Review: Zombie Vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

I rarely read anthologies. Even rarer still do I review them. To be honest, Zombies Vs. Unicorns exhibited the vast array of talent representative of anthologies that makes me hesitant to buy them in the first place, so I’m not quite sure why I feel inspired to review it as well. Perhaps it is because, amidst the variable levels of quality, I found a couple of stories that I wish had been fleshed out into full-length novels. Maybe I simply feel like establishing my allegience (despite my love for eccentric animals, I am Team Zombie all the way). Whatever the case, I’ve decided to give some brief impressions of my Zombies Vs. Unicorns experience.

The Highest Justice by Garth Nix

It could be a symptom of having been the first story I read way back when I bought the book (and thus having had the most time to languish unremembered in my thoughts), but I don’t recall being particularly enamored of this first story.  2/5

Love Will Tear Us Apart by Alaya Dawn Johnson

I’ve never read any of Johnson’s work before. Alright, truth time, I’d never actually heard of Johnson before purchasing this anthology, but I’ll surely be seeking out more of her work in the future. This story, though short, packed a huge emotional punch, and it delivered on so many fronts: a zombie plague masquerading as an infection, resultant sentient zombie who’s torn between kissing and eating his lover, bonus points for boy/boy romance, and great musical references. Really, this story earned the highest rating possible when it started things off with an Arctic Monkeys-inspired chapter title.  5/5

Purity Test by Naomi Novik

My boyfriend and I had an hour-long drive ahead of us, so I decided to read a story aloud to pass the time. Forty minutes later, my head hurt, and not simply due to sore vocal chords. I could barely manage to finish this story, and I’m still not quite sure what it was hoping to achieve.  1/5

Zombies Vs. Unicorns Anthology

Bougainvillea by Carrie Ryan

Though I have The Forest of Hands and Teeth sitting on my bookshelf, the only piece of Ryan’s writing that I’d read thus far was a short story for the Enthralled Anthology (one of the only stories in that anthology that I wound up liking). Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for this one, as I found the nonlinear timeline confusing and the characters rather unsympathetic.  2/5

A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan

This story felt like an Angela Carter tale: slightly confusing, otherworldly, menacing, and wholly uncomfortable. I would never have thought a story about unicorns could feel so wrong, but Lanagan managed to create possibly the most disturbing story of the bunch.  4/5

The Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson

I’ve read a few of Johnson’s books, and this story read much the same as her other writings. I found it fun, but without a whole lot of substance or innovation. Still, she managed to keep me interested, which is more than I can say for a lot of the stories in this collection.  3/5

The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund

I’m a huge fan of Peterfreund’s Secret Society Girl series, but I haven’t read any of her unicorn books yet. That might change, if my reaction to this story is any indication. While I wasn’t particularly enamored of the characters featured in this story, she created a unique world unlike any I’ve read before. I’d like to see how much farther she can take the concept of killer unicorns before it starts to feel contrived.  3/5

Inoculata by Scott Westerfield

Westerfield’s world, while somewhat intriguing, read far too much like the introductory chapter to a series. It didn’t stand on its own two feet, which is a shame, since I felt that he had a whole lot more to say on this subject. Kudos for a subtlely drawn girl/girl relationship. 3/5

Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot

I’ll admit, The Princess Diaries series is a guilty pleasure. However, if this story is any indication of the tone of Cabot’s other series, I’ll be steering clear. Cabot was asking for ironic humorous chuckles, but I wasn’t feeling any. 2/5

Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare

I could go on for days about the various grudges I hold against Clare. Instead, I will simply say that, as usual, Clare has delivered an inadequately thought out world with a saccharine romance that just barely managed to keep me reading.  2/5

The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey

While I felt the idea for this one (an addicted unicorn; who knew?) was novel, the writing kept me at a distance. It was too reminiscent of the detached prose of Patricia McKillip, whose writing I simply cannot get into no matter how much others might love her.  Still, I recognize the quality of writing, even if I didn’t relate to it personally.  3/5

Prom Night by Libba Bray

Many other readers raved about this story, but it didn’t draw me in like most of the other zombie stories in this collection.  Unfortunately, I skimmed much of it, and so don’t have a whole lot to say.  1/5

Despite a lot of average writing, Johnson and Lanagan’s stories really knocked it out of the park for me, and so they managed to bump the rating for the whole anthology up a notch. Check this one out if you have the time.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish that allows us to list our top ten answers to a different question each week.

This week’s theme is: Top Ten Books for People Who Like X Author

I decided to mix it up and interpret this week’s theme a little bit differently.

1. If you like Neil Gaiman, try Tim Powers.
Powers is a master of his class, yet unfortunately his name isn’t nearly as well known as it should be. His works take work, though; Powers is quite the ambitious author, often utilizing existing cultural figures to construct alternative histories replete with lamias, psychotic serial killer clowns, werewolves, time travel, and the gods.
2. If you like John Green, try David Levithan.
So this won’t come as a shock to many of you, especially since these two authors have actually collaborated before. (If you haven’t read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, do so immediately). Still, for those of you not in the know, Levithan’s writing often reaches the exhalted heights of wry youthful optimism that Green is so famous for.
3. If you like Ilona Andrews, try Seanan McGuire.
The Toby Daye series exhibits some of the best worldbuilding and characterization in urban fantasy today. For those who love Kate Daniels’s toughness and capability coupled with a quick wit and unbearable sexual tension, you’re missing out if you’re not reading about Toby.
4. If you like Holly Black, try Rob Thurman.
Though I’ve mentioned this before, I’ll say it again: Cassel Sharpe and Cal Leandros would be best buds. Though the worldbuilding in each series is starkly different, they share an easy and sarcastic narration that strikes a chord with my cynical nature.
5. If you like Diana Wynne Jones, try Megan Whalen Turner.
These two remarkable ladies drew inspiration from each other’s writing, and it shows in both of their most ubiquitous narrators. I would have loved to read a crossover book starring Gen and Howl.
6. If you like Kristin Cashore, try Sherwood Smith.
If you’re a fan Cashore’s lush prose and mixture of romance, political intrigue, and fantasy, you’ll find all that and more in the Crown Duel duet. Mel is a great heroine, and while there is slightly less magic in Smith’s work, the feel is very similar to that elicited by Cashore’s series.
7. If you like Karen Marie Moning, try Anne Bishop.
While Moning’s Fever series and Bishop’s Black Jewels series have little in common, they will forever be linked in my mind since I discovered them (and fell in love with both) in a short two-month period. Despite their differences, I believe that fans of Moning’s dark fantasy tone will be able to appreciate Bishop’s world and the ambiguously drawn characters that inhabit it.
8. If you like Stephanie Perkins, try Cath Crowley.
Perkins is undoubtedly one of the hottest names in young adult contemporary, due mainly to her remarkable ability to write main characters who seem all at once too good to be true yet utterly believable. Crowley’s work is eminently relatable yet a little grittier than Perkins; still, fans of Perkins work will likely adore Crowley’s writing as well.
9. If you like Maggie Stiefvater, try Liz Berry.
I’ve adored Berry’s The China Garden for nearly a decade now. It’s lovely and unique and criminally unrecognized, especially considering the recent surge in interest for young adult paranormal. Fans of Stiefvater’s lyrical writing will recognize the same quality in Berry’s.
That’s all I’ve got this week. Happy Fourth, all ye readers!

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? is a meme created at Book Journey to catalogue everything read in the past week, what you’re working on now, and what you hope to get to in the coming week.

Finals are just ahead, but I managed to get much more reading done this past week than I anticipated. This is either a good omen or an incredibly bad indication of my lack of studying. We’ll see how this week fares in comparison.

The Past Week

Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook

Black Heart by Holly Black

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mina Wentworth and the Invisible City (in the Mass Market edition of The Iron Duke) by Meljean Brook

Reading Now

Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling

The Week Ahead

The White Road by Lynn Flewelling

Review: Black Heart by Holly Black

It’s rare in either the young adult or urban fantasy genres nowadays to find a series that’s limited to a trilogy. It’s an even rarer find when that series finishes as strongly as it started, which makes Holly Black’s Curse Workers series a veritable gem in its field.

Black Heart by Holly Black

Throughout her series, Black’s worldbuilding has been exquisite, due in no small part to the fact that her world isn’t all that different from ours, save for one critical feature. While not everyone in Black’s universe can work magic, some can, and that possibility of danger has shaped her world into one in which curse workers are the new classification in discrimination. While all must wear gloves to ward off the danger of being worked, that universal nod to the presence of curse workers in society does nothing to erase the silent stigma of those who truly have the capability. Most interesting about Black’s worldbuilding are the subtle ways in which this one fantastical element shapes the social fabric with alarmingly mundane results. That’s not to say that the consequences aren’t severe, yet they are no different than the manner in which our own society has responded to power dynamics in the past. For Black’s characters, this means living in a society in which the government is intent on eradicating the social minority, and the most powerful worker families have arranged themselves into a mafia hierarchy. Amidst this scene, Cassel Sharpe spins an utterly convincing narrative detailing his family’s shady history as con artists and interactions with the town’s most powerful mafia family.

By Black Heart‘s start, Cassel has made so many side-deals to keep himself and his loved ones alive that he’s thoroughly entangled not only in his own job as a (not so) amateur con artist, but as a double agent for the feds and the mob. With so much on his plate, it would be forgivable for Cassel to indulge in a good dose of teenage angst, or at least apathy, yet Cassel is one of the most well-adjusted protagonists I’ve come across in the young adult genre. Considering his dubious upbringing and the blows he’s been dealt in the past two books, it’s a nod to Black’s talent that she allows Cassel’s voice to remain true. Cassel is witty and remarkably wise for someone his age, and while it might be a result of his training as a con artist, he nevertheless achieves a rare feat for a teenager: he thinks before he acts. Cassel is always one step ahead of the audience, not to mention whatever poor sod he’s currently pulling a fast one on. He’s lost none of his trademark humor in this final installment, though the stakes have never been higher.

It’s no secret that I read for the relationships, romantic ones in particular, so it’s a testament to the strength of Black’s writing that I adore this trilogy despite feeling so very indifferent toward the romantic subplot. It’s unfortunate, too, because Cassel dearly deserves a break and a shot at love, but I suppose I will have to settle for being happy because he is happy, since I am not thrilled with his choice of girl. Lila has never succeeded in charming me, though she’s had ample opportunity to do so. Perhaps I just don’t like brazen, sociopathic women, but her actions have not endeared me to her character; considering the fact that Cassel has done things as bad as she has, if not worse, it’s not mere moral judgment that prevents me from connecting with her, though I’m hard pressed to say exactly what it is.

While Cassel serves as the driving force behind each book, it’s the moral ambiguity underlying nearly every character’s actions that makes the Curse Workers series so compelling. No one is good or bad, and at the end of the day, it is sometimes the best of characters who wind up doing the worst deeds. In Cassel’s world, it’s not about which actions count, for they all do; rather, it’s about how all of the choices you make fall into the puzzle that defines you. Black leaves ends trailing and her characters awash in shades of gray, and in so doing she succeeds in ending her series with the same truthful voice it’s carried all along. There is no end; there is only the trail of choices leading up to wherever you are now.

Black Heart is a worthy and riveting conclusion to one of the best urban fantasy series out there. I’m sorry to see Cassel and company depart, and I can only hope that Black decides to revisit them at some point.

Book Beginnings on Fridays

Book Beginnings on Fridays is a meme hosted at Rose City Reader designed to feature the book you are reading right now by sharing the first few lines of the story.

This past Friday I read Black Heart by Holly Black.

Black Heart by Holly Black

“My brother Barron sits next to me, sucking the last dregs of milk tea slush noisily through a wide yellow straw. He’s got the seat of my Benz pushed all the way back and his feet up on the dash, the heels of his pointy black shoes scratching the plastic. With his hair slicked back and his mirrored sunglasses covering his eyes, he looks like a study in villainy.”

Black Heart was another solid installment an fitting finale to the Curse Workers series. I hope to have a review up some time this week.

Here’s the summary, taken from Goodreads:

Cassel Sharpe knows he’s been used as an assassin, but he’s trying to put all that behind him. He’s trying to be good, even though he grew up in a family of con artists and cheating comes as easily as breathing to him. He’s trying to do the right thing, even though the girl he loves is inextricably connected with crime. And he’s trying to convince himself that working for the Feds is smart, even though he’s been raised to believe the government is the enemy.

But with a mother on the lam, the girl he loves about to take her place in the Mob, and new secrets coming to light, the line between what’s right and what’s wrong becomes increasingly blurred. When the Feds ask Cassel to do the one thing he said he would never do again, he needs to sort out what’s a con and what’s truth. In a dangerous game and with his life on the line, Cassel may have to make his biggest gamble yet—this time on love.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? is a meme created at Book Journey to catalogue everything read in the past week, what you’re working on now, and what you hope to get to in the coming week.

I’m poised at the edge of the semester, and finals are just around the corner, so it will likely be another light reading week for me.

The Past Week

Lover Reborn by J.R. Ward

Wicked As They Come by Delilah S. Dawson

Reading Now

Black Heart by Holly Black

The Week Ahead

Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook

In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox is a meme created by Kristi over at The Story Siren to share new book acquisitions, whether bought, gifted, received for review, borrowed, or won.

Bought

  • Wicked As They Come by Delilah S. Dawson

Gifted

  • Black Heart by Holly Black

Won