Thursday, May 28, 2015

The truth about Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Everyone knows the story about Alice - how she slept with two boys on the same night, and that one of those boys later crashed his car because she was constantly texting him.  Everyone knows the story because Healy is a small town and no one has secrets in a small town.  Everyone knows the story and some are even willing to share what they know with anyone who wants to know the truth.

Elaine is the popular girl in school, the queen bee that everyone else follows.  She has influence and power, and no one is going to go against her opinion that Alice Franklin is a slut who deserves to be named and shamed because Alice made out with her boyfriend at a school dance and left Elaine embarrassed.  Joining her voice to Elaine's is Kelsie, Alice's former best friend, the one person who should have stuck by Alice.  Something terrible happened to Kelsie in the summer and that influences her actions - but does it excuse them?  Josh is one of the Brandon's best friends and was in the car the day it crashed, he knows what caused the accident and when Brandon's mom asks what happened he has to tell her.  The final voice is Kurt, the voice of the outsider who watches the humiliation and isolation of Alice as the events unfold - is he too afraid to reach out to her too?

Told thorough a series of shifting chapters that cycle through the main characters we get a real sense of what was happening for Alice as the people involved manipulate and twist the truth for their own reasons and their own gains.  Through Kelsie we see the former best friend who is so insecure she will say almost anything to keep her new circle of popular friends, including selling out the former friend who never judged her or made her feel like an outsider.  Through Elaine we see a petty and shallow queen bee who wants to get revenge and keep Alice on the outside, keeping her place is the most important thing.  For Josh it is protecting his friend, making Alice the scapegoat because everyone else already is - but is there more to it than just that?  Kurt seems to be the only voice that seems to be genuinely interested in the truth, but also seems to be the only person to see Alice as herself.

The truth about Alice is a powerful and engaging read, one that I didn't want to put down and read in one sitting.  The voices of each of the characters is clearly defined, and as the novel proceeds we get to see past the surface veneer of their caricatures and get to see the real people underneath.  The final voice is the voice of Alice, which is the perfect ending for a book that has been about her but otherwise excludes her.  This is a very human focused story, one that could have played out in any small town in the world, not just the small Texan town of Healy.  The teenage years are some of the hardest years anyone can go through, a time of discovering the adults we will become - but also clinging to the memories and safety of childhood.  Fear and shame are strong themes throughout The truth about Alice, fear of being an outsider and of people discovering the truth - shame about telling untruths and gaining through deceit.  While this is not the biggest novel in the world at only 199 pages, it was the perfect length to tell the story of Alice.

If you like this book then try:
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • Rooftop by Paul Volponi
  • Panic by Sharon M. Draper
  • The mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess
  • Living dead girl by Elizabeth Scott

Reviewed by Brilla

Flesh and blood by Simon Cheshire

There's nothing remarkable or special about Sam Hunter - he's a pretty typical teenage boy.  The most remarkable thing to happen recently is that his family has come into some money and they are moving up in the world a little starting with a new address in a posh street.  The house is pretty amazing, even if it does seem a little empty with their limited number of possessions.  The local high school is just a few minutes up the road and it seems like it is just another neighbourhood - until Sam and the rest of the students stumble across a dead body on his first day!  

With a journalists eye for detail Sam soon realises that somerthing is not quite right in the sleepy town he now calls home.  The neighbours on his new street seem nice enough, although they seem oddly happy and all seem to have the same runny nose.  The exception is the Greenhills, a family of respected doctors and surgeons, whose daughter Emma happens to be in Sam's class.  Something niggles at the back of his mind about the family, starting on the night he hears a scream and sees something strange at the Greenhills home.  If he had stopped to think of the consequences, if he had stopped to plan better then the events that unfolded may never have happened - but hindsight is always perfect.

I picked up Flesh and blood after reading Frozen Charlotte, another book in the RedEye series and I was really surprised to find they were completely different (but equally enjoyable) reads.  Frozen Charlotte was a traditional ghost story, tantalizing and creepy in turn.  Flesh and blood has more in common with classic R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike - a twisted story that is more about people doing dark things and twisting you in knots as you try and uncover what is really happening and wondering how it will all end.  I was hooked right until the end of the story, partly because you never really know what is going to happen next or who the "bad guy" really is.  

Told from the first person perspective, Flesh and blood is really creepy and twisted.  Seeing events unfold through Sam's eyes adds to the suspense and the mystery.  Because it is first person rather than the "eye of god" you don't know what the other characters are thinking or feeling, you don't get to see their motivations - which is what makes the story so much more twisted.  I had my suspicions about how things were going to play out in the story, and I was mostly right, but I was also quite wrong about other things.  This is a book that deserves to be read in a single sitting (partly because it will drive you nuts trying to figure out what happens next).  

This is one of those great gender bending books - it is not a book for boys or girls - it is a book that will appeal to readers who enjoy a good book that is going to give them the creeps.  I have read Frozen Charlotte and enjoyed it, but I couldn't get into Sleepless by Lou Morgan which is in this same series, so if you don't like Flesh and blood try other books in the series as they are written by different authors with different styles and all have their own niche in the dark and creepy reading corner.

If you like this story then try:
  • Blackbird by Anna Carey
  • Every other day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Sleepless by Lou Morgan
  • Sister assasin by Kiersten White
  • To die for by Christopher Pike
  • Nearly gone by Elle Cosimano
  • Rosebush by Michele Jaffe
  • Anna dressed in blood by Kendare Blake
  • Don't stay up late: A Fear Street novel by R.L. Stine
  • The hunt by Andrew Fukuda
  • The killer's cousin by Nancy Werlin
  • Proxy by Alex London
  • Party games: A Fear Street novel by R.L. Stine
  • Asylum by Madeleine Roux
  • Locked inside by Nancy Werlin
  • Thirteen days to midnight by Patrick Carman
  • The kidnapping of Christina Lattimore by Joan Lowery Nixon
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • Altered by Jennifer Rush
  • ACID by Emma Pass
  • Burn bright by Marianne de Pierres

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, May 23, 2015

City of fear by Alafair Burke

Being a female detective is hard enough - being young, blond, attractive, and assumed to have slept your way into your promotion is even worse.  Ellie Hatcher is the newest member of Manhattan South homicide and is already on the wrong side of her lieutenant, not the best place to be when you are the new kid on the block and looking to make a good impression that will keep you in your chosen career.  When she stumbles across the body of a young murder victim on her morning run she has no idea that she is about to land herself in the middle of a very tricky and sticky murder case.

One cute, young, and blond murder victim will always attention, even in a sprawling metropolis like New York - especially when the victim is from out of town and her family and friends are willing to keep the case in the media spotlight in an attempt to help the NYPD catch the killer.  When the father of another murdered girl reaches out to Ellie she can't help but feel that there is a connection between the two cases, and when a second girl is found she starts digging into the cold cases that one of her now deceased colleagues thought might be related.  It is a dangerous career move though, her lieutenant wants her to stop digging and the district attorneys office is happy with the suspect they have.  As she digs deeper Ellie discovers more clues, but will she be in time to stop the killer from taking down his final target?

I discovered City of fear by accident, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I had already started reading when I discovered that it is the second book in the Ellie Hatcher series and not the first, and while I was worried that it wouldn't make sense of things would be missing, there is enough information peppered throughout the novel that you don't feel like you have missed anything if you haven't read Dead connection.  It seems as though there is a trend to have more of the how and why behind the "bad guy" - making them three dimensional in their flaws rather than just evil.  It also seems to be like the "heroes" are becoming more human, that it is more acceptable for them to have flaws and weaknesses.  The more you get to know the characters the more it feels like you are really in their world - and Burke has managed to turn out some well developed characters here that will stick with you long after the book is closed.  

I read a lot of crime, mainly because it tests your ability to solve the puzzle ahead of the agent/detective, and there is some really amazing crime being written at the moment - and there are also some amazingly badly written crime novels that are a (ahem) crime against the genre.  I have picked up and discarded quite a few in the past week or so, discarding them because they are trying to be too clever, because the authors have drowned the introduction with too much detail, or just because it felt wrong.  I was hooked from the start with City of fear, partly because it starts with the perpetrator of the crime, a faceless individual who seems to want you to come along for the ride.  By the time Detective Ellie Hatcher joins the party it feels like you have to keep reading for those delicious glimpses of the dark mind that is trying to make his twisted point.

I am waiting with eager anticipation to see what is next for Ellie Hatcher and the other members of Manhattan South homicide.  Alafair Burke has a real flair for writing and for bringing her characters to life, and I sincerely hope there are many more to come.

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

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, May 22, 2015

The taking by Kimberly Derting

It was supposed to be a night of celebration, but it turned into a nightmare instead.  When Kyra's dad offered to drive her to the team celebration after the big game, she knew that it was going to be time for a talk she didn't want to hear - think about your future, think about a different college, don't plan everything around your boyfriend Austin.  Demanding to be let out of the car seemed like such a harmless thing, until the bright light comes swarming around her and then the darkness closes in.  When Kyra wakes up the next morning she stumbles home only to find a stranger in her house, and when she turns to her boyfriend she discovers that more than a night has passed - she has lost five years of her life.  

Everything is different, her boyfriend and best friend have moved on with their lives and left her behind, her parents are no longer together, and Austin's l;little brother Tyler is suddenly the same age as Kyra and sets her heart racing in a way that her boyfriend's little brother really shouldn't.  Things are confusing enough, but on top of the personal dramas Kyra also has to deal with her dads alien conspiracy theories and a federal agent who seems to have a very unhealthy interest in her case - unhealthy for Kyra that is.  Caught between the mother who wants her to be what she was, the father who seems desperate to prove his alien abduction theories, and the need to be herself Kyra is walking a knife edge of hope and despair.  The more she discovers the more she realises that her life is no longer her own - and she is running out of time.

The taking was one of those out of the blue books, an amazing read that I was not expecting and one that I didn't want to put down once I picked it up.  Kyra is the perfect point of view for this wild ride, through her we experience every discovery, every shock, and every moment of hope and despair.  It is clear from the beginning that something has happened to Kyra, but there are teasing hints of what it might be, what it might have been - hints that last until you are so buried in the action and the mystery that it feels a little like you have been sideswiped by the truth.  This is not your "typical" alien abduction story, there are layers to the story and the aliens when they "arrive" are not the little green or grey men you might have been expecting.  The strength of the story lies in the fact that you are reading a story about a young women who has essentially been taken out of time and returned to a very changed world, a young woman who is trying to uncover the secrets around her and the feelings she has for her boyfriends younger brother - oh, and by the way there are some aliens involved.

There is a definite feeling that there is going to be a sequel - although personally I think it is a little sneaky to have a series without sign posting it on the first book!  Characters and world building are what make great books and excellent reads, a world peopled with characters that make you loose yourself in their story and suspend belief.  I had no problems leaving my world behind to join Kyra and her world, and while the main character her is a girl this is one of those great books that easily appeals to both the boys and the girls.  There is plenty to like her and I hope that there is a sequel soon so we can see what happens to Kyra and her world.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, May 18, 2015

Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

It started as a daft joke, a Ouija board phone app that Jay downloaded to show Sophie - but it didn't stay a joke for long.  The only person Sophie can think to contact through the Ouija board is her cousin Rebecca, who died when she was only seven years old.  Her memories have stirred because she is due to spend some time with her cousins while her parents are on holiday in San Francisco.  It seems such a harmless thing to do, she doesn't really believe in magic or spirits, but once you have made a connection to the otherside  it is not so easy to sever it.  Weird messages come through the board, messages that Sophie is convinced is a hoax.  As the session gets creepier and creepier, all the lights in the cafe plunge into darkness followed by a terrifying scream - and a promise that Jay will die that very night.

When Jay is found dead the next morning it seems like Sophie has woken up to a living nightmare, but it is about to get even worse.  Her parents want to cancel their holiday and stay with her, but Sophie insists on going to her cousins house sop her parents can enjoy their holiday and not loose the money they have already paid.  It seems as though the trip is destined to be a failure from the start with her arrival shrouded in rain and wind - and she receives a distinctly lukewarm reception from two of her cousins.  Cameron is cold and distant, reluctant to welcome Sophie into their home.  Her youngest cousin Lilias is flighty and nervous, with a phobia of bones that derails Sophie's welcome dinner, and who insists that Sophie has brought Rebecca home with her.  The only cousin who seems happy to see Sophie is Piper, who can't seem to be helpful or friendly enough.

The old house where the family lives was once the Dunvegan School for Girls and there are reminders all around the old building still, photographs and a display case full of Frozen Charlotte dolls that were once plastered into the walls of the basement.  The building has an spooky feeling, a sense that there is something stirring and whispering in the dark, a legion of Frozen Charlotte's that seem determined to come out to play - with needles, and knives, and blood.  The more time Sophie spends in the house, the more she realises that something is very wrong with the family, something simmering under the surface.  There is a darkness in the house, something twisted and rotten, and if Sophie can't figure out who to trust then she may never leave the island - alive.

I am not a big reader of horror stories, partly because they seem to focus on cheap thrills and gore to win over their readers, but there was something tantalising about the blurb for Frozen Charlotte that made me want to try it - and I am very glad I did.  There is incredible depth and thought behind Frozen Charlotte, a deftly woven story that blends together a believable back story with a mystery in the current time.  Sophie is an interesting character to connect with because her recent loss makes her vulnerable, but also because she is the focus of the manipulation and story.  I also find it interesting that Sophie means "wise" - maybe unintentional on the part of the author, but maybe not.

This is a well written and substantial book with plenty of creepy moments and little events that make you wonder if you really know what you think you know.  Interestingly Sophie's uncle, the one adult who is in the story on the island, seems distant and not involved - making it a story focused almost exclusively on the Frozen Charlotte dolls and the cousins.  I was hooked on this story from the start because it was well crafted and because there is always the little niggle that you are missing something important, or that you have something figured out only to find out you don't!  The book says it is not suitable for younger readers, but younger teens and 'tweens should be fine with it - just not children.  Hopefully there are more books from Alex Bell as this was a well crafted read that was impossible to put down once I picked it up.

If you like this story then try:
  • Tighter by Adele Griffin
  • The ghost of Sadie Kimber by Pat Moon
  • Asylum by Madeleine Roux
  • Anna dressed in blood by Kendare Blake
  • The unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
  • Thyla by Kate Gordon
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • Feral by Holly Schindler
  • Daughter of smoke and bone by Laini Taylor
  • Thirteen days to midnight by Patrick Carman
  • Burn bright by Marianne de Pierres

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, May 8, 2015

The glass arrow by Kristen Simmons

Aya has lived in the mountains her entire life, learning the skills she needs to survive from her mother.  It is a secretive existence, one where they must remain hidden or risk being caught and taken to the City - especially Aya, her cousin Salma, and little Nina because girls from the outskirts are a great prize to be captured and taken back to the City to be sold.  When her mother dies it is up to Aya to be the strong one, the one who can protect her family and keep them safe.  In a time when men rule society and women are traded and sold like livestock, it is dangerous to be a girl who knows her own mind and speaks it.  

When Aya is captured by Trackers and taken to the City her one thought is to escape back to her family, escape back to the freedom of the only life she knows.  Life in the Garden is life in a gilded cage where she is groomed and trained to be obedient and know her place - at least that's the way it is supposed to work.  Aya, renamed Clover, is rebellious and stubborn in her refusal to bend or break by the restrictions around her.  Every chance she has she acts out and refuses to obey, manipulating the situation as much as she can in the hopes she can one day return home.  The only bright points in her life are her times in solitary where she can escape the confines of the Garden and spend time with Brax, the wolf she has known since he was a puppy.

Times change though, and the head of the Garden is becoming wise to the ways of Clover and her tricks, and even a startling discovery may not be enough to save Clover from the fate she has fought so hard to avoid.  In solitary yet again, Clover meets one of the Drivers, a race of people known as too simple minded to even talk.  As she gets to know the silent Driver she names Kiran, Clover rediscovers parts of herself and begins to reconnect with the hope of escape.  In a world where trust is dangerous and hope can be deadly, Clover is about to discover that sometimes you need both if you are going to survive.

The glass arrow is the latest offering from Kristen Simmons, who has already explored one dystopian future in her Article 5 series and now takes a look at a future that seems darker and scarier.  I was really looking forward to reading the book because I enjoyed reading Article 5, so I was more than a little dismayed to discover that I didn't like the first part of the book that much - to the point that I almost gave up!  I persisted though, and I am glad I did because Aya is an interesting and completely realised character - who unfortunately has ended up in a world that seems too familiar and common because of the wave of dystopian and post apocalyptic books that have slavery and the ownership of girls/women at the centre of the story.  Simmons has created her own spin on the sub-genre, but it felt like I had been in the same story a few too many times already.

The relationships between Aya and the people around her are the high point of the novel and what makes the story worth finishing - along with the slightly more gritty and realistic approach of Simmons to what it really means to be a "slave" in this future society.  Some of the other reviews were talking about sequels and being eager for another book in the series, but for me this feels like a complete story in itself and it might actually ruin the story to have further adventure with what happens next.

If you love character development, and like a novel that has a strong (and stubborn) lead character then you will find a lot to like here.  If you don't mind a book that takes a while to get going, that takes its time world building, then you are also likely to find a lot here to like.  If you only like books that jump in with the action and keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire novel then this is probably not the book for you - Aya is such a strong character because Simmons takes her time to build the world and the character so strongly in your mind with lots of detail and background in the first few chapters.  An enjoyable distraction once it warmed up, but not one of my favourites - I found Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch and The Jewel by Amy Ewing to be much better examples of this sub-genre.  I do recommend you try The glass arrow though, because you never know unless you try, and I read so many books that sometimes I can be a little too critical of what I am reading because I have so many other book examples to compare them too.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla