For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfeund

This review is based on a uncorrected proof won through a contest on the author’s blog.

For Darkness Shows the Stars
Diana Peterfeund

The Premise: (from the back blurb) “It’s been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong–the Reduction–decimated humanity, giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed technology.
Eighteen-year old Luddite Elliot North has always known her place in the world. Four years ago she refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, instead choosing duty to her family’s estate. Since then the wold has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists threatens Luddite control; Elliot’s estate is floundering; and she’s forced to rent land to the Cloud Fleet, a group of explorers that includes a renowned Captain Malakai Wentforth–an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot what she gave up when she abandoned him.
But Elliot soon discovers Kai carries a secret–one that could change the society in which they live…or bring it to its knees. And she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she’s lost him forever.”

My Thoughts: The premise of For Darkness Shows the Stars was pretty much guaranteed to make me read it. It’s a retelling of Persuasion, my favorite Jane Austen book, and a futuristic romance? Um, yeah, sold.

In the futuristic world of For Darkness Shows the Stars, the social classes have been cleverly structured to mirror that of Regency England. The Luddite lords own all the land, and lives lives of noble leisure. Almost everyone else is Reduced. They are servants, trained by the Luddites to do simple tasks, and unable to take care of themselves. Many years ago, technology was abused, leading to to generations born with developmental difficulties (the Reduced) and world war. The Luddites were spared by their own caution, and now reap the benefits. But now there is also a new class – the Posts, rare children born from the Reduced that are just like the Luddites, but without their social position. As can be expected, their appearance has begun to shake up the social structure. Some Posts have run away from their estates and made their own fortunes in exploration and enterprise, forming a new class that is wealthy, if not noble.

Within the current social structure, the Norths are high ranking nobility. Elliot’s position allows her to manage the household since her sister, Tatiana, and her father, Baron Zachariah North, have no interest, but as the younger daughter of an estate to which she’s not an heir, Elliot has little power against her father. In the years since her mother’s death, Elliot has deflected the worst of his selfishness, but as far as Baron North is concerned, he is lord and master. He reinforces his supremacy over Elliot subtly, with punishments designed to hit Elliot where it hurts the most. His latest act is to cut down a field of wheat that Elliot had secretly modified to end the food shortage on the North lands. Beneath his casual callousness, Elliot fears that her father choose her wheat field on purpose.

The loss of the genetically modified wheat leads Elliot to convince her family to rent out her grandfather’s shipyard to the Cloud Fleet, even though the Fleet is staffed entirely by free Posts. Admiral Innovation of the Cloud Fleet brings with him an interesting assortment of wealthy and adventuring Posts, among them his wife Felicia, Captains Andromeda and Donovan Phoenix, and finally, Captain Malakai Wentforth. But when Elliot lays her eyes on Captain Wentforth, she gets a shock. He’s Kai, the young Post boy she fell in love with but failed to run away with four years ago.

The set up of the book has quite a few nods at the original Persuasion, with Elliot in reduced circumstances, her frivolous family spending money while she worries about bills, and a newly wealthy lower class as a means for the Norths to survive. But For Darkness Shows the Stars really takes at most the skeleton of the original as a guide, choosing to make social commentaries in it’s own, very different way. Instead of drama playing out under the surface in drawing rooms, this story is more out in the open. Elliot has a close relationship with Posts and Reduced on her estate, relying on her Post foreman Dee and others for advice, and often visiting Ro, a pretty Reduced girl her age, for company. While Elliot works with the Posts and Reduced, others in her social class treat them no more than indentured servants or slaves. There are several examples showing the huge divide between the Luddites and others. For instance, the birthing and healing houses for the Reduced and Posts. These places are ill-staffed, and inadequate. Many Posts, in no need to be treated like the Reduced are, leave their estates but fall prey poverty and new forms of abuse.

Kai/Malakai keenly feels the unfairness of the class system and questions it — why should he be servant and answerable to the Luddites when he has skills and a mind just as sharp if not sharper than theirs? Letters between Kai and Elliot through the years break up the story and are evidence of their attachment, but also show the two questioning the Luddite beliefs. The dynamics between classes plays a more obvious role when Kai left the North Estate, and Elliot stayed, and later, Kai more openly holds a grudge over Elliot’s rejection than in the original. When Malakai shows up again with other successful Posts, what he’s done to achieve that success also becomes a plot point.

I liked these differences from the original story. I’ve read a lot of retellings, and I always end up liking the stories that take the bones of the original but infuse it with its own flavor over those stories that rigidly follow the script. Baron North is more scary than he is vain. Several characters no longer exist or are in very different forms, and of course, names have been changed, but characters are still recognizable, if different. I liked the concept of a future where events have produced a class system similar to the Regency period, and that use of technology was linked to religion. I liked that this was cleverly incorporated into the conflict between characters. More cleverness: the clues about where the story was set (not in the U.K). I enjoyed that the settings for many of the scenes were unique to this retelling.

And how did I feel about the romance? Kai and Elliot’s correspondence peppering the book showed their early friendship as children, with only a few hints of their romance later. Where the romance really resonated for me was in Elliot’s internal anguish over Kai. Her emotions now, which she takes great pains to keep hidden, tell me more than anything else. Kai is harder to read — the third person narration focuses more on Elliot — and he was surprisingly bitter at the start of the story. Later on, I felt like he showed a different emotion but you had to read between the lines to guess how he felt, until the expected letter. Like the original, Kai’s inscrutability makes Elliot’s feelings more palpable, and it was on Elliot’s behalf that I rooted for the couple.  This wasn’t a story that was about a new love, it was about already being in love and sick with it. I wanted them to be reunited. I liked the way that happened, and how some of the class issues (at least at the North estate) were resolved. Some readers may have wanted more social issues settled, but I didn’t think the scope of the story would have made that realistic. This ending was a beginning, and I was happy with that.

For Darkness Shows the Stars is out June 10th, 2012.

Overall: This is one of my favorite retellings. Readers should not go into this expecting a story that follows the Persuasion formula to the letter, but since For Darkness Shows the Stars is set in a post-apocalyptic society where new advancements are frowned upon, things are bound to go off script. And they do, in the best way. I liked this for being an homage but also for being incredibly original at the same time.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger – “While overall this didn’t work for me”, recommends with reservations.
Angieville – “Everything about this book soars, from its supernal setting to the dreams its characters hold in their hearts.”

White Horse by Alex Adams

This review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher, Emily Bestler Books/Atria.
 

White Horse
Alex Adams

The Premise: Zoe is a woman traveling across Europe.  War and disease have decimated the world, and Zoe has to contend with the few survivors – the immune and those who mutated into something else.  There are dangerous people on the road, but there are also those who haven’t lost their humanity, including Zoe — which is why she rescues a young blind girl and brings her along. As they travel, Zoe remembers the past eighteen months that brought the world to where it is now. For her, all began when she worked as a janitor at Pope pharmaceuticals and came home one day to find that someone had bypassed her home security and left a mysterious jar in her living room.
 
Read an excerpt of White Horse here
 
My Thoughts:  The narrative in White Horse alternates between THEN, when Zoe first finds the malevolent jar in her apartment and the world slowly begins to slide into chaos, and NOW, when Zoe is traversing Europe on foot amongst the rubble and death. Both timelines promise to answer lingering questions as Zoe narrates – what is Zoe’s destination and why, in the NOW, and what was in the jar and what is this new illness in the THEN. These questions do get their answers, but in the meantime, Zoe is the pragmatic hero holding on to her sense of decency during a terrible time.
 

“When I wake, the world is still gone. Only fragments remain. Pieces of places and people who were once whole. On the other side of the window, the landscape is a violent green, the kind you used to see on a flat-screen television in a watering hole disguised as a restaurant. Too green. Dense gray clouds banished the sun weeks ago, forcing her to watch us die through a warped, wet lens.There are stories told among pockets of survivors that rains have come to the Sahara, that green now sprinkles the endless brown, that the British Isles are drowning. Nature is rebuilding with her own set of plans. Man has no say.

It’s a month until my thirty-first birthday. I am eighteen months older than I was when the disease struck. Twelve months older than when war first pummeled the globe. Somewhere in between then and now, geology went crazy and drove the weather to schizophrenia. No surprise when you look at why we were fighting. Nineteen months have passed since I first saw the jar.”

THEN, Zoe mops floors at her job at the drug company and has normal family – her two parents, and her married sister, Jenny. Zoe’s biggest problem was boredom and dealing with her relatives’ annoying matchmaking. Then the jar shows up, and Zoe begins to see therapist Nick Rose and has her friend James (a assistant museum curator) examine it. Acquaintances start to get sick, and seemingly incongruous events begin to take on alarming significance. NOW, Zoe is in Europe, trekking through gutted villages. She is determined to get to a specific destination, and her day-to-day worry is about survival. In both worlds, there are secondary characters that come and go, some making more of an impact than others, but everyone is dealing with the same things Zoe is. Relationships are sketched out quickly – there is the sense that they may be ephemeral once disease strikes, but it’s always clear how Zoe feels about the other characters, and it’s easy to empathize with her feelings.
 
THEN is filled with a sense of foreboding, that something terrible is beginning to happen. NOW is dreary and bleak – the horrors so many that Zoe has become somewhat numb. Both sides of the narrative are peppered with unsettling details. Like a lot of Horror stories, White Horse makes it impossible to feel completely comfortable with the story. Fire alarms along a white hallway are linked to menstrual blood on a sanitary pad, and crumbs flying from a mouth are described in icky detail. As for the gory stuff, we get glimpses of the monsters that were once men along Zoe’s journey, but the story doesn’t focus on them. The things people do to each other and to themselves is just as gruesome – there is a rape and assault within the first fifteen pages, plenty of death (some of it very brutal), and a creepy judgmental character stalks our protagonist through Europe.
 
While there is this pervasive thread of Horror throughout White Horse, Zoe herself manages to keep her moral compass, and she finds other people who do the same. There is a lot of hope in this story, if you can grit your teeth through the rest of it. There is even a love story in there.  Although it’s not delved into as much as I would like, the romance lifts the dark mood of the story somewhat.
 
Overall: White Horse is a post-apocalyptic survival tale focusing on a woman named Zoe before and after the world-wide cataclysmic event. Zoe’s tell-it-like-it-is voice and my curiosity about what happened and what will happen kept me flipping the pages. Although I wouldn’t normally pick a Horror-infused story for myself, there was just enough hope alleviating the darkness to appeal to me. That said, I give you fair warning — this is a very dark and often gruesome tale. It’s difficult for me to predict how much the unsettling bits will affect you.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Let me know if I missed yours
 
I like the cover of the UK edition of the book:

Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall
Susan Ee

I first became aware of Angelfall by Susan Ee on Goodreads when I saw need-tea reading it and saw all the comments from her friends about her “finally” starting it. So I checked it out, and saw a lot of positive reviews. Now, I normally wouldn’t have read this because it’s a YA story that has angels in it, and I’m pretty ‘meh’ over angels and YA. But… 99 cents, good reviews, and need-tea’s review where she said about the lead, “You didn’t see her turning into some pathetic doormat over the male with her only goal in life being waxing poetic in lengthy passages about the male lead’s perfection and hotness. Oh, no no no.”  OK, phew.  With that assurance, I bought it.
 
The Premise: Six weeks ago, avenging angels appeared out of no where and wrecked havoc on humankind. Most infrastructure has been destroyed and the worst kind of people roam the streets preying on the weak. Penryn Young, her wheelchair bound sister Paige, and her mentally ill mother have been holed up in their apartment in San Jose. One night, they head for what they hope is the relative safety of the hills, but their timing couldn’t be worse.  They stumble upon a group of angels. Penryn’s mother runs away, and her sister is carried off.  Peryn’s only hope of finding her sister is Raffe, the angel whose wings the other angels cut off and left on the street for dead.
 
Read the first five chapters of Angelfall here
 
My Thoughts:  This is a story narrated by our heroine, Penryn, a relatively hardened teen who is used to taking care of her mother and sister. Now that the world has gone crazy, she has the skills to deal with it. She reminded me of a self-sufficient urban fantasy heroine, gritting her teeth and dealing with the latest disaster. When Paige is captured by the angels, and her mom runs off, Penryn just reacts with her usual determination. Raffe is the only card she has, and she’s going to use him, even if it means keeping one of the enemy alive.
 
I liked Penryn, and I liked that her first reaction to Raffe was appropriate for the situation. He may be gorgeous and otherworldly like all the other angels, but that doesn’t matter, she treats him like he’s dangerous, which he is. He’s not a guy she’s interested in dating, he’s the guy who’s going to help her get her sister back, and she’s not above making an injured angel suffer to get answers. We don’t get to see much of Raffe’s point of view, because this is in first person, but we get an idea of his take on things, and his view is pretty pragmatic. Getting to the angel stronghold where someone may be able to surgically repair his wings, among other things, is in his best interests. He has his own problems and Penryn is just a means to an end.
 
As the story continues, Raffe and Penryn are forced to rely on one another while navigating through empty streets, ruined buildings, and post-apocalyptical chaos. I liked the organic way their respective walls began to crumble, and I tend to be more hard on the paranormal otherworldly guy and young teenage girl relationships, but that said, the relationship was not at the forefront because both characters have more pressing things to deal with. What was at the forefront is getting Paige back, and later, all the complications that come from being in the middle of the war between humans and angels.
 
There were a lot of things in this story that are very thoughtful. It felt like the author tried to address some of the kinds of questions a reader may have while reading the book. For instance, Raffe is very strong, but as light as a bird, which explains how his wings can sustain his weight. The story also hints at angel politics and makes the angels very human in their beliefs, which took away any religious implications I might have had, and I got the impression I would learn more about these things in subsequent books. Peryn and her family dynamics are also explained well. On the other hand, I still felt like there were places where the explanations were a little too convenient, and I did catch a couple of minor details that didn’t mesh (Penryn’s mother was a character that really poked at my sense of disbelief, but I have a feeling there’s more to her insanity that it appears). These things didn’t keep me from enjoying the story and wanting to read the next one though. My hope is that the world building continues to be expanded, and the back story behind the angels can be further developed. I’m also curious to see what happens to Penryn and Raffe’s relationship after the ending of Angelfall.
 
Book 2 is slated for Summer, 2012.
 
Overall: This is the sort of apocalyptian/post-apocalyptian YA that checks off some of my requirements for a good story: an independent heroine, a clear objective, a romance that develops at a realistic pace, and an exciting plot. There are flaws, mostly to do with some things being a little convenient in the story, but these are relatively minor, and I was willing to overlook them. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this one, as it’s the first YA with angels in it that I’ve liked.
 
P.S. Fans of Ann Aguirre’s Enclave may like this one. The fast pace, ruined world, and two people surviving in it are similarities between the two books.
 
Buy:  Amazon (kindle) | B&N (nook)
 
Other reviews:
Discussion (Katiebabs & Kmont) – Part 1, Part 2 (positive)
One More Page – 4 stars (out of 5)
Dear Author – B+
Escape In a Book – 4 (out of 5)
The Happy Booker – 5+
The Book Pushers – A

 

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Enclave
Ann Aguirre

Ann Aguirre is one of my favorite authors, particularly for her Sirantha Jax series, which is a science fiction romance. I’ve been eagerly awaiting Enclave since I first heard that Aguirre would be trying her hand at YA dystopia. This is the first installment of the Razorland series.

The Premise: In the enclave, children have numbers, not names, unless they live till their fifteenth birthday. Then they’re given a naming ceremony and a place as a Breeder, Builder, or Hunter in the society. Deuce (formerly Girl15), has just been named and given a spot amongst the Hunters – an honor she’s been training for as long as she can remember. Now she can leave the enclave, and bring her people food, and she can protect them from the Freaks – creatures that live in the tunnels that would like nothing more than to feast on human flesh. All her life, Deuce has only known a world that is underground, where the oldest is in his early 20s, and where people don’t live for more than that. It’s a world with very little, but it’s the only world Deuce has ever known. Deuce is partnered with Fade, the only Hunter who wasn’t born in their enclave. Fade has never really fit into the enclave, but he’s the best fighter they have, and Deuce is eager to prove herself worthy of being assigned to him. But being a Hunter brings a different perspective to all that Deuce knows. During their patrols Deuce and Fade encounter Freaks with more organization and intelligence than the norm. When their warnings about this eerie Freak behavior are ignored or suppressed, Deuce begins to question the leadership of the enclave.

Read an excerpt of Enclave here

My Thoughts: Enclave is basically three parts. At first the focus is narrow. The story revolves around Deuce’s small sphere and all that is familiar to her. When Deuce begins to think beyond the small borders of the enclave, the spotlight expands. She discovers where her partner, Fade originally came from. The last part expands the world even further beyond that.

For the size of this book, a lot happens. I liked that the story manages to blend in action, a gritty world, and a budding friendship into the story, and I think this is what made the beginning of Enclave particularly strong for me. When Deuce’s narrative begins, we’re introduced to the daily life of a semi-primitive tribal culture. It has three basic roles (Hunter, Breeder, Builder), a leadership structure based on age (over twenty makes you an elder, as this is a very small group), and a painful initiation ritual into “adulthood” (cuts made on the arms that are seared closed by hot metal).  Deuce knows only the limited scope of this enclave, which is in the Underground. Only after she becomes a Hunter and assigned a partner can she see what’s outside her home. It’s not clear what the year is or what has happened to make the world it is in Enclave, but there are enough hints to say that it is our world that has been hit by some apocalyptic event that has reduced the world to rubble and society into small tribes like the enclave, and created monsters like the Freaks.

Because Deuce is a Hunter, that brings plenty of action and the story goes at a fast clip. Deuce is eager to prove her mettle, but she is also learning about Fade and about her the Underground. The action adds drama to the story, but the plot moves along because of Deuce’s path of discovery. Fade isn’t very talkative but as time goes on Deuce begins to trust him, and she knows he doesn’t like the current leadership. Their relationship evolves through time and trials, but Fade keeps a lot close to his chest. What he does tell her, Deuce has trouble believing, but she begins to question. She debates the need for rules and leadership, against inhumane punishments to keep the enclave in line. A leadership that keeps tight control is particularly dangerous when there is important information being suppressed.

But before anything really happens in the enclave, the story changes gears. Fade and Deuce move on together, away from what Deuce is familiar. Deuce continues to learn about her world, and along the way other teen characters are introduced. The shift is a little abrupt for me and left some dangling threads. I think as a series it’s more interesting for Deuce and Fade to travel outside the enclave, but the way this story was presented, it felt like some set up was abandoned. As a result, the second half of the book felt like a restart. Again a new setting and new characters are introduced to us, but thankfully Fade and Deuce stay constant. On the other hand, with new characters introduced late in the story, I didn’t feel like there was much time to get to know them.

There’s a hint of a love triangle with Fade, Deuce, and one of the new characters as well, but it is an odd choice. One of the things I like about Aguirre’s writing is the darkness she brings into her stories. Sometimes this is in the form of dark heroes – people who have done unlikeable things in their pasts but who I still root for. In Enclave the darkness is primarily in the world building, but it’s also in Fade’s past and Deuce’s choices for self-preservation. However, in the potential love triangle, I found the third person VERY unlikeable and a better choice as a villain than a romantic interest. Depending on what happens with this character, it could either be a show stopper or a deal breaker in a later book. I have my fingers crossed.

Overall: My reaction is that I was entertained. Aguirre’s writing keeps me interested in what’s going on and there’s enough darkness in this story to add depth, but the concepts themselves feel familiar. The underground setting after a post-apocalyptic event, the humanoid creatures craving human flesh, and society broken down and ignorant of the past are familiar tropes. But this series has a lot of potential. I think the slowly evolving relationship between Deuce and Fade and their fighting partnership is what has me hooked. I also suspect that now that the world has been established, the characters will have more room to grow. I would actually want to read the second book, and there’s are a lot of other YA dystopian series I’ve started where I couldn’t say the same.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Steph Su Reads – didn’t like this one
Babbling about Books and More – B-
Scooper Speaks – very positive
See Michelle Read – positive
Fantastic Book Review – 4.5 out of 5

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies
Isaac Marion
I’ve mentioned to people before that I’m not a fan of zombies, but when I was pitched this book to review on my book blog by Atria Books, I couldn’t help being intrigued. A love story with a zombie protagonist? I did a little checking and loved the voice in the excerpt (link is to a .pdf file), and before long I’d accepted a review copy, despite my zombie-dislike.

 
The Premise (blurb is from the publisher, since it describes the story very well) : “R is a young man with an existential crisis–he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams.
 
After experiencing a teenage boy’s memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim’s human girlfriend. Julie is a blast of color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world.”
 
My Thoughts: The reason I don’t really like zombies in my fiction is that they’re generally in there for horror purposes – they moan and shuffle and they kill, so there’s lots of gore and eating of brains. They’re typically not the protagonist, nor are they prone to sensitive thoughts when they are.  This just isn’t my thing, but Warm Bodies surprised me by going against this grain. Told from the first person perspective, Warm Bodies describes the unlife of R, a zombie with a rich inner world. R is unsatisfied by the way things are, and searches with seeming futility for something more beyond an existence that is just mindless repetition (killing, standing around, occasionally sleeping). He’s deeply introspective. He makes gently humorous observations about his ‘”life”. He wants to know who he was and what he did before he died. He has a friend (“M”) whom he converses with (albeit in slow, low syllable sentences). He feels torn about eating people.
 

“I trail behind the group as the city disappears behind us. My steps plod a little heavier than the others’. When I pause at a rain-filled pothole to scrub gore off my face and clothes, M drops back and slaps a hand on my shoulder. He knows my distaste for some of our routines. He knows I’m a little more sensitive than most. Sometimes he teases me, twirls my messy black hair into pigtails and says, “Girl. Such….girl.”  But he knows when to take my gloom seriously. He pats my shoulder and just looks at me.  His face isn’t capable of much expressive nuance anymore, but I know what he wants to say. I nod, and we keep walking.”

 
R is incredibly articulate on paper despite his verbal incoherence (R’s “personal record is a four rolling syllables before some …thing…jams”), which is a big part of what makes his story compelling and readable. He’s different from the undead stereotype, and his uniqueness makes his follow zombies eye him with a certain degree of discomfort.
 
Outsider status aside, it is difficult to see R as a hero or romantic lead until he kills a teenager named Perry Kelvin. R experiences the scraps of Perry’s memories and his love for girlfriend Julie. It’s normal for zombies to see visions of their victim’s life, but R has never had a vision like this. Instead of killing Julie, R is compelled to keep her safe. Once Julie enters the story, her interactions with R slowly but surely move the story in a more hopeful direction. R’s sweet gestures and shy courtship and Julie’s bright view of the world despite it’s bleakness, had me in rooting for them, but it is well-balanced by the dark and gritty environment. There are also those who don’t like change in any form who see their relationship as a threat to the way things are, and there are many tense moments when Julie and R are confronted by them.
 
Although I would put “character” down as the greatest strength of Warm Bodies, (both primary and secondary characters were well fleshed out), I was impressed by the world building as well. There is a great sense of setting – the airport that is the ‘home base’ of the zombies and the sometimes surprising activities there (zombies go to church, don’t you know?), and on the flip side, the stadiums which have become the last refuge of the living. It fascinated me to read how society has coped with zombies and how children are raised in this new world.
 
I even liked the ending. It may push against your suspension of disbelief,  but I found the conclusion completely satisfying. Any complaints I’d have are nits. One is a small inconsistency in R being unable to read early in the book but I’m not sure if I misunderstood this. The other is that I’m not sure whether or not R really gives the reader an explanation for the zombie outbreaks, which some readers may dislike. As it was, I preferred the ambiguity.
 
Overall: Zombies usually aren’t my favorite supernatural creature and I never expected to believe in a zombie hero, but I liked Warm Bodies. R’s voice is so sensitive and eloquent that I found myself rooting for him to get the girl and save the world. The romance works, and is incredibly sweet to boot, but the story also doesn’t shy away from describing the new realities in a post-apocalyptic landscape. I really enjoyed this fresh take on zombies: recommended.
 
In other news – Warm Bodies is being adapted into a movie. The Internets tell me that it’s being directed by Jonathan Levine and will star Nicholas Hoult (of About a Boy and X-Men:First Class fame) as R.

Book Blogger Convention goodies

Andd… Warm Bodies is a book that was being given away at the Book Blogger Convention, and I snagged a couple of extra copies. One is going to a friend, but the other is up for grabs in a giveaway! I’ll be putting that post up in a bit.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Angieville – positive
The Book Smugglers – 9 out of 10
My Favourite Books – positive
Escape In a Book – 5 out of 5
 
Trailer:

Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen

Married with Zombies
Jesse Petersen

I picked up a copy of this book at BEA and then was sent a completed copy by Orbit books.

The Premise: Sarah and David are a young married couple dealing with a disillusionment in each other.  They’re constantly fighting and on the verge of a divorce, and going to regular marriage counseling sessions which don’t seem to be working. Things change when at one of those counseling sessions, they’re surprised to discover their therapist feeding on the last client. The zombie apocalypse has arrived, and it may have come at the right time to save their marriage.

Read an excerpt of Married with Zombies here

My Thoughts: This book is told from the first person viewpoint of Sarah. Sarah is pretty frank and sometimes a little foul mouthed. She and Dave are a young couple, in their early twenties. David recently decided to leave school and is trying to decide what he wants to do with his life, and Sarah is the one supporting them both. When it comes to their problems, I think that there was a bit of a tightrope walk there, particularly because we’re seeing the marriage from only Sarah’s point of view. Her marriage has to sound like it’s on the rocks but with enough there for the reader to want her problems patched up. So in the start of the book, when she complains about her husband, I do feel like she’s overreacting over little things, but she throws in enough suppressed feeling for him for me to see that things could improve. When Sarah and David work together and as an extension of that actually talk to each other, I could believe the progression.

Married with Zombies is like a horror movie – pure entertainment for a few hours, with the same sort of horror movie rules and expectations. One action packed scene quickly follows another as Sarah and David figure out what’s going on and learn how to deal with it. The story progresses like a horror comedy – there’s nasties which the couple has to dispatch, close calls, and death.  There are surprises and twists, but like all horror, I don’t expect everyone to come out unscathed. The humor is in the zombie plague bringing the protagonists together, and so each chapter has a tip for zombie killing marital relationships like “Address one issue at a time. You can’t load gasoline, pick up food, AND kill fifteen zombies all at once.”

Overall: Ultimately this book has two things. Zombies and Sarah and Dave’s relationship. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. It’s a quick, pulse-pounding read. If that’s all you want, this delivers. If you are looking for more, I’m not really sure you will find it. In terms of the relationship drama – mmm, it was OK. I guess I thought that sometimes these two were making really obvious mistakes, but that wasn’t really the problem. I think the problem is that there was something missing in the characters themselves, and I didn’t feel like I really get to know them other than they were sort of a generic young urban couple who happen to argue a lot (and kill zombies). Perhaps that will come in the second book, Flip This Zombie, which comes out January 2010 (the third book The Zombie Whisperer is slated for June 2011).

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – two B- reviews

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

Huntress by Christine Warren, Marjorie M. Liu, Caitlin Kittredge, Jenna Maclaine

Huntress
Christine Warren

This was an anthology I picked up at the friend of the library bookstore a while ago and am finally getting off the TBR. It has an author who writes in a way I like (Marjorie Liu), and another who I’ve meant to try (Caitlin Kittredge). The other two authors are new names to me so this was a good way to find out about them.

  • Devils Bargain by Christine Warren – Half-demon, half-human bounty hunter, Lillith Corbin has just one more task to do for the devil Samael – bring him the book the Praedicti Arcanum, which someone stole from him, in three days. Then their deal will be done and her soul will be saved. What she thinks is a simple job becomes complicated when she encounters Aaron Bullard in the middle of stealing back the book, and he tries to stop her.
This was a very straightforward paranormal romance and overall I’d give it an average grade. There was a lot about the story that felt predictable and the focus seemed to be about the hero and heroine getting together with their role in saving the world from apocalypse a means to do so. The part I liked best was the world building – demons and magic are accepted in everyday life, and the way magic and the demonworld worked interested me. What I disliked was the hero and heroine falling in lust at first sight. There was thin reasoning behind having sex and telling instead of showing.
  • Robber Bride by Marjorie M. Liu – Maggie Greene is her community’s tinkerer and fixer. She owns a junk yard in a world that was ravaged by a virus that killed 70% of the population 20 years ago. One day a strange pale man in a motorcycle arrives, and because Maggie has an odd gift she manages to bargain for her life. But that’s not the end of it. The man comes back with friends and steals people from her community, and she thinks they have Trace, an old woman and friend. With a mysterious raven that followed Trace and now follows Maggie, Maggie sets off to follow the band on motorcycles.
This story had a more urban fantasy feel although there is a definite romantic subplot. The writing was excellent, there’s a gorgeous sense of place and lyrical but uncomplicated writing, and I really enjoyed the fairy tale hints – a necklace of teeth, a journey, people who are not as they seem. I finished this one feeling satisfied and happy. Just this story is worth keeping the book. I’m beginning to feel like I would really like if there was a collection of Liu’s short stories, because I tend to enjoy them.
  • Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go (a tale of Black London) by Caitlin Kittredge – Jack Winter is a mage who does odd jobs for people in between gigs with his band. While he was in Scotland with his band he’s approached by a femme fatale with a job – to help her get to the Black so she can kill a demon. Jack is immediately leery, but is not really given a choice in the matter.
The main characters in this urban fantasy story are both very hard and jaded by their past. Jack is a brash and kind of skeevy, and Ava was a bombshell who exploits her sexuality to entrap him. This made them rather unlikeable so I found myself unattached to what was happening to them. I also I haven’t read the Black London books, of which Jack is a character. I think this story is probably easier to understand if you’ve read those books; although I could figure out Jack’s backstory, there are some places where I felt lost by the conversation. The language here was liberally peppered by Britishisms, but I wondered if they were overdone (does anyone use that much slang?). I would say this is a very gritty one with dark characters, dark places, and monsters that are reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth, but perhaps too gritty for my tastes.
  • Sin Slayer by Jenna Maclaine – Cin Craven and The Righteous, a group of vampire warriors, are tasked to take down Jack the Ripper, a demon who is terrorizing vampires in London. When they get there, Cin’s husband Michael is possessed by the demon and Cin must figure out a way to save him.
The author does a good job in getting the reader up to speed on Cin’s backstory and what The Righteous are, which I appreciated because I haven’t read any Cin Craven novels. There are a two already established relationships in the 4 members of The Righteous, and the sexuality between both couples at the beginning felt gratuitous, but perhaps not to those familiar with the books. After the story was moving along, the focus is on capturing Jack the Ripper, and the twist is that he takes over Michael, which Cin is very concerned about. I thought the relationship between Cin and Michael was illustrated well during his possession and Cin’s pained response to it. Overall a decent story.

Overall: There’s a mixture of urban fantasy and paranormal romance in the selection of stories presented in Huntress, and this is a combination that I think is a mixed bag that may work only for fans of both genres. I’m more of an UF reader than a PR one, so with the exception of Robber Bride, the stories in this anthology didn’t really resonate with me. I think this is worth picking up for those who are fans of the authors and related series in the anthology, but outside of that, the stories ranged from “meh” to “very good” and I would only call Robber Bride required reading.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Couldn’t find any – send me a link if I missed yours

Ariel by Steven R. Boyett

Ariel
Steven R. Boyett

I heard of this book through the Hidden Gems Forum of paperbackswap. Someone had posted about this book as a Gem from their childhood and said it was a story about a boy and his unicorn in a post apocalyptic landscape. I was intrigued. This excellent review at Lost Books cinched my wanting to read it. Unfortunately this book was hard to find because it was last published in 1984, and I had to set up an alert for it to find it at a decent price used. That’s why I’m glad it’s being republished this year, August 25th.

This review is based on what I recall from reading it last year.

The Premise: Pete is a high school student in Florida when suddenly technology stops. Planes fall out of the sky, cars and electricity stop working. Riots begin, and Pete is cut off from his parents who work too far away from his home or school to easily walk. Civilization tumbles into its lowest form – pure chaos and everyone for themselves. Mythical creatures begin to appear, such as Ariel, a unicorn who befriends Pete. To survive Pete and Ariel journey from town to town, and living off the land for food and shelter.

My Thoughts: The narrator of the book is Pete, but the title of the book is Ariel. This is significant, because the relationship between the two of them is the driving force behind the book. In the first part of the book we see how they met and then how the two of them learn how to live off the land by going to libraries and reading. At first things are fine, but Pete is human and fallible. He wants to show off about Ariel. While there are other relationships between man and mystical beast, it isn’t at the same level where they are equals.  So things change when other people learn of their relationship, which a now self-serving society wants to exploit.

