Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Look behind you by Sibel Hodge

Chloe Benson wakes up to find herself bound and trapped in a dark space underground with no memory of how she got there - the only clue a bump on her head.  Determined to survive, she manages to escape only to find herself in a deeper nightmare.  Somehow weeks have gone by since her last memory, weeks that have seen her committed for her own safety after a severe reaction to a drug.  Because of what happened to her when she took the drugs, and because there are sleeping pills in her system, everyone doubts her story - the doctors, the police, and especially her husband Liam.

Home from the hospital Chloe can't help but feel that something isn't right, that there is something just below the surface she is missing.  Her only logical option is to try and figure out what happened in the seven weeks she can't remember, because somewhere in those seven weeks are the clues she needs to figure out if her kidnapping was a drug induced hallucination or if someone really is trying to harm her.  The more she looks into her past the more Chloe realises that she may still be in danger, and the more she realises that she may be on her own because no one thinks she is really in danger - they all think she has lost the plot again.

I wasn't expecting a lot from Look behind you - mainly because it is a relatively short book and because the description on the back of the book was so brief and generic.  Imagine my surprise then when I picked the book up and didn't put it down again until I had finished all 280 pages in one sitting.  One of the things that sucks you into the story is the fact that you see the world through Chloe's eyes, learning facts only as she learns them which makes the whole world a scary place and one that seems to have Chloe (and you) constantly on edge.  There is not a single moment, from when she opens her eyes underground to the end of the novel, where you are truly on solid footing with the story - the facts seem to shift and turn as soon as Chloe tries to pin them down which leaves you feeling just as confused and unsettled as she is.

This is a quick read, but it is also a very satisfying one - one that can be finished in bite sized chunks of short chapters.  I was not the only person in my family to read Look behind you, my 60+ year old mother also thoroughly enjoyed it.  While Hodge has set the story in the United Kingdom, it could have been written nearly anywhere in the world and there is very little jargon or colloquialisms to knock you out of the story.  A very enjoyable read, and hopefully there will be more in this genre from Hodge in the future.

If you like this book then try:
  • Eeny meeny by M.J. Arlidge
  • The silence of the lambs by Thomas Harris
  • Vodka doesn't freeze by Leah Giarratano
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • One step too far by Tina Seskis
  • The postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • The basement by Stephen Leather
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • Level 26: Dark origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski
  • Now you see her by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  • The postcard killers by James Patterson and Liza Marklund
  • Private Oz by James Patterson and Michael White
  • The survivors club by Lisa Gardner
  • Darkly dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
  • Kill switch by Neal Baer & Jonathan Greene
  • The edge of normal by Carla Norton

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, December 29, 2014

Blood of my blood by Barry Lyga

Blood of my blood is the final book in the I hunt killers trilogy so this review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not read the first two books in the series.  I highly recommend reading this series in order so check out I hunt killers and Game before you read any more of this review.

Jazz has faced some challenging and confronting moments in the past, but that is has not really prepared him for the reality of his father being loose in the world again because of him - coincidentally it also doesn't prepare him for dealing with a bullet in the leg.  Jazz has been groomed his whole life to be a cunning predator among the unsuspecting masses and those skills finally come into play in a major way when he finds himself on the wrong side of the NYPD and has to flee from the city.  All those lessons about spotting prospects allows him to escape from the hospital and the local area, but is it enough to keep him one step ahead of the NYPD until he can get to safety?

Howie and Connie are facing their own challenges courtesy of the Dent family.  Connie has fallen into the hands of Billy Dent in New York and he has special plans for the girl that he doesn't feel is good enough for his son.  In Lobo's Nod Howie has landed in the hospital (again) because of the danger stalking Jazz.  Jazz will do almost anything to protect his friends, and that loyalty is a source of strenght and a weakness that can be exploited by Billy.  In a deadly game of catch up and cat and mouse Jazz is on the trail of Billy, but that same trail will lead him into the hands of the Crow King - and the Crow King has plans for dear little Jasper Dent.

The I hunt killers trilogy has been a real treat, especially for a reader who enjoys well defined characters, believable interplay between characters, and twisted plots that don't pull their punches just because the book is written for teens.  Jazz is a fascinating character, not just because of the life he has lived and the experiences he has had, but also because of all the self doubt he has and the worry that he will turn into his father - a fear a lot of teens and young adults face as they move into adulthood.  The tension and pace of this series is also carefully controlled, moving from scene to scene rapidly and then slowing the pace to give you time to breathe and then launching into the next blur of action.  Lyga has once again managed to serve up his trademark mix of thrills, chills, and kills in this series closing book.

The wait for Blood of my blood has been particularly torturous because the ending of Game was such a cliffhanger - I have been waiting months to see what happened to Connie and Jazz!  This is a complex series which has emotional and visual scenes that would make it disturbing for most young to middle teens, but older teens transitioning from teen to adult books who enjoy crime and thrillers will find a lot to like in this series.  There is gore and violence, but it is not gratuitous and Lyga somehow manages to make things truly  gruesome and thrilling yet also somehow managing to keep the explicitly stated gruesome horrors to a minimum.  This series would make a mind blowing mini series or tv series, and it wouldn't really need to have too many changes made to make it accessible to adults out there rather than being slotted as a "teen tv series".

There is a lot to like here (thrills, adventure, loyalty, friendship, self discovery) and very little not to like (having to wait for the next book in the series!).  Hopefully this is not the last we have seen of Jazz - although the ending is rather nice and finalised.


If you like this book then try:
  • I hunt killers by Barry Lyga
  • Game by Barry Lyga
  • The book of blood and shadow by Robin Wasserman
  • The naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Acceleration by Graham McNamee
  • Death cloud by Andrew Lane
  • Crime seen by Jenny Pausacker
  • The murder complex by Lindsay Cummings
  • The Christopher killer by Alane Ferguson
  • Feral by Holly Schindler
  • Guy Langman, crime scene procrastinator by Josh Berk
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, December 26, 2014

Get happy by Mary Amato

Minerva was more than a little hopeful that she might get a ukulele for her sixteenth birthday, and she wasn't going to just rely on hopes and prayers either - she also stuck an ad up for the one she wanted on the family fridge.  When she opened her present from her mom there is no ukelele however, just another sense of disappointment about how little her mother actually gets about her.  A knock at the door signals the arrival of a parcel that will change Minerva's life forever - a parcel from the father that walked out on her when she was a toddler.

Opening the parcel is a life altering moment for Minerva as she suddenly realises that the father she always thought had abandoned her has reached out to her - reached out to her to form a connection.  This single discovery shakes her world and tips it upside down at a time when she is striving for independence and a sense of self that is seperate from her mother and what her mother wants her to become.  Taking a part time job will help Minerva earn some money so she can buy the ukulele of her dreams, but it will also add some interesting complications to her life.

Get happy is an intriguing mix of light and fluffy teen novel blended with a deep and emotional look at the implosion of a family that has been based on half-truths, subtle manipulations, and confronting moments.  I didn't know what to expect when I picked the novel up, but I definitely didn't get what I expected - and I am both happy and a little disappointed with the results.  Minerva is an interesting and engaging character, one that many teen girls will no doubt relate to as she comes to term with becoming sixteen and stepping closer to adulthood.  She is also a construct that represents thousands of teenagers worldwide who come from a "broken home" where one of the parents has left, leaving emotional wreckage in their path.  Minerva is also a somewhat shining star in a shallow sea of events that happen quickly and neatly in an orderly world that spins predictably out of control.  

This is a great example of a book that delivers more than the cover and the blurb promises, a pleasant surprise devoured in an afternoon on Boxing Day.  Get happy is a little treasure that deserves to be discovered and enjoyed - it blends light and fluffy with serious and heartbreaking to make the perfect blend of reading pleasure.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Touched by an alien by Gini Koch

Most people, when confronted with a scary monster straight out of a bad science fiction movie would either run for their lives or look around to see where the cavalry was - instead Katherine "Kitty" Katt kicks off her shoes and runs at the monster armed with nothing but a pen.  When she manages to stop the monster no one is more surprised than Kitty, especially when the gorgeous aliens in Armani turn up to mop up the damage and let her in a little secret - there are some nasty alien parasites on Earth who can take people over and turn them into superbeings with a variety of nasty "talents" that all spell death and disaster for the human population.  She also discovers Jeff Martini - who in only a few minutes declares his undying love and his determination to make Kitty his wife.

In a matter of days everything Kitty thought she knew about her world, her family, and the existence of aliens is thrown on its head.  For some reason the ultimate superbeing has set his sights on Kitty and he is determined to turn her to his cause - despite what she may have to say about the matter.  Surrounded by gorgeous aliens and their trusted human agents, Kitty slowly begins to understand how things work and why she might be a target - and she also begins to understand why Jeff finds her more than a little irresistible.  They say the true test of a relationship is how you handle stressful situations - and Kitty and Jeff are about to face a trial by fire that may destroy one or both of them, or the whole world.

Touched by an alien was an accidental discovery for me and one that I am very glad I found!  I found a later book in the series that one of our customers had requested and reading the back had me intrigued so I ordered the first book in the series - and I have not stopped smiling, laughing, smirking, and turning the pages quickly to find out what happens next since I picked the book up.  Kitty is the "perfect" heroine because she is so human, the perfect balance for the seemingly perfect aliens.  There is some truly laugh out loud moments because of the wonderful world Koch has created - particularly the interplay between the characters and the situations they find themselves in / put themselves in.  

This is a fast paced high octane read where the action takes place over just a few short days - but in those few short days a lot of action happens - and not all of it happens out in the field.  This is a book I really connected with because I have a tendency to enjoy books and tv series with a sense of humour - especially when that humour acts as a buffer for some serious action.  This series may not appeal to "true" science fiction fans because it blends in some action, some drama, some romance, and some comedy - but it was definitely my cup of tea.

If you like this book then try:
  • Children of the night by Mercedes Lackey
  • Jinx high by Mercedes Lackey
  • Blood price by Tanya Huff
  • Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff
  • Burning water by Mercedes Lackey
  • 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
  • Moon called by Patricia Briggs
  • Cry wolf by Patricia Briggs
  • Eight million gods by Wen Spencer
  • Alien taste by Wen Spencer
  • Tinker by Wen Spencer
  • Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway
  • Prowlers by Christopher Golden
  • Children of the night by Mercedes Lackey
  • Cast in shadow by Michelle Sagara
  • Summon the keeper by Tanya Huff

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Curse of the Scarab by H.Y. Hanna

Honey the Great Dane is used to her comfortable life as an only dog with her human Olivia - but the peace and quiet is shattered when a house sitter arrives with a puppy in tow.  Bean is not just any puppy though, she is a big, bouncy and inquisitive Great Dane puppy.  The house sitter and Olivia think that Bean and Honey will be great friends, after all Bean looks just like Honey did at the same age - but Honey is not so sure.  When they go to the park for a walk it seems as though Bean is finally settling down and learning from Honey's example, but then she seems to vanish into thin air.

It seems as though Honey and her friends are the best hope of finding young Bean, especially with the help of one of the best noses around, but it soon becomes clear that there is a deeper mystery at work here.  Bean is not the first puppy to go missing in the neighbourhood, and all the dogs are unsettled like their humans.  Bean going missing brings it all home for Honey and she soon finds herself caught up in the excitement of the case as she and her friends begin the frantic search for the missing puppies.  

There were some unsavoury characters around when bean went missing - including a pit bull with a history of fighting and everyone is immediately suspicious of Max and his human.  But things are not so simple, and Honey and her friends will have to solve a puzzle or two if they want to get to the bottom of the mystery and save Bean.

Curse of the Scarab is the first book in the Big Honey Dog Mysteries, and I have to confess that I picked up the book because I know the author Hsin-Yi and because I was lucky enough to meet the real Honey and wanted to see what adventures she might have gotten up to in the books.  I have to confess that it was probably a disadvantage to have met the real Honey because I kept seeing her and remembering her throughout the first few chapters, and it took a few chapters for me to get absorbed in the fictional Honey rather than the real one.  I am very glad I persisted though as this has to be one of the better mysteries I have read for older children in recent years (and no I was not paid to say that or offered a comp copy of the book!).

Too often authors tone down their writing or avoid challenging words - most likely because they are worried the will out off potential readers.  There are no punches pulled here, the story stays true to itself - even when it gets a little scary and gory.  I loved the touch of Egyptian mythology that is infused with the story, and the way that you have to work a little for the answers rather than having them fall in your lap.  

This is an addictive and intriguing start to this series, and I sincerely hope that more people discover this series as Hsin-Yi Hanna has a deep understanding of dog psychology and a firm grasp of writing that makes this a believable and exciting read best devoured in one sitting.

If you like this book then try:



Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Backhoe Joe by Lori Alexander; illustrated by Craig Cameron

Nolan is collecting a few rocks one day when he hears a noise and turns around to find a stray backhoe in the middle of the street!  Nolan has always wanted a pet backhoe, and here is his chance - but first he has to convince the reluctant backhoe to come out of the bushes and trust him long enough to follow him home.  After winning over his new friend Nolan takes him home - only to find out that his parents are not so keen on the idea of an untrained backhoe around the house.  What will Nolan do, will he find a way to keep his new pet?

The cliche of the child saying a stray dog "followed me home and can I keep him" is given a delightful new twist with Backhoe Joe, where the stray "pet" takes a rather unexpected form.  I couldn't help but laugh out loud when I saw how carefully Nolan coaxes Joe out of the bushes and takes him home - it reminds me very much of a small ginger kitten I found when I was walking my dogs that ended up in my hoodie and taken home to "safety".  Like Nolan I wasn't able to keep the kitten, but this hilarious reminder had me smiling the whole way through.

If you have a pet mad child, if you love laugh out loud reads, or if you have a strange yearning to have your own backhoe pet then Backhoe Joe may be the perfect book for you.  I shared this with some of my colleagues and they loved it as much as I did - especially the dad with three boys!  This is one of those great books that works really well as a read aloud to an audience, or one on one to your own little person - and the best part is it wont date too badly because a backhoe is a backhoe and the clothing is pretty generic in terms of eras.  I loved this book and hope you will too.

If you like this book then try:
  • If I had a raptor by George O'Connor
  • Barnaby Bennett by Hannah Rainforth; illustrated by Ali Teo
  • Elephants cannot dance! by Mo Willems
  • Blue chicken by Deborah Freedman
  • New socks by Bob Shea
  • Wait! No paint! by Bruce Whately
  • I need my monster by Amanda Noll; illustrated by Howard McWilliam
  • Giggle, giggle, quack by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Betsy Lewin
  • Press here by Hervé Tullet
  • Cushie Butterfield (she's a little cow) by Colin McNaughton
  • If you give a mouse a cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond
  • Don't push the button! by Bill Cotter
  • The monster at the end of this book by Jon Stone
  • Shout! Shout it out! by Denise Fleming

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The book with no pictures by B.J. Novak

You would think that a picture book for children would need to include pictures - but the rather surprising fact (for some people anyway) is that a book doesn't need pictures to really engage with its audience!  

