Saturday, December 30, 2017

Blood sisters by Jane Corry

Fifteen years ago Alison, Kitty, and Kitty's best friend Vanessa were walking to school when there was a terrible accident - one that has left scars on the survivors.  Alison lives her life on the side lines, a quiet and simple life that keeps her unnoticed and safe.  She doesn't have a husband or children, she focuses on teaching art and stained glass making at the local college.  It is a self imposed penance and while it does pay the bills, when a chance to work at a local prison as the resident artist arises she sees it as a chance to have a steady income and worry less about supporting herself and leaning on her mother for financial help. 

Her mother is already stretched after all, paying the extra cost for keeping her sister Kitty in a care home - the place she has lived for the fifteen years since the accident that left her with severe brain injuries.  Locked inside her own mind Kitty is frustrated by the people around her not understanding what she is trying to say, and she has a reputation for being difficult at her care home.  Kitty has no idea that her life is about to change in a sudden and remarkable way, and that the past is going to come back to haunt everyone in her family.  

Blood sisters is one of those books that are great to read and nightmare to review because you usually want a review to draw the reader in and hook them, but sharing the best bits of Blood sisters runs the risk of spoiling the way the story unfolds for the reader.  The first part of the story is told in the present, flipping between Alison and Kitty as they go about their everyday lives, nothing spectacular or remarkable for either of them.  As the story progresses the pace picks up, especially when we start to get glimpses of them both as school girls. 

I won't say anymore as it runs the risk of spoilers, but this was a nice slow burn that built into an avalanche that had me hooked from page one - so much so that I finished it in a single sitting and passed it on to my mother to read as well.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Unleashed by Eileen Brady

Unleashed is the second book in the Kate Turner, DVM series and while you can read it as a stand alone you will enjoy it more if you read the series in order - so start with Muzzled.

Seven months into her year long contract in the small town of Oak Falls, Kate Turner has settled into the routines of a small town vet.  With a busy practice to cover she has little time left over to twiddle her thumbs, and with a wide variety of clinic and house call clients she has little chance of getting bored.  When one of her clients, a young artist named Claire, commits suicide Kate is shocked.  She can't believe that Claire committed suicide, it just feels wrong - especially with Claire's beloved dog Toto in the clinic.  

Unable to accept Claire's death as a suicide Kate can't help but dig into the mystery, despite the protests of her friends and family.  Little details keep niggling at Kate, things that don't add up to a suicide, and it seems as though she is not the only person who thinks there is something hinky about the case.  The more Kate digs into the case the more secrets she finds.  When the Police arrest one of her staff she knows that somethings not right, but as she continues to search for the killer she is putting her life in danger.  Can Kate figure out who the killer is before they strike again?

The Kate Turner, DVM mysteries are a fun little series that brings to life the joys (and complications) of living in a small town.  Kate may have lived in Oak Falls for seven months, but she is still very much an outsider to the long term residents - although she has some charming and endearing connections to people in the town.  Brady has created a character that is engaging, believable, and very down to earth.  There are some very funny moments in this series, mainly because of the antics of the town residents (animal and human), and it is all too easy to picture Kate and her new town as real.  

Unleashed is an enjoyable romp in a small town where the small population gets smaller with each new book, and each new book brings Kate more firmly into the fabric of the town.  A fun read that deserves to be discovered and enjoyed in a single session.  Can't wait to see what is next for the town of Oak Falls.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Tell me a lie by C.J. Carver

Tell me a lie is the sequel to Spare me the truth, and while you can read it as a stand alone you will enjoy the series more if you read them in order.  This review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you haven't already read Spare me the truth.

Dan Forrester is coming to terms with his new reality, not only is he coming to terms with the fact that he used to be part of MI5, he is also coming to terms with the fact that his wife knew the truth and kept it from him.  Living separate lives while he tries to wrap his head around his new reality, their relationship is already under strain, so when he has to bow out of family time to fly to Russia on a mission for his old boss his wife is less than thrilled.  Going to Russia is risky, because although Dan used to work there he has no memory of that time, and he has no memory of the contact that reached out to him.  In Russia he is far from home, and as a retired spy he doesn't have the same support network as an active member of MI5.

Back home in the United Kingdom Constable Lucy Davies arrives at the scene of a bloody and brutal family slaying - the only survivor is the father, who swears black and blue that he didn't do it.  All the evidence points to him, but something about the case doesn't feel right to Lucy and she feels the urge to investigate further.  When she hears about another family tragedy she finds herself slowly making connections, connections that no one else seems to see, and she finds herself going out on a limb to follow the case.  Walking a fine line between doing her current job and not upsetting her new boss, Lucy will have to use all her skill to try and untangle the truth behind the secrets, half truths, and the lies.

Tell me a lie is an intensely satisfying read, with layers of complexity that keep you guessing what is coming next, and startling twists that keep you hooked and wondering what could possibly come next.  Carver has characters that are easy to connect to, action sequences that are believable and suck you into the story, and the ability to side swipe you with twists that you might or might not see coming (depending on how much attention you are paying).  This is a series that sits firmly in the middle between action/adventure and crime and would appeal to readers of both genre - it would also appeal to anyone who likes the challenge of trying to figure out what is happening before the traditional big reveal.  

When you read as many books as I tend to it takes an author with a strong voice and new ideas to capture and really keep my attention - and I was hooked on both Spare me the truth and Tell me a lie right from the start.  Dan and Lucy are interesting characters that haven't been moulded from clay that has been used by hundreds (if not thousands) of authors before, and the locations have not been done to death either.  The action sequences are well thought out and believable, and the characters react to situations in ways that are all too human.  This series has been a pleasure to read, and I am not waiting (im)patiently for the third book in the series so I can see what happens next!

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 22, 2017

Muzzled by Eileen Brady

Kate Turner moved to Oak Falls to take up a one year contract as the local vet so she could get away from her former boss and his girlfriend - who took the place that Kate had thought was hers.  Small town living seems to be suiting her, even though she is so busy she feels like she already needs a vacation of her own.  She sees a wide variety of patients big and small, and between her house calls and the surgeries at the practice she is kept pretty busy.  When she stumbles across a crime scene on her rounds it is shocking, and not just because she was the unlucky person to find the bodies.  There is something not quite right about the crime scene, and when she becomes a suspect she can't help but dig into the case herself.

As she digs deeper and deeper into the case Kate finds quite a few things that don't add up in her new home town - especially among the dog breeding elite of the town.  When the daughter of the murder victims arrives in town and shows no interest in the dogs that her parents spent so many years breeding and showing it doesn't sit well with Kate - especially when she is suddenly under pressure to provide medical certificates for a few of the best dogs.  When there is another incident Kate finds herself under even more suspicion, but she has no idea just how close to the truth she is getting - and what the truth might cost her.

Muzzled was a fun read that had me hooked from the first page and thoroughly entertained to the last page.  Kate Turner is far from perfect, and her sometimes bumbling attempts to uncover what is really happening in her small town is both realistic and endearing.  Knowing something about the dog breeding world and the interesting people it can attract made this book even more amusing, but did nothing to dampen the tension that built during the story.  It's always fun to see if you can solve the mystery before the end of the story, and while I did it was just before the end which was both satisfying and rewarding.  I already have the second book in the series to read to see what is next for Kate Turner and her adventures in upstate New York.

Muzzled should appeal to a wide audience as it is a murder mystery, but it also has a strong animal focus, and a healthy dose of humour.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Earth children are weird by Jason Rekulak; illustrated by Kim Smith

Dana Scully and her friend Fox Mulder are camping out in a tent in the backyard - staying up late telling stories when Fox becomes convinced that there are aliens outside (after all, there are billions of planets out there and it would be crazy to assume we are the only one with intelligent life).  But each time Fox thinks he hears or sees proof of aliens Dana convinces him that he is hearing and seeing things ... but is he really?

I am a huge X-files fan and have watched the show and read as many books as I could get my hands on, and while the idea of a picture book did seem cheesy I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the book (once I got over the weird moment of seeing Dana and Fox reading X-files books at the beginning).  This was a fun little read, and while it will not be suitable for toddlers, children will enjoy the science fiction aspect if they are into that kind of thing.  The target market does appear to be adults who enjoy the show and it really hit the mark with all the adult fans I showed it to!

A great little read, and for the first time I am unable to recommend other books to try because I am not aware of any other television series that have done anything even remotely similar!  However, with the recent revival in the X-files I can recommend trying the young adult novels released earlier this year featuring teenage Scully and Mulder.  You might also like to read some of the adult novels, though considering the age of the series you may have trouble finding copies of some of them.

If you like this book then try:
  • Agent of chaos by Kami Garcia
  • Devil's advocate by Jonathan Maberry
  • X-Files: Ground zero by Kevin J. Anderson
  • X-Files: Ruins by Kevin J. Anderson
  • X-Files: Antibodies by Kevin J. Anderson
  • X-Files: Skin by Ben Mezrich
  • X-Files: Whirlwind by Charles Grant
  • X-Files: Goblins by Charles Grant

Reviewed by Brilla

Freaks and geeks script by Faith Erin Hicks; art by Lishan Li

Buffy the vampire slayer is used to fighting the Bad, usually in the form of vampires and demons, but not always.  She may be strong and powerful as the Slayer, but she is also a teenage girl who went from being part of the in crowd to being considered a weirdo and a freak.  She has been targeted before, but never by a group of vampire geeks that are considered outsiders as much as she is.  They have one single minded goal, to take out the Slayer and be accepted by the cool vampires - but they have no idea what they are getting themselves into.

Every now and then Buffy the vampire slayer had episodes that seemed to almost poke fun at themselves, showing a less serious side to the evil that stalks the streets of Sunnydale, and this graphic novel felt very much like one of those episodes.  It also connected to the side of Buffy that was not as confident and fierce as she pretended to always be, the softer teenage girl that shows how much her social bump hurt and that all she really wanted to do was fit in.  A great part of the Buffy mythology that was very sympathetic to the television series while also putting a funny little episode into the mythology in a very witty and clever way.  Great fun, and hopefully there are more episodes like this to come.

If you liked this graphic novel then try:
  • Parental parasite script by Kel McDonald; art by Yishan Li
  • Glutton for punishment script by Kel McDonald; art by Yishan Li
  • Fray by Joss Whedon

Reviewed by Brilla

Parental parasite script by Kel McDonald; art by Yishan Li

One of the hardest things for Buffy Summers is keeping a monumental secret from her mother - she is the Slayer, the one girl in her generation who fights the demons and vampires.  She may have the strength and speed to fight the forces of darkness, but she also has to skip class to fight said forces of evil, and even if she isn't skipping classes she is falling asleep in them because she spends most of her nights patrolling. 

When her mother is called to the school, again, she decides that she and Buffy need to spend more quality time together - which is all good, except it's nearly impossible for Buffy to do her job as the Slayer when she is worried about her mother.  When a demon in the guise of a little girl enters their lives it means Joyce has no time for Buffy, but her attachment to the demon could cost her her life.  Buffy has to stop the demon before it's too late, and beside, a little sibling rivalry never hurt anyone - right?

Parental parasite is one of the three graphic novels that have brought the legend of Buffy the vampire slayer back to her school years - and it was a real treat to revisit this time in her life.  The storyline is short and punchy, but that was part of the fun.  Hopefully there are more graphic novels of this type coming because they were all great fun to read.

If you liked this graphic novel then try:
  • Freaks and geeks script by Faith Erin Hicks; art by Yishan Li
  • Glutton for punishment script by Kel McDonald; art by Yishan Li
  • Fray by Joss Whedon

Reviewed by Brilla

Glutton for punishment script by Kel McDonald; art by Yishan Li

Being the Slayer is never easy, especially in the modern age when you have to go to school and stay awake in class after a night of slaying.  Although she tries hard, Buffy always seems one step away from flunking, so when she has the chance to take some extra curricula classes for actual credit it's too good an opportunity to miss - so she signs up for a home ec class with Xander.  Home ec should be a piece if cake, except there is something not quite right about their teacher.  When the top students vanish, and Buffy comes across a strange tiger monster she realises that she has some extra curricula slaying work to do.  If only slaying gave her extra credit - she'd be top of her class!

It's hard to believe that Buffy the vampire slayer started twenty years ago, and that after all this time there is still so much to enjoy about, and connect with, for the series.  I have read quite a few of the graphic novels, and it was a pleasure to come back to the early years for the Slayer, exploring more of Buffy's time in high school.  Lots of fun to reconnect with the characters, and the funniest part is that even after all this time I can hear the character voices in my head when I was reading their lines - no wonder it's become a cult classic.

If you liked this graphic novel then try:
  • Freaks and geeks script by Faith Erin Hicks; art by Yishan Li
  • Parental parasite script by Kel McDonald; art by Yishan Li
  • Fray by Joss Whedon

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Buried secrets by Lisa Cutts

No one expected Detective Inspector Milton Bowman to die in a car crash on his way to work one Monday morning - him least of all - but that was exactly what happened in rather spectacular fashion.  When Detective Inspector Harry Powell heads over to Bowman's house to inform Milton's wife that he has died, the last thing he expects to find is Linda Bowman dead on the kitchen floor.  It's a double blow for Harry, who not only worked with Bowman, but also socialised with him outside of work.  Harry knows that Milton was no saint, but he is not fully prepared for the secrets that the investigation are about to uncover - although, seeing as he is pulled out of the investigation because of his relationship with both victims he really shouldn't know anything about the case at all.

It had seemed like a normal day for Detective Constable Hazel Hamilton, until she comes across the remains of the accident that cost DI Bowman his life.  With a senior police officer involved the case is bound to become a political circus, and with DI Powell sidelined because of his relationship with the victims everyone is treading careful and being extra careful to tick all the boxes and cover all their bases.  As a trained family liaison officer DC Hamilton is drafted into the role of supporting the remaining member of the Bowman family - their son Travis.  As the case develops Hazel will find herself stretched to the limit emotionally and professionally, because in what has to be the case of worst timing ever, she has discovered a spark between herself and DI Powell.  To close the case DC Hamilton and the wider team will have to sift through the facts, uncover buried secrets, and see through the smoke and mirrors - because nothing is what it seems with this case.

I have been on something of a British crime spree (pun intended) over the past few months, and Buried secrets is one of the true gems I have found - partly because the story is given quite a bit of weight seeing as it was written by a police officer.  This is a suitably layered and complex story, keeping you on your toes and guessing what might be coming next as you ride along with DC Hamilton and the team trying to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that give this story so much substance.  This is one of those fabulous reads that I will spoil if I give too much detail, so suffice to say it was a very good read and be prepared for twists and turns that make it interesting.  There are some very interesting and likeable characters to fall in love with, some delightfully sneaky and shallow people who you desperately hope will get their comeuppance, and some characters that make you appreciate what serving police staff go through on our behalf.

I have ordered other books by Cutts to see if I like her style across multiple books, or if it was only this story that captured my attention so completely.  A great addition to the British crime genre, and one that deserves to be read.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, December 4, 2017

Sins of the father by Fleur Beale

The full title of this book is Sins of the father: The long shadow of a religious cult: A New Zealand story and it is focused on the children and grandchildren of Neville Cooper - the infamous leader of the Gloriavale Christian community in New Zealand.  This community has come under a great deal of scrutiny, particularly in the past few years, as former members of the community talk about what life is like in the closed religious community.  

I have read quite a few books about cults and extreme religious communities because it's important to understand how these groups form and how they control people so you can help friends and family if they fall under the influence of such a group.  I read Daughter of Gloriavale a few months ago, and that was how I learned that this book existed and I was very keen to get my hands on a copy because I was hoping that it would provide more detail and a different perspective on the community.  

Despite looking forward to reading the story of Phil and his family I have to confess to a feeling of disappointment and distance from their story, mainly because it was written by someone else about them - rather than in their own voices.  Don't get me wrong, Fleur Beale has done a great job of bringing their story to life, but it sounds rather clinical and distant and lacks an emotional hold for you to latch onto and get involved in their lives and what happened to them.  Other stories of this type are from the first person perspective, even though some of them use a ghost writer to help them achieve this, and it just adds more weight and humanity to the story.  Having the story unfold in the voice of someone else as a series of events lessens the impact - although there are some very emotional scenes and moments that certainly hit you very hard.

Gloriavale has gone on a charm offensive, opening their doors to film crews who have recorded aspects of their daily lives - creating a vision of a Christian utopia where everyone in the community comes together and thrives.  As this book was published in 2008 it is quite likely that some of their charm offensive is to try and soften the blow of this book unveiling what life can be like for people living in the community.  What comes across quite clearly in Sins of the father and Daughter of Gloriavale is that in the beginning the community was exactly what it presents itself as, a Christian community where everyone works together to provide for the entire community, but both books show how the complete power of their leader Neville Cooper/Hopeful Christian has warped the community and the lives of the people living in it.

This is not the most compelling read, Daughter of Gloriavale does a better job of bringing the personal heartache to life, but it is a glimpse into what the community is like and that the people closest to Neville Cooper are the ones who faced the most pressure to conform.  One of the most telling things about life in the Gloriavale community is that so many of Neville Coopers children and grandchildren have left the community - that speaks volumes about what his family and other members of his community face.

If you are interested in reading more stories from people who have been raised in extreme religious groups or cults then try some of these stories.  Some of the stories are disturbing because of their references to sexual and physical violence towards women and children, so reader beware that there will be some unpleasant (but not gratuitous) reading ahead.  If you would like to read more then try:
  • Daughter of Gloriavale my life in a religious cult by Lilia Tarawa
  • The witness wore red by Rebecca Musser with M. Bridget Cook
  • Stolen innocence by Elissa Wall
  • Parents who kill by Carol Anne Davis
  • The little prisoner: A memoir by Jane Eliott
  • Behind closed doors by Ngaire Thomas
  • Beyond belief: My secret life inside Scientology and my harrowing escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill
  • Banished: Surviving my years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain
  • I fired god by Jocelyn R. Zichterman
  • Behind the Exclusive Brethren by Michael Bachelard

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Spare me the truth by C.J. Carver

There's nothing particularly memorable about Dan Forrester, and after watching his son die before his eyes there are parts of his life even he can't remember anymore.  The gaps in his memory aren't really a problem though - he still remembers his wife and their little girl, but the son and brother they once had is forgotten and found only in photographs.  Dan is content with his life, his job as an advanced driving instructor lets him work flexible hours and have some fun, but his carefully structured and settled world is abruptly upended when a woman walks up to him and asks him to come back to his old job - a job he simply can't remember. 

Stella Reavey is used to keeping secrets - she has kept her daughter in the dark about what she really does for a living, and she has managed to keep secrets from her work colleagues too.  When a mission goes wrong, she has no choice but to try and convince Dan to return to the life he once lived, but how do you convince a man you are telling the truth when he doesn't have any memories for you to draw on as proof?  Turning to her daughter Grace is an option, but a GP is a jack-of-all-trades and not a memory specialist.  When Stella dies suddenly Grace is thrust into a world of secrets and lies as she tries to unravel a tangled knot of secrets and coded messages that might have made sense if her mother had had the time to pass on everything she needed to know.

Lucy Davies is energetic and highly motivated, character traits that you would think would be essential for a police officer in one of the most well known police forces in the world - but when she falls foul of her superiors she is forced out of the London Met and forced to make a new start in a smaller less exciting police district.  At least, it was supposed to be smaller and less exciting, and it was until Lucy stumbled across a kidnapping victim who is still alive.  It seems like the perfect case to get her back into her old job at the Met, but first she has to prove herself and help solve the case.  Driven to prove herself, Lucy is also hiding a secret from her colleagues - it appears that the victims have a connection, they are all taking a drug that Lucy herself was taking, and if anyone finds out why she could be off the force for good.  Balancing solving the case with keeping her secret will be a challenge, but there are lives at stake and Lucy will have some tough decisions to make.

Spare me the truth is one of those rare novels that takes different stories and blends them together into a seamless whole before separating them again smoothly and without interruption.  There are few authors who can create stories where you care about the individual characters and hear their stories so clearly, even when the different characters come together into the same space at the same time.  I loved the way we discovered more about the characters, and that they became more rounded as the story moved on - and Carver managed to create characters that feel "right" and familiar, without drifting too far into the cliché. 

I picked this book up from a recommended reads newsletter from my local library, and once it was finished I was a little disappointed because I wanted more - only to discover there is a second book and a third on the way.  Hopefully I can get my hands on book two before Christmas so I have another amazing read to enjoy on the stat holidays!  Carver has managed to create an addictive read that has characters you care about and that would translate very well to the big or small screen.  There is a lot to like here, and nothing that I didn't like which is a rare thing these days.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Manhunt by James Patterson and James O. Born

Detective Michael Bennett is trying to keep his family together, no easy feat when his children are growing up before his eyes - and one of his children is serving time behind bars.  Keeping to family traditions is important for keeping a sense of 'normal' and one tradition he is determined to keep alive is the annual family outing to the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Everything seems to be going to plan, until a man drives his vehicle into the packed crowd moments before the truck explodes.  In the ensuing panic Bennett keeps his wits about him and tracks the terrorist - but what he finds is not what he expected.

Drawn into the case because he is the only person who has seen the suspect (and because he is who he is), Bennett finds himself working alongside the enigmatic Darya Kuznetsova.  Darya is Russian, which helps immensely when you are dealing with a predominantly Russian speaking community, but she is also keeping secrets.  Determined to solve the case even if it ruffles the feathers of the lead FBI investigator, Bennett goes out on a limb to solve the case - not an easy thing to do when you don't know who to trust and there are multiple players looking for their suspect.

Detective Michael Bennett is one of my favourite characters, and while I was dubious that having Bookshots in the series was a good idea, I have found that they have added to the series without making it overly complicated.   Manhunt is a great addition to the Michael Bennett series, and also a great addition to the Bookshots series - though it may be a little hard to follow if you have not read the other books in the Michael Bennettt series.

If you like this book then try:
  • The end (ebook) by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois
  • The witnesses (ebook) by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois
  • The shut-in by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski
  • Private Royals by James Patterson and Rees Jones
  • Heist by James Patterson and Rees Jones
  • The pretender (ebook) by James Patterson and Andrew Bourelle
  • Black and Blue by James Patterson and Candice Fox
  • Let's play make-believe by James Patterson and James O. Born
  • Chase by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • Airport code red by James Patterson and Michael White

Reviewed by Brilla