Monday, February 29, 2016

More and more by Emma Dodd

I love every bit of you - 
your eyes and ears and nose.

I love every bit of you,
from your head down to your toes.

I love your tumbles, jumps, and bumps,
your fidgets and your wiggles

So starts this charming and endearing book about a monkey parent sharing with their monkey child all the things they about them.  Like most children our little monkey is less than perfect, but like parent everywhere their parent still loves them.

Children love it when grown ups read to them, and when that grown up is someone they have a strong bond with then the story sharing experience is even better.  While I attribute the relationship to a parent and child relationship, the wonderful thing about this book is that it could just as easily be the relationship between a child and their aunt or uncle, grandparents, or another caregiver.

Picture books are a great way to share thoughts and feelings with our little ones, and this is one of those books that will be timeless for generations - much in the same way that Guess how much I love you has become a much loved book passed from one generation to the next.

Dodd has sweet and engaging illustrations that has subtle hints of gold threaded throughout - it is nearly impossible not to be attracted to the simplistic charm of the characters.  This simple and clean style appears to be Dodd's trademark, and the same splashed of sparkling colour were in her other books too.  There is a lot to like here, and I can't wait to see more books by this author and illustrator.  

If you like this book then try:

  • When I grow up by Emma Dodd
  • All the things I love about you by LeUyen Pham
  • Guess how much I love you by Sam McBratney & illustrated by Anita Jeram
  • Grandma calls me gigglepie by J.D. Lester & illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
  • Just like my mum by David Melling
  • Just like my dad by David Melling
  • Ten things I love about you by Daniel Kirk

Reviewed  by Brilla

Friday, February 19, 2016

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

The Red Abbey is a sanctuary for girls and women, a place where they can learn knowledge about the world and the three aspects of the Goddess - Mother, Maiden, and Crone.  Girls from all over come to the Red Abbey, escaping from the oppression of women in their own lands, or escaping from hardships and famine.  It is a place of learning but also of safety - men are forbidden from stepping foot on the island.  Maresi has called the Abbey home for years, and while she is yet to be chosen as a novice for a specific aspect of the Mother she does have a love of reading and acquiring knowledge and she has a knack for soothing the fears and worries of the younger novices.  

It is a peaceful existence with Maresi certain about the turn of the seasons and what is to come with each change of the moon.  When Jai arrives at the Abbey she is quiet and guarded, keeping secrets about her past and the scars upon her back.  As she settles into life at the Abbey she starts to share some of her story and Maresi realises that she has a lot to learn about the world beyond the safe and secure walls of her home.  When Jai's father comes in search of his daughter it places the whole Abbey in danger and Maresi starts to understand what it truly means to be a novice in an Abbey where the three aspects of the goddess come into play - but which aspect will be strongest Mother, Maiden or Crone?

It takes something special for a book to stand out from the crowd, and this A.A. Prime translation of Finnish author Maria Turtschaninoff's book is truly special.  It is difficult to put my finger on what makes it so special - Maresi is a clear voice and a very emotive one that embraces us on her journey, it is a well envisioned world with an engaging and believable mythology, a world of relationships and empathy, and a subtle magic that seems to dare you to deny it exists.  This is not a long novel, nor a particularly challenging one to read, but it is appealing (even more appealing) than some of the big names and the bigger novels out there.  I didn't want to put Maresi down and I am regretting picking it up in a way - only because now I have to wait for the sequel!

If the rest of the series is as amazing as Maresi then this has the potential to become a great classic fantasy series - partly because it is well written, and partly because it is set in a fantasy world that won't "date" the way some series do.  This was a delightful find and I look forward to seeing where Maresi's adventures take her next.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Saving June by Hannah Harrington

June was the perfect big sister, she got good grades and was a dutiful daughter - so different to Harper.  But Harper was not the one who took her own life, that was June, and it was Harper who found her.  What could have caused her perfect big sister to take her own life just before graduation?  If June had waited a few weeks she would have been free of high school, free of so many things, but something drove her to take her own life and it has left her family in pieces.  They were already a broken family, her father had moved out and on to live with his girlfriend, but now they are so broken that June's ashes are going to be split so that each of their parents can have some of the ashes.  