The reader is the source of the magic with books for children, as a skilled reader can make the most boring or confusing book engaging and easy through the use of their voice, tone, and enthusiasm.  Novak has taken the idea of the read aloud book and thrown it on its head - creating a book that pushes boundaries, pokes fun at the idea of sharing the pictures as well as the story, and makes the reader really work to keep their audience engaged.  

I found out about The book with no pictures because of a post on Facebook which showed Novak reading parts of his book to an audience of children - and I couldn't help but smile and laugh at their reactions.  Watching Novak in action made it very clear he is not only a clever and creative writer, but he is also a talented performer who can easy enthrall his audience.  

When you are reading aloud to an audience it can be terrifying and having a book that hooks your audience from the start is essential - and I may have finally found a book hear that suits the older children who still deserve to be read aloud to, but who are starting to be "too cool" for picture books.  There is a lot to like here for audiences of all ages, and if you are talented at voices and/or looking surprised (not to mention arguing with yourself) then this may just well be the perfect book!

Be warned this is not a book for the fainthearted reader - you really have to commit to reading this book, you can't do it half way or you will be cheating yourself and your audience.  I loved this book and look forward to the chance when I can read it with an audience of the right age group!

If you like this book then try:
  • If I had a raptor by George O'Connor
  • Barnaby Bennett by Hannah Rainforth; illustrated by Ali Teo
  • Don't push the button! by Bill Cotter
  • Elephants cannot dance! by Mo Willems
  • Blue chicken by Deborah Freedman
  • New socks by Bob Shea
  • Wait! No paint! by Bruce Whately
  • This book just ate my dog! by Richard Byrne
  • Giggle, giggle, quack by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Betsy Lewin
  • Press here by Hervé Tullet
  • Cushie Butterfield (she's a little cow) by Colin McNaughton
  • If you give a mouse a cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond
  • The monster at the end of this book by Jon Stone

Reviewed by Brilla

I need my monster by Amanda Noll; illustrated by Howard McWilliam

A little boy goes to bed one night and finds a note from his monster Gabe saying he has gone fishing - how will he go to sleep without Gabe under the bed scratching his nails and gnashing his teeth?  He sneaks under the bed and quietly scratches on the floor in the hopes of attracting a new monster to cover for Gabe who will be gone for a whole week!  He soon gets a visit from a monster named Herbert, but will Herbert be as scary as Gabe?

It is a very rare thing to find a book about bedtime that has monsters under the bed as a good thing - especially one that handles the situation with class and humour.  I discovered this book when I was visiting a school and the class was watching the story being read on the big screen courtesy of YouTube and I couldn't get over how much pleasure they were all getting out of the story.  This was a mixed class of boys and girls aged nine to eleven and they were all watching in rapt attention and laughing out loud at the funny parts (of which there are many!).

This is one of those great picture books to share with older children who have not lost their sense of wonder (or sense of humour).  The children watching the book were aged 8 - 10 and they were completely absorbed in the story - as was I when i sat down and started watching.  I have read this book to some of my colleagues as well and had their rapt attention for the entire book.  If you are after a shared read where you can practice you deep and scary voices then this is for you.  

I loved this book, and if I had any children of the right age to buy for this would definitely be on my Christmas shopping list!  Hopefully this dynamic writing/illustrating duo have only just started their collaborating careers because the pictures and words are a perfect match.

If you like this book then try:
  • My friend is sad by Mo Willems
  • The splendid spotted snake by Betty Ann Schwartz & Alexander Wilensky
  • Elephants cannot dance! by Mo Willems
  • A is for musk ox by Erin Cabatingan & Matthew Myers
  • New socks by Bob Shea
  • Stomp! a dinosaur follow-the-leader story by Ruth Paul
  • The children who loved books by Peter Carnavas
  • No T.Rex in the library by Toni Buzzeo; ilustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa
  • Don't let the pigeon drive the bus by Mo Willems
  • Click, clack, moo: Cows that type by Doreen Cronin
  • Tadpole's promise by Jeanne Willis; illustrated by Tony Ross
  • No, David! by David Shannon
  • Croc and bird by Alexis Deacon

Reviewed by Brilla

Monday, December 8, 2014

The heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

For the past few years FBI special agent Kate O'Hare has been focused on one thing and one thing only - capturing conman Nicholas Fox.  Nicholas Fox has made an art form of running some of the biggest cons and scams in the United States, and Kate has spent blood, sweat, and tears trying to capture him.  He always seems one step ahead of her, and he is not afraid to escape by the skin of his teeth - and he seems to delight in taunting her about her near misses as he skips away to freedom yet again.

When she finally manages to catch up with him it seems as though her years of living life on the run are finally over - which has its own share of challenges.  Coming back down to earth after years of action and high thrill chases is more than a little bumpy, especially when Kate goes from chasing international fugitives to DVD pirates (yes the FBI really does do that).  When Nick escapes from custody Kate ignores a direct order and goes after him, a task that she might just succeed in because her dad still has some contacts left over from his military days that could prove very helpful indeed.

Instead of finding Nick living like a hermit in some remote corner of the world, Kate soon discovers that she has been conned in the worst way possible by some of the people she has trusted the most.  To make matters even worse she has just found herself saddled with a new partner - Nick Fox!  After years of chasing him down, Kate now has to work alongside him as they work on bringing escaped felon Derek Griffin back to the United States to face the music after he stole $500 million dollars.  The only way to catch Griffin is to con him into trusting them, but for that to happen Kate has to find a way to trust Fox first.

I loved the early Stephanie Plum books so I was not surprised that I loved the quirky world that is Kate O'Hare and Nick Fox.  I was also not surprised that it was a book that seemed to read itself, and that I resented every time I had to put the book down!   The heist is a fabulous start to a new series that shows the smooth writing chemistry between Evanovich and Goldberg - and it really makes me want to go back to the beginning with Stephanie Plum to see if I enjoy the series as much as I remember I do.  I can't wait to clear some room on my reading shelves so I can pick up the second book in the series.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Freddy and the pig by Charlie Higson and Mark Chambers

Freddy didn't like school - he found it boring and would rather be anywhere else than in the classroom.  One day Freddy had the brilliant idea of dressing up a pig in his uniform and sending it to school in his place.  While the pig went to school Freddy stayed home and played his games and ate whatever he wanted.  As time passed the pig did such a good job of being a boy, and the Freddy did such a good job of being a pig that his mother began to have some interesting thoughts.

Freddy and the pig was one of those laugh out loud picture books that kept me guessing what was coming next when I read it the first time, and anticipating what was coming next ever other time I read it.  I have shared this with some of my colleagues (much in the same way I was introduced by a colleague) and they were just as amused/shocked as I was the first time I read it.

Stories that have a learning message are known as didactic stories and some of them are very blunt and lack subtlety - hitting you in the face with their message.  Freddy and the pig has a message about the dangers of being a lazy "pig", but it is delivered with charm and surprise rather than too bluntly.  This is a read for slightly older preschoolers and for children in their first few years of school as it will go over the heads of much younger readers - although the enjoyment parents express may make it easy for them to get into the story.

If you like this book then try:
  • If I had a raptor by George O'Connor
  • Barnaby Bennett by Hannah Rainforth; illustrated by Ali Teo
  • Elephants cannot dance! by Mo Willems
  • Blue chicken by Deborah Freedman
  • New socks by Bob Shea
  • Wait! No paint! by Bruce Whately
  • Giggle, giggle, quack by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Betsy Lewin
  • Press here by Hervé Tullet
  • Cushie Butterfield (she's a little cow) by Colin McNaughton
  • If you give a mouse a cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond
  • The monster at the end of this book by Jon Stone
  • Shout! Shout it out! by Denise Fleming
  • The children who loved books by Peter Carnavas
  • No T.Rex in the library by Toni Buzzeo; ilustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa
  • Bark, George by Jules Feiffer
  • Don't let the pigeon drive the bus by Mo Willems
  • Click, clack, moo: Cows that type by Doreen Cronin
  • Tadpole's promise by Jeanne Willis; illustrated by Tony Ross
  • No, David! by David Shannon
  • Croc and bird by Alexis Deacon
  • Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann
  • Stephanie's ponytail by Robert Munsch; illustrated by Michael Martchenko

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

This book just ate my dog! by Richard Byrne

Bella was taking her dog for a walk across the page, such a simple thing to do, but the book has other ideas.  Bella makes it across the page with no problems, but halfway across the page her dog starts to disappear!  When Bella looks again her dog has completely disappeared - as does anyone who tries to help.  Soon there is nothing else for it and Bella has to go to the rescue herself - with hilarious results.

Picture books that truly encourage audience participation are not that common, and a book that truly engages the reader and makes them suspend belief is a rare gem indeed!  This book just ate my dog! is one of the best books I have found for engaging readers in the story, I had colleagues and two classes of children engaged from start to finish (and I don't think it is just because I have had a lot of practice reading to audiences either).

There are pauses in all the right places, there are unexpected surprises, and there is even a quirky twist at the end that made all the children laugh out loud - and most of the adults too.  This book works really well one-on-one but worked equally as well with a group of more than 30 children - and the children were aged from four-year-olds up to ten-year-olds so it suited a wide range of ages.

If you like this book then try:
  • If I had a raptor by George O'Connor
  • Barnaby Bennett by Hannah Rainforth; illustrated by Ali Teo
  • Don't push the button! by Bill Cotter
  • Elephants cannot dance! by Mo Willems
  • Blue chicken by Deborah Freedman
  • New socks by Bob Shea
  • Wait! No paint! by Bruce Whately
  • Giggle, giggle, quack by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Betsy Lewin
  • Press here by Hervé Tullet
  • Cushie Butterfield (she's a little cow) by Colin McNaughton
  • If you give a mouse a cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond
  • The monster at the end of this book by Jon Stone
  • Shout! Shout it out! by Denise Fleming

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don't push the button! by Bill Cotter

Larry has one job and one job only - to make sure that you don't push the big red button in his book.  It is the one and only rule, but it seems even Larry may have a little trouble following this one simple rule.  Would you dare to push Larry's button?

There is something about picture books that encourage audience participation - it seems as though they are custom designed to encourage adults to let go and be silly (at least that seems to be the case with the best ones!).  Don't push the red button! is one of the best examples of a picture book designed to encourage audience participation that I have seen for some time - Larry gently encouraging you to break the rules seems like an open invitation to get children involved in the (mischief of the) story rather than encouraging them to enjoy the story from a distance.

It is rare to find a picture book that can survive the countless repetitions that children demand when they find a book they really like - mainly because the characters are either too cutesy or because the plot is so banal - but that is not the case here!  I loved Don't push the button! and it is bound to become a firm family favourite for children and adults of all ages.  

A charming and engaging find for audience participation - either one-on-one or with a bigger group.  Pick up a copy of Don't push the red button! and let the fun begin!

If you like this book then try:
  • If I had a raptor by George O'Connor
  • Barnaby Bennett by Hannah Rainforth; illustrated by Ali Teo
  • Elephants cannot dance! by Mo Willems
  • Blue chicken by Deborah Freedman
  • New socks by Bob Shea
  • Wait! No paint! by Bruce Whately
  • Giggle, giggle, quack by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Betsy Lewin
  • Press here by Hervé Tullet
  • Cushie Butterfield (she's a little cow) by Colin McNaughton
  • If you give a mouse a cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond
  • The monster at the end of this book by Jon Stone
  • Shout! Shout it out! by Denise Fleming

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Surrounded by sharks by Michael Northrop

Davey and his family have traveled to the remote Aszure Island in Florida to spend some much needed time relaxing as a family - a chance to escape the pressure and stress of the struggling family business.  It has been two years since their last family vacation and the deal at Aszure Island was too good a deal to miss - but they didn't take into account the lack of space of a whole family crammed into a single hotel room!  

Waking early on the first morning Davey escapes the room to sit quietly and read one of his favourite books.  To find some peace and quiet Davey finds a secluded beach that seems the perfect place, even the no swimming sign seems to make it the perfect location.  Davey has no intention of swimming, but the water seems to call to him and when he decides to wade into the water he has no idea that he has made a fatal mistake - because a rip tide is about to drag him far out to sea.  In the open ocean Davey is alone and vulnerable, no one knows where he is and the sharks are starting to circle.

It can be a challenge to find a really good read for older children that provides them with an authentic read for their age group without depending on popular culture references or gratuitous violence.  Surrounded by sharks turned out to be a real treat, the perfect balance of action, adventure, and suspense - a well paced thriller that draws you in from the first chapter and keeps you hooked (no pun intended) until the last page.  The characters are well defned and easy to relate to, and the drama on the island nicely balances the moments of thrill and danger for Davey.

The only complaint I have about Surrounded by sharks is that it didn't feel anywhere near long enough, I really wanted it to last longer.  Often books are written for much younger children or for teens, so it was a real pleasure to find a book that suits the 'tweens age group really well - and even better one that seems to be the perfect book for adventure loving boys who may be struggling to find good books to read.  A great read and I look forward to sampling more of Northrop's books to see if they live up to the promise of Surrounded by sharks.

If you like this book then try:
  • Shark bait by Justin D'Ath
  • Crocodile attack by Justin D'Ath
  • Island of the blue dolphins by Scott O'Dell
  • The Menagerie by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • Survival by Chris Ryan
  • The Cay by Theodore Taylor
  • Arrival by Chris Morphew
  • The zoo at the edge of the world by Eric Kahn Gale
  • The world around the corner by Maurice Gee
  • Red rocks by Rachael King

Reviewed by Brilla

Mortal danger by Ann Aguirre

She had been planning it for ages, the perfect moment to end her life with the least amount of fuss and mess, she had it planned to perfection - what she had not planned on was Kian.  Kian came out of the blue, a kind voice that spoke to Edie at a time when she had lost all hope.  He was her rescuer, but it soon feels like she has jumped from the frying pan into the fire because Kian saved her but the act of saving comes with a catch - a catch that she won't know about until it is too late to change her mind.

Edie now has three "wishes", three opportunities to change her life forever - but is revenge the best way for Edie to move forward?  The Teflon crew made her life a miserable hell, they are the reason that she nearly took her own life, but revenge is not all its cracked up to be.  Her first wish is for physical change, a make over that will make her beautiful on the outside, the perfect chance at a first start.  It takes time for Edie to make the internal changes to go with her new face and body, and one of those changes is the way she feels about Kian.

Edie is playing a very dangerous game and she doesn't know all the rules or all the players.  Her value lies in her potential, and that potential can be derailed to make her worthless - which will result in her becoming an indentured slave to the person who owns her token.  With Kian by her side Edie has a chance, but is he really on her side or is he playing a long game with his own plans and goals?  Edie is fighting for her life and fighting for her future, and every day it seems as if the goal posts are moving.

I picked up Mortal danger because I really enjoyed Enclave which was a fast paced and tersely written thriller that raced from start to finish - keeping you on the edge of your seat the whole way.  I was really hoping to have the same with Mortal danger so I was a little disappointed to find a long, involved, and drawn out start to a new series (a bit of pain when I was hoping to have a stand alone - there are no warnings on the book that this is part of a series).  If I had been looking for an involved and richly worded novel with plenty of world and mythology building I wouldn't have been so disappointed (and it wouldn't have taken me a week to finish the book).

There is a lot to like here - Aguirre has obviously put a lot of thought and research into her world but I just came across it at the wrong time.  Readers who really enjoyed Cassandra Clare will probably find a lot to like here, or readers who enjoyed Kiersten White's Paranormalcy series.  

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hogs hate hugs! by Tiziana Bendall-Brunello; illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello

They say you can never have too much of a good thing - but Little Hog would disagree.  Everyone in the forest loves to hug him because he is the cutest and cuddliest little hog in the whole forest and everyone wants their own unique Little Hog cuddle.  His cuddle routine starts with his family but also includes all his friends in the forest and it is more than one little cute and cuddly hog can take!

Determined to make the hugs stop Little Hog posts a sign on a tree which simply reads "Hogs hate hugs" - a sign that causes more than a little consternation among his friends and family.  Does Little Hog really hate hugs or is he just a little sick of them?  You'll have to read the book to find out!

I loved Hogs hate hugs! from start to finish because it is just a fabulous book with laugh out loud and eye rolling moments galore as we experience Little Hogs world of hugs and the chaos that ensues when he lays down the law and says no more hugs.  

This is one of those fantastic books that can be enjoyed as a simple picture book as well as being shared with children to encourage them to express their feelings - because after all if Little Hog had been honest about how he felt about all the hugs then he wouldn't have reached melting point!  

Loads of charm and humour make this a wonderful didactic picture book without brow beating you with the message - fun to share and enjoy with the little person (or persons) in your life.

If you like this book then try:

  • I'm not cute! by Jonathan Allen
  • Hug machine by Scott Campbell
  • The cuddliest hug by Meredith Costain; illustrated by Cee Biscoe
  • Hugless Douglas by David Melling


Reviewed by Brilla


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mine! by Jerome Keane and Susana De Dios

Fox and Horse are bored with nothing to do, and then an unusual object appears that looks like it could be fun - but neither of them wants to share!  With shared cries of "mine" they both try and take the object for themselves with an unexpected result.

Sharing or learning to share is one of the more popular topics in didactic picture books, presumably because a story about sharing is easier for children to digest than a lecture!  Sometimes books about sharing miss the mark because they are too serious or because the story is too long, Mine! breaks the mould by being funny, silly, and very short.

I loved reading Mine! because the story is short and easy, and because the illustrations are slightly abstract and very bright - not to mention the fact I loved the ending.  This is a vibrant and vivid picture book that will appeal to younger preschoolers because of the bright colours and simple text, and will appeal to older preschoolers because of the slightly abstract looking characters and the little twist in the story.

Loads of fun and a great read aloud for "that" conversation about sharing, as well as a fun and funky story for sharing with the special preschooler in your life.

If you like this book then try:
  • Mine! by Rachel Bright
  • Share! by Anthea Simmons
  • Share said the roster by Pamela Allen
  • Hands off my honey by Jane Chapman
  • All for me and none for all by Helen Lester
  • Should I share my ice cream? by Mo Willems

Reviewed by Brilla

You're all my favourites by Sam McBratney; illustrated by Anita Jeram

Whenever you have more than one child there will come a time (usually more than one!) when your children will start to wonder if you have a favourite.  At times like these it pays to have some comforting words to reassure them all and those comforting words are easy to find in the heart warming (comforting and reassuring) You're all my favourites from the team that brought you the much loved Guess how much I love you.

The bear family is made up of mother bear, father bear and their much loved three little cubs.  Each night they hear how much their parents love them, but they eventually start to wonder if their parents love one of them less or more - because one doesn't have patches, one is a girl and not a boy, and the last bear cub is the smallest.  In gentle loving words both parents reassure their children that they are all their favourites - and they know because of the wise words of the other parent!

This is a sweet, touching, and comforting read for children of all ages and is the perfect book to share as a family or one-on-one.  The illustrations are charming and a perfect match for the gentle and sentimental text.  A must read for any multiple child household - a gentle balm for any sibling rivalry and a warm affirmation that you love all your children.
If you like this book then try:
  • Guess how much I love you by Sam McBratney & illustrated by Anita Jeram
  • All the things I love about you by LeUyen Pham
  • Grandma calls me gigglepie by J.D. Lester & illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
  • Just like my mum by David Melling
  • Just like my dad by David Melling

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dog days of school by Kelly DiPucchio and Brian Biggs

Charlie doesn't like going to school - it is just too much hard work.  Sunday nights were the worst night of the week, when he dreaded going to school in the morning - the start of another week at school.  His dog Norman seems to have it so much better, and one night Charlie finds the brightest star in the sky and wishes that he was the dog.  The nexdt morning Charlie wakes up on the floor and now his dog Norman has to go to school instead!

What starts off as the greatest thing ever soon turns out to be less than ideal - for Charlie and Norman.  Charlie gets to lie back and relax in the bed as Norman gets ready for school, a very nice change of pace.  Norman does well at school learning his letters and making sculptures, and Charlie does well watching the leaves and playing - but then things start to go wrong and Charlie begins to wonder if he made a mistake wishing to be the dog.  Will Charlie be able to reclaim his place in the family, or will he be stuck as a dog forever?

If you like this book then try:
  • Dog in charge by K.L. Going; illustrated by Dan Santat
  • Bark, George by Jules Feiffer
  • Yip!  Snap!  Yap! by Charles Fuge
  • Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack by Lynley Dodd
  • Peggy by Anna Walker
  • Officer Buckle & Gloria by Peggy Rathmann
  • Surfer chick by Kristy Dempsey; illustrated by Henry Cole

Reviewed by Brilla

The end (Almost) by Jim Benton

Donut the bear is the star of his very own picture book and after a simple introduction he does a great big burp and that is the end of the book .... or is it?  The author may have intended the story to end with the burp but Donut has other ideas and he has some rather sneaky moves to try and stay in the story.  despite the best efforts of the author Donut is determined to stay, but maybe that is not such a bad thing after all.

I loved The end (Almost) and shared it immediately with a co-worker who also laughed out loud at the antics of Donut and the author.  Interactive picture books are pure gold as they allow the big person reader to be sucked into the story and provide the opportuntiy for the little person in the equation to get involved with the story too! (even if it means they are only reciting from memory rather than actually reading the story).

In many ways The end (Almost) reminds me of classic Mo Willems because it is fun and almost infectious in the way it sucks you in and encourages you to share - and the fact the characters are so accessible.  Donut is just adorable and has clear charm and appeal to adults as well as children - and I love the way he pushes his luck just like most of us would do in the same situation! 

If you like this book then try:
  • Circle, square, moose by Kelly L. Bingham; illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
  • My friend is sad by Mo Willems
  • Elephants cannot dance! by Mo Willems
  • I broke my trunk! by Mo Willems
  • Don't let the pigeon drive the bus! by Mo Willems
  • Don't let the pigeon stay up late! by Mo Willems
  • New socks by Bob Shea
  • Don't push the button! by Bill Cotter

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I am Rebecca by Fleur Beale

I am Rebecca is the sequel to I am not Esther so there is some reference to the events of I am not Esther in I am Rebecca - however while there are some ***SPOILERS*** you can enjoy I am Rebecca as a stand alone book.

Rebecca and her twin sister Rachel are Children of the Faith and try to live their lives by the Rule.  It is not always to remain true children of God, especially when they are tempted by the Worldly people around them, and even after the family moves from Wanganui to Nelson to live with a wider community of the Children of the Faith there are still challenges.  Rebecca, Rachel and the rest of the Pilgrim family live under the cloud of having not one, not two, but three family members who have left the community - family members who by their rules must now be dead to them.  It is easy for them to be under suspicion, and for their actions to be carefully scrutinised - but they both have their faith and desire a place in the community.

When they are chosen to be the public face of their community at the local market, it is a chance for them to spend time together away from the community - though they are never truly alone as they have a chaperon on every visit.  Their visits to the market allow them a small escape and the opportunity to see the world beyond their community.  As they approach the age of betrothal and marriage Rebecca and Rachel realise their lives will never truly be the same again and while it appears that they are headed for a happy future within their community, Rebecca soon realises that nothing is certain in their small community and that strict obedience to the Rules and the Elders does not keep you safe from being human.

Writing a sequel to a classic book like I am not Esther must have been a daunting prospect for Fleur Beale - for many reasons.  I am not Esther is one of the best books I have read for young people that looks at the social control of an extremely religious group or cult - there are some American novels which look at the FLDS but they fall short of the detail and psychological manipulations of I am not Esther.  I am Rebecca has more in common with the books about the FLDS because it is told from the perspective of a child raised as a Child of the Faith, which makes her discoveries and feelings even more powerful because she should in theory see nothing wrong with what is happening.  

I am Rebecca is a story of contrasts and contradictions.  You have the Children of the Faith and the Wordly - the Children are supposed to be godly and pure, yet it is the Worldly woman at the market who seems to show true Christian kindness.  The Elders are supposed to care and protect the Children in their care, speaking the voice of God - yet it is the Elders that are manipulating their followers and who seem to have their own motivations and needs.  The strongest contrast is seen through Rebecca and Rachel - their lives forced along different paths - a widening gap you feel so strongly because they are identical twins who have spent their entire lives together.

It has been a long wait for a sequel to I am not Esther (which was first published in 1998!) but it has been well worth the wait.  I am not Rebecca can easily be read independently of I am not Esther and while I would not exactly describe it as an "enjoyable" read (the meat of the story is a little too unsettling for that) I was thoroughly absorbed in Rebecca and her world and resented every intrusion into my reading time.  Another classic from New Zealand Fleur Beale that deserves an international audience.  The perfect read for anyone wanting to introduce young people to extreme religious groups and the potential dangers they present.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla