Review: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

I was lucky enough to win a copy of This Is Not a Test the week it was released, though based on the wonderful reviews it was receiving, I likely would have gone out to purchase a copy regardless. Though I’d heard praise for Summers’s contemporary young adult, I’d never read any of her works. Still, descriptions of This Is Not a Test as a “contemporary-with zombies,” rather than a zombie book, had me intrigued despite Summers’s reputation for writing rather somber stories.

For those hoping to read about gore and bloodshed, you won’t be entirely disappointed by This Is Not a Test. I can’t say the above-mentioned description got it completely right, as this story contains enough disturbing material to make those wary of the zombie genre shy away. Yet, ultimately, this book truly isn’t about what’s beating on the doors to get in; it’s about the demons that already live inside us. Summers’s decision to narrate the story through the voice of a suicidal teenager was simple yet quite brilliant, as the stark questions raised by the fight for survival

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

become all the more uncomfortable when viewed with a sense of detachment. A particularly beautiful effect of this approach was the highlight on survival not merely as a solitary endeavor, but as one in which the fight to live is endured as much for others as for oneself.

It’s rare that an author can sustain such a large cast of characters without allowing any single one to come to the forefront as someone to root for, yet Summers has achieved the nigh-impossible. I didn’t identify myself with any of the characters, didn’t feel the queasy nervousness of their dubious survival, yet I sincerely wanted them all to be alright. I’m not sure I would like to be friends with any of them, yet I cared about them. In an environment that brings the best and worst of people to the surface, Summers unerringly reminded us of the large expanse of gray in which most people live their lives, though shades of black and white might flitter at the periphery.

Ultimately, there was only one place that this story could be headed, and Summers doesn’t shy away from it. The end scene is a tad ambiguous, and the effect rather deprives readers of closure, but any other ending would have seemed far too disingenuous. While some might be displeased with the direction this story takes, I loved the journey that Summers takes us on from start to finish. This Is Not a Test is one of my top reads for the year. I’ll definitely be checking out Summers’ back-catalogue when I get the chance.

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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 To Read During Halloween

1. Dracula by Bram Stoker

No self-respecting book blogger can really leave this one off the list, can she? I’ll always remember my first time reading this book, sitting in the backseat of the car on an afternoon whose sunshine seemed just wrong given the dreary world I was immersed in.

2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

It’s always refreshing to be assigned a book for English class that you actually look forward to reading, and I couldn’t tear myself away from this one back. My heart still aches for the monster, so much so that my sympathy stands foremost in my memories despite the rather gruesome imagery Shelley evokes.

3. Amphigorey by Edward Gorey

I stole my mom’s copy of this back in middle school, and it’s high time that I read it again. While everyone loves “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” my favorite remains “The Doubtful Guest.” Also recommended, Amphigorey, Also for “The Utter Zoo.”

4. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Film, The Art, The Vision by Frank Thompson

I borrowed a copy of this from a friend in middle school, and all these years later, still wish I had my own copy. Burton’s artwork is whimsical and creepy and utterly beautiful, capturing what will remain one of my favorite stories for many years to come.

5. Happy Hour of the Damned by Mark Henry

I admit, I have only read the first in Henry’s Amanda Feral series, and a few years ago at that. While my chances of continuing the series at this point aren’t great, I still remember the satisfying style with which Henry melded humor with disgust. For fans of grade B zombie movies and Sex and the City.

6. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

What kid doesn’t love the story of the Headless Horseman? I promise, I am not only including this one because it has been adapted by Burton. Mostly not, in any case.

7. Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe

Even discounting “The Raven,” which any former student of high school English has had to dissect and adapt ad nauseam, few can deny the hauntingly morose yet elegant charm of Poe’s words. While “The Tell-Tale Heart” remains my favorite, I’m also partial to “The Cask of Amontillado.”

8. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Everything Gaiman writes is golden. I am starting to believe that I should just include that as a standard disclaimer, since it seems to preface everything I write about him. Don’t let this book’s classification as a children’s novel scare you off, since it actually is quite scary at parts, and overwhelmingly well-told.

9. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

When I read this back in middle school, I was delightfully appalled. So much so that I was surprised to delve a bit deeper into Wilde’s catalogue and realize that all of his work was not equally as twisted.

10. Bad Times for Ghosts by W.J.M. Wippersberg

I don’t remember how or where I got this book. I don’t know who gave it to me, or if I found it myself. All I know is that I was fairly obsessed with it throughout the whole of second grade. For, you see, not only does it tell the story of a quirky family of ghosts in an updated (in the nineties sense) sort of Addams Family, but it is interactive. Recipes, spaces to draw, craft and costume ideas, and many more activities punctuate each chapter. There is a copy at a local used book store that has been sitting on the shelf for several years, unread and pristine. Every time I pass it by, I am tempted to buy it to keep for my own children to scrawl and scribble in, since mine is completely battered.