Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What I read on my summer vacation.

Days off mostly mean "BRING HOME THE ENTIRE LIBRARY" and read it all at once. There are some other books like John Wray's Lowboy and China MiƩville's The City and The City that I'm taking my time reading. Savoring so much that I may never get around to actually reviewing. On the other hand I brought home several books that I had been absolutely chomping at the bits to read and tell other people about. All of these books I read in one, one and one half, or two sittings at the most...and all except one I read just this past weekend.

Rampant Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Astrid hates unicorns. She's grown up with her mom's fanatical stories of conquering ancestors. All those ancestors were women, virgins, and they were all descended from Alexander The Great who rode an elephant-sized unicorn into battle. Astrid shies away from her mom's stories and the legacy she wants for Astrid, and since all the unicorns are supposed to have been killed by one of Astrid's ancestors a few hundred years ago. When Astrid's boyfriend gets gored by a goat-sized unicorn, and her entire world flips upside down as she realizes that her mom's crazy stories aren't just stories after all. The unicorns are back and it is up to Astrid and other unicorn hunters, all virginal female decedents of Alexander, to save the world from the six kinds of bloodthirsty mythical beasts...and the evil people trying to bring them back at all costs.
While there are some places where this story falls apart and becomes hard to follow (mainly I think it just needed to be pared down some, but I'm hoping some of the extra means Sequel!), there are a lot more places where bad-ass teen girls fight like hell and barely escape with their lives. Best of all it isn't Astrid and her backup dancers fighting, these girls have personalities, some of them very strong, all of them developed more than you'd expect. A must read for fans of Buffy, Gemma Doyle, and even Katniss Everdeen.

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Did I say Katniss Everdeen? I guess that means my next review is of Catching Fire! I'm still a little, just a tiny bit, sad that I had to wait for the book to come out and could not get an ARC to save my soul. But, sometimes that is life. Last year before the Hunger Games was the Hunger Games I was able to get a signed copy and spend a day at Anderson's YA Lit Conference with Suzanne Collins, so I feel like I'm actually ahead of the Hunger Games...game.

Catching Fire (Hunger Games, #2) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Katniss, oh Katniss, we rooted and cheered for you in the Reality TV Gladiator battle "The Hunger Games" and were awed by your courage and humanity. Now, only months later we realize along with you the horror of knowing that your trials only just started with the Hunger Games. Katniss's friends and family are threatened personally by the blood-thirsty tyrannical President Snow, who seems to be the only one who doesn't realize that uprisings are going to happen no matter what Katniss does, and his threats are only going to add fuel to the fire. And *spoiler alert*
everything does boil over when they decide to send all the past victors back to the Hunger Games...one year later and Katniss and Peeta are back in the arena. But this year, the competitors have a common enemy, and it isn't anyone in the arena. Oh and Peeta and she are still trying to figure out their relationship(s) each wants desperately to keep the other one alive.*/spoiler alert*
Suzanne Collins has this way of putting you in the middle of the action empathizing with Katniss on such a level that it is somehow both impossible to stop turning the pages because you NEED TO KNOW, but you are afraid to turn the pages too, because you don't want anything bad to happen to anyone you and Katniss care about. This book never fails to deliver on everything the Hunger Games promised...but I did kind of want more action in the beginning. I know, I know, there was a lot of tension, but it wasn't until Katniss felt free to fight back that anything really HAPPENED.
Still, wonderful, beautiful, evocative book that reminds me why I hate reality TV.

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Speaking of things I hate...that brings me to ZOMBIES.

Now if you know me you know I'm a card-carrying member of the Zombie Squad and that I prepare every day for the possibility of the Zombiepocalypse. Recently I read two Zombie books that are both amazing social commentaries and yet are two of the most different books I could ever tell you about. I read each in a single night. The first is the more traditional of the Zombie novels: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It is so far into the future after the Zombie-pocalypse that everyone in Mary's village is acclimated to unquestioningly following the rules that the Sisterhood sets forth. Well, follwoing the rules has kept them relatively safe and alive from the Unconsecrated hoard just outside of the fense so far, right? But, as her future becomes more tenous, mary grows more defiant of the edicts and the sisterhood. On top of all that, Mary's got boy troubles, family troubles, best friend troubles, and of course, Zombie troubles.
The book has all the interesting mysterious parts of the M. Night Shyamalan movie "the Village" but instead of a boring backstory about the evils of the "Modern World", we get ZOMBIES. Scary, flesh-eating, mindless, zombies. Zombies with the rotting faces of Mary's mother, father, sister-in-law, and friends. Did you ever notice that zombies are an interesting metaphor for the evils of the "Modern World"?
Mary's world has been shaped so much by living under the constant fear of horrifying death that every moment and every choice she makes is so very important.
Mary could be you, she has the same sorts of desires and daydreams as anyone. The first half is so atmospheric, creepy, and tense with the human side of living in a undead world that when it flows into the second action-packed (and a little violent) half you won't be able to put the book down. Don't let the "Teen Book" label fool you either. Carrie Ryan's story is not JUST for the young, it is for everyone who ever wondered what happens to humanity hundreds of years after the Dawn of the Dead.

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And then there is Generation Dead, the Anti-Zombie novel, in which the zombies don't want to eat your brains, they'd rather just be your friend.

Generation Dead (Generation Dead, #1) Generation Dead by Daniel Waters

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Generation Dead by Daniel Waters is so far beyond my realm of Zombimagination that I can't even tell you why I love it so much. But, I'll try. The basic premise is that for some unknown reason US teens (and only US teens) have started coming back to life after they die (as long as their brains aren't destroyed, a nice traditional zombie-story touch.) Is it because the fear and revulsion that living people feel for the living impaired or differently biotic seems so familiar? Bioism is just another kind of -ism after all. So yeah, the social commentary is great. Awesome.
But the love story is even better. The main character, Phoebe, is so well drawn that I kind of wish she'd been one of my besties in high school. The competitors for her affection are her best friend and typically atypical jockish next door neighbor Adam; and Tommy, who died in a car wreck a few years before and moved with his mom to Oakvale because the high school has a good living impaired program. Tommy is an activist zombie, he's got a blog, joins the football team, and takes Phoebe to a dance all of which are incendiary to those who think that the differently biotic are signs of the apocalypse, or that they must have been so bad that they were rejected from the afterlife. But does Tommy really feel anything for Phoebe, or just for the fact that she is a Trad willing to make the same radical statements about Bioism that he is.
Zombie horror flicks lovers beware, this book is more Guess who's coming to dinner?" than Night of the living dead . The zombies scare people, because they are different and unknown, but a camaraderie even forms amongst some of the DBs and living kids when they participate in a special work-study group.
My one complaint with the novel is that to build tension we see the "bad" guy's point of view and we know that he is unstable and what he is planning. Unfortunately since we spend all this time with the bad guy you'd expect more character development than "he had a girlfriend who died and didn't come back." But, that's all you get, that same little piece of information in not really very different ways. And in real life some people are quite fixated and single-minded, maybe he was painted that way on purpose. Unfortunately it made me more bored than tense.
Anyway, if that is my one complaint in a zombie novel that is more about -isms than it is about running around screaming and trying to find an ax or a shotgun...than you know it is worth a read.

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The great thing about all of these books, the reason I know that they all deserve these ratings is that as soon as I finished the book and closed it, I wanted to open it right back up again and start all over. Definitely going to acquire them all for my personal library when I get a chance...and bookshelves.

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