Monday, December 28, 2015

Shifting shadows by Patricia Briggs

The world inhabited by Mercedes "Mercy" Thompson Hauptman is rich with history and mythology that make it an urban fantasy world worth visiting (and revisiting).  The world contains not only the Mercy Thompson series, but also the intertwined stories from Alpha and Omega - the worlds are distinct and focused on different characters, but there is a lot of overlap between the two series.  Some of the characters appear suddenly in the world, while others seem to appear and then disappear without a trace.  

Shifting shadows: Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson plugs some of the holes from the novels, as well as creating a richer mythology for the novels.  If you are a fan of Mercy and her world then this is a must read - preferably after you have read up until at least the end of Night broken to avoid any spoilers!

Some of the treats you can look forward to in Shifting shadows are:

Alpha and Omega
The first time that Charles meets Anna and Brother wolf chooses her wolf as his mate.  This is  the action that takes place just before the start of Alpha and Omega and it neatly fills the gap about what happened to Anna's old pack and how she came to join Charles and the Marrok in Montana.

Roses in winter
We were introduced to her father, but we never got to meet Kara who was turned into a werewolf at a very young age.  Taken in by the Marrok and his pack she has been learning what it really means to be a werewolf, but time is running out for her to learn how to shift from one form to the other.  She has an unexpected ally in the form of Asil, who takes her under his wing.

He started as the werewolf we loved to hate, the brash and violent Brit that Mercy doesn't trust around anyone innocent - especially Adam's daughter Jesse.  There is more to Ben than we know though, and he is about to discover for himself that there is also more to him than he knows.  You don't mess with Pack, and Pack is not always other werewolves.

Ariana is a powerful fae that has kept a secret for centuries and when she enters the world of Mercy Thompson it is not clear if she is friend or foe - and her terror of the werewolves is part of the doubt.  Here is the story abolut how she and Samuel met, and more of the story about how Samuel and Bran came to be as they are - and more about the woman they called mother and grandmother.

The recommended reading order for this world is:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 26, 2015

NEED by Joelle Charbonneau

A new networking site has appeared in Nottawa, Wisconsin and it is like nothing the teens at Nottawa High School have seen before.  Instead of the usual friend requests and invitation to games, NEED asks you what you need and then allocates the number of people you need to invite to NEED for your need to be met.  It seems simple enough, but what happens when everyone from NHS is already a member and there are no other people to invite - how will people meet the requirements of NEED then?  It seems as though Kaylee and the rest of her fellow students are about to discover that for themselves as they sign up with the website.  The website has features that make everyone anonymous, and there are account settings that can hide your account from the rest of the members, but social media is not as secret as people think.

Some of the needs seem frivolous to Kaylee - other students are asking for cellphones, computers, and better marks at school - but all Kaylee really needs is a new kidney for her brother.  After faking illness to gain access to the medical information about other students, and demanding people get their blood tested to see if they are a match, Kaylee is the social pariah of her school and even her mother thinks she is unstable.  When Kaylee begins to see the darker side to NEED she reaches out to her best friend and the local police, but things don't exactly go to plan.  NEED seems to have a life force of it's own, and if Kaylee can't figure out the secrets behind the website then her graduating class may be significantly smaller than expected.  As the girl who cried wolf Kaylee is fighting an uphill battle to gain credibility, and maybe that's for the best - because what if she really is having a break with reality and what she thinks is happening really isn't happening?

Following up from a successful series is always a challenge for an author, especially when your first books are something of a secret success story.  Joelle Charbonneau's Testing trilogy was a fresh voice in the popular dystopia genre, and it was a pleasant surprise to find her work set in a contemporary world was just as enthralling and addictive.  The voices of Kaylee and her fellow students are clear and distinct, and through rapidly changing viewpoints we get to experience the story from multiple points of view as the story progresses - rather than having a single character narrate the story.  The switching viewpoints seemed like a poor choice at first because it took a while to get under the skin of the characters because you perched on their shoulders like nervous birds before flitting off to the next character - but it really comes into it's own when the pace of the story picks up and the different characters play their parts in the unfolding story.

Every character in NEED is flawed and completely human, Kaylee is desperate to save her brother and that drives her to be subversive and devious.  Her mother is trying to protect her brother and herself and acts as any defensive parent might.  The different students act in ways that are predictable as well - as teenagers they are expected to start making adult choices, but they are also treated like children.  There are some truly sneaky and despicable characters here to grumble about, as well as some surprising moments of change and growth.  This is one of those stories that doesn't pull punches for a teen audience - there is death, dark secrets, and the characters are manipulated into acts that you wouldn't think teenagers would willingly do for such "small" rewards.  There are a lot of elements here of different genre - the most prominent being the psychological thriller and drama, but it is also a very deftly written tale that has it's own unique voice within those genre.

