Monday, December 28, 2015

Shifting shadows by Patricia Briggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The recommended reading order for this world is:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 26, 2015

NEED by Joelle Charbonneau

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

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

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

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

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

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 25, 2015

George by Alex Gino

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fair game by Patricia Briggs

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

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

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

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

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

The recommended reading order is:

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

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, December 10, 2015

All in by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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

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

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

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

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

I have one word to finish this review; ENJOY!

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

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, December 7, 2015

Queen of shadows by Sarah J. Maas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla