Thursday, October 30, 2014

Day 21 by Kass Morgan

Day 21 is the sequel to The 100 so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** about what happens in book one.  If you have not already read The 100 then I recommend you do before picking up Day 21.

The 100 have spent the last three weeks struggling to survive in a world that is surprisingly lush and full of life - but they lack the skills to make the most of it and the 100 is no longer an appropriate name for their group.  It is a challenging time made all the more challenging because they are breaking into factions and cliques, everyone struggling to get the best deal for themselves.  With Bellamy and Clarke away from the camp in search of Octavia Wells is left in the unenviable position of trying to keep order in an increasingly chaotic world - and everyone has been thrown into a spin because they have discovered they are not alone.

On the space colony life is just as complicated and Glass is barely hanging on as the people riot and fight for their survival when they are cut off from the supplies and air that sustains them - as the rich and entitled protect what they hold dear.  There is a chance for Glass and Luke to make it, but it will take all of her courage to make the first step and even if she succeeds nothing is guaranteed.  With the air running out and the hope of a new life on Earth looming Glass will have to fight for her chance to live - but the cost may be too high.

As secrets are revealed on the Earth and on the colony, alliances will shift and relationships will break.  The people who fled Earth so long ago are about to return home, but there are not enough ships for everyone to escape and the Earth they return to is not as friendly as they may have hoped.  As the story lines converge the 100 are about to learn the hardest truth of all - sometimes you have to risk it all in the hope of something better.

The 100 series has been a surprising and thoroughly enjoyable treat, a read that keeps you hooked from cover to cover wondering what will happen next and wondering when the next book will be available to enjoy (soon please).  Do not get The 100 book series confused with The 100 television series, they are two distinct voices that make the best use of their media.  The television series is visually appealing and has a strong action element that lends itself to the media of television - it is enjoyable and keeps you guessing what comes next (we have just finished season one here in New Zealand) but I much prefer the book series.  The book series shows a deep understanding of human nature and what people would do in challenging situations - for the good and for the bad.

The sign of a really good book for me is one that almost seems to read itself, where you pick it up and start reading and only emerge at the end wondering where the time went.  Dystopian fiction is the big thing and so many authors are trying their hands at  the "dystopian" thing, some are falling far short of creating a good read - Morgan hasn't created a good read, she has made an excellent read.  There was also a risk creating a series that was turned into a television series as it was being created - there was a huge risk of creating a train wreck of either the series or the television series.  Morgan has managed to create a world that works equally well as a book and television series  and the unique voice of each gives them the ability to stand on their own - you can read the book and watch the series or choose to do one or the other.  

A fabulous read and hopefully we don't have to wait too long for the next one in the series as we are finally gaining some momentum and direction with the two worlds converging.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, October 27, 2014

Some boys by Patty Blount

A group of teenagers party in the woods one night, there is booze and one girl gets drunk and walks away from the group, one of the boys follows her and she is found bloodied and unconscious.  She says she said no and that it was rape, he said she didn't stop him and it was consensual - he says, she says and the town is choosing sides.  Grace has spent more than a month in her own personal hell, ever since Zac took her innocence and left her with a reputation as being the girl who cried rape to get back at the boy who dumped her or the best friend that liked him.  Her whole world has titled on its axis as she becomes the social outcast at school, and her father can't even look at her and avoids her to spend time with his perfect new family.  Grace has drawn her defences around herself and refuses to let the ridicule and bullying get to her, but keeping out the hurt can also mean keeping out the support.

When Ian is punished for talking back to a teacher the punishment doesn't seem too bad compared to the alternative - cleaning lockers through spring break is better than missing out on any of the big games, but on the first day he discovers that he will be cleaning out the lockers with social pariah Grace.  Ian loathes Grace, she is the girl who slept with his best friend and then cried rape, just about ruining his reputation.  It suddenly seems like his week of punishment is worse than he thought, but then he begins to realise that there is more to her story than he thought.  As the week progresses Ian and Grace face a roller coaster of emotions and confusion as they both learn more about each other and themselves.

Some boys is a powerful and painful read, powerful because it tackles a difficult topic with style and class, and a painful read because it is impossible to read without connecting with Grace and her pain.  Date rape is a reality that thousands of girls and women face each year, and it is a reality that doesn't end with the act - everything that lead up to the attack is analysed and weighed up to see if the woman "asked for it".  Patty Blount has done an amazing job of presenting Grace as a whole person complete with strengths, weaknesses, and flaws.  Ian is also well rounded and feels authentic as he tries to understand both sides of the story and ultimately has to question himself and his own actions. 

This is not a novel with a graphically described rape scene, most of the action happens after the fact and is focused on the human part of the story - something I appreciated.  A full blown and violent rape scene would have ruined this story and made it less authentic - rape is not always about a person held down against their will and violated, sometimes it is a man taking advantage of a woman who is in no position to actually say the word "no" or who is unable to follow up that "no" with a physical rejection.  There are so many issues here that are confrontating but they are handled well - Grace was drunk does that mean she asked for it, Grace was dressed to be noticed does that mean she asked for it, and she didn;t push Zac away does that mean she accepted it?  

As you would expect with a book like Some boys there are questions in the back of the book which may help with class discussions about the topic of date rape, and they encourage people to look at themselves and what they would do in the same circumstances.  An intense read that stands on its own as a novel in its own right - as well as being a thought provoking read suitable for class reading by older teens.

If you liked this book then try:

  • The mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess
  • Living dead girl by Elizabeth Scott
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Rape girl by Alina Klein
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
  • How it ends by Laura Wiess
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Jonas lives in a peaceful and ordered community where everyone knows their place and follows the rules.  It is a world of sameness, of order, of clear expectations and understanding.  Jonas knows that when he becomes a Twelve he will learn what role he will play in the community as an adult, but it is an uncertain future.  Some of his year mates already have clear futures because of their volunteer hours and devotion to a certain aspect of community life, but Jonas has tried many different roles and does not know what the Elders have in mind for him.  

His fate is decided when he is designated as the Receiver of Memory, a job that has honour but no power.  Suddenly isolated from his year mates because of his future role and the rules around his training, Jonas must face his uncertain future alone.  As his training progresses Jonas learns more about his community, the world before, and about the previous Receiver of Memory who he simply calls the Giver.  His whole life Jonas has followed the rules and thought he knew what life in the community was really like, but he is about to discover that he really knows nothing and that there are things more precious than order and obedience.

I picked up The Giver because it has just been made into a movie and I wanted to see what the book was based on as movies often make huge changes to the content of the book - sometimes for the better, but often for the worst.  I was pleasantly surprised by the book and the way the story slowly grows and unfurls, presenting one picture of the community and then slowly growing through Jonas's eyes until you get to see the whole of the community and secrets at its core.  

First published in 1993, and the winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, The Giver is a real treat to read for the first time.  While it is an early example of the dystopian theme there seems to be so much more to the story - especially as we see it through the innocent eyes of Jonas.  Modern dystopian novels like the Hunger games have a young person who can clearly see that things are very wrong, or that quickly comes to see things are not right like in The testing.  Jonas is so innocent about the truths under the surface, and because his parents and the whole community are so relaxed and seemingly happy it takes a while for the truth to really sink in and that is what makes this book so powerful.

I have seen the shorts for the movie and it seems as though the big screen treatment has changed a great deal - the least of which is the apparent age of Jonas who looks much older than twelve.  There are other changes in the movie too by the looks of things and it looks as though they may be changes for the worse rather than the better.  I can't wait to read the other three books in the quartet to see what happens in the future, although from reading the blurbs it appears that the future books blend other characters into the story which has the potential to make the series better, but also runs the risk of complicating the simplicity of the story.

If you like this story then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Burn by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Burn is the seventh book in the Michael Bennett series, and while they can be read independently you get the most enjoyment out of the series when you read them in order.  This review contains series ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the entire series.  I highly recommend that you read the series in order, starting with Step on a crack.

You could never describe Detective Michael Bennett's life as boring - not when he has worked on some of the biggest cases in New York, and not when his home life is just as complicated.  He has returned home from the witness protection programme expecting his life to return somewhat to normal, but in the past nine months there has been a shake up and his new assignment is not a return to major crimes - he has essentially been exiled to an apparent dead end project.  Never one to sit on his hands and do nothing, Bennett settles into the new role and tries to shake things up - but he should know by now that things never go to plan, especially in a city like New York.

Bennett has met some seriously twisted people over the years, but a chance comment leads him to the trail of a group of modern day cannibals who hold secret banquets in seemingly abandoned buildings where only the homeless and the junkies can see them.  At first he hears whispers of one and then another, but the evidence is virtually nil and the trail is cold - or so he thinks.  Aside from the quiet insidious banquets, there is the higher profile and elaborate jewellery store heists where a crew of thieves manage to be in and out of their targets in minutes and melt into the crowd without a trace.  Never one to shy away from a challenge Bennett soon finds himself balancing the new and the old as he tries to support his new team while meeting the challenge of major crimes as well.

On the home front he is facing challenges as the family settles into domestic bliss after nearly a year away from home, but it is a delicate balance that can easily be tipped too far.  There loving and chaotic household is about to be rocked to the core by the unexpected not once, not twice, but three times.  Life is never boring for Bennett and his family - but sometimes boring can actually be kind of a nice change of pace.

Burn is the latest offering in the Michael Bennett series and settles into a unique niche in the series, being a book that sees him trying to find his feet after a series of professional and personal upheavals.  Some of the past storylines have been truly explosive and mind boggling in their grandeur, in comparison Burn feels like a return to his police roots a true detective reconnecting with the people of New York at a local level rather than just focusing on the wealthy victims and bizarre crimes.  There are more personal touches for Bennett this time as he faces some very human challenges and his changing relationship with Mary Catherine - it was a chance to really connect with him as a character and what truly makes him tick and who he is.  This is something of a departure from the norm and it was a pleasant surprise to get inside his head a little more than normal.

Compared to other books in the series Burn is more disjointed in terms of storyline and plot development, there are clearly separate stories that seem to be completely unrelated and it is only in the end that everything snaps into place - this was much more realistic of the "real" policing world as was having more than one case in the air at the same time.  While it was not pleasant for Bennett to experience the changed management of the NYPD it was also much more realistic to have him come up against someone who is trying to make him look bad and get him off the force - most people would have some experience with a manager or superior who is insecure and wants you gone because they feel threatened by your reputation and work history. 

This is a very human Michael Bennett and one that leaves behind some of the more far fetched storylines to return to a gritty from the streets view of New York.  Hopefully the next Michael Bennett will be able to hold onto more of this more personal aspect that we have not seen much of to date.

If you like this book then try:
  • Step on a crack by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Run for your life by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Worst case by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Tick tock by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • I, Michael Bennett by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Gone by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • The edge of normal by Carla Norton
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • Pop goes the weasel by M. J. Arlidge
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • The apprentice by Tess Gerritsen
  • Kill switch by Neal Baer and Jonathan Greene
  • NYPD Red by James Patterson and Marshall Karp
  • Kill me if you can by James Patterson and Marshall Karp

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The girl in 6E by A.R. Torre

For three years Deanna has hidden behind the door of apartment 6E and behind the persona of sexcam operator Jessica Reilley.  She is not hiding from the world because she is afraid of the bad people, she is hiding to protect the world from the bad person inside her.  Ever since her mother murdered her family and then herself Deanna has felt a growing need to kill people, a need to feel blood on her skin and watch the life drain out of her victims.  Her apartment is her sanctuary and self imposed exile where she watches the world go by, her only real connection with the outside world is Jeremy the UPS guy who delivers her online orders of food and supplies.  But even Jeremy is always kept at a distance by the steel door of the apartment, scrawling her signature for her before leaving her packages at the door and walking away.

For three years "Jessica" has thrown herself into the world of sexcamming, becoming a highly sought after operator with a booming business and loyal clients.  She is confident and calculating, making the system work for her by carefully breaking the rules to make as much income as possible.  She has more money than she knows what to do with, but the job also helps the quiet the urges.  When one of her clients starts to creep her out with his requests she is torn because while she is happy to play at being "Annie" she has the horrible feeling that there really is an Annie out there - one who is in danger and doesn't even know it.  When her worst fears are realised Jessica takes control and decides to leave the apartment - but at what cost?  Is Jessica really ready to face the world again, and more importantly is the world ready to face Jessica?

There are some books that proudly defy the attempt of publishers and librarians to classify them into a single genre, and it is usually these books that are the most innovative, intriguing, mind-bending - or all three.  The girl in 6E managed to pull off the trifecta of genre bending by combining the best elements of a psychological thriller, sexually explicit romance, and mystery stories to become a unique and addictive read.  Starting with a somewhat startling sexually explicit scene the novel continues to built tension (action and sexual) as the story is built layer by layer and angle by angle before blending together into a seamless action/thriller sequence before settling back into the personal narratives.  The tension building is amazing, and it feels more natural for the story to start as segmented stories that blend together before returning to separate paths - it is what life is like after all, separate lives intersecting and then returning to individual lives.

