Review: Zombies – More Recent Dead

Posted on January 25th, 2015 @ 14:20
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Zombies: More Recent DeadZombies: More Recent Dead by Paula Guran

My rating:

Summary:

The living dead are more alive than ever! Zombies have become more than an iconic monster for the twenty-first century: they are now a phenomenon constantly revealing as much about ourselves – and our fascination with death, resurrection, and survival – as our love for the supernatural or post-apocalyptic speculation. Our most imaginative literary minds have been devoured by these incredible creatures and produced exciting, insightful, and unflinching new works of zombie fiction. We’ve again dug up the best stories published in the last few years and compiled them into an anthology to feed your insatiable hunger…

Review:

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

Anthologies are always difficult for me to rate—so many different stories, so many authors, and you know you’re bound to find very good pieces, and some you don’t like at all. As far as collections go, this one about zombies was a fairly good one, all in all, that I would rate a 3.5 to 4 stars.

(Also, the time I spend reading a book is usually a good indicator of my interest in it, but in this case, it doesn’t apply. I was reading a couple of other zombie-themed books in the meantime, and I preferred to go slow, rather than eat too much of the same thing at once. pun totally intended, of course.)

My favourites:
- “Iphigenia in Aulis”: the story that spun “The Girl With All The Gifts”, so no surprise here. Reading this “first draft” was interesting, even though I liked the novel better (since it was more developed).
- “The Naturalist”: nasty and vicious undertones here.
- “What Maisie Knew”: a dark and twisted take on what use zombies can be. Somehow it also made me think of “Lolita”, probably because of the way the narrator views himself?
- “The Day the Music Died”: a manager trying to cover up that his money-making rock-star is actually dead. This one had a twisted, funny side that spoke to me. Don’t ask me why.
- “The Death and Life of Bob”: how zombies are not necessarily what you expect… and how dark and narrow-minded humans can be, too.
- “Jack and Jill”: parallels between the zombies and a child who’s sick with cancer and already a “living dead”, in that he knows he probably won’t stay in remission for long. (The fact that *I* actually enjoyed a story with cancer in it is mind-boggling, and speaks of how it managed to make me forget my own fears in that regard.)
- “The Gravedigger of Konstan Spring”: a remote little town where people don’t seem to stay dead for long. Disturbing, strange, quirky, and full of moments when I wondered to which extent the inhabitants would go to keep their gravedigger.
- “Chew”: disturbing not for its take on zombies, but for what actual human beings can do to other human beings.
- “What We Once Feared”: another story bent on revealing how bleak human nature can be, and how dire situations can reveal the worst in people.
- “Aftermath”: the title says it all. How people manage and how life gets back on track slowly after the cure to the zombie-virus has been found. Disturbing aspects about what killing those “zombies” actually meant.
- “Love, Resurrected”: a dark fantasy tale of sorcery, necromancy, and of a woman who has to keep battling even after the flesh has left her bones.
- “Present”: sad and touching in a terrible way.
- “Bit Rot”: when a zombie story collides with science-fiction of the space-travelling kind. The reason behind the “bit rot” was a nice change for me.

OK stories:
- “The Afflicted”: I liked the idea behind it (the elderly ones only falling ill… alas, everybody’s doom to grow old), but it deflated a bit after a while.
- “Becca at the End of the World”: the last hour of a teenager. However, it was a little too short to be as powerful as it could be IMHO.
- “Delice”: not one I’ll remember for long, but nice to read
- “Trail of Dead”: good concept, but I’m not too sure of the apprentice’s part in that (it seemed unfocused).
- “Stemming the Tide”: a little weird, though also poetic in its own way.
- “Those Beneath the Bog”: the curse on a lake, and how old folk tales shouldn’t be discarded. Perhaps a wee bit too long, though.
- “What Still Abides”: very, very weird, in that it tries to emulate Old English grammar. I can’t make up my mind about it, but overall, it still felt strange in a sort of good way for me.
- “In The Dreamtime of Lady Resurrection”: beautiful and dreamy. Not exactly a zombie story, though.
- “‘Til Death Do Us Part”: not exactly original, still enjoyable. A wife comes back from the grave, and her family tries to keep her with them.
- “The Harrowers”: the narrator’s name kind of tiped me about the ending, however it remained interesting.
- “Resurgam”: a good idea that unfortunately ended up in two storylines not meshing up together well. I still liked the Victorian narrative, though.
- “A Shepherd of the Valley”: a bit predictable.
- “The Hunt: Before and The Aftermath”: I wasn’t sure at first where this one was going, but it had interesting insights into revenge in general.

The ones I didn’t like:
- “Dead Song”: I didn’t care for the actor-narrating-story approach. Another one might have worked better, because there was a good idea behind it.
- “Pollution”: I like Japanese culture, but the tropes were too heavy-handed here.
- “Kitty’s Zombie New Year”: forgettable, I didn’t really see the point to this story.
- “Selected Sources for the Babylonian Plague of the Dead”: the narrative style didn’t do it for me at all here. Which is really too bad, because the different setting made for quite interesting grounds.
- “Rocket Man”: I don’t know if it was meant to be comical or not. It didn’t leave much of an impression (but then, I’m not too interested in base-ball for starters, which doesn’t help).
- “I Waltzed with a Zombie”: I couldn’t push myself to get interested in it, I don’t know why. I neither adore nor terribly dislike Hollywood B-movie settings in general, so maybe it was the narrative that didn’t grab me.

Note: A couple of stories are actually in poetic form, which makes them harder to rate (yes, including Neil Gaiman’s one).

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Review: Wish You Weren’t

Posted on January 21st, 2015 @ 15:21
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Wish You Weren'tWish You Weren’t by Sherrie Petersen

My rating:

Summary:

Marten doesn’t believe in the power of wishes. None of his have ever come true. His parents ignore him, his little brother is a pain and his family is talking about moving to Texas. Not cool. So when he makes an impulsive wish during a meteor shower, he doesn’t expect it to make any difference.

Until his annoying brother disappears.

With the present uncertain and his brother’s future in limbo, Marten finds himself stuck in his past. And if he runs out of time, even wishes might not be enough to save the ones he loves.

Review:

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

A quick and entertaining read, that could appeal to a lot of middle-graders, especially the first-borns who (like me *wink* *wink*) found themselves “trapped” at 11-12 with a younger sibling they had to be responsible for, and burdened with the feeling that life was so unfair. Seriously, even 20-odd years later, I could still relate, remembering how that was the way I felt towards my own sister at the time. A book that can appeal to older readers through the chasm of time, well, isn’t that something?

The story was sometimes pretty bizarre, and I suppose I would’ve liked some parts to be better explained (let’s just say Tör isn’t the most straightforward character when it comes to answering questions). It may or may not be a problem, in that having such answers doesn’t really matter in the end, but not having them made things a little confusing, so it’s a tie here. For instance, I would’ve liked to see more of the watches, how exactly they worked, etc: not essential to the story and the message it conveys… but still something that would titillate my curiosity. The shooting stars part felt confusing somewhat confusing, and a couple of points (such as, people able to see the characters when they weren’t supposed to) were maybe too easily chalked out to “things aren’t working as intended”, without anything to support the why and how behind it.

The characterss reactions weren’t always the most clever, to be honest. However, being 12 and stranded and without any advice to go by, I guess you can’t help but making mistakes. I wouldn’t have forgiven this is an older character; I could forgive Marten, though, all the more because he also realised soon enough how exactly he felt about his brother, whose “fault” things were, and because he grew up in the process, becoming more understanding of the people around him.

This book is also interesting for its bits of astronomy: not too many, nothing impossible to understand for a younger reader, and at the same time this is something that could make one look further (which is also why the book provides links at the end, towards various websites about the Hubble telescope and other astronomy-related themes).

In short: a pretty sweet novel, with a few holes, but nonetheless enjoyable for younger readers.

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Review: The Silence of Six

Posted on January 20th, 2015 @ 20:04
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The Silence of SixThe Silence of Six by E.C. Myers

My rating:

Summary:

“What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?”

These are the last words uttered by 17-year-old Max Stein’s best friend, Evan: Just moments after hacking into the live-streaming Presidential debate at their high school, he kills himself.

Haunted by the image of Evan’s death, Max’s entire world turns upside down as he suddenly finds himself the target of a corporate-government witch-hunt. Fearing for his life and fighting to prove his own innocence, Max goes on the run with no one to trust and too many unanswered questions.

Max must dust off his own hacking skills and maneuver the dangerous labyrinth of underground hacktivist networks, ever-shifting alliances, and virtual identities — all while hoping to find the truth behind the “Silence of Six” before it’s too late.

Review:

(I got an ARC through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

3.5 stars, because the book wasn’t without faults. In fact, I’d probably give it 4 stars in other circumstances—that is, if I didn’t know a lot to the online world, computers in general, and hackers. Some parts I found to be too “didactic”, which would be good for a reader with a less technological background, yet tended to become annoying after a while (I really don’t need to be taught what a DDoS attack is). However, this is a “it’s not you, it’s me” kind of fault, and I don’t doubt it’s precisely what would help another person enjoy the story more.

The events in the last third of the book also seemed to move just a tad bit too fast, making things somewhat confusing. I guess I would have liked to see more hide and seek there? Or a different approach? It’s actually hard to tell. I just know that I went “huh?” in a couple of places.

I liked the main characters, the ways they went through to meeting, and how they generally thought of clever little tricks to avoid being noticed (how to trick facial recognition software, etc.). Perhaps their relationship was a little forced, but it didn’t matter that much within the flow of the story.

The reflections the book leads to when it comes to social media and their impact on our lives, were interesting as well. So many people use their real names on such media, handing out very specific information, without realising that it could be exploited. Reminding this to younger readers (middle-schoolers, the “YA crowd”…) is certainly not a bad idea at all. Anyway, the use of social media, through the giant “Panjea”, was both a reminder and a wink, and I appreciate that kind of things.

Overall, it was a light, fast-paced read that could be quite enjoyable for a lot of readers. Had I been “younger” (less experienced, with less computer/online knowledge than I have now), I’d probably have given it 4 stars.

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Review: The Girl on the Train

Posted on January 10th, 2015 @ 14:41
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The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

My rating:

Summary:

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

Review:

(I got an ARC through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

3.5 to 4 stars. Perhaps not the most original thriller ever for someone who’s read a lot of such books already, but for me—since I seldom read that genre—it was an interesting story. Guessing who the culprit is turned out to be relatively easy, but this book is of the kind where the whodunnit doesn’t really matter: it’s how it happened, how and why the person got there, that is the most important part. The fact that the narrators are all more or less unreliable, especially Rachel, also add to the confusion, in a good way.

The story is told in first person, from three women’s points of view, and each of those give a different insight and different sorts of tidbits, allowing to piece things together gradually. They’re all flawed protagonists in their own ways, and this can be seen as either annoying or fascinating, depending on where you stand on the matter. Sometimes, they seemed pretty weak and clingy (as in, being unhappy about their lives but not exactly doing much to change things); on the other hand, I guess we all know that big changes in general aren’t so easy to enact as it sounds, and so those protagonists are both relatable and slightly grating, because they might force us to face some problems of our own. (Had I read this book during another period in my life, I might have been uneasy, feeling like I was confronted with things I should be doing, but wasn’t.)

Whether one ends up liking or disliking the protagonists doesn’t really matter, because it’s clear they aren’t meant to be a hundred percent likeable, and that their roles are never all black or all white. Rachel’s alcohol problem and disturbing voyeuristic side (watching people from the train, imagining what their lives may be, then wanting to make her own place in those lives…). Anna who acts all righteous but who still was the proverbial bull in a chine-shop. “Jess” whose boredom is understandable, but who also twists truths in her own narrative. “Jason” who may not be such the perfect husband. And so on.

I would probably not call this book “the next Gone Girl“, though… but then, I don’t like comparing novels in general in such a way. This one stands on its own.

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Review: The Sunken

Posted on December 31st, 2014 @ 17:26
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The SunkenThe Sunken by S.C. Green

My rating:

Summary:

In the heart of London lies the Engine Ward, a district forged in coal and steam, where the great Engineering Sects vie for ultimate control of the country. For many, the Ward is a forbidding, desolate place, but for Nicholas Thorne, the Ward is a refuge. He has returned to London under a cloud of shadow to work for his childhood friend, the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Deep in the Ward’s bowels, Nicholas can finally escape his strange affliction – the thoughts of animals that crowd his head. But seeing Brunel interact with his mechanical creations, Nicholas is increasingly concerned that his friend may be succumbing to the allure of his growing power. That power isn’t easily cast aside, and the people of London need Brunel to protect the streets from the prehistoric monsters that roam the city. King George III has approved Brunel’s ambitious plan to erect a Wall that would shut out the swamp dragons and protect the city. But in secret, the King cultivates an army of Sunken: men twisted into flesh-eating monsters by a thirst for blood and lead. Only Nicholas and Brunel suspect that something is wrong, that the Wall might play into a more sinister purpose–to keep the people of London trapped inside.

Review:

(I got an ARC through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

Interesting ideas, blending 19th-century industrial Britain with religious sects based on trades. It gave the world a slightly dystopian flavour, casting skewed shadows on its inhabitants’ motives and on the way things were run. Historical events were loosely respected and used (such as the king’s madness, or Brunel’s engines and railroads), but in a way that seemed believable enough to me. Same with historical personae: sure, some of them died before 1830 (the year the story’s set in), but I didn’t exactly care. I found it nice to see them play roles both similar and slightly different.

I remain torn regarding Holman’s narrative, though: good, because it played on other senses than sight; strange, because it was the only first person point of view, and while it somehow fits with what was left by the real Holman in our world, it was also surprising. (I most often tend to feel like that when such switches occur in novels: why the need to insert such a POV in the story, what is it meant to achieve, etc.) Not uninteresting, just… questionable in places.

The story as a whole didn’t grip me as much as I thought it would. The right ingredients are here, only not always used in a way that would keep my attention span steady (for instance, some things are repeated throughout the novel, whereas others are left as mere details that demanded to be fleshed out). The society described in this book is intriguing, however at times the reader has to piece bits together just a little too much for comfort. Nothing terrible, just sometimes tiring after a while. (On the other hand, I doubt I would have appreciated page after page of explanations, so I’m not going to whine too much about this.)

Not my love-love book of the year, however I may still decide to check the next book once it’s out.

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