Monday, January 26, 2015

Percy Jackson and the lightning thief by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson has the reputation of being a troublemaker, mainly because trouble and misfortune seem to follow in his wake.  For years he has battled with his dyslexia and ADHD, struggling to keep up with his school work and make sense of the things he is supposed to be studying at school.  He has been to six different schools in six years, and his stay at the Yancy Academy is about to come to an end in a rather spectacular fashion thanks in no small part to events that end with his vaporising a maths teacher that everyone else can't seem to remember.  Returning home to the apartment he shares with his mother and stepfather should be a homecoming, but instead it is the start of an adrenaline fueled adventure where Percy discovers who he really is and that he has an amazing destiny.

Perseus "Percy" Jackson is not an average twelve year old, he is a demigod - the child of a mortal woman and an immortal Greek god.  For most of us that would be an amazing discovery, as is discovering your bestfriend from school is a satyr.  Camp Half-Blood seems like a haven at first, a place where Percy can learn how to find and survive against the monsters that would hunt him down and kill him in the real world.  For most demigods Camp Half-Blood is a safe place where they can be who they really are, where they don't have to hide the truth about who they are and what they can do, but for Percy arriving at Camp Half-Blood is the start of a weird waking nightmare. He soon discovers that the gods are preparing for war if the master lightning bolt is not returned to Zeus, and there are some who are convinced that Percy has either stolen the bolt or is the only one who can get it back.  Percy is about to be pushed to the limits as he races against time to prevent the gods going to war - because when the gods fight it is mankind that suffers.

I have heard good things about Rick Riordan and his Percy Jackson series, but as it was such a popular series I had chosen to read lesser known series instead.  After watching the movie adaptation of Percy Jackson and the lightning thief my curiosity was piqued and I decided that maybe it was time to try reading the book to see if it was as good as the movie - and I was really pleasantly surprised to find that the book was way better than the movie.  Right from the start Percy leaped off the page larger than life, a strong willed character with a great voice who is not afraid to admit his faults and his flaws along with his successes.  The characters built around him are just as engaging and full of depth, a fact that becomes more apparent as the novel races towards the conclusion and you realise just who the "bad guys" are and what they are after.  Thankfully the movie ending and the book ending are not the same, because that would have been a little bit of a let down - the movie ending works for the movie and the book ending works for the book!

It is apparent that Riordan has done his research about Greek mythology, his understanding of the myths provides rich source material for a richly woven world that sits in and around our own world.  Riordan has seamlessly blended together the ancient world with the modern world, creating a set of rules that make the world make "sense" (mainly because there are rules and irrefutable truths).  I had expected a well thought out world, what I had not expected was a twisted sense of humour that had me laughing in delighted surprise with some of the in-jokes - darn those Australians and their Echidna!  Some of the characters are also surprisingly human, and some are surprisingly sympathetic, something you wouldn't expect from the "bad guys".  

This was a delightful read and I look forward to reading the next book in the series to see what is next for Percy and his friends (and I will completely ignore the fact I have already watched the next movie in the series).  For a book written ten years ago it has not dated terribly, although as a decade old book it falls into the retro read category.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Grayson has been keeping a secret for years, when he gets dressed in the morning he imagines that his clothes are beautiful dresses and skirts - but as he gets older it is harder and harder for him to keep the image in his mind throughout the day.  The long tops and shirts that used to be enough to keep the image in his mind are no longer enough, and each day he feels more frustrated and depressed in equal measures.  Quiet and a loner, it is a surprise for everyone when Grayson strikes up a friendship with Amelia, a new girl in his class who happens to live across the street from him.

His friendship with Amelia is not the only new change, after years of sitting quietly on the sidelines Grayson has decided to try out for the school play - not only does he try out, he also tries out for the female lead in the play.  When Grayson is cast as a female character in the play it starts a surreal slide into heaven and hell for Grayson.  At home his aunt and uncle are divided over their support - one wants him to pull out, the other is quietly supportive.  School life is just as polarised with some students showing support and understanding, while others walk around calling him gay.  Grayson has found the courage to go after what he wants, but at what cost?

Gracefully Grayson is a touching and engaging story about a child who on the outside may be a boy, but on the inside feels like a girl.  Transgender children, teens, and adults are probably the most misunderstood of the LGBTQ community - for some reason people seem more ready to accept that you can fall in love with someone of the same sex, yet can not accept the fact someone may feel they have been born into the wrong sex.  Gracefully Grayson tackles this uncomfortable topic head on, including the uncomfortable and confronting moments.  Grayson is a completely believable character, struggling to understand why "he" dreams of wearing dresses, and why "he" feels the way "he" does.  

I have not read many books covering the topic of transgender children because I cringe at the thought of how the authors approach the topic - especially seeing as how I just adored 10,000 dresses by Marcus Ewert,  It is all too easy for the stories to be didactic, or for the stories to become a moralising story - but that is not the case with Gracefully Grayson.  Grayson is entering a time of life when children start to become truly aware of themselves, aware of the differences that make them who they are, and the time when they are very aware that other children and adults might be judging them.  The way the story unfolds seem very genuine because of the way Grayson feels and acts, and what Grayson thinks and feels about the people around him.  It is through the course of the novel that the confusion fades away and Grayson becomes truly aware that "he" in fact feels like the girl "he" is inside.

One of the things I loved about this novel was the other characters who represent the thousands of people everyday who are going through the same thing as Grayson and the people in the lives of those "Graysons".  There are the supportive and caring family members, the disbelieving family members, the protective family, and the clueless family.  There are the friends that stand by you, the friends you lose, and the new friends that accept you as you are.  There are the teachers who understand, and the teachers who don't.  I have to confess that at first I was a little disappointed at the pace of the novel, and how slowly things unfolded, but in hindsight I now realise that it was more realistic and genuine.

It is during our childhood and adolescence that we develop a great deal of our beliefs and prejudices, partly from our parents and partly from our peers.  I was incredibly lucky to be raised by a parent with an open mind and loving heart, and I was exposed to literature which encouraged acceptance and understanding over prejudice.  I hope that there are parents, teachers, and friends out there who will share Graysons story so that we can move towards a society where difference is celebrated and accepted as the norm - so the real Graysons out there have the confidence to step out and be who they really are rather than who society perceives them to be.

If you like this book then try:
  • Some assembly required: The not-so-secret life of a transgender teen by Arin Andrews
  • Rethinking normal: A memoir in transition by Katie Rain Hill

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The ultimate truth by Kevin Brooks

When his parents die in a car accident Travis becomes an orphan, but luckily he has grandparents who can take him in.  The weeks between their death and their funeral is a surreal blur, but nothing seems more surreal than someone taking photographs at their funeral using a hidden camera.  It seems odd but ultimately forgettable, until Travis discovers that his parents private investigation agency was hit during a riot and that some of the items left behind point to a connection between Travis's parents and the mystery man taking photos at their funeral.  The only connection seems to be the last case they were working on, the case of a missing boxer.

Unable to let the death of his parents go, Travis finds himself picking up their case - even though a little internal voice is warning him to let it go, as is the very real external voice of his grandfahter.  The more he thinks about it, and the more he learns about that case, the greater the tempatiation to solve the mystery.  Why was this case so important that someone would kill his parents over it, and why is it so important that people are keeping a close eye on Travis and his family.  Travis may be a teenager but he is highly motivated teenager with friends that will help him out in times of need.  The question is though, can Travis solve the mystery before it is too late?

The ultimate truth is the latest in the mystery/crime genre featuring the death of a parent or parents which leads to the young protagonist striking out on their own to solve the mystery.  Despite that somewhat cynical brief synopsis, The ultimate truth is a well written and believable story that starts strong and finishes with a bang, with plenty of mystery and twists and turns to keep the story interesting.  Travis is an intriguing character right from the start, partly because we join his story at one of the most traumatic times in his life, and partly because he is such a "real" character - he has strengths, weaknesses, passion, and an alarming habit of ignoring advice and instruction from his grandfather (among other people).

Travis is clever and resourceful - traits that help him weasle his way into the most interesting of circumstances.  Travis is no Alex Rider, he doesn't have fancy science fiction gadgets and super villains to deal with.  He is also no Agent 21, taken in my a secret organisation and trained to be a young spy.  There are a lot of things Travis is though that make this a very interesting read - he is strong willed, intelligent, cunning, stubborn, and able to make friends in the most interesting of places.  The action sequences are realistic and help keep the story moving, while also supporting the drama of the story.  

There is a very human element to this story, the loss of his parents is the catalyst for Travis to enter the world of spooks and secrets, and it will be interesting to see how the momentum carries through other books in the series.  This was an entertaining and engaging read, and I hope I get to spend more time in his world because if this little adventure is anything to go on, then Travis has a very interesting future ahead of him.

If you like this book then try:

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

  • Reviewed by Brilla

    Sunday, January 18, 2015

    Private Vegas by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

    Private Vegas is part of the Private series and while it is not a series that you need to read in a strict order to enjoy the story, reading them "out of order" can ruin a few surprises for you.  For the best enjoyment you may want to read PrivatePrivate No. 1 suspect, and Private L.A. before you read Private Vegas.

    Spend any time with Jack Morgan and his team and you learn two things - firstly that their lives are never boring, and secondly that they know some rather interesting people.  Jack may have managed to avoid prison time when a plot to frame him for murder failed, but now another member of his team is facing serious prison time after he was accused of beating a woman so badly she almost died.  At a time when he should be focused on supporting his friend and colleague Rick Del Rio Jack is also trying to avoid another attempt by his brother Tommy to take over the business, and Jack can't shake the feeling that his brother knows something about Rick's current predicament.  

    Tangled around the mess that is his personal and business life is a series of converging and diverging cases.  One of the tangles begins in Las Vegas, where a smooth operator is grooming willing young women to wed rich older men in a long term game plan to make them all some serious money.  Another tangle begins in Los Angeles where two men with very specific tastes are targeting women that catch their eye, women that are unwilling to testify against them.  Even if the women were willing to testify the case is unlikely to go anywhere because the men are diplomats and hiding behind their diplomatic immunity.  Jack is never one to give up though, and if he is patient they may slip up in a way that will allow him to bring them to justice.

    Private Vegas is the latest offer in the Private series, a series that offers an amazing world of dynamic possibilities for story arcs, international storylines, and a large cast of characters.  One of the greatest strengths of the Private series is that there are offices around the world, which takes some of the action out of America and into cultures and worlds closer to home for some readers.  That diversity is also a risk as sometimes the co-author lacks some of the writing chemistry, or because the cast of characters gets too large.  In some respects Private Vegas is a return to the "heartland" of the Private world, a story set in the home town of Jack Morgan and his core team, a place we have been many times before and it feels like "home".  

    It is always a challenge to review books in the Private series because if you reveal too much in the review it ruins the delicious little twists and turns that make the series so interesting - but if you don't reveal enough then the book can sound boring and cliched.  The multiple levels to the story, the side cases and investigations are what make these novels so interesting and create the realism and depth.  The straight forward police dramas lack some of this depth because they are by necessity playing by the "rules", and usually the detectives are working with only one case at a time.  In the world of Private there are always multiple cases and multiple clients, nothing seems to stand still and there are incursions from their personal lives into their professional lives.

    Hopefully there are many more books in this series, both around Private L.A. and about the other Private offices around the world because there are a lot of stories left to tell.  There are hints here that a showdown of sorts is coming between Jack and his twin brother Tommy - and I can't wait to see what happens next because whether Tommy beats him or gets his comeuppance there is so much potential for things to go very wrong or very right for Jack Morgan and his team.

    If you like this book then try:

    Reviewed by Brilla

    Saturday, January 17, 2015

    Die again by Tess Gerritsen

    Die again is the eleventh book in the "Rizzoli and Isles" series so there may be some ***SPOILERS*** in the following review - if you like to read things in order then do not read this review until you are up to this book in the series.  If you don't mind reading things out of order then read on.

    Homicide detective Jane Rizzoli has seen some unusual and gruesome crime scenes over the years, and she has worked many of those crimes alongside Medical Examiner Maura Isles.  There latest case is one that is both mind boggling and disturbing, a taxidermist has been found in his home several days after his murder, hung from the rafters and gutted like an animal.  It is a disturbing scene, made even more gruesome by the fact his pets have fed on the remains.  When Maura discovers there are more viscera than there should be the investigation takes a more sinister and confusing turn - an animal was also killed and the pelt has been taken.  

    The course of the investigation will lead Rizzoli and Isles to a murder that happened in the African bush six years previously. Seven people wandered into the African bush for an authentic African safari experience, but the wonder and amazement soon turns to terror as the group is picked off one by one in a calculated hunt in a land that offers no mercy and no second chances.  There was only one survivor, and she has refused to leave the small piece of South Africa she calls home, haunted by memories of that fateful trip.  As the number of bodies and remains begins to mount up, Jane travels to South Africa to try and convince the survivor to face her fears.  She is the only witness to have seen the killers face and live - but that makes her an even more tempting target to the killer.

    I was really looking forward to another book in the Rizzoli and Isles series, and when it arrived at the same time as the latest James Patterson it was a difficult choice about which one to start first.  I am glad that I picked up Die again first because I spent a few hours thoroughly wrapped up in the story in undisturbed enjoyment.  Die again was a pleasure to read, a blending together of two stories on opposite sides of the world that lead towards a stunning conclusion, the two stories blending together seamlessly into a believable conclusion that was very very satisfying.  

    I loved the way the two stories were written, one from the first person perspective of Millie and what happens in Africa, and the other in the more common "voice of god" perspective - this approach made Millie's voice that much more powerful and made the story more gripping.  Gerritsen also showed an amazing sense of timing about how much to reveal about Africa while keeping the tension taunt in present day Boston.  By switching the perspective you think you know who the killer is, then you doubt yourself because of something new you learn about Africa, and then you think you have it sussed again, and then you learn something new that has you doubting yourself all over again! 

    Unlike some of the other books in the series Die again is one that you can pick up and read on its own without too much difficulty, I read the series as it comes out so it is usually a year between books and it can take a while to remember the personal details of Rizzoli and Isles because there are so many other books read.  The characters were still important in Die again, but there were no insider stories here, the essential elements were carefully worked into the story in a genuine way - so even if this was your first ride on the Rizzoli and Isles rodeo you could ride out the story with no problems.  

    I think it is quite clear that I am a fan of Rizzoli and Isles, not only because of the skill with which Gerritsen has breathed life into the police/procedural side of the series, but also because she has her cast in the real world.  Nothing is perfect in the world of Rizzoli and Isles, there are family troubles, marriages, children, and the challenge of balancing professional and personal lives.  Hopefully we will see many more books from this series, and hopefully they are just as gripping and slippery as this one.

    If you like this book then try:

    Reviewed by Brilla

    Friday, January 9, 2015

    Gathering blue by Lois Lowry

    Gathering blue is a companion novel for The Giver - however it can be read as a completely separate novel without having read The Giver first.  

    Kira lives with the stigma of a twisted leg in a society where people who are injured, severely ill, or born with deformities are left in the field to die.  It is a brutal way of dealing with illness and injury, but it is the way it has always been and it was only because Kira's mother fought with her fathers support that Kira was not left in the field.  Instead Kira has been raised by a mother who cared for her, loved her, and nurtured her love of stitchery and weaving.  Kira spends her days helping in the weaving shed, collecting scraps and learning about weaving by watching and listening - waiting for the day when she too can learn to weave.

    When her mother becomes ill and then dies Kira is left on her own in a society that doesn't want her, a society that has no qualms about throwing her out of her only home and sending her to the field to die.  When Kira stands up for herself against the town bully she finds herself not only wanted, but also treasured - her skill with stitches matches and in some cases excels her mothers and an important task is about to land on her shoulders.  Her task is at first a great and cherished responsibility, but over time Kira starts to understand more about her task, her role in the future of the village, and some disturbing insights into how she ended up in her role in the first place.  As she gains in skill and confidence, Kira will be forced to face a horrible truth and decide what she will do with that truth.

    I really enjoyed reading The Giver, partly because it was such an easy to read story with multiple levels, but also because it takes a look at a future world that is a very subtle dystopian - which contrasts sharply with some of the more dramatic approach of other authors.  Gathering blue had a lot to live up to, following on from the amazing read that was The Giver, and Lowry has delivered a story that is unique but also complimentary - a different kind of rotten apple, but the same kind of insidious and creeping feeling of "wrongness".  

    Kira is a strong character to follow, she is very human and aware of her flaws, but there is also something so hopeful and human that makes her an interesting and engaging focal point for the story.  It is always a risk to hang a novel on the viewpoint and experiences of a single character, because if your audience fails to connect with your character then your story may fail before it has even truly begun.  Through Kira's eyes we discover a fractured world where everyone is in it for themselves, and where her close relationship with her mother is something of a rarity, and where the loss of a parent can be a blessing or a curse - depending on your circumstances.  

    Without wanting to ruin the story and the unfolding discovereis, I can say that there is a very "genuine" feel to Gathering blue, a sense that this is a very real story in a future that hasn't happened yet and I am looking forward to getting my hands on Messenger so I can see what happens next as the stories begin to converge.  This is a timeless classic that deserves to be discovered by readers of all ages and levels, and I hope that young readers will read the whole series rather than just The Giver.  This is one of those rare series that can be enjoyed across the reading lifespan - 'tweens will find the story engaging and not too challenging, teens will enjoy the complex interactions between characters and sniffing out the conspiracies, and adults (like me) are likely to enjoy the richly imagined world that is absorbing and beautiful and full of characters that are crying out for you to connect with them.

    If you like this story then try:

    Reviewed by Brilla

    Tuesday, January 6, 2015

    Killer instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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

    Cassie is a gifted natural profiler, but all her skill and instinct counted for nothing when it really counted - or at least that is how she feels.  For weeks she worked alongside a killer and was completely oblivious, but then again so were the other naturals including fellow profiler Dean.  As if professional challenges were not enough for Cassie to deal with, she also has to deal with her attraction to both Dean and Michael, a confusing set of emotions and tangled feelings that is keeping all three of them on edge.  It doesn't help that a new case is about to rock their world - a case that involves Dean's dad.

    They find the first body not long after Agent Sterling arrives at the house, a distant and calculating presence in a house that is already on edge.  Agent Sterling makes it clear from the start that she is there to assess the programme and make sure that all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed -and she seems to take some perverse pleasure out of pushing their buttons.  Agent Sterling has a lot to prove to herself, her father, and her ex-husband - and she is not going to let the naturals rummage around in active cases getting underfoot and into danger.  That becomes more of a challenge than she expected when a body appears that has all the hallmarks of Dean's dear old dad.  In a deadly game of cat and mouse Cassie and the other naturals have to figure out who the killer is before they take their next victim - and they have to do it all under the watchful eye of Agent Sterling.

    Killer instinct had to live up to some seriously high expectations, and I am thrilled to say that not only did the book meet my expectations - it exceeded them.  Writing a follow up to a compelling and enthralling first novel in a series is always a challenge, and when that first novel is a stand out in a field of similar themes and plots that gets even harder.  I have read my fair share of teen and adult thrillers and there is something compelling about the naturals series, something that makes them just that much better than other books of this type - and that includes some of the adult books I have read as well.

    Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a brilliant writer and has only gotten better at her craft over the past few years, and while the naturals is an unusual genre choice for her she has blown the competition out of the water.  There is a fine balance here between character development and plot development, and keeping the high octane pace of the story.  Some other authors may do a better job of developing strong characters and lengthy, involved plot twists - but here you see the master of fast paced action at work.  This series is a stepping stone into the world of adult thrillers for older teen readers, yet it is not so gory or gross that younger teens can't read it as well.

    I am really looking forward to seeing what happens next for Cassie, Dean, Michael, Lia and Sloane because there is some real potential here for a long lasting series.

    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

    Saturday, January 3, 2015

    The kiss of deception by Mary E. Pearson

    At just seventeen years of age Princess Arabella Celestine Iris Jezelia (Lia), First Daughter of the House of Morrighan has been promised in marriage to the prince of Dalbreck - a man she has never seen, but who will help seal the alliance between their two kingdoms.  It is an alliance that completely rubs Lia up the wrong way, in no small part because she resents having to marry a man she has never even met, yet her brothers are allowed to marry for love.  On the day of her wedding, Lia flees in her wedding finery and rides as far away as she can on a swift horse, eager to get as far away from her marriage and her father as possible - because his vengeance will be swift and most likely end in death.

    Free from the stuffy confines of the palace and her life as a princess, Lia soon blossoms into a strange blend of the ordinary and the extraordinary.  She discovers the pleasures of working for a living, earning her keep by working in a tavern alongside her former maid Pauline.  But even in a small fishing town by the sea she is not truly safe from her past life, because riding into town one day comes the prince she ran away from and the assassin sent by her father to kill her.  To Lia they are simply the men who arrived together - Rafe and Kaden.  Both men seem to be hiding secrets, but everyone has secrets and over time Lia finds herself strangely drawn to both men - but some secrets can be deadly, and one of them is following orders to kill her.

    The kiss of deception was a surprisingly good read, a grand and sweeping saga that has all the hallmarks of one of the great trilogies or sagas.  Lia has the makings of a perfect hero, she is brave but human, she has an inner strength that workd for her and against her, and she has a hidden potential that even she doesn't know about.  The people around her have their own stories and secrets, and those secrets help provide amazing depth and layers to the story - making it much more believable and enjoyable.  One of the intriguing parts of the story is the lack of clarity about which of the two men - Rafe and Kaden - is actually the prince and which is the assassin.  There are clues as to which is which, but it does keep you guessing.

    I am really looking forward to reading the next book in the series because the scale and build up on The kiss of deception reminds me very much of the Elenium by David Eddings, The girl of fire and thorns, or the song of the lioness by Tamora Pierce - fantasy series that start with hints of destiny and promise and grow into the epic stories of a generation.  This is an intelligent read, one that makes you work a little and gives you clues rather than spelling things out for you which made it even more enjoyable.  Despite the fact Lia is a teenagers this is also one of those series that easily suits adult readers as well as teen readers.  Come on Mary E. Pearson, please don't make us wait too long for the next book in the series so we can see what happens next for Lia, Rafe, and Kaden.

    If you like this book then try:

    Reviewed by Brilla