Zombies vs. Unicorns by various authors, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Ah, anthologies!  I do love them and really should read more. I get to try out new authors and put the book down in nice short story length increments. Zombies vs. Unicorns started as a online argument on Justine Larbalestier’s blog, and then became a book. The humor in this “fight” shines through in the first pages where Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier discuss how the book came about, and again in their introductions before every story. It was fun to hear the argument from both sides as to whether zombies or unicorns are the better creature.

This review is for an ARC copy I received at BEA. Zombies vs. Unicorns comes out September 21st, 2010

My reviews are going to be brief impressions for each of the 12 stories as I read along.

1) The Highest Justice by Garth Nix – This is the story of a princess who calls the aid of a unicorn to avenge the death of her mother. I think this is a Team Unicorn story, but it’s hard to tell. Pretty straight forward revenge tale, with perhaps a little more violence than the princess bargained for. I think the author may have been aiming for a bit of “fairy tale creatures may be noble but extreme views of right and wrong are also rather creepy”, and he got it.

2) Love Will Tear Us Apart by Alaya Dawn Johnson – A teenage zombie finds himself going against his instincts when it comes to another teenage boy because of their shared love of Joy Division. A star-crossed lovers sort of tale, full of music references. Made me really want mac and cheese. Romantic yet grisly and perhaps doomed (or perhaps not).

3) Purity Test by Naomi Novik – a drunk teen girl on a park bench in New York City is accosted by a unicorn looking for a virgin to help him on his mission. This was a funny and cute one. The sarcastic banter plus their creative problem solving were very entertaining.

4) Bougainvillea by Carrie Ryan – A dystopian zombie tale with the sheltered teenaged daughter of a powerful man as the protagonist. Loved the dystopian feel and the way this ends in a turning point for the protagonist. I wanted more. I also liked how the story jumps back and forth between past and present, but it was presented clearly. Good sense of place – even Papiamento (a creole language spoken in Curaçao) was interspersed (but I had trouble figuring out what the words meant since it was just off of what I knew to be Spanish).

5) A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan – Set in a medieval setting, this short story has three narrators who each witness a small part what happens to a princess after a mysterious event in the forest. This has some questionable bits in it  (lovely prose sort of shields you from a high ew factor). Haunting with a ‘ghost story’ vibe.

6) The Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson – a teen follows her boyfriend to a summer job in a farm in England, and meets some zombies.. a tongue-in-cheek story that has an interesting take on who and what could start a zombie epidemic.

7) The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund – I believe this is set in the same world as Peterfreund’s Killer Unicorn series (unicorns were once extinct but have reappeared and certain girls have the power to hunt them). The narrator is a teen girl who is an untrained unicorn hunter, so they are drawn to her. One has already killed her cousins. This story had some good growing pains – questioning parents and beliefs, and felt like it could be the seed of a whole book. Liked this one.

8 ) Inoculata by Scott Westerfeld – This is about teens post-zombie-apocalypse living in a gated, zee-free farm with some adults that have protected them. Surrounding the chain mail fence are zombies waiting outside. Interesting take on a communal life after escaping the zombie horde from a teen POV (which includes teen rebellion and crushes). Another one where I wished I could find out what happened next.

9) Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot -  A teen gets a unicorn for her 17th birthday. A glowing, farting rainbows kind of unicorn. I think Cabot had a lot of fun creating a unicorn that fits an extreme schoolgirl fantasy, and giving it to a teenaged girl who’s been a little bit jaded by life. I liked this one. Fun but also with a bit of a message for girls.

10) Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare – The girlfriend of the Duke-to-Be witnesses her boyfriend die and then come back to life in Lychgate, a town cursed to have it’s dead come back to life. This had a modern-day fairytale feeling to it, with a combination of Old World traditions in a place that has modern day technology. The ending is an odd combination of both comforting and creepy.

11) The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey – This is told from the first person POV of a unicorn who has lived a long time and although he can heal people, there’s a price for it. He’s been wandering the world looking for the perfect combination of purity and need. I don’t think I really understood this unicorn but I’m glad I didn’t. This story speaks to a dark place.

12) Prom Night by Libba Bray – Another post zombie-apocalypse story, where the adults are all gone and teens keep the town running. The story is told from the first person POV of a teen who stepped in as law enforcement as the kids in town gear up for the Prom. This was a tale which I thought had an interesting message about hope and survival when there is none.

Overall: There was a consistent level of quality in these stories that impressed me. I don’t think I encountered a dud in the bunch and every one left me with something to think about. This is one of the better anthologies I’ve read in a while, although I would warn that much of it is grim and gory and there are only a couple of light stories. I tried to decide which were my favorites and really had a hard time. I finally settled on Meg Cabot’s for my favorite light story, Margo Lanagan’s for my favorite dark (and disturbing), and Diana Peterfreund’s for something in between. Uh oh, all unicorn tales… let the hate mail from Team Zombie begin.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – various ratings for each story, 7 overall (very good) -  with a giveaway that ends Sat August 21st.
Karissa’s Reading Review – “An above average collection of stories”

Since there are SO many dystopian stories in the bunch..
Dystopian-august

Reading Raves: Author recommendations

Ranting & raving is something I do periodically on this blog. Look for the “rants and raves” category for past rants and raves.

You know what I love? When an author has a page on their website devoted to recommendations. I’m not saying that this is something all authors should do, but it sure is nice. It caters to my nosiness – what books do you like in the genres you write? Peering at someone’s bookshelves is similar – I want to know what you read, but to have a list of recommendations – I can find out what your favorites are. If I find myself agreeing to an author’s picks I’m inclined to try them out if I’ve never read their books before. I also like how it gives me yet another place to find new-to-me books (as if there aren’t enough places).

The Winter of Enchantment

I have tried out some books based on author’s recommendations on their websites. Sherwood Smith is why I  tried Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Neil Gaiman is why I read The Winter of Enchantment by Victoria  Walker (I read the book before I had a book blog, so the review is only on paperbackswap and goodreads – Goodreads). I  thought The Winter of Enchantment was very lovely imagewise, only OK plotwise, but I’m glad I read it. And  Greensleeves I recommend heartily, but it’s sadly out of print and not cheap to find used online.

Here are some Author Recommendations:

The Thief (The Queen's Thief, Book 1) Nine Coaches Waiting His Dark Materials Trilogy: "Northern Lights", "Subtle Knife", "Amber Spyglass"

Kristin Cashore recommends Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Cynthia Voigt’s Novels of the Kingdom, Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books, Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting, and others.

The Blue Sword The Changeling Sea The Warrior's Apprentice

Rachel Neumeier recommends 14 books including The Changeling Sea, by Patricia McKillip, The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, Cukoo’s Egg, by CJ Cherryh, The Warrior’s Apprentice, by Lois McMaster Bujold, and A Certain Slant of Light, by Laura Whitcomb

Song of Scarabaeus In the Company of Others Foreigner

In 2009, Linnea Sinclair recommended in her fan forums Sara Creasy’s Song of Scarabaeus, Julie Czernada’s In the Company of Others, and C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series and I’ve put those all on my to-read-one-day list.

Howl's Moving Castle The Dark Is Rising (The Dark Is Rising Sequence) Madeleine's A Wrinkle (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Paperback - May 1, 2007))

Holly Black‘s Suggested Reading List has Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’ Engle, Mary Stewart, Peter Beagle, Tanith Lee, Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones,and Michael Moorcock on it, to name a few (she’s also yet another one who recommends Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books)

Riddle-Master The Westing Game [WESTING GAME] Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer

Shannon Hale has a lovely long list of recommendations on her website. So many. I love it. She recommends gems like Riddle-Master: The Complete Trilogy, by Patricia McKillip, and Tales from the Sisters Grimmer, by Tanith Lee. (I must say I like her husband’s recs at the bottom of her list too).

Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book Nine Layers of Sky Mr. Impossible

Ann Aguirre sometimes posts about books she loved on her blog, and I pay attention. She’s recommended Diana Pharaoh Francis’ Bitter Night, and Liz William’s Nine Layers of Sky, both on my TBR, as well as Jeri Smith-Ready and intriguing romances with idiot heroes.

The Once and Future King Devil's Cub Moominsummer Madness   [MOOMINSUMMER MADNESS] [Paperback]

Garth Nix also wrote a long list of recommendations (ah, quite delightful), called “Books Remembered: An Alphabetical Remembrance“.  He also has The Winter of Enchantment listed, along with Georgette Heyer, Tove Jansson, Ursula Le Guin and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King (which really should be required reading).

Dull Boy Make Me Yours (Harlequin Blaze) Beastly

Diana Peterfreund is really an author I should be reading since Angie keeps recommending her books and Angie tends to be right (How annoying. Gives my TBR pile grief). This thought is backed up with recommendations that look good, like in her post “Why isn’t Everyone reading…?” where she recommends Sarah Cross’ Dull Boy, Betina Krahn, and oh there it is (again!), the Attolia books. I think she also shares my opinion on retellings (basically I ♥ them mucho).

I know I’ve seen more lists on author’s websites, but let’s stop there. Are there lists that you recommend I look at? Do tell!

Geektastic – Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

I picked this one up at BEA since I’m a Holly Black fan and she was signing it.

Geektastic is an anthology of geek related stories. According to the charming Editors’ note, the idea was formed after Comic Con, where, in line for a burrito, Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci discussed what would happen if “you were a Jedi and you woke up with a Klingon in your bed” (the first story in this anthology). It’s a fun concept, and this book has different varieties of geeks represented.  Although some stories have me thinking the idea was better than the realization, it was cool to see how many big names in the YA genre have geek cred.

Throughout the anthology are one page comics illustrated by Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O’Malley about geeks like “How to Hook Up at the Science Fair”, “What your instrument says about you” and “Top Five Words or Phrases You Need to Know in Klingon” – these were amusing and nice breakpoints between stories.

Buy: AmazonB&N

Really quick reviews follow (My favorites were by David Levithan, Lisa Lee, Wendy Mass and Cassandra Clare):

1) Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci: A Jedi and a Klingon wake up together in the same hotel room. Overall: OK. Funny and cute in a very geeky way. I enjoyed picturing the melee described here, but seems to focus more on Jedi vs. Klingon than their story.

2) One of Us by Tracy Lynn: A cheerleader tries to learn more about her football player boyfriend’s interests in geeky things by taking “lessons” from the the high school Genre and Nonsense Club - This one was like a primer into geekdom as each member of the club highlighted a particular aspect. Chock full of geek references, maybe too many, but ends nicely.

3) Definitional Chaos by Scott Westerfeld: A gamer responsible for bringing Con money to a hotel in Florida gets saddled with his crazy ex-girlfriend on the trip. The story seemed to focus on the idea of alignment, both in games and offline, and I found that aspect hard to connect to. This one took me a while to read because I kept putting it down.

4) I Never by Cassandra Clare: A girl and her friend who role play online as their favorite characters meet some other players of The Game in real life. Of course online characters differ greatly from their real life ones. A bit of a predictable Liking the Wrong Boy story, but ends up rather sweet.

5) The King of Pelinesse by M. T. Anderson: A boy discovers his mom gets love letters from one of his favorite fantasy authors and takes a trip to meet him. Um.. rather weird and somewhat creepy and sad. I’m pondering if this is saying something about certain fantasy authors or if it’s revealing the negative side of geekiness. Not sure.

6) The Wrath of Dawn by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith: A girl named Dawn attends a Buffy screening where people interact with the movie much like people do with Rocky Horror, and objects to the way the character Dawn seems universally despised. My reaction to this was “Eh”. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t move me.

7) Quiz Bowl Antichrist by David Levithan: A gay teen is part of his school’s quiz bowl team and butts heads constantly with the team leader while harboring a crush on another teammember. Told in the first person, this teens sarcastic observations had me chuckling. There were also some painful situations. This was probably my favorite short story.

8 ) The Quiet Knight by Garth Nix: Tony, a loner kid spends his time live action roleplaying as the Quiet Knight, and wondering what the Quiet Knight would do helps him come out of his shell. This was alright, sweet, but short.

9) Everyone But You by Lisa Lee: Felicity has just moved from Ohio to Hawaii, going from her High schools’ MIss Pep to No one she feels out of place and invisible. This is another growing pains sort of story and another one of my favorites. I also liked the details of Hawaii that the locals know about.

10) Secret Identity by Kelly Link: Written as a letter from a teenaged girl to someone named Paul Zell. She alternates between writing in the first and third person about herself, but I figured she met him online in a game called FarAway and they were to meet in real life at a New York City Hotel but he doesn’t show. This is a confusing story which was almost a DNF, but it did get better once I realized she was serious about the superheroes in the lobby and ignored the changing POV. In the end it left me wanting to know who Paul Zell really was, but I didn’t like the shifts in POV at all.

11) Freak the Geek by John Green: Two best friends, outcasts in a all girls high school are the targets for a school tradition to haze two geeks for a day. A nice friendship story, with I think a lighter dusting of geekiness. Left me with a warm fuzzy. One comment: Pokemon? I thought that was only a fad in the nineties?

12) The Truth about Dino Girl by Barry Lyga: Katherine loves dinosaurs and spouts off knowledge about them to her best friend Sooz, an artist in the making, but lately her obsessive nature has a new target – an unattainable guy with a perfect girlfriend. An illustration that evolution can favor the little guys too, but I thought Katherine’s “revenge” was hypocritical and crossed a line.

13) This is My Audition Monologue by Sara Zarr: A monologue by Rachel Banks arguing why she should finally get a part as cast in the latest theater production and not be shuffled off into the crew. Rambly, embarrassing, ambitious, geeky, desperate and defiant all rolled into one. I liked and disliked it for those reasons. I wonder if she got a part.

14) The Stars at the Finish Line by Wendy Mass: The narrator, Peter, has had a crush on Tabitha Bell since they were in grade school. When she declares her ambition of being an astronaut when she was nine, so does he, and the rivalry began.  Eight years later, Peter still has his crush and Tabitha still thinks he’s her biggest competition. Astronomy geeks, very cute. Another favorite.

15) It’s Just a Jump to the Left by Libba Bray: Leta and Agnes have been friends for a long time and friday night at the Rocky Horror Picture Show is their thing. Unfortunately things don’t always stay the same. Agnes gets a boyfriend and Leta feels left behind. This gave off a very nostalgic, teens-in-the-seventies vibe. I thought it had interesting things to say about geekiness and it’s relationship with identity, friendship, and coping with life. Liked it.

SciFiChick has 3 copies of Geektastic she’s giving away (contest ends August 22nd)