Friday, December 30, 2016

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Tally is looking forward to her sixteenth birthday - the day when she will receive the operation and change from one of the Uglies into one of the Pretties.  It feels like she has been waiting forever, and with her friend Peris living in New Pretty Town she is feeling lonely - which leads to one of the biggest adventures she has had, and leads to Shay.  Shay is also about to turn sixteen, and she and Tally strike up a fast friendship.  Together they are an unstoppable force, and come up with the most bubbly escapades. 

As the time for the operation approaches things change and Shay seems withdrawn, focused on the rusty ruins beyond the city limits.  Shay seems to actively avoid mention of the operation, refusing to play the game of planning her perfect new body and face, looking to the world beyond what they know.  When Shay runs away just days before the operation Tally is pulled into the most bogus adventure of her life because she knew Shay and everyone assumes she knew what Shay was about to do.  Tally is about to discover some of the biggest secrets of her city, and once she knows them it will change her life forever.

I read Uglies when it was first released over ten years ago, and as I had the luxury of some time off around the public holidays I decided to pick the series up and read it from start to finish.  It says something about the enduring nature of the series that it doesn't feel like it has dated over the past decade, and if anything it feels more relevant today than it did back then.  Tally is an interesting and engaging character, as are Shay and the others, and the story is more believable because we make the most important discoveries through their eyes. 

There are so many things that can be said about Uglies, but most of them would be spoilers that ruin the surprises within the story.  While this is a science fiction series, there are themes that appear that are relevant to today - the environment, social control, friendship, loyalty, and self discovery.  This is one of the original dystopian series, and Westerfeld created a world that seems perfect on the surface until you discover the rotten core - and Tally Youngblood is one of the archetype characters that are echoed through other dystopian novels.

If you like this book then try:
  • Renegade by J.A. Souders
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • The testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
  • Proxy by Alex London
  • Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
  • In the after by Demitria Lunetta
  • ACID by Emma Pass
  • Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • The scorpion rules by Erin Bow
  • The hunt by Andrew Fukuda
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • Sister assassin by Kiersten White

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Dead secret by Ava McCarthy

Jodie Garrett has one thing on her mind - she is going to kill her husband and then herself.  She's not a deranged killer though, she is a mother seeking revenge against the man who killed their daughter Abby.  What seemed like a perfect marriage turned out to be anything but, and Jodie has nothing left to live for now that her little girl is gone.  The man who made her feel like she had finally found her place and a family turned out to be a manipulative and controlling man who liked to twist things to make Jodie feel off balance and uncertain.  Killing their daughter was the final act of a man who was determined to control the situation when Jodie decided to walk away.

Things don't go to plan though, and Jodie finds herself incarcerated for the murder of her husband - her own words used to convict her.  Inside life has settled into a routine, a routine that is destroyed when a reporter asks to see Jodie and reveals a mind blowing surprise - it is possible that her husband is still alive.  Reporter Matt Novak has some rather damning evidence against her husband, but without her help he is only seeing part of the picture.  Jodie is going to have to risk it all to find out the truth about her beloved husband - and she is about to discover that some secrets are better left dead and buried.

In many ways Dead secret reminds me of the movie Double jeopardy with Ashley Judd - a wife imprisoned for the murder of her husband who discovers that he may not be dead after all.  The early similarities and niggles to remember the plot of the movie almost put me off, but I am extremely glad that I shook it off and read the book all the way through (in one day to find out what happened!) because it is a book with lots of twists and turns as the full story is slowly revealed.  I am not going to include any spoilers here as the story unfolding is one of the best parts of the story, but there are some real shocks throughout the story and the subtle clues about what is really happening build towards an ending that you might (or might not) figure out before the big reveal at the end of the story.

A thoroughly entertaining and absorbing story with characters that leap off the page and make you care about what happens to them.  Jodie is at times filled with strength and determination, and at other times crippled by doubts and confusion - making this a realistic and plausible story.  Can you guess what is happening before the end?

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Look past by Eric Devine

Avery is devastated when his friend Mary Mathison first goes missing, and then is found dead in the woods, and can't help but want to be involved with the case.  His snooping gets him in trouble with his Uncle Tom who is a police officer involved in the case, and causes problems for his friend Charlie and his girlfriend Beth, but he can't help getting involved with the case - especially when he starts receiving threats by text that he will be next. 

As a transgender teen transitioning from female to male Avery already faces challenges everyday, but when he is told to repent and stop sinning he faces an impossible choice.  He can pretend that his identity doesn't matter, pretend to be the perfect girl he used to appear to be - or he can stay strong and fight against the person who has threatened his life and the lives of those around him.  It is an impossible choice, and as the killer leaves more taunting clues and threats Avery has to decide what truth is more important and if being right is the most important thing.

One of the things that attracted me to read Look past was the fact that the book was about someone who was transgender and transitioning as a teenager - but most of the time I forgot that Avery was transgender at all.  That may seem strange when Avery being transgender, and the challenges he has faced are so central to the story and the events that unfold in the story, but the most important part of the story to me was the well written and well thought out plot and what happens. 

In many ways Avery is a completely normal teenager facing the challenges of discovering a sense of self and wanting other people to see him for who he is - something that teenagers all over the world experience to varying degrees depending on where they live and what their society is like.  At times the inner turmoil Avery was facing was like a living thing, and I know that reading this as an adult definitely added a different perspective - being different is hard for any teen, and in such a small town with highly religious/conservative people is something that leaps off the page on more than one occasion.  Without downplaying the challenges faced by transgender teens, this is a story of struggling to find yourself that any teen can relate too.

Too often I have given up on reading books with transgender teens and children, not because I don't want to read their stories, but rather because the author has chosen to make a soap box on the backs of young people who don't deserve to have their voices turned into a cliché to make money for an author who wants to jump on the latest publishing trend.  I found Avery to be a very believable character and I developed a real feeling of empathy very early on in the story - you can't help but feel a connection to this character and his world.  Hopefully more authors exploring this emerging publishing trend will take the time to craft a world where their characters just happen to be transgender - rather than building a whole story around a person being transgender. 

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 23, 2016

I've got you under my skin by Mary Higgins Clark

Five years ago Laurie Moran lost her husband when he was shot to death in front of their young son Timmy.  It was a brutal act of controlled violence, made all the more chilling by the killers promise that he was going to kill Laurie next and then Timmy.  In the years since the murder Laurie has tried to live as normal a life as possible, supported by her father her keeps a protective eye on both Laurie and Timmy.  All that careful guarding and protecting is about to be tested to the limits because the killer has Laurie is back on her trail and determined to kill her - and her latest television pilot could be the perfect time to strike.  

Laurie has pitched the idea for a reality television series that examines true crime cold cases - a gamble for Laurie, but also for her boss as her last two series have failed to fire.  The case that sells the pilot idea is the murder of Betsy Powell, who dies twenty years ago on the night of a grand gala celebrating the graduation of Betsy's daughter and her three friends.  The studio is willing to put up the money to pay the estranged step daughter and her friends - but her widower surprises Laurie by offering to top up the amount to make the cash incentive as attractive as possible.  Assembling everyone at the scene of the murder brings out some surprising revelations, and uncovers some rather disturbing secrets.  It seems as though the secrets buried for two decades are bubbling beneath the surface, but will they be exposed before the blue eyes killer keeps his word?

I have been reading new authors over the past few days, and one that I have never tried before is Mary Higgins Clark.  I have to confess that I picked up the first book in this series because the rest of the series is co-authored with Alafair Burke, someone I have read and enjoyed before, and I was not disappointed at all by this solo outing with Mary Higgins Clark. I tend to like books that are a little sparsely written, where the attention is on the characters and the action rather than bogging you down with too much unwanted drama and baggage, and I've got you under my skin fitted the bill perfectly.  It took a chapter or two to get used to moving from character to character, but that focus on one person at a time made me pay attention and made it just that little bit harder to figure out what was important and guess who the killer really was.

