Archive for October, 2011


Happy Halloween!  I’ll try to get another seasonal book review up by the actual date, but I’m really busy these days.  Here’s a review of The Zombie Combat Manual by Roger Ma.

Statistics
Checkouts: Definitely not owned by the library (though I could see far too many of my war and weapons obsessed 3rd grade boys wanting it)
Typical reader: Zombie fans
Do the Dewey: 818.607 (miscellaneous modern writing)

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

According to the back cover of this book, most individuals will have to destroy this undead opponent without the aid of a firearm.  This is logical.  You’ll run out of bullets.  Your gun will jam.  You’ll wake up to find zombies breaking into your house and your gun will be out of reach.  What should you do?

You should read this book and be prepared to take on zombies with an assortment of melee weapons that are readily available and know how to fight at a variety of distances, as well as how far you need to run to get some down-time, the best infant protection/mobility options, and what’s fact and what’s fiction about the zombie plague.

I haven’t read other zombie survival guides, but this seemed like an excellent, well-rounded manual.  The anecdotes included are far superior to those in Max Brooks’ World War Z, because this book actually gives its characters flavor.  I was frustrated while reading World War Z because, while it was interesting for the history, it really lacked any differentiation between speakers.  A Texan would give an account with the exact same lexicon as a South African or a Japanese person.  The Zombie Combat Manual never had that problem.  The survivors’ stories were engaging and gave the book a decent plot, despite not being a novel.

The author really put a lot of thought into not only combat systems and survival tips, but also into how his zombies functioned and what happened in the zombie apocalypse.  The first chapter wastes no time in getting into the facts and myths about how zombies work.

If you’re worried about zombies, or need a good reference tool for writing your own zombies novels, this book is a must-read.

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Yay for YA: Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray

Back when I was in middle school, a cousin won her hometown’s beauty pageant.  I wasn’t there.  I was watching a glorious fight in a hockey game between Northern Michigan University and Ferris State University, which culminated in police officers breaking up the players amidst all sorts of gear strewn about the ice.  That pretty much sums up my experience with, and the value I put on, beauty pageants.

So what am I doing reviewing Beauty Queens by Libba Bray?

 Statistics
Checkouts: New to the library, courtesy of the Superiorland Preview Center
Typical reader: Teen girls

Synopsis: A plane carrying the 50 contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant and the camera crew malfunctions and crashes on an island in the middle of nowhere.  About a dozen girls survive the crash and must survive with little food and water, and nowhere near enough beauty products.  Will they manage?  And what is their sponsor, the Corporation, really up to?

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars, which may be generous

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that I’ve had such mixed feelings about.  There were times where I probably actually did do a facepalm.  “‘I’m Tiara with an A,’ said Miss Mississippi.”  And there were times when I laughed out loud.  I did not hate this book overall, but I really cannot say that I loved it by any stretch of the imagination.

The book was inconsistent in tone.  Beauty Queens was pretty obviously a satire of beauty pageants, desert island survival (this really felt like it was feeding off the popularity of the TV show Lost), consumerism, and pop culture in general.  I enjoyed the mixed metaphors, similes, and the quirky descriptions.  But it also had serious moments, and I felt that a good chunk of the middle of the book lacked humor.  Like many of the contestants, the book doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up.

Some characters were great.  I connected to Miss Michigan, despite her being from Flint, almost immediately, and felt that she was a strong, interesting character throughout the book.  Miss Nebraska had a very odd back-story that felt a bit hyperbolic, but her character really grew over the course of the book.  Then there were some characters who were somewhat fleshed out yet still two-dimensional, like Miss New Hampshire, the high school journalist/feminist who was in it just to do an expose, and Miss California, the second generation Indian-American who loved to win but didn’t really know who she really was.  I was flummoxed through most of the book over how several of the girls weren’t named beyond their states, yet had a bit of personality.  They were finally named with about 40 pages left to go, as if the author finally remembered to address the issue!  Argh.  Did we really need to wait so long to find out that all four were named Caitlin?

There’s a healthy dose of diversity in this novel.  Two girls are ethnic minorities, who know that they have extra work to make it big in the pageantry world.  For sexuality, there’s a lesbian, a bisexual, and a male-to-female former boy band star transgender in the competition.  I do also have to give the book credit for actually discussing and implementing safe sex in one scene after the reality TV pirates show up and woo some of the girls.  Safe sex doesn’t show up much in adult books, much less teen fiction.

I feel the need to address the end of the novel.  In some ways, it highlights how good and bad the book was in its entirety.  The adventure and plot ended satisfactorily.  However, the last few chapters were messy and confusing.  And when did the epilogue happen?  It seems like it’s a survivors’ reunion somewhat in the future, but maybe the stuff said was just speculation about what they would do in the future.  It was quite unclear and left me scratching my head.

Like a lot of satirical works, I don’t see this withstanding the tests of time.  Beauty pageants have been around a long time, but as I mentioned before, this book “works” a bit in part because of the popularity of the TV show Lost.  Boy band references will someday be passe, as will reality TV.  Dictator Momo B. Chacha was similar to Team America’s version of Kim Jong Il; the North Korean leader won’t be around forever.  But for now, maybe some people will enjoy this fluffy, somewhat snarky novel more than I did.

Last month, I’d gotten into a good rhythm of posting on Thursdays.  Having a consistent updating schedule for a blog is important, I’ve heard.  Readers can come to expect a post on a given day.  So of course, October comes and there goes my schedule.  For good reason, though.  I’ve gotten a new second job, and am working there three days a week.  With training and then actually working at it, I didn’t have time to either finish a book or make a post.

On to the book.  I really like fantasy novels, yet tend not to read them.  When one gets to the adult level of fantasy, one finds a plethora of massive tomes that tend to be in trilogies, courtesy of the trend started with how Lord of the Rings was published, or in lengthy series which may outlast the author’s life (see the Wheel of Time series).  It’s daunting.  And treasures at the YA level like Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series or the more recent Graceling by Kristin Cashore are few and far between, at least in my humble opinion.  So when I find a good fantasy novel, I savor them.  (Another reason why this post is late.)

Without further delay, let me present to you Star Crossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

Statistics
Checkouts: New to the library, courtesy of the Superiorland Preview Center
Typical reader: Fans of fantasy literature, upper elementary to higher grades

Synopsis: After a job goes very wrong and Digger is forced to run while her partner in crime and lover, Tegen, is captured and/or killed by the religious guard in Gerse, the capital city, she falls in with some nobles on a joyride on a boat out of the city.  She becomes the young Lady Merista’s maid and moves with the girl and her family to a mountainous, fortified castle far from the city and her troubles.  But trouble finds her, and she must not only use her cunning and thieving skills, but also choose sides in matters that could be leading to war.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars (4.5, really)

This book plops you right down in the middle of the action.  Digger, the protagonist and narrator, has just escaped from the guards who had interrupted a job where she and her partner/lover had been stealing documents.  What happened is slowly patched together while she changes into a disguise and looks to make her way out of the city.  Over the course of the book, you learn more and more about her, the world around her, and the political/religious conditions that are threatening to boil over.  Not every book can just set the reader into the thick of things and make it work.  Star Crossed works well, with plenty of intrigue, mystery, plotting, backstabbing, twists, and changes of heart.  It is, in a word, delicious.

Yeah, I’m one of “those.”

Digger is a classic rogue.  She makes me think of characters from Dungeons and Dragons games I’ve played.  She’s intelligent, cunning, dexterous, nimble-fingered, and a bit cocky.  And she has secrets.  Lots of secrets.  But then, apparently so do the rest of the characters, and she is going to do her darnedest to learn them, because she can’t help but break her rule of not getting involved – especially after she breaks another one, “Don’t get caught,” by the slimy Lord Remy Daul, foster brother to her lady’s father.  He blackmails her into doing his bidding, and she gets in over her head as he stews over old wrongs and a battle that happened before Digger was even born.

I love the effort Ms. Bunce put into the world.  The religions, politics, culture, and even the oaths and cursing are thought-out.  The realm of Llyvraneth is rich in all these, as well as in strong female characters – something fantasy novels often lack.  Now, if only I knew what this place looked like!  The biggest downfall of the book is the lack of maps.  While one could argue that illustrations of locations were not needed since the story only takes place in a few areas, I feel that it could have been much improved if I knew where the heck things were on a map.  Bryn Shaer, the living quarters of Merista Nemair’s family in the mountains, could have also been sketched out, as it’s pretty expansive and varied.

Overall, this was a great book.  It’s one that I can actually say that I felt like turning back to page 1 and starting over when I finished it.  I’m also greatly looking forward to the sequel, Liar’s Moon, due out next month and published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic.  If it shows up in the Scholastic book fair the school is having during parent teacher conferences, I shall dance.