Sunday, June 23, 2019

The deepest blue by Sarah Beth Durst

Mayara lives in a world where spirits are more than an idea or a myth, the spirits of her world can cause disruption and death when they turn their attention to people and their settlements.  On the islands of Belene there are constant reminders of the spirits, as many of their islands have formed from the massive remains of the spirits.  Some of the spirits have been tamed and bent to the will of the Queen, but there are still wild spirits that cause problems.  Anyone who shows the ability to control the spirits is given a choice - they can leave their friends and family behind forever and join the Silent Ones, or they can travel to Akena Island and take on the challenge of becoming one of the Heirs.  

But there are other people who can control the spirits, people like Mayara who constantly live in fear that they will be discovered and forced to make the choice between becoming a Silent One or facing Akena Island.  It has been drilled into Mayara for years to keep her skills secret, to not show anyone what she can do, otherwise she will be taken just like her older sister Elorna - something that would break her parents hearts and push her mother further into madness.  When a terrible spirit storm descends on the island on her wedding day Mayara has no choice but to defend her people, which starts a domino effect as she is forced to make the choice of becoming a Silent One or facing Akena Island - an island that is steeped in danger and holds the key to unlocking the chance to change her world forever - if only she can survive the island.

The deepest blue is a stand alone novel set in the world of Renthia, and I was a little dubious about reading it as I haven't read the other books but I had no problems getting into the story and was very quickly absorbed into the story.  Mayara offers an amazing view of this world, her story takes you quickly into the heart of the challenge and her emotions and experiences make it impossible to resist being dragged along for the ride.  The deepest blue is not high fantasy in the classic sense, but the feeling of being on a quest and having the weight of the world on your shoulders has echoes of the high fantasy of old without all the stodgy stuff and flowery language that came along with high fantasy.  

This is an enjoyable fantasy with complex human characters that make it well rounded and thoroughly believable (not to mention makes me want to read other books set in the world of Renthia).  The best part is that it is also a great read for teenagers wanting to move from reading teenage targeted fantasy to adult fantasy as there are no real moments or situations that would be challenging to read or understand.  Looking forward to reading more books set in Renthia when I have the time.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The better sister by Alafair Burke

Chloe Taylor is smart, has an amazing career in the publishing industry, and has the perfect life with her husband and step son.  That's the positive story, the image she shows to the world, but it's not that simple.  Chloe's husband was married to another Taylor sister once, Chloe's older sister Nicky, and the son she is raising as her own is her nephew Ethan.  Nicky was never cut out to be a mother, she was wild and reckless and loved to have fun - including having a substance abuse problem that resurfaced once little Ethan was born.  Knowing what Nicky was like meant she had no problems stepping in to support her brother-in-law Adam gain custody of Ethan and keep him safe.

Now fifteen years later Ethan sees Chloe as his mother, and despite a few moments of acting out her seems to be doing fine.  On the outside her perfect family is just that, but being a successful woman who earns more than her husband has it's drawbacks and Adam is being less and less supportive of her career.  To make matters worse Chloe is regularly targeted by social media trolls who want to take her down a peg or two.  Chloe mostly ignores the trolls and uses their comments to make her message stronger, but some of the trolls seem to know a great deal about her.

When Chloe returns home from a party one night she discovers Adam dead - a shocking moment that is just the start of the nightmare.  She and Ethan are automatically suspects, and the Police soon focus on Ethan and arrest him for the crime.  As the Police build their case secrets start to be uncovered and the perfect life they have apparently enjoyed begins to unravel.  When Nicky is informed about Adam's death she comes to New York to support her son, and as she is his legal guardian there is nothing Chloe can do to stop her sister crashing back into her life.  As the case heads towards trial and Chloe and Nicky spend more time together they learn more about each other and themselves, and the man they both loved.  Will they be able to prove Ethan is innocent - or is he?

The better sister was one of the best crime novels I have read recently.  Alafair Burke crated characters that were multifaceted and all too real, and as each moment passed and new secrets were revealed it added to the depth of the characters and the story.  This was a story that was revealed in layers, starting with a perfect life and ending with the 'truth'.  The relationship between the Taylor sisters was intriguing and the more you learn the more sympathy you have for both of them.  In some ways the novel is very topical, with the idea of men in power taking advantage of women, and women who don't speak out because of the consequences.  