In a moment of insane inspiration Harper decides to steal the ashes and take them to California, the place that June longed to be.  Talking her friend Laney into the cross-country trip is not that difficult, but when disaster strikes Harper and Laney find help in the form of Jake Tolan.  For some unknown reason Jake is willing to help them travel to California and spread June's ashes - and Harper is not willing to look that gift horse in the mouth.  The road trip is not what Harper was expecting and she discovers some rather amazing things about Laney, Jake, June, and herself.  

Suicide is a very difficult topic for any author to tackle, especially when you are examining the wreckage that suicide leaves behind.  A person who commits suicide is in pain, but the people who are left behind can experience feelings of intense pain, grief, loss, and guilt.  The journey that Harper takes with Jake and Laney is more than just a physical journey from point A to point B, it is also a journey of discovery about her sister June and herself.  This is a deeply emotional read at times, and at other times it screams "road trip" - sometimes in the same sentence.  

Harrington has done an amazing job of giving voice to something that too many teenagers experience, the loss of a loved one who has taken their own life.  There is a great deal of sensitivity to the subject, but she has also not pulled any punches, using real language to expose the rawness that Harper feels over the loss of her sister, and the anger she feels at her parents (who really should know better).  There are moments when the language made me raise my eyebrows a little, but taken in context it is a very genuine language - both in terms of emotion and profanity.  Harrington has a gift for giving voices to teenagers experiencing trying times, and she has huge potential to become a voice for teenagers who are too often silent or silenced.  

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Soundless by Richelle Mead

For generations Fei's village has been cut off from the rest of the world, their only source of food and other essential supplies is the zip line that connects them to the village at the base of the mountain.  In a system that has worked for generations the villagers mine for precious metals and send them down in the zip line, with the line keeper sending food and other supplies up in return.  It is not a perfect system, the food they receive is barely enough to keep the village alive, but at least it is something.  Escape from the village is practically impossible, not only because the cliffs are dangerous, but also because the entire village is deaf - and it is impossible to miss falling rocks if you can't hear them coming.  

Fei and her fellow villages are used to a world without sound, but now some of the villagers are losing their sight as well - including Fei's sister Zhang Jing.  It seems as though the village is doomed, especially when they are punished for asking for more food.  It seems hopeless, but then one morning Fei awakens from a dream and discovers that she can hear.  Armed with a secret weapon that might make it possible for her to climb safely down the mountain, Fei volunteers to travel in secret with Li Wei down the mountain - a journey that might bring them some answers.  What they find is a shocking truth that places their lives in great danger, because there are powerful people who will stop at nothing to prevent the truth reaching the villagers.  Fei must find courage to face the truth and fight for her family, her friends, and her village.

Soundless is one of those amazing books that is terribly difficult to review - because if you are too detailed you blow some of the twists and turns that make this book so amazing, and if you are not detailed enough then it makes the book almost sound boring (which it most definitely is not!).  Richelle Mead has created a truly original and believable world that seems to have come straight out of medieval China, a world where the lines between mythology and history are blurred by time.  The basic concept of a village where everyone is deaf is unique, especially as the reason for the deafness is unknown and people just seem to accept it.  Into this soundless and very traditional world steps two characters who have the chance to change everything - if only they can find the inner strength to do so.  

Soundless is amazing and Mead has managed to find a unique voice in an increasingly cluttered teen market - creating a book that deserves to be discovered and read because it is an amazing book, rather than just a well marketed one.  If you enjoy reading fantasy that has its feet well grounded with a sound mythology and strong characters, then you have to try reading Soundless and discover Fei and her world for yourself.  Highly, highly recommended.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, February 7, 2016

So yesterday by Scott Westerfeld

You probably don't think too much about the origin of fashion and technology trends, the first people that decided to do something just because they could, only to have it become something huge.  There are people out there though who watch constantly, looking for the next big thing, the next idea that will be "the" idea. These cool hunters understand the way things work, this whole pyramid of how ideas go from the street to the shops.  The Innovators start the ball rolling with their creative individuality, and their ideas are picked up by the Trendsetters and then the Early Adopters.  The weight of the pyramid is then carried by the Consumers and finally the Laggards.  Hunter is very aware of all this, he is a cool hunter after all, but he is about to discover that there is something not quite right in his home town of New York, something that has caused some interesting shock waves to go through the Trendsetters and Early Adopters.  On top of all this confusion is a missing boss and an interesting new female friend who seems determined to shake Hunters world loose.

Writing a truly original book is challenging and brave for any author, and few manage to pull off the trick successfully.  What seems fresh and original can sometimes be extremely cliched or too clever for its own good as it tries to find a unique voice in an increasingly crowded young adult market.  Luckily for Scott Westerfeld, he did not fall into the trap of the mediocre or trying too hard when he wrote So yesterday.  I will be honest and say it takes a few pages to get used to the way Hunter talks to his audience, and tries to avoid using actual names for brands, but once you get into the flow it is kind of fun to try and figure out the brand names that are hinted at.  This book is over ten years old now, which pushes it into the retro read category, but it reads as well today as it did then and didn't feel too dated at all - probably because of the careful crafting of the story.

This is a quirky and unique voice that blends together elements of self discovery, the crime thriller, and a little touch of romance and blooming friendships.  Hunter is a complex character who initially comes across as quite shallow and self centered, but as the story develops so does he and we get to see why he is the way he is - and what he really is like.  This is quite a quick read because of the fast pace (the action happens in a matter of days) and because of the short chapters - and it should appeal to teens of all ages as well as both sexes.  There is a lot to like here and very little not to like.  Westerfeld carved a very unique niche for himself with the release of his Uglies series, and has continued to write broadly and challenge new genre with his smooth and engaging style.  I have picked up his new stuff, and I am going back to read his old stuff because it was just that good the first time, and really enjoyable the second time.  If you have only just discovered Westerfeld remember to go back and try some of his back catalogue because there is a lot to enjoy.

If you like this book then try:
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • Arrival by Chris Morphew
  • Tomorrow, when the war began by John Marsden
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • Survival by Chris Ryan
  • The hunt by Andrew Fukuda
  • The lab by Jack Heath
  • Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • The walls have eyes by Clare B. Dunkle
  • The Industry by Rose Foster

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, February 5, 2016

Speechless by Hannah Harrington

Chelsea doesn't really stop and think about the words that come out of her mouth, they just suddenly appear in her mind and come out of mouth.  People have gotten used to the fact that she can't keep a secret, but Chelsea knows it's just part of who she is - it's not like anyone has died because she couldn't keep a secret.  At a party one night Chelsea stumbles (literally) upon a juicy bit of news and rushes off to tell her best friend Kristen, and ends up telling more than just Kristen.  Chelsea's juicy gossip results in one badly beaten teenage boy, a statement to the police, and instantly becoming the social pariah of her school and the former friend of everyone who was her friend before.  

Isolated and remorseful Chelsea takes a voluntary vow of silence, refusing to speak at school or at home.  Some of her teachers roll with the idea, albeit a little reluctantly, while others seem determined to punish her until she stops acting out.  At home her parents are worried about her and want her to get professional help - and if they knew about the harassment and backstabbing at school they would insist on it even more.  Into this brave new world comes a new friend from an unexpected source, and Chelsea comes to understand more about herself and the defining features of life "before" and life "after".  Chelsea has a lot to learn about herself, and for the first time in her life her voice is silent and instead of talking she is listening - and learning.

I started following Harlequin teens on Instagram recently and there was a photo of several of their books and one of them was Speechless - and when I looked it up I just knew it was a story I had to try.  I have very eclectic taste in books (as you may have noticed) although I am a sucker for a good fantasy, science fiction, crime, or real life reads that make you stop and think.  Speechless could have so easily gone badly, it could have been preachy or idealistic, but instead it is a book that feels very genuine and realistic.  Chelsea is far from perfect at the beginning and she is no angel in the end, but over the course of the novel she goes on a very realistic journey of soul searching and discovering who she really is when she is by herself rather than being Kristen's best friend.  

There are a lot of topics here that are suitable for class room study, but most of all it is a gripping, gritty and engaging read.  Chelsea is the focus of the story, but through her eyes and her experiences we get to see a microcosm of high school life where the queen bee rules through manipulation and social control (don't the always), the ruling elite get to decide who is "in" and who is "out", and teenagers can discover that they don't have to be one of the sheep to survive high school.  This is one of those rare reads for teens that is confronting and makes you think and get involved with the story, but it doesn't shove messages down your throat or resort to gratuitous sex and/or swearing.  There is some swearing here, but it is natural language and adults just have to accept that!  A thoroughly good read, and I am now waiting for a copy of Saving June so I can see if it is as good (or better) than Speechless.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, February 1, 2016

The weight of feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

For as long as Lace can remember her family, the Palomas, have loathed and hated the Corbeau family. She knows how it started, the death of one of the Palomas, and each season when the families come together there are petty fights and squabbles between the clans.  But Lace knows it is their fault and that the feud only continues because of the regular acts on the part of the Corbeaus.  Cluck also knows who started the feud, like any good Corbeau he knows it was the Palomas that started the feud and they must pay, even if he is not the one who usually takes part in the fighting.  Neither Lace nor Cluck would dream of talking to a member of the other family - until a fate filled night when a siren pierces the air and a deadly rain falls across the town.  Lace is badly injured and is left with a taint that drives her from her family and into the path of Cluck and the rest of the Corbeaus.  

It is a foreign world in more ways than one, the Corbeaus show is in the tree tops while the Palomas flit through the water, the danger to the Corbeaus is slippery and treacerous branches, while the Corbeaus must watch for nets in the water that can suck the unwary into a watery grave.  As she learns more about the Corbeaus Lace buries who she really is behind half truths and avoided answers, because if Cluck figures out who she really is then all bets are off and she may never be able to return to her own family.  But secerts are difficult to keep, even secrets that everyone seems to know, because a secret always wants to come out and be free.  As Lace fights against decades of hate and prejudice she can only hope that her developing feelings for Cluck will help both of their families break free of the hate that drives them and keeps them apart.

The weight of feathers is a difficult book to review without giving away too much of what happens, the little twists and turns that make the story so interesting and engaging.  This is not the kind of book that I would normally read, the whole idea of star crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet just seems so far fetched in a modern world - but Anna-Marie McLemore has taken that theme and created a rich and wonderful world that sucked me in from the first chapter and refused to let go until I had reached the end of this chapter in the lives of the Palomas and Corbeaus.  It seems to start simply enough, rival families of performers that come to the same town each year, rubbing open the wounds from years past on both sides.  Each family has their own special performances, and their own secrets - for Palomas the birthmarks like fish scales, and for the Corbeaus the feathers that grow from their hair.  There are secrets and magic in both their families, and through Lace and Cluck we discover the multifaceted world of complicated relationships, petty acts of vandalism against each family that have the potential to be deadly, and the ignorant bliss of not knowing that someone is your mortal enemy simply because of the family they were born into.

Lace is in many ways the main character of the novel, with Cluck being the (slightly) more secondary character.  Their worlds are strictly controlled by the matriarchs of their families, and while they are both reaching adulthood they are both very much children within their families, trusted to do their part and no more.  When Lace is forced out of the family her reaction is that of a child seeking forgiveness so she can return to her family, but over time she develops a greater understanding of the world around her - and she comes to understand what love is and what it can drive people to do.  In some places the story was a little disjointed and felt a little less polished than I was expecting, but this is a startlingly original story that takes something that was rather far fetched and dull (Romeo and Juliet) and turns it into a modern story in a world where magic is possible.  It will be interesting to see how McLemore follows on from this amazing debut novel.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla