Category Archives: Reviews

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

fohatIn Mary’s world there are simple truths.

The Sisterhood always knows best.

The Guardians will protect and serve.

The Unconsecrated will never relent.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan is the best zombie novel I have read in a long time! Set in a post zombie apocalypse world and narrated by Mary a young woman who is starting to question her place in the limited world of the village and the choices being made for her.

Every zombie-novel and film I have read or seen opens with the world in the throes of a zombie attack. This is the first novel I have read that takes place after the fact (or The Return as it is known in the world of The Forest of Hands and Teeth), where a group of survivors have built a village and thrived in their closed environment. The village life is run on theocratic lines by the Sisterhood who make up the ruling body and the Guardians who protect the village and maintain the fences. The villagers themselves do as they are told and on the whole are content. The portion of the novel set inthe village reminded me of M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Village with its inhabitants living with strict rules to keep them safe, with the one difference being that in this book the villagers often come face to face with the Unconsecrated at the fence, and sometimes they are the people that they have loved and lost.

The village has been protected and kept safe for generations, but as any lover of the zombie genre will know – no location is safe forever against the undead. Mary discovers that an outsider entered the village through the fenced pathways and is being sequestered by the Sisterhood. She later comes face to face with the woman and that is where everything changes. Forced to flee with her fiancee, the man she loves and his girlfriend plus her brother and sister in law, Mary hopes to reach the ocean and to finally be safe.

I loved The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and particularly enjoyed nods to other books and films contained within the pages – specifically the shambling zombies of the original Romero films and the running zombie from the remake. The world creation was fascinating, the tale hinted of other groups of survivors who for some time at least were in contact. Reference was made to The Return and I am hoping to find out more about this world when The Dead-Tossed Waves is released next year.

Vermonia: Quest for the Silver Tiger by Studio YOYO

At the centre of the universe, at the beginning and end of all creation, sits the planet of Vermonia, ruled by Queen Fransinella. All worlds including the fragile Blue Star, orbit around her, following pathways of the net between galaxies, wherein the Turtle Realm also lies.

Queen Frasinella’s reign of harmony is ending in civil war due to the betrayal of the commander of her army, General Uro. Hungry for personal power, he seeks the Queen’s sacred Bolirium, fighting his own twin brother, the Lord Boros to obtain it.

As the final battle rages and Lord Boros suffers defeat at the hands of his brother, Queen Frasinella gathers her four most trusted ministers. She uses her magic to transform them, then bids them to flee in order to safeguard the wisdom of her world and to work for its rebirth.

As her final sovereign act, Queen Frasinella summons from deep within her the four Veras of her Spirit; these four will be reborn on a distant planet as four warriors who will one day restore her reign of harmony

So begins Vermonia: Quest for the Silver Tiger a new manga title by Studio YoYo, published in the UK by Walker Books. It is the first in a series, for all ages and illustrated in the shonen style. Nevertheless Vermonia will have a broad appeal amongst girls as well as boys.

The heroes of this tale are four friends (Mel, Doug, Kim and Naomi), who after falling out at their skating hangout each have an identical dream about a boy being strangled by snakes and pleading for help. The next day Mel is kidnapped by Gazso an agent of the evil General Uro. The group leave earth with the aid of the magical Satorin, a Squelp (the obligatory cute manga mascot), and waste no time in trying to track Mel down to free her, and also, they learn, the planet of Vermonia.

I was thrilled (and surprised) to receive a copy of this book in the post. I had been shown some early proofs of Vermonia when I visited Walker Books late last year. From a purely aesthetic point of view the book is beautiful, published in the traditional Japanese style to be read from right to left, Walker Books has also followed the Japanese habit of giving it a dust jacket and a semi-rigid cover. The contents do not disappoint either, the artwork by artist Saki Uchida who was discovered by Akihuro Miyata, the editor and publisher who nurtured the talent of the extraordinary Haruki Murakami, is stunning. The story is gripping and provides a perfect set up to the future volumes that will follow. The only downside is that the book ends on a cliff-hanger and I want to know what happens next but volume two is still a few months away.

Strange Angels by Lili Saintcrow

strange angels

Dru Anderson has been “strange” for as long as she can remember. She travels from town to town with her father, hunting the things that go bump in the night and eat the unwary. It’s a weird life, but a good one–until it all explodes and a zombie busts into her new house.

Strange Angels is Lilith Saint Crow‘s first young adult novel, and tells the story of Dru Anderson, the daughter of a (monster) hunter. When her dad ends up dead she has to use hard-learned lessons and smarts to stay alive long enough to find out who killed him and who wants her dead.

Throwing werewolves and vampires into the mix with her preternaturally gifted heroine, Lilith hits most of the paranormal urban fantasy genre’s stererotypes There is nothing wrong with this as she has managed to craft an excellent story. Her teen characters are well written and believable (within the bounds of the story) and she weaves suspense and horror together well to tell a tale that will keep her YA readers attention throughout the story. The book is the first title in a series about Dru that will appeal primarily to teen girls although boys should also find it gripping. I am a bit out of her target market but I do love paranormal urban fantasy – the more adventure-oriented style, not really the para-romance that is so popular these days and Lili hit the nail on the head with this one (for me anyway). I am currently eagerly awaiting the second volume Betrayal – due out later this year.

The Reformed Vampire Support group by Catherine Jinks

rvsg
People often think that vampires live in decrepit old castles, or mausoleums, or sprawling mansions full of stained glass and wood panelling. Unfortunately that is not the case.

Nina is 15 years old (and has been since 1973) when she was attacked by a vampire.Her life since then has been one of suffering from the effects of vampirism, living with her mother, fanging guinea pigs and every Tuesday attending the Reformed Vampire Support Group meetings. The group is composed of all the surviving vampires in Australia – including the vampire that originally brought the infection from Europe.

The Groups’ carefully ordered lifestyle is thrown into disarray by the staking of the oldest vampire among them. What follows is a desperate search by committee that will bring them face to face with a terrified slayer; into contact with the brutal world of werewolf fighting as well as Nina’s acceptance of being a vampire as well as finding a greater meaning to life (and love) after death.

I love monster stories and have a particular fondness for urban paranormal tales by authors like Jim Butcher and Lilith St. Crow (and the early Laurell K. Hamilton). Catherine Jinks’ creations takes the vampire myth in a (humourous at times) direction that I do not see often. They have all the weaknesses that traditional vampires have – burning in the sun, only able to feed of blood, death by staking and none of the strengths. So no transforming in to bats, no super strength none of the sexy vamp. lifestyle popularised by Twilight and the Underworld series – both referenced in this novel. The closest Nina comes to this `way of life is in the novels she writes (under an assumed name) about Zadia Bloodstone. Jinks’ vampires live the lives of junkies desperate for a fix but terrified of spreading their infection and of being discovered and being slaughtered by a population that is unaware of them living in their midst.

Skim by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki

Winner of the 2008 Ignatz Award for Best Graphic Novel, and appearing on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book List, Skim is being published by Walker Books in the UK.

Skim The story, told in the form of a diary and comic strip is seen from the perspective of Kimberly Keiko “Skim” Cameron, an aspiring Wiccan and goth who is coping with a broken arm and separated parents when the suicide of (a possibly gay) ex boyfriend of a classmate throws hers and everyones’ lives into turmoil.

Having to deal with a guidance counselor who is concerned about her state of mind (goths being prone to self-harm and suicide) and the antagonism of the girls in the Celebrate Life club; she also has to cope with the growing realisation that she is falling in love with her Englsih teacher Mrs Archer and the fact that her Wiccan circle also serves as a branch of the local AA.

Skim is a brilliantly told and illustrated coming of age tale that will appeal to young readers and adults alike. This book deals with a number of themes that are relevant to teenagers (including suicide, parental separation, youthful alienation, the journey to finding oneself, love and many others) the story is told in a way that is hilarious and heart-breaking in equal measure. Skim is a likable (if sarcastic) protagonist who draws you in and makes you feel what she is feeling and at the end leaves you wanting to know what happens next.

It has been described by Paul Gravett as one of the best comics of 2008 and is truly deserving of that accolade!

Skim is due out in May and is highly recommended for all Graphic Novel collections!

Mad Dog Moonlight by Pauline Fisk

This story revolves around a young boy who has been found wandering the Welsh countryside, with only his baby brother and his ffon, a walking stick with a mysterious carving on the top, in his arms. He has no memory of where he has come from except for the name that his parents have given him – Mad Dog Moonlight.
Despite being fostered into a loving home (and renamed Ryan Lewis), Mad Dog finds it hard to adjust to his new ‘normal’ lifestyle. As time goes by he comes to realise that he is not the same as other children as the magic of nature surrounds him and follows him wherever he goes. Soon, both the open road and the persistent call of the mysterious and sometimes sinister Plynlimon Mountain, leads Mad Dog on a wild journey into the secrets of his past, which finally provides him with the answer to his biggest question of all….who he really is.
There was something rather familiar about this book and storyline- although I couldn’t quite pin it down. At first I found the plot rather slow but this sped up in the second half of the book which I found much more exciting and purposeful. This obviously is a shame as it might put off readers who aren’t willing to persist through the first half. The concept of the book was quite unusual in terms of the blend of fantasy into reality and ‘everyday life.’ I also liked the fact that Fisk incorporated myth and Celtic history and culture intensely into the plot, however, I felt a little confused about her focus.
Whilst obviously a theme of the story was about self-discovery and maturation, the magical aspect of the story grated a little with the more well-developed aspects of the text such as daily life in the school-place, the experience of a foster-family and even the landscape and weather of Wales! Personally, I think that if this aspect of the story was given more depth or put into a clearer context in relation to the characters then it would make for a more comfortable read. Nevertheless, I did enjoy this book very much and found Fisk’s description of the Welsh landscape particularly beautiful, therefore if I were to rate this book I would still give it a solid 7 out of 10.

Reviewer: JP