This was a thrilling read, and yet another example of how well Burke understands human nature and psychology.  Highly recommended read, and if you like this then you should check out her other novels and the novels she has cowritten with Mary Higgins Clark.

If you like this book then try:
  • City of fear by Alafair Burke
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • The survivors club by Lisa Gardner
  • Vodka doesn't freeze by Leah Giarratano
  • Dead secret by Ava McCarthy
  • Behind closed doors by B.A. Paris
  • City of the lost by Kelley Armstrong
  • Breaking Creed by Alex Kava
  • The First Lady by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois
  • Spare me the truth by C.J. Carver

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, April 28, 2019

In another life by C.C. Hunter

Chloe Holden thought she had a great life - until her father decided to move on with a younger woman, and her mothers life was destroyed a second time with a cancer diagnosis.  It's hard not to feel angry and bitter towards her father, especially when her mother is still feeling hurt and betrayed and spits bile and pain whenever she talks about her father.  It is a challenging time, especially when her father's partner seems determined to stamp her mark on the relationship and push Chloe out of his life.  Her own pain and anger are constantly bubbling under the surface, especially when she compares her new life to her old.

When she storms off mid argument with her father one day she has no idea that fate is about to intervene in her life in a big way.  Cash Colton is a foster child biding his time until he turns 18 and ages out of the foster system.  His current foster family, the Fullers, are amazing and treat him like he is their own son, but something inside tells him it's not real and that he can't keep taking from them.  He watches everyday as Mrs Fuller tries to come with the loss of the daughter who was kidnapped from them and never found - and he has to watch as people prey on the Fuller's hopes and dreams.  He doesn't feel like he truly belongs, but he feels protective of the Fuller's and wants to protect them from the scammers and tricksters who see them as a pay day - he should know after all, the son of a con man knows all the tricks of the trade. 

When Cash and Chloe meet Cash is blown away by her resemblance to the age progression photo of his foster parents little girl Emily, and he is instantly suspicious.  As he learns more about Chloe he grows suspicious of her, but she also seems so innocent and ignorant about the Fuller's and their plight.  As Cash swings between thinking that Chloe could be Emily and thinking it is just all a con, he also finds himself growing closer to Chloe.  When Chloe learns what Cash suspects it is a shock, and knowing she was adopted as a young child opens the doors to all sorts of painful thoughts and fears.  Chloe and Cash are both determined to solve the mystery, but it may come at a terrible cost.

In another life is a well told and emotional read that may cover an idea that has been covered before in books like The face on the milk carton, but takes the story deeper and makes a more emotional and intense story.  Chloe is going through a time of intense personal stress and turmoil, and her mother has a great deal of anger and hostility towards her father which means Chloe has to tackle this discovery on her own.  Cash is just as complicated, a young man who has been raised on cons and deceit which makes him cynical and inclined to see the worst of people.  This background makes the story very intense, emotional, and something of a rollercoaster - and as the story plays out other elements come into play that make it even more of a thriller (no spoilers from me).

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The deceivers by Kristen Simmons

Life in Devon Park is hard, especially when your mother's partner is a paranoid drug dealer who thinks you owe him.  Brynn has been walking the knife's edge for years, quietly working small (and not so small) cons to save money for college so that she can leave Devon Park behind for good.  Everything seems to be going well, even if some boy seems to be popping up wherever she is, until Pete discovers her stash of college money and assumes that she either a) stole pills from his supply and sold them or b) stole the money directly from him.  

Her only hope to raise the money she needs in the short time she has is to sell pills for Pete, a dangerous prospect when there is a very territorial gang in the neighbourhood who doesn't take kindly to people who try and sell on their turf.  It seems like all her hard work has been for nothing, until she accepts a wild proposition that sees her accepted as a student at the mysterious Vale Hall.  Vale Hall has only a handful of students and a very special curriculum and field trips - including learning how to run cons on people in real world situations.

For the first time Brynn has something to focus on other than Pete and his drugs, or earning enough money to get out of Devon Park.   Vale Hall is a great opportunity, a chance for a great education and a college fund, but it also means follow the rules and doing what Dr. Odin wants her to do.  Letting go of the past is tricky though, especially when the little contact she does have proves that her mother is not safe.  The more time Brynn spends at Vale Hall the more she learns about her fellow classmates, and the more she learns that no one is what they seem - including her.

The deceivers was a brilliant and addictive read that hooked me from the start with a complex and interesting main character walking a tough line between being a good girl and getting out of town, and being a bad girl who can actually afford to get out of town.  Her somewhat wonky moral compass makes her more interesting, and her complex relationships make her more relatable and realistic.   Her family life is complicated, and when her 'lucky break' appears it is not a clean break - nor is her new 'family' as golden as it might seem at first.

The deceivers was one of my favourite books this year, and it has had some rather stiff competition.  This is a cleverly crafted book that has twists and turns, both subtle and extreme, and Kristen Simmons did an amazing job of keeping it interesting without being too clever.  A great take on the myths of Odin, and hopefully at some point we get to see Brynn and her world again.

If you like this book then try:

  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • Little white lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • The Christopher killer by Alane Ferguson
  • Burning blue by Paul Griffin
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess
  • Living dead girl by Elizabeth Scott
  • Court of fives by Kate Elliott
  • NEED by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Grave mercy by Robin LaFevers
  • The girl of fire and thorns by Rae Carson
  • The mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • I swear by Lane Davis

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, April 19, 2019

Siege by Chris Ryan

Max Johnson is an orphan, which is lonely in more ways than one - but Max doesn't let it get him down.  Living in a residential care home gives him a place to live and call home, but it doesn't give him a family.  He throws himself into activities like Combined Cadet Force training, and because he excels at it his school pays for him to attend a week long camp climbing in the Lakes District.  All Max dreams about is joining the Army when he grows up, and the camp will add another layer to his skills - even if he has to put up with being the outsider because his fellow campers know he is an orphan living in a care home.

When disaster strikes on a big climb, it is Max who has to come to the rescue - using his knowledge of climbing gained from experience, YouTube, and books to help pull them out of a dangerous and life threatening situation.  Max didn't step in for fame and glory, but he also didn't expect to be whisked away in a helicopter by a mysterious man who won't even tell Max who he is.  The mystery is soon unraveled when Max discovers that the man has brought him to the Special Forces Cadets selections camp.  Max is determined to make the most of being at the camp, but not everyone is happy he is there and joining the Special Forces Cadets is going to be an uphill fight.  Can Max prove himself and finish the grueling selection test?

Siege is the start of a new series by Chris Ryan, and if the first book is anything to go on this series has great promise.  From the start it is easy to connect with Max and his story, and through the story that connection and sympathy grows stronger.  Ryan has a knack for writing series that are easy to believe are real, the training and testing Max and the rest of the teenagers go through seems quite realistic - as do the individual traits and characteristics of each person.  

The writing style is punchy and moves at a rapid pace which adds some nice tension to the story but doesn't bury you in detail.  In short - this is another fantastic teen read from Chris Ryan and hopefully the rest of the series is just as good as it means there will be quite a few good books to look forward to over the coming years.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Out of the dark by Gregg Hurwitz

Out of the dark is the sequel to Orphan X, The Nowhere man, and Hellbent and while you can read the books independently there are ***SPOILERS*** in this review if you have not read the first books in the series.  I highly recommend reading the books in order for the ultimate reading experience.

Orphan X is done hiding in the shadows and waiting for death to find him, he is going to kill the man who has set death on his tail and he is going to take him out first.  It's a bold move, and a tricky move, because how can one man hope to take down the President of the United States - one of the most heavily protected men in the world.  It is going to take all of his training, and all of his skills to unpick the levels of protection around the President and find a vulnerable spot he can exploit.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the threat posed by President Bennett is very real, not only for Evan but for every Orphan ever trained.

President Bennett knows Orphan X is after him and he will use every weapon at his disposal to try and stop him - including arranging for the release of Orphan A, who has a very personal grudge against Orphan X.  The Secret Service is on high alert for danger, and while one man shouldn't pose a threat , Orphan X quickly shows just how highly trained and dangerous he is.  Hunted by law enforcement, the Secret Service, and Orphan A Evan should have no chance at success - but this is a fight he is desperate to win and desperate times call for desperate measures - and deals he wouldn't normally make.

As Evan's window of opportunity slowly closes the Nowhere Man receives a phone call from a young man whose family has been targeted by a man who is used to getting what he wants through violence and threats.  The timing couldn't be worse as the last thing Evan needs is a distraction, especially when that distraction burrows under his layers of defences and makes him put aside some of the training and rules that he has followed for so long.  As his window of opportunity draws closer so does an increasing conflict of interest as there may not be time for Orphan X to do his thing at the same time as the Nowhere Man needs to do his thing - which will Evan choose, duty or revenge?  For the first time Evan has really been pushed to the edge, and when you're desperate you will cross lines that you wouldn't normally cross.

The Orphan X series has been a great read right from the start with complicated and well developed characters and a hero you can't help but like - even if he does seem as prickly and standoffish as his cactus sometimes.  Each book in the series has built on the previous story, and with each book we learn more about Evan and his world - complete with some rather spectacular bombshells along the way.  I highly recommend this series to anyone who likes thrillers and crime stories - and I will recommend it to other people who are just looking for a good book.  Sometimes the name dropping becomes a little bit much with the brand names, but other than that there is a lot to like about this series.  Now comes the wait to see what happens next for Orphan X.

If you like this book then try:
  • Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz
  • The killing kind by Chris Holm
  • Breaking Creed by Alex Kava
  • The Postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • Truth or die by James Patterson and Howard Roughan
  • Dead secret by Ava McCarthy
  • Never never by James Patterson and Candice Fox
  • Darkly dreaming Dexter by Jeffry P. Lindsay
  • Kiss the girls by James Patterson
  • Kill me if you can by James Patterson and Marshall Kamp

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Girls of paper and fire by Natasha Ngan

Lei lives in a world ruled by the Moon caste - demons with animal features that can be beautiful or terrifying.  The Moon caste rules over the fully human Paper caste who are the lowest members of society, and the Steel caste who straddle both worlds by being mostly human with some demon features.  It is a world where everyone knows their place from the moment they are born, and everyone answers to the Demon King.  There is nothing special about Lei apart from her eyes, golden eyes like a demons.

Life in the Paper caste is hard but not unbearable, even though her mother was snatched away in the night years ago in a night of terror when the village was raided.  It may have made her family smaller, but Lei has the love and support of her father and the familiar surroundings of the family shop to keep her going.  Her life is abruptly upended when a General from the Demon Kings army arrives and drags her away to become one of this years Paper Girl - something that is supposed to be an honour, but Lei doesn't see it that way.

Life in the Hidden Palace is full of danger and intrigue, and Lei is unprepared for just how dangerous her new life is.  The Paper Girls may be treated as precious, but that is only because they are the property of the Demon King and no man may touch his property - and no one may deny him.  As the days turn into weeks Lei struggles to settle into life in the Hidden City, and as time goes by and she learns more about her new world the more the struggle grows.  There is danger and intrigue in the City, and not everyone is what they seem.  Lei is about to discover the danger of having a mind of her own, and she will also learn what happens when you deny a powerful man.  Can Lei discover the secrets swirling around her before it's too late?

Girls of paper and fire was an amazing read - the characters were well developed and filled a world that made instant sense and provided a backdrop for a complex social structure.  Right from the start Ngan treated her teen readers to a genuine story without pulling any punches or softening the violence of her world.  There is a very good reason there is a warning at the start of the book saying that it contains scenes of violence and sexual violence - this is not a book for 'tweens and younger teens as there are complex social issues and themes that make even adult readers uncomfortable.  

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Kingdom of the blazing phoenix by Julie C. Dao

Kingdom of the blazing phoenix is the sequel to Forest of a thousand lanterns and there are ***SPOILERS*** in this review if you have not read the first book in the series.  This is a series that needs to be read in order so make sure you read Forest of a thousand lanterns before you read the rest of the review or the book.

Jade has lived a simple life in the monastery, working alongside the monks to tend their gardens and care for the villagers in the surrounding country.  Only her Amah and the abbess know that Jade is not a simple peasant - she is the princess and heir to the kingdom.  Summoned to the capital by her stepmother Xifeng, Jade starts on a journey that will take her far from home and everything familiar.  The world of the imperial court could not be more different from the world she has grown up in, the extravagant gowns she wears would help the monastery support hundreds of peasants, and the lavish food is something she had never imagined.  It is a world of secrets, intrigues, and people hiding their true intentions and natures behind carefully crafted masks.

When Jade discovers what her stepmother is really like she is forced to flee from the imperial city, a fugitive accused of crimes she didn't commit.  Along with her companions there is only one home for not only Jade, but also her entire kingdom - she must complete the dangerous quest to find and reunite the hidden treasures of the five kingdoms.  If Jade can succeed in her quest she will call forth ah army taht will be capable of stopping Xifeng and the army of the Serpent God she controls.  The quest will not be easy, she will have to remember the stories that Amah told her, and solve puzzles that can have deadly consequences if she gets the wrong answer.  As she searches across the five kingdoms she must always be aware of Kang and the serpent warriors who dog their steps the entire way.  Jade never wanted to be anything more than a monk, but now the fate of the entire kingdom rests in her hands.

Kingdom of the blazing phoenix is the perfect companion novel to Forest of a thousand lanterns and it brings the duology to a very satisfying end.  In the first book the focus is on Xifeng and how she rises to power, what she sacrifices to become empress and the cunning manipulation of the Serpent God to get what he wants.  By the time we reached the end of Forest of a thousand lanterns she had slipped from young girl to powerful and cunning empress, and her path for conflict with Jade was set.  In Kingdom of the blazing phoenix we see the results and a story that seems to echo the story of Snow White more strongly, but it is an echo only because Julie C. Dao has taken that rather simple fairy tale and created a world that is richly layered with depth of culture, history, and characters.

With this series we see that the 'villain' is not always that villainous, sometimes they are a victim of circumstance and fate too.  I love worlds that make sense with a deep mythology that you can follow and adds depth to the story, and Dao has created a mythology that feels completely real.  Jade and her companions travel on a quest that creates challenges and conflicts, and also makes them grow and change as people which makes it feel more genuine and engaging.  There are some amazing themes in this series, and there is scope for Dao to create more stories in this world (something that would be amazing).  A must read for fans of richly imagined fantasy worlds - including adults!

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, February 3, 2019

You don't own me by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke

You don't own me is the fifth book in the Under suspicion series that began with I've got you under my skin by Mary Higgins Clark.  While you can read this book on it's own, there are some ***SPOILERS*** if you have not already read the rest of the series.  I recommend reading the first book in the series before reading any others.

Life is never dull for Laurie Moran, her successful television show Under Suspicion has been solving cold cases and making a killing in the ratings, and she is planning her wedding to her former host Alex Buckley.  With the success of her show it is no surprise that people reach out to her asking her to help solve their case, and while there is only so much they can do it doesn't stop desperate people taking desperate measures to reach her.  When the parents of Dr. Martin Bell approach her about making the next show about the murder of their beloved son, she is surprised to learn that they think she turned them down - a surprise to Laurie as she had not proceeded with the idea because his widow Kendra refused to cooperate.  With pressure from the family mounting, Laurie tries to persuade Kendra to take part this time and is a little surprised when she reluctantly agrees.

As she starts researching the case, Laurie discovers that there are two very different sides to the story - the ones the Bell's want her to believe, and what Laurie is slowly starting to uncover.  When the victim was seen as a pillar of the community it is always challenging to dig beneath the surface, especially when the wife seems to make the perfect killer, but Laurie is determined to continue with the case.  As the case slowly starts heating up, Laurie is also pushing forward with trying to find a new home for her growing family, and with some very definite things on their 'must haves' list they are slowly driving their real estate agent to distraction.  Being such a public figure makes both Laurie and Alex an attractive target, and when someone is ready to take you down, being a public figure won't save you.

The Under suspicion series has been a great find, and I eagerly keep an eye out for the next book in the series.  Laurie Moran holds her own as an investigative journalist in this series, and as the series develops and grows so does she.  The cast of characters around her are interesting and are increasingly characters in their own rights, evolving into people rather than just a supporting cast.  As with previous books in the series the element of suspense is hugely important in You don't own me, and it is part of the fun to try and figure out where the story is taking you before the end.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla