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
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Giveaway – ARC of Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Time for another giveaway. This time it is Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare.. so shiny.

I reviewed it over here: https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpghttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/vox.png


To enter:

1. Email janicu[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject CLOCKWORK ANGEL GIVEAWAY, and say “please enter me” or something like that, and that should be it. I try not to make there be too many hoops.
2. One entry per person please
3. This giveaway is INTERNATIONAL. I’ll mail it anywhere that the USPS delivers to.
4. This contest ends midnight EST August 24th

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

This is an ARC that I picked up at BEA. Cassandra Clare is an author who is relatively new to me. I’ve read a short story of hers but none of her full length books. I was assured however that while this new series (The Infernal Devices) is related to one that she has out (The Mortal Instruments), I could start Clockwork Angel without reading the other one.

The Premise: This is the story of Tessa Gray. Tessa’s aunt just died and because Tessa has no where else to go, she’s moving from her home in New York to join her brother Nate in Victorian London. Unfortunately, as soon as Tessa steps off the boat, she’s pretty much kidnapped by the Dark Sisters, members of the secretive Pandemonium Club, who tell her that she has to do what they tell her or her brother will be hurt. What they do is surprising – they train Tessa to shapechange. Tessa realizes that she may not be completely human, but what she is, she doesn’t know. What she does know is that the Dark Sisters are training Tessa for the mysterious head of their Club – the Magister. Tessa manages to escape with the help of yet another hidden organization – the Shadowhunters, who protect humanity by policing the Downworlders like the warlocks, demons and vampires who haunt London streets.

Read an excerpt of Clockwork Angel here

My Thoughts: I was going to be lazy and just cut and paste the blurb for this book because I thought that it would describe the world and the premise better than what I could come up with, but on second thought I decided not to. Why?  Well, it implies a love triangle that I didn’t really think was there for about 80 percent of the book. I think that it’s pretty clear who Tessa is most attracted to, and while she cares about Boy #2  and they have their private moments, I felt like that relationship is mostly in the friend territory, until bam, near the end. So: a little spoilery, that blurb (but go read it if you just want to see who is in the love triangle, I’m sure you can guess).

Since this is the first book in what I assume will be at least a trilogy, there’s a lot of what feels like set up for long running story arcs. Through Tessa we’re introduced to a whole world and to several characters that work and live in the London Institute. Among the Shadowhunters are other teens – the volatile Will, the zenlike James (Jem), and the spoiled Jessamine who are under the guidance of Charlotte and Henry Branwell. Then there are servants around the age of the teens – Sophie and Thomas, and an older cook – Agatha. Most of the characters have a past, and Tessa, as the nosy newcomer, discovers their individual personalities and nuggets of their backstory.  There’s a lot in this book that is hinted at and ambiguous, like a story sort of taking shape but leaving much hidden. The hints of the complex relationships between the characters is one example. The mysterious back story of every character is another (the best example of this is Will, but Jem, Jessamine, Sophie, even Tessa’s past is shrouded in mystery). This is all while the Shadowhunters try to figure out who is behind the Pandemonium Club and what their plans are with Tessa. Once the story is over, we discover very little of our questions as readers have been answered. The many dangling plot strings and Mysterious Pasts peppered throughout the story feel like manipulation so you have to pick up the second book. Usually I don’t mind being manipulated a little to read on, but Clockwork Angel seemed to take it to another level.

Setting that aside, the story was entertaining. Even with the length (the ARC is 476 pages, but big font), the pacing went at a fast clip with plenty going on. I can’t go into much here without spoiling it so I’ll just say there is lots of action – fights and chases, but also very interesting developments between characters. The world was described in lush detail, with lots of steampunky elements – little clockwork tokens, automatons, and Henry Branwell, an absentminded inventor, against a backdrop of the huge and amazing church on whose ruins the London Institute was built (there’s a lot of description, but I liked it). Tessa also has the mentality of someone of that era. She quotes books she’s read that come from that time, and was brought up thinking there are things that women do not do, although the Shadowhunters have her changing her mind on that. Jessamine’s anger seems related to this too – wanting to just be a Lady – someone who stays a home and isn’t expected to kill Demons. She and Will were the darkest and most interesting characters.  Jessamine for being unlikeable, but with the opportunity to grow, and Will for his tendency to push people away (sometimes cruelly if truth be told), although I think all the characters in this book had some depth.

Overall: Hmm. I had a hard time classifying how I felt about this book so I will settle for: diverting but feels like it’s target is teens. It’s fast paced and it has boys who are beautiful and a little mysterious, a plucky heroine who has something special about her, and I’m entertained and want to know what happens in the next book because it deliberately dangles carrots to make me want to. There’s something that kind of bothers me in that, but I was entertained, so I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Clockwork Angel comes out August 31st

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Wicked Walker – 4.5 stars

Websites:
The Infernal Devices

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)

The Eternal Kiss by various authors, edited by Trisha Telep

I actually tend to like anthologies because it gives me a chance to “try out” or find new authors I may not have tried out on my own. Usually there are always hits and misses, but what I liked about The Eternal Kiss was that although it is a young adult anthology and it’s about vampires it doesn’t make the mistake of only being about teenage romance, and it doesn’t shy away from the darker side of vampires. I picked this ARC up at BEA.

I did something a little different here – I wrote up my review as I read the book, just jotting a couple of sentences on each short story. Very brief reviews follow (my two favorite stories were the ones by Karen Mahoney and by Sarah Brennan):

1) Falling to Ash by Karen Mahoney – Vampire girl (Moth) comes home to find her sire wants her to get the ashes of a recently staked vampire. Really like this one, this author has been on my radar on LJ, but I hadn’t connected the the LJ user with “Karen Mahoney” (sometimes things get past me), until I had already read and liked this.  This is the introduction to a series about Moth, so now looking forward to it.

2) Shelter Island by Melissa de la Cruz – 15 year old Hannah has a mysterious visitor at night. I couldn’t connect with this one. I think the characters, particularly the female protagonist were a not substantial enough in the amount of pages this story was for me to grasp them.

3) Sword Point by Maria V. Snyder – Girl fencer discovers that the prestigious fencing school she goes to is more than it seems – interesting at first but then I started to lose interest halfway when the relationship part occurs. The action at the end felt very perfunctory.

4) The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – A bitten girl tries to stay human, but then learns her ex-boyfriend and a neighbor girl have run away to Coldtown, the vampire section of town. A dark story about the glamorizing of vampirism. Liked it, nice and chilling.

5) Undead is Very Hot Right Now by Sarah Brennan – A nineteen year old who has been a vampire for a year joins a boy band. Hilarious. I laughed aloud so much reading this one. Another author I plan to look for in the bookstore.

6) Kat by Kelley Armstrong – A teen is awoken by her vampire guardian and try to escape would-be captors in the middle of the night – Interesting. Ending makes me want to read more, maybe the start of a series?

7) The Thirteenth Step by Libba Bray – Teen gets a job at a halfway house which may not be all that it seems. I think my own experiences cloud the way I read this story. It bothered me that the protagonist become like the addict sister she considered selfish.

8 ) All Hallows by Rachel Caine – Vampire boyfriend of the narrator gets into trouble and she goes in to save him. Readers may need to have read other Morganville books. This is a short story in that world that seems to fit in the timeline after the first 4 or 5 books.

9) Wet Teeth by Cecil Castellucci A vampire begins to feel alive for the first time in a long time after meeting a strange girl in the park. This one seems to focus on the ending, and left me a bit wanting for the rest of the story, but seems to be in the right vein for horror.

10) Other Boys by Cassandra Clare- A girl begins to get interested in the new boy in school, who says he’s a vampire. This one had elements of nice old school horror.

11) Passing by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguié – A girl has to pass the final class in her vampire hunter academy – only one student will get a special elixar. A bit too complex of a back story to cram into a short story space.

12) Ambition by Lili St. Crow –  Smart but poor schoolgirl meets boy at club. Girl falls out with rich best friend. Boy may be supernatural. Dreamy, sort of hazy relationship that may be dangerous à la Heavenly Creatures. I keep re-reading the last three lines, wanting questions answered.

13) All Wounds by Dina James – Girl discovers her grandmother and the bad boy in detention aren’t exactly who she thought they were, and neither is she. Looks like the start of a new series so there’s a lot of plot set-up, but not much time for more than brief character sketches.

The Eternal Kiss will be released July 27th.