Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Tess Kendrick is used to keeping secrets, and she's used to working hard to stay under the radar.  When she steps in to help a classmate she has no idea that her world is going to be turned completely upside down.  After years of practically ignoring her, Tess's older sister Ivy has come to take her back to Washington DC - and because she is only sixteen Tess has no option but to do what she is told, just don't expect her to be happy about it.  Ivy seems to be making an effort to help her settle in, but so much about Ivy and her life are secret and secretive.  When Tess starts at the elite and exclusive Hardwicke School, she quickly discovers that Ivy is a living legend among her fellow students and their parents - Ivy is a Fixer.

When Tess follows her gut and helps another student she has no idea that she is about to create a new legend - the legend of Tess Kendrick, Fixer.  Suddenly people are coming to Tess and asking her for help, requests that range from mundane to the bizarre.  It seems like a rather bemusing situation, until Tess finds herself caught up in a conspiracy about murders, secrets, and the White House.  It is hard to deny you are a Fixer when you seem to be in the right place at the right time, and when you seem to know just what to do to get what you want.  Tess is determined to stand by her friends, even if it places her at odds with Ivy.  As Tess and her friends learn more about the conspiracy the more Ivy tries to warn her off the case - and Tess really should have listed to Ivy, as the consequences can be fatal.

I have to confess that I am something of a fangirl for Barnes and her books - they are action packed, character driven, and have some amazing little twists and turns to keep you guessing.  The Fixer is no exception, an engaging and believable romp through a world where you have to keep your eyes open and be careful what you wish for!  There have been several books in the past year or so that have tried to bring the political world into teen hands, but they have failed to hook the reader and breath believable life into their world.  The most alarming thing about The Fixer is that it is all too easy to imagine that there is a Tess and Ivy Kendrick out there - and if you have been raised on a diet of American conspiracy theories then it goes from probable to likely!

Barnes is a master at creating repeatable and believable characters that are both very grounded and larger than life at the same time.  She has also managed to make the cross over from fantasy/horror to thriller with grace and style.  Barnes uses short chapters and action sequences to build the tension and mystery, giving you hints and clues to help you figure out what is coming next - it is a bit of a challenge to try and figure it all out before she finally gives you the answer.  While Tess is the main character and there is plenty of relationship building, this is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers.  This is the first book in a new series and I now have the unpleasant wait for the next book in the series so we can find out what is next for Tess and her family.

If you like this book then try:
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • Acceleration by Graham McNamee
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • The conspiracy of us by Maggie Hall
  • 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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ink and bone by Rachel Caine

In an alternate version of our own world the great library of Alexandria was not destroyed, but instead became the Great Library that guides the world and provides the knowledge people need to go about their daily lives.  In cities all over the world Serapeum, the daughter libraries, provide people with access to the knowledge housed in the Great Library and the Archives.  Any person who owns a Blank can access the material they want and need, but that doesn't stop a thriving black market that operates in the shadows, selling Original books to anyone who has the money to purchase what they desire.

Working the black market can be dangerous for an adult - for children growing up in that same world it can be deadly if they are caught.  His whole life Jess Brightwell has been preparing to work in the family business, running the streets with contraband books strapped to his chest, learning the routes to run and the true value of Original books kept hidden from the Library.  All that changes when his father decides to buy him an entrance exam to the Great Library, and instead of working in the black market, Jess finds himself studying to become part of that which his family hates.  To make matters worse the world of the Great Library is full of dangers and mysteries that place the life of Jess and all his classmates in mortal danger.

It is rare to find a book that is fresh, bold, and brave - and Ink and bone is all three.  Rachael Caine has created an alternate reality that has touches of the expected alongside a mind boggling and eye opening reality that takes some believing.  I initially picked the book up because it is about the "Great library" and what librarian could miss the tantalising thought of a world ruled by the Library and Librarians (sad I know, but true).  What I found inside the pages was not a tongue in cheek look at a possible world - what I found was a breath taking new world that I couldn't step outside of once I was there.  I was not entirely convinced that I liked Jess and his world at first, but it was a world that I didn't want to leave and the wait for the sequel is bitter sweet - sweet because we will get to spend more time in the world of the Great Library, and bitter because I have to wait for Caine to write it!

It is unusual to come across a book that is difficult to define into a genre, and rare to come across a book that can be pitched to both boys and girls - Caine has managed both.  Ink and bone has a vast cast of characters that are in the game for their own goals, and Caine is not afraid to maim and kill her characters - something that teen authors still seem to shy away from.  There are conspiracies, betrayals, acts of war and violence, and acts of redemption.  Because of the genuine way Caine has written Ink and bone I would recommend it for older teens who have the emotional capacity to cope and understand - older children and younger teens may not have the life experience to cope with the reality of a world at war.  

Conspiracies (seemingly) hiding in every corner makes this an intriguing world with layers and layers of secrets, and plenty of opportunity to show your true colours.  A truly wonderful find and a delightful read.  Best suited for fans of action and thrillers, although there are enough fantasy elements to keep those readers happy too.  Here's hoping we don't have to wait too long for the sequel!

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The slaughter man by Tony Parsons

Slaughter man in the second book in the Detective Max Wolfe series, however you can read it as a stand alone book like I did without much trouble.

On New Years Eve a figure enters a family home and leaves no one alive inside - mother, father, daughter, son all snuffed out of existence, while the youngest child is smuggled away to an unknown fate.  The murder weapon is crude, brutal, and effective and points to a single culprit - a killer known as the Slaughter Man, known to his family as Peter Nawkins.  It seems like it might be a cut and dried case, Nawkins has been released after serving his time and there seems to be a connection between the murdered family and the travelers community that Nawkins calls home.  

In some ways it is too perfect though, there are too many niggly little details that just don't sound right - details that stop Detective Max Wolfe from putting the case to bed - especially when a second child if a similar age goes missing.  With Bradley Wood missing the race is on to find him before he becomes another statistic, another little body found too late, but that desperate chase may lead them on a merry dance before they discover the truth.  As the lines of investigation between to converge Detective Wolfe will have to lay everything on the line to save a child that he has never met, and stay one step ahead of the killer who has nothing left to lose and everything to gain.

The slaughter man was a very pleasant surprise, a gripping read that kept me thoroughly engrossed from start to finish.   Detective Max Wolfe is the perfect anti-hero, he is flawed, he makes mistakes, and he takes risks to do what is right - the perfect combination for someone who likes their heroes human rather than perfect.  I sometimes find British crime too heavy and detail orientated to enjoy, the pace dragged down by pages of descriptions of characters and scenery that does nothing for the story other than make it seem like a chore to enter their world.  The world of Max Wolfe, in comparison, is declared with bold text and broad sweeping text that jumps in with the action and keeps moving until the last pages.  You don't have time to smell the roses or wonder about the world, the action and story keep you wondering what is going to happen next.

This is a twisted story that left me surprised (which is great, no seeing through flimsy plots here), and I thoroughly enjoyed the real world they all encountered as the story progressed.  There are some very nasty and petty little people here, and there are also diamonds in the rough that keep yo cheering them on through the events that happen.  Like in the real world there is also a blurring between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" - you have people who also flip happily between the two at the drop of a hat or when it is convenient for them.  This is not a book for the faint hearted, but it is also not needlessly violent or gory.  A great read and I hope there are many more adventures to come for Detective Wolfe and his team.

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 postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • The basement by Stephen Leather
  • 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
  • Vodka doesn't freeze by Leah Giarratano
  • The postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • Private Oz by James Patterson and Michael White
  • The survivors club by Lisa Gardner
  • Darkly dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
  • Kill switch by Neal Baer & Jonathan Greene
  • The edge of normal by Carla Norton

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Truth or die by James Patterson and Howard Roughan

"What you don't know can't hurt you", is an old saying, but sometimes it should be "what you don't know can get you killed, or kill the ones you love".  When his girlfriend is killed in what appears to be a robbery gone wrong Trevor Mann finds himself drawn into a conspiracy that will rock his world to the core.  Claire wasn't just his girlfriend, she was an investigative reporter with a reputation for being hard nosed, honest, and fiercely loyal to her sources - even spending time in jail rather than giving up her source.  That honesty and integrity leads her to a story that is too big for any one person to handle, a conspiracy that people will kill for again, and again, and again.

At first Trevor has no idea what he is up against, it just seems like Claire was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but once he scratches below the surface and finds Claire's source he realises just how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Doctors working in America have created a truth serum unlike any other, it doesn't just encourage you to tell the truth it makes it virtually impossible to do anything but tell the truth.  In disturbing footage Trevor discovers just how potent the serum is, as he watches suspects succumb to the pain and terror - but he also watches as an innocent man dies because of the acceptable loss fail rate.  The race is on to find the source of the serum and to prove it - because Trevor is in the cross hairs and the men in control of the serum consider him an acceptable loss.

When you find an author you really like it is difficult not to get excited when you hear a new book is coming out - especially when it appears that the book is a stand alone rather than the start of a new series.  In my household the release of a new James Patterson is always a cause for excitement as except for a very few titles they always seem to hit the spot.  There are two main streams of Patterson (speaking very broadly), the twisted whodunnits in the great tradition of murder mysteries and thrillers the world over, and then there are the action based thrillers which take you on an adrenaline fueled rush from page one to the last page.  Sometimes there is a little bit of an overlap, but generally they fall into one of those two camps - and Truth or die is definitely in the second camp keeping you on the edge of your seat from go to whoa.

Truth or die takes a single death under suspicious circumstances and leads you to a conspiracy that seems just real enough to make you think it could be happening right now somewhere in the US.  Conspiracy theorists and movies tell us that the US government is always working on the next tactical advantage, and with all the advance in medicine and science it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a truth serum that can kill you for telling lies really could exist - today, or in a today just around the corner.  Trevor Mann is an interesting character to observe and experience this conspiracy through, partly because his background makes him somewhat more believable than some other characters who have fallen into similar circumstances.  It feels like this is a stand alone book, but who knows maybe we might get to see Trevor and his world again - and that wouldn't be a bad thing.

James Patterson and his writing is the subject of some scorn in literary circles because he writes so many books and because some people see them as the same book over and over again.  While he has a style, you don't read the same book twice when you read a Patterson, but you do get a good, fun ride that will keep you turning to the last page.  The few exceptions for me have been books that have been a little too descriptive, a little too clever, or ones where the writing chemistry is missing from the co-authored title.  Hopefully we can expect many more from Patterson, for many more years to come.

If you like this book then try:
  • Step on a crack by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • The basement: A novel  by Stephen Leather
  • Swimsuit by James Patterson
  • Kill switch by Neal Baer and Jonathan Greene
  • Private by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
  • Private # 1 suspect by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
  • The silent girl by Tess Gerritsen
  • The postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • Now you see her by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Hide by Lisa Gardner
  • Vodka doesn't freeze by Leah Giarratano
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • Darkly dreaming Dexter by Jeffry P. Lindsay
  • Kiss the girls by James Patterson
  • Kill me if you can by James Patterson and Marshall Kamp

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Homecoming by Kass Morgan

Homecoming is the sequel to The 100 and Day 21 so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** about what happens in books one and two.  If you have not already read The 100 and Day 21 then I recommend you do before picking up Homecoming.  (The book series is independent of the television series.)

For the 100 life on Earth has settled into an uneasy routine - now they know they are definitely not alone and the others aren't all friendly.  Life has been challenging, but they are starting to reap the rewards of working together and working hard.  They have a life,  but that life is about to be shattered by the arrival of drop ships from the colony above, drop ships that are fleeing from a dying community.  The landings are brutal and not everyone who boarded the ships was able to taste the fresh air of Earth before dying.

It seems like a gift from above to have the drop ships land, even though the 100 are not equipped to feed and house hundreds of people.  The arrival of the drop ships was supposed to reunite the 100 with their families, a reward for their hard work and sacrifice, but there are very few familiar faces on board - unless you count the armed guards and the Vice Chancellor.  Peace, calm, and order is quickly replaced with fear, confusion and betrayal.  The Vice Chancellor is determined to run the colony the way he sees fit, using fear and control to keep people in line.  He may have underestimated the 100 though - especially Clarke and Wells.  As the tension in the camp rises so does the danger, because a divided camp is in no position to protect itself from danger - and there is danger all around.

The 100 series has been a delight for me right from the start - a series that stands out from the rest because of it's grittiness and willingness to cross lines and make moves that would be taboo in most teen series.  Morgan is not afraid to kill off members of her cast, even beloved characters, in ways that are grisly and emotional.  I won't say who dies in Homecoming but needless to say it was an emotional death that just wouldn't have happened in many series, a death that seemed very real.  Morgan is also not afraid to make her characters flawed, they make mistakes and learn lessons the hard way - just like you do in real life.

The only thing about this series that takes getting used to is the fact the action picks up right where it left off from the ending of the previous book - so if you have a bad memory or it's been a while since you read the last book it can take a chapter or two (or three or four) to remember all the details of what happened before.  That said, it is a very effective tool for keeping the series moving at a rapid pace, and it makes the series feel like it hasn't lost anything in the time between the books.  The use of alternating characters and switching viewpoints is also incredibly effective as you don't have time to get tired of the voice you are hearing, and you don't have the opportunity to think of characters as whiny when they go through a tough patch.

The 100 series and The 100 television series may have the same foundations but they have already evolved in quite different directions - which is just as well as Television New Zealand put the series on at a time almost guaranteed to prevent a decent audience so I have only seen season one.  Hopefully they will continue to develop independent identities and grow as their own creations as they both have their strengths - but there is something special about a world that you create in your own imagination based on the words on a page.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The princess and the pony by Kate Beaton

Princess Pinecone is the smallest princess in her kingdom and more than anything else she wants to be a mighty warrior.  Each year Princess Pinecone would look at the other warriors when they got their birthday presents.  Warriors need shields and weapons, not cozy sweaters like the ones she always got.  Hoping to make a difference, this year Pinecone has been dropping serious hints about wanting a big, fast horse fit for a warrior.  What she gets instead is a cute, round, little pony that seems distinctly lacking in the noble warrior steed department - but maybe this cute little pony is just what Pinecone needs after all.

Reviewing picture books can be challenging - especially if you don't want to ruin the punch line of the story, and that is especially true in this case!  There are a lot of things about this book that shouldn't work, but put together they seem to work perfectly.  The pictures are not the greatest of illustrations, but there is a style here that children will recognise as something they might produce.  The story also seems a little cliche, that you know what is coming, but again it really works for this story.

This is a great read for the theme of diversity, not only because Princess Pinecone is not what everyone expects her to be, but also because the other warriors discover something important about themselves as well.  Because of the storyline this is a more sophisticated picture book better suited to older preschoolers and younger school aged children rather than toddlers.  The writing and illustrations are quirky which just adds to the appeal.  This was definitely a borrow from the library book for me, but there are some parents out there who are not doubt going to adore this book and want to add it to their own collections.

If you like this book then try:
  • Elephants cannot dance! by Mo Willems
  • A is for musk ox by Erin Cabatingan & Matthew Myers
  • New socks by Bob Shea
  • I am not a worm! by Scott Tulloch
  • No T.Rex in the library by Toni Buzzeo; ilustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa
  • Click, clack, moo: Cows that type by Doreen Cronin
  • If I had a raptor by George O'Connor
  • Tadpole's promise by Jeanne Willis; illustrated by Tony Ross
  • No, David! by David Shannon
  • Croc and bird by Alexis Deacon

Reviewed by Brilla 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

None of the above by I. W. Gregorio

Kristin Lattimer appears to have it all - an amazing boyfriend, best friends who helped her deal with her mothers death and still lover her like a sister, and a bright future thanks to an athletics scholarship.  Everything is bright and rosy, even though she is named homecoming queen instead of her friend, and her first sexual experience on the same night leaves her feeling scared and in pain.  When she visits the doctor to try and solve the mystery of why it hurt so much she learns that she is intersex - she may look and feel like a girl, but there are some extra "parts" that are all male.  

In a matter of days her whole world spins out of control as people try to fit her neatly into traditional gender boxes, regardless of how she feels or what it truly means to be intersex.  Trying to deal with the situation on her own quickly turns into a bigger mess as all the emotional roller coaster rides and betrayals threaten to break her heart and her spirit.  Everything has changed with a single diagnosis, and how Kristin deals with the revelations will dictate the rest of her life.

I have no personal experience of knowing a person who is intersex, although I do know some transgender individuals - so I entered into reading None of the above with a certain amount of trepidation because you never know what to expect.  What I found was a book that was written with an incredible amount of sensitivity and understanding of what it means to be a teenager who discovers they are intersex - and what it means to be a teenager full stop.  This is not a light fluffy read, and some teenagers may struggle to understand the context and social repercussions of the diagnosis so it is better suited to older teens or teens who have adults they can talk to openly and honestly about the subject matter as well as the story.

I was not the only person I know to read this book, and a colleague and I had some interesting conversations around it.  I felt that Kristin is portrayed in a realistic fashion and that the people around her react as you would expect - the good and the bad.  I found her to be justifiably a little bit whiny and self absorbed while she is absorbing and trying to understand her diagnosis.  The reactions of her friends also seemed to gel and I was calling her friend Vee a few choice words in my head at times.  My colleague found that Kristin was too whiny and held grudges - which I guess I can see too.  The ending also brought around an interesting part of the discussion - I felt it was a little too neat, but that overall the story provides some hope that there is a time past the diagnosis and that some people will be accepting and supportive.

This is a book that has needed to be written, providing a voice and hope for young people who discover that in a society where "we" expect people to fit neatly into gender "norms" that that is simply not always possible.  If you know a "Kristin", or if you just want to learn more about what it might be like to discover that you are not like everyone else, then try reading None of the above and see what you think.

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

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Cry wolf by Patricia Briggs

After years of violence and abuse at the hands of her former pack Alpha. Anna is slowly coming to terms with a brave new world - or it would be a brave new world if she felt braver.  Ripped away from everything she has known in Chicago it feels as though the ground is constantly shifting under her feet, especially when she learns more about Charles and his role as the Marrok's enforcer.  The monster she has heard about doesn't seem to match the wolf her wolf has chosen - although she is finding it a little harder to make her connection to the man.  The world of the Marrok's pack is strange and isolated, and there are undercurrents that she doesn't understand.  Leo's pack in Chicago was self destructive and violent, but there are subtle manipulations and power plays that take Anna out of her depth.

With Charles wounded and not fully in control of himself it is a dangerous time for his mate bond with Anna to be uncertain.  In a pack of outsiders and rogues, it is easy for the tension to rise - the perfect pack for an Omega to join, but not without complications.  When Charles and Anna are sent into the wilds to track a rogue wolf that appears to be attacking people they are not sure what to expect - a rogue or a conspiracy to prevent the Marrok from revealing the werewolves to the world.  Living in a world of werewolves is dangerous, even when you are one of the monsters.  Anna has a lot to learn about her world and she is about to get a crash test in what it means to be a werewolf, an Omega, and the mate of one of the most influential werewolves in North America.

Cry wolf is the first book in the Alpha and Omega series which is set in the same world as Mercy Thompson - something that takes a little getting used to if you like to read series in order.  I recently discovered the recommended reading order for both series on the Patricia Briggs website recently and started reading both series in the recommended order and I am not disappointed at all reading them for a second time.  I had forgotten how vulnerable and fragile Anna was in the early books, she is a survivor who is finding her place in the world - much in the same way as any survivor of domestic abuse and rape.  It was a little bit of a jolt to pick up the story where we do, I had forgotten that the story of how they met is one of the short stories in Shifting shadows, but you can easily follow what has happened even if you haven't read the short story.

You may find that this first book in the series is a little uneven - slow in places and fast paced in others.  All I can say is give the book a decent chance as the writing improves over the series and as you learn more about Anna and Charles, and Mercy's world, the series becomes very addictive and difficult to put down.  For first time forays into urban fantasy Briggs has done a commendable job that deserves attention - because although the beginning can be a little slow in places the ending is fast paced, action packed, and explosive!

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:
  • Tinker by Wen Spencer
  • Night shifted by Cassie Alexander
  • Kitty and the midnight hour by Carrie Vaughn
  • Dark descendant by Jenna Black
  • Burning water by Mercedes Lackey
  • Blood price by Tanya Huff
  • Urban shaman by C.E. Murphy
  • Spiders bite by Jennifer Estep
  • Dead witch walking by Kim Harrison
  • Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway

Reviewed by Brilla