Charbonneau has created an excellent stand alone read with NEED and has proven beyond a doubt that she is not a one horse wonder.  There is a lot to like with NEED, and it will appeal to anyone who enjoys an intelligently written novel of suspense and drama - including the adults who have been increasing their habit of sneaking into teen reads over the past few years. 

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 25, 2015

George by Alex Gino

To the outside world George is an awkward boy who never quite fits in with the other boys in his class - but that is because on the inside George is a girl trapped in the wrong body.  Life has become a series of secrets and wishes for something that she can't seem to be, hiding the truth from people around her because she is afraid.  Her only escape is her friendship with Kelly, and the secret stash of teen girl magazines that she hides from her family in her room - magazines that help her cope by escaping into their pages of pure girl world.

When her class prepares to put on Charlotte's web George knows that more than anything she wants to play Charlotte, a role that seems to call to her.  When she auditions as Charlotte she thinks she has done a good job, but her teacher wont let her be Charlotte because she thinks George is a boy - and that he is auditioning for Charlotte as a joke.  It seems as though her dream of playing Charlotte is destroyed beyond repair, but George didn't count on just how good a friend Kelly really is.  Finding her voice as Charlotte is just part of her journey, George also has to find the courage to tell her mother that she is trapped in the wrong body, and her mother is not ready to hear it - will she ever be?

I wanted to read George because fiction can be a window to another world for children - especially if it is well written.  That window may be a glimpse into another world, it can be a glimpse into the past, or it can be a glimpse into a world where another child is experiencing the same things you are.  Children are not born with prejudice, they learn to hate and judge from the people around them, particularly their parents.  That hate and prejudice may come from the way they were raised, it may come from their religion, or from accepted "social norms".  

George is a sweet little book that challenges one of the greatest "social norms" - that a child is born in the right body, and that what you see on the outside should be what is on the inside.  Luckily there are more diverse books out there now that are challenging these social norms and giving a voice to children who might otherwise think they are alone.  This is the perfect chapter book for parents who want to introduce their children to the idea of being transgender, especially a child who is transgender and has no doubt they were born in the wrong body.  George has no doubt what she is, and the fears and doubts she feels ring true as she faces up to what the outside world sees and expects.  

This is not a deep and meaningful novel of identity, but it is an honest look at identity for children - when they are teenagers they can sink their teeth into some of the other more challenging and complicated reads out there.  There are some so-so reviews out there, but I would suggest you read the book for yourself and make up your own mind.  If you want to help your child develop a broad world view then I would recommend adding George to your reading list - and theirs.

If you like this book then try:
  • My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis; illustrated by Suzanne DeSimone
  • Chamelia by Ethan Long
  • 10,000 dresses by Marcus Ewert; illustrated by Rex Ray
  • And Tango makes three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  • Be who you are by Jennifer Carr; pictures by Ben Rumback
  • Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
  • It's okay to be different by Todd Parr
  • You're different and that's super by Carson Kressley; illustrated by Jared Lee
Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

Nicolette Lampton is only a child when the mother who adores her, and who she adores in return, dies slowly from a disease that her father seems unwilling to treat.  In a kingdom where the magic is no longer trusted and the Fey have been banished to Faerie, it is a difficult time to make a living with trinkets and mechanical creatures that seem more magical than they should.  When her father brings home a stepmother and two stepsisters Nicolette quietly hopes for a life full of sisters and family - but when her father also dies she discovers that her place in her new family is as a servant in her own home.  Luckily she has some small magics she can call on to help with the enormous tasks of running a large manor house, but her greatest asset is her determination to survive each day and one day reclaim her inheritance.

On her sixteenth birthday Nicolette, renamed Nick by her not so nice stepsisters, finds a letter from her mother which directs her to a hidden key.  That key will unlock not only a hidden doorway - it will also unlock the potential for a bright future.  Nick was told her mothers workshop was destroyed in a fire, it was in fact quietly rescued and hidden away.  In the workshop there are tools and materials to make all sorts of wondrous creations along with books and journals that help Nick remember the lessons she learned at her mothers knee - as well as the lessons she never had a chance to learn.  As she practices her skills Nick sets her sights on the Exhibition, because if she can gain a wealthy patron then she can leave her stepmother and stepsisters behind for good.  Along the way Nick will face challenges, disaster, and unexpected friendships as she discovers who she really is and what it means to be Mechanica (a mocking nickname that seems to fit like a glove).

Mechanica is at it's heart a retelling of the Cinderella story - but it is also much more than that.  Fractured fairy tales, as retellings are often called, can go really well or really badly depending on the author.  Luckily for Mechanica and her world, Cornwell managed to nail the story with style and flair, while also respecting the source material.  I was a little dubious when I picked up the book, and it took me a chapter or two to really enjoy it and settle in to the story, but once I did I didn't want to put it down.  Rather than a retelling set in a different time on Earth, Mechanica's world is clearly either an alternative world form ours or a completely different world altogether.  There are elements of fantasy, but there are also elements that feel a little steampunk which is a rather intriguing blend.  Cornwell eases you into the back story, providing enough details and background for you to connect with Mechanica and her world without drowning you in boring details.  As with most stories it is the characters that truly bring the story to life and somehow Cornwell even managed to breathe life into the most cliche or cliches.

This was a darling little find and it fills a gap that has desperately needed filling.  There are some amazing fractured fairy tales for older readers like the Throne of glass series by Sarah J. Maas, and there are some great playful reads for younger teens like the books from Jessica Day George but there are few books in between.  Cornwell fills that gap, providing a book that is relatively easy to read, but that also is not too babyish.  The characters are engaging, and while you can probably guess what happens along the way it is a fractured fairy tale for a reason and the ending is not exactly what you might expect.  Mechanica is no helpless damsel in distress, and it was a real pleasure to make her acquaintance - and I hope there are more tales to come from Cornwell, even if they don't include Mechanica and her world.

If you like this book then try:
  • Ella enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
  • Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • The treachery of beautiful things by Ruth Frances Long
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • Throne of glass by Sarah J. Maas
  • Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
  • Crown duel by Sherwood Smith
  • Dealing with dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
  • Princess of the midnight ball by Jessica Day George
  • Water song by Suzanne Weyn
  • Beauty by Robin Mckinley
  • The storyteller's daughter by Cameron Dokey

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fair game by Patricia Briggs

Fair game is the third book in the Alpha and Omega series, and the nineth book set in the world shared with the Mercy Thompson series.  This review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the other books and I highly recommend reading them in the correct order. 

For centuries Charles has been the hand of justice for the Marrok, tracking down werewolves who break the law of the Pack and ending their lives with a dedication that has made him appear cool and distant from the rest of his kind.  No one realises that it is a facade, a carefully maintained mask that has allowed him to find some peace.  That peace is slowly eroding as the Marrok brings in harsher laws and expects Charles to enforce them.  Before the existence of werewolves was made public there was a certain amount of leeway, a margin of leniency that allowed new wolves to settle down and learn to balance the human and wolf parts of their nature.  On his most recent outing Charles had to deal with three new wolves who killed a pedophile, and even though they were lawful kills Anna can see that there is something troubling her mate - and not just because he has shut down their mate bond and isolated himself from all the things he enjoys.

When three werewolves are murdered the Marrok sends Anna to help the federal agents on the - and because where his mate goes he goes, Charles finds himself in the city of Boston at a time when he and Brother Wolf are not necessarily seeing eye-to-eye.  It is difficult to be around people when he is feeling unbalanced, and the guilt he has been feeling is building more with each day, not just because of the kills he has made but also because he can feel the damage he is doing to the mate bond with Anna.  As they learn more about the case, they discover that the murdered werewolves are just the latest in a long line of victims, and no few of the victims are preternatural creatures.  Being unbalanced and feeling disconnected from Brother Wolf is never a good thing, and a misstep could mean Charles looses his life - or even worse, he might loose Anna.  In a race against time Charles and Anna need to untangle the lies from the truth and figure out who the bad guys are before it is too late and the killers complete their cycle for another year.

Fair game is the third book in the Alpha and Omega series and this is very much a turning point in the series - Anna is slowly discovering her strength as a werewolf and as a woman who has survived abuse and violence over many years.  I had forgotten just how much Anna develops over the series, and it has only been reading the series in such a short space of time that has allowed me to have a better handle on the characters and how they relate to each other.  Briggs appears to have treated Anna with a great deal of respect in this series, she allows her time to get over the trauma but also doesn't treat her as a victim - her wolf comes to the fore when she needs to and provides her with strength and release (depending on what she needs).  It is a real pleasure too seeing a different side to Charles, who is described as almost inhuman in the Mercy Thompson series, through this series and his relationship with Anna we get to see that he has many layers - and *gasp* even a sense of humour!

