25 Jan 2013

VIRALS - KATHY REICH

SUMMARY
Fourteen-year-old Tory Brennan is as fascinated by bones and dead bodies as her famous aunt, acclaimed forensic anthropologist, Tempe Brennan. However living on a secluded island off Charleston in South Carolina there is not much opportunity to put her knowledge to the test. Until her and her ragbag group of technophile friends stumble across a shallow grave containing the remains of a girl who has been missing for over thirty years. The question is, did whoever was responsible for the girl's death have anything to do with the sick puppy they rescued from a secret laboratory on the same island? With the cold-case murder suddenly hot, Tory realises that they are involved in something fatally dangerous. But events take a turn for the bizarre when they escape some would-be attackers by using physical powers more akin to a dog than a human...Could the puppy hold the key not only to the murder, but also the strange changes that are taking place in their bodies?

REVIEW
Kathy Reich's is the author of many adult crime novels, and her character Tempe Brennan and co. are the subject of the TV show BONES.

I absolutely loved Virals! I think bringing the crime genre to the younger reader is fantastic, and having the protagonist as the niece of an already well loved forensic anthropologist is just genius. Its the perfect pathway for anyone wanting to graduate to the gritty adult world, and even brilliant for parents who read adult crime to share with their children.

The best way to describe Virals is like a modern day Famous Five adventure. You have all the elements you loved in those adventure stories as a child: a bright and colourful group of friends, an island off the beaten path, a suspicious medical facility and the group even have a dog! (well ok, a wolf). It even has the supernatural elements that modern kids seem to love just threaded subtly through.

Essentially Virals is a murder-mystery. The group of kids, headed up by Tory, are the children of scientists working at the secluded research facility on Loggerhead Island. After trying to determine what is happening to the island's wolves as one goes missing, the group come across remains buried on the island and, because of her familial links, Tory tries to 'CSI' the crime scene. When their remains are stolen and Tory's discovery discredited the group exhaust every possibilty to try to find the bones and what happened to the person they belonged to. At times its a little like the pesky kids from Scooby Doo but it never feels unreal. Even the supernatural elements. I loved all the characters and got so sucked in to the story and the cliffhangers that I went straight out and bought the second book (and now also have the 3rd!). There are so many more intricate details pertaining to the case that I don't want to spoil things too much.

DEPARTMENT 19 - WILL HILL

SUMMARY
In a secret supernatural battle that's been raging for over a century, the stakes have just been raised - and they're not wooden anymore. DEPARTMENT 6 IS THE ARMY, DEPARTMENT 12 is MI5, DEPARTMENT 19 IS THE REASON YOU'RE ALIVE. 

When Jamie Carpenter's mother is kidnapped by strange creatures, he finds himself dragged into Department 19, the government's most secret agency. Fortunately for Jamie, Department 19 can provide the tools he needs to find his mother, and to kill the vampires who want him dead. But unfortunately for everyone, something much older is stirring, something even Department 19 can't stand up against...

REVIEW
Department 19 is the coming of age story of Jamie Carpenter, descendant of John Carpenter - valet to the legendary Abraham Van Helsing. When Jamie's dad is shot by men in black, his mother is kidnapped by Alexandru, one of the 3 oldest vampires in the world. While trying to get her back Jamie is introduced to Blacklight, Department 19 of the British government, that deals with the supernatural dangers in the world. Unfortunately someone keeps giving away Jamie's whereabouts...

I really wanted to like this book. It has absolutely everything that I love: Dracula, Vampire, Frankenstein and a good bit of gore. But it really fell flat. I wrote my dissertation partly on Dracula and Frankenstein so I think there are grounds for arguing that I am just grumpy because of how much Department 19 takes liberties with the original stories. I think that if you were excited to read the classics after this you might have a bit of a shock. However, had those classics be written today perhaps this is what they would be like. I liked the idea of something major coming out of Dracula's world, even with the little addition of Vlad Tepes' background,  but I have read reworkings that work so much better than this.

12 Jan 2013

SISTER ASSASSIN - KIERSTEN WHITE

SUMMARY
She never chose her deadly gift but now she's forced to use it. How far would you go to protect the only family you have left? Annie is beset by fleeting strange visions and a guilty conscience. Blind and orphaned, she struggles to care for her feisty younger sister Fia, but things look up when both sisters are offered a place at Kessler School for Exceptional Girls. Born with flawless intuition, Fia immediately knows that something's wrong, but bites her tongue...until it's too late. For Fia is the perfect weapon to carry out criminal plans and there are those at Kessler who will do anything to ensure her co-operation. With Annie trapped in Kessler's sinister clutches, instincts keep Fia from killing an innocent guy and everything unravels. Is manipulative James the key to the sisters' freedom or an even darker prison? And how can Fia atone for the blood on her hands?

REVIEW
Sister Assassin follows Fia, a special girl who's unfaltering instincts make her a dangerous weapon, and Annie, her blind sister who has visions of the future. They're both virtually imprisoned in a school, their special abilities being manipulated by the Foundation that set up the school on the pretense of helping girls with their talents. Their are other types of special abilities in their world, such as Feelers, who can feel the emotions of anyone around, but they only affect women. Fia is used as an assassin, killing enemies of the Foundation, and on the last mission she decides the unthinkable - she is not going to kill her target. The problem is that the Foundation are using Annie as leverage over Fia and she knows that by not killing the boy she is risking Annie's life. However, in saving him she may have given herself the opportunity to escape from people who are holding her, but it will come with sacrifices.

I loved Sister Assassin. Simple as that. It has stuck in my head ever since I read it and I couldn't tear myself away. The writing is perfect, bittersweet and beautiful; it's simply poetic. Fia's perfect instincts mean that her imposed occupation as assassin forces her to go against every feeling she has and then leaves her to deal with the devastating emotional consequences. She is constantly heart broken. Beaten down by everyone in her life she lives for the soul purpose of supporting her blind sister, whom the Foundation have promised to work on ways to give her back her sight.

HYSTERIA - MEGAN MIRANDA

SUMMARY
Mallory's life is falling apart. Her boyfriend was stabbed. He bled to death in her kitchen. Mallory was the one who stabbed him. But she can't remember what happened that night. She only remembers the fear ...When Mallory's parents send her away to a boarding school, she thinks she can escape the gossip and the threats. But someone, or something, has followed her. There's the hand that touches her shoulder when she's drifting off to sleep. A voice whispering her name. And everyone knows what happened. So when a pupil is found dead, Mallory's name is on their lips. Her past can be forgotten but it's never gone. Can Mallory live with that?

REVIEW
Hysteria is the story of Mallory, dealing with the aftermath of being acquitted of stabbing her boyfriend. Even though she did it, it is ruled that she acted in self defense. Eager to move her away from home, where the incident happened, Mallory is sent to her fathers alumni boarding school. There the horrors of her past follow her and haunt what few hours sleep she gets. 

For a long time I was waiting for something to happen in Hysteria. I felt like the story started after the good stuff had happened - you miss the murder, the trial and are left with almost your typical boarding school clique drama. However I was pleased to be proved wrong. When the narrative moves to the school and Mallory realises that she can't outrun her demons the story starts to become more of the psychological thriller that it should be. One thing that I couldn't quite grasp is that, unless I missed it, you're never really told that Mallory doesn't remember what happened on the night of the stabbing, you only really know this from the blurb. There are frequent flashbacks but they're the fragmented type that you would expect from a traumatic experience. Fortunately this doesn't really matter much for most of if, it just meant that for me the narrative jarred slightly as it begins to heat up in the final climax.

2 Jan 2013

SHUTTER ISLAND - DENNIS LEHANE

SUMMARY
US Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to find an escaped murderer named Rachel Solando. As a killer hurricane bears down on the island, the investigation deepens and the questions mount. How has a barefoot woman escaped from a locked room? Who is leaving them clues in the form of cryptic codes? And what really goes on in Ward C? The closer Teddy gets to the truth, the more elusive it becomes. And the more he begins to believe that he may never leave Shutter Island. Because someone is trying to drive him insane...

REVIEW
Shutter Island is a book I picked to challenge myself to something outside of what I normally read. I loved the film of this and although I already knew the massive twist I wasn't disappointed. It's the type of perfectly crafted story that you will see something in the second or third times you read it. That's the sign of an amazing book that I look for. 

It's really hard to write this review and gush about it without giving the game away. It's narrated by a US Marshal sent to Shutter Island to investigate a missing patient. Whilst there Daniels and his partner meet massive resistance to their investigation and soon find themselves in deeper than they could ever imagine. Leads force them further out in to the island only to be driven back to the beginning. In between the investigation Daniels has horrific flashbacks of the death of his wife in a fire. He starts to understand that he has been given the chance to go to the island to get revenge on the man he believes to have started the fire, who is incarcerated in isolation in a high security ward. As a storm hits the island he feels like he is never gonna get off the island and feels like some conspiracy is trying to keep him there. Determined to return home Daniels is forced to face his fears and realise that he can trust no one.

You take so much for granted in a story sometimes that it almost feels like Lehane is saying "tut tut, you've not been watching closely enough, have you?"

UNDONE - CAT CLARKE

SUMMARY
Jem Halliday is in love with her gay best friend. Not exactly ideal, but she's learning to live with it. Then the unspeakable happens. Kai is outed online ...and he kills himself. Jem knows nothing she can say or do will bring him back. But she wants to know who was responsible. And she wants to take them down. A searing story of love, revenge and betrayal from a bestselling author.

REVIEW
Undone is a heart-wrenching story about a girl who is trying to cope with her best friends death, and also comes to understand the devastating cost of grief and revenge.

The narrative follows Jem who is trying to get over the death of her best friend Kai. Jem and Kai have known each other since they were little and Jem has always been in love with him. Even though Jem knows Kai is gay she doesn't see this as a problem, but when a house party goes wrong and Kai is videoed being openly gay with an unknown man his life takes a turn for the worst. Kai receives hate mail and decides that he can no longer live with the embarrassment and shame he feels the video has caused him and believes his only option is to take his own life. Jem's narrative is interspersed with cleverly written letters from Kai, written in the days before he kills himself. There is one for every month for a year and are meant to help Jem come to terms with his death. 

Unfortunately Jem finds it hard to cope. She thinks her only option is to avenge Kai's death and seek revenge against those that she sees as taking him away from her. Jem is a great character to watch and is usually completely oblivious to almost everything that goes on around her. She becomes totally obsesses with the idea of revenge that she begins to construct a whole new life for herself, starting with following Kai's suggestions in his letters. While the outside world sees Jem as recovering and moving on, her narrative shows that she is in turmoil  becoming more focused on her endgame and ignoring the little voice that tells her moving on isn't so bad.

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