I've got you under my skin has a lot in common with crime television series, and old school detective novels and I found myself glued to the story until the very satisfying end.  This is the first book in a series, which might have made the story predictable but it really does keep you guessing about what is coming next.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and my mother also read it and thoroughly enjoyed - now we just have to figure out who gets to read book two in the series first!  

 If you like this book then try:
  • City of fear by Alafair Burke
  • Now you see her by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Behind closed doors by B.A. Paris
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • Darkly dreaming Dexter by Jeffry P. Lindsay
  • One step too far by Tina Seskis
  • The postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • Normal by Graeme Cameron
  • The survivors club by Lisa Gardner
  • Private Oz by James Patterson and Michael White
  • Look behind you by Sibel Hodge
  • Vodka doesn't freeze by Leah Giarratano
  • Kill switch by Neal Baer & Jonathan Greene
  • The edge of normal by Carla Norton
  • The slaughter man by Tony Parsons
  • City of the lost by Kelley Armstrong

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, December 19, 2016

Girl unbroken by Regina Calcaterra and Rosie Maloney

The full title of this book is Girl unbroken: A sister's harrowing story of survival from the streets of Long Island to the farms of Idaho.  This is the story that was glimpsed and hinted at in Etched in sand, but for the first time we get the full story of what life was like for the little girl that was swept away from the close knit family of sisters who cared for her and protected her into the "tender loving care" of her mother.

When her older sister Regina tells the authorities about the abuse they have all suffered at the hands of their mother Cookie, Rosie and her brother Norman are sent to a foster home where they are supposed to be safe from harm at the hands of their mother or anyone else.  They were supposed to be safe, but the reality was that their foster mother was as cruel in her own way as Cookie was, and in the foster home Norm and Rosie don't have their older sisters to protect them.  When their mother spirits them away from the foster home it seems like a blessing, but they soon realise that being with their mother is just as bad if not worse than the foster home.

As the years pass Rosie and Norm live in the shadow of their mother as she once again pulls into places as "hurricane Cookie" and makes a life for herself - often at the expense of other people and her children.  It is not an easy life, but at least they have each other to lean on when Cookie is being Cookie.  A move to the farms of Idaho is like moving to another planet,  and small town Idaho is completely different to any life they have known before.  In a small town where everyone knows each other and each others business it is both embarrassing and painful to watch Cookie wreak havoc - and when people warn her about her new stepfather, Rosie has no idea of the ordeal that she is headed for.

Girl unbroken was a fascinating and heartbreaking read, and on more than one occasion I felt like a voyeur looking into her life because Rosie is so open and honest about what happened to her when she was a child.  It is mind boggling that anyone could treat a child like Rosie and Norm were treated, and it makes my skin crawl to think of all the people that came into her life that just walked through the motions or just plain didn't believe her - especially the people in a position of trust and with a responsibility of care.  

The worst part, the absolutely worst part, is that these stories are still happening today.  There are still social workers that walk through the motions and don't seem to care at all about the children they are supposed to protect - I have seen it first hand here in New Zealand.  It is also mind boggling to think that if they had been abused by their father that they probably would have been whisked away to safety, but that somehow people can't seem to grasp that women can be just as, if not more, abusive as men. 

This is a harrowing and haunting read, but I would highly recommend it to anyone who works with children and/or families.  Through Rosie's eyes and experiences you can pick up some of the warning signs to watch for, and some of the basic things to remember when asking children if they are okay - the first and most obvious being never ask a child how they are doing in a front of a parent or close caregiver if you think they are being abused!  Thank you to Rosie and Regina both for sharing their stories, and I hope that young people read their stories and realise that their is a future beyond the abuse and neglect.

As with Etched in sand, take your time with this story and pause when you need to.  If you read this book and want to read other biographies from people who have lived through difficult experiences and trauma, then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What was mine by Helen Klein Ross

This book has been published under two different titles - in the United States it was published as What was mine, and in the United Kingdom it was published as Someone else's child.  As I read the American edition I have published the review under that title.

Lucy Wakefield never intended to kidnap a baby, it was moment of concern that lead to the unthinkable as she walked away with someone else's baby.  That simple act was born out of desperation for a child of her own that was never meant to be, and mother's moment of carelessness.   For years Lucy raises the baby as her own, a few carefully calculated acts hiding the fact that baby Mia didn't come into her life in the legal way.

Told mainly through the voices of Lucy, Mia, and Mia's birth mother Marilyn it is a deeply personal and heart wrenching story of loss, discovery, and the many different faces of loss and grief.  Other voices join the narrative at different times, showing a different perspective on the story, adding to the impressions and memories of Lucy and Mia.  This is an emotional read, and breaking the story up into chunks of time with different voices was actually a relief - especially at particularly emotional times for the main characters. 

I was drawn to reading the story after it passed through my hands at the library, the simple cover shows a child's swing and the words What was mine just seemed so heartbreakingly sad.  When I read the blurb I almost put it down again, but decided to read the first page to see if I might be interested - ended up reading the first chapter and promptly ordering a copy for me to read.  It took me a few days to read because it is an emotional powder keg at times, but it was also a very rewarding read in the end - especially with the way the author finished the story.  This is a character driven story and you can't help but connect to the emotions of the characters, and while Lucy should be reviled for kidnapping a child I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 9, 2016

The black key by Amy Ewing

The black key is the final book in the Jewel trilogy so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first two books in the series.  This series really needs to be read in order so make sure you read The Jewel and The white rose first.

Violet has loved and lost, and along with her fellow former surrogates she is preparing for a war against the royals who have controlled their lives for so long.  She has learned to control the elements as her Paladin powers grow, and visiting the holding facilities lets Violet and her friends teach the next generation of surrogates about who they really are and what they can accomplish.  It is a race against time though, because Violet may have escaped from the royals that control the Jewel, but they have taken her sister Hazel in her place.  All their careful plans might unravel if Violet returns to the Jewel early, but Violet will do anything to protect her family and the ones she loves.

Disguising herself, Violet returns to the Jewel and the home that she fled only months before.  This time she is a servant rather than a surrogate, and that invisibility helps her move through the Jewel with surprising ease - but it also means she is almost as powerless as a surrogate.  Violet hoped to find her sister and bring her home, but instead she finds her sister at the centre of a dangerous and deadly plot where Hazel is even more of a pawn than Violet was herself.  Change is coming to the Jewel -  but will it be at the hands of Violet and her fellow Paladin, or at the hands of the royals who seem so eager to self destruct?

The black key is the final book in the Jewel trilogy and leads to reader to a satisfying conclusion that provides closure for Violet and her world.  This is a dystopian series that was suitable for younger teens, a rare find in a publishing trend that has seen some authors push the boundaries of what younger teens can deal with - great for the older teens who are often neglected by publishers, but it put some great series out of reach of younger teens.  

The world of the Jewel is both opulent and rotten, a glittering facade hiding the rotten underbelly that sees thousands of people oppressed for the benefit of the few.  Students of history would pick up subtle echoes of our own world history here, where royalty have lived decadent lives while the masses struggle and starve.  I have enjoyed visiting Violet and her world and hope that Ewing continues to explore more of this genre as she has the ability to create richly imagined and complex worlds that are easily accessible to her audience.  A great addition to the dystopia genre that deserves to be discovered - and would be a real treat read back to back so you don't have to wait for the next book in the series like I did!
If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla