Monday, October 28, 2019

Fire and heist by Sarah Beth Durst

For centuries wyverns lived with humans in secret, easy to do when you have lost the ability to transform into your dragon shape.  With the coming out of wyverns some of them have become quite the celebrities, including Sky Hawkins and her family.  Being wyverns with a high social standing gave them wealth and power, and Sky was popular with wyverns and humans alike.  For wyverns your rank is decided by your skill and ability to commit heists, adding to the fabled dragon hoards that are so popular in fantasy novels and folk lore.  Leading your first heist is what introduces you to wyvern society and lets you join the ranks as an adult, but getting caught is very bad no matter how old you are.  When Sky's mother fails during and ambitious heist attempt and disappears Sky and her family are dropped to the bottom of the wyvern ranks and stripped of most of their wealth.

As Sky struggles to come to turns with the lose of her boyfriend, who dumped her as soon as her family's shame was announced, her whole family is struggling to come to terms with the lose of power, status, and family.  Determined to find out what happened to her mother, Sky starts researching her mother's last heist and making plans for a heist of her own.  Her first heist is going to be epic, even if it doesn't go as planned as her solo mission soon turns into leading a mixed crew of humans and wyverns.  On the night of the big heist Sky makes a startling discovery, and learns that not everything is as it seems. 

Fire and heist was am interesting read, bringing together elements of the classic fantasy novel with a coming of age story and a little twist of crime and mystery as well.  Sky and her family were easy to relate to and had little sparks that made them stand out as individuals, and the wyvern mythology that goes with them is pretty cool.  The pace of the novel was pretty good, though there was a short period where it seemed to drag a little - but that was most likely as a result of comparing it to the previous pace.  Urban fantasy is quite a unique niche, and a lot of authors struggle with balancing real world with mythology but Sarah Beth Durst does it seamlessly in Fire and heist.

If you are looking for a fun read with some well thought out mythology and great characters you can't really go wrong with Fire and heist.  The bonus is that if you like her writing style there are plenty of other books by Sarah Beth Durst to enjoy when you are done!

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, October 4, 2019

Sea witch by Sarah Henning

Evie is different from the other children in her village, not just because she is friends with the Prince, but also because she is a witch.  As a child Evie and her best friend Anna were inseparable, and where the two girls were the Prince was never far behind, a dear friend to both of them.  Everyone in the village expected the friendship to fade, for Evie to have the decency to fall back into her rightful place and let Nik find his place as the heir to the throne.  When Anna drowns instead of breaking Evie and Nik apart it seems to draw them closer together.  Neither of them thinks anything of it, but the villagers take every chance they can to remind Evie of her rightful place.

When a stranger rescues Nik after he nearly drowns Evie is startled not just by the quick flick of a tail as the stranger dives back into the water, but also by her resemblance to her lost friend Anna.  When the stranger reappears walking on two legs, the resemblance is so uncanny that Evie has trouble separating her memories of the friend she lost from the young woman in front of her.  Even though Annemette can do magic, something Anna would have shied away from, Evie feels an instant connection to her.  When Evie learns that Annemette has made a terrible bargain for her chance at love with Nik, Evie is determined to help her friend no matter what she has to do to help her.  As the deadline draws closer Evie becomes increasingly desperate, and pushes away her own chance at happiness to help her friend.  But Annemette is keeping secrets, and she is not the only one.

The little mermaid is a classic story that generations have loved - whether it is the more brutal version brought to us by Hans Christian Andersen, or the sappier more child friendly version brought to us by Disney.  Sea witch tells the story of a young witch hiding her powers from her village and the Prince she loves, mourning the lose of her best friend, and trying to learn the secrets of magic - an origin story to explain and develop the history that lead to the cruel sea witch that struck a terrible bargain with a young mermaid who fell in love with a Prince.  This is a story that can stand on it's own two feet, exploring characters and relationships that are real and engaging, a satisfying and consuming read with characters you can't help but like and loath as they each deserve.

As someone who has Scandinavian ancestry it was a real pleasure to find so many references to the culture, not only with names and place names, but with festival and other cultural names too.   Henning kept up the pace of the story, using the technique of having chapters that look backward to bring Annemette's story up to date rather than flitting back and forth between the two storylines - very effective for keeping some mystery and for keeping things moving forward.  There is a sequel called Sea witch rising which I am now very much looking forward to reading.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Rebel by S.M. Wilson

Rebel is the sequel to The extinction trials and Exile, and while you can read it as a stand alone book you will enjoy it more reading the series in order.  This review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read The extinction trials and Exile.

Life in Earthasia is becoming increasingly unbearable, food and other resources are becoming increasingly scarce and the population is growing more and more restless.  All the benefits gained from competing in the extinction trials mean nothing for Lincoln and the other survivors, they are all struggling to survive.  Lincoln's sister Arta has become increasingly well thanks to the medicine he brought back from Piloria, as have many others, but all those extra mouths to feed are placing increasing strain on an already stressed and depleted continent.  With unrest growing, Lincoln receives the rather cryptic message to prepare himself and those he loves to leave - and when the people turn on the government Lincoln discovers that a plan is in place to escape to Piloria.