This is an excellent series that strikes the right balance with world building and not drowning you in inconsequential details.  There are elements of the thriller and crime, as well as a smidge of romance to keep everyone happy.  Reading the series in the recommended order has also been great, as I read one or two out of sequence previously and there were some spoilers because of that.  A fun series to read, and there is a lot to like here - so why haven't you started reading the series yet?

The recommended reading order is:

And to fill in the gaps there are some new (and old) short stories in:
  • Shifting shadows: Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, December 10, 2015

All in by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

All in is the third book in The naturals series so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first books in the series.  This is one series where you really need to read the books in order so make sure you read The naturals and Killer instinct before you read All in.

Life has been rather interesting for Cassie over the past year, mostly because she has finally found an "honest" use for the skills her mother taught her when she was growing up.  Becoming part of the Naturals programme has given Cassie a new family, one that has just as many quirks as she does, and while she may have been kidnapped by more than her share of psychopaths things are starting to feel right.  That balance and sense of calm vanishes when her father tells her that they have found a body, a woman's remains buried with her mothers necklace and a shawl soaked in her blood.  

It couldn't have happened at a worse time either, because a new killer has appeared on the scene and the Naturals are going to need all their wits about them if they are to discover who is at the centre of the current case of mad genius serial killer.  There are rocky times ahead for the Naturals and all of them seem to be dealing with their personal demons at a time when they should be focused on the calculating killer who is leaving their mark on Las Vegas.  As they rush towards the killer Cassie tries to deal with her own problems, but as she soon discovers the world is never black and white, and sometimes what you see (or think you see) isn't what you get - or what you want.

All in is the latest offering in The naturals series which has been moving from strength to strength with each new book.  I have very high expectations for this series because of how well the first two books were written and All in makes a very welcome addition to this series.  While each of the books is written as it's own unique case, there are storylines which weave the wider story arc together - most notably in this book the loss of Cassie's mother and her search for answers.  This time we also learn more about Sloane and her background, as well as expose more of the complicated story (and walking contradiction) that is Lia.  These are characters that live and breath on the page, mostly the teenagers that are the core of the story, but we are slowly learning more about Judd and the FBI agents that round out the cast.

This is one of those horrible series to review because the parts that make the series so amazing are the little twists and turns that keep you wondering if you have unraveled the clues correctly - the little hints and clues that test your ability to sort the truth from the lies.  Jennifer Lynn Barnes has made a real niche for herself over the past few years, writing books that blend human psychology with action and thriller elements that keep you hooked from the first page.  The only betrayal I feel is that there has not been a sequel to Every other day - but I hope that she will return to that world one day for another adventure.  This is an amazing series that defies being placed in a gender or age specific box, although because it deals with serial killers mid to older teens are probably the best market.

I have one word to finish this review; ENJOY!

If you like this book then try:
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • Acceleration by Graham McNamee
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • Guy Langman, crime scene procrastinator by Josh Berk
  • A girl named Digit by Annabel Monahgan
  • The Christopher killer by Alane Ferguson
  • Nickel plated by Aric Davis
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • Crime seen by Jenny Pausacker
  • Burning blue by Paul Griffin
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess
  • Living dead girl by Elizabeth Scott

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, December 7, 2015

Queen of shadows by Sarah J. Maas

Queen of shadows is the fourth book in the Throne of glass series so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first books in the series.  This series is best enjoyed in order so I suggest you read Throne of glassCrown of midnight, and Heir of fire before you read any more of this review.

She has been known by many names,  but the girl once known as Celaena Sardothien has now become the woman she was meant to be - Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen.  By accepting her heritage Aelin has become a target, not just because she is a threat to the evil that sits upon the throne of Adarlan, but also because there are some people who want to control her and use her for their own purposes.  For more than a decade Celaena was at the mercy of the games of men, first as the trained assassin lapdog of Arobynn, and then as the reluctant champion of the King of Adarlan.  It has been a life of pain, fear, and occasional bouts of excessive spending - and it was a life that has honed Celaena into a deadly and ruthless force of nature that is finally ready to assume the mantle of her throne.  

She can be bloody and ruthless, but Aelin is also someone who loves deeply and completely, who is loyal to her friends and is not afraid to make the difficult choices - for them, and for her.  With a war on the horizon it is time to rattle the stars and take back what belongs to her, starting with her friends and family.  Aelin may be ruthless, but the King of Adarlan is soulless and seems to be several steps ahead of Aelin and her allies.  With their resources stretched to the limits it is just as well that new allies arrive in unexpected forms.  They will need every resource they can gather because the King of Adarlan has plans in motion that will destroy not only Aelin and her newly formed court, but could destroy the world as they know it.  

In the cold and isolated Morath, Manon has her own worries.  Her grandmother has always demanded absolute obedience in all things, and Manon has always followed her orders without question, but that loyalty is being pushed to breaking point.  It seems as though Morath itself is testing Manon and her coven, the air seems to pulse with evil and there is something wrong with the food - for humans and wyverns.  With each passing day the doubts grow, the little whispering voice that questions what she has always known.  When an enemy makes the decision to spare Manon's life in the heat of battle, and one of her coven reveals a haunting secret, Manon discovers that the world is not as black and white as she once thought.  A war is coming, and it looks as though Manon may not be on the right side after all.

Queen of shadows is a beast of a book - at 645 pages it is not a read for the faint hearted - but it is also a must read addition to this amazing series!  I have read the series in a short space of time which has made it easy to keep the characters straight, but Sarah J. Maas has the uncanny ability to weave new characters into each of the books so that you get to meet people just when you need to and not a moment too soon.  With epic fantasy one of the drawbacks is that the vast cast of characters is often introduced in the first book in the series, so you are trying to get to know too many characters at once.  Maas has carefully managed the appearance of the characters, starting with the main characters of Rifthold in Throne of glass, before spiraling out to include the other immortal and otherworldly characters across the other three books in the series.  Queen of shadows is where all the characters are essentially brought together for the first time, and instead of being overwhelming it is like everyone has arrived just when they need to.

This is not a series for younger teens (here read 13 - 15 years old), but older teens will appreaciate the honesty with which Aelin sees the world and interacts with it.  There is violence here, the violence you would expect in the upbringing of an assassin, but there is also hope and tenderness underneath.  There is brutal language, threats of violence, and more than a little bit of profanity - but it feels genuine and legitimate rather than gratuitous.  Maas has created a world that is adored by teens and adults alike - not hard to judge by the fans that came out to her Auckland visit and waited for up to four hours for her to sign their books.  I am adoring this series, although I have to confess that A court of thorn and roses is edging out to the lead for my favourite book by Maas so far.  

This is an excellent series and highly recommended - but make sure you read it in order!

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Walk on Earth a stranger by Rae Carson

Leah Westfall has a secret, one that her parents have told her she must keep at all costs - Leah can sense the presence of gold in all it's shapes and sizes, and it has made her family succeed in a place where few families truly thrive.  Her father is known as "Lucky" to the locals because of his knack for finding gold, and people sneak onto their land some times to try their hand at finding some of Lucky's gold, but none of them know about the stash of gold dust kept hidden away until it can sold safely far from town and the prying eyes of their neighbours.  When her parents are murdered, it seems as though her whole world has been ripped away, especially when she discovers that her father shared her secret with someone he thought he could trust - someone who betrayed him in the worst way possible.  

Forced to flee her family home, Leah disguises herself as a boy and decides to travel across America from Georgia to the gold rush in California - a place where a girl who can find gold will surely find her fortune, but first she has to get there.  Travelling disguised as a boy is risky, and her only hope is to catch up with her childhood friend Jefferson, who also has dreams of the gold fields of California.  It will be a dangerous journey across a landscape that seems designed to catch and kill the unwary, pushing everyone to their limits and beyond for the merest chance of a better life.  In her travels Leah will meet heroes, villains, and people just trying to get by, and all the while she lives with the knowledge that all it will take is one slip up and her life will change forever - because a girl has no rights in her world, and if she is caught then she will be returned to her uncle like the property she is.  Coming of age is never easy, but when you are hiding a massive secret (or two) life becomes more than merely challenging - it becomes a fight for life and freedom.

I loved Rae Carson's Girl of fire and thorns series and I was a little surprised to find she had made the incredibly bold leap from fantasy writer to historical writer - and I was also surprised to discover just how much I enjoyed the world of Walk the Earth a stranger.  While you could argue that in many ways this is a fantasy series, because of Leah's magical ability to detect gold, it feels more like a classic saga of a young woman who strikes out on her own to forge her own destiny.  There are some "stock" characters here, but they are handled so well that you stop thinking of them as the "Indians" or the "slave" and see beyond those stereotypes to the people underneath.  There is so much of this world that you can recognise as our past, and while Carson admits that she has taken a few liberties with the facts it feels like a genuine book from start to finish.

Like the characters we find in the world of Girl of fire and thorns, the characters of Walk on Earth a stranger are varied and richly imagined - blowing past stereotypes and stock characters to create people that you can believe in (the good and the bad).  This is not light reading, and there are some moments where even I couldn't believe what was happening - and I studied history and university and did a whole paper on women's studies so the lack of independence they were allowed shouldn't have surprised.  What could have been a modern fairy tale about a girl with a desirable power that destroyed her life was instead a richly imagined world that I can't wait to revisit when the next book in the series is finally released (and hopefully it won't be too long a wait!).

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The cage by Megan Shepherd

When Cora Mason wakes up in a desert it feels like she is in a bad dream, but she soon discovers that it is not a bad dream and she is far from her home in Virginia.  As she walks across the desert she discovers that it is not merely a desert, it is in fact a series of unrelated environments that have been thrown together in a habitat that seems impossible - desert, snow, swamp, and jungle all together in one place.  The natural environment is stranger enough, but there is also a town that appears to be made up of a completely random assortment of buildings from different times and places.  It doesn't make any sense, until Cora discovers that she is not alone in this strange new world - and then the Caretaker arrives.

The Caretaker is one of the Kindred, an advanced race that has taken Cora and her companions from Earth to ensure the survival of their species, a situation that they are expected to embrace with open arms.  From the start Cora struggles with the idea of being captive, and the fact they are like lab rats or animals in a zoo just makes it worse.  Some of the others seem to adapt quickly to the new environment, and the rules they are expected to obey, but Cora is only focused on escape.  The more she learns about her new home the more she rebels, and the more she rebels the more isolated she becomes from the rest of her group.  Someone is manipulating all of them, pushing them to their limits and forcing them to make choices they never would have had to make on Earth.  The only hope for escape seems to be the growing relationship Cora has with the Caretaker Cassian, but can a human and a Kindred ever cross the line that divides them?

I was expecting the typical teen dystopian fare when I picked up The cage, so it was a very pleasant surprise to discover a book that has incredible depth and complex issues woven around a central story that blends together elements of science fiction, suspense, and psychological thrillers.  Each of the teenagers who make up the captive breeding population of the cage bring their own stories, secrets, and motivations - and it is all too easy to imagine a Lord of the flies kind of self destruction for the group as they struggle to cope with their new life as captives and to deal with the secrets that they all keep inside.  The Caretaker, the other Kindred, and the other alien races add a surreal and creepy element to the story, and it is all too easy to see the parallels with our own tendency to trade in "exotics" in the keeping of humans as pets (and worse).

The cage was an engaging and addictive read, because each time you thought you had figured everything out something else would change and make you wonder if you did actually know what you think you know.  As far as first books in a series go this was pretty impressive, and the rest of the books series will be very good if The cage is any indication of the quality of Shepherd's writing.  There are lots of loose ends and hinted at secrets yet to be uncovered, and it will be very interesting to see how far Shepherd can take Cora and her story.

If you like this book then try:
  • The testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • The Hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • Renegade by J.A. Souders
  • Eve by Anna Carey
  • Enclave by Ann Aguirre
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • Breathe by Sarah Crossan
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Inside out by Maria V. Snyder
  • Amongst the hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • The limit by Kristin Landon

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A court of thorns and roses by Sarah J. Maas

Feyre is the only thing standing between her family and starvation, a fact that is never far from her mind even in the coldest moments of winter when her fingers can barely hold arrows to her bow.  Her once wealthy and respected family has been brought low by the hands of fate with barely enough to allow them to survive - especially when her father wallows in self pity over their lost fortune and his shattered knee.  With the frozen fingers of winter blanketing the land in snow and ice hunting has become difficult, and there are other dangers in the woods other than cold and death - the fae have been seen on the human side of the wall and whole villages have been torn to the ground over night.  When Feyre finds a massive wolf hunting the prey she needs to feed her family it is not a difficult choice to slay the monster and take the prize for her family.  She does not expect such a drastic and brutal punishment however.

When an enraged fae appears on her doorstop she is given a choice - to die like an animal or give up her life and travel across the wall into Prythian, the lands ruled by the fae.  It is an impossible choice, but an oath sworn to her mother forces her hand and Feyre leaves behind everything she ever knew for a world of legend and violence.  Tamlin is everything legend says the fae will be, cold and distant with a disdain for humans.  She may have freedom in the manor, but Feyre knows that she is a prisoner none the less and that her life is no longer her own.  As the weeks pass she learns more about her new home, and the more she learns the less she understands.  Tamlin seems to swing between wanting to know more about Feyre and make her happy, and an angry and raging beast that tears things apart with his bare hands.  At least his emissary Lucien is consistent in keeping his distance - but it seems that both Lucien and Tamlin are keeping secrets from Feyre, and when you are a delicate and powerless human in a world of creatures with magic and power that is a dangerous thing to be.  As Feyre learns more about the lands of Prythian she uncovers a darkness that has invaded the land, one that was powerful enough to take a High Lord and trap him and his people in a state of visible shame and weakness.

A court of thorns and roses was a remarkably vivid and richly imagined fractured fairy tale that has me wanting the next book in the series right now!  Maas has already taken the traditional story of Cinderella and turned it on it's head in the Throne of glass series by making Cinderella an assassin instead of a servant, and in the case of A court of thorns and roses she has taken a merchants daughter and turned her into a huntress who will do anything to keep her family alive.  One of the most engaging (and addictive) aspects of both series is the fae who inhabit these worlds, they are not "blown out" elves with perfect but monotonous blond hair (I loved that quote at her recent Auckland author talk) they are apart from humans with different motivations and ways of reacting to the world around them.  In many ways the fae of Prythian are savage as well as beautiful, they remind me of a pride of lions where they may love and protect the ones they love, but they can also be brutal and savage when called to battle or when it comes to protecting their territory or the ones they protect.

There is a lot to love with this series, and while the book is not short at 416 pages it is a story that rolls easily from the page and almost seems to read itself.  There are complicated layers to the story which adds to the richness of the characters and their world, but it is not so complicated that you can't follow what is happening.  The world they inhabit is as richly imagined as the characters and Maas has a deft touch in rendering her world, providing enough detail that you can easily picture the world and characters without drowning you in boring details or distracting you from the story by waxing lyrical about how amazing everything is.  This is a series that deserves to be discovered and enjoyed by readers of all ages, and judging by the number of adults at the Auckland book signing this is definitely a series that deserves to be discovered and enjoyed by a very broad audience.

If you like this book then try:
  • Arrows of the queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Throne of glass by Sarah J. Maas
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
  • The Fire rose by Mercedes Lackey
  • Home from the sea by Mercedes Lackey
  • Reserved for the cat by Mercedes Lackey
  • Steadfast by Mercedes Lackey
  • Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey
  • From a high tower by Mercedes Lackey
  • Deerskin by Robin McKinley
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley
  • Rose daughter by Robin McKinley
  • Spindle's end by Robin McKinley
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My two blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood

Because of war a young girl and her Auntie move from their warm, colourful country to a new country of steel, concrete, and cold.  The language of the people seems as cold as the place they live and the young girl feels alone and lost.  With all the strangeness around her it is reassuring to return to her home and surround herself with the warmth and familiarity of her own words and language - it is like an old blanket that is warm and soft.  It was hard to go out sometimes and sometimes it was hard to leave the old blanket behind - and then one day she meets a girl at the local park and things begin to change.  This stranger begins to help the girl learn the language that seems so cold and strange, giving her the gift of words that seem strange at first and then become familiar.

If I only had one word to describe My two blankets it would be gorgeous - if I had two words it would be gorgeous and moving.  This book really touched me, probably because my own family moved to New Zealand from Indonesia and had to learn not only  a new language, but also a completely new culture.  What could have been a dry and preachy tale about how difficult it is to live in a new country is instead a rich and warm story that captures your heart through the simple act of kindness from one child to another.  I have shared this book out loud with a few group of preschoolers and they enjoyed the story while the adults enjoyed the message.  

I would highly recommend this book to any parent who wants to help their young children understand what it is like to come from another country - especially poignant at the moment with all the Syrian refugees and migrants moving into Europe.  I would also highly recommend this book as a really touching portrayal of how easily children can make friends, and that children just don't see the world in the same way adults do - they are much more accepting of change and difference.

If you like this book then try:
  • The seeds of friendship by Michael Foreman
  • The name jar by Yangsook Choi
  • The colour of home by Mary Hoffman; illustrated by Karin Littlewood
  • The sandwich swap by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdulah with Kelly DiPucchio; illustrated by Tricia Tusa

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Silver borne by Patricia Briggs

Silver borne is the fifth book in the Mercy Thompson series, and the seventh book set in the world shared with the Alpha & Omega series.  This review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the other books and I highly recommend reading them in the correct order. 

Living as a coyote among werewolves is risky at times, especially when the pack you have rather unceremoniously been thrust into still has major issues with you being there.  As an outsider Mercy lacks an understanding of the subtleties of being a werewolf, and she is way out of her depth when it comes to understanding the mate bond she shares with Adam and what that means about her place in the pack.  To help ease herself into their world Mercy and Adam have been going out on dates, but it soon becomes clear that even on a date she is not safe from the resentment and anger of the pack.  After a very wonky date with Adam she discovers she has even bigger problems - Samuel the man has lost control to Sam the wolf and that means certain death if she can't keep the secret.

As life was not complicated enough someone has decided to target Mercy and the pack.  A bounty hunter is one thing, strange fae are another.  Mercy soon learns that she has something that a fae wants very badly, and they are not afraid of the werewolves and certainly not afraid of Mercy herself.   Mercy may have allies among the fae, but unless she can discover who and what she is fighting that aid wont go very far.  Fighting battles at home with Sam and the pack is exhausting and Mercy has very little energy to spare fighting an enemy she can't even see.  When the stakes are drastically raise Mercy will put her own life on the line to save the ones she loves.

The world of Mercy Thompson is addictive and with each new novel there are more layers that help to round out the complexity of the world and make it even more engaging.  Through Mercy and her "adventures" we learn about the werewolves and how their world works, and we get to learn the "rules" that vampires and werewolves live by.  Binge reading the series has been a real treat because I haven't had to wait around for months waiting for the next book in the series, and because publication dates are a little bit different between the two series I have essentially read some of the books out of the recommended order - remedying that has been a pleasure.  Rereading the series has also allowed me to fill in the gaps in my reviews!

The recommended reading order is:

And to fill in the gaps there are some new (and old) short stories in:
  • Shifting shadows: Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Remember by Eileen Cook

On the surface Harper Bryne appears to have it all - she has loving yet distracted parents who give her everything she could want or need, a best friend who is a perfect fit and balance to her own personality and strengths, and a boyfriend that her father just adores.  She also has Harry (Hermes of Caelum) the perfect show jumper who is helping her prepare for a bright future as a potential Olympic equestrian.  The only burr under her saddle, so to speak, are the protesters who track her fathers every move, determined to bring down his company with bad publicity because of the alleged dangers of the Memtex treatment.  It has never really bothered Harper, and she has never been tempted to try Memtex before because she has never had a memory painful enough to make it seem worthwhile - until she suffers a great and unexpected loss.

Determined to try and move forward she asks her parents if she can have the Memtex procedure - and is beyond shocked when her father forbids her to have the treatment.  His absolute refusal is completely out of character, and Harper finds a way to get the treatment anyway.  The result seems to be good at first, but then she starts to have weird dreams and experiences weird smells and sensations - and she appears to be having memories that are not her own.  Driven to discover what is happening, Harper starts investigating and what she discovers is more than a little alarming.  With no idea of what is real and what isn't Harper feels her life spinning slowly out of control, and with each new discovery she finds her old life slipping more and more out of focus - and she begins to lose touch with the most important people in her life.  Someone is lying to Harper, but who?

The human mind is a wonder, a tricky wonder, but a wonder and it is always amazing to find a book that takes what you think you know and twists and turns things so you no longer know which way is up and which way is down - or what is real and what is what you think is real.  Remember was almost impossible to put down and I am very glad that I could read it in one session because it kept everything fresh in my mind as I tried to untangle the truths and half-truths and the little clues about what was really happening.  Cook has created a tangled little web of deceit that is not easy to untangle - partly because she seeds little false clues and little false trails to see if you really are paying attention.  

The story lines are strong, the character development is spot on, and there are plenty of moments that will keep you wondering if things are really as they appear.  Without wanting to ruin the twists and turns that make this book so fascinating, I can say that the journey Harper goes on is a true coming of age story as she leaves her childhood behind and starts making decisions for herself.  This was a great read, a thriller that keeps you guessing right to the end.

If you like this book then try:
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • The book of blood and shadow by Robin Wasserman
  • Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
  • Acceleration by Graham McNamee
  • Death cloud by Andrew Lane
  • Crime seen by Jenny Pausacker
  • Slated by Teri Terry
  • The Christopher killer by Alane Ferguson
  • The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Guy Langman, crime scene procrastinator by Josh Berk
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • The limit by Kristin Landon

Reviewed by Brilla