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

Airhead by Meg Cabot

Airhead
Meg Cabot

I received this book for the Book Blogger Holiday swap from Marireads.

The Premise: Teenager Emerson Watts has always been a little bit of a outsider. A smart girl who likes to play video games and isn’t interested in fashion or girly things, she mocks the popular kids and despairs that her sister wants to be a cheerleader. Then one day, Em suffers a fatal freak accident. Well, almost fatal. In order to save her, her brain is transplanted into the body of supermodel Nikki Howard.

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1

My Thoughts: We’re introduced to Em in her old life, arguing with her younger sister, feeling resentful of the way the popular girls are treated just because they are pretty (even when they spout superficial things), and crushing on her best friend Christopher, a fellow geek. Then disaster strikes, and Em wakes up in a hospital and learns she’s in someone else’s body. Of course, despite her new celebrity status, this is not a dream for Em. Officially she’s dead -only her immediate family, and the Stark Corporation, Nikki’s main employer, knows that Em is still alive.  She has to learn how to be a model, figure out the complexity that is Nikki’s lovelife, and hide the fact that she’s not Nikki.  Turns out that being a teen-aged supermodel is not as simple as you’d think.

Surrounding Em/Nikki are several secondary characters. At first they are what you’d expect – Nikki’s bubbly best friend, the rich boys who follow her around, the annoying kid sister, the quiet geek, but as the book progresses, you see that they are more than that. Lulu is the best example of this. She starts off as a perky ditz, but you discover that she really IS Nikki’s friend and has Nikki’s back. She listens and gives her own special brand of advice, and it may not be what you’d expect, but she’s very sweet nonetheless. She surprised me. Similarly, Nikki’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Brandon at first seems like the typical playboy, but there are hints about Brandon’s relationship with his father, the head of Stark Enterprises, which suggest that his life isn’t that golden. And Christopher, who is on the page very little, has one of the most interesting characters because whenever he does (or doesn’t) speak, his body language conveys volumes more.

This is the first book in a series, and there looks to be a lot of set up for the next books. The story really feels like a beginning and I didn’t feel as satisfied closing this book as I have with other Cabot stories. There seems to be more going on with this brain transfer than it would initially seem. Stark Enterprise is painted as doing some shady things – from doing this to Em and making her family sign confidentiality agreements and contracts, to spying on it’s employees.  Meanwhile, there are a gaggle of boys pursuing Nikki/Em (who discovers that in Nikki’s body, she gets addle-brained no matter who is kissing her), and Em still harbors her crush on Christopher. And that’s not even counting Em having to learn how to be a model and go to high school at the same time. There should be plenty of fodder there for an interesting series. I particularly like how Meg Cabot seems aware of the current celebrity news and fashion, and it’s reflected in this story. I found myself wondering what real life teen idols Cabot had in mind while she created some of these characters.

Also: The model in this cover looks a lot like Kate Bosworth, doesn’t she?

Overall: Well, this is Meg Cabot, so the story is a light bit of fun. Cabot has a way of writing that’s warm and entertaining and has the right voice for a young adult novel, but this one spends so much time setting up the premise for the series so I feel like I got just the beginning of a story. it made me feel unsatisfied, but maybe reading the next book will fix it.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
xicanti - 4 out of 5 stars
Liv’s book reviews – “I would highly recommend it”
Ms. Bookish – B+

Pants on Fire by Meg Cabot

Pants on Fire
Meg Cabot

This was another library choice because I wanted to read something light for a bit. Pants on Fire is a standalone young adult. This one is typical Meg Cabot - just a fun read, but I didn't connect very well to the protagonist/narrator. Anyway, it was cute. I keep thinking this to myself after reading young adult like this: maybe I'm too old for young adult books. But then I pick up another one.

Katie Ellison lives in Connecticut in the seaside town of Eastport. Everyone there is crazy about Quahogs. That's both the bivalve and the high school football team. Secretly Katie hates the tast of quahog, and she doesn't think that football is that great either, but because she wants to keep people happy, she never voices this opinion. She's a well practiced liar and just tells people what she thinks they want to hear. Naturally she's very popular. This year she's running for Quohog Princess, while spending her free time kissing boys – either he jock of a boyfriend Seth, or the guy she's running around with behind his back, Eric. I know, she really doesn't sound very likeable, but somehow it gets pulled off, probably because Eric and Seth get painted as really only good kissers but other than that not complementary for Katie.

Suddenly Katie's life gets distrupted by the arrival of Tommy Sullivan. Tommy left town in eighth grade under shocking circumstances, and Katie can't believe he's back. She also can't believe how great he looks and how tall he is, but she's convinced he's after her for revenge.

Overall: While I had a hard time believing that Katie was actually considered a brainiac in her school what with the addiction to making out with people, and being so bubbleheaded about certain things, she was overall likeable enough for me to keep reading, and eventually Katie does redeem herself for her past actions. It was a fun story and overall the romance was cute, though I cringed in certain places (contact embarrasment)!

What happened with Tommy and why Katie is so paranoid about his return is also not fully revealed and only hinted at throughout the book. This drove me slightly batty until all was revealed near the end (hmm, very sneaky Cabot). 

Excerpt through HarperCollins BrowseInside

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Prom Nights from Hell by Meg Cabot, Kim Harrison, Michele Jaffe, Stephenie Meyer, Lauren Myracle

I read this book sometime last year but I was so disappointed with it I didn't even bother to review it. Everything felt like it lacked effort. Anyway, I've had this nagging unfinished feeling about not reviewing so here goes. This is a anthology of prom stories with some kind of paranormal aspect to them.

The good thing about this book is that a portion of the proceeds goes to firstbook.org, which is a charity I like. Um.. otherwise, it was in the average to meh range for me.

The Exterminator's Daughter by Meg Cabot – This was a story of a vampire slayer's daughter, trying to track and kill the son of her mother's killer (that would be Dracula, naturally). Each chapter was told from the point of view of Mary, this girl, or of Adam, another teen involved. Well this seemed very predictable. Teen + paranormal + prom, let's just have a vampire slayer going after a vamp at prom. Add a dash of back story, some other teens for perhaps a romantic angle. The end. This lacked kick and I didn't understand the point of switching narrators so much (to show how they liked each other? not really that necessary).

The Corsage by Lauren Myracle – Well there's a warning on the front of this story that this is inspired by "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W Jacobs, and talks about being careful what you wish for. This was definitely in the creepy camp, and the most memorable story in the book. The narrator is a silly teen girl with foot in mouth syndrome, who, just to get the boy she likes to take her to the prom, makes some really dumb decisions involving a bad voodoo-vibe object – an old corsage. I could have smacked this girl, but I still felt sorry for her after what happened.

Madison Avery and the Dim Reaper by Kim Harrison – well this girl was another one I could have happily smacked. Another one who didn't listen to other's advice and made rash decisions out of spite, then other rash decisions out of fear. But there was an interesting paranormal aspect about dark and light reapers, and about the protagonist's role in the future. The reapers reminded me of the shinigami in Full Moon o Shagashite. I felt like this could be the start of an interesting series, and there seemed to be more detail and thought to this world than some of the other stories. And I hope if this is the start of a series, that Madison starts acting after thinking. I would really like a teen protag that I do not want to smack. Why are they lacking in recent young adult fiction?

Kiss and Tell by Michelle Jaffe – Ok, so a protag (Miranda Kiss) who is a princess with special powers, hiding out as a town car driver. She befriends a girl (Sibby) who she drives from the airport. A special girl who has some other powers herself. Miranda decides to rescue her from a cult, some actiony stuff ensues, but the suspension of disbelief I had was hard to maintain. Not badly written, but too many leaps in logic to get the story going.

Hell on Earth by Stephenie Meyer – This was about a junior demoness spreading despair and unhappiness with mental nudges at a school dance, but she can't seem to get everyone unhappy because a boy at the dance seems unsucceptable to her powers – he's just full of goodness and light. Not only that, he senses the darkness in her and wants to help her. Not a bad idea, has a sort of open ended conclusion, but it also felt somewhat predictable to me. And a little sappy.

Sighh. I am old I think. Old and crabby about young adult books now.

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