Surviving the journey is just the start, Lincoln and his friends know about the dangers of the continent, but the rest of the new settlers are unfamiliar with the challenges they are about to face and make dangerous mistakes from the start.  Lincoln knows that he has to keep a cool head to keep himself and his family alive, but his heart is also desperate to discover if Storm and her father have been able to survive on their own.  When he discovered they are still alive it is only the start of their problems because Silas has come to Piloria with the rest of the settlers, and he wants to bring everything about Earthasia with them - including the dangerous and misguided idea of wiping out the dinosaurs.  Storm and her friends need to survive, but they also need to try and protect their new home and their fellow settlers.  With secrets and hatred in his wake Silas could end up destroying them all.

The extinction trials has been an interesting and thoroughly absorbing series that left me with itchy fingers waiting for each new book in the series to see what happens next in a world of danger and intrigue.  The characters have been built up over the series and become like old friends, and you can't help but get involved with the story when you see it through the eyes of the different characters and get sucked in by their emotions.  The fast pace and action make this an enjoyable series, and the complex and complicated relationships make it feel very real - as do the dinosaurs and other creatures that inhabit the world.  There is a lot to love here, and very little to dislike (beyond the odd character or two).

From reading the acknowledgments it looks as though this is the last book in the series which in some ways is disappointing as I have become rather attached to the characters and their world - but maybe there will be more books set in the same 'world' in the future.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, July 19, 2019

The starter wife by Nina Laurin

On the outside Claire Westcott and her husband Byron Westcott have the perfect life.  He is a professor of Literature at a local college, and she is working on her novel.  They have the perfect life, the only shadow is the death of Byron's first wife Colleen, an artist who drowned herself.  Byron was a suspect in her disappearance, and with no trace of her body ever found a cloud of suspicion will always hang over his head.  Claire does everything she can to support him, keeping their home neat and orderly, and trying to ignore the fact that Byron still has Colleen's all over the house that was once Colleen's but is now theirs.  

Claire desperately wants a child to complete their lives, but recently something has shifted in their relationship.  Their mornings were once a shared breakfast before going their separate ways, but now she wakes to an empty bed and an empty house.  Desperate to please Byron, Claire goes out of her way to find out what is happening, but she should be more concerned about her own life.  The pressure is building and Claire is making stupid mistakes and taking risks, and Byron is noticing.  She can't seem to win with anything, and even the simplest things are getting harder and harder, and her little sneaky drinks seem to be hitting her harder and harder.  Claire is starting to feel really afraid, and when you are pushed to your limits you are capable of just about anything.

The starter wife was a one of those rare books that I didn't want to put down, it had to be read in a single day and lead to a rather late night to finish it!  Claire is an intriguing character and offers a window into the life that she shares with Byron, and the story is very well written with plenty of little snippets that help you build a better picture of the story.  It's easy to connect with Claire, especially as her world starts to crumble and you get the sense that someone is seriously messing with her life.  Byron seems to be the perfect husband, and they appear to be the perfect couple, but not everything is as it seems.  Talking about the story too much will ruin the little snippets and twists and turns that make this story so good - so the review will end here so you can read it for yourself.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Eye spy by Mercedes Lackey

Eye spy is the second book in the Family spies series by Mercedes Lackey so there will be some ***SPOILERS*** in this review if you have not already read The hills have spies.  While you can read this series out of order, I recommend that you read the series in order for most enjoyment.

Growing up with two Heralds as parents puts more than a little pressure on you to be Chosen yourself, and when your parents are The King's Own Herald and the Herald Spy of Valdemar the pressure settles a little more heavily.  Abidela, affectionately known as Abi, desperately wants to find her place in the world - especially now her older brother Perry has firmly found his place working with their father as a spy.  While Abi and her siblings already provide services to the Crown by being unofficial bodyguards for the Royal children, it's not quite enough.

Everything changes rather abruptly when Abi and Princess Kat are running an errand for the heavily pregnant Queen.  Abi, who has never shown any sign of a Gift, suddenly springs into action when she Feels that something is very wrong with the bridge they are crossing.  Springing into action she works with Kat to clear the bridge, just before it collapses in spectacular fashion.  It seems like a miraculous save, but Abi knows that something was wrong with the bridge before it collapsed and she soon discovers that she has a gift for Feeling when something is wrong with a building - a very valuable Gift for the Kingdom if it can be harnessed and shaped.

With the discovery of her Gift Abi is offered a place with the Artificers, a move that creates some resentment with the mostly male students who feel she has stolen her place and robbed another potential student of their opportunity.  After some unpleasantness, Abi finds that she loves being a student and realises that her developing skills could come in very handy for the family spy trade.  Her Gift is only part of her future, she must also develop real world skills, and with the help of a firm circle of friends she has a bright future - even though someone seems determined to stop her suceeding.  When it comes time for her to test her skills in the real world, Abi will have to call on all of her resources and everything she has ever learned to stop a looming disaster.

Some fans have been less than impressed with the Family spies series, mainly becuse of how the stories are developing and how some of the characters are writen.  Personally, I have enjoyed reading both The hills have spies and Eye spy.  The stories are something of a departure from the traditional Valdemar stories, mainly becuase they are focused more on the mundane than the use of Gifts and developing the story of one individual - it feels more like Mercedes Lackey is developing the storyline for characters that will play a part in a later series, creating a bridge between the world we know and the world that will be (just a hunch, nothing solid to go on).

This is an enjoyable series, with plenty of action and drama, as well as a tricky mystery or two for Abi to solve.  The ending does seem to be a little abrupt, but the journey was enjoyable and leaves room for Trey to tell his story and possibly what comes next for Abi in the same way that we saw some of Perry's future in Eye spy.  A good solid addition to the series, and now we just have to wait for Tory's story.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

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