Category Archives: review

Rot and Ruin – Jonathan Maberry

Published 2010 

Zombies, zombies, zombies. The literary world may be overrun, but personally this is the first young-adult book I’ve read featuring the bitey undead. I must say, I liked this take on the trope. Benny Imura was barely a toddler when the world ended. His first memory is of his now-zombie father going after his mother, while his half-brother just runs, carrying Benny away forever. He hates them both: the zombie monsters, and the coward brother. When Benny turns 15, his rations will be cut in half if he doesn’t find a job. Finally, exhausting all other options, Benny has no choice but to apprentice in the family business: zombie hunting. He loves the idea of killing zombies, but isn’t keen on doing it with his brother – both attitudes which are soon put to the test when he has to face the realities of life outside the protective walls of the town.

Maberry’s zombie-mythology is absolutely brilliant, and though the zombies never lose their inherent danger or scariness he allows the reader to pity the creatures for the humans they had once been. This is a crucial part of Benny’s growth as a character as well, and though the novel is action packed, it really is about his emotional journey and the choices he makes about the kind of person he wants to be.  To get back to the action though, there were some really dynamic scenes, with my favourite being the horse charge – from my experience you don’t often get them in zombie stories and it was just one of those small things which add to the uniqueness of the novel.

Were there some aspects of the novel I thought could have been executed better? Definitely. For instance, a clear idea of Tom’s age earlier in novel would have eased confusion over why Benny was so convinced he was a coward for not saving their mother. What flaws the novel does have are easily overlooked though, and I enjoyed the read very much. I’d certainly recommend it for anyone looking for a mixed-genre adventure.


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The Midnight Zoo – Sonya Hartnett

Published 2010

Sonya Hartnett is well regarded as one of Australia’s literary treasures, so it may come as a surprise to learn that before now I had never been able to finish one of her books. The Midnight Zoo is set in what is probably World War One, though the conflict is never specifically named, and follows two Romany brothers, Andrej and Tomas, as they with their infant sister stumble into a demolished village. Untouched by bombing, the only structure left in the town is a zoo, and the children’s story of loss and uncertainty is soon paralleled by that of the animals they come to befriend.

Much of the story is told through vivid flashbacks, recollections or dream sequences, which somehow seem to ground the work at the same time as emphasising those elements which give it the feel of a modern day fable. The boys’ separation from their parents is especially vivid amongst the backdrop of a zoo full of talking animals.

Hartnett folds the more fantastical elements of the novel into the story seamlessly. The reader doesn’t question the existence of these things, especially in a world which has already been turned upside down, although I do question the wisdom of introducing the ‘horseman of night’ when he doesn’t do anything except interrupt the narration occasionally.

This novel has an incredibly deft touch with prose. The language is smooth, and lyrical and the story simple, yet effective. Though the novel does use some vocabulary which may be tricky for more inexperienced readers, it just begs to be read aloud.

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Airman – Eoin Colfer

So during my last semester at university I decided to do a class on recreational literature for young people. One of the major assignment was to keep a reading journal of ten young adult/children’s books. They list of books had to have been published 2008 or later unless permission was granted, and I needed to have some internal theme  or guideline to what I was picking. I decided I wanted to read books with boy protagonists, as I felt I hadn’t read many in a while. I’ll be posting the small reviews in dribs and drabs, but here is the first*: ‘Airman’ by Eoin Colfer.

Eoin Colfer’s ‘Count of Monte Cristo’-like offering is as different from his famed Artemis Fowl series as chalk is to cheese. Set at the turn of the 20th century, in the middle of man’s race to flight, the novel follows young Conor Broekhart. Raised alongside the Princess of the tiny island sovereignty he lives in, Conor and his tutor are obsessed with cracking the secret to machine powered flight. This idyllic life is shattered completely when the King is murdered, and Conor framed for the crime. Sentenced to life imprisonment on the notorious island prison and diamond mine of Little Saltee, the only way Conor can survive is by dreaming of his escape, and planning his first flight.

It took me a few pages to adjust to the language in the novel, which has an authentic, almost formal feel to correspond with the time it is set.  Colfer’s writing also includes some delightfully witty turns of phrase, which provoked a smile even in some of the most dreadful and dire situations.

Our dashing hero is really put through the ringer in this story, and yet his cleverness and tenacity make the reader love him even more.  Conor is a nuanced and carefully fleshed out character, and though he doesn’t always make the right decisions you really ache for him to win, even if winning means running away. Even the criminals of the piece are well drawn, and perhaps could have gotten away with their crimes had they not been blind to their own fatal flaws.

Perhaps this book is appropriate for more experienced readers than its placement in the junior (younger children) section of the library would suggest, due to the complicated vocabulary and frankly grim prison scenes, however I could see a precocious younger reader enjoying the book as well.

I really could not be more impressed with this book if I tried, especially given it was an impulse read.

*The first as listed in my diary, but I arranged them alphabetically and now can’t remember what order I actually read the books in.

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Seven Wonders – Adam Christopher

Warning: this may be the most scattered review I’ve posted yet, and that’s saying something. Some real life stuff has been exciting and scary, and distracting as all hell. More on that at some later date.

This is the second book I’ve read by Adam Christopher, and  I enjoyed it much more than the first. Again, I picked this ARC up from Angry Robot, and the blurb was the main reason. It hooked me straight in; see for yourself:

Tony Prosdocimi lives in the bustling Metropolis of San Ventura – a city gripped in fear, a city under siege by the hooded supervillain, The Cowl.
When Tony develops super-powers and acts to take down The Cowl, however, he finds that the local superhero team Seven Wonders aren’t as grateful as he assumed they’d be…

See, how awesome does this already sound?

Alright, ok, maybe it was just the words ‘superhero’ and ‘supervillain’ that hooked me, but they imply a certain level of action and adventure and Christopher delivers. I think though, what impressed me with this novel was how unlikable most of the characters were. It sounds weird, but I liked the fact that pretty much every single one of the mains had both redeeming, and truly shit qualities.

The first entrance of one of the main characters, a cop, has her putting civilian lives in danger, and standing back to watch someone get killed in a hostage situation in order to follow a vendetta against The Cowl. The leader of the Seven Wonders is somehow portrayed as smug, though there’s not much concrete evidence from what I can remember; his wife memory-wipes the police. I could go on. Their flaws add a sense of humanity to the cast of superheros, already far removed from the citizens they protect.

The novel was just fun, and some of the plot points Christopher introduced had me grinning, such as the revelation of where exactly Tony’s powers had come from, and what that meant. The scenes between Tony and his girlfriend were also among some of my favourites, injecting some levity into the action of the first half of the novel. Then of course, being a superhero story, things go to hell in sudden and unexpected ways. The reader also realises quite quickly that the superpowers have done more to Tony than give him flight – he’s inherited something a lot darker. To be honest, I felt this corruption plot-line was a bit too rushed, especially when considering the relatively slow pace to get there. When it was first introduced I was looking forward to a slow psychological reveal, but instead it was like a punch in the stomach, fast, but with lingering effects. I did find really interesting; however, how quickly the same effect makes itself known on another character in a similar, spoiler-ridden event.

The novel then quickly escalates the second main plot – the one with imminent peril to Earth, and blockbuster action sequences. Christopher blends the two plot-lines to some degree, but truthfully I felt a bit like I was reading two stories which had been smooshed together (though all the world building was done in the first half, so maybe that’s not entirely an apt description). The second half of the book is full of those big battles which I love, with strategic fighting formations and power combinations. Of course, as with all battle-plans, it goes awry the moment the enemy arrives,  and chaos ensues. It was innocuous parts of this second plotline which tickled my fancy: the scene in the conference room where the superheros are all meeting and discussing strategy for the first time, for example was really pretty fun.

The ending of the book felt like a natural culmination of what had come before, and left just a few questions unanswered to encourage reader imagination. I finished feeling that I had really enjoyed the book, but couldn’t put my finger on any one reason why, which is why all I could seem to do when sitting down to write this review was to niggle at the points which bothered me. I had discussed this book with a friend who has also read it, and being a lot more knowledgeable about comics than I am he suggested that some of the things which bothered me (pacing, for one example) were very true-to-form for the genre and were a nod to the comic world.

My friend also pointed out that there were a lot of in-jokes and homages, none of which I picked up on. So there you go, an enjoyable novel for someone with little-to-no comic knowledge, but potentially phenomenal for those who will read more into it.

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The Dead of Winter – Lee Collins

Another ARC from Angry Robot, this is the debut novel from Lee Collins. I can’t remember when I started reading this one, as I’ve since borrowed a bunch of library books which I always feel the need to get out of the way first. Nothing like the threat of late fines to rearrange your reading pile.

From the blurb:

Cora and her husband hunt things – things that shouldn’t exist.

When the marshal of Leadville, Colorado, comes across a pair of mysterious deaths, he turns to Cora to find the creature responsible. But if Cora is to overcome the unnatural tide threatening to consume the small town, she must first confront her own tragic past as well as her present.

I think if that’s all I’d had to go on, I may not have picked this one up, but I also knew from Angry Robot’s newsletter, that it was a western/fantasy/horror which really peaked my interest. I’m not a huge fan of horror in general but love westerns, which always remind me of Sunday afternoons sitting in front of the TV with Dad as a young girl, trying desperately to follow the plot of those long old movies starring John Wayne or his contemporaries. And as you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m pretty much in love with fantasy fiction.

Though the novel is written in third person, most of the action follows Cora. As a main character she fits this novel, and this setting, so well: she’s ballsy, brash, and hard-bitten in a way you imagine so many lone ranger types are. And yet, her fondness for her husband and his bookish ways give her enough softness to be likable.  Each of the supporting characters are individual, and easy to distinguish. I particularly liked the Sheriff, who, despite initially being skeptical about the existence of monsters, and the merits of hiring ‘monster hunters’, quickly comes to terms with the reality and learns to fight the terrors.

Collins really nails the balance between western and horror in the novel, with the plot moving at a slow boil punctuated by periods of intense action – this heightens the tension and suspense about the monster stalking the village. The slower pace (though at times a bit too slow for me, who is used to snappy urban-fantasy and YA) also lets the world building shine. The town and its surrounds are not overly described, with a standard sheriff’s office, brothel, bar, train station and assorted buildings, but the feel of the world comes from the characters which inhabit it, the way they speak, and the weapons they use. Though the creatures are familiar  Collins gives each of them a twist, and the monster which first assaults the town is as creepy as all hell. Something about the distortion of human limbs, and faces makes a creature even more scary than something which is entirely unfamiliar.

Unfortunately, the final confrontation with the monster from Cora’s past fell a little flat for me. Realistic, but anti-climatic, less because of the action than the lack of emotional resolution. Perhaps this is more to do with being used to genre tropes than anything, but after building up this monster, Collins doesn’t give Cora a big glorious battle. It’s hard to get into specifics without revealing too much, but when all’s said and done it feels more like putting down a dangerous animal than defeating an enemy. Going back to my being used to more fantasy tropes, it’s possible this end feeling is more consistent with a Western, posse and all. It was pretty realistic – I just wanted more.

In summary, though this book took me a while to finish, and there were parts I thought needed improvement, it was an enjoyable read, and I think a genre which could see a fair bit of growth. As a first novel it was extremely promising and since a sequel is to be released some time soon, it’ll be interesting to see how Collins continues to develop the world, and his writing. I think I remember that there’s a new young female character in the sequel, and I find myself curious to see if Cora will soften more, or if her Eastwood-like tendancies will continue to be a permanent character fixture.

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The Inexplicables – Cherie Priest

The Inexplicables is the fourth book in the Clockwork Centrury series written by one of my favourite authors, Cherie Priest (is it fair for me to say that when I haven’t read her other series? I’m going to say yes, because it’s my blog). I pre-ordered the book aaages ago, and set it aside to read over Christmas as a treat, then I got sidetracked by books which had expiration dates. Oops.

The Clockwork Century is set in a steampunk world , where the US civil war still rages in 1880 ( a fictional extension of the war, I gather, but at the time of writing this cannot [be bothered to] look it up). Away from the war, and 18 years in the past, an experimental burrowing device has released noxious Blight gas from the earth under the city of Seattle: Gas which makes people sick, and dead…. and then undead; gas which has caused the city to be walled up to prevent its spread; and, finally, gas which has been made into a weapon, and turned into drugs for men to fight over. For more info, read Boneshaker, the first novel.

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A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, as indeed I was before I picked up the novella. I had seen many adaptations of the classic Christmas tale, but had not read the book, not being a fan of ‘classics’ in general. Over the last year or two I’ve been trying to read  more classics, though it was not wanting to watch another adaptation which prompted me to make this one of my December reads (I mean, Jim Carey… come on!). I was also a bit grumpy to be working retail for another Christmas season, and thought maybe, just maybe, this book might induce the festive spirit to visit me.

Within a page, I was presently surprised by the humour Dickens brings to his writing, which is something I wasn’t expecting at all. This isn’t a funny book, but Dickens inserts wry asides, and occasionally breaks the fourth wall in order to make a point – which made me smile just about every time.

Only vaguely knowing about Dickens’ other works, I was expecting a weighty tome, something to be slogged through. I can’t say how long the story actually was, without some Googling but it felt quite brief on my e-reader. Dickens is big on the descriptive passages though, and I admit my eyes did just slide past some of them.

In terms of differences between the adaptations and the original, there weren’t as many as I thought there might be – perhaps because the source material was shorter, there is more room to elaborate, with little of the need to excise material. The main point of difference I noticed was that Scrooge was so much quicker to repent of his miserly ways. In fact, the last ghost was almost superfluous, with Scrooge not even having a real clue that the deceased person was him until he was taken to the grave. That particular scene took on an almost comical tone, as I knew what Scrooge didn’t as he was saying ‘what a black creature this man must have been to rate such talk about his death’ etc. etc.

Most of the other difference from the original in the retellings comes from the emphasis placed on different aspects of the novel, such as Scrooge’s childhood romance, and I can’t think of any I’ve seen which detract from the story.

I don’t know if I can say the book filled me with Christmas spirit, but I was a little less grumpy afterwards (this could also be attributed to having finished my shopping by that stage as well). I can certainly see why this has remained a seasonal favourite for so long and I’m glad I finally read it.


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