Sunday, 31 March 2013

Books in Brief: Zombie Edition!

Whilst its fun writing reviews for the books I'm reading now, I keep regretting that I've read so many great books previously. I really want to share them, but they just aren't fresh enough in my memory for a full review. As a result I've decided to try out a new feature of sorts: Books in Brief, where I will write a very diddy review of 3-4 books I want to talk about, linked by some sort of common theme. Today, I'm starting with zombies.

First up is The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell

In one of my favourite books of 2012 we follow 15 year old Temple across a devastating wasteland as she runs not just from zombies, but a vengeful man determined to see her dead. Temple is brilliant, and broken. Growing up post-apocalypse has made her tough, and she does what it takes to survive with a hardened calm which masks the terrors of her past. Although written in third person, the narrative carries Temple's distinctive voice, which is part of what makes the book so memorable. You can see what I mean from the very first line:

God is a slick god. Temple Knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe.”

I was hooked from there, and even once I finished the book her voice seemed to linger in my head. This quote also leads into another thing I loved about this one: Temple's ability to see the beauty that exists even in her ravaged world. It's a reminder that no matter how dark your situation, the sparks of light are always there if you look for them.

A beautifully written book, with a protagonist I adored and some memorable supporting characters. I had to give it 5 stars.

Next is This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers.

In This is Not a Test Sloane Price and 5 of her schoolmates take refuge in their old school to hide from a world which is falling to pieces outside. As they listen to the zombies clamouring at the doors, fear and mistrust stretches the tensions between the group of teens to breaking point.

Sloane stands out from other zombie apocalypse protagonists in that instead of fighting to stay alive, all she really wants to do is die. In an ironic twist of fate, the disaster actually saves her life in the first chapter, when she is preparing to end it. Swept up in events, as her companions cling to survival she remains detached, quietly working out the best time to leave for good.

This is Not a Test is a book which contains zombies, but is not really about them. It is what happens within the walls of the school which is important, and the way humanity, when frightened, can be as dangerous as any supernatural monster. Summers' characters are believably flawed and sometimes frustrating, but hard to dislike. In terms of plot and pacing I was always on the edge of my seat, as the tension was palpable throughout. Whilst it wasn't on the same level as The Reapers are the Angels for me, I rated This is Not a Test a very decent 4 stars.

Finally we have The Infects by Sean Beaudoin.

After an incident at the chicken processing factory where he works, Nick is sent to boot camp with an assortment of misbehaving teens. However things take an unusual turn when their camp counsellors suddenly develop a taste for human flesh. Joining forces with another group, which happens to include Nick's school/work colleague and crush, Petal, they fight to stay alive.

Honestly, I can't say I enjoyed this one very much. I never really cared about any of the characters, and the pervasive puerile humour wasn't really my style. I also felt like it tries just a bit too hard to be clever, which turned me off. There are a lot of references to popular Zombie films, most of which I haven't seen, so its possible parts were going over my head. Maybe I would have enjoyed the book more if this wasn't the case, but I do have to point out that my ignorance never stopped me enjoying the equally derivative Shaun of the Dead.

The Infects just escapes a 1 star rating because despite my complaints it did keep me reading, and an interesting twist made it just about worth making it to the end. I also thought Nick's relationship with his sister was quite sweet. As a result, I'm bumping it up to 2 stars.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Any other zombie books you would recommend?  Let me know in the comments below. :) Happy Easter all!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Feature & Follow Friday (#2)

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly blog hop hosted by Alison Can Read & Parajunkee's View. This week's question is...

Q: Tell us about the most emotional scene you've ever read in a book - and how did you react?

The only book I can think of that really made me properly cry is Patrick Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go. I don't want to give away too much but if you've read it you'll know what I mean when I say "Manchee". I bawled reading the scene, and then I put down the book and bawled some more. I think I probably gave myself a headache. A lot of other books have made me very teary (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green springs to mind) but I don't remember ever having quite so strong a reaction before. I just love dogs..!

What was your most emotional scene? Drop a comment if you're passing through,and if you're a new follower make sure to leave a link so I can follow back! :)

Thursday, 28 March 2013

REVIEW: Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

1987. There's only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that's her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn's company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June's world is turned upside down. But Finn's death brings a surprise acquaintance into June's life--someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart. (goodreads)


When her Uncle Finn dies, shy and reclusive June feels she's lost the only person in the world who truly understands her. Whilst she is still reeling from his loss she meets Toby, a stranger who claims to be a 'special friend' of Finn's but according to her mother was also his killer. At first she is repulsed, but against the odds an unlikely and awkward friendship blossoms between the two. As they trade memories, June is forced to confront how little she really knew about her Uncle and his life, as well as her true feelings towards him.

I think anyone who was ever labelled as a quiet child in their younger years will identify with June on some level. She is a dreamy girl who prefers fantasizing about the middle ages to living in the real world. She is at her happiest when she escapes deep into the woods, far enough from civilisation that she can pretend it doesn't exist and she really has gone back in time. She has no real friends bar her Uncle, and her sister Greta is apparently dedicated to tormenting her. At just 14 years old, June already seems to be on the tipping point of completely withdrawing into herself, and my heart was aching for her. On the other hand I admired her sense of wonder and imagination and so much. For this reason I loved the introduction of dungeons & dragons fan Ben. He doesn't have a large role but, by declaring her fascination with all things old timey cool rather than weird, he shows that she doesn't have to enjoy it entirely in isolation.

Greta is also a very interesting character. At first she seems to be just a cardboard cut-out "mean older sister", but her unpleasantness towards June is not at simple as all that. With each turn of the page cracks begin to appear in her seemingly perfect life, and we see that she may not be entirely to blame for the deterioration of the close friendship they had when young. I felt a lot of sympathy for her by the end. Carol Rifka Brunt also explores another sibling relationship: that of Finn and June's mother, Danni. Whilst it goes some way to explaining Danni's pushy and controlling nature, it wasn't quite enough to make me like her.

This is not a happy book, but it is not thoroughly depressing either. It speaks of grief, loneliness and the unspeakable unfairness of life, but there is also hope; the suggestion that maybe we don't have to be so alone, after all. It's been a month or two since I read Tell the Wolves I'm Home yet I still find my mind wandering to certain characters and events within it. The raw, messy realness of it makes this a tale which won't be easily forgotten.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

REVIEW: The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson

When I was little my favourite film was E.T. I loved it so much that at one point I insisted on watching it every single day. Needless to say, my family were soon sick of it, but apparently I was a difficult child to bore. I never got tired of watching that movie and a while later, when I learned to read, I was exactly the same with books.

Whenever my current stack of library loans was exhausted, out would come the favourites. Harry Potter, The Hobbit and His Dark Materials were all very well-thumbed. I could never get tired of diving back into those worlds, drinking up the details I might have missed before and greeting the characters like old friends. And I'm definitely not alone in that! But there are some books which, whilst they're absolute classics in my eyes, don't seem to get quite the attention they deserve out in the wide world.

so, to finally reach the point of this rambling introduction, I decided to revisit and review one of my childhood treasures: The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson.

Synopsis (Goodreads)
The magic in the Valley is dying.
In the forest, the cedar trees whisper the news. The age-old spell can no longer protect the land from its enemies.
Four companions must find the sorcerer who conjured the ancient power. He has not been seen for centuries, hidden in the dark heart of an evil Empire. Their journey is desperately dangerous, and the travellers are shadowed by a mysterious figure. Is the shape-changing Ropemaker their ally? Or a deadly enemy? And does he command the deepest magic of all? That weaves and unweaves the great rope that is time itself...

Our heroine, Tilja, lives in a small community isolated from the rest of the world by impassable mountains and a forest which strikes down all men who enter with a mysterious sickness. This is a miraculous boon for the people of the valley, as it allows them to live in peace, protected the cruel empire which lies beyond. However, as we enter the story the legendary magic of the forest is failing and danger looms. To save the valley, Tilja and her companions (a boy called Tahl and interestingly, their grandmother and grandfather respectively) must venture beyond it, in search of the magician who cast the original spell of protection. The hunt takes them into a tyrannical realm where magic is real but strictly regulated, and you cannot even die special without permission from the emperor.

Though The Ropemaker takes place in a fantasy world, the focus is very much on the characters rather than the backdrop (although this doesn't mean the setting isn't both well thought out and compelling- it is!). I fell in love with nearly everyone in this book, especially the grandparents, Meena and Alnor. Having two elderly characters playing such an active role in a YA novel is so refreshing. And then there is Calico. She may just be a pony, but with her cantankerous personality she as memorable as any of her human companions (And I'm a real sucker for books which treat animals as significant, rather than background props).

I must have journeyed with Tilja and co. at least 10 or so times over the years, so I feel qualified enough to recommend this book unreservedly. It's original and highly readable, whether you are exploring the twists and turns for the first time or gleefully anticipating them.