There are parts of The girl in 6E that are definitely confronting and that some readers may find uncomfortable - in that case stop reading, but you are going to miss out on a treat.  Rather than coming across as sleazy, Jessica comes across as confident, strong, and clearly in control of her clients - her sexcam sessions are powerful and shows she is in total control of her body and her business.  The glimpses into her mind are just as fascinating, she is complicated and all too human as she wrestles with her demons.  This is definitely not a novel for the squeamish or the prudish and while it was not a novel where the content was enjoyable so to speak (I may be a little more prudish than I thought) it was and absorbing read and I hope the hints of a sequel are true because Jessica and her world are well worth visiting and I hope I get to visit again soon.

If you like this book then try:
Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Closer to home by Mercedes Lackey

Closer to home is the first book in The Herald spy series - however this series follows closely on from the Collegium Chronicles series and if you have not read the Collegium Chronicles then there are ***SPOILERS*** for that series throughout Closer to home.  If you like reading series in order then read the Collegium Chronicles before you read Closer to home.

Mags has never had a quiet life, and as a full Herald his life is particularly full of intrigue and danger.  After solving the mystery of where he came from Mags is finally ready to settle down in Haven to as normal a life as he can given he is learning to be the Kings Spy from Nikolas, and hiding his relationship with Amily until they can safely wed.  His hopes of a relatively quiet settling in period are short lived however because two families involved in a bitter feud have arrived at Haven for the Midwinter season and it will take some serious work to keep them apart and away from each others throats.  When a freak accident nearly costs Nikolas his life Rolan Chooses Amily and sends all their plans into a spin.

Suddenly Amily's life is not her own, and she has to balance the intrigues of the Court and the people in it with learning how to be not only a Herald, but the King's Own Herald.  With Rolan by her side and her years of study to support her Amily will have little trouble with the facts and figures of her role, but it is the people that are truly challenging to any King's Own and with a feud at Court it will be even more challenging than normal.  Tasked with keeping the feuding factions apart Mags and Amily are hard pressed to keep up with the mischief and danger as each party maneuvers to get what they want - no matter what the cost.  With the younger generation as eager to fight for what they believe in as the older generation all hell could break loose at any moment.

Closer to home is the latest book set in the world of Valdemar and is both a tease and a satisfying read - a tease because the first book in a new series always drops little hints about what is to come, and satisfying because it always feels like I have reconnected with old friends whenever I reenter Valdemar.  It is not clear if this is the start of a new trilogy or a longer series, for the first time Mercedes Lackey really broke the trilogy mould with the Collegium Chronicles (standalones have happened before but never five books in a series) so there is a chance there could be more than just two more books in the series.  With Mags the focus of the Collegium Chronicles it really feels like this series has picked up where we last left off, more so than the change between previous series set in later time periods.

There is a lot to like here and very little not to like - there are vividly rendered characters, careful plot building, and the beginnings of a story arc that will obviously encompass the rest of the series.  My one bug bear with these novels is the way Mags speaks in some parts of the books, I know he speaks commonly but sometimes it seems as though it is laid on a little it thick and exaggerated just a little too much.  The budding relationship between Mags and his informants, and the unveiling of court secrets for Amily make this both an accessible read and an entertaining one.  I have to confess that I became rather invested in one of the characters and kept rooting for them and hoping things would work out for them, and once again I was often left smiling by the antics and acidic wit of the Companions.  

Hopefully we do not have to wait too long for book two in the series because while this was a satisfying read in itself, you just know that there is something coming on the horizon and that it will probably be big!

If you like this book then try:
  • Foundation by Mercedes Lackey
  • Magic's pawn by Mercedes Lackey
  • Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Burning brightly by Mercedes Lackey
  • Sing the four quarters by Tanya Huff
  • If I pay thee not in gold by Piers Anthony and Mercedes Lackey
  • Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
  • Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
  • The diamond throne by David Eddings
  • Cast in shadow by Michelle Sagara

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pop goes the weasel by M. J. Arlidge

Pop goes the weasel is the sequel to Eeny meeny so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first book in the series.  While you can read this book independently of Eeny meeny you will get the most enjoyment out of reading the series in order as Pop goes the weasel will spoil the surprises in Eeny meeny so avoid ***SPOILERS*** by reading them in series order.

It has been nearly a year since Detective Inspector Helen Grace stopped the serial killer who just also happened to be her sister Marianne, but she is still unsettled by the events and the aftermath which nearly saw her loose her job.  She may be respected by her team, but her new superior officer is playing games and seems to be actively working against Helen.  When a body is discovered with the heart removed it seems like a gruesome and bloody murder but nothing particularly special - until the heart is delivered to the family home in a carefully wrapped package.  Suddenly the murder goes from gruesome to twisted, but it is just a single body - until the second one appears.

Helen Grace and her team are on the hunt for another killer, one that is targeting men who frequent prostitutes, men with cheating heats and hidden secrets.  From the start Helen faces pressure from Detective Superintendence Ceri Harwood, who seems to be playing games of her own with Helen's career and her team. With the discovery of the second body it is clear there is a pattern, but Harwood seems determined to avoid the words "serial killer" and seems equally determine to through Helen into the path of ruthless reporter Emilia Garanita.  For the first time Helen is facing not only a deadly killer, but also a wedge driving its way into her team and professional life.  There are a lot of players in the game this time - and they are playing for keeps.

Pop goes the weasel is the sequel to what was one of my favourite books of 2014 in terms of crime novels/thrillers and I had high expectations for this book and I was not disappointed.  The first novel set the scene perfectly, introducing us to the driven and very human DI Helen Grace, and we now pick up the story nearly a year later when Helen is facing not only a new killer, but also when she is facing a number of personal and professional challenges.  One of the aspects of this book that really resonates with me is how human Helen Grace is - she has made mistakes and continues to make mistakes, she has a new boss that is sending murky signals and keeps her off balance, and she is being hounded by the reporter she loathes - it all makes for a stressful and complicated existence.  Into this complicated world comes a killer who is just as twisted and unique as Marianne.

I have already described Arlidge as being like James Patterson - short punchy chapters drive this story forward and keep up a blistering pace while allowing you the odd bit of breathing space between intense chapters.  The story starts with a bang and keeps up the momentum from start to finish and it is very clear that Arlidge writes for television because this story would translate very easily to the big or small screen - this is not an insult, it is a compliment because the action, tension building, story development and character development are all perfectly balanced.  This is an intense series that leaves you feeling a little rung out in the end, but it is totally worth the ride.

A quick peak on the internet shows that book three in the series is due for release early next year and I for one can't wait to see what happens next for DI Helen Grace and her team.  These stories are dark and twisted, but they also show a deep understanding of the intricacies of the human mind and what can cause ordinary people to snap and do horrible things.  Everyone in the series is flawed in their own way which makes them completely human and all too easy to connect to - this series is a treasured find and I hope there are many more to come.

If you like this book then try:
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • Vodka doesn't freeze by Leah Giarratano
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • One step too far by Tina Seskis
  • The postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • The basement by Stephen Leather
  • The silence of the lambs by Thomas Harris
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • Level 26: Dark origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski
  • Now you see her by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • The postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • Private Oz by James Patterson and Michael White
  • The survivors club by Lisa Gardner
  • Darkly dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
  • Kill switch by Neal Baer & Jonathan Greene
  • The edge of normal by Carla Norton

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, October 17, 2014

The vault of dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien

The Forge School of the Arts is an elite school with a unique angle - the students spend their days crammed with classes, their nights asleep for twelve hours, and their days lived out on live television in the ultimate reality show.  Competition to get into the school is fierce, and even once you are in you are not truly safe because of the 100 teens who enter the school each year, only 50 get to stay.  It is an intense environment to live in, the students are constantly under a microscope and it is all too easy to fall into routines driven by the twelve hour cycles of sleeping and waking.

For Rosie Sinclair the Forge School is a chance for a future, a chance to make something of her life away from the cold distance of her stepfather and an almost certain future as a criminal.  Her old school may have written her off, but at Forge she has the chance to develop her talents as a film maker - but only if she survives the cut and makes it into the class.  When she breaks the rules and stays awake one night Rosie discovers that there is more to Forge than she knew, and this single discovery leads to a spiraling nightmare of uncovered conspiracies and discovered half conversations that convince Rosie of the danger that lurks beneath the surface.  The only bright spark in her life is her relationship with Linus, but even that may not be what it seems.  With the odds stacked against her, Rosie is about to play the biggest game of her life large and in person, streamed live from the halls of Forge.  Is it a game she can win though, or will the gamble she is about to take cost her everything?

The vault of dreamers is a fascinating and addictive read that has several different layers and secrets joined into a seamless whole that keeps you constantly on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next.  Some of the elements of this story I have seen before, but never have they been brought together into a seamless package that makes you wonder what Rosie really knows or thinks she knows, and what you really know or think you know as the story twists and bends from start to finish.  In some ways the plot reminds me a little of Total Recall - do we ever truly know if Arnie's memory was wiped to hide a secret or if the while movie was the implanted memory?

Rosie makes a fascinating point of view for the readers and as we discover so much through her eyes it is important to feel connected to her straight away - and to be honest I felt the connection because I am always one to question, to challenge, and the explore to understand.  The story does seem a little unbalanced though, there is too much Rosie and not enough of the other characters which can come across as a little shallow or sketchy, even Linus the apparent secondary lead at times seems to be a shadow of what he could be.  This is more a distraction than a detraction, but it felt like the story could have been stronger if we heard more of the voices of the other characters.

I was excited when I picked up The vault of dreamers because it looked like it was a stand alone novel, but once I finished I realised this was the first book in a series and to be honest I felt a little cheated - it seems a promising start to a series but sometimes you just want to read a stand alone.  While this is a dystopian novel in the true sense (looks all peachy on the surface but something is not quite right) it is not as heavy as others in the genre - the impact is more on Rosie and a select few rather than a whole society or section of society.  There is a deeper meaning beneath all the dystopian and reality television references that make you wonder and question yourself which means it fits really well with the psychological and crime thriller genres too.

I don't always look at other peoples reviews when writing my own, but every now and then a book comes along that makes me curious about what other people think, and The vault of dreamers was one of those books.  Reviews from other readers are quite mixed, some saying the book is predictable and dull, while others can't stop raving about how great it was.  I think it was a really good/great read, but not a mind blowing and enthralling read - this is one for you to make your own minds up about.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Jewel by Amy Ewing

Violet is one of the lucky ones, a girl with the ability to help the royal family by carrying one of their babies -  a girl raised in the poorest ring who will one day live in Jewel the rich centre of their world.  It is a great honour to help the royal family who are unable to have children of their own, and for years Violet and the other girls have been groomed and trained for their future life.  They are given plenty of food to eat, learn skills to impress their future mistresses, but they also have no contact with their families and must live with the knowledge that they will be sold at auction and become the property of their new mistress.  It seems a distant thing to worry about until the day Violet's own auction arrives and she has to leave the only world she has ever known behind.

The world of Jewel is just as decadent and amazing as promised, but Violet soon realises that her life and body are not her own and that she is not truly safe.  Her new mistress is not what she expected and her new home is full of surprising luxury and uncertain demands.  It appears that she has some control over the baby that will grow inside her, but both her mistress and the doctor seem to be keeping information from her as they exchange knowing looks.  The more time she spends in the house the more danger she faces, especially when one of the other surrogates from her auction is murdered.  When an unexpected ally reaches out to help her Violet must choose her fate - but at what cost?

The Jewel is the first book in a new series and it is a surprisingly deep and emotional read, one that drills deeper into the dystopian genre/idea than a lot of the other novels that all the rage at the moment.  In many respects this is a truly dystopian novel because it starts with hope and promise, and it is only as the story progresses that we realise that there is something very rotten at the core of Violet's story and the society she lives in.  It is very easy to slip into Violet's world and to see that world through her eyes as the different layers of lies and illusions are removed day by day. 

In a lot of ways it is very refreshing to read The Jewel because it doesn't treat teenagers as idiots or as delicate flowers that need protecting from the horrors of the world, yet at the same time it is not about gratuitous violence or shocking scenes designed to provide cheap thrills.  Too often I have read books where the story seems to be about cashing in on the latest craze without too much effort, but that is simply not the case here and I sincerely hope that more people give The Jewel the benefit of the doubt despite the apparent clich├ęd content because this is a treasure that deserves to be found - richly imagined, lovingly crafted and polished, and flawlessly delivered for your entertainment and reading pleasure.  The only disappointment here is having to wait for the next book in the series to see what happens next!

If you really enjoy The Jewel and want to try an equally stunning debut then make sure you read Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, October 10, 2014

The crawling terror by Mike Tucker

Sometimes the TARDIS puts the best laid plans to the test, dragging the Doctor and his companion to a completely unexpected adventure - and it has happened yet again.  Clara was expecting far flung places, the past or the future, not to be standing in the middle of sleepy little Ringstone.  It seems like an odd place for the TARDIS to bring them, what could possibly be wrong in such a quaint old fashioned village?  The illusion of peace is shattered when the Doctor and Clara discover a body hanging from a giant spider web - although luckily the giant spider is not at home (for the moment). 

Exploring their surroundings leads them to the discovery of more giant insects, and the even more alarming fact that the entire village has been cut off from the outside world by the invading insects.  Clara didn't have high hoped for an adventure in Ringstone, but there is a mystery in the village that has been waiting a very long time, a secret that could destroy not only the village but the whole world.  It is up to the Doctor and Clara to save the day, but first they have to get to the bottom of the monster insect mystery - and that may not be as easy as it sounds.

Reading books based on television series can be a real hit and miss affair - some are mind blowingly authentic, while others make you wonder if the author has even seen the show (or whether they just enjoy turning your favourite characters into cardboard cut outs of themselves).  Luckily for me, The crawling terror falls firmly into the first camp, it was an authentic and rich story that fits in well with the mythology and characters of the twelfth Doctor and Clara.  The world building and character building was spot on, it feels like an episode from the start to the finish, complete with trade marked Doctor sarcasm and charming companion quips.

I have to confess that I was not instantly in love with the new incarnation of the Doctor, but now several episodes in (we are a little behind here in little old New Zealand) he is starting to grow on me and at times I could hear him delivering the lines in the book in his usually dry fashion.  One of the benefits of writing this as a novel instead of an episode is they don't have to worry about how the special effects team are going to make the monsters come to life, which means in some respects the story is a little scarier because your mind builds the visuals and the monsters (and all I can say is giant spider *shudder*).

Hopefully there are more novels to come from Mike Tucker as he has captured the character and flair of the Doctor and Clara and brought to life a niggly little worry that many of us secretly have (even if we don't always admit it) - giant bugs and spiders creep most of us out!

If you like this book then try:
  • Doctor Who: The blood cell by James Goss
  • Doctor Who: Silhouette by Justin Richards
  • Doctor Who: The kings dragon by Una McCormack
  • Doctor Who: Nuclear time by Oli Smith
  • Torchwood: First born by James Goss
  • Something in the water by Trevor Baxendale
  • X-files: Skin by Ben Mezrich

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Blackbird by Anna Carey

We take so much for granted like knowing who we are and where we have come from.  What would you do if you woke up on train tracks with no memory of who you are, no knowledge of where you have been, and no idea why you are there.  Would your instincts tell you to run, would they tell you to hide, would you know who to trust?  When she wakes up on the train tracks it is a shock, as is the completely vacant sense of self in time and space, all she has is her backpack and a tattoo on her wrist that in itself offers no clue.  In the backpack are the essential supplies to survive for a few days at least - money, clothes, map, knife, but no other clues.  Driven by instinct she runs from the people who try to help her, but that drives her into the path of people who clearly want to kill her.  She is in a race against time - and time is not her friend.

Blackbird was a unique thriller in so many ways - told from an unusual viewpoint, written with a deft touch for pace and tension, and just blowing your mind with its unexpected twists and turns.  I was not sure what to expect, but I was not expecting such a tense and deftly written thriller that leaves you wondering what you will find when you turn the next page.  It is somewhat unnerving and disorientating to not have a name for your character, especially when you are seeing everything through their eyes and the "I" point of view.  There are only a small number of people in the story, so it has in intimate feel, and at times it feels like the novel exists in its own little universe or bubble of the world. 

There are not that many books for teens that tackle gritty and confronting storylines but Blackbird breaks that mould.  There is violence, death, murder, criminal activities, and conspiracies - but none of it is gratuitous, it is well handled and blends seamlessly into the story.  While this is an intense story it is also a relatively short one, and intense read that drags you into the story, shakes you around in the plot and then spits you back out on the other side.  This is an interesting diversion for Carey as while the overall theme of her Eve trilogy was about a dystopian future with an iron fisted dictator, it was not a particularly violent or grim series - Blackbird is a lot darker and seems less hopeful. 

It feels like Blackbird might be the first book in a series, but that said it is also somewhat complete with this first volume - it leaves a few questions but sometimes good books just do that to you.  There have been a few grumbles in other reviews about the book being in the second person voice (I, me, I'm) but it didn't bother me and to be honest I didn't;t really notice because the book was just so good and sucked me in so quickly.  An interesting, absorbing, and intense read that deserves to be discovered.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Icons by Margaret Stohl

Dol and Ro live a simple life on the plains surrounding the Hole, the remnants of a once great and powerful city that is dominated by the Icon that perches on the ruins of the observatory.  The Icon has been there for years a constant and powerful reminder of the day it dropped from the sky and snuffed out the life of every living thing in its shadow.  For some reason Dol survived the power of the Icon, and she is still immune to its power which makes her a very valubale tool for those who know what she might be capable of.  For years the Padre has kept her hidden and safe, Ro too, but that safety ends when the Sympa soldiers invade their sanctuary and drag Dol away.  Dol is terrified not only on the Sympa soldiers, but also that she might be discovered - because she and Ro both hide a shared secret.  On the inside of their wrists are a simple tattoo, tattoos that allow them to connect on a level that some would consider too intimate and unsettling.

When they are brought into the tender loving care of the Ambassador they soon discover that they are not alone, there are others with the same marks - including the Ambassadors son Lucas.  It is a confusing time for all of them but Dol feels more than confused, she also feels torn and conflicted because she loves Ro like a brother but he wants more - and she quickly discovers that her heart wants Lucas.  For the four teeangers immune to the power of the Icons there is a terrifying future for them, they are the only ones with the potential to destroy the Icons and stop the Lords.  That potential is just that though, potential, and if they fail then the price could be more than they are willing and able to pay.  In a world where nothing is as it seems Dol may have to make the ultimate sacrifice to save a city that doesn't even know she exists.

Icons is impossible to put down and is so addictive the pages almost seem to turn themselves.  The action is carefully paced to keep you fully absorbed in the story without dragging you down with too much frivolous description or story points.  At more than 400 pages this is not a small book but it doesn't feel that big, the chapters carefully inter spaced with other material that enriches the story but at the same time acts as a buffer between action scenes allowing you to pace through the story rather than racing through it.  The tension and character development are carefully balanced to create what could almost be the prefect read - one of the best books of the year so far, and one of the best books I have read in recent years.  The story is so well put together that it was difficult to review as the best parts are the surprises (and you really don't want to give them away!)

Icons was an explosive start for a new series that blends together some of the best elements of the science fiction and thriller genres, with just a dash of the dystopian.  Stohl has a great writing style and it is easy to slip into the characters and their motivations, and it is all too easy to picture the world of our future where the Lords have arrived and taken over.  It is all too easy to see this series on the big screen, it reads like a movie script and it feels as though Stohl has considered the screen play and how it might play out on the screen in the way she has staged some of the story (particularly the action scenes) but that doesn't detract from the excellent-ness that is Icon.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Feral by Holly Schindler

Claire Cain was a rising star in the student journalism world, winning a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for her work.  When her friend was accused of possessing drugs with the intent to distribute it is Claire's work that clears her name - an ultimately leads to Claire becoming the target of a shocking revenge attack that leaves her bloodied and broken.  Months later she leaves behind the memories of the gruesome and violent attack and heads to small town Peculiar, Missouri with her father.  It is a chance for both of them to get some space from the memories, a chance for her father to enjoy his sabbatical, and a chance for Claire to try and shake off the memories of the blood and the fear and the pain. 

Easier said than done however, because within in a matter of days she stumbles across the dead body of Serena Sims.  There are a lot of parallels for Claire and Serena - both were attacked, both stopped looking human because of their attack, and while Claire may have survived her ordeal it left her with physical and emotional scars.  It is this shard history that links their two lives together - two teenage girls with a passion for journalism, who are willing to step up and tell the truth to whoever is willing to listen.  Claire soon discovers that there are deeper connections too, connections that only grow stronger the more Claire learns about Serena and her new town.  With Serena haunting her ever step, Claire is in a race against time to solve the mystery of Serena's death.  But even in a small town there can be big secrets, secrets people are willing to kill to keep.

Feral was one of those books that was almost immediately off putting because it starts so strangely, but once I got over that it quickly became a riveting read that kept me hooked until the end.  It is more than a little disconcerting to enter a story through the eyes of a murder victim, especially after they are already dead.  Through Serena's eyes we are thrown into a story of murder and despair, one where she experiences her body being moved and dumped in the woods, and where she experiences the unwanted attentions of the local feral cat population.  From Serena's story we jump straight into Claire's memories of the night she was stalked by a group of men who attack her and almost kill her in a frenzied attack that leaves her broken and scarred.  We then pick up the scene months after Claire's attack, which seems to bend time a little because Serena goes missing just before Claire arrives in her home town.

This was a book that seemed to defy genre - just when I thought I had it pegged as belonging in one genre, the author shook things up and it seemed to be a completely different genre.  Claire is an extremely "potent" character to experience events through because as we come to discover everything is not quite as it seems.  It is difficult in this day and age to find a book that truly has a unique voice, because it seems as though most authors are looking for a theme to latch on to, or the hot topic genre to latch on to - but that is not what Schindler has created with Feral.  I truly enjoyed Feral, mostly because it is what I would call an intelligent read, one that makes you work for the story and leaves little clues and breadcrumbs for you to follow rather than belting you across the head with the story.  

If you like this story then try:

Reviewed by Brilla