Pete has to grow up in order to protect himself and Ariel. But he’s also growing up in other ways, which affect Ariel.  I found him an imperfect character, not always saying or doing the smart or right thing. Sometimes he was meaner than he needed to be. This went along with the sometimes harsh nature of the book. There’s violence, bad people, terrible things happen. But good things happen too. Ariel is a good thing. There are also people willing to help them out, and Pete makes a few friends and learns some self defense and other skills from them.

One thing I wanted to note is that the writing is really well done. One of those authors where you just forget you’re reading, you’re so caught up in the story that you don’t even notice the words, you’re too busy watching what’s going on in your mind’s eye. I had visions of endless walking and desolation but with the company of friends. Even Ilona Andrews (who has her own version of our world without technology in the Kate Daniels series) is a fan.

Overall: The book really leaves an impact, even a year later I feel a bit haunted. It’s not really young adult although Pete starts off as a teen when the book begins; there are some violent and sad things that happen here which are described rather matter-of-factly. There’s a mixture of both hope and loss after reading Ariel. I plan to read Elegy which is the sequel to Ariel, thirty years later. Elegy comes out November 3rd.

AmazonB&N

Razor Girl by Marianne Mancusi

Razor Girl (SHOMI)
Marianne Mancusi

Razor Girl is a book from Dorchester’s Shomi line. I loved this line but it has been dissolved, oh well. I plan try to read all the Shomi books I can find anyway (Viva la SF romance! RIP Shomi!)

The Premise: In the year 2030 a mysterious “flu” decimates much of the population. Razor Girl starts just before this, focusing on Molly Anderson and Chris Griffin, once typical teens with a budding relationship, who are torn apart by what’s happening around them. Six years later, they rediscover each other as adults in a “a plague ravaged, monster-ridden wilderness”. Molly, whose father is a conspiracy theorist and scientist, has had extreme modifications done to her body and has been in an underground shelter since she last saw Chris. She has to meet her father in Disney World so that they can literally save the world. Meanwhile, his time on the surface has changed once-geeky Chris (now Chase) into a man, but he remembers all too well the betrayal of Molly’s abrupt disappearance six years ago.

The book jumps back and forth between the past, when Molly and Chase are teens and things are beginning to happen, to the future six years later, when the two meet again.

Excerpt of Razor Girl

My Thoughts: I’d read this author’s YA offering, Boys That Bite (as Mari Mancusi), and it wasn’t for me, but I wanted to give her adult writing a try and found I liked Razor Girl much better.

I quite like the idea that Molly is a Razor Girl, based off of Molly Millions in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, but I never read that book, so I wonder what references I may be missing. I did read Gibson’s Burning Chrome, which has Johnny Mnemonic in it and Molly Millions makes an appearance, but I don’t really recall it very well. Anyway, there seems to be enough to understand it.

Molly has retractable blades that come out of her fingers and ocular implants, and because she has to be tough, she doesn’t cry; her tears are redirected to her mouth and she spits. It’s clear from what he’s done, her father is very extreme in his beliefs, and his influence is felt throughout the plot. Molly has been taught how to fight because of her father’s paranoia, which is helpful when she comes out of her shelter to kill off the zombie-like creatures that now populate the streets (man, zombies are popping up in a lot of my reads these days).  Molly’s enhancements give the book a bit of an eighties movie vibe – like Tank Girl or  Mad Max, and it makes for a very cool cover (one of Tez’s favorites).

As I mentioned earlier, the story jumps back and forth in time from a teen to adult perspective. One chapter would happen in the 2030, one in 2036. For the most part it worked, although a couple of times I ended up guessing what happened when they were teens from what I’d inferred when they were adult. As a teen it seemed really sweet how big a crush Chris has on Molly and how he wins her over eventually by just being a nice guy who was willing to listen to her. Once he’s an adult, he has some resentment towards Molly’s disappearance, but I can’t help feeling he still has an idealistic view of her that never goes away. OK, maybe that’s part of love, but I’d like to see more acknowledgment of each other’s faults in a couple. I think that there was something missing and this was part of it – not enough delving into the characters for me. Even when Chase is hiding a serious problem and gets himself into trouble because of it, it felt like we only scratched the surface into that issue before it was “resolved” and put away, as were other serious incidents.

One minor nit I will mention – this is a copy editor thing that threw me out of the story. A character who Molly has just met, knows her name without her telling him what it was.

Overall: Not bad. Razor Girl definitely has the traits of the typical Shomi: a futuristic setting, action (with zombies!), and romance, but sometimes my attention wandered and I’d want to put the book down, particularly in the scenes when they were adults. I can’t really put my finger on why, so it could just be a personal reaction. Anyway, I seem to prefer the teen perspective: the romance then was cute, and because of their past I could believe in the couple reconnecting, although I felt that Chase idealized Molly.

Other reviews:

Popin’s Lair gave it 5/5
The Good, the Bad, and the Unread gave it a C (similar thoughts to mine in their review)
Katiebabs gave it a B (I really liked her review)