Saturday, April 7, 2018

Time bomb by Joelle Charbonneau

Six young lives are about to change for ever, wrenched apart and shaken by multiple explosions in their high school.  Each of them has a reason to be at school, and each of them is keeping secrets or keeping part of themselves hidden.  Rashid is a young man struggling with his identity, struggling to find a balance between practicing his faith and fitting in with his "American" classmates.  Cas is struggling to fit into her new school, pressure from her family to lose weight, be more sociable, be more popular is more than she can stand.  Frankie and Tad are struggling with a relationship that has changed and yet not changed, heading towards a line that one of them might not be ready to cross.  Diana is tired of being the perfect politicians daughter, always pushing her own thoughts and feelings aside to make her father look good.  Recently orphaned by the death of his mother, Z is failing out of school and about to lose his home, but he has a plan.

Six young people all keeping secrets from their friends and families - six young lives about to be changed in the worst way possible.  Trapped in a building that has been badly damaged by multiple explosions, and with part of the building on fire it seems grim.  When they learn that the bomber has been caught it is not the good news they needed, the bomber was not working alone, and according to the news reports on the radio the bomber has a partner who is still in the school.  Trying to escape is hard enough, but when suspicions grow about who the bombers partner could be tension turns to accusations and threats.

Books like Time bomb run the risk of becoming purely didactic and artificial, the author preaching at their audience rather than connecting the reader with a story that needs to be told.  Some authors tackle these topics with amazing skill and insight - to the point that you don't even realise there is a message - while others are like a sledge hammer nailing home their message with little finesse or skill.  Time bomb falls somewhere in between these two extremes, as while Charbonneau does build her characters, keeps the tension high, and generally makes an effort to make the characters and their stories relatable it just lacks a spark - though for me this could be mainly because I guessed who the bomber was very early and it then felt a little like she was going through the motions.

Do I think this was a book that needed to be written - yes.  Does it provide valuable insight into the pressures teenagers face at school and in their lives in general - yes.  Do I think this book might have benefitted from one more draft - yes, just to tie the story more tightly together and make it more about the characters rather than the bombing.  Don't get me wrong, this was a good book, but I think with a little more polish it could have been a great book or even an amazing book.

If you like this book then try:
  • NEED by Joelle Charbonneau
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • What waits in the woods by Kieran Scott
  • Burning blue by Paul Griffin
  • The Christopher killer by Alane Ferguson
  • Missing Judy by Anne Cassidy
  • Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • The mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
  • Thousand words by Jennifer Brown

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, April 2, 2018

Alien tango by Gini Koch

Alien tango is the second book in the Alien series, and while you can read it as a stand alone you will get more out of the book if you read Touched by an alien first.  This review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not already read Touched by an alien so I highly recommend reading the series in order.

After all the excitement and action of her introduction to Superbeings and the team from Alpha Centauri coming down to business as usual is a more than a little frustrating for Katherine "Kitty" Katt.  Sure, she has an amazing relationship with her team of human and Alpha Centauri operatives, but things have been rather quiet over the past six months and she is starting to get twitchy for some action.  They say you should be careful what you wish for, and that is certainly the case for Kitty and her team because they go from zero to crisis point in a matter of hours when a ship that was sent on a long range mission to Mars returns to Earth in a most unexpected fashion.  Flying by the seat of her pants, and based mainly on intuition, Kitty manages to get involved right in the thick of the action (as usual). 

In the midst of chaos Kitty is in her element, but it's also the last place Jeff Martini wants her to be - and when he gets worried he gets uber protective and sulky.  As Kitty, Jeff, and the rest of their team start to uncover the different layers of the conspiracy against them they quickly realise that this time they can't stop the big bad by the usual methods - this is an enemy where working smarter is the key, not using bigger weapons.  Fighting the enemy is what they are quickly becoming used to, but what happens when the person who feels like an enemy is your family?  The time has finally come for Kitty to meet Jeff's family and it is going to be a somewhat bumpy ride for everyone because Kitty is not your typical A-C female, and when she sees something wrong she deals with it.  

I first read Touched by an alien over three years ago, and seeing another book in the series made me decide to re-read it and I am glad I did because it reminded me how much I had enjoyed the book and I dove straight into reading Alien tango to keep the roller coaster ride going.  Alien tango picks up a few months after Touched by an alien and while there are common threads through the series so far, each book does have a focus on a different conspiracy and enemy for the team to deal with.  Kitty is one of my favourite anti-heroes, mainly because she doesn't care what people think about her and she is not afraid to fight for what she believes in (and is not so tough that she also doesn't burst into tears occasionally). 

The cast of A-C characters also adds to the charm of the series because the way they react to things and the way they function is just so - alien.  Sometimes the differences result in laugh out loud moments, sometimes they result in eye rolling moments, and sometimes you just go "huh".  Jeff Martini and Christopher White create quite a few comic moments because of who they are for the A-C community, and also because of who they are - and the A-C women add some great moments too.  It is interesting that Koch has been able to create such a human seeming alien race, and she has deftly inserted them into the human race in a way that makes sense and you can easily picture a race of aliens living amongst Earths people just like this.  

Currently waiting for the third book in the series to arrive so I can keep the fun going and see where Koch takes Kitty and Jeff next - because it is bound to be a thrill ride, but it is also hard to see how she can top what happened in the first two books in the series.

If you like this book then try:
  • Children of the night by Mercedes Lackey
  • Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff
  • Spiders bite by Jennifer Estep
  • Dead witch walking by Kim Harrison
  • Angel's blood by Nalini Singh
  • Cast in shadow by Michelle Sagara
  • Kitty and the midnight hour by Carrie Vaughn
  • Undead and unwed by MaryJanice Davidson
  • Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander
  • Eight million gods by Wen Spencer
  • Alien taste by Wen Spencer
  • Tinker by Wen Spencer
  • Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway
  • Prowlers by Christopher Golden

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, March 30, 2018

Red alert by James Patterson and Marshall Karp

Red alert is the fifth book in the NYPD Red series and while it can be read as a stand alone book, it is best enjoyed as part of the rest of the series.  If you choose to keep reading this review there are ***SPOILERS*** about what happens in the earlier books.

When you're part of NYPD Red you know that at least part of your day is going to be spent kissing butts and stroking egos - even when there is a crime to solve and not much time to solve it in.  Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald are the core team at NYPD Red and they are at the top of their game, which is both a hindrance and a help when it comes to solving crimes.  When they are roped into joining the security detail for Mayor Sykes it seems like an annoyance rather than a chore, but when a bomb explodes at the charity fundraiser they're attending the find themselves at ground zero for the crime and the start of a challenging case.  The mayor wants the case solved and what the mayor wants she gets.  When a second man dies at the hands of the same bomber it becomes clear that the case is bigger than they thought.

Because life is never simple for the overworked detectives of the NYPD the bomber is not the only case for Jordan and MacDonald to solve - and every case is considered a priority that needs their attention.  It is almost impossible to ignore a death like Aubrey Davenport's though, especially when she has the poor taste to die in a compromising position in a public place, and as the detectives dig deeper into her story they realise that the case may not be cut and dried either.  With pressure from all sides Jordan and MacDonald are going to have to keep their wits about them, especially when a third unofficial case falls in their lap.  

The NYPD Red series has been lots of fun to discover, and the chemistry between the main characters of Jordan and MacDonald is interesting and familiar without drifting too far into cliché and the overly familiar.  The cast is well developed and growing to include more interesting characters, and there are some laugh out loud moments among the more serious storylines.  It was a long wait for this instalment in the NYPD Red series but it was worth the wait and we can only hope the next instalment is not too far away!

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The lost ones by Sheena Kamal

Nora Watts is very good at staying under the radar, a recovering alcoholic who is always one temptation away from falling off the wagon.  Avoiding her past, her memories, and a gaping hole in her memory means that Nora lives very much in the now and keeps everyone at arms length.  The only living thing that spends any real time with her is Whisper, a dog that she rescued from the streets and seems to regard Nora with as a source of food an grudging companionship.  Nora lives life on the edge, her only real contact with people is her work as a researcher for a private ye where she uses her natural lie detecting ability to help solve cases.  Her employer knows she has secrets, but as those secrets have never impacted on her work he has left her those secrets - but secrets can't stay buried forever.

When Nora receives an early morning phone call she doesn't know the caller but he knows about her and the child she gave up for adoption fifteen years earlier.  That phone call starts Nora down a path that will force her to confront her past and her present, something she has been avoiding by deliberately trying to forget.  She may have given birth to Bonnie, but apart from a brief moment in hospital she has never had a relationship with her daughter - though from what her adoptive parents have to say there may be something to the nurture versus nature debate.  When another ghost from her past reappears it becomes clear that there is more to Bonnie's disappearance than a teenage girl looking for her birth mother and if Nora can't untangle her memories, along with the secrets and lies, then she may never come back from facing her past.

The lost ones was a harrowing story with a unique voice that will stay with me for some time.  Nora is an almost perfect anti-hero, tortured by her past and battling her tendency to be an alcoholic.  Facing the case of her missing birth daughter forces her to not only face her past, but also face the truths that she doesn't want to see.  Nora is a product of her past and as the novel proceeds each layer of protection she has built is stripped away, and it is no surprise that she makes some very difficult decisions along the way.  I would challenge anyone to read The lost ones and not come away feeling for Nora and all she has faced in her past, and the inner strength she shows in unexpected ways.  A must read, and it will be interesting to see if Kamal continues to write books in this style as it was interesting and engaging and deserves to be read.

This book was also published in the United Kingdom under the title Eyes like mine.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, March 19, 2018

Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz

Hellbent is the sequel to Orphan X and The Nowhere man, 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.

It's a voice from his past that sets Evan Smoak, currently known as The Nowhere man and formerly known as Orphan X on his latest race against the clock.  With a target painted on his back it is only a matter of time until he caught by the head of the Orphan Program, and is the wrong time to pick up complications - but that is exactly what happens when Jack Johns asks Evan to go to an address and look after the package.  It turns out the package is a teenage girl with a complicated story that fits perfectly with the rest of the Orphan Program and the damage it leaves in it's wake.

Used to working on his own, Evan struggles to cope with suddenly having someone else to care for - especially as Joey doesn't want his help, and resents his assumptions that she can't take care of herself.  With a hit squad and two Orphans hunting him down on Van Sciver's orders it seems like its only a matter of time before the noose tightens and Evan and Joey fall.  But Evan is not that easy to kill, he may be up against superior numbers but he is also an Orphan and with someone to protect he is more determined than ever.  With a new person to help, Joey in tow and operatives actively targeting him Evan is in for one hell of a ride.

Hellbent is the third gripping installment in the Orphan X series and while I would have enjoyed reading it on it's own, having the back story from the previous two books made it an even more thrilling and enjoyable ride.  Hurwitz has a knack for creating characters that you care about, and putting them in situations that are both adrenaline fueled and realistic.  Thanks to a healthy dose of thrillers, action and crime novels (not to mention a healthier dose of watching action movies and TV series) it is easy to get jaded and feel like you've seen everything before - but Evan Smoak and his world of Orphans is at the same time familiar and refreshingly new.  

This is a series that deserves to be discovered and the things Evan uncovers in Hellbent make it clear that we have not see the last of the Orphans programme.  I highly, highly recommend that you try and read Hellbent in one sitting because having to put it down was very frustrating when all I wanted to do was know what was coming next!

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
  • The basement: A novel  by Stephen Leather
  • City of the lost by Kelley Armstrong
  • 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 11, 2018

Honor among thieves by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre

Zara Cole lives in The Lower Eight, far from the bright and shiny of Paradise, living the life she chose and following the laws of the streets.  Her life is a challenging but simple one - steal enough to survive the streets, don't rat out her fellow residents, and escape if she is sent to a rehabilitation facility.  It isn't an easy life, but it's the one she chose, staying on Earth while her mother and sister moved to Mars.  When Zara steals from the wrong mark she discovers that her life in The Lower Eight isn't as secure as she thought.  Running from a powerful player who wants what she took, Zara runs to the only place she thinks she will be safe - but safety is an illusion when money and power can get you anything you want.  

Her salvation is a complete surprise  - Zara is chosen as one of the Honors, the people chosen to travel the stars for one year in the company of a Leviathan.  For many on Earth the Leviathan are saviours, swooping in to save the Earth when it was on the brink of collapse, sharing their knowledge and asking for very little in return.  Accepting the offer to join the Honors programme is a no brainer for Zara, if she doesn't accept then she won't last long, but the programme is not without it's own risks. 

Zara and one of her fellow Honors,  Beatriz, are partnered with Nadim, a Leviathan who is facing his own challenges, and from the start it appears that they are a good match - although in the eyes of the elder Leviatthan that would be debatable.  As Zara and Beatriz learn more about each other and Nadim Zara starts to relax and feel at home, an unsettling feeling for someone who distrusts everyone.  This journey will test Zara, Beatriz and Nadim and push them all to their limits, and when they discover the truth about the Honors programme it will change their lives forever.

Honor among thieves is a deftly written and thoroughly engrossing science fiction novel that may be aimed at teenagers, but has a much wider appeal.  Zara is a strong character, pushing against the "establishment" but it isn't a mindless rebellion, and as we learn more about her across the course of the story we come to realise why she is the way she is - and it feels "right".  Balancing the story of Zara is the story of Nadim, a story that runs parallel and equally - he may be a ship, but he is also a fully developed character in his own right which makes the story more engaging and more real.  The other characters who make up the cast of the story has their own voices that weave together to make a completely believable whole.  The only real drawback for me is that now I have to wait for the next book in the series to see what happens next because the ending was ... wow.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, March 9, 2018

Murder beyond the grave by James Patterson

Murder beyond the grave is one of a series of books written to tie-in with the Murder is forever television series.  Each book in the series includes two stories based on actual events that have been slightly fictionalised, but that doesn't take away from the stories covered.

Stephen Small has everything he wants in life - a loving wife, three sons, and enough money to live comfortably.  For one man Stephen is a source of resentment and jealously, a man who has everything he could want and more - more than enough to cover a ransom demand.  Danny Edwards has lost it all, he squandered his chances growing up, and then lost it all when he was busted for drug dealing and had to earn an honest living.  Chafing at the new restrictions on his life Danny hatches a plan to get the money he needs to live the life he thinks he deserves, and Stephen Small is the key to his plan.  Things don't go as planned however, and he destroys the lives of everyone involved in the case.

Bonnie Hood is the proud new owner of Camp Nelson Lodge, a property she visited as a young girl and that she hopes to bring back to its former glory.  Her husband Jim is also an owner, but her dedication to the project means he only gets to see her in the weekends when he visits with the children.  The redevelopment takes time, and as she makes changes Bonnie ruffles the feathers of the locals, who have come to see the Camp tavern as theirs.  As she continues the development Bonnie receives death threats - and then the unthinkable happens and she is gunned down in the night.  The crime may not be as simple as it seems, but the Police are determined to catch the killer.

These two compelling stories are intriguing and disturbing in turn - what drives a person to commit crimes like these?  While I am not usually a fan of fictionalised real life stories, Patterson has done an excellent job of remaining sensitive to the victims.  In many ways these stories are scarier than anything he could have dreamed up in one of his own stories because these are real murders with real motivations, and people that you can realise despise for what they have done.  This has been an engaging series to read (not to mention somewhat disturbing) and it will be interesting to see if there are more books in the series.

If you are interested in reading more real life reads and true crime stories then try some of the these books:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Mister Tender's girl by Carter Wilson

When she was just fourteen years old Alice Hill was brutally stabbed by two of her so called friends, twin girls who claimed that Mister Tender told them to do it.  The crime was shocking and sensational, not only because the victim and perpetrators were all teenagers, but also because Mister Tender was the fictional creation of Alice's own father.  The Mister Tender graphic novels had a cult following, including people willing and eager to believe that the demonic seeming bar tender who can make your wishes come true for a cost might be real.  The crime nearly killed Alice, but it succeeded in killing her family - driving her mother to move them from England to America, leaving her father behind apart from the occasional visit.  

More than a decade later Alice Hill is now Alice Gray, living a quiet life as the owner of a small coffee shop in small town.  No one knows who she really is and she likes it that way, it's one of the few ways she can leave the past behind.  Having lived in the shadow of the attack and the fallout of the breakdown of her parents relationship, living a seemingly normal life is bliss.  It helps her forget the crippling panic attacks that leave her gasping for breath and rung out on the floor, and it helps her forget that her brother is sick and depends on their controlling mother.  When a stranger comes to town and reaches out to her about her past Alice slowly comes to realise that she has not escaped from Mister Tender at all, and as her delicate grip on reality slow starts to slip away she comes face to face with what is truly means to be Mister Tender's girl.

I wasn't sure what to expect with Mister Tender's girl, but what I got was a solid session of reading the book from cover to cover without a break.  Carter Wilson has crafted a story that leaves you wondering where the story could possibly go next, a gentle dance through several different genre before settling into an ending that is gripping and ultimately satisfying without feeling too pat or clichéd.  Alice is a real person to the reader, well rounded and well developed, and while I have never suffered from panic attacks the description matches and gels with accounts from friends who have and nonfiction accounts of how they come on and how they make you feel.  Alice may have been a victim when she was first attacked, but she is a fighter and that comes through loud and clear through her actions and words. 

This book was a real treat and I have already requested another book from Wilson to see if it was the magic of this one story - or if he can keep me this hooked across multiple books.

If you like this book then try:
  • Mercy killings by Lisa Cutts
  • Cut short by Leigh Russell
  • Good me bad me by Ali Land
  • The slaughter man by Tony Parsons
  • Still waters by Nigel McCrery
  • Crimson Lake by Candice Fox
  • What was mine by Helen Klein Ross
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • One step too far by Tina Seskis

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, February 26, 2018

Claws for concern (ebook) by Miranda James

Claws for concern is the ninth book in the Cat in the stack mysteries so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first eight books in the series.  While you can read this series as standalone books it is best enjoyed read in series order so if you have not read the first books - then you may want to read them first before reading anymore of this review.

Charlie has gotten used to his uncanny knack for finding himself in the middle of murder investigations, but he has always been careful to stay out of the media spotlight and let the local police take the credit for solving the crime.  He has after all only played a (mostly) small part in each of the investigations, and he isn't keen to ruffle any feathers by claiming more than his share of the credit.  With the arrival of his first grandchild, and a second one on the way, it seems like a good time to slow down with the mystery solving anyway.  When an author, Jack Pemberton,  approaches him about being the subject of a new book he is writing Charlie is sure he will turn the offer down, but then he discovers a surprising connection between himself and a new person in town.  

Investigating a cold case is never easy, especially when some of the people involved are no longer around to talk to - and it is especially difficult when people refuse to speak to you at all.  Luckily for Charlie he has a secret weapon, there are very few people who can refuse the charm of his cat Diesel and while Diesel may not open every door, he certainly helps in most cases.  As Charlie and Jack dig into the cold case murder they discover that the conspiracy goes further than they thought.  As they stir up the past it becomes clear that people are keeping secrets - and some of the secrets could get them killed.  After lying as a cold case for twenty years, the unsolved murder is becoming a hot case again, and if Charlie and Jack aren't careful the body count may rise as the murderer is determined to keep their secret no matter what it costs.

Saying that I adore the Charlie and Diesel books may be something of an understatement - and luckily for me my mother also reads the series so I have someone to talk to about them!  This series has a wide appeal, not only because Charlie is a librarian (my chosen profession) so there are a lot of subtle moments that feel familiar, but also because Diesel reminds me very much of a Maine coon I used to have and a little moggie I own now.  The two characters together are what make this series so charming and endearing, and the family and cast of characters that has grown around Charlie and Diesel mean there is lots of interest and realism to keep the series real and engaging. 

This was an interesting departure from the usual format for this series, with another strong character coming in, and with the case being a cold case rather than an active case - but it was an interesting and very rewarding departure.  It's always a challenge to try and figure out whodunnit first - but the ride is what makes it good and this was a very good ride indeed. 

I read Claws for concern as an ebook because my local public library had it listed months ago and in some ways I liked it more because it's harder to tell how far through a book you are when you are reading an ebook so I was able to suspend the "there's only so much of the book left" thoughts and just read the story.  Now all I have to do is wait for the tree book copy to arrive so I can talk about this story.  There is already the promise of the next book in the series and I can't wait until it comes out so I can see what is next for Charlie and Diesel.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Tempests and slaughter by Tamora Pierce

They say heroes are made, not born - but when you have a powerful magical gift it is fair to say that sometimes they are born too.  Arram Draper is only a child when he begins his magical studies at the Imperial University of Carthak, but it soon becomes clear that he has a powerful gift that needs extra supervision so he finds himself with the dubious honour of being a special case.  Despite the sparks of jealously that appear over the years from students who are less advanced and don't believe a child should be studying alongside them, his early years of study also provide a great deal of reward.  

It is a little difficult to tell which is the greatest reward - being able to study more advanced magic and keep his busy mind occupied, or forming a friendship with the other advanced students Varice and Ozorne.  There are some who would think that a commoner like Arram shouldn't spend time with an heir to the Imperial throne, but as Ozorne is a spare prince unlikely to actually rule it is not a problem for others.  As the years pass, and their friendship deepens, it becomes harder and harder for new people to join their group which also leads to some resentment.  As the years pass and Arram learns more about his magic and what he can do with it, he also learns more about the dangers of being too smart for his own good.  There are forces at work in the Carthaki Empire and not all of them are good.

Tempests and slaughter is the long-awaited first book in the Numair chronicles and it was a real pleasure to learn more about the child that grew into the man we meet in some of the Tortall books.  This is definitely not a Tamora Pierce novel for younger readers, as it covers themes that younger readers may struggle to understand and/or cope with.  In many ways Tempests and slaughter is similar to the later books in the Circle universe, covering themes of friendship, betrayal, conspiracies, and more than a little bit of gore through gladiatorial fights and medical procedures.  I thoroughly enjoyed this first outing with a young Arram and his friends, and you can already see the little hints of the tragedy and drama that is to come.  Another masterful story from Tamora Pierce that had me hooked from cover to cover.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla