, and they bring this charming story fully to life.

There is a conspiracy in this book, there were hints in the first book, and in the second book that conspiracy comes out of the shadows a little bit - or at least one of them does.  It is fantastic to see a book for children that is so well described, with a complex and engaging story that makes you think about what you are reading and what is happening - a chance to try and figure out what is really going on.  That sense of world building and mystery is balanced with a sense of fun and a great sense of humor as Logan, Zoe, and Blue make some assumptions with rather hilarious results.  I can't wait to get my hands on book three to see what adventures they will face next.  A great all round read for boys and girls of all ages.

If you like this book then try:
  • The Menagerie by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland
  • The world around the corner by Maurice Gee
  • Into the land of the unicorns by Bruce Coville
  • Pangur ban the white cat by Fay Sampson
  • Stone heart by Charlie Fletcher
  • Red rocks by Rachael King
  • The mysterious howling by Maryrose Wood
  • Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo
  • Northwood by Brian Falkner
  • Finding the fox by Ali Sparkes
  • Hollow Earth by John Barrownman and Carole Barrowman

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, August 8, 2014

Furious Jones and the assassin's secret by Tim Kehoe

Seven months ago Furious Jones (yes that is his real name) lost his mother when she was murdered in a small American town named Galena.  Since his mother died Furious has been living with his grandfather, and when he finds out that his famous author father is going to be in New York he hops on the train to go and see him - and gets more than he bargained for in the process.  While sitting in the audience Furious watches in shock as his father is shot by an assassin in the audience.  It is hard enough explaining to his grandfather that he went to see his father without permission, never mind explaining that he saw his father gunned down as well - not something the average twelve year old has to deal with, but then Furious is not your average twelve year old. 

With no other obvious choices on the table Furious decides to try and solve the mystery of his parents murders, but there are people who will stop at nothing to silence the entire Jones family.  With nothing but his wits and his eidetic memory Furious is about to embark on a mystery solving journey that would leave most adults scratching their heads - and in this case there is more than one single mystery.  Furious knows his mother dies in Galena, but what does that have to do with the latest novel in his fathers bestselling series, a novel that was written at top speed and with a release shrouded in mystery.  As Furious tries to solve the mystery on a tight budget, he also has to dodge the attention of the CIA and the Salvatore crime syndicate - how hard can that possibly be for a smart kid like Furious? 

There is nothing better than picking up a book that lives up to, and even exceeds, your expectations.  I picked up Furious Jones and the assassin's secret based on the blurb and while I was expecting a good read, I was not quite prepared for the slick and well penned read that kept me turning the pages as I tried to solve the mystery and figure out who the bad guy was before Furious could.  The writing reminds me strongly of a James Patterson thriller, a story with the perfect balance between tension, pace, and dropping breadcrumbs so you can try and untangle the story as you read.  I was highly impressed with the deft writing from Kehoe and there is a bright future for both Kehoe and the character of Furious Jones if other stories in this series reach this same high standard.

Out of curiosity I had a quick look at some of the reviews and comments other shave written about Furious Jones and his story, and quite a few focus on the fact that it is unusual for a story written for this age group to feature the deaths (in rapid succession) of his family.  If the deaths were gruesome or gratuitous I would potentially have issues with a book aimed at the 9+ age group having so much death in it, but the deaths are well handled and death is a fact of life for everyone and not something we should "protect" children from.  Some parents may prefer that their child doesn't read this book because of the death of his family, and the deaths of the assassins targets, but that is a personal choice and I would encourage parents to flick through the book for themselves before making a decision about whether their child is old enough to read this series.

An adrenaline fuelled mystery for older children ready to sink their teeth into a twisted mystery with a strong (young) lead character.  Furious Jones and the assassin's secret is an action packed and explosive start of a promising new series for older children and teenagers (and adults who love a good read).  Kehoe is a skilled writer who has created a character that rivals that of those created by James Patterson and he has a bright future as a thriller writer.  Bring on more Furious Jones so we can all see what comes next!

If you like this book then try:
  • A girl named Digit by Annabel Monahgan
  • Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
  • Nickel plated by Aric Davis
  • Forbidden island by Malcolm Rose
  • Burning blue by Paul Griffin
  • Girl, missing by Sophie McKenzie
  • Agent 21 by Chris Ryan
  • Boy soldier by Andy McNab
  • Catch the Zolt by Phillip Gwynne
  • Code Red: Battleground by Chris Ryan
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • Acceleration by Graham McNamee
  • Death cloud by Andrew Lane
  • People's republic by Robert Muchamore
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
  • Don't turn around by Michelle Gagnon

  • Reviewed by Brilla

    Tuesday, August 5, 2014

    Free to fall by Lauren Miller

    Sixteen year old Aurora "Rory" Vaughn has just been accepted to the Theden Academy, a unique high school that offers it graduating students the chance to do almost anything.  Being accepted is a dream come true for Rory, a chance at a bright future free of the constraints of her modest family income.  What Rory didn't know was that her mother also went the Theden Academy, something Rory only discovers because she chooses to go, if she had chosen to stay in Seattle she would never have known about the connection between her new school and her mother.  Going to Theden means leaving behind her best friend Beck and all she has ever known, but it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

    Life at Theden is liberating and challenging, the teachers expect them to be grown up in their choices and decisions and grant them a great deal of freedom - but that freedom also comes with a few strings.  Rory quickly discovers that she is an anomaly even among the exceptional bright and gifted students at Theden.  Most of the students excel in three or four areas, but as a Hepta Rory excels in all areas and that brings the unwanted attention of some people.  As Rory settles into the routine at Theden she begins to hear the voice that should have faded away with her childhood, the voice of The Doubt, and each time she hears that voice Rory worries that she may be slipping into madness like her mother.  

    Walking a knife edge of worry, Rory tries to stay on the straight and narrow, but that is easier said than done.  While exploring the local town with her room mate Hershey Rory meets North and discovers that she has led a rather sheltered life.  North avoids Lux and a lot of the trappings of the modern world, and it is through his eyes that Rory begins to understand some of the dangers lurking under the mundane and normal world she has always know.  When Rory uncovers a shocking secret she begins a race against time to stay alive long enough to uncover the entire secret and the people involved - before they decide to silence her in a quiet and convenient way.  In a world where Lux helps you make all the decisions, Rory is making the dangerous choice to think for herself and she wants people to have the same choice, but there are people in power who will stop at nothing to keep that from happening.

    Free to fall is an intense psychological thriller, a mystery wrapped around an adrenaline ride of conspiracies, self doubt, and self discovery.  Through Rory's eyes we are introduced to a world set slightly in our future where people have hand held devices that contain their lives - identification  money, information - and the Lux app makes all the decisions for them based on their choices and preferences.  Life can be very easy with Lux, you can focus on living your life rather than making choices, and everyone uses it so you fit in with everyone else if you consult Lux.  There are a few weird people who don't use Lux, and there are those people who have dropped out of society, but on the whole people live their lives guided and connected by their hand helds.  Of course no society is perfect, and in this society The Doubt is a voice that prevents people from reaching their potential, a condition that becomes a serious mental illness if The Doubt survives into adulthood - or does it?

    It is unusual to find a book that seems so clearly identifiable as part of a genre (dystopian in this case) that defies the conventions of the genre by being more than it appears on the surface.  When I picked up Free to fall and realised it was 469 pages long I almost put it down again because I wasn't really in the mood for a long read, but having read and enjoyed Miller's last book Parallel I thought I would give it a chance - and I am so glad I did because I ended up devouring the book in just over a day (it would have been less if I hadn't been interrupted by the need to work and sleep).  

    There are a series of complex layers to Free to fall that make it a complete world and one that absorbs you completely - the characters are believable, the world is close enough to ours to be believable, and the mystery/thriller element is deftly executed.  This is a complex story, but not so complex that you can not keep track of what is happening  and there are enough twists and turns to keep it believable.  A thoroughly engrossing and mind blowing read, and it makes you wonder if there is already a company out there like the one in the book - conspiracy theorists would likely agree there is!

    If you like this book then try:
    • Parallel by Lauren Miller
    • Asylum by Madeleine Roux
    • Proxy by Alex London
    • Revived by Cat Patrick
    • The rules by Stacey Kade
    • The here and now by Ann Brashares
    • Altered by Jennifer Rush
    • Mila 2.0 by Debra Drizer
    • Reboot by Amy Tintera
    • Don't turn around by Michelle Gagnon
    • Variant by Robison Wells
    • Burning blue by Paul Griffin
    • Divergent by Veronica Roth
    • What's left of me by Kat Zhang
    • Slated by Teri Terry

    Reviewed by Brilla

    Sunday, August 3, 2014

    The silence of the library by Miranda James

    The silence of the library is the fifth book in the Cat in the stack mysteries so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first four 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 dueClassified as murderFile M for murder, Out of circulation - then you may want to read them first before reading anymore of this review.

    The Athena Public Library is about to host one of the best kept secrets of the girl detective world - beloved author Electra Barnes Cartwright.  Cartwright, known to her most devoted fans as EBC, is nearly one hundred but still sharp as a tack and eager to meet with her fans.  It seems like a dream come true for Charlie who grew up reading the adventures of Cartwright's most famous character, Veronica Thane the teen detective who got into all kinds of adventures.  The resurfacing of such a beloved author is bound to cause waves, and those waves come in the form of some of the most devoted (and eccentric) fans.

    When one of those fans is found murdered, Charlie finds himself slowly sucked into the mystery.  As he tries to sift through the mystery of the murder, Charlie finds himself rekindling his love of Veronica Thane as he chooses some of his own books for the display on girl detectives.  It soon becomes clear that there is a mystery afoot, a mystery that would not be out of place on the pages of a Veronica Thane mystery - a mystery that has everyone scratching their heads.  With the help of his faithful cat Diesel, Charlie is in for another adventure, a who dunnit that would have any detective series fan rubbing their hands with glee as they try and discover who the killer is before the end of the novel.

    I have made no attempt to disguise the fact that I love the Cat in the stacks mystery series, although they are always known as the Charlie and Diesel books in my house.  The series is extremely well written, taking twists and turns and dropping false hints to keep you guessing who did it, often to the very end of the novel.  I have only recently started reading this genre and have already discovered (to my peril and disappointment) that many of these series are vapid, predictable, and insulting to the intelligence of their readers.  In stark contrast the Charlie and Diesel books are warm, engaging, and keep you on your toes as you try and solve the murder before Charlie does.  Diesel is both willing sidekick and ice breaking colleague in a world full of Southern charm.

    Over the course of the series the characters have grown and evolved, but not to an unrealistic degree, or so the characters are unrecognisable.  Each time I pick up the next book in the series it feels like I am returning to spend time with old friends, enjoying the titbits of information about Charlie and his children and the other people in their lives.  Each of the characters is fully formed with their strengths, weaknesses, and human touches that makes them real people who seem to leap off the page.  I just adore Diesel too, and there are times when I can't help but smile because he reminds me of one of my own cats - complete with the chirping and insistence of sitting right where you are, or patting you with a paw to let you know you should be stroking her right now! 

    The one depressing thought is now I have caught up with all the Charlie and Diesel books I have to wait for the next one to be published!  There is a tantalising sneak peak of the first book in a new series from Miranda James in the back of the edition I got - Bless her dead little heart - which features some familiar faces from Charlie and Diesels past.  Hopefully this new series lives up to the high standards I have come to expect from James, and hopefully there will be another Charlie and Diesel book to come soon.

    If you like this book then try:

    Reviewed by Brilla