Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 978 0 5750 9085 9
Category: fantasy/supernatural
Rating: YA

Is love enough to complete you?

Mary, the story's protagonist, exists in a post apocalyptic world where most of humanity have become a zombie race known as the Unconsecrated. Living in a small isolated village, and believing themselves to be the last of the unturned, Mary and her people live under the rule of a sacred Sisterhood. The Sisterhood are tasked with protecting this surviving pocket of humanity, keeping order and unbeknown to the villagers guarding a few deep and dark secrets. Mary has been raised with her mother's tales of the ocean, a vast and salty expanse of water of which the only evidence was a photo now long since lost in a village fire. When Mary’s mother is bitten and subsequently infected she chooses to become one of the Unconsecrated instead of being killed. This puts in place a chain of events for Mary that has her challenge the rules of her village, the ways of the sisterhood and ultimately her entire way of life. Mary soon embarks on a path of discovery, to discover the answers to the secrets, to discover herself and to discover this mythical ocean told to her by her mother.

Let’s start with what I liked about this book. It was engaging, it had good pacing and that ‘it’ factor which prevents you from putting it down. It’s a refreshing break from the onslaught of Vampire books flooding the YA market right now, still has that supernatural element that brings all the fantasy lovers to the yard yet delivers something outside the box. It’s also good to see a zombie book aimed at girls. Much like the immensely popular The Hunger Games this book requires its Heroine to fight for her life in a dystopia where no protection will be afforded to you just because you’re a frail teenage girl. No strapping werewolf or sparkly vampire steps up to the plate to rescue and protect her. Mary does pretty much all the stunt work herself.

The first person narrative worked and it didn’t. It seems to be the in thing in YA fiction right now and to be honest it’s just not my cup of tea so I may have a built in prejudice. It had its places where it worked, particularly at the start of the book. The abrupt tone and brevity of the sentences worked to show us Mary’s grief and numbness. Though as the book wore on her continuing in this style had the effect of casting Mary as rather distant and unsympathetic in character. It also prevented us from seeing inside any other characters heads and as Mary turned out to be a little on the shallow side I could have done with the variety.

Overall I just wasn't feeling it for the main protagonist of this book. She came off as immature to bordering on mentally deficient in some parts. There was one scene where Mary and the object of her affections Travis were holed up in a house on a platform, because zombies can’t climb apparently. Isolated and alone with your true love, a horde of flesh eating zombies literally pressing in at your door and what does Mary do? Does she make the most of their confinement and use the time to develop their relationship? Does she put her head together with him and perhaps devise a clever escape plan? No to both. Mary locks herself in the attic day after day and broods. She sulks, she feels sorry for herself, she’s morose to the extreme. She plays dress up with some frilly frocks she finds in a trunk and has an epic emo moment where she writes her feelings out on notepaper, attaches them to arrows and then shoots them into the heads of the amassing zombie horde.

Mary came across as having very little compassion for anyone other than herself. People gave up their lives for her, Travis, her brother, even Harry would have risked all for her safety yet all Mary was interested in was seeing the Ocean. Despite hundreds of zombies and their unrelenting objective to eat her brains Mary still found time to sulk due to having her feelers hurt by pretty much all of the characters at some point in the story. Dear Mary, get over yourself.

Throughout the book Ryan tried to set up a love triangle between Mary and the two brothers Travis and Harry. She failed horribly. The romance had no development. As there was little in the way of character development there was no real interest in seeing either brother win her affections. We are told in a few sentences they grew up together. That’s the extent of the history you get on them. No explanation as to why they both find her so alluring or vice versa, other than Travis has nice eyes. Considering the underpinning theme of this book is seeking your own destiny and not settling for safe, combined with how pointless the love triangle was when all was said and done, then I have to wonder why she bothered at all. It seemed to be a redundant plot bunny that went nowhere.

Very few of the characters had any real depth, I felt no connection to them, they almost all had walk on parts. Character development was on the thin side in this book.

My main critique of the book was that there was just not enough information to make this universe plausible. What information we were given left more questions or seemed too improbable to be believable. Like how they made clothes, where they obtained reading and learning material, how they avoided incest. The books Mary came across on her journey all seemed so old that they disintegrated to dust so what were they using to learn from back at the village, because they weren't illiterate. Surely they would have the same aged literature as elsewhere so unless they were producing their own books you would assume the villages paper products where fast becoming dust too. If they produced their own where were did they obtaining fresh ink and paper from? Did they even have a printing press? Did they have any industrial machinery? The whole isolated tiny village thing with no outside connection just didn't bode, there weren't enough details provided for it to be credible. It was little things like this that nagged me right through the book. I needed more details, more background information, more answers. I can only suspend my belief so far.

The zombies themselves didn't make sense either as far as zombies go. They walk around and exist just fine with limbs hanging off, bones sticking out, fingers broken off to stubs yet an arrow to the noggin kills them dead... again. Fire will kill them, drowning in a river kills them; an axe in the chest kills them.  The plot holes are glaring.

The most absurd condition of all was they are kept out of the village by a chain link fence. I realise zombies are not the cleverest supernatural creatures ever to be thought up but a chain link fence, that's it?

I found the ending to be very abrupt and unsatisfying and hardly an ending at all really, more like a lead in for the next book.

The moral of the tale; Is love enough to complete you? Will marriage and babies and the love of a man make you happy? If not don’t settle. Get out there and follow your dream. Get off the beaten path and make your own way… even if there are hungry zombies after your brains.

3 out of 5

Review: Manhattan Dreaming by Anita Heiss

Title: Manhattan Dreaming
Author: Anita Heiss
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 9781741668926
Category: chick lit, aboriginal
Rating: M for adult themes

The premise of this book is this: a young, black (I'm talking Australian black, btw - so Aboriginal) woman gets offered a job in New York City and moves to get over a heartbreak. Who is a young, black woman moving to NYC because she's done with Australia (see: always being let down)? Let me give you a hint, she has two thumbs and is writing this here blog.

After picking it up, I told Andrea about it and she said "Is she writing your life story?" because honestly, based on the blurb it is just that. But see, this is where things get interesting. I have a friend that is Lauren, she dates a man she knows is no good for her, but she continues to stay with him. I have the gang of great girlfriends, I have the supportive parents. So this book should resonate with me, right? Well, no it didn't.

My main failing is that I feel it is trying too hard to be something it isn't. I felt I was getting continually hit over the head with "LOOK AT ME, I'M LIKE CARRIE BRADSHAW/BRIDGET JONES BUT I'M BLACK. I'M BLACK. I LISTEN TO BLACK MUSIC, I WORK WITH BLACK PEOPLE, I AM BLACK BLACK BLACK". To me, my culture is so within me I don't feel I have to continually hit people over the head with it. I use the word tidda (it is my best friend's nickname), I wrote a thesis on Aboriginal identity in Hip Hop music, I get it.

This has all the makings of something great - a heroine who is funny, she's going on an adventure to find herself - but it lacks, well, something. I relate more to Bridget Jones - a thirty something, white, Londoner - than I do to this Aboriginal woman who lives a life that is similar to my own. The ending is trite, and we after a whole novel where we are told that Lauren hates being stereotyped, she does the same thing to bring us an ending that literally made me roll my eyes. I'd say this was some clever post modern take on the way Aboriginal people are portrayed in society and how that intersects with how they live their life - but I don't think this book is that deep.

2 out of 5.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Review: The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet

Title: The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet
Author: Colleen McCullough
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 978 0 7322 8724 5
Category: historical fiction, pastiche
Rating: M for adult themes

I'm an unashamed Austenite. So an Australian author, writing a Pride and Prejudice sequel should be good right? Wrong!

I picked this book up thinking that it would be a way for my sick self to pass some time over this weekend. I only got fifteen pages in when I knew this book was not for me. This was the quote where I knew this would not end well:

It was a vile thing, he thought, to marry beneath one's station, no matter how great the love or how tormenting the urge toconsummate that love. And it had not been worth the pain.

I'm sorry, but has McCullough read Pride and Prejudice? I get that this is a sequel to the original, but within fifteen pages there are two character assassinations. Firstly, Darcy is this man who married Lizzy (it is implied) because he wanted to get his rocks off, and secondly Lizzy comes across as this woman who is so unhappy with her husband - but will not tell him. Lizzy Bennet would never hold her tongue where Darcy was concerned. She told him what she thought of him when they were not attached - do you actually believe that when she was married to him and safe in their union she would hold her tongue?

Also, Darcy has everyone, everyone, call him Fitz. Yeah.

So the main story is not about Lizzy and Darcy - and quite frankly I wish she just would have killed them off - but about Mary Bennet. Let me break this down into fan fiction terms: Mary is quite literally a Mary Sue, Lizzy and Darcy are OOC and this book is DNW.

Mary writes a treatise on the poor and then travels around being all feminist and shite. Her ideals clash with Fitz's (I shall call him that because he doesn't deserve to be called Darcy), and meets some radical Scotsman who backs her up - DUN DUN DUN. There is a stupid plotline with Darcy's dad, as well. It is so, so bad. It isn't historically accurate at all, either.

I was about to spoil the ending, but you might want to read this. I think McCullough needs to stick with dirty bird priests and leave the sequels to those who can bring depth to Austen's characters - not make them totally unrecognisable.

1 out of 5.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale Review

"A birth is not really a beginning. Our lives at the start are not really our own but only the continuation of someone else's story."

I've just finished The Thirteenth Tale and really enjoyed it.
It contained a lot of the elements I enjoy, it was a story about stories, a book about books, it was timeless and well written, engaging, suspenseful, gothic and a little creepy. It dealt with siblings and twins, familial bonds and dark family secrets. There were ghosts and skeletons, literally. References to classic literature, medical studies, knitting, gardening, fanciful imagination's. Pretty much hit all my buttons in one.

It is the story of Vida Winter and her desire to have her true life story recorded before she dies. Until now Ms Winters story has been a patchwork of lies and fictions that suited and amused her. For as many biographies on her life that exist so do as many stories.

"I've nothing against people who love truth. Apart from the fact that they make dull companions."

Vida Winter chooses Margaret Lea, a biographer of the dead for the task after reading a paper she wrote on a couple of brothers. Margaret lives above an antique book shop filled with stories of the long since deceased and this is where she feels at home in spirit as well as in body. She has never read any of Vida Winters modern books despite the fact she is lauded as one of the most prolific and well read authors in the UK. To familiarise herself with her works before she decides to accept the task of recording Ms Winters story she takes a rare book from her fathers collection called Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, the book hooks her in but she is disconcerted to discover the book only contains twelve tales. which is also what makes this edition so rare. The Thirteenth Tale was never included in the original so it was recalled and renamed, however to the public the Thirteenth Tale, much like Vida Winter herself still holds a strong fascination and curiosity.
Margaret agrees to write the biography and soon falls under the spell of the story, as do we the reader. Vida's story is a dark tale of mental illness, abandonment, siblings, twins, sisters, lust, ghosts and murder. The more Margaret is drawn into it the more her own dark secrets and tragedies come to the surface and both Margaret and Vidas stories contain threads and elements that weave them both together. One story sitting on top of another.

The writing is beautiful, the themes although dark are not graphic or abhorrent, much is alluded too but the picture it draws in the mind is very clear. The book is full of quote worthy quips and set in a timeless era where one is left wondering if you are reading classic literature set in modern day or modern literature about a time gone by.

"Politeness. Now there's a poor man's virtue if ever there was one. What's so admirable about inoffensiveness, I should like to know. After all, it's easily achieved. One needs no particular talent to be polite. On the contrary, being nice is what's left when you've failed at everything else. People with ambition don't give a damn what other people think about them."

Hush, Hush Review

This is another book I bought solely on the pretty cover. When will I learn.

Very Twilightesque in its format. Another female protagonist I couldn't quite muster up much enthusiasm for and at many a point felt like smacking her around a bit.

Is biology class the teen equivalent of a singles bar? Why are all these kids hooking up in Bio. What's wrong with economics class is what I want to know.

Some good UST between Nora and Patch. Patch is fairly hot and to be honest the only thing that kept me reading. I may have developed a little bit of a crush on this character.

A few good quotes within the text.

"My daughter got implants. She said she did if for herself, but what woman gets boobs for herself? They are a burden. She got the boobs for a man. I hope you do not do stupid things for a boy Nora."

"“You smell good, too,” said Patch

“It’s called a shower.” I was staring straight ahead. When he didn’t answer, I turned sideways. “Soap. Shampoo. Hot water.”

“Naked. I know the drill.”

Overall a quick and entertaining read for a slow and boring day but not something I'd be likely to reread.

Review: The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press
ISBN: 978 0 4390 2348 1
Category: science fiction, fantasy
Rating: YA

At last a heroine I can love. Katniss Everdeen is no Mary Sue, and thank god. I have had about enough of those watery, insipid female leads to last a life time. This girl is a survivor. You get a good picture of her character, her motivations, her thinking. She is a normal girl put in extraordinary circumstances trying the best she can to survive both for herself and her family.

This is one of those 'read in a day' books because you can't abandon the story for medial things like cooking meals and basic hygiene (Spell check thought my misspelling of this so bad it suggested I meant aborigine. MAKES NO SENSE) practices. You have to know what happens next, how the mini arc's play out, if they survive or if they perish.

There are many things about this book that will appeal to many types of readers I think. I like well developed characters and interactions but not at the expense of plot, this book balances both. There's the surface appeal of the Team Gale vs Team Peeta if you are character driven and enjoy the developing potential of a love triangle. Love vs Survival. Then there is the deeper appeal of the plot and the politics and injustices of war and theoretical post apocalyptic civilization.

Taking place in a much altered and devastated future USA now called Panem a yearly televised games show takes place called The Hunger Games. Every district has a lottery, where one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen are chosen to participate as tributes from their respective districts. The book follows Katniss and her partner Peeta as they fight to the death against 22 others in a hostile and manufactured arena until there is only one survivor.

I mean it's a winning formula, the reality show Survivor shows us this. What are they up to now, their 2oth season or something? People want to see other people struggle. Weed out the weak, flush out the strong. Only the cleverest and the fittest survive.

Take that immeasurable successful game show and marry it with real life war, murder, hunting, actual lord of the flies survival in a hostile terrain, all against the backdrop of blossoming teen romances, and you have The Hunger Games.

4 out of 5
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