Sunday, October 28, 2012

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

Life is acceptable.
Sure, things aren't great. Mary's father is gone, her mother sits by the gate staring into the Forest of Hands and Teeth waiting for some sign of her husband, and her childhood friend Harry is getting a bit too close. But the Unconsecrated are still safely beyond the gate, and the villagers are surviving. Mary still tells herself the stories of her mother, stories of a time before the Unconsecrated and a neverending ocean.
But then Mary's mother does see her husband -- and gets too close. She is infected in an instant, and condemned to death. By the time Mary's brother Jed gets back, it's too late to say goodbye. Their mother is shoved outside the gate to join the rest of the Unconsecrated.
Life is hard.
Now orphaned, Mary expects to be taken in by her brother Jed and his wife Beth, but Jed stonily tells her that she is to be taken in by the Sisterhood, the religious women who rule the village. Harry doesn't come through on his interrupted proposal, and, with nowhere else to go, Mary is forced into the Sisterhood, where her world starts to turn upside down.
First of all, Travis, Harry's brother, is injured and taken to the Cathedral to be looked after. Mary has always been in love with him, and she now finds it harder than ever to give up on him (he's engaged to Cass, Mary's best friend) when she sees him every night.
And, to top it all off, Mary discovers the impossible: a stranger has come from outside the fence. Does this mean that they are not the last survivors of humanity? That there is an end to the Unconsecrated and the Forest of Hands and Teeth? That her mother's stories weren't just nonsense, but true? Is there really an ocean out there, as she's always dreamed?
Life is unacceptable.
Mary begins to unwind the lies and mysteries surrounding the Sisterhood and the limping little village. But before she can get very far, the unthinkable happens: the gates are breached, and the Unconsecrated flood the village. Mary only barely survives along with Harry, Travis, Jed, Beth, Cass, a little boy named Jacob, and Mary's dog Argos. The group escape the village and start along one of the many fenced paths leading into the Forest. Mary is confident that there is something waiting for them, something better. Something free. The ocean.
I had mixed feelings about The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I've also been rather oblivious about it. When it first came out, I declared it uninteresting and so didn't put it very high on my to-read list. And then when I finally picked it up the other day, I realized it was about zombies. ILOVEZOMBIES. Buuuut then I saw some of the tags it had on various book websites: die-heroine-die, stupid-love-triangle... you get the picture. My excitement faded.
Ten pages in: dull dull dull dull Mary is such a stupid whinypants.
Ten - thirty pages in: hey, this is pretty good.
Thirty - one hundred pages in: ugh, Mary.
One hundred - end of book: AAAAAAAAAAAGH.
This is one of those books with terrible chars. They're all stupid in their own special way, and I can't help but wonder if they all had some actual mental problems. But then again, seeing as how they live in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, I'll cut them some slack. I doubt I'd have all my lightbulbs screwed in just right if I were in their situation.
But this is also one of those books that is just so tragic and well-written and realistic that it somehow ends up beautiful in my head. I closed the book with a sense of awe and shock, completely exhausted from the trip. Talk about a climax done zombie-style. I even sort of ended up liking Mary towards the end. She's still not exactly smart, but I can see her being awesome in a kind of Resident Evil-one-woman-against-the-zombie-horde way.
This review reminding you of another book? Life As We Knew It, for example? Yeah, the books are ridiculously similar. They both follow the basic plot of an apocalypse with a character who is incredibly dull and yet resourceful. None of the main chars are all that interesting (though "Forest" had the advantage of a dog; I'll put you out of your misery and give you a small spoiler: Argos survives the entire book), but the writing is spectacular, and for the last half of the book, it's impossible to stop reading. Both books are the first in a series, and both sequels are about different characters. Both main characters are female with names beginning with M. If Carrie Ryan and Susan Beth Pfeffer aren't already friends, they should definitely get together and see what other tragedies they can come up with. Can you imagine what would happen if they wrote a book together?
"Forest" definitely isn't for everyone. I don't expect it to become the next great classic or anything, but I still encourage you to give it a try, as long as you aren't too incensed by stupid main chars or too sensitive to mental and physical pain. Yikesies.
You might like this if you: like Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer; like apocalypse/futuristic stories; love zombies and therefore must read/see/listen to anything related to zombies; enjoy amazing, unique writing styles (if you can call it unique... let's just say Pfeffer and Ryan are the only two with it); or if you feel like your life is not enough and that there's something else waiting for you beyond a deadly forest. Perhaps this book can give you examples of the does and don'ts (DO practice archery. DON'T be indecisive about your one true love).

Monday, October 22, 2012

Arty -- Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

Vampire romance, not really my thing.  Vampire romance parody... that I can handle.

And Team Human was a really good vampire romance parody.

Mel Duan is your average high school girl (albeit one with a spine, maybe too much of one for her own good) with average high school friends (even though she dated Ty and Cathy's sort of an airheaded literary freak and Anna's father supposedly ran away with a vampire).  Life is good for her... until vampire Francis shows up to go to high school.

Mel's first reaction is, Why does a 120-year-old vampire want to go to high school?

Her questions turn rather more serious, however, when her desperately romantic friend Cathy falls for Francis's pale, frigid... er, charm.  Staunchly Team Human, Mel decides she has to fight to free Cathy from herself.

Meanwhile, the questions about Anna's father and his supposed vampire elopement spark a mystery Mel takes it upon herself to solve.  This, along with Cathy's involvement with Francis and his 'shade,' or vampire family, brings her into way more vampire contact than Mel ever wanted.

Even knowing that this was supposed to be a parody, I went into Team Human very skeptically.  I mean, as soon as Francis came on the scene, I had about a million cynical views on how it would go.  Mel would fall in love with Francis, Mel would fall in love with another of Francis's friends, she teaches her vampire beau how to laugh and thus causes a worldwide vamp phenomenon...

Well, no, not really.

Team Human is, despite constant light-hearted fun and gentle genre-poking (Mel really does wonder why a 100+-old vamp would want to go to high school, and that question is answered), pretty realistic for a vamp novel.  No, it's not a scientific treatise on vampire biology, but it does feel more well-thought-out than a lot of such endeavors tend to be.  For example - a percentage of vamp turnings end in death.  Another percentage turn into mindless, slavering zombies (yes, there are also ZOMBIES in this book - it's awesome).  Also, vampires can't laugh.  They rarely smile.  And they're not cold - they're just... lukewarm.

Not exactly romantic.

But what really makes the book - as in most really good books - are the characters.  Mel is a great heroine - she's got a spine, like I said, and she's not afraid to use it... which does get her into a lot of trouble that she regrets and learns from.  She learns.  Cathy is... okay, well, I didn't like her much, but she was a good, developed character.  Anna and Ty were well-drawn, Francis was annoying but not over-the-top... and then the vampires in Francis's shade are awesome.  And then there's Kit.  I don't want to say too much about him (the surprises in the book are the best parts), but there's a line of his backstory that just... gave me shivers.  Showing that vamps, like humans, are not all good and not all evil.

The love story was surprisingly realistic, as well.  It was happy, but it wasn't - I, for one, still didn't agree with the choice made.  But it was realistic.  It showed that sometimes you have to trust your friends to live their own lives, even if you don't think they're right.  One great theme - respect. 

Storywise, I loved it, too.  The mystery was actually good.  I've noticed I'm pretty slow when it comes to mysteries, but the resolve came as a huge surprise.  I admit to shivering a little then, too.  It was just pretty... gut-wrenching.  After all the buildup, I should have seen it coming.  But I didn't.  And the emotional reaction was worth the stupidity.

So if one ever gets tired of sloppy, romance-centered vampire novels, look no further than Team Human, a refreshing parody/commentary of all the unrealistic vamp stuff out there for consumption.  One shall not be disappointed.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Persy -- Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock

Sherlock Holmes is a 13-year-old Jewish misfit who doesn't go to school and reads police newspapers for fun. He never interferes with investigations, but follows them closely, all the while solving little mysteries around his household and surrounding neighborhood. But when random chance implicates Sherlock as the accomplice to a violent murder, he has no choice but to go into hiding and attempt to clear his name. But first, he must escape from prison...
I'm not quite sure why, but I was expecting this to be some kind of retelling of Sherlock Holmes, in which Sherlock is a young boy in modern day London or something like that. I have no idea where I got that idea, because that's not what this series is. This really is about Sherlock as a kid before his master detective years.
First of all, everyone should know better than to meddle with Sherlock's past. That's part of the fun and mystery of Sherlock -- you know nothing about him. If you start trying to fabricate mysteries and adventures and details, it just starts to feel a little... meh.
But the funny thing is, Eye of the Crow is actually a pretty good mystery/adventure/historical book, but I really really wish it wasn't about Sherlock Holmes. If it wasn't about him, I'd look on the series with a much fonder eye.
I'm also not sure if this is some kind of precursor to the original Sherlock Holmes, or if Shane Peacock is retelling basic Sherlock Holmes stories. Because there's an Irene in this book (though her name isn't Irene Adler and she's not a thief or anything), and I would find it curious to name her that if it wasn't supposed to mean something. There's also the leader of a street gang, The Malefactor, who is something like Moriarty. The only thing I can figure is that maybe these characters turn into Irene Adler and Moriarty. Or perhaps it's just a big coincidence.
The writing isn't bad, and the plot's okay, and the mystery bit is pretty well done. Nothing about this book screams greatness, and when you add in that it's supposed to be Sherlock Holmes, it turns out to just be a meh-y book. Unfortunately, I'm required to review books four and six, so I'm going to have to continue through the whole series.
You might like this if you: love Sherlock Holmes, and feel obligated to read every version of him you can find; like quick, easy mystery reads that don't require too much energy; like historical fiction; or if you like historical mysteries and don't care a whit about Sherlock Holmes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wednesday Scrolls -- September Review!

Welcome to October! I, Persy, had a rather pathetic September, with a meager 2815 pages read and 15 books completed. The number is better than I was expecting, but it gets super depressing when I remember that only three of those books were fictional novels read for pleasure. The rest were history and British literature books or manga.

Best September Book: I guess I'll have to go with The Importance of Being Earnest by the one and only Oscar Wilde. Also, The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.

Honorable Mention: Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey and Romeo and Juliet (Manga Shakespeare) by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi, and Sonia Leong.

Worst September Book: Cantarella Vol. 5 by You Higuri. The series started off okay and just went downhill. Sojourner Truth: Ain't I A Woman by Patricia and Fred McKissack is also terribly written.

Dishonorable Mention: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. Sorry, just didn't like it at all. And, unfortunately, the first volume of Millennium Snow by Bisco Hatori was pretty bad too (but I can't help but be a fan because of Ouran).

Maybe I'll get a bit more pleasure reading done this month.


Hi.  Arty here.  September was also a rather dismal reading month, with just 22 books read.  In my defense, I finished writing a book!  But... well, that was pretty early on.  So anyway.

Best September Book: Either Myths of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green, or Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer.

Honorable Mention: The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman was really great (who's surprised?); also, Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

Worst September Book: Probably Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare.  Sigh.  I held out hopes...

Dishonorable Mention: Worldshaker by Richard Harland.  It stared out fantastic, but by the time it ended, I just wanted to throw everybody over the edge of the ship.

So there you have it.  Here's to better books and more reading time for the Month of Halloween!