Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The way I used to be by Amber Smith

Eden McCrorey is just fourteen when her older brother's best friend rapes her, destroying the safe illusion of her childhood.  It felt like a bad dream, but the evidence is there in the morning, a reminder of the shattered trust and a childhood left in tatters.  It was a single moment that will influence the next few years of her life as she moves year by year from freshman to sophomore, sophomore to junior, and then junior toe senior.  On the outside she appears to be the same girl, but she is making decisions and taking risks.  With each year it seems as though she creates more barriers and makes more mistakes, pushing away the people closest to her without realising why.  Then one day she is confronted with a bitter truth and must decide what to do - tell her story or remain silent.

One of the hazards of reading lots of books is that I tend to end up with high standards and I tend to discard a lot of books because it just feels like I have read them before - and it takes a very special book to stand out from the crowd.  The way I used to be is one of those rare books that I not only read cover to cover, but where the characters have stuck around in my head because I felt such a strong connection to the them.  Eden is the clearest voice, but her friends are also there, asking to be heard, while her family mumbles in the background.  What happened to Eden was shocking not just because it happened to her, but also because statistics in New Zealand at least show that about 35% of all girls under the age of 16 experience rape - that is roughly one in three girls under the age of 16 experiencing a life changing and traumatic event.

The thing about Eden's story that makes it so extraordinary is that she is so ordinary - Eden could be any one of thousands of teenage girls around the world who is finding her way while carrying a crushing secret.  This is not a rapid leap into a life of reckless behaviour, it is a slow and graceless slide as Eden's life and choices are made through the lens of a traumatic event that clearly stays with her through the four years of high school.  I became rather attached to Eden through reading her story, and while I have not shied away from reading books about rape for teenagers this was the first book that took such a long term story arc, and it is only through such a long story arc that you can truly see the damage Kevin did, and the danger of keeping rape a secret.  

I would highly recommend that teenage girls read this novel because there is a high chance that they or one of their friends will expreience rape at high school or in their first years of college - for girls who have been raped Eden's story may give them the courage to come forward and lay charges against their rapist, and for girls who have not been raped it may help them understand changes in their friends and encourage them to offer support for friends who have been raped.  A powerful and emotional read because Eden could be any teenage girl, and it was a story that needed to be told without fanfare or excess.  An amazing debut novel that every teenage girl and her parents need to read.

If you read this book and would like to read similar books then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dead upon a time by Elizabeth Paulson

Kate Hood lives in a village full of people but she is very much alone, the only person who really knows her and cares about her is her grandmother - who lives alone in the woods.  One day as she is taking her grandmother her groceries Kate is attacked by a pack of wolves and barely escapes to the cottage where her grandmother lives, only to find her grandmother has been stolen away.  At the cottage Kate finds a series of tapestries that depict young people held in a prison that seems to be straight out of a nightmare - there is the young woman who must avoid a poisoned apple, a brother and sister in a room that is growing hotter by the moment, a young woman with hair shaved close to her scalp, and now her grandmother is missing too and the latest tapestry says it should have been Kate.

When Princess Ella is taken Kate goes on a quest to find her - along with two unlikely companions.  As they travel Kate will learn what it really means to be Uncommon and she is going to need to keep her wits about her because her enemy is not afraid to use magic to get what she wants - and what she wants is Kate.  Can Kate and her travelling companions find the missing children and teenagers before the unthinkable happens?

Dead upon a time is a delightful fractured fairy tale that takes the stories we know and makes them part of a dark and twisted mystery where the villain is not particularly clear - and where the ending is very satisfying.  At just over 200 pages this is not an in depth novel but it was the perfect length to get to know Kate and her world, and to unravel the mystery.  A lot of fractured fairy tales are aimed at the older teen market, but Paulson has written an engaging and endearing fractured fairy tale for younger teens and readers who don't want to tackle a fractured fairy tale that is hundreds of pages long.  There is potential here for more stories set in this universe and it will be interesting to see if Paulson brings us more stories about Kate and her fairy tale friends.

If you like this book then try:
  • Ella enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
  • Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell
  • 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

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Silence by Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin

Silence is the latest book in the SERRAted Edge series, and while you may enjoy reading the series in order, it has been twenty years since the last book in the series was released and many years since I have read the series and I had no trouble picking it up so you can read the series in order or start with Silence without too many ***SPOILERS***

Staci Kerry has just been dumped in the small seaside town of Silence to live with her estranged, and often drunk mother.  She has been living with her father, but since he has remarried and his wife wants Staci's bedroom for her own son Staci has been shipped off to spend the next two years living with her mother.  The town is not what Staci expected - it seems to be stuck in a time warp from the 1950s and the town is in some sort of technology dead zone which means cell phones only work in one remote spot and there is only dial up internet access.  Desperate to escape and return to New York she reaches out to her friends only to have them drop out of sight one by one from her online connections.

Staci manages to find some friends in the local community who are outsiders just like her, and by some miracle finds herself the focus of attention from Sean Blackthorne, the youngest member of what passes for royalty in Silence.  As she goes deeper into his world she discovers that the world she has always known is a lie, there is magic in the world - and elves!  Staci has been caught up in an ancient feud between the light and dark elves, and the light is badly outnumbered in Silence.  Drawn deeper and deeper into the web of intrigue Staci struggles with what is happening at home - her mother is the local drunk and brings home the most unsavoury of men who see a teenage daughter as fair game, and the local cops are underwhelming in their policing of the streets of Silence.  Darkness is building, and if Staci and her friends can't stop them then there is nothing to stop Silence falling, and then another town, and another, and another.

The SERRAted Edge series began in the 1990s and blended together social commentary and fantasy to create a unique concept where children and teenagers at risk from things like underage prostitution, snuff films, child abuse, and cults come into contact with elves who have found a way to use magic and elven steeds to come into the world.  It was a concept that had me hooked and I am the very proud owner of a signed copy of Born to run (the first book in the series) that I had signed when Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon visited New Zealand many, many, many years ago. 

Silence is the first new book in the series written by Mercedes Lackey for two decades, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the elves and magic it did feel a little bit like the elves and magic 'stuff' took centre stage over the social commentary side of things - Staci was in a rather bad situation but it wasn't explored as much as other books in the series.  I could be being a little unfair here as it has been a number of years since I read any of the books in the series and I am now in the position of looking at my bookshelves and wondering if I should read them again!  Silence is a solid addition to the series and if this is your first taste of the SERRAted Edge then I seriously encourage you to read the rest of the books in the series, and recommend that you read the other urban fantasies that converge with this version of the world.

If you like this book then try:

  • Born to run by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon
  • Wheels of fire by Mercedes Lackey and Mark Shepherd
  • When the bough breaks by Mercedes Lackey and Holly Lisle
  • Chrome circle by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon
  • Knight of ghosts and shadows by Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon
  • Summoned to tourney by Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon
  • Children of the night by Mercedes Lackey
  • Jinx high by Mercedes Lackey
  • Blood price by Tanya Huff
  • Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff
  • Spiders bite by Jennifer Estep
  • Angel's blood by Nalini Singh
  • Kitty and the midnight hour by Carrie Vaughn
  • Moon called by Patricia Briggs
  • Cry wolf by Patricia Briggs

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pretending to be Erica by Michelle Painchaud

For years Sal has been grooming Violet for the ultimate con - pretending to be Erica Silverman, who was snatched as a child from Las Vegas.  She has been groomed, trained, and physically altered to look like the real Erica.  Any con is dangerous with a missing person because you never know when the real person may turn up, but Sal and Violet are safe because they know for certain that Erica is dead.  With the help of some slight of hand and careful planning Violet has spent the last few weeks posing as Erica, a con that will test her ability to keep the con going for the long run.  

There have been Erica's before, and both of them were weeded out quickly, but Mrs. Silverman has latched onto Violet - believing the lie.  The goal is clear and simple, crack the code for the safe and steal the painting from the vault.  It should be easy for Violet, all she has to do is let Erica do the talking and bide her time until she can make the grab - but somehow Erica is bleeding into Violet and Violet is bleeding into Erica making for a very complicated mess.  The longer the con goes on for the harder it is for Violet to keep control of Erica, and the more time she spends as Erica the more she realises what she has missed out on all these years.  As the con moves on Violet finds herself losing control and losing focus - but is that such a bad thing?

I wasn't sure what to expect with Pretending to be Erica, I mostly picked it up because of the interesting blurb and because my name happens to be Erika.  What I found was a book that keeps you guessing about what comes next and leads you towards having a surprising amount of sympathy for Violet/Erica.  Violet/Erica could easily have become a cardboard cut out of the 'bad guy' but she was instead a complex character that you slowly come to understand as the story develops, and as you learn more about her story that level of sympathy grows.  I was prepared to dislike Violet/Erica and her cruel con but in the end I didn't dislike her at all - I wanted to know what happens next!

This is a book well worth a read and hopefully there are many more to come from Michelle Painchaud as she has a deft touch for developing characters and kept her story moving at a good pace without sacrificing any part of the story or character and relationship building.  A great read for fans of real life reads, crime capers, and books about discovering yourself and what really matters to you.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Made for you by Melissa Marr

It starts with an unthinkable accident - someone has run down Eva Cooper-Tilling and left her for dead on the side of the road.  When Eva wakes in the hospital she has no memory of what happened in the moments leading up to the crash, but she does remember that her boyfriend left her stranded so she decided to walk.  When a second girl dies in a suspicious accident it looks as though Eva may not have been in an accident at all - that someone may have run her down deliberately.

Recovering from the near fatal accident has left Eva vulnerable and weak - and has left her with startling visions.  Whenever someone touches her bare skin Eva experiences their death, feeling everything they feel.  For some it is the painless death that comes with old age, or the ravages of cancer, but there are also some who are the victims of a killer.  When a third victim is found it becomes clear that someone is stalking the people that Eva knows, someone who seems to have a connection to Eva.  When you are injured and vulnerable like Eva is a killer is twice as scary and twice as dangerous.  Can Eva use her new found skill to find the killer before it is too late?

Made for you was an additive and twisted read from start to finish - the characters fully formed with all their faults and secrets.  Eva could so easily have come across as a spoilt little rich girl who has had an accident and fallen 'victim' to an obsession, but instead she is a strong voice not afraid to try and solve the mystery herself.  The world around her is full of people with their own little secrets and mysteries, and one voice in particular has motives and secrets that become increasingly dark and twisted.  The Judge is a character that lurks in the background for the first part of the story, teasing you to guess who they might be, and then forces his way into the second part of the story as he goes for what he wants.  

The backdrop of 'good old' Southern society is an interesting setting for the story because it provides a wealth of cultural references that make the story stronger without drowning you in detail.  This is not a story that could have happened in New York or California, it needs the history and the gentile world of the South to make it believable, and it adds a delicious flavour of small town secrets and what happens when everyone knows your secrets.  There was a lot to like here, the characters and the setting, but also the subtle teasing out of the psychological thriller of guessing who the Judge is before he can complete his plans for Eva and everyone she loves.

If you like this book then try:
  • NEED by Joelle Charbonneau
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • The Gardener by S.A. Bodeen
  • The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Acceleration by Graham McNamee
  • What waits in the woods by Kieran Scott
  • Remember by Eileen Cook
  • Furious Jones and the assassin's secret by Tim Kehoe
  • Nearly gone by Elle Cosimano
  • The naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Burning blue by Paul Griffin
  • The Christopher killer by Alane Ferguson
  • The naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • The compound by S.A. Bodeen
  •  XVI by Julia Karr
  • The barcode tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
  • Proxy by Alex London

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, April 15, 2016

Pete the sheep by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

All the sheep shearers have their favourite sheep dogs - border collies who know how to round up the sheep and get them into the shearing shed.  They are proper dogs named Brute, Tiny and Fang, but the new shearer has a sheep sheep named Pete!  

None of the other shearers can believe their eyes when Shaun and Pete arrive to shear the sheep, but they soon discover there is more to this team that meets the eye!  Pete has a way with the sheep, and Shaun creates the most amazing styles for the sheep he is shearing.  Can this dynamic duo win over the traditional sheep shearers?

Jackie French and Bruce Whatley are my absolute favourite author and illustrator pairing when it comes to picture books - and Bruce Whatley is one of my all time favourite illustrators for picture books.  Jackie French has the most amazing creatures and stories running around in her head, and her anthropomorphic animals seem particularly engaging, from Pete, to Pamela the cow, to the famous wombats.  Bruce Whatley brings these characters to life with a skilled hand in his own distinct style.  

Pete the sheep is an older book now, being more than ten years old, but it has lost none of its charm over the years.  The traditional sheep shearers are a wonderful cliche with their black singlets, and their border collies are just what you would expect working dogs to be like.  In comparison to the stereotyped 'country folk' Shaun and Pete seem like flamboyant 'city folk' who are trying to change things that don't need changing.  I challenge you to read this book without laughing out loud at least once!

If you like this book then try:

  • Diary of a wombat by Jackie French; illustrated by Bruce Whatley
  • Too many pears! by Jackie French; illustrated by Bruce Whatley
  • Good dog Hank by Jackie French; illustrated by Nina Rycroft
  • Dinosaurs love cheese by Jackie French; illustrated by Nina Rycroft
  • Wait!  No paint! by Bruce Whatley
  • The ugliest dog in the world by Bruce Whatley
  • That magnetic dog by Bruce Whatley

Reviewed by Brilla

Just the way we are by Jessica Shirvington and Claire Robertson

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and this charming and engaging picture book introduces you to just some of the forms that a family can take.

Anna's family has her mum and dad, but Grandpa lives with them too and he and Anna do lots of things together.

Chiara has two dads, one she calls dad and one she calls papa.  Sometimes her friends get a little confused, but that's okay because she still gets to do all the same things as her friends - just with two dads!

Henry and his brother have a mum and dad - but mum lives in one house and dad lives in another.

Izzy has a special family, one that Jenny and Aaron chose to make by taking in children who didn't have a family of their own.

And then there is Jack, who lives with just his mum - but that's okay too because lots of children live with one parent rather than two.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and this picture book allows children to see that there are families just like theirs - and families that can be very different in deed.  Told in a gentle and non-preachy way, this book will help children experience a wider world view in a safe and non-political way.

Too many diverse picture books, and indeed a lot of picture books, focus on hammering home their message or agenda and fail to produce a picture book that appeals to the target audience.  Just the way we are has an agenda, creating a wider world view for children, but it does it in a subtle way that lets you experience the family through the eyes of the child living in that family.  Better suited to slightly older preschoolers aged three and up as by this age they are starting to understand that people are different, and it is an age where they really start to show empathy.  A charming little book to share aloud - I found my family did you find yours?

If you like this book then try:
  • And Tango makes three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnel
  • The name jar by Yangsook Choi
  • My two blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood
  • Be who you are by Jennifer Carr; pictures by Ben Rumback
  • It's okay to be different by Todd Parr
  • Elephants cannot dance! by Mo Willems
  • If I had a raptor by George O'Connor
  • Croc and bird by Alexis Deacon
  • The seeds of friendship by Michael Foreman
  • 10,000 dresses by Marcus Ewert; illustrated by Rex Ray
  • 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

My New Zealand ABC book by James Brown and Frances Samuel

Alphabet books are the staple of any picture book collection, helping children learn about the letters that make up the English language - and helping to enrich their vocabulary with new words, and often expanding their knowledge of the world around them through carefully chosen themes.  

My New Zealand ABC book is a very kiwi picture book, packed with images from the collections held at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa - known more simply by many as Te Papa.  There are a combination of photographs and paintings which make this a visually diverse and engaging view, and will provide the basis for many one-on-one discussions between the big person reading the story and the little person listening to the story. 

Some of the images are new, some are old, some are everyday items, while others the children will not see outside a museum like Te Papa.  There is a subtle repetition here that will encourage younger children to join in, and older children will enjoy reading this book for themselves (with a little help for the trickier words). 

A charming and very kiwi book that makes the perfect gift for New Zealand children at home and abroad - and the perfect gift for families new to New Zealand who want to introduce children to the wonders of their new home past and present.

If you like this New Zealand picture book then try:
  • Barnaby Bennett by Hannah Rainforth; illustrated by Ali Teo
  • Construction by Sally Sutton; illustrated by Brian Lovelock
  • What's the time, dinosaur? by Ruth Paul
  • Opposites by Lynley Dodd
  • Rustle up a rhythm by Rosalind Malam; illustrated by Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson
  • Tyranno-sort-of-Rex by Christopher Llewelyn; illustrated by Scott Tulloch

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, April 3, 2016

No cats allowed by Miranda James

No cats allowed is the seventh book in the Cat in the stack mysteries so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first six books in the series.  While you can read this series as standalone books it is best enjoyed read in series order so if you have not read the first books - Murder past dueClassified as murderFile M for murderOut of circulationThe silence of the library, Arsenic and old books - then you may want to read them first before reading anymore of this review.

Life is never boring for Charlie and his Maine Coon Diesel - it seems that wherever they are there is a murder mystery waiting for them just around the corner.  Since a sudden change in the leadership of the library, things have been rather unpleasant at work for Charlie as the interim director Oscar Reilly seems determined to make waves.  Charlie knows he has a job to do, but it seems as though Oscar is determined to do what he needs to and damn the consequences.  It seems easy to stay out of the pettiness at first, although Charlie seems to be a source of comfort and advice for some of the people Oscar has annoyed or threatened the most - but then Oscar sets his sights on Charlie, or more correctly on Diesel.

Charlie is all ready to resign, despite how much he loves his job and the people he works with, but suddenly Oscar Reilly turns up dead!  It seems as though there is no shortage of suspects in this case, but the number one suspect is Melba!  Charlie has a nose for sniffing out suspects in cases like these, and this time the case is hitting just a little too close to home - especially when someone makes Charlie the target of some rather nasty pranks.  It is time for Charlie to make some choices - with his children settling down with their respective partners and a grandchild on the way fighting the good fight may be more risky than normal.  Can Charlie figure out who the murderer really is before it is too late?

I have not been shy about raving about the Cat in the stack mysteries - they are brilliantly written, have engaging characters you can really connect to, and there are a lot of in jokes for a librarian to enjoy here!  With each new book there is another layer of characters you get to know, so while the cast of characters is now quite complex and interesting, it doesn't feel like you are overwhelmed because they have been introduced so gradually.  This is a brilliant series and it feels like there are going to be some truly wonderful adventures for Charlie and Diesel over the next few years, because although the storylines so far have lead us in a certain direction we are not yet painted into a corner - it feels like there could be many more adventures to come.  

A fun read that will keep you glued to your seat from start to finish - a fine addition to the Cat in the stacks mysteries (fondly known as Charlie and Diesel in our house).

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla