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

Deceptions by Kelley Armstrong

Deceptions is the third book in the Cainsville 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 Omens and Visions before you read any more of this review.

It seems as though every new day brings new secrets, new mysteries, new visions, and new betrayals into Olivia's life.  The one thing that she can cling to is the knowledge that Ricky has given her his heart and that Gabriel will always be there when she needs him.  It is an unconventional three-way relationship, but it seems to work for them - even if the waters get a little muddied sometimes.  Olivia doesn't know why she feels the connection to both men, but as her visions intensify and she sees more she discovers that they are connected because of ancient history when a woman named Matilda had to choose between the men she loved, and where the choices of Gwynn and Arawn condemned them all.  

It is a lot to take in for anybody, to know that you are part of an ancient echo that could save or destroy the people in your life.  With secrets of her own to keep it is a race against time for Olivia to piece all the clues together so she can save herself - and the men she loves.  When Gabriel is framed for the murder of her former fiance Olivia discovers just how deep the poison in her life goes, how deep the battle lines are drawn, and that there are other players who are sneaking around the battle field rather than openly declaring their intentions.  Life is all about choices, but the choices we make don't usually hold the fate of whole nations in our hands.  The pressure for Olivia to choose is growing, but how can she choose between the two sides of her heart?

The Cainsville novels have been a very pleasant discovery, partly because of all the subtle twists and turns that are woven into the tapestry of the story - twists and turns that make this series very difficult to review without the dreaded spoilers!  I have thoroughly enjoyed this series, and if I hadn't been nursing an injury that made holding a 400 plus pages book for long periods painful then I would have finished this days ago!  Armstrong has created a rich mythology for her world, borrowed from ours but made uniquely her own.  There are conspiracies within conspiracies to enjoy here, and it can be difficult to separate the "we want to destroy the world" conspiracies from the "we want our people to survive" conspiracies and the "now be good children and go play" conspiracies.  

The world of the fae has been a popular subject matter for teen novels in the past few years, in all their incarnations, and it has been nice to spend time in a world richly imagined that has some terrifying and glorious fae in it.  With Deceptions the world of fae suddenly expands to include those beyond the Tylwyth Teg and Cwn Annwn.  It feels as though we are really moving forward with the story now, that some of the underlying manipulations of Omens and Visions are finally explained and we can finally "see" where the story might be heading.  There are quite a few moments of high emotion to cope with in Deceptions, and it has been a pleasure to read a book written with such a fine balanced maintained between the mythology of the story, the forward momentum of the story, and the characters that are at the heart of the story - their actions, emotions, mistakes, and discoveries are what makes this such an intriguing and addictive series.

Hopefully we don't have to wait too long for the next book in the series because it has been a real treat to read them so close together - and because I want to see what happens next for Olivia, Gabriel, and Ricky.

 If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The scorpion rules by Erin Bow

Greta is a Child of Peace, a duchess and crown princess who lives in the care of the great Talis as a hostage in case her country goes to war.  Her life is simple, structured, and she knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that her death could appear on the wings of The Swan Riders that carry out the sentence of death on behalf of Talis - an AI can't travel very well after all.  Life in the Precepture school is peaceful and everyone knows their place and their purpose, but life is less certain for Greta now that this is a threat of war on her border, and when a neighbouring country declares war on her country the retaliation is swift and deadly, and her class at the Precepture school is one student less.  

Greta has never questioned the decision of Talis to hold children as hostages, it makes it more personal for rulers to know that they will lose their child if they declare war, but it doesn't take away the fear that she won't reach her eighteenth birthday and the relative freedom of life beyond the walls of the Precepture.  When the new student arrives to replace the one they have lost, Greta knows that war is that much closer, and for the first time she truly understand what living under the threat of death is really like.  When unexpected guests arrive at the school things take a dark and very serious twist, and Greta may have to make the greatest sacrifice of all - and this time she knows what she will be losing.

The scorpion rules was a gripping and totally absorbing read, mostly because it is too easy to see these events playing out in the future.  There have been various versions of rogue AIs in different movies and television series, but what makes this so much more intense and realistic is that the AI was once a human mind so there would be understanding behind the calculating act of completely destroying cities to remind the humans that they are no longer in control and can't be trusted to look after themselves.  At first it seems as though Talis is nothing but a brutal unthinking machine, but as you are absorbed into the story you come to realise that it is the perfect way to make people think twice before declaring war - what ruler would declare war if they knew their child's life would instantly be forfeit?

There is more to the story than moralising though, through Greta we see her changing view of the world - a world she has always kept at a cool distance.  For years she has lived in a world separated from reality, and when her eyes are opened she realises that the world is more brutal, more loving, more twisted than she knew - and that she has the chance to save a small part of it.  This is a very satisfying read, and though it feels complete in itself it does seem to leave space for sequels in the same world, even though they may not include Greta directly.  This is not a light and fluffy read, there are some pretty brutal moments, but it lacks the seemingly gratuitous violence of series like The hunger games where teenagers are used as sport as well as tools, Greta and her friends may be bargaining chips but they are not treated as entertainment.  

This was a real pleasure to read and deserves to be discovered.  An intelligent and engaging read for teens.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla