Saturday, February 26, 2011

Arty -- The Unseen by T.L. Hines

Lucas is an urban explorer. He lives in steam tunnels under universities, explores abandoned warehouses, and free travels the underground passages of the city. Dishwasher by day, and explorer by night, Lucas works alone, watching the lives of others from his secret hiding places.

But when he meets another explorer, he discovers he's not alone after all. A group called the Creep Club breaks into privates homes to spy on the people living inside... and they want Lucas as their newest member. For Lucas, the Creep Club steps way over the line - he never spies on people in their homes, only watching them in public places.

But he may not have a choice. Lucas finds himself pursued by secret agents from home and abroad, intent on murder...

Sorry for taking that straight from the dust jacket, but it explains it better than I can. Though it fails to mention Viktor, someone Lucas 'protects' from the Creep Club's advances... and tries to off Lucas in return. Oh, and Saul, who recruits Lucas as a double-agent to creep the Creep Club.

Poor Lucas. So much for unseen.

It's a hard book to review, because there's one part of me that loved it, and one that's kind of disappointed. The love part is squealing, Lucas! I love you! You're awesome! Oh, and double agents! Political intrigue! Dark pasts! Orphans! Everything that is awesome in books!

Then the disappointed part is saying, Too many subplots and secrets, not enough explanation or resolution. Unthrilling secondary characters. And where's the character description?

Lucas, as awesome as he is, doesn't have much of a physical appearance, at least according to Hines - tall, thin, and wiry is all we get. Because my generous side loved this book, I'm seeing the lack of description to be a narrative device - Lucas is unseen, after all.

Yeah. Well, the same goes for most of the other characters. For Saul - bald. Leila - dark eyes. Setting and scenery gets three times more attention than characters. Which, I know, isn't an issue for lots of people... but it's one of the problems that got on my nerves the most.

According to the back of the book, the exact genre for The Unseen is "noir bizarre," which is a pretty good way to describe it, though I think the 'bizarre' fits better than the 'noir.' Obviously this isn't a book to suit everyone's tastes. But if you want something incredibly different to read, or if you like 'noir bizarre' books (in which case you're a more hardcore reader than I am), or if you just like a book for the main character, I'd definitely recommend The Unseen.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Persy -- You Smell Dead by Chris P Flesh

Franklin Ripp is dead. He died in a horrible, embarrassing way, but the Narrator promised him he wouldn't tell anyone the details. But that's not the point. The point is, Franklin is dead, and he died right before he was going to accomplish so much. He and his friends had started a band, he was going to try out for the football team, and he'd just started working up the nerve to kiss Lilly Weezbrock. But then he died.

Luckily, the Afterlife Commission agrees to grant Franklin a second chance to kiss his girlfriend and find true love, but if he doesn't kiss her in less than a year, he'll be pulled back to the Afterlife and he won't get to try again. So, along with two of his underworld friends, Pretty and Scary, Franklin returns from the grave.

As a zombie. The Commission didn't mention that he'd have to dig his way out of his coffin. Or that he'd have to repeatedly glue various body parts back on. But those are minor details.

Now let's say a few things about Snickering Willows, Franklin's home before he died. A long time ago, Horatio Snickering III invented Mystery Meat, which was an instant sensation and made him rich. But he was scared that someone would learn the secret of his recipe, so he outlawed all questions in Snickering Willows. Ever since, no one has asked a question without terrible consequences. So, when Franklin returns from the grave, no questions are asked, and life goes on as before. Sort of. But Franklin's learned that questions can be very important, and can even make the difference between life and death.

A children's zombie book by Chris P Flesh. Need I really say more?

I'm going through this whole zombie phase (Resident Evil, Generation Dead, etc.) and then my sister comes and hands me this. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

The Narrator is a character himself, who tells you all about how he was banished from the International Order of Narrators, and how he's trying to get back in. Then there's Franklin, the adorable little boy (see illustrations). Pretty is a tentacled, multi-eyed monster from the underworld who is 'so pretty' and thinks the same of Franklin. Scary is a phantom monster who can change into anything, but is a bit timid on the inside. Then there's Sophie, Franklin's dog, who is strangely loveable even though she's not in much of the book. The whole thing is just terribly awesome and wonderfully precious, if you can use such a word to describe a zombie book.

...You definitely can.

You Smell Dead is the first book in the Pretty Freekin Scary series by Chris P Flesh, but that's pretty much all I've been able to find out. I can't find Chris P Flesh's real name, or any bio on her/him whatsoever. But with this talent, she/he should really keep writing.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Arty -- Solitary by Travis Thrasher

Chris Buckley's family has just gone through a painful divorce. Now, he and his mother move to her old hometown of Solitary, North Carolina. As it turns out, Solitary is as creepy as its name suggests - packed with more dark secrets and mysteries as a sixteen-year-old should be able to handle.

But what really gets Chris's attention is Jocelyn Evans - the most beautiful girl in his school. She also happens to be the most troubled girl in his school. Of course, Chris falls head over heels for her. Jocelyn resists at every turn - still, they can't help being drawn together. But when Chris tries to uncover the darkness in Jocelyn's life - when he tries to help her - he only ends up deeper than ever in Solitary's tangled mass of twisted secrets.

So this is what it feels like to read a cliché done beautifully, horribly right.

Because I'm a character person, I have to mention the characters first. Chris was adorable. At once naive and mature, the kind of guy who doesn't like to be told what to do but will do anything for someone he loves, he came off perfectly. Not perfect, but perfectly. Jocelyn was amazing too - no annoying, empty-headed heroines here. I could totally see why Chris fell in love with her.

That's another thing - this was basically a love story, put in a suspense/horror novel sheath. But it wasn't shallow, saccharine romance. It was actually about Chris and Jocelyn becoming friends, building trust, and taking care of each other. Very, very effective.

As were the actual suspense and horror sections. Thrasher writes in first-person present-tense, and I've rarely seen someone handle it better. It's like you're stationed in Chris's head, watching everything with his eyes. You know how he ticks. You know what he'll do. And all the while you're screaming Don't do it, Chris!!

The mental-journal approach sometimes gets a little obvious - Thrasher has a love for one-sentence paragraphs.

It gets annoying.

Sometimes it's cool.

But sometimes, not so much.


Thrasher also has a tendency to put in small plotlines and then abandon them completely for chapters at a time. You get a sense that he's just tossing them into the mix for the fun of it. I hope they'll make a difference in the rest of The Solitary Tales. Time will tell.

While not as disturbing as Unwind, perhaps, Solitary can get seriously creepy. And emotional. And if you don't gasp and reread the climax and maybe shed a few tears, you have no soul. So, definitely, get the book. And the next, called Gravestone (can it get better than that?), which comes out June 11.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Persy -- Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Miri lives on top of the mountain, where everyone's trade is linder, a rare stone that lowlanders are always eager for. But unlike the other mountaineers, Miri is not allowed into the mine. True, she's incredibly tiny for her size, but there are plenty of people younger than her helping out. But instead, she stays at home, tending the goats and trading with the lowlander traders.

And then one day comes a new set of lowlanders, declaring that the royal priests have discovered that the future queen of the royal prince will be found on Mount Eskel. No one really knows what this means, but all the young ladies are rounded up and taken to a hastily made Princess Academy, miles away from the village. There, the girls will be educated and turned into princesses, and in the following year, the prince will come and choose his bride from among them.

But the princess academy has rules, and soon a fierce competition arises between Miri and one of the older girls, Katar. And don't forget the bandits...

Shannon Hale, master of fairy tales. That should be her new title. I don't think Princess Academy is actually based on anything, but it has the feel of a fairy tale retelling. I wouldn't call this her best (that would have to go to The Goose Girl), but I don't think Hale could ever be bad. I read this book in about one sitting (actually I read a lot of her books in one sitting), and not because it's short. It's about three hundred pages.

But anyway, Princess Academy is one of my favorites, and it should be one of your's too. Miri is likeable, as is the entire little world Hale has set up for the story. Every chapter is preceded by a little Mount Eskel song, which adds a lot of atmosphere to the novel. So if you like fantasy/fairy tales, definitely read this book. And if you don't like fantasy/fairy tales, just read this book. And make sure to also check out her Bayern series, which starts with The Goose Girl and is a retelling of the fairy tale by the same name.